Chapter 4

Mr Saunders

What the hell are you doing, West?

Staring up at the imposing house, I shook my head and hurried down the front path towards the door, hoping to escape the unrelenting torrent of rainfall.

It had been three days since I'd last seen Tess Saunders at school, during our history lesson. Just like the day before in our English class, she simply refused to acknowledge me. Fortunately, Harry continued to remain in the dark about everything, completely oblivious to the growing rift between us. But I knew it wouldn't last forever. He'd eventually figure out something was up and question me on it.

I had one option open to me, which was to try and repair things with Tess. While the real animosity was laced around Sean and me, in some ways her position of being his close friend made things worse: she couldn't be seen to forgive me for something I'd done to Sean when he hadn't forgiven me himself.

I was all but certain that she wouldn't want to talk to me, let alone come anywhere close to even considering forgiveness, yet it was something I felt I had to do. I owed it to myself to at least try.

Arriving on the sheltered doorstop outside the front porch, I took a breath to calm my nerves and locked my eyes on the doorbell. Extending my hand out towards the door, I quickly stepped back when it suddenly swung open, revealing a man standing on the other side.

"Whoa! Sorry, mate." He apologised, attempting to pull on a pair of leather driving gloves while balancing a briefcase under one arm.

Given the smart, black suit he was wearing, and his rush out of the house, he was clearly heading to work. Raising my eyes up to meet his, I also noted that he was of mixed race. His complexion was darker than that of Tess's, so I presumed he was her dad.

I smiled at him. "It's alright."

"Come in." He beckoned, allowing me to enter. Walking back into the house, he shouted up the stairs, "Josh!"

Josh? I froze next to the door and began to shake my head. Clearly he must've thought I was there to see Tess's brother, Josh, instead. "I'm actually-"

He quickly extended a hand out towards me. "I've really got to run, but it was good to meet you..."

"West," I answered, shaking his hand. "But I'm not-"

Grabbing his briefcase that he'd placed to the side, he circled around me and stepped outside. "Alright, West, I'll catch up with you next time. Bye."

Shutting the door behind him, he left me standing inches away from the thick grain of the dark wooden door. I stood there for a few seconds and stared straight ahead, still a little fazed by the brief encounter.


Spinning around to face the voice from behind me, my eyes fell onto a young man standing at the foot of the stairs. He looked just like Tess. Well, at least how I would've expected an older, male version of her to look like. He had the same tanned complexion, dark eyes, a similar shaped face, yet there were some differences too, like his shorter hair and broader shoulders.

I felt my expression soften. "Josh?"

"Yeah," he answered with a smile, taking a step towards me. "You're Harry, right?"

"Uh, no. I'm West."

He quickly came to a stop, a frown forming on his forehead. "West?"

I nodded. "I'm a friend of Tess's too. Is she here?"

"No, she's out."

"Oh, ok." I gave a silent sigh and then headed back towards the door. "I'll come back later."


Glancing over my shoulder, I turned around and observed as Josh approached. "What is it?"

He stood idle for a moment and then answered, "She told me."

My jaw tightened. "Told you what?"

"About Sean and Ryan."

I clenched my fists, feeling anger course through me. What gives her the right to start telling everyone about my... I paused. After everything I'd done to Sean over the past few weeks, I wasn't sure I was in a position to criticise Tess.

"I should go."


"Because it's between Tess and me."

"No. Why did you do it?"

I focused on his eyes. "I'm sorry, but this really isn't anything to do with you, so I should-"

"Come on." Flicking his head towards the kitchen, he began to walk away from me.

What the hell? I stood there in disbelief. I really needed to talk to Tess. The last thing I wanted was to be hanging around with her brother, especially when I had no idea what his motives were. Not that he seemed particularly suspicious, but I couldn't know for sure.

Aware of the heavy downpour occurring outside, I briefly weighed the decision in my mind before I slipped out of my trainers beside the door and trailed behind him over to the kitchen, hoping I was making the right choice.


"Tess talks about you a lot." Josh began, handing me a cup of hot chocolate. "Well, you and Harry."

Taking the drink, my eyes followed him as he poured another cup of the warm, sweet liquid for himself. While I'd known that Tess had an older brother since the first time I'd visited her house, she never really spoke a lot about him, neither did I take any particular interest. What I did know didn't amount to a lot. I knew his name, along with him being nineteen-years-old. I also remembered Tess saying that he was in his second year at the local university, though I wasn't sure what he studied.

I raised an eyebrow. "Harry?"

"Yeah, but we're here to talk about you, not him," he answered, nodding his head towards the bar stools. "Grab a seat."

Walking around to the other side of the bar, I sat down on one of the stools, allowing him to sit opposite me. I stared down at the hot cup in my hand, watching as the small, white bubbles of milk froth swirled above the dark brown chocolate. "I should really talk to her about this."

"I don't think she wants to talk to you right now," he replied. "She's pretty pissed over everything."

"So what should I do? Wait?"

"You could try." He shrugged. "You obviously wanna talk about it. I'm here, so talk to me instead."

"And say what?"

"Whatever you want," he replied, raising his cup to his lips.

I closed my eyes for a moment. While I appreciated his offer of support, I didn't have a clue of where to begin. I'd always been more of a private person, hesitant to share even the smallest details about myself with people I didn't know. Some people loved to talk about themselves, but that wasn't me. What was there to talk about with a stranger?

"Can I be honest with you, West?"

I opened my eyes and nodded.

"What you did was a little bit, well-"

"Fucked up?" I suggested, earning a disapproving glare from him. "What? You were thinking it."

"I was gonna say different. But it's hardly the worst thing in the world. Nobody died."

"Seriously?" I shot him a sceptical look. Nobody died so it's all ok?

"It was kinda smart in a way. I mean, it's not the way I'd pick up a guy, but-"

"I wasn't trying to 'pick him up'," I quickly stated.

He gave a puzzled frown. "Didn't you want to see if he was gay?"


"And then what? What did you wanna do once you found out?"

There it is, that same bloody question. "I don't know."

He grinned again. "Yeah, that really annoyed Tess when you said that."

"But it's true. I really don't know. I mean, I think I liked him in some way..." I trailed off, instantly feeling a little unnerved over sharing my emotions aloud.

"Liked? So you don't anymore?"

"I dunno. Maybe." I sighed and shook my head. "It's weird talking about him like this."

"Oh." He straightened up in surprise. "Sorry, I thought you were, you know, comfortable about being bi."

"I am."

"So what's weird then?" He raised an eyebrow. "You know I'm gay, don't you?"

"Um..." I stared at him, immediately trying to recall whether Tess had mentioned anything, but quickly drew a blank.

"Well, I am." He laughed. "So you can relax."

My mind pondered his exclamation. Knowing that he was gay did change things for me, mostly my perception of Tess. It helped to explain her reaction, or rather, lack of reaction, when I told her I was bisexual. It also hinted at why Sean came out to her. It probably made things much easier for him to confide in her if he knew she had a gay brother.

"Listen," Josh began, pulling me from my thoughts. "The way I see it, you're gonna have to give Tess some time before you try to talk to her."

"I know," I replied, feeling fortunate that at least I wasn't so far gone to expect the opposite.

"I'll try talking to her for you." His hazel eyes focused on mine. "I don't think you're a bad guy, West."

I cocked my head to the side. "How could you know that?"

"I guess I don't." He shrugged. "But you wouldn't be here if you were."

I couldn't help but smile at his reasoning. He had a point.

"Anyway, I think we've said enough about that. Now, tell me about Harry," he began, shifting his stool closer to the table. "Tess really seems to like him. Is he good enough for my little sister?"

My grin widened, thankful for the change in topic. It didn't take long before we were both in a conversation about the relationship between Harry and Tess. Josh hadn't yet met Harry, so he was eager to hear about the boy who held his sister's interest. It was great talking to him about my best friend, especially when I reassured him that Harry really was as nice a guy as Tess made him out to be.

After speaking about the two of them for a while longer, my eyes grazed over a digital clock on the oven, noting that I'd been there for a little over an hour. Finishing up my second serving of hot chocolate, I announced that I should head home.

Josh offered to make us some lunch, promising that he knew his way around the kitchen, but I politely declined. It was kind of him to have taken the time to talk to me about his sister, but I had only just met him. Despite the fact that he already knew a lot about me, something I didn't share in return, I didn't want to become too familiar with someone who remained little more than a stranger to me.

Once I'd thanked him for listening to all that I had to say, and his offer to speak to Tess for me, I left the Saunders household. Stepping out of the house, I was pleased to find that it was no longer raining. It was still quite cold, but at least it was dry. Shoving my hands into the pockets of my jacket, I continued down the street and made my way home.


After I'd been walking for about ten minutes, I took a right onto the main road that led to my house. Jogging across the busy street to avoid colliding with any cars, I stepped up onto the pavement and heard someone calling my name. Glancing around, it took a few seconds before I noticed Harry heading towards me, with Charlie proudly trotting alongside him on his lead. Once we'd closed the distance between us, Charlie jumped up to greet me, his tail waggling excitedly behind him. I dropped my hand and gently rubbed his yellow head.

"Hey, little guy."

"You been to town?" Harry asked.

I nodded, deciding it was safer to take his out, rather than conjure up my own excuse. "Didn't get anything though."

"Yeah, they're always crap after Christmas." He agreed.

"You doing anything later?"

He shook his head. "Nothing planned. You?"

"Not really, I was-"

Harry's phone began to ring loudly from his pocket, cutting me off. Sliding his hand into his jacket, he pulled out the phone and placed it next to his ear.

"Hello? Oh, hey, Tess." His face lit up when saying her name aloud.

"In town? Now?" he continued, pausing for a moment as he gazed down at Charlie. "I can't, I'm out walking Charlie... yeah, my labrador. Sorry, Tess."

While I couldn't make out what Tess was asking him, I had a rough idea of what was going on. Reaching out, I took Charlie's lead from Harry's hand and mouthed the word, "Go."

"Could you hold on a second, Tess?" Removing the phone from his ear, Harry covered up the microphone. "What is it?"

"I'll take Charlie if you wanna go somewhere."

He chewed on the idea and then shook his head. "Nah, it's alright."

"I mean it." I insisted. "Go. You can pick him up from mine later."

"You sure?"


Beaming at me, he moved the phone back next to his ear. "Hey, you still there? Ok, I can meet you there if you want... It's alright, West is here. He'll take Charlie for me."

I cringed inwardly when Harry said my name, wondering what kind of offensive expression Tess was pulling on the other end.

"Alright, I'll see you soon." Harry's eyes broke away from mine as he smiled shyly into the phone. "Bye, Tess."

Ending the call, Harry lowered himself to Charlie's level and rubbed the labrador's head. "You be a good boy now, ok?"

Charlie began to lick the air next to Harry's face, his wet tongue grazing the side of Harry's cheek and leaving a trail of saliva.

Laughing, Harry stood up and wiped the side of his face. "Ok, I'll come by and pick him up in a few hours."

"That's fine. Have a good time."

"I will." He grinned. "Later."



Feeling a gentle tug on the lead, I looked down at Charlie and watched as he pressed his nose up against the ground, happily sniffing away. Raising my head, I led us down a path on my left, towards a small opening between some dense trees.

As I wasn't in any rush to head home, and because the weather had started to brighten up a bit, I decided to stay out for a while longer, rather than head straight back to my house. I didn't get to walk Charlie a lot, with Harry, Riley, or his parents taking up that task, but whenever I did, I usually took him to the canal.

It was quite popular with some of the other dog walkers, giving them an alternative to the grassy playing fields in the centre of town. It was also much quieter too, removing some of the distractions that could make the whole experience far less pleasant.

Passing through to the other side of the hedges, we emerged alongside the canal. Switching the lead to my other hand, I placed Charlie on the side away from the water's edge. While I knew he could swim, the last thing I wanted was for him to inadvertently drag us both into the dark and icy water after some ducks or geese.

Then again, compared to some other dogs that I'd known throughout the years, Charlie was generally quite well behaved. As part of the deal for Harry to have a dog, his parents made him promise to take him to dog training classes. True to his word, Harry and I both used to take Charlie to the classes when he was a little puppy. It was different to what I expected, requiring Harry and me to be a lot more commanding and dominant to something that we wanted to hug, pamper, and play with. It was a learning experience for the three of us, and ultimately resulted in having a well-trained pet and two adept owners.

Gazing up at the breaking clouds, and spying a small sliver of blue sky peeking through, I thought back to earlier that morning at Tess's house. Meeting Josh was completely unexpected to say the least. I went there with the hopes of talking to Tess, but ended up speaking to her brother, someone I knew very little about.

During the short amount of time I'd spent with him, he came across as quite a decent guy. He seemed to mirror his sister's attribute of projecting a friendly image, as well as carrying an air of intelligence about him. And he happened to be gay.

It was an interesting development, one that explained quite a lot where Tess was concerned. It also got me wondering how much Sean knew about Josh. I'd assumed that he knew about Josh's orientation, but I couldn't be sure.

Then there was Josh himself. It probably would've been a good idea to have remained with him and agreed to his offer for lunch. Our conversation revolving around Harry and Tess had come to an end, which meant anything and everything was up for discussion. I could've taken the opportunity to find out more about him.

My lips curled up at the sides as a thought crossed my mind. I also couldn't deny that Josh was very attractive, though I remained more intrigued by the person beneath the good looks. I glanced down at Charlie.

"Do you think Josh likes dogs?"

He briefly regarded me and then dropped his head back to the floor.

I gave a light laugh and then tugged on the lead. "Come on, let's go home."


Stepping through the front door of my house, I instantly became aware of the raised voices coming from the living room, indicating we had guests. Closing the door behind me, I instructed Charlie to sit while I hung up my jacket on the side. I strained my ears trying to figure out who else was in the house, but couldn't distinguish the separate voices from my location in the hall.

Kneeling next to Charlie, I tightened my grip around his collar, my fingers hovering above the metal link that secured the lead. "I'm gonna take it off you now, ok?" Shifting his weight, Charlie handed me his left paw, forcing me to grin at him. "Close enough."

After unlocking the lead from his collar, Charlie quickly broke away and darted off into the lounge.

"Cute dog."

It took a moment for my brain to recognise the voice behind me. Turning around, my eyes widened as I stared at the man approaching from the kitchen. Reaching out a hand down towards me, Neal's smile grew.

"It's good to see you again, West."

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Written by Kai Taylor
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Copyright © 2013-2014 Kai Taylor