Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 4

July 2010

We're into the last week of term. Scott and I have talked some more about telling our parents. It's been reassuring. Now that Scott understands that we need to do it, there's been no hint of him trying to put it off. The Sunday after I get back from France; that's when it's going to happen. Scott will arrange to have lunch with his parents. I'll be at home anyway.

I've talked to Dad, and he's cool with it. He's going to suggest that we invite Scott for lunch the following week, so that he and Mum can get to know him. I've kept Claire in the loop, of course. Last Friday, she and Damian went backpacking around Europe for four weeks, but she's coming back on the same day as I am. I definitely want her to be there when I make my 'announcement'.

It's Tuesday morning. For registration, we're still in our Year 11 groups. We won't move into our Year 12 tutor groups until September. After she's called the register, Mrs Vickers picks up a piece of paper.

"Ian Haskell," she announces. "Mr Carter wants to see you. You're to report to his office directly after morning break."

That comes as a surprise. Mr Carter's the Head of Sixth Form, which is the old name for Years 12 and 13. I've no idea what he wants to see me about.

When the bell sounds for the end of morning break, I make my way to his office. It seems that I'm not the only one who's been summoned to see him. When I arrive, Christian Towner is already standing outside the office. Roz Marshall turns up less than a minute later.

That's when I realise what it's about. We're all on scholarships of one sort or another; Christian, who plays the cello, has a music scholarship; Roz and I both have scholarships for art. Thinking back, I remember that mine was initially for five years. I hope Mr Carter's not going to tell me that it's coming to an end. That would not be good!

He arrives a few seconds after Roz. He has a calm authority about him. He's not scary like Mr Steadman, the Head of Upper School, (meaning Years 10 and 11) but he still isn't someone I'd want to mess with. As well as being Head of Sixth Form, he teaches English, although I've never been taught by him.

"Right! Who was first?" he asks smiling. We indicate Christian. "Come in please, Christian," he says brightly.

They disappear into the office. After a few minutes, Christian emerges.

"Your turn," he says, giving nothing away.

I step inside.

"Sit down, please, Ian!" Mr Carter says, smiling again. "As I'm sure you remember, when you started here, you were awarded an art scholarship for five years. Now these scholarships are not extended automatically. The governors like to see that the pupils who've received them have used them appropriately. Now in your case, not only does Mr Gault speak very highly of you, your overall progress has been excellent. On that basis, the governors are delighted to extend your scholarship for a further two years. Well done!"

He stands up extending his hand.

"Thank you, sir!" I respond, getting to my feet to accept the handshake.

"I understand that you often use your summer holidays to develop your art work," he goes on. "Will you be doing that this year?"

"Yes sir. Next week, I'll be going with Anthony Howes and his father to Antibes in the south of France, which is where several of the Impressionists worked. We'll be there for two and a half weeks."

"Oh, that sounds excellent!" he enthuses. "I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time! I look forward to seeing what you produce."

I leave his office, feeling as though I'm walking on air. It's the first time that I've dealt with Mr Carter face-to-face. I'm impressed. I may not have needed the encouragement he just gave me, but I certainly appreciate it. Best of all, he treated me like a young adult. It works for me.

That evening, I'm pottering around at home, when I get a call. It's Robbie.

"Hi Robbie!" I say brightly. "I wasn't expecting you to call. What can I do for you?"

"Have you got time for a chat?" he asks.

"Sure! What about?"

"I am in so much trouble!" he says, sounding thoroughly miserable. "I've failed all my courses at college. I've been told that if I want to continue, I'll have to do the first year again."

"That's not great. So what are you going to do?"

"Well, it's either that or get a job. I'm sure I could get work in retail, but it's boring and the money's crap. The thing is, if I want to redo the first year, Mum will have to pay my tuition fees. I feel terrible about it. We're not rich. Mum's always been a rock for me; she really has. I hate having to ask her to shell out for me because I've screwed up."

"You know what it'll mean if you do," I tell him. "You'll have to get your head down and put the work in. You can't afford to make any slip-ups the second time."

"Yeah, I know! I've been so stupid. I always did okay at school, but when I got to college, I just lost it. I knew I wasn't doing enough work, but somehow, I thought I'd get by. Well, I haven't. I've wasted a whole year, and my mum's going to end up paying for it. I hate that I've let her down like that."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

"I've been thinking that I need to get away from Max. He's always on at me to do this or that. I can't concentrate with him around."

It's music to my ears.

"One hundred percent you need to get away from Max," I tell him. "He just likes having people around him to make him feel important. I've met his sort before. Don't let him use you."

"I knew you'd say that. It's not going to be easy though."

"No, he'll make it as unpleasant as possible. It's what people like him do. You'll need to stay strong. If he tries to sweet-talk you, remember that what he does is all about him, so don't fall for it. Stay focused on what you need to do, right? Will you be getting a summer job?"

"I'm not sure. I haven't thought about it yet."

"Well, if you don't, use the time to learn about the things you'll be doing when you go back to college. Go to the library, go on the internet, whatever."

"I guess I've only even done what I've had to do," he admits. "That was okay when I was at school, but with college not being as strict, I guess I let myself get distracted."

"It happens, but you need to learn from it, yeah? Remember, it's your life, your future. You have to put the work in if you want to get anywhere."

"Yeah, thanks Ian! Talking to you has really helped."

"No problem!" I tell him. "Next Monday, I'm going away for three weeks, but once I'm back, if you need to chat, call me, yeah?"

"Yeah! Thanks!"

We end the call. Considering that we've only met a few times, it seems strange that it was me that he wanted to talk to, but I'm glad he did. It was good that he'd already worked out that he needed to get away from Max's influence. I wouldn't have fancied having to tell him.

I always thought that Robbie was a nice lad, but I guess he got a bit lost. Well, he's had a reality check! The good thing is that he's taken it the right way. I'm happy to help, you know, encouraging him to hang in there when things get tough. Of course, what he really needs is a proper boyfriend, maybe another student at the college he goes to, someone who's trying to build a future for himself, just like he needs to do.

It's Wednesday afternoon. As we begin warming up, I'm joined by Alan Sharp.

"May I have a word?" he asks, trotting alongside me.


"I want to apologise for being snotty with you when you asked me about training on Sundays. I was being stupid. I'd love to come if you'll still have me."

"Of course! We'll probably start a couple of weeks before we go back to school. If you give me your phone number, I'll call you and let you know."

"Cool! How many of us will there be?"

"When we're all there, I think there'll be eight of us."

"Really? Don't your parents mind you inviting so many people?"

"No! When Mum was expecting me, Dad built an extension on the back of the house. When Claire and I were younger, it was our playroom. So that's where we go. And we can get in and out through the utility room, so we're not bringing mud in."

"That sounds great!" He pauses for a moment. "I'm not exactly one of the stars here," he says, lowering his voice. "I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to be team captain. I need to make the most of it."

Okay, Mr Bentley's had a chat to him and spelt it out. I don't care. He's got the message; that's the important thing.

"Just try to lead the way David did," I say. "I'll back you one hundred percent."

"Thanks! I'm not sure how good the team's going to be though."

"The important thing is to make sure it's as good as it can be," I counter.

"Will it be okay if we have a chat sometimes?" he asks. "I've never done anything like this before." He pauses again, looking uncomfortable. "It's just that you seem to know what you're doing."

"Sure!" I tell him. "I'll be happy to help."

That's a surprise. He could have asked either Darren Palmer, or Patrick. Instead, he's asked me.

With the school term drawing to a close, I've had plenty of time to hang out with my friends, and lots of time to spend with Scott. I've been making the most of it. Next Monday morning, I'll be off to France with Anthony, his dad Tom, and Tom's partner James. We'll be away for nineteen days.

In one way, I'm looking forward to it enormously. The opportunity to draw and paint in a place where some really important artists have worked is too good to miss. An added attraction is that the place still has a vibrant art community, including friends of Tom and James that I can learn from.

Of course, being away from Scott for so long is going to be difficult. I can't pretend it isn't. Oh, we'll call or text each other every day, but it's still going to be hard. What I'm planning to do is completely immerse myself in my drawing and painting. That's why we're going and that's what I need to focus on.

It's Saturday evening. I'm on my way to Scott's place, my heart beating just a little faster than normal. This afternoon, he played in a pre-season friendly. He says it's not important, but I'm still anxious to know how it went. I reach the flat and ring the bell. A moment later, he opens the door, ushering me inside.

"Well," I ask excitedly. "How did it go?"

"It was fine," he says casually. "It's always hard to tell with these friendly matches. We were experimenting with different ideas, different line-ups. But I did okay. I was feeling strong, feeling good on the ball. I was able to do what I expected to be able to do, so it's all good."

"Did you win?" I ask.

"Yeah, we won two-nil, but that's neither here nor there, to be honest. The real test will come in three weeks' time."

I sort of understand, but not really. I've got a lot to learn!

I spend Sunday evening packing. As we'll be away for two and a half weeks, I need to take quite a few clothes. I also pack my art materials: paper, pencils, pens, brushes and paints. I'll be able to buy more while we're out there, but I want to take some of my own stuff so that I'll be able to get started straight away. Anthony says that we'll be able to borrow things like easels and chairs.

Early on Monday morning, Dad drops me off at Anthony's house.

"Here we are then!" he says smiling. "You're going to have a great time!"

"Thanks, Dad!" I respond. "You and Mum have a great time in Florence too!"

"Oh, we will!" he assures me. "Have you got everything?"

I make a final check. "Yes, thanks!"

After we've given each other a hug, he drives away. Picking up my stuff, I make my way up the path. The front door is already open, Anthony standing there to welcome me inside.

As we wait for the taxi to take us to the airport, it suddenly hits me what a big step this is. Not only is it the first time that I've been on holiday without Mum and Dad, the people that I'm going with are all gay. Wow!

The journey is quite tedious. Even though the flight itself only takes a couple of hours, by the time we've collected our bags at Nice airport and made our way into the arrivals lounge, it's more than five hours since we left Anthony's place.

We're met by Justin, who's been friends with Tom since their university days. They greet each other like long-lost brothers. Justin has collar-length golden-fair hair, bright blue eyes and several days' worth of stubble, which all contribute to his scruffy-chic appearance. He might as well have 'Artist' tattooed on his forehead.

"Well!" he says smiling at me and extending a hand. "I've met everyone else, so you must be Ian! Pleased to meet you!"

"Pleased to meet you too!"

"Okay!" he announces. "Let's get this show on the road!"

Leaving the airport, we pile into his people-carrier, for the journey to Antibes. It's only 15 km, less than ten miles, but in the busy afternoon traffic, it takes us more than half an hour. Even from inside the car, I can see why we've come here. The light is amazing!

Justin takes us straight to the apartment where we'll be staying. It's quite spacious, with a large living-dining area, a well-equipped kitchen, a combined bath and shower room and two good-sized bedrooms: the master bedroom where Tom and James will be sleeping, and a second bedroom with twin beds that I'll be sharing with Anthony.

The owner is there to greet us. As Tom deals with the paperwork and pays the rental, Anthony and I bring our stuff inside and begin to settle ourselves in. We're in the middle of putting our things away when Tom appears from the living room.

"Okay!" he says brightly. "James and I are going to the supermarket, so don't go anywhere. We won't be long!"

"Don't forget the ice-cream!" Anthony tells him.

"That's the least of my worries!" Tom quips before leaving us to it.

"Oh, man!" Anthony enthuses. "The chocolate ice-cream you get here is to die for! I love it!"

Half an hour later, Tom and James are back.

"Anthony," Tom instructs. "Help James put the shopping away please."

As Anthony heads for the kitchen, I follow him, keen to do my part. Ten minutes later, everything is neatly stowed away. We help ourselves to glasses of coke from one of the large bottles we've acquired.

"Dad," Anthony asks. "Can I show Ian around for a bit?"

"Okay," Tom agrees, "but I want you back here for six. Justin's invited us for dinner."

"Cool!" Anthony says grinning.

"James and I will be doing our thing, and you guys will be doing yours," Tom says, handing him a pair of keys, "so you might as well have these. Just make sure you don't lose them!"

"I won't," Anthony says casually. "Lose them, I mean."

Heading out into the sunshine, we make our way towards the seafront.

"Last year, I worked here a lot," Anthony tells me.

Looking around, I can see why. The water, the light, the architecture, the boats; they're all screaming, 'Draw me! Paint me!' I can hardly wait to get started. A little further along, we spot an artist working at a small easel. He's very chunkily built, with short blond hair. I'd guess him to be in his mid-thirties. Anthony saunters up to him.

"Hello, Miles!" he greets. "Good to see you again!"

"Hello, young man!" Miles answers, smiling as he looks up. "You've come back! Excellent! Sorry, I can't remember your name."


"Yes, of course! Your dad's a friend of Justin's."

"Yeah, that's right. We just got here. We're going to be here for two and a half weeks."

"And this is?"

"Ian; he's a friend from school."

"Delighted to meet you!" Miles says, smiling at me. "Are you an artist too?"

"Sort of," I tell him. "I'm hoping to do architecture at uni, so I have to do lots of drawing, plus watercolours, pastels, acrylics; that sort of thing."

"Wonderful! Those are all media that I work in, so if I can be of any help, I'll be delighted. How old are you now, Anthony?"

"I'm fifteen, Ian's sixteen."

"Ooops! I'd have got that wrong!"

I smile, but say nothing. With Anthony being around six inches taller than me, most people get it wrong.

"We'll be down here in the morning, probably around half past nine," Anthony says.

"I'll be here!" Miles responds. "I look forward to seeing you!"

We stroll away.

"Is he English?" I ask

"Yeah, he's an ex-pat, like Justin. Miles is great. He helped me loads last year; just little, technical things, but they make such a difference."

I nod my understanding. Mr Gault's an excellent teacher, but I don't think he has the technical know-how that someone like Miles must have, especially on working with pastels and acrylics. Just meeting him has got me excited. Turning a corner, we're almost pounced upon by another guy.

"Anthony!" he greets effusively, like Anthony's his protégé or something. "So good to see you again!"

I judge the guy to be a little older than Miles, but slim, and very trendily dressed. From the way he speaks, I'm guessing he must be French.

"Hi Christophe!" Anthony responds, not showing too much enthusiasm.

"So who is this young man?" Christophe asks, nodding towards me.

"Oh, this is Ian," Anthony says, "a friend from school. He's here to do some watercolours and stuff."

"Delighted to meet you," Christophe says, smiling. "Maybe I can give you a little help while you're here. I enjoy helping young artists to learn their trade."

My initial thought is that it might give me another string to bow, someone else that I can learn from, maybe even an opportunity to practise my French. But straight away I get this weird vibe from Anthony, like 'Don't go there.' I'm not sure what it's about, but I've got the message. After chatting for a few minutes, we leave Christophe and go on our way.

"He offered to help me last year," Anthony confides. "I didn't let him, of course. Didn't you see the way he was looking at us? All he wants is to get into our pants. He likes helping young artists, with the emphasis on the 'young'. If you're not careful, it won't just be art that he's helping you with."

"Oh, right!" I say, rather taken aback.

"It goes with the territory," Anthony says casually. "Remember last year when we went to the Gay Village? We'd only been there five minutes when that guy tried to pick us up."

I remember it very clearly. I just hadn't expected to encounter that sort of thing here. I'm annoyed with myself. I should have spotted that Christophe was perving on us. I need to be more on the ball.

"I don't think he'd be much help to you anyway," Anthony says. "His main thing's oils."

As I'm not doing fine art, I'll never need to use oil paints. It'll be a convenient excuse for me not to take up Christophe's offer.

"Is Justin's place near the apartment?" I ask.

"Yeah, just around the corner. We stayed there last year, but it was a bit chaotic."

We get back to the apartment at quarter to six. After a quick freshen up, I send a text to Mum and Dad before calling Scott.

"Great to hear from you!" he enthuses. "You got there okay then?"

"Yeah, no problem! This is an amazing place. Anthony just showed me around part of it. I can't wait to get started. How's training going?"

"Oh, just building up nicely. This time last year, I was one of the new boys in the first-team squad. This time, I'm not. It does make a difference."

"Right! Well we're going out to dinner in a minute, so I'll have to go. Love you lots!"

"Love you too!"

I end the call. Just before six, we stroll around to Justin's house. You can tell it's an artist's place. There are canvasses and art materials all over the place. It's not scruffy, exactly. I think the word's 'Bohemian'. I like it, but I can see what Anthony means about it being chaotic.

When we arrive, we're introduced to Nina, Justin's girlfriend, who seems very nice. Dinner is excellent, and really relaxed. After a long day's travelling, it's exactly what I needed.

We leave just before ten. As we walk back, I think about Mum and Dad. The day after tomorrow, they'll be in Florence, their favourite city. It'll be their first holiday without either me or Claire for nineteen years. That is so cool. I hope they have an awesome time. I know we've had a few disagreements, but they're great parents. I love them to bits.

As soon as we get back to the apartment, Anthony and I head to our room. We're both pretty tired. After cleaning our teeth, we strip down to our boxers. I'm not sure what's going to happen. I'm not used to having sex when there's anyone else in the house.

"So are we . . . you know?" I ask.

"Sure," Anthony says. "Nobody's going to come in unless we're making too much noise."

So that's it. Our boxers are discarded. Naked, the contrast between me and Anthony is at its starkest. Not only is he taller than me, he's bigger down there than I am, he's got more pubic hair than me, and his calves are covered in short fair hairs, whereas mine are still totally smooth. He's fifteen and looks all of it. I'm sixteen and look no more than fourteen.

We get onto my bed. Some delightfully gentle foreplay morphs seamlessly into a sixty-nine. Anthony begins fondling my bum. He runs his finger along my crack. I move it away.

"We're not going to fuck, remember?" I say quietly.

"I wasn't going to," Anthony counters. "I was just stroking you. I like stroking your arse."

"Okay then," I concede.

We get back to what we were doing. After a couple of minutes, Anthony cums in my mouth. A few seconds later, I cum in his. Wonderful! I'd almost forgotten how good blow-jobs can be.

We lie there for a while, basking in the post-orgasmic glow. Finally, Anthony gets up, kisses me on the forehead and retreats to his own bed. It's not the sort of full-on, mind-blowing sex I have with Scott, but it works for me. In less than a minute, I'm fast asleep.

It's Friday morning, quarter to seven. Anthony's got into bed with me. We're not actually doing anything; we're just snuggled up together. I love the feeling of having him so close, his body touching mine.

The last few days have been fantastic. I've been working with pastels, a medium I've never been totally comfortable with . Miles has been brilliant, patiently showing me how to apply them properly. If I do it wrong, he guides my hand to help me get the feel for it.

The best part is that he doesn't try to do too much all at once. After working with me for ten minutes or so, he goes back to his own stuff. A few hours later, he'll come back to see how I've been getting on. It's definitely working. I'm feeling more confident already.

Unsurprisingly, Christophe's come creeping around a few times. He even suggested I should come to his studio so he could 'show me a few things'. I mean, how blatant can you get? I turned him down, very politely, of course.

"Morning!" Anthony says quietly. "Sleep okay?"

"Like a log. You?"

"Yeah! Good, thanks! Are we . . .?"

"Sure, but I need a pee first."

"Cool! I already had one."

Getting out of bed, I slip on my boxers and head to the bathroom. When I return, I take them off again and slide in next to him. It's time for sex! As usual, we finish up doing a sixty-nine. As Anthony strokes my arse, he puts his finger right on my bum-hole. Oh shit! I'm itching to take it up my bum, but I promised Scott that I wouldn't. I'm not going to fall at the first hurdle, am I?

"Please don't do that," I say.


"Please don't put your finger there. It makes me, . . . you know."

"Sorry," he says, moving it away. "I hadn't thought about that."

Phew! I've got away with one. If Anthony had pressed the point, I'm not sure I'd have been able to say no.

It's Wednesday. The last five days have absolutely flown past. Miles has been superb. After all the help he's given me, I've begun to produce work in pastels that I'm actually happy with. That's a huge improvement.

"You've done very well," Miles says, smiling. "Just keep practising like you have been doing. If you concentrate on using the techniques I've shown you, they'll soon become second nature. Now, did you say you wanted to do some work with acrylics?"

"Yes, please. I've only recently started using them. I'm not very good."

"Oh, don't worry about that," he says smiling. "I can show you what to do. You'll soon get the hang of it. I won't be around this afternoon, but we can start tomorrow morning if you like."

"Yes please!" I respond. "That'd be awesome!"

"Okay, I'll see you then!"

I haven't seen much of Anthony this week. His big project for this holiday is to produce his first oil painting. For the first six days, we'd set up just a few yards apart while he produced the preliminary sketches. Other than the occasional break, we didn't chat, but it was reassuring to have him close by.

Since Monday, however, he's been hunkered down in Justin's studio, working on the painting itself. It hasn't mattered too much. Miles has been around the whole time, so I've been setting up close to where he is.

This afternoon, I don't have either Anthony or Miles for company. If I was at home, it wouldn't bother me at all, but I'm not. I'm in a strange town where I don't know anybody. It makes me feel, well, vulnerable.

The obvious concern is Christophe. If he sees me on my own, he'll start pestering me. That's the last thing I want. But I don't have anything else to do, so I get the pastels out again and try to get some more practice done.

For well over an hour, it's absolutely fine. I'm totally into it, and nobody bothers me at all. It's time to take a breather. Looking up, I notice two boys standing a short distance away, one around my size, the other a bit smaller. They seem to be looking straight at me.

I try to ignore it. I mean, I am in a public place. Having had a drink and rested my eyes, I start work again, but I can't settle. After a few minutes, I look up. The two boys are still where they were. More to the point, they're still watching me.

I don't like this one bit. They don't look dangerous, but they're definitely up to something. I decide to take the only safe course of action. I pack my things away and head back to Justin's place. Nina lets me in. I wander through to the studio where Justin and Anthony are working.

"You're back early," Anthony comments.

"Yeah," I admit. "Miles had to go at lunchtime. I stayed around and started to get some more work done, but when I looked up, I saw these two boys watching me, yeah? I don't know what they were up to. I just got a bad feeling about it."

"It was probably nothing," he says nonchalantly.

That's alright for him to say. He's much better at looking after himself than I am.

"I was a bit worried that Christophe might come around too," I add. "If he saw me on my own, he'd have been bound to start pestering me."

"Oh, he's notorious," Justin intervenes. "If he does start bothering you, just mention that you're staying with Justin Cross. He'll soon disappear!"

"Thanks!" I say, grinning. "I'll remember that."

It's Friday evening. We've gone out for dinner. Justin and Nina have joined us.

"Right!" Tom announces. "The weekend begins here!" He turns to me and Anthony. "No work for the next two days!"

"But I want to get on with my painting," Anthony protests.

"It'll keep!" Tom says firmly.

"But it's nearly finished!" Anthony argues.

"That's the point," Justin says quietly. "You've worked your socks off this week. You need a break, so do as your dad says. Then you'll be able to come back on Monday with fresh eyes. You'll have it finished by mid-afternoon, maybe earlier. You might want to tinker with it a bit on Tuesday, but that'll be it."

Anthony settles back into his chair, as if to say, 'Fair enough'. It's not a case of him having lost the argument. He's simply accepted the advice of a professional, working artist whom he clearly respects a great deal.

"So what are you working on at the moment?" Tom asks, turning to me. "Is Miles still helping you?"

"Oh yes!" I enthuse. "He's been brilliant! As you know, we started off working with pastels. I can't believe how much I've improved! Over the last couple of days, we've moved onto acrylics. I'm learning so much!"

"Oh, Miles is one of the good guys," Justin says, smiling. "He's not a great artist, unfortunately, but he does okay."

"He'd make a superb teacher," I suggest.

"He tried that," Justin says. "He didn't like being in schools, teaching kids who weren't interested. But he's in his element working with guys like you and Anthony. Anyway, at weekends, he likes to spend time with his own kids, so you won't be missing out."

"Cool!" I respond.

"So what are we going to be doing, Dad?" Anthony asks.

"I thought tomorrow we'd take a taxi to Juan Les Pins," Tom says. "We like it there, don't we, James?"

"Yes," James confirms. "Superb beach with great facilities. It'll be quite busy, of course, but not overcrowded."

"So will we just be lazing around all day?" Anthony presses.

"Not all day," Tom responds. "You can swim and we can play some frisbee; you're good at that. And there are some great places to eat."

So that's it then. We've got tomorrow sorted.

Our day out at Juan Les Pins has been excellent. We arrived here about half past ten. We immediately hired loungers and umbrellas, so we'd have somewhere to base ourselves. After Anthony and I had plastered each other in suntan lotion, it was time to go swimming.

This is the first time I've ever swum in the sea. This beach is ideal for it. The water's very calm and very clear, and you can go out quite a long way without getting out of your depth, which is great for a mediocre swimmer like me. What I hadn't realised before was the seawater is more buoyant than fresh water, and so floating on my back was even easier than it is in the swimming pool.

After around half an hour, we trotted back to our loungers, dried off, applied some more sun tan oil and chilled out for a while. Then Tom suggested a game of frisbee. I haven't played frisbee before. Tom had to show me how to uncurl my fingers to get it to fly properly, but I soon got the hang of it.

Anthony's amazing! His throws are fast and very accurate. Tom says it's because he has big hands and long fingers, coupled to the speed at which he brings his arm through, although you wouldn't notice. He makes it look effortless.

The only mishap was when he threw me a super-fast one. I had to deflect it with my arm to stop it hitting me in the face. To be fair, he was very apologetic. After that, he stuck to throwing to his dad.

And that's how it's been: swimming, chilling, snacking and frisbee. Tom was right. After all the work that Anthony and I have been putting in, we definitely needed a break. Today's been perfect.

We're stretched out on our loungers when my phone beeps. I take it out and open it.

"What is it?" Anthony asks.

"I've got a text from Dad. It sounds like they're having a great time."

"Where are they? You did tell me."


"Right! I've never been there."

"You should go. If you're into Renaissance art, there's nowhere like it."

I quickly key in a reply, telling Mum and Dad how I've been spending today. In their last couple of texts, they've told me not to work too hard, so I'm sure they'll be pleased that I'm having a day off.

I check my watch. It's quarter past six. I need to call Scott. He played in another pre-season friendly this afternoon, the last one before the start of the new season, but he should be home by now. Tom says that we'll be going for a meal shortly, so as long as I can get a signal, now's as good a time as any. I go onto speed-dial and click on the icon. Within a few seconds, it's ringing out.

"Hi! Great to here from you!" he says as he picks up. "What have you been doing today?"

I quickly give him the run-down.

"Excellent! I thought it was about time you had a day off! I didn't know you played frisbee."

"Neither did I. Anthony's dad had to show me how to throw it, but it's not difficult. Anthony's brilliant at it. He's got big hands and long fingers, and he brings his arm through really fast."

"Yeah, I can imagine that."

I don't mention about him nearly taking my head off. It's probably better if he doesn't know.

"I hope you haven't been getting any unwanted attention," he says.

"None at all, as far as I'm aware," I answer. "It's been quite busy, but it's mainly families."

"Oh, right! And I trust that you and Anthony are still behaving yourselves?"

I grind my teeth. He hasn't mentioned that for over a week, and I'm a bit irritated that he's brought it up now. With Anthony lying no more than three feet away, I lay it on with a trowel.

"Of course we have!" I say firmly. "We've stuck to doing exactly what we said we would. Actually, Anthony's a star. I thought he might try to persuade me to take things a bit further, but he's never even mentioned it."

"Oh, sorry! That's me being a bit over-protective. Say 'Hi' to Anthony for me!"

I turn towards him. "Scott says 'Hi!'." I get back to the phone. "So how did the match go?"

"It was fine. A bit more competitive than the previous ones, but we did okay. I finished the game with everything still in full working order, so it's all systems go for next week. What are you doing this evening?"

"We'll be going for a meal shortly. Then we'll take a taxi back to the apartment. That's about it, really."

"Okay," he says. "I'd better let you go. Enjoy your evening. I'll call you about this time tomorrow. Love you lots!"

"Love you too!"

We arrive at the restaurant shortly before seven. We're shown to our table. I sit next to Anthony, with Tom opposite me and James opposite Anthony.

"Ian," Tom says quietly, looking right into my eyes. "Do I understand, from the conversation that I overheard a little earlier, that you have a boyfriend?"


"Interesting! How long have you been together?"

"Since just before Easter."

"Right! So that was after you asked your parents if you could come on holiday with us?"

"Yes. That was before the February half term."

"That's right. I was surprised how quickly your Mum agreed to let you come."

"You and me both! But when I gave him the dates, Dad realised that we'd be here the same time that Claire and Damian would be backpacking around Europe. So he told Mum that if they let me come with you, they'd be able to go to Italy, just the two of them. Well, she was never going to turn that down! They haven't had a holiday like that since Claire was born."

"Ah! So he made her an offer she couldn't refuse!"

"Yeah, pretty much."

"Do your parents know that you've acquired a boyfriend?"

"Dad does. When he came home from work at weekends, he noticed me . . . bouncing around, I guess. So one evening, he came to my room and asked me straight out if I'd met 'someone special'. I told him I had."

"Right! But you've not told your mum yet?"

"No. That was just before I started my exams. I was going to tell her as soon as I'd finished them, but Dad said it'd be better to leave it until we'd been on holiday. So I'm going to do it next Sunday, after we get back."

"Sensible man, your dad," Tom says, nodding his approval. "As an exercise in forward planning, you'd be hard pressed to better it. So how did you and your boyfriend meet?"

"He's one of Claire's friends. He turned up at our house during the February half term. I thought he must be looking for Claire, but she wasn't in. Anyway, he said it was me he wanted to see. He told me he's just bought a flat but it needed to be completely refurbished. He wanted to know if I'd be interested in designing it for him."

"Claire's just done her A-levels, hasn't she?" Tom asks, looking at me quizzically "But your boyfriend is able to buy his own flat. How does that work?"

I have a massive 'Oh, shit!' moment. I go bright red. I can feel my face burning. I take a deep breath.

"If I tell you, you must promise not to tell anyone else."

"As long as he's not a wanted criminal, our lips are sealed."

"Scott left school two years ago. He's a professional footballer."

"Good God!" Tom exhales. "I'm not surprised that you don't want that coming out!" He turns to Anthony. "Did you know about this?"

"Yeah. Ian told me about a month ago."

"Fair enough!" Tom says. "Well done for keeping it quiet." He turns back to me. "So this would be the young man who represented England Schoolboys, what, three years ago?"


"Do his parents know?"

"Not yet. He's going to tell them next Sunday."

He leans across the table. "The standard thing to say at this point is that you'd like to be a fly on the wall while that was going on," he says in little more than a whisper. "But actually, I'd rather not. I can imagine that being quite a difficult conversation."

"Yes. Scott says his dad's not going to like it one bit."

"Which is not going to make things easy for you, is it? Are you sure you're ready for it?"

"Scott's the guy I was meant to be with, so I hope I am."

"So what's the attraction? It can't be purely physical, surely?"

"We think the same way about things. He wants to be the best footballer he can be. I want to be the best architect I can be. We both understand how hard it's going to be for us to make those things happen. And because we understand, we can really support each other."

Tom pauses for a few seconds, eyeing me carefully.

"That was very well put," he says eventually. "I'd like you to know that you have my total support."

"Yeah, man!" Anthony adds, grinning. "It's, like, totally cool!"

"Absolutely!" James agrees, smiling warmly "I wish you the very best of luck. You deserve it!"

I sit back. My head's spinning. I hadn't meant to tell these guys, but now that I have, I'm glad I've done it.

"Dad, what are we doing tomorrow?" Anthony asks.

"Oh, I've nothing special planned." Tom says casually. "I thought we could just laze around locally. As long as it doesn't involve you two doing any work, we can do what you want."

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