The Outcasts

by Cole Parker

14

Will was very nervous going to see the Headmaster. Liam had been vague about why he wanted to meet with him. Thinking about his nervousness, Will found it strange that the last time he'd gone to see him, facing possible expulsion for fighting in the dining hall, he hadn't felt nearly this nervous. The fact his whole attention at that time had been focused on protecting Liam never occurred to him.

After he was seated in the Headmaster's study and they had chatted over tea, something the scholar hoped would soften the fears of the boy sitting in his presence, the Headmaster began speaking to him in a kindly fashion, a fashion long practised to bring a boy enough comfort so he could speak freely. The Headmaster found Will pleasant enough, and after speaking with him a while felt he'd loosened up a bit, but there was obviously a reticence in the boy still.

So he spoke, they chatted, and he found all his attempts to get Will to open up to him were failing. Even trying to get closer to him by using the boy's first name hadn't broken through.

The Headmaster knew when he was not going to make much headway with a boy. He had reached that point now with Will. Rather than throw up his hands in defeat, however, he ploughed ahead, trying new approaches. When it began to look hopeless, he decided open honesty might be the best method with this boy.

"Will, Liam was here to see me today. He is very concerned about you. After talking to you now, I can see why. I've known many boys in my time here. I've learned to read them when they talk to me. I read their words, their body language, their eyes, their nervousness. What I read from you is that you're a friendly, polite, very nice boy who doesn't want to talk to me. But I don't get the impression you're afraid of me. So I don't think it's just me you won't talk to. You won't talk to anyone, will you?"

"No, sir, and I'm sorry if I'm being rude."

"Oh, no, Will, you're not being rude. What I'd say you're being is self-protective. And you're a very different boy from the one who was here almost a month ago. That boy wasn't a bit private. That boy stood up for his friend. He did his utmost to see no harm would come to him. You were free and totally engaged towards that end. You're not nearly that free with what you say now.

"I also heard all about what occurred with you and Liam, when you first met. It sounded to me like you were totally engaged with saving him, too, and then in saving him in the dining hall. Do you know what I'm feeling from this, Will?"

"No sir."

"Well, what I'm feeling is that when we're talking about Will Tanner, you close down. You pull down the blinds, fasten up the shutters, lock the doors and don't let anyone in. But, when it comes to Liam, you forget about yourself and concentrate on him. And when that happens, you come alive. No more hiding, no more holding back. Your whole personality changes. Think about that for a moment. Do you agree with that, or am I wrong?"

Will was suddenly feeling nervous. Not with the Headmaster himself, but with where the conversation seemed to be heading. But he had to answer the question.

"I agree, sir. In fact, I hadn't thought of it that way, but as I do now, it explains something to me. Something I've wondered about. You see, before I met Liam, I was always sort of thinking about many things all at once, if I thought about anything, but never about myself, certainly not at all deeply. I rather didn't let myself think about personal things too much. Never about other boys, either. But, for some reason, I wanted to know more about Liam, which seemed very weird to me, but I sort of couldn't help myself with him. I followed him, and when I saw what he was about to do at the bridge, suddenly for the first time in a very long time I was completely focusing on him. Only him. And I think, now that you've said what you have, that that's why I suddenly felt so free. When I was helping him, saving him, I was outside myself, and it felt so good. It was like I'd come out from a cage I'd been in, and that I was suddenly fully awake, and that before I'd been only partly awake."

"That's what I was thinking too, Will. And as far as I can tell, when you're with Liam, you are awake. Especially if you're helping him. But Will, what we need to do, what you need to do, is allow yourself to figure out why, when you're thinking about yourself, you stop yourself from doing that. Why do you hide from yourself? Can we talk about that? I said a moment ago you were being self-protective. That's exactly what's happening and to get to the bottom of it, you have to talk to me. About yourself."

"I don't like to do that, sir. I never even think about myself if I can help it. There's nothing much to talk about anyway."

"Tell me, Will, what do you think of yourself? Are you proud of yourself, of who you are?"

"Oh, no sir. I'm really nothing. I don't know why Liam wants to be my friend, unless he's just feeling sorry for me and because I saved him. He's got lots of friends now, and I was thinking of telling him he should choose another roommate for next term. He shouldn't be stuck with me."

The Headmaster paused, then turned to the window and looked out over the school grounds. His house was situated such that from his study he could see the expanse of lawn, the school classroom buildings and then the houses, laid out picturesquely with the playing fields just able to be glimpsed behind. Off to one side of it all, the broad valley began its gentle fall down to the river. He stared for a few minutes, then turned back to Will.

"Will, can you tell me about home?" He asked the question softly, and tried to put as much empathy into the question as possible.

Will visibly stiffened. He was silent, but as it became apparent the Headmaster was waiting for him to talk and wasn't going to relieve the tension himself, Will finally said, "I don't like to do that, sir."

"I think you need to, Will. I now know why Liam came to see me. He's hurting for you, Will. He wants to see you happy, and he knows you well enough to see the pain inside you. Now that we've spent some time together, I see it too, and unlike Liam, who has no experience with these things, I believe I know where the pain comes from. I also know it'll help you a lot more if you tell me than if I guess. You need to do this, whether you want to or not. You showed me a great deal of courage when you were in the dining hall, fighting for your friend. You showed it again in this room before, again trying to save him. Will you show me the same courage now, saving yourself? It'll take more courage than any you've showed me before, but I think you can do it. Please, Will?"

Will was silent, and then, after a moment tears began spilling from his eyes. He lowered his head and was the very picture of misery. The Headmaster came to him, crouched by him and pulled Will's head to his chest. He put his arms around him and held him as he wept.

It took quite some time, but finally, when he could speak again, Will lifted his head and asked in a shaky voice, "You know, sir?"

"I can make a fairly good guess. But I want you to tell me. Catharsis comes from you speaking, not from me guessing."

"What does, sir?"

The Headmaster chuckled, though the sound was sad. "Catharsis. The relieving of all the pressure and guilt and blame and suffering you've been living with for so long. Telling me about it will make you feel better. It will make you realize how strong you are, and you need to prove to yourself you are that strong. Believe me, Will, you can't say anything I haven't heard before, from one boy or another, over the years. I need to hear it from you. But more to the point, you need to say it. Then we'll talk about it. And when you leave here today, you'll feel better."

"But sir, some of this is, well, hard to speak to an adult about. It's personal,and it involves sex."

"Yes, I know. But Will, you need to talk about it, in as much detail as you can, because it's the holding it in that is hurting you so much. I know is embarrassing. It's getting over the embarrassment, that's part of this. It's realizing you're human, other people have been where you've been, and what you have to say isn't going to kill you. Will, I've had this conversation with other boys. They've told me things they never thought they could say to anyone. And when they were done, they felt better. They continued to go to school here, and they got over it.

"Furthermore, I was a boy once myself. And I had a son. I know the things boys do. Very rarely are they horrible. They're the things boys do. I did them too. Maybe not all the things you've been through, but things like them, probably. It's part of growing up. So I'm not going to be shocked. And you're going to feel better. But it does take courage. Do you have that much, Will?"

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