It was lunch break, John Boy and I were chatting. Then when I turned around, Edmund was standing there looking a bit lost.
"Edmund, you want me?"
"Ah, well... I don't want to interrupt," he ventured tentatively.
I knew Edmund by sight. He and Matty were good friends, but I don't think we'd ever said more than a couple of words to each other. We weren't in the same year. He didn't play any sport that I know of, so I only saw him around school from time to time. Usually he was hanging out with Matty and a couple of other guys.
"I'm gonna go get some lunch," John Boy said, "I'll catch you later."
"Okay, later John Boy."
He smiled and headed off towards the school canteen. I looked at Edmund. "Let's walk." I wanted to get away from the crowd. We ambled over in the direction of the science lab. "So what's up?" I knew it must be to do with Ryan.
"Well..." He hesitated.
I suppose because he didn't really know me. He wasn't sure about what to say or how to say it. So I helped him out. "If this is to do with Ryan." I glanced down at Edmund, he was at least a foot shorter than me. "I know what happened. I'm sorry you got hurt."
"It wasn't your fault. The guy's a bully. But, thanks."
"Why did he hit you?" I wanted to get the full story from him.
"He said he owed me. For spreading rumours to my sister. Fucking things up with his girlfriend."
"So he found out? It was your sister told my cousin Mathilde about him and me?" He looked a bit embarrassed. Like he wasn't quite sure how to answer. "It's okay, Edmund. I think you and me can be honest about things. We're friends, or should be. At least we've both got Matty in common, even if the two of us don't know each other very well."
"Yeah, you're right. I didn't think it was a great idea. Matty getting me to tell my sister to tell your cousin. I kinda think Ryan has a reason to be pissed off."
"It's a mess. I thought it was all forgotten. But obviously not."
"I'm a bit worried for Matty. Cos now Ryan probably knows it was him. I mean, I never said... It's just he wanted to know if I knew you. And... well, I didn't really think. I was more thinking, like is he gonna beat me up? Anyway, I said no. I didn't really know you. Except like, we met once or twice. So you see it doesn't take a genius to work out. If I hardly know you and I hang about with Matty... Well it's pretty obvious, it was Matty. And that's got me worried."
"Did you tell all this to Matty?"
"Yeah, but he just said Ryan's a prick. He'll keep out of his way, but he's not gonna cross the street. You know, Matty can be a bit stubborn sometimes. I mean he's really upset still about Ryan. He's heading to get into trouble."
"I'll talk to Matty. And to Ryan. If he bothers you again, you let me know. Okay?"
There was going to be a lot of sorting out to do here. It was surprising that Matty, according to Edmund, was still angry at Ryan. Angry, or jealous, I'm not sure which.
"Matty likes you a lot," Edmund gave me a sly kind of look.
"Yeah, I know." But I didn’t know exactly what Edmund was thinking? "You take care. And you tell me if Ryan bothers you again."
"Okay, see ya around then." Edmund scooted off back to the main building and canteen. I stood there a minute thinking about all this, trying to come up with a plan.
Sitting down next to Ryan on the bus home that evening he didn't even acknowledge me. Just gave a surly glance and pursued his usual habit of staring out the window in silence. Was he looking at anything, or just dreaming, or didn’t like being disturbed? Well I could see that I was probably not his favourite person. I lied to him over Mathilde, or at least I avoided telling the truth, because I needed to protect Matty.
"I saw Edmund today." He managed a "So what!" in reply, as the doors clanked shut and the bus pulled away with a jolt that made anyone standing grab for a hand rail. "So why did you punch him. That's what?"
"Mind your own goddamned business!" He replied angrily.
"Well it is my business." I wasn't about to let it drop.
He stopped looking out the window, turning to glower on me.
"Then I guess it's you who whispered in your little bum boy's ear. About us. In the showers."
He was getting red in the face. I'm not sure I'd ever seen him this worked up. Except perhaps that one time after rugby practice with Brandon and company. Thinking about it, that's where all this started. No, maybe not. It started before that, with Ryan, Brandon, and Mathilde.
"Cut it out. That's no excuse to go round beating on kids younger than you."
"He deserved it. Fuck. It was one punch. I didn't beat the little shit up."
It seemed pretty obvious there was a lot of anger inside Ryan and I didn't know where to take this. I wanted a calm talk, not an angry confrontation. I wanted to defuse things. But there was no time right now; mine was the next stop. "We have to leave this for now." Standing up I pressed the bell. Ryan just looked away. Back to staring out the window. The doors opened. I stepped off, watching them clank shut and the bus pull away. There's trouble round the corner if ever Ryan, with all that pent up anger, faces Matty with his stubborn jealousy.
Wednesday evening I was sitting in the comfy old armchair in Matty's bedroom, drinking tea, and looking at him lying on the bed. The strongest desire to jump up and hug him came over me. But this was his house, not Jake's studio, and Mrs T was downstairs.
"I need to talk to you Matty," I looked at him.
"I don't want to talk about it."
I don't know why, but he wasn't in the best of moods. What had I done? Nothing. "You don't know what it is," I insisted.
"Fuck, I'm not stupid. I don't want to talk about Ryan. I don't want to talk about Jake. Anyway, we talked about Jake. You never knew what to say."
Where did all this come from? We spent a great Sunday together. Now a few days later he’s pissed off. "You want me to go?" Why did I say that? It wasn't what I wanted at all.
"Up to you. If you wanna go, go. I'm not stopping you."
"Matty, I don't want to go. Why are you angry with me? What have I done." Really I couldn't figure it out.
"I'm fed up with the whole situation. I don't know. Sorry. I guess it's all just getting to me."
Getting up I went to sit next to him on the bed. "I'm sorry too." We sat there on his bed. Side by side. What could I say to him? I didn't have all the answers, but I felt there was something else behind Matty's mood. If he didn't want to talk, I couldn't force him. It would only make matters worse. How can one little thing with Ryan, something buried ages ago, suddenly flare up like this? We sat together in silence. My mind wandered. Thoughts came and went. I realised it's the same as with Ryan. On appearance it's a small thing, but that's the match that lights the fire. There is a whole load of other stuff. Maybe this was all my own fault? Perhaps I had been too... I'm not even sure how to say it, how to put it into words... Too easy going. No, that's not it. Too uncaring, it's more like that.
Matty never did anything wrong, except the Ryan stuff. But that's understandable, and it's the only thing. He came out to me. He forgave me and Jake. He's always been there and I've taken a bit of an advantage with that. I couldn't, much as I would have liked to, stay with him all night. I had to go home. I wanted to see him again as soon as I could, but I didn't know what to say. I didn't even want to say 'I love you' in case those were the wrong words. They're not the wrong words, just too easy to say. I needed to prove it. Despite those thoughts I told him anyway. "I love you Matty." I kissed him on the cheek. "I have to get home."
He made a half hearted effort to smile. "Call me yeah?"