Sense of Doubt

by William King

Chapter 2


What do they call it when you start to feel good again because the whole school has stopped talking about you, but it then becomes a million times worse when you discover the new thing everyone is telling everybody else? It doesn't matter, but if I was edging on paranoia before, now I was totally gone.

"You heard the latest?" Stewart Evans was as usual accompanied by Enzo. Made me wonder where James was, because the three of them were always together. They were grinning and giggling like a couple of school girls. I think they thought it was more amusing because they could tell by my reaction I didn't have a clue what they were on about.

"No, what?" I smiled and just played along. I didn't like them too much. We got on okay, that was more to do with playing on the school rugby team though. My opinion of them was always tainted by the incident from way back when they were harassing Ryan.

"We've got a couple of queers in the school," he was trying to contain his mirth. It hit me like a fucking express train, right in the solar plexus. I almost couldn't breathe for an instant. But then managed one deep breath.

"Only a couple," I was acting nonchalant, but it took every ounce of willpower I had to keep up the performance. They didn't notice anything, too busy giggling. I wanted to leave. But I also needed to know what the latest gossip was all about.

"Only two we know about," Enzo interjected.

"So who's that then?"

"No names," Stewart chuckled.

"Yeah. We can't give out names."

"You mean you don't know. Why spread stupid fucking rumours about something you know nothing about. Anyway, who gives a fuck?" I was on the attack now. What a brilliant recovery. They had pissed me off and I was angry. I was about to let them feel the full force of all my pent up emotion. That is until I saw Mr Mathews, the rugby coach, coming down the corridor. In a few seconds he was within earshot and we had become the focus of his attention.

"Good joke boys?" He quipped, just slowing his pace slightly.

Stewart and Enzo turned around. "Pretty silly really Sir," Enzo spoke first. "Yeah, all about nothing according to Alex here." Fuck he liked to put the heat on someone else. I just gave him a sarcastic smile, but made no reply.

"Don't be late for practice," Mr Mathews completely ignored their replies, picked up his pace and was soon disappearing down the other end of the corridor. Stewart and Enzo followed after Mr Mathews, leaving me sort of choking on my own frustration. I felt like punching something, but I just made two tight fists and grimaced. One day I might explode – spontaneous combustion - I'll disappear engulfed in a huge ball of blue flames and all that will be left will be a small pile of ash on the floor.

I had a free period now and needed to study. I still had half a chance that I might not fail every mock exam. The library, peace and quiet, that was the best plan. Forget about what I had heard. If only.

I saw him over in the corner, head in some book or other. Edmund was your studious type. How he and Matty became friends I didn't know and had never asked. I suppose they had something in common if you counted Matty's endless questioning. Now I was thinking about him again, Matty that is. I made up my mind to find out what Edmund knew. Whether he was responsible, for the rumour about Matty and me running away. I don't think he would be one to spread gossip though, and not about boys being gay, not him.

"Hi," I said softly, peering over at the book laid out on the desk in front of him.

He jumped, which was sort of odd, but I must have startled him. Looking up from his book, I could see a worried expression on his face. Worried or scared? I wasn't sure. Maybe both, all mixed up.

"You okay?" I was genuinely concerned.

Edmund had been a big help to me. Even though I didn't know him well, I thought of him as a friend. So if he had mouthed off about me and Matty, well I wouldn't be pleased, but neither would I be after my pound of flesh. He didn't answer straightaway, it looked like he was thinking about what to say. He relaxed. I got the impression he expected someone else. Yeah, that was it. I'm sure he thought someone had found him, hidden away in a corner of the library.

"Hi," he finally replied, with a weak smile.

"What's going on Edmund?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean. Why are you hiding out. Here in the library. Looking scared and thinking I was someone coming to get you."

That knocked him back a bit. Straight to the point, not angry, slightly concerned, friendly.

"You better pull up a chair, I suppose. It's a long story." Now his expression had changed. From worried, to subdued resignation. There was no one else in the library, not that I could see anyway. I grabbed a chair and sat down next to him.

"I'm sorry," he started off. I could tell he meant it, but was this an apology for, spreading gossip about Matty and me? "I know it isn't any sort of excuse, but it's all down to Ryan. He came after me again, and..." I couldn't believe it. No, I mean I believed what he was saying. I just couldn't believe Ryan was still bearing a grudge against me and Matty. What is it with that guy? Can't he let it drop?

"That guy is a jerk. But I told you to come and tell me if he ever pulled something like that."

"I know, but... " Now Edmund was looking sheepish.

"Oh come on Edmund. You gotta tell me. Stop stalling."

"It was in the gym. In the changing rooms actually. We had just finished our class. There was only me, Tom Hudson, and Charley, Charley Parker. Anyway I had just finished showering and being last, turned off the water. As I came out into the changing room Ryan was there. That was not unexpected, because it was your class after us. But he was alone. Anyway, he was really aggressive towards Tom and Charley. Told them to pick up their stuff and get the fuck out. They did. Well, actually, they didn't immediately. It looked like it might turn into a fight. Three against one. But I told them it was okay. So they left. Then Ryan started on about Matty. Why wasn't he in school? I had to know because we were friends and all. I wasn't telling him anything. He knew, I knew, but I wasn't talking."

"You should have left when you had the chance."

"Well, I never really thought about it. I just thought, if it wasn't now, it would be later. I didn't want a fight. Plus it was only Ryan. I thought it was between us. You know, why tell the whole world."

"Yeah, I get that. So what happened?"

"Ryan just was really uptight. Angry, nervy, kept probing, pushing. It got physical. I decided to tell him that Matty had runaway from home. And you'd helped him. I didn't mention you at all at first. But like I said it got physical, he kept pushing me. I kept stepping backwards. Then I slipped. You know as you enter the showers there's that little ridge on the floor that stops any water flowing out into the changing room. Well I tripped walking backwards. Fell back into the shower area. Then Ryan was like on top of me. I mean leaning right over me with his hands on my chest. So I spilled the beans on you helping Matty. That the police brought you both back home. I never said much more. The rest of the stuff going round the school just got made up by different people. But that isn't all."

It was quite some story. Everything was beginning to make sense now. Ryan still harboured some kind of desire for revenge. Probably because he got suspended over the last incident. Still it was risky going after Edmund a second time. If he reported it, or it got found out, he risked being expelled.

"Okay, I'm starting to see what happened. So what else is there?"

"Your class had been cancelled, right?"

"Yes, I remember. We were given a free period. There was some teacher meeting or something."

"I guess everybody got the message, except Enzo."

"What d'ya mean?"

"Alright, picture this. I'm on the floor. Naked, I just came out of the showers, remember. I did have a towel, but lost it when I fell over. Ryan is practically on top of me. At least he's towering over me with his hands on me. In walks Enzo. I saw him. The only guy who never got the message that his class was cancelled. So him, being not the brightest kid on the block, just chucked his stuff down on the bench. Then he saw Ryan and said something like what you doing? Then, I don't know. Remember Ryan is blocking most of my view. That is until he hears Enzo, jumps up, turns around and walks back out. I think he said, class got cancelled idiot, on his way past. Then Enzo is like starring with his mouth open as I get up, grab my towel, and go to get my clothes. He like stays there frozen Then grabs his bag and leaves."

"He never said anything?"

"Nothing. Just left. Now you must have heard the gossip that overtook you and Matty as the hot topic? Enzo. And I don't know why. Started the rumour that Ryan was doing stuff with me in the school changing rooms. It's gross. But people probably believe it. Well fuck, let them."

That was the first time I'd ever heard Edmund swear. Coming out of his mouth it sounded weird. He was not the foul mouthed type.

"I suppose Ryan will be even more pissed now. But that's all his doing."

"What about your friends? What do they think about all this?"

"Tom and Charlie were there when Ryan showed up. They asked me what happened. I told them the same story I'd given Ryan, about Matty running away. I added a bit about what had gone on before, because they didn't know anything about Ryan. They're totally with me. But there's no way to stop rumours spreading. Getting exaggerated. I just hope no teachers get to hear about it."

I was thinking that things were getting out of hand. He was right, if a teacher or adult heard and paid any attention to it, then it could get ten times more serious.

"Do you want me to do anything?" I was trying to be sympathetic. I had no idea as to what I could do.

The bell sounded for the end of period. Edmund gathered up his stuff. I'd spent a whole forty minutes talking to him.

"It'll all blow over. I hope." He gave me a smile as he left.

'He's got more confidence than me.' Perhaps because he's not gay. That sort of rumour is just water off a duck's back, to him. I was relieved that Matty and I were not at the centre of this new gossip. At the same time I knew I needed to do something about Ryan. Unless that is, he let his grudge with Matty go.

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