Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 15

January 2011

I make my way downstairs. As soon as I appear in the lounge, Dad can tell that things aren't right.

"What's wrong?" he asks, looking concerned. "You look as though you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders."

"Mrs Paxton just phoned me," I explain, trying desperately to hold it together. "Scott got taken out by a really bad tackle. He's been stretchered off and taken to hospital. They think he might have broken his ankle."

"Oh, that's dreadful!" Dad says. Moving across to the sofa, he beckons me to sit next to him. "I knew you two were going to face some challenges," he says quietly, looking me right in the eye. "But this wasn't the sort of thing I had in mind. This is going to be tough for you, you know. I don't know how resilient Scott is, but he's going to need a great deal of support; especially over the next few weeks."

"Yeah," I acknowledge. "I realise that."

"What concerns me is that you've already got lots of demands on your time. You really don't need another one."

"I'll manage."

"That's more easily said than done," Dad warns. "What you need to do is to establish your priorities. Now, at the risk of stating the obvious, let me say straight away that your schoolwork must continue to come first."

I nod my agreement. It's not that I wouldn't have tried to prioritise my A-level work, but right now my head's so scrambled; it really helps that he's spelt it out for me.

"Once you've looked after that," he goes on, "you'll need to support Scott as well as you can."

"What about my running? I can't just stop."

"No," Dad says gently. "I'm not suggesting that you should. Actually, I think that going out running with the other lads will be good for you. It'll help you relax. But you may want to take it a bit less seriously than you have been doing."

I know that's good advice, but there's a problem. None of the lads in the cross-country squad know about me and Scott. If I start taking things easy, they're going to wonder what's going on.

I don't like the idea one bit, but I'm going to have to confide in someone. In theory, it ought to be Alan, as he's team captain, but I don't know him well enough. It's not that I don't trust him, but I can't be sure he'll understand.

The only guys I can tell are Dean and Patrick. They'll definitely get it. They might be a bit miffed that I haven't said anything before, but we're still close enough for it not to cause a problem. Tomorrow morning, after we've trained, I'll bite the bullet and tell them.

It's just after seven when Scott calls.

"Hi!" I say. "Great to hear from you! How is it?"

"Not good," he answers. "It's not clear from the X-ray whether it's broken or not, but it's bloody sore! Anyway, they've put it in plaster. They're keeping me in tonight. Mum and Dad are going to drive up in the morning and take me back to theirs. I'll be staying with them till the plaster comes off. Our house is all on one floor, which will make it easier."

"Will I be able to come to see you tomorrow?"

"That should be okay. Give me a call before you come, to make sure we're back."

"No problem!" I assure him. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Ending the call, I'm even more concerned than I was before. Scott's usually so confident and positive. Just then, he sounded thoroughly depressed, like he's had all the stuffing knocked out of him. Of course, he might feel better after a night's sleep. I certainly hope so.

It's Sunday morning. As soon as Mike Griffiths arrives with Dean and Patrick, I call him to one side.

"Would you, Dean and Patrick be able to stay behind for a few minutes after everyone else has gone?" I ask. "There's something I need to tell them, and I'd rather not do it in school." He eyes me suspiciously. "It's okay," I assure him. "It's just something I want them to be aware of."

"Okay," he concedes.

Ten minutes later, we're out running. Dad was right. It's not a bad morning for mid-January; being out here with my friends makes me feel much better. I end the run feeling much more at ease than I was when I started.

As soon as Nathan, Jon and Alan have gone home, the rest of us gather in the kitchen.

"Okay," I say. "I'll try to keep this brief. I'm sure you guys remember Scott Paxton, who was in Claire's form at school. After he'd done his GCSEs, he left to become a professional footballer. Last February, during our half-term break, he turned up here. With his football career going well, he'd bought a flat near the town centre, but it needed a complete refurb. He asked me if I'd design it for him, which I did. Well, it turns out that wasn't the only thing he wanted to ask me. He told me he was gay, and a few weeks later we became boyfriends."

"Wow!" Dean says, grinning. "You've kept that quiet!"

"He's in a difficult position," I say quietly. "Gay professional footballers don't come out. That's just the way it is. There aren't any out-gay professional footballers; not here, not anywhere. Anyway, the reason I'm telling you now is that yesterday afternoon, he got injured quite badly."

"Man!" Patrick exclaims. "I saw that! I thought I recognised the name! The guy totally crunched him! He never got anywhere near the ball!"

"We saw it too," Dean says quietly. "It was horrendous."

"The thing is," I go on, "He's going to need lots of support, over the next few weeks especially, so I'll need to step up, as best I can. My schoolwork still has to come first, of course. I'll still be running too, but I won't be able to put as much effort into it as I have been doing."

"If you really care about each other," Patrick says thoughtfully, "that's what you'll have to do."

"Thanks," I say, smiling. "I was concerned that if I wasn't racing as well as I have been, people might start asking awkward questions."

"You need to have a word with Alan," Patrick goes on.

"I was hoping to avoid that," I respond, pulling a face.

"There's no need to give him the details," Patrick advises. "Just tell him that someone you're close to is having health problems and you're getting a bit stressed."

"That sounds like good advice to me," Mike says quietly.

"And don't worry about what you've said to us," Dean says. "We won't say a word."

As soon as we've had lunch, I ring Scott.

"Hi man!" I greet. "Is it okay for me to come over?"

"Sure," he says, still sounding very flat.

He gives me the address. I check it out. I could go on the bus, but it's only a couple of miles away, and as the weather's okay, I decide to cycle there. It takes me about ten minutes. After locking my bike, I ring the bell.

"Come in!" Scott's mum says, opening the door. I step inside. "Let's just pop in here a moment," she adds quietly, ushering me into the kitchen/diner. I'm immediately on my guard. She's clearly going to tell me something, though I've no idea what.

"Scott's in his room resting," she says quietly. "He's pretty tired. I don't think he had much sleep last night. Then there was the journey back from Lincolnshire." She pauses for a moment. "I'm afraid he's not taking it very well," she goes on. "We've had this with him before. At the start of Year Nine, he had a problem with his left knee. It was only an overuse injury that lots of boys get. I think he was out for about four months. You'd have thought his life had come to an end. His dad used to get really angry with him for being so negative and childish. You'll need to be firm, positive and very patient. And don't give him tea and sympathy; that just makes him worse."

I swallow hard. I've never seen Scott like that, but his mum clearly has. This could be even harder than I'd thought. We step back out into the entrance hall.

"His room's at the far end, on the right," she says, pointing the way.

I make my way. Scott's lying on his bed, his right leg in plaster. He looks thoroughly miserable.

"You've come then," he says, not sounding at all pleased to see me.

"Of course I've come," I retort. "I rang as soon as we'd had lunch, and came straight here. So how is it?"

"Shit," he says. "It'll be tomorrow before we know the full extent of the damage. The club's arranged for me to have a scan. But the likelihood is that I'll be out for at least six months, and even then, there's no certainty that the ankle will ever be completely right. And all because some guy loses the plot and dives in like a lunatic. Oh, he came to the hospital to apologise, said he was ashamed that he went in the way he did. But it doesn't change anything."

"So why did he go in like that? Dad and I saw it this morning. It was horrible!"

"We were running them ragged. After half an hour we were already three-nil up. Even their own fans were booing them. I could see they were getting desperate. Then Gorman, one of their central defenders, totally lost it. He came diving in, studs up. I saw him coming. I just couldn't get out of the way. He'll get a ban, of course, probably quite a long one. It doesn't make any difference though. In a few weeks he'll be playing again and I'll be stuck here."

"Well you won't be alone," I say firmly. "I'll be here for you. That's a promise. Yes, it'll take a long time and lots of hard work, but we'll get there, you and me together, right?"

"You don't understand!" he protests.

"I understand perfectly," I say evenly, my eyes locked on his. "You've had a major setback. They happen. But that's no reason for you to start feeling sorry for yourself. You're going to pick yourself up and get back to where you were, and better. And I'm going to be with you every step of the way. When we first got together, we talked about supporting each other, and that's exactly what I'm going to do."

"But everything was going so well!" he objects. "It's not bloody fair!"

"Life often isn't," I say calmly, taking his hand in mine. "But there's no use looking back. We are where we are and we'll have to deal with it. And we will, you and me, just like I said."

"But suppose the ankle doesn't fully recover?" he demands.

"Don't even go there," I say firmly. "Right now, it's not even a consideration. All we're focusing on is getting you better, nothing else."

"You don't give up, do you?" he says, frowning.

"No, I don't," I tell him, "as you're about to find out if you didn't already know."

It's Monday afternoon. After cross-country training, I grab a quiet word with Alan, deliberately keeping it vague, just as Patrick advised.

"I'm sorry to hear that," he says gently. "These things happen. I hope it gets sorted soon."

Well, that wasn't too bad. I head for home. Before I start cooking dinner, I give Scott a call.

"Hi Scott," I greet. "Have you had the result of the scan?"

"Yeah," he says, sounding like a condemned man. "It showed significant ligament damage. The reckon a minimum of six months before I'll be able to play again, and like I told you yesterday, there's no certainty that the ankle will ever be as good as it was."

"Don't go there!" I remind him. "I'll see you tomorrow!"

The next day, after school, I head straight to the house. I find Scott exactly where he was on Sunday.

"Hi!" I say brightly. "How's it feeling today?"

"Still shit," he says curtly.

"So what have you been up to?" I ask.

"Not much chance of getting up to anything," he retorts, "stuck here with my leg in plaster."

"What about your Open University course?" I ask.

"I don't feel like studying at the moment," he says disconsolately.

This is not the Scott I know; the Scott I fell in love with. Right now, he'd try the patience of a saint. Well, I'm not having it. Taking a deep breath, I sit on his bed. I put my hands on his shoulders, locking my eyes onto his.

"Of course you don't," I say gently. "You've had a big setback and right now you probably don't feel like doing much of anything. But that's all the more reason for you to do it. For a start, you need to do something to get your brain engaged and stop you dwelling on what's happened. And think of it this way. You've been telling me that with all the matches you've had to play, it's been hard to fit in much studying. This is an opportunity for you to get ahead of the game. You've always been really disciplined about that sort of thing. You pride yourself on it. Well, that's exactly what you need now. Until the plaster comes off and you're mobile again, you're going to study between four and six hours a day, every day, starting tomorrow morning, right?"

"Between four and six hours?" he protests. "What did your last slave die of?"

"Very funny," I respond, "but it's not that much, two or three hours in the morning and the same in the afternoon. If you were actually at university, you'd be doing way more than that. For the next two or three weeks, you're going to be a full-time student. Get used to it."

"If you say so," he says, with an air of resignation.

"Right!" I say, "Let's get you to your desk. We need to draw up a plan, what you're going to do and when."

"I can do it," he argues.

"Right at the moment, you're still fighting it," I say quietly. "I want to see that you've made a start. That's the hardest part. Once you're into it, you'll be fine."

I sit with him while we plan out the work he's going to do. After an hour, we've got it sorted.

"Well done," I say smiling. I wrap my arms round him, drawing him into a sensuous kiss. "I love you, Scott," I whisper. "We're going to get through this. That's a promise."

There's no question of having sex. It's not the time, and with his parents back from work, it probably isn't the place either. Five minutes later, I'm on my way home. I feel totally drained. That was hard!

It's Wednesday, which means we're racing again. I run around, but my heart just isn't in it. Somehow, I manage to finish twelfth. Oh well; it is what it is. As soon as we get back to school, I head to Scott's parents' house.

I'm pleased to find that he's done pretty much what we agreed he should do. I give him a hug and a kiss for that. But conversation is difficult in a way that it never has been. All the usual certainties seem to have disappeared. It's as though life has been put on hold until we know how well his ankle is going to recover.

It's not a situation I'm used to. I don't find it easy. I've still got my own work to do, my own dreams to pursue. Mum and Dad have made that very clear. But Scott needs me now more than ever. I have to be there for him.

It's Sunday. Over the past few days, Scott's done a bit better, but it's been hard work. Today, the bruising came out. He's been in excruciating pain. His foot's gone black so I know he's not faking it. All he can do is to take some heavy-duty pain killers and try to get some sleep.

It's Tuesday before I see him again. Although the pain has eased considerably, he's had a bad day. I guess you could call it a relapse. He's difficult and thoroughly miserable. Just being with him is hard work. This is where I have to be strong.

"This is your programme for tomorrow," I say, referring to the plan we drew up. "This is what we agreed, and this is what you're going to do. Right?"

"I guess," he concedes, showing no enthusiasm at all.

As soon as I get home, I change out of my school uniform before getting things ready for Mum to cook dinner. I'll do my homework this evening.

"Had a good day?" Mum asks as she bustles into the kitchen.

"Okay, I guess," I say, trying to sound casual.

"Only okay?" she queries.

"Scott was very down again," I tell her.

"He needs to grow up," she says sharply. "He's broken his ankle. That's pretty serious when you do what he does, but it's not the end of the world. There are plenty of people in a far worse position. Think about the soldiers out in Afghanistan who've had limbs blown off. They don't lie around feeling sorry for themselves. Some of them even walked to the North Pole. He'd do well to take a leaf out of their book."

She's given me an idea. The BBC did a television programme about it. After dinner, I'll see if it's available on iPlayer. If it is, the next time I see Scott, we'll watch it together. I'm taking a risk, of course. He might resent the implied comparison. It's a chance I'll have to take. I can't think what else I can do.

The following afternoon, Scott and I sit in front of his computer watching the video. We see everything from when the injured soldiers are first brought into hospital, right through the rehab process and the fitting of prosthetic limbs, culminating in four of them walking to the North Pole. I glance across. Scott's got tears in his eyes.

"I'm being a wimp, aren't I?" he says.

"As far as most people are concerned, all you've done is broken your ankle, no big deal," I answer quietly. "But they're not expected to do all the twisting and turning that you do. For you, this is a big set-back and you're finding it hard to deal with. I thought it might be good for you to see how other guys have handled situations like that."

"Definitely," he says. "These guys are fantastic."

"Any time you're feeling a bit down, you tell yourself 'If they can do it, so can I', because you can."

"I'll even watch it again if I need to. It'll help me keep things in proportion, yeah?"

"Yeah, absolutely."

"You're amazing," he breathes, drawing me into a wonderful, passionate kiss.

It's Thursday evening. January is nearly over. Mum and I are eating dinner.

"Yesterday," I say. "When I went to see Scott, we watched that BBC programme on the soldiers who lost legs in Afghanistan walking to the North Pole."

"And?" Mum queries.

"It made him realise that he ought to be dealing with things better than he has been doing, so thanks for giving me the idea."

"Well, good for you for not being soft with him."

As usual, we've got the local evening news on the tv. Suddenly, there's an item that I probably should have been expecting.

A seventeen-year old boy appeared at Birmingham Crown Court today, having pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to raping an eleven-year old boy in Thurlston Forest in August last year, and possessing indecent images of children. The seventeen-year old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was sentenced to five years detention, and was ordered to be placed on the sex offenders' register for life. In passing sentence, the judge, Mr Justice Thorogood, described him as a very self-centred individual who presents a grave danger to any younger boy who crosses his path.

So that's it. An eleven-year old boy gets raped and is probably still having nightmares about it. And Zav, who should have had a really bright future, will be spending the next few years locked up in a Young Offenders' Institution. It's a total waste, a tragedy for everyone involved.

It's Monday, the day that Scott's due to have his plaster removed. Just after lunch, I get a text.

Just had the plaster off. Ankle's still sore and very stiff, but I can walk, and I'll be able to drive, so tomorrow I'm going back to the flat. S.

That sounds quite positive. Scott's parents wanted him to stay with them for a bit longer. Of course, he was having none of it. I text him back.

Cool! I'll see you there after school!

After school, cross-country training goes better than it has since Scott got injured. Running with my friends, I find I'm able to relax, the exercise somehow easing away the worries. Okay, we're not really pushing it, but we're not dawdling either. It feels good. After a shower, I head for home, feeling stronger and less stressed than I have for the past two weeks.

The following afternoon, as soon as our classes have finished, I head to the flat. Scott opens the door. Now that the plaster's been removed, he's able to walk without using crutches, but he looks very awkward. I soon see why.

He's been given exercises to do to rebuild the strength and flexibility in his ankle. The main one consists of sitting with his right leg crossed over his left, rotating his right ankle to draw circles with his big toe.

When I try it, the circles I draw are about three inches in diameter. Scott's are no more than half an inch diameter, and he even finds that a struggle. For the moment, he can walk short distances and drive to the supermarket and back. If I hadn't realised before, I have now. Getting him fit enough to play football again is going to be a long, hard slog.

To be fair, since he got back, he's been working as we agreed.

"You have been busy!" I say, smiling. "D'you fancy a break?"

"What d'you think?" he responds.

We head to the bedroom. As soon as we've undressed each other, we get onto the bed. We snuggle up, our lips meeting in a passionate kiss. Over the past two and half weeks, I've really missed this. I'm guessing Scott has too. In absolute terms, it probably isn't anything special, but it feels extraordinary, like it's the first good news I've had since he got injured.

It's Wednesday afternoon. I'm in the process of being reminded of the difference between running and racing. Two days ago, out training with the lads, I felt really good. Today, when I try to find that bit extra that I can usually call on, it's not there. The well's run dry. It's not really a surprise. It's more or less what Dad said would happen.

Although he doesn't actually say anything, Mr Bentley's looking concerned. The county schools' championships are due to take place a week on Saturday. In the senior boys' race, (for Years 12 & 13) the first four runners from each team count towards the team award.

On form, our scoring runners will be Patrick, Alan, Simon and myself. Darren's next in line, but he hasn't run well all season. He didn't even beat me today. We should still have enough to win the team race, but with me performing well below my best, it may not be as comfortable as we were expecting.

We get back to school at twenty to four. Once again, I head straight to Scott's flat. He lets me in and we stroll through to the lounge.

"How's today gone?" I ask, flopping down on the sofa.

"Not bad," he says, smiling. "I've been working for almost five hours. Fortunately, the course has several strands to it, so I haven't been doing the same thing all the time."

"Now that you're out of plaster," I ask, "what are you going to do to build up your fitness?"

"I'm not sure yet," he says casually. "I'll have to ask the fitness guys at the club."

"I've been thinking," I say. "Your weaknesses are endurance and upper body strength. That's what you've told me. Well, you could definitely work on those. You can swim, can't you?"

"Yeah, but I've never liked swimming lengths. It's boring."

"You'll survive," I insist. "You've told me you don't have enough time to work on your endurance while you're playing. Well now you have got the time. Start by swimming one kilometre, that's thirty lengths of the pool at the leisure centre. How long's that going to take you?"

"Dunno, twenty-five minutes or so."

"Probably less, and I'm sure you can put up with being bored for that long. And you can't hurt your ankle because it'll be supported by the water. And there's a gym there, with all the equipment. There must be lots of upper body exercises you can do."

"Like I said, I'll need to check with the fitness guys at the club first. They'll tell me what I need to do, yeah?"

"Can't you start swimming anyway," I persist. "Surely, they're not going to object to you doing that?"

"Probably not," he concedes. "I'll call them in the morning, yeah?"

"Cool!" I say, grinning. "Well, you've done okay today. Are you ready for your reward?"

"You bet I am!" he answers, smiling back.

The next day, I'm like super-busy. That's how it is sometimes. I don't speak to Scott until after Mum and I have had dinner. After he assures me that everything's on track, I settle down to my homework.

It's Friday afternoon when I get back to the flat. The moment I walk through the door, I know that things aren't right.

"So, what have you been up to today?" I ask, as I park myself on the sofa.

"Not much," he admits. "I didn't get up till eleven."

"So what about yesterday?" I demand.

"Much the same," he admits.

"When I spoke to you yesterday, you told me everything was okay."

"Sorry babe! I didn't want to worry you. I thought I'd be alright today."

"So, have you called the fitness guys at the club?"

"Not yet; I've just been pottering around here. I just couldn't get myself moving."

I'm horrified, suddenly realising that returning to his flat might not have been such a good idea after all. I know his mum wouldn't have allowed him to stay in bed like that. She'd have insisted he was up and about before she went to work.

"Did you watch the video?" I ask. "That's what you said you'd do."

"No, sorry. I just didn't think it was what I needed."

I swallow hard, trying not to let him see how exasperated I'm getting.

"You wanted to come back here," I say evenly. "So what's the problem? You seemed fine on Wednesday."

"It's the uncertainty," he says disconsolately, "the feeling that I'm not in control of things. I know I've been lucky in lots of ways, especially that Mum and Dad were willing to give me the opportunities that I've had. But mainly I've made my own luck, just like you have. I've put in the work and got the results. I was in control of my own future. But now I'm not, and I find it hard to deal with." He pauses for a second. "Then there's the club," he goes on. "Have you seen their results since I got injured?"

"No," I say firmly. "You're my priority."

"They've been crap," he says, "two heavy defeats. The week after I got injured, Curtis Mann tore a hamstring and Daryl Smith developed a groin problem. Without us three, they just can't cope."

Reaching across, I hold him by the shoulders, turning him to face me.

"Scott!" I say, looking right into his eyes. "This has got to stop! The best way you can help the club is to concentrate on getting yourself fit again. We've agreed what you need to do. Now you have to get on with it."

"Sorry, babe," he repeats. "I know I'm being a pain in the arse. I got injured once before, right at the start of Year Nine. Well, it wasn't really an injury; I'd given my left knee too much to do just as the bones were joining up. I wasn't able to play until after Christmas. I was a nightmare. Ask Mum; she'll tell you."

"She already has."

"Oh, right."

"One thing you can be certain about," I say firmly, looking him right in the eye, "is that if you're going to get the strength and movement back in your ankle, you're going to have to put the work in. I know it's not what you want to be doing. You just have to get on with it, along with all the other stuff. And you need to stop worrying about things you can't control. Just take care of the ones that you can. Right at the start, I promised you that we were going to get through this, and we will. So let's get to your desk and make a plan."

He's not enthusiastic, but he doesn't resist. Over the next half hour, we plan out his next week.

"Okay, that's it," I say finally, my eyes locked on his. "I'll call you in the morning. I want to know that you're out of bed."

"Yes sir," he says in mock obedience. "Aren't we . . . , you know?"

"Not today," I whisper, drawing him into a hug. "You're not in the right frame of mind. It wouldn't feel right. But when I come here tomorrow afternoon, you can tell me about all the stuff you've been doing. Then we'll have a really special time."

The weekend went okay. Scott managed to do everything we'd planned. Sitting in front of me, he did the exercise where he crossed his right leg over his left, and tried to draw circles with his big toe. The circles were about twice as big as they'd been a week earlier. Even though they're still nowhere near as big as they need to be, that's progress.

Of course, having completed his work programme, he had to have a reward. To be honest, it wasn't the best sex we've ever had. He's lost confidence in himself, and it shows.

It's now Monday morning. Before I head off to school, I give him a call. He answers on the third ring.

"Hi babe!" he greets. "Are you off to school?"

"Yeah! You sound much better this morning. I take it you're up and about."

"Yeah; I'm just having breakfast. I've been up for about half an hour."

"So, what's your first job this morning?"

"To call our head fitness coach," he tells me. "He gets in about half past eight, so I'll call him in about half an hour."

"Cool! I'll speak to you this evening. I want to know what he said."

It's just after seven when I make the call.

"Hi babe!" he says, sounding a good deal brighter than he has been doing.

"Well?" I say, grinning.

"I've been a really good boy," he says mockingly. "I called Cliff Andrews, our head fitness coach. He's very happy for me to start swimming, but on Thursday he wants me to go to the club so the doctor can check me over. In the meantime, he'll work out a strength training programme for me. After that, I spent an hour working on an essay I've got to write. Then I went to the pool and swam thirty lengths, like you said. It was twenty-odd minutes of total boredom, but to be fair, I felt much better afterwards. Oh, and I checked at reception. Before I can use the gym, I have to do an induction session. Everyone has to; it's part of the health and safety requirements. So I've booked to do that on Friday. Then I came back here, had a bite of lunch and got on with my studying. And I've kept exercising the ankle, of course."

"Well done!" I say, smiling. "It proves you can do it."

"Are you coming here tomorrow?"

"Of course!"

"Then I'll claim my reward," he teases.

"Not so fast, mister!" I caution. "You've got to complete tomorrow's programme first!"

"Yes, boss!" he acknowledges.

As we end the call, I feel happier than I have since he got injured. I can't relax yet though. I got him on track once before, only for him to slip off it again. I've promised we'll get through this together, but having to keep picking him up is wearing me out. But at this moment, things are looking better. Right now, I'll settle for that.

It's Tuesday afternoon. I'm walking to Scott's flat. I know he was up and about at ten past eight this morning, but I'm still apprehensive. Will he have done all the work that we agreed he'd do?

I climb the stairs and ring the bell, my heart thumping. Suppose he's become depressed again, and done nothing all day? What will I do then? He opens the door. He looks bright and fairly cheerful. It's a huge relief. For today at least, things are okay.

We look through what he's been doing. Not only has he completed all his academic work, and done another session in the swimming pool, he looks and sounds much more like the Scott I know; the one that I fell in love with.

"That's great!" I enthuse, delighted by how much he's accomplished. "You've done really well!"

"So, do I get my reward now?" he asks, licking my nose.

"Of course," I answer. "I promised, didn't I?"

It's Saturday morning. The last three days have gone okay. We didn't race on Wednesday, so once we'd finished our training run, I was able to go straight to Scott's place. I was there by twenty past three, and so we were able to spend much longer together than we usually can.

On Thursday, Scott's assessment by the club doctor went well. It's early days, but the indications are all positive. In addition, he now has an exercise programme to work on. Yesterday, once he'd completed his induction session at the leisure centre, he made a start.

Right now, we're at a school out in the middle of nowhere for the county schools' cross-country championships. As well as the senior boys', we've got a team in the intermediate boys' championship, which is the one I ran in last year.

That takes place early in the meeting. As I've got my own race to concentrate on, I can't pay it too much attention, but as they approach the finish, I count them through. With Nathan third, Niall Taylor fourth, Jon seventh, Shaun McNally tenth, the rapidly improving Rhys eleventh and Gary Stroud fifteenth, we've comfortably won the team prize.

As usual, the senior boys are the last to race. For me, it's a five-mile slog. With everything I've had going on, I'm just not racing fit. In a field of barely thirty runners, and the standard not very high, I manage eleventh place.

With Patrick having finished second, Alan seventh and Simon tenth, we've won the team race easily enough, but it's hardly the result I'd been hoping for. On my form before Christmas, I'd have made the top six.

But I'm not going to dwell on it; I did the best I could. To sweeten the pill, the younger lads ran really well. As we make our way to the presentations, I take Alan to one side.

"Do you think it would be worth getting Niall and Shaun more involved?" I ask. "They could train with us on Thursdays. They could even run with us on Sundays if they wanted to. And I'm going to ask Rhys if he'd like to run with us on Sundays."

"You're mad!" he says, grinning. "If I invited that number of people around to our house, my mum would go bananas! But yes, if you want to. But before you say anything to Niall and Shaun, I'd better ask Mr Bentley if they can train with us on Thursdays."

"Yeah, I guess we'd better ask him."

"What about Mondays?"

"They run during games on Tuesday afternoons. Running on Mondays as well could be too much."

"Yeah, right!" Alan agrees. "Just Thursday then; I'll go and see what he says."

As Alan goes to speak to Mr Bentley, I find Rhys.

"Well done!" I say, smiling. "You ran really well today. As you probably know, some of us run from my house on Sundays. I was wondering if you'd like to join us. You're definitely running well enough."

"Yeah!" he responds, his eyes sparkling. "I'd love to! What time d'you start?"

"Half past ten, so you need to be there for about twenty past." I give him the address and my phone number. "You'll need to clear it with your mum and dad," I advise. "If they have any queries, they can give me a call."

A couple of minutes later, Alan comes back.

"Mr Bentley says it's okay for Niall and Shaun to join us on Thursdays if they want to," he says quietly.

As soon as the presentations are over, I speak to the two Year Ten lads. As they both seem keen, I give them the details.

"What about me?" Gary asks, looking me right in the eye.

He's caught me on the hop. I hardly know the lad. Although he's clearly not as good as Niall or Shaun, I don't want to discourage him.

"I didn't think you'd want to do that just yet," I respond, smiling. "You might find it pretty tough. But you're welcome to come along if you want; see how you get on."

"Thanks!" he says, grinning. "That's how I'm going to get better!"

"Sure!" I tell him.

To be honest, I'm not sure he's right. It doesn't bother me though; I just love his attitude!

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