Valentine’s day was fast approaching, long gone are the small remnants of the festivities still straggling over well into January, and the shops were overtaken in red and pink and chocolates and roses. Even Mick and Linda had set up a Valentines event – partners quiz night: the winners of which would be awarded with their grandest champagne on ice.
Callum would usually be up for Valentine’s day, despite never having had an official partner for what is deemed the most romantic day of the year. He just loved, love. Nothing brought him happiness more than seeing everyone around him in love, sharing cards and flowers and kisses. In an ideal world, he would have someone to share that with too, to spoil and show how much he loves them not only on the fourteenth of February, but every day.
Ben, on the other hand, hated Valentine’s day. The commercialism of it all, the outrageously priced sweet treats, and how tacky everything seemed to be as January turned into February. If there ever was a Scrooge for Valentine’s, it would be Ben Mitchell.
That was, until he fell head over heels in love with one Callum Highway, one of his closest confidants.
It’s not as though it was some heavily guarded secret, which was just as well because it seemed as though everyone bar Callum had already worked it out. Nobody knew how, considering how obvious it was to them, but Callum was completely oblivious to the fact that Ben, someone he spent so much of his time with, was in love with him. It had seemed like years since Jay had first noticed.
Ben sat in the café, a cup of tea in his hand and a full English in front of him. They had all gone out the night previously, to the Prince Albert. Ben had spent the whole night watching as Callum had been pulled away by some bloke – who wasn’t even attractive – and spent the rest of the night with him, dancing against each other, lips touching lips. Ben complained the whole night, periods of time spent being unable to tear his eyes away from them, and periods of time spent /not wanting to look anywhere near their direction. Jay sat down opposite him, bright smile on his face, a vast contrast to Ben’s aura, which was clouded by a huge hangover.
“Alright mate?” Jay asked, stealing a hash brown from Ben’s barely touched plate.
Ben just nodded, and instantly regretted it, feeling like his brain was wobbling around inside his skull. “Yeah. Heavy night.”
Jay nodded, accepting that for a moment. “Barely drank before Callum went off with that bloke.”
Rolling his eyes, Ben drained the remainders of his tea, and made to stand up. Before he was even halfway up from his seat, Callum walked into the café, his hair flat to his head, cheeks flushed red from the weather outside. It knocked the younger man sideways for a moment or two, causing him to sit back down. Jay turned towards the front of the café, trying to work out what just happened.
“And the penny drops.” Jay smirked. “Mate, it was obvious last night.”
Ben raised an eyebrow in faux confusion. “What are you banging on about now bruv?”
“Callum.” He stated, as if it was obvious. “You fancy him.”
Ben, in reaction, pressed his head to the table, not confirming nor denying this. Fuck.
Callum walked down the stairs, leaving his flat and entering his place of work. He had been working at Coker’s for a few months now, and had quickly fallen into the swing of things, being the perfect person to help comfort grieving relatives. He walked into the office, shouting out a quick ‘Morning!’ to Jay, who he knew would be in the other room without even so much as looking in. Callum looked around the room, trying to think about what he needed to do first, and found an envelope addressed to him placed on his desk. It definitely wasn’t there when he left the night previously, and the garish red looked out of place in the muted funeral home. He opened it up, walking back into the front, where Jay was sorting out some papers. “Did you see who left this?” he asked, before he started to read it.
‘For Valentine’s day I thought I’d show you how much you mean to me. Get ready for the love letters, Callum.’ The ‘f’ was garish and swirled in on itself, creating loop upon loop. There was a familiar look to the rest of the words, as though he had seen the marks before, but Callum couldn’t quite place it. It was unusual for him to see people’s handwriting, after all.
“No.” Jay shook his head. “What is it?”
“Something for Valentines.” Callum explained, reading it over and over again. “Probably a wind up.”
“Or,” Jay started. “Or you’ve got a secret admirer.”
Callum huffed out a laugh, shaking his head at Jay. “Shut up.”
“It’s been a while since you got some action mate.” Jay laughed, filing paper. “’Ere, you don’t think it’s Mrs Montgomery do ya?”
Callum contorted his face, a look of disgust shared to Jay. “She’s not quite my type. Considering she’s an 80 year old widow!”
“Never say never mate, never say never.” Jay only shut up when a crumpled up piece of paper came flying to the side of his face.
For the rest of the day, Callum put the letter to the back of his mind, leaving it in a drawer on his desk.
Jay, on the other hand, knew exactly who had left the letter behind for Callum. Ben. He’d told everyone as January was coming to a close, that he needed to do something to make Callum see how he felt, and this was the idea that he had decided to do.
The second letter was delivered to Callum’s flat, posted underneath the door, landing perfectly on the carpet. The envelope, again, was a garish red, and written on the front was ‘Callum’, followed by a number two, printed right in the corner. With a shaky breath, Callum opened it up and thumbed over the words as he read it.
‘Remember when you got drunk and told the whole pub that nobody would ever love you, right after you came out? You thought wrong. I was already in love with you then.’
Callum smiled, remembering that night. It was a whirlwind experience, from the moment he had realised that his sexuality was fine, that he was normal, to the moment he sat everyone down one by one and said the word, ‘I’m gay’. He had been subjected to getting drunk very early on in the evening, after people, including complete strangers he didn’t even know, bought him alcohol as part of a coming out celebration. The Vic had been packed, and Callum stood up, swaying from side to side, deciding that the time to feel sorry for himself and tell everyone that nobody would ever fall in love with him if they hadn’t already fallen in love with him.
He walked downstairs, into the funeral parlour, and found Jay stood there with Ben.
“Another love letter mate?” Jay asked, nodding his head to the envelope in Callum’s hand.
Callum lifted it up slightly. “Second one. Even put a little number on the envelope.”
“What’s this?” Ben asked, slightly smug smile on his face, lighting up, but trying to disguise it behind a look of faux confusion.
“Callum’s got a secret admirer for Valentines.” Jay explained. “Sending him letters.”
Ben raised his eyebrows. “Alright for some innit!” He laughed, tapping Callum on the arm.
“Do you know anything about this?” Callum asked Jay, too impatient to wait however long it would be to find out the identity behind his admirer.
Jay smiled, shaking his head in disbelief. “Sworn to secrecy.”
Callum looked to Ben, nodding towards Ben, lifting the letter up to him. “Ben?” he asked.
“Like Jay said,” Ben started. “Sworn to secrecy.”
Callum rolled his eyes, knowing he wouldn’t get anything out of either of them. They could be annoying when they wanted to be.
“Pub, tonight?” Ben asked as Callum walked back into his office, putting the letter in a drawer, hidden from view. “Lola’s in.”
He popped his head around the door, nodding. “I’m working til 6, but count me in. Jay?”
“If Lo’s there, I’m there.” He answered.
“Love’s young dream, eh?” Ben joked.
Jay knocked into him, causing Ben to teasingly rub his arm, pretending that Jay had hurt him. Callum smirked, shaking his head at the brothers in front of him, knowing that they would be worse than this tonight with alcohol coursing through their system.
It was Callum’s long awaited day off. Since starting to work at the Coker’s on a regular basis, he struggled to find time to himself during the day, and was slowly going insane with the workload he was experiencing. It all got too much for him, and he booked a day off just to be able to put his mind at rest and do absolutely nothing. He was just walking around, taking his time as he strolled to the Minute Mart for his food shopping, not in any particular rush.
Jay ran up to Callum, dressed in his black suit, still working today but clearly taking a short break. Callum was grateful it wasn’t a busy day, because he probably would have been called into work. “Been told to give you this.” He said, handing Callum his next letter.
“So, you do know who they’re from?” Callum asked in an attempt to uncover the admirer, whilst starting to open the envelope.
Jay shrugged. “Told you mate.” He said. “Sworn to secrecy. All will be revealed soon.”
Callum rolled his eyes as Jay walked away in the opposite direction. He opened the envelope fully, revealing the letter and reading it. Like with all the others, the first letter of it looped and swirled and for a moment, Callum wondered if that could be a hint, but quickly dismissed that theory in lieu of actually reading the words.
‘One day, I hope you might feel the same, but if not, that’s okay. I’m just happy being beside you in life.’
His head spun like clockwork, trying to work out who it could possibly be sending him these letters. It must be someone close to him, but Callum was confident that nobody he was around liked him in that way. He carried on walking, and as he turned a corner, he bumped into Ben, who was walking towards Callum.
“Oh.” Callum gasped out, Ben’s shoulder barging into his own. “Shit, sorry!”
“Another love letter?” Ben asked, rubbing his shoulder and nodding down to Calllum’s hand.
Callum nodded. “Yup.”
“Any idea who it is?” Ben quizzed.
“Not a clue.” Callum answered. “They aren’t giving much away.”
Ben chuckled out a laugh. “I’m sure you’ll work it out sooner rather than later.”
“Probably.” Callum breathed out. “We still on for tonight?”
Of course. Once a month, Ben and Callum would head out to the West End to watch a musical. It didn’t matter to them what they were watching, it was just something fun they could do together, and once Ben discovered that Callum liked musicals adapted to film, he couldn’t help but start their monthly tradition of watching stage shows.
“Obviously.” Ben rolled his eyes, he wouldn’t miss the time he spent with Callum for the world. “I need to get to work, but I’ll text you later.”
And with that, he walked over to the car lot, leaving Callum looking back at him, smiling to himself.
Callum, as usual on a weekday morning, stood at the front desk of the café, deep into a conversation with Kathy whilst he waited for his takeaway teas and breakfast. It had become somewhat of a tradition lately, and Kathy knew to have his order started before he even walked through the entrance. The door opened behind him, letting the early morning February wind gust its way in. Lola walked in, with Lexi by her side.
“School run?” Callum asked Lola, and then directed his speech to the younger girl. “Y’alright Lex?”
The pair of them had a special relationship, with Callum being wrapped around Lexi’s little finger.
“Callum when are you baking cakes with me again? Daddy’s rubbish!” Lexi asked, curling her arms around Callum’s waist as best she could.
Callum smiled. He’d heard all about how Ben cremated the cupcakes he had tried to make with Lexi only a couple of nights ago. “You’re off school next week ain’t ya?” Callum asked. Lexi nodded, wild smile on her face. “I’ll come around, we can teach your dad how to make them proper.”
“Here,” Lola said, holding out an envelope to Callum. “Have to give you this.”
“You an’ all?” Callum asked, reaching out to take it from Lola. She just nodded, proud grin on her face as she stroked her hand through Lexi’s hair, detangling any knots the wind outside had created.
“What’s this?” Kathy asked, not one to pass up the opportunity to know the latest bit of gossip.
Callum ignored her temporarily as he began to open the letter. Lola explained instead. “Callum’s got a secret admirer. He’s getting letters for Valentines.”
“Ohh,” Kathy exhaled. “Oh. From you know who?” she asked, the realisation suddenly dawning on her.
Lola nodded. “Yup! Finally.”
Callum looked up then. “Does everyone know who this bloke is apart from me?”
Kathy and Lola shared a look. “Yes.” They both said at the same time.
“Even I know who it is.” Lexi commented, taking a slice of toast from Kathy’s hands.
Lola laughed, putting her hands on Lexi’s shoulders, ushering her to the door before she said anything more. “And on that note. School, missus.”
Callum waved goodbye, before looking down at the letter in his hands and reading it.
‘Music means a lot to you Callum. We’ve had some fun times together, but none as funny as that time we went to a karaoke bar.’
Callum remembered that night fondly. It was his and Ben’s annual birthday night out, and everyone they knew poured into the bar, already drunk and willing to go on the karaoke machine. Before the end of the night, Callum was forced up there, singing a duet to Islands in the Stream with Lola. Everyone was in hysterics as more and more people drunkenly volunteered to sing their best karaoke song, and it was soon decided between everyone that this was the best shared birthday night out yet.
“Halfway!” Mick shouted as Callum walked away from him, pint glass in hand. He had just come in for a drink or two after work for some respite, and quickly noticed that the entire pub was decorated in pinks and reds and hearts for the romantic season. It took him aback at first. “A certain someone left this behind the bar for you. Forgot to give it to ya.”
Callum walked back towards him and took the enveloped letter from Mick’s hand. “Cheers, Mick. I was just thinking I hadn’t got one today. Thought the bloke had decided he didn’t want to do it anymore.”
“Definitely not.” Mick said. “Just got a lot swirling around my nut, what with this partners quiz. Are you and Ben doing it?”
“We ain’t together?” Callum questioned. Surely Mick knew that?
Mick scratched his head. “Well,” he started. “the pair of you know each other well enough. Between you and me, I reckon L’s scared nobody’ll show up.”
Callum drank his pint and raised his eyebrows, thankful that someone called for Mick to pour them some drinks. He sat down at the table he was initially walking to, away from everyone to have an early evening drink in peace – about as peaceful as he could get in the heart of Walford, anyhow. Setting his pint glass down, Callum opened up his letter and took in what he was now being told.
‘Before you, I never thought I’d feel this way again.’
He frowned slightly, because Callum knew how that felt. He’d already been in love, at least, that’s what he believed. He didn’t really have much to compare it to, having never experienced much love around him as he grew up. But after that love had died, Callum was certain he’d never be lucky enough to experience it again. Not properly.
How wrong Callum of the past was.
Callum stood outside the parlour, getting a bit of fresh air. It was bitterly cold, even despite the sun in the sky glistening down on him, allowing him to see the invisible ice that painted the street in front of him. It was early morning, everyone around him travelling to work or school, a bounce in their step knowing it was almost the end of the week. The stall owners set their livelihood up, rubbing their hands together to warm themselves up, preparing for their long day out in the wintery cold.
“Callum!” A gleeful voice shouted as he lifted his head up to the sky, breathing out a swirl of air and then he felt a weight to his side, small arms wrapping around him. “Uncle Jay’s taking me to school today!”
He put his hand on her head, stroking her hair gently, smiling down to her. Callum bent down, getting closer to Lexi to speak. “That’s good of him, isn’t it darlin’?”
She grinned and nodded. “He said we can come and see you too!” she said, jumping up and down. “I’ve got to give you a letter!”
Lexi took the envelope from her school book bag and told Callum to open it, with excitement evident in her voice.
“Sorry mate, she’s been buzzing to see you all morning.” Jay said, putting his hand on Callum’s shoulder.
Callum shook his head with a soft smile. “It’s alright. Always good to see my favourite little lady!” He said, sending a wink in Lexi’s direction. “How come you’re dropping her off at school then?”
Jay helped Lexi fasten up her book bag, and then looked up to Callum. “Lo’s been given an early appointment at the salon, and Ben’s doing some admin at the car lot, so they asked me to take her in.” He explained. “Right, c’mon missus, unless you want to be late, we need to get a shift on. Say bye bye to Callum.”
Lexi quickly moved to give Callum another hug, and Callum folded himself down to press a swift kiss to the top of her head. “Don’t forget to open the letter!”
“I won’t.” He promised. As if he could ever forget.
“See ya when I get back.” Jay smiled.
Callum nodded, “See ya.” And with that, he turned and walked back into the parlour, his cheeks flushed as pink as the seasonal items which crowded each stall. He looked down at the red envelope in his hands, and began to open it.
Inside was the now familiar folded letter, with the first symbol being extravagantly swirled and curled in on itself. He read it.
‘Ever since meeting you, I knew I would.’
He smiled, noticing that it was followed on from the last letter he had received, and the author was telling him how he feels about Callum. It brought a warmth to his heart, even though Callum still had no idea who it was that was behind these letters. He knows who he wishes was behind them though.
The day had finally arrived. February fourteenth, Valentine’s day. It was marked with hearts printed on calendars, and the early morning radio host playing romantic love songs that everyone knew and loved. Callum smiled to himself as he tidied his house, having woken up earlier than he needed to be. In the background, ‘ Love Is All Around ’ played through the radio before the peaceful serenity of soft music and Callum tidying was broken by the buzzer for Callum’s flat chiming obnoxiously. He walked over to the phone, and picked it up.
“It’s Ben.” Said the voice on the other end of the speaker.
Callum smiled the second he heard Ben, his voice having the effect of being able to instantly relax Callum. “Come up.” He said, and moved away from the phone, waiting only a few seconds before Ben came through the door.
“Didn’t think you’d be up.” Ben commented, leaning against the door frame.
“Been awake for ages, thought I’d have a tidy up before I go to work.” Callum explained. “Want a cuppa?”
Ben nodded. “Yeah, go on then.”
Callum walked over to the kettle and flicked it on. “What brings you here anyway?”
“Your last letter, actually.” He explained, holding the envelope up for Callum to see it. “And I’m under strict instructions to be here when you open it.”
“At this point I feel like the only person in Walford who doesn’t know who this person is.” Callum joked, finishing the tea off for him and Ben, draining the tea bags and putting them in the bin.
“That’s because you’re oblivious to a lot of things Cal.” Ben chuckled to himself.
Callum rolled his eyes, swapping a mug for the envelope and sitting down on the sofa. Ben followed shortly after, taking a sip of tea in an almost useless attempt at calming his nerves. Callum opened the envelope, noticing that like all the others, it had a number attached, and the opening letter drawn eloquently with swirls and twists and curving in on itself. Like art. He breathed a deep sigh, and read it.
‘Now, I’m ready to tell you who I really am and how I feel.’
“What?” Callum breathed out, utterly confused. “There’s no name? How am I meant to know who it’s from?”
“Do you have all the letters?” Ben asked, trying to hide the blush that was surely covering his cheeks now.
Callum nodded and stood up, walking over to the drawer that he had transferred them all into, wanting to keep them all in one place. “Now what?” he asked as he carried them back over to the sofa, spreading them out on the table in front of them.
“There’s a hidden message.” Ben explained. “Put them all in order.”
It took Callum a moment, putting the letters in order of how he got them, and when he did, he leaned backwards for a second, looking at all of them spread out in front of him. “The first letter.” He muttered under his breath as he read the first letter of each note.
“From..Ben?” he worked out, voice low and shaky. “What?”
He turned his head, and saw Ben with a shy smile on his face, pink rising on his cheeks and his eyes watering, making them even bluer.
“I love you Callum.” He says, like it just felt right to say it. With an ease. As though he didn’t even have to think twice. “I have done for months. I just couldn’t find the right way or time to say it.”
Callum smiles shyly, looking down and biting his lip in a poor attempt to stop his smile spreading further across his face. “I love you too.”
“Serious?” Ben asked, wonderment struck on his face, eyes welling up with tears again. His voice caused shivers to cascade down Callum’s spine. “You’re not just saying that?”
Callum leaned closer to Ben, putting his hand on Ben’s cheek, letting his thumb rub up and down over his short stubble. “No. I’ve loved you since before I came out, I was just scared of telling you because I didn’t think in million years that you felt the same.”
“Course I do.” Ben breathed out. “Always will.”
Ben leaned forward, his hand coming up underneath Callum’s chin, holding him in a position and pressed their lips together, something both of them had wanted for months and months now. It felt natural. Like coming home. Callum smiled into the kiss, and Ben followed suit.
“God I love you so much.” Ben grinned, pulling away from the kiss for a moment before attaching his lips to Callum’s neck, pressing soft and gentle kisses to his skin. “Wait. I need to ask you something.”
He put his hand to either side of Callum’s face, stroking his cheeks with his thumbs, relaxing Callum completely. “Will you go out for a meal with me tonight? Like, a date?”
Callum grinned, shaking his head in disbelief for a second. “Of course I will. I’d be honoured.” He leaned forward and pressed another kiss to Ben’s lips, neither of them being able to be apart for more than a few seconds.