by Leo Gillard
The sunlight was streaming through the trees, dappling the ground with ever-shifting patterns. As they walked, Sasha in front and Zach next to him just behind her, leaves steadily fell from the trees with every gust of wind. Further off in the distance, Arthur could hear Willow somewhere in the stream. Well, he presumed that she was the source of the splashing noise.
‘And you’re sure you feel fine about tomorrow?’ Arthur asked. He felt bad, honestly. Finally, after what felt like a very long time of waiting, the school term was starting and Zach would be able to go. But he couldn’t go along and make sure everything was okay because he had a meeting he really couldn’t change.
Normally, he wouldn’t worry about this kind of thing. Zach was sixteen; he was perfectly capable of going to something he was required to attend. He’d gotten a lot better about it, over the last handful of months. But Arthur knew how much the support meant, and how big this was for him. He felt bad that he couldn’t share the achievement.
‘Yeah, I’m sure,’ Zach said. ‘Completely sure. I’ll be fine, because there’s no reason for it really to go wrong. It’s just like before, but in a smaller room, right? That’s nothing to worry about.’
‘You don’t need to dismiss how you’re feeling,’ he said firmly. ‘It’s okay to be nervous.’
‘But if I was, there’s not much that can be done about it,’ Zach said immediately. Arthur supposed he was right. There wasn’t much that could be done. At some point, he had to face up to that nervousness and keep going. And tomorrow would bring him a whole lot closer to being able to do it on a much larger scale.
‘No, you’re right,’ he said, whistling for Willow as the sounds of splashing got further away. A few seconds later, her head popped up in the distance at the edge of the stream and she came closer, stopping only briefly to shake all the water onto the three of them before bounding off again. ‘But I’ll be concerned on your behalf anyway.’
‘Thank you?’ Zach said, a hint of nervousness entering his laughter. ‘I really will be fine, though. I guess I have to step out into the light at some point and actually know people again at some point.’
Arthur glanced up at the sky, watching the light filter down through the trees again. ‘Don’t feel pressured to,’ he said. It was a redundant statement; of course Zach felt pressured. He probably felt lonely, for one, not that he ever admitted it. But everyone felt a pressure to be open about themselves, at least to some degree. He didn’t want Zach to feel like that, even if it was inevitable to some extent.
Zach shrugged. ‘I do,’ he said. ‘I feel like if I’m not open with people, I’m basically just lying to them. And it’s important to tell people the truth, because if you don’t, then…they get the wrong idea about you. And you’ve had no influence on the opinion they form of you.’
Arthur nodded. It was difficult. Obviously, Zach didn’t want people to get the wrong idea about him. Especially coming, as he was, to a school where no one knew him, with a lot of things in his life that he really shouldn’t talk about, if only for his own safety. It was no wonder he felt like he was lying, like people saw him as someone he wasn’t. ‘It’s not lying,’ he said.
‘What?’ Zach asked. ‘It’s literally not telling the truth. That’s the definition of lying.”
‘No one has an obligation to know every detail of where you’ve come from, Zach,’ he said. Sasha had slowed down a little in front of them, drawing closer to listen. ‘That’s something you decide to share, and only if you want to. Sometimes… coming out into the light isn’t always the safest thing to do, or the best for your happiness.’
‘It worked before,’ he said, sounding a little bit snippy. He wanted to be right; that much, Arthur could understand. Of course he wanted to be right, but this wasn’t the kind of thing to be right about.
‘Being open about things was how you ended up here,’ Arthur conceded. ‘But that doesn’t mean you need to bare every emotion to everyone you meet. Sometimes it’s better to keep things in the dark, and keep them to yourself, for your own sake. Your feelings belong to you, not anyone else.’
Zach opened his mouth to protest, and closed it again, looking down at the ground. ‘I get it,’ he said after a couple of moments. His voice was much quieter than before, and for a moment, Arthur worried that he’d said the wrong thing. He believed what he said, of course, but just as he’d said, sometimes you had to keep things in the dark.
‘It’s a tough lesson to learn,’ he said, trying to keep his voice as gentle as possible. ‘You’re free to tell people as much or as little about yourself as you want, is what I mean. I didn’t mean to pressure you into keeping everything shut up inside.’
‘No, I mean that I get it,’ Zach said, sounding a little more sure of himself now. ‘It’s like… things being in the light, things being the truth, it’s meant to be good. And then the opposite of light is dark, and that’s meant to be bad. But keeping things in the dark means no one knows, and that doesn’t have to be bad just because no light is shed on it.’
Arthur nodded. ‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘Or it could be like this.’ He waved his hands upwards.
‘Like…this?’ Zach asked, a confused frown on his face as he looked directly at the entirely nondescript tree Arthur had inadvertently gestured to.
‘The light is coming through the leaves,’ he explained, and Sasha and Zach made a soft ‘oh’ noise in unison. ‘Like that, the trees sort of decide which things are shown, and which things are hidden, from the light. And as time goes on, different things will show. With the passing of seasons, the light might show anything, or nothing will change, but that doesn’t mean evergreen trees are bad, does it?’
‘I think your metaphor is about two prying questions from falling apart,’ Sasha said with a chuckle, and Arthur shot them both a smile.
‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘But it worked on the spot, right?’ Zach only nodded in response, a huge smile on his face. It was a good sight.