Simon hurried through the bunches of students—most heading for the fields. He on the other hand planned to wait out the annual Inter-Schools Sports Day in the library. At least that day he didn’t need a note. There were no classes, but nobody was forced to stand and watch.
He kept his eye out for Toby—there was something he had to give him—but not seeing him, he entering the library building and trudged up the stairs to the second floor to where the library was located. He expected to be there all day.
The Academy's student library was meant to be an airy, welcoming place, fit for purpose for those students coming to study and to read, widening their knowledge and enjoying a rich culture of literature. At least that's what the school prospectus promised!
The school librarian, Mrs. Reed—a fierce old stick who abided no messing—appeared to have missed reading that prospectus, as ‘her’ library was run more akin to a young offenders detention center! The rows of shelves were strict in their organized perfection, and banks of reading desks were meticulously laid out in an exacting regime that kept students away from any possibility of exchanging even a smile, let alone a whisper.
Simon studied a diagram in one of his textbooks, hardly seeing it. Truth be told, he was bored and terribly lonely, though he doubted that his friends—not that he suspected he had many now—even knew he wasn’t out there with the rest of them. At a desk where he wouldn't have to look out of any of the closed windows, he could still hear the far off noises of hard won victories and disappointing losses as the packed fields heaved with distant energy.
Trying not to think about it, he flicked over another page of his textbook.
Earlier that morning there had been an uneasy standoff at home, before he and Luke drove in to school. After he'd let rip the previous afternoon over a bottle of lube that had been left in his room for him to 'find', it felt tense when he came down for breakfast.
He knew they were all studying him, but he said little as the family chatter restarted once he’d started into breakfast.
In fact most of it was related to the upcoming sports event, the Alpharetta Schools Sport Fest, in which Luke would be competing in the tennis. He on the other hand planned to stay out of the way of everything and everyone. Finishing his bowl of cereal, he tuned them out as he anticipated a long, slow day in the school library.
He thought he’d got away with it, but after Luke went upstairs to brush his teeth, his mum and dad had cornered him again about his behavior the previous day. Half out of his chair, he'd slumped back down as they pulled theirs closer. It wasn't the same hard angry ticking off like the previous day, it was worse—much worse.
Calm yet determined, they’d laid it all out on the table, and told him they wanted to talk that evening. Properly. They tried to make it sound enticing, even offering to take him out to Dunkin Donuts or Baskin and Robbins.
He'd kept his head down, and said there was nothing to talk about, but they were pretty firm. Yesterday it had been a suggestion of speaking to a counsellor if he wanted to—just something to think about. Now it was about when they would make that appointment!
He knew they were worried about him, but the whole thing scared the shit out of him. There was too much he couldn't afford either a shrink or his parents to know. Still, they were right, somehow he needed to get some control back of his life, and he knew where it had to start. When they were done, he went upstairs to get what he needed.
As was the usual routine now, Luke had driven them both to school. Luke was still pissed from the previous day, so they travelled in a silence that was only punctuated by the barest of communication. After they’d parked, Simon headed off on his own, bypassing all those waiting for the arrival of the buses from Creek and Alpharetta High.
He settled at his usual desk in the library, surprised at how many were there other than himself that day. Unless it was raining bad, there were not many that liked to frequent the place other than when they had to—even less so on a day like this. Then he began to recognize some of the half-dozen or so faces that were there—ones you wouldn't find dead in there on any day.
Then it made sense. By the dark, angry expressions as they brooded at well-spaced desks, they were being treated to a fairly nasty detention. Teachers had to be rubbing their hands with glee on a day like this—the perfect payback for thugs who would be hurt hard by not even being allowed to watch, let alone compete!
He almost felt sorry for them. On the other hand, it was fitting that he should be stuck there, too, waiting it out with a room full of people who'd messed up. At least he was less conspicuous.
Together, they passed the hours under the beady eye of Mrs. Reed. The library was her domain, though he always wondered what she actually did other than stamp and glare. It was a long morning, yet she seemed quite capable of keeping her glare going, especially at him, suspicious of the idea that anyone would actually want to be touching her books.
He passed the time completing as much schoolwork as he had on his plate, doing his best with each one, and went out for a walk a couple of times to break it up. At least he could, unlike most of the rest of the poor bastards who were forced to stay at their desks. In those forays outdoors, it was mayhem, and he soon got fed up with the endless excitable faces and returned to his hiding place.
Around the lunch hour, the detainees were released, and they scarpered as fast as they could, leaving him, Mrs. Reed—who apparently didn't eat lunch— Adam Wingford, and some other kid he didn't know. Glad the others were gone, he picked out a book from the fiction section, a story he knew about but had never read before. For the next half an hour, he escaped into a make-believe world of goblins, wizards and hobbits.
"I'm going for something to eat."
Surprised by the voice, Simon looked up from his book. Only he and Wingy remained, and it was the latter standing by the desk Simon had made home for the day. Wingy peered at him, probably looking for company from a like-minded soul who didn't care for the ASSF, and added, "Want to come?"
From over the bulky teen's shoulder, a sharper voice erupted, "Quiet down!"
Simon rolled his eyes. For God's sake, there was only the two of them!
The humor of it drew a small smile from Wingy too, and maybe any other time, Simon would have been happy to be sociable. Just not then. He shook his head. A little disappointed, Wingy shrugged and turned for the door.
Simon went back to his book, but it wasn't long before he realized he was hungry after all. He slid The Hobbit back onto the shelf, glad of the opportunity it had offered to be able hide away in its pages. He would come back to it straight after having something to eat. In fact, with the many extra mouths to feed, the cafeteria had long lines for Simon to contend with. He patiently waited his turn for something he could take away to eat elsewhere, off by himself.
With a sandwich in hand, he wandered alone across the field, bypassing boisterous groups, most of them either getting ready to compete or hurrying to watch the latest action coming up on the schedule. Normally, he would have been in the thick of it; maybe not participating, but definitely on the sidelines screaming his lungs out.
Sailing was his passion. If only the school had a lake, he'd show them a thing or two!
Just not this year.
This year the wind had been pulled from his sails. He'd become becalmed as, around him, excitable faces skidded across the sea of green grass, passing him by, full of lively energy and knowing where they were going.
What was wrong with him?
He just felt like he was doing nothing more than floating, going nowhere in a contradicting breeze. Maybe he just needed to try harder and go and watch something? He stood in the middle of the field and wondered what direction to take. The tennis courts? The track? Over to the football field? None of it appealed. He usually loved the annual 'Ass Fuck'. Now even the words just made him nauseous.
He passed back through the bright-eyed bustle, keeping his eyes averted as much as possible. When he couldn't, he smiled on the outside, promising to those that called out that, wherever they were going, he'd definitely be right there! Pretense, deception, dishonesty—how easily they'd become part of who he was.
He finished his sandwich and was almost back at the library getting ready to go back to The Hobbit, when he ran into Mr. Daniels. Unsurprisingly, Toby followed in his wake.
"Not competing today, Simon?" Daniels was kitted out in a tracksuit for once. Had Simon not already encountered him in a relaxed mode at the Skerrit house, he might even have been shocked. Toby, like himself and any others not involved in the competitions, was in school uniform.
He kept his eyes fixed on Daniels, ignoring Toby, and made an effort to up his energy as he put on the mask. He grinned and replied, "I prefer sailing, sir." To him it felt false, though Daniels seemed satisfied by the explanation.
The teacher nodded as though remembering, and smiled encouragingly. "So you do, so you do. You and Toby should take me up there sometime—it sounds amazing fun!"
Simon maintained his false appearance of teenage enthusiasm. "Yes sir...I'd love to!"
"Well, I'd love to chat,” said Daniels, checking his watch. “But I was meant to be back at the wrestling five minutes ago!"
"Wrestling?" Even Toby sounded surprised, and Simon studied him through hooded eyes and a blank expression.
"Just refereeing, Toby, just refereeing." Daniels eye's glinted in amusement. "You may not believe it, but I was pretty good in my day!"
"Yes, sir," said Toby. There would have been a time where Simon would have found Toby's deadpan expression funny, but it no longer touched him.
"Well, you two," Daniels checked his watch once more. "I need to go. I've given Toby a key to the art block to work on some pieces. I don't mind you going in, too, Simon, as long as the pair of you behave and don't burn the place down!"
To Simon, Daniels' tone sounded too close to the fun-loving, generous, ordinary guy that he’d got to know on that fateful Sunday lunch, and he shifted uncomfortably. It was all too close. Forcing his tone to remain upbeat, he said, "I'm just getting something for Luke, sir. From his locker. I'd better do that first." Excuses and lies.
Daniels shrugged. "Fair enough. See you boys later!"
They watched him jog away towards the sports block. Simon turned to go, too, but Toby grabbed at his arm.
"Did you mean it?" Toby muttered. His voice was low and forced, though Daniels was out of earshot by then.
Angry, Simon tried to shake him off. "Did I mean what?"
"About us going to the lake. Me, you and Daniels?" said Toby, gripping his wrist, apparently past caring who was watching.
Simon raked him with his eyes and ripped his arm away. "What do you think?"
"What do I think?" Toby looked desperate. "I don’t know what to think! You won't talk to me, you won't listen to me. I can't even touch you anymore!"
"And that's my fault?"
From his ex-boyfriend, anger flashed across his mix of emotions. "I've said sorry a million times! I was wrong okay...I messed up! What more do you want?"
"I only want one thing." Simon spat the words. "It’s for you to just piss off and leave me alone. Find some other bastard to fuck!"
Toby flinched, but he gathered himself. His expression tightened. "Are you telling me that's it? Your giving up—just like that?"
To Simon, it was like a red rag. "Giving up?" Pushing himself into Toby's face, his breath came in short spurts.
Toby flinched, but didn't pull away or try to defend himself. In Toby's eyes, Simon could see the plea. Come on. Lash out...hit me if you want. Anything…do whatever it takes to make it right for you...
To Simon, it meant nothing, and didn’t touch him. There could be no forgiveness, and he tried to let it go and step back.
Toby wasn't done, and he tried to come closer. "Just tell me what do you want me to do?" There was such desperation in his tone that it almost sounded like he might burst into tears.
"Nothing. This last few weeks have been...." He shook his head. "I just can't keep going like this."
"Me neither!" A burst of hope flickered across Toby’s face. "It's been crap for both of us. We need to get over it!"
"Over it?" Simon darkened and raised his voice again. "You think this is something I'm just supposed to get over?"
Toby shook his head quickly. "I didn't mean it like that."
Simon ground his teeth, frustrated he couldn’t keep a lid on it, and changed tack. “Your mum…”
Toby frowned, confused by the switch. “Mom? What about her?”
"I like her." Simon toyed with pebble next to his foot. It was true. Grace had always been good to him. Really good. "If you tell her anything, tell her I'm sorry."
"Sorry? What have you got to be sorry about? It was me—I know that. I'm the one that's trying to say sorry!"
"You're always sorry."
Toby bristled. "What does that mean?"
Simon took a deep breath and let it go. There was no point in arguing. "You have to stop calling me or trying to talk to me," he said. "If I could move classes or even schools, I would, but I can't. Luke is driving me in at the moment, but never ask for a lift. You need to find other arrangements."
"So you're telling me it's over?" Toby's eyes flared. "Me and you?"
Simon studied him dispassionately. Despite Toby's pleas and desperate tone, it was easier than he thought it would be. "It was over when I told you to stop and you kept going anyway," he said. Though Simon’s voice was devoid of any emotion, Toby flinched and lowered his eyes. They both knew what Simon was referring to, and a flush crept up Toby’s face.
"You know that my mum and dad want me to see a shrink. My life is that fucked up at the moment."
Toby's eyes widened. "A shrink? Why..."
"It doesn't matter." Simon overrode him as he slipped the backpack he was carrying off his shoulders. "The thing is, even if I could forgive you, I can’t trust you again. It's what you do."
Was he being harsh? Mean? Maybe, but through the long hours of dark loneliness, however much he'd tried to imagine a better future with Toby, it just wasn't there. He couldn't get past what had happened. Like the math question that couldn't be solved, his only way out was to cut his losses and move on.
Unzipping the top of the bag, he reached inside to find what he’d brought for Toby. Now was as good a time as any. It was thin and flat, and he lifted it out, saying, "I can't keep this." He dropped it onto the floor at Toby’s feet. He didn't wait any longer, but turned away to put as much distance as possible between them.
He returned to the library without meeting anyone else. Everyone was out on the fields. However, once he'd climbed the stairs, he could see that Wingy was back. Wingy offered him a smile and a half wave, but wearied by the recent confrontation with Toby, Simon ignored him. Instead, he went to fetch his book from the shelf to escape once more into a world of make-believe.
However, it was the book stacked next to The Hobbit that caught his attention—a thin, tall hardback with a dramatic drawing of two wolves on the front. Intrigued, he lifted it off the shelf to have a look.
The book was called "Parables for the Modern Day", and he leafed through the colorful pages. The wolves were featured in the first chapter, and he read the story.
An old grandfather told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment. The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and bravery.”
The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”
The one you feed?
Simon blinked, and it was as if a series of flares skidded across his vision. He read it again, aware that he was breathing a little harder this time.
Rather than sliding the book back on the shelf, he took both it and The Hobbit back to his desk. He needed to think.
The one you feed?
He could have said, 'what the hell did that mean', but he knew what it meant. At least what it meant to him, and he found himself beginning to shake. There was a water cooler in the corner and he went to get a drink, all the time thinking through the words and finding glimpses of light in them.
Thoughtful as he returned to his desk, he picked up the book once more and slid it back onto the shelf. Then he went back to The Hobbit, a book he was liking enough that he took it to Mrs. Reed, and she checked it out for him on the school computer system.
Even then, he found he couldn't concentrate well on Bilbo. Instead, he got out a pen and paper and started writing things down. Maybe it was for a counsellor, maybe just for himself, but it must have been nearly three quarters of an hour—and three sides of paper—later when he caught movement by the window. Mrs. Reed seemed to have found something to occupy her attention other than 'stamp and glare', and seemed glued to something outside. He watched her put her hand to her mouth and squeak, "Oh my gosh!"