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 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 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."
"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