The Outcasts

by Cole Parker

5

They sat down right where they were. Blake took himself off Will and together, they managed to scoot over so they were sitting with their backs against the side of the bridge. At first, neither spoke. For some reason Blake couldn't understand, Will continued to cry. After a few moments, he began sobbing, then wailing. Blake didn't understand. He'd been the one despairing. He'd been ready to end his life. And now this boy was showing even more emotion than he had. Blake didn't understand what was happening.

His thoughts were a muddle. It was slowly sinking in that he'd actually tried to kill himself. He'd been ready to die, and had tried to end his life. The more that thought ran throught his head, the more upset he became. He began crying too, and as he did, Will cried with him.

The two boys sat together, holding one another, sobbing.

Little by little, Blake began to pull himself together, frayed emotions and all. He knew what he'd done. He knew he was going to have to live with that, somehow find a way to accept it. He mentally surveyed himself and realized, to his surprise, he no longer felt the deep despondency that had been affecting him.

Beside him, Will continued to cry. Blake began muttering consoling words, but Will showed no sign he heard him. Blake then put his arm around Will, and when that didn't seem to bring any response at all, put both arms around him and pulled him into his chest.

At last Will seemed to become aware of things around him. He reached up and put his arms around Blake, then hugged him with all his might. To his relief, Blake felt Will stop sobbing, and then stop crying altogether. Still, Will clung to him like a babe to its mother.

Eventually, Will released his grip. He didn't seem to want to lose contact with Blake, however. He remained with his head against his chest. Blake looked down at him, and when he spoke, there was at attempt at wry humour in his shaky voice.

"Hey, I'm the one who tried to kill himself. How come you're the one who's so upset? Shouldn't that be me?"

Will started to answer, then hiccupped instead. He managed an apologetic half grin. "I'm sorry. I'm not like this. I'm not emotional at all. When I caught you, when you didn't die, when instead you fell on this side of the bridge railing and not onto the rocks, something inside me seemed to snap. It was like a dam bursting. I don't know how to explain it. When I saw you climb up on the side of the bridge, something came over me. I can't tell you what I felt like, but I had to keep you from jumping. I had to! And when you didn't fall, I had this feeling of relief that was just overpowering."

After saying this, his memory brought his feelings back to him, and Will started crying again. This time, Blake hugged him tightly, and his eyes started running too.

The boys wept together for several minutes, then slowly brought themselves back under control.

Will pushed back from Blake, but kept looking at him. Blake stared back. Then he smiled. "I was looking at you yesterday, at tea," he said, then settled more comfortably back against the side of the bridge.

Will took Blake's movement as a sign to take his head off his chest. He sat back against the bridge also, but remained close enough for the two boys' arms to be touching.

"I know. I saw you."

"You frowned at me. I hope this doesn't upset you, but that was, well, one of the reasons I'm here today."

"It is? Why?"

"You're Tanner, aren't you?"

"Yes. Will Tanner."

"Well, Tanner, I was looking at you wondering if there was any chance we could be friends. I don't have any friends, and it's been just destroying me. Everyone avoids me, and some of them make remarks. They all hate me. I thought I could live through it, but things haven't been getting any better and the feelings I've been having lately, they've been getting worse. I can't stand the loneliness. I can't stand all the hatred. I can't stand not being able to even talk to anyone. It's been that way ever since Richardson told everyone I'd told him I liked him.

"I was really attracted to him, and finally told him so, and it ended up with everyone hating me for it. It wasn't really Richardson's fault. Not really. He's something of a twit. I thought I loved him for the bubbly way he had, for his enthusiasm. I hadn't realized that was all there was to him. I told him I liked him, he thought it was all a joke and laughed about it to other boys. They didn't think it was a joke at all. They thought it was serious, that I was a queer, and let me know.

"I thought I could live with it. I found out it was just too hard. I'm not as strong as I thought I was. Every day, no end in sight, no one speaking to me, unless it's to say something mean or sarcastic or just something awful. I couldn't take it any more."

Blake took a deep breath, and shuddered as he exhaled. "So I've been sent to Coventry ever since. It's been wearing on me. I've been getting more and more depressed, and started to think bad thoughts. Then, yesterday, I noticed you. I've heard about you. The boys talk, and sometimes I'm there and hear what they're saying. They said you're a loner, and they were talking about why that might be. It was all a lot of crap, what they were speculating on, but the loner part caught my attention. I started to wonder if you really were alone. I desperately needed someone to talk to, someone who could be kind and accept me as I am, and I thought, well, maybe you could be that someone. So I looked at you yesterday, and I saw no one was talking to you, either, and I was starting to hope, the first time in ages it seemed that I actually had something to hope about, and then when you saw me looking, you frowned. That was about it for me. I realized I had no one, and what was the use?"

Will didn't know what to say. He was unaccustomed to talking to other boys about anything. This conversation was like nothing he'd heard before. This was hearing words coming from another boy's soul. He was hearing, too, that he himself had been the last straw for this boy. He thought how it must have felt, to have been wishing for something with a desperate sort of hope, and then to be rejected like he had been.

Will knew he needed to explain. About the frown. He felt something for this boy that was new and strange to him. He was feeling a connection to someone for the first time in what seemed like forever, and it awakened something inside him that he hadn't realized was there. He suddenly knew that he didn't want this boy to misunderstand what he'd done yesterday at tea. And, more amazingly, he discovered, sitting here with him on this bridge, he actually wanted this boy to like him! That was incredible. He couldn't imagine that reaction, but that's what he was feeling. He wanted, no, he needed to explain himself. And he was hoping that by doing so, the boy would like him!

"Blake, I wasn't frowning at you. Well, I was, but it wasn't really you, you see? If any boy were looking at me, I'd frown. I didn't want anything to do with anyone. Also, I saw something in your eyes. It looked like you wanted something from me. I couldn't help out with that. I didn't know how and didn't want to try. I frowned because I didn't want to get involved. I don't get involved with anyone. But it wasn't you I was rejecting. I don't know you. I didn't know why you were looking at me. I'm sorry. I just don't get involved with anyone."

Blake grinned. "You don't, huh? You call spending the morning following me across the school grounds and into the wood, you call screaming at me not to jump, you call running as fast as you can towards me and grabbing me as I was about to fall onto the rocks not getting involved?"

Will looked down at the ground, something he was very good at. Then he turned his head and raised his eyes back up at Blake again. "I don't know what to say, Blake. I don't know how to explain. Something came over me. You looked at me at tea. Then, last night, while I was walking back from the library, I saw you crying. Then I followed you today. And I can't tell you why. I don't know. I don't understand it either. But when I saw what you intended to do, I just had to stop you. But I'm not really like that. I'm not worth much of anything, I don't get involved with other boys, I just stay by myself. That's the way I am."

Blake didn't say anything for a moment, thinking. Then he asked, "Do you mind if I do this?" and slipped his arm around the smaller boy's shoulders. To his surprise, Will didn't mind, and in fact shrugged himself closer to Blake.

"Tanner, thank you for saving me. Without you here, I'd be gone now. Because of you, I'm not. For the rest of my life, I'll remember you, and thank you for that. Now, as I think we're to be friends, and as I owe my life to you, may I stop calling you Tanner? May I call you Will?"

Will didn't respond. He heard the words, but was thinking how good it felt to have this boy's arm around his shoulders. It was as though a peace had descended on him that had long been absent, but one he hadn't known was missing. Odd.

When the silence grew, Blake tightened him arm briefly, hugging Will, bringing him out of himself. Will looked up, grinned a little self-consciously, and said shyly, "I'd like that, if you called me Will."

Blake smiled back and said, "And I'm Liam. Please. Now, Will, why are you always alone? Why don't you get involved? Can you tell me?"

He felt Will stiffen beneath his arm. There was silence for a moment, and then Will replied. "Not really," he said. "Well, maybe I could if I tried, but I don't like to think about myself much. There isn't much there to think about, really. I never talk to anyone. It's easier that way. I've grown used to being by myself and I feel comfortable now that way."

"You said 'now.' So you haven't always been this way?"

Will didn't answer that. He started to pull away from him. Liam held him, and after a short period of resistance, Will allowed himself to still be held.

"Why don't you have any friends?"

Will again didn't respond.

Liam instinctively felt that Will needed to talk about himself, to open up and let someone else in. It wasn't normal for a young teen to purposely isolate himself as Will had done. And he resisted any attempt to get him to open up. How could Liam get him to do that? He didn't want to frighten him away. He wanted to help him. And most of all, he wanted him for a friend. He was desperate for someone to talk to. Someone who would talk with him. Someone he could spend time with, so he himself would not be so disastrously alone.

Liam himself had been a very outgoing person until Richardson had outed him and he'd become ostracized by the other boys. The loss of social contact that had resulted had been what had destroyed his will to live. He deeply felt the pain of being alone. Watching Will, seeing him tighten up when he was pressed to speak about himself, made Liam sad. He was feeling an attachment to this boy, the boy who had in fact saved his life.

What could he say that would help this boy trust him, help him to talk? He thought if Will could talk about himself, it was very likely his problems could be solved, or at the very least brought down to a size where they wouldn't be so unbearable for him.

Liam thought about what they'd said to each other today, and then a thought came to him. Perhaps there was a way to get the boy to open up a little. As the silence grew, Liam was surprised that Will seemed very comfortable being in the arms of another boy, wordlessly sitting together. It didn't fit at all with the image he had of Will, the loner who eschewed human contact. That was perhaps a place to start.

"Will, you said something before. I think you said, 'Something came over me,' and, 'I felt something snap inside of me,' and 'it felt like a dam bursting.' Do you remember? What were those feelings all about?"

Will had to think about that. As he did, he sat up a little straighter. "You know, that was amazing. I'm remembering it, and it's strange, but what I'm feeling is, it was as though suddenly I'd been released from something, as though suddenly I was free. I was thinking about you, worrying about you, and I never do that. I never think about anyone else very deeply. Yet my whole being seemed concentrated on you, and when that happened, it was as though the whole world opened up, like I'd been shut inside a dark room before that and suddenly the door had burst open. It was a crazy feeling. I don't understand it at all, but it felt wonderful."

"And sitting here with me like this, me with my arm around you, how does that feel?"

"That feels good, too. I don't understand that, either. Normally, I hate any sort of contact with other people. I don't know why this feels so good, but it does."

Liam didn't know what to make of this, but he refused to be deterred. "I want to ask a couple more questions, but I don't want to upset you. You didn't mind answering the ones I already asked. Can I continue? You can always not answer if you don't want to."

"All right."

Liam laughed, trying to establish a lighter mood. "This is an important question, Will, important to me. Will you be my friend? I hope you will. I want to be yours."

"All right," Will replied, a little bashfully. The thought of having someone to talk to, to be with, was unsettling. He wasn't even sure why he'd said yes so easily. But the idea did have some appeal to it, now. It hadn't before. Yesterday, when this boy hadn't been Liam but been Blake, and Blake had looked at him from across the room, he'd turned away from him. Now, he had without thought or resistance told Liam he'd like to be his friend. What was it about Liam that made the idea now acceptable? He wasn't sure. But the idea of it, of being friends with this boy, somehow excited him. It seemed to generate the same feelings he'd experienced running to the bridge, a feeling of freedom.

"Will, it might be hard. Most boys ignore me, but a few like to do more than that. They try to make my life as hard as possible. They do things when no one is looking. When they see us talking, they won't like it. They'll tell you to stop, and if you don't, they'll start telling everyone that you're queer too. Being friends with me won't be easy. Are you brave?"

"No, I'm scared of almost everything."

"Maybe we ought not be very public about our friendship, then. It would be better for you that way."

Will thought about that, and then replied. "Liam, nobody pays any attention to me. I don't know if they think I'm bonkers or a freak or what. I've never cared what they've thought. I've never wanted a friend. But with you, somehow, I do. And you say you want one. We can't be much of a friend to one another if we have to avoid each other, if we can't talk. I'll be scared if the bigger kids start after me, but if you want to be friends, let's be friends. I don't even understand why I'm feeling like this, but I am."

Liam looked at the smaller boy with admiration, and his heart warmed to him. He smiled at him. "Okay, we'll try it. Let's get back for lunch."

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