Chapter 8


"I love it!"

"Are you sure?" Mum shot me a sceptical look. "We kept the receipt in case you want a different colour."

Glancing down at the light-blue jumper resting in my hands, I shook my head. "No, I really do like it."

Her expression softened. "Good."

I grinned back at her. Ever since I'd reached my teens, my parents had always been very hesitant about buying me clothes, worried that I wouldn't like the design or colour. I appreciated the gesture, but unlike Georgina, who was always very particular about clothes, I didn't consider myself to be a difficult person to buy for.

Folding up the jumper in my lap, I placed it to one side and began to unwrap another present from the selection of gifts piled up before me. While I'd been fortunate and always liked the clothes that they'd bought me, I wasn't sure if I'd ever have the heart to turn something away. Unless there was an issue with size, returning a gift felt offensive to me.

I instantly thought back to when I was a child, where I asked my Mum about a collection that my school held. Each year every child would bring in a wrapped up gift that we'd place on a large table during a morning assembly. Although my teachers must've explained what it was for, I never quite understood why we did it, especially as we were never allowed to open them.

"It's for the boys and girls who don't have any presents," explained Mum.

I remembered the shock and disbelief I felt when hearing her answer. Opening presents was the main thing I looked forward to at Christmas. I couldn't imagine not having any to open on Christmas morning.

"But what about Father Christmas?" I inquired, amazed that the kind and generous man would leave some children out.

Patting the seat next to her, I climbed up onto the couch and listened as she spoke, "Father Christmas can be very busy sometimes, so Mummies and Daddies have to help him to make sure all the boys and girls get presents."

I was quite confused at first, but it did make sense that he would be a very busy man delivering all the presents to everyone.

Getting up off the couch, Mum walked over towards the large wooden cabinet in the lounge and then opened one of the doors. After a moment she pulled out a slim, colourful box and then closed the cabinet. I stared at the box in her hands, recognising it as the game Operation. At first I thought it was my one, but then I realised it still had the see-through plastic wrapped around it.

"This is what Daddy and I bought to help Father Christmas," Mum began, sitting back down next to me. "Do you think it's a good present?"

I nodded my head.

"Do you want to help me wrap it?" she asked with a smile.

I grinned back. "Yeah."

Kissing the top of my head, she wandered off to get some wrapping paper and tape, leaving me holding the box. Staring down at the picture on the front, my eyes drifted over the smiling boy and girl as they played the game. The image remained with me throughout the years, and each Christmas we'd repeat the same process of Mum buying a present and me helping her wrap it up. Even after I left the school, we always went back each year to drop one off in early December, helping to make sure every child had a present to open on Christmas day.

"Come on, West, you've hardly opened anything!"

Leaving my daze, I stared over at Georgina. "Huh?"

"Your presents," she explained, pointing at my largely untouched pile.

Glancing over in her direction, I quickly noticed that she was already halfway through her presents. Lowering my gaze to my lap, I finished unwrapping a pair of jeans. After inspecting them for a moment, and thanking my parents, I placed them to the side and began to unwrap the rest of my gifts.

In the end I was more than pleased with everything that I'd been given. Similarly, everyone seemed to like the presents that I'd bought for them. I'd mostly received clothes, along with a few CD's and DVD's, and some cards containing money from my extended family.

Piling them all up into an easy to carry bundle, I glanced up at the clock and noted the time, 09:27.

"You going out soon?" asked Dad, catching my stare.

"Yeah, what time they coming?"

"They should be here just before lunchtime," he answered. "Try to be back before then."

They were my aunt, uncle, and grandparents. Unlike the wedding, where it was Mum's side of the family, today everyone would be from Dad's side. They were an interesting set of characters, each of them with their own quirks, but equally as nice. Unlike the past few years where we'd be travelling to their houses, this year we'd be staying put as they came to us, giving me the opportunity to head out for a few hours.

"I will." I stood up from the sofa. "Thanks for everything."

"You're welcome. Thank you for your presents too."

I smiled back as I picked up my mound of presents and exited the lounge. Heading upstairs, I entered my room and lowered the items down on my bed, deciding to sort through them later. My phone chirped gently on my desk, signalling an unread text. Walking over to where it lay on the wooden surface, I picked it up and stared at the screen, finding a message from Harry.

Happy Christmas! :)

My lips curved up into a smile as I quickly typed up a reply and sent it. No doubt Harry had been awake for some time as his twelve-year-old brother, Riley, would've likely insisted on them all getting up early to open their presents. Although the younger boy was beyond the years of Santa Claus, he still retained some of his youthful traits, including the excitement of Christmas. He'd been anxiously looking forward to opening his presents for the past couple of weeks, and to give Charlie, their pet labrador, his presents too.

Placing the phone onto the desk, I grabbed my towel from the back of my door and headed into the bathroom to shower, wanting to make the most of the few hours I had remaining before my family arrived.


Approaching Harry's house, I had to admit I was a little disappointed. Although the weather hadn't forecast any snow, I'd been holding out hope to see a few white flakes of goodness fall from the sky. Raising my head towards the dull, grey clouds, it was clear that a white Christmas simply wasn't to be. Instead we were left with cold, wind, and rain.

Dropping my eyes to the pavement, I began to think back to the day before. The sky was already starting to darken by the time we all left Tess's house. Judging by the disgruntled expression on Harry's face, he certainly wouldn't have complained if we'd stayed longer, but with it being Christmas Eve, the last thing we wanted to do was overstay our welcome and risk angering her parents. Leaving her house, Sean opted to walk with Harry and me on his way home. Unfortunately Harry soon had to head in a different direction, so I didn't get a chance to talk to him about Tess in person. Speaking to him later that evening on the phone, he kept things brief, knowing that we'd speak more when I'd visit him the following morning. He did however, thank me for "making it all happen", along with confirming that he did have a great time over there. Just hearing him say that, and seeing how pleased he'd been all afternoon, made it all worth it.

Continuing the journey alone with Sean was quite an interesting experience. While he'd been relatively outspoken at Tess's house, he didn't talk a lot about himself. During our walk, he opened up a little, sharing some details about what he'd be doing over Christmas with his family. It was all the usual stuff, but it was good to hear him talking about it. In some ways, it felt like I was talking to online Sean, the boy who didn't have to hide away, rather than the restricted, real-life version. I wasn't quite sure why it was, perhaps he hadn't warmed up to Harry enough to speak openly, or maybe he was always better at dealing with someone on a one-to-one level. Either way, he chose to speak to me, and only me.

Arriving at the end of his road, he bid me a quick goodbye and wished a "Happy Christmas". I returned the gesture and then resumed my walk home. My mind was instantly filled with thoughts of him, focussing on the look that he'd been giving me all afternoon. I had to figure out what that look meant. It was similar to Neal's look, only it didn't bring that same sense of unease. It felt more affectionate and warm than lecherous and cold.

Then again, what if I was just seeing things? Maybe Sean was simply looking at me and I'd just imagined a stare. Yet it did raise an important point: could he be interested in me? I wasn't really sure. He did ask me whether Tess was my type, but that didn't necessarily mean he was fishing for answers. Apart from that, I couldn't really think of any other examples where he'd implied liking me, except for the speculative stares.

So what about things from my angle? Did I like him? He was obviously a very confident boy, friendly, with a humorous side too. There was also no denying that he was really, really hot. Even so, it still felt like I barely knew him. Aside from our brief encounters in school, the two separate days spent over at Tess's house to work on the project were the only times I'd really interacted with him.

I'd also never really thought about him in that way before. Although I now knew he was gay, it didn't flip a magical switch inside me and make me like him. He was still Sean, a boy who was slowly becoming a friend, not a potential boyfriend.

Walking down the path to Harry's house, I shook the thoughts from my mind, knowing it was something I could stress about later. Knocking against the door, I heard a bark on the other side, followed by the sight of Charlie appearing through the frosted glass. Grinning at the golden blur, I waited a few seconds before Harry appeared and opened the door.

Holding onto Charlie's collar, he smiled up at me. "Hey, West. Happy Christmas!"

"Happy Christmas, Harry." I grinned back. Stepping into the house, I knelt down and rubbed the top of Charlie's head, making him drop a blue toy from his mouth down onto the floor. "How's my little buddy doing, huh? You having a nice Christmas?"

Whimpering excitedly, he nudged himself closer, licking the air before my face with his tongue.

"Good to see you too." I laughed, standing up in time to see Riley step out from the lounge. "Hey Riley, Happy Christmas."

"Happy Christmas." He smiled, crouching down and snatching Charlie's toy off the ground. "Thanks for the Xbox game."

"No problem, Mate. Thanks for the shirts," I replied, giving Harry a nod of my head, knowing that he was probably the one who'd picked out the presents that his family gave me.

"Charlie!" Riley waved the blue toy the air above his head, before heading off to the lounge. "Come on, Charlie!"

Catching sight of his toy, the labrador sprung up to his feet and chased Riley out of the hall.

I gave a gentle laugh. It never ceased to amaze me when watching their antics.

Harry glanced over and flashed a smile. "They're crazy."

"He reminds me of you."

"Which one?"

"A bit of both." I smirked.

He narrowed his eyes. "Thanks. Wanna head upstairs?"

"Yep, just a sec."

After removing my coat and trainers at the door, I quickly ventured into the lounge to say hello to his parents and to thank them for the presents. Once I'd spoken to them for a few minutes, I then followed Harry upstairs and into his room.

Climbing onto his bed, Harry bunched a pillow up behind his back and sat against the wall grinning at me.

"What's got you so excited?" I teased, knowing full well what was on his mind.

"Yesterday." He beamed. "I really owe you one."

"It's no big deal." I shrugged, sitting down on the bed.

"She's just so nice!" he gushed. "She's always so friendly in school, but at home she's amazing!"

I smiled back, watching him enjoy his moment of excitement. "Yeah, she's a nice girl."

Staring into the middle distance for a few seconds, he nibbled his bottom lip. "I really like her."

I laughed. "You don't say."

"Do you think she...?" He trailed off and then shook his head.

"What? Likes you?"

He sighed gently. "I don't think she does." I opened my mouth to object, but he continued. "I'm alright with it though."

My eyebrows shot into my forehead. "Are you kidding me?"

"What?" he replied sharply, startled by the volume of my retort. "She likes Sean."

Wait? What? I frowned. "Sean?"

"Yeah." He averted his eyes. "They seemed kinda close when we were over there."

"You think she likes him?"

"I dunno, maybe. What do you think?"

I think he's gay. I shook my head. "I don't think anything's going on between them."

"How can you be so sure?"

Because Sean would rather date you than her. I grinned. "Are you serious?"

He nodded.

"It's pretty obvious that she doesn't like Sean that way. I really don't think he's her type." A smile came to my lips. "But I think you are."

He rolled his eyes at me. "Okay."

"Now you're acting like Georgina," I teased, earning a glare from him. "I'm serious, Harry. I really think you have a chance with her."



"Oh." He sat back and remained quiet, thinking everything through.

I couldn't believe how hard it was to convince him of something that'd been so clear to me. The chances of Sean being interested in Tess were so remotely small it was ridiculous. While he didn't know that Sean was gay, it didn't change the facts before his eyes. Sean and Tess got on well as friends, but anything more was a long shot at best. Harry really didn't have anything to worry about, aside from whether Tess liked him or not.

"Now I just need some way to, you know, let her know I like her," he spoke gently.

"You've been out with girls before, what did you do then?"

He paused for a moment. "Nothing. It just happened."

"You should use Charlie." I suggested with a grin. "What did I tell you yesterday about dogs? Girls love them."

"No, you wanted me to change my eye colour!" he retorted. "Anyway, what if she doesn't like dogs?"

I stuck out my bottom lip. "But Charlie's so cute and fluffy."

"Stop it!" He laughed. "I'm trying to be serious."

"Me too, but you're being mad, Harry."

"I just..." He ran a hand back through his hair. "I really don't wanna screw this up, you know?"

I stared at his concerned expression. Although I'd always known that Harry's infatuation with Tess wasn't a passing crush, I'd never really understood it until I studied the look on his face. A relationship with her did mean a lot to him, and wasn't something he wanted to make a mess of.

"When you going away again?" I asked, alluding to the trip that he and his family were taking up north to see his grandparents.

"This Friday." He tutted. "I'll be gone for three days."

"So you'll be back for New Year's?"


"Maybe you should find out what she's doing for the countdown and go with her."

"How would I do that?"

"You could ask her." I winked.

He shot me a look. "I meant, how would I do it without being stupidly obvious?"

"Alright, I'll ask her." I flashed him a smirk. "I'll ask her while we're on our hot date!"

He flipped me the finger. "Thanks, West."

"You're welcome. Now you can look forward to whatever party she's going to."

"If she's even going to one."

I shook my head. "Of course she is! And luckily for you, she'll also be after someone to kiss at twelve o'clock."

"Whatever you say."

"Oh, and did you know, Twenty-thirteen is the year of the French kiss? Maybe Charlie could give you some hints about using your tongue and-" A pillow collided with the side of my head, cutting me off.

"Shut up, West."


Feeling a damp drizzle fall over my cheek, I pulled my hoodie up over my head and fixed my eyes on the floor, shielding my face from the cold spray. Following a text from Mum, alerting me that my grandparents were soon going to arrive, I left Harry's house and began to head home.

Getting to spend Christmas morning with Harry was great. It really was his elated mood, fuelled by his feelings for Tess, that helped to set a joyous atmosphere. I'm sure the festivities of the day played a part, but it was Harry's demeanour that sealed the deal for me. While I knew there was little I could do to influence things, I still found myself wishing that Tess felt the same way towards him as he did to her. Harry had always been a great friend to me, so I really hoped it worked out for him.

As well as our conversation about Tess, we also spoke about other things too, including the wedding that I'd been to, and swimming in the hotel's pool. It turned out that Harry had also been thinking about returning to swimming, especially once the weather began to warm in the spring. It seemed like a good idea to me, one definitely worth looking into later.

Nearing my house, I immediately recognised the second car parked in the driveway as belonging to my aunt. Evidently they'd arrived ahead of me. Unlocking the door, I entered the house and began to remove my coat, hearing the sounds of my extended family talking in the lounge.

Hearing footsteps behind me, I spun around and watched as Georgina walked into the kitchen. Stepping out of my trainers, I headed over towards her.


Pulling a carton of juice from the fridge, she briefly regarded me. "Hey."

"They been here long?"

"'Bout five minutes."

"And you're escaping already?"

"I hate sitting around." She rolled her eyes as she poured some apple juice into a glass. "All they wanna do is talk."

Which I'm sure you never do with your friends. I stared at her before shrugging. "Yeah, well, it's only one day."

"Thank god." She sighed, picking up her glass of juice and going back into the lounge.

After quickly grabbing myself something to drink, I too entered into the lounge and greeted my family. It had been quite a while since I'd last seen them all, so it was nice getting to sit down and talk to them again. Similarly, they also seemed pleased to hear how things were going in my life, particularly my granddad, who showed quite an interest in what I was studying at school, along with other things I was planning to do.

"Are you going to learn how to drive?" he asked, before raising a glass of wine to his lips.

It was a good question, and something I'd thought about a lot, especially after having only recently turned seventeen a few months earlier. At the time Dad told me that he'd pay for driving lessons if I wanted to learn, as well as sort out a small car for me too. It was a great deal, one that any seventeen-year-old would jump on, so it wasn't something I'd ignore.

"Yeah, maybe sometime in the new year."

"Not long to go then." Laughed Granddad. "Six days away by my count!"

A boy band appeared on TV as they played their latest Christmas single, prompting my aunt to turn towards my sister. "Any special boys in your life, Georgina?"

"No," she replied sharply, clearly disgruntled by the question.

Unfazed by the response, my aunt turned to me. "How about you, West? Do you have a girlfriend?"

No, but I did kiss another guy three days ago. I smiled and shook my head. "Not at the moment."

"Well, you're a handsome man, I'm sure it won't be long before another one will come along."

I grinned in response, before doing a double take when I caught Georgina giving me an odd look. No doubt she was thinking about my relationship with Zoe. Like Harry, Georgina was also confused about my one-month thing with her. Given her expression, Mum must've told her about Zoe's visit a week ago. She was probably wondering if we were back together again. My grin widened. She had nothing to worry about in that area.

About twenty-minutes passed before Mum and Dad called us all into the dining room for Christmas dinner. As with every other year we'd eaten Christmas dinner at home, Dad took the role of head chef, with Mum assisting him. We were all but guaranteed a tasty treat with the two of them working together.

Before following the others into the dining room, I took a quick trip up to my bedroom. Pulling out my phone, I checked for messages, having felt it vibrate in my pocket earlier in the lounge. It didn't surprise me to find a message from Sean saying, "Merry Christmas" to Ryan. Replying back to him, it didn't take long for the two of us to get caught up in a brief conversation.

Sean: It's so boring here! I just want it to end!

Ryan: Lol. Just got asked about girlfriends!

Sean: Crap. What did you say?

Ryan: No girlfriend Granddad, still looking for a cute BOY! ;)

Sean: LOL! You should have!

Ending the chat with the promise that I'd talk to him later, I wandered back downstairs and took my seat at the dining table, just in time to see Mum and Dad bringing in the food. Two large roast chickens marinated with herbs and stuffing, and a joint of roast beef made up the meats. Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, carrots, and parsnips were the vegetables, with a large jug of gravy to round off the meal.

"There's plenty to go around so please help yourselves." Grinned Dad, picking up a large knife and carving into the chicken.

Eyeing all the dishes again, I reached out and began to build up my plate. It was a fantastic feast to be sure, and I couldn't wait to dig in.


Like my morning over at Harry's house, the afternoon and evening at mine was filled with delight. From the delicious dinner to the comical conversations with my family, it was all very special and helped to end a wonderful day.

Lying in my bed later that night, I thought back to my Granddad's comments about the new year. "Six days," he'd remarked. "Six days until the start of a whole new year."

In the space of less than a month, my view of what the new year would bring had been flipped on its head. Harry and Tess, Sean and Ryan, and, as much as I wished it never occurred, even the kiss with Neal had shaped my future.

Six days.

And I had no idea of what lay ahead.

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Written by Kai Taylor
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Copyright © 2013-2014 Kai Taylor