Chapter 2


A welcome gust of warmth greeted us as we entered the shop, carrying the scent of freshly baked bread into the air. Dodging the bustle of the morning customers and avoiding the growing queue, Harry and I made a beeline towards the end of the vast counter at the rear of the shop. Arriving at a vacant space, I could instantly feel the heat emanate through the transparent display. My eyes dropped to survey the food available. Pasties, sausage rolls, and baguettes aligned the shelves, along with a various assortment of cream-filled doughnuts, iced cakes, and other sweet snacks. They all looked equally as tasty, any of them capable of serving as an early morning treat, only my mind was focused on other things beside food.

It had been three days since I received my first reply from Sean and everything appeared to be going smoothly. By now a modest succession of mails had gone back and forth between us. For all the work I'd put into creating him, I was surprised how difficult Ryan's first few mails had been to write as I tried to assume a voice that wasn't entirely my own, though I gradually began to feel more at ease with each new reply.

Our initial contact revolved around his music, specifically some of the videos that he'd uploaded, hoping that he'd gauge Ryan as someone genuinely interested in his work. After several emails' worth of dialogue, I slowly began to steer our conversation to include other, more general topics. Hesitant to bring up anything to rouse suspicion, I began to share parts of Ryan's fictional life, things that might help Sean open up. Progress was slow, but at least it was heading in the right direction.

A flurry of movement behind the counter captured my attention as Mary, one of the supervisors, nodded in our direction to acknowledge that she's seen us. I nodded back, my eyes studying her white uniform, specifically the brown logo embroidered over the left chest pocket. Westie's Bakers. My dad's bakery chain.

He opened his first store almost thirteen years earlier, just after I began to attend school full-time. It was a long and tiring road, with late nights and few days off, but with four successful stores and a fifth under construction, he'd achieved a lot.

While there were managers and administrative staff to oversee each branch, every day Dad would travel to a different store and work a full shift. As well as always wanting to be in control, he was also a very hands on person, two facets he'd imparted down to me.

Finished with her customer, Mary stepped away from the cash register, retrieved two plastic bags from one of the work surfaces behind her, and then walked over towards us. "Morning, boys," the older woman greeted, offering us a wide smile as she handed us each a bag containing our lunch, freshly prepared by someone in the store's rear kitchen.

I grinned. "Morning, Mary. Thanks."

"You're welcome. Your Dad wanted me to remind you about going to collect your suit this afternoon."

I gave her a bewildered look for a moment before recalling a conversation I'd had with him a few days earlier, one I wished I hadn't remembered. "Oh, yeah."

"He thought you'd forget." She winked, and then glanced over at the queue. "I best get back. Have a good day, boys."

"You too," Harry called out, before Mary spun around and addressed the next customer.

Armed with our lunch, we stepped away from the counter and made our way towards the front of the store. Frozen, wintery air rushed up to meet my face as we exited through the automatic doors, forcing my eyes to squint from the unwelcome sensation. After a few seconds, once my skin had adapted to the colder environment, I briefly opened the plastic bag and peeked down at the baguette-shaped bundle neatly wrapped in greaseproof paper. Feeling my stomach warm at the sight, I rolled up the plastic bag around the baguette and then secured it inside my messenger bag. Once done, I slipped my hands into the pockets of my coat for warmth and then watched as Harry quickly stowed away his food.

Harry's Mum also worked for the business and had done so for over ten years. It was my friendship with Harry that led to her securing the job, so while I'd made a best friend, Dad had also discovered a competent accountant.

"You ready?" Harry pushed the strap of his bag further up his shoulder.

"Yep, let's go."

Turning away from the bakery, we continued past the small parade of shops and began our journey to school.


Walking through the corridors of the school building as we headed to our classroom, it became increasingly clear that the end of term was rapidly approaching. The students, particularly the younger kids, were much louder than usual, unable to contain their excitement of the impending Christmas holidays. The teachers just shrugged it off and went with the flow, knowing it was better to wait it out than try to police them.

Entering our classroom, Harry and I wandered over to our seats and began to remove our coats. Several of the other students were already there, including Tess, who sat two tables away from us and was chatting to a few of her friends. I noticed Harry sneak a few glances in her direction, causing me to smile, but I made no comment. Instead I decided to talk to him about it later sometime, outside of school, and when we were alone.

Sitting down at the desk, I flipped open my bag and pulled out the books I'd need. History. My favourite of all the subjects I studied. Some people yawn at the thought of learning about the past and view it as nothing more than wasting time, but I'd always seen it as more than that. The rise and fall of empires, the achievements and missteps of world leaders, while all fascinating to me, only represents a small part of a greater whole. History shows where we've been, where we're going, and what we want to become. No other subject captures more of the human spirit than history, except perhaps English, but that's why I studied both.

Our teacher soon arrived and we began to continue our work from where we left off the week before. Similar to the state of the rest of the school, the lesson took on a much more relaxed pace than usual, something that everyone seemed to prefer, myself included. While I took pride in being amongst the top of the class, I didn't see the harm in taking things slower every so often, especially when we were already ahead with the work.

"Hey, West," came Tess's voice from behind me.

Raising my head, I grinned at her. "Hey, what's up?"

"You know, the usual." She paused. "You free for a second?"

"Sure." I straightened up and glanced over at the door. Harry had left the room about five-minutes earlier to get something printed out. I'm sure he would've rather hung around if he knew Tess was going to be saying hello.

Pulling out the seat opposite me, she plopped herself down and shuffled forwards on the carpeted floor. "It's about the English project. Do you have any classes tomorrow?"

I shook my head. "No, I'm free on Fridays."

"Okay, well, do you want to come over my house to work on it tomorrow? I spoke to Sean and he's free too."

Sean. While I'd been actively communicating with him through Ryan, I hadn't actually seen him in person since the English class earlier that week. Going over to her house to work on the project also seemed like a good way to check up on him. I gave a nod. "Yeah, sounds good."

"Ok. Do you know where I live?"

"No." Slipping my hand into my pocket, I retrieved my phone and checked the screen, noting that I had an unread email, possibly from Sean. Ignoring the message and unlocking the display, I added Tess as a new contact, including her home address, phone number and email. Confirming that they were correct, I then began to relay my addresses to her as she took them down on her phone.

"Hi, Tess."

Glancing up towards the source of the cheerful voice, I watched as Harry approached, carrying his freshly printed sheets.

Tess grinned up at him. "Hey, Harry, how you doing?"

"I'm good." He took his seat and shifted forwards, unable to decide whether to focus on her or down to the sheets in his hands. "How are you?"

"I'm ok, just trading numbers with West," she began and then paused, realising what she was implying. "Uh, for our English project."

"Oh." Harry raised an eyebrow and shot me the kind of look a mother would give to a young child who'd made a mess on the floor the instant her back was turned.

"What?" I mouthed to him while Tess's attention was on her phone.

He rolled his eyes, the hints of a smile evident on his lips, and then faced Tess. "So, uh, what are you doing?"

"Huh?" She frowned.

"For the project, I mean."

"Oh." She shared a look with me. "I dunno yet. We're going to meet up tomorrow to talk about it. How about you?"

"I'm with Mitch and Callum," he stated matter of fact, alluding to how infamously lazy they both were.

Tess wrinkled her nose. "Ouch."

"Yeah. I don't think they'll be doing much of the work."

"I'm sure you'll get it done without them," she reassured him warmly, causing him to beam brightly. Sliding her phone back into her pocket, she got to her feet. "Thanks, West. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah, see you."

Turning to Harry, she bid him a brief goodbye. "See you later."

A contented smile spread across his face. "Bye, Tess."

Stepping back from the table, she walked across the room and returned to her desk. I shook my head and resumed my work, leaving Harry alone to enjoy his little afterglow. Several seconds passed before he nudged my arm lightly.

"So, you're going over hers tomorrow?"

"Yeah. She kinda surprised me with it." That was true, I really wasn't expecting her to outright invite me over there, especially seeing as we weren't that close as friends.

He picked up his pen. "Should be good."

It was hard to ignore the tone of disappointment in his voice, so I tried to downplay any excitement about going over there. "I guess."

He underlined a couple of words and made a few notes on the first sheet of paper before facing me. "I just remembered."


"You getting your suit tonight aren't you?" He teased. "Bet you can't wait."

I groaned in response. As I'd told Tess, Friday was normally a good day for me. My schedule at school gave me the day off so I was treated to a three-day weekend. But next Friday, only four days before Christmas, wasn't going to be one that I'd enjoy. I was going to a wedding. My cousin's wedding.

"Yeah, thanks for reminding me."

"But you're getting a suit!"

"Just picking it up." I corrected him. "It's not a big deal."

"I know. But how long were you there last week trying them on?" He smirked.

"Harry!" I warned, thoughts of last week's suit searching ordeal filling my mind. "You trying to make me suicidal?"

"Nooo!" He laughed. "I love you really."

You little tease. Five-minutes around Tess and you're totally smitten, I thought to myself as I flashed him a smile. "I know. I'm irresistible."

"Georgina ready for the wedding too?"

Georgina, my fifteen-year-old sister and only sibling had been looking forward to the trip almost as much as I was, though she was a little more vocal about her reluctance to attend. As siblings go, we usually got on great, probably because we were similar in quite a few ways, but different in just enough to keep us from being at each other's necks. It often worked well for the two of us, especially when we had to go to family events where we could hang out together.

"She's got her dress sorted, but she really doesn't wanna go."

"Sounds like her." He smiled. "Hey, you feel like coming over mine later, once you're done at the suit shop?"

"Ok." I nodded. "Haven't seen Charlie in ages."

Charlie was Harry's labrador, well, his family's labrador. They'd gotten him just over five years ago, shortly after Harry and I started high school. I remembered the first day they brought him home when he was only a puppy. Like us, he was full of energy and always bounding around the house, only he was very little and really cute. In the following weeks, months, and eventually years, he'd grown several times the size but still retained a great, mild natured temperament.

"He misses you."

I laughed. "I'll come over today and see him."

"You'd better."

"I will," I replied. Just as soon as I pick up that damn suit.


Hey Sean,

You support Chelsea? Do they even know how to kick a ball? ;) Nah, they're alright. Arsenal are better though.

"West?" came my Dad's muffled voice through the thick, dark curtain. "How does it fit?"

"Just a second!" Tapping away, I quickly finished writing the email, sent it, and then laid my phone on top of my pile of clothes.

Turning around in the small changing room, I fastened the top two buttons on my jacket and stared at the side profile of myself in the mirror. While it had been quite a laborious process trying on all the suits, I was glad to have finally found one that fit me well in a style that I liked.


Pulling back the curtain, I stepped out of the changing cubicle and spun around, allowing Mum and Dad to cast a scrutinising gaze over the suit.

"Oh, yes! I really like that one!" Mum stood up from the chair and wandered over, her hands cupping the shoulders of the jacket. "It fits you better too."

Dad stared at me through his rimless glasses. "How does it feel?"

"Good." Try as I might, I just couldn't infuse any enthusiasm into my voice. On the other hand, I knew it wasn't Dad's fault, so he did deserve a more substantial response than good. "I like it. It feels much better than the other ones."

"Mmm, yes. Just turn around for us, please," requested Mr Gibbons, the tailor and shop owner.

I spun around, placing my back towards them as I faced the opposite wall. After inspecting the shoulders of the jacket, Gibbons then lowered himself and straightened the bottom of the trousers, checking how they sat on top of my shoes.

"Yes, I'm happy." Gibbons stood up. "So if you're happy too, I'd say we're done."

"We're happy," I answered, before either of my parents could intervene and risk sending us back to square one.

Gibbons laughed at my response. "I know it wasn't the quickest task, but someday you'll be asking other people to do the same thing for you."

No way. I'm making jeans compulsory at my wedding, I said within the silence of my mind, before offering him a smile.

Once I'd gotten changed out of the suit and back into my normal clothes, I hovered to the side with Mum while Dad went and paid. Although he was careful with how he spent his money, Dad wasn't one to be stingy. Knowing first-hand how hard he worked at the bakeries, a part of me always felt guilty whenever he spent a lot of money on me, more so when it was something that I didn't even want.

Avoiding eye contact with the till and humming a tune to myself, I was able to block out any hint of how much the suit had come to. Soon enough, once Dad had finished paying, my suit-searching ordeal had come to an end and we were free to leave.

Thanks to the early sunset, stepping out of the shop and getting into the car was done in pitch black, giving the impression of having wasted yet another day trying on suits. Buckling up in the back seat and relaxing against the cool leather, I felt my phone vibrate softly in my pocket.

Pulling it out, I unlocked it and read the new email I'd received from Sean. My eyes lingered over the last sentence:

BTW, do you have Messenger? :)

I grinned and typed up a quick reply, telling him that I did, along with an address that he could use. After sending the message, it soon dawned on me how quickly things had progressed from a simple email to his desire to participate in a real-time chat with me. Better yet, it felt like I was really starting to get somewhere with Sean on a personal level too. It wouldn't be long before I'd get an answer to my question.

Shutting off the phone's screen, I dropped my head to the side and stared out of the car window, watching as the blur of the orange streetlights and bright car headlights streaked past.

It wouldn't be long at all.

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Written by Kai Taylor
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Copyright © 2013-2014 Kai Taylor