Jay: I’m sorry for being an ass and not contacting you. I want to take this seriously so can we act like the past never happened and work together?
Act like the past never happened. He keeps finding ways to push the dagger deeper into my heart.
Me: Sure thing. Can we meet and talk about schedules so we can figure out when we can all work on this song?
Jay: What about Monday around six? We can meet at Rustic’s Café.
Me: Sounds good. See you then.
I sit at a table in Rustic’s, sipping on my tea as I anxiously wait for the band. I didn’t tell Min or even Micah what Jay said about acting like the past never happened. It may be in our best interest that we do. It’s the only way we will be able to work together. I just don’t know how capable I will be to act like my feelings for him aren’t still there. No matter how much I want to ignore it and remind myself of how much of an asshole he has become. I know Jay… This is just his reaction because he doesn’t know how to act around me. I hope at least. The café’s bell rings and I look to see Dakota and Chance walk through the doors. I smile and wave them over. Chance immediately smiles and waves back.
“Hey.” I say as they sit down across from me.
“Sorry Jay and Vance couldn’t make it. Jay said he had something to work on and I’m not sure about Vance, to be honest.” Says Chance.
“Oh, it’s okay.” So much for putting the past behind us. “Would you like any coffee or tea? My treat.”
“No, thank you. Caffeine isn’t really my thing.” Replies Dakota.
“I’ll go get some tea.” Says Chance. “But you don’t have to pay for it.” While Chance is getting his drink, I feel a bit awkward.
“So how did you all meet?” I ask.
“I met Jay on the baseball team. I stopped playing last year. It became something I didn’t like anymore. Jay and I would jam out every now and then. We convinced Vance to play the drums. Who knew he would be so good at it.” I look at him, surprised. Out of everyone in the group, he looks the most un-athletic.
“You don’t look like the baseball playing type.”
“I was, but then when we started this band so I tried out the whole rocker look, and it just kind of stuck.”
“So what about Chance, how did you end up meeting him?”
“He’s actually my little brother. He used to practice with us when he was in high school. Then he decided to come to college here when he graduated. So if you thought he seemed young, you’re right. He’s barely nineteen.”
“Brothers? You don’t look alike at all.”
“He’s adopted. My parents had a hard time conceiving me, so they decided to just bring in a kid who needed a family. I have three other siblings, all from adoptions.” Dakota feels at ease and I’m comfortable listening to him tell me this.
“Wow, that’s amazing.”
“Sometimes. We all have such different personalities. I feel bad for my parents, but they seem to love us despite all the fighting.” Chance comes back with his tea and sits down. I look at him in a new light. I knew he was young, but now he seems like a baby. “So, back to the reason we’re here. We have the entire month of schedules for everyone.” Chance pulls out a piece of paper and unfolds it. I see a calendar with a bunch of marks on it.
“Looks like this is going to be a little harder than I was expecting.” I say as I pull out a pen and add my schedule. “What about meeting this Wednesday and every Wednesday after?”
“Sounds good.” Says Dakota.
“We can try to aim for Wednesdays, Thursdays, and one day of the weekend.”
“I think that’ll work.” Says Chance. “We don’t live far from home, so we don’t really go ‘home’ on the weekends all that much. Vance and Jay rarely go home either. What about you?”
“Oh, no, I don’t go home, so my weekends are opened for the most part. Let’s utilize the group chat. If someone gets out of class early or doesn’t have plans on the weekend, we can converse there and plan to meet up if possible. We can always use an extra day of practice.”
“Of course.” I take a photo of the schedule and hand it back to Chance. “I have one more thing.” I pull a USB out of my purse and hand it over. “I have been working on this song lately, it’s a bit different from your usual tempo, but I think the style will match well with everyone.”
“Awesome, we’ll give it a listen.”
“Well, that was easy.” Says Dakota.
“I try to make things easy.” I say with a smile. We stay and chitchat for another thirty minutes. Dakota and Chance are so personable and likable. I don’t know how they managed to get stuck with the two biggest broods on campus. But when they talk about Jay and Vance, it’s always praises. I hope I can see this side of the two soon. Although I enjoyed getting some one on one time with Dakota and Chance, it felt like another punch in the gut with Jay nor Vance showing up.
When I walk into the apartment, Min and Vance are cuddled up on the couch. “Where have you been?” She asks, pausing the movie they’re watching.
“At the band meeting to set up times to practice.” She immediately moves away from Vance and gives him the meanest look I have only seen twice since I’ve known her.
“You were supposed to be there. We talked about this.”
“Babe, I forgot.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not. I’m serious.”
“Min, don’t worry about it. Chance, Dakota and I got it all figured out.”
“Jay wasn’t even there?”
“Vance, we decided Wednesday at five. I rented out the auditorium.” I say, ignoring Min’s question.
“I really did forget Alia.”
“No big deal.” I say with a forced smile. “It’s been a long day, so I’m going to go to bed. Good night, guys.” I walk to my room where I fall against my bed, feeling deflated from today. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this competition successfully if he can’t even come to a fifteen-minute meeting. I refrain from texting him to ask why the hell he couldn’t be bothered to show up. Any excuse he gives won’t be good enough, and all it will do is start a fight. One I can’t afford to start right now. The competition is what’s important. Not Jay.
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“Hey guys.” I say to the band as I enter the school’s auditorium that we rented out for two hours. It should give us enough time to work on our song before becoming burned out. They’re all here early with their instruments set up and tuned. Chance and Dakota smile at my presence, but I don’t bother to look at the other two. “We all really liked the song you gave us and have been working it out to fit us, do you want to hear what we have so far?” Asks Chance.
“Of course!” I sit down a few rows from the front and pull out my notebook so I can take any notes that I may think of while they’re playing. Jay repositions his guitar, then starts the band off. It’s a little rough and patchy, but overall, it sounds far more incredible than what I had given them. “Wow, that was awesome!” I say. “It barely sounds like my song anymore, but I like the direction we’re going.”
“We made sheet music for our own parts.” Chance jumps down off the stage and rushes to hand me a stack of papers. I smile at his enthusiasm, happy that someone is willing to be helpful.
“Thanks, I’ll look over this while you can practice or whatever?” I pull out a pencil then look over the sheet music. Some of the revisions they made, don’t even make it look like the original song. I spent weeks on what I had given them, and in two days they were able to make it into something better. I feel inferior. The seat next to me becomes occupied, I look over expecting to see Chance or Dakota but instead, it’s Jay. My heartbeat quickens and I stiffen at his closeness.
“I want to change the chorus some more. The original was beautiful, but for what we’re trying to accomplish, I want more of an edge.”
“I was thinking the same thing, any suggestions?”
“Raising the tempo in this section.” He says, pointing to a part on the paper. I mark his idea down.
“I also started on the lyrics. It’s not much, but I have an idea of where I want to go with it. Did you do any lyrical composition in England?”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t very confident in the things I had written.”
“Well, I’ll send you a copy of what I have and if you have any ideas, we can work on it together.”
“Sure, I would love to see, but I can’t guarantee I’ll have any ideas.”
“Seems like you know what you’re doing with the music.” He sounds genuine, and it doesn’t help the feelings I’ve been trying to shove down.
“Thanks.” I say. “Let me send you my email real quick.” I pull out my phone and text him my email, then we talk through the song some more, focusing our attention on the chorus. We both feel that if we get the heart of the song perfected, then the rest of the song will come together. The band acts as our guinea pigs as they play out our ideas. We used up our entire two hours, feeling like we could have gone longer if we had the time. “I was wondering if you guys would let me treat you to dinner. We’ve all worked pretty hard today.” I ask.
“I’m in. Starving to death over here.” Says Vance, to my surprise.
“Me too.” Adds Dakota.
“I could eat a four-course meal right now.” Says Chance.
“Don’t be dramatic.” Dakota rolls his eyes, but I smile, seeing their brotherly relationship more clearly now.
“I’ll pass.” Says Jay and he finishes packing up his stuff.
“Loser.” Says Chance.
“Party pooper.” Adds Dakota.
“I have a lot of reading to get done, but you guys go have fun. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
We all head over to a restaurant nearby to eat. “So I’ve been wondering. How do you know Jay and Vance and even Micah?” Asks Chance halfway through our meal.
“We went to high school briefly together.” I say.
“Very brief.” Adds Vance.
“Did you and Micah date? Or are dating? You looked pretty close.”
“Chance, stop getting into other people’s business.”
“It’s okay, Dakota. No, we never dated. We’re just friends. He’s the only one who wants to still be my friend.”
“Well, maybe if you didn’t just suddenly leave.” Vance says angrily. Finally, he’s showing how my leaving made him feel.
“I had my reasons.”
“Yet, you couldn’t seem to tell us them, but we find out three years later.”
“Micah told you?”
“Yeah, he told us your poor ass excuse.”
“Poor excuse? So you wanted me to just let my mom ruin your lives?”
“We would have figured it out.” He says. “You also could have come back and explained to us what happened.”
“I couldn’t. She wouldn’t let me. I don’t know why you all even care anymore. I was nothing you couldn’t forget. You should have forgotten me after three years.”
“You were a part of our family and you left! I cared about you just as much as the rest of them. You know we would have done anything to protect you.” His words are full of hurt, and it makes my guilt of leaving worse.
“I would not let your lives be ruined. Why is it so hard to understand that? You can’t beat my mom. Why is Micah the only one who forgives me?”
“Because you wrote us off like we were nothing to you. After the case, the interviews, the chaos. You never came back. You never reached out to us. Don’t kid yourself Alia, we meant nothing to you.” His words cut deep. They watched the interviews, but could they not see that I didn’t even want to be on TV? That any question I answered was pre-written for me? They couldn’t have possibly understood how hard leaving them was and how much harder it was to act like North Isles never happened.
“I-I have to go.” I pull out some money and lay it on the table.
“If this doesn’t cover it, just let me know and I’ll pay you back.” I take off, unable to hide how hurt I feel by Vance’s words. I hate that I’m letting it bother me so much. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but I thought if they acted like nothing happened then I could too. Vance clearly isn’t on the same page as Jay, or he wouldn’t have said any of those things tonight. They can’t forgive me for what I did. Even if it was to protect them.
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An hour later, I’m sitting at The Okley, my second drink of the night in hand. I know I promised Min I wouldn’t drink, but a couple isn’t going to damage me. I just need to feel better, even if it’s only for a little bit. I hate feeling like so much of my life has been ruined by my mother. If she would have let me stayed in Westbrook, then I would have never met Jay or anyone else. I would have lived in ignorant rich bliss for the rest of my life, not knowing what a family really was or what it meant. The stool next to me becomes occupied, but I don’t bother to look. I just want to finish my drink, then I can go home and sleep it off. “Hey, is this seat taken?” I look over at the man and although I can appreciate how handsome he is, I feel nothing else.
“No. You’re good.” I take another sip.
“You got a man here?”
“Solo. Always and forever. What about you?”
“Same, but hopefully not always and forever.”
“Well, nice to meet you.” I force a smile and he returns one.
“You too.” He clinks his beer bottle against my glass, then takes a swig. I take a second look at him, wondering if Min was right. I just need to have fun. No attachments. I sit up and cross my legs, focusing on the major flirting I’m about to do. Hoping it will be worth it. He reciprocates my flirting and soon talking to him becomes easy. After I finish my drink, I excuse myself to the bathroom to check my phone. There are several missed calls and texts from Min. It’s past midnight and she’s worried that I haven’t come home yet. I don’t respond since her last text came in thirty minutes ago, so she’s probably fallen asleep by now. When I return to the bar, the cute guy is still there, and a freshly made martini sits at my spot.
“I hope you don’t mind.” He says, motioning to the drink as I sit down.
“Not at all. Thank you.” I shouldn’t have another drink, but maybe I’ll just take a couple of sips then call it a night. I close my tab, take a few drinks, then continue talking to the cute guy. A few quick minutes pass when a weird warming sensation flows through my body. My limbs feel heavy and my vision wavers. It’s as if I had gone over my drinking limit. I shouldn’t be feeling this way… I didn’t drink that much… I look at my glass and it hits me. I didn’t watch the glass come straight from the bartender to me. Anyone could have spiked my drink. The guy who’s smiling at me could have spiked it. I stand up, my body swaying and my vision blurry. I just have to make it to the bathroom. I can lock myself in there and call Min for help. But the bathroom feels so far away, I can barely stand up without holding onto the bar for support. I look at the bartenders, all busy with customers, and Sal’s nowhere in sight. I take a step towards the bathroom but stumble. The cute guy catches me and helps me up. “Why don’t we get out of here.” He says, arm under mine as he guides me to the door. I try to pull away from him, but I have no strength. I can barely keep my feet under me as he pulls me outside of the bar. Panic rises in me as my vision darkens. “Just a little further.” I hear him say as my feet completely buckle underneath me and everything goes dark.
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“Oh my god, is she okay?”
“Min, you and Vance go back to our place.”
“Jay, is she okay?”
“I think she needs to sleep it off, but I need you to go somewhere else tonight.”
“Let me get her to bed and I’ll tell you, but I want to be the first to talk to her.”
I open my eyes, my familiar ceiling greeting me, but I don’t remember how I got here. I sit up in bed, my head pounding with pain from the sudden movement. I look at my phone that says it’s three in the morning. I look at what I’m wearing, confused at why I wore my jeans to bed. The last thing I remember was the bar… I was drugged. I stand up and pat myself down, not sure what I’m expecting to find. But nothing feels different. I feel the same, albeit nauseous and gross. I want to shower before I get back into bed so I grab my towel, pajamas and go across the hall to my bathroom. As I wait for the water to warm, I try to remember what happened. I know that bastard drugged me, but did I make it to the bathroom? Did Min come to my rescue? I get into the shower and wash my hair. No memory of the night coming back. I wash my body. Still nothing. I wash my face, willing for something – anything to come to mind. But again, nothing. I dry off and change into my PJ’s. Still not a single memory coming to mind. I step out into the hallway and see the living room light on. It wasn’t on before I got into the shower… I make my way down the hall, my heart racing. Either it’s Min, and she’s pissed, or it’s an intruder. Quite frankly, I think I’d rather take on an intruder. When I reach the end of the hallway, I’m startled to see Jay on the edge of the ottoman. The second he looks up at me, I step back. Pure rage riddles his face, but I can see that he’s trying to contain it before he speaks. The pounding in my chest increases as I worry that Jay found me at the bar and not Min. My eyes go to his hands where I find the knuckles on his right hand are red and busted. A memory of Jay walking towards me – me pleading for him – plops into my mind. The guy at the bar had dragged me out – intending to do god knows what to me, but Jay found me. Jay was there… Jay saved me. “We need to talk.” He says as he rises to his feet. I forget how tall he is and how small it makes me feel.
“Okay…” My voice is weak and cracked. I’m not ready to hear the possible things he wants to say to me. How he’s disappointed in the person I’ve become. Maybe he’s happy that I left because I’m such a big disappointment.
“What the hell were you thinking?” He’s angry, but his voice is leveled. I look to Min’s door, afraid she’ll hear us. “I sent her to our place with Vance so I could talk to you.” He says as if reading my mind. “Alia, do you remember anything?”
“You cannot keep drinking like this and think it’s okay.”
“I didn’t have that much to drink!” I protest.
“Bullshit. I’ve seen you wasted more times than not since you got back.” Anger boils in me at the exaggeration. But that’s how Jay views me… He thinks I’m a drunk.
“I swear! I was barely buzzed.” Jay doesn’t look convinced and despite seeing him with girls. Despite watching him give his number away to that pretty girl in the bad. This hurts worse. Him not believing me. Him thinking the worst of me. My eyes fill with tears at this pain. I need him to believe me. “I went to the bathroom and when I got back, he had ordered me another drink. I wasn’t thinking. I accepted the drink without watching the bartender hand it to me directly. I had already taken a few sips before I realized my mistake. I’m sorry-” My voice catches in my throat as my realization of what actually happened tonight. I need Jay to believe me. Tears tread down my face, one after another, and I don’t bother to wipe them away. “I couldn’t find Sal and I thought if I could just make it to the bathroom before I felt the effects then I would be okay but I… I was too late. I-I couldn’t leave. I-I couldn’t move… I’m sorry. I’m not this person. I didn’t do it. I didn’t get wasted. I was going to come straight home after my second drink. I was angry. I wanted to cool off. I was coming back.”
“Alia.” His voice softens and I see his hand begin to rise, as if to reach for me, but he stops. “I believe you, but I’m too old to be going around and kicking the shit out of people. We have this competition and I need you to stay safe because I lose all rational thought when it comes to protecting you. I can’t keep doing this.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He says with a sigh then sits down as if all the energy he had evaporated. “I’ll talk to Sal in the morning to see if we can find out who this guy is. He ran away before I even thought about calling the cops. He has a busted face, so if I see him on campus, we can at least identify him that way. If you see him, you say something, okay?”
“I will. I promise.”
“Can I ask… What does Min think? Is she mad?”
“I didn’t tell her how I found you but when I brought you in and you were passed out but she didn’t look thrilled. I told her I would talk to you first and asked for her to go to Vance’s. Why does she get so angry when you drink? I mean, I understand where she’s coming from, but her anger seems to be more than about you just drinking.”
“I-I did something before I went to England. It was something stupid, and it terrified her. I was drunk at the time and so she blames the alcohol. Which yes, it was a factor, but I think deep down it would have happened eventually with or without alcohol. So, she gets scared when I drink. She wants me to be safe. She’s worried and I feel like an awful friend because all I’ve done is worried her since I got back.”
“What about when you were in England? She never got worried about you drinking there?”
“Because I didn’t. I was on anti-depressants and seeing a therapist to help with what happened.” I say honestly. There’s no reason to hide the truth from him. He knew about the anxiety and panic attacks when I was in North Isles.
“Oh… But you’re not anymore?”
“No. After a year, my therapist recommended I wean off them as she felt that I only needed them to help me get over a certain part of my life. Now that we had worked it out, she felt comfortable with me not being on them anymore. I was supposed to see a therapist when I came back here, but I thought I would be okay. I can see now that maybe I should start going again.”
“I’m sorry, Alia. You didn’t have to tell me this if you weren’t comfortable.”
“It’s okay. I haven’t been honest with anyone since I returned, and now I see I haven’t been a good friend. All I’ve done is made Min worried. She’s been my biggest supporter these last few years and I’m letting her down.”
“We all make mistakes, Alia, but I know how you feel.” He does. He felt the same way when he took those pills in high school. He felt like he was letting down his friends, but he wasn’t. They were worried about him and they cared about him.
“I’m glad you’re doing better, Jay. I really am.”
“Thank you.” He smiles for a moment, but it disappears too quickly. “Do you mind if I sleep on the couch? It’s been a long night.”
“No, of course. Let me go get you a pillow and blanket.”
“Thank you.” I walk down to the hallway closet and pull out a blanket and pillow. When I return to Jay, he has already drifted off to sleep. A hand on his chest and one foot off the couch. He must have waited all night, wondering if I would wake up so we could talk. I tuck the pillow gently under his head, then put his leg back on the couch and cover him up. Sitting on the ottoman across from him, I sigh. I’ve missed him more than I realized. My chest hurts at the sight of him. “I’m sorry.” I whisper. “I’m sorry for leaving.” With that, I go back to my bedroom and lay down in bed. I feel awful for everything that happened tonight. I’m such a fuckup.