Setting up for a party was the last thing I wanted to do, especially considering it meant leaving Kaia. She had to get ready and get my present – of which she was too excited about giving me – and then return here with her sister for last minute preparations.
The thing is, parties don’t take nearly as much time to set up as we anticipated. By two o’clock the four of us were sitting on my back deck, legs swinging over the edge sipping on our beers.
“I can’t remember the last time it has just been the four of us,” Landon said, taking another swig before setting it on the wood. We’d finished out here, hanging lights around the yard to switch on when people started to arrive.
“Thanks to the girls,” Zavier piped up.
“I don’t think we can really complain, can we?” Hayden asked, eyeing off each of the boys until landing on me.
I shook my head. I hadn’t told them about me and Kaia. It wasn’t like the thought was slipping my mind because it was the only thing in my mind, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I went to take my phone out of my pocket until Hayden nudged me with his elbow, sporting an almost worried look. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say you’re nervous.”
Zavier and Landon turned their attention to me too, agreeing as soon as I looked out to the backyard.
“Why would I be?”
My phone cut off my response, ringing it’s dull ring until I picked it up.
“Speak of the devil,” I said to them, swiping my finger across the screen and lifting it to my ear. “Hey.”
“I can’t tell Parker.” Her voice was rushed, almost panicked, like there was something wrong. I slid off the deck and headed further into the backyard, out of earshot of the guys who were making ‘whipped’ sounds and cracking up.
“I can’t tell the guys,” I admitted, leaning up against one of the two almost symmetric trees in the centre of our backyard. There were a few more bordering the house, ones Mutti was concerned would be an easy way for burglars to climb in through the windows.
She groaned, the sound crackling through the phone. “Why can’t we? It’s not like no one saw it coming.”
“I was going to ask you the same question.”
“You are of no use.”
“Thanks,” I deadpanned.
She ignored me, probably rolling her eyes. “Any chance I could come over earlier?”
“Missing me that much?”
“If I say yes, can I?”
“If you mean it,” I teased. We both knew what the answer was. I wanted to be with her and I was starting to get used to the fact that she wanted to be with me too.
“You’re a pain.”
“Love you too.”
“See you in ten.”
And the line went dead.
I stared at the blank screen, unable to help my laugh. She half insulted me, ignored me and hung up on me, and all I could think was; my girlfriend is fucking amazing.
“WHIPPED!” Zavier howled as I headed back towards them, still laughing their heads off.
He was scrutinizing me like my sister would, a give away that he was on the verge of figuring something out.
“You spend way too much time with my sister, man,” I told him, giving him a solid punch on the arm.
“Mmh,” was all he said. He stood, got his empty beer bottle and threw it in the rubbish bin, heading inside with a jerk of his head for me to follow.
“Anyone want another beer?”
“I’m set,” Zavier said.
“I’ll take one.” Landon volunteered his empty bottle for disposal. I took it, chucked it and slipped into the house.
Hayden was in the kitchen when I got there, sitting on the counter with a fresh beer in his hand. He took a long gulp, downing almost half of it, before his eyes turned to me.
“When did you ask Kaia to be your girlfriend?”
“What the fuck?”
He shrugged, but a contrasting grin was poisoning his face. “You’re not great at hiding secrets, dumbass. When did it happen?”
“Last night. I sort of dared her to come over, not thinking she’d do it and she did. It all escalated from there and for some reason, she said yes.”
“And you didn’t tell me because…?”
“She asked you not to?”
I shook my head. “Physically couldn’t. I went to tell you when you got here but it just wasn’t coming out.”
“Maybe you’re in denial. Like, you’ve wanted it for so long and now you have it, you can’t be sure it’s real.”
“Seriously?” I had to ask, leaning against the opposing counter with a frown.
“It makes sense though, doesn’t it?”
“When’s she coming over?” He jumped off the bench, his boots hitting the ground with a thud, crossing his arms to mimic my posture.
“In a few minutes.”
“And where’s your sister?” He half lulled, asking even though he knew the answer.
“Go get her,” I just laughed, grabbing another beer for Landon as his laugh joined mine.
“Congrats, by the way,” he added quickly, turning right to head up the stairs to Ada’s room, me turning the other way to get back out to the deck.
Landon was waiting for his beer with hand open and grin wide, listening to Zavier talk about his plans for the mid year holidays with Annaliese.
“She wants to go into the city to get away for a couple of days but I want to go camping. She hates camping.”
“Dude,” Landon was shaking his head. “It’s going to be the middle of winter. Trying to get a girl who hates camping to go camping is not a good idea if she’s going to be freezing her ass off the whole time.”
“Besides, she’ll love you if you just agree with what she wants,” I added.
“Cheers to that,” Zavier laughed, clinking the bottom of his beer with mine. “I guess that’ll have to do.”
“What about you guys? Doing anything over mid year?”
“We went back to school a month ago,” Landon deadpanned, shaking his head. “I don’t plan for anything more than twenty four hours in advance.”
“Unless it’s a League of Legends competition.”
“It’s called a championship, genius.”
I should have known better than to bring his precious game into the mix. If marriage didn’t have to be between two people he would marry League of Legends. Undoubtedly. Even with Parker in the picture.
I lay back on the wood and let the last bits of sun for the afternoon sink into my skin, listening to the inevitable debate I had begun. At some stage Zavier hit me on the stomach for doing so but those two were always arguing about something.
I heard the front door open a little while later, followed by voices from the stairs and the entrance. I figured it were either the Sawyer girls or Hayden and Ada, and was surprised to see all four emerge from the sliding glass door.
Kaia was last, her eyes finding mine within a second of stepping over the sill.
Years ago I never thought Kaia Sawyer would touch a dress, not if her life depended on it. Her everyday clothes were shorts and a t-shirt, occasionally one of my jumpers of which were always too many sizes too big.
I was still getting used to this change in her, especially when it was so classily done. I let my eyes start from the bottom, her bare feet, and work their way over the white skirt that stopped midway through her calves, up past the gap between the skirt and her black longsleeve top, fitted with horizontal stripes. Her hair fell down over her shoulders and her face was flawlessly made up, not that she needed any of it. Always the perfect balance between the ‘party’ look and the ‘meet the parents’ look.
Everyone was busy greeting one another, but I was too busy watching her lips turn from smile to smirk. “You’re so subtle.”
“Your fault,” I grinned, and pushed myself up to my feet.
“Why is it always my fault?” She asked, raising her eyebrow like a challenge. I stepped towards her, slid my fingers under her chin and leaned in close, so close I could smell her perfume and the faint scent of something; lavender maybe.
Her eyes stayed strong on mine, shining blue against the thin black makeup running along her eyelid. Unblinking. Confident.
“Because you’re always so damned gorgeous.”
I loved the way she faltered; the softening of her eyes, the way her lips turned from smirk back to smile, the dimple in her cheek letting me know I’d made her happy. I quickly pressed my lips to hers, unable to help it, but stopped before we could get too carried away. Instead I slid my arm around her waist and then faced the people I’d forgotten existed.
Parker. Landon. Ada. Hayden. Zavier. Annaliese was even here.
When did she get here?
Almost every face shared the same look; confusion, shock, a little bit of annoyance.
And then the questions started.
I sort of hated Jacob in that moment, when everyone had turned their attention to us. It was not how I wanted us to tell them, but it was out in the open now. No do overs. No take backs. All that was left was to deal with the aftermath of our unintentional decision to tell them.
Hayden wasn’t surprised, grinning like a madman with Ada on his arm, smiling at me like she knew it was coming.
The others weren’t so thrilled with the news, firing questions of what the hell? When did this happen? How did this happen? Why didn’t you tell us?
“Give the couple a break, Jesus!” Hayden exclaimed, silencing everyone with a single sentence. “This is not the fucking Spanish Inquisition!”
“You’re right. Two percent of people died in the Inquisition,” Annaliese huffed, crossing her arms. “A hundred percent of people will in this one.”
“It only happened yesterday,” Jacob was quick to defend, pulling me a little closer to him like he was scared Anna was actually going to follow through. I wasn’t sure why she was annoyed; she had won her bet, we were together, she got what she wanted.
“Whatever,” she huffed, but the shadow of a smile was already beginning to appear and it was then the celebrations began.
By eight the house was packed, music blaring from the speakers at an ear shattering level. By ten, most of the people who had turned up were drunk, either dancing, drinking more or hooking up in one of the corners of the room or backyard.
By eleven the party was going harder than it had before, and I’d lost sight of anyone of my friends except for Jacob, who hadn’t let go of my hand all night. Neither of us were drinking. Instead we went between dancing and circling the party to pick up the littered rubbish. It may not sound fun, but I learnt a lot about him in those hours. Every so often we would make a game of throwing empty bottles into the bins, seeing who could sink it from the furthest distance. I was winning thus far, but Jacob was getting better at it.
By midnight Jacob and I were calling for the place to be emptied, turning the music off to get the ball rolling. Most people seemed to get the picture but if they didn’t, we caught them on our rounds of rubbish collecting and asked them politely to leave. A couple were too drunk to understand English by that stage so we had to find them a less drunk friend, buddy them up and escort them out of the house.
It wasn’t as hard to clean up as I thought it would be, and by one the house was almost back to normal. Furniture could be moved back in the morning.
Ada and Hayden were the first two we found, surprising considering they were halfway up the tree in the backyard. Ada was sitting on Hayden’s lap, both laughing their way through the night. I called up to them and asked if they were alright up there, to which Hayden cursed upon realizing the time and climbed down, convincing Ada she needed to sleep.
The other four were already in bedrooms, sleeping and thankfully not anything else. Jacob and I did one last circle of the party area, gathered the pile of cards he’d received from the living room and headed up to his bedroom.
“Did you enjoy your party?” I asked, glancing to the place I’d left my bag and his present. He dumped the cards on the table beside his couch and nodded, running a hand through his hair.
“Best party ever,” he declared, a smile I couldn’t doubt resting on his lips.
“It’s about to get better.” For some reason my stomach fluttered as I went for his present, almost like I was nervous about giving it. Maybe I was. Sure, I thought it was a good present but would he like it as much?
I pulled it from behind my bag and padded across the book covered floor, setting it on the couch in front of him.
“Happy birthday,” I whispered, standing on my tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
His brows were furrowed as he stared at it, almost like he was scared something was going to jump out at him. No, it wasn’t worry. It was guilt. “You didn’t have to.”
“Stop,” I said, slipping my fingers between his and squeezed. His hand was so warm, melting away any nerves I felt. Even if he didn’t like it, I wouldn’t know. I think Parker was right; he’d like anything if it were from me. “Open it. Please?”
It wasn’t in Jacob’s character to accept things so easily. Anything that might put someone out brought him guilt, too much for him to be feeling at eighteen. I knew it was hard for him to not argue, so I was more than appreciative when he sighed, placed a soft kiss to my forehead and padded across to it.
He hesitated, looking to me for approval or something like it. I nodded and he tried to smile, tearing open the paper and further, the bubble wrap.
I heard his breath catch, eyes unwavering from the painting in front of him. His fingers ran the frame. He crouched to look at it from eye level. His eyes took minutes to trace the details. He stood. He let out a deep breath.
“Jacob Forst,” he whispered, as astonished as I was when I saw the resemblance. He finally tore his eyes away, looking from me to the painting and back again. He couldn’t have produced such a fine act if he didn’t like it.
“Your forest,” I agreed, hooking my finger through the belt loop on his pants.
“It’s incredible,” he muttered, shaking his head like he didn’t believe his eyes. Then those eyes looked to me and thanked me with a gravity that no words could hold. All I could do was look up at the boy who had changed my life with the only thought being how much he deserved this.
Jacob Beck had waltzed back into my life and shone light on the possibilities.
For the first time since my parents had
gone, I realized I could be happy again.
Because of him.
I realized I didn’t have to be alone, that I was okay to need someone sometimes.
Because of him.
I realized I should never give up; no matter how hopeless things may feel. Everything gets better if you give it time.
I realized this because of him.
He was my prince, the one who rode in on his horse and rescued me from the tower to whisk me off into the sunset, or the dark hours of Sunday in his room where we were falling asleep.
Who knew where we were going to be in six months, a year, five? I certainly didn’t.
But in that moment I was content knowing that I had fallen in love with the most beautiful boy God could have sent me, and that impossibly, he loved me too.
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