It was a snowy day in London, and few people were outside because of the extreme cold. Some people stayed home, keeping warm by the fireplace. But even the bitter cold couldn't stop people from flocking to Cherry Street, where a famous candy shop was located. That candy shop belonged to Willy Wonka, who was considered the most talented candyman in town, and possibly the world. It was a fairly small shop, but they sent out orders to all sorts of places.
As successful as the shop was, Willy wasn't much of a social person. He didn't like it much whenever he was interviewed, but he did it nevertheless for the sake of his shop. Rumors were flying around that he had never had a girlfriend, either, even though he was fairly young. A few of his workers seemed a little concerned about his solitude; he lived alone. Willy seemed a bit frail, like a fragile piece of glass that would shatter easily if not taken care of. He was cheerful around his workers, though, and he put his heart into making candies that were very delicious.
There had been something peculiar about him this week (although most admitted that he was rather peculiar every day). He had seemed more frail than usual, and it was showing. He had looked very sickly each day, and was slower at working. His friends didn't know what was wrong, but they thought perhaps it was because he worked the hardest and always put in extra hours.
This day, the shop was very busy, and everyone, including Willy, was having trouble keeping up with orders. Around noon, they all agreed to take a group lunch break instead of shifts; this was a decision made by the other workers, and Willy decided to agree. After Jenni Masterson, the cashier, placed a sign stating that they were on break on the front door, she went to the back to sit at a table that Dennis Williams, a taffy pulller, had put up for them to sit at. There were only four people at work that day; everyone else was on holiday, so it was only Willy, Dennis, Jenni, and Joe Bucket, who usually helped make the chocolate.
Willy sat down last, looking completely exhausted. As tired as he was, he looked like he was ready to make his daily speech. Usually his speeches covered things like production rates, congratulations on accomplishing increased sales, or other business news.
"Well, gang," he began, keeping his usual cheerful tempermant in his voice, "this is usually our busiest season, and it seems as though it'll be just as busy as the last. I want to say again what a great job you're all doing here. I'm very proud of how hard you all work." Jenni winked at him, and Dennis and Joe smiled. Willy raised his glass. "I propose a toast," he said eagerly. "To good business and to great work!" Dennis raised his glass as well. "And to good health," he added, eyeing Willy's pale face, who didn't seem to notice, still smiling cheerfully. They toasted and drank, but a few minutes after they began to eat, Dennis brought up the subject again.
"Willy... we wanted to arrange this lunch so we could talk to you about something."
Willy's face fell. "What are we going to talk about? Is there something wrong? Are the schedules okay? Did the last shipment of candy go out on time? Did-"
Jenni shook her head. "No, no, Willy, it's not about the candy or the schedules or anything like that. We want to talk about you."
"We've noticed," said Joe, "and please don't take this the wrong way, that you've been looking very sick. Are you all right?"
Willy looked around at all of them, seeing the worry in their faces, and started laughing. "Me? Are you joking? I'm fine!"
Jenni smiled sadly. "Willy, we're not joking. We're worried about you. Did something happen to you, or are you sick? Are you getting enough sleep? Did you eat enough for breakfast?"
Willy looked confused. "There's nothing wrong with me... I swear... but... how can you tell?"
"Well," said Dennis, "you looked like you were about to collapse yesterday."
"And the day before," added Jenni.
"And even the day before that," said Joe finally.
"I... I did?" he asked nervously.
"Yes. You did." Jenni put an arm on his shoulder, and he flinched a bit. Willy didn't really like being touched, especially by women. "We know you're doing what you love, and that you wouldn't give anything in the world to trade this place for something else. But we think that you're working too hard. And you seem like there's something bothering you."
"You... you guys... I'm fine. There's nothing wrong with me."
Joe shook his head. "You can say all you want, but we can tell."
"That's why," said Dennis, "we all talked about this yesterday..."
"And please don't take this the wrong way either," said Jenni.
"We think that you should go on va-" began Joe.
"No!" Willy said suddenly. His eyes were very alert now, and a very nervous expression had come onto his face. "Don't... don't say it..." he said, his voice sounding shaky. The three workers exchanged looks. Deep down, they had been expecting this reaction, and were prepared to deal with it. They knew he always acted strangely whenever someone had even hinted for him to take a vacation. He almost seemed scared to do it.
"Willy, please," said Jenni, feeling heartbroken. She hated to see him like this; it was as if someone had set him, the fragile piece of glass, on the edge of a cliff, and a small earthquake was starting to shake the ground beneath it. "We think it's best for you. We know you don't want to, but we want you to be okay."
"We're going to manage the shop for you, and you're going to take a vacation," said Dennis firmly. This seemed to be the last straw: the earthquake had hit full force, and the glass fell from its perch, breaking into thousands of pieces.
Willy let out a small cry of mixed sadness, exasperation, and confusion, and he ran from the room. Before he had left, Jenni had seen his bright violet eyes filled with tears, a single one running down his cheek. She thought she might cry too as Dennis and Joe stared open-mouthed at the door that he had just slammed shut behind him.
"I knew this would happen," she said, her voice shaking now. "I knew he would take it the wrong way. He can't stand it when people think he's weak, even though he really is frail."
Dennis sighed. "I don't know what we're going to do. Maybe you could talk to him, Jenni."
She looked alarmed at this idea. "Me! Why me! I'm not the one who said the word!"
"But he seems to like you a lot. Please, just do it for him," said Joe pleadingly. Jenni knew she was stuck. She didn't want to leave Willy alone right now. She gave a small sigh, then exited the room.
She could hear noises coming from the storage room, and when she opened the door, she saw Willy in the corner, leaning against the wall. Tears were streaming down his face, and gasping sobs racked his body. He looked at her when she approached, and her heart sank; he looked as frightened as she had ever seen him.
"Willy... please... it's okay..." she said, trying to make her voice sound soothing, even though it was laced with nervousness.
"N-no..." he cried, his breathing rate increasing. He was shaking horribly. "I..."
"Willy..." she repeated, now shaking as well. "Why won't you do it? We can take care of the shop for you."
This didn't seem to help at all. Willy's face turned, if possible, even paler. "N-no... I w-won't d-do it... Y-you can't m-make me..." Panic was filling his voice.
Jenni was even more scared now. He looked as though he was about to faint, and that was the last thing either of them needed. "We don't want to make you," she said, her eyes now filling with tears. "We just want what's best for you. We can all tell that something is wrong. Are you okay?"
His eyes were barely in focus now. "N-no... I'm n-not..." he cried, giving up, and his knees gave way, and Jenni had to catch him to keep him from falling on the ground. She almost fell over trying to catch him, but broke the fall with her hand, and she was now sitting on the ground, with him leaning on her.
He started crying even louder than before, as though he was in great pain. Jenni's heart pounded loudly in her ears. She was afraid he was going to make himself even worse if he didn't calm down. "Willy, please, just take deep breaths," she said worriedly. "Calm down, please..."
Willy tried to breathe deeply, but ended up choking on a sob. Jenni didn't care if he didn't like it or not: she grabbed him into a soft embrace, his head on her shoulder, and she held his shaking body. "Please stop crying... It's okay..."
He looked up at her for a moment and stared meaningfully into her eyes. "N-no... it's not..." he said in barely a whipser, and he passed out.