It felt like the devil had fetched the toolbox from the shed to hammer nails into my head. The devil was playing with other parts of me too; tearing up my throat with blades to make it feel like I was dying of thirst, spinning my head around and around without it moving at all, and pressing just hard enough into my stomach to cause waves of nausea to roll over me.
But after a minute of regaining my consciousness, only the splitting headache remained.
Hung over was a sequence of words I hadn’t the opportunity to use for far too long, yet it wasn’t long enough. I squeezed my eyes shut as if it would help me sort through the hazy remnants of last night, so that maybe I could put them together and figure out what the fuck happened.
One thing was for sure; I wasn’t the only one who’d drank like a fish.
I squinted at the light as my eyes opened, attempting once, twice, three times to look around the room before it came into focus. I seemed to be in better shape than the rest of them.
Zavier was hanging over one side of the couch in his boxers and nothing else, drool running down his chin and his hair pointing in all angles.
Annaliese was on the mattress beside the couch, on her side but faced away from me with the drool from her boyfriend dangerously close to her ear.
Parker and Landon were next to each other on the extended part of the couch, Landon with one sock astray and Parker with her makeup completely smudged.
Hayden was nowhere to be seen, and Kaia’s warm body was in my arms. For the second morning in a row, I had woken up to the girl I could fall for a hundred times over and not get tired of it, except this morning she smelt of alcohol and with a faint tinge of strawberries.
There was nothing I wanted to do more than sink back down to the inflatable mattress and hold Kaia in my arms until she woke, but I felt like I should go find Hayden.
I managed to detangle myself from Kaia and leave her sleeping, taking a deep breath when I’d stood. The nausea and dizziness had passed and thankfully, I could make it to the kitchen where I found Hayden sitting.
He was on one of the bar stools across the counter, looking down at his phone with a tired grin. Lucky bastard wasn’t hung over, but we must have kept him up.
“You’re texting your girl, aren’t you?” I asked, taking a stool opposite him. I nearly missed and ended up on my ass, but saved myself by gripping the counter. Hayden didn’t pay attention to my slip, too busy trying to conceal his smile.
“I’m confused,” I admitted, upon last night’s revelation of the budding relationship. “I was so sure it was Parker.”
“Parker?” He breathed a laugh. “If it was Parker I probably wouldn’t be keeping it a secret.”
“Does anyone know?”
He sighed. “They do now.”
“Am I ever going to know?”
“I actually wanted to talk to you about that.”
The way he was looking at me made me feel like I should be worried, like I should be dreading what was coming.
“Yeah.” Another sigh.
“Do I get to meet her?”
“If you promise not to flip the fuck out.”
I frowned. “Is that likely?”
“Maybe.” He set his empty mug on the counter, the sound echoing through the high ceilinged room and back towards the lounge.
“Look,” I started, crossing my arms. “I may not be observant but I like to think I know you pretty damn well. You’ve been slap happy for the past few weeks, so if she does that for you then I’m cool with whoever she is. I doubt I’ll flip out.”
“I wouldn’t have thought you’d be okay if it was Kaia.” His face morphed into a smirk, his eyes glowing like the devil himself.
“Well, uh,” I stumbled. I hadn’t thought about that. “That’s different.”
“Don’t worry,” he laughed, standing up to turn on the coffee machine. He held up a mug, asking if I wanted coffee, and nodded until my head hurt too much. “I’m not going to steal your girlfriend.”
“She’s not,” I defended. “She’s not my girlfriend. She doesn’t see me that way.”
He turned from the machine and looked
at me as if I was screwing with him.
“What did we do last night?” He asked, his face taking on a whole new level of serious I was confused. Realisation hit him. “You don’t know, do you?”
I shook my head, feeling ashamed when Hayden began blasting profanities. They weren’t directed at me, but they may as well have been. Each word was like another nail in my already fucked head.
“Jesus fuck, Jacob,” he muttered, shaking his head. “You were so close…”
I couldn’t be fucked asking what he was talking about, but I made a mental note to bring it up later. He wasn’t making sense. Instead, I changed the subject, in the hopes it would make him feel better about whatever it was he was upset with.
“Getting back to the issue at hand; when am I meeting ‘her’?”
“Today. After we leave here you, Kaia and I are heading back to your place. I’ll tell you then, okay?” This didn’t seem to faze him. He said it as if it was a subconscious effort, like his mind was elsewhere. Probably on whatever was obviously bugging him.
“Okay,” I said, and then he made me a coffee. I was already starting to feel better, and after a shower and a brush of my teeth I would feel A OK.
We sat in silence for who knows how long, me sipping my cup of coffee and Hayden glued to his phone. The crease between his eyebrows didn’t disappear, and only got worse when he heard the gang rise.
“HE DOESN’T REMEMBER!” Hayden exclaimed, as soon as everyone started drifting into the kitchen. Kaia was last, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, wincing as his loud voice reached her.
There were mutters from everyone who turned to look at Kaia, and for a minute my heart stopped.
What didn’t I remember?
“HE DOESN’T REMEMBER!”
If I thought my head was on the verge of exploding before, I had no idea. Hayden’s obnoxious yell pierced through the quiet morning of hangovers and I winced, before noticing everyone’s eyes on me.
“Who doesn’t remember what?”
Apparently that was a drastic comment, as everyone was looking at me like I had two heads. I looked in my reflection on the tiled wall of the kitchen. One head, albeit very hung over. I was seldom tortured with the pain which inevitably followed drinking, but then again I had never drunk so much in my life.
I took a seat as silence hung in the air, Hayden looking between us like he was disappointed. The feeling that I’d let him down was overwhelming but I could see no reason for it. I couldn’t recall doing anything wrong; but then again I couldn’t recall doing anything.
“You don’t remember either?” It was Annaliese this time, from under Zavier’s arm who was still only in his boxers. The other couple were sitting side by side on the stools, Parkers head on the marble bench and Landon looking like he was about to throw up.
“The last thing I remember was finding out that Landon and Parker are dating. Everything after that is gone.” Then it occurred to me to be worried. Why would everyone be looking the way they were if something hadn’t gone wrong. “Did something happen?”
Landon went to say something but Parker jumped in with a slight nod of her head. “Yes, it did. It’s not bad, but neither of you would want to find out the way you would if we told you. So no one is going to say anything-“ she gave everyone a stern look “-and you two are just going to have to figure it out on your own.”
I couldn’t be bothered questioning her and the other suffering from short term memory loss didn’t seem to be either, and just like that everyone went back to being hung over in their own ways. Almost back to normal, but it wasn’t.
Everyone went for showers and prepared to go home, but I stayed in the lounge with Hayden to help pack up the mattresses.
“Are you still okay to come to Jacob’s with me?” He asked, sounding more nervous than I ever thought possible for Hayden Porter. His face matched, and I almost felt sorry for him. Jacob was going to kill him.
“Of course. I think it’s time he finds out.”
“Hmm,” Hayden nodded, and got back to rolling the deflated mattress. We worked silently until they started trickling back into the room, where we traded and went to shower. Everyone seemed much brighter after they freshened up, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t as well.
I threw on my black summer dress with my sunnies on top of my damp hair and returned to the room.
Jacob caught my attention. He wasn’t doing anything spectacular, just playing on his phone with his black cap on backwards. But looking at him felt weird, almost like there was something missing. Maybe I’d dreamt about him and it felt like déjà vu, but it almost felt wrong. Like I should have been embarrassed.
Was there a reason for me to be?
I couldn’t afford to think about that now, as I had to help Hayden and Ada and their very difficult upcoming task of telling Jacob they were together.
We left then; Hayden and Jacob and I piling into Jacob’s car to make the short drive to his house. I didn’t know what Hayden had told Jacob in terms of his girlfriend, but I was positive this was going to blow up.
I felt the need to text Ada. She was like the little sister I never had and I wanted to make sure she was ready.
Kaia: heading to urs rn. R u ready?
We made it to the edge of the new estate by the time she replied.
Ada: I dnt think ill eva b ready tbh… do u thnk he’ll b mad?
Kaia: honestly? I cant tell u. if he does get mad ik wht 2 say. I promise itll b ok
Ada: mmk… c u soon
Hayden was on his phone too, probably texting the only person he bothered to text anymore. His nerves were almost transferring through to me, but if that lessened the effect then I would welcome them with open arms. This needed to go well, on so many levels. The main being that, if it didn’t, it could end a relationship. Neither Hayden nor Ada would want to do anything to upset Jacob, and if it came to it I had no doubts they would break it off for him. It would be crushing.
Hayden loved Ada. I hadn’t been told but I was pretty sure she loved him too. Now I hadn’t experienced romantic heartbreak, but if it was even a smidge of what I felt when my parents died, they would be miserable.
Stopping in Jacob’s driveway felt ominous, the keys turning out of the ignition even more so. Jacob was oblivious to all but I was starting to feel the dread too. Finally, I had realized what was at stake if Jacob didn’t accept this. Didn’t accept them. I didn’t know what to expect or how to help, but I had an idea of what to say if Jacob freaked.
The driveway was empty, so I was wondering if they had picked this time because no one was home. I thought I’d better check.
“Where is everyone?” I asked Jacob as he put the key through the door. He twisted and pulled it open, gesturing for me to go in first. I couldn’t even appreciate the chivalry, though I tried for a smile.
“Royce and Luca are on campus, I think. Milena and Mutti went to Celti for the weekend and Ada is around here somewhere.”
I looked to Hayden to see if this was planned and he curtly nodded. Then Ada appeared.
She stood at the bottom of the elegant staircase, partially hiding behind the newel post. Her eyes darted between the three of us, resting on Hayden for a moment longer. They shared the same look, and I could imagine their anxiety.
“Ada!” Jacob greeted her, unable to feel the mood. God, I liked that boy but he was too unobservant. “How are you?”
“Better than you from the looks of it,” she tried to joke, but it fell flat. Jacob still laughed and walked over to her, slinging an arm around her neck.
He shushed her with a smile, and walked back to us. “I may be worse for wear but Hayden’s finally going to introduce me to his girlfriend.” He seemed to remember something. “I don’t suppose this inspires you to tell me who the guy I need to suss out is?”
Ada let her eyes fall shut, her breaths so deep I could see the rise and fall of her chest from where I stood. “Let’s kill two birds with one stone then, shall we?” If you weren’t paying attention you would have missed her words, the quiver and quiet tone in her voice making for a difficult time to understand.
“Ah fuck it,” I heard Hayden mutter from beside me, before taking a step towards Jacob. “Jacob, I’m sorry for how I know you’re going to take this but I’m in love with your little sister and sheis my girlfriend.”
The tension was tangible, both Hayden and Ada holding their breaths and me holding mine for them.
Jacob took a step away from both of them, slow, like he was worried he’d lose his balance. His eyes went from Ada to Hayden and back again, like he was watching a tennis match. Back and forth. Again. Again.
Then they stayed on Ada, one question obvious to anyone.
Is it true?
She was on the verge of tears as she nodded, and that seemed to do something to Jacob that was invisible to us. I’d compare it to snapping; it had sunk in and now his body was rejecting it.
He turned on his heel and walked away, jogging up the stairs and to the top of the staircase where the slam of his door shook the house. Ada gasped as the tears spilled, holding her hand to her face as she cried. I went to hug her but Hayden beat me to it, mirroring how she felt but worse. She clung to him like she was drowning and he was air and the only thing I could do was tell them I’d talk to him. I just hoped it would make a difference.
I followed Jacob’s trail up the stairs and to his room, the door shut tight. I could hear him pacing the room, footsteps getting closer before retreating. The reason I was here was to help, to do this so that two of my friends could continue in the most perfectly matched relationship I’d ever witnessed. That was all the motivation I needed to open the door, step in and close it behind me, leaning against it as if resting in the calm before the storm.
But as Jacob stopped in his pacing, it didn’t seem like there would be a storm. I thought he just needed to talk.
It wasn’t as accusatory as I was thinking it would be. Just a simple question. No emotion. No attachment. Purely factual.
I thought he was going to start pacing again but he didn’t. He sunk down to the side of his bed and stared at the blank wall beside me.
I waited, waited, waited, until his eyes rolled lazily to mine. “I don’t know what to think.”
“You’re not supposed to know, Jacob.” I hesitated, then padded across so that I was in front of him. I sunk down to my knees and reached for his hand. This may have been hard for Hayden and Ada, but Jacob was the one who needed to deal with this.
“It’s just,” he paused, running his free hand through his hair. “It’s Hayden. He’s my best friend. He’s seventeen. And its Ada. Ada. My little sister. She’s only fifteen.”
My heart went out to the poor guy. He was too stuck on the inconsequential factor of age to realize what really mattered.
“When it comes down to it, you just have to think of what’s important. Yes, he’s seventeen and she’s fifteen and there’s almost three years difference between them. It doesn’t matter,” I gave him a minute to take that in. “What does, is that they’re happy. All you want for Hayden, as your best friend, is to be happy. You want someone good for him, that will make him a better guy. Someone that makes him happy. Ada is your little sister, so for her you want someone who’d never dare hurt her. Who wouldn’t think about breaking her heart because to do so, it would break his too. Those, Jacob, are the important things. Those are what you want for Hayden and Ada, and that’s exactly what they are to each other.”
It made me think of the boy’s hand I was holding, and what I wanted for me. I wanted someone that gave me hope that being happy was a possibility, that I could be happy again after so many years of sadness. I wanted someone who loved me at my best and my worst, through all the good and the bad and the complications my life brought to them. I wanted someone I could eat pizza with, talk with like we were best friends and kiss like we were so much more. Someone to be there for me. Someone I could trust. Someone I could love.
Someone who could be my prince.
And I felt like that someone was sitting right in front of me, with his dry smile and his confused eyes and his hand gripping mine like he’d be lost without it.
“Then I’m happy they found each other,” he mumbled, looking into my eyes like he was saying something else. “I’m happy for them.”
“Maybe we should go and tell them that.”
“First,” he said, his voice as quiet as the silence that followed. He moved his hand to my cheek, his eyes looking into mine. “Can I do something…” He trailed off, his hand sliding down to my neck as he inched closer, slowly, slowly, so slowly. His eyes were trained on my lips and my breathing hitched, craving what I knew was coming. I wanted it, I wanted Jacob, I wanted my prince.
Three knocks on the door made us jump apart, putting more distance in between us than I would have thought possible in the second it happened. I was breathing hard, suddenly the oxygen I had wasn’t enough. I needed more, but Jacob was still looking at me like he didn’t regret what he was about to but then the door knocked again and his gaze broke.
“Come in,” Jacob said but his voice was almost raspy, like he was struggling to talk more than I was struggling for air. I stayed against the wall by his desk as the door inched open, Ada’s head peering around the corner.
Her voice broke me from whatever trance I had been subjected to, and I could breathe. Her eyes were still watering and Jacob’s brotherly instinct took over and he instantly pulled her into a hug, the concern lining his face admirable.
“It’s okay,” he was saying, but I struggled to hear it. “I don’t like the idea of you dating at all, but if it has to be anyone I’m glad it’s Hayden.”
Hayden entered then, standing just on the inside of his door. “You’re sure?” He asked, and his best friend just gave him the smile he had been hoping for and nodded. “I’m happy for you two.” And he meant it.
They were happy too, because they could finally be together without having to sneak around. Jacob asked if Hayden wanted to hang out here with all of us today and he didn’t think twice. They did their secret handshake and ended with a hug, Hayden whispering a thank you before patting his back. They headed down the stairs and I trailed behind them, but I wasn’t really paying attention to anything.
I needed to leave. I couldn’t be around Jacob pretending that we hadn’t almost kissed and that I wasn’t almost in love with him.
At the bottom of the stairs I paused, saying Jacob’s name quietly. Hayden and Ada continued to wherever they were headed but Jacob turned back to me, his smile melting into a look of curiosity.
“I think I’m going to head home.”
His eyebrows furrowed, looking down at me with too much intensity. I couldn’t handle it. “I thought you were going to hang out here today.”
“I was. I just… I have to go.” I skirted the stairs and headed for the door, but he caught my hand.
“Wait, Kaia. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, nothing,” I assured him, but even I wasn’t convinced. “I just need to go.”
I slid out of his grip and escaped out the door, slamming it shut behind me.
What had I let happen?
What had I done?