Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 1

This story is a sequel to The Jigsaw Puzzle which I finished posting in April 2020.

Juggling the Pieces picks up where The Jigsaw Puzzle left off, and follows the next two and a half years of Ian's life, the challenges that he has to meet and the hurdles he needs to overcome, up to and including his first term at university.

A few chapters include scenes of sexual activity with underage boys, though that is not a major feature of the story. However, if it is illegal to read this type of material, you are strongly advised to leave this page now.

Now we've got that out of the way, read on and enjoy! As always, feedback will be more than welcome. Please send your comments to me at archimedes294@hushmail.com , and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

April 2010

With the Easter holiday drawing to a close, it suddenly hits me how much my life has changed. A few weeks ago, apart from being gay, I was just an ordinary sixteen-year old, doing what most guys our age do.

Now, after well over a year looking for one, I've found a steady, long-term boyfriend, the guy I know that I'm meant to be with. Only it's not the sort of guy I'd expected it to be. Scott's a professional footballer, and that presents challenges I'd never previously considered.

The last few weeks have been the best of my entire life. Scott's everything I could have asked for. I've never known what it's like to feel like that about someone, and have them express the same feelings about me. It's the most wonderful thing possible.

Just before Easter, Scott moved into his own flat, for which I designed the refurb. As I've been on holiday from school, things have been easy. I've been able to see Scott every afternoon when he gets back from training. I guess we've had what people call a honeymoon period, but it's about to come to an end. Tomorrow I have to go back to school, and that's going to make things a great deal harder.

Last Tuesday, there was a meeting of the support group for parents with gay kids. Over the past few months, Mum and I have been to two of their meetings. They've really helped Mum to come to terms with me being gay, which is great. However, we weren't able to go to this latest meeting. Mum had something special going on at work and wasn't able to get away early enough. But she's promised that we'll go to the next one, which will be during the spring half-term break.

Actually, I wasn't too disappointed. There's a problem; it's called Robbie. His mum runs the group. Robbie's a year older than me and quite sexy-looking, and he definitely fancies me. He was never going to be my boyfriend though. It's not just that we live too far from each other. He's an air-head. He's like completely obsessed with the gay scene and gay celebrity gossip. It's all he seems to think about.

The thing is that I haven't told him that I've found my 'significant other'. Since Scott and I got together, I've been avoiding Robbie online, making the excuse that I've been too busy. The truth is that I don't know what to say to him. My big worry is that if I tell him, I'm not sure I can trust him not to repeat it.

That's crucial. Even Mum and Dad don't know yet. I am going to tell them, but not just yet. I need to get my exams out of the way first. So, by missing the meeting, I dodged a bullet, or at least an awkward situation.

I'll have to tell him eventually, of course. But I want it to be when I've got him on his own, and I can get him to promise not to tell anyone. Even so, I'm not looking forward to it.

Finally, we're back at school. This half term only lasts five weeks. It's our final chance to prepare for our GCSE exams. Actually, I've done the work. All I have to do now is keep it ticking over. There are a couple of athletics matches too, plus the City Championships, which I guess I'll be expected to run in. It's no big deal. I'll just do the best I can, the same as I always do.

It's Wednesday afternoon, and so we've got senior games. For me, that means training with the distance running squad. It's mainly boys that I ran with during the cross-country season: David Holbrook and Will Taylor from Year 13, Alan Sharp and Darren Palmer from Year 12, and Patrick Keaveney from Year 11, plus Adam Barr from Year 12 and Tim Powell from my year.

Running out on the country with these guys is fine; I'm used to that. Doing a track session with them is a different matter. When it comes to track running, I'm just not quick enough. After a lengthy warm-up, it's time to get started.

We're doing eight 400-metre repetitions with 60 seconds recovery between reps. Olly Stephens, who is excused from games because of his glandular problems, is going to time us. Last year, when I did this session with Tim and Patrick, I got slaughtered every time. This year, I also have five older lads to contend with. This is going to be horrible. The best that I can hope for is not to get shown up.

I soon make a not unwelcome discovery: Darren Palmer's actually worse at this than I am, and Alan Sharp's not much better. We finish our second rep. David, Patrick, and Adam, who used to be my wet-dream fantasy boy until I found out what a prick he is, are together at the front, with Will and Tim a little way behind, followed by Alan, myself and Darren. It's hard, but not as bad as I thought.

As we move into our next rep, I position myself on Alan's shoulder with the aim of hanging on as long as possible. I'm pleased to find that I'm still with him when we cross the finish-line. Okay, it wasn't all that fast, but I'll settle for that!

After repeating the trick for the next three reps, I'm starting to feel way better than I expected. Somehow, having someone to run with makes it seem so much easier. Better still, on that sixth rep, Alan and I almost caught Adam Barr, who's really starting to struggle.

I don't usually take pleasure in others' misfortune, but Adam's so far up himself, I make an exception. In any case, it's his own fault. If he'd been content to run to Tim and Will, he'd have been fine. Instead, he had to go and mix it with the proper runners. Now he's paying the price.

"Ten seconds!" Olly calls.

There are just two reps left now. With David and Patrick leading the way, we make our usual rolling start into number seven.

'Just keep doing what you've been doing,' I tell myself, running on Alan's shoulder like I was glued there. Halfway round, Adam drops out. I wondered if he would. That's another bonus point for the Year 11 boys!

Less than two minutes later, we're on our final rep. I run the first three hundred metres with Alan, just as I have been doing, but coming off the last bend, I draw level with him and drive for the line, beating him by two or three yards.

To be honest, I'm not sure why I did it. I didn't need to. To prove to myself that I could? Maybe. After fifteen minutes walking and very gentle jogging, we do six 150-metre sprints. I beat Darren on those as well.

I've got that feeling of belonging again. I wasn't off the back and I didn't get shown up. For sure, I'm desperately tired, but that's not a problem. Once we've done our warm-down, we've finished for the afternoon. I can live with that.

As we're getting changed, games master Mr Saunders comes bustling around, clipboard in hand. A week on Friday there's an athletics match. Years 12 and 13 aren't involved, but as with some of the matches I've run in before, Years 10 and 11 will compete together.

"I've put you down for the fifteen-hundred," he says to Patrick.

"Sir!" Patrick acknowledges.

Mr Saunders turns to me. "Nathan Harkness will be running the 'B' string," he says, referring to one of the Year-10 boys who beat me in the county schools' cross-country championships. "He's run quite a bit faster than you have. You can run as a guest if you want. It's up to you."

For a moment, I'm lost for words. I'm actually being given the choice! I glance at Patrick. He doesn't actually say anything, but his face speaks for him.

"Yes, thanks Sir." I respond. "I'll do that; give the other lads a bit of support."

"Excellent!" Mr Saunders says, beaming at me. "You'll reap the benefit when it comes to the cross-country season."

He bustles away.

"Nice one!" Patrick says, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. "It'll be good to have you there!"

It's Saturday, just after six when we sit down for dinner.

"I've arranged to meet up with some of my friends this evening," I say casually.

"Make sure you're back by half past ten," Dad replies promptly.

"Thanks, Dad," I say, smiling.

To say that I'm surprised would be a major understatement. Usually, if I want to go out in the evening, Mum will quiz me about where I'm going and who I'm going to be with. This time, Dad never gave her the chance. I'm guessing that they might have words about that later!

Of course, I won't be meeting my friends; I'll be going to Scott's place. He's been playing this afternoon, which is why I couldn't see him then. He didn't score any goals, but his team, Reavington Town, won, so he's bound to be in a good mood. He'll give me the details when I see him.

It's half past seven when I arrive at Scott's flat.

"Come in," he says warmly, ushering me inside. "I've been looking forward to this," he adds, beaming at me.

"How did it go this afternoon?" I ask. "I know you won."

"Oh, it went really well," he enthuses, leading me into the lounge. He flops down on the sofa, taking me with him. "Their right-back's getting on a bit. These days, he's a bit short of pace. We'd only been playing for five minutes when he got booked for a late challenge on me. He had to be careful after that because he'd have been sent off if he'd done it again. So basically, I ran him ragged all afternoon; well seventy-odd minutes, anyway. Then the boss took me off. That's as well as I've played."

"You didn't score though."

"No, but I got two assists. Playing wide on the left, that's my job, really; setting up chances for the other guys. We could have had more if we'd been a bit more clinical in front of goal. Still, I'm not complaining. Four-one's a good result. So, how are you?"

"I'm good, thanks!"

"D'you want a drink or shall we head to the bedroom?"

"Bedroom!" I tell him, my eyes sparkling.

My relationship with Scott is not all about sex. We've spent hours just talking, about things we've done and things we hope to do. We have far more in common than I'd have believed. Although we do very different things, we think in exactly the same way; work hard, believe in yourself and don't settle for second best. Right now, I'm more focused than I've ever been. Having Scott around has given me renewed confidence and even greater determination to achieve the things I've always wanted to achieve.

That's not to say that sex isn't important to us, because it definitely is. Sex with Scott is amazing: very physical, incredibly intense but wonderfully affectionate. He makes me feel better than anyone ever has. It's weird. I know we've only been together for a few weeks, but having him around makes me feel so special, I can't imagine life without him.

He's just done it again: half an hour of wonderful, passionate love-making. I can't even begin to describe how good it was. Picking up the towel that he's left on the bedside cabinet. I clean my spunk off us. Finally, we snuggle up.

"You know we talked about moving to London when I go to uni?" I say.

"Yeah," he says. "If I got a move a club in London, ideally one in the Premier League, we'd be able to live together. That's what I'm aiming for."

"Me too," I say. "But how d'you think your mum and dad will react?"

"Dunno," he says. "We can jump that hurdle when we get to it."

"I'm not sure that's a good idea," I tell him. "They're not stupid. If we just move in together, they'll soon realise what's going on. And if you leave it till then, they'll be upset that you didn't trust them enough to have told them sooner."

"So what d'you have in mind?" he asks warily.

"I think you should tell them, well not right now," I say guardedly, "but certainly soon."

"I don't fancy that idea," he tells me. "Dad's going to go ballistic! Mum and Dad never wanted me to leave school. They thought I should finish my education, but I knew I wouldn't get to the top if I did that. Anyway, I left and they've backed me. If I tell them I'm gay, Dad'll tell me I'm throwing away everything I've worked for. He'll say I'm letting them down."

"But you're not," I insist. "I hated it when Claire told me I needed to tell Mum and Dad I was gay. But once I thought about it, I knew she was right, so I did it. Looking back, it was the best thing I could have done. Dad wasn't exactly overjoyed, but he was okay with it. Mum was in bits! Her little boy hadn't grown up the way she'd hoped he would. She found that really hard to take. But we've worked at it and she has started to get used to the idea."

"I'm not sure you understand," he counters. "We're not rich. Mum and dad gave up a lot to send me to the grammar school as well as taking me all over the place to play football. If I hadn't been an only child, they wouldn't have been able to do it. They're not homophobic or anything, at least I don't think they are, but they know what football's like, dad especially."

"I'm not talking about shouting it from the house-tops. You tell them in confidence, just like I did. Think about it this way. How can you expect them to support you if you don't trust them enough to tell them?"

"Well I can't deal it now," he says with note of finality. "I need to concentrate on finishing the season as well as I can. Then I've got my 'A' Levels to think about."

"Yes, of course. At some point, I'm going to have to tell Mum and Dad about us, and there's no way I can do that until I've got my exams out of the way. That won't be a bundle of fun either. Mum's bound to say I'm too young to have a boyfriend. But at least once she's stopped having kittens, I'll be able to come here without telling lies. I was thinking, maybe after we've done our exams . . .?"

"I'll think about it," he concedes. He pauses for a moment. "Feisty little bugger, aren't you?" he adds, giving me a wry grin. "You never used to be like that. When that posh kid was picking on you, it was like you were scared of your own shadow. It's a definite improvement!"

"I had to learn to stand up for myself," I tell him. "The running's helped, and learning to swim. It's given me more confidence, and it's like the other boys think it makes me one of them."

"That figures," he agrees. "It shows you're tougher than you look."

"I'll take that as a compliment," I whisper, sensuously nuzzling his ear.

It's Monday afternoon. With classes finished for the day, I head to the pavilion changing rooms. Last Wednesday, David told us the distance running squad would train after school on Mondays and Thursdays, just like the cross-country team did during the winter.

Once I've got my kit on, I look around. I immediately clock that there are only seven of us rather than eight. The one who's missing is Adam Barr. I can't say that's a surprise.

"Okay," David says, calling us to order. "The Year 11 lads have got a race on Friday, and so this week, we're going to do our big track session now. We'll do a lighter one on Wednesday, which means we'll be able to go home early. Because they're racing the next day, the Year 11 boys are excused training on Thursday. The rest of us will go out for an easy run. Any questions?"

There are none. As we begin our warm-up, I'm feeling really good. Finishing early on Wednesday and not having to train on Thursday, I'll be able to spend far more time with Scott than I was expecting. That can't be bad!

To my surprise, Olly Stephens has stayed behind to time us. He seems to take his time-keeping duties very seriously. I'm not objecting. When you're doing a session like this, knowing how fast you're running definitely helps. We complete the main part of our training, leaving just the sprints to do. He doesn't time those.

"Thanks Olly!" I call.

"You're very welcome!" he responds, beaming at me.

That's another thing that's changed. Back when Zav was picking on me for being gay, Olly and I were at each other's throats. He used to make bitchy remarks about me being a fairy, and I used to diss him for being overweight, thinking that it was his own fault because he ate too much. Of course. it's not nearly as simple as that. When I found out that he's had a spend much of his school holidays in hospital, and all the operations he's had, I felt quite guilty. These days, we get on fine.

May 2010

It's Wednesday afternoon. Having done a lengthy warm-up, we just about to start an easy track session when Mr Saunders marches across to us.

"Adam!" he snaps, putting himself right in Adam Barr's face. "When you've finished your training session, you're to report to me!"

"Why sir?" Adam queries.

"You missed training on Monday!"

"Sorry sir, I forgot."

"Which means you've forfeited the privilege of going home early. After your training session, report to me. You'll stay here till ten to four!"

I try not to show it, but I'm delighted. I've never seen Mr Saunders really come down on anyone before. It was excellent! Adam was taking the piss and he's got what he was asking for.

It's Friday afternoon, and we're hosting the athletics match. It involves the same four schools as it did last year. I'm just getting ready to race when Mr Lenham walks past. He's the head of boys' physical education, and über-strict.

"Good to see you turning out when you didn't have to," he says. "I do notice these things, you know!"

"Thanks, sir," I acknowledge.

It seems I've just earned myself some more brownie points, although that's not why I'm here. Patrick's a good friend and I'm supporting him. It's as simple as that.

We line up for the race. With me running as a guest, there are nine of us. The gun sounds and we're away. I settle in, running on Nathan's shoulder. He might only be in Year 10, but he's quite a bit taller than I am. He's of mixed-race, which I find harder to judge, but I think he looks older than I do. I'm pleased to find that running behind him feels quite comfortable.

As we pass the bell to signal the start of the last lap, I'm still there, in fourth place and running okay. Going along the back straight, Nathan picks up the pace and gets away from me. Just before the finish line, I lose another place, not that it matters.

Before heading back to the start, I check the result. Nathan finished third in a time of four minutes, thirty-four seconds, easily winning the B-string race. I was fifth in four minutes thirty-seven, and beat both of the runners from The Cathedral School. That's twelve seconds faster than I've run before; I'm more than happy with that! Up at the front, Patrick simply ran away with it, setting a school record of four minutes eighteen. I'm delighted for him.

Our second athletics match is at Tudor Grange Park, on the southern outskirts of Birmingham. The four schools involved in this one all have pretty strong teams, so we know we're in for a good test. And that's how it works out. Early on, Dean wins the intermediate 400 metres easily enough, but we don't have too much else to shout about.

Finally, it's time for our race. With the benefit of a synthetic track and near-perfect conditions, it is quick! At the front Patrick wins again and sets another school record. I run five seconds faster than I did the last time. I get closer to Nathan too, but when it comes to the last lap, he's just a bit stronger than I am.

"Well done, lads!" Mr Saunders says, coming over to congratulate us. "That's the first event in which we've taken maximum points, which is excellent!" He turns to me. "The only meeting we've got left for you guys is the City Championships, but we're not allowed to run guests in that, so I'm afraid I won't be able to include you. But please keep your training going. You'll definitely feel the benefit when it comes to the cross-country season."

"Yes, sir," I acknowledge. "Thanks!"

It's Tuesday morning. I've just done my French oral exam. When Claire and I were younger, we used to go to France quite often, and Mum insisted that we speak French all the time we were there. Mum could speak it fluently, and Dad, who quite often worked in France, wasn't bad either. It wasn't long before we both became quite good at it. As a result, this morning's exam was a stroll. I wish all our GCSE exams were going to be as easy!

It's Thursday afternoon. I'm out doing an easy run with the distance running squad. Nathan and another Year 10 boy are with us, which is good. Tomorrow, we finish for the spring half term break.

The past five weeks have simply flown past, and they've been like the best ever! I'm on top of all my school work, and by going straight from school while Mum's still at work, I've been able to see Scott four or five times a week. Now that can't be bad!

As a bonus, my running's been going really well. Yesterday we did the same track session that we did at the start of term: eight 400-metre repetitions. At around seventy seconds a lap, it wasn't anything spectacular, but it's the best I've ever done. More gratifying was that I finished ahead of Alan Sharp on every rep.

Last week, Dean and Patrick won their events at the City Championships. As a result, they've been selected to compete in the County Championships, which take place on the Saturday after we return to school. That's right in the middle of our exams. I don't think I'd fancy doing it, but they don't seem fazed at all. I guess that's because they've spent months preparing for it.

We've actually done a few of our minor exams, like French oral, but all the important ones will be after the half term break. I'm not worried in the slightest. I've done the work I need to do and I'm ready. I can hardly wait to get started.

It's Saturday. As the football season's over, I'm spending the afternoon at Scott's place. It's been wonderful! Nobody's ever turned me on the way he does. But it's not just that. Simply knowing that I'm part of this amazing relationship we're building makes me feel so strong, and so focused.

Our lovemaking at an end, we snuggle up on the bed, Scott's arm around my shoulder.

"I've been selected for the England Under-19 squad," he says quietly.

"You were expecting that, weren't you?"

"Yes. I'd have been disappointed if I hadn't been, but it's my first call-up, so it'll be quite an experience."

"That's fantastic! I'm so proud of you! When d'you have to go?"

"Tuesday morning. We'll train Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday evening, we're playing Portugal at the Britannia Stadium. I'll be back here by Saturday lunchtime."

I'm disappointed. More than that I'm annoyed with myself. I knew this was coming up but I hadn't joined the dots. I hadn't realised that he was going to be away while I was off school. Shit! I quickly snap myself out of it. When Scott and I first got together, we talked a lot about supporting each other. Now I need to step up.

"That's amazing!" I enthuse. "You're going to do brilliantly!"

"We'll see," he says, giving me a wry grin. "It's going to be quite a challenge: coaches I've not worked with before, team-mates I've not worked with before. It won't be easy."

"You'll do it," I assure him. "I know you will!"

After dinner, I wander up to my room and begin reading a book about Renaissance art that our art teacher, Mr Gault, lent me. I'm just getting into it when there's a tap on the door.

"Come in!" I call.

It's Dad.

"So how are things going?" he asks, parking himself on the bed.

"Really well, thanks," I answer, putting my book down.

"I thought they must be," he says smiling. "Over the past couple of months, every time I come home for the weekend, you've been looking like a dog with two tails."

"Yeah, it's been good," I say guardedly, not quite sure where he's going with this.

"It's not just that you've been looking happy," he continues, smiling. "You suddenly seem so confident. I've not seen that from you before. It's good!"


"Any particular reason for it?"

Talk about a rabbit caught in the headlights! I'm not going to lie, and there's nothing I can without dropping myself right in it!

"I wondered if you might have met someone," he goes on quietly. "You know, someone special."

I swallow hard, still unable to think of anything to say. Right out of the blue, he's totally nailed it, just when everything was going so well! For a moment, I'm devastated, like I'm expecting the house to come crashing down around my ears. Then I take a reality check. Dad doesn't look angry, quite the opposite, in fact. I don't know what to think.

"Come here!" he says, patting the bed next to him.

As invited, I park myself next to him.

"Well?" he asks, putting an arm around my shoulder.

"Yeah," I croak. "How did you know?"

"Oh, I remember what it was like when I met your mum. Oh, I was a few years older than you, but I went around like that for weeks and weeks! I just couldn't stop smiling!"

"You're not angry then?"

"Not at all! Over the past eighteen months, you've done everything we've asked of you. You're now the happiest and most confident I've ever seen you. Why would I be angry about that? I think it's wonderful! That's not to say that I don't have concerns. This special somebody; it's not the young man that you met at the parents' support group, is it?"

"Oh, no!" I say, trying to stop myself laughing. "Robbie's very nice, and he definitely fancies me, but it's like his whole life revolves around being gay. In any case, he lives miles away. We wouldn't have been able to see each other very often."

"Just checking!" he says, grinning at me. "I didn't think it would be. That's good. As you probably know, your mum doesn't have a very high opinion of him either. So who then?"

"His name's Scott. He's a friend of Claire's."

"Oh, right! That's not the young man who left school to become a professional footballer, is it?"

"Yeah. He plays for Reavington Town."

"Didn't he come here with David once?"


"A very nice young man, from what I remember of him; very polite, very focused on his football, but obviously intelligent and with his head very well screwed on."

"Yeah, that's right."

"You know this isn't going to be plain sailing, don't you? For a start, I'm guessing that nobody at his football club knows he's gay."

"Yeah, I know. He's not even told his mum and dad yet. He reckons his dad'll go ballistic."

"Well, there you go! This is going to be tough. You are only sixteen. Are you sure you're ready for it?"

"Yes. Scott's the guy I was meant to be with. There's nothing else I can say."

Dad looks at me very intently.

"Well," he says. "I don't see any stars in your eyes. If that's how you feel, you just have to go with it. But be prepared for some bumps along the road, won't you?"

"Yeah, thanks."

"So how did you meet?"

"He came here during the February half term. He'd just bought a flat but it needed a complete refurb. Well, he knew I'd designed Claire's room, so he asked if I could help him out. It just developed from there."

"Sounds reasonable. If he's buying his own flat, his football must be going well."

"Yeah. He made his first team debut towards the end of last season. That got him a professional contract. At the start of this season, he was coming on as a sub, but since Christmas he's started almost every match. They finished mid-table in the Championship. David says that's very good for someone his age."

"Oh, definitely! What makes him special?"

"Well, I've watched a few clips from the Football League Show. He's very quick and very skilful."

"You, watching football?" Dad says grinning from ear to ear. "Now that really is something!"

"Yeah, well I saw him score this amazing goal. Even I could see how good it was."

"As I recall it, he's not all that big?"

"No, he's about five-eight."

"He must be tough as old boots as well then. Most of the guys he's playing against will be much bigger than he is."

Scott's always so gentle with me, I'd actually never thought about it, but Dad has to be right. Out on the football pitch, Scott must be really tough.

"He studies all the smaller players, guys like Lionel Messi and David Silva. He studies how they train and how they've got to be as good as they are."

"That figures. He takes it very seriously, then?"

"Definitely. He's been doing A-levels at college too. He'll be doing his exams after half-term, the same as Claire."

"Well, that's excellent," Dad says, smiling. "So, were you planning on telling us at some point?"

"Yes, but not just yet. I need to get my exams out of the way first."

"Good, that's what I hoped you'd say. I'd suggest that you leave it a bit longer. As you know, while you and Anthony are away in France, your Mum and I are going to be in Italy. She's going to have a wonderful time; I'll make sure of it. When we all get back, I'd say she'll be at her most receptive. Even that might not be as receptive as you'd like, but it's as good as you're going to get."

"Thanks Dad!" I say, allowing myself to snuggle a little closer. "You're the best!"

"I wish I was," he says gently. "I wish I could have been here for you more than I have. But I do care about you. You've worked so hard. You deserve all the success you get."

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