You can't decide whether money changes things or not; it does. You can decide, however, whether it changes things for better or worse.


44. Forty Four

I'm on the phone with Alex the night before Jem's birthday party at Johanna's and I ask him whether he's looking forward to it. He hesitates for a long time and then sighs. 

"Kay, I don't think I'm gonna make it." he says.

"What?" I ask. "Why?" 

"There's a party going on at my friend's house tomorrow, all of my friends are going to be there." he explains. "I can't say I'm not going because they'll ask for an explanation and I'll have to tell them."

I always forget that we're a secret to his friends, that his friends don't know anything about us. I understand why, it'd just complicate things out of control if they knew, but I always forget that it must be hard for Alex to keep it a secret all the time because it's not exactly like I'm putting any effort in.

"Okay." I say. "I'll miss you."

He laughs. "You'll still see me tomorrow, just not at the party."

"Yeah but I'll miss you at the party." I say. "Who is gonna stick up for me when Jem's being a dick?" 


"Alice will die if she has to talk to him."

He laughs again. "Night Kay."

"Night." I say. "Love-"

He hangs up the phone before I can say the whole sentence but I know he's just tired and didn't mean to. I fall straight asleep after that and from the moment I wake up the next day, everything seems like chaos. I get dressed so fast and rush over to Johanna's because I'm late helping her get the house ready. Alice and Carrie are out keeping Jem occupied so he'll be surprised by the house and Alex isn't awake so it's just Johanna and I. Then the cake doesn't arrive so Johnna has to go out and look for it and I'm left in the house for two hours by myself, trying to put up lights and get drinks out and cook all of the food. By the time Johanna returns, everything's done. 

"Where the hell were you?" I demand. 

"I couldn't find the cake!" she says defensively. "We're just going to have to make one."

"But we're meant to go shopping to find something to wear!" I remind her. 

"Yeah well, I'll go and do that and you can make the cake."

"Oh hell no." I shove my apron at her. "You can make the cake. I'm going shopping." 

I rush out of the house before she can object and catch the bus into town. I end up picking out a powder pink lace crop top with a matching high waisted skirt for myself and a red bodycon dress with matching shoes for Johanna, the same sort of thing as we always wear. She loves what I've picked with her and we spend the rest of the time before the party listening to bands we used to listen to in seventh grade while we get ready.

People start arriving at seven and Alice, Carrie and Jem are amongst those. Jem knew the party was happening but he didn't know how much effort we were going to put into it and he's so happy with it. By eight, the house is completely packed, including people in the garden and on the driveway. It's as packed as a party at Alex's house and I kind of wish he was here to see it all. I think he'd be pretty impressed.

Jem comes up to me at around ten o'clock for the first time since he got to the party. He starts dancing with me out of nowhere and I start laughing. 

"How drunk are you?" I shout over the music as he twirls me under his arm. 

He stops me spinning and looks at me, one corner of his mouth quirked upwards. "I don't drink."

I smile. "Me neither, really."

"Then I proclaim us the two only sober people at this party!" he exclaims, twirling me around again. "Well, us and Johanna. She's too busy making sure people don't throw up on her walls."

"What an achievement!" 

He chuckles. "You look nice by the way. That outfit kind of makes you look like a little fairy."

"Well, thanks." I smile at him. 

"But I can't help but think that Alex should be here dancing with you and telling you you look nice." Jem shrugs as if it's just a suggestion, so I won't get mad. 

"He's at a friend's party." I explain.

Jem looks at me for a moment and I can't quite figure out that look. It's like he's seeing something that I'm not, like he's trying to convince me of something. And then the look goes and he just shrugs again. 

"Whatever." he says, smiling again. "By the way, I'm not giving Johanna any credit for this party. I know it was all you."

I laugh. "No, Johanna did a lot of it."

Jem raises an eyebrow. "Oh really?"

"Really!" I insist. "I just maybe did a lot more."

He chuckles, twirling me one last time and then letting go of me. "Be free, little fairy."

"Why thank you." I give a little courtesy and just like that he disappears into the crowd and so do I.

A little while later, I'm in the living room gossiping with some girls who I used to go to camp with when we were younger when Carrie comes over to me. 

"Alex's car is in the driveway." she says into my ear, not wanting anybody else to overhear. 

My heart thuds a little the way it does when I'm really happy. I kind of knew he'd come. I thank Carrie and she goes off to some friends of hers who are in her business class and I make my way through the crowd to try and find Alex. I come across Jem first who is talking with one of his friends and I ask them if he's seen Alex. 

"Oh I saw him go upstairs." Jem's friend says. 

"Thank you!" I say and start walking away. I figure Jem's going to stay there with his friend but they just talk for a moment longer and then Jem starts rushing after me. 

"Kaya!" he calls. "Let's just wait down here, he'll be down soon."

I frown. "What? Why?"

"It's just too much hassle to get through everybody on the stairs and stuff." he shrugs. "Let's just wait for him."

"Nobody said you had to come." I say, frowning but laughing at his weird behaviour. "I'll be back in a minute."

And then I carry on making my way upstairs and Jem gets caught in the crowd, unable to follow me. I can't see Alex anywhere upstairs so I go into Johanna's room to see if she's in there to ask. She is in there. And so is Alex. And they are kissing. And then my heart falls to the floor and I have no idea what to do or think. For a split second, I am in a place I have never been before. I am in a place where the noise around me is just a buzz and where my vision is blurred and where I feel so weightless I could float away but there's a heavy feeling in my stomach keeping me down. That place is a place where I don't have to deal with anything or think about anything, but I only stay there for a moment and then I am pulled back into reality where both of them are looking at me shocked, like I am an intruder. 

I try to shout at them but I can't. I just manage to whisper "What?" and stare at them both. I'm staring at them, hoping that if I stare long enough, it won't be in front of me. I'll have just imagined it and it will have just been a stupid mistake. But they stay next to each other and the longer I stare, the more it hurts. The more betrayed I feel. 

"Kaya." is all Johanna says. 

And then for some reason, my daze is completely gone and I'm just angry now. Still quiet, still not being able to shout, but I'm angry. I start to shake. 

"Don't stand there and act like you don't know what to say." I say, a poisonous tone in my voice that I've never heard before. "You have a million things you need to explain, so start."

"Kaya." Alex frowns. "You can't be-"

"Don't. Don't you dare try and tell me I can't be angry. One of you needs to start talking, right now." I say, my voice shaking.

Nobody says anything for a moment so I carry on. 

"What has been happening?" I demand. "Was this a one time thing or has it been going on for a while now?" 

They both pause and look at each other. I close my eyes, not wanting to look at them. It has never hurt me so much to look at anybody. I can't look at them look at each other like they're a team, like they have a connection that I never had with either of them. 

"It was just this time." Alex says. 

"Please just save me the lies!" I shout, shocked to realise that I do not believe him at all. All of a sudden, everything adds up, everything that I didn't realise was out of line adds up. Both of them going off together to look at the cars all the time, both of them leaving hang outs at about the same time, Johanna going missing for two hours today while Alex wasn't able to help us out.

I didn't realise it didn't make sense in the first place, but now it all definitely makes sense. I just wish it didn't. I wish I didn't know. I think to ten minutes ago when Johanna was still my best friend and I was still completely in love with Alex and now I'm crying and I hate that. I hate that they're stood in front of me like this team, like it's those two against everything else, while I stand in front of them crying like I'm crazy.

"I cannot fucking believe you!" I scream. "You are supposed to be the person I can trust the most Johanna, you are supposed to be my best friend. Why the hell would you do something like this?"

"I really like him!" she yells back.

"And you know that I love him!" I exclaim, my voice cracking and making me sound like the weak one again. "Do you know how cruel of you that was? I would never dream of doing anything like that to you!"

At this point, Alice and Jem have come into the room but I'm too angry to acknowledge them properly.

"And you!" I turn to Alex. "You are a cruel son of a bitch, you know that? I trusted you! I really really loved you! Why the hell would you do something like this to me? Was I not enough? Did you just get a bit bored, did you want to try something new?"

"Oh shut the fuck up Kaya-"

"Don't you dare start yelling at her." Jem says in a low, angry voice to Alex. "You have no right."

"Oh and here's Jem to the fucking rescue!" Alex yells and then looks at me. "Fine! Whatever! You are welcome to each other, but Kaya you should know that your little prince charming here knew exactly what was going on the entire time."

I turn and look at Jem, shocked. I go to say something but I have no idea what to say. I am tired of standing here like an idiot while I find out everybody around me has betrayed me. I just push past him and rush out of the room. My plan was to go to the bus stop and go straight home because I don't want to talk to anybody right now but everything hits me again as soon as I get to the landing and I just sit down against the wall and cry. I don't know how to handle this. 

I feel like my mind is absorbing everything and any minute now, it's going to be too much. With every new thing it absorbs, it feels like too much but people keep throwing things at it anyway. Johanna and Alex kissing. Them looking at each other like they're in a world alone. Johanna looking like Alex is more important to her than I am. Alex shouting at me. Jem knowing all along. And now it's everything else. People laughing, having fun. Drinks spilling. Flashing lights. Loud music. And then I hear Alice yelling which is so unlike her that it pulls me out of this new daze a little. 

"You are a cruel, manipulative, lying, cheating, evil bastard!" she yells. "And you're no better, Johanna. Or you Jem. Well fucking done, all three of you! You can both have each other and Jem, you can just go fuck yourself." 

I'm still kind of confused and dazed and it's so surreal to see the ever calm and serene Alice fight her way through the crowd to me and help me up. Carrie has already gone home so Alice drives the two of us to Carrie's house. Those two are so great and kind. They make me a cup of tea and get me something to eat and let me have the bed to myself while they sleep on a make shift bed on the floor and I just cry for the entire night, half because I'm so sad but half because it's so nice for them to be so nice. They both fall asleep but I know I won't sleep. I end up crawling into their make shift bed on the floor for the night instead of staying in Carrie's bed. I can't help but hate the fact that it takes something so terrible for me to really appreciate the people around me.

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