It was Brian Grayson's first day at university: he'd had to work hard to get there and he was looking forward to the challenge ahead. He wasn't a bad looking guy, so he was used to the admiring looks that the girls gave him sometimes: but then he spotted a girl whose gaze was far from admiring. He had seen that look before and it made him shake his head slightly and sigh.
Now there came the dilemma: say something or say nothing; he would rather say nothing and hope that it ended there; but he knew that in a place like a university, where thousands of people met and socialised every day, his next three years could be seriously impaired by the wrong words being spread around. She was still standing there on her own, so Brian slowly worked his way around to her blind-side.
"Excuse me, do you know me?" She seemed shocked, then her expression changed to one of anger, and then she started to move away from him.
"Please," he implored, "I really don't know who you are!" Her face still showed anger.
"How can you say that after what you did, Brian Grayson—I know I'll never forget you!"
"You are probably well within your rights to say that, but, please, just stay a few minutes and hear me out. You may or may not believe me, but, please, just give me those few minutes—please!"
She wasn't quite sure why, but she stayed: "Go on, then!"
"Thank you! But before I begin, can I just show you something?" He moved his hand to his forehead and lifted his fringe, revealing the long, faint scar that followed his hairline. She looked and her expression softened a little and she seemed to relax her posture.
"It's Jenny, by the way—Jenny Warner." She looked at his face, but there was no tell-tale indication that he recognised the name.
"Are you okay here, Jenny Warner, or do you want to get a coffee?"
"Well, I suppose it might be better if we sat down."
They made their way in silence across the campus to the student union building. Once there they bought their own drinks and found seats. Brian seemed reluctant to speak, so Jenny said:
"That scar obviously has something to do with this." He nodded.
"I knew as soon as I saw that look on your face that you recognised me—I've seen it before on others; but you have to believe me when I say that I have no memory of either you, or what I did to you. I'm assuming that it was something pretty horrible, though; that's what usually turns out to be the case. And although I'd probably rather not know, to be honest, I suppose that I really ought to, but let me just explain about the memory thing, first, if I may.
"Five years ago I was in France with my parents, so I've been told. My father was driving his car and I was in the front passenger seat. Anyway, there was an accident, during which both my father and I were seriously injured: I don't know all the details, but I had serious head trauma, which required brain surgery—hence the scar. Well, the upshot was that when I awoke in hospital afterwards, I had no memory of much that had happened in my life before the accident. And apparently it's gone for good, as is the damaged brain tissue, so to all intents and purposes, my life only began on that day five years ago.
"However—and this is the part that concerns you—is it all right to call you Jenny—I have subsequently found out that I used to be a complete and utter bastard and that I have done things that I now find shameful; although apparently I didn't at the time. So, Jenny, I suppose that it's time that you told me what despicable thing it was that I did to you to make you despise me."
There was a pause while Jenny took in what had been said to her and then while she considered her response. But at last she spoke:
"This is hard for me, Brian, but the counsellor I saw told me that I had to confront my fear before it would go away, so although I believe your story about your memory, if you really want to hear mine, I'll tell you; in the hope that it might do us both some good in the long run.
"We used to go to the same school, Brian, and we were even in the same classes. But as you so rightly pointed out, you were a complete arsehole and an arrogant bully, then! You had your little gang who hung around with you and tried to be as big an arsehole as you were, but everyone else tried to avoid you if they could.
"Well, it must have been just before the summer holiday when you went to France. My younger brother, Neil, and me were walking home through the park after school, when we heard laughing behind us and it was you and two of your mates: John Elias and Keith Mackintosh. I told Neil to just keep walking and ignore you, but you got closer and started to taunt us. Then you said something like: 'Why don't you send the little wimp on home and you stay here with us, Jenny Wren!' So I said, 'Sorry, Brian, we have to get home!' But you kept on at me to stay, and then Neil said: 'Why don't you piss off and leave us alone, you tosser!' Well, he was only 12, but that set you off.
"The next thing I knew, you'd dragged us off the path and into the bushes and while your brave mates held my arms, you beat the crap out of Neil! He was 12, for god sakes, and you were 14! Well, you left the poor little sod lying on the ground, sobbing, and you turned on me. 'I've always fancied you, Jenny!' you said and you tried to kiss me. I struggled, but your mates were still holding me, then you punched me in the stomach. I think the other two were a bit shocked at that, but then I heard you say: 'Hold her down, I'll show the bitch!' Then the next thing I know you're raping me! When you'd finished you said: 'You two want some of this?' But they must have been really scared and they just let go of me. The last thing that I remember you saying before you left, was: 'Keep your mouths shut unless you want more of the same!' All I could do was crawl over to Neil and cuddle him."
Jenny looked at Brian and there were tears streaming down his face. She didn't know why, but she reached across and touched his hand. He looked up at her:
"I wish it was me who died instead of my dad!"
They sat there for some time until Brian regained some of his composure.
"Can you tell me what happened after I left you in the park, Jenny—if it doesn't hurt, that is."
"No, it's okay—if you're sure."
"Okay. So, we had to come up with a plausible story: we knew my mum would want to go to the police because of Neil's beating. I could just keep quiet about what you did to me, but not about Neil. All we could think of was a half-truth: we said that there was a gang of boys we didn't know who beat him up and ran off, and that they hit me when I tried to stop them. I'm not sure if Mum really believed it, but she didn't push it.