Chapter 7

Attraction

Standing before the mirror of his bathroom, he reached up with a damp hand and gently toyed with his gelled hair, focusing on the fringe.

"It looks fine," I insisted, watching as he attempted to tame a few unruly black strands that hung over his forehead.

Ignoring me, Harry continued to work on the hair. "I don't know how you were able to convince her."

"Who? Tess or Miss Roberts?" I asked.

"Both."

"Roberts was fine with it, though I had to agree we'd do double the work to make up for having an extra person."

Having beaten the rogue wisps of hair, Harry gave a satisfied smile into the mirror and then turned to me. "And Tess?"

"I made a deal with her."

"Oh?"

A grin worked its way onto my lips. "If she let you join our group, I promised I'd take her out on a hot date."

Harry broke out into laughter. "You bastard!"

"What?" I laughed back. "I meant it!"

Shaking his head, he exited the bathroom and entered his bedroom across the hall. Following him inside, I watched as he walked over to his desk and sat down, fiddling with a new packet of contact lenses.

Sitting on the edge of his bed, my conversation with Sean from the night before flashed in my mind. Despite my best attempts at forcing his revelation from my thoughts, it wasn't something I could simply ignore.

I found it rather ironic how gay people would often claim that their sexuality changed nothing about them, yet with Sean it was the only thing I could think about. The fact that he was gay did change things, though it wasn't him who'd changed, but rather my view of him.

A tingling rush squeezed my stomach as I began to wonder what he'd be like at Tess's house. I wasn't expecting him to be any different, but I knew it'd be next to impossible for me to act the same in his proximity. Add to the fact that I wasn't even supposed to know about it, I was a little uneasy over the prospect of seeing him later.

After thinking it through for a few seconds, I knew there was no way around it. So instead of dwelling on the inevitable, I pushed the thought from my mind and focussed back on Harry. "Maybe you should use your brown contacts."

He looked up at me and raised an eyebrow.

"Girls love brown eyes," I stated. "Reminds them of puppies."

"Huskies have blue eyes."

"But you're not a husky."

"I'm not a puppy either!"

I cocked my head. "I thought you said you wanted to look cute."

"I never said..." A light blush formed on his cheeks as he lowered his voice. "Cute. I asked you-"

"I know and I said I'll help." I walked over to his beech coloured wardrobe. "What you planning on wearing?"

After he finished placing the lenses into his eyes, his uncoloured lenses, he blinked a few times to help them sit and then wandered over towards me. Opening the wooden door, he shifted though the hangers before pulling out a long-sleeved shirt and some jeans, both amongst the newest additions to his wardrobe.

Checking out the two items he'd handed to me I began to wonder why he'd even invited me over that morning, as he clearly had no problems with his dress sense. Maybe he saw it as another way for us to bond, or perhaps it was simply a courtesy, as I was the one who'd set things up for him behind the scenes.

I nodded and handed the two hangars back to him. "They look good."

"Thanks." Taking them from my hands, he headed over to his bed and began to strip out of the baggy joggers and loose t-shirt he'd put on after showering that morning, leaving him in just his underwear. After having spent so many years together as best friends, seeing each other in various states of undress was nothing new, though we still reserved some privacy for whenever we'd be completely naked.

Stepping into the jeans, Harry pulled them up his legs and fixed them around his waist, before slipping into the shirt. Reaching up to his neck, he attempted to straighten the collar, but without a mirror to guide him, he couldn't quite get it to sit properly.

Walking over, I swatted his hands out of the way. "Let me do it."

Folding back the soft fabric, I gently began to straighten his collar, allowing it to sit flush around his neck. Once done, I raised my eyes up to his face and whistled. "Damn, Tess is gonna be all over you!"

"You're mad!" He laughed, stepping back and buttoning up his shirt.

My stare lingered on him for several seconds, as I surveyed both his attire and posture. He looked good, really good. Unless Tess happened to be a closeted lesbian, there was no way she'd be able to ignore him looking like that.

"What?" he asked, studying my half-smile.

"Nothing," I replied, dropping my eyes and briefly scanning the screen of my phone. "But we should leave soon if you don't wanna be late."

After Harry finished getting himself dressed, we headed downstairs and pulled on our coats and shoes. Stepping out of the house, we were lucky to find it dry. While it hadn't yet begun to snow, the weather continued to alternate between strong wind and driving rain, all the while being very cold.

Tugging the zip of my coat higher up towards my chin, we emerged out onto the street and began our journey to Tess's house.

*

Sliding my phone back into my pocket, I looked at Harry. "Just told Tess we'll be there in five. She said Sean's already there."

Staring down at the screen of his own phone, he gave a single nod to indicate that he'd heard me.

Returning my gaze to the street ahead, images of Sean flashed in my eyes as I once again thought back to our chat from the night before. While learning the truth about his sexuality was the underlying point, I did find out several other interesting details, the most notable being that he was actually out at home.

It surprised me at first, as I'd always assumed that the primary drive for him remaining closeted was due to his family, namely how he didn't want them to know. By sharing that small fact with me, I found myself back at square one over his reason for hiding his sexuality. Perhaps it was because of his friends at school. Maybe he couldn't see them accepting him if he came out. It was a sad possibility, but a valid one nonetheless.

Giving Harry a sideways glance, I'd often wondered how he'd handle my sexuality. He'd always been a very open minded person, especially whenever gay people were mentioned, so I doubted that he'd have any major issues towards me. On the other hand, there was always the risk of the unknown. Aside from coming out to him directly, any wild guesses on my part would be nothing more than speculation.

Turning onto Tess's street, we began to approach her house. Another rush of nerves momentarily flooded my stomach. Gritting my teeth, I clenched my fists and exhaled deeply, knowing I had to keep a level head if I didn't want to slip up around Sean.

After walking down the front path to her house, we arrived outside the porch. Reaching towards the door, I firmly pressed the doorbell. Harry turned to me as we waited. "Are you sure she's ok with me being here?"

Instead of answering, I simply glared at him.

His concerned expression quickly changed to one of amusement as he flashed me his signature, sideways smile. "Sorry."

"Just relax," I replied, though it felt like I was saying it more for my own benefit than his. "It'll be ok."

Several seconds later, the door opened and Harry and I were greeted by a smiling, middle-aged woman. "Come in, come in," she beckoned. "You two look frozen!"

"Thanks, it's pretty cold out there." Harry grinned as we stepped inside.

Once she'd closed the door behind us, I watched as she wandered over to the bottom of the stairs and called out to Tess. Judging by the similarity of her facial features, and the fact that she'd opened the door, I assumed her to be Tess's mum.

"Would you two like some hot chocolate?" she asked, while Harry and I hung up our coats beside the door. "I just made some for Tess and, sorry, is it Harry who's upstairs?"

Kicking off his shoes, Harry raised his head. "Um, I'm Harry. I think Sean's upstairs."

"Oh, I'm sorry," she replied, facing me. "I'm terrible with names."

"I'm West." I smiled, saving her the added question.

"Okay, Harry and West." She laughed. "Would you like some hot chocolate?"

"Yes, please," we replied in unison, prompting Tess's mum to laugh again while Harry and I traded stares.

"Ok, I'll be back in a minute." She grinned, and then headed off towards the kitchen.

"Hey, guys," came Tess's voice, followed by the sight of her descending the stairs.

Harry beamed at her. "Hey, Tess." I was half expecting him to embarrass himself in some way given the extent of his nerves that morning, but to my surprise, he'd so far managed to control himself.

"You wanna come up?" she asked, pausing mid-way down the stairs.

I flicked my head towards the kitchen. "Your mum's getting us something to drink."

"Oh, ok." Continuing down the stairs, she began to walk over to the kitchen when she paused and glanced over her shoulder at us. "You're allowed to move away from the door, you know."

"Sorry." Harry flashed a toothy grin and headed over towards her. "Your home is really nice."

"Thanks!" She smiled. "I get my new bedroom too in a few weeks."

"Cool," he replied, taking a look around the modern interior.

Following them into the kitchen, I purposely trailed a few steps behind and remained quiet, allowing the two of them to interact freely. For two people who hadn't had a lot of contact in school they seemed to have struck it off quite well. Then again, both of them seemed to exhibit the same likeable and friendly characteristics, so it wasn't a huge surprise.

Once Harry and I had collected our drinks, we began to leave the kitchen and head up to Tess's bedroom. Just before we reached the stairs, her mum called out to remind her that she was soon going to pop out to the shops, leaving us alone for a few hours.

Although our contact with her mum was brief, it wasn't hard to see where Tess got her warm personality from. It also allowed me to get a better idea of her background. As her mum had a lighter complexion than she did, I quickly surmised that she must've inherited her darker tone from her dad, though it was still only a guess on my part.

Entering her room, Tess quickly apologised to Harry for the bare and desolate appearance. Glancing around, not much had changed, save for the walls having been painted white, along with a slight hint of the accompanying chemical odour.

"I thought you guys got lost or something!"

Spinning around to face the source of the voice, a strong sense of déj vu washed over me as I took in the sight that greeted me. Sitting on her bed was Sean, cross-legged and surrounded by his books. The image of him on the bed was shockingly similar to the last time I was there, just over a week ago. For the briefest second, I could've sworn I'd travelled back in time, back before I knew the truth about his secret.

Stuffing his phone back into his pocket, he raised his head and gave us a smile, seconds before I felt a vibration in my own pocket.

Ryan. He just sent a text to Ryan. My stomach squeezed again as the realisation hit me. Forcing the thought from my mind, I returned his smile. "How's it going?"

"Not bad." He bumped his fist with Harry's. "You?"

"I'm good."

Moving his books to one side of the bed, Sean cleared a space for the two of us to sit. "So West says you're good at doing presentations."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Huh?"

"Yeah," I interjected, trying my best to give him a 'look' that he'd understand. "Remember that time you made that really cool presentation, with videos and stuff?"

As part of the deal to get Harry to work in our group, I told Tess and Sean that he was really good at making presentations, something that neither of us were looking forward to doing. Unfortunately, Harry wasn't that much better than I was. Worse still, I'd completely neglected to warn him in advance in case they asked.

After subjecting me to a dubious stare, a look of realisation swept over his face. "Oh, uh, yeah. Sure."

"It's good you're here then," Tess quipped, her eyes briefly darting over at me, and then back to Harry.

While I'd told both of them about Harry's non-existent presentation skills, I also had a separate talk with Tess. Although instead of sharing another lie, I told her the truth, that Harry risked getting a really low mark if he remained in the group with Mitch and Callum, the two incredibly lazy guys who he was supposed to be working with. So I simply asked if he could join our group. As I'd expected, or at least wished for, she was quick to agree and was pleased to help. I also asked her to keep our conversation between us, hoping that it would further reassure her that I was genuinely trying to help Harry, especially if he knew nothing about it.

Sean tipped his head towards Harry's feet. "Cool socks."

I glanced down at the white, fluffy socks that Harry was wearing. He first bought a pair around a year ago after feeling some in a store and wanting to see what they were like. Since then he'd bought several more pairs, and even got some for me. They were really comfortable, though I found them too warm to wear in the summer. Still, I wasn't sure if he'd intended on wearing them in front of Tess, as they were typically worn by girls. Not that he'd usually care about such things, but it was a special situation.

"Thanks." Harry grinned, seemingly unfazed at being caught wearing them. "They're great in winter."

"I agree." Laughed Tess, raising her foot off the ground to show us the same sock, only pink in colour.

"I was gonna say." Giggled Sean. "I thought they were girls'."

"I like it." Tess gave Harry a wink. "Shows he's got good taste."

He's not the only one, I thought, surprised that Harry even had a pair intact, as Charlie often liked to steal them from his washing bin and run off, only to be found days later rife with holes.

"So we have to do two themes from the book now, right?" Sean asked, holding up the novel.

Harry gave Tess a panicked look. "If it's ok."

"It's fine. We're almost done with our first one, Identity, anyway. What do you guys want to do next?" she asked.

"I figured we'd do Romance," I replied. "Seeing as Sean wanted to do it so badly last time."

"Romance?" Amusement registered on Harry's face. "Seriously?"

Sean pointed at me. "That's what he said!"

"So? I've changed my mind." I smirked. "I think it'd be interesting."

Harry shrugged. "I don't mind."

"Okay." Tess picked up her copy of the novel. "Romance it is then."

*

Sean: You like the blond one too? I told you he was cute, didnt I? ;) P.S. Im at a friends house now. Gonna be slow replying...

Closing the message, I slipped my phone back into my pocket and flushed the toilet. Walking over to the sink, I stared down at the basin as I began to wash my hands.

Almost two hours had passed since Harry and I arrived at Tess's house and things had gone well. Once again we were able to get a good amount of work done while also having a fun time doing it. As we'd reached a halfway point with our second theme, Romance, Tess offered to go grab us some snacks to eat, along with a refill for our hot chocolates, an offer we all took her up on. Volunteering to help, Harry went downstairs to the kitchen with her, leaving Sean and me alone in the bedroom.

Excusing myself to the bathroom, I immediately pulled out my phone and checked the message I'd received earlier, finding that it was indeed sent to Ryan. Knowing that Sean was likely using the privacy of the bedroom to do the exact same thing, I couldn't message him back at that moment. Instead I decided to leave it until later, when things wouldn't be so risky.

Rinsing the soap from my hands beneath the warm water, I began to replay the afternoon in my mind, focussing on Sean. As I'd expected, he did seem to be acting the same, perhaps a little more outward, though that could simply be down to Harry being there too. There was however, something about him that I couldn't quite put my finger on.

It was the way he looked at me. It felt like the same way Neal stared at me when we were alone in the library. I frowned at the thought, wishing I could shake Neal from my mind, yet the image was a potent one. What did it mean? And why was Sean aiming it at me?

Shutting off the faucet, I raised my eyes up to the mirror. Has the hunter become the hunted?

Wiping my hands dry on the towel that hung on the radiator, I unlocked the bathroom door and wandered across the hall into Tess's bedroom. Sean was the only one there, sitting on the bed with his back pressed up against the wall.

Gazing up from the book that lay in his lap, he watched as I walked across the room and sat down on the bed.

"He likes her, doesn't he?"

"Huh?"

"Harry." Sean flicked his head towards the door. "He likes Tess."

A smile grew on my face as I thought about Harry, particularly how overjoyed he appeared to be from being in Tess's house. "Yeah, he does."

He nodded and then paused for a moment. "She your type?"

There it is, the probing question. I shrugged. "I guess. How 'bout you?"

"Me?" He frowned.

I rolled my eyes. "Is she your type?"

"Oh, uh, maybe a little."

"A little?"

"Yeah... it's complicated." Averting his eyes, he glanced back down at the book. I was confused at his sudden change in tone. One minute he seemed to be on the offensive with me and the next he'd retreated back several paces. After thinking it through for a moment, I realised that he'd probably decided to scale back after he'd interpreted my answer to imply that I was heterosexual.

While he'd effectively ended the topic, I wasn't sure if I should drop it. I had him right there, on the cusp of sharing something with me, the real me. Whether he really had the intention to come out or not was another question altogether, but it seemed to be worth the risk to find out.

A loud exclamation from downstairs quickly caught our attention. Getting up from the bed, I went over to the door and then emerged onto the hall. Glancing down the stairs, I felt Sean brush up alongside me as he came to a stop on my right.

"You guys ok down there?" I called out, seconds before Tess appeared at the bottom.

She quickly began to ascend the stairs. "Yeah, we had a little accident."

"What did you do now?" Sean teased, grinning down at her.

Shooting daggers in his direction as she arrived on the upstairs landing, it was clear from her demeanour that whatever had happened wasn't anything too serious.

Harry arrived at the bottom of the stairs and followed her up. I was a little concerned by the hobbling motion he was making until I lowered my eyes to his jeans. Over the top half of his left thigh and across part of his groin was a deep, dark stain.

My stare connected with his. "What happened?"

He flashed me a sheepish look and then turned to Tess as he stepped onto the landing.

"It was my fault," she admitted, skirting past me and entering the bathroom. "I knocked a bottle of milk off the counter and it landed on Harry."

I looked down at the stain again. She really did do a good number on the jeans.

Sean began to laugh. "It looks like you pissed yourself."

"It's not funny!" Tess frowned, emerging from the bathroom with a damp sponge and towel. "I'm really sorry, Harry."

He gave her a warm smile. "It's alright. Not like it hurts or anything."

"I know but they look new." She sighed, handing him the sponge. "My brother's about the same height as you. He must have some trousers you could wear while I wash yours."

Harry shook his head and made for the bathroom. "It's ok. I'll wipe up a bit and just wash them at home."

"At home? They're soaked!" Tess walked over to her brother's room and opened the door. "Come on, we'll find you something to wear."

Harry traded a stare with me and then followed her across the hall into her brother's room. Knowing how much he wanted the day to go well I really did feel sorry for him. Sean didn't appear to share my feelings, at least if his constant stream of giggles were anything to go by.

After a few minutes, once she'd seemingly found him something suitable to wear, Tess emerged from her brother's room and closed the door, allowing Harry some privacy to get changed.

The three of us remained quiet in the hall for a moment, before Sean broke the silence. "Well, that's one way to get him out of his pants."

Her hazel eyes narrowed. "It wasn't like that."

"Come on! You planned it," he teased, nudging my arm. "Don't you agree?"

"I'm not saying anything." I grinned, watching as the bedroom door opened and Harry appeared, wearing a new pair of jeans while carrying his soiled pair.

"I'll get those washed for you," Tess replied, taking the jeans from Harry. "I really am sorry."

He gave a gentle laugh. "It was an accident. You didn't mean it."

"Yes she-" Sean began, before a glare from Tess shut him up. "Sorry."

*

Once Tess had popped Harry's trousers into the washing machine, she returned to the bedroom and we began to snack on the food. In the end we didn't really get a lot more work done, but with Christmas Day only hours away, it wasn't easy to hold our focus.

Taking a sip of her drink, Tess stared over the rim at me. "Didn't you used to do karate, West?"

"We both did," Harry answered, noting I had a mouthful of food.

"Really?" Her voice raised in surprise.

"Yeah, why?"

"Nothing." She shrugged. "I just never knew you did it too."

"We tried to keep it quiet at school." I explained. "It just gets the wrong kind of attention."

Harry gave me a sideways glance, knowing all too well about some of the challenges to fights that we'd had. Luckily they'd only been extended in jest by guys who were more interested in what moves they could learn, rather than trying to initiate a physical confrontation.

"Don't you do it anymore?" Sean asked.

Harry shook his head. "We stopped a few years ago."

There was something about hearing him say that aloud that struck a chord within me. It felt like I'd given up a lot over the past few years on my journey to adulthood. Swimming, karate, and countless other things too. I'd loved doing each of them, had very fond memories, yet they'd been placed on the side without a second thought.

On the other hand, I'd gained many things in that time too. I was more confident than I'd ever been, more mature, and felt like I was really beginning to understand myself, to know what I needed and what I wanted to do with my life.

Peering over the top of my steaming cup of hot chocolate, I caught Sean giving me another one of his intense stares. Sean. He was the only thing I couldn't completely understand in my life, the unknown element. What began as a challenge with myself had become something much bigger, something that was leaking from Ryan and rubbing off on me.

Sean could sense something; that much was clear. The question was, should I throw him off my scent or let him continue to chase me?

Lowering the cup to my lap, I returned his stare with one of my own.

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Written by Kai Taylor
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