Truce

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Chapter 25

Kaia

Nanna called on Friday afternoon, at precisely seven minutes before my appointment with the psychologist. She made an excessive speech about her regret of needing to cancel dinner for the following evening, and somehow rescheduled for Wednesday night without me saying a word. Then she hung up, and left me sitting half-confused in the passenger seat of Parker’s car.

“What was all that about?”

We were in the driveway of my psychologists house, early like every other week I’d been. I was waiting for the time when either my grandmother or psychologist herself deemed me mentally stable so that I could quit going to these sessions.

“Nanna rescheduled dinner for Wednesday.”

Her face pulled down into an expression of confusion before laughing. “Good; because I totally forgot we were even having dinner.”

I smiled, looking at the clock which read 3:55pm. With a sigh, I slid my phone into the back pocket of my jeans and opened my door.

“You’re picking me up, yeah?”

She nodded. “But I’m going to a friends house tonight so I’ll just drop you home.”

“And Atlas?”

“Work.”

“Mmkay.”

“Is that okay?”

I just nodded and climbed out of the car, my feet crunching gravel as I made it to the white door. It was stark contrast to the brick structure, the entirety of which I hated, purely on the basis that I was forced here.

The hour went slow and unproductively, with conversations about my childhood that pained me to talk about. I put up a brave face so as not to worry her, even though my Nanna was paying her to do exactly this. I wasn’t the type of person to let my guard down in front of people, and I wasn’t about to start with a stranger.

Parker dropped me home and I climbed in through an open window, having left my keys in my room that morning. I wandered around our too big house and started to feel the emotions creeping up on me, the ones I got when I was left home alone without a distraction.

I slammed my bedroom door closed behind me and took a deep breath, trying to think of a possible thing to do to stop me from going down that road. All I could think of was not tonight, which led me to my phone.

I had a text from Jacob about the psychology homework we were awarded with this morning, asking precisely what the hell it was. He hadn’t been paying attention. I type out the set questions and set my phone on my stomach, looking up at the roof and contemplating my options.

Then my phone rang.

It buzzed on my stomach and I picked it up without looking at the caller ID. “Hello?”

“Hey.” It was Jacob. “I was just wondering if you wanted a lift to Landon’s tomorrow? Y’know, considering you’re underage and can’t drive and what not.”

“Hey. You’re underage too. How come you can drive?” It was the first time the thought had popped into my mind, and he explained that it had something to do with his German license and the amount of time he had been driving and special exemptions for him and his family and so on so forth. He seemed blasé about it all but I figured it would have been harder to swing than he was letting on.

The line went quiet for a moment before he asked; “So, do you want a lift?”

I had no idea we were having a thing at Landon’s until lunch time where everyone was buzzing about it. Apparently I wasn’t paying attention on Wednesday when it was established, but Parker was going too so she’d take me.

“I have a sister for a reason.” I flipped onto my stomach and smiled at the sound of his laughter. Then it occurred to me that maybe I could have asked Jacob over. We were friends, and he would be the perfect distraction from myself.

“My sister doesn’t do that.” I could hear his pout through the phone which made me laugh myself, and then I figured we could just have this conversation if he were here.

“Do you want to come over?”

For a moment I thought the line went dead. All I heard was the crackling phone sound for a good sixty seconds, before I heard Jacob clear his throat. “What?”

“Um,” I stumbled, biting my lip at having to explain the answer. “Everyone’s gone and I don’t really want to be home alone tonight.”

More silence ensued; enough that I was about to give up when he asked; “Pizza or Thai?”

It was my turn to ask. “What?”

“I feel like I could eat a horse right now, Kaia. I’m starving. And from memory you don’t like to cook. So either I can get pizza or Thai on the way over, or I could cook. I don’t like to brag, but I’m really good.”

“Wouldn’t it take longer for you to cook? You know, if you’re so hungry…”

The sound of keys and footsteps were in the background and I knew he was moving. “You’re smart. Pizza or Thai?”

“Pizza plea-“

“Mutti! Ada! Ich verlasse!”

Some German conversation ensued, followed by an angry sounding Claudette and the slamming of a door.

I couldn’t hold my laugh. “What was that?”

“Nothing nothing. See you in a few.”

I didn’t want to sit still while I waited, so I got up and walked around my room, busying myself with tidying and fidgeting until I decided I should change. I replaced my shorts with jeans and my singlet for a sweater, tied my hair up in a loose bun and headed downstairs in time for the knock on the door.

“The pizza’s getting cold!” It was shouted from the other side of the door I was standing in front of, so loud it hurt my ears. I pulled open the massive door and he realised his mistake. Not that he cared.

“You still like BBQ Chicken pizza, right?” He walked in without being invited and started walking up to my room, without a second of thought. My mind was playing catch up as to what had gotten into him between school and now, as I closed the door and followed him up the staircase.

“Um… I’m vegetarian.” He stopped, turning on his heel three steps up from where I stood, his whole face covered with disbelief.

I took the opportunity to skip up the remaining steps and pinch the warm box out of his hand, relishing in the smell of foods that were bound to make me fat at one stage. I was waiting for the day where all of the fatty foods I had consumed would come together and distribute itself around my body, but so far that hadn’t happened.

“I’m kidding!” I called over my shoulder, and entered my room. The tv was on from when I was cleaning before, sitcoms playing in the background as I sat the pizza on the floor and flipped the lid.

“You got it from Benno’s, right?” I had to ask. I wasn’t a snob, but no other pizza place in town compared to Benno’s Pizza. Their crusts were all too thin or thick or hard or soft and either put on too much or too little toppings for the pizza to be irritating to consume.

“There are other pizza places?” Jacob countered, making me laugh as I took a slice. We chatted while we ate, about inconsequential things such as school and our plans for next year, our friends and our plans for tomorrow. Ada and Hayden’s relationship was in the back of my mind, and I wondered when they were planning to tell him. I decided to text them both to find out, and awaited the response.

By the time it got to nine my siblings were still a no show, and shortly after I received a few texts from a few different people.

Hayden: Sunday, I think.

Ada: can u pls be there when we tell him on Sunday? Hes going to flip.

Parker: staying at my friends house the night. Is that ok?

I responded yes to both of the girls before chucking my phone on the bed, in front of where we had migrated to sitting. Jacob had made himself comfortable on my bed, legs stretched so far his feet hung off the end of the bed and arms behind his head, showcasing the lean muscles of his arms I wasn’t used to seeing so defined.

It was impossible not to notice Jacob’s good looks, and even more impossible not to be affected by them. All the typical reactions were happening to me, and I had to look away to the tv which was now playing Love Actually.

“Why did you come here tonight?” I asked during an ad break, after reducing the volume of the speakers. He had dropped whatever he had on, even if it were just a night to himself, to be here with me, and part of me was dying to know why.

His eyebrows furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“You didn’t have to…”

I regretted starting this conversation, so much so that I was about to back out of it with the get out of jail free card: don’t worry, it doesn’t matter. But Jacob had other plans.

“You wouldn’t have asked unless you really needed the company, and I just so happen to enjoy spending time with you.” Then he frowned. “Am I insane?”

“For wanting to spend time with me? Yeah.” I was touched, that he knew me well enough to know how badly I needed to be around people tonight. That he cared enough to drop whatever he was doing and come straight over with my favourite pizza in his hands and a complete carefree, innocent attitude to the evening. My eyes started to well up for no reason, and of course Jacob laughed, throwing his arm over my shoulder like it was the most casual thing in the world, saying; “I didn’t realise girls actually cried for no reason.” It was like he was reading my mind.

“We do and it sucks,” I sniffed, and he let another laugh echo around my room, a much better sound than whatever was playing through the screen.

We stayed like that for God knows how long, until I felt myself falling asleep and said he could go.

He didn’t.

Instead, he pulled the covers over me and kicked off his shoes, sliding in beside me like he did when we were little. Except now, he hesitantly pulled me into him, with a whisper I couldn’t hear and the even breathing that lulled me to sleep.

Jacob

I woke up with a foggy head, looking similar to the day outside the window. The window that was not mine. I blinked until my eyes came into focus where I realised whose room I was in; hell, who’s bed I had slept in.

Kaia was still sleeping beside me, her warm hand under my t-shirt on my abs and her head on my arm, both actions of which she’d freak out about if she were awake. I let my eyes fall shut as the events of last night ran through my head; the night that was most definitely one of my best.

I was falling for Kaia; I didn’t know how fast until I’d hit the bottom. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that we had been best friends for so long, that I’d had a crush on her for so long, and that six years after no speaking we were back in the same position. Me, pining after her like a moron and her, oblivious to anything but our friendship. Unlike when we were younger though, I wasn’t sure friends was enough. I didn’t know if I could keep going as though I didn’t like her, or if I could how long it would last. One day, I would do something stupid like tell her how I felt or better yet, kiss her, and we would no longer have any relationship at all.

I had to leave, for no other reason than if I stayed I would do said stupid thing and screw everything up.

I paused to take one more look at her sleeping face, before prying her hands from underneath my shirt and, gently pulling my arm from beneath her head. I sat on the edge of the bed and slid my Converse on.

“Jacob?” She sounded as if she were still asleep, her voice thick and dry and damned sexy.

Nothing had moved except her eyes, which were now staring up at me in between frequent blinks. She was still tired; she should have gone back to bed.

“I have to go do some stuff,” I bullshitted and stood, needing to get away as quick as I could. “I’ll see you at Landon’s though. At four.”

“Mmkay,” she sighed, and just like that her eyelids fell closed and her breathing steadied, and she was out cold.

I ran down the stairs and to the front door, almost running into Parker on the way out. Her hair looked like a birds nest and her eyes were falling out of her head, until she noticed me. Her eyebrows furrowed and she looked up at me with teasing in her eyes.

“You stayed the night?”

I nodded, backing up a little. She stepped over the doorframe and closed the front door behind her, stopping my escape. “Nothing happened, if that’s what you’re insinuating.”

“I didn’t say anything.” Her grin was too wide for my liking, and at that point I knew she knew. “When are you going to tell her?”

“How did you know?”

“Not important.”

“Neither is this conversation. Can I go?” I felt stupid, like having to ask permission from a teacher to go to the bathroom in school. I was busting to get out of there and she simply just stepped aside with a laugh, allowing me access to the door.

“We’ll talk later.”

“Whatever,” I called over my shoulder, a second before I shut the door and headed home.

It was still early for a Saturday morning, meaning Mutti was the only one up and about. I heard her singing a German song in the kitchen so I speedily skirted that room and jogged up to my room.

It was a mess, which wasn’t surprising but annoying as fuck when I just wanted to get to my god damned couch without tripping on any of my books. It occurred to me that I could just clean them up, maybe stack them in my currently empty bookshelf, but I had an order that I didn’t want to screw with.

I didn’t make it to the comfort of my couch unscathed though, but I picked up the book I tripped on, taking it as a signal of fate, and started reading it by the warm light of the window.

It was one of my German books, one about the secret service, jam packed with action and adventure that I needed to take my mind off the mental picture I had of Kaia in bed.

Losing yourself in a book was all fun and games when you didn’t have stuff to do, but when your big brother comes in at half past midday to interrupt you when you have a psych essay to write before going to a friends house for the night, it’s a bad thing.

“What are you reading?” Royce stood at my open door, his thumb in the pocket of his pants. As always, he was looking clean cut and professional, but he had the bags under his eyes that any med student possessed.

I read the title and his smile turned nostalgic. “I liked that book.”

I set it aside face down like all my others – I was reading too many books to bother with bookmarks – and gestured for my brother to come in. He stepped his way across my floor as if the books were landmines, and eventually made it safely to the other side without one detonating.

He sat on the other end of my couch, leaning his elbows on his knees and looking straight ahead. He seemed bothered by something, but if he wanted to talk about it he would.

“Vati’s coming home in a couple of weeks.”

Fuck. I knew what that meant, and my mind immediately went to Kaia. It was the reason we were friends again, and I just hoped to God we had convinced him enough to save me from a life unworthy of living in my opinion.

“Yeah, I know,” Royce huffed, reading my expression with a grim one of his own. “What the fuck are we going to do?”

“I think you’re pretty safe.” I said it partially to make him feel better and partially because it was the truth. “You have a solid career ahead of you that neither Mutti nor Vati would tear you away from.”

“But you have Kaia. They wouldn’t take you away from her.”

I laughed, but it was a bitter sound that made neither of us feel any better. “I think Mutti likes her more than she likes me.”

“That’s precisely my point, mein bruder.”

I shook my head, disputing his theory entirely. “It’s just a relationship, and we’re seventeen. I hardly think they’ll take it into account.” That was a lie and a half and he knew it. I was hoping, dreaming, begging that that was all they would take into account. That they would think we were so in love that we would get married and have lives of our own that no country could tear me away from. I could only hope.

Royce didn’t bother calling me out on it. “What do we do?”

I shrugged. “I think we’re going to have to wing it.”

“I hate admitting it, but you’re right,” he mocked me, and made a move to stand up. Instead, he set himself back into the comfortable leather and closed his eyes, as if trying to forget about the fucked predicament we were in.

“How are you two anyway?”

Royce and I were close, but it wasn’t like him to bring up girls. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, but he didn’t know how to show his interest. I wouldn’t have called it awkward, because my brother was far from it. But he usually only teased or joked about the issue. He seemed genuine, and I was wondering if he was growing out of that phase.

“At the risk of sounding like a total jackass; she’s pretty fucking amazing.”

His mouth turned up at the corner, but his eyes stayed closed. “That’s not what I asked.”

“I don’t give a fuck. You don’t seem like you’re about to take the piss and anyone else I’d talk to would.”

“But she’s your girlfriend. Isn’t that what you’re meant to think when you’re in love?”

I blanched. “W-what?”

That got him to open his eyes. With one quick look at my face he choked a laugh and stood up. “I’m going to leave before I say anything else.”

“What else is there to say?”

He sighed and just shook his head, crossing his arms to make him look older and wiser. “Beck’s fall hard, Jacob. With the exclusion of Luca, of course. Milena has, I have, and I’m pretty sure Ada is in the process of doing so now. It doesn’t take long, but when you hit the bottom it’s a son of a bitch to climb back up if things end badly. Just,” he paused, thinking about something I couldn’t understand. “Don’t fuck it up.”

He made it to my door before I realised what he said about Ada, and I called out a comprehensible; “Wait, what?”

“Ada?” He asked. I nodded. “I haven’t been able to get anything out of her. You might.”

He left before I could say anything else.

I let everything he said sink in, honing in on the part about our family falling hard. I knew it was going to happen, just like I knew the sun was going to set tonight and the tide was going to come in and go out. It was just a natural process – inevitable – but it didn’t make me any more comfortable with the fact.

I started to throw together my things for Landon’s tonight, including the bottle of Vodka I had stashed behind a stack of books in my bedside table. I wasn’t sure where the evening was headed but I hoped it was there, because I needed to get Kaia off my mind and it would be good to have some fun in the process.

I chucked my duffel bag at the door to my room and headed down to the kitchen, where Ada sat with a bowl of fruit and her phone face up on the bench top.

Without a word I cook up an Indian curry I learned to make a while back, putting roti bread in the microwave while I dished up two bowls; one for me and one for Ada. The microwave beeped and I set the plate in between us, taking the one stool on the inside of the counter.

“I love having a brother who can cook,” she beamed up at me, her eyes bright despite the deep circles beneath them. It looked like she had black eyes, but I knew she was just tired. She had problems sleeping, but it seemed to be worse over the past few weeks. “But I’m curious,” she continued. “What do you want?”

I would have acted offended that I couldn’t cook my sister a meal without wanting something but today, she was right, and lying to her would be fruitless.

“Royce thinks you have some sort of relationship going on.” There was also no point in beating around the bush. I didn’t have much time until I was planning to leave and besides, I was curious. A little nosy, even. And definitely feeling the big brother protectiveness.

Her cheeks flushed and she locked her iPhone, an obvious gesture which made it obvious even to me that Royce was right. “Do we have to talk about this now?”

“You don’t want to?”

She shook her head profusely, letting her dark hair fall down around her face to curtain it. She seemed embarrassed to even think about it, meaning talking about it would be a hundred times worse. That was Ada though, quiet with the trait of keeping things to herself. It was well known that I was unobservant, but I had spent nearly every day with Ada since she was born, so I liked to think I knew her pretty well.

“At least tell me this; is he a good guy? And not just to you, but in general.”

Her face turned tomato red and she held it in her hands, shaking her head at something I couldn’t understand. Regardless, she answered. “Yes, he’s a good guy. You’d really like him.”

“Well then, I look forward to meeting him when you’re ready.” The relief on her face was enough to make me change the subject off something that made her so uncomfortable to discuss. “What are your plans for tonight?”

She uncovered her face and got back to the curry. I ate as she talked. “Milena and I are having a girls night. Mutti is flying to Celti to surprise Vati and all you boys are out, so we’re commandeering the theatre room.”

“That sounds like a good night,” I nodded, and we continued to make small talk as I practically inhaled my meal. When I was finished I washed my dishes and went from room to room saying goodbye to all my family members, before getting in the car and driving to Landon’s house for what I hoped would be a fun, carefree night.


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