Sense of Doubt

by William King

Chapter 4


Sunday morning I was on edge, full of apprehension. Wanting to see Matty, but wondering how it would be. Max was here. He came for a sleep over Saturday night. Him and Michael were sitting having breakfast when I came down.

"Hi Max, sleep well?" He looked up from his cereal. Gave me an odd stare, his brow furrowed. "Just making conversation." I grabbed a bowl, spoon, and sat down.

"So why'd you ask if we slept well?"

I took the cereal, poured some into the bowl. "Pass the milk, will ya?"

Max picked up the carton of milk. "There's not much left."

Michael stood up, he hadn't said anything yet. "There's more in the fridge. You want some?"

I took the milk from Max, shock it and poured it. "Yeah, please." I looked at Michael, then Max. "Did I do something here?"

Michael walked over with another carton of milk. "Nah." He was looking down at Max. He squeezed his shoulder, and Max looked, well, kind of blank. Something was definitely going on, or had gone on. I didn't even care what the two of them got up to last night. It must have been last night, because I hardly said two words to Max when he arrived, and I only just got up. Breakfast passed in silence, with Max and Michael finishing up and leaving me alone with my bowl of cereal. 'This wasn't boding well for the rest of the day.'

Michael knocked on my bedroom door just before lunchtime. He opened it and stepped in. "What's up?" He smiled sheepishly and closed the door, hovering there. I looked at him, laying aside the book I hadn't really been reading, couldn't concentrate on it.

"Sorry about Max this morning. He's a bit touchy."

"About what? We've hardly said two words."

He fidgeted, turning around, walked over to the bed. "It's nothing to do with you."

"So what then?"

Michael was looking at the floor, or his feet, or something real interesting somewhere. He was avoiding eye contact. Was he blushing?

After a silence that I was about to interrupt, he looked up. "It's all the gay stuff."

"What gay stuff? You mean me? This is about me?"

"No." He was definitely getting red in the face. "Just tell me. I got enough going on without something between you, me, and Max, to add to it."

"We were... you know. Mucking about last night. He kind of thought you was hinting at stuff. When you came down for breakfast."

"Hinting at stuff? I just asked if he slept well." Then I got it. Being sort of wrapped up in myself I never thought anything of it, but now I saw little Maximillian being worried. "I get it. He thought I was... I meant, something else. Was making fun or, snide comments. You know I never even thought about it. Or what you two got up to."

Michael moved some stuff off the chair and sat down. "Yeah, I know. But he's a bit touchy."

"What did you do?" I wasn't that interested, but I thought if you talk as if it is all a normal everyday thing, then it will all fade away. Get back to being okay. I didn't need more problems right now. "Don't say, if you don't want. It's none of my business. Doesn't matter anyway. I just want things to be good between us. For this afternoon."

"We watched some porno." He wasn't looking at me again, but around the room.

"Well that's nothing. But don't let mum or dad catch you." I smiled, but he wasn't looking.

"We were in bed together." He said that in a whisper, so softly, I wasn't sure I heard him. But I had.

"Oh, okay. The two of you were in bed, watching porn. And playing around. Now he's embarrassed. Thinks I know, or whatever. I get it." And I really did. "Let's go talk to him."

I got up and the two of us went back to Michael's room, where Max was sitting on the floor in front of the screen playing Grand Theft. After he'd paused the game we all sat around and had a little talk about things. I made sure Max felt okay, that I wasn't making fun, or insinuating anything. I told him not to be so uptight, only I didn't quite say it like that. Anyway, by the time we got called for Sunday lunch everything was once again fine. Max even said to me that it was too bad Matty wasn't here for lunch.

The karting circuit was pretty busy, being Sunday and good weather. We didn't even find a parking place when we arrived and dad had to leave the car outside in the little lane.

"We'll have to wait ages," Michael complained. Dad went and joined the queue to book us in. People were bustling about. It was maybe the busiest I'd ever seen it, and we'd been a few times.

"See if you can find a table outside," mum smiled at Michael. "I'm sure it won't be that long."

Max and Michael headed outside onto the long wooden deck that virtually ran the length of the pits. It gave a great view of the circuit, being on the first floor. Finding a free table though, was impossible. Eventually they came back to tell us, what I'd already guessed, the place was full.

"There's some picnic tables underneath." I grabbed Matty and pulled him along. "We'll go take a look." I noticed dad was at the front of the queue, booking our slot. We went outside, down the stairs and swung right. Underneath the deck there were five wooden picnic tables, the sort with bench seats. Not super comfortable, but anyway, they were all taken.

"Matty, it's great to be here with you. I've missed you a lot."

We were standing alone near the back wall, where the storage sheds were, out of earshot of anybody, despite the place being packed.

"Likewise. It was awful."

"Being sent to boarding school?"

"That, and everything else." I could see he was not back to being the happy carefree guy he was before everything blew up. But what could I do?

"You mean your parents?" I didn't want to push him with loads of questions. That used to be his job, the second degree!"

"Not just them. Stuff happened."

He wasn't being very forthcoming, but I didn't think this was the moment to go digging for information.

"At least you're back now. We can see each other. Sort of."

He just stared at the ground, then looked away, without making any further reply. I thought we should get back to the others. I wanted to be close with him, to somehow resolve things. Get back to how it used to be, but it wasn't happening. This Sunday afternoon wasn't how I'd imagined it would be.

We went back upstairs and found the folks. Michael and Max had cans of drink. They were standing, there was no place to sit.

Dad waved when he saw us coming. "Do you guys want something to drink. It's going to be about forty-five minutes. It's very busy. We're number twelve, I think there's four or five groups in front of us."

"Matty, you want a drink?" I looked at him, he just shock his head. I think even my dad noticed things weren't quite right with him.

"Maybe later," my mum was being mumsy. "After you've been racing each other." She smiled at Matty, then glanced at me. "If you change your mind. Just say. It's a boys day out. We want you to enjoy yourselves."

He looked sad; not depressed, not upset, or angry. Sad and kind of empty. Like he wasn't really there. I can't exactly describe it. If the place wasn't packed with people, if we were alone, I think then, it would standout even more. I didn't know what to do. My mum is a mind reader, she shuffled next to me and whispered, "Just be his friend." She knew he wasn't himself, but it only served to make me feel sad as well.

Finally, I couldn't bear it any more. Standing amongst all these people, not saying anything. "Let's take a walk? It's too busy here." I looked at him and he nodded.

"We're gonna take a look around."

My mum smiled. "Don't go wondering off too far."

That kind of made me smile. It was so, mum. We took the stairs back down and swung under the terrace, out through the car park. At the gate I stopped. Looking down the lane there were loads of cars parked outside. The place was certainly doing mammoth business this afternoon.

"So tell me what happened to you. Cos, you know Matty, you don't hide stuff too well. And it's killing me. All this not knowing. I didn't imagine it like this."

He kicked at the ground. "I didn't fucking imagine it like this either. I didn't fucking imagine getting beat up. Getting my whole life screwed. By my fucking parents."

I was... silent. It was as if I had clicked a switch and let out an explosion of anger. 'He said beat up.' "Who beat you up? At school? When you were away?" I put my arm around his shoulder, or tried to. He shrugged it off. No, more than that, he physically jumped away from the touch. I was shocked.

"I don't think I want to do this." He didn't even look up, just continued to swing his foot back and forth. "Do what, Matty? We're just talking."

"Could your dad take me home. Please?"

I felt like I'd been hit in the stomach by one almighty punch. "You don't want to be with me?" I couldn't breath. I felt sick. I'd never felt like this before. 'What's going on here.' There was a heavy silence. I didn't even notice anything else around us. It was like a cocoon. But the bubble would burst any minute. And that would be it. I'd drown. "You really wanna go home? Why?" He didn't answer. He started walking away, down the lane, past the long line of parked cars. I was almost frozen to the spot. Thoughts were whirring around inside my head, but too fast to make any sense. I don't know what happened, but I ran after him. I grabbed a hold of him, wrapped both arms around his waist. I pulled him so tight into me, I could have squeezed the life out of him. "No, Matty. No. I'm never letting go. No. No way." He cried. His body shock. I felt him trembling. He buried his head in my shoulder, and I just held him.

A car drove past slowly. Leaving the car park, going home, or on somewhere. A little face was pressed against the glass of the back window. I watched the car go down the lane. A hand waved goodbye. I smiled. Matty stopped shaking. I took a tissue from my pocket and handed it to him. Put my arm over his shoulder and guided him back to the karting circuit. I sighed inwardly with relief. I think I just won a small victory here. I absolutely remember nothing about the rest of that Sunday afternoon. We did the karting, four laps. Michael and Max came in first, followed by the three of us, Matty, me, and dad. After we went somewhere for drinks. I think it was the bar by the lake. Yes, it was. It was also crowded, but being outside and in the open, there was more space. The day ended with us taking Matty home.

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