*Author’s note: contains use of alcohol and adult language*
“Get your ass in here Connor Henderson!” Father yelled from the storage room.
“Coming Father.” I catch my mother’s gaze. She’s serving another customer at the counter, so I signal that I’m heading to the storeroom and she nods. Father probably needs help with another sack of flour. You’d think after working in a bakery for your whole life, you’d have the strength to lift bulk bags of flour, but for my father, that’s not the case.
Our family bakery, ‘Gloriously Glazed’ was founded by my grandfather, Jeremiah Henderson, to compete with his high-school rival, Edward Thompson, when he’d set up ‘Glazed and Glorious’ across the street. Both bakeries still rival each other for customers, especially at times like this, when a massive food festival is coming up.
I head out of the shop into one of the rooms beyond, to find my father struggling under a box that’s tipping off the shelf. I lift the box from his hands and turn to him.
“Did you need anything else, Father?”
“No. Go help yer mother out the front, boy.”
“Okay,” I turn to leave, but notice the brand on the box; it’s liquor. I pause in the doorway, looking back at him. “Father?” A grunt. “Keep off the liquor. We need you sober for the festival tomorrow.” I sigh. Father’s been having more alcohol recently and it’s taking a toll on the family. He’s constantly irritable, and no matter how much Mother does to keep him contained, it isn’t always enough. Like that night. It didn’t end well...
“BOY! Get back here!” I turn back to him. “Ask those pieces of shit across the road if they’ll make a deal with us.”
“What do you think boy? Have their daughter marry you so you’ll disgrace the family more than you already have? NO! For them to sell some of our infamous blueberry tarts at the festival so we can sell their strawberry tarts!” That’s the main rivalry between our bakeries, we have better blueberry tarts and they have better strawberry tarts. Apart from the odd clueless tourist we barely sell any strawberry tarts, because everyone within a twenty-mile radius knows that Glazed and Glorious’ are better.
“But what?” Father approaches me, and I back away towards the door. “You afraid you’ll disgrace our family by fucking their whore of a daughter? ...again?” He sneers and I wince. I hate it when my father uses my history with Jasper Thompson against me. I never slept with her, gosh no, we only got to kissing, any worse and our parents would’ve murdered us when they found out we were dating. I ruined what we had between us that night on the cliff and our parents forbade us from seeing each other again.
“Go and do it yer fucking coward!” Father shoves me in the shoulders, pushing me through the doorway and into the bakery. I stumble, and not wanting another insult from my father and make my way out to the street.
I lean against the bakery’s facade, breathing heavily and sighing at the release of tension in my shoulders. I push off the wall, square my shoulders and stride across the street to the Thompson’s bakery. The bell above the door rings as I push open the door, resulting in a frowning Jasper looking up at me from the counter.
“What are you doing here, Connor?” She snarls, looking down to examine her fingernails.
“You think I wanna be here on my own accord?” She looks up briefly before her eyes lock with mine and she looks back down.
“Well if you didn’t come to visit me, what’s your business here?”
“My father… wants to make a deal for the festival. He thinks-” Gosh, I sound stupid.
“What makes you think we’d associate with your bakery?!”
“I know this is sudden, but can you listen for a second, Jasper?”
“No, I can’t. The last time I listened to you, I fell for you, look where that got me.” I run a hand through my hair.
“We promised each other we wouldn’t speak about that… We’re over that, aren’t we?” She nods, but I suspect there’s more to her answer than what she’s telling me. Her eyes, looking up at me once again, betray her true thoughts; she’s never got over it.
“The deal is, you can sell some of our blueberry tarts if we can sell your strawberry tarts. I’m not saying you have to, but tell your dad so that he’ll consider. It’ll be a win-win for both bakeries, then we can go back to being rivals.” Honestly, I’m surprised Jasper even considers it. Our fathers were always sticklers for rules and considering her grandfather set up his bakery first, they have good reason to despise us.
“We’ll see.” She replies and I leave, the bell jingling on the door as I depart.
I roll over under the covers, to see my dull digital clock. It’s one in the morning but I can’t sleep. I can’t get over Jasper’s face earlier when I asked if she was over what had happened. She said she had, but it was obvious she didn’t. Truth be told, I never did either. I still love her, but she hates me because I ruined it that night. I ruined it, but I didn’t have a choice. I roll out of bed, pushing aside the covers and grab a hoodie from the back of my chair that I slip on as I leave. We live above and behind the bakery; bedrooms upstairs, kitchen and living room downstairs. I tiptoe down the stairs and to the back door, passing Father out cold on the couch and slipping out the back door without a sound.
I never would’ve snuck out of the house at night previously, but that was before my relationship with Jasper. We’d have to sneak out at night to meet up so that our parents wouldn’t know, so every night since then, when I look at the moon and the stars twinkling above, it reminds me of Jasper and what we’d had together. So I snuck out tonight, rather than lie in bed awake because I need a reminder of what we had, even if it brings back the pain of remembering why we can no longer be. Not recalling my journey there, I found myself at the cliff, the cliff where Jasper and I were found out, the cliff our relationship was pushed off by our fathers, splattering on the jagged rocks below.
Jasper and I had snuck out. We’d walked to the reserve, where the cliffs were. We’d been sitting up the top, having the time of our lives, laughing, kissing and enjoying the view. Then my father arrived, ruining everything. He was very drunk, swaying with every step.
“Where have you been, boy?!” He’d yelled, and we both stood up. I stood in front of Jasper. She didn’t need to deal with my drunk father. Father was carrying a broken beer bottle, and he swung it around, but he was too far away to hit us.
“This is what happens when a man’s son doesn’t come home!” He’d shouted, and I was scared, scared for both of our lives. There was a cliff-edge no more than three metres away and Father was a staggering drunk, unpredictable and enraged.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I should be home all the time, so I can remind you not to drink because it’s MY fault you get drunk!” I fired back, angrily. A grin had crept over my father’s face, as he announced that Jasper’s father was ALSO looking for us.
As Father said that, Jasper’s father stomped up to her, taking her arms and locking her in place. I would’ve tried to pull her back, but my father was still an imminent threat, despite her being pulled away from me.
“Connor!” She’d begged. “Connor, please! They’re going to separate us!” She screamed, but it was not the separation that I was afraid of. No, it was my simmering rage and hurt that boiled beneath my skin. The rage that if pushed too far would make me push my father off that cliff because he couldn’t control himself, because he was an ignorant drunk who didn’t care enough for his family to stay sober and because he, along with Jasper’s father, were the ones that withheld me from loving the person I longed to love. I was scared the rage would make me kill my father, maybe hit or injure her father too, but I knew that I had to hold it together. I had to hold it together for Jasper, I knew I couldn’t hurt Jasper more than the result of this encounter inevitably would, so I steeled my gaze and turned back to her.
“I know,” I whispered. I looked back at her one last time, the girl I’d loved and followed father home as she cried into the night.
I walk back to the town center and lean against the central clock tower, the memories stabbing at my heart and blinding me as I look up to the moon between the clouds, reminding me of Jasper. Why does every darn thing in this town remind me of her? From nearby, a voice cries out.
“Why did I have to fall in love with the boy I couldn’t have?!” A thud sounds, like a fist on wood. It sounds like Jasper…?
“Jasper?” It can’t be her, can it? I emerge from the shadow of the tower and step towards the voice. Sure enough, Jasper is there, sitting near a wooden bench, wiping tears from her eyes.
“Jasper?” It hurts me to see her upset, but even more for her to be upset over me. I never wanted to hurt her, but leaving with my father that night clearly broke her. I only wish I’d been able to explain to her. I put a hand on her shoulder and use my other to gently lift her face, she slaps my hand away but I don’t budge.
“Jasper, it’s me. Are you okay?”
“What the hell, C-Connor? You come h-here, and you ask me if I’m okay? You know why things can’t be the same!” She shouts between heavy breaths.
“Calm down, Jasper. I just want to know if you’re ok-”
“No, goddamnit! Why do you keep asking me?!” I wipe a tear from her cheek with my thumb. I don’t want to see her cry.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for what happened that night,”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it, Connor! Your words don’t mean anything after your actions,” I know it doesn’t, but it pains me to see her hurting because of me.
“I know that.”
“You left me! When your father came, you didn’t say a word, and you walked away like we were nothing. Like I was nothing. Why?! Was I not good enough for you?”
“I did it to pro-”
“Don’t you dare say you were protecting me. Who were you even protecting me from? Your drunk father? My possessive parents?” No… but also yes. How do I explain this to her? How would I explain it to myself?
“I- No. I was protecting you from… myself,” The shock flickers through her eyes.
“I can explain.” I retell what happened that night, even though I have no doubt she remembers every detail, but I add in my thoughts and emotions and my reasoning for my actions. “I told you I was protecting you, from myself,” I say, reaching my hand across to hold hers, but she refuses. I sigh and continue. “We both know when my father came, something washed over me. I was cold, I know, and I’m sorry Jasper. If I hadn’t acted like that, I would’ve lost it. My father broke me that night, I would’ve snapped. I would’ve done everything you wanted me to, scream, cry, beg, but I can assure you, I would not have been myself. I would do something I’d regret for the rest of my life. If I had snapped, I probably would’ve pushed my father off that cliff, and walked away. I would’ve hit your father till he was black and blue just so I could get back to you. Tell me you forgive me, Jasper. I did it for you, I was like that so you wouldn’t have to hurt more than you already did,” I want her to understand, but if she never forgives me I know it was my own doing.
“So, you’re saying… you could’ve killed your father just to be with me?”
“I mean, I could’ve, not saying that I would.”
“What kind of psychopath are you?!” She screams, slapping my face “Why would you do that, just for me?! That’s the stupidest thing you could do!” By this point, I’m crying and I cannot hold the tears, horror registers in her face but I turn on my heel and walk away.
Several hours later, I’m helping my parents set up our displays in our marquee. Father is agitated and keeps glancing over at the Thompson's stall. I glance over and Jasper’s parents are whispering to each other. Considering the behaviour of both sets of parents, it’s probably about the deal that father offered. Father goes to the back of the stall, talking just below my hearing.
“-not hard. Just go and ask them, Baxter.”
“Ask them yourself Alessia. I don’t give a shit what they decide as long as they tell us before the visitors come.”
“You offered the deal, you follow it up. That’s what they would want, darling.”
“And that’s EXACTLY why I won’t give it to them. Get the boy to do it then!”
“That boy is your son.” Mother says sternly before I hear her approach me.
“Would you mind asking the Thompsons if-”
“JUST GO AND ASK, IDIOTS.”
“Baxter!” Mother says horrified and Father responds by shoving me towards Glazed and Glorious’ stall.
“My father wants to know if the deal is still going ahead,” I say to Griffin, Jasper’s father, as I look across to Jasper.
“Why did he send you, and not talk to me, himself?”
“I’ll go ask him to come over,” I say and moments later I’ve returned with my father.
“You’re impossible, Griffin. Why can’t you just accept the deal? We’re both making more money!”
“What’s your reasoning behind this deal, anyway? You’re never this keen to work together, in fact, you’re never this keen to ever work with my bakery,”
“You asshole, I’m trying to make a profit!” Father growls. Jasper and I head over to my stall, avoiding the argument at hers. We can still hear the adult’s conversation, but we pretend we can’t. I stand at the counter and a small child with her mother approaches us.
“Mama! Mama! Can I have one of those?” The child points to a chocolate croissant and her mother smiles.
“You heard my girl, one chocolate croissant, please,” The mother hands over the money, and I give the little girl the croissant. She has the biggest smile on her face, and it makes me happy to know that I can make somebody else happy when I can’t be.
Once the customers leave, Connor turns back to me.
“What are you looking at?”
“Nothing your pretty head needs to worry about.” She pauses. “Oh, nothing. I’m just looking at your beautiful flexing muscles, showing beneath your shirt, and your eyes that I could stare into all day.” I let out a low whistle, I never thought that after what happened she would forgive me let alone still like me.
“Really? I thought you were checking me out,” Her eyes widen in horror.
“Don’t take that the wrong way, Connor!” I take a single step closer towards her.
“Do you still like me, Jasper?” She shakes her head.
“Yeah, well, from what you just said, I really don’t believe that,”
“Ok! Ok!” She says blushing. “Yes, I still like you. I never got over you, okay? I just pretended to hate you, because losing you hurt more than I wanted to admit.”
“Well, I expected a lot of things today, but a confession wasn’t one of them,” I step closer again. Gosh, I want to hold her tight, I want to hold her and never let go. Our parents are still yelling, but none of that matters anymore as she rushes toward me, straight into my arms.
“God, I missed you so much, Jasper.”
“Not as much as I missed you.” We’re interrupted by yelling and we glance over to her bakery’s stall. Her father is sprawled on the floor, a tray of food, knocked down with him.
“Dad!” She yells, as her raging father stands up. “We need to stop them!” She tugs on my sleeve and I follow her across.
“Stop it, both of you!” I shout.
“Shut up, boy! We have pastries to sell!” Father screeches, but mother intervenes.
“Griffin, Aubrey, Jasper, I’m so sorry. I know apologising won’t make up for everything, but the truth is-”
“NO!” Father lunges at Mother and time slows as she pulls herself away.
“The truth is, we’ve gone bankrupt. We only found out a week ago.” When was I going to get told this? “I- I think it’s because of you,” Mother points a finger at Father. “All you do is drink, Baxter. You don’t help in the bakery anymore, you don’t help with the house, you sit on your lazy ass, and you drink and you gamble.”
“We’re losing the bakery this Friday.” Mother whispers and I tense beside her knowing what is to come as father sinks to the ground.
“So it’s true,” Griffin says, eyeing both my parents.
“We need to talk about this later,” Mother says, and at that moment I know that things will change and probably for the better.