I had grand plans for my Saturday; a movie date with my couch and my books and my food and my comfort. It was a miserable day, rain pelting the windows so hard I didn’t want to move from where I lay under the covers in bed.
It occurred to me that I didn’t have to move, but my stomach’s insistent growls were enough to drag me to the kitchen and then to the couch with my cereal and cup of tea.
I sat cross legged on the floor with my back against the couch, breakfast in front of me on the coffee table waiting to be eaten. I had just flicked on the tv and was about to silence my stomach when the door knocked.
I frowned. It was still early for a Saturday, the clock on the mantelpiece reading only 9:30am. More knocks sounded from the door and considering I was the only one up, I jogged to answer it.
Standing on the other side of my door early on a Saturday morning with a coffee cup tray and a paper bag of what looked like food from Coffee Bean was Jacob, his hair and jacket scattered with raindrops.
“Why?” I asked, my voice flat and hardly curious. I was still half asleep and struggling to comprehend why this boy was standing on my front porch when today was so important for him.
“Couldn’t sleep worrying about Vati’s decision,” he shrugged, slipping his shoes off inside the door and set the goodies he’d brought on the stand to remove his coat and hang it on a hook.
He followed me into the lounge with the food he’d brought, his face falling a little when he saw the sad looking bowl of cereal on the coffee table. I gave him a generous smile and took the bag and tray from him put beside my mug.
“Don’t worry, I’m starving. I’d eat all of this-“ I motioned to the bowl and the bag “-without a problem.”
“Thank you,” I said exasperatedly, digging in as his laugh drifted over the sounds from the tv. Saturday morning cartoons had been flicked on and we talked over them, eating the breakfast muffins and drinking the chai lattes. By then my stomach had quietened but I still ate my cereal and consumed all of my tea, and was almost still a little bit peckish.
“You’re nervous, hey?” I had to ask, turning the volume down and pulling myself up onto the couch, facing him. He just nodded, looking down to his hands and then to the wall, anywhere but at me.
“You’ve done all you could,” I offered, knowing it wouldn’t make much of a difference. He seemed too far down I’m screwed road to reverse to it might be okay lane. “Besides, at least you’ll know tonight and that will be the end of it.”
“It also may be the end of my life.”
“You’ll still have a life.” Although I wasn’t convinced myself. From what he’d been saying over the past few days it didn’t seem like he would. Not one that he would enjoy anyway. As I’d said before he needed to be free, free to make mistakes without the burden of being responsible for a country. He was suited to the role in so many ways but it would slowly drain his happiness.
He didn’t seem wanting to talk about it though, and fair enough I thought. Instead he sighed, shaking his head as if he could shake the thoughts out of it and turned to me with a smile. “What are we doing today?”
“We?” I asked, incredulous. “Well I don’t know about you, but I’m having a movie date with my couch.”
“Can I third wheel?”
“What if I make you lunch?”
That sparked my interest. “You’ve always said you could cook. I’ve not really seen you in action though. You may just be full of it.”
“I could be, but I’m not.”
“Mmkay,” I allowed. “You can stay if you cook lunch for me.”
“Deal!’ He shook his hand out for me to shake and I just looked at it, shaking my head slightly. I instead just shoved him and called it a deal and we ran through the Disney movies I had in my collection before we found the right one.
“Emperor’s New Groove!” He beamed from the tub of DVDs, looking up at me like a four year old on Christmas morning who had just opened a box of Lego. “Can we, Kaia? Can we please please please please?”
I held my hand out for it and he handed it to me in a flash. I put it in and closed up the blinds, shutting the doors so the light would be kept out of the room. Just how I liked it.
I went back over to sit on the couch this time, my mind everywhere except the movie. I still couldn’t get past what Louise had said. I had been thinking of telling him how I felt, planning to do it later on in the week, maybe on Sunday after his birthday party so if it exploded the remnants wouldn’t filter into the night.
I had also been thinking about pretenses, all the ones we’d had through the past few weeks and continued to have today. The only one I was still subjected to was pretending I had no more than cordial feelings towards him, but it occurred to me late last night; why should I? Why should I have to pretend I didn’t like him? What good did that do anyone? I came to the conclusion that it didn’t do any good, and without thinking pulled the blanket off the edge of the couch and pulled it across me, leaning into Jacob’s shoulder.
He didn’t even flinch. He was too distracted by the movie to pay any attention to his arm moving to pull me closer, resting on my hip. My whole side was against his body which would be like a hot water bottle on a day like today. I smiled into his shirt at the natural way we ended up in this position and before long I was drifting between the vibrant cartoons clouding my consciousness and the emptiness of sleep waiting to cover me like the blanket over my feet.
Before I knew it Jacob was moving, but not to get up like I thought he would after a while. Instead, he somehow managed to arrange himself so he was lying along the couch beside me. Now all of me was against some part of him and I sighed at the feeling that came with the little bubble it felt we were in. A place where no one existed but us. We’d never have to move, to explain ourselves or our actions, and we could stay in this little bliss bubble forever.
At some stage we fell asleep and then the room was filling with light and I heard the door swing open. I squinted at the figure standing in it.
Parker was looking between us with nothing but glee in her eyes. Jacob was still fast asleep, his deep breathing enough to tell me as much.
“God, you two are cute,” she cooed. I followed her gaze to the sleeping boy beside me, his arms still completely encircling me, his heart beating against my ear.
“You’re here because…?” I didn’t acknowledge her comment, not wanting to admit the possibility of an us.
“Just letting you know I’m going to Landon’s.”
“I’m still mad about that, by the way.”
She just laughed. “Doesn’t change the fact that I’m leaving.”
“And Atlas is-“
“With friends, actually.”
“Really?” He hadn’t had a day off work in what felt like years, never to catch up with friends. I honestly wasn’t sure he had any. “Thank God.”
“He needed the break,” Parker agreed, before looking at her phone. “Anyway, I’ve gotta go. I’ll see you tonight, I assume?”
I nodded and she left, closing the door behind her.
Then it was just Jacob and me in the dark room, Jacob left with dreams and me left with my thoughts.
Thankfully I wasn’t left long, because Jacob stirred, his eyes opening to mine. He didn’t freak like I might have and he didn’t sit up or try to distance himself. He just yawned with his eyes squeezing closed in an adorable way before they returned to mine, smiling.
“Some lunch?” He asked, his voice still thick with sleep making it raspy and deep and incredibly hot.
“You’ve got a really nice voice.” I couldn’t help it, and it fell in the lines of dropping the pretenses. I wasn’t going to expend any more effort being careful about what I said around Jacob. I’d let the chips fall where they may, and see what happened.
“I’m going to take that as a yes,” he decided, but a faint red colouring tinted his cheeks to let me know he’d accepted it.
“Good, because I’m starving.”
“Good, me too.”
He took his time getting up, sliding off the couch before holding his hand out to help me up. I groaned as he pulled me up, so I was standing on the couch. I had a bit of height on him and I grinned.
“I’m taller than you!”
“Are you five?”
“Are you sure?”
“Can you piggy back me to the kitchen?”
“That’s not helping your case.”
“I don’t care. I’ll accept being five if it means I don’t have to walk.”
Jacob just chuckled and turned around, letting me slip my arms around his neck and my legs around his middle, his hands gripping my thighs so I wouldn’t fall.
“Thanks!” I exclaimed when he set me down on the counter, crossing my legs as he got to work cooking, starting by washing his hands in the sink and flicking water onto me.
I just laughed and wet my hand, flicking him back to which he paused, staring at me with the same look I’d gotten the other day at Landon’s. Like I had two heads, or was an alien or something.
“What’s gotten into you?” Jacob asked rather accusingly, crossing his arms as he tried to see the answer for himself. An observant person might have a hope of guessing but not him. “You’re being nice and happy and smiling and laughing. It’s a bit creepy, actually.”
Laughter bubbled in my throat again and I just shrugged, not telling the truth but not lying either. I wasn’t telling him anything. I wasn’t telling him that I liked him and I wasn’t telling him I didn’t. I wasn’t telling him nothing was making me happy and I wasn’t telling him the relief I felt from dropping the pretense was causing this happiness.
He didn’t bother to comment anymore, and kept quiet as he cooked. We had a well stocked fridge thanks to Louise, most of the ingredients he took out were from the crisper. Vegetables.
Oh, so he was cooking something healthy.
I couldn’t help but watch him intently as he cooked, his hands so practiced I wondered how long he’d been cooking for and who had taught him.
“What are you making?” I asked when he began searching for something else, in the cupboard this time. The bowl was full of various chopped up vegetables and a packet mix of seasoning of some sort but I couldn’t tell what it was.
“Mexican burritos,” he said, finally locating what he needed and pulling a packet of wraps from the pantry and set them on the table. He rolled the vegetable mix into the wraps and put them in a large, foil lined tray, topping it with salsa and sour cream before putting them in the preheated oven.
“How did you learn to cook?” I couldn’t keep from asking, his obvious experience lingering in the front of my mind.
“Mutti has been teaching me since I was little and could hold a knife without chopping my fingers off.” he chuckled at the memory. “I learnt a few things in Celti when I’d sit in the kitchen as the chef’s cooked, but it’s mostly been from my mum.”
“Do you like it?”
He nodded eagerly, leaning against the countertop again. He looked so relaxed, so calm, so opposite to me who was completely wired up. “I love it. I just don’t have the time.”
“Well you can just cook for me forever?” I offered, drumming my fingers on the bench.
“Sure,” he said, his lips smiling but his eyes saying something different. They held something deeper than the lightness of this conversation, something I couldn’t deduce.
I left Kaia’s at five feeling like I’d just stepped off a rollercoaster. Her energy was tangible, and I could feel it every time she laughed or smiled or when her eyes lingered on me for a moment longer than she would usually allow them to. I didn’t know what was happening, but honestly I didn’t think she did either. Maybe she was just relieved to finally exist in harmony with her grandmother, or was happy after her daytime nap. Maybe she had been sad for too long that she was making up for lost time where she could. Maybe she was just happy.
Who the fuck knew?
But now I had something else to focus on, something I’d been dreading for far longer than just these past few weeks. I always knew it was going to come to this, but I was always convinced it wouldn’t be me.
I wasn’t fit to run a country and surely Vati could see that. He would be better off with Luca than me, well, almost better off anyway.
But here’s the Catch 22; I wanted Royce to be free of the title as well. He had a life and a career he was working so hard towards and I didn’t want all of that to end. Neither of us wanted it, and neither of us wanted the other to have it.
I managed to slip past everyone on the way to my room, hearing them but not seeing them. Luca and Milena were chatting in the kitchen. Ada was playing violin in her music room with the door open. Mutti and Royce were in the front living room playing a game, I thought.
I hid myself in my room and read for a little while, until I decided to have a shower to cool my nerves. It wasn’t until I was dressed and back on the couch with one of my books that Royce came up to get me, his face as hopeless as mine.
“Let’s get this over with,” I huffed, my heart pounding nervously in my chest as we walked side by side down the stairs.
Vati was in the lounge room with the rest of the family already. Sweat broke out across the base of my neck, pricking my forehead and my hands. I didn’t want to do this. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to be told if I would have a life worth living today. I couldn’t do it.
“You have Kaia,” Royce muttered to me, the only words that would have made a difference but not in the way he intended. Kaia’s name was like an instant wave of relief, bringing a calmness that sunk right through to my core.
Kaia’s presence in my life was exactly like that, and nothing like that. Calming and unnerving and confusing and brilliant and every shade of emotion there was. All I wanted was for her to be here with me in this moment, holding my hand and reassuring me that everything would be okay.
“Jacob!” Vati stood, the room quieting as he hugged me, motioning for me to sit beside Royce on the couch. Luca was on the other side, and the girls filled up the remaining seats. “How are you my boy?”
“Great, thank you.” I forced myself to smile, or else the efforts of this past month might have been for nothing. I was in love. I had a ‘girlfriend’ that I wanted to make my girlfriend. I had a life worth living. He needed to be sure of that.
“Good, good,” he spoke smoothly, his eyes excited in anticipation of what was about to go down. It looked like he expected everyone to begin talking again but the room remained in it’s fallen silence.
“I was going to wait until the end of dinner but I figure, why not now?” Vati’s voice was booming again, and he stood up to begin pacing up and back. I watched him feeling the presence of my brothers in the room, watching his slow, measured steps go back and forth, up and down.
“You all are aware that over the past month I have been evaluating each of you boys to see who would be fit to take over for me when I am too old to.” He chuckled. He chuckled alone.
“I have made my decision, and it’s final,” he said, his voice growing somber. “I understand the implications this may inflict upon the one who is chosen and I do apologize. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to do this, but the benefits and upsides of this job far outweigh the negatives.”
He stopped pacing then and I knew it was coming, like I was stranded in the middle of the tracks with a train coming towards me. I was frozen in place and it couldn’t stop.
“The son I choose will accompany me back to Celti to begin to learn what’s its all about, a sort of training if you will.” He found this amusing. Again, he was the only one.
His sharp eyes turned to Royce, held his for a moment before turning to me. I held my breath, as if it would make me disappear and wake up not having to have this conversation. His eyes then went across to Luca, the only one of us who was not looking like he was about to combust of nerves or stress.
“Luca,” Vati spoke with conviction. “I have chosen you to be my crown prince.”
Royce and I looked at each other, then back to Vati and Luca whose eyes were wide but not from fear. It looked like something he actually had wanted.
I only had three words.
What, the, and fuck.
"Luca?" Everyone was stunned, including the crown prince himself. "How?"
"It's Luca," Milenna deadpanned, as if stating the obvious. Or at least, we all thought it were obvious.
"Your confusion is understandable," Vati said, nodding his head as if he hardly believed what he were saying. "Allow me to explain."
"Please," Royce said.
"One of my dear friend's sons attends university with Luca. I believe you know him as Scott, ja?"
Luca's eyes widened in realization, not so happily surprised now. "You got him to spy on me??"
"Calm, son. I did not." He waited for Luca to do as he said to continue. "I shared dinner with my friend just before I told you all that I was looking for my heir. His son said he was friends with you and told me all of the good things you had been doing at university. So I informed him I was looking for a king and he wanted it for you, so he kept me updated."
"In other words, he was spying on me."
"Perhaps," Vati chuckled, but sobered up within seconds. "Do not blame him, though. You two were friends before. I promise, he truly wants what is best for you."
Everyone looked to Luca. It was evident that he was trying to wrap his head around what Vati had told him. Eventually, he nodded. Slowly, still confused.
"I believe you."
"Good. I told him two days ago of my decision."
"What did he say?"
"That he would miss having you around."
"What did you say?"
"I said he could go with you. If he wanted to."
We all sat in awe. Vati rarely made offers so generous, even if it were in the interest of his own children.
"Does he?" It was Milena who asked for a speechless Luca.
Vati nodded and everyone on the table smiled. Luca and Scott were clearly close so it was good that they could stay together.
"Do you accept the offer?"
"To become King?"
Vati nodded, leaning forward with anticipation.
Luca smiled instead of his usual smirk and nodded. "I thought you would never ask."
I texted Kaia that night, telling her the good news I was still trying to fully comprehend. Luca was one day going to be the king of Celti. I was astonished.
Kaia must have been too, because her number popped up on my screen a minute later with an incoming call. I pressed the green button.
“You’re kidding, right?” Was her first question off the bat, with more incredulity than I had.
“I swear, I’m not.”
“But that means you’re off the hook, yeah?”
“Yep. Thanks to you, of course.” But I wasn’t really sure it was. Who knew what would have happened if I hadn’t asked Kaia for help? Maybe the verdict would have been the same, and maybe it wouldn’t have. Either way, I was grateful for the help she provided because if she didn’t we wouldn’t be where we were.
“Ah yes, I did all that hard work. You really should be more grateful.” Her voice was lilting sarcasm.
“Did you take something this morning?” Because she had been acting weird all day. Non stop.
“I’m just happy, leave me alone!” She laughed, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by the need to see her. It was the last of my concerns now, to tell her how I felt, and I swear to God if we were in the same room then I wouldn’t have hesitated. I wouldn’t have been able to help it.
“Well I’m glad,” was all I could say, settling into bed and preparing for the best nights sleep I would have had for a long time.
Silence fell over us, her in her room and me in mine, but still connected through the phone in our hands. I could hear her breathing, and it was the sound I fell asleep to, not being able to help it.