The Outcasts

by Cole Parker

13

Three weeks later, Will and Liam were sitting at their desks in their room. It had been an exhilarating three weeks. Without Hogsford's looming presence, other boys had begun filtering back into Liam's life. As they had, and as it was seen that he was the same friendly and charismatic boy he had been before they'd known his secret, other boys had rallied to him, and the shame they felt at deserting him was quickly forgotten. And so Liam was whole again. He was also fiercely protective of Will, who now had a friend, the loneliness he hadn't even realized was troubling him was gone, he was doing well in his lessons and his attitude was better. He was still somewhat reserved, he still only was warm to Liam, but that warmth was change enough for him for now, and made all the difference. Liam helped him with the work he had missed and encouraged him, and because Liam was so supportive of him, the snide remarks that had occasionally been directed towards him in the past had now ended. In fact, as they sat at their desks, there were three other boys in the room, and they were all chatting. As usual, Will was somewhat withdrawn and rarely spoke up, but he was an actual member of the group instead of an outsider and did respond well enough when asked for a direct comment. The fact that Will was always watching and just as protective of Liam as Liam was of him was not apparent to anyone. Protection was something for which Liam now had no need.

It was usual, Liam being the outgoing boy he was, for boys to gather in Liam's and Will's room. It happened most days. It did wonders for Liam's mood. But there was a bittersweet quality to it. It troubled Liam that he still could not get Will to join in with other boys enthusiastically. There was a sadness in Will that he seemed to keep locked away, and although he was now a happier boy, and occasionally did smile and even laugh, Liam knew Will still was empty of the abandon most boys enjoy when with their peers. Liam wanted so desperately to help him become the carefree, happy boy he knew was hiding inside him, but didn't know how. He wanted to see the smile that sometimes would now appear on Will's lips actually reach his eyes. There were things Will just would not talk to him about, things that caused him to stiffen and go silent, and Liam thought if he could get him to discuss these things, perhaps some of his sadness could be erased.

An idea occurred to Liam one morning, and though it scared him, his feelings for Will were such that he would do anything in his power to help. A little fear was nothing to stop him. And so it was that, following morning lessons, he found himself on the Headmaster's doorstep.

After he'd been ushered inside, and then worried through a short wait outside the closed study, the door opened and the Headmaster was standing there, looking down at him.

"Ah, Blake. Please come in. Sit down, if you would. I'm delighted you have come to pay me a visit. I wish more of the boys would. Now, please, tell me why you have come calling? Is there something I can help you with?"

Liam was startled. Never had he expected such warmth and friendliness from this outwardly severe man. He had hoped the man might help him. He'd been greatly impressed with him during his first visit. But friendliness he hadn't been expecting. Where was the aloof hater of boys he kept hearing about?

"Thank you, sir. I was hoping, well, I was. . . ." He stopped. He really hadn't prepared himself for this, he had come almost on a whim, and now realized he had no idea how to proceed.

The Headmaster smiled at him. "Come now, Liam. May I call you Liam? Thank you, I'll use that name then. I heard you call Tanner by his Christian name, and him call you Liam, and it sounded so comfortable. I'll adopt that with you if I may? All right, thank you, then. Now, Liam, how is everything going with you. And with Tanner? Are you two happy in your new room?"

"Oh, yes sir! It's wonderful. And the boys in the school are so much better now. It's just like it was before, and I'm so happy about that. There's just this one problem, and I, well, I was hoping you could help. I didn't know where else to turn. You did so much for us, and everything's been so good since you did what you did, that I thought, maybe, well. . . ." Liam was beginning to feel desperate.

He stopped again. The Headmaster saw his discomfiture and tried to help. "You said 'we'. I would guess then that the reason for your visit today is Will?"

"Yes sir."

"And is he having a problem then?"

"Can I speak very plainly with you, sir?"

"Please do, Liam. I want to help. I hate to see boys upset, and I found I liked Will very much when he was here. Such a small boy, but so brave. Many boys quail in front of me, but I could see, when it came to defending you, he didn't hesitate. If he was timid, he didn't show it to me. Even bigger lads hesitate to speak up to me. He didn't for an instant. He was speaking on your behalf, and he was stalwart. You have a very good friend indeed in Tanner, Liam. I greatly admire that. If there's anything I can do to help him, I will."

"I don't know if you can, sir, but I hope you might. But I have to tell you some things. May I, sir?"

"Please do, Liam. And if I can then help, I will."

And so Liam did what is so hard for boys to do. His put his trust in an adult, an adult with great power over his life. He told him about Will. About how Will had saved him. About how he was friendless, about how he'd pushed everyone away, about how he'd built walls around himself, and about how, even with the walls in place, the two of them had come to be friends. About how the boy couldn't study and was failing in his lessons. How Will's walls had come down when he was with Liam but only when he was with him and neither of them knew why. How Will still was troubled and Liam couldn't reach that part of him, but how Liam knew he needed to be reached if he were ever to be happy, and how Liam thought maybe, since the Headmaster had worked such magic for him, perhaps he could do the same for Will. It was the only idea he had, but one he just prayed might work.

The Headmaster had had to fight hard to keep tears from his eyes at Liam's frank admission of his attempt to end his life. He had recovered enough to speak without his voice breaking by the time Liam was finished. At that point, the Headmaster had stood and asked Liam to stand, and then had hugged the boy. Liam was surprised, but then hugged the man back, and from that point on, never felt the intimidating awe of the man which other boys instinctively felt. He knew then that the image was a sham. This was a man who truly cared about his boys, and Liam's attitude towards him was thereafter one of love and respect.

"Liam," said the Headmaster when they were both finally seated again, "you have to promise to come see me if you ever feel that sort of despair again. You have to. Please promise me that now, I beg of you."

"I promise. I hope I'll never feel that way again. I look at what I tried to do then, and compare it to how I feel right now, only a short time later, and I realize I wasn't thinking right. But I'm really good now. Everyone's talking to me again, and I just can't imagine ever reaching that low point again. But thank you, sir, for caring about me, and I do promise."

"Good. Now, I will surely do what I can for Will. He sounds a remarkable boy. Please have him join me for tea today. I will talk to him, and we will see what we will see. And as good a friend as he is to you, I think you're just as good a one to him. I think you boys deserve each other. You both fought for the other against odds you couldn't possibly overcome. You were totally giving of yourselves for each other. That is very, very rare, even between good friends. I am so glad you two found one another."

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