Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 3

June 2010

It's Tuesday afternoon, and time for our physics exam. As I read through the question paper, it seems easier than I expected. I thought they'd throw some curve balls in there, but they haven't. As long as you've done the work and understood it, it's completely routine. I don't like counting my chickens, but I'm confident of a good grade, a B at least. The real test will come next Tuesday when we have Additional Maths.

As we leave the exam hall, I meet up with Patrick.

"That seemed pretty straightforward," I suggest.

"Yeah," he agrees. "They couldn't have made it much easier. Are you coming on Saturday then?"

"Yeah, I'll be there. I've told Dean."

"Cool! That'll be a real race!"

"When we were training during half-term, I was talking to David, and he said that last September, he told Alan about our Sunday training runs, but he hadn't seemed interested. Well, now that he's going to be team captain, I think he should be there."

"Yeah, he should really, if he can get there. Where does he live?"

"I'm not sure exactly, but I don't think it's too far from me."

"Well, the next time we're altogether, why don't we have a word?"

"Sure! I was wondering about that."

"I'll let you do the talking," he says, grinning. "You're better at it than me. I'll just be there, yeah?"

"Yeah, thanks!"

The opportunity arrives the following afternoon. In theory, we don't have to come into school when we don't have exams, but David's arranged for the whole distance-running squad to be here and train as normal.

The one person who doesn't look too pleased about it is Adam Barr. Year 12 are on their normal timetable, with a few A-level modular exams slotted in, so they'd have been here anyway. I'm guessing Adam was expecting to have an easy time, with only Alan and Darren to train with.

After the session, Patrick and I approach Alan, who's in the middle of changing from spikes to trainers.

"Hi Alan!" I say brightly. "May we have a word please?"

"Sure," he says, eyeing me suspiciously. "What about?"

I briefly explain about our Sunday morning training runs. "The thing is," I conclude, "with you being team captain, we think it would be really helpful if you were there."

"I don't know," he says defensively. "I have to work very hard for my A-levels. I'm not sure I'll have time."

"Being team captain's about setting an example," Patrick says.

"Yes," Alan responds, his attitude having changed from the defensive to the downright hostile. "Like I said, I'll need to think about it."

Having finished putting on his trainers, he stalks off.

"That didn't go too well," Patrick says, giving me a wry grin. "Sorry! I should have kept my mouth shut."

"What? He should have known that anyway!"

"Are you going to tell Mr Bentley?"

"I'd rather not," I tell him. "It'd be like I was snitching on him."

"Yeah, you're right. It's a shame though. Being captain isn't about being the best runner. It's about encouraging the other guys."

On Thursday morning, we have our English Literature exam. Once again, it's exactly what we've prepared for. It's not my strongest subject, so I'm not expecting an A-grade, but I'll be disappointed if I don't get a B.

After lunch, I head to Scott's place. He had his final A-level exam this morning. I'm sure he'd have texted me, but he knows I'm coming over, so he hasn't.

"How did it go this morning?" I ask, sauntering into his flat.

"Very well, thanks! What about you?"

"Okay!" I answer, parking myself on the sofa. "I'll be happy with a grade B. Of course, it doesn't really matter what grades you get, does it?"

"It matters to me," he says, nuzzling my ear.

"Really? Why?"

"Last October, I put in a UCAS Application. I wanted to see if I'd be able to get into the London School of Economics. I didn't know if I'd even get an offer. Well, they asked for an A in economics and B's in maths and history. Of course, I was never going to take them up on it, but it gave me a target."

I smile up at him. I just love the way he thinks! Having got his professional contract, he could have coasted through his A-levels, but that's not what he does. He wanted to prove that he was good enough to get into a top university. I'd like to think that I'd have done the same.

I also spend most of Friday at Scott's place. It's the first time we've had sex at half past ten in the morning. It's wonderful. Sex with Scott always is. In fact, it's so good that in the afternoon, we go for a repeat performance.

The following morning, I head over to Dean's house. After we've picked up Patrick, we get on the M5 motorway that runs to the west of Birmingham. The stadium where the inter-counties meeting is taking place is located in a rather ordinary-looking area. I wouldn't describe it as run-down, but it's definitely not posh.

With teams from eight different counties, the place is packed. While Dean and Patrick report to their team manager, Mike Griffiths and I find seats in the stand. I think about Scott. Right now, he'll be in the air, flying off to the Canary Isles. I wish I was going with him.

I snap myself back to reality. It's a beautiful day, warm and sunny; ideal for being outside, and I'm here to support two of the best friends I'll ever have. I've nothing to complain about. As an added bonus, there are some seriously hot guys around. The eye-candy is exceptional.

As at the county championships, the four hundred metre hurdles races are right at the start.

"It's to save time," Mike explains. "It takes a while to set the hurdles up. They don't want to do it in the middle of the meeting."

The sequence of races is the same as last week too. After the two girls' races, the hurdles are raised for the Intermediate Boys' race. As the athletes come out onto the track, I can feel the butterflies. All the boys taking part are county champions, including several from much bigger counties than ours. Tall and athletic, Dean looks the part, but how will he get on against the best runners from the Midlands and north-west England?

He lines up in lane 6, a couple of lanes further out than he was last week. I hope that's going to work out okay. The gun sounds and they're away. Seconds later, he's blasting along the back straight, his huge stride eating up the ground, his long legs carrying him easily over the hurdles. In the end, although his winning margin is smaller, he's never seriously challenged. He's run a couple of tenths faster too.

"That was definitely what we were looking for," Mike says quietly. "There's a lad from London who's run a similar time, but as long as Dean executed properly, there wasn't anyone here who was going to trouble him."

I knew that Dean was good, but the idea that someone that I know so well is one of the best in the country seems strange, somehow.

Two hours later it's Patrick's turn. He was right about this being a real test. In near-perfect conditions, they are flying along! After two laps, the leading group has been whittled down to five. With six hundred metres remaining there are only two still in contention, Patrick and a lad wearing the orange vest of Greater Manchester.

As the bell sounds for the start of the last lap, Mike takes the split time. The stopwatch shows 7'36", far quicker than the county championship race. Patrick is really going for it now, doing everything he can to shake off the other boy, but it is not to be. The Greater Manchester lad outsprints him on the home straight, taking the win in 8'42" to Patrick's 8'43".

I'm a little disappointed that Patrick didn't win. On the other hand, the time he ran was amazing. I can't imagine ever being able to run that fast.

Back at home, the reality of Scott being on holiday begins to hit home. It's Saturday evening, and I've nowhere to go and nothing to do. I try working through some Additional Maths questions, but my heart just isn't in it.

Just after eight o'clock, I get a text. It's from Scott.

Arrived safely. The hotel's great, and the weather's superb! I'm going to have a real tan by the time I get home. That's the plan anyway! Missing you already, but it won't be long! See you next Saturday! Love you! S.

I text him back, including news of Dean and Patrick's performances. I know it's only a little thing, but it's great to have heard from him, and I know there'll be plenty more texts over the next few days, maybe even a phone call or two. In between times, I'll just have to be patient.

Finally, it's Tuesday morning and time for our Additional Maths exam. I'm not edgy exactly, but definitely not as settled as I was for my other exams. It's because Scott's not here. Having him around keeps me calm and boosts my confidence. I can't really explain why; it just does. As I'm waiting outside the exam hall, Mr Bentley comes up to me.

"After the exam, would you come to my classroom please?" he asks, smiling. "I'd like a quick word."

"Sir," I acknowledge.

Moments later, we're filing into the room and sitting in our allocated places. After the usual preliminaries, we're instructed to begin work. Fortunately, once I get started, I quickly settle down.

Although the exam is quite demanding, Mr Bentley's done a superb job of preparing us. Every question is of a type that we've practised loads of times, and that carries me through. There are a few bits and pieces that I'm not able to do, but I'm not concerned about that. I've done more than enough to get a good grade, maybe even an A. As we leave the hall, I meet up with Patrick.

"Have you finished now?" I ask.

"No, I've got Design and Realisation tomorrow morning. Then that's it."

Back in Year 9 when we were picking our options, I could have done that. The design part was no problem, but I wasn't too good working with tools to make the things I'd designed. I decided to take geography instead.

"Right!" I say brightly. "Have a good one!"

"Are you coming in for training tomorrow?"

"Of course! I haven't got much else to do."

"I'll see you then!" he says grinning.

We go our separate ways. I head off to Mr Bentley's room. As I walk in, he's working at his desk.

"You asked to see me, sir," I say respectfully.

"Yes; pull up a chair."

Taking the nearest chair, I bring it close.

"How did it go this morning?" he asks as I sit down. "Very well, thank you sir."

"The reason I asked to see you is that I believe last week you and Patrick had a word with Alan Sharp."

"Yes sir. We invited him to join in the Sunday training runs that we do from my house. We said that as he's going to be team captain, it'd be really good if he was there."

"But you didn't try to twist his arm at all?"

"No sir. Patrick did say that being team captain was about setting an example. Alan didn't seem to like him saying that."

"I see!" he says. "Alan came to me, complaining that you'd pretty much told him he had to be there, so he asked me about it. I told him that of course he didn't have to, but it might be a good idea if he did. Will you be inviting anyone else?"

"We spoke to Darren, but he lives too far away, and I've spoken to Nathan Harkness and Jon Franklyn from Year 10. They seem really keen."

"That sounds excellent! I'll have a word with Alan. He'll be fine!"

"Thanks, sir!"

I leave the classroom with a spring in my step. I think this could work out really well.

I've just finished lunch when I get a call from Scott.

"All finished now then?" he enquires.

"Yes, thanks!"

"How did it go? I know this was the one you were concerned about."

"It went really well! There were a couple of bits that I wasn't able to do, but I did everything else. So how's the holiday going?"

"Oh, it's great, thanks! Superb hotel, excellent food, beautiful beach, and the weather's fantastic! I'm getting an amazing tan! The only way it could be better would be to have you here with me."

"Have you done anything exciting?"

"Not really. I'm here to unwind before we start pre-season training, so I've just been taking things quietly."

"Dean and Patrick have been selected to run at the English Schools' Championships," I tell him.

"That's excellent! I ran in that when I was in Year 9."

"Really? What event did you do?"

"Eighty metres hurdles. I made the final and finished fifth."

"Wow! I had no idea!"

"When is it?"

"Two weeks on Saturday, at the big stadium in Birmingham."

"Hmmm! I wouldn't mind going to that!"

"Dean's parents have offered to take me," I say, feeling a bit uncomfortable. "They've already got me a ticket."

"We're sticking to the plan, yeah?" he asks, referring to us telling our parents.

"Yes, of course."

"Then keep to the arrangements you've made. I'll ask David if he'd like to come with me. I'm sure he will."

"Cool! I can't wait to have you back again."

"Four days," he reminds me. "You'll manage!"

Finally, it's Saturday. The last few days have been difficult. I trained with the distance runners on Wednesday afternoon, and yesterday morning Patrick came over so that we could run together. In between, I've been so horny, I hardly knew where to put myself. I made myself do some more reading, but concentrating was anything but easy.

After lunch, I head over to Scott's place. He opens the door, dressed in silky white shorts and a white running vest. OMG! He looks amazing! He's got the most unbelievable tan! You could put me out in the sun for a month and I wouldn't go that colour.

Strolling through to the lounge, we park ourselves on the sofa, gently kissing, cuddling, and chatting about nothing in particular. It feels so wonderful, so perfect; I wonder how I ever managed without it.

"So what d'you want now, Mister?" he whispers eventually, sensuously nuzzling my ear.

"I want you to fuck me every which way but sideways!" I tell him, a grin plastered right across my face.

"So what's wrong with sideways?" he quips

Oh yes! This is going to be something else!

I now have a week off school before we begin our A-level induction programme, which begins on the same day as Scott's pre-season training. This week, Scott and I will be able to see each other whenever we want.

It's Tuesday morning. Scott and I have arranged to spend the day together. I arrive at his flat at half past ten. It's already warm and sunny, a perfect day for us to be out and about.

"I thought we could drive over to Warwick," he suggests, welcoming me inside. "We could go around the castle, have a bite of lunch somewhere, maybe take a boat out on the river. What d'you think?"

"It sounds great!" I enthuse, smiling.

As soon as Scott's booked our tickets for the castle, we're on our way. As we head out into the countryside, I settle back in the front passenger seat, admiring the view and just enjoying being here. When Scott and I first got together, this was exactly the sort of thing that I hoped we'd do together.

After almost an hour, we arrive in Warwick. Once Scott has parked the car, we stroll through the town centre to the castle. We stand basking in the sunshine for ten minutes, waiting for the next guided tour to begin.

The place is absolutely steeped in history. I vaguely remember doing this before, but I was only about ten at the time. I'm able to absorb far more this time around. I find it fascinating. With our tour completed, we stroll back into the historic town.

"Fancy some lunch?" Scott asks.

"Sure!" I respond, smiling.

He leads the way into a friendly-looking pub. Parking ourselves at a vacant table, we study the menu.

"Have whatever you want," he urges. "This is my treat."

I feel a little embarrassed about Scott spending money on me like this, but I guess I shouldn't. We're boyfriends; partners. The fact is that he has an income and I don't, so when we go out together, he pays. That's just how it is.

By the time we leave the pub, it's very warm. We wander into the park and down to the river. Scott hires a self-drive motor-boat for a short trip along the River Avon. He drives, of course. Once we're underway, I allow myself the luxury of snuggling up to him.

"Happy?" he asks, smiling down at me.

"Very," I respond.

I mean it too. Here I am, on a glorious summer day, pottering along the river without a care in the world, sitting next to the guy that I want to spend my life with. Does it actually get any better than that?

July 2010

My break from school is almost over. During the week, I've been into school a couple of times to train with the distance runners. I've also done some easy runs with David and Patrick, and I've spent much of my evenings reading.

But most of the time, I've been with Scott, which has been everything I could have asked for. It's been the happiest time of my life. There's no other way of saying it.

We spend the first day of our A-Level induction course finalising our choice of subjects. I'm going to be doing Maths and double-award Art and Design, double award meaning that it counts as two A-levels. But I need to do another one. Is it to be History or History of Art? The problem is that I want to do them both. That would mean studying for five 'A' levels, which is more than anyone else will be doing.

If I was starting from scratch, it would be far too much, but I'm not. I've already done some of the work for Art & Design, I've read quite a bit about History of Art, and having done Additional Maths, I'll have a head start with A-level. And I want to do History because it will help me to understand the changing environment in which the major art and design movements emerged. I think that's important.

"We won't be able to fit in any actual classes for History of Art," Mr Gault advises, "but we'll work out a programme of study for you. I'll mark your work and give you pointers when you need them. And you can always ask for advice if you're not sure about something, but basically, you'll have to work through it in your own time."

"Thanks sir," I acknowledge.

"If you're finding it too much, you can always drop it," he continues. "It's not crucial, so don't put yourself under too much pressure."

It's good advice. From Mr Gault, I wouldn't have expected anything less.

After that it's down to work. For maths we're divided into four groups. The first group, which includes Tim and Patrick, is for the ones who are going to do double maths. Those of us from the Year 11 top set who are going to do single maths make up the next group, so that's the one that I'm in. Then there are two more groups for those who haven't done Additional Maths.

Our group will be taught by Mr Hawkes. That's something of a disappointment. I've got used to Mr Bentley. I find maths quite demanding, so I didn't really want a change of teacher. But Mr Hawkes is much younger than Mr Bentley and very enthusiastic, so I guess it could work out okay. I'll just have to do my best.

For history, I'll be taught by Mr Anderson. I'm looking forward to that. Everyone says what a great teacher he is. He starts by giving us a reading list, one more thing to keep me busy during the summer holiday. The downside is that Zav's in the group. It's the first time since Year Nine that we'll be in class together. But it's not a problem. He doesn't scare me now. I've got past that. In any case I've got several friends in the group. As far as I can see, he doesn't have any.

When I'm not doing either maths or history, I'll be spending my time around the art rooms. There are six of us taking Art & Design, but I'm the only one going for the double award, and so I'll have to do quite a lot of stuff by myself. It's not a problem. I'm used to working on my own. The bell sounds for the start of the lunch break.

"Why are you doing this double award thing?" Grant Bishop asks scornfully, as he makes his way out. "Trying to prove you're better than everyone else? I'm doing Art & Design because it's a doddle."

I've never had much to do with Grant. I don't really like him. For a start, he's lazy. He doesn't do a tap more than he has to. His parents have pots of money and don't seem to expect him to work hard.

Worse than that, he treats the girls like he thinks they ought to fall at his feet. The girls in our gang think he's a dickhead. One time, he even tried coming onto Jane, Matthew's girlfriend. Matthew had to explain a few things to him about that. But I'm not looking for a confrontation.

"I want to study architecture at uni," I tell him. "It's not that easy to get in."

"So d'you actually need the double award?" he persists.

"I will if I'm going to get into one of the top architecture schools."

"There you go," he sneers, "Goody-Fuckin'-Two Shoes, creeping to Fat Man like you always do," he adds, referring to Mr Gault. "You want to have some fun while you can. That's what I'll be doing. Of course, chasing girls isn't exactly your thing, is it?"

I'm irritated. I thought I'd got through all that niggling stuff.

"No it's not," I snap back at him, "not that it's any business of yours."

"I was just saying . . ." he counters.

"Well don't bother!" I interrupt. "I don't tell you what to do. And I'm not a creep either! I'm doing double award because I want to, yeah?"

"Are you dissing me?" he demands, looking very put out.

Roz Marshall, the only one of my friends who'll be doing A-level art, comes across to us.

"Go away, knobhead!" she orders, putting herself right in Grant's face.

He's just about to say something when Ed Jarvis, Roz's boyfriend appears.

"You heard her," he says, giving Grant the hard stare.

Thinking better of getting into an argument he stands no chance of winning, Grant scowls and stomps off.

"If he was a stick of rock," Ed says, considerably louder than necessary. "He'd have 'Spoilt Brat' stamped all the way through him!"

That brings the smile back to my face. If Grant annoys me again, I'll just picture him as a stick of rock.

Suddenly, I'm busy again. Not in a pressurised way, but I've got plenty to do, with new challenges to meet and new classes to get accustomed to. Mr Hawkes, my new maths teacher, gets me within the first two classes. He may not be as methodical as Mr Bentley, but his enthusiasm's infectious. I find myself hanging onto his every word. I know I'm going to do well with him teaching me.

As the ultimate bonus, with no actual homework to do, I'm able to see Scott after school every single day. The happy times continue.

It's Tuesday afternoon. "Are you and David coming to the English Schools on Saturday?" I ask, flopping down on Scott's sofa.

"Oh, definitely," he says, sitting down next to me. "When I asked him if he'd like to come with me, he jumped at the chance. We'll just do our own thing, yeah? Until we've got things sorted, it'll be easier."

I nod my understanding, feeling a twinge of disappointment. I guess it is okay for the moment. But as we go forward, we will need to 'get things sorted', which means telling our parents, just as we've agreed to. It doesn't matter how difficult it's going to be; we have to do it.

It's Saturday morning, Finals Day at the English Schools' Championships. Last night, I had a text from Dean. He qualified second fastest for his final, which is at five past two, at the start of the afternoon session. Patrick's three thousand metre race is a straight final at ten past twelve.

Altogether, over the two days, around two thousand competitors will take part. That's a huge number. I can't imagine what it's going to be like. I know I'll just be watching, but I'm more nervous than if I was racing myself.

At half past eight, I take the bus into town and walk to Dean's house. When I get there, his parents are ready to go. We arrive at Birmingham's Alexander Stadium at half past ten. Five minutes later we're parked up on the surrounding field. It's a beautiful July morning and already quite warm. There's hardly any wind either. They couldn't have asked for a better day.

As we make our way to our seats, high up in the main stand, the place is already filling up. Mike buys a programme and we settle into our seats. Away to our right is the area where the teams are sitting. Even though I'm really not into watching sport, this is pretty special. I can sense it.

Out on the track, the meeting is about to start. The first few events are heats and semi-finals. There's only one competitor from our county who makes it through. To be honest, it's all a bit boring.

Suddenly, I see Dean and Patrick, dressed in their county tracksuits, walking across in front of the stand. I hurry down the steps to cut them off. Patrick's had his hair cut specially for the occasion, not quite a skinhead, but much shorter than he usually has it. He looks lean and mean. He's ready to race.

"Hi guys! I greet. "So how's it going?"

"Not bad," Dean says, sounding non-committal. "The team's not doing much, but we're okay. Patrick's on his way to warm up, yeah?"

"Gotta go," Patrick says. "Thanks for coming."

"Best of luck!" I encourage.

"He'll be fine," Dean says quietly.

As they continue towards the warm-up area, I return to the stand. I'm more nervous than ever. Patrick's race is the first track final, due to begin in less than forty-five minutes. There are more semi-finals taking place on the track, but I'm not paying them any attention. There's only one thing I want to see.

Finally, the three thousand metre runners make their way onto the track. I check the programme. There are eighteen runners, all representing different counties. The names don't mean anything to me. As I look up, the runners have stripped out of their tracksuits and are waiting a few yards behind the start line. A moment later they're called forwards. The gun goes and the race is on.

The atmosphere changes in an instant. This is the first track final of the entire meeting and suddenly everyone's into it. My heart's thumping. This is what I came for. They complete the first lap in sixty-eight seconds, the whole field bunched together, with Patrick in fourth place.

On the third lap, runners begin to drop off the pace. At the end of the lap the split time is 3'27", and the leading group has been reduced to nine, with Patrick still very much involved. One runner has caught my attention. He's about the same height as Patrick, and though slim, he's a little broader across the shoulders, with quite noticeable muscle definition on his thighs and upper arms. He's good looking too, with medium-length blond hair. He's running beautifully, like it's no effort at all. He's wearing number 25. I check the programme: D. Bell from Durham. He's the class of the field. I can tell just by watching him. It's a shame about his county kit though, a purple vest and lemon-yellow shorts. Yeukkk!

The pace is relentless. With two laps left, Patrick hits the front, stretching them out. The leading group was already down to six. Coming around the first bend they drop another one, leaving just five of them in contention. They move onto the back straight, with Bell right on Patrick's shoulder and looking ominously easy. After rounding the second bend, they come back in front of us.

"Go on Patrick!" I shout at the top of my voice. "You can do this!"

Noting the numbers, I check the programme to see who the others are. Number 31 is Millward from Greater Manchester, who won the race at the inter-counties meeting, 77 is Denham from Surrey, and 43 is Shaughnessy from Lancashire. I'm hoping that Patrick will be able to beat at least a couple of them. Denham's the first to crack, slipping off the pace as they approach the bell.

With one lap remaining, Patrick crosses the finish line in 7'29", which is way faster than he's run before. As they head into the final lap, I'm on the edge of my seat, almost screaming.

"Come on Patrick! You're running fantastic!"

When they reach the back straight, Millward loses contact, reducing the leading group to three. Seconds later, they reach the two hundred metre mark. Bell immediately strikes for home, sprinting majestically with Shaughnessy in pursuit. Patrick can't respond. His lack of finishing speed has found him out. He finishes third in 8'34". I'm not disappointed, even though at one stage it looked as though he might win it. He gave everything out there, running a personal best and setting another school record. Bell and Shaughnessy were just too good.

The presentation for Patrick's race takes place just before the lunch break. As soon as it's finished, he and Dean come over to where we're sitting. Patrick gets handshakes and hugs from all three of us. He deserves them all.

"So who's the guy who qualified faster than you?" I ask, turning to Dean.

"Williams," he says, "His hurdling's a bit rough, but he's very quick in between. He's got lane four, I'm in five. It should be very tight."

"Best of luck!" I say, smiling.

They wander off to rejoin their team-mates. With the morning session at an end, we sit in the stand, eating the picnic lunches we've brought. I check my watch. The afternoon session is due to start in ten minutes, and Dean's race is first up. My heart's pounding. I know how much work he's put in to prepare for this. I just hope he can do it. I know that he and Williams were the fastest qualifiers, but that doesn't mean anything. This is a different race on a different day.

They appear on the track and make their preparations. At exactly five past two, they're called to their marks. I spot Williams in the lane next to Dean, a very athletic looking black guy, dressed in the all-black kit of the London team. He certainly looks the part.

The gun sounds and they're away. As they fly along the back straight, Williams and Dean are out in front. Nobody else is even close. Around the second bend the stagger unwinds, bringing them into the home straight locked together. There are two hurdles left. Dean is way smoother over them than Williams, coming off the last hurdle a couple of yards ahead, but on the run-in, Williams hauls him in, winning by less than a yard.

This time I am disappointed. Dean came so close, only to have it snatched away from him in the last few strides. The official result is announced. Dean's run 53.8 seconds, a personal best and another school record. It could be years before anyone at the Grammar School matches the performances that Dean and Patrick have produced.

I thought I might lose interest once Dean had run, but I'm totally into it now. The afternoon session is all finals, and the standard is breath-taking. One amazing race follows another with hardly a break.

Shortly before six o'clock, it's all over, and time for us to head for home. I've never been that interested in sport, but today was something extraordinary. Somehow, going to watch Dean and Patrick over the past few weeks has given me an appreciation for it that I never previously had.

After having dinner at home, it's half past eight by the time I get to Scott's place.

"So what did you think of it today?" I ask.

"Oh, it was tremendous!" he enthuses. "Even better than I remember! As for Patrick, what a race that was! I've never seen anything like it, and David was going bonkers! It was worth going just for that. Patrick might not be the best runner, but he's got some balls, taking it on like that. Those last two laps were brutal! Even the kids that beat him knew they'd been in a race. The lad that won it looked okay. He was class; you could tell just by watching him. But the kid who finished second was in bits at the end!"

I'm glowing from head to toe. It means the world to hear him show such an understanding of performances in an event that's so different from what he does.

"It's interesting that you noticed Bell," I say, grinning. "I spotted him quite early on. I thought he looked like the winner. He just looked so easy."

"Yeah! Good looking lad too!"

"Oh definitely!" I confirm, snuggling up close. "I wouldn't mind a roll in the hay with him, if I didn't have you, of course!"

He wraps an arm around me, drawing me in. I think it's wonderful that we're so completely on the same page, right down to the guys we think are hot. And it's even better that we can talk about it so openly, knowing that it won't affect our relationship. That's special!

"So what did you think of Dean's race?" I ask.

"He was unlucky," Scott says thoughtfully. "Williams is very strong, but his hurdling's pretty ordinary. He could struggle over the next two years when the hurdles are higher."

He pauses for a few seconds. "I remember when Dean used to hang out with that posh kid Stanford, when he was picking on you. He was pretty scrawny back then. David and I had to take his phone off him."

"Yeah! Well right after that, Dean and Zav had a massive bust-up. They haven't spoken to each other since."

"A good thing too! So how did you and Dean get to be friends?"

"It was an accident, really. Well, first of all, he came to apologise for what had happened, not that he ever actually did anything. Then he asked if he could sit with me in our maths classes. Well, I noticed that he was struggling, so I offered to help him. That's how it started."

"Which tells me exactly what a special guy you are, and why you're the guy I want to be with" he says quietly, right into my ear. "After everything you'd been through, you were willing to draw a line under it and offer to help him. And now look at him!"

"Oh," I say, smiling up at him. "I don't think that has much to do with me. In any case, Dean's helped me as much as I've helped him. If it hadn't been for him, I'd never have started running."

"Oh, I don't doubt that for a moment," he says quietly. "But what you need to remember is that when he was hanging out with that Stanford kid, he was doing nothing and going nowhere. From what I've been told, he didn't have any other friends. But you offered him a helping hand when he really needed one. And believe me, that has everything to do with what he's achieved since."

I'm almost in tears. I'd never thought of it like that, and it certainly wasn't why I did what I did. But hearing Scott talk about it in that way is like . . . 'Wow!'

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