I only slept a few hours throughout the night. Waking up more times than I cared to, but by five a.m. I was sick of it. I got up, showered, had coffee and breakfast, then locked myself in my ‘studio’. I didn’t intend to make another song, but I had a beautiful melody going and I couldn’t leave it rotting away in one of my folders. Shortly after ten, there’s a light knock on my door followed by Min entering. “Good morning.” She says as I press pause on my song. She sits down on the chaise lounge in the corner and when I meet her gaze, I don’t expect the sadness that I see in her eyes. “What all did they tell you?” I ask.
“Well, I found out some new information about Jay I never knew. He told me about his brother… the pills… Emma… then you showed up. They told me how you and Jay fell in love. How all of you were a family but then you disappeared… You left a note that said you were sorry but didn’t tell them why you left.” I look down, dreading this moment. “Why did you leave Alia?”
“I didn’t have a choice.”
“My mother.” Anger flashes across Min’s face. From the moment she knew who my mother was and what she has done, she never liked her.
“What did she say to make you leave?”
“She threatened their futures. If I had stayed, they wouldn’t have been able to go to college. Jay would still be working at his uncle’s restaurant and living in that tiny apartment. I left so he could have this life. He wouldn’t be playing music. He wouldn’t be here.”
“And the terms she made after you left?”
“As long as I lived under her roof, I was not to reach out to them, or she would ruin them. Brian erased their numbers from my phone. Their pictures. All the memories I made, he deleted them all.”
“So when you came to college, why didn’t you reach out?”
“I was gone for nearly a year at that point, Min… I convinced myself that they were better without me. And I was right.”
“Alia, you don’t know that.”
“Seeing Jay on stage tonight is proof. He never sung in North Isles. I only knew he could sing because I caught him. His best friends didn’t even know! His life has become everything I hoped it would.”
“Then why do you look so sad saying that?”
“I guess some part of me hoped he was a little miserable without me.”
“As miserable as you have been?”
“I haven’t been miserable!”
“Oh come on, I have been wondering for years why you were always so gloomy. I thought it was your mother, but damn, we couldn’t even keep you a boyfriend for more than a month. Now I know why.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You haven’t gotten over your first love.”
“I’ve gotten over him plenty!”
“Oh, is that what last night was?” She teases.
“Why are you so mean to me?”
“I’m sorry.” She says seriously. “If there’s anything you want to know about them, just let me know.”
“No, not right now. I don’t think I could handle opening that box.”
“I understand. So do we want them to know or not know about why you left? I mean, I’m not going to just blurt it out, but if they ask or if I accidentally say something…”
“I guess it doesn’t have to be a secret. But don’t just tell them out of nowhere. They might think you’re trying to make me out to be the good guy.”
“Well, you’re certainly not the bad guy. But I won’t say anything unless they ask.”
“I’m sorry last night was so awkward.” Min shrugs her shoulders and leans back.
“I guess if I had told you sooner who I was dating, we could have avoided the awkwardness.”
“I don’t think I would have come back if I knew.”
“I would have dragged you back myself.” I smile but it quickly falters.
“Thank you for last night… I know it's been awhile since you’ve had to deal with that.”
“That’s what I’m here for. I was worried the whole time you were in England. But every time you had a panic attack you would call me and it made me feel good. Not that I’m happy you were in misery, but that you always wanted to talk to me.”
“You’re my best friend, Min. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.”
“Until your mom blackmails you into not being my friend.”
“Too soon.” I joke.
“I got you a present though.”
“Min, you have done so much this week that I should get you a present.”
“Come see.” She says as she stands up. I follow her down the hall and to the patio door. She opens the blinds to see a hammock sitting on our patio. “A just in case. I tested it out myself and we have a good view of the moon.”
“I don’t even know what to say.” She puts her arm around my waist and squeezes me close to her, our heads resting against each other.
“You don’t have to say anything. I want you to be happy here.”
“Thank you, Min. I appreciate it more than I can ever express.”
“I hate the break the mood, but I have to get ready for work, unlike some people.”
“Hey, I’m working in the library this semester.” I say as we break apart.
“Yeah, yeah, if you can count that as a job.” She waves it off and quickly disappears into her room.
“The money isn’t bad though!” I shout after she has the door closed. I don’t hear a retort, so I go to the kitchen to make me something to eat and to make Min a snack for work. After Min is gone, I go back to my room and take a nap.
When I wake up a few hours later I unpack a few things and organize my room more to my liking but eventually grow tired. I retire to my music room, but I don’t have the focus right now and give up. Shortly after 7, I get a text from Min saying that she’s working an hour later and then Vance wanted to grab dinner and asked if I wanted anything. I reply that I wasn’t hungry. I’ve had a knot in my stomach all day and the desire to go drink is strong. Being alone in this apartment has let me think about last night too much. Jay was so unbothered by my appearance that I wished he was angry. At least that would have been an emotion of some kind. I don’t know how to take Vance’s reaction. Maybe since he’s dating Min, he’ll want to mitigate things for her sake. I don’t know if I should try my best to be friends with them or ignore them like they don’t exist. Unable to handle thinking about them any longer, I grab my keys and wallet then walk down The Oakley. I can have one drink.
═════════════════ ∘◦ ❉ ◦∘ ══════════════════
“It’s not a bad thing right?” I say into no one in particular. My vision is blurred and my body feels warm and weightless. If I close my eyes now, I could easily fall asleep. But I want to talk to someone truthfully about how I feel.
“Are you okay?” I look over as someone sits down on the stool next to me. I blink a few times, trying to figure out if he is Jay or someone who looks eerily similar to him. I look at his hands but don’t see the rings that Jay wore last night, nor do I see the necklace.
“You’re definitely not him. You’re more handsome.” I say the thought out loud and normally I would be embarrassed, but I just shrug my shoulders.
“I’m more handsome than who?” He asks as the bartender places a drink in front of him.
“Some asshole I know.”
“What makes him an asshole?”
“He-… He’s not. I’m just upset.”
“Imagine loving someone so much that you felt like you would die if you left them. Okay?”
“Okay, I’m imagining.”
“Now imagine your devil of a mother blackmailing you into leaving him.”
“Blackmail you with what?”
“If I didn’t leave then he – all of them, wouldn’t have any futures. No college. No money. No prospects. She would take everything away from them if I stayed.”
“What did you do?”
“I left.” Tears prick the edges of my eyes, the first time I’ve gotten so upset about that time in years. “He deserved the sun and the moon. So I gave it to him. He has flourished in life. I’m sure they all have, and here I am. A pathetic piece of shit. I can’t even be fully happy for him because I’ve missed him so much, but he couldn’t even look at me.” I scoff at the memory of him outright ignoring me. “It’s laughable that I did everything I could to give him the world, and he wouldn’t fucking look at me!”
“I think you should call someone to come get you.”
“I’m going to be so dead.” I say as I pull out my phone, trying to find Min’s contact, but everything is blurry. “Is that Min?” I show him my phone, but he shakes his head.
“No, that’s mom.”
“Oh hell no.”
“That’s Min.” He says as he taps my phone. I hold it up to my ear, listening to the ringing until Min picks up.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at The Oakley.”
“I am going to kill you!” She yells so loud that I have to hold the phone out. “What’s wrong with you! Why are you doing this!”
“Please don’t yell at me…” I cry. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t… be in that apartment. I was suffocating.”
“DO-NOT go anywhere. I’ll be there soon. Don’t move!”
“I won’t.” I hang up the phone, knowing that I really messed up and I don’t even have a good excuse for it.
“Is she coming?” Asks the Jay-lookalike. I nod my head, keeping my eyes downcast. “Do you want water?” I nod my head again and he asks the bartender to bring me a bottle. I take a few drinks then lay my head down on the bar, hoping I remember none of this tomorrow.
“Thank you for helping me.” I say to the guy. “I’m sorry for telling you my life’s story.”
“Alia!” I hear Min’s stern voice shout over the noise in the bar. I sit up to see her and Vance walking towards us. Her brows furrowed and if looks could kill – I’d be dead.
“How is she?” Min asks the guy sitting next to me.
“I’m 95% sure she won’t remember any of this tomorrow.” He answers.
“You know each other?” I ask. Min and Vance exchange confused glances.
“Don’t ask. Apparently, I’m more handsome than Jay.” Vance and Min stifle a laugh, making me feel more insecure than I already do. “I got her tab taken care of so she’s all yours.”
“Oh come on, you’re not going to help us get this home?” Asks Min.
“No, I have some things to think about.”
“Thinking? That’s your excuse?”
“It was nice meeting you!” I yell after the Jay look-alike who disappears into the crowd.
“Oh God. Let's get her home.” Says Min. She takes my arm and helps me outside and to the back of Vance’s car.
When I wake up the next morning, my head is pounding and not a single event from last night comes to mind. I remember getting to the bar, having to call Min, and puking in the back of Vance’s car. Oh God, I puked in the back of his car… I don’t even want to know how mad about that he is. Throwing my blankets back, I walk to the kitchen needing Advil. “Well good morning.” Says Min as she’s pouring herself some orange juice.
“What do you remember about last night?”
“Nothing. You picking me up. That’s about all.” She gives me a disapproving look. “Did I do something embarrassing?”
“If you count talking to Jay and thinking, he was a Jay look-alike, embarrassing, then yes.”
“I did what? You’re lying, right?”
“I am not. We found you at the bar with Jay.”
“Okay…. Well, this is what we’re going to do. You go buy a shovel and then bury me.”
“Not a chance. You deserve this.”
“You promised me you wouldn’t drink like this again. You kept that promise for two years, but here you are drunk two nights in a row. Alia, you promised I would never find you like that again.”
“I’m sorry… I don’t know what came over me. I guess being back and see Jay has brought up unwanted emotions and I haven’t dealt with them the best way… Did you tell Vance about the accident?”
“No. That’s your dark secret to share. He thinks I’m just hard on you about drinking and after last night, he can see why.”
“I’m sorry Min…”
“I know you are. I’m sorry if I came down a little hard, but you were doing so well. Let’s put this weekend’s events past us and go do something fun. We start classes this week and I’m not ready for how busy we’re going to be.”
“Me either, but I’m going to grab a shower first.” I grab the bottle of Advil and head down to my bathroom to take a shower. Afterward, Min and I go to a nice spot for lunch then walk around the mall. We don’t talk about the guys or my drinking, to which I’m thankful for. I just want to forget everything that happened.