"You look nice."
Facing the direction of the voice, I smiled at Georgina as she stood in my bedroom doorway. "Thanks."
Entering my room, she watched as I finished toying with my hair. "Where you going?"
"With Josh?" she asked, a hint of amusement present in her voice.
Deciding there was little reason to keep the truth from her, I gave a nod. "Yeah, with Josh."
"Like a date?"
While I wasn't entirely comfortable talking about my dating life with my younger sister, I couldn't ignore the strange stirrings swirling around in my stomach. It was as though part of me wanted her to ask, that it was exciting in some weird way.
"Yep, a date."
"Wow! That's cool." She beamed at me and stepped back from the doorway. "Have a good time."
I grinned. "Thanks."
Disappearing from sight, she left me alone to finish getting dressed. Walking over to my bed, I picked up the shirt I'd placed on the quilt and slipped it over my shoulders. The soft, white cotton brushed gently against my skin as I buttoned it up. It was one of the presents I'd received for Christmas but hadn't had a chance to wear it. Wanting to look my best, I'd settled on the shirt, along with a new pair of jeans and some converse trainers.
Returning to the mirror, I inspected my appearance. Pleased with my choice of clothing, I raised my gaze up to my face. Meeting the reflection of my grey eyes, a pang of sadness split through my chest when a sombre thought occurred to me.
I couldn't tell Harry.
Dating wasn't something that we'd really experienced before. It was still very new territory for us. Sure, we'd both dated girls throughout the years, but that term covered many things. It wasn't really the same as spending an evening out and having dinner with someone.
By sharing his evening with Tess with me, Harry had marked a milestone in our long friendship. It was something that I wanted to share with him. I wanted to call him up, tell him all about Josh, and let him know about our evening out. I wanted to walk to school on Monday morning and have him tease me the same way I teased him about Tess. Only none of that was going to happen.
Sighing softly, I broke my stare and finished working out a kink in my collar. Despite any negative feelings I had surrounding the evening as a whole, I needed to focus on the one thing that truly was important, that I was getting to spend some time alone with Josh. My heart squeezed in my chest as I pondered what the evening held for us.
Hearing the sound of an engine outside, I stepped over to my window, seeing a silver car pull up in front of our driveway. I recognised it as belonging to Josh's dad. Clearly Josh had been allowed to borrow it for the evening.
Grabbing my phone, wallet, and door keys from my desk, I left my room and made my way downstairs. Popping my head into the lounge, I peered over to where Mum and Georgina were sitting on the couch. While it wasn't unusual for me to venture outside of the house in the evenings, I could only hope that Mum wouldn't pay too much attention and question me on it.
"I'll be back later," I called out, attempting to sound as nonchalant as possible.
Mum briefly glanced up from the magazine she was reading. "Ok, Hon. See you."
Georgina gave a subtle wink. "Bye, West!"
Hearing several loud knocks at the front door, I backed away from the lounge. "Bye guys."
Reaching the door, I slowly pulled it open to reveal a stunningly handsome Josh standing there grinning at me. A cool, tingling rush rippled through my chest as I swept my eyes down his body. He looked truly wonderful in his grey cashmere jumper and Levi jeans.
"Hey, West." His smile widened. "You good to go?"
"Yep." Patting my pockets to ensure I had everything that I'd need, I exited the house and gently closed the door behind me.
Josh extended his right arm out towards the car. "After you."
Raising the glass of Coke to my lips, I stole another peek over at Josh. I'd been sitting opposite him in the restaurant for almost ten minutes but I still couldn't quite believe I was really there. It actually felt kind of surreal. I mean, I knew it was a date, but it wasn't what I expected. It felt normal. Not in some gay-rights 'we're normal' kinda way, but it just didn't feel much different to when I'd usually be around him.
Though, to be fair, there were a few things that stood out, like it was a much more intimate setting, we were both dressed up and, well, it was a date. And then there was the way he'd stare at me, or how I'd gaze at him while he spoke and completely neglect to listen while I focused on his eyes.
Okay, maybe it was a little bit different.
"Have you been here before?" Josh asked.
Lowering my drink back to the table, I gave an absent nod as I surveyed the restaurant. The place was clearly brand new, sporting a modern and classy decor, creating a very unique and relaxed setting. Josh and I were seated in our own secluded booth, giving us some privacy from the other diners.
He frowned. "You have?"
"It was a long time ago, back when it used to be an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet." I grinned, seeing the hint of concern vanish from his face. "I haven't been to it since these guys bought it."
His brown eyes flashed at me. "Good. I wanted to take you somewhere different."
"I really like it."
"Me too." Picking up his glass, he took a quick sip of his Sprite.
As Josh was nineteen, I'd initially expected him to order something alcoholic, but then realised that he was the one who'd be driving us back. Still, it did bring up the question of whether he drank at all. "Do you drink?"
"Sometimes, why?" he asked, flashing a smirk. "You wanna loosen me up?"
"No. Just wondered." I grinned. "What about the late night binge-drinking parties at uni?"
"We have late nights all the time, but they're usually spent in the library." He laughed. "Not much of a party."
Just mentioning his university instantly brought a question to the forefront of my mind, one I'd wondered about since we first met. "What are you studying?"
"Medicine." He raised an eyebrow. "Didn't you know?"
"No." I lowered my voice. "Most of our conversations have been about me."
"I don't care, it's been nice getting to know you." He sat back in his chair. "Ask away if you wanna know something."
My expression softened. It was an awkward thing to have brought up as I couldn't really say, 'I don't know you that well', but he seemed to understand where I was coming from.
"So, you're studying medicine." I began.
"To be a pharmacist?"
"No. A Doctor."
"Wow!" I exclaimed, surprised and impressed by his answer. "It must be really interesting."
"It is, and I do enjoy it. There's just a lot to learn."
"The pay's good too, right?" I teased.
"I'll let you know once I'm actually getting paid." He winked.
A waitress carrying two oval plates approached our table and gently lowered them down before us. One of the plates contained two mini-bruschettas, while the other had a small selection of olives; our starters. They looked fantastic.
Once we'd thanked the waitress, Josh reached out and picked up one of the bruschettas. Careful not to drop any of the toppings off the slim slice of bread, he raised it to his nose and gave a sniff. "Damn."
"What?" I asked, spearing one of the olives with my fork and popping it into my mouth.
"Garlic." He shot me an apologetic look. "These have garlic."
It took me a moment to understand what he was alluding to. I gave a shrug. "I don't care. Besides, I'm eating it too so they cancel out."
Amusement flashed on his face. "Do they now?"
I nodded. "I'm a doctor. I know these things."
He rolled his eyes. "Right."
Our main courses arrived shortly after we'd finished our starters. And just like our first course, they too were excellent. Josh ordered lamb in a red-wine ragù, served on tagliatelle, while I had a spaghetti dish with king prawns in a spicy tomato sauce. Everything on my plate was perfectly cooked and very delicious.
Josh and I also tasted each other's food, agreeing that they were equally as good. It further reinforced the fact that he'd made an excellent choice in selecting the restaurant.
The fine dining aside, talking to Josh was a very freeing experience. It didn't feel like I was talking to a friend. It was similar, yet very different at the same time. Glancing at the people seated nearby, I wondered if any of them had assumed that we were more than just friends. The restaurant did seem to be mostly filled with couples, but I wasn't sure if we stood out at all.
As a date, Josh was perfect. While it would've been expected for me to say that I spent the evening enamoured by his looks, it actually wasn't the case at all. Josh was extremely handsome, but it was our conversation that really had me hooked. I relished the opportunity of having someone intellectual to talk to. We asked each other questions, touched on many different topics, and laughed a lot. To say I had a wonderful time would be a great understatement.
As we came towards the end of the evening, my brain refused to comprehend how someone so wonderful could be interested in me, especially after everything that he knew about me. I wasn't one to believe in luck, but I simply couldn't find any other way to explain it.
It hadn't been an easy couple of weeks for me, but just spending the evening out with Josh pushed it all to the back of my mind. For the first time in what seemed like ages, it felt like I had something to look forward to.
Exiting the restaurant later that evening, I continued to insist that I should contribute towards the bill, which Josh had paid for outright.
"I asked you out," he explained, leading us through the darkened car park towards the car. "The next one's all yours."
"The next one?" I asked, tucking my hands into my pockets, away from the cold, evening wind.
He nodded. "If you'd like to do it again."
"I would," I answered, causing him to beam at me.
Approaching his Dad's car, Josh tapped on the key remote and unlocked the doors. Opening the passenger's side door, I climbed into the car and sat down, the leather seats feeling cool against my skin.
Josh sat down in the driver's seat and closed his door. Sliding the key into the ignition, he started the car and switched on the heating.
"Thank you for tonight." I smiled over at him. "I had a really good time."
Rubbing his bare hands together for warmth, he grinned back. "Me too, West."
We remained still for several seconds, our eyes locked on each other. The wind softly howled outside as it whipped up around the car, enclosing us in our own private world.
My eyes dropped to where Josh's hand was resting on the handbrake between us. Lowering my fingers, I lightly placed my hand on top of his and gently squeezed. Josh gave a soft gasp from the contact.
Raising my gaze to his handsome face, my heart jumped in my chest as a rush of hormones flooded my body, forcing goosebumps to ripple across my skin. Sliding over the seat, I moved closer towards him, inching my face towards his.
There was a gentleness about him that I'd never experienced in a kiss before. His movements were soft, slow, and perfect.
Breaking apart, my body gave an involuntary shudder from the absence of his touch. Opening my eyes, I stared at him blankly as my mind rebooted inside my head.
"I'm sorry," Josh whispered, facing away.
I blinked, not expecting such a reaction from him. "What? Why?"
"It's just..." He turned to me. "We're still kinda new to each other. I don't want you to think I'm only after, you know..."
"Why would I think that?" I asked with a frown. "I kissed you."
He watched me in silence. "I just don't wanna rush into anything, West. I do like you, but I'd rather have you as a friend than mess things up between us."
I glanced down at my hand, noting that his fingers remained entwined with mine. I understood where he was coming from, as he made a good point about speeding into things. Maybe it didn't make perfect sense, but kissing him just felt like the natural thing to do.
"We'll take things easy and keep on getting to know each other. Whatever happens, happens." He paused. "Do you get what I'm trying to say?"
"Yeah." I nodded. "So the kiss was alright?"
"It was great." He bit his bottom lip. "I just want-"
"To take things slow," I answered with a wink. "You're right, we should."
He studied me for a moment and then his lips morphed into a wide smile. "Ok."
A flurry of nerves tickled my stomach as I grinned back. "Good."
Wiping away the condensation forming on the glass, I gazed out of the side window; the strong headlights from the other cars streaking past in the darkness as Josh drove me home. Giving him a sideways glance, I couldn't quite believe what had just happened between us in the car park. We kissed! We actually kissed. It seemed unreal, like I'd simply dreamt the last twenty minutes but I couldn't detach myself from the feeling of closeness, of intimacy.
"You ok over there?" Josh asked, breaking the silence as he shot me another smile.
"I'm fine. Just thinking about stuff."
He nodded. "Anything fun?"
The side of his lips twitched. "What about us?"
Before I could reply, a sudden, loud ring sounded from my pocket, startling me.
"It's just a text," I replied, pulling out my phone and staring down at the screen. Tapping on the display, I opened the unread message:
Harry: You at home?
Question after question flew through my mind. Why does he want to know that? Did he see me out with Josh? What the hell do I say? Taking a breath, I briefly answered his message.
West: No, I'm out. What's up?
Several anxious seconds passed as I waited for him to reply.
Harry: I'm at Sean's. You should get over here.
A jolt of alarm shot down my spine. Sean's house?
West: What's wrong?
Harry: Too much to explain. Just come over.
"Is something wrong?" Josh cast me a wary look.
"I dunno. Maybe," I answered. "Harry wants me to go over to Sean's house. He's not saying why."
"We're just about to pass his house. I can drop you there if you want."
"It's no problem," he replied, hitting the indicator and taking a left.
After a drawn-out two-minute drive, we arrived at Sean's address, instantly greeted by a myriad of blue, flashing lights outside the front of his house.
Panic gripped my body from the sight. "Jesus! What the hell happened?"
"There's one, two... no, four police cars." Josh pointed out as he parked up on the opposite side of the road.
Scrambling out of the car, I dashed across the road and headed for Sean's house. Two police officers were standing outside the front beside their cars, talking into their radios in hushed tones.
Unable to make out what they were saying, I jogged up the front path and entered the house through the open door.
"Sean?" I called out, walking further inside and stopping in the kitchen doorway.
Sean's parents were sitting at the dining table opposite two police officers. A tissue covered his mum's eyes as she wept silently. His dad sat close to her, clutching her free hand on the table's surface. Worry and fear covered his features as he watched her. Something was very, very wrong.
Lowering the tissue, his mum's moist, red eyes rose up to meet mine. The broken expression on her face told me everything.
Adrenaline surged through my veins as I backed away from the door and made for the stairs. "Sean!"
I ran up the stairs, taking two at a time. Arriving on the second floor, I rounded the corner and faced Sean's room. The blood drained from my face, my eyes widening at the sight that met me. "Oh, God."
It was as though a tornado had swept through his room, obliterating everything in its path. I stared in horror, my mind refusing to process what my eyes were seeing.
His wardrobe had been toppled over to land against the floor, fracturing the wooden structure with a huge break. The doors had been ripped open, dangling from their deformed hinges. All of his clothes lay slashed and shredded on his bed. The deep gash had penetrated further, shearing through his black bed sheets and mattress, revealing the metal springs inside.
The shelves that aligned his walls had been scraped bare, their contents carelessly flung across the floor. His bookshelf, the one he'd organised so neatly, was equally as trashed. The books that once rested there had been defiled, their pages torn out and thrown to the ground. Clearly no force of nature had created such a scene. There'd been a much greater menace at work.
The blinds that covered his windows had been tossed to one side and twisted to the extreme. Even the overhead lights had been shattered, with fragments of glass mixed amongst the debris on the floor below.
A film of tears coated my vision as my eyes fixed on the corner furthest away from me. Defaced and ruined beyond recognition were the remains of his piano. Its black outer frame had been pried apart, exposing the intricate electronics that had been smashed and severed. The black and white keys, the same ones that Sean had so delicately touched when he'd played for me, lay scattered across the floor throughout the room.
One of the officers who'd been scouring the room knelt down a few metres ahead of me. Dropping my eyes to the floor in front of him, bile entered my mouth. Several red splatters were sprayed over the dark laminate flooring. Blood.
"Oh, God no." I staggered to the side, my hands gripping the doorframe as image after image flickered in my mind.
The officer stood and raised his palm out towards me. "Stay back! You can't come in here!"
A grey haze clouded my vision, my hearing becoming distorted. I shook my head frantically, forcing myself to breathe. Sean. You have to find Sean.
"West?" shouted out a voice from downstairs. Harry's voice.
Finding my legs, I staggered over to the stairs and stared down at him. "Where's Sean?"
He pointed towards the lounge. "He's in here. Are you ok?"
I descended the stairs at lightening speed, ignoring his question. Skirting past him in the hall, I charged into the lounge, unsure of what I was going to find.
Four pairs of eyes looked up at me from the couch as I entered. Sean was seated in the middle. His twin sisters were on one side while Tess sat on the other, tightly gripping Sean's hand.
My eyes flew up and down his body as I checked for any injuries, but he appeared to be unharmed, at least physically. A gasp of relief left my lungs. "Jesus, I thought..."
Harry gently placed a hand on my shoulder. "No one was hurt. They broke in while everyone was out."
Swallowing hard, I took a steady breath as I levelled my eyes with his. "Who?"
Footsteps from behind had me turning around. Sean's parents, along with one of the older officers entered. Once Sean's mum and dad joined their children on the couch, the officer began to speak.
"We've finished going through some of the CCTV footage. It confirms Jack Price's story, he's been out of town for the whole day."
Tess's eyebrows dipped. "So he had someone else do it! That's not hard to figure out!"
"It has been less than five-hours since the incident occurred. We need to go through everything we've collected here," the officer replied. "We will find who was responsible for this. I only ask that you be patient."
I stared over at Sean. His moist blue eyes connected with mine, only they'd lost their playful glow. He was in pain. His bedroom, his own private sanctuary had been violated. They hadn't just devastated his room; they'd left him in ruins.
Rage boiled inside me, threatening to explode with the energy of a nuclear blast. I needed relief; an outlet, a target.
My fists tightened, my thoughts flying through my mind at a million miles per hour. The fact that Sean's bedroom was the only room in the house that had been targeted left no question that Jack was the sole person behind the attack.
I'd threatened him to stay away from Sean, promising to destroy him if he tried. In retaliation, he lashed out against me by attacking the one person I was trying to protect. I screamed his name inside my head as a bright, white blaze of fury flashed before my eyes. Anger piqued in my chest, pushing me beyond the point of no return.
It was time for my exit.
The deafening drumming of my racing heart drowned out the other voices in the room. Spinning around, I stepped past the officers and began to backtrack through the house. Someone called out my name, but I kept on walking, continuing through the open front door.
The bright blue flashes from the police cars swept across my face as I exited the house. Quickening my pace, I sped through the front garden and emerged onto the pavement. Cutting across the road, I turned down a quiet, darkened street on my right.
Away from the attention of the flashing lights, I broke into a sprint and disappeared into the night.