The Outcasts

by Cole Parker

6

Over the next few days, the two boys found opportunities to meet. Liam was having trouble containing himself. His world had turned around in almost no time flat. Now, he had someone to talk to, someone to share his feelings with, and for him it was like being reborn. He had always been a boy with many friends and had been lively, cheerful and very outgoing. The past months had taken a toll on his personality, and now he was recovering. He was regaining a sense of himself, and his sense of fun. True, there had been no change in the School towards him; he was still on the outside looking in with regards to them. Clive Hogsford made sure of that.

Will was feeling changes in his life, too. He'd been alone by choice. Now, by choice, he was welcoming someone else into his life. It was taking him some time and effort to adjust to it, but at the same time it was new and wonderful. He couldn't believe how he felt, just being able to give his opinions on normal, everyday events that occurred. Just talking to a kindred spirit. They would share a table at tea, they would study together in the library, they would spend their free time on the lawn together. They were getting to know each other, and they both found the experience liberating and fulfilling.

One thing Liam learned right away was that Will wasn't doing any schoolwork when he was in the library. They met there the Sunday night after their initial meeting on Saturday, met to do prep for the next day's classes. Liam brought the textbooks and exercise books he'd need. Will came as he was. For him, no supplies were necessary.

They sat at one of the communal tables. The library was mostly deserted. Most boys studied in their rooms and only used the library when they had projects to do that required information not in their own books. The table they chose was at the back, and no other boys were around.

Liam set his bag on the table and began taking out books, exercise books and pencils. Will sat down and watched him. When Liam was opening his first book, he glanced at Will, then looked up in surprise.

"Where are your books?"

"I didn't bring any."

"But, how are you going to study?"

"I don't."

"But, but. . . Will, you have to study! Unless you're a genius or something and already know everything. I overheard the other day about you being called out my Mr. Mellanby. Is this why? You don't do any prep, so you're not ready to recite or answer when someone calls on you?"

Will dropped his eyes. Liam suddenly felt badly for him. "Hey, I'm not trying to put you down. But talk to me about this. Why don't you do any work?"

Will sighed. "I used to. But lately, when I try to read, my mind just sort of drifts away from what I'm reading. I can't concentrate on it. I'll start reading the textbook and I wake up to find it's a half hour later and I'm still on the first paragraph. I've tried to force myself, but I can't seem to help it. I don't know what's wrong. I hate being called on in class and then getting yelled at, but trying to study just hasn't been working."

Liam frowned. He didn't understand this any more than Will did. The only thing he could think of to do that maybe would help was to watch Will.

"Here, I want to see this." He handed Will his History book, the one they both had to read for Mr. Mellanby's class tomorrow. They were in separate sessions of his lessons, but had the same work to do.

"What pages are we supposed to read?"

"Don't you even write it down?"

"Not any more. I can't read it. Why write down the work?"

"Well, I guess that makes an odd sort of sense. Anyway, we're to begin on page 174. Read the first paragraph and tell me what it says."

Will opened the book, looked plaintively at Liam for a moment, then lowered his eyes to the page. Liam watched as he read, watched his eyes. He was looking for them to stop moving across the page, back and forth, but he didn't see that. In a few minutes, Will stopped and lowered the book.

"Well?" Liam asked.

"Uh, it was about the reign of Henry VIII. It was about how he divorced two of his wives by having them executed. He wanted a son, and thought it was the fault of his wives that they was unable to produce one."

Liam gave Will a small smile. "And when do we come to the part where you can't read it?" He was reaching for another book from the pile on the table beside him while asking this, and when he looked up he found find that Will was grinning at him, and his eyes were sparkling. "I did read it, didn't I? I wasn't lying, you know. I wasn't able to concentrate. Here, now, with you sitting there, I didn't have a bit of trouble. I wonder why not?"

"I don't know, but let's get on with it. Here, you can stay with that book and I'll do my maths. Then we can swap. Okay?"

"Yeah, great. I hope I can keep going like this. Actually, this is pretty interesting. I want to know more about the other wives."

The boys were both delighted with the time they spent in the library. Will had done his entire set reading for the first time in ages, and felt very, very proud of himself. It was not a feeling he was familiar with.

The next day, at tea, Liam was there first and seated when Will arrived. Will picked up his tray and carried it to Liam's table. No one else was sitting there. There never was, at Blake's table at teatime, unless all the other tables filled first.

Will was grinning when he sat down. Liam looked a question at him. When Will simply kept grinning, Liam spoke.

"Okay, okay, what's the big grin for? I've never seen you actually looking happy before, unless it was last night. What is it?"

"Mr. Mellanby. He called on me first thing. And I knew everything he asked. He kept trying to ask something I couldn't answer, and then at the end, he finally did. And I answered him by saying, very politely too, 'Mr. Mellanby, I'm sorry, but that wasn't covered in the lesson.' He scowled at me and turned red, but then just told me to sit down. That was it. But man, do I feel good!"

That made Liam feel good too, and the boys chatted, happy smiles on both their faces.

After lunch, the boys parted, and Will headed for his French lesson. He had a spring in his step that had long been absent. As he walked towards his classroom, he was stopped by three boys, one of whom spoke to him.

"Hey, Tanner, isn't it? Tanner, you don't want to be sitting with that homo at tea. No one sits with him. You're not a homo, are you?"

Will gulped. He was not a brave boy, he was much smaller than any one of the three boys who stood in his way, and he hated confrontations of any sort.

"Uh, no, I'm not."

"Then you'd best not be sitting with him in future. Everyone will think you're a queer, too. We don't like fairies here. We don't want them here. So listen. Don't sit with him. Got it?"

Will didn't know how to respond. His heart was beating rapidly. This was what Liam had warned him about. It had been easy then to dismiss it. It wasn't so easy now.

His pause didn't go unnoticed by the boy speaking to him. "Hey, I asked you something, dickhead. I said, 'Got it?' Now you say, 'Oh, yes sir, thank you sir, I won't sit with him again, sir,' and then you go on your merry way. Now, we'll try again. I always heard you were stupid. Let's see if you're smart enough to get this right. Don't sit with Blake again. Got it?"

"I understand you, sir. Thank you." With that, Will walked swiftly around the three, who turned to watch him walk away. Will was shaking now. But they were behind him, and as usual, no one else paid a bit of attention to him. He heard the three laugh, but that was easy to ignore

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