When raised voices in the entrance hall announced the arrival of Ian, Jessica and the twins, Brad pushed the wheelchair into the hall, just in time to see Jamie dashing up the stairs.
Ian called after him, “You can’t hide forever! Let Dr Max have a look!”
Brad frowned in confusion. “What’s going on?” He looked questioningly at Kyle. “Is your brother hurt?”
“He’s been fighting!” Ian said with a scowl. “Has a beautiful shiner, but won’t tell me, or anyone, what the fight was about. Maybe you’ll have more luck!”
“Fighting? At school?”
“In the playground, apparently. You’ll probably get a call from the headmaster.”
Brad groaned. “Oh boy!” He met Kyle’s eyes. “What’s the story?”
Kyle swallowed. “I don’t know anything. I wasn’t even there. But Jamie was furious.”
“His eye looks awful,” Jessica said. “The other boy is in a higher grade. It was two of the boys in my class who pulled them apart! Then Mr Forbes took the other boy off to the school nurse. I think he was hurt!”
“Did you see what happened?” Brad asked her.
“I only saw them throwing punches at one another. Jamie had the other boy on the ground. He was so angry! And then Ian arrived to pick us up, and Jamie stormed off to the car. He won’t tell us what the fight was about.”
“I spoke to one of the teachers,” Ian said. “He told me that the other kid was a bright student, but a troublemaker, and he seemed to have no doubt who caused the fight. But Jamie’s not saying anything. I really think Dr. Max should have a look at his eye.”
Brad sighed. “I’ll go up and talk to him.” He bent to kiss Carrie. “I won’t be long, sweetheart.”
He left Ian to push Carrie through to the lounge and walked slowly up the stairs. He knocked on the door of Jamie’s room before he pushed it open.
The boy was sitting on the side of the bed, and he raised his head when Brad entered, but didn’t speak.
Brad was shocked when he saw the state of his face. The bloodshot eye was half-closed, the bruise around it almost purple, and it was swollen badly. And there was another bruise on his cheek.
“Wow! Looks like you’ve been in the wars! Dr. Max will need to see that! What happened?”
Jamie lowered his head again, swallowing. “They must have told you! There was a fight!”
Brad frowned. “Yes, I heard that. But I want to know why!”
When Jamie remained silent, Brad sat down on the bed next to him. “What was the fight about?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“You think not? You fight with someone for something that doesn’t matter?”
Brad put his hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “The sooner you tell me, the sooner we can go down for tea.” A pause, then, “You’re not a fighter, Jamie! Who threw the first punch?”
Jamie wet his lips. “Yes, really. He deserved it!” he said angrily
“Why is that? What did he do?”
Brad sighed. “C’mon, Jamie. Talk to me.”
There was still silence. Brad sighed again.
“Ok, I’ll wait!”
“He just said something that made me cross, ok?” Jamie sounded as if he was almost in tears. “Please, Brad. Just leave it!”
“What did he say?’”
“I said leave it!” Jamie’s voice had risen, then he seemed to realise to whom he was talking, and swallowed hard. “Sorry Brad! Please leave it now!”
After another minute of silence, Brad stood up again. “Come Jamie. Let’s see what Dr. Max says about your eye!”
“It’s all right. Doesn’t hurt!”
“Nevertheless, I want Max to check it out! Come!”
He noticed the torn sleeve of Jamie’s blazer as the boy stood, and scowled. “You boys certainly went at each other, it seems. Are you hurt anywhere else?”
Jamie hung his head. “No. I’m fine. I - I have another blazer.” He grunted. “I need to change out of my uniform.”
Brad waited until his brother had thrown on a T-shirt and a pair of denim jeans.
They met Max, medical bag in hand, as they were going downstairs. He grinned. “Quite a bruise you have there! Ian said I should look at it.”
“I’m ok.” Jamie muttered.
“Hmm. So, who won the fight? Hope the other kid looks worse than you do!” He laughed. “Although that’s not a good thing for a doctor to say, is it?”
“It’s no laughing matter, Max!” Brad growled. “Punching somebody doesn’t solve anything.” Then he grinned. “Unless you have strong arms like me, and are fast enough to know you won’t get punched back.”
While Max took Jamie off to examine his eye, Brad went into the lounge. Luke and Vicki were there now, chatting to Carrie, and it was clear that Ian had already told them about the fight. He shrugged when they asked him if he knew what Jamie had been fighting about.
“He won’t tell me. Something the other boy said upset him. He’s still upset so I’ll leave it for now. But I’ll get the truth out of him eventually.”
“Do you want me to talk to him?” Carrie asked quietly. “I’m still a qualified psychologist, even in a wheelchair!” She smiled. “I’m not saying that he needs a psychologist, just that I might be able to draw the story out of him.”
Brad shrugged again. “You can try, I suppose. He’s tight-lipped about it right now. He’s trying not to show it, but I think he’s still angry.”
Luke frowned. “Jamie is such a quiet boy. He wouldn’t get angry for nothing! Whatever the other boy said must’ve been pretty awful.”
“Doesn’t Kyle know?” Vicki asked.
“He wasn’t there, apparently.”
The conversation ended abruptly when Nanny brought in the tea-trolley, and the rest of the family joined them for tea. When Max brought Jamie in, the boy had a patch over his swollen eye, and Sarah pulled on Brad’s hand.
“Look Daddy. Uncle Jamie a pirate!”
Everyone laughed, except Jamie. He just shrugged and slumped into one of the armchairs close to the window. He wouldn’t answer any questions put to him about the fight, merely muttering angrily that he didn’t want to talk about it. To please Sarah, he nibbled on one of the biscuits that she had made, but it was obvious that he was extremely dejected.
Tea had almost finished when Brad’s mobile phone rang. He glanced at the caller identity and moved quickly into the study before he took the call.
When he emerged, only Carrie and her uncle were still in the lounge, and the expression on his face was dark.
“That was the school principal. It seems he managed to get the whole story from the other kid and his friends. I can understand why Jamie doesn’t want to speak about it! In fact, I’m a bit shaky myself after hearing it!”
Max frowned. “You look almost as angry as Jamie did. And he wouldn’t tell me a thing!”
“Was it bad, love? Jamie didn’t start the fight, did he?” Carrie asked.
Brad wet his lips, and sighed. “Not exactly. The other kid has some anger issues!” He sighed again, deeply. “Apparently Greg Holloway himself took an assembly before the bell rang. Jamie had written an essay in R.I., which was, as Greg put it, outstanding! So, he read it out to the school.
“The kid apparently took exception to this, and in the playground afterwards he said something derogatory about people’s faith in a God that doesn’t exist! Jamie tried to ignore him, but then the kid grabbed him by the arm and - ” he swallowed, his expression darkening, “and said some very insulting things about - about this family. Jamie reacted the same way I would have done! He threw a punch, - hit the kid right in face. They fought for a few minutes before a couple of senior boys pulled them apart. Alan Forbes took the other kid off to the school nurse as he was bleeding quite a bit.”
“Is Jamie in trouble?” Carrie asked quietly.
“Not at all! Greg is as angry with the other kid as Jamie, - as I am! More because of his bad language than anything else! But what he said about my family is definitely unacceptable!” He sighed. “This is turning out to be a day when my temper needs extra control! What next?”
He left Carrie in the lounge with her uncle, and walked briskly up the stairs to Jamie’s room. When he tapped on the door, he heard Jamie say angrily, “Go away, Kyle. I don’t want to talk about it!”
Brad pushed open the door, and stepped into the room, darting back to avoid the book that Jamie threw. It crashed against the wall, as the stunned boy sat up on the bed.
“Oh, wow! S-sorry! I didn’t know it was you! Sorry Brad!”
Brad picked up the book. “I guessed! You DO NOT throw books, however angry you are.”
Jamie said nothing, merely hung his head. Brad put the book on the desk and sat down on the bed next to him.
“I’ve just had a long conversation with your headmaster. I do understand why you don’t want to talk about this, but perhaps you’d like to tell me your side of the story?”
“Am I in big trouble?”
“Not with me! I’d have acted the same way as you did!”
Jamie lifted his eyes and scanned Brad’s face. “What - what did Mr .Holloway tell you? How does he know what happened? He wasn’t there!”
“He didn’t need to be! The other boys were quite talkative, it seems. And the boy you punched was so angry, that his language was - rather vulgar. Your headmaster is talking about expelling him!”
Jamie swallowed. “He - he swears a lot! But - but I don’t think he has a good life! His - his brother’s in jail!”
“I know. Do you know why that is, Jamie?”
The boy scowled, nodding. “Yes. I do now! I know it was Ryan’s brother who raped Jessie! Did - did Mr. Holloway tell you what he said about you - and about Jess?”
“He did. Now I want you to tell me!”
Jamie drew in his breath sharply, his eyes large. “I - I can’t say those words! You’d kill me!”
That made Brad smile. “You can miss out the swear words!”
For a moment Jamie was silent, then he said, “We don’t usually take much notice when Ryan says horrible things to us. He’s awful to everybody! Kyle and I thought it’s because he’s unhappy at home. We’ve tried being nice to him but he hates us. I - I didn’t know why until today!” He swallowed. “I think he was cross when Mr. Holloway read out my essay to the school. It was about faith and prayer, and he - he always says that there is no God!”
He shuddered. “He tried to trip me in the playground, and he started taunted me about my essay. He said you were a - a liar and trying to pretend that you were healed by a non-existent God. Then he - he told me you’d fired his brother for no reason. H said it was Jessie’s fault his brother was in jail. He - he called her ……”
Tears filled the eye not covered by the patch, and rolled down his cheek. He brushed them away impatiently and went on. “He said she was a - a - a whore! And other horrible names! I - I was too shocked and angry to think, Brad! I punched him in the face. He - he’s bigger than me but I was - out of control. Even when he hit me in the eye, I didn’t stop punching him, until some boys pulled me off him. He was bleeding! Am I - am I in trouble?”
He was crying now, and Brad put his arm around his shoulders. “For defending your sister? I would have knocked his head off! Of course you’re not in trouble! I’m proud of you.”
“How could he say that about her?” he sobbed, shaking with emotion. “It wasn’t Jessie’s fault that his brother - r-raped her. I’m still so very mad, and I don’t know how to get rid of this anger in me! Have I got a temper like you?”
Brad gave a short laugh. “I very much doubt that! Relax Jamie. Just take deep breaths. Do you want to talk to Carrie? She always seems to be able to calm me down when I get angry!”
The boy raised his head, brushing away hot tears. He tried a smile, and won. “You’re obsessed with Carrie. We all know that!” He looked into Brad’s face. “Do you think she’d mind? I mean, she isn’t well! I don’t want to - to burden her with my problems. I - I actually feel a bit better after talking to you. But I don’t want the - the whole family to know what happened. I mean, I don’t want Jess to hear what he called her!”
“Jessie won’t hear anything from me,” Brad said gently. “Nobody will. Carrie doesn’t even discuss with me what people tell her privately when she counsels them. And I’m sure she’d be able to help you get some perspective of your feelings.”
“Will - will you ask her? If she doesn’t want to, I’ll understand!”
Brad smiled. “I’ll bring her up here. Try to relax, Jamie.”
He stopped at the door and looked back at his young brother. “I’m sure there are quite a few people who don’t believe that God exists. That’s very sad! I hope it doesn’t shake your faith, Jamie?”
Jamie shrugged. “How could it? I have a brother whose miraculous healing stuns even the doctors! It can only be Almighty God.”
Brad’s heart was heavy as he went back downstairs. He would never let his family know that even he was losing the faith that he thought was unshakeable.