i wanna be haunted
i won't leave my bed
i won't go crazy and
i won't get sad
Charlie Spring, 21st December
“I seriously don’t know how you do this, Charlie, I mean- like, you actually wake up in the morning, you buy your presents fucking months in advance-” My best friend Tao pauses in the middle of the Yankee Candle shop, picks up one of the candles on display and says, “And I bet you fucking know what flavour candle this is, don’t you?”
I give him a long look, before saying, “That’s Angel Wings. And candles don’t have flavours because you don’t eat them.”
Tao slams the candle back in its place. “Oh my god, you don’t eat candles!? What the hell, man. I’ve been living a lie. What the fucking hell am I supposed to eat now?”
I laugh as he stomps off further into the shop, completely ignoring a startled look from an elderly woman. Tao Xu has been my best friend since we met in Year 4 and I can always rely on him to do most of the talking, usually about completely random crap, especially when I’m in the sort of mood when all I want to think or talk about is completely random crap. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve not been in the best of moods these past couple of weeks since I came home – I’ve been wearing the same pair of jeans for at least twelve days and have generally not been leaving my room. Well, obviously I wasn’t in a better mood the months before that, either. Haha. Yeah.
“Oh my god, there’s one called Camouflage,” cries Tao, despite the fact that I’m on completely the other side of the shop. “I hope the fumes make you blend into your background like a chameleon.”
This is the first day I’ve actually met up with Tao since he visited me while I was in the hospital, what with him being at school and stuff. Tao is the only person apart from Nick that my parents trust me to go places with, which is kind of ridiculous, since Tao is pretty much seven years old and still refuses to get on a bus by himself.
I wander through the shop to join him, squeezing my way through the hordes of panic shoppers, and we both survey the options. The smells are really, really awful and kind of giving me a headache. “How about French Lavender? That seems very Elle.”
Tao's girlfriend Elle is basically Tao if you gender-swapped him. They both like really stupid art-house movies and they have a joint YouTube channel where they do very pretentious things like filming the sea and putting colourful filters on it, or filming themselves going on woodland walks and putting it in slow motion.
“Lavender’s too flouncy.” Tao likes to use big words. “Elle’s much more minimalist.”
“Well you know her aesthetic better than I do.”
“You’re the Yankee Candle expert here, Charlie.”
“Only because I get one for my Grandma every single year. Elle’s not seventy-five.”
He turns to me, adjusting his aviator-shaped glasses. He claps his hands in front of my face. “Enough of the sass. This is serious business.”
I laugh loudly. “You’re such a stereotypical panic buyer.” To be fair, he does look kind of panicked, what with his perpetually vertical hair. Then again, that’s what he always looks like.
“I’m the arty one. I’m allowed to be disorganised.”
“Stop romanticising your personality flaws.”
He grabs me by the shoulders. “Help. Me.”
What I like the most about Tao is that he doesn’t treat me differently no matter what happens to me. He’s always just going to be the same old Tao Xu, the same weird guy running around in a duffel coat, blabbering on about something probably to do with DSLR lenses. I’m kind of boring and generic in comparison, which I expect is why I befriended him in the first place.
We begin to circle round the shop. The smells are almost overwhelming and I sort of want to be sick.
“What did you get Nick?” he asks, poking each type of candle as we walk.
“Shoes. And some other small things.”
“He really likes nice shoes. And he’s been trying to save up for some for ages but he never has quite enough money.”
“Mate, see, you have actual reasoning behind your presents.”
“I thought you said Elle had some sort of candle shrine thing to Wes Anderson?”
“She does, but, like, that’s still not very specific.” He suddenly grabs a candle off a shelf. “Oh my god, how about Grapevine and Oak?” He takes a deep sniff. “Oh fucking yes, that’s Elle. That’s totally Elle. Nature. Like, forest-y. Like she grew out of the ground.”
He sniffs it again. I smile and watch him losing himself in the moment.
“You should make the Yankee Candle adverts,” I say.
He spins dramatically towards me and holds out the candle as if he were in a cleaning product advert. “Buy this Grapevine and Oak Yankee Candle. Smell your girlfriend every day, even when she’s not with you, because that’s not creepy at all. Ten out of ten, would recommend.”
“Okay, I’m convinced.” I shoo him away with one hand because I really have to get out of this shop within the next ten seconds. “Go buy a candle. I’m going to wait outside.”
I guess I’ve given off the impression that Tao's not very smart. Or that he’s so wrapped up in his own filtered world that he doesn’t pick up on stuff. But that’s not true either.
His grin drops. “You alright, man?”
He sensed it in my voice.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“It’s just, like, the smells are really strong in here, it’s kind of...” I trail off. I don’t really want to say any of it, have to explain any of it. I just want to think about other things.
Tao nods. “Oh god, yeah, totally. I’ll be really quick, I’ll meet you outside.” He skips towards the counter in his rolled-up corduroys and I practically jog out of the shop. Tao is my best friend because he understands me without me having to tell him anything in exact detail. Sometimes he tells me things about myself that I haven’t even worked out yet.
The shopping centre is heaving. I lean on the wall next to the shop, watching everyone bustling past, all the families and couples and people frantically buying last minute presents. I got everyone’s presents months ago. I know why I did that but it seems really stupid to me now.
When Tao joins me he just says, “Sorted,” and we walk off through the shopping centre again. He starts on a monologue about the Polaroid camera he’s hoping to get for Christmas from his parents, but I’m not really listening, I’m just enjoying being here again, in the real world, Tao and me in the same world, all of the people at once, all of the lights and the colours and the music. Christmas.
“Mate,” says Tao suddenly, “I’m so glad we did this. I missed you.”
I look at him and he smiles at me, and I’m so glad I’m here. It’s so much nicer being here than being where I was.
hi guys! welcome to the 5 Days of Solitaire, a thing that i literally decided to do about eight hours ago while i was walking round the yankee candle shop at my local shopping centre panic buying christmas presents. i'm posting 5 very short spin-off stories of my debut novel, Solitaire, over the next few days, one each day every day until the 25th, all from the perspectives of different Solitaire protagonists in the lead up to the Christmas prior to the beginning of the book. sorry if some of the things don't quite make sense in the stories if you haven't read solitaire - in that case, you'd better go and read my book, hadn't you #shamelesspromo. i'm also featuring a song i've been listening to recently in each story because why not. i hope you enjoy the stories! merry christmassy joy to all <3