Chapter 3


Pulling the razor away from my chin, I stared at the small downy hairs stuck between the blades. I sighed. Seventeen years old and I still lacked the ability to grow anything more than a dozen whiskers on my face. What I wanted was a beard. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I wanted to walk around with a rug hanging from my face, but something, anything was better than the mess I had.

Rinsing off the end of the razor beneath the flowing faucet, I raised my chin towards the mirror to inspect my progress. Hovering the razor beside my face, my eyes searched for any runaway follicles. I found nothing. In less than three swipes my face was well and truly smooth. I sighed again. With a real beard you could afford to let it stubble a little without getting any heat, but you just couldn't do it with bum fluff. Instead of projecting the image of a man, you look like a twelve year old on the cusp of puberty. It wasn't an appearance I was eager to adopt.

Splashing my face with warm water, I washed away the foamy blue residue from my chin and wiped myself dry on a towel. Straightening up, I gave myself a final check in the mirror and scrutinised my smooth chin.

Seventeen and no beard. What a joke.


After a twenty-minute walk from home, I arrived at the address Tess gave me. I'd never seen her house before, let alone be invited inside, so I was quite intrigued to see where she lived. Her home was located on the end of a row of terraced houses, granting her family some extra space on the side, which they were putting to use by building an extension. Despite the scaffolding present on the new, two-storey structure, it appeared to be almost complete, with the windows, roof and brickwork displaying a level of finish consistent with the rest of the house.

Approaching the front porch, which also showed signs of being recently built, I reached out and pressed against the doorbell. An icy gust whipped up around me as I stood waiting on the doorstep, forcing me to pull my coat closer against my body. Raising my head, I peered up at the light-grey clouds in the sky, wondering if snow was on the forecast for the week ahead.

The front door to the house opened and Tess appeared in the doorway with a smile. "Hi."

"Hey, Tess."

Wrapping her arms around her body to shield herself from the cold, she moved aside. "Come in, it's freezing out there."

Smiling back, I stepped inside of the house, grateful to be out of the cold. Tess closed the door behind us as I slipped my school bag off my shoulders, and then shed my coat and shoes.

"I can take that." Tess gestured to my coat.

"Thanks." Handing it over to her, I watched as she stood up on her toes and hung it over one of the hooks beside the door.

My eyes quickly scanned her attire. Tess always looked great in everything she wore, accented by her elegant figure and slightly darker complexion. While I'd never met her parents, there was no doubt that she had a mixed background, something I was hoping to confirm while being there.

Breaking the contact before she turned around, I faced in towards the house and glanced about the open plan layout. On my left was the new extension, revealing a dining room at the front and a kitchen towards the rear. To my right was a spacious lounge with three large sofas and a flat screen TV. A wall at the back of the lounge blocked off a separate room, for what I assumed to be a small office or study.

"You have a really nice home."

"Thank you." Walking past, she moved to stand ahead of me. "It looked like a battlefield a few months ago."

I grinned. "Yeah, I could see the work outside. It looks almost finished."

"It nearly is." She flicked her head towards the back of the house before heading in that direction. Picking my bag up from the floor, I followed her deeper into her home. Passing the lounge, we took a left into the new extension and emerged into the kitchen, which was much larger than I anticipated.

"You're probably used to bigger ones."

I gave her a blank stare for a moment and then realised that she was referring to the bakeries. "Oh, yeah. But they're mostly just filled with large ovens." I focused on the dark marble-esque worktops and then up to the steel-enclosed lights. "This is better. More homely."

"Yeah, I like it."

I dropped my eyes back to Tess. "So do you get a new room too?"

"Kinda, I'm gonna get my brother's old room," she began, pointing to the ceiling. "He gets the new one above here."

"I didn't know you have a brother."

"Yeah, just the one. He's at uni."

As our city was home to a relatively large university that specialised in many fields of study, I wondered if he attended it. "Our one?"

"Yep." She grinned. "He never had to move out."

Applying to the local university was something that I'd thought about too. While they did teach the classes that I'd want to take once I finished my A-Levels, it really came down to whether I wanted to stay living at home or move out.

"You want something to drink?" Moving over to a large, American-style fridge, she pulled open one of the doors. "We have Coke, Fanta, Dr Pepper..."

"Coke would be fine, please."

Reaching in, she retrieved two cans of Coke and one Fanta. I raised an eyebrow at her, wondering if she assumed I was going to drink through two of them.

"Sean's already here." Handing me one of the cans, she continued, "He wanted a Coke."

An uneasy rush of nerves caused my stomach to squeeze when hearing Sean's name. I wasn't quite sure why that was as I certainly had nothing to fear, yet the odd sensation continued to plague me for several seconds before dissipating.

Following her out of the kitchen, we returned to the hall and then headed upstairs towards her bedroom. While the downstairs of the house was mostly devoid of any construction, the same couldn't be said for the upstairs, which showed the tell-tale signs of DIY, including the lack of a proper floor, leaving the bare wooden floorboards for all to see.

"Sorry about this," Tess remarked, side-stepping a can of paint and a few rolls of wallpaper that rested on the floor. "We're laying the carpet this weekend."

Seeing things in such a state of disarray reminded me of my own home two years earlier, when we went through a similar stage of renovation. "Don't worry about it."

Taking a right at the top of the stairs, I followed her across the hall and then stepped inside of her bedroom. At first glance it appeared to be relatively empty, though that was quickly explained by the two large cardboard boxes in the corner of her room. Given some of the items viewable inside, she was using them as temporary storage in preparation of moving to her brother's old room.

Next to the boxes, and directly opposite me, was a window that looked down into the garden. A small wooden desk supporting her laptop sat in front, giving her a picturesque view of the outside world whenever she used it. On the far side of the room was her wardrobe, aligned next to a chest of drawers. Finally, in the corner hidden behind the open door, was a single bed.

Sitting cross-legged on top of the white coloured quilt was Sean, who looked up from his phone as we entered and gave me a smile. "Hey, West, how's it going?"

I grinned back. "All good, you?"

"Not bad."

I nodded my head and continued to stare at him. Sean looked good, really good. Dressed almost entirely in dark colours, his striped, long-sleeved t-shirt and black pair of jeans emphasised his bright hair and captured his striking appearance. Although he'd always been something nice to look at, just seeing him in an informal setting outside of school really changed the whole dynamic.

Forcing my eyes away from him, I gestured towards the bedroom door, indicating whether Tess wanted me to close it behind me. "Do you want me to...?"

"No need," Tess replied, taking a seat at her desk. "We're the only one's here."

Moving away from the door, I hovered in the middle of the room as I decided where to sit, before walking over towards the bed. Several notepads and books were laid out in a semicircle around Sean, prompting him to move them to one side to clear a spot for me. Removing my bag from around my shoulders, I lowered it to the floor, pulled out my own books and then sat down on the bed next to him.

"So, where should we start?" Tess began, swivelling around on her chair. "You both know what theme we're working on from the book, right?"

Sean nodded. "Yep, romance."

"What?" I grinned. "We're not doing romance."

"I know." He laughed. "But it would be interesting."

Romance? Interesting? You're doing Ryan's work for me. I shook my head as I skimmed through one of my books. "We were given the theme of... identity."

"That's right. Any ideas?" Tess asked.

"Your house, you're the boss," I replied.

She giggled. "That doesn't mean I know everything."

I turned to Sean, who shrugged his shoulders at me. "I dunno, you two are the smartest here."

I stared at him, surprised at his remark. While it was true that Tess and I were probably at the top of the class, Sean was by no means an idiot.

"Don't give us that!" She smiled. "Before West arrived, you told me you had an idea."

"I said I might have an idea," he replied, before picking up his notebook and flicking to a page he'd bookmarked. Turning it around, he faced it towards Tess and me. "So, what d'you think?"


I almost couldn't believe it when Tess announced that we'd been working for over two hours straight. Thanks to Sean's idea, we were able to speed through the morning and make a big dent in the project. Instead of going through the book searching for references to identity, Sean suggested that we focus on each of the main characters. It really was a good idea and a huge timesaver.

After taking a brief respite downstairs in the kitchen to make some lunch, we returned back to her bedroom to eat. We were never really that close to each other in school so I think we were all a little surprised by how well we worked together as a group. Our different personalities worked in sync, without any clashes or conflicts. In the end it really made for quite an enjoyable time in what could've easily been an exceedingly boring situation.

Swallowing the last of his sandwich, Sean leaned forwards towards me. "Is there a story about your name?"

I raised an eyebrow. "My name?"

"Yeah, well, I know that West is your surname, but why do you use it as a first name too? James isn't bad."

I winced. James. I hate the name James. It's the sort of name that implies indifference and mediocrity; the name you give to the average everyday guy, not someone destined for success. James West: the name my parents chose to call me, only I chose to go by West instead. It's different, unique, yet still my name.

"Don't you like it?" he pressed.

"Not really. I prefer West," I answered. "And my Dad was always called Westie, so it fits."

"Maybe you should steal that," Tess suggested excitedly. "It sounds cute."

"How about Westie Junior?" Sean grinned.

I rolled my eyes at them. "Sure, why not?"

Glancing at her computer for a brief moment, Tess then turned back to me. "Okay, we have one character left for the first half of the book. What do we think of Mr Chase?"

My eyes locked on Sean. I'd been thinking of a way to take things further, to throw something out there and see how he reacted. Tess just gave me the chance.

Clearing my throat, I replied, "I think he was gay."

The corners of Sean's lips twitched briefly before laughing. "He was gay?"

"Yeah." I shrugged, my mind hanging on his almost imperceptible hesitation. Just like you.

"And what would be wrong with that?" Tess's tone, while intended to be humorous, came out as more of a warning.

"Nothing," I replied, flipping the open book around to face her. "But he does call another man 'handsome'. I think that counts for something."

She studied the page and then shook her head. "But is he talking about the man's looks or his wealth?"

"I dunno, maybe both." I glanced over at Sean. "What do you think?"

"I think we should point it out," he replied, his body still twitching from giggles. "Even if it's wrong."

Tess feigned a sigh of defeat. "Okay, but you two are doing the talking if Roberts asks us to explain it."

I shared a look with Sean. "Deal."

Continuing with the project after we'd finished eating, we were able to go a little further before we started to get restless and talk about different things. None of us really seemed to mind, especially after all the work we'd already achieved. I welcomed the casual tone, giving me the chance to better see how the two of them were outside of school.

I really enjoyed being around Sean. While he still retained his sense of humour, confidence and of course intelligence, he appeared to be more laid back and nonchalant. I'd always considered him as being too much for me, with our strong personalities pushing us apart, but after having spent the better part of a day with him, I could see that a friendship between us wouldn't be as rocky as I originally thought.

During our discussions, it wasn't easy trying to separate Ryan from me, especially when we'd talk about topics I wasn't supposed to know about, but thankfully I was able to get through it without screwing anything up.

Much to my surprise, Sean also came across quite different in person to how he was online. In retrospect, it probably shouldn't have shocked me as much, as the whole reason for me befriending him through Ryan in the first place was because I thought he was hiding things in real life. Online he was definitely much more forward and direct, and while most people shared that element, his was noticeably more pronounced.

As far as his sexuality was concerned, I was still no closer to figuring it out. Some things sent alarm bells ringing inside my head, while others further cemented the view that he was straight. Ryan was ahead of the game with that one, closer than I was to learning the truth.

Tess, on the other hand, also showed a similar streak of humour, something I hadn't noticed in school. During the hours I spent at her house, I questioned myself several times on why we'd never been friends before as we got along great. She was a very likeable person with a kind nature. She also had a clear respect for her family, particularly her older brother, who she seemed to be quite close with. It reminded me of the relationship I had with my own sister, and was something that I could relate to.

Being around Tess also led me to think about Harry. He'd been enamoured with her for at least a couple of months, despite him knowing very little about her. I knew for a fact that had he been there with us that afternoon, he'd have been all over her before the evening arrived, completely infatuated. I had to think of a way to get them to meet. Not only for Harry's sake, but for Tess's too. From what I could see of her, I was certain she'd like him, if only on a friendship level.

The light shining through Tess's window soon started to wane, signalling that it was time for Sean and me to leave. As we were all going to be busy over the next week, with me going to the wedding and Tess having her house finished, we agreed that we'd try to meet up sometime just before Christmas instead.

Stepping out of the house, I quickly zipped up my coat and stuffed my bare hands into my pockets. "It's so bloody cold!"

"Tell me about it," Sean agreed, pulling a beanie hat over his head and making himself look ridiculously cute in the process.

Tearing my eyes away from the blond strands of hair that peeked out from underneath his grey hat, I focused back on the pavement at my feet. "We got a lot done today."

"Yeah." His warm breath misted up in the cold air. "I'm glad we did it."

We continued along the street, my mind starting to wonder if he lived anywhere near me from the route we were taking, before he spoke again, "Hey, uh, can I have your number?" Withdrawing his phone from his pocket, he looked over at me. "Like, for the project."

I stared at him for a few seconds, surprised at his request. Aware of the growing silence between us, I nodded my head. "Uh, sure."

Once we'd finished trading numbers, Sean looked up at the street and then came to a stop. "I'm heading this way."

My eyes scanned the road sign he gestured towards, mentally noting its name. "Okay."

Removing a hand from his pocket, he extended it out towards me. "Guess I'll see you in class on Monday."

Reaching out, I clasped his hand. The touch of his warm and soft skin against mine was an odd sensation, something that went beyond a handshake. It felt intimate.

Letting go of his hand, I glanced at his grinning face, forcing me to return a smile of my own. "Yeah, see you on Monday."

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Written by Kai Taylor
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Copyright © 2013-2014 Kai Taylor