"You two are so more than friends," Anna was saying under her breath, teasing as the English teacher strolled up and down the aisles; checking the homework I had wasted too many hours doing.
"Can we talk about this later?"
"No. I think we can talk about it now." She was hushed by Ms Motrel’s silencing glare. Not only was she hated, but she was more hated than secretary Mrs fucking Barden. The one who laughs when kids are being sent to the principles office. The very woman who looked disappointed when it was Marcus expelled instead of me, and he had assaulted and was about to sexually assault a seventeen-year-old girl. Yet people rathered her over Ms Motrel.
She returned to her post at the front wooden desk and lectured us on the workings of Shakespeare, and how he was the most brilliant playwright there ever was. Jimmy Jenks from the front row piped up with a smartass question of “If the most brilliant playwright can make up words, then why can’t we?”
Laughter bounced around the room and all the way to Ms Motrel, sitting on the edge of her seat, red faced with steam almost visibly piping from her ears.
The best part was; she didn’t have a response.
So instead she decided it would be a fantastic idea to assign too much work to possibly get done by the end of the lesson, let alone a week’s worth of classes.
She was smug as bugs were snug in their rugs as she looked down at all of our tortured faces. Not that I was responsible but I was pretty sure everyone here was coming to my party tomorrow night, meaning homework would need to be done tonight. Saturday would be used for sleep ins, party prep and pre party drinks, and Sunday would be for hangovers, panadol and death.
Annaliese went completely unfazed, by the work and the teacher and the mood of the classroom all together. She still persisted on our hopeless conversation, subtly leaning across the aisle so she could whisper within earshot.
"I was watching you two at the movies." Her brown eyes rolled. Her blonde hair was flicked. "And you say you're ‘just friends’. We’re just friends Annaliese, nothing's happening Annaliese, he doesn't like me Annaliese, she doesn't like me Annaliese. Bullshit bullshit bullshit!"
People were starting to turn in their seats. Samantha Carlos, who was sitting directly in front of me, raised an eyebrow at me before looking to the front of the class. It was a vaguely curious glance but that was the problem; all these prying eyes were too curious.
"Dammit Anna," I hissed, sending my best glare at anyone who hadn't gotten the point to look the fuck away. Apparently I could be pretty scary when I wanted to be. Everyone had dropped their eyes in the next second. "Stop talking, will you?"
"Alright," she muttered, not looking at me like I had intimidated her as well but like an alien who'd just been beamed down from the Mothership and joined Tempest High, green head and all.
Her spirits didn't dampen. As soon as the bell rang to let us out to lunch she began firing questions again, telling anyone who noticed where they could shove it.
“You should tell her. When are you going to tell her?”
“It’s going to be this year, right?”
“How are you going to do it?”
“Are you going to buy her flowers? Take her to dinner?”
Despite the annoying as hell questioning I had to admit, I liked Anna. She was cool and didn't give a fuck what people thought; perfect for Zavier who shared the attitude. He'd done well.
Thinking about it made me think about my other two best friends, their choices in girls just as good.
Landon had picked Parker, similar to Annaliese but rougher around the edges, not taking shit from anyone. She had a good heart, just like her sister, caring so much about her family that she would smack anyone who messed with them.
Then there was Hayden, who made the best choice of all in my biased opinion. My little sister was opposite to just about any of the other girls; quiet, a musical prodigy, fluent in too many languages to keep up with. Pure as the Angel, and way too good for any guy I could think of. Hayden was damn lucky, but if you asked my selfless sister she would have said it was the opposite.
"Don't tell her when you're drunk. Again." She thought she was fucking hilarious, laughing her butt off all the way to the cafeteria. I swear tears nearly welled up from it all. "Don't wanna repeat history, do you?"
"I'm not drinking tomorrow," I told her, frowning at the thought of the last time. If there was anything I could take back, rewind time and undo, it would be that night. "I'm never drinking again."
"Said like a true alcoholic."
"I'm not an alcoholic."
"You'd be an alcoholic if Kaia was vodka. You are absolutely addicted."
This brought the first smile of the conversation to my lips as we joined the table full of our friends. "Absolutely."
“What’s absolutely?” Kaia was asking, her head whipping to me at the speed of light with a questioning look. Her dark hair was tied at the nape of her neck, loose strands escaping to frame her face and curl around her ear. Her gray eyes were more blue than gray today, shining in comparison to the grey top she wore. Simple, yet beautiful. Always beautiful.
“Are you gonna answer any time soon or keep staring like a moron?” Hayden’s voice interrupted my roaming eyes, throwing something off his plate to hit me in the neck.
Ada, who had become another permanent fixture of this table shook her head at her boyfriends antics, even though she was fighting a smile.
“Oh come on, man,” Zavier said, leaning across his girlfriend to talk to him face to face. “It’s not like Kaia minds, is it?”
“Really boys?” Parker raised her eyebrows, shaking her head.
“They’re boys. What do you expect?” It was Anna.
“Apparently private conversations no longer exist,” I muttered, apparently the comedian of the table today.
“They’re a thing of the past.”
“I reckon it’s a myth.”
“Sorry, what’s this private conversation you speak of?”
“Smartasses,” Kaia chuckled, her shoulders shaking as she laughed at the lot of them. But then her sharp eyes flicked back to me, with the same question in her eyes.
“I was never gonna answer anyway,” I winked, pinching the apple off her plate and taking a bite. I wasn’t sure if she was going to hit me or laugh or plot to get me “mysteriously” hit by a bus.
It didn’t matter. I would’ve taken all of the above with a grin on my face if it made her happy. Extreme? Totally. A lie? Not a chance.
The school day went by of it’s normal accord; pain in the ass teachers, hard work, the ring of the bell and the cheers that followed, and painfully brilliant gorgeous fake girlfriends to make life a hell of a lot better.
I met up with Hayden and Ada after the final bell that freed us of this institution for two whole days, wandering down the halls towards me looking as thick as thieves. The only difference was Ada was clinging to Hayden’s back, holding both of their bags as he piggy backed her to where I stood. It wasn’t the weirdest thing I’d seen today.
“Did I tell you? We’re having dinner for your birthday tonight,” Ada said, her head on a higher level than mine for once in her life. The smile stretched so wide I feared it might break her face in half, undoubtedly the happiest I had ever seen her.
“Shit, really?” I almost groaned. All I wanted was to get my homework out of the way and get a good night’s sleep before party preparations consumed my entire Saturday.
“Mmh,” she nodded, then rested her head on Hayden’s shoulder as we headed into the warm March air. The wind had a bit of a chill to it, no trace of summer left in the atmosphere. I was almost happy that winter was fast approaching; I would finally be in my element and get to laugh as everyone froze their butts off while I remained at a perfectly comfortable temperature. Summer to them was winter to me, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
“At least you won’t have to think too much about confessing your undying love to Kaia. It’ll keep you from stressing over it.” Hayden was fishing for a reaction I wasn’t going to give him. It’s not like anything he said was a lie, usually I just wouldn’t accept it so easily.
I clicked the lock to my car, opening the door to the driver’s seat but pausing, waiting for Ada to say goodbye.
“Your carriage, my princess,” Hayden was saying, setting her on her feet.
“Your princess, my idiot,” she smirked, standing up on her tip toes to kiss him.
I didn’t want to see that.
I slid into the car and shut my door, waited a couple of minutes too long before taking off out of the school grounds I had escaped for a few days longer.
I spent my afternoon slumped over my desk, kicking English homework’s ass. I had nearly finished both Math, Chem and Physics by the time Milena came and got me for tea, linking her arm with mine as we walked down the stairs.
“So you’d like me to take Mutti on a surprise weekend in the city tomorrow, yes?” She clarified, going back over the plan we had established earlier in the week. They were going to go to Celti but thought it too hard for just the weekend, so Milena booked accommodation in the city and would take off with Mutti in the early morning.
“No worries. You’ll have the house to yourselves. And Ada, of course.”
“Well, yeah. I’m sure she’ll be okay.” I was trying to figure out whether Milena knew about Ada and Hayden. They’d mentioned they were telling Mutti, but the conversation hadn’t been brought up at any family dinners so it was hard to tell. I didn’t want to be the one spreading it if they didn’t want it to be spread.
“Hayden will be here anyway.” No stressing needed. “She’ll have a great time.”
“Happy Birthday, Jacob!” Every member of my family was standing around the table, of course minus Milena who was on my arm and my father who had called me half an hour ago to say he was sorry he couldn’t be home. Luca, a changed yet completely unchanged man stood closest to me, gave me a hug first before passing me on to my mother. It went on like that until I’d made the rounds and could sit down, to my favourite food in Mutti’s recipe collection.
Chicken schnitzel, potato salad and rote beetesalat.
“Where is girlfriend, Jacob?” Mutti asked in her broken, heavily accented English, passing the beetesalat to Ada. “Why is not sie here?”
“Kaia?” Of course Kaia. Who else would it be? “I asked but she had some important family business to attend to.”
I was all alone, sitting on the couch watching sitcoms with my cold cup of tea and long forgotten microwaved dinner resting on the coffee table.
As soon as Parker had been home she was gone again, off to see her boyfriend. Forgetting all about her sister with no plans and thus a boredom filled Friday night ahead.
The first thing I did was shower, standing under the hot water long enough to turn my skin red before dressing in my running compression pants and a too big hoodie to cover the hole in the pants on my butt.
After that I’d boiled the kettle and brewed a pot of tea, the one that would be first of many for the night. I was already up to my fourth and it was 8pm, meaning I still had another good three hours of tea drinking to bump up the number.
I jumped off the couch with my black and white teapot in one hand, setting it near the now-boiling kettle before running to the toilet.
I loved my tea. I was content with the amount I was drinking. But I was not a fan of the pressure it put on my bladder. I was up and down off the couch like a yoyo, yet I still returned to refill the pot and take it back to the lounge room.
I sunk into the floor and poured myself a mug, the sound of keys jingling in the front door a whisper in comparison to the shout of the television.
“Anyone home?” The voice of my brother came from the door, a little ridiculous sigh of relief escaping. An axe murderer wouldn’t have keys.
The heavy footsteps came my way and soon enough I was turning my head to see Atlas standing at the door, leaning against the frame with a tired smile of greeting.
“How was work?” I asked him, wondering if he were just going to stand there or take a seat. Then again, if he sat down he mightn’t have been able to get back up. He looked that tired.
So of course his answer was; “Tiring, but good.”
“It’s the price of doing something you love.”
“Too right.” He glanced around the room, his eyes landing on the clock mounted on the wall. “Shit, it’s only eight.”
“Too early to sleep?”
He nodded. “Do you want to watch something after I get changed?”
“I’d love to. Want me to make you some dinner?”
“Have we got anything?”
“I’ll check it out. You go get changed.”
With a flash of his most appreciative smile he took off, all too eager to be able to return to the couch to relax for the night. He worked crazy hours, sometimes up at 4am if he thought of an idea or a solution to a problem he’d been having. He was a video game developer, with the technical role of actually creating the game. It required devotion and dedication, commitment and a touch of craziness.
Atlas was perfect for it.
I reheated the leftovers I hadn’t wanted to eat and took it back to the lounge, Atlas sinking into the couch minutes later in sweats and a plain t-shirt. He thanked me for his dinner and we fell into a comfortable silence, continuing to watch sitcoms until I was distracted by my phone.
It had just buzzed with a message.
Jacob: who says sticks n stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?
Jacob: a kid whos never been hit with a dictionary
It was the stupidest text I’d received. I wasn’t game to label it a joke for I would be doing a disservice to the comedic world, but the test itself brought a small smile to my lips and a conversation to last well into the night.
I spent more of the next couple of hours looking at my phone screen than the television’s and eventually I decided to call it quits and just go up to my room.
“Goodnight.” Atlas bid me farewell, but his eyelids were already starting to droop and would only get heavier as the clock moved closer to midnight.
I snuck away to my room and closed the door behind me, falling into bed with the phone still clutched in my hand.
We had moved onto the topic of adultery, a conversation stemming from my explaining the contents of the show I was “watching”. He was saying how he couldn’t believe how anyone could do that to another person, someone they must have loved at some point in their life.
With every word he spoke or wrote I couldn’t help but think how in over my head I was. It was like I had jumped off a cliff and had been falling, falling falling falling for so long I was starting to wonder if a bottom even existed.
And then after a single text I hit it, slamming into it so hard I could feel the change it brought to my heart.
The fall was over. I’d stopped.
I had fallen in love with Jacob Beck, and that fact alone meant that I was so screwed. He may or may not have liked me, but love was a whole other ball game. It was the next step among many on the path to heartbreak, the one I’d just taken and Jacob wasn’t even close to.
My ringtone started to play.
I stared at the phone in my hand.
“Hello?” I held the phone to my ear, hearing Jacob’s voice before I got to finish.
“I bet you wouldn’t sneak out of the house to come see me right now.”
My heart raced at the idea, but that’s all it was. An idea, and a stupid one at that. It was almost midnight on a Friday night, with drunks crawling home from their evening at the pub. Without a car there was no way I would risk it, even knowing how close his house was and how easy it would be to slip past Atlas and into the night.
“Like hell,” I told him. He laughed; the hearty sound coming crackled through the phone to make it less spectacular than it would have been in person. Again, the idea wiggled back into my mind but I pushed it away. I wasn’t going to do something beyond stupid for a stupid boy.
Even if I was in love with him.
“You’re such a goody two shoes,” he teased, and I could imagine his smirking face on the other side of the phone in the dim light of his bedroom. Maybe sitting on his couch with a book in hand. Maybe lying in bed like I was, so close but so far away from where I lay.
“Am I, really?” I challenged him, flipping over onto my stomach to switch my lamp on.
“If you weren’t, you’d come over.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Of course I am.”
“I just want to see you.”
My heart thumped with the hope that what everyone had been saying was true; that he did like me. Was the cinema no consolation? No proof? He said he had come only for me, and you wouldn’t do that just for a friend.
That, or he must have been tired. It was midnight after all, and we had been texting until late most nights with early starts for school. He wouldn’t have had much sleep of late, which would be another, perhaps more plausible explanation for his words.
“It’s midnight, Jacob, and you have a big day tomorrow,” I sighed, tossing and turning and unable to get comfortable. It was like every part of me was tempted by his suggestion, every part except the minuscule portion of my brain that reasoned against the potential for my spontaneous stupidity.
“So?” He dragged the word like a drunk would, but I knew he was just a more tired version of himself. I’d seen him drunk, and not that I remember seeing him that drunk I had memories of his tipsy phase. Nothing like this.
“So you’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Goodnight.”
I put the phone back to my ear.
“You can’t leave yet,” he argued. Probably crossing his arms, pouting like a four year old.
“But I’m tired,” I groaned, even though I wasn’t. My mind was weighing up the pros and cons of throwing on my Converse and sneaking over there, the seeds of a plan forming in the corners of my mind.
“Fine.” I could practically hear the pout now, through the phone. “Goodnight Kaia.”
I laughed, hanging up and not bothering to say goodnight.
The reasonable side of my mind had lost; I’d get the chance to say goodnight in person.
I scrambled to where my shoes were sitting by the door, jumping around as I slid each one on. I didn’t take the time to think through what I was about to do, just that I was going to do it and it would end well.
That’s what I was telling myself at least.
I crept down the stairs, television still playing in the lounge room. Atlas might have been asleep, but I didn’t want to risk the questioning if I was caught and he wasn’t, so I snuck out the laundry door and set off on my midnight adventure to the Beck’s house.
The night was peaceful, albeit cool from the rapidly cooling temperature of southern hemisphere. I was thankful I still had my hoodie on and kept to the shadows, rounding the corner onto the street of my destination within minutes.
I hadn’t come across a single life until I reached the house, stopping dead in my tracks when I saw who was coming from the other way.
“Hayden?” I asked, half wondering why he was here and half feeling like I’d been caught doing something I shouldn’t. “What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” He stopped a few feet away from me, his eyebrows knitted together as he looked down on me. His face was lit by the moonlight, shadowing the entire street which I was all of a sudden too ready to get off of.
“I asked you first.”
“I’m here to see my girlfriend. What’s your excuse?”
“Jacob called me a goody-two-shoes.”
Hayden froze, before letting a laugh echo down the barren street. “He’s such a moron. So you’re here to get him back for it?”
“Something like that.”
Without another word he started progressing to the side of the house Jacob and Ada’s rooms were on, the one I knew didn’t have any doors.
“What are you doing?”
“Didn’t I just tell you?”
“No. I mean, why are you going that way?”
“How else do you expect me to get in?”
“Through the door?”
This hadn’t occurred to him. He complimented me on what a good idea it was as we headed to the laundry, the door we’d snuck through after the Valentine’s Day party. The day that started this whole thing. The day that started any possibility between Jacob and I.
I tried the handle hoping to God it wasn’t locked and there wasn’t an alarm system in the house. I squeezed my eyes shut. Pushed it down.
The door opened, and the night remained as quiet as it had been before.
The halls were different at night, with no light to guide us to the staircase. Even Hayden who had been here more than I was having trouble, but we made it.
At the top of the staircase Hayden called for me to wait, a whisper that sounded like a scream in this echo prone house.
“Uh, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell Jacob I was here,” he said, scratching the back of his neck.
“How’s this? I never saw you, you never saw me. Deal?”
He held his hand out and I took it, shaking it once. “Deal.”
Jacob’s door was open a crack, light spilling out into the hallway. I hid behind the wall and peered in, not having thought my plan through enough to know where to go from here. Hell, I hadn’t thought the plan through at all. All I knew is that I had made it this far and I wasn’t about to back out now.
He was sitting on his couch, back to me, book in hands. He was sort of curled over his book, the way you do when it gets to an interesting part of the story and you want nothing more than to be in the book with your characters.
I couldn’t help my smile. I liked that he read, or would stay up until early morning doing so.
Back to the rapidly unraveling plan.
I squeezed myself through the door and took a silent breath, not daring to make any noise. I’d made it through with no contact to any surface bar the floor and therefore nothing moved.
Now to face his floor, looking like a field of landmines but instead of explosives, there were books. I crept across, my eyes sweeping from him to the books to my feet and back to him, checking on too many things that I was beginning to feel a touch dizzy. It disappeared as soon as I was standing behind him, so close I could almost feel the side of the couch with my hand.
I leaned down so that my lips were to his ear, whispering as quietly as was still audible, “Boo.”
“JESUS FUCK!” He jumped, his book falling to the floor of landmines as he made it to his feet. I burst laughing, nothing able to stop it except the realization that the boy in front of me was, in fact, without a shirt.
The laughter faded into nothing as I stared, unable to do anything else. It wasn’t the first time I was seeing his impeccably sculpted abs or his beautifully formed chest, but the utter perfection was something you could never get used to.
I recovered as quick as I could, not wanting him to see how he affected me. I jumped on the opposite ned of the couch and picked up his book, frowning when I recognized it was in German. I could understand words, sometimes sentences, but the short period of time I’d been learning the language wasn’t enough for me to understand the full story, or even the gist.
“You scared the shit out of me,” he informed me, still standing with his eyes glued to me. I saw him cross his arms out of my peripheral vision, struggling to keep my eyes on the words in front of me.
I just kept flicking through the pages, giving off the impression of being calm, comfortable and collected, when really I was anything but.
“Good,” I said, biting my lip to keep the smirk off my face. Or at least, tried to. It was too big to be contained and within a second of me letting my expression slip, I felt the couch go out from under me.
Jacob had picked me up, so now I was five to six feet in the air in Jacob’s arm bridal style, my legs kicking and my body wriggling. “Put me down put me down put me down!”
He was the one smirking now, his face closer than I was expecting. I could see my own struggling eyes reflected in his ocean deep blue ones, sparkling of something entirely other.
His lips were so close, so close that with one slight movement of my head I could press my lips against his.
I wanted to kiss him. I almost did. Every part of me wanted to but I didn’t.
“Not until you tell me why you’re here,” he said, pacing the room with me in his arms, not worried about stepping on on of his beloved books because he knew he wouldn’t. His confidence was unnerving. It set butterflies out of their cage in my stomach. I had to get down.
“Because I wanted to?” I tried.
“No,” he shook his head, bouncing me up and down a little as if I weighed nothing at all. I often forgot how much bigger he was than me, in height and just sheer body mass. All forgotten when my eyes met his. “What is it really?”
“That is why!” It wasn’t.
“Are you seriously going all four-year-old-in-an-argument on me?”
“Tell me why you’re really here.” His words burned with fervor that I couldn’t have imagined, his curiosity more than just him being curious. He had a reason for wanting to know, and I wanted to know his reason.
I was tempted to keep my mouth shut, to torture him and keep the cute frown on his face. But even that wasn’t fair, to him or myself, because his smile was so much better for all parties.
“I wanted to see you.” He wasn’t expecting me to give in, especially to give in with what could only be the truth. His eyes stayed trained on mine, widening a little at the fact of the matter.
“Yes, now let me down!”
Just like that he dropped me, both arms disappearing before I got the chance to squeal. Despite landing on something soft, something comfortable, I wasn’t a fan of getting dropped.
“You idiot,” I would have yelled, but was becoming conscious of the other people who had to share this house. They’d be sleeping by now, and I didn’t want them to know I was here let alone wake them.
I went to punch him on the chest but he caught my hands, circling his fingers around my wrist to hold them above my head on his bed. He hovered above me, his eyes my line of sight to the war inside his head. But just like that the war was over, and his eyes were crystal with resolve.
“That would explain why I love you.”
My heart stopped. Then it raced. It flipped, it doubled in time, it halved, it sped again and continued doing acrobats like it was in the freaking circus.
He grinned but his eyes were almost unsure, as if waiting for a response I was yet to give him. He lowered his head further, so low it was only an inch away from mine. “You heard me.”
My eyes travelled from his eyes to his lips, to the dimple on his cheek where the confident grin had left its mark. Then, of course, back to his lips, the ones I’d kissed before but never like this.
I closed what distance there was left between us, kissing him for the past too long where I’d been living in denial. His grip around my wrists loosened as he moved to deepen the kiss, his tongue running along the inside of my bottom lip like he’d done it a thousand of times before.
But because he’d all but let go of my wrists it gave me an opportunity so slip my hands out, instead moving them to his chest to push him off. He hovered above me with the stupidest, happiest grin I’d ever seen on his lips, despite the protest to follow.
“Hey, I was enjoying that.”
“I love you, too.”
This time it wasn’t me who freaked out. I could see the trail of emotion through his eyes; from confusion to shock to acceptance to pure love, more intense than anything I’d ever felt.
Before that moment, I never knew what it felt like to be looked at like I was the only thing in the world, like the world could be ending and we could be the last two alive and it wouldn’t make a difference to how he felt.
It was an incredible feeling, the one people wrote books about. Painted the most brilliant paintings about. Wrote the most beautiful songs about. I understood it now, and I didn’t want to remember what it felt like without it.
“Can I kiss you again?” He muttered, already moving closer so I hardly had time to push him off for good.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to kiss him because I did. If I could pick one thing to do for the rest of my life that would have been it, but the reasonable minded part of me said it was time to go home.
“I have to get going,” I told him, shaking my head in case he didn’t get the point. “I’m tired.”
“Stay.” One word, so powerful it actually made me think about it. But I couldn’t. For so many reasons.
“You have a party to prepare for.”
With that he rolled off me, only to lay by my side with his arm around my waist. It was so natural, as natural as the red-orange-yellow leaves in autumn, those same ones dried up in the summer heat.
“Pleaase?” He pouted, resting his head on my shoulder. “Pretty please stay?”
Then he unleashed his puppy dog face; wide eyes sparkling with adorable hope in the warm light of the lamp, bottom lip slightly jutted out. It was hard to resist.
He tucked his head into my shoulder and before I knew what he was doing, he pressed his lips to my neck. “Please?” He whispered.
“Nope.” I shook my head to reinstate my determination, because my willpower was being obliterated by the second.
Another kiss was gently placed further up, a trail becoming evident with his lips to the end destination of my own.
I sighed. He stopped moving. “I’ll stay,” I receded.
“Well fuck,” he hummed as I turned into him, my head on his chest with his arms around me like the security blanket I could get so used to. “I can’t believe it.”
“Can’t believe what?” I whispered, my every tiring eyes growing heavy. “That I love you or that I admitted it?”
“Hey Kaia?” He asked a minute later, his tone so different I felt I should drag my eyes open. It wasn’t as hard as I expected.
“Will you be my girlfriend?”
My heart skipped. I didn’t have to think twice.
“I’d love to.”