When Will left the Headmaster's house that night and began the short trek back to his house, he realized with a start that his thoughts weren't the jumble they usually were. He had started letting his thoughts flit around when he found himself constantly going over and over in his head his mum's scornful, belittling words. After a while, to prevent the pain these thoughts caused, he had taught himself to immediately start thinking of something, anything, else. He'd become so adept at this that it had become a habit with him, and he did it all the time. Now, walking through the warm evening, seeing other boys in the distance walking in pairs or groups to their houses, he was startled to realize his mind wasn't wandering at all, but staying focused on what he was intending to think about.
He also noticed that some of the residual pain he always carried with him was no longer so sharp. It was still there, he could detect it, but it didn't seem so frightening, so unmanageable. It didn't seem to be lying in wait for an unguarded moment in which to rear up and bite him.
The Headmaster had told him he'd feel better when he left his house. He thought about that, and knew it was true. There was a lightness in his soul that hadn't been there previously. He didn't feel like the world would collapse on him as he'd been feeling for so long.
He allowed his thoughts to do what he had previously avoided with all his strength. He allowed them to touch on his mother. He could easily picture her sitting at the kitchen table, her face red, her eyes and mouth both filled with hatred. This thought had always brought him to his knees, figuratively. Now, it hurt, but he found he could look at it, even analyze it. He instinctively knew, without knowing how, that if he continued to allow his mind to go there, the more it happened, the less raw the moment would feel. And that in itself was a healing feeling.
He then thought about Liam. Lately, he'd spent a lot of time thinking about Liam. He thought about what the Headmaster had said, that Liam cared deeply about him. Then he thought about what he knew about Liam, how decent and honest and caring and sensitive he was, and realized what a good person he was. And the question crept into his head that if such a boy could care so much about him, could he really be as worthless as he had felt he was?
He walked on, approaching his house. He passed a younger boy, one who he knew was in his house but in the form below his. He wasn't absolutely certain of the boy's name. Will hadn't in the past taken much trouble to learn who the other boys were. But he recognized him as someone he possibly should know.
The boy was sitting on a bench along the path. This was odd. It was almost time for evening prayers. A young boy shouldn't be out here alone. Formerly, it is possible Will would not have noticed him. Now, he did, and stopped, then walked back and stood a few paces away. The boy looked up, and then down again on seeing Will watching him. Will caught a brief look of pain in his eyes.
Will walked to the bench and sat down. The boy looked up at him again, and this time Will smiled at him and said hello to him and told him he looked like he needed a friend right now.
"It's all right. I'll manage."
"I always thought that, too. But it helps if you have someone to talk to. What's the matter?"
The boy looked confused for a moment, and said, "I don't even know you!"
"I'm Will. Now you know me. And I'd like to help if you'd let me. Someone just helped me. I'd like to help you. But you have to let me. Will you?"
The boy sighed. "I don't think you can. I just got a letter from Mum. She and Dad are talking about a divorce. And I'm all the way out here."
Will moved to put his arm around the younger boy, who shrugged it off. Will wasn't deterred. "My parents aren't together either. I know how hard that is. Look, let's get back to the house. You'll be counted as missing any moment now, and that's demerits. Let's go back, and then let's meet at the library tomorrow directly after tea. I'll talk to you then. You can tell me what you're feeling, and maybe talking can make you feel better. It helps to have someone to talk to."
Just then a bell could be heard in the distance. "Come on," Will said, pulling the boy up and starting to move toward the house while still speaking, "we're both going to be late. You're in my house, aren't you? I'll speak to Mr. Fitzsimmons for you. I think I can clear you. I'll tell him we were talking about a personal matter that was weighing on you, that you needed some space from the other boys. He'll understand. Come on though. It'll help if we're only a few minutes late."
The boy got up and they jogged back to the house. They made it in only a minute, and in fact prayers were a few minutes late that evening and they weren't even missed. Will smiled over at the boy when the roll was called, and was rewarded with a thankful smile back.
Will grinned to himself. He was already one up for his tea meeting with the Headmaster, and he already was starting to feel better about himself
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