The ideas for my newly planned eighteenth birthday party were bouncing around the room, both Hayden and I contributing to the discussion.
“You should invite heaps of people!”
“And set up the home speaker system.”
“We could clear your entrance all the way through to the dining room.”
“And put up a barrier to the stairs so no one goes up there.”
“And to all the bedrooms downstairs and Ada’s music room.”
“We’ll just order pizza.”
“And BYO drinks?”
“Rubbish bins everywhere.”
“Clean up crew?”
We were at it for hours, ever since we’d gotten home with takeaway burgers with my excellent plan. I’m sure there were less extravagant ways to tell the girl you’ve been in love with for too long that you, in fact, loved her, but my heart was racing with the adrenaline of hosting a party.
I didn’t realize the time until there was a quiet rap on my door, both of us shouting “Come in!” before resuming our planning.
“Balloons and streamers?”
“Too hard to pack up. Just streamers.”
“What are you boys doing?” Ada was standing on the inside of my door now, rocking back and forth on her heels as she looked between the two of us with her hawk eyes.
“Throwin’ a party, of course!” Hayden beamed at her, and then I was reminded of their relationship status. I truly was happy for them, but it would take a while to get used to. “It ain’t every day that Jakey boy turns eighteen!”
“Hmm…” She wasn’t having any of it, staring me down. I held my ground by the couch and tried not to crack under her gaze, but it became increasingly difficult as she stepped towards me. “You weren’t interested on a party before.”
“Well, I am now,” I stammered.
Hayden rose from the couch and picked Ada up around the waist, carrying her back to the couch before sitting on her legs and holding her wrists. “Stop interrogating him. You’ll like the reason, trust me.”
“I feel like trusting you is a bad idea.”
“Oh do you now?”
“Yeah, actually,” she was challenging him, both of them with playful grins on their faces that made me look away. Take a deep breath, I told myself. Step one to acceptance; tolerance.
“Oh, sorry Jay Jay,” Ada frowned, noticing my discomfort, then simply looked at Hayden and he slid off her legs, letting her sit up.
“All good.” I put on my best smile, but then told her the reason for my party regardless. I watched as her face turned from skeptical to joyous.
“I’m so happy for you, bruder!” She gushed, the grin looking like she’d slept with a coat hanger in her mouth. Then she turned to Hayden and her grin doubled. “I’m going to win.”
“The hell you are,” he shook his head. “He’s gonna chicken out.”
“You guys bicker like an old married couple already, Jesus,” I laughed, trying to act lightly. “But what are you on about?”
“We made a bet,” Hayden said before my sister could stop him. “I bet that you two would be together by the end of March, and Ada’s saying your birthday.”
“I just remembered we’re not the only two betting on this,” Ada realized. “Annaliese and Kaia are, too, but that was ages ago.”
“Really?” I asked, the mention of Kaia making me far more interested. “What was it?”
Ada was about to answer when my phone beeped in my pocket. A text message that I felt the need to check.
Kaia: we’re ok… right? :/
She was thinking about me.
Jacob: worried, are ya? ;)
Kaia: why do I even bother… srsly…
Jacob: pls, u love me
Kaia: psht, I don’t. but whatever. Cn u b here by 5?
Jacob: so eager 2 see me, ay?
Kaia: if u were my actualy bf, u’d be here early
Jacob: hmm.. lets revisit this conversation later. I gotta get ready
I tucked my phone back into my pocket and realized Hayden and Ada had started their own conversation. My watch read 4pm, and I decided to be a smartass and get there as soon as I was ready.
So I left the couple on the couch and showered in my ensuite, before dressing in slacks and a dress shirt that I had rolled up to my sleeves. It was dark blue which Ada commented ‘brought out my eyes’, and apparently that was a good thing.
I pocketed my phone, keys and wallet and asked if Hayden wanted me to give him a lift home.
“Actually,” he said, glancing to my sister for a split second before looking back at me. “We’re going to tell Claudette about us.”
“I’m sure she’ll be happy for you,” I told them, more for their relief than my honesty. I wasn’t lying, I just thought it might take a bit of convincing that almost three years wasn’t too much of an age gap. She knew Hayden, though, so I hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult for them.
“Let’s hope so,” she mumbled and stood, both of them following me out of my room over the scattered books.
“Well if you need help, just call me. Or text me, with dinner and all.”
“Thanks, man,” Hayden beamed. With a promise to send out invites tonight sealed with our secret handshake, I hugged Ada and I left them to it.
The clock on the dash of my car read 4:32pm as I pulled up to the Sawyer house, parking on the curb and making my way to the front door. I knocked three times and stood back, not sure who to expect to answer the door.
It was Parker in the end, who pulled the door open to my smirking face. She just laughed and shook her head, telling me “You’re crazy. You know that, right?” with me nodding along.
“She’s in her room doing God knows what, but I’d knock.”
“Thanks Parker,” I said and we began to part ways, me up the stairs and her off somewhere on the first floor, but then she paused, and it made me do the same. “Are you okay, after today? Ada was saying at lunch you looked pretty rough.”
I shrugged, not letting the reminder of this morning’s conversation dampen my mood. “I wasn’t, but I’ve got a plan.”
“How ominous!” She gasped, laughed, and then disappeared.
I climbed up the stairs and to Kaia’s room, the door shut tight and not looking like it wanted to be opened. I knocked anyway, because if she really didn’t want me there then she wouldn’t let me in.
“Who is it?”
“The Ghost of Christmas Past.”
Silence, and then, her laugh. Her amazing laugh that was pretty and hearty at the same time, drifting through the wood of the door. It got closer and closer and then the door pulled away and there she was, standing almost a foot below me with a tinge of a smirk on her lips. She was wearing a big hoodie and shorts that were just about disappearing beneath it. Her legs, damn, they stretched on forever.
“Sorry to say he left with Christmas,” she informed me, trying to control her features to look disappointed.
“Well he’s back,” I sang and she was laughing again. I laughed too.
She headed back into her room and sat on her desk chair, her little frame still rocking of laughter as she faced what looked like make up scattered across the desk. Once she sobered she quickly turned the chair to face me, crossing her legs with a curious expression.
“Why are you here?”
“You said if I was your real boyfriend I’d be here by five. I disagree. I think I’d be here by four thirty.”
“You’re an idiot,” she stated, but her smile was contradictory. It made me think maybe Hayden hadn’t heard wrong; maybe she did like me. It seemed like it sometimes, but then there were times like this morning where it was the opposite.
Who fucking knew?
“Thanks!” I grinned, making myself comfortable on her bed. It wasn’t hard; her bed was really comfortable.
“You’re welcome?” She phrased as a question, looking at me as if I’d taken something. “Are you okay?”
What had changed from this morning? From the feeling of almost losing her?
“Nothing, and everything.”
“Enlightening,” she drawled.
We continued back and forth like this until Parker fetched us, saying their grandmother had just pulled up in the drive. Kaia had yet to put her heels on but when she did, we headed downstairs.
“Remember, this is important,” she whispered, voices from the entrance floating up to us. I offered her my elbow as we descended the stairs and she took it with a smile.
“Do we have an objective?”
She nodded, looking over the railing before back to me. “To convince my grandmother I’m happy.”
“Should be easy enough,” I said, but now I wasn’t sure. She was clearly nervous, as she always had been around her grandmother. It wasn’t as though she disliked her grandmother, it was simply that their personalities were as such that they prevented a flowing conversation from ever happening. I’d never seen Kaia, or any of the Sawyer siblings, look so uncomfortable.
“If my smile so much as falters throughout dinner I think I’m done for.”
“What happens if she’s not convinced?”
She didn’t answer.
“Kaia! My darling, so lovely to see you!” We had reached the bottom of the stairs where her grandmother was standing, in an elegant royal blue dress, pearls around her neck and dangling from her ears. She greeted Kaia warmly, but it was all a pretense. Even I could sense the bitterness that lay beneath the surface.
“And Jacob, was it, dear?” She turned to me, her eyes like a hawk looking me up and down. She seemed to approve. “Nice to see you again.”
“You as well, Muriel.”
“Ah, he remembers. Such a lovely boy,” she spoke to Kaia, before leading the way to the dining room.
Kaia slid her hand down to mine and squeezed. I could feel all the nerves through that simple action and I smiled down at her encouragingly.
“It’ll be okay,” I told her, but she didn’t believe me.
Nanna had filled the entire dinner with useless conversation about adventures at her country club type place she frequented, with Jacob and Atlas being the prime conversers. I made sure to keep smiling and laughing like the anxiety wasn’t building up in me, waiting to pop like a balloon with too much air. I didn’t have long to go yet; we were finished with dessert and Parker and I had left to clear the plates, meaning she would soon wrap up the conversation and move on to me.
“How are you feeling?” Parker asked, placing the dishes in the sink on the dinner ones.
“Nervous, but okay,” I said, trying to sound convincing.
“It’s better than I expected,” she breathed a laugh. “I’ll get the boys and leave you to it, then.”
I sighed and nodded, pulling up the strength to have the conversation I needed to make a success.
“Well I think it’s time for Kaia and myself to have a little chat,” Nanna was saying as we came back through the grand doors, looking at me with a kind smile. Sometimes I wished things were different between us, but we had nothing in common and neither of us could be interested in the other’s affairs.
“We’ll go clean the dishes,” Parker smiled and dragged the boys after her. Jacob paused by me with a question in his eyes, asking will you be okay? I nodded and he picked up my hand, gave it a squeeze and kissed my knuckles, an action so simple and short yet so undeniably breathtaking. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he wasn’t acting.
The door closed behind them and I sat like a deer caught in headlights. I forced myself to relax as she took her time, observing me until her smile softened, her eyes as well to make her look like the kind grandmother I knew her to be deep down.
“Your mother asked me, a long time ago, that if anything were to happen to either her or your father, I was to make sure you kids were looked after. To her, this meant to be happy.”
I couldn’t help but let my smile slip. This wasn’t what I was expecting.
“I’ve been trying, very hard, to do the right thing by them, God bless them, and when you were not getting any happier I felt I had failed to my job.”
She stopped talking, and sighed, reaching across the table for my hand. “Dear, I thought the right thing to do was have you see a psychologist. I read books and those things on the web, and all recommended I do as I did. But I fear it was a mistake, as I can see it has caused more harm than good.”
Was she… Was she really saying this?
“And now with Jacob,” she said, the one thing of this whole speech I was expecting. “You seem to be so happy that I struggle to remember why I thought the psychologist was a good idea.”
“So does that-“ I fumbled for my words, unable to hide my shock. “Does that mean I can stop going?”
Nanna nodded her head slowly, carefully, and squeezed my hand as if to tell me she was being honest. “Just know that, if you ever need anything, whether it be a psychologist or simply some moral support, you let me know.”
It was hard to believe this was the same woman who had come into my house a few weeks earlier with her almost righteous opinions and almost accurate accusations. It’s funny though, because without her I would never be where I was now. I wouldn’t have the friends I did, I wouldn’t have Jacob back in my life. I would still be sad and gloomy and of the belief it would never end. I wouldn’t have realized that being so happy again was possible, so in a way, I was grateful for what she had done. It was an action I saw only for it’s negatives but not for all the positives it had caused.
So overwhelmed with gratefulness for my grandmother, I rounded the table and hugged her, the sudden act of affection surprising her. But then she hugged me back, and it was then I realized I could have a different relationship with her. She was just trying to do what was best for me and my siblings, and for that alone I should try to put more effort in.
“I think I should be off now,” she said once I was back in my seat and we’d spoken a little more about Jacob, who too soon I’d have to tell her we’d broken up. “I’m expected at yoga early in the morning and need a long sleep.”
“You do yoga?” I asked, laughing at the thought of my posh grandmother in yoga pants and an exercise top at the gym or wherever her class was.
“Admittedly, I’m quite bad at it,” she chuckled, the others joining us from the kitchen. Atlas seemed beyond astounded that we were laughing together, and Parker just smiled at the sight. I don’t think Jacob knew what to think. “Perhaps you could come one day; there are lots of young people doing it.”
“I’m sure I would make you look like a star.” She laughed again. “But I’d love to.”
She gave me a hug, a proper one unlike she usually gave, before doing the same with my brother and sister. Hell, even Jacob got a hug. I was beginning to see that a simple change of attitude could alter a whole relationship. I was beginning to see parts of my father in her, buried deep beneath the fancy charade.
“Thank you for a lovely evening,” she smiled, taking the time to look at each of us before closing the front door behind us.
It was silent, and then;
“What on earth was that?”
“What did you say to her?”
“I take it it went well?” That was Jacob, his face happy for me but confused with a touch of concern in case it didn’t go well.
“I’m free,” I admitted, speaking more to my siblings who would understand what I meant. We migrated to the lounge and I told them all about our conversation, Parker pulling out the tissues at the point I mentioned what our mother had told her. It seemed they changed their attitudes too, as they were both saying we should make more of an effort to see her.
Parker and Atlas decided to head to bed then, so I stayed on the couch with Jacob at the other end, my now bare feet on his lap as he rubbed circles into my ankle. It was so soothing, so relaxing, so much so that I didn’t really want it to stop. Much like Jacob’s presence; he was so good for me, and I didn’t ever really want him to leave.
“So that was your motive, hey?” He asked, his face lit up by the warm glow of the lamp behind me.
“I should have told you,” I admitted, but shrugged the thought off. “At the same time, I don’t think ‘my grandmother thinks I’m depressed and is sending me to a psychologist so please pretend to date me so she thinks I’m happy and I can have my Friday nights back’ would have gone over too well back then.”
“Back in the days of despising one another,” he chuckled, shaking his head at the mere thought. “I can’t even imagine why anymore.”
“Neither,” I agreed.
It was quiet again for a while. I realized it was late and that maybe he should go home but then he began to talk again.
“I suppose since you’ve explained the motives behind us,” he said, motioning between the two of us. “I should tell you mine.”
“I think that’s a good idea.”
He took a deep breath and the words just sort of, tumbled out. He explained about how he’d gone to Celti all those years ago where he’d found out his father was the crown prince, and considering the previous kind died, his father filled the throne, making he and his brothers princes. He said his father was now looking at each of his son’s lives to see who would be best suited to the throne as his successor.
“He said there were only three reasons, in his eyes, suitable enough to, get out of it, I suppose you could say. ‘A job, a girl, a life’, he’d said. I thought I was too young for a promising enough career and a life worth enough to refuse the crown, so I chose the other option.”
He was looking at me as if he half expected me to laugh and call bull. I believed him. When we were in Celti, I believed I had predicted as much, so the shock I’m sure it would have been didn’t really exist.
Actually, it made sense for Jacob to be a prince. It just fit. He was so much like his father, a leader, but I couldn’t see him in charge of a country. I felt it would run him to the ground. He needed to live, to be free of expectations and rules and responsibilities he wouldn’t have if he was named his father’s successor.
“This is way bigger than my motive,” I frowned, mulling it over in my head. “When do you find out?”
“Actually, that reminds me. I was thinking that maybe we could extend our relationship,” he said, and the words themselves made me a bit sad. Not the suggested extension, but the fact that we were coming to an end. “Until next Saturday. It’s my birthday on Friday and I’ve decided to have a party on Saturday, which I want you to come to. I think it might be weird to everyone who’s not in our circle if you’re there so soon after we ‘broke up’. Would you mind?”
I thought about it.
It was becoming too hard to pretend around Jacob anymore, made all the more difficult when we had to pretend to be together. But I was considering Louise’s wise words of wisdom, of being the one to tell him first. Because truly, sometimes it did seem like he liked me too and the worst the would happen is he would say he didn’t, there’d be a small period of awkwardness and then we’d return to being friends.
I figured I could last one more week and who knew? Maybe I would work up the nerve to tell him I liked him.