By Paul Jamison
Chapter – 15
I was down in the kitchen with Rick earlier than usual. It was Will’s first day back at school after the summer holidays and there’d been dramatic changes to his and our own lives in the latter weeks of those holidays. One of the outcomes was the reason for my being ready so early. I’d an appointment with his school’s Head Teacher to bring him up to date with new guardianship arrangements regarding Will.
Until then our neighbour’s son had been looked after by his grandparents during his father’s Royal Navy service absence. That was no longer possible because of a tragic holiday accident. My partner Rick and I now had joint guardianship of Will during his father’s absence. The legal documents for the guardianship had only just been arranged (that very weekend) to be ready for the start of the new school year which began that morning. I’d dressed appropriately for such a meeting.
Just then there was a clattering of feet on the stairs and a very smart Will came into the kitchen, dropping his school back pack by the table as he did.
“Crikey that was loud enough!” I remarked.
“Um, yeah, I guess… sorry,” Will replied.
“Sleep well?” I asked him.
“Yeah, best for a while now. Had some bad nights recently,” he replied.
“I can well understand that. It’s been a bit of a hard week or so for you and well, everyone really, so much happening and not all of it good, but in some ways good things have come out of it all despite that?” I said.
“Oh yeah! Defo!” Will replied smiling.
Will headed to the teapot and toaster making breakfast as he chatted to us both. He’d adapted so quickly to all the new situations and seemingly was taking it all in his stride. I just hoped that was the case.
“Do you want a lift in?” I asked, “I’m going there now to see your Head Teacher this morning so it’s up to you,”
“Nah,’sokay, I’m biking in with Jus,” Will replied, grinning widely at me.
“I rather thought you’d be doing that, while the weather lasts at least,” I said smiling broadly at Will. “So you’re ready for the new school year then and lots of hard work for GCSEs?” I asked.
“Well sorta… I s’pose,” he replied.
“Much easier to get this work done at your age than later at college, y’know,” Rick chipped in.
“Yeah, I know!” Sighed Will with a half-hearted grin.
“Right, I’m away. See you all later,” Rick said as he cleared away his breakfast things, picked up his keys. Giving me a quick kiss and Will a friendly touch on the shoulder, he was off out of the kitchen through to the garage. A few moments later the garage doors opened and Rick drove out and away up the road.
A few minutes after that Will took his breakfast things to the dishwasher and loaded them. He turned to me and with a quick smile said
“I’m off now too; I’ll see you tonight then?”
“Sure, Will, you’ve got everything okay? Wallet, keys, phone?”
“Yep!” Will grinned back. The next moment he turned, shouldered his school backpack and headed off as Rick had done through the kitchen door to the garage. A few moments later he cycled out of the garage and off down the road towards Justin’s home.
I finished my tea and cleared away the breakfast things, set off the dishwasher and went to the bathroom to freshen up before setting off to Will’s school and the appointment I had with the Head Teacher. I checked through the documents I needed to take with me, just to be sure I had not forgotten anything and I locked up the house and went into the garage. I put the file of papers on the front seat, started up and set off for the school. I thought I passed Justin and Will in a group of boys cycling along, but as traffic was heavy I did not give them more than a glance or two as I drove. I found the place just fine and got parked up in the staff and visitors’ carpark and made my way towards the reception building.
I entered and walked up to the reception desk. I signed in after giving my name and waited while it was checked against the appointments register. I was given a clip-on Visitor badge. I was shown to a seat and waited to be accompanied to the Head’s office. After about ten minutes, a smartly dressed woman appeared, introduced herself as The Headmaster’s secretary and asked for me by name. I stood, and after a quick handshake accompanied her to the office complex. She ushered me into an outer office and asked me to take a seat commenting that the head wouldn’t be too long, but he’d been caught on the phone, so was a little late on appointments that morning.
It was a full ten minutes before the Head emerged from his inner office with his hand towards me offered in a handshake that I returned. He nodded to his secretary and asked for no calls for ten minutes minimum to be put through.
“I’m so sorry about the delay this morning. It’s first day back panics, new parents with queries and all that sort of thing. Come through to my office, please,” he said.
I followed him through and took the indicated armchair. He took the one adjacent and looked to me.
“Well,” I began, “I expect you’ve also had a letter from Commander Barnes giving the gist of what’s happened? In a nutshell William’s grandparents have been involved in a fatal accident whilst holidaying in Scotland, the consequences of which leave Mrs Barnes senior no longer with us and Mr Barnes senior very incapacitated and completely unable to be Will’s guardian during Commander Barnes’s duties away at sea. My partner and I stepped in to look after Will during the time that Frank was attending to his parent’s needs and arrangements. The funeral was just last Friday and Will managed very well indeed. This last weekend Frank made my partner and me joint guardians for his away at sea time and in the event of anything untoward happening to him before Will reaches his eighteenth birthday. That’s just less than three years and covers the rest of his expected education period here.” I explained.
“Sorry end to his holidays then?” the Head said.
“Yes, just a bit, but he’s seemingly taking it in his stride so far. There’s been some open grieving, which is good of course and his best friend Justin Naylor’s been a tower of support for him this last week,” I replied.
“Friends are very important at times like these,” the Head agreed. “I shall of course mention the facts to his Head of Year and we’ll keep an eye out for any difficulties that may come from the grieving, but on the whole complete normality is what’s needed for William to regain his footing and continue. You say you’re his next door neighbours?”
“Yes, that’s so. We were asked as a matter of urgency just over a week ago to look after Will when the news of the accident came,” I replied. “It’s now become full guardianship for the time being. I have the papers here with a copy for your records together with the full contact details for us in case of any emergency at school,” I finished.
“That’s excellent. I’ll have these added to William’s file this morning and I hope we can count on seeing you and your partner at some school events from time to time?” he said, rising from his chair and again offering me his hand. “Do telephone if there is anything we can help with, of course,” he added.
“Yes, of course, and thank you for your time,” I said, rising also and taking his offered hand.
The business concluded, the Head showed me from his office, asked his secretary to bring him William’s file to update details, and with a friendly smile returned to his own office. The secretary conducted me back to reception. I signed out, handing over the visitor’s badge as I did. I left through the main doors and headed back to my car. I’d got some shopping to do for the week, so drove into town and the supermarket, really quite pleased the interview had gone so well.
* * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
First day back at school, a boyfriend to be with, things were looking up, I thought. After the stuff that had gone on the last week or so. I’d been dreading the whole ‘back-to-school thing’. I didn’t have to go to a new school, a boarding school at that too. I’d really hated the thought that that might happen. I’d also come out to my best friend and he had come out to me and things had moved on a lot. We’d become boyfriends and I’d so needed his being there for me during all the turmoil of Grandma and the funeral and all the ‘what’s going to happen to me?’ stuff.
I cycled round to Justin’s house and he was ready and waiting for me on his driveway as I got there.
“Hi,” I said, “ready for the grind?” I asked.
“Yeah, as I’ll ever be, I guess,” he replied.
We turned and set off to ride to school, which took about thirty to forty minutes depending on the traffic and weather. I was sure that Paul passed us about the half way mark, but traffic was heavy and he didn’t honk the horn or anything and we were in a group cycling to school by then. We got there with about ten minutes to spare before registration, so we locked our bikes up in the racks and headed off to our lockers. I sorted my books and went into my year room for registration. As soon as that was done, we collected our timetables for the next term.
After registration was complete I headed off to my English period with Mr Stonebridge. Jus followed and we got a couple of seats next to each other and waited. A few more pupils came into the room and took their seats exchanging greetings and news of holiday exploits and such like. I was just thinking about trying to find Liam at break when Darren Clarke swanked into the room scanning the rows of seats. His eyes rested on Justin and me and his face lit up and with a leer at the rest of us said.
“Oh, got the queer boys here, have we? My dad says you’re living with poofs now, so you must be one too?”
I coloured up and then took a deep breath… ‘So it’s going to come out now,’ I thought. It was before I’d expected, but I wasn’t going to knuckle under to that loud mouth for sure. I stood and faced Darren who seemed a little surprised not to have had universal support for his outburst. The rest of the class looked on wondering where it would all lead when I spoke.
“I’m staying with my next door neighbours ’cos my grandparents were in a car crash on holiday. My Gran died and my Granddad’s well smashed up, so I can’t be with them, not that it’s any of your fucking business just who the hell I’m staying with Clarke! Got it?” I burst out and sat down.
“Still reckon you’re a poof though, stands to reason,” Darren said, just as Mr Stonebridge entered the room quietly behind Darren catching the whole statement.
“Clarke, be silent and wait by my desk right now,” Mr Stonebridge said, then turning to the class he said:
“What you’ve just heard from Clarke is a good example of totally unacceptable abusive remarks. Let me make it completely plain. If I hear any more of that sort of remark about anyone’s race, creed, sexuality, shape, size, hair colour or anything that can be construed as demeaning, it will be treated as a disciplinary offence and dealt with as such. Expect detentions, suspensions and other sanctions as may be appropriate,” Mr Stonebridge continued. “We’ve never tolerated any bullying in this school and I need to remind you all that comments of the nature you’ve just witnessed are now a civil offence and prosecutable… Be warned.”
The class hummed with expectation on what was to come, but there was no more. Mr Stonebridge turned to Darren Clarke and quietly told him to resume his seat and to very much watch his tongue in future. Darren made his way to a seat at the back giving the finger to me and Justin as he passed by our desks. Justin and I looked warily at each other both showing that we were thinking the same, that it’s probably not the end of the matter as far as Darren Clarke’s concerned.
The lesson proceeded and texts were given out, lists of books to be read and the first piece of prep for the new term. We were to read the first three chapters of the first set book, ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell, for a test on Friday. We were both pleased when the bell for the end of the period rang. We gathered our stuff and made our way into the general mêlée of pupils in the corridor and made our way quickly to our next class. Only five minutes were allowed between periods to transfer between classrooms. The periods till break went by without any further incident, new course work allotted, texts and books being given out, just a normal new school year beginning. The bell for the end of period three rang at eleven fifteen. Justin closely followed by me hi-tailed it out of the classroom and headed for our lockers, and then from there to the cafeteria to get some crisps and chocolate out of one of the vending machines.
We’d just made our purchases when they heard a “Hi you two,” from behind us, turning round we saw Liam Russell.
“Oh, hi” we replied.
“I was hoping to see you around today,” I said. “You got plans for half-term yet?” I asked Liam.
“I haven’t, but my mother has,” he replied. “She’s going off to some church house-party retreat and thinks I’m going with her… which I’m very definitely not!” he explained. “Anyway, what’re you two up to and why ask me?”
“We’re going on a canal boat with Paul and Rick on a circular route somewhere called the four counties or something,” Justin said.
“We wondered if you might like to come too. It’s a full week away, well from Saturday morning till the following Saturday afternoon so pretty much a week,” I said.
“What sort of canal-boat?” Liam asked.
“It’s a sixty-four foot, six-berth, centrally-heated, proper luxury narrow boat,” Will replied.
“Oh, that sounds pretty good… why ask me?” Liam asked.
“Well, we thought that you being the same’n all that it would make sense… that’s if you’re interested… if you’ve a friend then you could ask them too, but they would have to be okay with all us being… you know,” Justin added.
“Nah, I’ve no-one to ask at the moment,” Liam replied. ‘Would be so cool if I did though,’ he thought to himself. “When d’you need to know by?”
“Well as soon as poss really… oh, it’s really low cost too. The boat belongs to friends of Rick and Paul, so we’re only paying for fuel, gas and food. It’ll be a cheap holiday really,” I said.
“I’ll let you know by the weekend. I’m very interested. It sounds great. Can I call Paul and ask him some more details? I’ll need to find a way of getting out of this thing my mother wants to drag me off to somehow,” Liam groaned.
“That’ll be cool if you can. I’ll tell Paul and Rick you’re trying to get it sorted, okay?” I said.
“We had a bit of hassle this morning just before first period.” Justin said.
“Oh, what happened?” Liam asked.
“Big mouth Darren Clarke hassled me about living with Rick and Paul and how I must be gay too,” I replied.
“Oh …what happened?” He’s a total shit-bag you know, loves stirring it but he’s just all mouth and swagger usually; he’ll run a mile at any real fight back,” Liam said.
“I just told the truth about my grandparents and then Mr Stonebridge came in just as Darren was mouthing off again and he got well shut up and warned off,” I said.
“Good thing too, I like Mr Stonebridge. He doesn’t stand for any nonsense from anyone. He’s not married either, not that that means anything, but I’ve always wondered about him, you know. He’s not afraid to discuss gay issues if they come up in English texts too,” Liam finished.
The bell for end of break went and we all hurried off to our next classes and so it continued through till lunch. Neither of us saw Liam over the lunch time, but then we remembered that sixth form could go out and reckoned that’s what he prolly did. We hung out with our mates and I signed up for swim team as I had promised Dad and the others I’d have a go. Try outs were on Friday at four pm. It gave us just fifteen minutes to get to the pool and get changed in time. I’d have to let the guys know I’d be a bit later home that night.
We got through registration and assembly and then the final two periods of the day, mathematics and geography. Neither my favourites at all and yet more allocated text books and reading to be done in time for the next period later in the week. The bell rang for the end of the school day and we headed for our lockers, stuffed books into backpacks and hi-tailed it to the bike lockups.
We set off with three mates and settled into the ride back, I think we were about half way when I heard someone ride up alongside of me. It was hard to tell who as they’d a hood up. The next thing I felt was a shove in the ribs and I lost control and careered into Justin’s back wheel just ahead of me. He lost his balance and tipped towards the side of the road and hit the kerb, shot over the handlebars and ended up in a heap on the roadside bike on top of him. I’d followed him into the kerb, I’d managed to stay on the bike but it scraped along till I managed to halt it.
I was well shaken up, but Jus was hurt, so I jumped off and ran to where Justin was lying under his bike. Panicking a bit, I grabbed at the machine and tried to lift it off him. In the confusion I hadn’t heard the car draw up but a second or two later I felt another pair of arms stop me from lifting the bike.
“Don’t move him, we’ll send for help at once and see what’s happened,” a familiar boy’s voice said.
I turned to see who it was and saw that Liam had appeared.
“I was in the car with my mum and saw you lot, then I saw you shoved and shouted at my mum to pull over so when I saw Justin fall so I could see if anyone was hurt,” he said, as he fished out his mobile and started to call 999 for the emergency services. I rushed forwards to where Justin’s head was and started talking.
“Jus, Jus!!” I said urgently, “can you hear me?” I panicked more when there was no response. “He’s not answering… !” I blurted out wildly to Liam who was still giving location details to the emergency service. “Jus, Justin!” I spoke again to him as he lay under the bike at the road side.
Mrs Russell had parked her car and had the hazard lights on to protect Justin’s prone figure from oncoming traffic. She came over to us and started talking quickly to Liam apparently very annoyed with him over something. Liam turned to his mother and shouted back.
“Mum, I don’t care how late you’ll be for your bloody meeting, these guys are school mates and there’s an accident and stuff needs arranging now. The ambulance’ll be here very soon.”
Mrs Russell appeared to accept the situation and turned to me and said,
“Have you called in home also?”
“No, not yet,” I admitted.
“Do that right now,” she said. “Get some help here and then perhaps we can get a move on,” she said half to me, but more to Liam who had just come off the phone.
“Ambulance is on its way right now and the police too,” he said.
A few minutes passed and I knelt by Justin supporting his head and talking to him. I couldn’t get a grip on my feelings and I just started sobbing away as I knelt there.
I heard the sirens and saw the flashing blue lights just then and turned back to Justin, who was starting to make groaning sounds. I felt sticky fluid on my hands. I looked up and saw the ambulance arrive and two paramedics were hurrying towards where we were. They quickly took over the situation and in a very professional manner had him out from under his bike and on a trolley heading for the back of the ambulance.
“Who is he?” one of the ambulance crew asked.
I went forward and gave them all of Justin’s details and then got out my own phone to begin calling home. I got through to Rick who’d just got in and explained what had happened. He asked who else was there and I told him that Liam and his mother were. He asked to speak to Liam.
“Hey, Rick needs to speak to you,” I said.
Liam took my phone and gave Rick some details as to where we were and roughly what had happened. He turned back to me and handing me my phone said,
“We’re to wait here; I’ll stay with you here. Rick’s organising for Justin’s mum and then he’ll get out here with Paul’s car, recover the bikes and take us back home. He reckons no more than half an hour, okay?” Liam smiled. “Don’t worry Justin’s talking now and I’m sure that toughie will bounce back and he’ll be just fine, okay? I’m pleased I saw what happened, though, so that makes two of us to tell the police when they get here,” he said.
My phone rang right then, so I grabbed it from my pocket and answered. It was Rick, so I explained more about what’d happened and he said to hang on. He wouldn’t be long.
I looked round the group of guys to ask them if anyone else had seen what happened. Darren Clarke had just carried on riding, so was long gone, but the twins, Steve and Eric Clayton had seen him ride by just as the crash happened, but they’d not seen anything being in front of us. They did recognise Darren as he rode away quickly after they heard the crash behind them. I asked them to hang on till the police arrived.
Just then two police cars turned up and officers got out and came over to us. They had a quick word with the paramedics then turned to Liam and me.
“Okay, lads,” one said, let’s find out what happened here.”
“I saw it all from my mum’s car. We were just coming up to overtake the guys on bikes just as it happened,” Liam said.
One of the officers took Liam to his car and they sat inside for a chat. The other had a word with Mrs Russell in her car and the third one took me to the other traffic car and we got in the back.
“So, what happened here?” the officer said. “First, I’m Constable Pullman, we’ll have your name and address and age.”
“William Barnes, I’m fourteen, fifteen tomorrow,” I said. “We were on our way home from school, when one boy rode alongside of me and then shoved me. I lost balance and bashed into the back of my friend’s bike and he crashed into the roadside and went down. That’s it really,” I explained.
“Do you know the boy who shoved you?” Constable Pullman asked.
“Yeah, he’s in my year, Darren Clarke,” I replied.
“And might there be any reason for this behaviour? Have you upset this Darren?”
“No, I’ve not upset him, but he was having a go at me before a class started today and the Head of English, Mr. Stonebridge, he came in and heard him and tore him off a strip for his attitudes and gave him a warning,” Will replied.
“Ah, so he thinks you’re to blame for his getting into trouble?” Const. Pullman said. “Then, it’s not you he gets… some other lad’s hurt, not clever of him, not clever at all.” Constable Pullman continued writing in his notebook for a few moments longer and then shut it, turned to me and said. “We’ll talk more with you later, when your parents are with you. We’ll get all the statements together then go off and see what this Darren Clarke has to say for himself,” he finished. “In the meantime, have you called home for help?” he asked me.
“Yeah, just after it happened, my guardians’ll be here any minute,” I replied.
“Guardians? Oh well, plenty of time for all that later,” the Constable said.
I got out of the police car
and went to where Liam was standing. His mum had driven off and the twins had
carried on home too. There were just the two of us; Justin’s bashed up bike and
the police now. The ambulance had left for the Royal Infirmary with Justin a
few moments earlier. The other police car drove off after the ambulance leaving
“Where’s Justin?” Mrs Naylor asked of us.
“On his way to hospital?” we replied.
“He banged his head and was unconscious for a minute or so, so they took him in to check him over properly,” Constable Pullman said.
“He’s basically okay then?” Mrs Naylor asked.
“The paramedics seem to think so, but took him in to be on the safe side. I’d like to have a word with William now you’re here if you don’t mind. Could we step into my car for a moment,” Constable Pullman added.
“Yes of course,” Rick replied. “I’m one of Will’s guardians,” he said.
The constable checked through what I’d mentioned before about what’d happened and I confirmed it was just as I had told him. He seemed happy with that and then left the scene.
“Right,” said Rick assuming control. “Let’s get these bikes in the car and we’ll go directly to see how Justin’s doing. I guess you’ll need a lift too?” he asked turning to Liam.
“Yes please,” Liam replied. “My mum just took off as soon as she could for her bloody church meeting,” he replied. “I told her I was staying with Will till you got here and she wouldn’t wait any longer,” he said.
Rick opened up the back of Paul’s Citroen C8 and I saw he’d taken seats out to give space for the bikes. Liam and I got them fitted in and hopped into the back of the car behind Rick and Mrs Naylor.
“So exactly what did happen then?” both Mrs Naylor and Rick asked simultaneously.
“I was in my mum’s car heading for home and we came across the guys cycling. Just as my mum pulled out to overtake them, one of them, Darren Clarke, shoved into Will. Will’s bike hit Justin’s bike and Justin hit the kerb and crashed. That’s all I saw,” Liam finished.
“That’s it exactly,” I agreed. “I wasn’t sure who shoved me till he rode on, but I’d know Darren anywhere. He’s quite obvious. The twins saw him ride off too.”
“Have the police got everyone’s version?” Rick asked.
“Yes, even my mum, she didn’t like that but wasn’t given a choice really,” Liam laughed. “I got outa going to her bloody Church meeting too. I’m just so fed up of being dragged to those things,” he said. “All they do is go on and on about all those people who don’t deserve stuff ’cos of the way they are… like gay, or the way they don’t accept their narrow-minded views of being a Christian,” he continued. “I’ve plain had enough of it all,” Liam said.
Rick and Mrs Naylor exchanged glances and Rick then said:
“Well let’s hope nothing too serious comes of it. I hope you manage to get through till you’re eighteen and then you can make your own way at uni,” he said to Liam
“That’s the general plan,” Liam grinned. “University’s my ticket out of that house for good,” he said.
“Well if things don’t go right, don’t hesitate to come and see us okay?” Rick said.
We’d just got to the hospital. Rick parked up and we hurried towards A&E
(Accident and Emergency). Mrs Naylor went straight to the reception and enquired after Justin. Within a minute she was taken through to the cubicles by a nurse.
The rest of us just took seats in the reception area and waited anxiously.
End of Chapter 15.
Thank you all for your emails since the last chapter all of which I have replied to. Do write and tell me what you think? I love getting emails and I try to reply promptly to all.
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