Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 10

September 2010

The following day, everything carries on as normal. Zav's there in our history class, and shows no sign of being aware that anything unusual is going on. In the circumstances, it seems quite surreal. As instructed, Dean and I keep our mouths firmly shut. As Mike told us, we need to be patient and let the police do their job.

October 2010

Leaving school on Friday afternoon is almost a relief. I've got the whole weekend in front of me when I won't need to wonder what's going to happen. I head directly to Scott's flat.

"You've had a tough few days then?" he says gently.

"Yeah, a bit. I'd rather not have had to be interviewed by the police, but there was no way around it. Since then, it's been, like waiting for something to happen. Mike told us not to worry about how long it takes."

"Yeah, well he's right about that. The police need to make sure that they do everything correctly. If they don't, the case could get thrown out. You wouldn't want that!"

"No," I agree. "That would really suck!"

Once again, Scott's judged my mood perfectly, just as I'm able to judge his. It's a large part of why we're together. The sex we have is wonderful, with Scott emphasising the affection and playing down the physicality. As he drives me home, I have the sense of being loved and valued by the most special guy I've ever met.

I'm in the middle of my maths homework when there's a knock on my bedroom door. It's Dad, who's just returned from work.

"I understand that you and Dean have spoken to the police about an attack that took place in Thurlston Forest," he says, sitting on my bed. "It seems that you knew about this last weekend. Why didn't you say something then?"

"Dean told me about it on the Thursday," I explain. "He said that he was going to talk to his dad about it, so I waited. But when they came here last Sunday morning, he still hadn't done it. He told me his mum and dad had been too busy, but he was going to talk to his dad that afternoon. It was too late to tell you then."

"In future," he says quietly. "If anything like that happens, you need to tell us straightaway."


"I was also rather disappointed to find out that the boy who'd been bullying you tried to attack you in the school toilets around a year later. You didn't tell us about that either."

"There wasn't any point. I got out without a scratch, so there was no evidence. It would have been my word against his."

"Even so, I would have preferred to have known about it."

"It was difficult. At that stage, I hadn't even told you I was gay. Mum would have had kittens if it had come out like that."

"Yes, I understand the problem, but I still don't like it. But you did speak to your French teacher, Mr Ashton, who, I now understand, is openly gay. How did you know about that?"

"Well, to start with, I heard Claire and her friends talking about it. This was about the time that I started getting bullied. I was really surprised. I mean, he doesn't look gay, or act gay or anything. But I thought he might be able to tell me what to do, so I asked if I could speak to him."


"He was really helpful. He told me I needed to fight back."

"And did you?"

"Not straightaway, but once I realised it wasn't going to stop, I had to."

"Apparently, Mr Ashton's taught both you and Claire, so your mum's met him several times. I haven't, of course. I do find myself wondering. He doesn't have any interests he shouldn't have, does he?"

"No way!" I say emphatically. "From what I've heard, his partner's a big guy with muscles in places that most guys don't even have places. Anthony told me. His dad knows them."

"Ahh!" Dad responds, grinning. "So you wouldn't really be his type then! That's fine. I thought it was probably something like that. I just needed to hear it from you. It's called 'due diligence'." He pauses for a moment. "Please remember what Mum said to you. We want to support you as well as we can, so if any other issues crop up, we need to know about them. I'll speak to Mike on Sunday; find out what he knows about this latest business. Right! I'll let you get back to work."

With a history essay to write, and some stuff to do for art and design, I spend most of Saturday working. At five o'clock, I check the football scores. Playing at home to Swansea, Reavington have got a two-all draw.

After dinner, I make my way to the flat. I'm expecting Scott to be disappointed. Instead, he's absolutely buzzing.

"Against a really good team, we played our socks off," he enthuses. "It's the best match I've ever played in. The thing was, they came to play. They were looking for goals. We don't mind that. When most teams come to our place, they try to stop us playing. That's not great for us, and it's boring for the fans. Well, this afternoon, they got to watch two teams totally going for it. We went behind twice. Both times, we pulled it back. Against a team that's been playing as well as they have, that's a good result."

"So how did you do?" I ask.

"Pretty well! Their right back likes to get forward to support their attacking players. Well, after they went one-nil up, he tried it once too often. We got the ball back. When it came to me, he was way out of position. I took it almost to the corner flag and put in a killer cross. Femi did what he does best, so that was one-all. After that, the guy was on me the whole time. Not much fun for me, but it reduced their attacking options."

"Nice!" I say, grinning.

"The thing is, it really wasn't poor defending. It was about two attack-minded teams being given a bit of space to play and producing something a bit special. It's not often that the fans will go home having seen four really good goals. Anyway, we've got no complaints. What we need to do is to play as well as that against the weaker teams."

He's enthused me too. Tomorrow morning, watching the Football League Show will be my number one priority. We head for the bedroom. As it invariably does, the sex that we have reflects our mood. Sometimes, it's passionate, sometimes, it's gentle; other times, it can be intensely physical. Today it's exhilarating. That's the only word I can use to describe it.

It's strange how watching Match of the Day with Dad and Scott has become one of the highlights of my week. There's a sense of togetherness; a sense that we understand each other and are all pulling in the same direction.

The more I see of Alan Hansen, the more I appreciate how good he is. A few days ago, I googled him. He's actually ten years older than Dad, not that you'd know. I hope I look as good as he does when I'm fifty-four.

The following morning, Dad and I settle down in front of the TV to watch The Football League Show. For the first time this season, Scott's match is the headline feature. It's easy to see why. With them showing all four goals and several other highlights, even I can appreciate how good and exciting it was, and how much quality was on show. The pundits are in raptures, describing it as a fantastic advert for Championship football.

"That was a great match," Dad says quietly when the programme moves on. "And Scott did superbly. The good thing is that he never makes too much of it. That's important if he's going to get to the top level."

After our training run, Mike and Dean stay behind after everyone else has gone. Dad gathers us around the dining table.

"I've asked Mike to explain to you guys what he thinks the police will have been doing since you spoke to them," he says quietly. "As I'm sure you understand, you must not repeat any of this."

"This is not definitive," Mike says. "But I do know a reasonable amount about police procedure, so I'll just outline what I think they'll have done. Their first move will have been to contact the school. As Xavier's in the sixth form, I'm guessing that they'll have been referred to Mr Carter, so they'd have made an appointment to go into school to see him. Now, from what Dean's told me, Xavier was in some further trouble about a year ago, so they'll probably have spoken to Mr Steadman as well. By this point, they'd probably be viewing Xavier as a strong suspect. What they don't have is evidence, so they'll need to find some. Are you with me so far?"

Dean and I acknowledge that we understand.

"Right! The first thing they'll want is a recent photograph. Now your school doesn't go in for that sort of thing, so they won't be able to provide one, but we told the police where Xavier lives, and how he gets to and from school. So what they'll probably have done is to send a detective to park up near the bus stop in Straffham, and photograph Xavier as he walks back to his house.

"Is that like undercover work?" I ask.

"Not exactly," Mike explains. "It's covert surveillance. Xavier's in a public place, so it's perfectly okay for the police to photograph him. Having got some pictures, they'll pick the best one, and put it into an array with pictures of five other boys of similar age and appearance. They'll then show the array to the children who said that they saw a teenager hanging around on the day of the attack. If one of them is able to pick Xavier out, that'll be enough for the police to get an arrest warrant."

"Couldn't the police just contact Xavier's parents, and say that they want to speak to him?" I ask.

"They could, but they won't want to do that if they can avoid it. The problem is that they don't want the lad to become aware that they're looking at him. If that happens, he may try to destroy evidence. That's not a risk I'd want to run."

"You mean like what he's got on his phone or his laptop?" Dean suggests.

"Exactly!" Mike confirms. "However, an arrest warrant also allows the police to search the house, and to take a DNA swab and fingerprints. That's what they'll want."

"If none of the kids can pick Zav out of the photo array," I ask, "what will happen then?"

"There are other avenues that the police can go down, but that will take time, so you may need to be patient. If all else fails, they'll probably do as you suggested, but without an arrest warrant, their powers are very limited."

"Thanks," I say, as I finally begin to understand how complicated this is, and what Scott meant by the police needing to do things properly.

After lunch, I spend the afternoon with Scott. As he he'll be joining the England under-21s on Tuesday, we want to make the most of the next two days. Yet again, Scott judges my mood perfectly. After listening to Mike this morning, I'm feeling a little fragile again, concerned that Zav might just get away with it. But Scott's at his gentlest and most affectionate, giving me the reassurance that he'll be there for me no matter what. It's just what I need.

The next day at school, everything's normal. After morning break, I head to my history class. Maybe thirty seconds later, Zav appears. As usual, he goes straight to his place without saying a word to anybody.

Almost immediately, Mr Anderson breezes in, and the class begins. He throws lots of questions at us, making us think about why events unfolded in the way they did. Zav doesn't say anything unless Mr Anderson asks him directly, and he doesn't say much even then. It all seems very odd. He used to be so full of himself. Finally, the class is at an end and we make our way out.

"Why's Zav so quiet these days?" I ask, totally not getting it.

"He doesn't get on with Mr Anderson," Matthew says. "And it's a battle he knows he can't win. When we first started Year 10, he had plenty to say, talking bollocks, basically. Anderson called him out on it several times. So these days, he never says anything unless he has to."

At the time, I wasn't in Mr Anderson's class, because the school wanted to keep me and Zav apart. But what Matthew's said does make sense. I can imagine Mr Anderson doing it too.

After school, as soon as cross-country training's finished, I get home as fast as I can. I don't usually see Scott on Mondays, but as he'll be going away tomorrow morning, this evening will be an exception.

But before I can go out, there's some maths I need to finish. This is another change that I'm having to get used to. Previously, Mr Bentley took in our exercise books once a week and marked everything we'd done.

Now that we're doing A-level, Mr Hawkes gives us whole exercises to do, just the same. But he'll then select a number of questions that we have to do in our homework books, which we then hand in so he can mark them. It's our responsibility to make sure that we complete all the other work we've been set.

That's what I need to do this evening. I don't have anything that I'll need to hand in, but I need to make sure that I've finished the exercise that we're working through, because when we get to our maths class tomorrow morning, Mr Hawkes will expect us to be ready to move on. I am not going to get left behind!

After working for forty minutes, I've broken the back of it. It's time for me to get everything ready for mum to cook dinner. After we've eaten, I load the dishwasher and hurry back to my room. By twenty past seven, I've finished, apart from one question that I can't fathom how to do. I'll ask Mr Hawkes about that tomorrow. If previous experience is anything to go by, I won't be the only one in the class to have had a problem with it.

Scott arrives ten minutes later. Normally, Mum wouldn't be happy with me going out in the evening when I've got school the next day, but she knows this is a one-off.

"Good evening, Mrs Haskell!" Scott says brightly, stepping into the lounge. "We'll be back by quarter past nine."

"Fine!" Mum responds, smiling. "I'll hold you to that!"

We set off towards the flat. "Any news on what's happening with Stanford?" Scott asks.

"Not yet."

"Don't worry," he says reassuringly. "The coppers will soon catch up with him."

There's something about only having a limited time that concentrates the mind. That's especially true now, knowing that after this evening, we'll be without each other for eight whole days.

Once we arrive at the flat, we've got just over an hour. It's wonderful; I can't begin to describe how good it is. Physically, sexually, emotionally, even intellectually; it's got it all. I've never connected with anyone the way I have with Scott.

As he drives me home, I know better than ever why he's the guy that I want to spend my life with, and that I'll wait for him, no matter what the frustrations.

On Tuesday morning, my first class is history. Zav doesn't appear. The word is that he's not in school, and nobody knows why. I have to keep calm and appear uninterested, but it's not easy. Does this mean what I think it means? My emotions are in turmoil. I can't even discuss it with Dean in case somebody overhears us.

I struggle through the day, waiting and wondering. At seven in the evening, I finally get a call. It's Mike Griffiths.

"Xavier was arrested at 6.30 this morning," he says quietly. "In addition, his laptop, his phone and a number of other devices were taken away for forensic examination. Once the search had been completed, he was taken to the police station where fingerprints and a DNA swab were taken. He was then interviewed in relation to the sexual assault charge. On the advice of his solicitor, he made no comment, which is what I'd have expected."

"So what happens now?" I ask.

"He's been released on bail. The police should get the results of the DNA test within the next couple of days, which will determine whether or not they charge him with the sexual assault. He could also be facing further charges, depending on what they find on his laptop and the other bits and pieces they're looking at. That will take them a few weeks."

"So will he be coming back to school?"

"Not at the moment," Mike assures me. "If he's cleared of the sexual assault charge, he'll be allowed to return to school. Otherwise, he won't. As I said, we should know the answer to that within the next few days."

After ending the call, I go downstairs and pass the information on to Mum. Returning to my room, I settle down to do my homework. Just as I'm finishing, I get a text from Scott. It's the usual stuff, just like he's sent me before. I know it's the best he can manage without arousing suspicion, but it still grates that we aren't able to talk.

I send him a quick reply. If we'd been speaking face-to-face, I'd have told him about Zav, but having been told not to say anything, I don't want to put it into a text.

The following afternoon, we're in Sutton Coldfield, a very prosperous residential area on the northern outskirts of Birmingham. We're going to be racing in Sutton Park, which is roughly four square miles of woods and heathland, surrounded by some very expensive-looking houses.

The race is being hosted by the local boys' grammar school, which has a long and impressive tradition in the sport. At four and a half miles, it's one of the longest races we do, and unusually, it's only one lap, the whole course being marshalled by boys and staff from the host school.

After jogging about a mile from the school, we line up for the start. The course is real cross-country from start to finish. We even have to run through water in a couple of places. It suits me perfectly! After my usual steady start, I work my way through, picking up places all the time. By the time I reach the finish, I'm in eighth place, my best ever result.

With Patrick having finished second and Alan eleventh, we've made a reasonable start. Unfortunately, our other runners haven't fared as well. Struggling both with the distance and with the demanding terrain, Nathan finished seventeenth, Jon twentieth and Simon twenty-fourth, giving us a total of 82 points, and placing us as the third team out of four.

It's disappointing. I didn't expect us to beat the host school, but I thought we might do better than that. To his credit, Alan bustles around, offering words of consolation and encouragement to the lads that didn't run too well.

"You seem to be good at that!" I comment as we pull on our training pants.

"I know what it's like," he explains, "running poorly and knowing you've let the team down. When it happened to me, the team captain was always there to pick me up again. I think it's important."

Well, I'm not going to disagree. After getting showered and changed, we finally leave at half past three, getting back to school at twenty past four. It's just as well that Scott's not around. We'd have had hardly any time at all.

With Scott away, I throw myself one hundred per cent into my school work and my running. Right at the moment, it's all I've got. Although I still enjoy being with my friends' while I'm at school, I don't really socialise with them outside.

It's Friday evening when I get another call from Mike.

"I just called to tell you that the police have had results come back from Xavier's DNA swab. It matched the semen found on the victim. The senior detective asked me to thank you for your help in identifying the offender."

"Oh, right! So what will happen to him?"

"He has to report back to the police on Monday morning. Once he's been charged, he'll be taken straight to court. Given the serious nature of the offence, I'd expect the magistrates to remand him to a Young Offenders' Institution to await a hearing at the crown court. His solicitor may ask for bail, but I'd be very surprised if the magistrates granted it. One thing that doesn't change is that he still can't be named, okay?"

"Yeah," I agree lamely. "I understand. Will I have to go to court?"

"Most unlikely. He's almost certain to plead guilty. Will you tell your mum and dad, or would you prefer me to do it?"

"I'll do it. Dad'll be home in about an hour. I'll do it then."

As we end the call, I feel empty. I try to get on with doing my homework, but I can't concentrate. At quarter past eight, I hear Dad come in. After waiting for a couple of minutes, I make my way downstairs. Mum and Dad are in the lounge.

"I've had a call from Mike Griffiths," I say baldly.

"And?" Dad queries.

"The police have received the results from Zav's DNA test. It was him who attacked the boy in the forest."

"He sounds like quite a dangerous individual," Dad says. "So well done for doing what you did." He pauses for a moment. "You seem upset," he comments, motioning for me to go and sit with him on the sofa.

"Not really upset," I say, trying to explain, but failing miserably. "When we started at grammar school, Zav was the cleverest kid in our form. I didn't like him much even then, because he seemed so full of himself, but he used to write wonderful stories and essays, much better than anyone else. He should have had a really bright future. Instead, he tried to ruin my life, and he obviously hurt the boy he attacked. Well, now he's ruined his own life, and for what? It doesn't make sense."

"Sometimes, life can be a bit of a mystery," Dad says.

"There aren't any winners here, are there?" I question, looking him right in the eye.

"That's certainly true," he agrees, putting a protective arm around my shoulder. "After what he put you through, it says a great deal about your generosity of spirit that you're not crowing about it."

"He'll find it very hard, being locked up," I go on. "He likes to act like he's tough, but when you get down to it, he's not tough at all."

"That really isn't your problem," Dad says gently but firmly. "He's made his bed. Now he'll have to lie on it."

I make my way back upstairs, feeling at least a little more settled. I know what Dad means. I did what I needed to do. I now need to step away from it, and put it behind me, like I thought I already had.

Just before bedtime, I get a text from Scott:

The match went well. We won 2 – 1 and I got another assist. Still missing you lots. On Tuesday, we've got to play them over there. Wish me luck! I'll see you Wednesday afternoon. Love you! S.

I key in a reply:

Well done! Missing you too! See you Wednesday. Hugs & kisses! I.

Over the next couple of days, I manage to get my head back into gear. With Scott being away, it's more difficult than it might have been. I'm fine while I'm at school, or out running with the other lads. It's when I'm on my own that the thoughts creep back. I just keep reminding myself what Dad said. It's out of my hands now, and I need to stop worrying about it. It sort of works.

It's Monday evening; Mum and I are eating dinner. As usual, the evening news is playing in the background. When they move on to the local news, there's a very brief item:

A sixteen-year old boy appeared in court today, charged with the rape of an eleven-year old boy in Thurlston Forest. The sixteen-year old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has been remanded in custody to appear at Crown Court on December 1st.

So that's it. Now it really is out of my hands.

The next day, when I arrive at school, the rumours are already circulating. It seems that a number of people have picked up on that news item. With Zav having been out of school for the past week, they're drawing the obvious conclusion.

I'm pleased to say that I find pleading ignorance surprisingly easy. The fact is, I don't want to gossip about it. It's done. I just want it to go away. There is one thing bothering me though. At morning break, I manage to get Dean on his own.

"Did you tell me that Zav has two sisters?" I ask, recalling a conversation we had when we first became friends.


"Do they come here?"

"No. The older one would be in Year 9, and she definitely isn't. I don't know which school they go to, but it's not this one."

"Good! It'd get pretty horrible for them if they were here."

"You're weird," he says, grinning. "When I knew them, they were a couple of spoilt brats."

"Maybe," I counter. "But I wouldn't wish that on them."

I'm just thinking about getting ready for bed, when I get my nightly text from Scott:

Horrible match! We drew 0 – 0. I'm glad I wasn't playing. See you tomorrow. Love you lots! S.

I'm not sure why he wasn't playing, but he doesn't seem concerned about it. I text him back:

Thanks! See you tomorrow. Hugs & kisses! I.

The following morning, we head to Sixth Form assembly. Mr. Carter is prowling around at the front of the hall. He does not look happy. As soon as we've all taken our places, he begins, his eyes boring right through us.

"I want you all to listen very carefully to what I am about to say," he intones, his face like thunder. "It seems that a number of you have been spreading rumours linking Xavier Stanford's absence from school to the individual who has been charged with an attack that took place in Thurlston Forest. Spreading rumours in this way is totally irresponsible. It is unacceptable behaviour and has to stop immediately. Because the individual who has been charged is under eighteen, legally, he cannot be named. Speculating about who it might be is contempt of court. So let me make it perfectly clear. You are not to discuss it!"

There's total silence. Several people are looking at each other. To me, the interesting thing is that Mr Carter hasn't denied the rumours. He's just told us to stop talking about it. The motor-mouths will probably have got the message. Mr Carter's not a guy that I'd want to mess with.

For today's race, we've come to Tudor Grange Park in Solihull. In the summer, we were here for one of our athletics matches. The contrast with last week couldn't be starker. The course is flat parkland, and after the dry weather we've had recently, it will be very fast. It's short too. Even running three laps, the total distance will be under four miles. That's not ideal for me, but it'll definitely suit the younger lads.

The other big difference is that none of the schools taking part has much of a tradition in the sport. We won the corresponding fixture last year, and although we performed poorly last week, I think there's a good chance we could do it again.

At half past two, the race begins. I start a little faster than usual, while trying not to overdo it. After the first lap, I'm running with Alan and Nathan just inside the top ten, with Jon just a few yards behind us.

For the next lap and a half, we hold our positions. As I'm still feeling pretty good, I pick up the pace. The other two come with me. With a quarter of a mile left, Alan drops back, leaving Nathan and me to race each other. As we approach the line, Nathan sprints past me. He finishes seventh, by far his best result yet, while I'm eighth, the same as I was last week.

With Patrick having scored his first victory of the season, Alan finishing tenth, Jon thirteenth, and Simon a very encouraging sixteenth, we've scored an impressive 55 points for a comfortable victory. It's been a good day, with even our non-scorers performing creditably.

We return to the changing rooms at the athletics track for a quick shower before changing back into our school uniform. I find myself showering opposite Rhys Shipley, one of the Year 11 boys, who finished a very encouraging 22nd.

He's roughly the same height as me, and slim. His uncut dick's about the same size as mine, and is topped by a neat crop of dark pubic hair. Nice! I know it's unrealistic to expect all the cute boys 'to play for my team', as it were, but it would be pretty cool if at least one or two of them did, especially this one!

We get back to school at quarter to four. I head straight to Scott's flat.

"Great to see you!" he says warmly, welcoming me inside. "I've missed you so much, especially the last few days!"

"I've missed you too!" I say, smiling. "What time did you get back?"

"Just after three, and that was after leaving the hotel at eight o'clock this morning. I'm knackered!"

"Why didn't you play last night?" I ask, as we park ourselves on the sofa.

"I didn't train that well on Monday. I was tired and my legs felt heavy, so they rested me. Like I said, I was glad I didn't have to play. The pitch wasn't great, and the refereeing was pretty ordinary. The guy let their players get away with a lot. I hate that! Being on the small side, I need the ref to do his job properly, yeah? So how have things been going?"

I give him a quick rundown, including what's happened with Zav.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he demands.

"Mike Griffiths told us not to say anything. I'm okay with telling you face-to-face, but I didn't want to put it in a text."

"Sorry," he concedes. "I wasn't thinking straight."

"Yesterday, the rumours were flying around school. I just pretended I didn't know anything about it. In assembly this morning, Mr Carter had a right go! He told us we weren't to discuss it, like at all."

"Yeah, I can imagine! So how did things go this afternoon?"

"We won!" I say, grinning proudly.

"Nice one!" he says, smiling back.

"Well, it was an easy course and the opposition wasn't up to much. But a win's a win! I think it'll help some of the other lads to believe in themselves more."

"Absolutely!" He pauses for a moment. "I thought you preferred the tougher courses?"

"I do; but the other lads don't, especially the younger ones."

"Oh, right!"

We gravitate to the bedroom. With me having had a pretty strange week, and Scott having just endured a long, tiring journey, things are far less physical than they often are. Our lovemaking is all about how much we mean to each other. It's perfect. As he drives me home, I'm more certain than ever. There simply isn't anyone on the planet that I'd swap him for.

I'm in the middle of my maths homework when I get a call. It's Anthony.

"Have you heard about this kid getting raped in Thurlston Forest at the back end of the summer holiday?"

"I've heard about it," I concede.

"The word is that it was that dickhead Stanford. Apparently, he's not been in school for the past week."

"Well, you'd better not go talking about it. This morning, Carter had a right go at us! He told us we weren't to discuss it. He said it was contempt of court."

"Oh, right! I guess Steadman will be giving us the hair-dryer treatment tomorrow then!"

"Yeah, probably! So make sure you're not one of the ones he's looking at! Any news on when you'll be getting your painting back?"

"Yeah! Dad's arranged for it to be delivered during half-term week, so that I can be here when it arrives."

"Cool! Fat Man's going to go into raptures when he sees it!"


I'm about to remind him how good it is, but I stop myself. Anthony's just trying to keep himself grounded, the same as Scott does. He knows far better than I do how much work he'll have to do if he's going to become a successful artist.

We end the call. I was tempted to ask him how he and Jayden were getting along, but decided not to. If their relationship's going to run into the sand, I don't want it to be because of anything that I've said.

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