Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 13

December 2010

It's Sunday lunchtime, exactly a week before Christmas. Claire and Damian are back from Leeds for a couple of weeks. They're staying with Damian's parents, but yesterday evening, they came here for their evening meal. It was great to see them again. They're looking well and seem to be enjoying university life, as well as making lots of new friends.

This morning, David came out running with us. Even though he's only been at Oxford for a couple of months, it appears to have made a huge impression on him. He seems so much more mature than he was before he went.

Right now, it's just Mum, Dad and me. We begin tucking into our lunch.

"You haven't got anything planned for Christmas Day or Boxing Day, have you?" Mum asks, eyeing me suspiciously.

"No, not a thing. Scott's got a match on Boxing Day. It's down in London, so they'll be leaving early and be gone all day. And he'll need an early night before he goes."

"Oh, that's good. Our plans are much the same as usual. Claire and Damian are coming here for Christmas Lunch. Afterwards they'll be catching up with some of his relations. We'll be going to see Grandma and Granddad," she adds, referring to her parents. "I know you don't really like going there, but you will come, won't you?"

"Sure!" I say, smiling. "I won't have anything else to do. But I wonder if you might be able to do something for me."

"Go on," she says, eyeing me suspiciously again.

Dad's grinning. I'm pretty sure he's twigged where this is going.

"Well," I say. "On Christmas Eve, Scott's taking me out to dinner. Afterwards, we'll go back to the flat. What we'd really like is for me to spend the night there. Scott can drop me back here on Christmas morning, before going to have lunch with his mum and dad."

Mum raises an eyebrow and looks at Dad. He shrugs, as if to say, 'They're having sex anyway, so what difference will it make?'.

"Okay then," Mum agrees. "And you promise you'll come to see Grandma and Granddad?"

"Of course!" I say smiling. "And you can stay as long as you want. I'll be as good as gold. I think it's called 'quid pro quo'. Will we be going to Auntie Sarah's on Boxing Day?"

"Oh, yes" Mum confirms. "I believe Claire and Damian are going to grace us with their presence."

"What you mean is Claire wants to show off her engagement ring," I suggest.

"Before you change the subject," Dad intervenes, "we've agreed to you stopping over at Scott's on the strict understanding that this is a special occasion. We don't want you getting the idea that you can stay there on a regular basis."

"I couldn't do that anyway," I say nonchalantly. "The flat's not big enough. It's fine for when I go to visit, but if we were living there together, we'd be falling over each other. And there's nowhere for me to keep my stuff."

"Fair enough," Dad responds, smiling. "Do you know where he's taking you for dinner?"

"A place called Langston's. I think it's about fifteen miles away. He reckons it's very good."

"Oh, very nice!" Dad says approvingly. "It's not cheap, but I guess he can afford it. You'll need to put all your finery on if you're going there. And don't forget your tiara!"

"Dad, that's not funny," I protest, trying not to laugh.

Actually, I'm completely made up. This is huge! It's going to be, like, the best Christmas ever! After going out for a romantic dinner at a really nice restaurant, Scott and I will return to the flat and make passionate love. We'll then spend the night together, and on Christmas morning, I'll wake up next to him, and we'll do it all over again. Wow! How amazing is that?

It's three days before Christmas and the autumn term is finally over. Although we didn't do much today, we were kept working right up until yesterday afternoon. I didn't mind at all. After all, it is why we're here.

We now have two days to prepare for the festivities. I'm pretty much ready. Mum and I have always insisted that Claire and I shouldn't buy them, or each other, expensive presents. Like they say, it's the thought that counts. I've already bought the token presents that I'm going to give them.

Of course, Mum and Dad have bought us some quite expensive things over the years, but that's mainly been stuff that we were actually going to use. This year, they'll probably give me some money, which I'll mainly spend on clothes. Until last year, Mum always used to insist on coming with me, to make sure I didn't buy anything outlandish. I'm pleased to say that these days, she's happy to leave me to it.

I've bought Scott some really sexy underwear. I'm guessing he'll get something similar for me. It'll be a turn-on for both of us. I just hope he doesn't spend too much money.

What's going to make Christmas Eve extra special is that the Christmas and New Year period is a very busy time if you're a professional footballer. Scott's facing three matches in seven days: an away game on Boxing Day, a home game two days later, and another away game on New Year's Day.

Given his issues with endurance and recovery, he's going to find that hard. In between matches, apart from some light training, he'll need plenty of rest, and lots of TLC. That's going to be my job. When we do get together, we'll have to keep things pretty low-key. It's just another part of what I signed up for.

The next day, Dad comes home. He'll be here until just after New Year. I'm really looking forward to us spending some time together, not necessarily doing a whole lot, just bonding, I guess.

Over the past few months, he's really stepped up for me. He's the one that's made the difference, like persuading Mum that it was okay for me to have a boyfriend, taking the trouble to get to know Scott; all that sort of thing. As a result, my life has taken a massive step forward. This is my time to say thank you.

My big day is finally here. In keeping with Scott's early night theme, he's booked a table for half past six. He picks me up at 5:50. Although the place is only around fifteen miles away, it's out in the country and the road's not the quickest.

As advised, I'm dressed in my best clothes, antique-brown leather shoes, tan slacks, and my best shirt, and a plain lambswool sweater.

"You're looking smart!" Scott comments as I step into the car.

"Thanks!" I respond. "Only I've forgotten my tiara."

"What?" he queries, looking at me as though I've gone mad.

"When I told Mum and Dad where we were going," I explain, "Dad told me to put on all my finery, and not to forget my tiara."

"I love it!" Scott says, grinning broadly. "Your dad is such a hoot! I guess it is a bit like that, but the food's wonderful, and the service is superb."

After a leisurely drive, we arrive five minutes early. The restaurant is located on the edge of a small village, and appears to have started life as a large agricultural building.

After Scott's parked the car, we head towards the entrance. Scott's wearing a black V-neck sweater over a very stylish shirt, with the same slacks and shoes that he wore when he came to lunch at our place.

We make our way inside. The place oozes good taste. There are no unnecessary adornments. Instead, the décor and furnishings verge on the minimalist, but everything is absolutely top quality. I'm more than impressed. It's the sort of place I'd like to have designed.

Although it's still quite early, there are already some other customers in. I immediately understand what Dad meant. Although I can't see any tiaras, there are women in posh frocks and men in neatly-pressed slacks and golfing sweaters. I'm glad he told me. Jeans and a hoodie just wouldn't have cut it!

A guy that I'd reckon to be in his thirties shows us into a small lounge, invites us to sit down and hands us each a menu. I can't put my finger on what it is, but there's definitely something about him.

"Is he gay?" I whisper to Scott as the man swishes out of the room.

"Hmmm! Somebody's got his gaydar switched on!" he replies, smiling. "Yes, I'm sure he is. Lots of gay guys work in hospitality. He's the maître d, which means he's in charge of all the waiting staff."

I look through the menu, all of which looks yummy. Knowing that I'll be having a traditional Christmas dinner tomorrow, I select the garlic mushrooms starter and roast pork as the main course. A few minutes later, the man returns.

"Can I get you any drinks sir?" he asks, addressing himself to Scott.

"We'll each have a glass of coke now, please," Scott replies, "with ice. And we'd each like a medium glass of the Pinot Grigio, to be served at the same time as our main course."

"Very good, sir. And are you ready to order?"

"Yes, thank you!"

After we've ordered our starters and main courses, the maître d disappears again, swanning away like he's on roller skates. A couple of minutes later, a young waiter arrives, bringing our drinks.

"My name's Ewan," he says, smiling, "and I'll be serving you this evening. If there's anything you need, please ask."

I swallow hard. The way he talks makes Robbie sound macho. More than that, he's looking longingly at us, as though he wishes he could be where we are. Actually, I reckon he'd like to be sitting in my seat. I guess some people would resent that. I don't; it reminds me how fortunate I am. He heads back into the restaurant.

"He is rather camp," Scott says quietly. "Seems nice enough though."

"I bet he had a hard time at school," I suggest.

"Yeah, probably. These days, gay adults in this country have rights that would have been unthinkable forty years ago. In a few years' time, we may even get gay marriage. But lots of gay kids still get a hard time. That's not right. We should have sorted that out by now."

Returning to the lounge, Ewan escorts us to our table in the restaurant proper. While waiting for our food, I look around, soaking up the atmosphere. This is totally my sort of place. I'm so pleased that Scott's brought me here.

After a short interval, Ewan arrives with our starters.

"Thanks!" I say, smiling at him.

"You're welcome!" he answers, smiling back.

The mushrooms are delicious. I doubt if you can do them better than this. And there are just the right number; enough that I don't feel short changed, but not so many that they take the edge off my appetite.

With our first courses cleared away there's another short hiatus before Ewan brings us our main courses, followed immediately by glasses of Pinot Grigio.

"Happy Christmas!" Scott says, raising his glass.

"Happy Christmas!" I respond, following suit.

Roast pork isn't the easiest thing to get right. When Mum does it, sometimes it's very nice. Other times, it can be a bit dry. Far from being dry, this roast pork is succulent and tasty. It's absolutely wonderful, as are the crackling, the stuffing, the apple sauce, roast potatoes and vegetables. Scott was right; the food here is really special.

Finally, we've finished. After leaving us for around five minutes, Ewan returns.

"Would you like to see the dessert menu?" he asks, addressing himself to Scott.

Scott looks across at me.

"Not for me, thanks," I say, smiling up at our young waiter. "I'm stuffed! That was fantastic!"

"I'll go along with that!" Scott agrees. "We'll just have coffee, please. Americano for me."

"The same, please," I add.

Once we've drunk our coffees and eaten the obligatory chocolate mints, it's time for Scott to pay the bill. Having paid by card, he takes out a ten-pound note.

"That's the official tip," he says handing it over.

As Ewan stashes it in his 'tips' wallet, Scott pulls out another fiver.

"And that's just for you," he says quietly, pressing it into Ewan's hand. "You've done a great job. Happy Christmas!"

"Happy Christmas to you as well!" Ewan responds, smiling.

We make our way out.

"That was very generous," I say as we head towards the car.

"Think about how much we've got to look forward to," Scott says gently. "Now think about what he has to look forward to. How d'you think it compares?"

"I think we probably have a great deal more to look forward to than he does."

"Exactly! So why not be generous? It's Christmas!"

"Yeah, totally," I agree. "Thanks for bringing me here. It's been amazing!"

"It's my go-to place for special occasions," Scott explains. "As well as being our first Christmas together, this is the first time you're going to stay the night. I think that rates as pretty special."

I love this guy! There's nothing else I can say.

Back at the flat, Scott puts on some music and we snuggle up in the lounge for an hour or so. Finally, we turn the music off and stroll through to the bedroom. After undressing each other, we make passionate love.

This is one of those occasions when the physical aspects of what we're doing seem quite unimportant, the details passing me by in a sort of blur. First and foremost, this is an emotional experience, and the intensity is right off the scale. I've never felt so wanted, so valued, so completely at one with another human being. It's fantastic; draining, but wonderful.

Afterwards, we both need to visit the bathroom. We've both ejaculated profusely, just as you'd expect of two healthy teens. While my spunk has coated our chests and stomachs, Scott's is on the point of leaking from my anal ring.

With our ablutions completed, we return to the bedroom. Inevitably, we're going to sleep naked. Though it's not what I do at home, it seems to be the right thing to do. As I get under the covers, Scott draws me to him, has arm wrapped around my shoulder, my head resting on his chest.

"Good night, babe," he whispers. "Thanks for an amazing evening."

Within a couple of minutes, I'm fast asleep.

When I wake up, I'm still exactly where I was.

"Good morning," Scott says. "Did you sleep okay?"

"Like a log," I tell him. "I slept the sleep of angels!"

"Yeah, right!" he says, suppressing a laugh.

"No, seriously! I slept really well."

"So, do you fancy a little pre-breakfast activity?"

"Sure, but I need a pee first."

Sliding out of bed, I trot along to the bathroom. After a pee and a freshen-up, I'm back.

"My turn now!" Scott announces, getting out of bed as I get back in. While he's gone, I take his Christmas present from my bag, and hide it under the duvet.

When Scott returns, he's carrying a towel, which he drops on the bedside cabinet. A moment later, we're both back under the covers. We snuggle up, nose-to-nose, our arms wrapped around each other.

"This is for you," I say, handing him his present. "Happy Christmas!"

"Thank you!" he responds smiling. Opening the drawer of the bedside cabinet, he produces a somewhat larger parcel. "And this is yours," he says, smiling warmly. "Happy Christmas!"

Disengaging ourselves, we begin to unwrap our presents.

"Oh, I'll look forward to wearing these!" Scott says approvingly, admiring the trunks I've bought him. They aren't a top name brand, but they're black and stylish, and have a sheen on them that gives them a sexy look and feel.

Opening my parcel, I take out a 3-pack of white Tommy Hilfiger briefs. My eyes widen. Skimpy doesn't even come close!

"Oh, man!" I breathe. "These are well hot!"

"You like?" he enquires.

"I like!" I respond, grinning at him. "So what takes your fancy this morning?"

"You do!"

"Yeah, but apart from that?"

"Well, last night, I thought we made a rather splendid job of making love," he says quietly. "This morning, I thought we might try something a bit different."

"Such as?"

"Well, d'you remember that time you wanted me to get a bit rough with you? I wondered if we might try something like that."

Right! So that's what the towel's for!

"I think what you're saying," I suggest quietly, "is that you're as horny as fuck, and you fancy giving me a bloody good seeing-to."

"Well, something like that," he concedes. "Only if you're up for it, of course."

"Oh, I'm up for it! Or at least I will be by the time you've got me ready."

"Well," he says, playing along. "I don't see that as a problem!"

"Come on then, Mister!" I challenge. "Show me what you've got!"

Throwing back the covers, he plunges down on me, his lips sliding right down to the root of my prick. Coming back up, he works his tongue all over the head before diving back down again.

Slipping his hand between my legs, he begins to stroke my perineum, slowly working his way back until he's tickling my bum-hole. The sensations are extraordinary. Eventually, he lets me go.

"So, are we moving in the right direction?" he asks, looking right into my eyes.

"Oh, yeah!" I confirm. "Let's sixty-nine!"

Snaking around, I take his beautiful cock fully into my mouth. I suck it eagerly, mirroring what he's doing to me, both of us totally into it. After a couple of minutes, he pulls away.

"Oh, you sexy boy!" he growls, his voice thick with lust. "Now get on all fours!"

As I move into position, he gives me a sharp smack on the arse. It stings for a moment, my penis twitching and tingling. He's not being rough exactly, but he's definitely taking charge. I love it!

A moment later, he's licking me out, working his tongue right into my starfish. It's unbelievable; I'm desperate for him to fuck me. After a minute or so, he removes his tongue, replacing it with his index finger, liberally coated with K-Y. Almost immediately, a second one joins it, the two digits corkscrewing around inside me. Finally, they slide out.

"You know what to do," he says, handing me the towel.

Pulling my pillow into the middle of the bed, I cover it with the towel before lying face-down on top, my legs spread apart. Within a couple of seconds, the head of Scott's dick is probing my rosebud.

I relax as much as I can, but in this position, it's not easy. Suddenly, he's inside me. I gasp involuntarily, the sharp stab of pain taking my breath away. As it subsides, Scott steadily pushes in deeper until I've taken his whole length. After a brief pause, he gets to work. Starting quite slowly, he gradually builds it up until he hits the perfect rhythm.

"Oh!" he rasps. "You are so sexy!"

Last time we tried this, we didn't get it quite right. Today, on Christmas morning, it's everything I thought it could be. It's like I've been transported to another planet, emitting a quiet moan of pleasure each time he thrusts into me.

"This is what you want, isn't it?" he demands.

"Oh, yes!" I confirm, my orgasm building rapidly. "Go on, Scott! Give me your spunk! Fill me up!"

Within a few seconds, everything explodes. I buck uncontrollably. With my feet flailing, I claw at the bed, my anal ring going into spasm around Scott's thrusting cock. An instant later, my balls churn into action. Spunk surges through my prick, rope after rope squirting hard onto the towel. At the same moment, I'm aware of Scott's hot cream flooding into my arse. Man! That is amazing!

After a few seconds, Scott gently withdraws.

"Something tells me you enjoyed that," he says quietly. "I know I did!"

"Yeah!" I confirm. "That was wild!"

"Definitely a treat for special occasions," he whispers, nuzzling my ear.

We take our time over having a shower and eating breakfast. By the time Scott drops me back at home, it's half past eleven. Inevitably, Mum's busy, but Dad seems more than pleased to see me.

"So, did you have a good night?" he asks as we sit down in the lounge.

"Great, thanks!" I respond. "I didn't see any tiaras, but Langston's is quite posh, isn't it? But the food's wonderful, and the service was excellent. It's like they take a real pride in it. And I love the look of the place. It's very uncluttered, but everything in there is real quality."

"I thought you'd probably like that aspect of it," Dad says. "And you're right about them taking a pride in what they do. That does come at a price, of course."

"Yeah, I don't know what the bill was, but I know Scott gave them ten pounds as the 'official' tip. Then he gave another five pounds directly to the young guy who'd been serving us."

"Gay, I presume?"

"Yes, I think so," I respond, rather taken aback.

"It's okay," Dad says casually. "The two guys who own the place are both gay. As I think I told you, several of the people I work with are gay. These days, it's just not an issue. Anyway, have you been mugging up on Birmingham City?" he asks, referring to the football team that Granddad's supported since he was a boy.

"Yeah, a bit. I mean, we see them every week on Match of the Day. It's just a shame that they're not doing a bit better."

"True, but I think your Granddad will be pleased that you're showing an interest and are able to talk intelligently about them."

"That's certainly what I'm hoping," I say smiling.

I know it's totally obvious, but it's only recently that I've understood that the biggest difference between Mum's parents and Dad's is age. Grandma was born in 1936 during the Great Depression, and lived right through the Second World War. When she got married, she was 29, Granddad three years older. She was 32 when she had Mum, who's now 42. That makes Grandma 74 and Granddad 77.

Dad's parents were both born in 1944 and don't actually remember the War. They got married in 1965. Dad was born a year later. It's like they're from a whole different generation, which in a very real sense, I guess they are.

Just after twelve, Claire and Damian arrive. It's so good to see them again, even better that they seem to be in such good form.

"It's really helped that we've been able to live together," Claire says, holding Damian's hand. "It gives us a level of stability that otherwise we wouldn't have had. It's great that Damian's parents were able to set us up like that."

I nod my understanding. That's exactly what Scott and I are hoping for.

"Any success with renting out your spare room?" Dad asks.

"Oh yes," Claire enthuses. "When we go back, one of the girls from my course will be moving in. Lucy's great; an excellent student, but a real laugh. We're looking forward to having her around."

Hmmm! If Scott and I do end up living together, I don't think we'll be asking anyone else to join us.

With lunch almost ready, I morph into Mum's gofer. Now that she's discovered that I'm quite useful around the kitchen, she's more than happy to give me bits and pieces to do. I don't mind at all. For one thing, I'm learning, but it's more than that. Why should Mum have to do everything? I live here, and I'm not a baby anymore. I need to contribute.

As always, Christmas lunch is excellent. Okay, the food isn't as sophisticated as it was at Langston's, but as home cooking, it's very good. I like it anyway. We don't have a starter, just the traditional turkey followed by Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. Once again, I'm stuffed!

After the exchange of token presents, Claire and Damian say their goodbyes and head off to meet up with some of his relations, leaving Mum, Dad and me to prepare for our trip to see Grandma and Granddad.

Having loaded the dishwasher, and restored the kitchen to some semblance of order, it's time to go. For the first time in several years, I'm actually looking forward to it. Granddad, Dad and I will talk about football. Now that I've developed an interest in the game, I'll be able to join in.

"So, are you still running?" Granddad asks as we settle down in their lounge.

"Yes, thanks!"

"And how are you doing?"

"Okay, I guess. I'm getting better."

"Oh, I think he's doing a bit better than okay," Dad intervenes. "Ian, show Granddad the medal you won a few weeks ago."

Retrieving it from my pocket I hand it over.

"That's from the county athletic association championships. Their school team was competing against club teams. Winning team medals against that sort of opposition is a tall order!"

"Yes! Well done!" Granddad congratulates, handing the medal back.

"Having the race winner did help," I say, smiling.

"That's a boy called Patrick," Dad explains. "He's outstanding. On Sunday mornings, they run from our place, six or seven of them. I think it's great. You couldn't meet a nicer group of lads. We're really pleased that Ian's got involved in something like that. At one stage, we didn't think he ever would."

"Still no interest in football though?" Granddad queries.

"Well, I've got a bit more interested in watching it," I concede. "We always watch Match of the Day, don't we, Dad?"

We're off and running. We talk about Birmingham City, who are teetering around in the lower reaches of the Premier League. We agree that they'll do well to avoid relegation. By contrast, in the League Cup, they've done very well. Having beaten arch-rivals Aston Villa in the quarter finals, they now face a two-legged semi-final against West Ham. With the second leg to be played at Birmingham's home ground, they're in with a chance of making the final.

We go on to discuss who's likely to win the Premier League, and agree that although Chelsea and Manchester City are still very much in the race, Manchester United look the most likely winners. We branch out from there. Granddad tells us about Trevor Francis, one of Birmingham's greatest ever players, who played for the club in the 1970s. Having made his first team debut at sixteen, in his first season, Francis scored nineteen goals in twenty-two appearances, a quite amazing scoring rate. In 1979, he became Britain's first million-pound footballer when he was transferred to European Champions Nottingham Forest. It's a great story, and one I'd been totally unaware of.

For me, the real bonus comes when he moves away from football and starts talking about life in Britain; everything from the Profumo Scandal of the early 1960s to the Falklands War twenty years later. Better still, he really brings it to life, his recollections still pin-sharp.

I'm absolutely fascinated. Of course, I don't take it all as gospel. They're just his recollections, his perceptions. But listening to someone who didn't just live through it, but can describe it all so vividly, is like, wow!

It's early evening when we leave.

"Well!" Mum says, beaming at me as Dad drives us away. "You excelled yourself today! Grandma and Granddad were delighted!"

"I hadn't realised Granddad could talk like that," I respond. "I probably wasn't old enough to appreciate it before. He was amazing. It felt like I was living it with him."

"Oh, he loves to talk, and you were a very receptive audience," Mum says. "To have you listen so patiently will have meant a lot."

"I thought you asked some great questions too," Dad says. "That helped things along."

I guess that's another load of brownie points I've just earned. I've learned an important lesson too. I went there today determined to do my best, and prepared to smile sweetly when I found it as boring as I have before.

But that wasn't how it worked out. I really enjoyed it; the time just flew past. More than that, I was able to relate to Granddad in a way I never have before. Deep down, I know that it was my positive attitude that made the difference.

It's the morning of Boxing Day. Scott and his teammates will already be on their way to London where they're due to play Queen's Park Rangers, one of the teams pushing for automatic promotion. That's going to be a real test for them.

In a couple of hours, we'll be on our way to Auntie Sarah's house, way over on the other side of Birmingham, for the annual gathering of Dad's side of the family. As I take out the video of Tom Brown's Schooldays, and the picture that Franny asked for, I realise how awkward this is. Lending him the video will be fine, but why I am a giving him a picture, but not giving one to anyone else?

Fortunately, the solution's easy enough. Heading downstairs, I delve into Mum's stationery cupboard, taking out three large envelopes. I find her in the lounge.

"Mum," I say brightly. "I've taken these. If you want, I'll replace them as soon as the shops open."

"How many are there left?"

"Five or six."

"No need to replace them then; I only use them occasionally. What d'you want them for?"

"I'm going to take three of the pictures I did in France. I'll give one to Lorna, one to Alice and one to Franny."

"Oh, that's a lovely idea!" she says brightly.

With Mum's seal of approval, I head back to my room. Taking out my art folder, I select two more pictures, ones that I think are better than the one Franny picked. Using a marker pen, I write a name on each envelope, then slip the appropriate picture inside. That's it; job done!

Our route to the Redshaws' establishment is more than fifty miles. But as it's almost all motorway and dual carriageway, we get there in just over an hour.

Auntie Sarah welcomes us enthusiastically before showing us into the lounge. It seems that we're the first to arrive. Franny and Alice are squatting on the floor, engrossed in a computer game, while Lorna, who's a year younger than me, is sitting on the sofa, reading.

"Hi!" she says, sounding a bit off-hand; quite understandable after the way I behaved last year. It's time for a charm offensive.

"Happy Christmas!" I greet, smiling warmly as I park myself next to her. "How are things going?"

"Pretty well," she says warily.

"Have you done your mock exams yet?" I ask, looking her right in the eye.

"Yes, thanks."


"They went okay. I've still got work to do, but I'm pretty much on track."

"Great!" I respond, smiling.

"We heard you did really well in your GCSEs."

"Yeah! That was a big surprise. Franny and I exchanged phone numbers when we were here last Christmas, but we hadn't spoken. Then the day I got my GCSE results, he called me."

"Weird!" she says. "Normally, he'd only do that if he wanted something."

"Well," I say grinning. "If he was angling for something, I don't think he got it. Actually, I've brought something for you."

Reaching into my bag, I take out the envelope with Lorna's name on it. I hand it to her. She withdraws the picture.

"This is pretty cool!" she says appreciatively. "Where is it?"

"Antibes, on the French Riviera, just along the coast from Nice. During the summer holidays, I went there with one of my schoolfriends, his dad and his dad's partner. We were there for two and a half weeks."

"So did you do this?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes, that's right. We did have one weekend off, but other than that, we were painting every day."

"Now that is awesome!" she asserts. "Mum!" she calls through to the kitchen. "Come and see this painting that Ian's given me!"

A few seconds later, Auntie Sarah appears.

"Is this your work, Ian?" she asks.

"Yes," I confirm. "I've brought ones for Alice and Franny too."

"Well this is excellent!" she says. "We'll have to get them framed."

She hurries back to the kitchen.

"What have you brought for me and Franny?" fourteen-year old Alice demands.

I hand over the other two envelopes. Alice and Franny take out their pictures.

"Thanks!" Alice says, smiling. "None of my friends will get anything like this."

"Yeah, these are great," Franny endorses.

As the two younger ones return to their computer game, Lorna and I settle back on the sofa. She looks bemused. It's time for me to help her out.

"It's okay for you to ask," I say quietly, smiling at her. "You won't be the first."

"Okay then," she says. "Are you gay?"

"Yes. I've known since I was, what, just coming up to thirteen?"

"I take it your mum and dad know."

"Yeah, I told them two years ago. Mum took it quite hard at first, but we're through that now. It's all cool."

"So why are you being so nice?"

"I wasn't very happy with the way I behaved last year. I was a bit rude. I wanted you to know that I can do better than that."

"That's so sweet! Do you have a boyfriend?"

"Yes. Mum and Dad know about that too. They're okay with it."

"So where is he today?"

"Doing much the same as we are. You know what Christmas is like."

"Oh, right!" She lowers her voice. "I think Franny fancies you," she whispers. "He's been really hyper about seeing you again."

"Not much future in that," I say soothingly, "especially as we live so far apart."

"I guess," she concedes.

"I like Franny," I say smiling. "He's got the same passion for music that I have for art and design. We're, like, totally on the same page as far as that goes."

"I just don't like that school he goes to," she complains. "I know he gets a very good education, but it's all boys! That's not normal! And there aren't any kids around here, so the only girls he ever meets are me and Alice. He treats us like we're members of an alien species."

Just at that moment, Claire and Damian appear, and immediately become the centre of attention. Over the next few minutes, all the other guests arrive. It's time for lunch.

It's served buffet-style. With sixteen of us, there's nowhere that we can all sit together. Some of us eat in the kitchen, some in the dining room; Franny and I make our way to the lounge, where we're joined by Uncle Glenn's girls, Andrea who's thirteen and Julie who's eleven. Uncle Glenn and Auntie Sarah are twins, a couple of years younger than Dad.

I can see straightaway what Lorna meant about Franny treating girls like members of an alien race. Normally so outgoing and confident, with Andrea and Julie, he's awkward and tongue-tied, like he hasn't a clue what to say to them. I guess him being a keen rugby player probably makes that worse. He's totally 'one of the lads', excelling in the sort of rough and tumble that many boys of his age enjoy. Finally, lunch is over.

"Would you like to come up to my room?" Franny asks. "I've got something to show you."

"Sure," I respond.

Taking my bag with me, I follow him upstairs. We reach his room.

"Here's that video I promised you," I say, handing over the most recent version of Tom Brown's Schooldays. "Enjoy!"

"Thanks!" he says.

As I fold up the bag and stash it in the pocket of my jeans, Franny takes what looks like a small suitcase from the corner of the room. Placing it on the bed, he opens it up to reveal a brass musical instrument.

"Is that a saxophone?" I ask, as he takes it out and begins to put it together.

"Yeah, this is an alto sax," he confirms. "It was my combined birthday and Christmas present from Mum and Dad. I'd have preferred a tenor, but they were too expensive. This Yamaha student model cost over £700. The equivalent tenor sax was nearly £1200. You can get cheaper ones, but they sound crap and they're difficult to play. Dad wasn't keen on me having one at all. He said I'd got enough to do with the clarinet and piano, but I wanted it so I can play contemporary jazz."

"When did you get it?" I ask.

"A couple of days before I came to your place," he says. "And before you ask, I didn't say anything because I wanted to keep it as a surprise for today, yeah?"


"Close the door," he instructs, now ready to play.

I do as he asks. Closing his lips around the mouthpiece, he begins to play, the powerful sound filling the room.

"Bloody hell!" I exclaim as he stops playing. "That is loud! It sounds amazing!"

"Yeah!" he confirms. "That's why I asked you to close the door. I love it! I think it's awesome!"

"You've learned to play it very quickly," I suggest.

"Well, you blow it the same way as a clarinet, so there were no problems there. Of course, the fingering's all different, but I knew I'd soon pick it up. That's just down to practice."

"Talking of the clarinet, how did your exam go?"

"I got a distinction," he says casually. "133 marks out of a possible 140. That's okay!"

"Nice one!"

"Getting back to this thing," he says, indicating the saxophone. "Once I've done a bit more work, I'll need to find some guys to play with. Maybe around Easter time, once I've got my exams out of the way."

Taking off his saxophone, he lays it on the bed.

"So are we going to have a bit of fun?" he whispers, reaching out to fondle my crotch.

"Franny!" I protest, pulling away from him. "There are more than a dozen other people in the house! There's no way we can do anything now!"

"Sometimes, you're such a wuss!" he complains, frowning.

"If you mean I take fewer risks that you do," I counter. "You're right! One of these days, you'll take one risk too many. Then the shit will be right in the fan."

"Yeah, probably," he concedes, grinning. "So where's the boyfriend today?"

"Doing what professional footballers do on Boxing Day."

"Ahh! He's got a match?"

"Yeah, down in London, against QPR."

"Cool!" He pauses for a moment. "I guess you were right," he concedes, giving me a wry grin. "Playing around when there are so many other people here wasn't one of my better ideas."

"That's okay," I say, smiling.

"Any chance I could come to yours sometime before we go back to school?"

"Well, you could, I suppose, but I don't know when. I'll be spending most of my time with Scott when he's not actually playing. And Dad will be at home until after New Year, so we won't be able to keep it a secret."

"That's not much good then. I guess we'd better leave it."

"Actually, Scott's into jazz," I inform him.

"Really? Did he say what sort?"

"No, only that he'd never had the opportunity to play any."

"Maybe I could meet him sometime?"

"Yeah, maybe; possibly after the football season's over."

I can't help liking this kid! I know he's a bit wild, but he's such fun to be with. His energy and enthusiasm are infectious. The downside is that he's far too keen to have sex with me. As soon as I rejected the idea of us doing anything today, he was looking for another opportunity. Fortunately, that didn't work either. But what will I do the next time he asks? Because I'm sure there will be a next time.

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