Truce

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Chapter 17

Kaia

“How was school?” It was Atlas, not Parker, sitting at the kitchen bench. I wasn’t expecting him home; I thought he would be at work.

“Pretty shocking,” I admitted before giving him a hug. I hadn’t seen him in a few days.

“Parker told me you went late,” he said with the look of concern he seemed to always wear around me and Parker. He was always worried. “Do you want to talk about it?”

I shook my head.

“What about school?”

I shrugged. “Marcus was being a dickhead,” I said so I wouldn’t worry him more than necessary. “Now his whole face is messed up.”

“WHAT? You hit him??” He exclaimed, and although he seemed kind of mad I could see a tiny ounce of pride on his face. He taught me to fight a couple of years ago so I could have beaten him up pretty well, if I’d managed to get one of my arms back.

“No!” I said, shaking my head profusely. Then I got a grin across my face as I said; “Jacob did.”

“As in the Jacob you’re pretending to date?”

I nodded.

“I’m going to have to re-meet him, I think. He sounds like a good guy.”

“A good guy who got suspended,” I frowned.

“He got suspended?”

“You should have seen Marcus,” was all I said, and then chuckled at the thought. I was being rather cavalier about this but it was my only way of coping. Mr. Lawson assured me I wouldn’t have to worry about seeing him around school again which was a weight off my shoulders.

“So you’re saying Jacob beat up Marcus because he was being a ‘dickhead’,” he quoted me. “And got suspended for something he did for you?”

Slowly, I nodded, understanding what he was getting at. Jacob got suspended for me. I don’t even think I thanked him for what he did. Now I felt bad. “At least I talked the principal out of giving him a four day suspension. He’s only got one.”

Atlas had the same weird look on his face Parker had this morning so I groaned. “Not you too.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you talked to Parker recently?”

He just smiled, looking innocent as anything.

“Ugh,” I groaned again. “There is nothing going on!”

“I never said a word.”

I rolled my eyes and was about to leave, but he got my attention.

“I had lunch with Nanna today.”

I sat back down.

“That’s what I thought,” he gloated, but then sobered up and got straight to the point. “She’s coming over for dinner next Saturday night and she is going to meet Jacob.”

All of a sudden another weight was on my shoulders. In a week and two days, I had to make it convincing to my grandmother that Jacob and I were together and I was happy and so on so forth. Neither of those were particularly true, although I was smiling a lot more recently. I wondered why.

“Okay.” I couldn’t really think of anything else to say.

“Nervous?”

I nodded.

“Don’t worry. She just needs to be convinced that you’re happy and to be honest, you are around him from what Parker has said. It’ll be fine.”

I hoped so. This was why I was pretending to date him in the first place. I needed this to happen. I should have been wanting this to happen. I was still dreading it.

“I’ve got to go get ready,” I said, standing up once more and grabbing a muesli bar from the pantry.

“For what?”

“It’s Jacob’s sister’s birthday so I’m going to their place for dinner.”

He nodded in understanding. “So I’m all alone for dinner then?”

“Wait, where’s Parker?”

“At a friend’s house,” he said, but he hesitated. That was my brother’s sign that he was hiding something.

I raised my eyebrow. “Which friend?”

“I ain’t getting in the middle of this!” He exclaimed, throwing his hands up. “She told me not to tell you where she was so I’m not going to but I’m also not going to be the middle man. Talk to her yourself!”

I laughed at his outburst, one so familiar because I’d heard it so many times. He always used to be the middle man between us two, whenever we didn’t get along. He hated it.

“I’ll come get you when I’m ready to go!” I called and then headed to my room.

I fell into bed and grabbed out my phone, going to play a quick game of 1010! before starting the process of getting ready. But then I saw all the texts and voice messages I still hadn’t gotten around to looking at and decided now would be a good time.

I went to the voicemails as they were the first ones I’d received. At 2:03am and onwards.

“What’s going on? What’s wrong?” And then it cut out.

“Kaia! Pick up the phone! I just want to know you’re okay.”

“Please pick up. I know something’s happened and I’m worrying!”

“Look. I know you obviously don’t want to talk about it because you probably don’t trust me or whatever and that’s fine. I don’t care. I just want you to know that I know something’s going on with you and I don’t know what it is but I’m here for you, as tacky as that sounds. I know you don’t really like me but you’re one of my friends now whether you like it or not so it’s my job to look out for you. I’ll see you at school.”

Listening to the last one made my want to tear up. I was really emotional lately. Maybe I was getting close to my period or something, I don’t know. It was so sweet, in a Jacob sort of way. He could be nice when he wanted to be.

But I would have to correct him at some stage. I thought of him as a friend too, one of my very few, actually. He was good company, although I probably wouldn’t admit that much to him. It’d just add to his ego.

Smiling, I moved on to the text messages which were all from later in the morning.

Jacob: ur not at school yet and im stuck with the guys and I forgot how annoying they can be pls help

Jacob: okay its psych now and ur definitely not here so it means somethings up but im not gonna ask.

Jacob: then again, u might have got abducted by aliens and couldn’t show up to school in which case I should probs try to find you

Jacob: or was it the mafia? I always had a thing against the Italians.

Jacob: wait, are the mafia Italians? That doesn’t sound right. Like, Italians have food. I doubt theyd kidnap an innocent girl. But I could picture you being tied up by spagetti and then u breaking free like Godzilla.

Jacob: Wait no, that’s the Japanese. Or chinese.

Jacob: I should have taken geography more seriously fml help pls

I cracked up laughing and they kept getting even funnier, to the stage where my stomach hurt and there were tears rolling down my cheeks. He was such an idiot!

But I kinda liked it.

I got ready while I thought about the events of today, but mainly about Jacob. It was bad. I really needed to get him out of my head but every time I thought of something else, boom. He was back.

Ada had said it was a formal thing so for me to wear a dress, but that could mean anything! It was times like these I needed my sister around to help me out.

But nooooo. She was too busy off with her secret friend at a secret place doing secret stuff. Why was everyone always so secretive about stuff? Like Ada and Hayden with each other and Jacob with his ulterior motives for using me and Zavier with keeping Annaliese from us. I didn’t get it!

Then again, it was kind of hypocritical for me to say that, considering I was hiding the most from everyone. I had the feeling Jacob was starting to realise with my not-so-subtle avoidance on certain topics. Everything would spill out one day, but just not today.

I ended up putting on a relatively short blue A line dress which floated on me in a good way. It was always pretty and brought out the blue in my eyes, making it overshadow the stupid grey they sometimes were. I left my hair out and ran the straightener over it quickly to get out the hairtie kinks, but otherwise it hung loose down my back.

Soon enough it was time to go and I was getting Ada’s present and Atlas drove me there. He told me he would get Parker to come pick me up and I would just text her what time, so I thanked him and he drove off.

It was still humid and I could feel sweat beading at the base of my neck, so I wiped it away and rang the doorbell.

I heard it chime and then I heard scurrying and after a minute the door opened. It was Jacob and for a second my mind just went holy mother of god. It was a well-known fact that my fake boyfriend was hot, but in a fitted, dark blue shirt that he had rolled up above his elbows and slacks and dress shoes with his hair gelled perfectly, he looked like a model.

I nearly lost all my dignity and jumped him then and there, and part of me wished I would have. He was so hot; it was unfair.

“Damn,” he breathed as if unconsciously, looking me up and down and making me feel self conscious. Apparently, he seemed to be having a similar reaction although I had no idea why. I was ordinary, plain, boring, with basically no chest and height that was off-putting to most guys. Nothing to stare at.

I didn’t want him to see that I was in any way affected by his comment or by him so I just smirked over my blush.

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

Jacob

“Damn.” I didn’t mean for that to slip out, but when I saw Kaia in that dress I couldn’t help it. I think God must have been trying to punish me for something by making it so that I pretended to date Kaia. Look but don’t touch. It was killing me.

She smirked at me, her eyes glowing devilishly. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”

I rolled my eyes. “You’re kind of annoying, did you know that?”

She nodded with a huge grin and I just shook my head. She was such a pain, but at least she seemed to be better than this afternoon. And last night.

I called her last night about the jumper she’d given back and something was off. She sounded like she was crying and I felt completely useless. She wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. Like always.

At least she was smiling now, for the time being.

“You ready for dinner?” I asked, about to lead her to the dining room but she grabbed my hand.

“Wait!”

I turned around and she let go, suddenly with a serious look on her face. “I realised that I hadn’t really thanked you for today. Not properly,” her grey-blue eyes stayed on mine as she spoke and I couldn’t look away. “I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t come when you did, and I’m so thankful I didn’t have to find out. Thank you.”

“For saving you?” I smirked trying to lighten the mood before we went in.

“Again.”

I was tempted to belt out I can be your hero baby from one of the songs I loved as a kid but figured it probably wasn’t the time. Besides, there was an entire table of family and Hayden two rooms over who would undoubtedly hear it.

“Any time,” I said, and I meant it.

We started to walk towards the dining room but she stopped just short of it. “Oh, and by the way. You’re one of my friends too.”

I don’t know why but it brought a smile to my face. Not a smirk or a half smile like I usually did, but a real actual smile.

I hooked my arm around her waist and she just rolled her eyes, and then we went into the dining room.

The table was set with all the food Louise had cooked laying down the centre of the table. We were having a roast which was apparently fancy but I saw nothing fancy about it. It was literally impossible to eat it without making a mess with all the gravy and gristle in the meat and crackle and what not.

All my family and Hayden were already seated at the table, excluding Vati who had visited this morning because he had an important meeting tonight. As you do when you are a king.

Everyone turned towards us, and burst into shouts of welcome towards Kaia. Mutti got up and hugged her, as did Milena actually. Royce stood up and greeted her politely but he wasn’t really a hugger, and Ada stood up as well.

Kaia headed over to Ada and because I was kind of attached to her, I went too, but she shrugged out of my grasp as soon as we got to the birthday girl.

“Happy Birthday!” Kaia exclaimed, pulling Ada into a hug. I could see her whisper something into Ada’s ear before she pulled away which made my sister flush bright red.

What the hell was that???

I didn’t get the chance to ask because Kaia was already giving Ada a small box which she had on a ribbon around her wrist. That would be why I hadn’t noticed.

“You didn’t have to,” she said and from her expression I could tell she was both surprised and grateful.

But I still wanted to know what Kaia had said. I literally couldn’t think of anything to make my sister blush like that, except maybe a guy. But being her big overprotective brother I didn’t want to even think that she was seeing someone.

I worked hard to keep the grimace of my face.

Ada opened the box and gasped. In the black velvet lay a ring with a little flower on it, a yellow gemstone laying in the centre. It was nice and looked really expensive, and Ada gushed and hugged her again.

God damn it. Why did Kaia have to be so nice? It made her impossible not to like and that was the last thing I wanted to do right now.

“I love it! Thank you!”

Kaia just laughed and came back to my side, twining her fingers with mine. Her hands were so warm and she was moving her thumb back and forth over my knuckle which felt really nice for some reason. Or maybe it was because it was her and anything she did would be good.

Fuck, that was pathetic. I’m glad I didn’t say that out loud because Hayden would have laughed in my face and not let me forget it.

I wanted to groan at what Kaia was turning me in to, but we were in a public place and were pretending to date which was kind of really important so that I wouldn’t have to become king and have no life. So with that in mind we went back around the table and took our seats, mine beside Hayden and her beside Royce.

Mutti started to tap the side of her wine glass with her spoon and stood up, holding her glass up to make a toast. “To my lovely daughter on her fifteenth birthday. Let us hope she will have a magical year.”

She said it all in German so Hayden was confused and I’m pretty sure Kaia wasn’t following, but they followed my lead and toasted my little sister. “To Ada.”

And then of course the room erupted into noise, everyone clattering dishes to get the best food onto their plates and launching into conversations. To my right Hayden had gotten into a conversation with Ada while to my left, my biggest brother and Kaia were chatting away.

I focussed on getting food considering I was starving and because it was roast and even though it was hot outside I loved roast.

When I was finished with the meat dish I offered the plate to Kaia which she accepted with a smile and thanks. It was good she had remembered we were dating today, as Mutti’s gaze was on us. It wasn’t obvious, but every so often she would look up from her conversation with Milena and to us.

So even though I wasn’t contributing to Royce and Kaia’s conversation, I had my arm draped around the back of Kaia’s chair and was nodding at the appropriate times and laughing at others. It wasn’t much, but if I was actually dating Kaia I probably would be doing the same thing.

Honestly, dating Kaia was a concept I’d considered way too often in the past few days, no thanks to freaking everyone bringing it up every two seconds. I mean, I totally understood why people outside the loop did it, but then there was Annaliese and Ada and Hayden.

Did I hate the concept? No. But there was no chance it was ever going to become reality. Even if I wanted it to, and I wasn’t sure that I did.

One quick gaze over at her mid-laugh made me smile a little so maybe I did like her. But after that she elbowed me in the gut for a reason I didn’t quite catch, so maybe I didn’t.

At times like these I wish someone would just tell me what I was feeling. It was no lie that I wasn’t the most observant, even when it came to myself. Having a little person inside my head to tell me what I was thinking would have been awesome. Like the angel and devil apparitions in so many television shows and movies. The only one I could think of was The Emperor’s New Groove, where Kronk has the two macho rulers on each shoulder.

That got me thinking about that movie and how great it was and how I should have watched it again.

Pull the lever, Kronk.

WRONG LEVEEERRRRRR!

I chuckled a little.

“What was that?” Kaia asked, turning towards me and obviously catching on. Unlike me, she was observant. She noticed everything.

“Have you seen The Emperor’s New Groove?” I looked over her shoulder to where Royce was talking with Mutti, obviously having finished their conversation.

“Wrong lever!” She quoted perfectly what I had thought and I laughed again.

“Exactly!” I grinned and then sighed, taking a sip of wine. It was red wine and tasted revolting but it was better than water. A little. “I haven’t seen that movie in ages.”

“We should watch it,” she suggested, tucking her hair behind her ear which made her look a bit younger and a bit cuter.

Then a brilliant idea popped into my head and I nodded. “On the plane to Europe,” I said. “We’ve got the time.”

“Yes! Oh, do you remember the bit where…”

The rest of the dinner was us basically retelling the entire movie, every sentence starting with do you remember the part where... or OH and this bit when… I hadn’t laughed so much in a long time.

When we were finished I cleared the table with my brothers, Luca of whom was being a prick. “So, have you banged her yet?” His eyes were wide with excitement as if he were going to get all the non-existent details.

“That’s none of your business,” I said as we made our second trip to the kitchen, food dishes now in our hands. We set them on the counter which someone would be allocated to clean up after dessert and headed back for the third round.

“As your brother, I get full access into your business,” he grinned, slinging an arm around my neck. I elbowed him in the stomach but then we were in the dining room and I couldn’t do more damage. I may have been younger, but I was way stronger.

I wanted to wait until he got out of the room so that I didn’t have to resist the urge to punch his face in or say anything more on the matter. The only way I could see to do that was Kaia, who wasn’t really talking to anyone but just looking in on other’s conversations.

I just went to my empty seat beside her and put one of my knees on it, my arm on the back of her chair.

I leaned over her and kissed her cheek so that I would be able to tell her something without the whole table hearing. “My brother is such a dickhead. Please help,” I whispered in a slightly over-dramatized voice. There wasn’t anything she could do except help me procrastinate. She turned up to me and let out a light laugh and I wasn’t sure whether it was because she was acting or she actually found it funny.

“What did he do?” She asked and I was about to answer when Mutti cut me off.

“You use girlfriend to not do work? Shame on you,” she said in her European-English, her lips pressed into a thin line but her eyes were laughing as my mother’s always were.

“I just needed to tell her something!” I defended myself, raising my hands in the universal sign of surrender.

“Ja, okay,” she rolled her eyes, then leaned on the table while looking at Kaia. I grabbed the last food dish off the table.

“He is fool, I tell you now. Lazy fool.”

I scoffed. “Pssht, Mutti. You love me.”

“I have to,” she said with the most serious expression and Kaia burst out laughing, but I was used to Mutti’s way of speaking. Or rather, way of being. Then she turned back to my ‘girlfriend’ who was nearly in tears of laughter and just beginning to sober up. “Careful with him, okay? He is fool.” That was one of the only bad English words she knew, or the only appropriate one to call her one of her sons.

Kaia looked up at me with a smile that would have fooled anyone and patted my cheek. “He’s alright.” And then turned back to Mutti. “He’s a fool, but he’ll do.”

That got Mutti laughing which was something I didn’t see very often. She was a very serious German woman who, while she had an amazing sense of humour and was an emotional person, didn’t really laugh much. I looked at Kaia in slight amazement but of course she didn’t think anything of it.

But I really did have stuff to do so I took the plate into the kitchen at the same time my two big brothers were walking out. Luca just smirked at me and muttered, “You’ve so hit that.”

I just rolled my eyes and ignored him but I heard him curse a moment later. Royce had probably taken care of it for me. He was good like that.

We all had dessert which was apfel grutzer, my favourite, but then it was getting late and Ada was looking dead tired so she wanted to go to bed. Mutti allocated the dishes to Milena tonight but knowing her, she would do most of it anyway.

Kaia said she had to go so I walked her through the house, thanking whatever God there was that Luca had already gone to his room.

“Don’t forget to pack,” I said as I opened the front door for her with a smirk. Her whole expression turned and I knew she hadn’t done it, or maybe had just forgotten about the trip in general.

“Yeah…” She trailed, biting her lip. “I’ll get right on to that.”

I laughed, leaning against the doorframe with my shirt sleeves rolled up. It was still humid outside, the air buzzing with the noise of cicadas. Soon, we wouldn’t be able to hear them at all. Summer was nearing an end and it would be cold this time of night.

“You forgot, didn’t you?”

“Maybe. I have a lot of stuff on my mind,” she admitted. I had to frown at that. She was going through something and I wanted to help her through whatever it was but she wasn’t going to let me.

“Someday, you’re going to have to let me in on that.”

“Someday,” she agreed half-heartedly. I doubted that, I really did.

It was time to say goodbye, and I was about to step back over the threshold when she hugged me, wrapping her arms around my middle. I froze for a minute out of surprise, but then settled my arms around her and rested my head on hers.

“Thank you for today,” she said seriously, muffled into my shirt.

I chuckled and she stepped away, looking up at me with an angry look. Although it was like she was trying to be angry. Like a kitten pretending to have a lion’s rage. It made me laugh.

“You’ve already said that,” I said and she punched my arm lightly, rolling her eyes.

“I was being nice you dumbass,” she said, turning to walk away. I watched her down the path and to where Parker’s car was stationed.

“See you tomorrow!” I called just as she ducked into the car. She closed the door and drove off without saying goodbye.

I headed back inside and Hayden was still there, talking with my mum and Ada. I liked that my best friend got along so well with my family, Ada in particular, considering she often tagged along with us. I think part of this was because he had stopped being a pig with girls, so I felt comfortable with him around Ada. I wasn’t too worried.

I stood beside Hayden as they talked, moving on to the topic of Ada’s music. She had an exam coming up and she was stressing for it.

“But it’s piano, it’s like, the hardest one,” she groaned. She really didn’t need to be worrying like that, she was good at everything.

“You’d do better than I would at least,” Hayden said, making her and my mum laugh.

“That wouldn’t be hard.”

Hayden left after a few minutes and we all scattered, me going to my room to get ready for bed. Not that I had anywhere to be tomorrow considering I was suspended, but I was absolutely trashed.

I had just showered and chucked on my black sweats when there was a knock on my door.

“Come in,” I called and the door opened, revealing my big brother. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Your school called. You got suspended?”

Oh shit. I forgot Royce was my emergency contact. “Yeah…” I trailed, scratching the back of my neck.

“That’s all you’re going to say? I think I’m going to have to tell Vati.”

“But it’s only for a day and I swear it was for a good reason!”

“You hit someone. There’s never a good enough reason for that.”

“I was helping Kaia, okay?” I huffed, and that got him to stop. His eyebrows furrowed and he sat on my couch, waiting for me to go on. I took a deep breath and explained it all, from when I had heard her scream to the principal’s office. His eyes grew wide and he’d gone from being mad to something I didn’t really recognise.

“Awh, little brother!” He exclaimed in a mocking tone, so I shoved him and he laughed. “Cute.”

“Shut the fuck up,” I grumbled, flopping down on the couch beside him. “No one in my position would have done anything else.”

“They may have not beaten the guy to a pulp?”

“You weren’t there,” I said defensively. “You don’t know what it was like.” I ran a hand through my hair and sighed. I didn’t see any other option.

“You’re right. I don’t.” He leaned back into the couch and stretched out, shoving his sleeves up. “But do you want to know what I do know?”

“Probably not.”

“You love her.”

“I said I didn’t want to know.”

“That was my way of saying I don’t give a fuck,” he chuckled, but sobered up. “You love her,” he repeated.

“I don’t,” I shook my head because there was no way in hell I loved Kaia. I’m not even sure I liked her that much. Okay, maybe I did like her. AS A FRIEND. But love? Please.

“Denial, I tell you,” he said making tsk tsk noises at me while shaking his head. I punched his arm again.

“I hate you sometimes.”

“Sure,” he just laughed it off and then stood up, putting his hands in his pockets. He started to head towards the door but paused about halfway, turning back to me. “I’m proud of you, by the way. Sure, you beat the shit out of some guy but you did it for the right reason.”

I was taken aback. Royce never really said what he was feeling, not in that sense anyway. He’d never said he was proud of me before and it made me feel pretty fucking awesome. Royce had always been my role model, someone to look up to. To have his pride, his respect, was beyond words.

“Thanks, man,” was all I could say. He just smiled, nodded once and left, closing my door behind him.

I got up from the couch and flicked off the light, crawling into bed and flipping the cover over me. It had been a long day and all I wanted to do was sleep.

But my mother had other plans.

My bedroom door crashed open and the tiny woman thundered in, her steps so loud for someone so short. She turned the light back on and I winced, putting a hand to my eyes.

“Mutti,” I groaned, sitting up and getting a proper look at her. She had a stern look on her face but it wasn’t her angry face. I was so confused.

“You never let her go. Do you hear? Never,” she said, standing at the side of my bed with her arms crossed.

“What are you talking about?” I asked in German, so that I could properly understand what she was saying.

“Kaia is a lovely girl and I do not want you to break her heart. She is perfect for you and you are lucky to have her. Make sure you do not mess this up. Do you understand?”

Wow… No pressure at all. I wonder how she would react if I told her we weren’t actually dating. I think she would have beat me screaming dummkopf dummkopf at me until I went deaf. I scrunched my face up at that image. Mutti could be scary when she wanted to be.

“I won’t,” I said, not technically lying because she said don’t mess this up. Who was to say what this was? It could just be our friendship, of which I didn’t intend to mess up anyway.

“You better not,” she threatened in German and I laughed at how ridiculous it sounded coming from a such a tiny being.

“Guten abend, Mutti,” I just said and she semi-glared at my laughter and pinched my cheek, an action that was usually affectionate but she did it really hard, so I think it was a warning.

“Guten abend, Jacob,” she said and left, leaving the light on and the door open just a crack.

I was about to get up when my door opened again and my little sister came in.

I groaned and fell back on my bed. Was my whole family going to pay me a visit tonight? Maybe Vati would come all the way from Celti just to finish it off.

“Is this a bad time?” Was all Ada said and I shrugged.

“I’m up now.”

“Mutti looked mad,” Ada observed, coming to sit on the end of my bed.

“She was a little. It doesn’t matter. What’s up?”

“Well,” she cleared her throat and looked down at her hands. She was picking at her nails again, something she did when she was nervous. “I kind of need to tell you something.”

I frowned, wondering what she could be nervous to tell me. “This doesn’t sound good.”

“I don’t think you’ll like it.”

I ran through all the things she could possibly tell me that I wouldn’t like. That she was planning to elope tomorrow with a thirty year old biker who shot puppies and kittens for fun? That she was dating a member of One Direction and was going to live in Ireland or wherever they were from and have their children? That she was secretly in love with an eighteen year old womanizer?

I laughed at the way my brain worked. Those things would never happen. Not in a million years.

“Can it wait for another time then? It’s late and I think we both need our sleep.”

“Not that you’re going to school anyway.”

“You heard?”

She nodded. “Royce is giving me a lift in the morning.”

“Good idea,” I chuckled but she was still looking worried. “You can tell me now if you need to get it off your chest.”

She shook her head and stood up, as if she’d thought of a better idea. “You’re right. It’s late and it can wait. I’ll see you after school.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” I said, with a slight frown. “I’m picking Kaia up from school and we’re going straight to the airport. Do you want me to get Hayden to drop you off?”

“That’s okay. I’ll just tell him you said so tomorrow.”

‘That’s the way,” I chuckled. She said goodbye and started to leave, turning off my light. Just before she did I caught a glimpse of something shiny around her wrist. A bracelet, but one I hadn’t seen before. “Wait. What’s that?”

She looked down to where I was motioning and she lifted it up, looking down on it. “It’s a birthday present,” she said, smiling.

“From who?”

“Hayden, actually.”

“He didn’t have to do that,” I said, my eyebrows knitting together. I didn’t give him enough credit most of the time; he was a decent guy.

She just shrugged and went to close the door, but I stopped her once more. “Oh, and happy birthday.”

“Danke, Jacob,” she smiled, and then shut the door. I nearly expected Milena to barge in next with something to ask me but she didn’t. Neither did Luca, and Vati was still on the other side of the world. I was safe to sleep.

But of course my phone buzzed with a text message. Sighing, I reached over and grabbed it, unlocking it and squinting at the brightness.

Text Message (1) : Kaia

A stupid annoying grin overtook my face and I opened the message.

Kaia: The thing I had to do tomorrow after school I don’t have to do anymore. Want to leave at 4?

Oh yeah, right. I’d forgotten she had something on. Oh well, now she didn’t and I could follow through with my original plan.

Jacob: I’ll pick u up from school then

Kaia: sounds good. Btw, the mafia can be anyone but they’re usually Russian. Godzilla is Japanese and u r an idiot

Jacob: pls u love me… wait, how do u know so much about the mafia…

Kaia: secrets out. Im actually the mafia ringleader and your ancestors stole heaps of shit so now im out to get u bc the rest of ur family is too nice.

Jacob: I KNEW IT

Kaia: psht u did not

My arm was kind of getting sore with leaning on it texting so I thought fuck it and dialled her number, putting the phone to my ear and resting it on my pillow so I didn’t have to hold it.

She picked up after a few rings. “You really are an idiot,” she hissed, her voice quiet probably to not wake people up. Then again her house was huge and from what I remember the only room close to hers was her parents, but even that was a solid hallway and a half away.

“As you keep saying. Then again I’m not the one who sounds like an idiot.”

“What do you want?”

“My arm was hurting from texting so I figured we could finish our conversation on here.”

“I hate talking on the phone,” she said and her voice was still kind of grumbly but it sounded like she was smiling just a little. “And it’s late. Some people have stuff to do in the morning.”

“Is the word you’re looking for school?” I teased and I could just imagine her rolling her eyes.

“As a matter of fact, it isn’t. I’m going at break.”

This was news. I was dying to ask why but I felt like she wouldn’t answer. “You’ll have to go to your morning classes at some stage,” I joked and she let out a small laugh.

“Nuh-uh!” She said like a five year old.

“Yeah!”

“Nah!”

“Yeah!”

Then she cracked up laughing. “You’re so immature.”

“You started it!” I said which brought on another round of laughter. I liked making her laugh like that, and it made me happy that I could. It was the best feeling, even better than Royce’s pride. That was saying something.

“God, who gave you all the sugar?”

“Ooh, sugar. That’s a good idea!”

“No!” She exclaimed, still laughing. “Don’t do it!”

“But Kaiaaaaaaaa,” I whined, truly showing my immature side. She asked for it. Well, she didn’t, but she said I was immature which was basically the same thing.

“I think someone needs their beauty sleep,” she said and on top of the smile in her voice she seemed almost caring? No, I doubted that.

“So you admit I’m beautiful? About time!”

“I never denied your beauty,” she said, her voice back to a whisper. She yawned and I think she was the one that needed her beauty sleep. “She is beauty, she is grace, she is Miss United States.”

Now that made me laugh. “We don’t even live in the U.S!”

“That’s the only reason you can’t be Miss United States?” She asked and I realised my slip. I didn’t say anything and she laughed, but it was quieter and much slower.

“You sound tired,” I said, closing my eyes and relaxing into my bed.

“Maybe I wouldn’t if my annoying fake boyfriend would let me sleep.”

“But where’s the fun in that?”

“The fun is that I don’t look like a zombie in the morning. I would like to look half decent.”

“You always look more than half decent,” I said. I don’t know why I did, but it slipped out and there was no taking it back. Oh well, I was pretty sure she knew how gorgeous she was and that I knew it too.

“But this is important,” she sighed, her voice sounding off and worrying me again. She really needed to stop doing that if she didn’t want me to ask, because I was finding it nearly impossible not to.

“Let me guess. Don’t ask?”

There was a long pause and for a minute I thought she hung up, but then I heard her take a deep breath. There was ruffling and she seemed to be moving. “Can you meet me somewhere?”

I was instantly wide awake, sitting up in bed with the phone held to my ear. “Right now?”

“Yes.”

Was she finally about to answer one of my questions? Unravel part of the mystery that was her? Her voice was quiet but filled with emotion, with sadness, and I wanted to find out why. I wanted to comfort her. I wanted to help.

“Tell me where.”

There was more noise in the background; I think a door was opening. “I’ll text you the address,” she said, and she hung up.

I slid out of bed and padded across the room, picking a t-shirt and hoodie out of my closet and throwing them on. I grabbed my beanie as well and laced up my Converse, and then my phone buzzed.

Kaia: 129 Prillis Lane. Meet u at the entrance.

I pocketed my keys and wallet and crept downstairs, got into my car and drove off without a second thought.


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