'Did you want to come round mine tonight?' Elijah asked me after school. 'You can meet my mum.'
'Oh God,' I laughed. 'Is she gonna be nice to me?'
'Sure, she'll love you.'
'I don't see why not,' I grinned. 'Have you seen Chrissy today?'
'Yeah, I saw her briefly in the hallway talking to Rhea earlier. Rhea looked pretty upset but Chrissy wasn't having any of it.' He pursed his lips slightly. 'I hope this isn't gonna cause awkwardness.'
'It won't,' I squeezed his hand. 'We'll all be fine.'
The walk to Elijah's house was short and as I found myself wandering onto his road, I did a double take. This was the estate that I walked past every day before school, admiring the huge houses and the vast stretches of immaculately decorated gardens. I had always pretended I lived in one of these houses, that my family were incredibly rich and we all lived together happily.
But now Elijah led the way through a set of heavy iron gates, up a patio driveway and straight through a heavy wooden door. I was instantly hit with the aroma of strawberries and cookie dough.
'Something smells good,' I noted.
'My mum likes to bake,' Elijah pulled a face, much to my amusement.
He guided me through a long hallway decorated with a cream carpet and beige coloured walls. Photographs hung in a neat line, various school pictures, some family shots and an old black and white one of a stern looking woman with steely eyes and a thin line for a mouth.
A woman who looked a lot like Elijah was wearing an apron and had a mixing bowl tucked in one hand and a wooden spoon held in the other. Her face was dusted with powder and the worktop was littered with empty packets and plastic wrapping. She turned to face us and broke out into a friendly smile. She had very dark hair that was now pulled away from her face in a loose ponytail and laughter lines etched around warm blue eyes.
'Hello dear,' she spoke. 'You must be Isobel.'
'Hello,' I grinned, all feelings of apprehension and dread soon melting away.
'You've made my son quite smitten, he's told me a lot about you.'
'Mum, please,' Elijah muttered beside me. I giggled. 'Well anyway, we'll be upstairs.'
'Okay dear. It was nice meeting you Isobel.'
After a little wave, I followed Elijah back down the hallway and up the stairs.
'She seems lovely,' I said fondly.
'Yeah,' he smiled. 'She is great. She's always been there for me, especially after...well, after my father left us.'
'Oh,' I frowned. 'I'm sorry to hear that. Do you still...speak to him?'
'Nah,' he shook his head quickly. 'Waste of space anyway.'
I decided not to pry any further. I could tell he didn't want to speak about it and it saddened me greatly to know that someone would just pack up their things and leave Elijah without so much a glance behind them.
Elijah pushed open a door to reveal his room. It was how I had imagined it. The carpets were a shade darker and the walls were painted a light blue. A big double bed sat in the corner of the room, directly beneath a large window that overlooked the front garden. A large bookcase took up the majority of one of the walls, stuffed with books I had never even heard of before.
'You have a really nice room,' I began, but was shortly interrupted by my phone ringing. 'Sorry, I'll just be a second.'
'That's okay,' Elijah smiled easily.
'Hey Isobel.' It was Tom. 'Listen, it's Rhea's birthday today and I feel kinda bad. I think we should all do something, like a surprise party for her.'
'Oh,' I said, completely surprised. 'I didn't know it was her birthday. Um.. I'm with Elijah at the minute, I'll see what he thinks about it.'
'Hey Elijah,' I covered the mouthpiece of my phone. 'Tom's saying it's Rhea's birthday today and he wants to do a surprise party for her. I don't think anyone realized it was today and he's feeling pretty bad. Is that alright?'
'Of course it's fine! Did he want us to meet him somewhere or...'
'Hang on. Hey Tom, did you want us to meet you?'
'Yeah, Chrissy said she'll swing by Elijah's house to pick you guys up and then we'll head over to Rhea's. We've picked up a few things, a birthday cake, a few bits of food and some presents. I was thinking we could have a mini party type thing.'
'That sounds great. Do you know where Elijah lives?'
'Nope. You'd need to give us the address.'
* * * *
Fifteen minutes later and we were all stood on Rhea's doorstep. We had a bag full of food, including the birthday cake, some shots and bottles of alcohol - Chrissy's idea - and a few presents that Tom and Chrissy had picked up.
'Do you think she'll want this?' I whispered.
'Why are you whispering?' Chrissy arched an eyebrow. 'She'll love this. Well, she'd better do anyway.'
It was obvious Chrissy was still bitter about the whole situation with Tom and Rhea, but she had every right to be. I couldn't imagine how I'd feel if Elijah kissed someone else..
'Guys, we should hide round the corner, so Rhea thinks it's just Isobel,' Tom suddenly piped up. 'Then we can surprise her.'
'That's a good idea,' I chipped in. 'Go away.'
I watched them all head round the corner before tapping on the door. It swung open seconds later to show Rhea looking miserable. She tried to smile, for my benefit, but I could see beneath it.
'Isobel?' she was surprised.
'Hey Rhea. Tom said it's your birthday?'
'Yeah, but..what are you doing here?'
'Oh come on, you can't expect us to not do anything for your birthday.'
Right on cue, Tom, Elijah and Chrissy rounded the corner with a chorus of Happy Birthday. Cheesiest thing I had ever seen in my life, but it certainly seemed to please Rhea.
'Wow,' she gasped, laughing slightly. 'Chrissy? You turned up. Does that mean that we're okay?'
'We're good,' she nodded, a smile playing on her lips. 'We allowed in then or are we just gonna stand here all night?'
'Yeah, come in,' Rhea stepped to the side and we all filed in.
'We brought some DVDs, some alcohol and a birthday cake. We didn't know what you'd like so um, take your pick I guess,' Elijah chuckled.