That same evening I got a call from Jake. It was a nice distraction, because I had all these things about Matty and me churning around in my head.
"Hi, Jake. How's things?"
"Okay. Sort of."
"Yeah. Well I might have to go away again. To stay with my dad."
"Is something wrong?" I thought his visit up north was just a normal visit to his parents, not because of any special reason.
"My mum's not well."
It seemed like he didn't want to talk too much about what was going on. I didn't want to push him, but I was genuinely concerned.
"Oh, I see... ah I hope it's not anything serious."
"We'll have to see. But I can't leave my dad on his own. He's useless on his own."
That didn't sound good. I mean if he's talking about his dad being on his own, that can only mean one thing.
"I've taken two weeks off work. I going up there on Friday."
"Maybe I could pop round. See you before you leave."
"That's nice of you to say Alex. But let's leave it till I get back."
I didn't know what to say. I liked Jake a lot. Even if everything was all mixed up. I still liked him.
"Listen, Jake. You can call me. Anytime... You know, if you just want someone to chat with."
"Thanks, Alex. You are turning into a pretty good friend. You know I'm even starting to look at myself and life a bit differently... That's since meeting you."
"I don't think I've done anything. But I do like you... A lot."
"If you and Matty want to use my place. It's fine. Okay. You've got the key."
"Thanks, Jake... And call me sometime. Let me know what's going on, alright."
"Sure babe," he replied and hung up.
Normally I should be pleased to have the use of his apartment. But given how things were, I wasn't at all. I didn't even know if we'd make use of it. At least not till we'd worked through some stuff.
You know that old saying, 'nothing can get any worse', well it's not true. Things can always get worse, much worse. Matty wasn't at school on Friday. I sent him a text, but there was no reply. After school I tried calling. Three times, each time it went straight to voicemail. I left messages. He didn't reply. Maybe his phone was broke or something, but he could ring me from home to tell me. Should I go round to his house? Better to leave it to tomorrow. He couldn't be that upset with me. I know he was not in a great mood last time I saw him, but he said to call.
I didn't have a good night's sleep. In the morning mum called to say there's someone to see me. I rushed down expecting Matty. Standing by the front door was Edmund, which was a big surprise given that we'd only ever really spoken once, after Ryan punched him. I didn't even know he knew where I lived. There must be more trouble with Ryan.
"Edmund!" I couldn't hide my surprise. "Ah, come in."
I led the way up to my bedroom. Michael was standing at the top of the stairs watching.
"Sit down. Sorry, it's a bit messy."
I’m not the greatest at keeping my bedroom tidy. I tend to chuck things anywhere and sometimes, no usually, that results in piles of junk that stay until my mum insists I clean things up. I know where everything is and can find it, so long as stuff doesn't get moved around. That's what I told myself, but it’s not true. My mum didn't buy it either and would say she couldn't hoover with all the mess on the floor, I should clean it up and put things away. 'That's what cupboards are for Alex,' she would tell me, meaning tidy your room. Anyway I don't think Edmund was concerned about my room. He was looking around more out of nervousness than an inspection of the cleanliness.
"Edmund relax. Just tell me what's up."
He looked towards me, but not at me.
"I thought Matty would explain," he said. "But when he wasn't at school and not answering his phone... Well you probably don't know."
"Don't know what?" I felt a knot in my stomach. Nothing to do with Edmund being nervous, but I just knew something bad had happened to Matty.
"Ryan got hold of Matty alone in the toilets... He flushed his head down the bowl. There was a struggle. Matty gashed his eye on the handle. I came in when Ryan was leaving and... well Matty was bleeding and it wouldn't stop. I tried toilet paper... You know, holding a big wad. But I don't know. It didn't work. He was sitting curled up on the floor when the caretaker came in."
Fucking Ryan! I was so angry. I could have stormed out right then and there to go over to Ryan's place and punch his lights out. I didn't though, instead I tried to stay calm and listen to the rest.
"So Matty ended up with a teacher, Mrs Whitley. She was leaving when the caretaker called her over. She said she was taking him straight to the hospital. To get it checked out. They drove off in her car."
"So you don't know what happened later?" That was maybe a stupid question, but now I was really worried.
"No, I don't know. I was thinking I should go round to Matty's."
"Good idea. We'll go together. Now, if that’s okay?"
I got my jacket and called out to mum that we were going round to see Matty. Michael looked puzzled, probably wondering what's going on, but he didn't say anything.
Edmund and I walked up the hill, through the park, and down to Matty's house. We didn't say much, it was a cold morning, but I hardly noticed, the only sign was the mist our breath made as we exhaled. Matty's mum answered the door. She looked at Edmund then me. She did not look pleased.
"Is Matty okay," I asked her, ignoring for the minute her scowl.
"He will be," was her curt reply. She kept looking me up and down. I had the feeling I'd left my flies undone, or was wearing different coloured socks, or something. It was cold standing there by the front door. "Can we see him?"
"I think..." She spoke slowly, one word at a time. "It would be better if you went home, Alex."
There was nothing I could do, was there? She made it quite clear we couldn't see him. Actually I thought she was being very weird. "But..." I started to say. Mrs T cut me short. "Go home, Alex." Then surprisingly she turned to Edmund. "You can come in for a minute, Edmund... If you would like."
Edmund looked at me. I was stunned. Matty and I were best friends. I'd been round his house hundreds of times. I just kind of nodded to Edmund to go ahead, then turned and walked away, glancing back to see Edmund going inside and the front door closing. I stuffed my hands into my pockets and started walking back home. Why was I suddenly unwelcome in the Tetherton house? How had I become persona non grata? Was I to blame for Matty getting injured? What had Matty told them?