Still Waters Run Deep
The other lads didn’t mind him much, one way or the other. He was never so forceful that he annoyed anyone. Although quiet he sometimes said something reasonably witty, sharp, to the point. He usually smiled and it was easy to have him around. Everyone else was too absorbed with themselves to notice much or care much anyway.
There was a lot of preening to be done. Not that they would call it that, or think of it as such. When they were younger they would impress the girls, they thought, by pulling their hair then running away. Later, growing physical imperatives led to bouts of sudden semi-feigned wrestling, miniature trials of strength, challenges that rarely led anywhere.
Fundamentally they were too close as friends for too long to allow anyone to be seriously hurt If they had ever thought about such things that is the conclusion they would likely have to come to.
Rarely, however, did their thoughts run so deep.
Tim, however had a knack, a flair for deeper thought. At times he felt this a blessing, frequently it felt like a curse. He once told a girl that he could remember a moment when he had really started thinking, as if a switch in his head had been pressed and there was no way he could turn it off again. He wasn’t sure if she understood, something he often experienced.
More literate and absorbed by literature than the others with their horse play, he often saw and felt things differently, as far as he could tell. All too often, when his friends indulged in elaborate attention seeking situations in the presence of girls, he could be seen smiling away to himself.
Saying little, never joining in, no threat to anyone he was deemed to be simply happy enough and easy to be around.
Making connections, seeing one thing in another, these were the ways he thought, tried to understand the world.
The antics of the others often reminded him of Tom Sawyer walking barefoot, precariously balanced, along a white picket fence, to attract the attention of, to impress, the golden curls of Becky Thatcher.
The antics differed, the motives remained the same.
As time went he would occasionally notice someone among the girls quietly watching him quietly watching the others. When they both noticed each other’s awareness he found it easy to maintain eye contact. Easy to smile in a different, more knowing way. A slight toss of girlish hair, a hand brushing away stray lock behind an ear was often the signal to look away, to close the moment.
The language of such signals was one he found it easy and natural to read. He could always recall such an incident later and so a girl became in his eyes different from others. Such brief contact was often enough for him to build on later, to seek out ways and means of becoming closer.
Observing girls he had come to learn that their behaviours were really just feminine versions of the boyish boisterousness he had grown up with. The same competitive jostling for status and notice was there. The weapons of choice were different. Where the girls were more subtle, the boys were more direct.
Colours and styles were their battlegrounds. In trying to outshine each other they tried to sparkle in the eyes of their target audience. Tim noticed that their very best efforts, being directed more among themselves, were often totally unnoticed by his friends. Absorbed in their own competitions they were mostly too busy to notice the pearls laid at their feet.
Over time pairings parted from the others, became besotted for a while before couples uncoupled and returned to their prospective groups.
Little eddies and whirlpools of gossip flowed from these pairing. Tim was initially unsure of his bearings, these were after all uncharted waters for them all.
Sooner than others he found his depth.
The secret was simple. Listen carefully, that way he could take soundings. Quietly he listened, quietly he heard much. Often it was an expression of gratitude.
“You’re such a good listener! Why can’t he be like you!”
Tear falls ended in kisses laid upon his cheeks, accompanied by bright eyed smiles before his latest confidante slipped away again. He learned much, absorbed more, pondered the rest with his usual quiet thoroughness.
As the quiet listener he heard all the boasting the boys did. The crude commentary they gave on the girls they had been with he found distasteful. There was much discussion of what they would do, given half a chance.
Anyone asked, “did you?” always replied, “I did!”
For all their coded language of delight Tim increasingly noticed that in the actual presence of their female friends, for the most part they fell silent. They became tongue tied, bashfully grinning at each other. All the while the girls chatted away among themselves.
Small wonder then that Tim so often heard, “you’re such a good listener.”
When his friends asked him how he got on he would say with smile and a shrug, ‘oh you know, all right.” Perceived as no threat, not quite part of the game, he was then politely ignored.
Inwardly he would remember from some old film he could never quite recall, “ a gentleman does not kiss and tell.”
He would savour the phrase, rolling it around on his tongue.
There was always a lot of kissing, a lot more than kissing and he never did tell.
Tim may have held his tongue but the girls, being girls, did not. Even the good listener never heard what tales were passed around among themselves, what details revealed. They all knew who was sloppy, who was awkward and clumsy, above all who to watch out for.
One of the boys, once, came close to a truth but failed to understand. Asking his girlfriend about Tim and the girls she said with a knowing smile, “still waters run deep.”