After having an enjoyable evening with Min, I came to the determination that I would start the week with a better mindset. I would not let the Jay situation bother me or consume my thoughts. No matter how much I wanted to know what I said to him at the bar. I couldn’t care about it. I couldn’t think about him and focus on school. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday’s, I will work in the library with varying working hours. While on Tuesdays and Thursdays I will have three of my four courses from 9:30 to 2:20 with a lunch break close to noon. My fourth class is online and it may be a class I do when I’m bored in the library. By the time I wake up Monday morning, Min is already off to start her day. I pack a few snacks into my purse and fill my tumbler with water, then drive over to the school library to start my shift at ten. I’m paired up with Ben, who has worked in the library the previous two semesters. First, we have a tour of the library, then he goes over the rules. Lastly, he teaches me the system, which is fairly self-explanatory. Ben overshadows me for the first handful of students I help, but after a while, he agrees that I’m good to do it on my own. A few hours into my shift, I’m balancing a pencil on my index finger, when Vance walks towards me. He looks for anyone else to get assistance, but sees that I’m the only one here at the moment. I drop the pencil and sit up straight. I just have to treat him like any other student. “Hi.” I say brightly. Vance narrows his eyes, just as surprised as I am at my greeting. “I can help you if you need something.”
“I just need to pick up some books.” He says.
“Yeah, no problem. I’ll just need your student ID to scan.” He digs into his pocket, pulls out his ID, then slides it across the counter toward me. I take notice of his student ID picture, young and with a head full of blood-red hair. This is the Vance I remember. The one in front of me might as well be a stranger now. I scan the barcode of his ID and a list of books pops up on my screen. I glance at the titles, all political related. “What’s your major?” I ask – just like I would with any other student. I print the list of books, then hand his ID back.
“That’s awesome.” I grab the page off the printer, then walk to the little room behind me and find his stack of books sitting neatly on a shelf. I take them back to the counter where I take out each card behind the cover and sign my initials on each, then hand them to Vance. “Just sign your name and the date on each and then you’re good to go.” He does so, the entire time, not a word leaves his mouth. I tell myself that this is normal. No one likes small talk. Least of all Vance. He hands the last card over to me and gathers his books. “Thanks, have a great day!”
“You too…” He gives me one more weird look before leaving the library. I sit down and heave a deep sigh. That was painful.
“Alia, it looks like you could go ahead and leave for the day if you’d like.” Says Ben as he walks up to the desk.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, it’s not going to get busy for another week. So go ahead and leave early. I’ll see you Wednesday.”
“Thank you! See you then.” As I’m packing up my belongings, the door to the building opens and a large crowd enters. It’s an even mix of girls and boys, but all the girls have their attention fixated on one person. Jay. “You know he’s the singer of Fallen Resistance?” Whispers one of the girls to her friend. I can’t help but glare at every single person in the group, disgust easily written on my face. Jay glances my way, making eye contact with me, but I quickly look away. I won’t give him the satisfaction of seeing me jealous.
Back at home, Min is sitting at the table eating some pasta she made. “Where’s mine?” I ask, setting down my purse and walking into the kitchen.
“Since I’m a good friend and knew you would be home soon, I made extra. I put it in the microwave to stay warm.”
“You are the best!” I open the microwave to find my bowl sitting there. I take it out then join Min at the table, a sigh escaping me as I sit down.
“Well, I saw Vance. He checked out some books, and he probably thinks I’m crazy.”
“I’m not good at small talk, and especially not with Vance. I was too chipper.”
“That’s a sight to see.”
“Rude.” I take a bite of the pasta, the flavor exploding in my mouth. I’m an okay cook, but Min is extraordinary. I wouldn’t have made it through freshman year without her. “So Vance is a political science major?”
“Yeah.” She says with a grimace.
“You’re not happy about it?”
“It’s not that… I worry about what the future holds for us. He’s going to be very busy next year, not only to finish his bachelor’s degree but also studying for his LSAT.”
“What’s an LSAT?”
“Law School Admissions Test. I doubt he’ll have an issue passing, but once he goes to law school, I feel like he’ll become really busy. This is our last semester to have any actual fun.”
“Are you afraid he’ll become too busy for you?”
“I don’t want to sound like that girlfriend but, yes. I always hear horror stories of couples growing apart because they got too busy for each other. What if he doesn’t want me around anymore?”
“Min, you are thinking about this with the wrong mindset. Look at how busy Vance is now. He balances you, the band, and school with ease. He will make time for you. I’m sure he’ll be able to balance law school and you with ease as well.” She nods her head, but I can tell my reassurance only goes so far. “What will happen to the band when Vance is too busy?”
“I don’t know. They haven’t talked about it. I know they know it’s not a forever thing. They have fun playing, but they all have their own things they want to do with their lives.”
“That makes me kind of sad. They’re so good and talented.”
“I don’t think they all will give up on music completely, but Vance will. He has a career path that he wants to take. He only joined the band because Jay begged him too.”
“Why does that not surprise me?”
“Vance is pretty badass, though. I think his drummer status helped me fall in love with him.”
“You like your rocker types.” I laugh.
“What can I say.” She laughs then, “Other than the awkward small talk with Vance, what else happened?”
“I saw Jay and his groupies.” I make a disgusted look and shiver, wishing I didn’t see so many girls flocking him. It reminded me too much of high school.
“You gave him that exact look, didn’t you?”
“Yep, and he saw. So he probably thinks I’m still in love with him.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“I don’t want him to know that I’m miserable and care about him. I told myself that I would not worry about Jay. He’s not important. School is. And this competition.”
“When should you hear back about that?”
“I’m not sure. A few weeks?”
“Shouldn’t you pay more attention to that?”
“They said they’d send an email if I qualified, and I’ve been checking it every morning I wake up. I promise.”
“Okay… You better let me know as soon as you find out.”
“Who else am I going to tell?”
═════════════════ ∘◦ ❉ ◦∘ ══════════════════
Tuesday morning, I fill my backpack with my textbooks, laptop, a notebook, and plenty of snacks. I drive over to the on-campus café called Rustic’s to get a coffee and muffin before my first class. As I’m standing in line, I hear a familiar voice a few people down. Looking over my shoulder, I see Jay and Vance. My blood runs cold as I quickly turn back around, hoping they didn’t see me. How is it I have been back in the United States for only four days and I have seen them all but one of those days? I’m convinced that this is the universe’s way to tell me that karma is coming back to bite me in the ass. “Did you tell the guys what we were doing this weekend?” I hear Vance ask.
“No, it’s typically some variation of what we do every weekend.” Answers Jay. “I know Min has already asked about the fall festival this year.”
“Yeah, she’s pushing it pretty hard.”
“I can’t imagine why.” Jay has a hint of sarcasm, and I wonder what would make Min want to go to the fall festival so badly. Something she hasn’t even mentioned to me.
“You’re not helping your case with the whole not telling us what happened with Alia the other night.”
“I don’t see any reason to.”
“That’s suspicious!” Jay laughs, making me want to look and see that smile of his.
“It’s not suspicious. It was Alia, and she was drunk. Nothing else to it.”
“I have to say, I agree with Min on this one.” As he finishes this sentence, the cashier waves her hand to tell me I’m next. I give her my order, then wait at the end of the counter for my stuff. I keep my eyes downcast, resisting every nerve in my body to look at them. I put in my earbuds and turn on a podcast I’ve been listening to. When my name is called, I glance up and make direct eye contact with Jay, who has looked over at the sound of my name. I quickly grab my stuff and leave, too afraid to wave or say ‘hi’ at them for the fear of rejection.
The day is fairly normal, and I don’t come across Jay or Vance again. When noon comes around, I’m free until 1:15 when my last class of the day starts. I make my way to the student center in search of food; the snacks I had packed were all eaten by the end of my second class. As I enter the level where the food shops are, I see Min making a beeline for the taco station. “Min!” I say. She looks up long enough to smile and wave but keeps her focus on the food. I rush after her, deciding that taco’s sound like the perfect lunch to have. I make it to her as she gets in line, out of breath but with a smile on her face. “I have to make sure they don’t run out of their sauce before I can order.” She says.
“It must be some good sauce.”
“The best! You have to try some. How were your classes this morning?”
“Boring business stuff as usual.” I reply with a shrug, not wanting to admit that I spent both classes thinking of a new song. “What about you? I thought you had class during this time?”
“Classes are good. Marketing is just as boring. And I do, but he let us out twenty minutes early.”
“Nice, gotta love professors who do that. Where do you want to sit down and eat?”
“Well, I kind of already made plans with some girls, but you’re more than welcomed to join us. I just have to warn you about something.”
“What is it?”
“We’re going to the baseball field to watch the guys play around. Sometimes Jay joins them.”
“Jay plays baseball?”
“Yeah… Wouldn’t you know? The coach scouted Jay out, which is how he ended up here. Didn’t you ever see him play?”
“He wasn’t playing when I was in North Isles. He stopped, but I guess he started up again after I left.”
“Oh… Yeah, he was scouted in high school from the first college he went to, but then this college kinda stole him.”
“So he plays baseball, plays in a band, and goes to school?”
“No, he quit at the end of last season. Wanted to focus on the music more.”
“I’m learning all kinds of new things about him today.”
“Well, you coming or not? I’ll understand if you don’t want to.”
“No, I’m kind of curious to see this side of Jay.”
After we get our food with the special sauce, Min and I hitch a ride on the campus golf cart that takes us over to the baseball field. Her group of friends are already at the top of the bleachers, cheering for the guys playing on the field below. Min introduces me to the girls who either have a crush on one of the guys or their boyfriend is playing. I can’t help but wonder if any of them are dating Jay. If he’s dating anyone. I sit down, eat my lunch, and search the baseball field. To my disappointment, I don’t find him. I look to the dugout, but it’s too dark for me to see anyone inside. The game continues and I find my phone more interesting. I’m almost done with my lunch when Min jabs me in the side and points to the field. I have to shield my eyes in order to see the tall and slender figure that walks up to the batter’s box. Jay slightly lifts up the grey hat he’s wearing, then swings the bat over his shoulder. He gets into position, anticipating the pitch. In just a blink of an eye, the pitcher throws the ball towards Jay and after a loud crack, Jay takes off. He’s fast as he passes first, second, third, and lastly makes a sliding effort towards home, barely making it in time. He’s full of laughter as his friends help him up. My heart aches at seeing this side of Jay. This happy and carefree side that is finally enjoying life again. I don’t know this version of Jay before me, and it shows just how little I’ve accomplished these last three years. Once again, he has proven just how much he has flourished without me. I hate feeling so bitter about it, but I wonder how little impact I had on his life. As Jay leans against the dugout, he looks up at the stands where we’re sitting. The girls scream and shout his name. He smiles at them, but when his eyes reach me, the smile falls. “I’m going to go Min, thanks for inviting me.” I say as I gather my belongings.
“Are you sure? I can come with.”
“No, stay. I was going to run by the library, anyway.”
“Okay…” She doesn’t look convinced, but she doesn’t argue with me. Something I’m grateful for.
Instead of taking a cart, I walk to the building where my communications class is. Enjoying the time to fall into my thoughts. Ignoring Jay’s existence is going to be harder than I expected. He’s literally everywhere I turn. And I don’t even know what this weekend is going to entail. Vance said ‘the guys’. I can only assume that he’s talking about Micah and Emmett. Do they know that I’m here? Did Jay deem it worthy to tell them? Do they care at all? A new kind of hurt aches in my chest at the thought of Micah not caring. Even asking ‘who’s Alia’? Would life be that cruel?
I make it to my classroom – only a couple of kids inside. So I opt for a seat at the other end of the room, hoping this class isn’t as boring as the other. I pull up my laptop and connect my earbuds so I can work on my song some more. Every time the door opens, I instinctively look up in case it’s the teacher. But each time it’s not. Five minutes before class starts, the door opens again and to my horrified surprise, Jay walks in. He’s sweaty, has his hat firmly on his head, and a bag of food in his hand. He doesn’t look around as he sits down in the middle of the class, in direct eyeline of me. The teacher finally comes in and immediately takes roll. The class is small so the second my name is called; Jay is going to find me easily. And he’s going to find me staring straight at him. The classroom door opens again, and I watch as Ben walks in. He apologizes to the teacher, then looks for a seat. His eyes land on me and rushes over, a smile on his face. “Hey Alia.” He whispers as he takes a seat next to me.
“Hey.” I reply with a smile. My eyes dart back over to Jay. He’s looking over at us, his eyes wide as he sees me. I glance down, unsure if I should have given a friendly smile or not. The entire class is torture. I can see Jay in the corner of my eye the entire time and I want nothing more than to look at him, but I’m able to exhibit some self-restraint.
While everyone is packing up at the end of the class, Ben turns to me with a smile on his face. “So Alia, I was kind of wondering if you would like to go on a date with me Friday?”
“Yeah… You seem pretty cool and I don’t know. We could go to my favorite restaurant in town. I think you’ll like it.” I don’t know if dating should be on my list of things to do this semester, but it couldn’t hurt. Maybe a date would get me out of my head. Plus, the guys are coming down this weekend and it would help me avoid that catastrophe.
“Sure. I’d love to.” I reply.
“Awesome. Here put in your number and I’ll text you the details later.” I do, then hand his phone back. As I stand up, I see Jay has been staring at us. His expression is blank as he looks away to finish packing up his bag. I don’t know what to do about him. I don’t even know what to think anymore. Does he care about me or not?
That night I go into my studio and shut myself away, needing to drown out my sorrows in something other than alcohol. A quarter to nine, there’s a light knock on the door followed by Min letting herself in and heading straight towards the chaise lounge. I pause the music and turn my attention to her. “That sounds… sad.”
“Reflects how I feel.” There’s a flash of concern and worry. The time after my accident, when I was sent to England, wasn’t easy. Min was my lifeline the entire time, but the guilt of making her worry is always there. She’s worried I’d jump again.
“The universe thought it would be funny and made sure that Jay and I had a class together.”
“Oh? What class is it?”
“I guess that makes sense. It goes well with both of your majors.”
“What is his?”
“Sociology… No, it's psychology. He wants to be a caseworker or a therapist or something. I honestly don’t remember.” My heart leaps at the sound of this, wondering if I had any effect on his decision to pursue this path. Seeing my smile, Min asks, “What?”
“Just a memory from the past.”
“Well, tell me because I don’t have telepathy.”
“In North Isles, Jay always had a way of putting things into perspective. He has always been good at reading people and connecting with them, so I told him he should do therapy as a major.”
“That’s adorable. Do you think you’re the reason he chose it as his major?”
“I don’t know.” I shrug my shoulders but she sees the truth, so I amend, “Kind of.”
“Well, did he speak to you in class?”
“No, he didn’t even know I was in the classroom for the first fifteen minutes.”
“Did he seem surprised?”
“Yeah, but I’m sure he’s unbothered by it.”
“You should go sit by him!”
“I’m not doing that. Plus, I’m sitting with someone else.”
“Ben… from the library. He asked me to go on a date with him this weekend.” She makes an unpleasant face, not carrying to show her dissatisfaction. “What’s wrong with Ben? You haven’t even met him.”
“He’s not Jay.”
“Min” I reproach.
“Okay. I’ll stay out of it.”
“Good, because he asked me out on a date this weekend.”
“I guess that’s a good thing since…” She trails off, realizing she didn’t tell me.
“That Micah and Emmett are coming down this weekend?” I finish for her.
“How did you know?”
“I overheard Jay and Vance talking this morning at Rustics.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, I honestly forgot that they were planning on this weekend. But no worries, we all stay at Vance and Jay’s house when they’re down.”
“They have a house?”
“Yeah, they’ve been renting it for a couple of years. They need a house when the entire gang likes to intrude nearly every weekend.”
“I’m glad they’re still so close.”
“There is no breaking those heathens up.”
“Does Micah and Emmett know that I’m here?”
“I haven’t said anything. I wanted to let Vance or Jay do it. I wasn’t sure how close you were to the other two.” I smile, thinking about the time Emmett taught me how to ‘correctly’ punch someone. And how Micah had always been there for me as much as Jay. “I’m thinking close?”
“They were my family…”
“I’m sorry A… I know this is still all new to me, but if there’s anything you need or want me to do then just say it. I do believe it would be in everyone’s best interest if you all sat down and talked.”
“What would that solve?”
“Alia, you both have unanswered questions. Tell them why you left. How can they be mad that you left to protect them?”
“Even if they forgive me for why I left, how do I explain never going back? Never reaching out to them? Treating them like I didn’t care about them?”
“But you do care about them. If I know you like I think I do, you felt like you didn’t deserve their love. Right?”
“I don’t want to hash this out… Let them be mad at me, let them think whatever they want to about me. I’m not going to make up excuses.” She crosses her arm, angry with my answer.
“You’re being an idiot.”
“Min. I’m exhausted with life. I just want to enjoy being back here, being with you, and making music. Please, can I enjoy these things that aren’t complicated?”
“Okay. Fine. But if the chance comes up, for you all to be friends again, don’t push them away. You deserve love, A.” The words hit at memories I’ve hidden deep down. All the times I was told that I deserved love were always by the people I ended up hurting. How they must regret ever saying that to me. I reach for my wrist, rubbing it instinctively after working on my music for so long. “Hurting again?” Min asks, noticing.
“It’s been getting worse.” I reply.
“Didn’t the doctor say that this could happen, and you would need another surgery?”
“He did… I haven’t seen a doctor about it in a while.”
“You should really get that looked at. Especially for this competition.”
“We don’t know if I’ll be participating.”
“I have a good feeling about it, I promise.” She pushes herself off the lounge and walks to the door. “Don’t stay up too late. It’s not always a good thing to get caught up in sad music.”
“I love you Min.” I say, not looking at her.
“And I love you more than you think you deserve. But you do.” I smile to myself as she shuts the door behind her. I don’t know how I lucked out with such an amazing friend.