Chapter Sixteen ~ Confrontation

Chapter Sixteen ~ Confrontation

A Chapter by aubreydiamond

            Before I knew it, an entire week had flown by before I heard anything back from Lady Buttons; and when I did, a single lousy text appeared on my phone to tell me the position had otherwise been filled by someone slightly more experienced, but nonetheless thanked me for my time. In all honesty I wasn’t anticipating to be hired - but it still bummed me out for a short while that yet again, I hadn’t managed to secure a job, even at a horrible little place like Lady Buttons.

The passing days had begun merging into one giant boring time-period. I was forcing daily walks upon myself just to get out of the house for a few short minutes of fresh air and sunshine, before generally returning to the couch. Having the house to myself during the days was, at first, an absolute luxury, but having literally nowhere else to be or go to was beginning to become a burden that was too challenging to ignore. I’d cleaned my own room and en suite so many times that the cleanliness outshone even my mother’s own standards - I’m not sure if that was a good thing or not, but needless to say, boredom was not an outfit that suited me well.

 

It’s Sunday… I think? Yes, it’s Sunday today. As I lay on the couch comparing the swollenness of my ankles against one another, the mid-morning sunrays shone through the lounge’s tall windows warming the soles of my feet. The hum of kitchen appliances and distant birds were all that I could hear. Pleasant - yes. Entertaining? No.

I’d scrolled through social media so much this morning I was afraid my finger was going to burn a streak mark on the screen, not to mention I had memorised almost every single post and comment in the newsfeed. A part of me always felt guilty being inside on technology on a beautiful day like this; but my blank agenda or means to get out and about said otherwise, despite how much I wanted to do something else.

There’s no school on Sundays, I thought… I reached for my phone and quickly typed Juniper a message asking what she was doing today, followed by an unflattering selfie of myself laying on the couch indicating that I needed social-rescue. I forwarded the same message to Zeb too, in the hopes that at least one of them would be free.

Within five minutes, my phone had vibrated twice indicating responses from both friends were coming in one after the other.

 

[BERRY: just now

 

Hey girl! Omg look at you, all cosy! Wish I could come and hang out today - but Carzel and I are going on another walk up the hillside. We’re on our way there now - sorry! I have a big assignment I have to finish later on too :’( If I finish it early I’ll flick you a message? Love you Aro xx]

 

[ZEB: just now

 

Hey boo. Damn you look like s**t. Lol, in a good way I guess xx I would be keen to chill but I may have a bit of a lead on some work… hard to explain over text, sorry, but I’ll call you at some stage and explain! Xx]

 

Crap. I slapped my phone onto my thigh like a stroppy teenager, huffing at my friends busy schedules. I couldn’t blame them though; they had their own things to focus on and had already given so much of themselves to me in the first two months of my pregnancy. I grabbed my phone and responded sweetly to both messages and told them to be in touch, and that I loved them both very dearly. Upon pressing ‘send’ and putting my phone away, another five minutes passed as I sat staring at the wall blankly before hoisting myself onto my sore feet and taking gentle steps to the hallway.

What to do now…

It had been a good few months but it still felt a little unusual not to be at school; each time I wandered the house during the daytime alone a small part of me felt like I was breaking the rules by bunking class and hiding at home - even though it was the weekend, and I wasn’t exactly hiding from anyone, being here during work and school hours had the energy of a sick day, or like I was doing something I shouldn’t be; maybe it was the residual straight-A student inside of me trying to fight back, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it; I’d relished in being back home for long enough that now I’d come full circle again and was ready to have any reason to get out. Not permanently, just enough for my own sanity to calm.

One could only pace up and down our pristine white hallway so many times before my footprints almost became permanent craters in the carpet. I looked at the photographs all intricately placed level to one another as I took one slow step at a time; observing a younger Aroha posing before the school photographer, growing as each annual picture went. It was like a memoir of my life but only through the school-lenses where “square-shoulders and a straight back defines success” or so I remembered mum telling me before every picture was taken.

I shook my head now. Little Aroha was so hell-bent on upholding her mother’s idealisms and image that she’d maybe taken herself a little too seriously. Looking down at my belly, I wanted to reach through the photo frame and whisper to my younger self just to have fun and enjoy being a child, because everything changes as you get older. I understood that on a whole different level now.

Reaching the end of the hallway, I continued down the L-bend to the right rather than returning back to the couch in fear of fusing into it permanently. I rarely came down this end of the house as it was where mum’s room was, and I grew up knowing that her room was always out of bounds. Out of either respect or fear of crossing her boundaries I only rarely came down this part of the house if I had to or was asked to do so. She didn’t go barging through my room, so I never did the same. Though - a spark of childlike curiosity and excitement washed over me the moment I thought this, and I found myself walking towards her bedroom door before I gave my body permission to move.

This section of the hallway was blocked off from the front doors natural light, so stepping into the shadow felt like stepping into another realm. Across the hall from mum’s bedroom door was her personal bathroom - which could have been newly renovated and not ever used for all I could tell. The few rows of deep blue tiles on the wall glimmered immaculately as I swept past the doorway, and the pristine white shower looked of much nicer quality than my own - I’d have to try this one out; I had lived my whole life in this house but I’d always had my own bathroom to use. At least I knew I had options if I needed a change.

At the end of the hall was a small box room where a private lonesome working desk flooded in binders and paperwork sat for Paula to come and work at home in peace when she needed. I peered in but found nothing worth peering at other than a medium sized potted plant which I’m sure was synthetic, so I turned and shut the door behind me. Approaching mum’s bedroom door quietly as if an alarm might suddenly go off, I turned the silver handle until it clicked open, and the room behind unveiled itself to me.

The split second of anticipation as to what lay on the other side vanished as a room that looked practically identical to the spare upstairs met my disappointed eyes. It was a square room, smaller than mine, with a double bed, white drawers and a single wooden bedside table. That was it. I don’t know why I was really surprised though - it was my mother I was dealing with here after all, and she didn’t care much for bold colours or clutter - even in her own sacred space everything appeared to have a structured place and an order that daren’t be messed with.

There weren’t even any pictures on the walls; a single framed photograph sat on her bedside table of pre-teen Aroha grinning through braces on my first day of college looking awkward and gangly in my fresh uniform sitting beside an alarm clock. A couple other small photographs were placed on her drawers that showed her dressed in the typical graduation cap and gown holding her degree from several years ago. But other than that, the room was as boring as the hallway.

I noticed several of her heels which all different shades of browns, nudes and blacks were lined up neatly just underneath the frame of her bed. I laughed to myself, it was all very stereo-typical Paula, and I don’t know why I thought I might have found something more exciting in here.

Her cupboard to the left of the room was slightly ajar, a jacket sleeve poking out of the crack. My curiosity swept me over and I pulled the sliding door open to mum’s rack of exquisite jackets and coats she barely ever broke out unless it was a special occasion. Most of them were black, but a few navy blues and purples were amongst them catching the light as I looked through them. None of it was my taste of course, but I couldn’t help admire the quality of the fabrics, stitching and styles exquisitely crafted by delicate hands.

Just as I swept the coats to the right, something caught my eye behind them. A little makeshift cubby-hole was built in the cupboard back wall concealed by the clothes. It bared nothing but a lidded cardboard box and what was clearly a very expensive pair of shoes that had most probably never been worn. It wasn’t much, but enough to raise my eyebrows. I carefully reached in and lifted the box off the shelf, being suddenly resisted by an unexpected amount of weight as I tugged it through the coats and out into the open. 

Mum never used to let me store things in my cupboards other than the clothes I owned - she always said hiding things in closets and under beds was a careless way to dispose of things you don’t want to look at, and things shoved away ended up forgotten. Which I can agree with, but the fact that after all those years she was hiding something hypocritically made it feel like I’d just struck gold.

I knelt down on the side of the bed and rested the box in my lap. It had no writing printed or handwritten on any of its sides or lid… ominous. Before I opened it, more out of worry than anything else, I lifted myself slightly and craned my neck over mum’s bedroom windowsill to see the driveway which thankfully was still empty. Mum was out for the day catching up with a few old girlfriends over lunch as far as I knew and wasn’t going to be back for a good few hours - how awkward it would have been if she found me in the middle of this…

My fingers traced the edge of the lid as I carefully removed it and glanced down into the box. An aged photograph from an old looking camera of a young, smiling woman with a little dark-haired baby in her lap on a picnic blanket stared back at me atop the contents of the box which I could tell now was purely stacks of photos. I didn’t think we even had any kind of family photos or memorabilia growing up; now I know we do, and where they’ve been hiding all these years. I flicked through photos after photos seeing snippets in time of my infancy and early childhood that I’d long since forgotten; shots of me when I couldn’t have been any older than two petting an old family cat that I’d only just remembered we’d had, birthday parties in unrecognizable backyards with unrecognizable toddlers, younger faces of family friends I hadn’t seen in many years, the odd birthday cake photo with many gap-toothed smiles and questionable fashion. The entire archive of my early life was contained to this one small box, and I couldn’t believe I was only just finding it now.

I repositioned myself against mum’s wall as I spread the photos on the floor around me, going through each stack, progressing deeper and deeper into the past. As I began nearing the bottom of the box, I had clearly entered the decades before I was even born; photos of old houses, beaches, cars, road trips and house parties - big house parties that looked messy, wild and ridiculously fun. Amongst them, I began to recognise a beautiful young woman appearing periodically. In one I’d found,  she was wearing one of the most colourful outfit I’d ever seen a human wear; a hot pink tie-dye headband held back a mane of sandy blonde curls, with an indigo-blue jacket complete with shoulder-pads and metal studs lining the hems. Stone-washed denim jeans fitted tightly to her curvy figure, sliding down into dark purple heeled boots that came up to her knees and matched her long acrylic nails that were clutching a cigarette. As far as I knew, mum was most definitely not the most wild and free-spirited woman, let alone an ex-diva from the 80’s, so it made no sense at all why she had photographs of people like this stashed away from prying eyes - until it hit me:

That was my mother.

It took me another few minutes to take my eyes off of the photo, but when I did I began to flick through the others hiding beneath. At first I wasn’t so sure if this was the Paula I knew, but my scepticism was quickly replaced with certainty (and disbelief) as the various angles of this beautiful woman were capturing some of the most unique quirks and mannerisms I knew very well no one else on this planet possessed; she didn’t carry as many frown lines back then but in many of the photos she glared at the camera with her classically precise unimpressed stare that right now was making me laugh when it usually made my eyes roll.

In between her glaring pictures and candid actions shots, there actually were photographs of her grinning from ear to ear, a genuine, warm smile that I don’t think I’d seen her wear. I found myself staring at them for longer than the others, taking in the youthful happiness that I know she doesn’t carry as much anymore.

She can’t have been any older than I am right now in these photos; posing with friends and attending parties that surely would make her skin crawl now. I’d found a window to her past that I never knew she had, proof that she was once fuelled with life and colour, though it felt like I was looking at someone who had died. When I thought about my mother, even now when our relationship is at the best it’s been, I don’t think of this colourful, bubbly and confident woman in these pictures before me. I think of a hard, strong and fierce woman who’s had to fight to get where she is now.

            I continued looking through the photos until I stumbled across one that I stared at for far longer than any of the others; it was another of mum, this time wearing an oversized crème coloured cardigan with knitted patterns and a single pair of tights. She was sitting in an ugly arm chair, on the lap of a dark skinned man. She had her arms around his neck, and one foot sporting a red doc martin rested on his knee. The man was partially familiar, yet I know I’d never seen him before; he had a squared jaw, broad shoulders and jet black hair and was almost double mum’s size. He was a very athletic looking man, though also adorned a gentleness amidst his leather and denim combo that I’d seen somewhere before. Mum’s cheek was leaning into his forehead, and while she was smiling contently at the camera, he was looking up at the woman before him with love in his eyes.

            And then it clicked - I was looking at my father.

            That familiarity in this man was what I felt when I see my own reflection; he shared the same eye colour and face shape as I, and I could tell our skin was uncannily the same tone, even beneath the grainy 80’s filter. It was like I was looking at a parallel universe where I was born a boy only several decades earlier. Even his hair looked similar, and I was willing to bet it was as straight, dark and thick as mine when it grew out.

For a while, I stared at the only photograph I had ever seen with both my parents within its frames. I wasn’t expecting to find this at all, so it was even more perplexing that the longer I stared the less I felt. Was I supposed to feel something? Happy, touched, relieved, angry? I felt nothing towards him. Yes, he was the man who my mum fell pregnant too, yes, they may have once been in love, but to me, I was looking at a complete stranger.

            How long had they been dating when this photo was taken, I wondered. Where they even a couple at this point? How long was it until the awareness of my existence forced a wedge between them that ultimately ruined and shifted mums whole life around? When I wonder what happened to mum to shape her into the person I know today, all I can fall back on is the conversation we had the other month. I knew that I was more or less the reason he ran off and the reason she became so staunch in her ways to raise me, and though mum was always grateful she kept me, I couldn’t help but feel a little bad; an element of the two of them here reminded me of Luke and I. Young, in love and completely unaware of the crap life was about to throw at them. I knew what it felt like to have that relationship taken away, but to make that choice yourself? I know it wasn’t my choice to come into the world, but I couldn’t help but felt a little responsible for the destruction of a companionship that might have once been very special to them. They say a picture can say a thousand words, and this one did, but it asked a thousand questions too.

 

            My phone buzzed, I yelped, and my head hit the windowsill in a terrible sequence of un-choreographed clumsiness. After a few seconds of mild head pains, I reached for my phone and looked at the screen at the oncoming call while rubbing the fast-forming egg on the back of my head.

 

[INCOMING CALL - RAIN

 

ANSWER / DECLINE]

 

            ‘Hello?’ I said calmly, acting like I hadn’t almost just given myself a concussion.

            ‘Hey Aro,’ Rain’s cool voice spoke through the speaker. ‘What are you up to?’

            ‘Looking through old photos, believe it or not,’ I replied, still looking at the photo of mum and dad. ‘You?’

            ‘Oh nice, nice. Me and Tourmie just cruising, was going to head down to the shops or maybe go for a walk along the beach or something. It’s too nice of a day to be at home, bored.’

‘I couldn’t agree more.’

‘You wanna tag along?’

            My heart raced a little again but it was excitement this time, not fright. Finally - a good reason to get out of the house…

            ‘Absolutely - I’m getting severe cabin-fever at the moment,’ I said enthusiastically. ‘I can meet you there if you like? Say half an hour on the main road?’

            ‘Nah, don’t worry about it, I’ll pick you up. See you in like fifteen.’

            The conversation ended, and I stowed my phone back in my pocket smiling to myself. I noticed the time on my phone read “1:30”, and I almost fell over when I calculated I’d been sitting in mum’s room looking through photos for over an hour and a half. I tried my best to remember the order they were stacked in, carefully laying them back in the box and stowing it back on the secret shelf behind mum’s jackets, sliding the door shut leaving the partial crack so she wouldn’t notice it had been touched, even going the extra measure of adjusting the sleeve that was poking out. I hope she didn’t go through it and check them I thought as I folded the photo of mum and dad and stowed it in my pocket for safe keeping. I think I’d like to keep that one for myself.

            The sudden feeling of having somewhere to go and someone to see made me light on my aching feet as I glided up the stairs to change into something more comfortable. By the time I had chosen a more going-out-presentable outfit, Rain’s truck had pulled into the driveway in perfect timing as I reached the bottom of the stairs. I grabbed my bag and headed out the front door.

            Rain was already halfway up the steps to the front door when I’d gotten outside; it was odd to see him out of his fluoro work-gear; his shaved head was concealed by an orange beanie and his dragon tattoo was only just poking through the collar of his sweatshirt. His dark jeans looked nice and new and his shoes were a very sleek dark brown moccasin that I knew Juniper would love and my mother would hate. But he looked good, great even. I had grown up with Rain, so I knew his personal style. I could tell that a lot more thought and effort had been put into the construction of this outfit - but it paid off.

            ‘You look good,’ I smiled.

            ‘Me? Oh thanks,’ he said modestly, cheeks going slightly red. ‘I needed to get some new stuff so I thought - why not treat myself?’

            ‘Fair enough,’ I smiled. ‘Good choices.’

            ‘Thanks,’ he grinned. He had such a sweet smile… ‘You ready to bounce?’

            ‘Oh - yeah of course,’ I laughed. I stepped down to his truck and he opened my passenger door for me as he passed. I was so distracted by thanking him that I screamed in fright when a sharp claw nipped my arm.

            Tourmaline was sitting sprawled out in the middle of the front seat, looking rather disgruntled that I’d almost crushed him. He’d gotten a lot bigger since the last time I’d seen him, and he seemed to clearly be enjoying his new life of luxury and affection with the Crescents, evident by his big belly.

            ‘You brought Tourmaline?’

            ‘Yeah, I mean he’s still pretty young,’ Rain said as he slid into the driver’s seat, nudging Tourmaline over to make room for me while scratching under his chin. ‘But he likes coming out and about with us rather than being home alone. I got him a leash too!’

            ‘You’re seriously going to walk your cat?’

            ‘I’ve seen people walk Chihuahua’s and those things are not dogs - they’re demons,’ he said passionately. ‘So why not cats? Plus he loves it.’

            ‘A cat, who thinks he’s a dog,’ I laughed. ‘So where should we go to?’ The truck reversed out of the driveway and made off up Vale road.

            ‘Hmm, I’m not sure to be honest, I just needed to get out of the house,’ said Rain.

            ‘Uhg. Me too. I’ve been stuck at home for too long, anywhere will be good.’

            ‘Are you hungry? We could go get some lunch and then walk it off or something?’

            ‘That’s not a bad idea - the only question is where?’

            ‘True,’ Rain pondered, ‘I suppose there’s not much at the Raumu shops now the whole block is sectioned off. Not that there was much there in the first place…’

            ‘Lazuli’s was good,’ I said, thinking about how much time Juniper, Zeb and I spent there with Carzel and Luke. It was odd to think we’d never be able to enjoy that again.

            ‘It had its moments,’ Rain chuckled, ‘but in terms of eating, we’re probably going to have to think outside the box.’

The Raumu shops practically consisted of the single main street Lazuli’s used to sit on and not much else, bar a few outlying shops spaced scarcely along the esplanade.

I thought in silence for a moment while we drove, radio music quietly playing in the background. I then remembered the café that Zeb and I had gone to the other week before we picked up Juniper from school. When I suggested it to Rain he hit the brakes and made U-turn immediately, speeding back up Vale road in the opposite direction towards the neighbouring town. Tourmaline lay between us as unbothered of the moving vehicle as either one of us.

The drive was short but felt long, in a good way. I had barely seen Rain since he had driven me back from the hospital so it was a good chance to properly catch up on the time that had passed since. I filled Rain in on the very bleak events over the last two months of all my midwifery appointments and my job situation, or lack of job and luck I seem to be carrying with me. He joked he’d try and get me a job with him but quickly reminded me that a construction site wasn’t the safest space for a pregnant woman to work. He went on to tell me a bit about his work’s project on the block in Raumu; how they discovered almost too late that each building had been built ridiculously un-safely, unsupported and were very rushed. They violated too many laws to count, and was to many councilmembers disbelief that they had all somehow been granted clearance and approval. It was a huge project, the biggest the local council had invested in for many years on the coast, so big that Yasmine, the director of the project, had been especially relocated from the city to overlook and manage the site until its completion. That explained why her beauty and aura stood out like a sore thumb in this sandy little town. Rain continued that it was a good chance for him to make a lot of extra money and while Rose had extended her voyage over Thailand for another month it helped Rain and Juniper get by a lot easier. His priorities were in the right place.

Soon enough, we pulled up in the beach-side café car park amidst a myriad of togs, ice-creams, boogie-boards and family-moving vehicles; apparently this spot was a destination on the weekend, as there was far more activity bustling about than the last time I was here. It almost made me want to go elsewhere; I could hear the loud chatter of people and children from all directions, though trying to think of somewhere else to go was too much of a task considering we were already here. Rain had clipped a thin, retractable leash to Tourmaline’s collar and let him hop out onto the pavement, shutting and locking the car. I waited for Rain and Tourmaline to meet me on the pavement before we walked up the café driveway together that lead to the secluded back garden. We found a table almost as soon as we entered that was near the grape vine Zeb and I sat under. A small patch of grass was right beside the table that Tourmaline had taken to sniffing and chasing a fly with gusto, marking his approval.

Even though we were out of the summer months, it was hot today. The café was pumping today, and there were barely any free tables once we’d been there only a short time. After only fifteen minutes of being there I had to kindly ask the staff if they could prop up the umbrella in the centre of our table and bring us some ice water so I didn’t melt. It was lovely though, I had nowhere to be and company to enjoy. We’d ordered a nice lunch after taking our time indecisively peering at the menu and had cool fresh fruit juices to enjoy in the meantime.

‘So, they’re giving you decent hours at work?’ I asked Rain.

‘Yep, pretty good. I’ve been doing a lot of late nights but that’s good because it means I can actually afford to buy this guy the nice stuff,’ he smiled reaching a hand to rub Tourmaline’s expose and fluffy belly. He was sprawled out in the direct sunlight, black fur illuminated brown, lazily pawing at a butterfly hovering around his nose. It was very sweet. ‘It’s kinda nice having the house to ourselves lately. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mum. But it’s cool having the time and space to just chill and look after this little fur ball. Plus knowing mum’s doing what she loves is always a good thing.’

‘How is Rose doing?’

‘Good I think,’ he laughed, sounding unsure. ‘I’ll get an odd message from her every now and again, but that’s about it. No news is good news, right? Last I heard she was on a ferry heading to Koh Phangan for a full moon party in the jungle.’

Yep, that sounded like Rose alright.

‘So in other words she’s having fun?’ I grinned.

‘Yep - or in her words: having a f*****g blast.’ He took a sip from his glass of orange juice, and then looked at me with a question floating in his eyes that I could tell he was trying not to ask.

‘What?’ I said, calling him out.

‘It’s just… I… how are you going… with everything?’

Bless him. It hadn’t been very long since the ordeal I brought Rain and Juniper alongside with. But to me, it almost felt like a lifetime ago. Since that appointment, my personal feelings on my situation had morphed and transformed significantly like a butterfly breaking out of its cocoon. I’d broken away from the bullshit that held me in that dark place because I’d chosen too, and now it felt odd to think back to the point where I was so miserable and unhappy, as if I was looking back at a different person. For the people who cared about me however, and those who had front-row seats, like Rain, it was still very fresh, and the reality of what had happened could be tearing me apart mentally and emotionally from the inside for all he knew.

But I was fine. Great, even. I owed it to him to make sure he knew that.

‘I’m really good, Rain. Seriously,’ I added upon seeing his frowning brows. ‘After that day, everything sort of just shifted, if you get what I mean. I started talking to mum and actually telling her what I’m dealing with and what’s going on in my life, and now we’re at a good place. I think it helped me accept that I am having a baby, and though it might feel too soon for some people - I know I’ve definitely thought long and hard about it - but I’m actually quite excited to be a mum.’

He smiled warmly.

‘Good. That makes me relieved for you. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who’s gone through so much s**t in such a short amount of time. It’s awesome to see you coming out the other side unscathed. It’s admiring.’

‘I’m just stubborn like my mother, that’s why.’ I laughed.

‘But truthfully Aroha, I’m not sure so many people would’ve handled it like you did. Being a parent and losing your partner at the same time… s**t…’ as he’d said it out loud I could tell he’d hit himself with the weight of his own sentence. ‘Sorry to bring it back up, it’s just you’re a f*****g superwoman.’

‘Everything happens for a reason, right?’ I said, recalling the copious times Rose would say that when something less than ideal happened.

‘Yeah, yeah it does.’ Rain smiled, looking down into his folded arms. I could make out blushed cheeks and ears from beneath his beanie.

Tourmaline was well and truly asleep in the midday sunlight when our meals were brought out to our table. The waitress awkwardly tried to step around the slumbering cat as she put Rain’s plate of breakfast vegetables and meat before him and gave me my Caesar salad in a very rushed manner.

‘Thank you,’ I smiled, glancing up at the girls face. ‘Chloe?’

The unmistakeable look of shock and awkwardness that belonged to Chloe McCullan stared back at me with absolute disbelief. She looked like she was about to cry and scream at once. A few awkward seconds passed silently before I broke the tension and seemed to bring Chloe back to earth.

‘How are you?’ I said loudly, making her blink and re-focus. ‘I didn’t know you worked here?’

‘Uh… I’ve er… just started,’ she murmured. ‘This week.’

‘Good for you,’ I smiled trying to make her not so nervous, which was always challenging with Chloe. ‘Are you enjoying it so far?’

‘It’s okay…’ She tilted her head side to side. ‘It’s busier than Lazuli’s.’

I couldn’t tell if she was stating whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.

            ‘Anywhere is,’ Rain joked, and Chloe side-eyed him.

            ‘Well that’s good Chloe, I’m glad to see you’re well.’ I added.

            ‘You too,’ she said quickly before sliding back into the café.

            ‘She’s… an interesting girl,’ Rain said following Chloe with his eyes.

            ‘She’s a bit socially awkward, but she means really well.’

‘A bit?’

I titled my head inside the café to see Chloe stacking coffee cups and plates on a black tray and carrying it unsteadily with two hands into the kitchen, looking like she was ready to drop everything on the floor.

            ‘You alright?’ asked Rain through a half-mouthful of grilled tomato.

            ‘If Chloe can get a job somewhere like this where you have to talk to people on a daily basis then I should be able to find something somewhere?’

            ‘Sometimes it’s matter of knowing where to look. Often it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know,’ Rain said, taking a bite of bacon. Without getting myself too distracted, I dug my fork into the iceberg lettuce and began eating the salad.

Both our meals were absolutely delicious, and we took turns forking small pieces off of one another plates to try the other’s dish until there was nothing left. We ordered another round of cold drinks when a different waitress came to clear our empty plates away. I imagine Chloe probably requested not to serve us again.

‘So how is my sister doing?’ Rain asked when the waitress carried our dishes away, sounding a bit more defined in his tone than before. I wasn’t expecting him to ask this though.

‘Juniper? She’s good? I guess? I haven’t actually seen very much of her lately. Have you? You both live under the same roof after all.’

‘I know. I just haven’t seen her all too much to be honest. She’s usually looking after Tourmie for me when I’m at work and then when I’m home she’s either asleep or out. Just thought I’d ask her best friend how she’s going.’

The fact that Rain was coming to me to ask if Juniper was okay was setting off alarm bells in my mind. Rain and Juniper were always very close, close enough that if they had something they needed to each other talk about they would just go straight ahead and confront one another. They weren’t the kind of siblings to get into petty fights or keep things from one another. Did Rain suspect something was going on? Or had he just noticed she was inundated with school work and seeing Carzel? I didn’t know, but what I did know was that I was not the right person to ask at the time being.

‘Honestly, Rain, I have barely seen her either. I know school’s started back up and it’s been pretty hands on for her, but she’s been spending a bit of time with Carzel - they’re on a walk today.’

‘No, it’s not Carzel,’ he pondered. ‘I’ve always known she had a thing for him, I’m glad she’s found the balls to spend some time with him. Just, I don’t know, I want to say she’s been a little off for some reason, but I haven’t really been around her that much to pinpoint what it is. I don’t know. I’m probably over thinking it.’

If Juniper really was distancing herself from her friends and family, then something wasn’t right, especially if Rain was noticing. I couldn’t help but imagine in my head that she’d discovered Hayleigh was pregnant, or that she’d found out that I knew the truth this whole time and that Carzel had been able to tell me and not her. Juniper was the last person on this planet I wanted to disappoint or see hurt, and I hated the way I was thinking, but I couldn’t help worry that my best friend was in a dark place that I had more or less helped pave the way to.

Tourmaline rolled in the light and swapped his belly for his back to be basked in the sunlight. Shortly, our second wave of drinks arrived and we took no time getting straight into them to quench our thirst. The café was still humming, and many different groups of people had come and gone like well-oiled clockwork in the time that Rain and I had been sitting here chatting.

From our table, the driveway was mostly visible: the path brought arriving customers right past the table Rain and I were sitting at, and just as I glanced over, a trio of girls waltzed in all wearing minimalistic summer clothing that more or less looked like slight variations of each other’s outfits; jean shorts that were too short for my liking and each a different shade of denim, striped shirts varying from dark blue to black, identical sunglasses and sandals to complete the set. One of the only few things that differentiated them from one another was their hair; the first two girls both sported long brown locks, one in a braid and the other in a bun. The other girl’s hair was long, dead straight and sandy blonde. She looked rather full of herself; a thick cardigan draped over her forearms and wrapped around her middle so as to look more important against the other two. I didn’t notice myself gawking until the blonde girls eyes had caught mine and were waiting amusingly for me to realise who it was - Hayleigh. My stomach churned.

‘Hi Aroha,’ she said sassily as she glided past with her friends to a neighbouring free table. I smiled half-assed in response, unable to voice any kind of response or take my eyes off of her. I was looking on with annoyance and disapproval, and she was smirking back like she had something up over me. I wanted to leap across the table and deck the b***h.

Hey,’ Rain said, reaching over and placing a hand on my shoulder to divert my attention. ‘You alright?’

‘Mmm,’ I lied, glancing back and forth.

I didn’t know how much Hayleigh knew about Juniper and Carzel, but she was still a contributing factor to the s**t-sandwich. I knew what kind of person she was after spending over a decade in school with her - if there was any way she could get personal-gain from any situation she was involved with she would, and she’d happily toy with people’s emotions to get herself there. I hated her, but I had to remind myself that as far as Juniper knew, I didn’t know anything.

‘Just ignore her,’ Rain said flatly. ‘She hasn’t got s**t on you.’

Even though he was a few significant years older than us, Rain knew well and truly what Hayleigh was like to deal with; that said a lot about her.

‘Do you mind watching Tourmie while I run to the loo?’ Rain asked getting to his feet.

‘Of course,’ I smiled, taking the leash handle as Rain tiptoed past me and headed inside the cafe. Tourmaline lay as still as ever on the ground, completely unaware that Rain had left the table. I was never really a cat person but looking at his little whiskery face upside down and snoozing, I could see a fraction of what people loved about cats. There was a regal-aura about them you couldn’t help admire.

A waitress had appeared over at Hayleigh’s table and begun to take their order. I was finding it difficult not to glance over at them, especially while Rain wasn’t here to divert my attention. I wanted to keep looking and glaring, giving her any reason to make a dick of herself, but it was a pretty even playing field; Hayleigh clearly knew how much I knew from the way she was grinning at me, and she too was just waiting for me to make a move so she could pounce before I did.

I turned and looked for Rain hoping he wouldn’t be too far away, but the sound of a seat scraping and footsteps growing louder told me that someone was approaching my direction.

‘You walk your cat like a dog?’ Hayleigh asked with a judgemental note.

‘His name’s Tourmaline.’ I said flatly, ignoring her question. Hayleigh simply smiled, leaning against the table looking down on me. It was even more uncomfortable than talking to Chloe.

‘Careful now, you’ll be the new crazy cat lady,’ she laughed. ‘So, how are you?’ I eyed her suspiciously.

‘Fine,’ I blurted.

‘Really? Well you’re either strong or an idiot,’ she said casually. If looks could kill, mine would have already killed her. ‘I mean, after everything you’ve been through,’ she went on. ‘Luke passing away, finding out you’re pregnant, getting an abortion, not getting an abortion, and now you’ve dropped out of school! That must be a lot to handle.’ She listed my past experiences like they were tasks on a to-do list, loud enough too that a couple of people on other tables glanced over at her.

‘It is,’ I said through my gritted teeth. ‘But here I am, still going.’

‘Good for you.’ She carried such sarcasm in her voice that it was making my blood boil, but the tone in which she portrayed her sarcasm was clever, masterful and rehearsed. At moments, I couldn’t tell if she was being malicious, clueless or a combination of the two.

‘How about you?’ I asked, seizing my opportunity to stab back. ‘I saw you at the maternity ward a while back but I wasn’t sure what had happened there. I can’t make assumptions, can I?’

Hayleigh’s jaw faltered a little, but not enough to knock her off her guard.

‘Well not that it’s any of your business, but if you must know,’ she placed her palms delicately over a tiny bump like the cliché she was. ‘Carzel and I are having a baby - and I’ve decided to keep it. It wouldn’t be fair to take away a life before it had a chance to start, would it?’

I wanted to plunge my fork into her eyeball, but instead I managed to translate my anger into a false nod.

‘How’s Carzel taking all of this?’ I asked, already knowing the answer.

‘Really well, he’s so excited to be a daddy.’

I almost vomited in her face.

‘But he’s been an absolute sweetheart. We’ve been on romantic picnics and dates, just us two. Tomorrow we’re going baby-clothes shopping and then going out for dinner in the city - and that’s just this week. We’re having dinner with my family next Tuesday and then we’ll do the same with his. He’s such a gentleman; they’re hard to come by nowadays.’

She was grinning with vindictive fuel. Beneath my seething exterior, I could tell she knew exactly what she was doing. She knew well and truly that I stood beside Juniper in full support, and was fighting for her rights as a human being to be loved and respected. So it gave her great satisfaction to see the quilt falling to pieces as she pulled the thread loose. Lucky for me, I’m my mother’s daughter.

‘I wouldn’t be so sure of that,’ I said, thinking of Luke.

            Hayleigh raised an eyebrow.

            ‘There are plenty of nice, genuine guys around,’ I smiled. ‘You just gotta know what you’re looking for. There are plenty of self-obsessed a******s out there just looking to make people’s lives hell.’ On my last words I made sure to make stone-cold eye contact with her. Her smile quivered with her whole demeanour, she was looking for something to retaliate with.

            ‘Well, as far as me and Carzel go you don’t know what the f**k you’re talking about,’ she spat looking at me with disgust.

            ‘Okay then,’ I grinned back.

She looked like she’d just been banned from her phone for a few hours; I could’ve sworn I heard an “hmph” come from her mouth. Hayleigh glanced over at the empty seat across from me, the corner of her mouth rising.

‘Eating by yourself? That’s a bit of a sad look, don’t you think?’

‘I don’t care what people think. Besides, I’m not alone. I’ve got Tourmaline,’ I replied, hoping Rain wasn’t going to walk out just as I’d said that.

‘No leech with you then?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Your other half? Where’s Fanta pants?’

‘You mean Juniper?’ I hissed. With your boyfriend, I wanted to say - really badly actually. How good of a feeling would it be to inform this b***h where Carzel really was right now? I had more respect for Juniper however, and wasn’t about to go and do something stupid just so I could get back at Hayleigh.

‘Not here, obviously.’

The conversation had taken gradually turned from passive-aggressive to staunch and defensive. Not that I didn’t see it coming, it was just becoming harder to contain my frustration towards Hayleigh as she stood before me acting like the childish c**t she is.

‘I can see that dipshit,’ Hayleigh cursed. ‘Is she out stalking Carzel then? Looking through his rubbish? Stealing and sniffing his washing?’

‘Shut the f**k up,’ I hissed, getting to my feet and giving poor Tourmaline a fright.

‘So she is with him?’

The tips of our noses almost touched at this point, and I could feel her enraged breath on my chin.

‘I knew it,’ she grimaced. ‘Why don’t you tell her to leech off of someone else? Carzel has better things to worry about than her.’

‘They’ve known each other longer than you have,’ I spat. ‘They are friends. Good friends.’

Hayleigh laughed maniacally.

‘Is that what she told you? The only reason Carzel doesn’t give her the flick is ‘cause he feels sorry for her - she’s got nothing and no one. Babies change people, don’t they Aroha? Helps them prioritise their lives. It won’t be long until he realises how much of his time she’s wasted. You’ll be able to pick up the pieces of her once he’s finished.’

‘You know, you’re a f*****g evil b***h, you know that?’ I hissed. ‘It won’t take Carzel long to realise that either.’

‘Not as long as it’ll take Juniper to realise what’s even happening.’

Say that again b***h,’ I said, stepping forwards to Hayleigh to try and get her to back off. She simply stood rooted to the spot, staring unmoving at me as I fought so hard not to reach for the cutlery and aim for her throat.

‘Everything okay?’ Rain’s voice reappeared in the nick of time. He was standing behind me by Tourmaline, looking alarmed at the stare-off happening before him. Hayleigh glanced over my shoulders at Rain and then back at me with raised eyebrows.

Her brother?’ she whispered so only I could hear. ‘Good to see you, Aroha. I’ll let you get back to your… lunch date.’ Hayleigh smirked, glaring at the two of us and then down at Tourmaline before pivoting on the spot and returning to her table.

‘You okay?’ Rain asked me once Hayleigh was out of ear shot.

‘Fine,’ I said, even though I was still seething. ‘Should we go?’

‘Sure, I’m ready whenever you are.’

‘I’ll just go and pay for my half-’

‘I’ve already done it.’ He said, cutting me off as I reached for the money in my wallet mum had given me the other day.

‘What?’

‘I paid for it. Don’t worry about it, let’s go.’ He picked up Tourmaline’s leash and guided him out and onto the driveway before I could argue his gesture of kindness.

Hayleigh was wrong - good guys aren’t hard to come by.

As a suggestion to get Hayleigh out of my mind, Rain suggested a quick walk along the beach, also because Tourmaline was tugging the lead up the hill across from the café eager to get onto the sand dunes, which I thought was unusually cute for a cat. Once at the beach, we let the salty breeze wash over us and fill our lungs. I took my shoes off once we’d gotten down onto the beach front and were walking amongst wet sand so my sore feet could reap the beaches full benefits. Tourmaline was absolutely loving it; frolicking in the shallow water and flicking sand left and right. Once we’d reached a quiet part of the beach Rain let him off the leash and we proceeded to watch this fluffy black cat act and behave like a puppy experiencing the beach for the first time.

Rain persistently kept asking me if I was okay, no matter how many times I said that I was fine. Eventually, I couldn’t help myself; I had been holding onto the information for so long that I had to release it. I went on to tell Rain how Juniper and I had seen Hayleigh at the maternity ward months ago, and how I’d then discovered Carzel to be the father. The cherry on top - Juniper (still) has no idea and is trying her best to pursue a friendship and relationship with Carzel who is clearly not being honest with the one person who deserves it the most - her.

‘Please don’t say anything,’ I begged him.

‘It’s okay, I won’t,’ he said, pausing for a moment. ‘But can I ask… why? Why can’t I say anything? Why can’t you say anything?’

‘Have you seen what your sister is like around him? She’s so happy and sweet and caught off guard. Yes, I know Juniper is always happy and sweet, but even more so than normal, and she is almost never off her guard! She really has feelings for Carzel, she always has. How can I tell her the truth when I know regardless how or when it happens it’s going to crush her?’

Rain thought on this for a while. He understood my predicament and he understood my reasons. I’m glad I could open up to him.

‘Look if there is anything I know about my sister, it’s that she can tell a lot about someone just by looking at them; she knows when I’m upset, she knows when I’m happy, Hell she even knows when I’m lonely. If there’s anything I can say about Juniper, is that she’ll know something’s up. She’ll feel it.’

‘I know, you’re right Rain, she’s the biggest empath I know - so why would she continue to put herself in a position like this if she knew she was continuously drawing the short straw?’

‘That’s empaths for ya,’ Rain said. ‘They can tell everyone else what they need but not necessarily what they need themselves. That’s where you come in.’

‘Me? How?’

‘Be her best friend. I sure as hell know if my best friend gave me some world-shattering news I wouldn’t hate them. Sure I’d be mad, but I’d respect that they cared enough about me to give me the truth even if it does hurt, because they’re always there for you even after the pain has been inflicted. That’s what best friends are for.’

‘Yeah, I guess you’re right.’

‘Don’t stress yourself out about it; you don’t need stress right now. Besides, your hearts in the right place Aroha. As long as you’re there for Juniper and she knows it then you’re doing your job as her best friend. What you do beyond that is up to you.’

‘Thank you,’ I said quietly after a moment of taking in what he said. ‘I needed to hear that.’

‘Any time,’ he smiled, eyes scrunching up as his cheeks rose.

Orange skies began to settle in. Tourmaline returned to Rain’s side after half an hour to let him know he was ready to go home. Together we ambled back up the sand dunes, our weight sinking beneath the warm grains with each step. Once atop the hill we descended down to the car park where many families were loading up their cars and heading back home for the evening. Rain unlocked the car and let Tourmaline jump in the front seat with one stealthy and agile leap.

Just before I lifted myself into the seat, I saw Chloe exiting the café driveway with a jacket and bag in her hands. She must have just finished her shift; walking up the road at an impressive speed without another glance back. She carried herself as awkwardly as ever; hunched over partially hugging her jacket and looking to the ground. I had only ever had a few classes with her at school, and before Hayleigh’s birthday on the island and the bill for Luke’s funeral from her father kept appearing in my possession I didn’t have much of a reason to talk to her. But I always liked Chloe, and from behind her veil of shyness I could tell there was a kindness and intelligent personality locked away by some kind of fear. I found myself feeling sorry for her more than anything and wanted to reach out and make her know that I wasn’t trying to mess with her like so many people do.

‘Can you wait here for a second? I just have to do something quickly,’ I asked Rain while simultaneously walking off.

‘Sure?’ he replied, looking confused.

S**t, Chloe walked fast. Her figure was significantly distant, and I was going to have to run in order to catch up to her. I moved as fast as my aching ankles would carry me, which looked more like an odd power-walk than a run. Eventually, I managed to get at least thirty metres behind her before I had to stop to catch my breath and rest my feet.

‘Chloe!’ I panted, though it sounded more like a pathetic whisper. She kept walking.

Chloe!’ I cried louder. She was either ignoring me, or had headphones in. I took a few deeps breaths and then continued my speed until there was no way she could pretend I wasn’t there.

‘Chloe! Wait up! I can’t move too much faster.’

She stopped and turned to me. Her frown told me she didn’t want to stop and talk, and just wanted to get home. But I was persistent she knew I was coming from a good place.

‘Sorry, pregnancy is far more tiring on the body than you think,’ I breathed, feeling a little light-headed from the running.

‘Okay…’ she said simply. She was challenging to engage with, but I always gave her my full attention even if I didn’t have hers.

‘So… how are you?’ I asked. She responded with a simple look of confusion, as if to say “you chased me down to ask me how I was? Again?”

‘Fine.’

‘Okay.’ I was scanning my brain for something to talk about with her so she didn’t feel as on the spot, if possible. ‘Oh, yeah. I got another one of those bills again.’

‘… When?’

‘Just over two months ago. I haven’t had one since though - weird right?’

‘What did you do with it?’

‘Oh - I just threw it away.’

She didn’t say anything, just continued looking at me funny.

‘Should I be worried? I mean, I’m not. I guess they just realised it wasn’t my responsibility, maybe?’ I smiled, trying to be charismatic.

‘Mmm.’

‘What was that all about though? Cause it didn’t really add up at all. Valerie - ’

‘Just don’t worry about it anymore.’ Chloe cut me off.

I didn’t know how to respond, her tone was sharp and dismissive like a teachers, the polar opposite of Chloe.

‘I - um… okay. I mean, it didn’t make sense anyway - ’

‘Yeah, well don’t worry about it. It’s sorted now.’

‘But - How?’

‘It’s sorted.’

‘O - Okay.’

Something about the way she was telling me this didn’t sit right. Firstly, the bill didn’t belong in my possession anyways, so the fact I was tangled in it was confusing from the get go. Secondly, Valerie said she had already paid the bill - why was there a second one floating around to someone associated with the person who died? Thirdly, why was Chloe, the daughter of the funeral director, caught up with it? Other than being the funeral directors daughter, I don’t know to what degree she was involved, but it must’ve been enough to make her on edge like this when I tried to ask questions. The most part of me didn’t want to care, I didn’t want to dig deeper into something I ideally don’t need to have any say in and shouldn’t in the first place. But I did care, and something wasn’t sitting right.

I knew I wasn’t going to get anything more out of Chloe; her body language was about as unengaged and closed off as a brick wall. But I was still willing to try and soften her edges anyway I could - she knew something.

‘Well that’s good then,’ I said breaking the silence. ‘No need to worry then. So you’re enjoying this new job then? Seems like a good café to work at.’

‘S’okay.’

She could definitely tell I was making the same small talk as earlier, and she was giving even less of herself now she wasn’t working, purely because she didn’t have to. I was going to have to chisel away gently and patiently.

‘Look Chloe, I know we don’t know each other very well, but I’ve always thought of you as a really nice person. I know most of the a******s at school can give you a hard time, but they’re not like you, or me, or Juniper and Zeb for that matter. All I’m saying is you’re not alone, if you ever need someone to talk to or just hang out you’re welcome to reach out to us. We don’t bite.’

Her entire facial expressions softened, and she appeared to suddenly feel guilty for putting up so many walls.

‘Um - thanks, Aroha. That’s really kind of you. I’ve had… a bit of a full on year.’

‘Tell me about it,’ I laughed, pointing to my stomach. ‘I know how that feels.’

She looked at my stomach for much longer than I was used to people looking - but I was making progress with her, so I didn’t make it known.

‘I’m sorry - for being snobby,’ she said quietly. ‘I’m not very good with people.’

‘And you’re working in a café?’ I laughed - and she went extremely red. ‘Oh s**t, sorry I didn’t mean it like that.’

‘It’s okay,’ she tried playing off her skin colour like it was no big deal. ‘Sorry but I have to get home though before it’s late, but - I’ll see you around sometime.’ She was edging away from me slowly trying to get away; I didn’t want to make her feel even more uncomfortable, I wanted her to know that I was a friend.

‘For sure, reach out if you ever feel like you need to, okay?’ I smiled warmly, and could have sworn I saw a glimpse of a smile crack onto her porcelain face before she turned away and headed back off on her trek.

‘Beep beep,’ Rain said, pulling up beside me in his truck. I walked around and hopped in the passenger’s seat before we drove towards the highway back to Raumu.

‘You know I could’ve driven you to her,’ Rain said as we pulled up at a red light, indicating onto the on-ramp of the highway. ‘Watching you run down the street was both painful and hilarious.’

‘It was a spur of the moment thing,’ I said, rolling my eyes at the image of my three-month-pregnant-self trying to run past hoards of families.

‘What did she say?’ Rain asked.

‘All of ten words,’ I joked. ‘No, I shouldn’t say that. She’s very closed off and withdrawn from everyone. She got bullied heaps at school just because she was an easy target - I feel sorry for her actually. Her dad’s the Raumu funeral director. I thought she might know something more about that bill that I ended up with.’

‘Oh yeah - I remember that. Wait, more?’

‘She recognised it the first time I brought it to her - I assume that’s just because her father is who he is. I don’t know, still doesn’t really make sense to me…’

‘Ah well, maybe it’s not supposed to? Maybe it’s not important?’

‘Mmm, maybe…’

 

When Rain pulled up outside my house, I was relieved to see that the driveway was still empty. No sign of mum. I’d be able to enjoy the house a bit more to myself now that I had spent the day out of it.

I propped the passenger door open and unbuckled my seatbelt. Before I could get out, Rain had already appeared at my side and offered a hand to steady myself onto the ground. He passed me my things and had to fight the strap of my bag out of Tourmaline’s clutches.

‘Give it here, you little s**t!’ He argued. I giggled watching him genuinely struggle to play tug of war with his cat over my bag. Tourmaline eventually released his claws when I stepped over to pat the top of his head, sending him into a luxurious state of purring bliss.

‘See ya little guy,’ I said to him. Tourmaline moved his head and kissed my finger with a little sand-papery lick. ‘Gross, but thanks.’

‘Aw, he doesn’t do that to me!’ cried Rain sounding jealous. ‘Little two-timer.’

He closed the door gently as Tourmaline raised himself on the inside of the door to peer out the window with his emerald eyes.

‘He fits in with you guys pretty well,’ I said.

‘Yeah he’s a cool cat alright,’ Rain smiled, leaning on the truck door. We stood for a second in silence, just smiling at each other. It was still out, and the sky was turning a beautiful shade of pink, making Rain’s eyes pop.

‘Thank you so much for today,’ I said kindly. ‘I really needed to get out of the house, so this was perfect.’

‘Even though you nearly stabbed Hayleigh Spencer with your cutlery,’ he laughed. ‘I saw your fingers twitching above the fork.’

‘Yes, well, she would have deserved it if I did,’ I said, stepping forward.

‘True, but I don’t think manslaughter would suit you that well.’

‘You never know till you try it,’ I giggled. He giggled too.

We were standing directly in front of one another.

He really was handsome. Even more so because underneath that rough exterior was one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. It was his eyes, they gave it away; where his jaw and cheekbones were sharp, long and pointed like his figure, his eyes carried something completely different. It was a soft kindness, and a gentle spirit. I wanted to dive in and discover for myself, swim in them and hold my breath…

But it was too soon. I blinked and saw Luke’s face looking back at me, the boy I loved and still do love hadn’t disappeared from my mind and heart. Though there was room, I couldn’t. Not yet.

Rain’s azure eyes studied mine, understanding exactly what it was that I was thinking in an instant of silence. He smiled gently, leaned forward and took my hand, kissing the back of my palm softly. My entire hand swelled with the warmth of another’s touch while my heart ached.

‘Night Aroha.’

‘Night,’ I said, looking back at him with feint tears in my eyes. I smiled warmly to show him I was okay; we were okay, then turned and walked up towards the front door. I waited a few seconds before getting my keys out and unlocking the door. When I glanced back outside after crossing the threshold, Rain was sitting in the driver’s seat making sure I made it inside. He waved when he saw me looking and took off, Tourmaline curled up in his lap.

I shut the door, kicked my shoes off, and leaned against the door. My heart was still racing a little, and I could still feel the warmth of Rain’s lips on my hand.

Why did it feel so good?

Why did it feel so right?

Why do I feel like this?

I wanted him to come back. Spend the rest of the evening with me; knowing how much of a pleasant day we shared and how much of my authentic self I could be around him I wanted it to stay that way.

I can’t.

I shouldn’t feel like this.

But I do.

I love Luke, I still do. That won’t change - ever - and he’ll always be with me.

But I can’t ignore how I feel, just as much as I can’t ignore my guilt - at least not forever.

I took a long, deep breath, gathering my thoughts and compartmentalising my feelings for now, and got to my feet to carry myself to the kitchen, where I noticed that someone had been home since I had gone out with Rain.

A massive cane basket with all sorts of miscellaneous products was sitting on the counter with two notes sitting beside it so they would catch my attention. The basket was almost overflowing with moisturisers, shampoos, conditioners, natural soaps, new-born diapers, baby booties, beanies and mittens, natural vitamins and supplements, face masks, bath-bombs, muscle-relaxing salts, chocolates, flowers and all sorts of other self-pampering goodies.

I took the first note that had fancy linked handwriting scribbled over it addressed to me:

 

Aroha, this was by the front door for you when I got home. I’m just going out to get some dinner and things from the super market - ring me if you need anything.

-          Mum

 

I can only imagine how confused and bewildered mum would have been to see this on the porch when she arrived home, even more bewildered when she realised it wasn’t for her. Which made me wonder who put it there - I reached for the second note and also recognised the stylised rounded handwritten also addressed to me:

 

Aro!!!!! Omg look at all this stuff, so good right? It’s the expensive stuff too, and it’s all yours! Woo-hoo! Carzel and I won it at a market gala we passed through on our way back from the walk and I thought of you immediately. You weren’t home though so I thought I’d just leave you a cute note and surprise you rather than text. Message me later or something - I miss you! Love you lots xxx

-          Berry

 

I looked at all the contents of the basket for a moment and sighed bleakly. As grateful as I was for her generosity, all I could think about now was my interaction with Hayleigh today, and how angry she made me by insulting Juniper to my face. What Hayleigh did right however, was made me realise how unfair Juniper really is being treated by Carzel, even if he didn’t fully realise he was doing it. Evident by this gift basket how much of a generous and selflessly thoughtful person Juniper is, he had no idea how much he was actually hurting her.

“Be her best friend.” Rain’s voice echoed in my head from earlier.

I took no time to hesitate and made my way back for the front door, snatching my bag back up again and sliding my sandals on as I shut the door behind me, marching down the driveway and up the road in the setting sunlight.

Carzel was lucky that he only lived a few streets over from my house, my ankles were aching significantly and any longer on foot I would’ve been ready to say more than a few harsh words. I hobbled in such a flurry of angry thoughts that I reached Carzel’s house within about five minutes. There was only one car in the driveway, and the lawn was still littered with cricket sets, rugby balls and the odd shoe. The hum of deep bass music was blasting from inside, and I could see from the sidewalk that the front door was wide open. I stepped straight over the debris and up the stone side-steps onto the porch, where I found a group of middle aged men sitting near the open front-door in deck chairs smoking and drinking. They all looked at me with ogling eyes as soon as I was level with them. One of them I recognised as Carzel’s dad; a dishevelled old island man with the messiest and most untamed dreadlocks I’d ever seen. He studied me through heavily bagged eyes, eyes resting on my stomach around the same time as his friends eyes fell too.

‘Is Carzel here?’ I said moodily, letting them know that I was in fact a living, breathing human being who could see them staring at me.

‘Inside,’ the man croaked through a toothless mouth and a husky smokers-voice. ‘You Hayleigh?’

‘F**k no,’ I sneered and walked inside without another glance back. Over my dead body.

The lounge was such a tip my mother would’ve fallen over from a heart attack; clothes, kitchen utensils and just about everything else that belonged on a shelf was scattered about the floor like a tornado had just swept through the house. By the smell of cigarettes, bourbon and the lack of tidy surfaces, I gathered that Carzel’s mum Bonnie had gone away for the weekend and left her spouse in charge of the household. I stepped over a potato masher, a half-full bread-bag and a few mugs to make my way to hallway leading to Carzel’s room.

The hallway wasn’t tidy, but it felt it compared to the main room. I only had to weave through several laundry piles before I found myself outside Carzel’s door adorning a large Bob Marley poster.

‘Another one,’ a voice said as I raised my fist to knock on his door. I turned and saw Carzel’s younger sister Jade sitting on her bed with her door open and a diary in her lap across the hall.

‘Sorry?’

‘You’re like, the third chick to come and see Carzel today. What’s he done?’ She asked, looking hopeful I’d spill the beans and give her something juicy to report back to her mother about.

‘Nothing,’ I smiled. ‘Is he here?’

Jade nodded and returned to her book. I wondered if she was writing down the comings and goings of her brother’s room to use against him… wouldn’t surprise me.

I knocked on the door and heard nothing, so I took no time to waste and turned the door handle, prodding the door open with my elbow and walking in. It was déjà vu; Carzel was sitting on his bed wearing thick headphones over his bobbing head, hands delicately rolling a joint with a metal tin of weed sitting in his lap. The room wasn’t as dark as the last time I was here, and was significantly cleaner than the rest of the house.

‘Hi?’ I said after standing in the doorway for far too long. He still kept jamming to his music, completely unaware. ‘Carzel? CARZEL!’

Whoa!’ he cried, falling off of the side of the bed, catching his tin in his hands before the contents sprayed everywhere. ‘Aroha!’ he exclaimed tearing off the headphones, ‘Jesus you scared me.’ He gathered himself together and repositioned cross-legged on the floor. ‘I was just about to smoke a dooby - you want some?’

‘No thanks,’ I said coldly as he sparked the lighter and lit the joint. ‘You guys having a house party or something?’

‘Nah,’ he laughed, ‘mums gone to see Nan for the week up north. Dad’s just got some mates over for a drink - he’ll clean on the last day and pretend nothing happened.’

‘I see.’

‘So how’ve you been?’ He smiled, ‘I haven’t seen you in a little while - things all good?’

‘Yeah - um, fine.’ I said. Carzel was my friend, he always has been. It was hard to try and remain staunch around him when he was so nice and genuine, but I had to keep reminding myself why I was here. I was being the best friend Juniper deserved.

‘Are you sure? You don’t seem yourself.’

‘What the f**k are you doing?’ I snapped, words falling from my mouth before I thought them. Carzel took a puff from his lit joint and paused, then looked at me confused, unsure if he’d heard me correct.

‘Wh - what?’

‘What the f**k are you doing Carzel?’

‘I - um - wh - ’

‘With Juniper, Carzel! Juniper!’

‘Wh - what about her?’

‘Are you serious? Are you actually being dead serious right now?’

‘Aroha, I’m so confused.’

‘She likes you! More than friends like one another Carzel, she always has. How can you not see that?’

Carzel looked away from me. He lowered his head slightly and took several long drags on his joint, exhaling smoke like a dragon before he founds the words to respond with. I stood in the middle of his room, hands on my hips, impatiently waiting for his explanation.

‘It’s hard, Aroha.’

‘Really? Cause from where I’m sitting it’s pretty fucken straight forward,’ I hissed. ‘You can’t lead her on like this for much longer Carzel; she’s too good to be treated like s**t.’

‘I know that,’ he mumbled.

‘Do you? Do you really? I’m having a hard time seeing that.’

‘I’m not trying to lead her on…’

‘Then be honest with her Carzel! I saw Hayleigh today and she really thinks she’s got one up over Juniper - not to mention talking about her like she’s scum on someone’s shoe. Neither of us needs this s**t right now Carzel - you don’t need it either.’

He didn’t speak because he knew I was right.

‘Carzel, I know this whole situation hasn’t really got anything to do with me,’ I continued, ‘but I’m not going to be able to sit on the side-lines idly for much longer while I watch my best friend get treated less than she deserves.’

My heart raced, and I took deep breaths to try and calm myself as Carzel processed my words at his own speed. I didn’t come to start a fight with him; I came to create the catalyst.

He lifted the half-smoked joint to his lips and took an exceptionally long hit, exhaling what sounded like a very relieving and soothing deep breath. He tilted his head to its side so his eyes met mine.

‘I’ve always known,’ he said quietly.

‘Known what?’

‘That Juniper had feelings for me… always.’

‘You’ve known this whole time?’ I said angrily.

‘She’s never been the greatest at hiding her emotions.’

This was very true, but didn’t justify why he was doing what he was doing. If anything it made me, in this split moment, want to whack him over the head.

‘But you know what I love the most about her?’ he continued. ‘Her unconditional and undeniable friendship with anyone and everyone she meets. She’s not like other people, she doesn’t value stupid material s**t that some do - she’s driven by the little things. I’ve always admired her ability to be so un-phased by change or trauma and to take everything in her stride. That’s why I spend so much of my time with her - not because I’m trying to lead her on, and not because I’m trying to f**k with her, but because I genuinely enjoy our friendship and our time together. I don’t want to ruin that - not just because you and Hayleigh don’t see eye to eye - but because Juniper’s my friend, and I don’t want her not to be.’

This pissed me off. Sure, I hear where he is coming from clearer and now I can understand why he has gone about it all the way he has - but it was almost as if he was trying to tell me that he would rather be deceitful and lie to save his own a*s than be honest with Juniper and (as Rain said to me earlier) be there for her when the impact hits her hard. I could see Carzel was trying to piece this whole situation in his head his own way just like I was too, but I was here for Juniper, and if he wasn’t prepared to save her the trouble of being hurt, then I hadn’t succeeded in what I came to do, or as a best friend.

I shuffled uncomfortably where I stood, silently telling Carzel that I wasn’t satisfied with that answer. He sighed and looked up at me.

‘Aroha, the last thing I want to do is hurt Juniper - but what would she gain if I told her Hayleigh was pregnant?’

Nothing but a broken spirit, I thought. But Juniper may process this easier than I’m giving her credit for - as Carzel pointed out, she took to change well and wasn’t like other people when it came to almost everything. I’d spent so much time worried about the lie at hand that I hadn’t really thought too much about what will happen when Juniper discovers the truth… It made my stomach churn uncomfortably, as it could really only go one of two ways.

I had to keep repeating Rain’s advice in my head: “I sure as hell know if my best friend gave me some world-shattering news I wouldn’t hate them. Sure I’d be mad, but I’d respect that they cared enough about me to give me the truth even if it does hurt, because they’re always there for you even after the pain has been inflicted. That’s what best friends are for.”

‘It’s all just a bit f*****g much sometimes,’ he said, looking away from me and rubbing his eyes with an index finger and thumb.

‘Well it does take two to tango,’ I reminded him unsympathetically.

‘Hey, I know you don’t see eye to eye, but Hayleigh’s not a bad person.’

I rolled my eyes, not believing an inkling of it.

‘Say about her what you like,’ he said moodily, ‘but I didn’t ask her to have a baby with me. I’m just trying to do what’s right by my unborn child, just like I know Luke would’ve done with you if he were still here. The thought of being able to raise a child, be a good role-model, create a bond and a friendship that lasts a lifetime - you understand it, it’s exciting.’

 A flicker of guilt flecked across my chest as he spoke. I knew deep down in my core that Carzel fundamentally was a good person with the right intentions and a heart of gold - as he had just said, he was only doing what he thought was best for his family-to-be. I couldn’t get angry at him for that, it was the way he lit up when he spoke about being a parent that made me realise how much of himself he’d been disregarding for the sake of those closest to him. But I was still fighting on behalf of Juniper, and even if that meant opposing someone I knew and liked, I was willing to do it for my best friend - as she had done for me many times throughout our lives. I only hoped and wished that Carzel would find enough of his initiative and his humility to fix things before they become irreparable.

‘Look Carzel,’ I said, calming my voice. ‘I’m sorry - I didn’t mean to come over and start having a go at you… well, actually I did, but you understand why right?’

‘It’s okay, I get it - you and Juniper have always been close.’

‘Exactly. Look, I don’t care if you’re with Hayleigh - I don’t. Your relationships have absolutely nothing to do with me, I know that.’

Carzel smiled gratefully at me as I said this, but I wasn’t finished speaking.

‘But I promise you - if you don’t do something about this whole Juniper-Hayleigh situation soon before it turns into something ugly and unnecessary, then I will take it upon myself to tell Juniper everything my way.’

He nodded stiffly but didn’t speak. He couldn’t argue with me for pointing out how flawed and ridiculous this whole drama was - but I did know that despite how much it affected me emotionally, I had to try and let them sort this out themselves before I put my two cents worth in.

‘You’re a good friend, Aroha,’ he said looking out the window.

For a while, I stood rooted to the spot while Carzel just gazed out the window looking a bit lost. I had said what I came to say, and now that I had gotten it out of my system, I was able to contently step closer to Carzel, issuing him to stand up with my hands.

He got to his feet looking perplexed until I pulled him into a big, open heart-hug. I didn’t need to say anything, and neither did he. Here right now was the only person who could fathom the kind of heartbreak and turmoil I endured when Luke died, which meant that I too understood the pain and sadness that Carzel still carried with him. I didn’t want to see him spiral down into an even darker place than before, so it was important that he knew despite everything happening, we still had our own past friendship that was still alive. We hugged in silence for a little while, and I heard him sniffle from behind my ear - wiping his eyes when the hug eventually broke.

‘I’ll have a talk to Juniper the next time I see her,’ he said quietly, smiling weakly.

‘Thank you.’

If he was lucky he’d be able to break it down for Juniper before she starts figuring it out on her own. He was lucky she was so busy with her schoolwork at the moment otherwise I think she’d have cottoned on a whole lot sooner. Juniper may be an empath, but even sometimes empaths fall into traps - unable to feel their way through a façade so cleverly built around them. The inevitable moment they do find a flaw in the wall and break through however, those who built it - beware…

 




© 2019 aubreydiamond


Author's Note

aubreydiamond
I'm not sure why, but the translation of the file seems to make all of my - turn into diamonds with question marks in them. So if you see them, it's actually a hyphen :)

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Added on August 19, 2019
Last Updated on August 25, 2019


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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