"There you are", Lonnie said when she found Jay leaning onto the railing on the other side of the ship, away from all the people. "Thought you ditched me for someone else."
Jay glanced at her but then continued staring out onto the sea. He hoped that with his back to all the lights, his face was dark enough so that she couldn't see his reddened eyes.
"Sorry, I'm just.. not in the mood for partying right now."
Lonnie raised her eyebrows. "You? Not in the mood for partying?", she stepped closer, frowning slightly, and hesitated, "..Is it about the Isle?"
"No, nothing like that," Jay responded. "I'm sorry, I guess you were expecting a more fun evening when you agreed to come with me."
"Well, I was having fun until you disappeared." She put her elbows onto the railing and let her eyes wander over the horizon. "Is it about me being your beard?"
Jay creased his eyebrows. "What? You're not my beard, you're my friend," he sighed, "But I suppose it was rather selfish of me to ask you. I shouldn't have.. lead you on."
"It's fine. I wasn't expecting anything to happen between us," she said with a chuckle and nudged him with her shoulder playfully, "If I thought you wanted to get with me I would have said no."
Jay snorted quietly.
"Are you gonna tell me who it is that you'd rather be with right now or should I guess?", Lonnie then asked and looked at Jay with a soft smile.
Jay pondered for a moment before he said, "Swear you'll keep it a secret?"
Lonnie raised a hand. "Cross my heart."
There was a short silence in which they just stared at the waves beneath them.
"Carlos," Jay said, just loud enough for her to hear.
She nodded slowly. "I figured."
"You don't look at anyone the way you look at him," she answered and tilted her head as she looked at him, "I'm sorry, Jay, it must be really hard for you."
"All that matters is that he's happy. He deserves it," Jay said quietly, "It's amazing how Jane can make him smile like that."
He closed his eyes and drew in a breath to keep his composure. "It.. it used to be just us and.. I thought that that would never change," he sniffled before he continued with a raspy voice, "But I.. I don't know, I guess I waited too long and I lost him."
Lonnie furrowed her eyebrows slightly as she listened. "You didn't lose him, he's still your friend," she said, in an attempt to comfort him.
"Maybe it's better this way," he said and shrugged lamely, "I mean he needs to move on from the Isle and I would just hold him back. Jane will be good for him."
"Maybe he needs to move on from the Isle, but not from you," Lonnie said, "Your past will always connect you, that's something no one else has."
When he was about to answer he started to tear up and lowered his head. There was a short pause.
"I thought love was supposed to be happy. I wish someone would have told me how much it can hurt."
Lonnie glanced at him. "Would that have changed anything?"
"Don't know," he responded and shook his head lightly, "Maybe I would have stayed on the Isle, spared myself the pain," he hesitated and exhaled audibly, "I don't know what's worse, never seeing him again or seeing him every day."
"Well, I'm glad you're here," Lonnie said, rubbing his back gently, and continued in a softer voice, "It'll get easier, I promise."
A few tears trickled down his cheeks and Lonnie waited patiently at his side.
"Sorry I'm such a mess tonight," Jay then said and wiped over his face with his hands, "I'll make it up to you somehow."
Lonnie waved her hand. "Don't sweat it, that's what friends are for."
He smiled at her and nudged her with his shoulder. "You're the best."
She smiled. "I know."
For a while longer they just stood there and watched the waves in silence.
Chapter 2: Been Away For Too Long
chapter title taken from the song Too Far by Anna F, which inspired me to write this second part after all. :>
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Are you ready?", Lonnie asked as they walked on a cobbled street leading up to a pompous church.
Lots of people where already gathered in front of it, talking to each other exitedly. An extensive camera crew was buzzing around the guests, documenting every second of the event.
Jay exhaled audibly. "Nope." He scanned the people nervously, looking for someone. "Do you see him?"
"No. And I thought Audrey was joking when she said she wanted to invite the entire kingdom," Lonnie answered, searching the crowd as well.
As they came closer to the church Jay's heart was beating so fast he thought he could actually feel it. "Audrey's always been one to go all out," he said, "She's probably just marrying Chad so she can throw this extravaganza."
Lonnie snorted quietly. "Actually, she always tells me how sweet he is. I'm pretty sure she wouldn't settle for anything less than perfect for her wedding, that includes the husband."
Jay took a deep breath, his eyes still jumping from person to person. "Tell me when you see him so I can make a run for it."
"You are not backing out now," Lonnie said firmly and gave his arm a squeeze, "It'll be fine, he'll be happy to see you."
"But what if not?", Jay asked, "I mean he's the one who moved to the other side of Auradon."
"To go to college," she added firmly and stopped walking so she could look at Jay properly, "We've been over this. There could be a million reasons why he never called." She hesitated and added, "Or texted, or visited.."
Jay looked down, thinking for a moment, but then he just tugged at Lonnie's arm lightly to continue walking and didn't say anything.
When they reached the crowd a few people came up to greet them, but they didn't get to say much before they were interrupted by the sound of fanfares drawing closer.
A big horse-drawn carriage approached the church and the people fanned out to make room for it. A bunch of cameramen immediately circled the carriage to film the arrival of King Ben and Queen Mal from every angle.
The coachman opened the door and out stepped Ben, smiling brightly and waving at his people.
"You'd think it'd be awkward to have your ex at your wedding," Jay mumbled to Lonnie.
"Well, the king can't not show up. Besides, they're on good terms so I'm sure it'll be fine," Lonnie answered.
Behind Ben, Mal politely turned down the coachman offering his hand to help her and all but jumped out of the carriage like she couldn't get out fast enough.
Her face changed barely noticable from a somewhat forced smile to a real one when she spotted Jay and Lonnie. She gave Ben a nudge and together they walked up to them while security held back paparazzi.
"Oh, it's so good to see you guys," Mal said and hugged them both tightly. She took Jay's hands and looked closely at his face, as if to refresh her memory. "I feel like we only see each other at weddings or when somebody dies."
"Yeah, that's pretty much it," Jay responded and smiled apologetically, although it really wasn't his fault that their highnesses barely had time to breath these days.
Ben gave the both of them a brief hug as well. "We really need to loosen our schedule a little bit."
"We better, or I might just have to kill someone," Mal said with a slightly demanding undertone and chuckled, and it was a little hard to tell if she was joking or not.
Jay smiled. He really missed her particular brand of humor.
"Where's Evie?", he then asked, "I haven't seen her anywhere."
"She was probably one of the first to be here. Audrey requested she be at her side at all times in case there's an emergency with the dress," Mal explained, "I haven't seen her as much as I would have liked to the past few months either, she's been crazy busy. I think 4 Hearts outfitted the entire kingdom for today."
Lonnie shot a glance at Jay and took the word, "And have you heard from Carlos? You said he'd be here but we haven't seen him yet."
Mal's eyes jumped to Lonnie and back to Jay as she answered, "No, but I'm sure he'll be here any minute. I made him promise."
"He didn't have much of a choice, you sent him all of our carrier pidgeons at once," Ben remarked with an amused smile.
"We haven't seen him in ages!", Mal defended herself, "It's about time he showed his face again."
"I wish I could've seen that," Lonnie said and laughed.
Jay smiled at Mal, but before he could say anything Lumiere interrupted them by stepping to Ben's side and signalling him that it was time for Mal and him to get inside.
"When you see him tell him to come find me!", Mal asked them and moved along reluctantly.
Jay and Lonnie watched as the paparazzi tried to reach the couple on their way in.
They turned around and froze when they spotted Carlos and Jane approaching the crowd with their arms linked.
Jane noticed them as well and nudged Carlos, waving at them exitedly.
Jay locked eyes with Carlos for a few seconds before he snapped out of it and forced himself not to stare.
"You said they broke up!", Jay hissed, feeling his gut twist, but trying his hardest to keep a friendly expression.
"That's what she told me!", Lonnie hissed back and together they struggled to conceal their astonishment.
"Hi guys!", Jane greeted them cheerfully and let go of Carlos to give them both a hug.
Carlos looked like a deer in headlights as he approached Jay hesitantly. "Hey," he said quietly.
"Hey," Jay answered, not sure what to do with himself, but then Carlos closed the gap between them and gave him a loose hug.
Jay slowly put his hands on Carlos' back. He had been mentally preparing for this moment and it was just like he thought it would be.
Carlos let go and gave him a reserved smile. "..It's good to see you."
"Good to see you, too," Jay responded. He was happy to see him, but he had no idea if or how much Carlos had changed over the past three years and he was afraid that they would have nothing to say to each other. Well, Jay knew a thing or two he wanted to say to Carlos, but he had no idea where to start.
Lonnie ended the brief moment of silence, "So, how's university going, Carlos? I bet you have like, three PhD's by now."
Carlos chuckled quietly and Jay felt a light pang in his chest at the all too familiar sound.
"No, actually, I'm only working towards my second one right now," Carlos answered with a coy smile, then he bit his bottom lip, "I.. I'm thinking about taking a break from studying after that. I mean I can always go back to it later, so.."
Jane glanced at Carlos but Jay couldn't tell what her expression meant.
"Oh, are you gonna come back to Auradon City?", Lonnie asked, raising her eyebrows in surprise.
Carlos nodded, "Yep ...I kinda missed it."
The bell started chiming, telling the people it was time to gather inside the church.
"You guys wanna sit with us? My mom got us some great spots," Jane asked and looked at Jay and Lonnie expectantly.
"Sure!", Lonnie answered immediately and together they started moving with the crowd.
Jay ended up staring at the ruffles of Audrey's dress for the entire ceremony in order to avoid glancing at Carlos.
When it was finally over and all the guests started shuffling towards the exit, Carlos touched Jay's arm to get his attention, but Jay cut him off before he could even so much as open his mouth. "Mal said she wanted to see you. We'll meet up later, okay?", he said, trying to sound casual when in reality he had to suppress a rising panic and was glad for any excuse to put off an actual conversation with Carlos a little further.
Carlos raised his eyebrows in confusion and responded, "Uh, yeah, sure. I'll go find her."
With that Carlos walked away, and Lonnie rammed her elbow into Jay's side. "What was that? I thought you wanted to talk to him!", she hissed.
"Talk to who?", Jane asked as she popped up next to Lonnie, "Carlos?" Her expression was a mixture of curiosity and concern.
"..Yeah," Jay answered hesitantly, "I mean I haven't talked to him in years.."
Jane nodded, although this was hardly new information to her.
Jay expected her to say something, but she stayed quiet.
The entire wedding entourage made a short trip to Charming Castle, where the feast and the rest of the festivities were to take place.
In the banquet hall, Jay and the others took their seats on a table that was reserved for them, and were soon joined by Mal, Ben and Carlos.
Evie was the last to arrive, and she plopped down on her chair with a huff. "Audrey finally let me go after I convinced her that Cinderella's mice will look out for any loose threads."
During the meal everyone was talking animatedly. It wasn't often that they were all in one place together and they had a lot of catching up to do.
Jay did his best not to let it show but he was distracted by Carlos, who sat right across from him. The two of them were also the only ones not talking to each other directly.
Communication between them had just ceased, and neither of them seemed to know where to pick up again.
Jay had imagined countless times what it would be like to see him again after all this time, but he still felt way too unprepared. It was like the Carlos before him was a complete stranger. Well, maybe not complete; the way his nose crinkled when he laughed was still the same.
After the meal the party moved into the great ball room, where music was already playing when they entered.
"May I have this dance?", Mal asked, holding out a hand for Jay to take and added, "I'm not taking no for a answer."
Jay took her hand with a soft smile and they stepped further into the middle of the room.
"I'm a little rusty," Jay warned her when he put his hands in place, but Mal just rolled her eyes playfully, "Oh, come on, it's just a waltz, and you've always been a natural."
Jay smirked when he recalled how Mal had struggled when she had to learn how to dance as part of being a Lady of the Court.
For a while, they just danced without saying anything.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jay caught a glimpse of Evie and Carlos also dancing not far away from them.
He almost missed a step and Mal seemed surprised, but then followed his gaze.
"You are going to talk to him, right?", she asked, undisturbed by his misstep, "You've been dancing around each other all day."
Jay hesitated as he paid closer attention to the beat so he wouldn't mess up again. "..I want to, but what am I even supposed to say? 'Hey, by the way, why did you shut me out of your life'?"
Mal shrugged, "Yeah, basically." She paused and glanced over to Carlos again. "..Do you still have feelings for him?"
Jay didn't remember when he told Mal that he had been in love with Carlos, or if he told her at all, but he figured she must've have known all along anyway.
For a long time, he didn't have to think about it. Carlos was gone; out of sight, out of mind. But seeing him again stirred up all of these old feelings, making Jay wonder if he had ever truly been over him.
"I never got closure," he simply answered.
Mal bit her bottom lip, as if to stop herself from saying anything further, and they kept on dancing in silence until the music stopped.
Jay bowed and Mal curtsied. "This was only the first of many," she said, not leaving Jay much of a choice, but with a warm smile on her face.
"Of course," he answered.
Behind him Evie's voice sounded, "May I have the next one?"
Jay turned around to find Evie smiling brightly at him. Carlos stood next to next to her, about to ask Mal the same, but the queen took Evie's hand instead and said, "Yes, you may," before dragging her away quickly.
It took Jay a moment to process what just happened and he followed the girls with his eyes until Carlos interrupted his thoughts.
"Uh, may I have this dance.. I guess?"
Jay turned to him, surprised, and wasn't sure if it would be more awkward to take him up on the offer or to turn him down, but maybe this was just the ice breaker the two of them needed.
"Sure," he said, trying to give Carlos a smile, and lifted his arms just as the music started playing again.
"Uh, I only know how to lead," Carlos said and bit his bottom lip nervously.
Jay snorted quietly and changed his position.
Carlos took Jay's hand into his and put the other on Jay's back hesitantly.
They fell into step, rigid at first, but after a while both of them relaxed a little. It was almost surreal to Jay to be directly in front of Carlos, looking at him, touching him. He had imagined a million times how this day could play out, and he had asked Lonnie to pinch him more than once, but he still couldn't quite believe it.
So much had changed about the both of them, yet everything about Carlos felt so painfully familiar, except-
"I can't believe you're taller than me," Jay said when he realized that he had to look up at Carlos ever so slightly.
The corners of Carlos' mouth twitched upwards. "Yeah, it's gonna take a little getting used to."
Jay furrowed his eyebrows. "So.. you're really coming back?" Did he intend to explain himself to Jay at all or was he just planning to come back into his life as if nothing had happened?
Carlos looked down. "Yeah.. if you'll have me."
With that they stopped dancing, stood there frozen but still in position for a few moments while the other couples kept twirling around them.
Jay stared at Carlos' face, while Carlos avoided his eyes.
"Can we talk?", Carlos then said, still not looking at Jay directly.
"Yeah, let's talk," Jay responded, not trying very hard to conceal his anger, and finally let go of Carlos.
"..In private?", Carlos added.
They left the ball room and walked through a long hallway with floor length windows to one side. The sun was already setting and accentuated all the golden ornaments on the walls and pillars, making the hallway look almost enchanted.
Jay and Carlos passed a few people, who had also seeked the quiet outside of the ball room to talk, and only came to a halt when they were far enough away for anyone to hear them.
For a little while they were silent, staring at the topiaries outside, neither of them sure where to begin.
Jay turned his eyes to Carlos. "So.. how's Dude?", he asked, dancing around the elephant in the room.
Since Carlos had stopped pretty much all contact, Jay didn't know if the dog was even still alive and he suddenly felt very bad for having brought it up at all. For all he knew something bad could have happened to Dude, and that really wouldn't be a good start to this conversation.
To his relief, Carlos smiled, still staring at something in the garden outside, before he met Jay's gaze. "He's good. Got himself a girlfriend and a whole bunch of puppies."
It was still a bit strange, even after all this time, to see that happiness in Carlos' eyes when he was talking about dogs, when he used to be so scared of them for the better part of his life.
And it stung a little not to have heard about those puppies sooner. Jay would have loved to see Carlos' face when they were born.
"Speaking of girlfriend," Jay said, changing the topic awkwardly, "I thought you guys broke up?"
Carlos averted his eyes, "We did. But we're still close."
"Ah," Jay nodded, but he wasn't sure what to make of it. He was missing so much context, he had no idea what Carlos' life was like.
There was a short pause while the both of them were trying to figure out how to keep the conversation going.
Jay had so many questions whirring around in his head, but it all came down to one; Why did Carlos all but vanish out of his life?
Carlos finally steered the conversation into the direction it inevitably had to go. "I've.. I've thought about it a lot," he said, his voice sounding frail, and turned his head to look at Jay, "but now I don't know what to say."
Jay met his eyes and huffed, "I don't know, maybe start at the part where you just dropped me? Where the only times I heard from you were through other people?" It took Jay all his willpower to keep calm as all the pent-up rage threatened to boil over. "No calls, no texts, not even a single fucking pigeon," his voice became more quiet, "I just don't get it."
Part of Jay wanted to tell Carlos how much it had hurt, just to rub it in and hurt him too to get some kind of petty revenge, but he knew it wouldn't give him the peace he was looking for.
Carlos cast down his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, and Jay wanted to laugh in his face, laugh at the situation and this pathetic excuse of an apology, laugh at himself for still caring as much about it after three years as he did on the first day.
"I'm gonna need more than that," Jay said deadpan when Carlos didn't continue right away.
Carlos drew in a shaky breath and looked out of the window again so that he didn't have to look at Jay. "I used to think that everyone in Auradon got their happily ever after.. so when we came here I thought I would get one too."
Jay furrowed his eyebrows and looked at Carlos intently, trying to figure out where he was going with this, and Carlos spoke on, "So when I got to know Jane I thought it was gonna be her. It just.. made sense." He started fumbling with the hem of his jacket. "It seemed like the right thing to do, and.. and I do love her a lot, but it's not the same. It's not the same." He broke off to compose himself and Jay watched him blink tears away.
"What are you getting at?", Jay asked quietly.
Carlos shook his head and looked anywhere but Jay. "I, I get it if you never want to talk to me again, but I have to tell you." He was becoming more and more upset as he spoke. "I have to try and make it right somehow, and I know it's already years late.. I-I was scared and I know it was stupid and wrong but it was so much easier to just.. hide away. But I don't want to- I can't- I don't want to give up on you like that. It's not fair to you and I-"
"Carlos," Jay interrupted him, impatience in his voice, and waited for Carlos to wipe a tear off of his cheek and pay attention to him. "Tell me what?", he asked, his eyes filling with tears as well, but he spoke calmly, albeit with a shaky voice, "What could possibly be so bad that you couldn't have told me three years ago?"
Carlos sniffled and hesitated, and when he finally answered his voice was so quiet that Jay could barely hear him, "I love you."
For a few seconds, Jay just stared at him. His mind was swirling, making him dizzy, and he had to take a moment to steady himself.
Then he nodded, as if he had expected it, as if he had known all along, but he wasn't sure if he really did or if the irony was just too perfect.
He looked away, absentmindedly wiping away a tear.
After several moments Carlos took a deep breath and continued. "..I always have. But I didn't know. I didn't know.. what true love was supposed to feel like, and by the time I realized.. it was already too late. I didn't know how to face you," he sniffled again, "but I can't take it anymore."
Jay ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "I want to be mad at you, you know?"
"I'm sorry, you have every right to, and if you want me to leave-," Carlos spluttered but Jay cut him off.
"Let me finish." He met Carlos' gaze. "I get it, alright? When I saw you with Jane, I thought 'that's it, that's their happily ever after right there' and I, I always just wanted you to be happy. And I kept my mouth shut, because I didn't want to keep you from your happiness, and because I didn't want to lose you, even if seeing you everyday was the worst feeling I could have ever imagined," he let out a laugh of desperation, "I get it," he repeated, "I can't blame you, because I never told you either. And I regretted it every single day."
"What are you saying?", Carlos asked, just above a whisper, looking at Jay with glassy eyes, but he had already guessed the answer.
"I love you too."
There was another silence.
Jay had intended to tell him that day. Maybe not exactly like this, but he wanted to say it out loud, wanted Carlos to know, so he could finally close this chapter for good. So that he could go about his life and not agonize over how things could have gone differently if he hadn't let Carlos go without a fight.
But now that he had finally said it, he realized that the feelings he had for Carlos were all but behind him.
"I mean I have," Jay then said, voice almost failing, "I loved you.. But then you left, and, and I always thought I was such an idiot for caring so much. Do you have any idea how much it hurts to think that the person you love more than your own life doesn't even care enough to text you?" He turned away, couldn't bear to let Carlos see him cry any longer. "Fuck..", he mumbled.
Jay felt like taking one of the decorative vases and smash a window, just to alleviate the burning anger inside of him.
Carlos still had his eyes on Jay. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, "..For what it's worth, I didn't feel any better about it. I thought.. maybe I loved you too much, more than I was supposed to because.. you were my best friend and all, and you would never love me the same way, so I left before you had the chance to," as he spoke tear after tear fell down his cheeks and he took a small step towards Jay, but then froze again, "I missed you.. so much... Is there any chance we can go back to the way things were?," his voice faded to a whisper, "Please."
Jay thought for a moment while staring at his faint reflection in the window. "No," he responded, and Carlos closed his eyes as if he had taken the final blow.
Then Jay turned his head in Carlos' direction, but did not look at him, "I don't want to go back to the way things were, I don't think I can. Let's just.. start over," he said with a light shrugg.
Carlos exhaled and covered his eyes with a hand for a moment to collect himself. Then he met Jay's gaze and said hesitantly, "Do you.. do think you can love me again.. some day?"
"I dont think I ever stopped," Jay responded and turned his whole body to face Carlos again, "But I'm gonna need time."
Carlos nodded, "Yeah. Me too." He wiped over his eyes and smiled.
Jay couldn't help but smile too. He knew that there was still a lot of work to be done to build up their relationship again, but for now he was incredibly relieved. This had been eating away at him for so long and he was just glad that this wall between them was finally torn down.
"Let's not go back in right away. We probably look like crap," Jay said with a lazy smirk and dabbed at his eyes with his sleeve.
"Okay," Carlos responded. There was a brief silence in which neither of them knew what to do, so he asked, "..Do you wanna see pictures of the puppies?"
Jay laughed, "I thought you'd never ask."
Carlos seemed to have documented every step of the puppies, and they completely forgot that they still needed to be somewhere while they were slowly warming up to a casual conversation.
They didn't notice when someone approached them. "Uh, guys?", a voice sounded and they looked up to see Jane eyeing them cautiously, "We were wondering what was taking you so long," she looked at Carlos inquisitively, "Everything alright?"
"Yeah, uh, it's all good," Carlos answered with a soft smile.
"We should really get back in, huh," Jay said and the three of them started walking towards the ball room. "I still owe Evie a dance but you'll dance with me afterwards, right?", he asked Jane, who beamed at him and answered, "I'd love to."
i intend to write a third part eventually, but i have a lot of other projects i wanna do first, so this is complete for now ^^ thank you for reading, i hope you enjoyed.