“Jacob.” Kaia’s voice; it drew me back like a magnet and even if I wanted to I couldn’t have kept walking. I turned back to her, letting the others continue on without us.
We were Wednesday morning and Kaia had been acting strangely. At school we put up the act but it was becoming clear that Audrey had given up, but even then she wasn’t all there. It seemed like she was constantly distracted, no matter what I did to try to cheer her up or get her to talk to me.
So hearing her after two days start a conversation sparked hope the silent period was over. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask what she wanted before she was telling me.
“I need you to come for dinner tonight night…. With my grandmother.”
“Your ulterior motive, hey?” I thought back to the moment on her front porch I’d taken her home and she’d introduced me as her boyfriend. It was the start of it all. Upon reflection, it was a turning point in our friendship. The one where she decided she could trust me enough for me to know an ulterior motive existed and where I saw a glimpse of the girl I’d fallen for so long ago.
She nodded, but was gnawing on her lip, her dark hair curtaining her face. Something was bothering her still, and again, I was too slow to ask.
“And then I think we should call off our ‘relationship’.”
My everything stopped. “Why?”
“Well,” she started mumbling. “Audrey isn’t bothering you any more, Marcus is gone, and after tonight, there’s no use for it. What’s the point of prolonging it? We got what we wanted.”
No, we didn’t. Maybe she did, but I hadn’t gotten what I wanted. I wanted her.
I didn’t want to accept it. What would happen when it ended? Would she still be a part of us or would she go back to her life before all of this happened? I didn’t want to find out, but there was not much I could say to get her to rethink.
“I told you I had an ulterior motive as well,” I reminded her, staring straight into her averted eyes. She couldn’t look at me. “I need you until the end of the week.” Saying it, like I would use her and then toss her aside like that’s all she was good for made me feel ill. I wanted to leave it at I need you because I did, and I knew that in some way I always would. But I wasn’t ready to admit how I felt, and I didn’t think she was ready to hear it.
“Okay,” I said, trying to keep my voice strong. “We’ll break up Monday morning then.”
“’Til March fifth.”
It grew awkward and it was then I knew my fears were right; she would go back to wherever she was before I returned. Soon we’d stop talking, lose touch, and grow apart. Just like last time.
The hallways were their usual buzz but the silence between us was all I noticed, growing more and more to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. It already felt like whatever we were was over.
“I gotta go,” I said, excusing myself and walking back the way we’d come. I didn’t look back, no matter how badly I wanted to.
I caught Hayden at his locker, Ada beside him, both laughing and talking away. Thanks to Kaia and her words of wisdom, I had come to realize I was happy that they’d found each other and I was, but right now all I wanted was to get far away from here. She was in my classes and my only escape was Hayden, who had stopped talking upon noticing me.
“What happened?” It was Ada who asked, her hand on mine in the comforting way she did when she knew I was upset.
I gave her a brief look to say I’d explain later and turned to Hayden, who was already retrieving his bag from his locker.
“Mmkay,” he said. Ada hugged me and then him, bidding us farewell as we headed to my car. It was still in the parking lot and in we hopped, speeding off to a place I was yet to decide.
We drove through thick green forests and past little freshwater streams and empty meadows behind wire fences until the ocean came into view, with its great expanse of water stretching for too far to see. I pulled onto the gravel turnoff and parked the car, turning it off but stayed where I was.
The beach stretched for miles, empty bar a mother and her young son playing on the sand. They were building sandcastles and seeming to enjoy the serenity that followed. Maybe if I got out and built a sandcastle I would feel less like my heart was being torn to shreds.
“Kaia doesn’t need me anymore.” It came out like air from a deflating balloon; fast and uneasy. “Both of our exes seem to have gotten the picture, whatever her situation is will be resolved after Wednesday and Vati is flying back for the weekend to tell us his decision. We’re ‘breaking up’ on Monday.”
The waves crashed outside the car and Hayden’s face remained impassive. “I don’t understand,” he admitted, scratching the back of his neck. “What’s wrong with that?”
“She’s going to stop talking to me.”
“She is. You weren’t there this morning.”
“I’m telling you, Jacob, she’s no-“
“I love her, Hayden.” I pushed my hair back. I took a deep breath. My chest rose and fell. “I can’t lose her.”
“Why don’t you tell her that?”
“And scare her away more?”
His sigh sounded through the silent car. He put a hand to his face as he let out a groan as if to say fuck it, and let it out.
“I promised Parker on Sunday that I wouldn’t tell you but you need to know.”
“I need to know what?” I asked.
“Kaia likes you too, Jacob.” For the second time today, my heart stopped. “She told you on Saturday, or she must have when you two got back from knick knocking. Both of you could hardly stand but she walked in with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on her face – and I’ve been here for the last six years to know – and practically sang ‘Jacob loves me!’ You were all over each other, to the point where I felt I was intruding on something that should have been private. I swear, she likes you a hell of a lot.”
“No….” I didn’t want to believe it. If I did, it meant that I had confessed my love for her drunk, made a fool of myself, and everyone knew it. Everyone except Kaia.
“I almost wish I was kidding,” he said. “But I’m not. Everyone says you’re perfect together, myself and your sister included. And we know you both pretty well. Just… Don’t let your pride get in the way of telling her how you feel or, you might just lose her.”
I sat in the moderately expensive, almost comfortable drivers seat and thought, thought about how I didn’t want Kaia to disappear from my life. Thought about every moment we’d spent together since we were kids, from meeting her that first day in primary school with her hair in two cute braids to this morning where she’d threatened to extinguish my main source of joy. Thought about how I’d always loved her, even when I didn’t know it, even when I was too stubborn to admit it. I thought about what Hayden had said, about Sunday and that she liked me too and that maybe, it was possible that whatever we were wouldn’t end on the day I was coming to dread; March fifth. Maybe we could survive it.
Then it hit me, like a strike of lighting but instead, a stroke of brilliance. I turned to Hayden with an expression so polar opposite to the one prior he might have gotten whiplash.
My birthday was Friday week. Nine days away. Long enough to get a party set up, I thought.
My grin was scaring even me, but I knew it was what would work.
“I have a plan.”
Jacob wasn’t in Psychology. Mrs. Patterson asked me quietly where he’d gotten to and I told her he was feeling ill, but I hadn’t the chance to speak with him that morning so I was unsure. She gave me a generous smile and meandered up and down the aisles, checking the working status.
He’d disappeared so hurriedly that I felt awful. I wasn’t oblivious to the expression on his face when I told him we should call off our relationship. He couldn’t hide his, well, it wasn’t disappointment but it was close to it, as he requested we remain this way until March fifth. For his ulterior motive.
After Sunday night had been and gone, I realized the best thing for me to do was to distance myself from him. I struggled letting people get too close to me, another side effect of my parents deaths. If people cared, it would hurt if anything happened to you. Wasn’t the best way to avoid hurt, avoid becoming close with anyone?
That’s what I was thinking.
So I had been distancing myself, surprised at how I reacted.
I missed him.
Yes, I may have seen him every day and we spoke briefly via text a few times but I was distancing myself, and the more I did that the more I missed him.
I mainly missed the comfort I felt in his company; the sheer lack of judgment and immense amount of security contributing to this. I felt safe with Jacob, and I shouldn’t have been running but it was what I knew best. I thought it was my only option.
Lunch came around and I was late to the cafeteria, surprised to find not only Jacob and Hayden missing, but a young Ada Beck in the latter’s place at the table. They were all in a serious discussion, heads inclined towards the centre with Ada being the sole focus.
“What’s going on?”
Five pairs of eyes shot in my direction and the conversation halted, everyone sending a somewhat sympathetic smile my way.
“I think that’s what I’d like to ask you,” Ada said in her hushed tone, her knowledgeable eyes making me feel like I was the fifteen-year-old. “What did you say to Jacob?”
“N-nothing,” I stammered, looking down to where my thumbs were twiddling themselves. “Just that we don’t have to pretend to date anymore and that we can ‘break up’ after tonight.”
Everyone fell quiet, their expressions telling me they knew something and weren’t sharing.
“Well, that explains it.” Ada seemed to be thinking about something, her eyebrows furrowed in concentration. “He seemed like the world was ending.”
“Ada,” Annaliese warned, her eyes darting to me before shaking her head. It was a minuscule action, but it didn’t go by unnoticed.
“Oh.” Was all she responded, and her eyes fell uncomfortably to the table.
“What is going on?”
“Nothing,” three of them replied at once; Zavier, Landon and Parker seeming most intent on keeping the secret. Whatever it was.
“You’re really not going to tell me?” I looked to Parker first, my sister, hoping she’d find it in her to know it was the kind thing to do. She simply gave me an apologetic look and turned away.
Then Landon, who simply dodged my gaze to look at the table.
Zavier was the same, sighing as he looked away.
“Fine.” I pushed out from the table and stormed through the crowded cafeteria, drawing more attention to me by not caring who got in my way. I heard snickers from a few girls as I neared the doors; catching a glimpse of Audrey’s blonde ponytail before I slammed the doors shut behind me.
I was mad, but I think I more than that I was upset. Saddened that the people I called my friends were hiding something evidently important, and that they didn’t have the decency to tell me.
It was times like these I wished for the old days, before Jacob left where everything was simpler. We’d sit together outside classrooms and talk and laugh until the bell told us our time was up. I wasn’t sure we even knew what secrets were, let alone how to keep them. I supposed the problem didn’t lie within Jacob, being as oblivious as he was, but his friends who were anything but and thought they knew better.
I didn’t realize I had gone beyond the school gates until I was walking along the main road, a truck honking its horn as it drove by. Apparently, I wasn’t going back to class today.
I rolled up my sleeves and upped the pace until I was in the comfort of my room at home. I fell onto my bed and stared at the ceiling for a long time, thoughts clouding my vision. Mostly of Jacob, of course, and his reaction this morning. I couldn’t help but revisit the moment his face turned from amused to heartbroken.
I wasn’t sure if he was scared the end of this would inevitably be the end of our friendship, or whether it was something else that bothered him. Either way, the constant image of him in my head made me want to talk to him.
I picked my phone from my pocket and drafted a few texts, none seeming good enough. I decided to keep it simple, and sent this:
Kaia: we’re ok… r’nt we?
Then I headed downstairs.
As I was descending the staircase I heard pots and pans clanging in the kitchen, the simmering of something on the stove and the quiet 60s music that made me know who was in my house.
Louise, our cook, was gracefully moving around the kitchen, from pot to pan to countertop to bowl full of ingredients waiting to be mixed. Her gray hair was in its usual ballerina bun at the top of her head, bobbing as she moved. She caught sight of me and went to smile, but instead went to the radio to switch it off.
“Oh dear,” she sighed, the drama in her voice unmasked by her thick British accent. “What happened?”
She dropped what she was doing and led me to a stool to sit, before making me a cup of tea and sitting opposite me. She held herself as if she were prepared for an emotional breakdown, but she wouldn’t be so lucky today.
“It’s a long story,” I admitted, not willing to go through the details. “But I’m worried I’ll lose my best friend.”
“Hmm,” she pondered, her eyes narrowing on me in a not unkind way as if to get a better look into what I was saying. “And who is this friend?”
Recognition lit her eyes and a small smirk threatened her lips. “Ah. So you’re the girl?”
“The one Ada has been talking to him about.”
“How do you know Ada?” I asked, eyes widened at her words.
“You never wondered who the other family I cook for is?”
The realization set in and my jaw just about hit the floor. “The Beck’s? And you didn’t tell me because…?”
“I didn’t realize you were close with them,” she reasoned, her voice calm and soothing. The smirk, however, stayed ingrained to her mouth as she stood and continued with her cooking preparations. “I can’t believe it,” she was mumbling. “I truly am astonished. Then again, you are the type of girl I envisioned Jacob with.”
“What are you talking about?” My tone was a bit sharper than I intended it to be, and Louise wasn’t above noticing. “Sorry,” I sighed, putting my head in my hands. “It’s been an odd day.”
“Why don’t you tell me about it then, dear? I may be able to help.”
I told her everything, from Audrey and Marcus to my grandmother and Jacob’s motives to the strange behavior of everyone during lunch. She listened and nodded in the appropriate spots, at times taking a seat to listen without distraction.
“Well well well,” Louise hummed, tapping her fingers across the counter. “It seems to me that you are two people very determined to keep your feelings from each other.”
“I’m not sure I’m following…” I trailed, finishing off the second cup of tea she’d made me.
“You said that Jacob is the unobservant one yet here you are, completely oblivious to the way he feels about you. It seems to be obvious to everyone except the two of you, and perhaps you’re both hesitant on confessing your feelings on the fear that it might just ruin your friendship.”
I wasn’t sure whether to believe it. Had I missed something? Did Jacob, in fact, care about me too?
“Either way,” Louise continued, moving a pot off the flaming stove. “You might want to give the poor boy the benefit of the doubt and tell him you like him. Otherwise, the fear of ruining the friendship could certainly become a reality.”