Everyone was kind. So very kind. Grandmere. The doctors and nurses, who didn't dress like doctors and nurses at all. The teachers, and usually even the horrible other children, at school. The milkman, the postman, the bus conductor, Mr Reddy at the village shop, Pat who came to do the cleaning twice a week: even his older brother, when he was home from school, treated him with unfamiliar gentleness, which made him feel looked down upon.
He was sick to death of kindness. Always a festering, resentful anger, just below the surface, that they should dare to show him pity, all of them, acting so kindly, as if they were the strong ones and he was weak, and there was nothing he could do about it. So sick of kindness. So much so that he felt a paradoxical gratitude when Wayne, the school bully, bored of restraint, taunted him about his Mum "in the nut house", giving the bottled up rage a chance to escape.
He had hit Wayne as hard as he could with a rock. Wayne, much bigger than him, had retaliated of course, but he had had the initiative, and all those months of karate training, meant to enforce discipline in him, instead allowed him to lose control entirely. When they dragged him off, screaming and flailing, both of them were bleeding freely. Wayne needed stitches.
Now people added speaking in hushed tones around him to their list of annoying habits. His brother was called home from school to speak to him. He expected, at least now, to be disciplined. Yet his brother was still kind. Why couldn't everything go back to the way it had been, before Mum got ill, before Father decided it was all too much, and upped and left?
He wanted to sit with Mum, and accompany her on his violin, she on the piano, until the outside world, with its taunts and expectations faded away, leaving only the abstract, logical yet beautiful, world of music. She was the strong one, the strict one, yet the one from whom a word of praise meant more than when it came from anyone else. And failing that, his brother could always be depended on to enforce rules and generally be a stable rock in a world that disturbed him by its ever changing nature, but who now came into his bedroom, and was standing there with that sheep-like, kind expression on his face.
"Mike." He kept his tone haughty, cagey, trying desperately to provoke a more normal response from his older sibling.
"Your face is quite a mess, little brother, isn't it?" He followed this infuriatingly obvious statement by tenderly brushing the hair off Will's forehead.
"You're putting on weight again, big brother, aren't you?"
Mike sighed. "It isn't working, you and Grandmere, is it? She is finding you hard to cope with, and it sounds like things aren't much better at school. Mr Wright tells me you have become far more… difficult… recently."
"Mr Wright's stupid! He's never liked me anyway!" Will couldn't help himself from indignantly retorting to injustice, especially when it originated from his despised schoolmaster.
"The first point is unfortunately true, but perhaps if you made your belief that it is so a little less evident, the second point may not have been so also. Belittling one's teachers is not the expected behaviour at primary school."
Will took a moment to work this out, then scowled. Mike was still using his soft voice, and it just made the world seem more splintered and out of kilter. Too many sights, colours, observations, all crushing in at once, and it was too much without some external source of order.
Mike had walked to look out of the window. He then turned, and began speaking again, and his voice was a little more normal.
"Grandmere does not feel able to continue looking after both you and Mummy, Will. She is old, and her health won't allow for a recalcitrant grandson and a sick daughter. She has asked me to make alternative arrangements for you."
Will brightened at this a little, pushing thoughts of Grandmere to the back of his mind for now.
"Can I come to school with you?"
Mike sighed. "No, you know they don't take boys until they're thirteen…" Will opened his mouth, but his brother forestalled him with a raised finger "… and before you say it, I know you are far more intelligent than the average thirteen year old, but they are inflexible on this point. There are many other differences between nine year olds and thirteen year olds, which you will learn as you grow older."
"So, what then", gritted out Will, as rudely as he was able.
"I would like you to stay at Oakweald; if only for your music. I feel you need a stronger hand on the rudder, though. Fortunately, Mummy's trust fund is for just this sort of contingency. Grandmere and Uncle Avery both agree that it would be appropriate to release enough funds to allow Uncle Avery to transfer his work here and to look after you.
Will leapt to his feet, smiling for the first time in what felt like weeks. "Uncle Avery's coming to live here? Really? When's he coming?"
Mike was smiling at him. "I thought you'd be pleased. He'll be arriving on Friday evening, late, after your bedtime – and don't think to ask if you can stay up – you know what he'd say!"
Will grinned beatifically. His Uncle Avery was his favourite relative after Mum and Mike. A formidable figure of a man at six feet four inches, which, to the small-for-his-age Will made him a giant. He was rigorously intellectual, and would always teach his nephews many new and interesting things whenever he visited. He had a booming, incredibly infectious laugh, and he laughed often. He was magnificently athletic, and would take Will on the most amazing countryside walks, pushing him into climbing the local cliffs and running down steep slopes keeping his balance – he never fussed or allowed petty things like danger to put him off. He was also strict, and quite a harsh disciplinarian, and, far from resenting the authority as he normally would, in the confusing world he was in at the moment, Will wanted someone strong, and wanted to be led.
On Saturday morning, he rushed to embrace his dressing-gown clad Uncle (after knocking politely at his door, of course), and laughed ecstatically as he was lifted up and swung around. Later that day, they went for one of those amazing walks, and they climbed the disused Deep Dene Quarry together, with no safety gear. It was exhilarating. His Uncle also promised to "beat the living daylights out of him" if he got into any more inappropriate fights, or exhibiting any more unacceptable behaviour. It was wonderful.
As Will walked to school the following Monday, his suspension for fighting over, he truly felt happy for the first time in ages, and was sure that nothing so good short of Mum getting well again could have happened to him. Had anyone told him how wrong he was, how appallingly, horrendously, disastrously, tragically wrong, it is doubtful he would have believed them.
An ominous beginning. I had better warn you, it is deserved. Things start to get very dark in the next chapter – nothing graphic, but possibly very upsetting.
Please read and review so far.