Sense of Doubt

by William King

Chapter 5

Walking a Tightrope

I saw Matty crossing the car park Monday morning. He was back at school, perhaps there was a chance things would get back to how they were. I didn't try to talk to him, didn't want to bother him at school. Besides, Edmund was with him. We just saw each other in passing, but we never talked.

It was a drag that Matty had no phone, it left us with no easy way to communicate. I didn't want to risk calling round his place, that would be too much. Seeing how his parents were about me. Even if they had changed their ideas a bit. I thought that the only thing to do was to meet up with Matty. After school, like we used to.

Tuesday evening the phone rang. I slid it out of my pocket and looked at the screen. I wasn't going to answer, but I saw it was Jake, one of the few people I didn't mind talking to.

"What's up, Alex?"

"Oh hi. You know. Nothing much."

"Jonathan told me about Matty. It must be good having him back?"

"I suppose. But we don't get to see much of each other."

"No. Why's that?"

"His parents. They hardly let him out of the house. They won't let him have a phone. You get the picture?"

"Sure, but give it time. Things will change. Talking of which. I'm back there tomorrow, and staying two , maybe three weeks. I'll tell you all about things, when I see you. Maybe you could come over?"

"Yeah, of course. Call me when you're here, okay?"

"Sure. And Alex..."


"Try to cheer up. Things'll work out."

He hung up, and I just played his words over in my head, "Things will work out." 'Will they?'

Wednesday I was talking with John-boy about nothing more exciting than exams. Those mock exams I was about to fail.

"I suppose you've heard all the stuff going around about Ryan?" He asked.

Well, John-boy was not into gossip and rumours, so if he brought it up, then it was for a reason.

"Yeah. Probably everyone has."

John-boy looked at me. "And therein lies the problem."

I must have looked puzzled.

"Everyone's heard, Alex!"

"So what? What are you saying?" I thought it was just more crap and it would all die down.

"Mathews called me into his office. Wanted to know what was being said about Ryan."

"Oh, I see."

Exactly what I didn't want to happen. I knew it. Eventually things would get back to the teachers. It was way out of hand. This made me feel even more uneasy. What if I became involved somehow? I mean, I was. I was actually right there at the start of it.

"What did he want?"

"Did I know anything? I told him, no. Not really. I'd heard kids talking, but never pay much attention to that stuff. It's always exaggerated. If it's even true."

"And... What did Mathews say?"

"Not too much. Sort of nodded and changed the subject."

"Um. Should I be worried?"

"I don't know. Should you?" John-boy gave me a questioning look.

"Guess not. It's down to Ryan. He's got a habit of getting in trouble. You know all this sort of started with him being picked on in the showers after rugby practice. You remember that?"

"Yeah. But how's that connected?"

"Maybe it's not. Forget it."

I couldn't help thinking it all began back then. For me it was the moment I nearly came out to him. To Ryan. I thought he was gay. Until he said he had a girlfriend. Luckily I never said anything. Only his girlfriend was my cousin. Then that thing with him and me. I don't know. Maybe I over think things.

"Well that's the problem." John-boy said.

"What?" He'd lost me again. I was thinking about stuff and not following the conversation.

"I don't think this is just going away." He reached out and squeezed my arm. "I gotta go. Don't worry about it. It's mostly Ryan's problem." He smiled and headed off.

I stood there. Still thinking, analysing. If this was maths, the numbers didn't add up. More like a puzzle, with missing pieces. It started to rain. I hadn't even noticed the sky clouding over, that's how deep I was in my own thoughts. I hurried up the street towards the bus stop.

When I picked up the phone, it was Jonathan.

"Hi. How you doing?"

"Hello, Alex. I'm fine. You?"

"I think too much. There's stuff going on with Matty. Stuff at school. Part from that...."

"Darling! There's always stuff going on." He said that in such a way, it made me laugh.

"I guess there is."

"Of course, my boy. The trick is to surf the waves, not drown in the ocean."

"Did you call me to sprout philosophy? Or was there something else."

"Sprout philosophy! I don't sprout... I'm imparting my years of wisdom to the youth of today."

"Oh, shut up. You make yourself sound like an old man."

"Well, there was something. On a more serious note."

"What is it?"

"You know, how one thing leads to another...." He paused. I could hear something going on in the background. Or someone was with him.

"You aren't alone?" I wanted to know.

"No. The lovely Sean is here with me. Prompting me to get to the point."

"Go on then. Get to it."

"Well I talked to Jake about things."

I interrupted him there. "You mean about me?"

"Yes, well. Anyway, about you." I listened. I wanted to hear what he had to say. Obviously. It was about me. "These rumours going around your school. Ryan and Matty's little friend."


"Yes. Well, Brandon and I were chatting."

Okay, now I got it. "You're telling me, you told Brandon?"

"If you like. Only it was more clarification. Everybody has heard the rumours, in one form or another, that includes Brandon. No, I just put him right on a few details."

I was about to ask what details, but he pushed on. "Brandon had words with Stewart and James. Two of your rugby boys. I think his idea was to get them to stop their friend, Enzo, from spreading this story."

A bit late, I thought, but I let him carry on. "So, apparently, they talked to this Enzo and... Don't ask me, because I'm telling what I know, I wasn't there of course. There was a confrontation with Ryan. No point going into all the details. The essential..."

Now I did interrupt. "Just tell me." I heard Sean saying exactly the same thing. "Tell him!"

"Well, Ryan seems to have pointed the finger at you."

"What does that mean?"

"He said he's not gay. You are."

"What! Fuck. The little shit. He turned it all around?"

"Looks like he tried to."


"I wanted to warn you. So you know."

"Yeah. Thanks." I hung up.

There was a knock on the bedroom door, just as I was getting changed out of my school uniform. Thinking it was Michael I paid no attention, "Come on in!" I didn't even look so was caught off guard when I went to pick up my jeans.

"I thought you were Michael." I turned and pulled on my jeans.

"I hope you're going to hang those clothes up. Properly."

"Of course mum, give me a minute. What's up, anyway?"

"Your father and I have to pop out this evening. We're going over to uncle Jeff's. There's some supper by the oven, you just need to heat it up." As she went to leave, she turned. "Make sure you don't stay up too late. It's a school night."

With that she closed the door and I heard her go downstairs. There was some talking, my father's voice, and then the front door closing. I pulled a sweatshirt on and went to find Michael. He was in the lounge, with the tele on, watching some crap show. One of those American series, supposed to be comedy, with canned laughter. He heard me come in and glanced up, but said nothing. I was thinking, we've got the house to ourselves but I didn't have any way to contact Matty. Even if I did he would never be able to come over. The show ended and Michael half turned in the armchair, leaning around looking at me. "What d'you think's up?"

"Huh! How d'you mean?" I was still fixated on getting to see Matty.

"Duh! With Uncle Jeff, dummy."

"Oh! Yeah, that. No idea."

You seem kinda... distracted. Why's that? Is it Matty?"

The kid's got second sight or something. No, I suppose it wasn't that difficult to work out.

"You wanna eat now or later?"

"Whenever. You didn't answer."

"You're pushy aren't you? Little squirt."

"Just concerned for my big bro. And..."

"And what?"

I moved next to him, leant over and ruffled his hair.

"Stop it! You know I hate that."

"Ooh! Sor...ry."

"Well I heard something concerning Matty."

"What?" There was a definite anxiousness in my voice, and a weird twitching in my stomach.

"Well Charley Parker told Max that his parents might be splitting."

"How'd Charley Parker know anything about Matty's parents? And why would he tell Max anyway?"

"Number one, Charley and Max are in the chess club together. Since like forever, okay. Two, Charley is a friend of Edmund, and three, Edmund heard it!"

"You reckon?"

"I know! How he heard it, I don't know. But... he did. And told Charley. Well, anyway, they all know each other. Matty, Edmund, Charley, and Tom Hudson. Thick as thieves."

I must have looked either shocked or puzzled. "You don't know that much about Matty, do you?"

"Yeah, I do. We're best friends."

"Yeah. Well you don't know who he hangs with at school."

That was true. It never really bothered me. Guess we never talked about it. I don't know.

"Maybe. But I'm not convinced. Why?"

"That you will have to ask Matty himself."

"That's what I'm trying to do, but it ain't easy. He's got no phone and that makes things difficult."

"I guess."

"So. Now or later?"


"Supper. Now?"

Yeah, okay. If you want I could get Edmund to give him a message."

I smiled. "Thanks. But, I think I can do that myself."

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