Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 19

April 2011

I wake up, feeling better than I expected to. Much like always, I'm out of bed by quarter to eight. As soon as I'm dressed, I open the curtains and look out of the window. The sun's shining; the sky has not fallen in.

I take a deep breath. What's happened has happened. There's nothing I can do about it now. Scott said he'd call me. He's very reliable, so I'd say it was a pretty safe bet that he'll do that at some point. In the meantime, I can't just put my life on hold. There are things that I need to do, whether he's with me or not.

I have to stay strong. I have to do what I told Scott to do when he was being a pain in the arse and feeling sorry for himself. Don't worry about the things that you can't control; just make the best of the things you can. One way or another, I will get through this, and I'll be better for the experience.

One thing I need to do is to confide in somebody. Patrick would have been the obvious choice, but he's spending this week working for Bill Gardner on the Live-Work unit that we designed. I won't see him until we go back to school.

This evening, Mum and I are going to the parents' support group meeting. I guess I could talk to Robbie and Noah. They'd make sympathetic noises, but I don't think they'd be able to give me much practical support. They certainly won't be around to give me a kick up the backside if I need one.

No, the guy I need to talk to is Anthony, and I'm pretty sure he'll be available. Although Jayden, Anthony's so-called boyfriend, has his A-level exams coming up, I'm pretty sure that he's gone with his family to their place in Portugal. Anthony will probably tell me I'm an idiot for getting myself into this situation, but having done that, he'll be totally there for me. That's just the way he is.

It's quarter past nine when I make the call.

"Hi, man!" he greets. "This is unexpected! What can I do for you?"

"Are you busy today?"

"Not really. Jay's in Portugal, but you probably knew that."

"Any chance I could come over? I'd like to have a chat."

"Sure! What about?"

"I'll tell you when I see you, if that's okay. I'll be there in about half an hour."

"So, what d'you want to chat about?" Anthony asks, welcoming me into the house.

I tell him the whole story. Knowing Anthony as well as I do, I'm totally candid. I don't gloss over anything; there's no need.

"Well," he responds. "Not your finest hour, but I don't see it as a hanging offence."

"It wasn't so much the cheating," I explain. "What really upset him was that I tried to blag my way out of it. That was stupid!"

"Yeah, I can see his point," Anthony says thoughtfully. "But if I were you, I wouldn't worry about it. Give it a few days. He'll be back!"

"What makes you so sure?"

"You hold all the cards; most of them anyway."

"What?" I query, totally not getting it.

"Last summer, when you told me about yourself and Scott, and what you hoped to achieve together, I thought how lucky he was to have found someone like you. You're bright, you work hard, and you're good company without being a party animal. Given his situation, that's exactly what he needs. If he dumps you, where's he going to find someone else? He can't start hanging out in the gay bars. There's too big a risk that he'd get outed. And I can't see him using one of these gay dating sites, for much the same reason. Believe me, he needs you a great deal more than you need him."

"I hope you're right."

"It won't be the end of the world if I'm not," he goes on. "You'll pick yourself up, put your head down and get yourself into one of the top architecture schools. And once you're there, there'll be lots of guys who'll want you to be their boyfriend. You need to remember that. So when Scott calls you, don't let him lay the law down, telling you what you can do and what you can't do, right?"

"I don't think he'd do that anyway," I say quietly. "I guess we'll talk it through."

"How's his football going?"

"It's not. Just after New Year, he got injured. He got caught by a really bad tackle; damaged the ligaments in his ankle. He hasn't played since."

"That can't have been much fun."

"No, it was pretty tough, especially at the start. He was so down; he didn't want to do anything. It totally stressed me out."

"I can imagine! You'd have been going round there, chivvying him along, making sure he was doing what he was supposed to be doing."

"Yeah. That's exactly how it was. A couple of times when I went round, I wouldn't let him have sex because he hadn't done anything all day. Fortunately, he's making good progress now. We're hoping he'll be ready to start playing again by the start of next season."

"What you're telling me," Anthony says, measuring his words, "is that while he's been injured, you've been a rock for him. He'd have to be an idiot to give that up!"

"Thanks! That really helps. Well, enough about me; how are you and Jayden getting on?"

"Oh, he has seriously pissed me off!"

"What's he done?"

"When I leave school, I want to go to what used to be the Slade in London. It's where lots of famous artists went. These days, it's part of the University of the Arts, near Kings Cross Station. Jay and I talked about it, and he said he wanted to go to uni in London too. Anyway, he applied to Kings College, and they offered him a place. It was quite a tough offer – two A's and a B – but he's perfectly capable of getting that if he does the work. But he also got an offer from Bournemouth, who didn't ask for such high grades. You can guess which one he accepted."


"When I first met Jay, I knew he was the guy I was meant to be with," Anthony says wistfully. "And in a sense, he still is. When Jay and I are together, it's as good as it ever was. But it's like 'just fitting together' isn't enough. If it's going to go anywhere, you've got to work at it, and Jay just isn't interested."

"Right!" I say absently, recalling what Roz Marshall told me. "But wasn't it always going to be difficult, with him being two years older than you?"

"Yeah, I guess. But he won't even try. Anyway, once he goes swanning off to Bournemouth, I won't be waiting for him when he comes back for the holidays."

"So I guess you'll be looking for someone else?"

"Yeah, definitely!" he says, grinning. "If Scott was stupid enough to dump you, I'd invite you back in a heartbeat. But he isn't, so I guess that's not going to happen."

The parents' support group meeting is very enjoyable. After my chat with Anthony, I decide not to tell Robbie and Noah about the situation with Scott. During the meeting, Robbie proposes that the group should attend Birmingham Pride on the spring bank holiday weekend at the end of May, and everyone agrees. Having never been to anything like that, I'm looking forward to it.

It's when we get back home that it hits me. Talking to Anthony really helped, as did being with the guys at the support group. But being back at home, in the confines of my own room, I find it hard to stop myself dwelling on what I've lost, or at least might have lost, and how stupid I was to risk throwing it away. If Scott and I don't get back together, it'll be some time before I'll be feeling like me again.

The following morning, six members of the training group go out for a run. In Patrick's absence, I'm on the front all the way. In warm sunny conditions, bowling along through the countryside with a group of friends is wonderful. Best of all is the sense of togetherness. With things as they are, I need that more than ever.

In the afternoon, I go back to Anthony's. We spend the time listening to music and talking about this and that. It's cool. I need the company, and I guess he probably does too.

Being back at home for the evening is hard. Although I try to keep myself busy, I keep waiting for the phone to ring, and it doesn't. Inevitably, the doubts start to creep in. Maybe it won't? 'No,' I tell myself. 'Scott said he'd call me, and he will.' I need to stay strong.

I dedicate Thursday morning to drawing and reading. I'm just about to break for lunch when I get a call. It's not Scott though; it's Patrick.

"Hi!" I greet. "I wondered if you might call. How's it going?"

"It's been hard work," he says, "but it's looking awesome! Julian's going to love it! Tomorrow, we'll be applying the finishing touches. Why don't you come over in the afternoon and take some pictures?"

"Sure! I'd love to! Will three o'clock be okay?"

"No problem! Have you been out running?"

"Yeah, we went out yesterday morning; six of us."

"I wish I could have been with you," he says, "but I can't be in two places at once."

"Cool! I'll see you tomorrow!"

As I eat my lunch, I reflect on how difficult the last few days have been. I am seriously conflicted. On the one hand, I know that Anthony was right. If Scott and I don't get back together, I'll still be able to get myself into a top architecture school, and once I'm there, I'll meet lots of gay guys.

On the other hand, I miss Scott terribly; my sense of loss being all the greater for knowing that it's my fault. But I am where I am. I'll just have to get on with it.

It's ten to six and I'm preparing dinner when Mum appears.

"Hi Mum!" I greet. "It'll be ready in fifteen."

At five past six, we sit down to eat.

"Are you seeing Scott this evening?" she queries.

I take a deep breath. I knew this would come up at some point, but it's still quite difficult when it actually does.

"No," I admit. "We've had a little disagreement. I did something I shouldn't have done, and he got rather upset about it. He said he needed time to think, so we're having a few days apart."

"Hmm!" she says sharply. "I hope that in his deliberations he takes into account all the support you gave him when he got injured. That first month, you got so frazzled, I was really worried about you. I don't think many boys your age would have looked after him the way you did."

"Maybe not," I concede. "Anyway, he said he'd call me, and he's very reliable, so I'm sure he will."

"I take it you do want to get back together?"

"Of course I do! Being with Scott has been the best thing that's ever happened to me. Oh, I know the world wouldn't come to an end if we didn't get back together, but it would be a big loss, at least for me it would. Actually, I chatted to Anthony about it. He's sure that Scott will want me back."

"He will if he's got any sense," Mum agrees.

The following morning, I go running with some of the training group. As we're only doing about six miles and everyone knows the route, towards the end, Nathan, Niall and I are flying along. It feels good, the tension and the worries disappearing on the breeze.

After a shower and a snack lunch, I head over to the Live-Work unit. Bill and Patrick welcome me inside. Downstairs, the office has already been fitted out. It looks business-like but stylish and comfortable; an agreeable place to work and a welcoming place to visit. I take a few pictures to put in my folder.

Moving upstairs, Patrick shows me the apartment. I'm blown away! Patrick was right; it looks amazing! I can hardly believe I designed it. The artist's impressions I did simply don't do it justice.

Of course, Bill and his guys, including Patrick, have played a huge part. The standard of finish and the attention to detail are outstanding. By some margin, it's the best thing I've ever been involved in. I take one picture after another, feeling immensely proud of what we've achieved.

"You like it then?" Bill says, smiling.

"Oh yes!" I enthuse. "It's fantastic! I'd no idea it would look as good as this!"

"That's the benefit of starting with a completely blank canvas," he explains. "Scott's place looks okay, but to get it looking as good as this, we'd have needed to reskim the walls, and it wouldn't have been worth it."

I look around. Patrick's wandered off for a moment.

"How's Patrick got on?" I ask quietly.

"Oh, he's been superb. To be honest, with the amount of work I've got coming in, I could do with taking on someone like him full-time. The problem is finding somebody who's up to it."

A thought suddenly strikes me.

"I know somebody who might be," I tell him. "One of my friends is on a construction course at the college. He'll be finishing in a couple of months. At the end of his first year, he was their top trainee."

"I must admit that I'm a bit wary. Overall, the standard on those courses isn't very high. But if he's a friend of yours, I guess he must have something about him. Ask him to give me a ring, but make sure he understands it's not just quality of work that I'm looking for. He needs to be reliable and to turn up on time."

"Sure! I'll call him. His name's Jimmy Foster."

Just at that moment, Julian arrives. Bill heads downstairs to greet him.

"Who's that you were talking about?" Patrick asks quietly, having rejoined the conversation.

"It's nobody you'd know," I say, grinning. "Jimmy and I met in 'interesting' circumstances, if you know what I mean."

"Oh, right!" he confirms. We fall about, giggling.

Back at home, as soon as we've finished dinner, I give Jimmy a call.

"Hey, man!" he greets. "I haven't heard from you for ages! How's it going?"

"Pretty well, thanks! What about you? Are you still with your boyfriend? Craig, was it?"

"Oh, definitely! Craig's a darling!"

"And how's your course going?"

"Very well!

"Are you going to be top of your year again?"

"Probably. I'll certainly be in the top two or three. I'll be finishing soon though. Then I'll need to find a job. That's going to be the hard part."

"That's why I'm calling," I tell him.

Over the next few minutes, I explain about the work I've done with Bill, and what he told me this afternoon.

"Seriously?" Jimmy queries. "Man, you are a star! Thanks for thinking of me!"

"It won't be easy," I warn. "Bill's work is top-quality. That's why he's so busy. And he told me that you'll need to be reliable and turn up on time."

"Oh, none of that's a problem. The only thing is that if I want to get something absolutely perfect, at the moment, I'm not very quick. The instructors say that's down to practice."

"I'm sure Bill knows that," I assure him. "I think you'll be fine." I give him the contact details. "Tell him you're a friend of Ian Haskell," I instruct. "And don't forget to let me know how you get on."

We end the call, and suddenly I'm on my own again. I try to get some reading done, but I find it hard to stop my mind wandering. It's also hard not to worry that the promised phone call will never come.

Just after half past eight, there's a tap on the door.

"Come in!" I call.

As expected, Dad appears. He parks himself on the bed.

"I understand that you and Scott have had a falling-out," he says gently, his eyes locked on mine.

"Sort of."

"Are you still sure that you're ready for such a serious relationship?"

"Yeah. I screwed up; that's all. I won't do it again."

"Fair enough," he says quietly. "But if there is anything worrying you, or anything you'd like to talk about, please ask, okay?"


He leaves me to it. I'm very lucky to have a dad as understanding as he is.

Saturday is purgatory. There's no other way to describe it. I do my best to keep myself busy, but the doubts and the worries keep returning to the surface. I'm starting to understand why Scott found the uncertainty of his situation so difficult to handle.

Not knowing how things are going to play out is horrible, and following my own advice is anything but easy. Right at the moment, there are lots of questions and absolutely no answers. That's tough to deal with.

May 2011

Just before half past ten, nine of us assemble for our Sunday morning run. Apart from Dean and his dad, and David, that's the entire training squad. We set out on our 9-mile circuit with the temperature at around 17˚C (63˚F) and only a light breeze. Conditions couldn't be better.

As he's been working, Patrick hasn't run at all for the past two weeks. This morning, he settles into the middle of the group, just easing himself back into the routine. With a number of us taking a turn at the front, the pace is respectable, but never really picks up the way it sometimes does. As a result, Rhys and Gary, who've only been in the squad for a few weeks, manage to stay in contact all the way round. Not only is that good for them, it's good for me too.

We return to the house. The atmosphere is wonderful. Although we're a pretty diverse group, we genuinely enjoy each other's company. Right at the moment, having something like this to hang onto seems more important than it ever has. I find myself chatting with Alan.

"I'm not looking forward to having to train on the track," he says quietly. "I've never been much good at that. I'm just not quick enough."

"Why don't you and Darren work with Jon and Rhys? I know they're going to find it hard. Just get them to run at an even pace, even if it's not very quick to start with."

"Darren won't be with us. He's been given permission to go swimming instead."

"Oh, right! Didn't you think about doing that?"

"Not really. Being with you guys has been great. It's hard to explain, but it's helped a lot."

"You could still work with Jon and Rhys though. Having you looking after them will mean a lot."

"I'd like that, but d'you think I'll be allowed to? I don't want Mr Saunders saying I'm not trying hard enough."

"I don't see why not. You'll be helping to develop the school's next generation of runners. As soon as we're back at school, I'll find Mr Saunders and ask him, okay?"

"Yeah, that's cool! Thanks!"

We've just finished lunch when I finally get the call I've been waiting for.

"Hi!" he says. "It's Scott. Can we meet? I'd like us to have a chat."

"Sure," I say, being careful not to show too much enthusiasm. "When were you thinking of?"

"How about now? I'm just about to leave Mum and Dad's place. I could pick you up on the way through if you like."

"Cool! Shall I wait at the end of the road?"

"Sure! I'll be there in ten."

After brushing my teeth and putting on a pair of trainers, I stroll down to our meeting place. This is nerve-wracking. My hands are clammy and my heart's racing. A couple of minutes later, I see Scott's Mini approaching. It draws up next to me. Opening the door, I get in.

"Hi!" he says. "Good to see you!"

"You too!" I respond.

"How have you been?"

"Okay. You said you wanted us to have a chat."

"Yes, but is it okay if we wait until we get back to mine?"


We lapse into silence. Finally, we reach the flat. Going inside, we make our way through to the lounge. We sit on the sofa, turned towards each other.

"Well?" I ask.

"I've found this really hard," he admits. "I'd have rung you before, but I couldn't work out what to say. Anyway, I've just been to lunch with Mum and Dad. Mum asked me straight out what was going on. I didn't give any details but I said that we'd had a bit of a falling-out. She gave me a right talking-to! Mum never does that, well, not very often anyway. She said I needed to call you and get things sorted. The only problem is that I'm not sure where to start."

"Well, let me help you out," I say quietly. "I screwed up, and I apologise. You trusted me and I let you down. I know that Franny made things quite difficult, but that's not an excuse. I should have been stronger."

"So you'd like us to get back together?"

"Yes, as long as that's what you want."

"I was worried that you might think I was asking too much of you."

"I'm not saying it's easy, but we always knew it wouldn't be. I messed up. When Franny came onto me, I took what Dad calls 'the line of least resistance'. It's not good enough. We've got something really special, or at least I think we have. If it's that special, I have to be prepared to fight for it."

"I need to apologise too."

"What for?" I query. "You haven't done anything wrong."

"When I got injured, I was in bits. But you were so strong, so determined that I was going to get better. Thinking about it now, I don't know what I'd have done without you. At the time, I took it completely for granted. I didn't even think about how much stress I was putting on you. It wasn't until Mum spoke to me just now that I understood how much you'd done, and how poorly I behaved. You were amazing! Did you know your mum had called my mum to say how worried she was?"

"No. I know she did get quite worried. I didn't know she'd spoken to your mum about it though."

"Well, she had, apparently. Anyway, Mum told me in no uncertain terms how lucky I was to have found someone like you, and that I needed to call you straightaway, and get things sorted out.

Then something unbelievable happened. All the time Mum was bending my ear, Dad never said a word. When she finished, I thought he'd either say nothing, or that he'd say the complete opposite. That's what usually happens. But he didn't. He said 'Your mum's right, you know. You need to hang onto him. You won't find anyone else who'll look after you like he has.' Mum and I were like, 'What did you just say?' I mean, d'you remember what he said when he came here to the lunch party? Well, he actually admitted that he'd got it wrong! That's when I knew I had to stop putting it off. I had to try to get you back."

"You don't really need to try," I say, giving him a wry smile.

"I do have one other question I need to ask," he says, looking me right in the eye. "When I challenged you about what you'd been up to, why didn't you just tell me?"

"That wasn't just wrong," I admit. "It was really stupid. You and I can almost read each other's mind. The only thing I can put it down to is force of habit."

"Sorry," he says. "I don't understand."

"I realised I was gay when I was twelve," I explain. "I didn't dare tell anyone. Dad might have been okay with it, but Mum definitely wouldn't. I started having sex less than a year later. Of course, I didn't want Mum and Dad to find out. I didn't have to tell many actual lies, but I did start becoming evasive, about where I was going and what I was doing.

When I eventually did come out to Mum and Dad, they told me I was too young to be having sex, and that I absolutely wasn't to do it. Well, I wasn't willing to go along with that. Having sex was part of my life, so that made me even more evasive. It's not something I'm proud of. It was like a survival strategy. Do you remember the first time you invited me out to dinner?"

"Sure," he says.

"I'd spent the day watching the county schools' athletics championships, so I told Mum and Dad that Dean's parents had invited me to stay for dinner. If I hadn't, Mum would have insisted on me coming home."

"I see what you mean," he concedes, looking uncomfortable.

"They say that old habits die hard. Well, I guess this has been a wake-up call. I don't need to do that now, and I certainly shouldn't have done it with you. I guess I've learned the hard way."

"Come here," he says quietly. Wrapping an arm around my shoulder, he gently pulls me towards him. "You are the most amazing guy I've ever met," he adds, looking me right in the eye. He draws me even closer, our lips meeting in a passionate kiss.

We move to the bedroom. After discarding our shoes and socks, we begin to undress each other. Scott's wearing his Christmas present again, his erection clearly outlined within the shiny fabric.

"It looks like the big bad wolf was expecting visitors!" I quip.

"He's certainly been looking forward to seeing one particular visitor!" Scott counters.

Our lovemaking is intense and affectionate; everything I could have hoped it would be. Thinking about it now, I can't imagine why I risked my relationship with Scott for a few fleeting moments with Franny. It was totally stupid! Well, I won't make that mistake again!

We're lying naked on the bed, basking in the afterglow. Scott turns towards me, his nose almost touching mine.

"There's something I need to ask you," he says quietly. "I know it's short notice, but I'd like us to go on holiday together. I'd have asked you last week, but . . . well, you know."

"When?" I query.

"The only time we're both available is the spring half-term week. By the time you're on your summer holidays, I'll be in pre-season training. You won't have to do any actual A-level of AS-level exams when you get back to school, will you?"

"No, we don't do any modular A-levels. We've got our end of year exams, but they don't start until two weeks after we get back to school."

"So, what d'you think?"

"It should be okay. I told my friends at the parents' support group that I'd go to Birmingham Pride, which is on the bank holiday weekend. It's not a problem. I'll call Robbie and tell him I can't go. I'll have to ask Mum, of course."

"When I drop you off, why don't I come in with you so we can ask her together?"

"Cool!" I enthuse. "That should work!"

"What are you doing tomorrow?" he asks.

"Not much. Why?"

"I thought that if I go to the Leisure Centre early to get my training done, we could go out somewhere. It'll be our last chance for a while. What d'you think?"


"I'll pick you up around quarter past eleven. Is that okay?"

"Sure! I'll be ready!"

At quarter to five, Scott parks the car and we stroll into the house. We find Mum in the lounge, reading.

"Back together then?" she says, giving us a wry grin.

"Yes, Mum!" I respond, squeezing Scott's hand. "All sorted!"

"It's been a learning experience for both of us," Scott explains, "for me as much as for Ian. I need to get better at handling setbacks. The way I dealt with this one just wasn't good enough. With everything else he has to do, Ian shouldn't have had to deal with me behaving like a spoilt brat. I'm sorry you were worried about him. It shouldn't have happened."

"It takes a great deal to apologise," Mum says, "especially when you don't actually have to, so thank you! You know, the most important step in solving any problem is to recognise that you've got one. Now what can I do for you? You obviously want to ask me something."

"I've asked Ian to come on holiday with me," Scott explains. "I know it's very short notice, but the only time that we're both free is during the spring half term. By the time Ian's summer holiday comes around, I'll be in pre-season training."

"When do your school exams start?" Mum queries.

"2oth June, two weeks after we get back to school."

"Well, that should be okay then," Mum agrees. "Where will you be going?"

"Southern Spain, or maybe the Balearic Islands," Scott says. "I'll have to see what's available. Thanks, Mrs Haskell," he adds, giving Mum his killer smile. "We really appreciate it. Right! I'd better leave you guys to it!"

I show him out. Returning to the lounge, I'm buzzing. Scott totally knows how to push Mum's buttons!

"Thanks, Mum!" I say, beaming.

"Come and sit down," she says, indicating the sofa, facing her armchair. "You remember you said you'd go to Birmingham Pride?"

"Yeah. I'll have to call Robbie and apologise."

"Do it now, so you don't forget," she suggests. "Dad and I will still go."


"Over the past eighteen months, Beth's become a real friend," she explains. "As you know, this has been a difficult journey for me. Beth's been so understanding and supportive. It'll be good to give a bit back; show some solidarity. And it'll be a chance for Dad to meet everybody. As long as the weather's decent, it should be a good day."

"You're not worried about me going on holiday with Scott, are you?"

"No. Whatever the problem was, you've sorted it. If there'd been any issues, I'd have seen it in your face."

Once again, I find myself reflecting on how fortunate I am. Fortunate to have a partner like Scott who was prepared to give me a second chance. Fortunate too to have such a supportive family. Not for the first time, I have to stop myself welling up.

The following morning, Scott picks me up just before quarter past eleven. Once again, it's a pleasant spring day, ideal weather for being out and about.

"Where are we going?" I ask.

"I thought we might give Hereford a try. Have you ever been there?"

"No. I'd like to go though. Will we be able to see the Mappa Mundi?"

"Yes. I thought that might interest you."

It interests me alright. It's a medieval map of the world, and the largest medieval map known to still exist. Seeing it has been on my bucket-list for some time. Although Hereford is not that far away, I've never been. When Claire and I were younger, Dad always rejected the idea of going there on the grounds that it's in the middle of nowhere and there wouldn't be enough to keep us occupied.

The journey, less than thirty miles, takes around fifty minutes. That's slow! But the road isn't very good and we couldn't go any faster. As soon as Scott's parked the car, we head to the cathedral close and the museum where the Mappa Mundi and the Chained Library are housed.

I find it fascinating. The map isn't a geographical representation of the Earth. It was never intended to be. It's symbolic, showing the Earth with Jerusalem at its centre and East at the top. It illustrates how different people's perceptions were seven hundred years ago. Would I have appreciated it when I was ten? Probably not.

Back out in the sunshine, we stroll into the city centre in search of lunch. The place has a sleepy feel to it. We don't live in a bustling metropolis, but it's livelier than this. It seems remote too, just as Dad suggested. The nearest major city is Cardiff, and that's well over an hour away.

Making our way into an inviting-looking pub, we find a table. Scott buys a large glass of coke for each of us, and orders food. Settling down at the table, we sip our drinks.

"We've got the club awards evening a week on Saturday," he says quietly. "I've won the young player of the season award, even though I missed half of it. I'll have to go. I wish I could take you with me, but the local press will be there. If I turned up with you in tow, the papers would be full of it, and that would scupper my chances of getting a move to a Premier League club. In any case, I promised Dad I wouldn't."

"Did you go last year?"

"Yeah, I went with Mum and Dad. Even that raised a few eyebrows. All the other guys were with their wives or girlfriends. I stuck out like a sore thumb."


"I guess I'll just have to do the same again. It's so disappointing that we have to hide the way we do, but that's just how it is. It's a shame; it's a really good night. The supporters' club organise it. The players get treated like royalty, especially the ones who've won awards."

"What you really need is someone to be your girlfriend for the night."

"Yeah, but who? All the girls I know are away at uni. In any case, I'm not sure that I'd trust them not to talk about it. You know what girls are like."

"I know someone who might be up for it. I'll have to make enquiries."

"Who is it?"

"I'll tell you if anything comes of it," I say, looking him right in the eye. "Don't worry, I wouldn't even ask if I couldn't trust her to keep her mouth shut."

After lunch, we visit the cider museum and take a stroll along the river before driving home. Sitting in the front passenger seat, I start thinking.

"Tell me," I ask. "What would happen if you came out?"

"The main thing would be the abuse," he explains. "Fans of opposing teams would try to upset me by shouting homophobic abuse. Black players get racist abuse all the time. The football authorities go through the motions of trying to stamp it out, but they're not really getting anywhere. The problem is catching the people responsible. That's down to the clubs, and they don't want to spend money on beefing up their security to the point where they can do it effectively."

"That's not right," I tell him.

"No, it isn't," he agrees. "But that's how it is. I'd probably get abuse online too, you know, on my Facebook page. Oh, the people responsible could find themselves in trouble, but if they're clever, it's not difficult for them to disguise who they are and where they're located."

"That's terrible!" I say, wincing at the idea of it.

"Because there aren't any openly-gay professional footballers," Scott continues, "the other thing that would happen is that I'd become an instant celebrity. That's the last thing I want. I need to concentrate on becoming a better player and giving my best on the pitch. The club wouldn't like it either. It'd be a distraction from what they ought to be focusing on."

I take a deep breath. Being gay in Britain is a great deal better than it was, and it's better than it is in many other countries. Even so, there are still plenty of battles that we need to fight.

The next day, we're back at school and back into the routine. At morning break, I go to find Mr Saunders. He readily agrees to my idea of Alan working with Jon and Rhys. That's the easy problem dealt with.

After break, we've got a double period of art, which will take us up to lunchtime. When Roz comes in, I stroll across to her.

"Will you be able to stay for a few minutes at the start of the lunch break?" I enquire. "There's something I need to ask you."

"Sure," she says, grinning. "I'll look forward to it. You've got me curious now!"

When the bell goes for the start of the lunch break, she comes to join me.

"Well," she says, pulling up a chair. "What d'you want to ask?"

"First of all, may I ask if you and Ed are back together?"

"No chance!" she says, grinning. "He's being such an idiot! He keeps fobbing off his parents, telling them everything's fine, but he knows it isn't. He's going to mess up his end of year exams, and they'll go ballistic!"

"Right!" I say quietly. "That's what I thought. Now I'm going to tell you something, but I'd like you to keep it to yourself."

"That's fine, as long as you haven't murdered anybody."

I briefly outline how Scott and I became boyfriends.

"That is so cool!" she whispers. "It makes sense now!"

"Sorry," I query. "What makes sense?"

"Scott's got his own flat, right? Damian and Claire went there a couple of times. That seemed a bit odd. Damian and Scott always got on okay, but they were never close. I wondered why they got invited. Well, now I know!"

"Sure!" I say, smiling.

"So where do I come in?"

I explain the situation.

"If you and Ed had been back together, I wouldn't have asked," I conclude. "But as you're not, I thought you might be able to help us out. From what Scott's told me, it should be a very pleasant evening. But I don't want you to say 'yes' now. If you're interested, I think we should arrange for you and Scott to meet. The two of you will need to be comfortable with each other, or it's not going to work."

"Yeah, I'd like that," she says, smiling. She pauses for a moment. "You've really thought about this, haven't you?" she asks.

"I guess."

"And won't you mind that I'm going instead of you?"

"Not much point in minding, is there? The situation's not ideal, but for the moment, we've got to make the best of it."

"So when can I meet Scott?"

"How about tomorrow after games? We always finish early. I think you do too. We can go to the flat. It's not far."

"Yeah, that'll work!" she enthuses, grinning mischievously. "I'll meet you at the main gate at half past three."

That Roz is even willing to consider the idea makes me very happy. She is such a star!

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