This chapter is going to explore the fallout from the end of the cribbage league. In the course of the chapter Miles is going to discover what Graham thinks about what happened, and he'll also learn what Toby's reaction to it all was. And that's going to give him plenty to think about...
Miles had arranged previously to go and visit Graham on the Friday morning: he wanted to see the pictures Graham had taken over the past couple of days. But in the event he didn’t get a chance: Graham met him at the front door, and that was as far as he got.
“What do you want?” asked Graham, in an unfriendly voice.
“I… I thought we’d agreed I could come and look at your photos.”
“Well, you can’t. I don’t want traitors in my house.”
“I’m not a traitor, Graham!”
“You had a choice between me and Twitch, and you chose him. I thought we were friends, but it looks like I was wrong. Christ, Miles, how could you possibly choose Twitch, of all people?”
“Because he needed me, okay? I couldn’t let him go off on his own in case he had a seizure.”
“You know bloody well he hardly ever has a seizure. That was just an excuse. Well, okay, you chose him instead of me, so at least I know where I am now. So you can get lost, okay?
“I said get lost! Just fuck off and don’t come back!” And Graham slammed the door in his face.
Miles got back on his bike and cycled to Twitch’s house, because he needed to talk to someone and he thought that probably Twitch was the only friend he had left now.
Twitch was at home and was happy to see him, inviting him straight up to his room and happily closing the door, which of course he could only do when he had someone with him. But he realised almost at once that Miles wasn’t happy.
“Still worrying about yesterday?” he asked. “Don’t worry, I’m sure Graham and the others will realise we were right before too long.”
“I don’t think so: I’ve just been to visit Graham and he told me to eff off and slammed the door in my face. I don’t know what to do, Twitch: I thought we were friends, him and me.”
“I expect he’ll be okay in a couple of days’ time. I can understand how he feels, though: if you hadn’t come with me yesterday I’d have been really upset. But I knew you weren’t a bully, so I was pretty sure you’d back me up.”
“Well… I don’t know, Twitch. After all, if you hadn’t been there I’d have stayed and joined in, at least to start with. And I don’t think Graham would really have done all that stuff to him. I reckon he was just winding him up.”
“I don’t know – after all, I know that most of the kids in our class don’t like Toby much. Graham was right when he did that impression of him – you know, ‘Please, Miss, I’m clever, Miss, ask me, not these thickos, Miss’. We all get pretty tired of it, to be honest. Did you know that most of the girls call him ‘Hermione’?”
“You know, like Harry’s friend in the Harry Potter films. She always sticks her hand up as soon as a question gets asked in class. It’s just a pity Miss Steadman and the other teachers don’t ignore it the way Snape does her. At least Hermione isn’t obnoxious the way Toby is… Anyway, like I said, nobody likes him much, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he really did get whipped and stuff like Graham was saying. I just thought they’d go way too far, and I didn’t want anything to do with it. I suppose it’s because I know a bit about being bullied… I mean, nobody actually hits me, or anything, but they do treat me as if I’m thick as well as epileptic, and you’ll have heard them calling me names now and again. I don’t mind being called ‘Twitch’, of course – like I said, I like that – but I hate being called a freak or a spas. And it’s okay for me to make jokes about the way I look, or for proper friends like you, because that’s just us having fun, but it’s different when someone I don’t really know does it… Still, I suppose it’s best to get used to it now because I suppose it’ll be the same at secondary school.”
“Not unless they want me to give them a smack,” said Miles, loyally. “If we end up at the same school, of course.”
“Gosh! I have a knight in shining armour!” exclaimed Twitch, theatrically. “But I thought knights were supposed to slay ugly dragons, not stick up for them.”
“I’ll slay you if you’d prefer.”
“Like to see you try!”
So they wrestled, starting on the bed and ending up on the floor, tickling each other and digging each other in the ribs and trying to pin each other down. Eventually Miles ended up on top.
“Submit!” he demanded.
“Nope. So what are you going to do about it? If you let go of my wrists I’ll just escape again.”
Miles thought for a moment. “I could pretend to be wild, like my brother,” he said. “If I was I could bite your throat out.” And he snarled and set his teeth to Twitch’s windpipe.
“Ah, but if you swallowed any of my blood by mistake you’d get Twitchitis and turn into an ugly kid who has fits.”
“I could never be as ugly as you. Nobody could.”
“That’s what you think. If I ever had kids they’d be twice as ugly as me, unless I had a really pretty wife – and I don’t think any pretty girls would want to marry me.”
“They might if they got to know you,” said Miles, seriously. “Looks aren’t everything, you know.”
“I know. But looks are what get you noticed first. I bet if you went round all the girls in our class and asked which boy they’d least like to go out with, I’d come top. Or maybe second behind Toby, because at least I don’t wear specs.”
“And you’ve got a much nicer personality, too.”
“Yes, but that’s a bit like saying I’m better looking than someone who has been flattened by a steam-roller.”
“But that wouldn’t be true!”
Twitch grinned and tried to throw Miles off, but he couldn’t shift him.
“So what are we going to do now?” he asked.
“I’m quite comfy like this,” Miles told him. “Perhaps I’ll just stay here for the rest of the morning.”
“I wouldn’t mind. It would be nicer if we were undressed, though.”
“Not here. Mum might stick her head round the door to make sure I’m okay. We’ll have to steal your brother’s tent and camp out at the dip.”
“It’s not his, it’s Luke’s, I think. But it would be nice to camp out… shall we go there after lunch? We could try swinging on the rope, if they left it for us.”
“That’d be fun. Okay, then – you can stay for lunch, can’t you?”
“I’ll call and ask, but I should think so.”
So he called home and was told that he could stay for lunch if that was all right with Twitch’s mother but that he had to be home for supper.
“Can I bring Twitch home to eat with us?” Miles asked.
“If you like. He can sleep over as well if his parents don’t mind.”
So Miles had lunch with Twitch and then they rode back to Miles’s house – well, Miles pedalled and Twitch rode on his carrier. They parked the bike by the garage and went upstairs, mainly to see if Martin was at home or not: Miles guessed that if he was then the dip would probably be free.
They knocked at his door and got no answer, but Miles was used to his brother using his earphones when he was listening to music and so he went in anyway. And indeed Martin was there, sitting at his desk with his back to the door, his earphones on his head, listening to something loud and apparently writing. Miles walked quietly across the room and looked over his brother’s shoulder, but he saw that he was writing using some sort of foreign script, which meant that he couldn’t understand anything. So he tapped his brother on the shoulder, and Martin jumped, slammed the book he was writing in shut and spun round.
“Sorry to make you jump,” said Miles, looking at the now-closed exercise book with interest, “but you obviously didn’t hear us knock. You should try turning the music down a bit, or you’ll end up like your friend.”
“No, I won’t. I keep the volume to a safe decibel limit. Hello, Noel.”
“Hello, Mars,” replied Twitch, politely.
“What’s that book?” asked Miles.
“Oh, I’m just practising writing,” said Martin, not meeting his eye. “So, what do you want?”
“We really just came in to say hello. Twitch wanted to know if you enjoyed your camping out, because it’s something we’d like to do together sometime.”
“Yes, it was fun. It was a good experiment, too: we managed to live completely wild with no hot food or shelter for twenty-four hours. It was nicer having a tent, though: it was a lot more comfortable. And coming home for hot meals was good, too, although Luke did manage to do some cooking while we were there.”
“What else did you do?” asked Miles, guilelessly. “Apart from eating and sleeping, I mean.”
“We worked on our fitness a bit. Luke is a lot fitter than I am, but he helped me to train.”
“And did you stay bare all the time?”
“Not all the time, no. We went for a long walk on Wednesday afternoon, and we really had to get dressed for that. But it felt sort of nice having nothing on the rest of the time. I wouldn’t like to try in the winter, but it would be nice in the summer. Why, were you two going to try doing the same thing?”
“Probably not,” said Miles. “We’re not as weird as you. But camping out would be fun. Do you think we could come with you next time you do it?”
“Oh… well… probably not. The tent’s only really big enough for two.”
“Then perhaps we can borrow a bigger one,” said Miles, grinning at him.
“I don’t think Luke would like it. And if you did come you’d have to be properly feral, so you wouldn’t be able to wear any clothes, and if you annoyed the alpha male you’d get beaten and you wouldn’t get any food. I don’t think you’d like that.”
“Is that what happened to you? Did Luke beat you and starve you?”
“No… well, he shared the food. He did hit me once or twice when I messed up in training, though. It’s part of being in the pack. And because you two are smaller you’d get hit a lot more. I really don’t think you’d enjoy it.”
“Maybe we’re stronger than you think. Will you ask Luke if we can play next time, anyway? I think it might be fun.”
“Okay, I’ll ask. But I’m sure he’ll say no.”
“I expect we’ll manage to change his mind. Me and Twitch are a good team – most packs would be queuing up to recruit us. Anyway, we’ll leave you in peace: we’re going out for a walk.” And they went out and closed the door behind them.
Friday May 30th
…I was bringing the journal up to date when my brother came in with his friend Noel, the one with epilepsy. I didn’t hear him because I was listening to Motorhead, and they’re a bit loud, so when I’ve got the earphones on I can’t hear much else. Anyway, he came right up behind me before I realised he was there, so he saw the journal. I suppose it doesn’t really matter because he wouldn’t be able to read it, but I didn’t really want him to know I was even keeping one, and maybe he’ll have guessed what it was now, because Miles does have moments when he’s quite bright.
Noel wanted to know about the time I spent camping with Luke, and so I told him some of it. Not everything, obviously: I’m not going to tell anyone that I’m Luke’s mate. But then Miles said that he’d like it if he and Noel could come camping with us next time, and I really don’t think I’d like that. In one way it might be fun, because with four of us it would be like a proper pack, and obviously if they were bare too I wouldn’t mind them seeing me without my clothes on so much – though I wouldn’t want to have to defecate with my brother watching me. But I really wouldn’t like it if we were all in one tent, because it would mean Luke and I couldn’t mate with each other… well, I suppose if we were all really completely feral he’d just do it anyway, even if the rest of the pack were watching, but it’s something I don’t want Miles to know about yet. I think he’s too young. And it would be sort of embarrassing, too – I’d feel really strange if my brother saw me mating. I mean, I trust him completely, so I know he’d never tell our parents or anything, and I don’t think he’d let Noel tell anyone, either, but... no, I really don’t want him knowing about it.
Maybe if Miles and Noel had a separate tent it would be okay, though. Perhaps I’ll ask what Luke thinks of the idea when I go to see him on Sunday. If he thinks it would be okay perhaps we can do it twice during the summer holidays, once on our own and once with Miles and Noel.
The really good news is that there’s no sign of my Monkey Disease coming back yet. The stuff my mother uses is supposed to last quite a while, but it’s been nearly a week already and there’s no sign at all of fur. It might have even cured it completely, though I suppose it’s too soon to say that yet. But it would be nice if it was true…
Miles and Twitch went downstairs and set off for the dip.
“Do we really want to go camping with them?” asked Twitch. “Okay, it might be fun, but not if Luke is going to be all alpha male and smacking us all the time. I don’t think I’d like that at all.”
“Me neither. We might be better just camping on our own. But… if we work hard and don’t disappoint him I think we’d be okay – I reckon you’re at least as fit as Mars, and I know I’m better than him. Or perhaps they’ll let us camp with them when they’re not being feral. Anyway, we won’t have to decide until the summer.”
They walked on to the dip and were delighted to find that the rope was still there, though Luke had tethered it against the tree as he usually did when he went home. Miles untied the string holding it against the tree, took the rope to the top of the bank, jumped off and swung, though he didn’t let go, allowing the rope to carry him back towards the bank. He hung on until the rope stopped and then dropped off.
“Aren’t you supposed to let go at the other end of the swing?” asked Twitch.
“Yes, but it’s quite high, and I wanted to have a proper swing first. I’ll jump off next time. You have a go.”
So Twitch took the rope and swung, but he jumped off in the approved manner, though he fell over on landing.
“Are you okay?” asked Miles.
“Yes. You were right: it is quite a long way to drop. We’ll need to practice a bit if we don’t want Luke smacking us. You try it.”
They practised swinging for a while until both could let go and land on their feet every time.
“Shall we try it without our clothes?” asked Twitch.
“Well…” Now that it came down to it Miles was nervous. Down in the dip they wouldn’t see anyone approaching until it was too late. Okay, Luke and Martin had done it without being discovered (except by him and Twitch, of course), but maybe they had just been lucky.
“Come on,” encouraged Twitch. “I’m going to, anyway.” And he threw his clothes off, grabbed the rope and swung once more, dropping to his feet lightly at the end of the swing.
“It feels nice - sort of… I don’t know, free, or something. Come on, you try – or are you chicken?”
“Come on, then!”
So Miles took his clothes off and swung, and discovered that Twitch was right: this did feel good. And once he’d done it once he wanted to do it again, and the result was that they spent a good couple of hours swinging on the rope and running about the dip naked. They climbed the tree, too, though neither felt like trying to come down using the rope, especially since Luke had apparently taken the support rope home with him. Instead they climbed back down the tree the way they had climbed up.
They wrestled a bit, too: Miles said they ought to find out which of them was alpha in their little pack, though they both knew that if they joined up with Luke and Martin they would both find themselves following Luke’s leadership. Miles won the fight, but decided not to prove his mastery by peeing on his friend’s groin the way they had seen Luke doing to Martin. Instead he just smacked his bum lightly.
When they got tired they sat side by side on the branch to rest for a bit.
“I like doing this,” Twitch said. “Maybe when things have settled down we could try doing this with Graham and the others, too: we could have a proper, full sized pack. I think it could be fun.”
“If Graham ever forgives us,” said Miles, gloomily.
“He will, I’m sure. Just give it a week or so.”
Miles wasn’t so certain, but he supposed there wasn’t any point in worrying about it at the moment.
After a bit they got dressed and went back to Miles’s house. And when bedtime finally came round they got into bed together naked, as they had before.
“Can I ask you something?” Miles asked, as they settled down.
“When they made us… you know, suck on each other – what did it feel like to you?”
“What: when I was doing it or when you were doing it to me?”
“Well… when I was in your mouth it felt nice, I suppose. And I didn’t really mind doing it to you, either: it’s not as if it tasted bad, or anything.”
“That’s about how I felt. So… would you like to do it again?”
“Yes. I think it’ll feel pretty good, especially if we don’t have an audience.”
“Okay.” And Twitch burrowed his way into the bed until he found Miles’s erection, which he slipped into his mouth with no hesitation at all. He started to suck on it the way Kevin had told him, sliding it into and out of his mouth, and Miles wriggled about, trying not to make any of the noises he usually made when Twitch was rubbing it for him, because it felt good – really good – and fairly quickly he realised that if Twitch kept going for any length of time he was going to get that same brilliant feeling he got when Twitch used his hand instead.
Twitch had already worked out that this would be the result and so he kept going steadily until Miles finally lost control, bucking against him.
“I’d guess you liked that,” he said, wriggling back up to lie face to face with his friend.
“You’d be right. I think it’s even nicer than when you rub it for me. Okay, my turn: let’s see what you think of it.”
A few minutes later Twitch decided that he liked it very much indeed, and when Miles came back to lie beside him he told him so.
“We’re definitely going to have to do that again,” he said. “I thought I was going to explode, it felt so good.”
“That’s a good description. Okay, we’ll do that whenever we spend the night together. I wonder how Kevin found out about it? I mean, it’s not the sort of thing you’d find out by accident, is it? We certainly wouldn’t have tried it unless Kevin had made us do it, after all. So I wonder who made him do it – and does he do it with his brother, do you think?”
“Probably – after all, once you find out how nice it feels I’d bet you want to do it a lot, and if you’ve got a brother… but it would be interesting to find out how he learned about it. Probably from someone at his school, I suppose.”
“Suppose so. Although I don’t think having a brother would always mean you’d do something like that with him. I don’t think I’m likely to do it with Mars, after all.”
“Because I’ve got you, and because Mars is too weird: he might forget what he was doing and bite it off or something.”
“If I had a seizure while I was doing it to you I probably would bite it off. I’d bite my own tongue off if it got stuck between my teeth.”
“Then you’d better not have a seizure while you’re doing it, had you? Because if you bit mine off I’d have to bite yours off – and your balls, too.”
“I’m sure I could get Doctor Frankenstein to sew me on a new set. But you’d have to go through life without, so maybe you’d end up in that dress you didn’t want to wear after all.”
“No chance! Even if I didn’t have any bits I’d still be a boy, and I’d dress like one, too.”
“You’d better not lose any forfeit games against me in future, then, because now I know that’s how you feel I’ll borrow one of Robyn’s dresses and force you to wear it to school the first time you lose.”
“You still wouldn’t get to see it, though, because if you made me do that I’d gouge your eyes out. Or maybe I’d just kill you instead.”
“Then maybe I won’t make you do it after all. Doctor Frankenstein has trouble finding eyes that work.”
“You’d better not.”
Twitch went home after breakfast, and Miles and Martin had a quiet Saturday at home. Miles tried calling Graham, but Graham just hung up on him, so he decided to leave it and try to sort it out once they were back at school. And that meant that Miles also had a quiet Sunday at home, since Twitch was going out and there was nobody else he felt able to call on: he had no reason to think any of the others would feel differently about him from the way Graham apparently did.
Martin, on the other hand, had arranged to go and see Luke. He rode round to Luke’s house after lunch and spent the afternoon in Luke’s bedroom. They started out by reading and listening to music…
Sunday June 1st
I had a nice afternoon at Luke’s house – he introduced me to some more new bands and he sang along a couple of times, too. He has a nice singing voice, so I said that next time he comes round to my house maybe I can try accompanying him on the piano: he hasn’t heard me playing the piano yet, and I hope he’ll be impressed. I want him to see that there are things I am good at, because so far he’s really only seen me doing things I’m not very good at, like running and climbing.
I stayed for tea, which we ate in his room (it was only sandwiches and things like that) so that we could keep listening to our music. But after tea he seems to get a bit quiet, so I asked if he had a headache or if he wanted me to go, and he said it wasn’t anything like that. He said he’d had a really good week and that he’d enjoyed being with me a lot (which I thought was really good news) but that he was a bit down because he had to go back to school tomorrow.
He really doesn’t like school much. It isn’t because he isn’t any good at school because he is: he’s quite intelligent and enjoys most of his lessons. The problem is these boys who keep bullying him: it’s upsetting him a lot, even though he tries hard not to let that show when he’s at school, and he doesn’t know what to do about it.
As he told me before, he thinks he could deal with one of the kids, but because there are always two of them and only one of him he always ends up getting beaten up. They call him a freak all the time because of his scars and because of his hearing aids, and he really hates it. I still can’t understand why they pick on him for something he can’t control, but I know kids are like that sometimes.
I asked if there was anything I could do to help, but of course there isn’t really, because the bullying takes place at school or on the bus coming home (both the boys who bully him live in the village about a mile and a half from his house, and so they catch the same bus home). But I really wish I could do something, because I don’t like him being unhappy. I’m going to try to think of something that could help him, though I really don’t know what at the moment. For now I’ll just have to try to help by cheering him up at weekends…
Miles knew that his relationship with Graham had completely disintegrated when he got to school on Monday morning and found a knot of his classmates crowded round the class notice-board and laughing, and when he appeared they started laughing even more loudly. He pushed his way through them to the board and found himself looking at a photograph of himself and Twitch kissing. At least Graham had cropped it, so that it only showed their heads and shoulders, but of course there was no guarantee that the next photo to appear wouldn’t be the full-length one. He ripped it from the board and marched up to Graham’s desk.
“You bastard!” he said. “Why did you do that?”
“Why shouldn’t I? I thought the rest of the class ought to know about you and your boy-friend – after all, you made it obvious last week that you care more about him than anyone else.”
“And what makes you think I won’t bring one of the photos I took of you into school tomorrow?”
“You can’t. You haven’t got a computer and you haven’t got a printer.”
“That’s true, but Twitch has, and I think he’ll be only too happy to let me use them when I show him this.”
“Don’t lie! He’d never be allowed a computer, because the flashing would send him off into a fit all the time.”
“Normal computer programs don’t flash. He only uses ordinary search engines and email and stuff, and none of those flash. He’s got a Hewlett Packard – call him over as soon as he gets here and ask what type he’s got and he’ll tell you. I’ll just sit quietly at my desk until he gets here so I can’t tell him what to say. Then you’ll know I’m not lying. And I don’t lie to my friends, anyway, even the ones who aren’t acting like friends any more.”
Graham looked a lot less certain. “If you print one of me I’ll put the full version of that one up,” he threatened. “Do you really want everyone looking at you and Twitch feeling each other’s balls while you kiss?”
“No. And you probably don’t want them looking at the ones I’ve got of you and Rob. But I’m not going to put those up anyway – unless you really do put the full version of this one up – because I’d have to let Twitch see them if I use his computer to print them, and I promised you I wouldn’t let anyone see them except you and me.”
“Yeah, like you really haven’t already shown them to him,” exclaimed Graham in disbelief.
“Ask him. He won’t know what you’re talking about. We’re not all like you: some of us keep our word.”
Graham looked uncomfortable. “Well, okay, then,” he said. “I won’t put up any more of you if you don’t put up any of me.”
“It’s a bit late now, isn’t it? They’re all laughing themselves stupid about me and Twitch, and even if you don’t stick up any more that’s not going to change, is it? Oh, and… don’t you think the rest of the gang are going to work out that if you took photos of me and Twitch you probably took photos of them, too? Bet they won’t like that.” And Miles walked back to his desk, feeling that at least he’d rattled Graham’s cage a bit. But he was still seething: he simply would never have imagined Graham betraying him like that, no matter how badly let down he felt.
Twitch’s arrival a few minutes later drew a cheer which obviously confused him - at least until he reached his desk, at which point Miles told him what had happened and showed him the photo.
“What a bastard,” was Twitch’s reaction. “I thought he was your friend, Miles.”
“So did I. Obviously I was wrong.”
Miles had been wondering how Toby was feeling this morning, but although Toby generally got to school bright and early, today he wasn’t there even when Miss Steadman came in and took the register. And she didn’t call his name, either, which should have warned them all that something was up.
“You'll have noticed that Toby Gubbins isn't here today,” she began, as soon as she had put the register away. “That's because he's in hospital. He's going to be okay, but he'll be away for a few days while things get sorted out. I'll be arranging a card for him later today and it would be nice if everyone could sign it for him. Right, now off you go to... yes, Josh?”
Josh Knowles, a nonentity of a boy who sat next to Toby, had raised his hand. “Please, Miss,” he asked, “what happened to him? I mean, it isn't anything catching, is it?”
“No, Josh, it isn't anything catching. It was just a sort of accident, that's all. Now, off to assembly with you.”
Miss Steadman led them out, which was just as well because it meant that she wasn't there to see Twitch push his way over to Graham's desk.
“So you put him in hospital, did you? And you think that isn't bullying?”
“We didn't! He was fine when we left him – and we didn't do anything that would have put him in hospital! Okay, we whipped him a bit, but he was still okay afterwards. It must be something else altogether – maybe he fell downstairs or got hit by a car or something. But it certainly wasn't our fault!”
“He's right,” said Robert, who was sitting next to Graham as usual. “I mean, maybe we did overdo it a bit, but he was still okay afterwards. We whipped his bum with the holly, but that was the only blood, and it stopped almost straight away. It can't have been anything to do with us.”
“Yeah, well, we'll find out, won't we?” And Twitch marched off angrily.
After assembly he took Miles to one side. “I'm going to visit him,” he said. “I'll offer to deliver Miss Steadman's card this evening. Can you come with me? I want to find out what happened to him – because I bet it was Graham and the others, whatever he says. You can come back to my house – Mum will take us to the hospital after tea.”
“Okay, I'll call home and ask if I can. I expect it'll be okay, though, as long as I'm not too late getting home afterwards.”
“We'll take you straight home from the hospital.”
And on that understanding Miles was told that he could go, and since Miss Steadman thought it was a kind gesture from Twitch and Miles to go and visit Toby on behalf of the whole class she had no objection, either. She passed a large 'Get well soon' card round at the start of afternoon school and everyone signed it – including, Twitch noted, Graham and the rest of the gang - and they took it with them when they went to visit Toby that evening.
They found Toby in a small private room close to the nurses’ station. They were a bit surprised that his parents weren’t with him, but of course that made it a lot easier to talk to him. He looked up when they came in and put down the book he was reading.
“Hi, Toby,” said Twitch. “Miss Steadman told us you were here, so we thought we’d come and see how you are. And we’ve got a card from the whole class, look. Everyone’s signed it.”
“How did she manage that? Did she hold a gun to everyone’s head, or something?”
“No, nothing like that. Look, Toby, she didn’t tell us why you’re here, just that it was some sort of accident. So what happened?”
“An accident?! That’s the last thing it was… anyway, what do you care?”
“We do, that’s all. Look… was it what Graham and the others did? Because that wasn’t us, if you remember.”
“Well, yes, I suppose you did try to talk them out of it. Didn’t do any good, though, did it?”
“No, not if it put you in here,” said Miles. “Look, Toby, I’m sorry: maybe we should have stayed and tried to do more to stop them.”
“I don’t think it would have done any good, because there were only two of you and seven of them. Anyway, it wasn’t what they did that put me in here…. Well, it was, but not like you think. Do you really want to know what happened?”
“Yes, please, Toby. And we won’t tell anyone else unless you want us to.”
“Well… after they finished having their fun they just went off and left me lying there. I didn’t want to move for quite a long time because I was hurting – they whipped my bum for ages. But eventually I got up, dried myself off as best I could with my tee-shirt, got dressed and went home. I didn’t say anything to my parents, because I couldn’t see the point – you’d understand if you knew them. I had a long bath before I went to bed, but I didn’t feel any better, and all through Friday and Saturday I kept thinking about it. I mean, I knew nobody at school liked me much, but I hadn’t realised how much they hated me…”
“I don’t think they really hate you,” interrupted Miles. “But… well, you do ask for it a bit, always trying to be teacher’s pet and making out you’re cleverer than everyone else.”
“You don’t understand at all. My parents never stop pushing me: I spend most evenings studying. It’s not that I’m cleverer than anyone else, just that I know lots of facts. If you read encyclopaedias in your spare time you would, too. And if I don’t come top of the class my parents give me a really hard time – they never stop telling me I won’t succeed in life unless I exert myself, and stuff like that. That’s really why I wanted to play cards with you, to try to get away from that for a bit and just do something normal.”
“Oh. So why did you keep trying to make everyone do worse and worse forfeits, then?”
“Well, partly because I thought that’s what everyone else wanted too, but they were too scared of upsetting their friends to say so themselves, and partly because… well, none of you lot are very nice to me, are you? Okay, maybe I do annoy you by trying to answer every question the teachers ask, but it’s only because I have to try to keep my parents happy. And I still think it would have been interesting to make Jack and Robyn have sex. Don’t you?”
“I suppose so. But, anyway, if it wasn’t Graham and the others beating you that got you in here, what happened?”
“Like I was saying, I hadn’t realised how much they disliked me – and I knew they’d tear me apart on Monday because they were taking photos while they were beating me and… and doing other stuff to me. I thought I’d walk into class on Monday and find dirty pictures of me all over the walls. My parents made me start studying again on Sunday, and when I said I wasn’t in the mood for it I got a massive lecture about ending up working at McDonalds or somewhere like that… and by the time I went to bed I couldn’t face anything any more. I knew running away would be pointless – where could I go? They’d just find me and bring me back…
“My parents were going out on Sunday night: they go to play cards with a friend of my father’s and his wife every three or four weeks, so I knew they wouldn’t be back until really late, and then they’d just go straight to bed. They put me to bed at eight o’clock and then set off for their friends’ house, and as soon as they had gone I went and took my mother’s sleeping pills from the bathroom cabinet and swallowed the lot. I washed them down with some of my father’s whisky: it tasted horrible, but I’d found something on the computer that said it would help the pills to work quickly. And then I just went to bed.
“But something went wrong: my father’s friend got called in to work – he’s got one of those jobs that operate round the clock, apparently – and so they abandoned the cards and my parents came home a lot sooner than I’d expected. And because it was still quite early my mother came in to see if I was still awake, and she saw the bottle… and so I ended up here having my stomach pumped. I really wish they hadn’t bothered…”
Toby started to cry, and Twitch took one of his hands and squeezed it.
“God, Toby, did you really think killing yourself was the only thing to do?” he asked. “I don’t think I could ever think that way – and I’ve got a nasty disease and a face like the wrong end of a cow. And I didn’t have any friends either, until Miles came along.”
“No, but I bet your parents don’t treat you like a robot, do they? At least things get better for you when you’re at home. They don’t for me. And then when the other kids at school showed me what they really think of me I just couldn’t see that there was any point in carrying on…” He was still crying, so Miles took his other hand.
“It’ll be okay,” he said. “Nothing like that will happen again.”
“It won’t be okay – you don’t understand! See, when the doctors examined me they saw I’d been whipped, and they wanted to know who had done it. And I couldn’t tell them, because Graham said that if I grassed them up he’d kill me – and because I wouldn’t say who did it they thought it was my parents. So they called Social Services in, and now they won’t let my parents see me, and they won’t let me go home with them, either. I told them it wasn’t my parents, but because I refuse to say who it was they think I’m lying… but I can’t say who really did it or Graham will kill me! And I don’t know what to do…”
“You have to tell them the truth,” said Miles. “We’ll back you up. I mean, you can say it was just a game that went too far, which is true – I don’t suppose Graham or the others would get into trouble for that, and so he wouldn’t get mad at you. Besides, Graham wouldn’t really kill you – he’s not like that.”
“You weren’t there when he was whipping me and stuff. I think he might easily kill me. I’m not going to risk it, anyway.”
“But… what are you going to do, then? If you can’t go home with your parents, what’s going to happen to you? You can’t just stay here, because the hospital won’t have room for you once you’re better. You’ll end up in a Home, or something. Come on, Toby, you can’t let that happen – you’ll have to tell them what really happened.”
“I can’t! I mean, I was okay about dying by taking pills and just going to sleep, but getting stabbed or having my throat cut is totally different. And maybe a Home would be better: at least there I wouldn’t get nagged all the time and made to spend every minute studying.”
“You don’t mean that. Besides, a children’s home would probably be horrible: you’d get bullied, or have to share a room with some really nasty kids, or something like that. Look, I’ll talk to Graham tomorrow. I’m sure once he knows what’s happening he’ll realise you have to tell the truth.”
“Well… okay, but until he swears to leave me alone I’m not saying a word to anyone.”
“Okay. We’ll talk to Graham and the others tomorrow, and as soon as they’ve promised not to hurt you we’ll come back and tell you, and then you can tell the truth and go home. It’ll be okay, Toby, I promise.”
They stayed with Toby for another half hour, but he was still unconvinced when they left: he still seemed more scared of Graham than he was about being taken into care – though they thought that maybe his home life might be playing a part in his thinking, too, now that they knew a bit about it.
Twitch’s mother dropped Miles off at home twenty minutes after they left the hospital. He knew that next day he was somehow going to have to talk Graham into admitting what had happened, but he had no idea of how to go about it…
Sorting this mess out is not going to be an easy job, and in the next chapter we'll find out what Graham and his friends think about the situation.
I'll keep it short this time: firstname.lastname@example.org is my address. You know what to do!
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