Where Do I Fit In?

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 17

Throughout this story real organisations and real people are mentioned by name. Their place in the tale is in the author's imagination. No thoughts, words or deeds attributed to those people or organisations are real, nor have they ever happened. This is a story! It's fiction. The people and organisations, even when they interact with the characters, are presented in an entirely imagined and fictitious manner, and no discourtesy is intended to them by the author nor by the web site.

Benny saw us as we walked through the doors into the changing room and tried to cover up the damp patch on his trousers but he knew it was a futile gesture.

"I'm so sorry! It just happened and it wasn't anything to do about being up on stage, it was the relief of getting off it!"

I left it to Lucas to quieten him down.

"Look buddy. No shame, okay? Where are you supposed to be this period?"

"Here. We have sports until break which is why I didn't go back to my homeroom."

"Right. You go get changed into your PE kit and we'll sort your pants and undies, you know, try and get them cleaned up an' all."

Just at that moment Mr Rogers walked through the door.

"What's going on here boys? Aren't you supposed to be elsewhere?"

"Yes sir, we're supposed to be at Maths with Mr Appleby but when Benny scarpered so quickly after addressing the school, well we were worried about him. You see he had a bit of a personal accident. He wet himself so he's round at the lockers getting changed into his PE kit and we were going to rinse his trousers through and get them on a radiator to dry out."

"Okay. That's very good of you. Mr Appleby's a good man so I'll phone him and tell him you've been delayed. No need for a radiator, there's a drier in the equipment store so rinse everything through, chuck them in the drier and set it to run on high temperature for fifty minutes then get to your class. I'll have a little word with our Benny. Now get going!"

Mr Rogers found Benny just as he'd finished changing. He saw Mr Rogers walk around the corner and froze.

"I'm sorry sir, I couldn't help it? Please don't be angry with me?"

"I'm not angry, I sympathise with you as it happens or should that be empathise. Sit yourself down and I'll tell you why.

You see, when I was about the same age as you, the same thing happened to me. It was one of those horrible things we teachers have you do called speech day where you have to stand up in front of the class and talk on a subject for ten minutes. I had an accident just as you did and I was only talking to my classmates, not the entire school so don't be concerned. Andy and Lucas are sorting your clothes out so they'll be dry by break time. Anyway, I think you did a fine job this morning. Very few kids of your age would have the courage to do what you did so you have good reason to be proud of yourself.

While we have a few moments, there is one other thing I want to ask you. Do you know Paul Radcliffe?"

"Yes sir, he's part of our study club."

"Oh yes, of course he is! Anyway, the other evening at one of our training sessions, he mentioned that you might be interested in pursuing a sport of your own, not diving or Basketball but maybe something different?"

"Well I do sort of look up to those guys, I envy them maybe but given I'm only little, I don't know what I might be suited to."

"There is one discipline where your lack of stature is a positive advantage and that's gymnastics. How would you feel about having a try-out?"

"Wow! Really? Aren't I a bit young for that?"

"Absolutely not! You see we have Lucas and Andy who have been joined by Paul and Lorain, both their disciplines, formation diving and Basketball require a level of gymnastics training and coaching, in their cases mainly to maintain their fitness and agility so we have professional coaches to put them through their paces so if you were assessed and judged good enough to join them, how would you feel about that?"

"Oh gosh……..I don't know? I mean yes I'd love to give it a go sir, I really would!"

"Great! When you get home this afternoon, have a chat with your parents and if they're agreeable, come and see me and we can make arrangements for you to come down to Christchurch where I can introduce you to Alec McBride and see where we go from there. I'd better go and get changed myself before the other kids arrive but remember what I told you. Don't worry about what happened earlier, no one need know about it and also I'd appreciate it if you didn't go around the school telling everyone about my little secret!"

"I wouldn't do that sir, believe me!"

"Only joking. I know you wouldn't!"

Benny's appeal to the school slowly bore fruit. A trickle of kids turned into a steady stream of those willing to participate and after a couple of weeks there were in excess of three hundred of them taking part and before too long the press had picked up on it and Mr Fairbairn was under some pressure to give an interview.

It had been decided that it was best to tackle this before it got out of hand and so one day shortly after lunch, those of us who were involved were summoned to the assembly hall where a group photograph was taken with Mr Fairbairn and Benny standing right at the front with Mr Fairbairn's hand on Benny's shoulder.

We were none of us asked to participate with the interview but when it was published, Mr Fairbairn had gone to great lengths to emphasise that the idea hadn't come from any member of staff but was entirely that of the students which we thought was a nice thing to do.

"The first time I was made aware that they'd dreamed up this project was when I was approached by some of the students who thought it would be a good thing if it were done with the blessing of the school in a way that gave it credibility. The entire project is managed by the kids and apart from providing them with whatever encouragement they feel they need from us, there is no staff involvement whatsoever, we're completely on the side-lines.

He was then asked if there was a student committee overseeing it all.

"Not as such. Mostly it seems to be a spontaneous thing although I realise they discuss progress and pool various ideas but the only evidence of an organised structure is that they have a single spokesperson by the name of Benjamin Sorensen, one of our younger students and it's he who makes the appeals for support and announces the regular updates to the school during assembly. He also liaises with me and undertakes to resolve any issues that may arise." Then asked if this was unusual and might it not be better for a senior student to undertake that responsibility, he answered thus.

"I can see why you might think that way although I see no justification for it. Benjamin is the type of lad who is confident in his approach but always seems to have the ability to get the most from his fellows so actually, I think he's the ideal person to head this venture." And so it went on, a positive and interesting piece of journalism.

Benny had tried out and had been accepted for a training place alongside the four of us and typical of everything he did, he put his heart and soul into it, grateful for the chance to prove, not only to himself but to everyone around him that despite his stature, he was capable of so much more.

He not only had a natural flair for gymnastics, his infectious laugh and boundless energy made him a firm favourite amongst the coaching team although he had great difficulty in addressing Mr Rogers as Tony. He soon got out of the habit of calling him 'sir' but except on a few rare occasions, it was always 'Mr Rogers' but better that way than to slip up during school and calling him by his first name.

During December the weather changed becoming much colder with overnight frosts and snow showers replacing rain to the point where it became tricky to jog anywhere due the iced up pavements so instead we opted to cycle and substituted our missed exercise by using the schools running track which the groundsman regularly cleared. Not ideal but better than the alternative which was nothing!

Christmas was also fast approaching and that found Lucas and I on the bus heading into Gloucester City centre to do our Christmas shopping.

We'd already agreed that we weren't going to give presents to each other so it just left us to buy for immediate family and friends. For me, Jo and Simon were easy as they were saving up to get married in around eighteen months so as they'd set up a special bank account, the obvious thing was to make a decent deposit.

Mum and dad were always difficult to buy for as they always insisted that they didn't want anything or what they asked for was inexpensive but now all our free time had been taken up with training, I hadn't spent much of my weekly allowance over the last six months so I was pretty cash-rich and so given the fact that both of them really appreciated good wines, I headed to an independent vintner and armed with a list of what they already had racked up, I begged the question of what might be most appropriate. Of course it was pointed out that we were too young to purchase alcohol but I explained that if we could make a selection then Jo would make the purchase on our behalf.

The lady was really helpful and pointed out that the wines mum and dad already had were of fine quality and of good vintages but none of them strong so probably go with that signal that they preferred medium-bodied wines rather than those that would knock their heads off.

I selected with her help, four bottles of very respectable wines but then asked her if it would be possible to have them put to one side for Jo to collect. I offered a deposit but this she thought might also be a problem given my age. She called the owner through from a back office and explained what I wanted to do.

"No, a deposit's fine. They're not actually buying it are they? 25% and I'll keep them to one side until your sister comes for them and the outstanding balance we'll take then."

Lucas knew what he was buying for his folk. A petrol lawn mower! Expensive but as he pointed out, he had no real interests back in America. He had done a newspaper round and with what he was paid for that plus his allowance that he'd banked, made it doable with the added bonus, doing the lawns wouldn't be so much like hard work for him!

Paul, Lorain and Benny proved to be more of a problem but we did a joint present for each of them buying Lor a beautiful pair of jade earrings mounted in silver which was her precious metal of choice, the jade we thought would contrast nicely with her jet black eyes.

For Paul we bought a pair of cufflinks as he always went out with Lor immaculately dressed in shirt and tie in an effort not to be seen as being in anyway complacent about their relationship.

We gave up once it came to Benny, not that we didn't have ideas but what we wanted to do would take some organising so it got put on ice until one training session and once when he was otherwise distracted, we had a quiet word with Alec.

"The thing is, we want to buy him something for Christmas so our question is this. Is he likely to get SCGB sponsorship?"

"Yes and soon but probably not until the New Year. Why do you ask?"

"We had thought of buying him the SCGB strip or rather the tracksuit and trainers but if he was unlikely to be sponsored, we couldn't do it."

"No he's definitely going to get it, already been decided but it's too close to the holidays to do much more than that so if you feel you want to go ahead then fine and I'll give you details of the website where you can get the real deal rather than the cheap tack."

"Brill! What about his sizes? We don't know where he's at with those?"

"I'll get them from his file, shoe size as well if you want."

So we were sorted! Christmas shopping done and dusted. I paid Jo for the outstanding on the wine and the next time she went into town, she collected it and I hid it in our wardrobe.

The Carmichaels lawn mower was delivered at a pre-arranged time when Lucas knew they'd be out and this he locked in the shed, certain in the knowledge that his parents would have little reason to go up there during the winter.

Benny's kit arrived just in time for us to wrap it as the following day was Christmas Eve. A bitter-sweet time for us as it meant we would be spending time apart, each with our own families but thing don't always go the way we kids believe they will.

Aside from an emotional farewell, Christmas Eve was great! We relaxed and played parlour games, ate and drank and even my father allowing me more than just the one glass of wine. We listened to music and talked the night away until I announced my departure to bed for the night and slightly wobbly, I climbed the stairs and fell into bed.

At just gone midnight, my phone squeaked into life, it was Lucas who sounded rather emotional.

"Oh Andy? I feel really stupid calling you at this hour? It's just that I miss you so much, I don't know how I'll cope for the next couple of days without us being together. I guess now I understand how lonely our old folk must feel without their loved ones being around and I intend to go and pay mine a special visit come the morning and maybe that'll make the day better."

"I know and I feel the same way. We had a lovely evening tonight but then it was easier for me with everyone being here, sort of took my mind off things a bit but that doesn't mean I didn't think about you cos I did, constantly.

Can't we find some time to visit the others and give them their prezzies tomorrow morning as well as making our visits?"

"You mean this morning dickhead! Yes I guess we could. Depends on what they've got planned. My folks are being somewhat secretive about the whole thing so I've no idea what's going down right now."

"I never thought to ask them what we were doing, I just assumed it was like business as usual. Look I'll keep my phone with me so call me once you know what's happening your end and maybe we can get something together, okay?"

"Yeah I will, I promise. I love you y'know? Happy Crimbo Andy."

"And to you with bells on! Love you more! Night!"

As little kids, the rule of thumb in our house was that neither Jo or I were to go running into our parents room on Christmas morning unless we could see the pattern on the wallpaper but times change and most of the walls in the house were painted and anyway, I'd got used to early starts and so I was awake at five-thirty so I got up and dressed, went down to the kitchen and helped myself to a glass of fresh grapefruit juice then went for a run.

I circled around for a bit then made for the common where I could really have a workout and as I expected, the place was deserted but then in the distance, I saw another runner and the closer we got, the more my heart raced. It was my Lucas!! We collided and fell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs, all the time kissing deeply like two lovers who hadn't seen each other in an age and definitely not like two boys who had been in each other's company not twelve hours since.

The urge to take him right there and then was massive but the cold was beginning to seep through so we walked hand in hand back to the road where we stopped and talked.

"So do you have any idea what's happening Andy?"

"Not a clue. No one was up when I left so how could I?"

"Well I do! My mum was up at like half four this morning and there's the biggest turkey in the oven and oh man, I mean, fucking huge! More than we could eat as a family in like a zillion years!"

"So........? Hang on a minute! There's nothing in ours so you think that we……..?"

"Yup! I reckon you guys are coming to us! There's that much food in the larder it's frightening, even by our standards and with no other family members coming, there's only one explanation!"

"Oh wow! How cool is that!!

"Cool doesn't come close! We can make our visits, deliver presents and see our friends all in the one morning and still get back in time to help and have a great day!"

We reached the gate that lead to my house and parted company and walking through the back door, I was met by my mother.

"Oh, you're back then. Do you want any breakfast?"

"Umm, that all depends on what time we're eating later but as I can't smell anything cooking, maybe we're not having anything!"

"Oh please Andy? I saw you and Lucas outside. Surely between you, you guessed that we're spending today with the Carmichaels?"

"Ha-ha! Well we did sort of think that was a possibility. He said Mrs Carmichael was up at like four-thirty to but the bird in the oven and also there's enough grub there to feed the five thousand whereas our cupboard is bare! Kind of made sense really. Do you need a hand with anything mum?"

"Nothing to do but thank you for asking. Happy Christmas by the way!"

I gave mum a hug and announced my intention to get showered and changed.

"Then if there's still nothing you need me for, I'd planned on going ahead to meet up with Lucas and deliver our gifts to Lorain, Paul and Benny if that's alright with you?"

"No, that's a good idea. Just leave in the hallway anything you need us to take with us. We'll be going up in the car but I suspect we'll be walking back! Get your father and Gregg together and forget feeding the five thousand, enough drink will be consumed to drown them all!"

"But not you and Jane of course. Perish the thought!"

"Make yourself scarce young man! You might be fit and strong but I'm still your mother and I won't hesitate to put you across my knee and give you a good spanking!"

"Always with the promises! Listen mum? I love you and I've not been very good at thanking both you and dad for your support, not only with the training and all that comes with it but also……..Lucas and I. Just want to tell you how much it means to me."

Mum shook her head.

"You've nothing to thank us for, in fact perhaps it ought to be us thanking you. You're maturing into a very gentle, kind and caring lad and okay? Maybe we might've hoped things……..things might have turned out differently, you know, the prospect of Grand Children to carry on the family name but……..as it is, we're very proud of you, proud of Lucas as a proxy family member. You look good together. You train hard, work hard at school and everyone involved with you thinks that success is inevitable in all aspects of your lives. Now get your backside up those stairs before I start crying!!"

"So where to first? Benny's the furthest away, then Paul, then Lor. Your call Andy."

"Benny. It isn't like his gift is heavy, just bulky and difficult to hold onto riding a bike. Then we work our way back to your house via Paul and Lorain then think about visiting our oldies."

"Plan sorted!"

We reached Benny's house and my immediate thought was that either they'd gone away for Christmas or they were all still asleep as the curtains were closed and no car on the driveway but then I saw movement, the front door opened and Mr Sorensen came out and deposited some rubbish in the waste bin.

"Hello you two! What brings you here then?"

"Happy Christmas Mr Sorensen. We've just come to give Benny a small gift. Is he up and about?"

"You are joking right? I doubt we'll see him or his sister much before ten-thirty at the earliest, he's a teenager before his time!"

"Oh never mind. Could we leave this with you please?"

"I could wake him if you like but I won't guarantee his mood. Definitely not a morning person."

"In which case leave him to sleep. We don't want to be held responsible for wrecking your day! We'll catch up with him at training in a couple of days but if you could give him this once he's surfaced? Oh and just so you know, we've got him the SCGB tracksuit and official trainers. Does he know he's going to get sponsorship next month?"

"No. We've had confirmation come through but we were planning on keeping it as a surprise for later. Why do you ask?"

"Well you know what he's like, he might open our gift but then refuse to wear it if he believes he's not entitled to it."

"Good point. If he does say as such then we'll present him with the letter as a double surprise. Anyway, it's a really nice gesture, thank you both!"

"No problem. Between our respective coaches, we managed to get a really good deal. Anyhow we better get going. Have a great Christmas!"

The same scenario was played out at both Paul and Lorain's houses, it seemed we were the only kids in the neighbourhood who were up and about. I tapped the face of my watch. Yep it was definitely working but it was only just gone nine in the morning so hardly any surprise considering.

We had better luck with our respective pensioners and following a cup of tea at both their houses we made our way back to Lucas's place.

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