August Wester is 18 (Jean Cox is 18)
When high school ended, when he left that building for the last time in his life (well, it feels more dramatic to think of it that way though he’s bound to set foot there again within a few months), August had sworn to himself that he wasn’t going to be a loser.
His grades had kept him away from college and from going with Jean to live campus life and whatever. But he’s got some ambition, nonetheless.
His mums have always been good at saving money for their kids and with the help of his starting-out-your-life-fund, he manages to get a really sweet deal on a place in the Old City. It’s a project in the city, converting the old workers’ quarters to modern housing for modern people. Which basically means lots of brick walls, lots of hipster design and crap plumbing but affordable.
In the same neighbourhood, as a part of the same project, August also finds his dream waiting for him. A small shop, recently restored after having been abandoned for at least fifty years, and available for the aspiring entrepreneur. It requires a loan from the bank, of course, but he’s got a house to show them and his request is approved before he’s had time to experience any cold feet. For the best, he supposes.
Jean is there, celebrating with him as he gets the keys to his own shop. He wants to think of it as their shop, or at least part of him wants to. Wants to believe they’ll pick up where they left off when she returns from college but that’s not how it works, he realizes that. She hasn’t left in that sense – they still spend time together, she crashes at his place from time to time and he comes with her to campus – so she won’t make a big return either. In reality they will probably sort of just melt together again, if it’s meant to be. The same gradual shift that’s been sort of taking her away from him lately.
But on the opening night, she’s there.
Speaking of slow gradual shifts, opening a business of your own is all about that, too.
He wants the shop to be small and cozy, a kind of haven for all kinds of geeky stuff that you can’t find anywhere else and that sort of thing requires a lot of research and work, trying to build up a nice selection.
He’s open to suggestions from his customers and friends and spends a lot of time online, browsing.
It’s hard work and it’s lonely work. There are nights when he realises he hasn’t been talking to anyone outside of his shop, outside of his work, and he wants to call Jean but doesn’t because it’s too late or too early, depending on how you look at it. She’s told him he can always call or send a text message but for some reason he finds it harder now than he used to, back in high school. They’d chatted 24/7 back then despite spending most of their days together.
Instead he finds himself reading more than he used to. Reading, writing, wasting hours online talking to others about things related to his shop. He’s a grown up now. He’s allowed. If there’s one thing he really, really appreciates about his life now it’s the fact that nobody’s there to tell him to go to bed or cook a proper dinner for himself. (He usually does. Or at least sometimes.)
And there’s no denying he loves owning a business of his own. Every morning as he walks to work he feels excited – he never knows what today will be about, what sort of people he’ll meet or which subjects they’ll want to discuss with him. Books, films, sci fi, robots or toys.
It feels like he’s found his right spot in life.
He knows this is how Jean feels about football (and college, it seems, she almost can’t shut up about her studies and the professors and exams) and now that he’s familiar with the sensation he suddenly doubts that he’ll have the kind of future with Jean that he keeps hoping for. She’ll want to travel to where the league is good, where the teams want her and where the money makes it all worth it. And August wants to stay here in Barchester, tend to his shop and talk to his customers.
There’s a thrill every time he manages to pick something out for one of them that they end up enjoying – some of them return just to tell him that, and he feels happy for the rest of that day.
It’s a bit like being a detective, trying to choose a gift for a “nerdy ten-year-old” or help someone find a new book series about magic.
One day he meets with a young game developer – Kari – who likes his recommendations so much they end up working out a collaboration of sorts. She’ll provide him with indie game beta versions and he’ll promote her company’s products.
He’s deeply impressed with how far Kari’s come for someone her age – she tells him she’s 24 and started working for Roadkill Games fresh out of college. Since then she’s moved up the ladder a bit and now she’s the boss of the development for a new game set in space.
“Can’t wait to try it,” he tells her.
“Oh,” she grins. “I bet.”
It’s great to have someone to talk to, even if it’s mostly business, and he has the distinct impression that Kari actually understands pretty well what his life is like at the moment.
Occasionally Jean plays a game or two in Barchester even now, and August has made a promise to her once to always be there for her games. It’s a promise that he regrets when it pours down and he’s stuck there with her family, soaked, watching some lame football session where everyone except for Jean is crap and she pretty much has the field to herself.
Sure, he feels proud of his girlfriend but the boredom outweighs that, most of the time.
After the game he asks her to come with him to the pub but she can’t, she’s got to go back to campus and study and get a good night’s sleep and he tries not to feel slightly hurt about it but fails.
He is slightly hurt about it.
And lonely, in a way that makes him uncomfortable because he doesn’t know how it happened or how it will end.