There were many more interesting things to be doing than lifting boxes on a Friday morning but as it so happened, they were regretfully unavailable to him. On his fourth trip down the narrow steps to the cellar he counted the remaining boxes and turned his eyes skyward. Of course there were at least four more.
He heard the little chime upstairs in the shop and set his load down, brushing the dust off his jeans before walking up the rickety stairs. Who could be wandering in at ten in the morning, on a Friday? One glimpse of strawberry blonde hair told him all he needed to know—it was his dear friend and bane of his existence, Gwenllian Kyffin. And she had with her—surprise, surprise—more boxes.
"Tell me I am hallucinating. Tell me you're just stopping by to bring me some tea," he said, clasping her hand and pulling her away from the pile of boxes.
"Aw, you poor thing, overworked already? Not to worry, these seem to be filled with feathers. I ran into Kevin, the boy who brings the deliveries 'round? I offered to take them here as I was fetching you for that tea you mentioned."
"You truly have inhuman amounts of energy, miss Kyffin," Rhys noted. He looked at the pile forlornly.
She snorted. "I'm hardly Wonder Woman. You just can't be arsed to exercise, noodle arms. Get your keys, I'm taking you for a cup of tea. You're clearly dehydrated."
"I can't just leave!" he yelped, affronted.
"Of course you can, you just follow me out this here door. I'll deal with old Llelo if he gives you a hard time, you know he loves me," she said and pulled him along nearly breaking both their legs crashing through the piles of boxes in the process.
He managed to snatch his keys on the way while holding on for his life. Gwenllian was always rushing from one place to the other, often dragging him along with her. She was an only child, like him, and they'd just grown up forming their own strange little siblinghood. She might be a threat to his life, but she was a sister of the heart.
They headed over to the small café on the other side of the street, Moira's little beige corner. It was probably unchanged from its 1920's origin, the music was fucking crap and it perpetually smelled of fried eggs and beans, but Moira made a fantastic cup of tea.
"Oi, dreamer boy! A little attention for your kidnapper, eh?"
He looked up at her grinning face and rolled his eyes. He hadn't been paying attention, true enough, but Gwen always talked a mile a minute and he could hardly be expected to keep up with everything she said. He never truly meant to ignore her, as she well knows, he just couldn't help his mind's habit of wandering at inopportune moments. He glared at her for her insensitivity towards his predicament.
"What's wrong with you Rhys? Dreading the start of the educational year are you?"
"No, Gwen. I'm not the one passing by the skin of his teeth—that's your department," he told her, sticking his tongue out for emphasis. "Besides, it's barely July."
She exhaled loudly and let her head fall on the little wooden table. "You're a cruel man, Rhys Blevins, a cold, cruel man. There's just more to life than classes."
"Probably, not that you'll ever find out as you'll be stuck there forever. Not to mention that our shiny Bachelors in Fine Arts and Creative Writing, respectively, will be about as useful in reality as a guide to finding fairies. Now, tea, please?"
"You are so very lucky you're my friend, Blevins. Oi, Moira!"
"Whatcher shouting for," came the formidable scream from the other side of the café.
"I'm shouting for some serious tea," Gwen hollered back.
"Which is very, very different from silly tea didn't you know," Rhys muttered.
"Ah Gwen, your folks still haven't managed to beat sense into ye. Now look at Rhys, a good, polite lad. If you'd only be a wee bit more like him," the stout woman said sternly. "Now, two teas then? Milk for you, lad? Good, good," she said to herself, already walking away.
Gwenllian rolled her eyes at the little woman and turned back to Rhys. She leaned over the table and beckoned him to come closer. He eyed her wearily, raising an eyebrow.
"You're as mad as a March hare if you think I'm coming any closer," he told her matter-of-factly.
"You really have no respect for covert operations at all. I'm trying to be circumspect, now get over here," she said impatiently. "I want to tell you something I heard from Mary yesterday. You'd want to know, come on," she whined.
Rhys sighed and leaned over, bringing his ear closer to her mouth. Her breath tickled and he felt oddly uncomfortable, even if it was only Gwen. He simply wasn't good with females in his personal space and Gwen knew that. She also enjoyed his discomfort a little too much, he felt.
Gwenllian found it extremely amusing her best male friend was able to swoon over men with her. It pleased her to no end that she could parade around naked and only be stared at for making a fool of herself instead of her freckled chest and long legs. She wasted no opportunity to point out a tasty specimen of the male species to him and hunted for others with his affliction with a vengeance. She wasn't about to let her best friend wither away alone.
"Oh spit it out already," he said, "I'm getting a crick in my neck."
"So impatient, tut, tut. All right, so, apparently he's six foot enormous, brunet, and wears leather. Interested yet?"
Rhys reared back. "What have you done this time, Gwen?"
She pulled back, looking affronted. Rhys rolled his eyes at her theatrics and looked up just in time to accept his tea from Moira. The old lady turned briskly, still muttering about manners and the like, and he returned his gaze to Gwenllian.
"I'm hurt, Rhys. That you could possibly think I would do anything at all to harm you, my best friend. Shame on you. Shame!"
"Very well, let us pretend I am properly contrite and get to the point," Rhys huffed.
"Fine, you grouch. You remember that massive old house on Denting Street? It's finally been sold, and apparently the new owners are some posh old lady and a god of a man. I thought you might like to know, that's all," she said. Gwen latched on to her cup and grinned unrepentantly at her fuming friend. He was chewing over his insults; she could tell by the way he scrunched his nose just so. He wasn't appreciative of anyone's attempts to find him a boyfriend, but that didn't stop Gwen from trying.
"You, Gwenllian Kyffin, are the most obnoxious, nosy, irritating, witch of a woman I have ever had the displeasure of knowing. Just so we're clear on that," Rhys told her.
She grinned shark-like and satisfied. "Does that mean you'll come with me after work to wander past his house in a seemingly random stroll?"
"Of course it does, you twit. You mentioned leather, how many people around here wear leather?"
She was thoughtful for a minute before breaking out in a grin. "Not many, but there are plenty kinky bastards who wear rubber," she said pointing at old David's feet which were encased in the muddiest pair of rubber boots imaginable. "Now you get back to your boxes and I'll join you after I pick up some cookies, yeah? Off with you."
Rhys stood up and made a little bow to her, earning him a few chuckles, before striding away. When he opened the door to the shop he cursed his stupidity for forgetting to lock it. It seemed it was all in order though so he kicked the boxes of feathers aside and resumed his trek from cellar to workroom and back. He was slightly peeved and decided to take it out on the boxes, grunting at the heavy load and pretending all that effort went into strangling Gwen's nosy self.
He was doing all right, he thought. Yes, he was alone and yes he had to tread carefully in fear of revealing his preference, but it wasn't all that terrible. Most people that mattered already knew he was a fruity, fruity cake but turned a blind eye, as people who love you would do for you at times of moral and religious dilemmas. Ah, the quirks of old people were so difficult to explain.
It wasn't them he had to hide from, not really. Rhys had noticed that most of any kind of trouble came from his peers and had made a point to avoid it. He had quite the healthy survival instinct. That was also an area where Gwen was rather useful—it was often assumed they belonged 'together' as it were, and neither of them did much to dissuade anyone. It had never been their plan to set up any sort of elaborate ruse, that had been a by-product of Gewnllian's clingy personality and unwillingness to shag anyone in town.
He wiped the sweat from his brow and flopped down on the chair at the sturdy wooden table and picked up his latest project. Rhys had been lucky—and stubborn—enough to persuade old man Llewellyn to let him work in his shop so he could learn all the man had to teach.
Ever since he was a child Rhys had been enraptured by the colourful masks in the window of the shop, and he had promptly declared he wanted to make one when he came home. He still had the papier-mâché monstrosity with the golden macaroni strands attached to it for 'hair' and it was proudly displayed on the wall of his bedroom. After years of plastering his face to the windows and incessant badgering, he had managed to convince old Llelo to let him work in the shop on a trial basis.
He liked to think the man hadn't regretted it, especially when it came to manual labour. His employer was getting on in years and Rhys had appointed himself his apprentice and heir to all things the man had to teach. He enjoyed making masks for the circus, the theatre, for fun and display. There wasn't anything else he'd rather do and he was thankful for having found Llewellyn because if there was anything about making masks old Llelo didn't know it was simply not worth bothering with.
His hair was falling into his eyes but he couldn't afford the luxury of pushing it back, the small stones had to be arranged before the glue dried or he would end up with a most unsatisfactory result. This was his newest baby and he would not settle for anything other than perfection. He didn't even look up when the chime sounded but grunted a welcome and continued to set the stones with a practised hand.
He only half-listened to the whispers and giggles, he was that absorbed in his work. Only when the door swung open wildly and someone stomped inside did he finally set his tools aside to glare at the disturbance.
"Off with you! Out!" Gwenllian ordered the two girls and practically dragged them to the door. "You have no business here and if I catch you bothering Rhys again I'll hang you from the flagpole by your pigtails."
"Now what was that all about?" he asked her, watching the two girls run off, still giggling.
"Get up you mongrel, up, up. You have to come and see," she said, pulling the poor boy to the window.
Rhys managed to reach it unharmed and set about untangling himself from her. He dusted off his shirt and frowned at his daft friend.
"You have to tell me what you're taking these days Gwen because whatever it is, it's going to be the death of me."
"Less complaining and more looking," she said, pointing to the left. Rhys followed her finger and spotted two figures crossing the street. The one was a petite lady with a wide brimmed hat and the other a tall male figure built like a tank. Ah, the mystery arrivals. They had saved him from a pointless stroll.
"Oh Jesus Mary and Joseph, they are coming here—quick, go sit and look natural," Gwen said and started pushing him towards the table. Rhys was having none of it though and planted his feet, pushing back with all his might. They ended up leaning into each other comically, both grunting from exertion and Gwen cursing loudly.
"Can we please stop turning this into a theatre show? I actually work here, piss off!"
"Give in Rhys, you couldn't wrestle a ferret," Gwen grunted.
"In the words of every male unfortunate enough to have met you, 'no thank you'," he said and shoved back harshly, forcing himself to take a step back. Unfortunately for him his leg hooked behind Gwen's and both of them ended up sprawled on the floor just as the door opened. Cerwyn looked down on them with an arched brow and smirked.
"Were you two play-wrestling again? Haven't I told you that's a dangerous hobby?"
Rhys scrambled to get up and glared at his friend balefully. He pulled Gwen up and trudged to his chair. Gwen playfully punched Cerwyn's arm and laughed at his hurt expression.
"I'll be Lita if you'll be Edge," she said and winked at him.
"No thank you, I have had my fill of feisty redheads. Ask Rhys."
"Rhyssy is being huffy today, no point in playing with him," she said sulkily.
Rhys snorted and crossed his arms. "I would not be huffy if you would stop acting like a crazy person."
Cerwyn walked over to him and started kneading his shoulders. "Poor baby, what did big bad Gwenllian do now?"
"Stop patronising me," Rhys said and batted his hands away. "I've been made fun of enough today, thank you very much."
"I didn't mean any harm love, you know that," Cerwyn said and turned to Gwen. "What did you do to the boy, you harlot."
"I didn't do anything at all Cerwyn, you should know better. I just pointed him in the direction of his best interests, that's all," she said.
"You're lying through your teeth Gwenllian Kyffin, you've been pulling me this way and that all damn day," Rhys said. He pointed an accusing finger at Gwenllian. "That thing over there has somehow convinced herself that she is my own personal cupid and has been bullying me about this new person who moved here."
"It's just her time of the year, you know how she gets in summer. She means well, Rhys."
"I do not care about intentions. I am tired of being the project! I am not a tragic homosexual and I am in no mood to run after some man I have never met, seen from within three feet or even spoken to. He could be an imbecile, a bastard, a criminal, an emotional cripple, heterosexual, a basket case, married, a female in disguise or any combination thereof!" Rhys said, his voice rising in pitch steadily until he had to take a deep breath.
Cerwyn and Gwenllian stared at him blankly, not moving a muscle. Finally, Gwen cleared her throat.
"I see you, um, feel rather strongly about this."
"Yes, yes I do," Rhys said softly. "I know you mean well Gwenny but I'm just not in the mood for this."
"You never seemed to be bothered by my efforts before," she said, sounding a little hurt.
"Yes, that was before you actually had something to aim me at. Wishful thinking is a lot less hazardous to my mental health than Gwenllian on a mission."
"Pardon me," Cerwyn interrupted, "Is this 'target' you speak of an impossibly tall bear of a man with shaggy brown hair?"
"That would be the one, yes. Isn't he adorable and absolutely perfect for Rhys?" Gwenllian gushed.
"The man who walked by the shop as blondie here was performing a body block with you on the floor?"
Rhys and Gwenllian both groaned with a thud from the sound of Rhys's head hitting the table as an added bonus. If he had to admit, which he hadn't and not even wild horses would drag it out if him, he had been excited along with Gwenllian. It was not every day something happened in their smallish town. Somewhere, even though he knew better, he had hoped for a second. But then of course reality set in and he ran.
Well, nothing much was going to come from it after that lovely first impression anyway, he was sure of it.
"You should lighten up Rhys. I'll get Gwen here out of your hair for the day and you can have some fun doing whatever it is you people do for fun," Cerwyn said playfully.
"What do you mean 'you people'?"
"Why, grandparents of course. You and old Llewellyn are one and the same. You sit here all day, gluing sparkles and feathers while chasing everyone away with sour looks. It's quite amusing to watch, you know."
"Out! Get out!"
Cerwyn led Gwenllian to the door and turned back to wink at Rhys. "Yes, exactly like that."
He was neither old nor boring and Cerwyn really needed to learn his place. Rhys loved the boy, he really did, but he looked forward to the day he could turn to him and say 'I told you so'. It didn't seem like that would happen any time soon. Cerwyn didn't understand, and how could he? Rhys was not like them, he had one passion to pursue in this small town, and that was the mask making. He couldn't get pissed out of his mind and chase after girls, because, well, the gay thing. Cerwyn at least had the fortune to be an equal opportunity harlot.
He cast a forlorn look at the near empty street. It was simple, calm, and straight. Also, sunny. All in all, it was everything he was not. He returned to his project but with a lot less enthusiasm than when he'd first started. Some days it did not pay to get out of bed. In the interest of self-flagellation, he decided to attack the paperwork instead, leaving his little experiment for another day.
Both he and old Llelo nourished a passionate hate towards paperwork and that translated into haphazard piles and wobbly towers placed randomly on the desk, floor and cabinets of the office space. While organising the piles in 'to do' and 'to avoid', which was better than nothing, he came across a short letter addressed to him. It was from Seth Doyle, the manager of Les Enfants de la Lune, reminding him they would be back during the autumn months. He was instantly cheered, if there was anything that could lift his spirits it would be those somnambulistic lunatics.
The troupe of burlesque performers and circus artists was always in need of replacements, repairs, embellishments and innovations. Doyle and Morris, the founders of Les Enfants, were originally from their small town, which was how they'd gotten involved with Llewellyn in the first place. Llewellyn refused to travel, but they refused to allow anyone but Llewellyn to design and create the masks around which they designed their entire performances.
The designs were always something to do with wolves—the signature of the troupe. They called themselves the wandering pack, children with no home but wherever the moon shone.
Gwenllian was an avid fan of the troupe so she would often join in the shows and preparations. She could be found arm wrestling with Derek, the knife specialist, or practising steps with the dancers. She sometime helped with the few animals or lent a hand at the ticket sales. Yet, she did not really see the mystique of the dark side of Les Enfants, or so Rhys felt.
Rhys adored Les Enfants, their sensual and macabre performances teased his imagination, calling to him in ways he didn't exactly understand. He would let himself be swept up in their preternatural creation and forget everything else for a while. The arrival of Les Enfants was always quite the happening in their town but Rhys was convinced it meant more to him than anyone else, which may be self-centred of him, but he couldn't help the way he felt.
He would spend every waking moment gallivanting with the performers, developing ideas with the stylists and arguing about details with the managers. He attended every show with the same degree of enthusiasm and anticipation and was equally enthralled every time.
It also didn't hurt that they were all absurdly gorgeous and very friendly. Very, very, very friendly.
"Boy, what are you doing in here?"
Rhys smiled at his employer. "Sorting out our mess boss, I was sorting out our mess. It was getting dangerous to move around in here."
"You have destroyed my system entirely," the old man groused.
"What system," Rhys scoffed. "Or were you building a paper-fort?"
"Get out of here you miscreant. Your shift is over." Llewellyn pushed past him and sat down at the somewhat cleared desk. "Look at that. I'll never find anything now."
Rhys cleared his throat and adopted a serious expression. "Now, pay attention please. This pile here, yes, the large one, is the pile of 'Paperwork Neither Rhys Nor Llewellyn Are Even Remotely Interested In'. This other one is 'Things Rhys And Llewellyn Will Be Very Happy To See Aren't Lost Forever'. Thank you for your time, I will see you on Monday."
"Unfortunately," Llewellyn muttered and made a dismissive gesture in Rhys's direction. "Out. I have things to do."
"You are an awful grouch you know."
Llewellyn looked up from the sheet he was skimming and raised a bushy eyebrow. "Yes well, I never coveted the role of 'favourite uncle' so it is not a major loss."
"That's a shame, imagine all the fun to be had pulling your whiskers and nicking your hair ties," Rhys said on his way out.
He ran home, skidding through the hall and all the way to the couch where he flopped down next to his grandmother who was completely transfixed by the television.
"Did I miss it?" he asked, breathing heavily.
"No, no right on time," she assured him. "Mr Darcy isn't making an entrance for another ten minutes. Go fetch us some tea, love."
Rhys kissed his nan on the cheek and went. He fell asleep on the couch and dreamt of Pemberley.
He woke up with an impressive crick in just about every joint in his body and a strong hatred of everything. It was clearly the perfect time to go to work.
It was time to practice the art of procrastination, Rhys figured. It was Saturday, the weather was lovely enough, and absolutely nothing would be happening. There could be mindless fretting in his future and he didn't quite feel up to that so he set out to dust the display cases thoroughly with the Stones playing loudly as his theme music. He swayed and hummed, swishing his duster theatrically working his way through the shop oblivious to the fact that there were indeed windows, of the transparent variety. He never noticed the multitude of amused glances he received from passers-by. Having run out of things to dust, which was a marvellous accomplishment in itself, he decided to return to his project.
When the chime sounded he prepared himself for another confrontation with Gwenllian but he looked up—way up—into the strangest eyes he'd ever seen. They were mahogany and gold and honestly, a little scary.
The man was even bigger from close up. Six foot enormous was about right, he reckoned, and the man's biceps were the size of Rhys's thighs. He vaguely wondered how he didn't burst out of the t-shirt he was wearing and how on earth he'd found one in size elephant.
"Is it safe now?" the man asked and Rhys immediately noticed the soft accent just after he stopped staring at his smile.
He was stunned to say the least. Speechlessness was the least of his problems really, and in the grand scheme of things it didn't matter quite so much. Especially in light of certain developments 'lack of speech' was entirely negligible. Of course, staring was incredibly impolite so he nodded to ensure the man that yes, he was quite safe in Rhys's clutches. The man chuckled softly and let his gaze sweep over the displays. Rhys could feel his cheeks burning and he looked down at the mess in front of him, willing the blush away. He was being pathetic, acting like a little girl faced with her crush.
"My mother was wondering if you accept custom orders."
His head snapped up and he heard a distinct crack. It took a lot of effort to hold back the string of curses just waiting to escape and he set down the two glitter-covered pieces down. He had broken the damn thing straight down the middle.
"Pardon?" he asked, looking down regretfully at the pieces of his project.
"I apologise, I did not mean to startle you. I asked if you also take custom orders," the man said gently, his voice entirely at odds with his appearance. He looked like he could bench press a truck but sounded more like a guy who collected my little ponies. "Mama has been looking for a decorative piece or two for the new house."
"We usually do, unless Les Enfants placed a large order again, which they haven't so it shouldn't be a problem and oh god I am rambling. Please forgive me," Rhys mumbled, ducking his head.
"You are forgiven. Alexandre Ochoa, I moved here recently," he said, offering his hand.
"Rhys Blevins, I've always been here and will remain here for the foreseeable future," he said, shaking the large hand. It was warm, and softer than he'd thought it'd be.
"That is good to know. Thank you for your time, Rhys Blevins, we will be speaking again soon. For now, I must return to my impatient lady mother," he said and left with a little wave.
"Alexandre Ochoa," Rhys drawled. "Christ, what a name."
With a sigh he set about clearing the worktable and put the broken pieces of his mask away for later aggravation. He was not in the mood for ranting and raving so he would postpone it. There were much nicer things to contemplate, like phoning Gwenllian and apologising so eloquently she could not help but pull him into her enthusiasm again. Perhaps they should take that random stroll that randomly led them past Alexandre's house. They had just moved so he doubted they'd had any time to put up heavy curtains. It would give him something to do at least.
Time passed, as it was wont to, and eventually it was time to close up and go. Not even Llewellyn had made an appearance which wasn't that unusual. Aside from Alexandre, no one had. Rhys was more than ready for a little bit of human contact before he reverted into a Llewellyn-type grouch who would rather be a forest hermit.
It was a pleasant day, so he decided to take the longer route to his house and stop by McGinley's for some fruit juice on the way. He was in no hurry, it was the end of summer and with the long days and few responsibilities, he could spare the time.
The cheerful green and yellow terrace in front of McGinley's was mostly empty, only one seat was taken and Rhys was not really surprised to see Cerwyn with his nose buried in a large book. Cerwyn was eternally carting around entire libraries and he could be found at McGinley's more often than not. His usual apple-mango-raspberry creation complete with pink curly straw and barely touched cookie were on the little table next to him. Rhys hastened his stride and confidently swiped the cookie from under Cerwyn's nose. It was delicious and therefore rightfully his, he figured.
"Sit down, you pilferer of baked goods. You're blocking the light," Cerwyn mumbled without looking up from his book.
"It is better to pilfer than go hungry I always say. What is that monstrosity you're reading?"
"Ulysses, and no you do not want to borrow it, ask me what it's about or stand behind me making noises until I give in and hand over the book, losing my place."
Cerwyn, Rhys decided, knew him far too well. He would have to think of some unexpected oddities to unbalance him, it was his duty as a friend. He peeked at the cover and groaned. He knew that book—he dreaded that book. It had been mentioned in one of their classes and he, in his boundless ignorance, had attempted to read it. He had gotten as far as ten pages in before admitting the inadequacy of his brain.
"As long as you're here you might as well make yourself useful—go get me more juice," Cerwyn ordered.
Rhys rolled his eyes at his friend's imperious tone but got up without complaint. It was no use talking to Cerwyn while he was hip deep in a work of literature but if he left for a moment there may be a small chance that he would return on the blessed moment Cerwyn finished a chapter and would take a little breather. Rhys desperately wanted his attention, and the use of his common sense—a power Rhys himself knew not.
"Hello there Rhys, done working, are you?" McGinley called out cheerfully.
"Yes, all done for today. How have you been?"
"Slow day, but can't complain. I've been a bit poorly this week so it's for the best really. Is Cerwyn still out there?"
Rhys snorted. "Of course he is, didn't you notice the size of that book he brought? That's what I'm here for actually, he wants a refill. Oh, and I would like a strawberry-banana-mint if you don't mind."
"Not at all son, not at all. I'll have it for you in a second," McGinley said and trotted off to the back. He returned swiftly with two large glasses and the trademark pink curly straws. "How about a biscuit then, Rhys? Samantha's been thinking of you all week you know, she was worried something had happened when you didn't come for the chocolate and banana."
Rhys couldn't help smiling at that, it was a running joke that he would slowly crumble to pieces if he didn't get his dose of Sam's baked goods. He agreed with that thought, there was nothing better than Sam's divine cooking. Those chocolate banana things were love, love put in dough and then mashed around to spread the love around some. He was in full agreement with his stomach that it needed a lot of love to survive, so he usually walked into McGinley's once every two days to deplete their stock. Samantha and Jon had long ago forgiven him for biscuit thievery and generously let him have entire plates whenever he appeared. There really was no place like home, where the cakes and biscuits and cookies were.
"Biscuit? One biscuit?" he asked with his best 'little boy lost' look.
He was rewarded with McGinley's rich laughter. Now that was someone who could easily fill the position of 'favourite uncle'.
"Of course not you silly child. Here you go," he said, handing over a plate stacked with cookies and biscuits.
Rhys accepted it eagerly and balancing the drinks and the plate in his hands left to rejoin Cerwyn outside. His friend was waiting for him with an amused expression which turned into exasperation at the sight of the cookie mountain.
"I was going to ask you what took you so long, but I should have known. There are baked goods in there."
"Not just any baked goods, Sam's Divine Dough Of Heavenly Scrumptiousness," Rhys corrected.
"You are worse than Gwen when it comes to sugar," Cerwyn said. He accepted his fruity beverage and attentively watched Rhys tear into the plate of cookies. "You are also disgusting. There are crumbs everywhere."
Rhys blinked incredulously. "You expect decorum when Sam's cookies are in question? Are you demented?"
"What can I say," Cerwyn shrugged. "I'm an eternal optimist."
They sat there for a while, both immersed in their chosen entertainment. It was finally Cerwyn who broke the silence with a pointed cough. Rhys raised his head from his plate only to direct a curious glance at his friend but soon sat up straighter and started frantically brushing crumbs off his shirt and hands. Cerwyn watched fixedly, he had known Rhys to be self-conscious before but it had never been quite so pronounced. He didn't know if he should be worried or amused. Rhys on the other hand was mentally slapping himself for his damned cookie obsession. Was that man stalking him?
"You, eh, missed a bit over there," Cerwyn told him, pointing at his chin.
Rhys quickly brushed it away and started grumbling.
"Could you be any more obvious if you tried?"
"Probably. We haven't even covered half of the stupid things I am capable of," Rhys muttered.
"You want to tell me what this is all about?"
"No," Rhys said stubbornly.
Cerwyn rolled his eyes. "Let me rephrase; are you going to tell me what this is all about?"
"Probably. But does it have to be now? Can't we sit here and pretend we are mature individuals with no strange urges for the moment?"
Cerwyn contemplated this for a moment before answering. "No. But if you like we could call Gwenllian and I can watch as she gleefully drags it out of you."
"If it's all the same to you I'd rather not."
"Fine, but then you can tell me what's got you so tense after that lovely speech about how you didn't want anything to do with the new bloke."
"I don't!" Rhys exclaimed. "Oh dear, that was a bit loud."
"A bit, yes," Cerwyn said rubbing his ears. "But considering you're so passionate about it you will have no trouble explaining it to me."
Rhys looked at his empty plate regretfully. Where was a good distraction to keep him from speaking when he needed one? Damn that Cerwyn, he had probably planned it.
"I can't explain. He makes me strange," Rhys finally said.
"You mean stranger."
"Stop being an arse, Cerwyn. He was in the shop. I've never been so nervous in my entire life and that's saying something. He just makes me strange."
Cerwyn took a long sip of his drink and hummed. He then tapped his fingernails on the table for a bit, not looking at Rhys while he did so. Eventually, she shrugged and picked up his book.
"Aren't you going to say something?" Rhys spluttered.
Cerwyn shrugged "What's to say? You have a crush," he said and the infuriating bastard started reading his book, effectively shutting out Rhys's impending rant.
He was calling Gwen the second he got home.