Chapter Fifteen ~ Staying Afloat

Chapter Fifteen ~ Staying Afloat

A Chapter by aubreydiamond

As summer packed up her scorching heat waves, cloudless skies and sweltering humidity, autumn began transitioning in with her cool breezes, palette changes and falling leaves. It was one of my favourite seasons, even though I was born in the middle of summer, there was something so serene and peaceful about the colder seasons that I had an affinity with; whether it was the noticeable chill each morning that reunites you with jackets, scarves and other heavy layers packed away, or the songs and activity of the birds and the trees, who also sensed the change of seasons and began preparing for colder days, the aura autumn carried with it was filled with cosiness and a foreboding sense of hibernation - something I loved the sound of right about now. But even through my slightly frosted bedroom windows the morning sunlight was still beaming in gently and encouragingly…

‘AROHA, BREAKFAST!’

My mother's shrill voice screeched from down the staircase, beyond my closed bedroom door awaking me instantly and ungraciously - classic Paula-style.

I rubbed my crusty eyes and pulled my duvet cover off of myself, greeted by my partially-domed belly popping slightly out of my pyjama shirt. I've watched each morning before I got to my feet both my desk and drawers from my lying down-view we're slowly disappearing behind my growing bump. It was both exciting and a bit scary how fast pregnancy happens. But I kept reminding myself that I was only just entering the final stage of the first trimester. Though this year has proven to be the most intense yet (and we were only three months in), it was still early days, and time was on my side. That was a comforting thought.

I hoisted my body to my achy feet and hobbled to the toilet before worrying about getting dressed; my bladder-routine was that of myth now. The baby wasn't big enough to push on my bladder, but there was still enough pressure to force me to the bathroom every other hour in an intense race to see how long I could hold it in. Usually I’d win… usually.

After washing my hands I looked at my body in the mirror: side-on the bump was becoming more and more prominent each passing day - you could definitely tell I was pregnant now. It was so strange to see my reflection with a growing baby bump, I’d imagined it before, but it’s not until you actually see it do you feel the surrealism that comes along with it. My baby was in there. It was a strange thing to tell yourself but after everything I’d - no - we’d been through, I could feel that I already had a connection to this tiny bean, and I was looking forward to eventually meeting them when the time did come.

As I exited to bathroom I pulled on a pair of comfy jeans and Luke’s baby-blue hoodie I found in the box from Valerie. I know, I know, some might say it's unhealthy to wear his clothes, but it genuinely didn't make me feel sad - rather more secure; as if he was standing behind me supporting me through the day with his hand on my back. Plus I thought I looked good in this shade of blue.

I reached for my Rose Quartz necklace on my bedside table sitting coiled beneath the photo of Luke and I that I had sought out an ornate wooden frame for. It was also concealing the note Luke had written me folded behind the photo, only for my eyes and hands to touch and read.

When I straightened up, it was my calendar on the wall beside me that caught my attention; it read April 1st - marked with balloons drawn in red ink to remind me that today was a special day. But even more astounding was that today also indicated two and a half months since Luke’s death…

Two and a half months… It didn't feel like it had been that long, in fact it felt like only last week that everything had happened. It’s astounding how your sense of reality and belonging in the world can be completely flipped upside down and rag-dolled about when you experience loss, even more so when you lose somebody significantly close to you. It was as if the earth had stopped spinning, and everything had ceased to exist from that moment I found out. But time had passed, and was passing slowly but surely. I was getting back on track with my life at hand; managing to cross the chasms of thoughts and feelings and arrive safely on the other side with only a few bumps and bruises to show. I was proud of myself, especially now I had something more to look forward to. Each day that greeted me was accompanied by the reminder that I was no longer living for just myself anymore, and Luke would always be with me even if he was no longer here. It was all a process, and I felt like I was getting there.

The Rose Quartz fell to its usual spot on my chest, and I instantly felt a sense of comfort wash over me. I stowed my phone in my pocket and grabbed my bag from the floor before opening my door and making my way down the hall, making a mental reminder not to forget my plans later this afternoon…

As I walked down the hallway, the spare bedroom door on my right was open with an immaculately made bed and spotless floor basking in the morning sunlight. Zeb had stayed in here a few days ago, but you wouldn't have known, Paula wasn't a fan of dust mites or creased sheets or anything of that nature that defied order.

I descended the stairs, taking my time not to strain my apparently now delicate ankles, and arrived in the hallway with the smell of pancakes wafting from the kitchen. Mum was bustling about with her back to me amidst a smoky cloud as I walked in; phone wedged between her shoulder and ear, one hand gripping the smoking frying pan and the other trying to desperately figure out which button on the extractor fan made it work. I sat on the kitchen barstool and picked at a bowl of freshly cut fruit sitting in front of me.

‘Yes, I know, I know,’ she went on into her phone sounding pressed. ‘Look, just - just don't sign anything ‘til I get there, alright? He may not want anything processed without proper clearance. Don’t file it! Ouch! Buggar!

She spun around looking frustrated, more at the contents of the frying pan which were blackened and sticking to the sides than her burnt finger. She dumped it in the sink with a great clank, turning on the tap and holding her finger under the running water.

‘Sorry, Frank, not you,’ she said prodding the fan buttons with her free arm until it turned on. ‘I'm in the middle of something right now. Look, I’ll be in soon, okay?  Give me twenty minutes and we will sort this all out.’ And with that, she hung up.

‘Morning,’ I said. ‘What was that all about?’

‘Finalising forms is much more difficult than you'd think, apparently. According to half the men in my office they have to call me about one piece of paper.’ She marched over to the fridge and pulled out a tub of yoghurt. ‘Here.’

‘I’m fine thanks Mum, I'm just gonna have the fruit before I go today.’

‘You will not just have fruit, Aroha,’ she said sternly. ‘You need something substantial. I planned to make you pancakes, but…’

‘You don't have to cook for me all the time, I know how to work the oven,’ I laughed.

‘Yes, you are a capable young adult, I know that, but while you're carrying my first grandchild I’ll do what I can to make sure both your bodies are getting everything they need. Here.’

She forced the tub of yoghurt into my hands to dress the fruit with, accompanied by her raised eyebrows that wouldn't budge until I obeyed. I took the yoghurt and began pouring it over top.

Looking back a few months ago, mum was too busy worrying about her work load and my grades to stop and make sure that my well-being was okay and thriving. It was little moments like this that made me so grateful for the fact that I opened up to her after the hospital appointment; since then, we had entered a whole new phase of our relationship that I never thought I'd share with her �" I couldn’t tell you the last time she’d cooked breakfast for me. Sure, she could still be just as controlling and hold her own high expectations of almost everything, but her outlook on me as her daughter and as a human being was being treated with more respect than before. For that, I was so grateful and appreciative; it helped me respect and admire her just as much in return.

‘What are your plans for today then?’ She said whilst scraping the pans burnt contents into the bin with what appeared to be great satisfaction.

‘I have a job interview at twelve, then…’ I mumbled through a mouthful of orange and pineapple.

‘Pardon?’ She snapped, ‘I couldn't quite hear you through the half-masticated food in your mouth.’

She always hated when I spoke with my mouth full. Rolling my eyes playfully I chewed and swallowed the sweet citrus before trying to talk any further.

‘I have an interview at twelve today, then I have a few things to do this afternoon in town.’

‘That's good,’ She said with forced happiness regarding the interview, ‘and what position is this one for?’

‘Uhh, it's a retail shop… selling clothing...’ I think.

‘Part time, full time… casual?’ she asked.

‘Uh, I’m not sure.’

I'd been applying for as many jobs as I could over the past month and a bit, if I wasn't going to be returning to school and was planning on bringing this baby into the world I wasn't going to allow myself to rely on someone else to pay for everything. Though it turns out finding a job in a small town is a lot harder than you’d think - I'd only had a few responses back so I'd accepted anything and everything I could get my hands on, without asking too many questions…

‘Hmm, so clothes?’ Mum repeated, turning to me and eyeing my outfit. ‘And you’re going dressed like that? Which store is it? Is it in Raumu?’

‘Yeah… it's near the beach. I can't quite remember the name… I've got the address written down on my phone.’

I heard mum sigh, and turned to see her looking at me with both hands fixed on her hips. I could tell from her pursed lips that she was trying to hold something in. She was never good at biting her tongue, so when she finally spoke I wasn't surprised at all by what followed.

‘Aroha, are you sure trying to find a job is a good idea? You had so much going for you at school, are you really sure you’ve thought this though?’

‘Mum, we’ve been through this,’ I said - it was true, we’d had this conversation multiple times - more than multiple, actually. ‘I can't go back to school.’

‘Nonsense, of course you could. There's still six months of time for you to pick up where you left off. Do you really think that any shop or cafe is going to take a young pregnant teenager for such a short period of time?’

‘You never know, someone might be kind and willing enough to help me out.’

‘Aroha, you're not being realistic!’ She said, trying not to raise her voice. ‘You're practically a third of the way into your pregnancy - people will look at that as an immediate disability that they're not going to want to compensate for!’

‘Mum,’ I said calmly. She looked at me with her frowning eyes, trying to subdue her irritation. ‘I’m not going back to school. I have so many things to consider now that completely exceeds my necessity of school - I’m having a baby! I need an income, one that I've worked for and earned myself even if it is just for six months. If there's anything that you've taught me growing up it's that working hard and being self-sufficient is an asset in life. I’m not going to become a leech sponging off of friends and family because I don't want to set those kinds of examples for my child. You of all people can understand that, right?’

Mum frowned slightly; she didn't answer because she knew I was right, no matter how stubborn I was being. Sometimes it was a challenge not to get frustrated with her, but it was understandable how much she wanted to protect me from the world, especially now I was with child. She was still learning what taking a step back and letting me make my own life choices was all about, as was I; it wasn't going to happen instantly.

‘It's a harsh world out there Aroha. People don't always look down on young mothers-to-be with much grace or respect, particularly in small minded towns. I just want you to be careful - school is a much safer place for the time being.’

‘It might've been when you were there Mum,’ I said, knowing that school was not a safe-zone for me. ‘It's not like that anymore. Most of the people I went to school with are crude idiots, not to mention the some of the teachers who’re far too old-fashioned for their own good. After everything that’s happened I’ll be the centre of attention - to hell with that.’

Mum sighed deeply. She couldn't argue with that, she knew I was right - again, and my decision wasn't budging no matter how many times she tried to coerce me to change my mind. I had to admire her persistence though, for it had become somewhat more graceful and less abrasive than what I remembered growing up with. She knew she was going to have to accept my choice.

‘So, do you have any referees for this interview then?’ She continued. Changing subject was her way of showing defeat.

‘I have Miss Wallen from school and Zeb.’

Miss Wallen was my English teacher for the last two years in a row. She was prime example of the kind of teacher who doted over their top students by showering them with favouritism. She’d given me her personal number last year in case I ever needed to contact her for anything, so I’d decided to put it on my CV.

‘Zeb?’ Mum repeated. ‘Why have you out him down?’

‘As a character reference.’

‘A character reference?’ She repeated, looking thoroughly unimpressed.

‘Well… yeah,’ I said. I was suddenly rather nervous to show her my CV; I’d put a bit of time in the design of it to make it look professional, but I could already hear her nit-picking at me to change practically everything.

‘What else do you have?’

‘My name �" number �" address �" birthday - a bit about me, and the references.’ I listed off the top of my head.

‘For goodness sakes,’ she groaned, rolling her eyes. ‘If you're really going to try and find work then you're going to need to know what people are looking for in a CV, Aroha; Cover letter, personal bio, Education, Experience. Don’t put you’re your address down; don’t go giving that information away. And take your birthday off; don’t tell people how old you are unless you have to. As for your references, you better put me down as one.’

‘But… we didn't work together?’

‘Then say we did,’ she said curtly, ‘I was your supervisor for a secretarial position.’

‘Mum,’ I whispered. ‘Are you suggesting that we lie on my CV? Who are you and what have you done with my mother,’ I joked.

‘Do you want my help or what?’ She snapped, walking to her bag and heels placed neatly by the door. Grinning to myself, I scribbled down mums number and her faux-job title on a piece of paper stowing it in my pocket to remind me to add it to my CV today.

‘Alright I've got to go,’ she said clambering into her heels and straightening a few loose strands of hair. ‘Also, you've got a midwife appointment on Friday at nine am. I'll be at work but you’ll be able to make your own way there?’

‘Mhmm,’ I mumbled through a mouthful of fruit and yoghurt.

‘Okay, good. Don't forget your vitamins either! They're in the top cupboard - all of them please, oh �" and good luck today.’

With that, the door shut and she was off for the day. I couldn't help but laugh to myself once she left; her frantic and particular nature used to irritate me yet now I find it quite amusing.

I finished off my fruit and scraped the bowls walls with my spoon for excess yoghurt before proceeding to wash and dry my bowl sparkling clean. I put it up in the crockery cupboard just above where the vitamins were kept, which I then grabbed one of each from the little jars and swallowed them with a few sips of water. I was never one to voluntarily take vitamin supplements but I've never felt my body change and react to almost everything like this before. I could actually feel them working throughout the day and giving me that little boost of energy I needed. Plus, they were all natural supplements as mum had dug a little too deep into the Internet about pharmaceuticals and their long-term effects and scared herself away from them, so I knew these ones weren’t doing me any harm.

Just as I had finished polishing and printing my updated CV’s the clock struck 9am. I put my shoes on and got myself ready to head off for my interview. Quickly looking on my phone for the confirmation text I’d receive a few days ago and worked out on Google that it was for the boutique clothing shop called Lady Buttons a few streets away from Raumu’s main road. I’d driven and walked past numerous times in my life but never had any reason to go in until now - a job is a job, and I was willing to take anything.

Before I left, mums comment about my outfit was loitering in the back of my mind and made me second guess my choices. Seeing as I was going to a clothing shop I thought better of my cosy hoodie and jeans combo and decided to change into something a little more feminine with a pair of darker pants and a long knitted salmon cardigan Mum bought me a few weeks ago. It didn't succeed at hiding my bump but I wasn't going to pretend like I wasn't pregnant - honesty was important.

I double checked I had my phone, house key and a few fresh CV’s stowed in my bag before leaving the house. The morning chill sent goose-bumps up my arms and down my back, though it was a nice feeling. The fresh, sharp air felt good filling my lungs as I walked down Vale road, and the sun was still shining strongly enough to warm me up as I went, lifting my confidence.

My phone buzzed from beneath my arm in my bag about fifteen minutes into my journey. I pulled it out and smiled at Juniper’s nickname appearing on my screen:

 

[BERRY: just now

 

Good luck today my lovely! You’ll ace it xx crossing all my fingers and toes for you :)]

 

I felt instantly warmer after reading this; Juniper and I hadn't seen too much of each other lately; since school had started back up she was no longer free during weekdays and between studying and spending time with Carzel she had become almost impossible to catch. It didn't bum me out too much; we were always so close that it didn't really matter if we hadn't seen one another in a little while. But that didn't make me not miss her, after everything she and her family had done for me I had bucket loads of love and respect for them - Juniper in particular, who I knew had tonnes on her plate she was trying to juggle right now. I of all people understood how that felt.

I quickly typed back a sweet thank you response and pressed send. I then switched the messaging app for the map app and typed in my interviews address, bringing up an aerial view of Raumu and a precise line directing me from where I was standing. I carried on up the road, glancing from screen to roads as I went until the main road came into view.

The Raumu shops were very quiet today; the usual steady flow of foot and car traffic was notably scarce, which usually always happened once the summer holidays were finished. The lack of activity made the sound of crashing waves and the smell of salty air reach further inland from the beach which was a nice change from car horns, petroleum and deep fried fish.

Following the instructions of my phone, I turned left down Abel Street - the last road before the main street where I would usually turn down if I was going to Lazuli’s. Abel Street consisted more of houses than shops, and were mostly fancy holiday homes. Those that were operating businesses were unique buildings that were more often than not converted cottages and beachside shacks. All of them very crafty and alternative, each carrying its own characteristics and personalities that made you really want to have a look at the inside, though when you did the prices for some of their goods are enough to scare you back out.

I walked down the street for about five minutes until I came to a cul-de-sac baring a very small stretch of shops centred with a mostly bare car park. A tiny second hand shop was wedged between a corner dairy and a small office space, and Lady Buttons sat on the other end looking far too polished and dainty to be found somewhere like here. The name “Lady Buttons” was written in an eloquently linked font on a cream coloured sign with lace decal that reminded me of a doily. From what I could see from outside, every single item of clothing was about fifty years ahead of my age demographic.

I was too determined to give up though, so I mustered up my energy and walked confidently up to the front door, opening the bronze handle of the turquoise door carefully. A petite silver bell rung my arrival as I stepped in, and neither of the two grey-haired customers seemed to notice me.

Dear god this place smelt terrible, as if it were one giant suitcase from the past that had been in storage for far too bloody long. My pregnancy-enhanced-scent was having a field day with the musty aromas, but I pushed through it without blocking my nose as a well-dressed older woman with short blond hair appeared through a door at the back of the shop. She caught sight of me behind a pair of winged black glasses and instantly made her way past the older women browsing, brushing the single clothing rack in the middle of the shop as she went to the counter I was standing beside.

‘How may I help you?’ She said with a forced smile. Her teeth were immaculately straight and pearly white, contrasted by her intense scarlet lipstick.

‘Hi, my names Aroha, I have an interview here this morning?’ I smiled politely and held myself with as much poise as I could muster.

‘Oh, right,’ she murmured, eyes slipping from my face to my stomach. She pulled a diary out from under the counter and flicked through looking for today's date, licking her finger at each page. I waited in uncomfortable silence as she took what felt like an unnecessarily long time to find April 1st. When she did, a long magenta acrylic nail pointed to my name written underneath ‘interview @ 11:30’.

‘Wait here a moment, I'll collect you shortly.’ She said and disappeared through the back door without a glance back. What a cow.

I took the opportunity to get a proper look at some of the things the shop had; most of the clothing consisted of thin blouses of different colours and materials, intricately knitted cardigans, possum-wool scarves and beanies, snakeskin handbags and shoes, all things I wouldn't dream of spending my money on in a million years, especially not at some of these prices… three hundred and fifty dollars for a pair of leather gloves?!

Aside from clothing, there was the odd piece of antique furniture; several end tables, a set of drawers, a couple of boujee chairs and a lamp - nothing really worth raving about, in fact I wondered how somewhere this high-end was making any business where it was. I guess it made sense as to why everything was so expensive.

I shuffled past one of the ladies browsing, accidentally knocking her handbag out of her grip and onto the floor

‘Oh, I'm so sorry!’ I cried immediately, bending down to retrieve her things.

‘That's alright, dear,’ She said kindly.

I recognised that voice, and those glasses, and that pearl necklace… when we met eye to eye I realised it was my old English teacher, Miss Wallen who I had just mentioned to mum earlier.

‘Aroha!’ She exclaimed, taking a moment to register who I was. ‘My goodness, I didn't recognise you at first.’

‘Neither did I, Miss Wallen,’ I smiled, feeling a bit awkward. ‘It's good to see you.’

‘You too dear, you too!’ She placed her hand on my shoulder and gripped it slightly before lowering her voice. ‘Where have you been?’

I was waiting for this. I knew some of the students may or may not wonder I went, but the teachers would have certainly noticed. School has been back on for a few weeks now, and I hadn’t reached out to anyone to let them know the reason of my absence. I always liked Miss Wallen; she may have been known as a bit of a dragon to many but she was always kind, fair and considerate to me. She was a teacher who took pride out of her most successful students - and in my four years of high-school I indeed managed to become one of them. Though as I stood here in front of her now, three months pregnant, applying for jobs in strange little shops like this, I realised I was no longer what she thought I was. It didn't pain me to let go of my high-achieving “status” at school, but it did make me feel somewhat smaller as she looked at me with hopeful eyes that I knew I was going to disappoint.

‘I've, uh, had a lot going on this year, Miss Wallen. It's been quite hard. But I'm doing okay.’

‘You disappeared so suddenly! I was worried what had happened to one of my top students!’

‘I know,’ I said awkwardly. Finding words to form was proving to be a challenge. ‘I'm sorry, I er- I’ve had to make some big decisions. I'm just taking some time out for myself.’

She looked at me strangely; I could tell she didn't understand what I was trying to say.

‘How so dear?’

This is so awkward. I wasn't prepared for this.

‘I've … been through a loss recently, and have had some big things to think about. About my life.’

She tilted her head in sympathy, foggy eyes surveying me as I smiled uncomfortably. I watched as her gaze travelled from my face down my clothes to my stomach, where they became fixated. It didn't take long for her expression to turn from sorrow to blatant disapproval. I put my hands on my stomach so she knew I could see her staring, and her eyes darted back to mine quickly - her entire demeanour had changed.

‘Well then, I take it you won't be coming back to school then?’ Her voice had become sharp and cold, revealing a glimpse of the dragon everyone talked about.

‘I… w- no. I won't be.’ I met her nasty tone with one even sharper. ‘I'm having a baby now. That is more important to me than grades. My partner is gone, and I have to do this by myself. I'm going to do everything I can to raise my child to be a good person.’

I could feel myself getting fired up, but I channelled that into confidence as I spoke my mind and my heart. I imagined Juniper and Zeb supporting me from behind, but Miss Wallen simply shook her head and glared.

‘And I thought you were one of the smart ones.’ She said simply, turning away from me and exited the shop. In that moment, I watched someone I once respected become someone who looked down upon me. That was an awful feeling, but I had been through enough to know that it would have to take a lot more than that to knock me down.

 

Shortly after Miss Wallen has left the shop, the woman had returned and called me into the back room for my interview. It was a tiny room that served as a kind of staff/storage room overcrowded with boxes and copious amounts of wrapping paper rolls. At a tiny wooden bench in the corner, she began asking me questions from a clipboard.

 

I’d had a few interviews of late, and had a rough idea as to how they went. Five minutes later when I was leaving Lady Buttons, I knew it was going to be for the last time. The woman had asked me several incredibly personal questions about my morals, family background and future goals, and between staring at my stomach and making shady notes on her paper, she concluded the meeting only moments after with “Well we have several other potential candidates but we will be in touch.”. I left in full awareness that the fact I was pregnant put me out of the picture indefinitely.

Mum was right, people won't take me seriously. No matter how I deliver myself or try to show my willingness to work, my abnormal belly immediately puts people off. That didn’t mean I was going to stop trying, but I'd be lying if I said my confidence wasn't a little bruised. I just needed someone to understand my position and to give me a chance.

I walked back up Abel Street in a flurry of annoyed thoughts, kicking pebbles as I went, one of which accidentally hit the bumper of a black vehicle parked on the side of the road. I kept walking until I was out of the street and walked towards the beach. I couldn't let this failed interview dampen my spirits, I had to keep positive or I wasn't going to find anything. I wondered how Zeb was going in his search…

I pulled my phone out of my bag as I arrived at the beach and quickly found his name in my contacts. The phone dialled and rang for a few seconds before his comforting voice responded.

‘Hey girl,’ he said sombrely. ‘How’re you going?’

‘Hey boo - a bit meh. I just had my interview at Lady Buttons.’

‘Oh really? How’d you go?’

‘It was so s****y, Zeb.’

‘Aw hun, s****y how? Like, s****y people, s****y? S****y place, s****y? S****y clothes, s****y?’

‘S****y everything, s****y.’

‘Oh babe,’ he sighed. He was probably the one person who knew the frustrations of job hunting in Raumu as a young person. ‘Want me to come and pick you up?’

‘If you want to - it'd be nice to see you.’

‘Sweet, I'll leave in five. Where are you?’

‘I’m at the beach. Wait, who’s car are you driving? Did you get your own?’

‘F**k no, I wish,’ he chortled. ‘I've got mums car.’

‘Oh…’ I said with genuine surprise.

‘I know… don't ask. I'll explain when I see you. Leaving now…’

The call ended, and I stowed it back in my pocket. A large chunk of driftwood was only a few metres away from me, so I perched myself on top while I waited for Zeb to arrive, listening to the waves.

I knew that Zeb’s situation with his family was very touch and go. They didn’t seem to understand that who he is was completely natural and there was nothin wrong with it, which infuriated Juniper and I beyond belief �" Zeb has only ever been a kind, loyal friend that always been there for both of us when we needed it the most. His sexuality didn’t define anything about him, other than the fact that he was always whole-heartedly true to himself �" an attribute not enough people possessed or understood. All we could do as his best friends was love and support him, which we did around the clock. My home was always open to him when he needed it, and he knew that. I only wished his family could see his light and get over their narrow-mindedness and naivety, so he didn’t feel like he had to escape them just to be accepted.

I had a few moments to enjoy the beach to myself and release some of my frustration before Zeb pulled up behind me in his mum’s little white car. I hopped in the passenger’s seat and hugged my best friend as tightly as I could around his bony shoulders. Together we chatted as he drove us to a funky urban cafe the next town over that neither of us had been to before. It was a beautiful fifteen-minute drive that allowed us to soak up a little bit of the hillsides with good company and some good music to match. I unveiled the events of my morning to Zeb as we drove and told him about my encounter with Miss Wallen and the woman's nosy questions. By the time we arrived at the cafe, I was over my morning already. It was amazing what being around people you love could do.

‘What a f*****g c**t,’ Zeb spat, pouring two whole sugar sachets into his large flat white.

‘Which one?’ I laughed.

‘Both really. But who even asks people questions like that anyway? What are your morals? It's an old ladies clothes shop in Raumu lady, sit the f**k down. Screw that hun you wouldn't wanna work for someone like that.’

We had seated ourselves outside in the cafes cute outdoor garden underneath a grape vine that shaded us from the sun. I had an orange juice to quench my thirst when really all I wanted was a big milky coffee �" decaf was not worth my money however.

‘What do I do now?’ I groaned, falling into my arms on the table. ‘I've applied at almost every single place in Raumu; I'm running out of options.’

‘I know what you mean. I’ve only had three call-backs in four weeks - didn't get any of them either. I was being picky at first with applying but now I actually need to find something to do before I go insane. Are any supermarkets hiring?’

‘Already tried,’ I said flatly, ‘they've got a six month application waiting list.’

‘To stock shelves? Jesus. What about somewhere like this place?’ Zeb suggested. ‘Cute cafe work, we could do that. Hospitality staff turn-overs are ridiculous, so you'd be in with a chance!’

‘And ask my mother to drive me here every morning? She'd probably drive me straight back into school if I gave her that kind of power.’

‘Hmm, true… petrol money too… damn, we need a friend who owns a business or something.’

‘Tell me about it. Don't have any secretly successful entrepreneurial uncles do you?’ I asked jokingly.

‘In Australia I do - though I don't really fancy doing landscaping or selling sex toys to be honest. You?’

‘I’d do anything at this stage,’ I sighed.

‘Be a workin’ a girl, aye?’ Zeb grinned. ‘That’ll earn ya some cash.’

‘Ain't got much to lose,’ I joked pointing to my belly. We both laughed a bit harder than what we maybe should have at that. A couple of people sitting behind us looked over awkwardly but I didn't care, nor did Zeb.

‘But seriously though,’ Zeb continued, ‘What about your family? Is your mum looking for assistants or something? I'd be good in an office, I know how to shred paper and use a stapler.’

‘S**t no, she would loathe anyone else organising her around. That's what she does best.’

‘I reckon I could give her a run for her money,’ he said smugly, looking up to the challenge.

‘You probably could, and she'd hate every minute of it.’

‘It’d be worth it though.’ He gave me a sarcastic wink and lit up a cigarette making sure to stand far away enough from me so the smoke was blowing in an opposite direction. ‘By the way, I might come and stay again in a few days - if that's okay with you guys?’

‘Of course it is Zeb, you know that. The spare beds not going anywhere and our doors always open for you.’

He smiled at me, and continued to puff away. I could tell he wasn't letting something off his chest. The longer you spend around someone the better you learn how to read their body language.

‘What's going on?’ I asked. ‘Did something happen?’

‘Nothing happened,’ he said, kicking around at the dirt.

‘But…?’

‘… Dad.’

Zeb’s father was easily identifiable as the ugly core root of the issue. David Snow was an incredibly small minded, straight, arrogant and naïve middle-aged man who couldn't and wouldn't accept that his son was gay. He was the kind of person who claimed to prioritise reputation and family-image yet would proceed to drink copious amounts of beer and scream at the television over a rugby game in a drunken disorderly manner while utilising almost every racist, sexist and homophobic slur he could think of. I've never liked him, in fact I despise him, and I've only had the pleasure of being in his presence a handful of times over the years. I could only imagine what kind of frustration Zeb was holding towards him after all this time.

‘What'd he do now, Zeb?’ I became instantly defensive, which I knew Zeb sometimes didn't like. He didn't like the spotlight being on him especially about this, he just wanted to deal with it as quietly as possible so he could get on with his life. But I cared far too much about him to let it slide.

‘It's nothing bad, Aro,’ he said, stamping his cigarette out with his shoe. ‘He just had a few too many with his friends and I came home as they were all leaving.’

‘… and?’ I didn't like where this was going.

‘I was in the way, apparently.’

I didn't know what he meant, but he slowly pulled down the collar of his shirt to reveal a large deep purple bruise just beneath his left collar-bone. I gasped and had my hands over my heart.

‘Don't freak out!’ He pleaded, ‘it doesn't hurt. And it didn't at the time.’

‘It doesn't f*****g matter Zeb, he can't do that s**t to you.’

‘I know. I pushed the a*****e back, don't you worry.’ He looked quite pleased with himself as he said this.

‘What did he do after that?’

‘Fell into a beer coma on the floor. He was still there when I stepped over him in the morning to get coffee.’

I think the most shocking part about this wasn't the deep bruise on Zeb, it was how un-phased and how unsurprised Zeb seemed by all of this, if not unsurprised almost amused even. He'd lived with this kind of behaviour his whole life, so he knew how to manoeuvre his way through it. That didn't mean that I liked it any more, as his best friend it was hard to see. No one should consider that normal.

‘Oh Zeb, you should've come over straight away, or gone to Juniper’s.’

‘I thought about it, but I didn't wanna wake you up, or sleep on June’s couch another night. Bless them, but that couch isn't made for sleeping. You need your rest now too.’

‘Yes well that may be true, but you still could have come over if you needed it. Okay?’

‘Okay.’ He nodded gently, looking down into his cup. It was rare to catch moments of Zeb like this, he wasn't just the sarcastic queen he liked everyone to think he was - there was a fully-operating heart in there that just didn't like to show itself, and I wanted to protect and support it as much as I could.

Shortly after we’d finished our drinks we made our way to the counter, where Zeb, bless him, had forbidden me to pay for mine. We walked around some of the different shops for a while contemplating whether or not to bother applying at some of them. Neither one of us could commit to the commute so thought better of it. By the time we were ready to make our way back to Raumu, it was almost around the time when school would finish for the day. We decided that we would surprise Juniper by picking her up and taking her for a well-needed best friends date, seeing that getting all three of us together at one time was becoming difficult, we seized any opportunity we could.

As we arrived twenty minutes later, Zeb parked slightly up the road directly in front of the school’s back gates. A light trickle of students in maroon uniforms had begun to disperse so we waited with our eyes surveying the gradually increasing crowd for any sign of fiery red curls.

Zeb pulled out another cigarette as he watched. Just as the flame ignited the tip he threw it on the floor and stamped it out in a panic.

‘F**k! Sorry!’ he panted, opening the driver’s door to kick a few stray embers out the door. ‘I'm still getting used to it…’

‘Its fine,’ I giggled.

Zeb proceeded to ask me a few questions about my midwife process as we waited, which was incredibly sweet; I knew he wasn't the most child-friendly person in my life but he was still very much a part of this whole journey. I explained what my midwife was like and all the necessary information she’d given me about the changes my body was going through, what happens when you're going into labour, tips on breast feeding and things like that, though from his rather disturbed expression I think I'd conveyed enough.

‘It's a lot isn't it?’ I said to him, smiling. I'd already become used to all of this baby-talk that it didn't intimidate me anymore.

‘Glad it's you and not me,’ he laughed. ‘Just promise me if I'm there for the birth you won't make me look.’

‘I had you down for front row seats,’ I joked. Zeb side-eyed me with his icy-glare that always made me laugh. He chuckled to himself briefly before he seemed to spot something in the distance.

‘Hey look,’ he said to me. My eyes followed the tip of his finger into the crowd exiting the school, and my vision locked instantly onto to a messy pile of dreads coming our way. Together, Zeb and I watched as Carzel walked with his arm around Hayleigh’s shoulders, laughing and chatting their way down the road until they turned a corner and disappeared. We sat in silence until they'd gone.

‘Jerk.’ Zeb spat once we’d broken our gaze. ‘He's got to be the thickest person on the planet not to see June for what she is.’

‘I don't think he doesn't see it,’ I said honestly, ‘it's just… I don't know if he knows how he feels about himself… it's a tough one.’

I knew more than anyone else did what was going on with Carzel and Hayleigh, things that Zeb didn't know, like Hayleigh being pregnant… but it was not my place to talk about my friends behind their backs or pretend to be involved with drama that I didn't need. But when I saw Carzel and Hayleigh together I couldn't help but feel pissed off - Zeb and I both knew how incredible of a person Juniper was, and we both knew how she felt about Carzel, heck, most people did; Juniper wore her emotions on her sleeves. What we didn't get was why he wasn't letting her down easy or plain and simply just being down-right honest with her. Carzel had the decency to open up to me when I went to see him a couple months ago; and I understood and still do that he and I were sort of in the same pair of shoes after Luke’s death - we were both significant people in Luke's life that really struggled to accept his loss, so in a way I guess I was easier to talk to about it. But people deal with grief differently, and I couldn't quite understand why he thought stringing Juniper along when he clearly had other intentions with Hayleigh was a genuine thing to do. Maybe he had his reasons, or maybe he didn't. Did he even understand what was going on?

‘Are they even an item?’ Zeb asked.

‘Carzel and Hayleigh? I don't know…’

‘What does he see in her? She's a nasty b***h man - even in primary school.’ Zeb cursed. ‘Used to chase me around the playground calling me “fanny-boy”.’

‘She's a piece of work alright.’

‘… Does Juniper know?’ Zeb said quietly after a pause, ‘like, does she know he's spending all his other free time with her?’

‘I'd like to think she does, but I'm not sure… I don’t know if I could tell her something like that.’

‘Do we tell her?’ Zeb asked. ‘We are her best friends.’

But I didn't answer; I'd spotted a bopping lot of familiarly magnificent red hair swaying in the wind as Juniper walked out of the gates. She had a binder open in her arms and was attempting to read and scribble notes as she walked. She turned left from the gate, completely missing us and setting off in the opposite direction.

Zeb turned the key in the ignition and accelerated the car forward before the motor had even jumped into action.

HEY, PRETTY LADY!’ He yelled, leaning out of his window and beeping the car horn relentlessly as he pulled up beside Juniper. Most of the crowd’s heads turned our direction and Juniper just about dropped her binder in fright. Her expression changed from shocked to ecstatic in record time once she'd realised who was in the car. I pulled off my seatbelt and flung out onto the footpath to give my best friend a massive rib-crushing hug.

‘I haven't seen you in far too long!’ I cried.

‘It’s only been a few days,’ she choked.

‘Exactly!’

Junipers hands fell gently to my stomach once I’d released her from my grip.

‘And how is everything going? Are you feeling okay?’

‘I’m fine,’ I smiled. I noticed a crowd of students behind us whispering and pointing in my direction. Without hesitation Juniper turned around to them and ripped two bold middle-fingers, dispersing the audience.

‘Little s***s,’ she murmured.

‘I bet I've been hot topic at school.’

Junipers half smile and wince only confirmed that for me - though I wasn't really surprised.

‘Hello?’ Zeb’s voice rung from inside the car. ‘Let's not wait for the grass to grow, eh?’

Juniper skipped around the other side of the car and hopped in the back, wrapping her arms around Zeb from behind as I lowered myself into the passenger’s seat.

‘How’s my favourite ashtray?’ She giggled, messing Zeb’s beautifully styled platinum hair into a messy frizz.

‘Watch it sweetie, the bleach might melt your dainty fingertips,’ he chuckled, fixing his hair back down as best he could in the compact mirror. ‘But I'm good babes, you?’

‘I'm good,’ Juniper grinned. ‘I need a coffee though, pronto.’

‘I’m always down for another coffee,’ Zeb chirped.

‘Lazuli’s?’ I suggested.

‘I haven't been there for weeks! I wonder if Chloe's coffee skills have gotten any better,’ Juniper sighed. ‘I'll stay hopeful.’

Zeb turned out from the curb and drove away from the school, heading back towards Raumu central.

‘How’s Carzel, June?’ Zeb asked casually. My whole being tensed when he spoke that name. Our previous conversation was still fresh.

‘He's pretty good,’ replied Juniper. ‘I'm helping him with a few assignments later this week and then we’re going for a walk up the Paekerua trail on Sunday which should be beautiful. Hopefully it's a nice day.’

Zeb side-glanced at me but I pretended not to notice. I felt like we were being dishonest with one of our best friends. I hated that feeling.

‘God you're good. I’d die of emphysema before I reached the top.’ Zeb spat, and we laughed.

‘How’s school going without us?’ I asked, changing subject.

‘Is that a real question?’ Juniper joked. We all knew school wasn't as enjoyable without two thirds of our clan. But I'd still rather be on the outside.

‘True, how is it though?’

‘Ah ya know, has its up and downs.’ She said. ‘Nah, it's good. It's challenged me to really pay attention and retain as much as I can so I suppose that'll be a good thing come exam time.’

‘You have good teachers?’ Zeb asked. I thought of Miss Wallen and my bitchy encounter with her earlier and wondered if Juniper had the pleasure of being in her class.

‘It’s Raumu high school, you just kinda take what you’re given,’ she laughed; we knew there was truth to that. ‘They're mostly alright. I just put my head down and work hard so I can go home with a pass. I think I'm doing okay so far. I haven't failed anything yet.’

‘Ooh, we have ourselves the next Aroha Hinerangi on our hands,’ Zeb laughed.

‘As if,’ Juniper retorted.

‘They're just letters printed on paper,’ I said honestly. ‘Unless you're getting a fancy paying job they don't mean much once you're out.’

I could feel Zeb and Junipers surprise to hear me speak about school like that. It was true though, they knew it too. I guess I was just the last person they'd expect to say that.

‘How'd your interview go today?’ Juniper asked. I could tell she already knew the answer to that question however by my hesitation.

‘I'm just gonna keep looking,’ I said hopefully. ‘There’ll be something somewhere - I just have to find the right place is all.’

I'd keep telling myself this until it worked. I remembered Rose always said that positivity was the key to success; it was all a matter of finding the right lock to fit it in.

We drove a slightly longer route along the beach esplanade to Lazuli’s so that we could enjoy the afternoon sunshine and each other's company as long as we could; Zeb had turned on the stereo to one of our collectively favourite songs “Just Friends” by Amy Winehouse, and we sang in a very unbalanced and hilarious harmony along the beachfront turning a few dog-walkers heads as we passed.

The car indicated onto the main road and we sped towards the complex Lazuli’s was a part of. For a few moments, we sang at the top of our lungs, then, all three of us fell silent and the music ceased. Zeb had pressed his foot on the brakes and brought the car to an abrupt stop: an entire central block of shops and stores was cordoned off with orange cones and black and yellow tape; it had been turned into an active construction and demolition site, complete with copious fluoro-wearing men and women, massive trucks and a bulldozer - and Lazuli’s was a part of the action.

‘What the f**k!?’ Zeb exclaimed, hoping out of the car to get a better look from the sidewalk. Juniper and I followed suit.

The immediate presence of dust and rubble in the air was overwhelming; I had to pull the collar of my shirt over my nose to breath clean air �" Lady Buttons wasn’t this bad. An ever present smoggy haze hovered over the building and the sounds of people shouting over heavy-duty machinery was all you could hear.

We peered over at Lazuli’s, whose tiny courtyard has been stripped bare, plants and all, to make way for a huge mound of debris. The cafes windows were completely covered in dirt so the inside was impossible to see through - though a feint “CLOSED” sign could be made out just beside the front door. On the opposite side of the block two shops had already been demolished, revealing an angle of the beach none of us had seen before. It was so weird and shocking, for a few minutes we all stood in silence as the unexpected demolition continued before us.

‘Well there goes that coffee,’ Juniper moped.

‘I can't believe the whole blocks closed,’ I gasped. ‘Was this in the paper or anything?’

‘Who reads the paper anymore?’ Zeb chuckled. He was staring on at the activity intriguingly.

‘I do sometimes…’ I said shyly. Just then, a concrete wall beside the middle shop crumbled to the ground.

‘I want to know why they had to close it all down,’ said Juniper.

‘Me too - let's ask them.’ And with that, Zeb had begun marching across the street towards a group of workers nearby. Juniper and I looked at each other before frantically chasing after him.

‘Zeb, you can't just walk right up to a construction site!’ I hissed.

‘Sure I can. Watch me. Excuse me?’ He called to two men working near the curb. They looked around until they saw Zeb approaching. Looking a bit perplexed as they removed their earmuffs to talk to him.

‘Alright mate?’ One of them asked.

‘You got clearance to be on this site?’ The other asked.

‘Told you,’ I murdered.

‘No, I don't but I just wanted to ask you why you're demolishing the block?’ Zeb said confidently. The two men looked at each other, slightly amused by Zeb’s assertiveness.

‘We’re not entitled to give mate.’ The first guy said smugly, looking down at Zeb confused as to why he wanted to know.

‘And this is actually a construction site; ya shouldn't be here without permission or a hard helmet.’ The second guy spoke, knocking on his own head with his fist. He seemed a lot kinder than the first.

Zeb reached into his pocket without another word and pulled out a small plastic bag of what was unmistakably marijuana. Juniper and I looked exchanged shocked looks as he held it out to the working men.

 ‘Here, you can have this if you tell me.’

For a second, I thought the guys were about to tackle Zeb over or alert someone of what he was trying to do. Instead however, both of their faces lit up as they snatched the bag out of Zeb’s hand and stowed it away in one of their pockets safe from prying eyes, glancing around to make sure no one else had just seen it.

My bro!’ The second dude exclaimed happily, pulling Zeb into a complicated bro-fist-hug that he clearly didn't understand. Zeb looked a little caught off guard but happy that it worked.

‘We don't actually know, we just get paid to lift the heavy s**t,’ the guy laughed. ‘You’ll have to talk to our boss, Yasmine for that kind of stuff.’

‘And she can be found?’

‘She's around here somewhere…’ the first guy said. ‘Down there I think.’ He pointed to the first set of shops that had already been bulldozed.

‘What does she look like?’ asked Zeb.

Both the guys looked at one another and chuckled cheekily to themselves.

‘Trust me bro, you’ll know her when you see her.’

‘Okay then. Great, thanks for your help guys.’ Zeb said happily. The two workers nodded and turned from us subtly getting back to work lifting heavy chunks of debris out of the way as if the exchange had never happened. The three of us continued down the path towards the heavier activity.

‘What the f**k Zeb! Where’d you get that weed?’ Juniper asked, looking thoroughly impressed and blown-away by Zeb’s exchange for info.

‘Stole it from Damon. I was going to give it to you but I thought better of it just in that moment,’ he grinned.

‘You sneaky minx.’

We turned into what would have been the old lawnmower-repair shop and found ourselves in a wide courtyard with no walls or ceiling. The space was bigger than what the shop used to be so we could tell that they had demolished the set of shops behind these ones as well to make a much larger space. More and more piles of rubble were scattered all over the site and various groups of the fluoro-vested men and women were bustling about on different routes to and from trucks and specific areas operating certain machinery. It was like watching intricate clockwork.

‘Zeb, why are we even doing this?’ I asked uncomfortably. ‘I don't feel like we should be here. Why don't we just try and find somewhere new to have coffee? That place we went today was nice?’

‘There,’ he said, pointing across the courtyard clearly disregarding everything I’d just said.

Beyond his fingertip was a small crowd of workers all gathered around someone; as a few dispersed and went back to their stations, an incredibly beautiful young woman was revealed wearing a deep purple pant-suit and carrying a clipboard. Though she looked like someone fresh out of a vogue magazine with her immaculate makeup and bouncy blond ringlets, she was clearly someone of importance, as all the workers around her seemed to be asking questions or taking direct orders from her. I'd bet the money I didn't have that she was Yasmine.

‘She's beautiful,’ Juniper whispered. I could see both Juniper and Zeb admiring her beauty by their lowered jaws and vacant eyes. Yasmine herself had walked a bit closer with another worker and spotted the three of us, who no doubt all stuck out like sore thumbs on a construction site.

‘Guys, she’s looking at us,’ I hissed at my friends, who in unison closed their mouths and pretended like they were paying attention the whole time.

Yasmine turned to her colleague and whispered something before beginning to march very assertively towards us. Up close, she was even more beautifully intimidating than I was expecting. Her long eyelashes looked natural as did the lightness of her hair, and she had rich, dark olive skin with bright hazel green eyes. Her almond shaped acrylic nails curled over her clipboard were a lovely inoffensive nude pink.

‘Hello,’ she said suspiciously with a deep, husky voice.

‘Hi, I’m Zeb. Are you Yasmine?’

‘Uh - hi Zeb. Yes, yes I am.’ She said looking slightly suspicious. She had a feint Italian accent that could only just be made out. Zeb continued to stare at her admiringly, and she looked at Juniper and I looking very confused.

‘Your makeup is stunning,’ Zeb flattered. ‘Do you do it yourself?’

I looked at Juniper and tried to tell her with my eyes how awkward this was, but she knew.

‘I do,’ Yasmine replied plainly. Her brows caved in as she studied Zeb closely.  ‘Can I help you? I don't believe this is the safest place for civilians to be wandering. Do you have clearance from the council? Or are you here about the permits? Because everything’s in check-’

‘Sorry,’ Zeb snapped back into reality, cutting her off. ‘No, we were just going to Lazuli’s, the cafe at the end of this complex. We were wondering why the whole blocks being torn down. We were regulars and didn’t know this place was being torn down.’

Yasmine studied him closely again, as well as Juniper and I before she answered. For someone so beautiful she was very scary.

‘I'm a site developer for the district council. This block has been an issue for decades and we've only just been able to have it properly checked and analysed. Turns out they're probably the un-safest buildings in the whole region. They should've been torn down years ago, it's a miracle no one was killed any earlier, or the fact that they’re somehow still standing today.’

A wall from the next building over crumpled a way away from us bringing down the ceiling of the building next to Lazuli’s with it as soon as she'd finished speaking.

‘Example A,’ she said with a gentle smile.

‘What's going to replace all of this?’ I asked.

‘I don't have that information to give away,’ said Yasmine, turning a little more annoyed at further questions. ‘Now, unless you have a working right to be here you all need to piss off before I have you all escorted off the premises.’ She spun away from us, rinsing us in her fragrant perfume. She walked in her black heels back away from us back to what must have been her assistant.

‘Well she wasn't what I was expecting,’ Juniper sighed.

‘I like her…’ Zeb said. I could tell from his furrowed brow that he was thinking hard about something. What was he up to? ‘I have a couple more questions for her.’

‘I'm going to go and wait by the car,’ I said, keen to abide the rules and leave the site.

‘See you soon,’ Juniper called to Zeb as he ran off after Yasmine.

The two of us wove our way through the worksite as quick as we could. When we reached the car, the autumn afternoon sunlight was beaming down on us in its final stint before disappearing for the night, marking the end of the first day of April…

S**T!

‘Damn! I gotta run! Tell Zeb I’ll message him later on!’ I exclaimed, remembering almost too late that I had made a mental reminder for myself this afternoon.

‘Huh? Whoa! Where are you going?’ Juniper cried in alarm as I hoped out of the car with gusto.

‘It's April first!’ I called out from the road as I set off. I heard her groan in realisation. She clambered out of the side of the car and sat on the window ledge.

Of course!’ She yelled out to me halfway up the road. ‘I forgot too! Pass on my birthday wishes!’

‘I will!’

 

I walked as fast as I could towards the McClean Gardens without causing myself any ankle pain. It was only about a five minutes’ walk from the main road, but it was verging on 4pm, and the main gates to the gardens closed early on weekdays. Today was a special day, and I was still feeling confident.

I turned the corner onto McClean St and could see the entrances at the other end of the road. As I approached the zebra crossing to the gardens, the maintenance man arrived and had begun closing the gates and setting the big padlocks in place.

‘Wait!’ I cried from the other side of the street. A black car halted abruptly as I stepped out onto the crossing, flashing my palms to the driver apologetically bee lining for the gates. ‘Wait! Please don't shut them yet!’

The older man turned to see me hurrying towards him.

‘Almost shut love,’ he grumbled, carrying on with his process.

‘Can I please just slip through?’ I begged.

‘Alright, but you’ll have to go jump the wall to get out. This gate’ll be locked when ya come out.’

‘Thank you!’ I cried, and stepped forward through the gates, hearing the clank of a padlock behind me. I didn't care though, I'd made it in.

The last time I was here was for Luke’s funeral. That was an odd thought, but the gardens incredible beauty was much easier to appreciate without the crowds or the heavy grief. I took several deep breaths in and out and felt the clean air fill my lungs rewardingly. I rounded up the stone steps towards where the service was held, picking a random assortment of flowers as I went careful not to hurt the plants or take any more than what I needed. By the time I arrived in the opening I had a fresh bouquet of red, and pink roses, daisies, a few sprigs of lavender and some leaves to add some green and because I knew Luke didn't really care about flowers all too much.

The grass began to ascend upwards as I climbed the small hill, just in time. I pushed through the rusty gate to the little cemetery filling up the hillside and walked slowly in direction I knew well. I sat down gently and made myself comfortable in the afternoon sun, resting the flowers down upon the grass before me.

‘Happy twenty first birthday, Lu.’

 

IN LOVING MEMORY OF

LUKE JACK HARTLEY

01.04.1998 ~ 23.01.2019

Son, grandson, nephew, partner, friend.

 

I wanted to add “Father” to the headstone, as well as “Good person”. It felt so unfair and cruel that he didn't get to make it to his twenty first birthday, but I could just picture him having the most relaxing and peaceful birthdays that he always wanted now, away from the expectations he hated. I remembered how I always enjoyed doing special things just for us two on his birthdays, like making dinners and having movie nights, staying up late and falling asleep cuddling on the couch, waking up and going for breakfast the next day and spending the afternoons laying on the beach getting tans and listening to music, only to go back home and do it all again…

I may feel at peace, but that didn't mean that I didn't miss it - that I didn't miss him, because I did, and it still hurt when I had these moments of wishing more than anything we could be together. But they were quickly accompanied by the thoughts of how happy we were when we were together, and knowing that even his final few years were still filled with love and laughter was a happy truth.

I squeezed my Rose Quartz necklace tightly in my grip and imagined I had just dialled Luke’s phone number.

‘Hey it's me. But you knew that, ha- I just er- wanted to say, happy birthday…’

The wind blew over the trees ahead of me and sent chills down my spine.

‘It's been… it's been hard without you, to say the least. Everything's changing, everything's different now too. Everyone's lives have just sort of, shifted, and I guess that's a good thing … that's life isn't it? It makes me wish I could share it all with you… Mum’s been a lot nicer and easier to be around lately too, which makes being at home feel like what it should be. Junipers doing well, she wishes you happy birthday by the way. Zeb’s job hunting with me which is fun but proving to be pretty hard. Carzel’s okay… I think… he got Hayleigh pregnant but I don't know how many people know yet - if anyone… I'm staying quiet. I don’t want to cause a scene. Oh yeah Lazuli’s is getting demolished along with the other shops too...’

It was strangely therapeutic to talk out loud to Luke like this. It really felt like he was listening.

‘As for me? Well… I've left school, I'm looking for a job, and I'm keeping our baby… but you probably already knew that. In other words, I've had a complete life-changing few months and my whole perception of life has changed… which is a great thing, but… but I guess none of it would have happened if…’

I choked up. I couldn't help feeling a sense of guilt that my life was continuing on this strange path when his was cut off so suddenly. It happens all over the world to people every day, but until it happens to you, you don’t expect it to be this challenging.

‘I'm sorry,’ I breathed to him. ‘I'm sorry I ever doubted you, even after you’d gone. I didn't know what to believe, I didn't know what to think. But I know now, I just hope that somehow you can forgive me for ever thinking badly of you.’

‘Of course he would've forgiven you,’ a raspy voice said suddenly from behind me. I turned from my grassy seat to see Valerie’s silhouette standing in the sunlight behind me, puffing away on a cigarette.

I hadn't seen Valerie for almost two months, and honestly wasn't expecting to see her right now. But why wouldn't I? It was her son's birthday after all.

‘I thought I'd find you here,’ she said quietly, stepping cautiously around me and lowering herself onto the grass beside me. The rum aroma of her tobacco was stronger than ever. Together, we sat in silence for a moment just reading and re-reading Luke's headstone. The last time we’d spoken, I'd told her I was keeping the baby and she looked as if I'd just asked her to perform an open-heart surgery. I guess she’d mellowed in that time to the idea.

‘Sorry I haven't been in contact,’ she said finally, not looking me in the eye.

‘It's okay; you don't have to be if you don't want to.’ I said. And I meant it, I knew Valerie wasn't super extroverted but I respected that and wasn't going to try and push it.

‘I know, but. You know. Baby and everything.’

‘So… you’re okay with it?’

She raised an eyebrow very high.

‘God you ask some stupid questions. It's not my choice, is it? The “Grandparent” title just made me feel old.’ She pulled out a second pre-rolled cigarette and lit it. I wasn't sure if you were allowed to smoke here but even if you were that wasn't going to stop Valerie. She reminded me of Zeb like that.

‘I'm sorry that I caught you by surprise though.’

‘Yeah,’ she said with a tone of obviousness. ‘You'd come back from an abortion appointment, I wasn't expecting you to still be pregnant.’

‘Neither was I.’

Valerie still wasn’t looking at me. Occasionally she’d glance around the area as if she were trying to spot something or someone.

‘So you're all midwifed and registered and all that s**t?’ She said, staring down at the grass as she spoke.

‘Yep. My mother made sure of that.’

‘Good. And what about… you know… the HIV?’ she whispered.

‘I'm clear. I didn't contract anything miraculously.’

‘And… what about the baby?’

‘I guess we won't know until I have them, but nothing alarming showed up on any scans.’

‘Good. So… what now then?’

‘I'm trying to find a job. I don't want to rely on my mother to pay for me as well as my own child, and I'm the only one who can provide now. It's not proving to be very easy…’

‘You thought it would be?’ She pivoted briefly to look in another direction before turning back to me.

‘Well, I thought someone might see me and understand why I need a job...’

‘They’ll look at you and see someone they’ll have to pay out when the time comes for baby to arrive.’

‘That's what my mother said.’

‘It won't get any smaller either,’ Valerie said, pointing to my stomach. ‘Sometimes it's not what you know it's who you know.’

‘Know anyone who wants to hire a pregnant eighteen year old?’ I asked half-jokingly, half-seriously.

‘You can help me prune my plants but the pays non-existent.’

‘Thanks, but I'll pass. How is your whole operation going?’

‘It's going,’ she sighed. ‘Sent off the second lot yesterday.’

‘That's good!’

‘Mmm. ‘Spose.’

She kept glancing up in odd directions. It was this time I noticed there was something off about her; her eyes looked rather red as if she’d been up all night, and she was acting as if she were waiting for something.

‘Are you alright?’ I asked, noticing.

‘Yeah… fine. Just been thinking about Luke a bit today. Has made me a bit… nervous.’

‘I understand that.’

‘I got a call the other day too. From the cops.’

‘And?’

‘They're calling off Luke's case.’

‘Calling it off?’ I repeated. ‘I thought they'd already solved it?’

‘That just what the articles want people to think,’ she mumbled grumpily. ‘When the people are on their case they can't do their jobs, but they weren’t getting anywhere with it.’

‘So, were gangs even involved? Was there even a car accident?’

‘Yes. There was still a car crash and the Poisoned were still involved but that's about as much as anyone actually knows, even the cops.’

I didn't know what to say, so all I could do was stare at her. This whole time Luke’s death was still a mystery. What had been printed and posted was a facade for people like me to believe was true, when in fact it wasn't. Whatever did actually happen was still to be discovered, and now that the police had given up, was it ever going to be divulged?

‘They're just being f*****g lazy,’ I cursed, allowing the news to aggravate me.

‘Who?’

‘The cops!’ I cried. ‘If they were doing their jobs properly they would’ve found out who was responsible and put them away for life! If they know the Poisoned are behind it why aren't they confronting them?’

‘Aroha, you have absolutely no idea what these people are like,’ Valerie said, looking deeply into my eyes for the first time. She looked drained and exhausted. ‘The Poisoned is one of the most notorious gang organisations in the country, and they have been for many decades. There's a reason they've remained so out of reach of the police for so long.’

‘Has anyone actually tried?’

‘Of course they have,’ she moaned, ‘and they've been killed pretty brutally for it too. The rest were smarter and made dodgy deals with the Poisoned that worked for both sides. The cops are just as much of a gang as any others; it’s all a matter of alliances.’

‘Well whoever is responsible for it directly should be punished,’ I said passionately, not having any clue as to who was responsible, but feeling strongly about it anyway. Valerie simply half-smiled at me, admiring my devotion to Luke’s memory but surrendering to the fact that there really wasn't much else that either one of us could do other than accept it.

We sat a while longer in the quiet, feeling the warmth of the sun fade away as it disappeared behind the island draping us in shadow. Only when the air became chilled and the mosquitoes started waking up did we move from our spot and make our way out of the cemetery.

‘How’d you get here?’ Valerie asked me.

‘Walked.’

‘I'll give you a lift home.’

Together, we made our way to the other exit that had also been locked shut. Valerie clambered her way over the stone fence and then helped me somewhat gracefully hoist myself over and onto the other side. My ankles ached for the first time all day as I landed on the concrete, shocking my legs. I was more than ready to go home and rest now.

Valerie's unmistakeable car was parked very lazily over two car parks where I first met her at Luke's funeral. She reached in her bag for her keys and accidentally dropped the contents on the concrete.

F**k!’ She cursed, bending down and throwing everything back inside. I looked over the car roof to see if she needed any help, but had my attention caught by something else…

A black station wagon was parked across the street and down the road slightly. I wouldn't have thought anything of it if the person behind the driver’s wheel hadn't been craning over their sunglasses looking directly at… me.

I stood frozen as I tried to make out what they looked like, but as soon as they noticed me looking, the vehicle started and took off up the road and out of sight.

That was weird.

‘Finally,’ Valerie panted appearing from the ground. ‘Right, let’s go.’

Not dwelling on it or bringing it up, I hopped into the passenger’s side of the car as we headed back towards Vale Road. It was probably just someone recognising me and Valerie as Luke's girlfriend and mother, yeah that makes sense.

When Valerie pulled up outside my house, mums car wasn't there, indicating she'd still be at work. Ah, house to myself.

‘Thank you Valerie, I'll be in touch soon,’ I said, hoping out of the car.

‘See you.’

And she was gone.

What a day. It felt good to come back home and know I could rest and relax in the comfort of my own space. I went straight upstairs and began to run myself a nice hot bath, my favourite way to soak up having the house to myself before mum barged through the door. When the water was so hot that I could only just handle it, I mixed in some aloe-bubbles and Epsom salts before lowering my tired body into the bath, feeling every muscle and bone in my body relax and sigh with relief, releasing all tension. The end of another day �" the end of a special day.

‘Happy birthday, Lu.’



© 2019 aubreydiamond


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Added on July 8, 2019
Last Updated on July 8, 2019
Tags: drama, young adult, pregnancy, coming of age, fiction, life, death, love, birth, teenage, comedy, baby, friends, family, murder, drugs, swearing, course language, aroha


Author

aubreydiamond
aubreydiamond

New Zealand



About
I come in peace! My name is Aubrey, I’ve been a creative witch for as long as I can remember. Writing, drawing and all of the creative outlets have been my source of magic since I could craf.. more..

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