I started to see Jackson between almost every lesson and during meals he stared at me. It wanted to tell Zach. I met him in town on that second Sunday and opened my mouth but Jackson was walking towards me at that very moment. He grinned at my shocked face but looked ahead as he strutted past.
Zach’s eyes widened. ‘Is he your…?’ I nodded. His jaw dropped and his friends raised their eyebrows. Before anyone could speak, three boys fell out of the sweet shop and Zach disappeared inside.
Jackson owed me only one stroke, but I lived in fear of that stroke. By the look on Zach’s face, I knew Jackson Oatridge had a reputation. He said he’d let me off, but could he change his mind? I worried he would go mad and hit me more: I wouldn’t tell anyone. I wrote home on Saturday. I didn’t mention Jackson, I felt like he was standing behind me. I made the letter sugary, almost too perfect. Just how Jackson would have wanted, that’s what I told myself. I played rugby in the afternoon. Normally I was good, but I could feel his eyes on my skin and made more mistakes. ‘He’s watching you’ my imagination told me. I didn’t go to town on Sunday for fear of seeing him again. I was lying on my bed reading a book, alone, when the door swung open and banged against the wall.
‘Anyone in here?’ The voice froze me. Then he quickly turned to the other Upper Fourth Former.
‘No one here. You move onto the Middle Fourth Form dorms, I’ll finish these ones and we’ll meet outside.’ I willed for Jackson to leave but he sat on the bed next to me and called my name. I sat up.
‘Riddley, you’re supposed to be outside after lunch or in the Grand hall if it’s raining. Mr Newbury sent me to look for you rule-breakers’ There was that snake smile again. I started to shake until he put his hand on my arm. ‘I’m not going to cane you. Just don’t do it again.’ His smile softened. If he was being so nice, why was I so afraid? Then he dropped his arm and stood up. ‘I hope to be seeing more of you in the future, Thomas.’ I shuddered when he said my first name. He grinned and walked out. I couldn’t work out if he wanted to be friends, or simply petrify me. He was being very friendly, but seemed to enjoy my fear. Or maybe he was laughing at me for being scared of nothing. When he left, I ran to the window. He was immediately outside, leaving no time to check the other Lower Fourth Form dorms at all.
The next night, a hand clapped over my mouth, stifling my scream. A whisper brushed my ear. ‘Don’t tell anyone about our conversation we had yesterday.’ I hadn’t told a soul, I knew Jackson Oatridge better than that. But the whisper panicked me. Had I told someone by accident? I couldn’t work out why he was telling me now. Nothing bad was said the day before. Only that he wouldn’t cane me, and I knew that should never be repeated. I was wished a good night’s sleep. For the hours before morning, I forgot what that was.
The whisper came the next night as well. It told me to open my eyes. He was there next to me, kneeling on the floor. His face was so close our noses were almost touching.
‘Don’t move’ he muttered so quietly I could hardly hear him. He grabbed my right arm from under the covers and lifted a pen knife from his blazer pocket, which he wore over his pyjamas. Gripping my wrist, he made a small horizontal cut across it and did the same on his own. Then he held our wrists together, murmuring under his breath. I was too shocked to do anything but watch. He looked into my eyes angrily. I fell asleep, so I have no idea how long he stayed at my bedside that night.