I had successfully convinced my grandmother to let me stay living at home for the next two months, but I could not talk her out of making me see a psychologist. Every Friday at 4:30pm from now on I had to go see a Dr. Wallace, a lovely lady who I had met for the first time an hour ago. It was evident from her enthusiasm that she loved her job, which made the experience softer, somehow. Less scary. We had briefly spoken about why I was there to which I answered “My Nanna thinks I’m depressed.” She asked, “Do you think you are?” and I said “I know I’m not.” She just nodded, and moved on. One thing I liked was that she didn’t have a notepad. It made me feel like she believed that I wasn’t depressed and was only doing this for my grandmother’s sake.
Parker had collected me at five when the session was over, in her beat up ford focus. I slid into the passenger seat among the litter on the ground, shaking my head as she pulled away.
“You really need to clean up.”
“You really need to shut up,” she fired back, zooming through the busy streets. Five o’clock always brought traffic, with people coming home from work, getting food for dinner, or having their Friday night drinks. The sun was beginning to set; dusk was upon us.
“Where are we going?” This wasn’t the way home. She was heading into the centre of town instead of out.
“Coffee Bean. I’m dying for a mocha.”
“Do I get a choice in this?”
“Nope. Unless you want to walk home. That’s your only other option.”
“Come on. I bet you could do with a chai right now.”
That one word of perfection made me perk up a bit, laughing when Parker rolled her eyes. “Knew it.”
Coffee Bean was on the corner of Thacker and Melrose, the lights illuminating the whole corner. It was styled like Starbucks, but without the prestige about it. Atlas used to take us here every Tuesday after school since he got his license at seventeen. It was our special treat. Since he got taken over by his study/work schedule we hadn’t been. It was strange to be here without him, but he was working tonight so he wouldn’t have been able to come.
It was quiet in the shop tonight, with only a few of the tables occupied by locals, not that I paid much attention. I was too busy ordering.
“Can I please get a white chocolate mocha and a chai latte, extra hot.” Despite the February heat outside, I couldn’t get a drink that was only warm. It was like showers. No matter the temperature, I always had to have a hot shower.
“Large, medium or small?” The server asked, a guy I faintly recognized from school. He was younger but towered over my not-so-short five feet eight inches.
“Both medium thank you,” I smiled.
“That’ll be eight fifty.” I handed him over a ten dollar note and he retrieved my change. “Could I just have your name for the order?”
“Parker,” I told him, then headed to a booth along the right wall of the shop. I seldom used my name when ordering at places such as these. People either never heard it correctly or spent a minute fussing over how to spell. It was too much effort for what it was worth.
I crossed my legs on the seat, resting my head against the back of the booth.
“So. How was the psychologist?”
“Totally unnecessary,” I told her, thrumming my fingers against my thigh. “But the psychologist, Dr. Wallace, was really nice.”
“Wallace? As in, Wallace and Gromit?”
That brought a smile to my face. Wallace and Gromit was a tv show we watched religiously when we were kids. Every morning at seven we would be ready for school, sitting in front of the tv, embracing the clay animation.
“Great. Now when I look at her all I’ll be able to picture is a clay cheese enthusiast who doesn’t talk.”
“You’re welcome,” she beamed, then her name was called out. I started to stand up but she got to it first, bringing back our drinks. Mine was in a blue mug with nutmeg dusted over the top, while Parker’s was in a pale green mug with whipped cream frothing over the top.
“Anyway, back to the psychologist. Did you talk to her about Nanna?”
“What did she say?”
“She seemed to believe me.”
“Good. Speaking of her, what are you going to do?”
I sighed, scooping a bit of foam off my latte to eat. “I hope you mean what are we going to do.”
“You know that’s what I meant.”
“Good, because it’s been a solid twenty two hours and I’ve had no ideas come to mind. How am I going to get out of this?”
“We could always move to Belgium,” she shrugged, acting as if she had suggested we should get pizza for dinner.
“But we don’t speak Dutch or French or German.”
“Oh right. Maybe not.”
We looked at each other and burst laughing, lightening the mood which was getting a little to serious for my liking.
“Help me,” I groaned, dragging out the vowels to sound like a four year old begging for ice cream, with so many ‘e’s in their pleases their parents would have to listen.
“Let me think,” she instructed, so I turned back to my drink. Most of the foam was gone so I stirred the rest of it in, not clinking the spoon on the sides like I had been taught.
Parker was still thinking after I had some of my drink so I set it to the side and began to use the table as my piano, imagining the sound as I pretended to play it on the wood. I closed my eyes to focus, going through a song I was beginning to learn off by heart. By the time I had gone through it twice, Parker had thought about it.
“I think I’m a genius.”
I opened my eyes, putting my hands back under the table. “You’re usually so much more confident about your intelligence. What gives?”
“Stop being a smartass and listen,” she groaned, then got all businesslike with her hands clasped together on the table, leaning in to the conversation. “You need to date someone.”
I looked at her with a dubious expression covering my face. “Need I remind you that I don’t like anyone?”
“It doesn’t have to be real. You can fake date someone.”
I struggled to see how this would help convince Nanna I wasn’t depressed. “Why?”
“This whole conversation about your non-existent depression ceased when you were dating Marcus. Two days later, it is the primary topic of conversation. Coincidence? I think not.”
I considered this. “You think she assumed I was happy because I was dating someone?”
“I guess. But it’s not like I really want to involve someone in my business. I can’t just go up to someone and say ‘hey will you fake date me to get my grandmother off my back about being depressed because if I don’t I’ll have to move in with her and that’s a lot worse than it sounds’?”
“Way ahead of you, sis. Just say you’re doing it to get rid of a persistent ex boyfriend.”
I paused. “Who could I ‘fake date’?” I asked with reluctance. I wasn’t agreeing to this, nor was I sure I was even willing to do it.
“I hadn’t got that far,” Parker admitted, biting her lip. It looked like her brain was ticking over for an answer.
But then we were interrupted.
“The Sawyer girls. What a surprise.” I knew that voice. I turned my head to the posse of people standing at the end of our booth. Hayden Porter stood with a grin, looking between my sister and I with confidence. Beside him were his three best friends; Landon Warrick, Zavier Dennis, and the one and only, Jacob Beck, of whom had a younger girl partially hiding behind him. I recognized her as the girl that was leaving the English classroom on Monday morning and then it clicked. Jacob’s younger sister, Ada Beck. How had I not known?
I was about to ask what they were doing but Parker beat me to it. “Boys. And girl,” she acknowledged Ada with a kind smile. “Would you like to join us?”
I glared, but she didn't care. She winked at me as Landon accepted on behalf of the group.
It was sorted. I was going to kill her.
My father had left this morning to return home, my mother driving him to the airport and then had plans to catch up with her friends for the afternoon. My brothers had returned to university, leaving before I had the chance to say goodbye, and Milena was at university then a friend’s house for the night. It was just me and Ada, of which I had no complaints about. I enjoyed spending time with my younger sister but it was momentarily problematic when the guys asked if I wanted to go to Coffee Bean after school to hang out. This was after I had filled them in on dinner last night and that I needed a way out of becoming king. They thought I was mad for wanting out, except for Landon who just nodded in understanding. Lunch was minutes from being over and they wanted to help me think of a way through it.
“I would but everyone’s out tonight so I’m hanging with Ada.”
“Bring her along,” Hayden had said without hesitation. I texted her to make sure it was okay and she said she’d like to, so that’s how the five of us ended up at the almost empty Coffee Bean at quarter to five on a Friday night. We took up a table slightly tucked away in the far left corner of the café, going up to order two at a time.
“Ada?” I asked, standing up with Hayden to get our drinks first.
“The usual, please,” she smiled. I nodded and we headed over to the counter. The guy behind the till was Carl, in the year below. I knew him when we played soccer together in primary school. He had shot up, but not much else about him had changed much.
“Carl, how’s it going?” I asked, being the only one in line other than my best friend.
“Good, man. What’s it like to be back?”
“Very strange,” I admitted.
He laughed. “I bet. What can I get for you?”
“I’ll get a regular hot chocolate with marshmallows, and a large chai latte with honey.”
“You know that’s a girls drink, right?” Hayden asked from behind me. I didn’t answer. I knew it was a girls drink, as a girl had introduced it to me. Coffee Bean was the place to be in primary school, so when I wasn’t here with the boys I was here with Kaia. Her favourite drinks used to be chai latte and after an entire year, she convinced me to try one. I hadn’t looked back since.
“That’ll be eight dollars forty thanks.” I handed Carl the exact change I’d dug out of my jeans pocket and moved to the side. Hayden ordered a latte and within five minutes we were back at the table with our drinks.
Landon and Zavier went and ordered, Ada thanking me for hers.
“Am I right to assume they know about everything with our family?” Ada asked after a sip of her hot chocolate. Despite being surrounded by guys that were four years older – except for Hayden who had advanced a year and was seventeen – she seemed relaxed, as if she couldn’t care less. I hoped that was the case. I’d have left then and there if she was uncomfortable.
“You mean that you’re royalty and your brother here has a one in three chance of becoming king?” Hayden cut me off, lazing back in his chair and looking at my sister with a smile that made my stomach churn. I clipped him on the ear.
“What was that for?” He asked, his voice near a squeal.
“I felt like it.”
“It’s more like a one in two chance,” Ada corrected him, crossing one leg over another, an action that always puzzled me. How was it even possible?
“Yes because Luca is a dropkick,” I added.
“Oh, right,” he nodded, as if he forgot what my brother was like since lunch time.
Ada rolled her eyes and faced me. “Hayden kun wa baka desu.”
“Wrong language, Ada.” She could speak four languages; German, English, French and Japanese, the latter of which she had just spoken in.
“Der ist eine dummkopf.” I couldn’t help but laugh at her insult of Hayden.
“Do you ever speak English?” Hayden groaned, turning to me. “What did she say?”
“Non,” she smirked. “Don’t tell him, Jacob.”
Hayden looked at me expectantly but I shrugged. “You heard her.” His face fell. Ada high fived me.
The guys got back with their drinks. Zavier had his in a travel mug, which I pointed out with the question of “Why?”
“I always spill things.”
“What are you? Three?” Hayden teased.
“Do you need it in a sippy cup?” I added.
“Maybe you would rather a bottle,” Landon chuckled. Ada laughed at all of us and Zavier flipped us off.
“F-“ he glanced at my sister and adjusted his vocabulary. “Piss off. It’s happened eight times this year and we’re only early February. I’m not risking that again.”
We laughed, leading to Zavier changing the subject.
“Back to Jacob’s issues, shall we?”
“I wouldn’t call becoming king of a small country an issue,” Hayden commented.
“It is when you want a life,” I frowned, my eyebrows knitting together.
“What did your dad say were the exceptions?” Landon asked, attacking this from the logical place his mind was always stationed in.
I took a sip of my chai, reveling in the taste. “Something that is worth staying in this country for. ‘Whether a job, a girl, a life’, “ I quoted, explaining my dilemma that I was too young for a job or a life that would be worth staying here for.
Ada stayed quiet through my explanation, a small crease in her forehead. She seemed to be thinking hard.
The table remained quiet, the only sound in the café being the quiet murmurs, the opening of the door, Carl taking orders, and the coffee machine working. That was until my sister cleared her throat, gaining four pairs of eyes looking at her.
“What about a girl?”
I hadn’t thought that was an option from the moment the words came out of my father’s mouth, but now that I thought about it, it was the only viable option. Lots of people had serious relationships in high school.
“Why don't you pretend to date someone?” Landon offered, saying more in this conversation than I think he had in any other. I was curious as to why he was so interested but let the matter drop.
“Why doesn’t he actually date someone?” Zavier asked. “Wouldn’t that be easier?”
“Do you like anyone, Jacob?” Landon asked.
I shook my head. I didn’t want to bother with a relationship and there was no one here that I fancied dating.
“But who could it be?” Zavier questioned.
“Kaia.” The name made me stop, turning to face the only person that would say that. My sister. When she saw my look she held her hands up in the universal sign of surrender. “Chill, Jacob. Let me explain.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Gee, thanks for the confidence,” she said with sarcasm, crossing her arms. “I know you two aren’t on the best terms but it makes sense. You don’t want a relationship. It’s clear she doesn’t like you. At all. I think if you asked anyone else they would probably end up liking you and wanting a real relationship.”
“The whole plan would backfire,” Hayden backed her up. The other two boys seemed to agree.
I could hardly stand to be in the same room as Kaia, let alone have to pretend to like her. I couldn’t see how it was going to work, but it was the only option I had and everyone else seemed to think it was a good idea.
“I guess that makes sense,” I sighed, raking a hand through my hair and finishing off my chai. “Among the long list of problems I can see with this plan, why would she agree to do this?”
“Good question,” Hayden grinned, standing up with his latte. “Let’s go find out.”
“What?” I turned around in my chair, my head spinning at the speed of light. Sure enough, there she was, sitting in one of the booths with her sister.
“It’s great when things work out,” Zavier commented, standing up. I was the only one still sitting at our table. I grumbled, shoving away from the table and succumbing to peer pressure. I couldn’t believe we were doing this.
We arrived at the head of their table and I was itching to get out of there. It was too late now.
“The Sawyer girls,” Hayden grinned, earning both of their attentions. “What a surprise.”
Kaia’s sister, Parker, seemed pleasantly surprised, an easy smile on her face as she looked over us all. Kaia seemed the opposite, staring at us dumbfounded. Her eyes quickly glazed over me and then focused on Ada. Of course she knew Ada; she used to help me look after Ada when we were little. They got along so well, like sisters almost. Not that Ada needed any more siblings.
“Boys. And girl,” Parker said, smiling kindly at my sister. “Would you like to join us?”
Kaia glared at her sister to which she winked, clearly not giving two shits about what her sister thought.
“We’d love to,” Hayden jumped at the opportunity, already dragging over a chair. The booths were big enough that six people could fit in them, but there were seven of us. I volunteered to sit on the chair. Ada sat in between Kaia and Hayden while Landon sat between Parker and Zavier.
“What are you up to this evening?” Parker asked all of us. The guys answered but I wasn’t paying attention. Kaia and Ada had started to talk and I wanted to hear what they were saying.
“You’ve grown up so much. I can hardly believe it’s still you,” Kaia was saying, turning face on to my sister, her back against the wall and her legs crossed.
“Last time you saw me, I was nine. I would hope I’d have grown up since then,” she chuckled.
“So you’re fifteen then?”
“In a couple of weeks.”
“You seem older than that.” Of course she did. Ada was more mature than I was sometimes, and I was four years older.
“I get that a lot.” They continued to talk and Hayden drifted conversations, joining in on theirs. This brought a frown to my face. Kaia seemed perfectly nice to those two. It bugged me. It bugged me because it was just an act, one she didn’t care to keep up in front of me.
After that I kept my eyes trained on the wooden table and didn’t pay too much attention to any conversation that flowed. I wanted to leave but Ada seemed to be having a good time so I sucked it up and suffered in silence.
It was a while until I tuned back in, but that was when Landon spoke up. “There was a reason we came over here. Not just to chat, which while has been lovely, was not our primary purpose.”
“Oh?” Parker asked, eyebrows raised. “What would that be?”
“Jacob is in a predicament and we need your help to get him out of it. Or more specifically, Kaia’s help,” he explained. Kaia’s head shot up, shooting a concerned glance my way. I groaned, putting my head on the table. This was such a bad idea.
“My help?” She asked, her voice confused.
“I think it would be better if we explained the idea in a less public place where you can break stuff in peace. Are you free tomorrow?” Hayden asked.
“I’m not,” I said, my voice muffled through the table.
“Sunday, then?” I put my thumb up and I heard one of the girls sigh.
“I guess. Although the assumption I will want to break something is hardly comforting. Nor is the fact that I’m helping him.”
“I told you this was a bad idea,” I grumbled.
“Shut up, it’ll work,” Hayden said to me, and then to Kaia; “You don’t have to do anything. All we want to do is offer up our plan and if you don’t want any part of it, it’s fine.”
It was silent for a moment. “Where and when?”
A small part of me was relieved she agreed but the majority was internally screaming at her for accepting. This would not end well. She wouldn’t agree. It was pointless.
“My place at one,” Hayden told them. “I’ll write down my address.”
I raised my head as he handed Kaia a napkin. She lifted it and put it in her pocket.
“I think we should go,” Zavier said. “I have to go to Annaliese’s house for dinner.”
“I second that,” I said, standing up with relative impatience.
“We’ll see you Sunday then,” Parker grinned. Kaia smiled at everyone except me. I just bid farewell to her sister and left.
“I don’t know why you dislike her so much,” Ada said once we had gotten in the car. “She’s so nice.”
From what she could see, I didn’t doubt that. I just shrugged, not in the mood to answer. I was in the mood to bang my head against the steering wheel.
“This is such a bad idea.”