Just before six in the morning, Nathan Fresher stood in the stairwell leading up to his family flat. Breathless from his early morning run, he stared down at the letter from Surrey University. A single drop of perspiration landed on the page. Ten minutes ago, he’d jogged past Bob Collier, one of the village's two postmen, who’d barked at him to stop and tossed him their bundle of morning post. Nathan’s heart, already racing from the exertion, had taken on a different rhythm seeing the post on top of the pack, the university name printed plainly in sight. Sprinting home, he’d barely managed to open the front door before ripping open the envelope. Three times he’d read the words on the page. Only on the final read had they sunken in. Incredible. With his meagre A level grades, they’d offered him a place on the Sport and Exercise Science degree programme. For some reason, he’d felt certain they would decline him. Otherwise he might have been more keen to check the college’s online messaging board. Or his personal emails. Good things rarely happened to Nathan Fresher. And now the world had opened up. Fees might be a challenge, came his ever-present cynical voice, although his father had agreed to help him out, should he be successful.
Hell, they needed to talk. Today, everything would change.
Thrusting the letter into the pocket of his hoodie, he kicked off his trainers and thundered up the stairs to their two bed apartment above Fresher’s Family Bakers. Inside the space, early morning stillness met him.
“Dad. Dad, are you here?”
Silence. More than likely, he’d find his father in the bakery downstairs, getting under Arthur Meade’s feet. Arthur, the true baker and talent behind Fresher and Son bakery, had been with them since before Nathan’s birth. Mixing dough and baking their daily offerings, he and his three assistants unfailingly had the daily produce displayed or delivered when they opened the doors at six-thirty.
A lightness filled Nathan, knowing his life story didn’t have to end with his forefather’s legacy. Since the early part of the last century, the Fresher family had run the outfit, baking for and serving the local community. But maybe the time had come for change. Nathan hoped so, because he could think of nothing worse than being chained to the shop’s routine day after day, doing something for which he had zero passion for the rest of his life. Maybe he’d inherited that particular trait from his estranged mother.
Throwing his shoulder bag down on the table, he pulled out his iPhone 5—a Christmas gift from his father—and sent a message to his best friend Polly Fischer. For a fleeting moment, he considered calling, but then thought better about waking her. Not a morning person, he’d witnessed her explosive anger once, shaking her awake from a post-pub Sunday snooze on their sofa. Never again. Besides, if she happened to be up, she’d call him straight back.
Together they’d conspired to get him enrolled in the four year degree course. Polly had suggested Surrey University in Guildford, a softer sell for his father. Less than two hours’ drive away from Crumbington, he could be home weekdays when he had no lectures, and especially on Friday night to help in the shop all day Saturday, their busiest day. Mitigate the damage of him studying away, so to speak.
Stepping into his single bedroom, he stripped out of his shorts, socks, vest and jockstrap, and dropped them into his laundry basket, before donning a towel and heading to the bathroom. Only then did he notice the door to his father’s bedroom was closed. Whenever his father rose, he always left his door open. Nathan smirked. Although it happened rarely, sometimes his father overslept. If so, Nathan would gently rib him all day.
In the shower, he let the hot water soak into his sore body, and ran through in his mind what he would need to organise; course books, accommodation, prep dates. But first of all a formal visit to the campus. Polly would come with him, she’d love that. His stomach clenched with excitement. Polly’s college friend had heard great things about the LGBTQ community meet-ups and events at the college. Maybe Nathan would finally meet some like-minded people. Unlike his father, he was going to be something else in this world, someone who followed their dreams. At only fifty-four, his father—by far the better businessman and face of the family bakery—could carry on running the outfit for at least another ten years. With his regular help, Nathan hardly needed to be there. He refused to feel guilty about the opportunity. Beside, Nathan would still help out. And when his father was nearing retirement, well, they could have that conversation when the time came. But he wanted to travel the world first, and to work in the health and fitness sector. Polly had suggested getting a job as a fitness instructor on a cruise liner, a dream that had stuck.
At six-fifteen, dressed in his shop outfit of blue shirt and navy cardigan, and noticing his father’s bedroom door still firmly closed, he prepared a mug of Assam tea with a dash of milk and knocked on the bedroom door. A creature of habit, his father would be furious when he realised he’d overslept. Opening the door wide, Nathan allowed light from the hallway to filter into the room, rather than switching on the harsh room light.
“Hey Mr Sleepyhead. It’s almost opening time. Molly’s already here, I can hear her moving about downstairs. Drink some tea and take your time, I’ll go help…”
Sensing something innately wrong, he placed the mug down on a coaster on the bedside table, next to the ashtray with the stubs of two cigarettes still sitting there from the night before. Even before he put a hand to his father’s forehead, he knew. By the bloodless pallor of the skin, and the eyes not quite closed, staring at the curtained window. Coldness swept through him then, accompanied by a distant ringing in his ears, or maybe the sound of someone screaming in the distance. Unable to stand, his legs gave way and he perched on the side of the mattress.
Staring into the gloom, he took his father’s cold hand and squeezed. A chill dismay descended upon him, at the implications of the scene before him, earlier words floating into his mind, coming back to haunt him.
Today, everything would change.
To those new to my stories, welcome. To those familiar, welcome back.
I've been away for a while putting this story together and I've got a good 10 chapters already written, and others mapped out.
I tend to read reviewers comments along the way to see if I'm keeping everyone engaged, while not making the plot too absurd or obvious, so please feel free to leave any comments, suggestions or reactions - all gratefully received.