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Chapter Seventeen ~ Zeb's Proposal

Chapter Seventeen ~ Zeb's Proposal

A Chapter by aubreydiamond

Although I had achieved exactly what I intended to do, on my walk back home from Carzel’s I was still a bit angry and annoyed at him. I believed him as much as I knew that he really was a good person, through and through, but I still stood fixed beside Juniper in this ridiculous web of crap. I couldn’t have shown him any more sympathy than the little I did - until he spoke to Juniper himself and clarified this whole mess up, I had no other choice but to wait and see what happens.

            It took me just over fifteen minutes to waddle back home - now that I’d stopped rushing and taken my time returning the aching in my ankles had doubled, and I was ready to get off of my feet for the rest of the night.    

            Mum’s sleek red car was parked in its usual spot in the driveway. I must’ve just missed her when I left. I can’t have been any more than half an hour at Carzel’s so I guessed she’d only been home a short while. I took my time edging up the steps to the front door, turning the lock and escaping the cool dusk breeze setting in back into the warmth of my house.

The smell of spices and cooked veges wafted down the hallway drawing me into the kitchen, where mum was hovering over the kitchen bench drinking white wine while spooning the contents of what I immediately recognised as Thai food takeaway containers into bowls. She noticed me entering the kitchen and froze for a second, putting the container down gently and taking a sip of wine. She and I both knew how she felt about takeaways, and I knew that I’d snapped her in the act of deception.

‘Were you about to pretend that you’ve cooked this?’ I grinned, as she took another sip of wine to hide her blushing cheeks.

‘No, don’t be silly,’ she scoffed. ‘I just didn’t feel like cooking tonight, that’s all.’

I nodded sarcastically and she glared at me with that same signature glare that I could see identically matched the old photographs of her from the 80’s. I wouldn’t dare tell her that I’d gone looking in her room, let alone found the archives of her youth, so I sat for a moment at the kitchen bench as she begrudgingly continued presenting the food; imagining her wearing the outlandish getups she once owned and styled blonde curls. It was a lot easier to picture her as a young woman now that I’d seen the evidence, and behind her frown lines and box-dyed hair I could actually make out the gorgeous, fluorescent-fabric wearing young diva. She hadn’t gone anywhere; she’d just aged.

‘What are you ogling at?’ she snapped, noticing me vacantly staring at her.

‘N - Nothing. Long day today, think I’m a bit tired.’

‘Well you should be looking after yourself better, love,’ she scolded me in a weirdly polite manner, sliding a plate of Thai food towards me. ‘You’re eating for two now, so you ought to be extra vigilant. So what did you end up getting up to today?’

I thought quickly how the best way would be to translate the sequences of my day to my concerning mother who would surely raise a finger at many of encounters I’d had today.

‘Well, I spent the morning here, cleaned my room again, went for a walk, and then caught up with Juniper after she dropped that basket off for me. That’s about it,’ I lied.

‘That was a very generous gift,’ she said sceptically, glancing over at the basket which was leaning up against the refrigerator.

‘She won it at a gala mum, it was a present,’ I said plainly.

‘Oh - well that’s very kind of her. There are some nice products in there.’

‘Yep sure are. But that’s about it for my day. How was yours mum?’ I asked, taking a forkful of the noodles and veges so I didn’t have to talk anymore. The stir fry was hot, mildly spicy and so delicious. I began shovelling it in as elegantly as possible as mum began unravelling her day, realising how hungry I was.

I have actually had quite a wonderful day,’ she said, immediately becoming more animated and brighter. For a second, I caught a flash of the 80’s diva as she bounced on her heels excitedly. ‘You remember Diane, Mauve and Celine? I haven’t caught up with them in months but today of all days we decided to go out for lunch together. Oh it was so lovely, Aroha. We spent a good few hours together just catching up and shopping, god they were a hoot! I think I may have gone a little overboard but if there’s anything we don’t need I’m sure we can always return them or donate them…’

She walked over the couch where I only just noticed several shopping bags were perched almost tipping over. She grabbed one and carried it with two hands over to the kitchen bench, plonking it on the counter with a great thud. I was not expecting to see shopping bags so full; the paper sides were almost bursting and the weight of the contents had ripped one of the handles off completely. At first, I thought she’d bought an excessive amount of underwear and linen, until I noticed a tiny bodysuit for a very small human drooped over the side. As I began to pick out several surface pieces I realised the entire bag was filled to the brim with new-born clothes and garments, with enough spare outfits to clothe an entire mass of babies.

‘Just a little overboard?’ I half-laughed as only one handful of clothes from the surface of the bag was enough to fill my lap entirely, several spilling onto the floor.

‘There’s another bag too, but they are all aged six months and up so I put them away for now,’ she added sincerely looking rather clucky over the little garments. She brought a third and significantly less full bag over and placed it by my feet. ‘I bought you some new clothes too. You’re in your second trimester now - I imagine you will probably start growing out of most clothes you have very soon.’

‘Mum, you don’t need to keep buying me clothes,’ I said honestly. ‘I have plenty.’ It was true; I still had half a drawer full of shirts, jumpers and jeans all with labels still on them.

‘I know, I know. I just want you to be comfortable, that’s all.’

I was touched that she could say things like this to me now, sometimes I forget how far we’d come in such a short space of time.

‘Thank you, I appreciate it regardless.’ I said. I knew it was what she wanted to hear - she smiled and placed her hand gently on my shoulder for a moment.

‘They were all asking after you of course,’ she went on, reaching for her wine glass. ‘And of course they were all thrilled to hear that you’re having a baby darling - they can’t believe I’m going to be a grandmother too! Though I’m having serious thoughts about being called grandma… maybe nana? I’m not sure yet…’

I could tell from her mannerisms that this entire act of shopping was out of excitement and thrill of becoming a grandparent. She was the most prepared and organised woman I knew, so it didn’t really surprise me all too much that she’d gone all out under the influence of her maternal friends excitement; I remembered them all reasonably well from my childhood - they were all either colleagues or somehow related to mum’s work and were nice enough ladies and had proven themselves too as good friends to mum. Each of their children however were a significant age older than I was, and most of them had already had children of their own, leaving my mum as the only non-grandparent in the clique until now. I could tell in some weird way it was as if mum had received her golden stamp of approval, and was beginning to relish in the world of grandparenthood - something I can’t say I ever thought she’d be this excited about.

But it was nice to see - her pleasure and happiness over buying little baby clothes or talking about her grand-baby-to-be with her friends made me feel even more secure in my decision to be a mum.

‘So,’ she said after she’d finished talking, grabbing my attention back without realising I had zoned out. ‘Have you thought about any names?’ She leaned in closer on the counter awaiting my answer eagerly. At this point I was beginning to wonder how many wines she’d had today…

But I hadn’t honestly given it any thought to names until she mentioned it. I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head, but I could tell in her eyes that she had very much been thinking about this for a while.

‘No, not yet,’ I said.

‘None at all?’ She said sounding disappointed.

‘I haven’t really looked into it yet.’

‘Well I have,’ she said immediately. There it was - I had to hold in my laughter. She reached over the counter to her bag in the seat beside me and pulled out a book of baby names that had small post-it notes marking specific pages. ‘How do you feel about Samantha, for a girl?’ She asked flipping to a random marked page.

‘Hell no!’

Oh, alright… What about Ruby, or Rosie? Rachael…’

‘Yeah, maybe not anything that has been used a million times before,’ I said, wording myself politely.

‘Sheesh, fussy. What about boy’s names? Xavier is nice. Jett, Jasper?’

‘How about I just look into it soon mum? I’ve still got plenty of time to think about it.’

‘Alright, but when you have any ideas be sure to run them past me.’ She shut the book and slid it across to me to take and start reading. ‘Some of these new age names are ridiculous. Who in their right mind names their children Versace or Dolce for goodness sakes?’

 

For the next while we sat together finishing off the Thai food and talking about preparation for the baby. Mum had already made plans to convert the spare bedroom upstairs into a nursery and may or may not have reserved a well-priced tri-set consisting of a cot, bassinet, and changing table she was thinking about ordering. I knew that this meant I wasn’t going to be moving out of this house for a while, but it did mean that I was going to be able to provide a warm and safe home for my baby when they came into the world. That was the most comforting thing I think I could have at this point, and I had nothing but gratitude for my mother, who still knew how to push all of my buttons, but right now was the foundation allowing that reality to manifest.

As she polished off her wine glass, my phone began its routine vibrations as it alerted me someone was calling. I slid it out of my pockets and held it up to my eyes.

 

[INCOMING CALL - ZEB

 

ANSWER / DECLINE]

 

‘Hello, hello, hello,’ I said happily holding the phone up to my ear.

‘Hey stranger, how you going?’ Zeb’s familiar voice responded through the speaker.

‘I’m pretty good my friend, pretty good. How about you, eh? Did you really get a job today?’

‘That’s what I was calling about,’ he said. ‘Are you home at the moment? It’ll be easier to explain in person.’

He sounded amped, out of breath almost.

‘Yeah I’m home, come over if you like.’

‘Okay cool, ‘cause I’m already here.’

He hung up, and five seconds later a sharp quick sequence of knock on the front door echoed down the hallway. Mum looked at me alarmed that someone was here so late.

‘Don’t worry, it’s only Zeb,’ I assured her, rushing down the hallway to open the front door. Zeb immediately rushed over the threshold to escape the cold air, rugged in a thick puffer jacket.

F**k it got cold,’ he shivered, leaning forward to give me a hug. His frozen ears felt like icicles on my cheeks. ‘You good though?’ He put his hands on my shoulders and scanned my face to double check for any disturbances.

‘I’m fine,’ I said, shooing him off me. ‘Come into the kitchen, it’s a lot warmer.’

We walked back under the archway where mum stood in the kitchen, waiting to see who was entering her home with hawk-eyes, even though I’d just told her.

‘Oh, it’s just you,’ she said sounding relieved.

‘Hi Paula, you look nice tonight,’ he grinned.

‘Oh… thank you Zebastion,’ she said. My mum was the only person aside from his own mother that I knew called him by his full name, which usually pissed him off. But he always let it slide when it came to Paula. Mum has never been the most social person growing up, so it wasn’t unknown that she was never the politest, especially to my friends (mainly Juniper, but that was only because she and Rose never saw eye to eye, and if she was rude to Juniper she knew I’d hit the roof). But she always liked and enjoyed having Zeb over - I mean, it was hard not to like him, though she seemed to have a soft-spot for him that she didn’t even reserve for me, her own daughter. I imagined though that there was an element of Zeb’s cut-throat and fiery personality that she deeply admired and recognised in herself. That and it made her feel comfortable knowing I had a close friend who wouldn’t let anyone f**k with me, period.

‘Would you like a wine, love?’ She asked him, opening the fridge door and refilling her own glass with chardonnay.

‘Yes please, why not?’ He winked at me, taking a seat at the counter beside me as I moved mums bag. ‘Wine always warms me up - thank you.’ He took the glass mum handed him and took a large sip. ‘How’s your day been?’ he turned as asked me.

‘Fine, pretty boring actually,’ I said quickly, knowing I’d convey him the details later but also because I knew he had exciting news to spill. ‘Come on, tell me about this job! I want to know everything.’

‘Oh, you got a job?’ Mum said surprised.

‘Yeah actually, I’m pretty sure I’ve secured the role.’

‘Congratulations!’ She and I said in unison.

‘Where is this job for?’ mum asked.

‘Well, believe it or not,’ he said looking at me with a sleek and cheeky smile, ‘the entire block on the main street is being rebuilt - they’re opening up a bar. I guess they’re already looking for staff now ‘cause I’m pretty sure got the job!’ He grinned, looking incredibly pleased with himself for having scored a job somewhere new and exciting.

Mum turned to me with a look that read I should be following Zeb’s footsteps and getting in there to, before turning back to Zeb.

‘Well that’s absolutely wonderful, good for you Zebastion. Cheers to that.’

They chimed their wine glasses together and sipped, making me wish I could drink purely for the sake of celebration.

‘For now though I just have to sit tight and wait to hear from them,’ Zeb went on. ‘Give it a little while for them to set up but it should be up and running by the end of the year hopefully.’ He winked at me as mum got up from the bench.

‘Are you hungry?’ she asked Zeb, ‘there’s left over Thai food if you want some in the fridge.’

I couldn’t believe how relaxed she seemed.

‘No thank you, I’ve not long eaten. Thanks though,’ he replied. ‘But if it’s okay, I was wondering if I’d be able to stay for a few nights again? Sorry to keep crashing in and out of here, things are just a bit tense still back home.’

‘Of course you can. The spare beds yours while you need it,’ mum said kindly.

We stayed in the kitchen for a while longer chatting while mum and Zeb shared another glass of wine until it became so dark that we couldn’t see past the darkness outside the windows. Mum started shutting all the curtains before she perched herself on the couch and turned on the TV. She offered Zeb a third wine as she sipped on her fifth or sixth, but it was already ten o’clock, and we had our own catching up to do.

‘No thank you Paula, I’m still finishing this one. You enjoy it. Thanks for the other’s though.’

‘Any time dear. I’m going to put on a movie if you both want to join.’

‘Thanks mum,’ I said, ‘but we might head up to room and catch up.’

‘Yeah, I’ve got some music I want to show you actually,’ Zeb added.

‘Alright then. Night you two,’ mum said waving us off. We bid her goodnight before making our way for the staircase and into my room.

My safe space was as inviting and cosy as I left it, and it felt even better to be coming back at the end of my day with Zeb in tow to do my favourite thing when he comes to stay - sit and talk. I sat on the edge of my bed as Zeb entered behind me carrying his wine glass and backpack, which he dumped on the floor beside the en-suite door. He put his wine glass on the bedside table and opened his bag, rummaging inside until he pulled out a small Bluetooth speaker and laid it on the ground in between us.

‘What’s this music you want to show me then?’ I asked as he connected his phone to the speaker in a series of beeping noises.

‘One sec,’ he said plainly. He tapped away on his phone until music began playing at a medium volume. I listened intriguingly for a moment until I realised that this was a song that I had heard before, in fact it was on one of the many playlists I’d made with Juniper and Zeb and frequently listened to with them together.

‘I’ve heard this before?’ I said confused. Zeb responded to my question with a look of a very serious nature. I suddenly realised that he didn’t have music to show me, he had something important to tell me that had to wait until we were alone. He shimmied himself off of the ground to shut the bedroom door and came to sit on my bed beside me. The music was just loud enough to drown out our voices if anyone was listening from the other side of the room, so I knew this conversation was meant to be private.

‘Aroha, I need your help,’ he said calmly.

I stared for a second, and my heart race increased. I could tell already that there was something about this new managerial job that Zeb may not have mentioned downstairs in front of my mum for a reason.

‘Zeb,’ I said quietly, ‘what really is this new job you have?’

He expressed a funny sideways grin as he thought about how to word his next sentence. I studied him closely - I knew very well that Zeb liked to do things his own way, whatever the case may be; the truth to that trait was that I could tell that he had either done something seriously stupid or seriously smart.

‘Well, I’m not exactly going to be a manager as such…’ he said as the music played. ‘In fact, I’m not yet one hundred percent sure if there is going to be a new place yet.’

I stared blankly back into his face, which I could see beneath his smirk was holding more to the story.

‘So, how can you get a job somewhere that doesn’t exist?’ I asked. Zeb straightened his back with the energy of pride exuding from him in a way I’d never seen before.

‘I’m going to be the boss - I’m starting my own business.’

            My jaw dropped. Out of anything I was anticipating him to divulge, that was not it. Many times I tried to speak but my shock and surprise were blocking any formation of words from expressing my response adequately - which I couldn’t translate regardless. Zeb peculiarly chuckled at my speechless reaction, taking it upon himself to explain further saving me the trouble of asking.

            ‘Okay hear me out,’ he started, and I sighed as he began to explain this ridiculous notion. ‘The moment I saw those buildings being torn down, I immediately knew that something was going to take their place, right? I can’t really explain it, but it was sort of like a premonition - I had a split moment where I saw the possibilities; so why not try and get in there and actually give myself purpose in this god forsaken town.’

            Zeb, you have a purpose here,’ I whispered.

            ‘Do I though?’ He responded quickly. ‘Apart from you and June, this place has nothing going for me. It never has, and it never will unless I get the chance to make it for myself.’

It was sad to think that he didn’t think he belonged here, but a part of me understood where he was coming from; Raumu was no destination, and for those who lived here their whole lives there was only so much you could enjoy before it became monotonously mundane and routine, especially for the youth - Zeb was not alone on that front.

‘The moment I saw Yasmine, I knew there might’ve been some kind of chance I could learn more about what was going on there,’ Zeb continued. ‘Sure enough, she told me more than I was expecting to find out; the whole block is up for sale, each property - and apparently the council’s taken back every single deed from each plot of land and plans on holding them until the properties are cleared, rebuilt, and sold by the banks.’

‘And that’s a good thing how?’

‘I’m not one hundred percent sure, but from the way she was talking I think she was alluding to the fact that they didn’t have many people interested in investing into the land and starting up new businesses somewhere like here. The council want to helicopter-parent the situation because it’s such a big area they’re demolishing, they want to have say over who and what gets built in their precious retirement-village of a town.’

‘You got all of that out of one conversation with Yasmine?’ I asked in disbelief.

‘You’d be amazed what people tell you once you butter them up a bit,’ he grinned. ‘And she really does have insane make up skills.’

‘Okay, okay, hold on. Yasmine aside, what does all of this council s**t have to do with anything?’ I asked, fearing that I already knew the answer to that question.

‘Well - I’m going to put an offer on one of the lots.’

‘ … And do what exactly?’

‘I’ll open up a bar/club. If no one in this giant sand dune wants to employ me then I’ll just have to do it myself and show them what they’ve missed out on.’

The first thing I wanted to do was slap him hard across the face. The fact he was considering of doing something so big and acting like it was easy-peasy made me worried that he wasn’t thinking straight. But he was cool, calm and collected, and despite the inevitability of my stunned reaction he was very composed with his words and in his actions, only assuring me that he was not in fact going out of his mind, and had indeed given this a fair bit of thought. I had to give it to him, he had balls and a f**k load of initiative, but there were too many contributing factors and sirens going off in my mind to ignore.

‘Zeb, I have to ask you this,’ I breathed. ‘How the f**k can you afford to start a business on top of buying a property? Wasn’t the whole point of finding a job so we could earn money ourselves? Not start a business and spend everything, and then some!’

He laughed at my panic stricken voice which didn’t comfort me one bit.

‘Believe me when I say I have a big enough savings account to get me through this setting up stage if it all goes ahead,’ he said casually. ‘I too like to stash birthday and Christmas money - comes in handy for things like this.’

The concept and scale of money didn’t seem to be squandering his determination or assurance, and I couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing…

‘In fact,’ he went on, ‘I lied before - I’ve actually already put an offer on one of the lots the other day… the one that Lazuli’s was built on.’

S**t… this was a lot of information to take on, and it was clear that whether or not I approved of what he was doing, nothing was going to stop him from making this happen - because the gears were already in motion. I was impressed that he seemed to have ticked every box, but the weight of this news was a lot to take on, and I still had a billion questions teeming through my head he was going to have to elaborate on.

‘If you have enough money, then why do you want to start a business? Why not buy a house or something, set yourself up with your own place. You deserve the comfort of your own space, not the stresses of owning a club.’

‘Hear me out,’ he shuffled a little closer. He looked deeply into my eyes, and I couldn’t help but tune into his emotions - for the first time ever, I thought I detected sorrow.

‘We both know how dull life is here, Aroha,’ he said calmly, ‘especially for our age group. F**k, there’s literally nothing for us here aside from the beach which isn’t exactly the most entertaining place, though June might argue that. The point is - I was never looking to get a job for money; I needed something to do. I needed stimulation; I needed to feel like I had somewhere to be every morning and that there was a place for me to go that I actually wanted to go to, not like f*****g school, or my parent’s house. I needed to create my own purpose, my real purpose. What better way than to open my own club? It’ll be the only place in Raumu that people our own age can come to and be themselves - how many times have you needed somewhere like that?’

I couldn’t argue with that; Lazuli’s used to be our one-and-only spot to chill out together in all of Raumu, and though there was never any guarantee’s it was open and it definitely wasn’t welcoming enough for all the young people in Raumu, it was our place, and we had each left a little piece of our hearts there when we first discovered it many years ago. I guess in some way, it was kind of special that Zeb was trying to go for that particular plot, but it still felt too extreme to be real, and Zeb didn’t strike me as the most business-minded person I knew.

‘Zeb - it’s a whole other world in business. The rules, jargon, paperwork and meetings, I can see the stress being a lawyer has on mum and that kind of s**t isn’t a walk in the park for just anyone, especially someone who’s only been out of school a few months. Unless you have some kind of real plan and structure from something like a business course, how far do you think you’ll get until someone stops you in your tracks?’

‘I thought you might say that.’

Zeb smiled a mischievous, foreboding smile I should have seen coming. He seemed to have a clever plan for every question I raised, and while that was (I guess) a good thing, it only cemented colder and harder that he was really doing this.

He reached over to his backpack over the speaker and pulled out a cyan folder that was tied together with an elastic band as the amount of paper inside prevented the clip from shutting properly. He tore it off excitedly and lay flat on the bed a huge wad of printed forms, block paragraphs with high-lighted fine-print, annotated graphs and pie charts and several design spread sheets. I looked down upon the intimidating pile of paper and could clearly see now just how prepared Zeb truly was.

‘I’ve already put together a couple of business plans just in case the first few don’t quite work out. I’ve looked into my business structure and have got everything I need to register myself, as well as all the other forms and slips I need to have checked off so everything’s ticking along. I’ve got all my allocated finances in the right baskets with the bank and I know exactly what I’m trying to go for visually, financially and economically. I think I have known it for years I’ve just never put it onto paper properly like this before.’

‘This is all great stuff Zeb,’ I said, still unsure, ‘but this is a lot to take on board. How sure about this are you?’

‘Very,’ he replied genuinely. ‘I have everything that I need to take to Yasmine and show her that I am not here to waste her time. I think she was already pretty sceptical because of my age, but I know I can win her over just by showing my initiative. I’ve done all the ground work that I needed to do,  now all I need now is to find someone with a ready-able mind to help me through the rest of the logistics…’

His sparkly eyes stopped on me and fluttered two sets of dainty eyelashes.

Me?!’
            ‘Why are you surprised? You had the best grades than anyone else when it came to business studies and social studies.’

‘Most of my grades were generally higher than everyone’s,’ I stated, not to be full of myself but because it was a fact.

‘Exactly!’ he exclaimed. ‘I need someone with your brain to jump on ship with me and help fasten the sails, so-to-speak. There’s no one else more qualified in my opinion than you Aroha.’

‘I don’t know Zeb… I’m not sure if this is a good idea,’ I said honestly, because I was far from it. I didn’t know if I could handle this kind of responsibility, not while I was about to bring a child into the world.

‘Look, if everything still goes through, it’s going to take a while before it’s up and running. There’s no timeline set or anything, and you wouldn’t have to do very much, I just need your input, that’s all. Trust me when I say I have made sure every single loose end is tied up - the only bad thing that could happen at this stage is the bank and the council declines my offer.’

I continued to stare back at his eager and energetic face, flourishing the handfuls of paper before him like a little kid showing their family their proud artwork. At this point, I knew that Zeb wasn’t going to take no for an answer; it was written all over his face, and I didn’t want to disappoint him by any means, but I really had to look at my options here before I considered this:

So far, I had absolutely no leads on any kind of work and barely had any money to my name. I was as close to guaranteeing myself an income as what I was when I first started looking, and here Zeb was offering me partnership in his great scheme that I guess could potentially pay off… but potentially didn’t mean set in stone, and this whole operation was far from that. It was an incredibly serious and intense idea he was dealing with here, and though I could see the appeal and possibility of making a healthy profit, I could also see the chance of debt and loss looming over him that I personally didn’t think was worth the risk.

But I had to remind myself that it was Zeb I was dealing with here, and if there was anyone in my life that I knew could at least try to achieve something on this scale with ease, it was Zeb. I could just tell from his whole being tonight that this was what he wanted to do and this was what he knew he could do, and well. I had to give him credit for being so bold and daring; no matter how much it made me feel nervous for him.

What was the worst that could happen? I asked myself. The offer is declined by the bank and the council, Zeb gets his money back and has to look at going elsewhere to open his club? Or they actually approve it, everything starts culminate and he either skyrockets towards success or plunges into debt. Either way I couldn’t discredit him, nor could I predict the future, and it wasn’t very long ago that Zeb was really there for me at a time I needed my friends the most. Now he has come to me needing my help - I had to return the favour.

‘Okay, listen,’ I said still not feeling one hundred percent sure, ‘If I agree to this, you have to promise me that this will not blow up in our faces.’

‘You have my word,’ he said calmly, raising his flattened palm in the air to indicate his oath. I sighed deeply.

‘Okay. I’m in.’

THANK YOU AROHA!’ Zeb squealed. He slid over the bed and pulled me into another tight hug I didn’t see coming. Zeb broke away looking a bit awkward as his excitement took control of his body.

‘Yes well, it’s only ‘cause you’re my best friend,’ I said bleakly. ‘Otherwise you’d be s**t outta luck, mate.’

‘I know, and you’re the best for it,’ he grinned as he began re-organising the paperwork back into his folder small handfuls at a time. ‘I won’t forget this.’

‘You better not. So, what now?’ I asked. ‘What do you need me to do then?’

‘Pose as my financial and business advisor.’

Of course there was more to it…

‘Are you serious?’

‘You don’t have to say or do barely anything - f**k all, in fact!’ he flicked through the stack of paper and pulled out several forms handing them to me.

I couldn’t exactly tell what they were for by the amount of small print, but they looked like very official-printed documents with the Raumu District Council logo at the page footer. I skimmed over it briefly until my eyes fell on a bar close to the bottom of the page, where my linked signature had been immaculately mimicked beneath Zeb’s.

‘All you have to do,’ he went on, ‘is be the person at the other end of that pen.’

‘You’re telling me you’ve forged these?’ I whispered in shock, remembering how Zeb was our year group’s go-to person for writing faux notes to get out of P.E.

‘Maybe,’ he smirked. ‘What they don’t know won’t hurt them. Besides, I’ve made everything look finished and accounted for - if you’re with me then they’ll see you’re a real person and we’re not bullshitting them.’

Even though we pretty much were.

‘Where did you get all of these forms and stuff?’ I asked. ‘They look far too official to just print off any old website. Did the council give them to you?’

‘No, they didn’t. Let’s just say I know my way around the alley way of the internet,’ he said quietly, ‘It’s not hard to find what you’re looking for once you’re in, and the best thing about it is that it doesn’t leave traces. Plus I knew a few people from the IT crowd at school - they owed me a few favours.’

Zeb,’ I whispered in fear. ‘You didn’t.’

‘I did. And it’s done. I got what I wanted.’

‘Yeah, but what if… I don’t know, someone finds out and they arrest you? The Dark Web has its name for a reason…’

‘Aroha, listen to me,’ he said, music almost completely drowning out his volume. He leaned in closer again and took both my hands exactly like before, looking deep into my soul. I could feel his energy again, and this time it was dead-serious. ‘When I say I have made sure that nothing leads back to us - I mean it. I would never put you in this kind of firing line if I knew that what I was doing wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t risk you or your babies safety for something like this. But you have to trust me when I say that everything I’ve done so far I’ve done carefully, meticulously and untraceably. Nothing is going to come up from this, and if it does, it’ll be me that takes the wrap for it - not you, okay?’

For a moment, I didn’t respond. I let his intense gaze wash over me; reassuringly telling me that the words I was hearing come from his mouth carried nothing but the truth. I believed him, and I trusted him, even if none of this sat quite right in my stomach. If me deciding not to help meant that all his efforts and work so far was gone out the window; there was no way I was going to let myself do that to him. Zeb may get a head of himself sometimes, but his head was always been screwed on the right way.

‘Alright,’ I sighed, telling myself we were really doing this. ‘When do we start then? I presume we’ll need to sit down with Yasmine and walk her through everything you’ve done so far before we do anything else?’

‘Yep, exactly that - actually we’re meeting her for lunch tomorrow at twelve o’clock.’

‘Jesus Christ, Zeb, anything else you’ve already organised that I ought to know about?’ I groaned.

‘Don’t think so,’ he beamed, visibly very chuffed with himself. ‘I’ll let you know if I think of anything.’

Considering he wouldn’t have been able to continue very much longer without my help, it was astonishing that Zeb seemed to have everything in place and scheduled before he even told me about it - he really meant business, and wasn’t about to go and waste his time getting prepared and ready, despite the absurdity of it all.

 

We lost track of time as we continued lying on my bed chatting over the music. Eventually our conversation about the business came to a close, and as Zeb packed away his paperwork and was positive he’d conveyed everything I needed to know to me I felt a fraction more confident about it all - which was enough for Zeb.

This was the first chance we’d had one-on-one time since he was staying here with us last week and in that short space of time I’d not achieved a hell of a lot up until today. I started from the beginning of my day with the photographs I’d found and showed Zeb the shot of my parents which he held in awe for several minutes. At first he didn’t believe me, but then pointed out before I had the chance how similar the man’s facial bone-structure looked to my own. Zeb whipped out his phone and took a quick snapshot of the retro photo as I made him promise not to show anyone.

I continued on talking about the lunch date with Rain and Tourmaline at the cafe, which made Zeb’s eyebrows and the corners of his mouth rose sharply in a playfully-suggestive way that I pretended not to notice; I still hadn’t really dealt with my own feelings on that yet, and I wasn’t about to right now. Quickly, I changed the subject to what I really wanted to discuss; I told him of my encounter with the one and only Hayleigh Spencer, to which Zeb seemed increasingly interested at the mention of her name. The only thing was Zeb still didn’t know that Hayleigh was pregnant, which was the real spanner in the works. I shouldn’t really know myself, nor should I be talking about it to other people, but Zeb stood with me beside Juniper - and though she still didn’t know herself I felt like he should, for Juniper’s sake.

When I told him, he fell back onto the bed with his hands in the air and groaned.

Jesus… Christ…’ he breathed. ‘How long has she been…?’

‘Pretty much the same as me, I think. I saw her at the health clinic when I was looking at getting an abortion - though somehow Juniper didn’t.’ 

F**k…’ he could barely respond, but I understood. This was proving to be one of the most eventful years in Raumu to date. ‘Well I guess this definitely explains why Carzel’s acting the way he is.’

‘It still doesn’t mean it’s right by Juniper.’

‘No, I know,’ he agreed quietly. ‘So - she still doesn’t know?’

‘Not yet,’ I sighed. ‘But I told him if he didn’t sort it out soon, then I would.’

‘Good on you babe, grab the situation by the balls.’ He said fiercely. His smile quickly faltered the more he thought about it, and though I wasn’t a mind-reader I could decipher exactly what his look of worry read.

‘It’s been killing me that she doesn’t know,’ I said gloomily.

‘Why haven’t you told her?’ Zeb asked kindly. ‘I mean, I can understand - you don’t want to crush her hopes. But wouldn’t you rather she knew the truth?’

‘Yes, I really would.’ I scrunched my face up in irritation. Rain’s voice was still in the back of my mind, his advice on repeat. ‘I guess I just haven’t had the courage to do it yet. I’ve put the responsibility in Carzel’s hands for the time being, and as I said - if he doesn’t sort it, I will.’

 

All I remember from the rest of the night was lying fully clothed, a top the duvet cover with the bedroom light on. I awoke with a start to the quiet music still playing from Zeb’s Bluetooth speaker, light flooding the bedroom far too abrasively for my liking, which could only mean one thing - the soft morning sunrise had passed and we were well into the day.

Beside me, Zeb was still deep asleep clutching the empty wine glass in his hand drooping off the bed. I had to reach over him to get my phone which was on the bedside table. The moment my bleary eyes registered “10:44am”, my feet had hit the ground immediately.

S**t! Zeb - ZEB!’ I cried. Zeb stirred, but I had to slap his thigh with one of my nearby sandals to wake him up properly. He looked utterly confused as to where he was and what was going on, but when he saw me seemed to recall his consciousness, shifting into an upright position.

‘F**k, I don’t even remember falling asleep,’ he croaked.

‘Zeb it’s almost eleven,’ I said urgently. Any sign of sleepiness instantly vanished from Zeb’s face as the shock hit him hard, causing him to jump almost a metre in the air off of the bed.

F**k!’ he cursed. ‘The meetings a half hour drive away; we have to go real soon.’ He hobbled on one foot as he pulled off his shoes and socks and began pulling spare clothes out of his bag.

I darted to and from the drawers and en-suite gathering my scattered belongings until I managed to form an outfit that I thought would look informatively professional; a black pencil skirt, a pastel patterned button-up shirt hugged by a black blazer with black sneakers because my poor feet wouldn’t permit me to wear anything else. The outfit didn’t hide my bump, in fact, as I looked at my figure in the bathroom mirror after my speedy shower, I thought it made it look bigger - or maybe it was just getting bigger.

‘Are you done in there?’ Zeb called from the other side of the door. ‘We gotta go in like ten minutes.’

I rushed out of the bathroom and let Zeb take a shower himself. While he was showering, I leapt downstairs to gather a few snacks and fruit in a produce bag to take along with us so I was really making sure that I was looking after myself. By the time I’d taken all of the vitamins I needed, Zeb had already met me in the hallway looking incredibly swish and handsome in a sleek, streamline jet black suit that made his pale skin, hair and eyes pop.

‘Ready?’ He breathed, looking more pressed than composed.

I nodded, and together we made our way to the front door in what was the probably the quickest morning-rise I’d ever achieved, stepping out into the Monday warmth. Out on the sidewalk, I saw Zeb’s mothers little white car parked. He fumbled for the keys as we descended the steps, and I locked the front door behind me.

‘Is she alright with you still using her car?’ I asked, catching up with Zeb on the driveway.

‘Don’t care,’ he said simply. ‘I’ll give it back when I’m done. For now, I need it.’ He opened the driver’s door and flung himself in. I could feel the hostility between him and his family exuding off of his words - I wondered how long someone could hold resentment towards their parents before it strains them too far.

The moment I shut the car door and clicked my seatbelt on, Zeb roared the ignition into life and reversed out of the driveway with a screech, almost doing several burnouts as he raced off up the street, a dust cloud billowing behind us.

‘Where exactly are we meeting Yasmine?’ I asked, realising I didn’t know.

‘There’s an Italian restaurant a little way out of Raumu. It was Yasmine’s suggestion. I don’t think I’ve ever been there before but I know where it is.’

‘I can’t afford Italian food…’

‘Don’t worry, we’re going there to talk to Yasmine, not eat, so we’ll be fine. But if you get hungry I don’t mind buying you something. Though I see you’ve packed yourself a little lunch anyway,’ he giggled.

‘Well I’m eating for two now,’ I said proudly, ‘plus I don’t need my mother or midwife on my case anymore than they already are.’

We turned onto the highway increasing speed towards the city. Zeb had turned on some music to fill the silence in the vehicle. From what I could tell, he didn’t seem all that nervous, but now that we were on our way to commence the establishment of this business, my heart was sitting in the back of my throat. I kept reminding myself that I didn’t have to say or do much, but despite being briefed my Zeb last night I couldn’t help but feel extremely under-qualified for this posing position, and that there was some kind of overlooked, extremely important detail I didn’t know.

Zeb tapped his fingers on the steering wheel to the music as we exited Raumu. It didn’t take very long for us to reach the restaurant. “La Spiaggia” in bold, gold lettering above an exotic looking building indicated us into a small, mostly empty car-park just off of the highway, directly across from the rocky shore. Zeb parked the car in a spot furthest away from the building and pulled the key out of the ignition.

For a minute we sat stationary in our seats looking on at the ornate structure oddly placed against the hillside by the shore behind us. I suppose it was quite beautiful, if what we were here for was more enjoyable (in my opinion) I might’ve been able to appreciate it a little more, but I couldn’t shake off the nerves that had settled in my chest. I took a raspy breath in and out, and Zeb heard, looking over at me.

‘You alright?’ he asked.

‘I guess - just a little nervous.’

‘It’ll be fine. I’ll do most of the talking, and if she does ask you anything - just be yourself. She seems cool, I don’t think she’s like those old council pricks.’

Cool enough to let fraud slide? I wondered. Whether or not if she a cool person, it didn’t seem likely she’d want to put herself and her job on the line to support something on shaky ground… but I had to stop thinking like that, for Zeb’s sake. It was going to be fine - I was going to be fine.

Before we made our way inside, Zeb meandered in the car park smoking a cigarette with great lust. I’d never been interested in smoking, but if I wasn’t pregnant right now I might’ve been willing to partake for some sort of relief. When he extinguished it beneath the sole of his shoe, we gave each other a readying nod and turned towards the double glazed marble doors.

Another world appeared before us as we arrived upon an elegant scarlet carpet that carried us into a huge open space; large circular tables of marble were spaced evenly in the centre of the restaurant, bordered by velvet seated booths. Intricately shaped hedges in exquisite pots were littered about the floors and arched niches in the walls, illuminated with a cosy warm glow from rustic light bulbs hung in random positions and random lengths over the whole room. I looked up towards the inverted dome ceiling, wondering if this whole place looked like something plucked straight out of Italy itself with its ornate architecture. A long, rectangular pass where the kitchen delivered meals to the wait staff mirrored us from the other side of the room - though the whole place was almost completely empty. This restaurant had been here for many years, but I hadn’t been inside once - though it didn’t look like many people did. Mum wasn’t a fan of Italian food, which was a shame because I knew how much she would have appreciated the beauty of it.

‘Hello, how are we today?’ A polite young man in a very flash looking uniform said approaching us. ‘Do we have a reservation today folks?’

‘Hi, we’re just here to meet someone actually,’ Zeb responded.

‘Oh- okay. There’s a woman in the far booth if that’s who you were looking for,’ he said, sounding a lot duller suddenly.

‘Thank you very much,’ I said, trying to sound calm. He smiled half-heartedly as we walked past him. I felt a bit bad; this place was lovely but didn’t seem to have much business coming and going, and the staff looked ready to shut up shop and go home.

It took us only a moment to spot Yasmine; her golden mane of bouncy curls gave away her position immediately. As we approached the table I saw her looking over some notes on a clipboard, while her other hand held a bronze fork over a plate of what looked like pesto fettuccine. The smell of it made my stomach yearn for hot pasta, but just by looking at it I knew I couldn’t afford something that decadent.

Yasmine looked up when we were only a few metres away, getting to her feet to greet us. God, she was even more beautiful than I remember, and couldn’t have been any older than her mid-twenties. Without the distractions of a construction site all around us I was able to appreciate her beauty fully; she radiated a natural glow that bounced off of her stunning features without the use of heavy foundation, along with a feint shade of bronze hinted over her eyelids that made her hazel eyes and silver nose piercing sparkle. She wore a well fitted pantsuit of deep blue with lilac pin stripes from shoulder to ankle, accented with bangles and golden rings that skilfully complimented her deep olive skin tone. Her friendly smile warmly welcomed us to her, where she outstretched a dainty hand sporting five glittering mauve acrylic nails.

‘Hi Dav- Zeb… Sorry. You don’t mind me calling you Zeb, do you?’ she asked politely in her rich husky voice, shaking his hand.

‘Of course not,’ Zeb responded as if what she asked made sense. ‘I prefer it.’

As far as I was aware of Zeb didn’t have any other names or alias of any kind - why would she ask him something like that? Yasmine turned to me with her pearly white grin and turned her palm to me.

‘You must be Aroha,’ she said. ‘We didn’t properly get a chance to meet last week, my apologies.’

‘It’s fine,’ I smiled back, realising I almost hadn’t reciprocated her handshake. ‘It wasn’t the time or place.’

‘Very true. Zeb has informed me of your involvement however so we’re all on the same page here, so it’s a pleasure to properly meet you. Come, sit.’ She gestured kindly to the booth; I squeezed in the luxurious seats after Zeb, sinking a centimetre or two into the foamy material. Yasmine shuffled in sideways facing opposite us, pushing her plate of pasta out of the way to the edge of the table. ‘I hope the traffic wasn’t too bad,’ she said, initiating small talk while picking up her clipboard.

‘It wasn’t bad at all,’ Zeb replied. ‘Midday on a Monday, most folks are at work I suppose.’

‘Yes, I suppose they are,’ she smiled while looking over her notes. The ominous anticipation of the conversation looming ahead was making my heart race, and now of all moments I couldn’t risk letting my nerves get the better of me. I mustered all my energy and forced any ill thoughts to the back of mind, pushing myself into the role of someone eager to make this transaction happen. Because that’s what best friends do for one another, they help.

Yasmine took a few more moments of looking at her mysterious notes before resuming her attentiveness with us.

‘Now Zeb, did you bring all of the paperwork we discussed over email?’

Zeb had already pulled his bag up from the ground and hoisted the thick folder onto the table. Even Yasmine looked surprised to see such a great mass of paper, but nonetheless pleased that he’d apparently brought what he was meant to, and then some.

He flicked through the first few pages and ripped a couple out, handing them to Yasmine one by one. She took them gracefully, skimming them with her eyes briefly as each form fell in her possession.

‘So,’ Zeb began as she started to read them properly. ‘I’ve already collected all of my reference material and sent an application to register my business as an LLC, and I’ve already made contact with the hospitality ministry and the council myself and inquired about getting all my licences booked and paid for; liquor licence, music licence, food licence etc.. You’ll see on that first page there that the business plan is a pretty rough outline, but I have a couple more in case that one is a bit hard to decipher. But as far as the structure for the finances and the targets stand, they’re pretty accurate depictions of what I’ve managed to learn from competitive businesses in the whole region over the past two decades, so I think I’ve got a good grasp of what it is people want.’

Yasmine took every single syllable in with great focus; while I was impressed with how incredibly well Zeb was selling himself and his abilities to manage himself so far, behind her impeccable smile and stunning appearance I could detect someone who was heavily analysing what was happening and being said before her.

As Yasmine’s eyes returned to the words in front of her, I caught Zeb’s eyes for a fraction of a second, long enough to catch his subtle wink in my direction - he knew what he was doing.

After a few more minutes, Yasmine flicked through all papers before resting them on the table with a look of satisfaction.

‘Well, everything checks out,’ she said simply.

Zeb grinned, looking pleased and encouraging me to force a smile so it appeared how pleased I was to hear that too.

‘Just to double check for safety reasons,’ she added, picking back up two of the papers and handing them in - my direction. ‘Could you please just clarify these signatures are yours, Aroha? Just as signing for deeds and other important documentation like this usually needs to be done on council site and in person to assure its legitimacy.’

I swallowed, hoping my throat didn’t sound as hollow and dry as what it on the inside of my head.

‘Of course,’ I replied, coughing to clear the quiver in my voice. I took the pages from her and held them before me.

Just where I had seen last night, my signature had been expertly mimicked at the bottom of the page, right below Zeb’s in a uniform fashion on each page. For moment, I didn’t respond, as Zeb’s signature caught my attention when it shouldn’t have.

Written in barely legible script was the name “David Zebastion Snow” on both pages. In the millisecond I had spare to think about it, I put an imaginary highlighter on that thought and saved it for later. Zeb obviously hadn’t told me everything just yet…

‘Yep, that’s definitely my signature, I can assure you of that - I’d recognize that awful fountain pen anywhere, I hate using it,’ I said, adding on my own lie for emphasis of believability.

‘You do!’ Zeb laughed, grinning at me.

I handed the files back to Yasmine - my face reading “everything checks out”, while my heart and mind read elsewise. She took them out of my grip and stowed them beneath the clip of her clipboard. Placing it gently down on the table, she delicately slid it towards the plate of food. She leaned in closer to the table; bejewelled fingers entwined with one another and glanced around to make sure there wasn’t any one nearby, lowering her husky voice slightly so the one other person in the restaurant couldn’t hear her.

‘Zeb, I just have a few follow up questions for you, if you don’t mind me asking?’

‘Of course not,’ he replied, noticing her change in volume. ‘Go ahead.’

She pulled her cell phone out from her pocket, opened the audio recording app and laid her phone flat in the centre of the table.

‘Also I’m sorry, but if you don’t mind the council has requested that I record this portion of the meeting.’ She said this with far less energy than she usually spoke with, which told me she may not have agreed with this personally.

‘Uh - that’s fine,’ Zeb said quickly. I could tell he wanted to be as accommodating and easy to work with as possible, but even this had surprised him.

Yasmine reached for her clipboard again and pulled off a sticky note that I could faintly make out bullet-pointed notes from the other side of the paper. She held it in her hand while the other clawed index finger reached and pressed the “record” button, starting the timer and showing us a visual representation of our voices being recorded.

‘So David,’ she continued with a more official gusto in her voice. ‘Could you please tell me your date of birth?’

‘The 3rd of June, 1999.’

‘Where did you attend school?’

‘Raumu beach primary school and then Raumu beach college.’

‘What are your previous jobs and past work experiences to date?’

I couldn’t help but glance over at Zeb when she asked this question - it might not sound very good to the council that he had zilch under his work-experience-belt, or didn’t finish his final year of college because he hated it. I was beginning to wonder if we’d cornered ourselves into an uncomfortable position that wasn’t going to end in our favour.

‘I uh, haven’t had any opportunities to gain any kind of work experience yet, but I had a sharp and able mind for a project of this scale,’ he said confidently and boldly as if he were speaking before the old grey-haired council members themselves. Yasmine however, looked a little nervous at his response.

‘And what kind of qualifications do you have under your name?’ She continued, watching Zeb with great intrigue and a hint of worry. Zeb took a deep breath, pausing for a moment which would undoubtedly be audible in the recording.

‘I have only successfully achieved both NCEA Level’s 1 and 2 in my time attending college, but believe me when I say that I did not struggle in any way, shape or form in my time at Raumu college,’ he said proudly, sounding like a completely different person. ‘School didn’t carry the kind of knowledge or challenge that I needed and knew that I could handle, and there wasn’t ever an opportunity where I was able to showcase the kind of talents that I have, nowhere except the real world offers those kinds of chances, and I know my personality, wit and intelligence are my biggest assets. They’re not things that are handed to you on a signed document - you earn them yourself.’

Yasmine smirked slightly, but allowed him to continue speaking

‘I’ve lived in Raumu my entire life. I was even born in the maternity ward rather than in the city. I know this town inside and out, and it doesn’t come across as an exciting, fun or lively place from the outside - people drive right past it in a blink. It’s eroding away with the sand and taking everyone who lives there with it. I don’t want to see that happen to our town, not when there is so much potential for change, for good change; change that I want to be a part of initiating.

‘I’ve made a lot of friends in the twenty years I’ve been alive, and I know that I speak on behalf of hundreds of young people here alone when I say that our town is dying - and we’re only just starting to live our lives. We don’t want to create a rift between us and those who are in charge - ’ he glanced down at the recording phone, ‘ - but hear us out when we tell you that the people of Raumu should be representing diversity, new beginnings and inclusivity together without these sepia lenses that are fused to the way everyone else sees us. We want to stand out to the rest of the country and the world as somewhere that people actually want to come and see, experience, live and thrive.’

I’ve never heard Zeb sound so convincing before in my entire life. I was perched on the edge of the table, gazing in awe at him as he so beautifully delivered his dialogue with such ease and poise - even Yasmine was listening with a twinkle in her eye, no intention of interrupting.

‘But without the proper chances being given by those who have the right to make those steps forward, we’re going to find ourselves in a rut that we as a people and a town cannot get out of. The youth of Raumu don’t deserve that. The people of Raumu don’t deserve that. Raumu doesn’t deserve that.’

Zeb fell back into his seat to declare he’d finished - mic drop. I had to pull myself together as I was about to very enthusiastically applaud Zeb for his composure, brushing my amazement with my friend aside as if I’d knew what he was going to say all along. Yasmine’s index finger ended the recording without another question and stowed her phone back in her pocket. She turned back to Zeb, looking very impressed and far less intimidating that she did a mere few moments earlier.

‘Well I must say Zeb,’ she said coolly, ‘that was a very impressive response. You ever thought about getting into politics? I think you’ve got the knack for public speaking.’

‘Eh - not really,’ he shrugged. ‘Arguing with a room full of old people doesn’t really appeal to me very much. I have bigger fish to fry.’

Maybe he really was cut out for this business gig - I never doubted his abilities as a charismatic person, but I must say it really was quite incredible to see in action. Whether or not his paperwork and knowledge came from questionably-trustworthy sources, his charm and presentation clearly compensated for any other kind of discrepancies in bucket-loads.

‘I apologise for the forcefulness of that recording,’ Yasmine said, retaining buoyancy in her voice. ‘I didn’t think it was necessary personally…’

‘It’s okay, you’re just doing your job,’ Zeb smiled.

Yasmine considered him a moments longer - tapping her index and middle nails on the table in a light rhythm.

‘Look, I actually think your whole concept… is actually a rather good, and if I do say so myself, pretty smart idea,’ she said honestly. Whatever professional-guard Yasmine had up when we first arrived at the restaurant was now completely down, and I felt far less intimidated and scrutinized by the young woman before me.

‘Oh, why - thank you?’

‘And I like you Zeb, so I’m going to be honest with you both. When I took this initial idea to pitch it to the council they were not very generous with their time or energy, in fact most of them were incredibly sceptical for more than a few reasons…’

‘Was it my age?’ Zeb asked, sounding very unsurprised.

‘Well - yes, primarily,’ she admitted, sounding a bit unimpressed by it. ‘But also the apparent randomness of the idea from someone who doesn’t appear to have any kind of background or experience in this world was making them question the validity of your offer.’

‘Validity? What, do they think I’m trying to prank them for a laugh or something?’

‘No Zeb, they’re just stuck in their old fashioned ways; you have to approach it differently with them. Once they can see that you mean business by backing yourself up with proof of legality,’ she pointed to the paperwork he’d given her, ‘then they’ll take you more seriously. Once they’re warmed to the idea, show them the kind of public impact something like this will have and they’ll eventually see the worth in it.’

I was surprised at how on board with this Yasmine was, excited even, especially considering how early in development everything was, but regardless, an incredible wave of relief washed my nerves away as I knew that we’d succeeded - Zeb had succeeded.

‘I know what it’s like to come from a small town with not much going for it, specifically when you have the colour and energy to express a thousand masterpieces and no canvases to utilise,’ she smiled warmly at Zeb.

Her tongue was clenched between her teeth, halting her next words from coming out - but I could tell that beneath her hesitation, what she had to say excited her.

‘Zeb, the bank approved your offer on the lot. As soon as I get this paperwork back to the council and begin the warming them up to it, the properties yours. Congratulations.’

I froze.

Zeb froze.

We turned to one another; numb, dumbfounded expressions mirroring one another. Then Zeb’s mouth broke out in a big, wide, cheeky grin from ear to ear - its contagiousness potent enough to spread along the seats to both Yasmine and myself as the finality and the certainty of Zeb’s proposal set in; his business that moments ago was just an idea on paper was now indeed going to blossom into something much more tangible.

Zeb was absolute beside himself with glee, it took him a short while to re-compose himself, though Yasmine didn’t seem to mind, in fact she looked happy, even moved by how excited Zeb was by the news. He cleared his throat and re-positioned a loose lock of platinum hair back out of his face and into his carefully crafted up-do.

‘Thank you very much Yasmine,’ he said cheerily. ‘You won’t regret this.’

‘Good,’ she smiled. ‘But in all seriousness, there is going to be a lot of work to be done; it’s probably only going to be another three to four weeks until the site is completely cleared and the new foundations are laid. As soon as that’s done however, we’ll need to crack the whip and really start planning this properly - the moment the foundations are set the construction of the entire block begins, in that time you’re going to need to register your business with IRD, sort your tax numbers out, confirm the structure of the business, get your zoning permits, licences, etc. The council won’t necessarily have the same sense of urgency as you will so the sooner you get onto it the better because I imagine you’ll want to be up and running as soon as possible, yes?’

‘Yes, absolutely,’ Zeb responded. I noticed he was jotting down everything she was saying on paper, making sure he was going to do every single thing she suggested. Yasmine looked upon Zeb with another impressed smile, and winked at me while he wasn’t looking.

‘I’ll be around the area for the next few months anyway,’ she said handing Zeb a very suave looking business card. ‘Here’s my cell phone number - don’t be afraid to contact me if you need to know anything or need advice for whatever. I’m happy to help in any way I can.’

‘Thank you so much Yasmine, I really appreciate everything you’ve done,’ Zeb said sweetly.

‘Thank me by making this project nothing like your town has ever seen before,’ she said with a grunt of power that gave me chills. ‘… but you’re welcome.’

As the waiter came and cleared Yasmine’s plate we all got to our feet, ending the meeting on a rather excitingly high and successful note. Yasmine walked back outside with us as if she were one of our friends, and for a moment, it almost felt like she was.

The midday sunlight was almost completely blocked from the inside of the restaurant that my eyes stung as we plunged ourselves back into the real world. I hadn’t noticed until now how strong the scent of parmesan and pinot noir was until I smelt the fresh air exchange itself in my lungs - though I can’t say I disliked the fragrance...

‘Alright, well I have a few other meetings to get to today so I have to make tracks, but I will be in touch very soon,’ Yasmine called to Zeb as she made her way for her very flash looking silver car. ‘I’ll be sure to pass on that audio recording Zeb. Good to see you as well, Aroha.’

I waved in response so I didn’t have to yell as we watched her climb into her car and speed off onto the highway towards the city.

The second she was gone from sight, Zeb wrapped his arms around my waist and hoisted me off of my feet, spinning around in ecstatic twirls in the restaurant car park.

WE DID IIIIIIIIT!’ He cried at the top of his lungs. As my vision spun and blurred around me I laughed and cried for him to put me back down, almost stumbling over as the dizziness threw me off centre when he put me back on the concrete.

‘Jesus, don’t ever do that again,’ I laughed, shaking my head to stop the swirling.

‘Sorry,’ he giggled, ‘got a bit carried away… but can you believe it, Aroha? I mean - of course you can, you were right there, it just happened - but holy f**k! This is seriously happening.’

He was absolutely over the moon; I’d never seen him this excited before. I couldn’t help but grin from impressive admiration of my best friend; he was going to make his mark on this town, and his hard work, determination and ability to acknowledge risk as a simple hurdle was now paying off before our very eyes. If it wasn’t for Yasmine as well, this might not have happened, and though she is employed by the council and technically is “one of them”, she was genuinely encouraging of this whole idea because she identified with Zeb, and certainly felt like a good natured person who I felt like we could trust.

Even if she did call Zeb “David”…

I pulled open the door of Zeb’s mum’s car and slid into the seat. Zeb didn’t start the ignition straight away, but pushed his head back into the head-rest of his seat staring at the ceiling. Having sat in an Italian restaurant and not actually ordering anything made me famished, I tore straight into the fruit and muesli bars I’d brought along with me before I started to feel hollow and shaky.

‘Thank you Aroha,’ Zeb said quietly as I pulled out a granny smith. ‘Thank you so much for today. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without your help, it means a lot.’

‘I’m not entirely sure what I did to help,’ I said between a mouthful of apple, ‘but I’m glad I could be of assistance - DAVID.

If I was expecting Zeb to apologise for the confusion and explain further, I would have been disappointed. Instead, I waited for Zeb to stop laughing and wiping the tears from his eyes before he could elaborate.

‘Come on, spit it out,’ I said, ushering him to hurry up. ‘What the f**k was that about?’

‘I know, sorry, I should’ve said something, I kinda forgot - I did!

‘Then why are you using your dad’s full name? I heard you introduce yourself to Yasmine as Zeb the other week?’

‘She thinks Zeb is my middle name, and that I prefer it instead of David,’ he said through a grin that I wasn’t sure if he should be wearing.

‘Why the f**k are you posing as your prick of a father?’ I spat.

‘I’m not posing as him, just, using his stupid choice of naming me after his middle name to my advantage - that’s all.’

‘So you’re lying about your identity now?’

‘Hardly.’

‘Zeb - ’

‘Look, Aroha,’ he snapped back in a rather cold way I didn’t like. ‘That prick has done sweet f**k all for me my whole life; you of all people know that. Everything I’ve ever wanted I’ve had to work for myself simply because my parents can’t get past their bullshit views on sexuality, even as a child I was ridiculed for something I wasn’t even fully sure about yet. What kind of sick c**t does that? If anything comes back on me in this business - which it can’t - it’s going to fall right back on that mother f****r and not me.’

David Snow was probably my least favourite person in Raumu, easily. That didn’t change the fact that this was still a very serious and rather extreme way to show someone close to you that they’d hurt you, even if deep down you knew they deserved it. Zeb had proved he was capable at excelling in what he set his mind to do, but I desperately hoped that his ambition and drive wasn’t partly fuelled by the resentment he has to his own family - that was something that wasn’t going to disappear with the signing of a document.

‘Please assure me that you are still positive you’re going about this the right way,’ I pleaded with my friend. ‘If Yasmine and the whole council think you’re technically someone else, then this whole idea is built off of a lie. Do you really want to commit to that?’

‘I know I’m lying,’ he admitted, ‘but bigger and more successful businesses and corporations were built off of far worse lies than this Aroha, I know you know that.’

It was true; off the top of my head I could already think of several major companies in the world I’d studied in school and found shocking truths to their smokescreens - in comparison, this didn’t even match up by a longshot.

‘Did you believe me when I was talking about Raumu? Talking about what we deserve and need?’

‘Of course I did.’

‘Then you know my heart is in this - I want this for all the right reasons. And if that means taking matters into my own hands to bypass the bullshit then I will. You know what I’m like once I get my mind into something - it’s hard to stop.’

‘I know, you do it well,’ I grinned, finding no reason to disagree with him. ‘But you have to promise me here and now that going forwards from this point we’re going to tread very carefully, and we’re doing everything by the books too.’

‘Couldn’t have said it better myself,’ he agreed. ‘And now that things are legitimately in motion - Aroha Hinerangi, would you do me the pleasure of being my first and only employee?’

‘Fine,’ I sighed, ‘but you still have to promise me, egg.’

‘I’ll do you one better - pinky-promise.’

He brandished his pinky finger and I wrapped my own around his, shaking our linked hands and sealing the unbreakable promise the traditional way we had done since we were children.

Before we made our way back home, Zeb popped out of the car for a celebratory cigarette which I told him he deserved and which he did not argue with. He leaned against the car window as he puffed away, revelling in his well-earned success. I waited patiently for him, gazing out into the car park around me.

Then I noticed it again.

A black truck identical to the one I’d seen coming out of the cemetery last week with Valerie was parked across two car parks on the other side of the lot behind us. I turned my head and propped it out the window to get a better look at who was behind the driving wheel, though whoever the shadowed figure was had already started the engine and took off before I had a chance to make out who it was. A strange chill went down my spine and arms, unsettling me. Twice in two weeks? Surely that was a coincidence…

‘Who was that?’ Zeb asked from outside, apparently having noticed the strange exchange as well.

‘I don’t know,’ I responded eerily. ‘But I saw one last week too - It sort of felt like… no, never mind.’

‘Like what?’

‘Like, I don’t know, someone was following me.’

Zeb frowned at me as he hopped back in the car.

‘I don’t like that,’ he said, visibly creeped out by the idea of it. ‘I don’t like that at all.’

‘But that seems a little extreme, right? It’s probably a coincidence.’

‘Hopefully,’ he said, watching the car turn into a small black speck in the distance. ‘If you see them again, write down their number plate. I know someone who can find out some info for you if you need it.’

‘What are you now?’ I laughed. ‘Some kind of secret hacker?’

‘As if,’ he scoffed, ‘I’m too good looking for that hermit lifestyle. Besides, I’ve got far more important things to worry about now - I have a club to build.’

 

 

 



© 2019 aubreydiamond


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


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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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