Rumours and Insecurities
November 2011 – fifteen years old.
The anti-septic stung, making Tim hiss as it was dabbed onto his bleeding knuckles.
Blue eyes flicked up to his face, a wry smile quirking up the corner of Ant’s mouth. ‘You know Genie is better at this than I am,’ he said.
‘Yeah,’ said Tim, wincing as the cotton ball dabbed at a particularly nasty scrape. ‘But she always seems so disappointed.’
Plastic bottles thudded against each other as Ant searched for another cream.
‘Nope. You’re reliably happy to see me.’
Ant rolled his eyes, but Tim caught sight of the faint flush creeping up his friend’s neck and grinned.
‘Besides, you don’t lecture me.’
‘That’s because you don’t listen, not because I want you to keep fighting.’
‘Yeah, well… shit happens.’
Again, that same flick of blue eyes. ‘What was it this time? Did someone call the twins crazy again?’
‘No,’ he said curtly. ‘And I haven’t hit anyone for that in ages.’
‘You put glue in Amy Mitchell’s hair three weeks ago.’
‘Tch. That bitch,’ he sniffed. ‘She had it coming.’
Ant rolled his eyes, but Tim detected a hint of amusement. He grinned, knowing he’d gotten away with it; knowing that Ant understood. Ant and the others couldn’t always stand up for themselves, so, Tim did it for them. Sometimes that meant getting a bit rough, even if Tim knew the others wouldn’t approve.
‘You still haven’t told me what happened,’ said Ant, pausing as he studied the gash across Tim’s left eyebrow. ‘Your mum is going to kill you.’
Tim wrinkled his nose at the strong, bitter smell wafting from the cotton ball. Careful, as if Tim were a tiny child and not the six foot, athletic troublemaker he really was, Ant brushed the cotton ball across the shallow wound.
Tim sucked in a sharp breath between his teeth. ‘Yeah, well, shit happens,’ he said again.
Ant pulled the cotton ball away, brows furrowed in concern. ‘This is worse than usual, Tim. This wasn’t about Michelle’s brother, was it?’
Tim barked out a laugh, leaning back on the edge of the bath he was sitting on. ‘You heard about that, huh?’
‘You getting caught with your girlfriend’s brother? Yeah, the whole school has heard about that, Tim.’
Tim pretended not to notice the undertone of jealousy in Ant’s voice.
‘I couldn’t help it. He was flirting with me.’
‘Put this on,’ said Ant, thrusting a box of bandaids at him.
‘Oh, c’mon Ant, you ain’t mad at me are you?’
‘Why would I be mad?’
Tim sighed, thinking of at least a dozen reasons why—half of which Tim was the cause of. Still, angry or not, Ant was as gentle as he ever was.
‘There’s been a few comments at school about it. About you and Ben.’
‘Everyone knows that Ben is gay but…’
‘Now they think I am?’ Tim asked, flicking Ant a grin.
Ant frowned but nodded.
Tim shrugged. ‘Let them think what they like. It doesn’t bother me.’
‘Doesn’t it?’ Ant asked, and gestured to the various scrapes and bruises from this latest tussle.
‘This had nothing to do with Ben,’ Tim said, feeling the coil of anger unwind in his gut as he thought about what had set him off. ‘They can say what they like about me but if they call my friends—’ he cut himself off sharply, dropping his gaze to the small, well used first aid kit Ant always kept handy.
Ant sighed. ‘It was about the twins.’
Tim paused. He didn’t want to lie to Ant, but he also didn’t want to cause hurt he knew the truth would inflict.
He gritted his teeth, feeling the echo of adrenaline and fury tingle along his skin. His fists clenched, remembering the scene again.
He hadn’t been looking for a fight—especially not against three of them—but he just couldn’t hold it back. The words still rang around his head.
‘Oi faggot, bet you screw around with the copper’s kid too. Follows you around like a love-sick queerboy. Bet he lets you do all sorts of—’
‘There,’ said Ant, zipping up the first aid kit. ‘That’s all done. I can’t hide the bruises like Genie does, but you can hang out here ’til your Mum goes to work if you want?’
‘What about your Mum?’
‘She has some church thing on. It’s just me ’til later tonight. I was gonna catch up with Freddie on the x-box.’
Tim grinned, bouncing up to his feet as if he hadn’t just gone two rounds with three beefed up losers.
‘You’re on, what’re we playing?’
The next day at school there were about twenty new rumours about Tim’s sexuality but none—not a single one—involved his shy, insecure best friend.
To Tim, that was all that mattered.