How to Catch a Happy Ever After - Chapter 1



Rory


It had certainly been more than a few years since I last stood in the center of Chester Falls town square.

Despite the colder than usual fall, somehow everything was blooming. Proof, if any was needed, that the town had its own magic spell. Or maybe just a really good gardener.

The square, as well as the buildings surrounding it, hadn't changed much. I knew that because I remembered every single time I'd been here. And like most of the locations in the small town, the square held my secrets.

It was here that I had my first hotdog from a street vendor after the book fair when I was eight. My grandad had sworn me to secrecy because if my parents knew about it, they'd definitely forbid our weekly adventures into town.

That was the first secret I kept. Inconsequential, now that I thought about it, but it had a much longer-lasting effect on me.

Secrets existed.

Secrets meant I could do normal things.

Secrets kept me safe.

Until that safety became a gilded prison. A self-imposed retreat from myself. And who do you become when you can't be yourself?

In my case, an ugly, cold person who hurts others.

I shivered in the cold despite my heavy coat. Maybe I was just cold all over, and it had nothing to do with the temperature.

Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself for what I was here to do. I had no real excuse to turn back. Especially since this had been my idea. One that my therapist had encouraged.

I walked toward Fabulize, ignoring anything that might be a distraction, such as the man selling roasted chestnuts on the corner of the square or the street art exhibition from the high school art club students.

The door was closed, but the sign was turned to open. Not surprising, considering how cold it was out. From the outside, I could see the store's owner by the counter, drawing on a large notepad.

I pushed the door open, and the bell gave away my presence.

"Good morning, and welcome to Fabulize. I'm Tom, your new fairy godmother and granter of all your fashion wishes."

His smile warmed me up instantly. I'd heard some stories about Tom from my best friend, Connor, but my imagination didn't come anywhere close to what being in front of him was really like.

His eyes were a strange color that looked almost violet. Were they real? Whatever they were, I couldn't take my eyes off him.

"Are you okay there, sweetie?" he asked.

"Yes…um, I'm sorry, you're just so much more than I thought." I blew out a long breath. "Sorry, that came out all wrong."

He smiled. "Oh, don't you worry. I've been extra since the day I was born. Besides, you can't wear this outfit without owning your sparkle," he said, running his hands down his waistcoat. It was purple with a gold embroidered pattern that looked like those fancy, old French chandeliers.

I nodded, unsure of what to say, and took the embossed wedding invite from the inner pocket of my coat, setting it down on the counter.

"I'm Rory."

I let my name hang like a curse. Well, it felt like a curse to me most of the time.

Tom stood up straight, and his smile went even wider. Then he came out from behind the counter and hugged me.

What's going on? I'm pretty sure this isn't how this is meant to go down.

"I'm so pleased to finally meet you," he said, releasing me. I missed his warmth immediately. "Connor talks about you all the time. I hope you're back to stay. I know he misses you, and James is one pet adoption away from owning a zoo to make up for it."

I laughed. I missed my best friend too. I guess I never considered that he might miss me too now that he was all loved up and married to his childhood best friend.

"Yes, I'm back. That's um…why I'm here," I said.

Tom nodded as he leaned against the counter.

"I don't know where to start," I continued, but Tom held up his hand.

"Hold on. Let me grab us some brownies and a cocktail."

"Cocktail?"

"Don't worry, it's non-alcoholic. I like to be sugared up for heart-to-hearts."

I did a double-take. "How do you know what I'm here for?"

He shrugged and disappeared behind a heavy curtain, coming back a minute later with a plate stacked with mini brownies and two tall glasses filled with a multicolored drink.

"Take a seat." He pointed to the couch.

I followed him and sat on the opposite side, wondering how this visit had turned completely upside down before I’d even said why I’d come to see him.

"Okay, my dear, tell me why you're here. And I hope it's not to decline the invitation to my wedding because it’s no taksies-backsies."

He seemed so serious about it that I wasn't sure how to follow. Because he was wrong. I couldn't go to his wedding. I mean, after all I'd done, how could I?

"You're Charlie's best friend. I know he confided in you about us." I cradled the drink with both my hands to have something to do with them. "I'm really sorry about what happened. I've spoken to Charlie…" A lump formed in my throat as I remembered how easily he'd forgiven me when I really didn't deserve it.

Tom put his hand on mine. "You have nothing to apologize for. Not to me, at least."

"But I do. I know Charlie was alone with my secret until he confided in you. I know…you're still keeping his secret. My secret. I appreciate that more than you know, even if I don't deserve it. That's why I need to apologize to you. After I left Chester Falls, I tried coming back so many times, but each try failed because I didn't know how to handle things. I hadn't forgiven myself, and I wasn't ready to talk to other people. But I'm tired of hiding away. I want to live in the only place that ever felt like home to me. And I want to be able to wave to you on the street, to have you make me a suit for a work event, and to not feel like my past is constantly behind me, waiting to push me over."

Tom took a sip of his drink. "Rory, I only have one question for you."

I nodded.

"Are you still in love with Charlie?"

What?

"No. No. I mean, I love him, but I'm not in love with him. He's so happy with Kris, he's fulfilling his dreams, and he's a fucking prince now. A prince!"

Tom laughed. "Yeah, I'll never get used to that. I mean, if anyone was born to wear a tiara, it was me, right? It's a good thing Wren treats me like royalty," he said, shoving a brownie in his mouth in the most unroyal manner ever.

"Sorry," he said with his mouth full. "Can't get crumbs on this outfit, or it'll be a bitch to clean."

I held my drink to my lips. Tom was right, it was very sweet, but it was also the thing I didn't know I needed until I took a sip.

"Wow, this is ridiculously good, Tom. What's in it?"

"Wholesome rainbows and a little bit of fairy dust. It always works wonders on those who need a hug in a cup."

My throat tightened. If only Tom knew how much I needed a hug. Or human contact from someone that truly cared beyond the mutual agreement that our time together would be casual and secret.

Fucking secrets.

"Thank you, Tom. I wasn't sure how to do this, and I certainly don't deserve how easily you've forgiven me."

"Like I said, there's nothing to forgive. If you've made things right with Charlie, then you've made things right with me. Now, about the wedding…" he said.

"I can't go."

"Can't or won’t?"

Neither, I thought. I could go to the wedding. It's not like I had a busy social agenda anymore. I also wanted to go, I just… "Maybe it's a bit too soon. It's one thing to make amends and another to join such an important celebration."

Tom grabbed the plate with the brownies and held it up to me. I couldn't resist taking one. He put the plate back on the small coffee table next to the couch and turned to face me. He suddenly looked serious, and I felt like this was part of Tom he didn't often let out.

"My dads died when I was only a baby. Most of my life, it was just me and my mom, and then there was Charlie. I never thought my family would turn out to be made up of so many wonderful people. If I'd stayed in Boston instead of moving to Chester Falls, I would never have met Wren. Bottom line is, life is too short to live in the dark. Come to the wedding, have more drinks than you should, eat more than is wise, and be the Rory you want to be. Who knows, you may even find your own prince charming to kiss at midnight. It could be the start of your own happy ever after."

I laughed. "Okay, I'll come to the wedding, but as for the second thing…I doubt it."

"Why's that?"

I looked away. "That would mean I'd need to be out."

"Why aren't you? Sorry," Tom said. "No one should be out before they're ready, but wouldn't you be happier if you could openly be yourself?"

I shrugged. "I almost came out to Connor when we were fifteen, but I got too scared. My parents…they're not…I don't want to talk about them, but if I'd come out, I'd have lost the little freedom I had, including being able to see Connor. It was easier staying in the closet, and then it was just too late."

Tom stood up and went over to one of his display shelves, coming back a moment later holding a burnt-orange scarf in his hand.

He wrapped it around my neck and then placed a handheld mirror in front of my face.

"Butterflies start out as larvae, the rainbow starts out as rain. You can come out in your own time, but don't walk out of this door thinking it's too late, Rory, because it's not. Whenever you want to do it, I can guarantee you'll be accepted. I don't know what your family situation is like, but here in Chester Falls, you already have one waiting for you."

I felt my eyes water and had to take a deep breath so I wouldn't cry. God, I was so tired of everything. All I wanted was to bathe in Tom's kind words and believe they were true.

"Thank you, Tom. You have no idea how much this means to me."

"I do, Rory. Trust me, I do. See? You already look like a different person. You can be what you want to be."

The way he said it made me wonder what he meant. It was hard to believe that Tom could be anything else but this kind, sparkly person in front of me. Then again, I knew how ugly the world was out there, so maybe he'd had his fair share of punches thrown his way.

I left the store with the promise to come back to get a suit for the wedding after Tom insisted I keep the scarf.

His words also stayed with me. Could I do it? Could I be an openly gay man?

Tom was right. I would be accepted. After all, Connor thought he'd been straight all his life until he reconnected with James, and out of all the challenges they’d faced, Connor coming out didn't seem to have been one of them.

The wedding was two months away, so I had time to think about it.

Not that I was hoping to find my happy ever after, as Tom had put it, at the wedding. That would be crazy.

Before I turned the corner to a side street, I saw Wren going into Fabulize holding a large coffee from Spilled Beans.

Wren was another guy from my childhood that hadn't exactly been straight and had come out after meeting Tom.

It seemed all around me were perfect examples of why it shouldn't be so hard for me to do this. Why did it still feel like I had such a big wall to climb?








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