Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 32

March 2012

It's Monday, and we're into the final week of term. On Friday, we break up for Easter. Shortly after I arrive at school, Tim comes to find me.

"It's my eighteenth tomorrow," he says. " I'm having a party on Saturday evening. It'll largely be the same gang that used to go to the swimming pool, plus a few guys from the football team. Would you like to come along?"

On most Saturdays, that would be a problem, but this week, Reavington have an away match in Middlesbrough. It's their longest trip of the season. By the time they get back, it will be too late for me to go over to Scott's place.

"Sure! " I answer. "That'd be great. Thanks for asking me."

"We'll be kicking off about eight," he adds. "It'll probably end around one, but obviously you can leave earlier if you're training the next day."

"Yeah, cool!"

After school, when we gather for cross-country training, Mr Bentley calls us together.

"On Thursday," he says quietly, "you will not be training. Instead, you are to come to the assembly hall where there'll be a reception to celebrate the most successful season the team's ever had."

This sounds to me like one of Mr Lenham' s ideas. I've no doubt he'll have arranged for the local press to attend.

"Meanwhile, on Wednesday," Mr Bentley continues, "we have some important business to conduct. If you perform up to your usual standard, we should certainly get into the medals, which will be a first for us. If we go really well, we might even win it. This afternoon, just take it easy. You won't get any fitter between now and Wednesday, so let's make sure you're fresh and raring to go."

The following afternoon, as soon as classes have finished, I make my way to Scott's place.

"Are you looking forward to tomorrow?" he asks, as he welcomes me inside.

"Sure! It looks like we're going to get a nice day for it."

"Would you like me to give you a massage, to make sure you're as loose as possible?"

"Yeah, that'd be great!"

We head into the bedroom. After Scott's given me another wonderful massage, we gently make love. When he takes me home, I'm feeling as well-prepared as I can possibly be.

Arriving at the venue for the Sharnford Relay, the weather is just about perfect, with the temperature around 19˚C, hazy sunshine and a gentle breeze. There's a sense of anticipation that I've not experienced before.

At other races, like The Hampton Trophy, we hoped to do well, but we had no real idea whether we would. Today, we know we've got a good team. We know we ought to do well, and that creates its own pressure.

After we've done our usual preparations, the twenty first-leg runners line up for the start. On the dot of half past two, the hooter sounds and the race is underway. As the runners disappear from view, Nathan is well in contention.

Almost eight minutes later, they reappear. One lad has broken away, but Nathan and another boy are not far behind. He hands over to Simon, just three seconds off the lead.

The second leg is quite scrappy, as it often is. While Simon soon catches the boy who went out in the lead, he is subsequently caught by other lads. As he approaches the changeover zone, he's in fourth place, with the leaders now around ten seconds ahead.

"We 're almost half a minute up on where we were at this stage last year," Mr Bentley informs me.

Now it's Jon 's turn. Although he's been running very well, this short, fast course is not ideal for him. I told Mr Bentley that he'd run at least twenty seconds quicker than he did last year. I have to hope I'm right.

As I prepare to take over, Jon's running in sixth place, the gap between ourselves and the leaders now around double what it was when he started. It's not a problem. With our two weakest runners having already run, we're right where I expected us to be. Now we have to get down to winning this thing.

As I set off, I focus on the boy in fifth place, some twenty yards ahead of me. Taking care not to go too fast early on, I gradually reel him in.

"Well done, Ian!" Rhys shouts to me. "They're all there for you!"

Immediately, I switch my focus onto my next target. By the time I've reached halfway, I'm running in third place, and coming up onto the shoulder of the lad in second.

"Go on, Ian!" Jake urges. "You can catch them all!"

"You're doing fantastic!" Brian endorses.

A few seconds later, I move into second place. The leader is now in sight, but still around fifty yards in front and running okay. This is where I have to dig in. With a supreme effort of will, I slowly haul him in. Having passed him with two hundred yards to go, I hand over to Patrick, three seconds to the good.

Wow! I don't know how fast I ran, but it was quick. My chest feels like it's on fire. As I begin to recover, I change into my trainers and pull on my training top.

"Well done!" Mr Bentley says. "Unofficially, I got you just inside eight-forty."

It's time to go for a warm-down. Listening to the chat, it seems that Patrick's exploits are well-known to our leading opponents. They seem to be hoping that because he'll have to run the entire lap on his own, he won't run as quickly as he might have done. In the event, they're disappointed. He flies round! By the time he hands over to Niall, our lead has grown to 35 seconds.

The team in second place have put their best runner on the anchor leg, but we've given him too much to do. Although he cuts our lead by more than half, Niall is never seriously challenged.

"Actually, it was pretty easy," he says nonchalantly. "I know I could have found a bit more if we'd needed it."

Gathering up our things, we make our way to Sharnford School, where the presentations will be made. We're all elated, of course. Winning a race like that against some of the best schools in the country is huge. For some reason, Mr Bentley is very excited too. I'm not sure what that's about. Once he knows we've won, he's usually pretty calm.

A few minutes after we arrive at the school, the results sheets appear. Taking a copy, Mr Bentley quickly checks it.

"Well gentlemen! " he says, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. "Not only have we won, we've set a new course record! I thought we had, but I didn't want to say anything until it was official. We're the first team ever to break 53 minutes."

Right, so that's what he was so excited about! As I suspected, Patrick ran the fastest lap, just two seconds outside the lap record. It's been an amazing day. There couldn't have been a better way for me to end my stint as team captain.

With the presentations at an end, we pile into the school minibus. Beginning with ours, I study the times given on the results sheet: N. Harkness 8:44, S. Heath 9:05, J. Franklyn 9:07, I. Haskell 8:39, P. Keaveney 8:23, N. Taylor 8:56. Total time: 52:54.

In second place, Queen Elizabeth's School ran 53:09, only four seconds outside the old lap record, and 12 seconds faster than last year's winners.

"I don't think I ran very well," Jon says quietly. "Simon was quicker than I was."

"You ran 25 seconds faster than last year," I point out, "which is the biggest improvement that anyone made. And look at the times run by the slowest runner in the other teams. You beat them all. And bear in mind that Simon's very useful on the shorter, faster courses. If it wasn't for his cricketing commitments, he'd probably be better than me. Of course, you can improve. You need to work on it over the summer. That's what I did. If you put the work in, you will get quicker."

"Thanks!" he says, smiling appreciatively.

Once everyone has settled down, I discreetly send a text to Scott:

Hi S! We won and set new course record. Patrick ran the fastest lap. Should be back at school by about 4.40pm. Hugs! I.

A few minutes later, I receive a reply:

Well done! I'll pick you up in Milford Avenue. Love you! S.

When we get back to school, I walk around the corner to find Scott waiting for me. Putting my bags into the back of the Mini, I settle into the front passenger seat.

"You look drained," he says as he drives away.

"Yeah," I respond. "It's like the end of an era. Today was the last time I'll race with those guys, you know, as part of a team."

"Sure, " he says gently. "It's become a big part of your life. You will miss it. But it obviously went well today."

"Oh, yeah. Conditions couldn't have been better. With the warm dry weather we've had recently, the ground was really firm, ideal for running fast."

"Absolutely! You said Patrick ran the fastest lap. Do you know where you rated in that?"

"Unless I've missed someone, I was tied ninth, which isn't too bad."

"Not bad at all in that company," he confirms. "Are you training tomorrow?"

"No, but there's a reception to celebrate the team's most successful season. I think Lenny's organised it. The six of us who ran today have been told to bring our medals in, so I've no doubt the local press will be there."

"Don 't knock it," Scott advises, grinning. " Lenny 's got a real flair for promoting the school. Actually, he does a bloody good job! And it does make a difference!"

"Yeah," I concede. "I remember him explaining it to me. Tomorrow, Mr Bentley wants me to say a few words. I can't say I'm looking forward to that."

"As long as you prepare yourself beforehand, you'll be fine." Scott advises.

Arriving at the flat, we head straight to the bedroom.

"If you like, I'll give you a massage first," Scott suggests.

"Sure! " I agree. "Sounds wonderful!"

It's exactly what I needed. With the massage completed and time pressing on, we morph quite spontaneously into a delightful sixty-nine. A few minutes later, we cum in each other's mouth. I can't remember the last time we did that. I'm not even sure why we did it today; I guess it just felt right.

The following afternoon, as soon as classes have finished, I make my way to the assembly hall. On a side table, snacks and soft drinks have been laid out.

At the front of the hall, the five trophies we've won during the season are on display: The Hampton Trophy, The Under-17's trophy that we won at the county AAA Championships in December, the intermediate and senior boys' trophies from the county schools' Championships in February, and the Sharnford Relay trophy from yesterday. I have to admit, it does look pretty impressive!

Pretty soon, everyone has arrived. In addition to Mr Bentley, Mr Lenham's here, together with a reporter and a photographer from the local paper, just as I'd expected. What does surprise me a little is that Mr Carter (Head of Sixth Form) and Mr Steadman (Head of Upper School) have come along. Even Headmaster Dr Kingslake has shown up, which is a real rarity.

"Help yourself to snacks and drinks," Mr Bentley urges. " We'll get started in about ten minutes."

Having taken some snacks, I turn around to find Mr Lenham standing there.

"Good afternoon, sir!" I say brightly.

"And good afternoon to you!" he responds, smiling. "Well done again yesterday. That was an outstanding performance."

I hesitate for a moment. I could use this opportunity to ask him about Brian Armstrong, but my instincts tell me that this isn't the right time. I make a mental note to go and speak to him tomorrow.

A few minutes later, Mr Bentley calls us to order, and gives a short speech setting out what we've achieved. He says some nice things about me, which is a bit embarrassing, but he also emphasises that we did it ourselves. I like that part! Then the six of us who ran yesterday are photographed wearing our medals, with me holding the trophy.

"Right!" Mr Bentley announces. " I'd now like to invite Ian to say a few words."

I take a deep breath. "Thank you, sir," I begin. " I'd just like to say that it was a great privilege to be asked to be team captain, and I'd like to thank everyone in the team for the support that you've given me. You've been superb. It's been a pleasure to work with you. I'd particularly like to thank Dean for organising the gym sessions and looking after some of the younger guys. I'm sure that if you give my successor the same support, you'll have another very good season next year. I'd also like to thank Mr Bentley, Mr Lenham and Mr Carter for their support and encouragement."

"Thank you, Ian," Mr Bentley says, smiling. "And now I'm going to hand over to Dr Kingslake."

"I'll keep this brief," the headmaster says, smiling. "As Mr Bentley rightly says, the most impressive aspect of these achievements is that they are the result of the efforts and enthusiasm of the boys themselves, undertaking extra training sessions at weekends and during the school holidays. As headmaster, I'm very proud that this school provided the environment in which that could happen."

He hands back to Mr Bentley.

"Finally," he says, " I'd just like to announce that the captain for next season will be Nathan Harkness. I'm sure all the team members who are still here will give him the same support that you've given to Ian."

"Sir, " Nathan intervenes. "On behalf of the team. I'd like to thank Ian for the way he's captained the team. He's certainly taught me a great deal. Over the next twelve months, I'll try to maintain the standards that he's set for us. "

"Thank you, Nathan," Mr Bentley acknowledges, "and thank you all for your attendance."

As people start to drift away, the reporter from the local paper wants to talk to me.

"What would you say is the secret of your success?" he asks.

"Making everybody feel part of it," I answer. "Not just the best runners; everybody. When I started, I wasn't very good at all. But I worked at it and did my best, and gradually I started to improve. I've tried to encourage the other lads to do the same. I guess we all push each other to do better."

"Yeah, that makes sense," he agrees.

"I think it helps that on Sundays and during the school holidays, we train from my house. It means that we're not just team-mates; we're friends. That's important too."

"Right!" he says thoughtfully. "I guess you'll be leaving in the summer?"


"What happens after that?"

"Subject to my A-level results, I've got a place to study architecture at University College London."

"Excellent! " he says, smiling. "I wish you the best of luck!"

Moments later, I'm on my way home.

At Friday morning break, I head to the P.E. office, hoping to have a word with Mr Lenham. I'm in luck, finding him drinking a cup of tea.

"Good morning!" he says. "I thought you spoke very well yesterday. What can I do for you?"

"It's about next term, sir. For the last two years, all the distance runners have trained as one group, which was okay, but ideally the 800-metre runners should train separately. They need to be running laps in well under sixty seconds, but the rest of us never run as fast as that. The problem is that we've only got one timekeeper, and it would be very difficult for him to look after both groups."

"So what's the solution?" he asks.

"Last week, sir, Brian Armstrong told me that we were 'going to have to put up with him next term', because last summer he and a couple of others had been caught skiving off from swimming. I thought that rather than having him trundling around at the back of our group, it would be better to have him doing something useful."

"Armstrong is bone idle," he says dismissively. " I'm not in favour of giving him a soft option."

"Yes, sir," I argue. "I can understand that. It's what I'd have thought too, but as you know, we've been to a few races where we can't all run, like Wednesday, for example. At those races, Brian's been our bag-man, looking after the kit. It was a surprise to me too, but he's done a really good job. And when he's not been looking after the kit, he's been out on the course shouting us on. On Wednesday, he shouted himself hoarse."

"I see! That's not what I'd have expected."

"Olly 's quite willing to teach him what to do. He's even offered to lend him his old stopwatch. He told me that Brian would be expected to act as a timekeeper at the athletics matches we take part in. When I mentioned that to Brian, he said he'd be quite happy to do it."

"Come and see me at the start of next term," Mr Lenham says, nodding sagely. " We'll sort it out then."

"Thanks, sir!" I acknowledge.

As soon as Mr Lewis has completed afternoon registration, he sends us home. I accompany my usual gang of friends into town. This time, we do go into a pub. I order a coke.

"You don't look old enough to be in here," the barman says, eyeing me suspiciously.

I hand over my provisional driving licence, which shows both my photograph and my date of birth. He studies it, hands it back and serves my drink. I'm guessing this is a minor inconvenience that I'll have to get used to.

I begin catching up on the university offers that my friends have received. I'm not surprised to find that everyone in the gang is holding an offer from a top university. For me, the most interesting aspect is what will be happening with the established couples, the ones who've been together for years.

I'm pleased to learn that Dean and Rebecca have both been offered places at Kings College London: Dean to do Law, and Rebecca to study French. In the same way, Jane and Matthew are both lined up to go to Oxford. They'll be at different colleges, but that doesn't matter. Matthew reckons it's no more than a ten-minute walk from one to the other.

But that's it. While Roz has a place to study art at Goldsmiths in South East London, Ed will be doing environmental science at East Anglia. Tim and Joanne will be apart too, Tim having won a place to study maths at Kings College Cambridge, while Jo has been offered a place at Bristol.

Patrick will also be separated from his girlfriend. I remember him telling us last year that he wanted to go to Cambridge to study engineering. It's no surprise that that's what he's lined up to do. Actually, he's been told that if he gets A* grades in maths, further maths and physics, he'll be awarded a scholarship. I'm sure he will. I certainly hope he does; he deserves it. Meanwhile, Ann-Marie will be staying at home to study for a nursing degree.

"You're not old enough to be drinking in here!" a female voice rasps.

I look up to see a tall, older woman pointing at me, all bony fingers and bright red nail polish. I'd guess she's about sixty, but with her bleached blond hair and trendy clothes, she's clearly trying to look younger. Mum would describe her as mutton dressed as lamb. She's accompanied by two other women of a similar age. All three seem to have been engaging in some pretty serious retail therapy.

"I am, actually," I say calmly. "I know I look younger, but I was eighteen in February."

"Don 't lie to me!" she snaps. " I'm not stupid!"

"He's actually older than me," Tim volunteers.

"You don't look old enough either!" she snorts.

"Well, I am. I was eighteen on Tuesday."

"I showed my ID to the barman when I came in," I add. "He was happy with it."

"Let me see it!" she demands.

As it's my provisional driving licence, I don't want to give it to her. Once she's got it in her hands, I could find it difficult to get it back.

"No, " I say quietly. "I showed it to the barman."

"He's under no obligation to show it to you," Matthew tells her. "It's not your business."

"People breaking the law is every citizen's business!" she says, trying to sound very superior.

Leaving her shopping bags with her two friends, she marches over to the bar.

"They're trying to get us thrown out so that they can have our seats," Matthew says, leaning towards me. " I've seen it before."

I look around. Since we came in, the place has become really busy. There is absolutely nowhere else to sit. A few minutes later, the woman returns, accompanied by the manager.

"May I check your ID," he asks.

I hand it to him. He looks at it for a few seconds.

"Fine! " he says, handing it back.

"What about this one?" the woman demands, pointing at Tim.

Tim passes the guy his ID. He studies it.

"He's legal too," he says, returning the document to Tim. "Only just, but he is."

"But it's only twenty to three!" the woman objects. "They ought to be in school!"

"No, " the manager informs her. "It's the last day of term. They always finish straight after lunch." He turns to us. "That's right, isn't it?"

We grin and nod.

"Well! They were all being extremely rude!" the woman asserts. "Surely you're not going to allow that sort of behaviour?"

"No, we weren't! " Jane contradicts. "She's only saying that to bully us out of our seats."

"But these are our seats!" the woman protests. "We always sit here when we come in! If these people had any manners, they'd allow us to sit here."

"Madam, " the manager says, clearly exasperated. "There are no reserved seats in this bar. It's strictly first come, first served."

"But we need to sit down!" she bleats.

The manager has clearly had enough. The woman's talking BS and he knows it.

"Madam, " he says, turning to her. "As you insist on harassing my customers, I'll have to ask you to leave."

The woman looks like she's chewing a wasp, but the manager's not budging, and neither are we. After a couple of seconds, she and her friends pick up their shopping bags and trudge out of the door.

"Enjoy your afternoon!" the manager says, grinning at us.

"She was crazy!" I say, looking across at Matthew.

"Yeah," he agrees. "And stupid! She made it really easy for us to say no. Jane and I were in here one afternoon when a couple of old dears came in, loaded down with shopping. One of them asked us so politely, and explained that they were old and tired, and really needed to sit down, so would we mind? We couldn't really say no, could we?"

Shortly before three, I say my goodbyes and head towards Scott's place. Having not seen each other yesterday, and had only a short time together on Wednesday, I'm up for this and then some. As soon as Scott lets me in, I can tell that he's as horny as I am. Wow! This is going to be special! Making our way to the bedroom, we begin to undress each other. Scott gets the message as soon as he sees that I'm wearing the burgundy tangas that he gave me for Christmas.

I don't know how he does it, but Scott has the remarkable ability to be intensely physical without being the least bit rough. And that's not all. When we're really going for it, he's always, like, totally in charge, but it's so subtle, I'm hardly aware of it. I don't get the sense that he's ordering me around, or anything like that. He just seems to exude this aura of quiet authority.

Our foreplay is mind-bending, there's no other way to describe it. By the time he's finished licking me out, I'm gurgling incoherently, begging him to fuck me.

"Okay, babe! " he says quietly. "You know what to do."

Having placed one of the pillows into the middle of the bed, I cover it with the towel that we left on the bedside cabinet. I lie face down, the pillow beneath my hips, my legs spread apart. Moments later, Scott's got his beautiful cock inside me. Very steadily, it advances along my tunnel until I've got the whole thing.

"This is what you want, isn't it, babe?" he asks gently.

"Oh yeah!" I respond. "Come on, Scott! Give me a good, hard fucking!"

Over the next few minutes, he pounds my arse like it was going out of fashion.

"Ohhh! Oh yeah!" I whimper. "So good! Go on, Scott! I want your spunk!"

"Oh, you sexy boy!" he rasps, not missing a beat. "You can't get enough of my cock!"

After no more than another minute, I reach the point of no return. " Ohhhhh! " I gasp, my breathing having suddenly become harsh and ragged. "Oh, fuck!"

As sure as night follows day, my prick jerks into life, jet after jet of teen-cum squirting onto the towel.

"Oh yes!" Scott growls, thrusting right into me. "This is what you want!"

Over the next few seconds, I feel his hot, creamy spunk filling my bum. Fuck! It doesn't get any better than that!

After my usual visit to the bathroom, Scott and I snuggle up on the bed and spend the next half an hour just being, like totally together. I'm his and he's mine. There's nothing else to be said.

On Saturday morning, Jake comes over for a maths tutorial. He's been working on a past exam paper. I check through his work. Apart from a couple of minor mistakes, it's all correct.

"You've improved so much over the past six months," I say smiling. "You should be really proud of yourself."

"I wouldn't have done any of it if it hadn't been for you and Anthony," he says, smiling. "Meeting you guys has been the best thing that's ever happened to me."

"It's very nice of you to say that," I respond. "But you've had to do the work. It's the same with your running."

"You and Anthony have helped me believe in myself. With Mum away so much, I really didn't really have anybody who was there for me the way that you guys are."

Right now, I'm buzzing. Last September, Jake was struggling. Now he isn't, and I've played a small part in helping him to turn things around. It's not just his schoolwork and his running that have improved. He seems to have grown up a lot too. He's no longer the 'kiddy in a sweetshop' that he was the first time he came to Scott's place. I guess I've achieved quite a bit over the past few months, but in some ways, this is the most important of all.

"Have you been seeing much of Jon?" I ask quietly, making sure that we won't be overheard.

"Not really," he says. "I think he's found a boyfriend."

"Do you know who it is?"

"Not really. I think it's someone in his year."

I'm surprised, even though I know I shouldn't be. Jon 's very quiet. He has no reason to confide in me about something like that. Of course, I can't help wondering who it is, but as I don't know the Year 12 guys that well, I really have no idea.

After a couple of short bus rides, I arrive at Tim's house shortly before eight o'clock. I've arranged for Dad to pick me up at half past eleven.

The atmosphere's great. With all the former 'swimming pool' gang there, it's almost like old times. And although they're staying in the background, Tim's parents are around, so things aren't going to get out of hand.

The other people invited aren't confined to the guys that Tim plays football with. Both Simon and Patrick are here. Like me, Simon's on his own. I'm not going to read anything into that. It is what it is.

Patrick, as I'd have expected, has brought Ann-Marie with him. I've not met her before. She's small and pretty. She and Patrick are clearly very into each other. He introduces us.

"Hi! " she says, giving me a wonderfully open smile. "Great to meet you at last! Patrick's told me so much about you!"

"All good, I hope!" I quip. "Great to meet you too!"

"Oh, it definitely was!" she assures me, still smiling, before looking adoringly up at her boyfriend.

"I understand that you're going to be studying for a nursing degree," I say.

"Yes," she confirms. "It's what I've always wanted to do. I'll be based here in the city, so I'll be able to live at home."

"How will you manage with Patrick away in Cambridge?"

"Actually, the terms at Cambridge are quite short," she tells me. " We'll still have plenty of time together. I'm hoping to visit him for the odd weekend too."

I hope it works out for them; I really do.

Over the next hour or so, a few more people arrive. As I'm settled in the kitchen-diner, chatting to Simon, who's bound for Oxford, and Smudger, who's accepted a place to do metallurgy at Birmingham, I don't pay much attention to the new arrivals.

At around ten o'clock, having been to the bathroom, I wander into the front lounge. I'm surprised to see Grant Bishop, a can of lager in hand, sitting on the sofa. I didn't think he'd have been invited. It turns out he wasn't. He arrived with Darren Richards, who's one of Tim's football buddies, so he was allowed in.

Since I had an argument with him during our sixth form induction week, I've not had much to do with him. He's only in the art rooms when he has to be, so it's not been a problem. I've stayed out of his way and he's stayed out of mine. But tonight' s different. He's been drinking, and you could say that he's not handling it too well.

"What are you doing here, gay boy?" he asks, smirking up at me.

"I'm here because Tim invited me," I say, trying to sound nonchalant. I'm not, of course. Even though I'm a lot more confident than I used to be, I still hate confrontations. But if experience has taught me anything, it's that backing down is not an option.

"Well, you don't exactly belong here, do you?" he sneers. "I thought you'd be on one of those gay dating sites, looking for some older guy to fuck your arse."

"You're disgusting!" I snap. "You don't know anything about me. I don't tell you how to run your life, so you can keep your nose out of mine."

"You're just a little pussy" he goes on. "You act like you're cool, but you're not. You aren't even on Facebook."

"I am actually," I counter.

"I've never seen you," he snarls.

"That's because I only allow my proper friends to see me," I tell him.

"What's the point of that?" he demands. " I've got hundreds of Facebook Friends. I'll guarantee you haven't. "

"And how many of these so-called friends would have your back if you needed them?" I query. "Very few, if any. If you want to share your personal details with hundreds of strangers, that's up to you. I'll give it a miss, if it's all the same to you."

"You're just scared of the trolls," he niggles.

"If I like keeping myself safe, that's my business," I tell him firmly, my patience wearing thin. "I don't need you to tell me what I should and shouldn't do. "

"Are you dissing me, pussy-boy?" he asks angrily.

"Why should I respect you?" I retort. "You seem to think you're special because your mum and dad have lots of money and give you whatever you want. Well, you're not. Tell me one thing you've ever done that would deserve my respect."

There's an uneasy pause. I suddenly realise that Matthew's wandered in, with Jane on his arm.

"Well go on," Matthew says, nodding towards Grant. "Tell us the things you've done that we should respect you for. It won't be much of a list."

"Where's your girlfriend, Grant?" Jane asks acidly. "Oh, I forgot. You haven't got one."

"I'll tell you about respect," Matthew goes on, his eyes fixed on Grant' s. "If you want respect, you have to earn it. I respect Ian, first and foremost because he always treats other people properly. If you don't do that, nothing else matters. I also respect him because I can remember when he couldn't even run round the field without getting out of breath. But he worked at it, and over the years he's turned himself into one of the best runners the school's ever had. Now I understand how hard that must have been, so I give him my respect because he's earned it. As for you, you're in no position to call anyone else a pussy. I remember why you got dropped from the rugby team. When we first started, you looked great playing against kids who were smaller than you, but once you had to play against kids your own size, you didn't have the bottle."

I didn't know about that, but it makes sense. When we started at the Grammar School, Grant was one of the biggest kids in our year, but by the time we were in Year Nine, most of the other boys had caught him up.

"And one more thing," Matthew says. "You weren't invited. You were only let in because you turned up with Darren. If you can't behave, then Ed and I will show you where the door is."

He and Jane shepherd me back towards the kitchen. I'm left with mixed feelings. It's great to know that guys like Matthew have got my back. I just wish I didn't need them. A couple of minutes later, Darren appears in the kitchen. He makes a beeline for Matthew.

"Have you seen Grant?" he asks.

"Sure! He was in the lounge. He was being obnoxious, so I bent his ear. I pointed out that if he hadn't turned up with you, he wouldn't have been allowed in."

"Well, he's not there now."

"Have you tried the downstairs loo?"

"Yeah, and the bathroom. There's no sign of him. The thing is, he was supposed to be giving me a lift home."

"He drove you here?" Matthew questions.

"Yeah; he was in his mum' s car. "

"Fuck!" Matthew swears. "Can you show me where he left it?"

"Sure. "

They head out through the front door. Less than a minute later, they're back. It seems that there's no sign of Grant or the car.

"What's going on?" Tim asks.

"I had to have a word with Grant," Matthew explains. "What I didn't know is that he'd driven here. Now it seems he's stormed off on huff. The state he's in, he could kill somebody, maybe himself."

Taking out his phone, Matthew calls 999 and asks for the police. With Darren's assistance, he gives them the details of the car, the driver and where they think it might be headed.

"Did you need to do that?" Darren queries.

"Yes," Matthew says firmly. " My dad 's police commander for the city. Going back a few years, when he was in charge of the traffic division, he attended lots of fatal accidents. Well, seeing the mangled bodies being taken out of the wreckage is bad enough, but then they have to go and inform the family, yeah? That's the worst part. So yeah, I did have to do that."

"Oh, right," Darren responds, the seriousness of the situation beginning to dawn on him. " I'm sorry, I shouldn't have let him drive me here."

A few minutes later, Matthew's phone rings. He quickly answers it.

"Thanks for letting me know," he says, ending the call. "That was the police," he tells us. "They've stopped the car and arrested the driver, so now we can get back to enjoying ourselves."

Tim 's dad appears.

"Has there been a problem?" he asks.

Tim quietly explains what's happened.

"Well," he says. "Matthew did exactly the right thing. This Grant character shouldn't have been driving."

He wanders off, leaving us to it. We try to carry on as normal, but it has put a damper on proceedings. Darren's very upset. It seems that he and Grant go back a long way.

"I guess I ought to think about going home," he says disconsolately. " I'd better not leave it too late. I don't want to get mixed up with the drunks in the city centre."

"Where d'you live?" I ask.


"That's not far from us. My dad's picking me up at half past eleven. He'll drop you off if you want."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, no problem."

"Thanks, man! I owe you!"

Darren 's one of the guys I've never had much to do with. We've never been in class together or socialised at all. As we begin chatting, I'm struck by how similar his friendship with Grant is to the one that Dean used to have with Zav.

"His parents have always been too soft with him," he explains. "His dad's always too busy working, and his mum just can't be bothered. I know Grant can be quite unpleasant with some people, but he's always been okay with me. I guess I've been the one guy he's been able to rely on. As you might imagine, he doesn't have many other friends."

"He might come up in front of my dad," Smudger comments.

"What?" I query.

"Dad 's a part-time magistrate," Smudger explains. "He sits a couple of times a week, and he doesn't like drunk drivers."

"If Mum and Dad find out what's happened, they'll go nuts!" Darren says. "They're always on at me to stop hanging out with Grant."

"You need to tell them," I advise. "They'll go a whole lot less nuts if they hear it from you."

"That's easy for you to say," Darren counters.

"When we were in Year Ten," I tell him, "Claire, my older sister, pointed out that as just about everyone at school knew I was gay, I needed to tell Mum and Dad before they heard about it from someone else. Like you, I didn't fancy the idea much, but during the Christmas holidays, I did it. My mum didn't take it very well at all. She hadn't seen it coming and it was not what she wanted to hear. But looking back, it was one of the best things I've ever done. It took a while, but she's fine with it now."

"Right!" Darren concedes. "I guess I'll have to bite the bullet."

Just before half past eleven, Dad shows up.

"Will we be able to drop Darren off in Crownfield?" I ask. "He was supposed to get a lift with someone else, but they had to leave early."

"Sure! " he says. " No problem! "

Back at home, I get ready for bed, reflecting on what happened. Overall, I'm glad that I went. Apart from the incident with Grant, it was a very enjoyable evening. I've no regrets about getting into a confrontation. He was being an arsehole and I wasn't going to let him get away with it. What else was I supposed to do?

And I know something else. I'm glad my parents aren't like Grant' s. My dad 's busy too. He's away working most of the time. But he's been totally supportive. When he is here, at weekends and holidays, he always wants to know what I've been doing. And if I want to talk to him about something, he's always ready to listen.

I can't even imagine having a mum 'who can't be bothered'. Although we haven't always got on, I'm so glad that my mum 's not like that!

Although the cross-country season's over, the running continues. Although I'm not expecting to race very much, I'm determined to give Patrick and Niall as much support as I can.

It's about setting an example too. I used to hate running on the track. I just wasn't fast enough. But because I kept working at it, I've got better, and that's what most of the younger boys in the squad need to do.

During the holiday, I plan to divide my time between studying for my exams, running, and hanging out with Scott. Although I'm not going to neglect my other subjects, I'll be spending most of my study time on maths, working through past examination papers.

It's Monday evening. I'm up on my room working when I get a call from Geoff Paxton.

"Hi, Ian! " he greets. "Do you have anything planned for Saturday?"

"Not really," I admit.

"Reavington have a home match. Would you like to come along? I know Scott would appreciate you being there."

"Sure! " I respond. "Thanks for inviting me!"

"I'll pick you up at quarter past twelve," he says. "That'll give us plenty of time."

It's Saturday. I've had a pleasant, relaxing week, doing what I said I'd be doing. Just after twelve, Geoff arrives. I'm still eating my snack lunch, but it's no problem. He chats to Mum and Dad while I finish my meal and get ready to go out. By quarter past twelve, we're on our way.

Today's opponents are Brighton; Brighton and Hove Albion, to give the club its full title. They' re mid-table too, but as Reavington have been slipping down the league, they've been moving up.

We arrive at the ground and take our seats, the same ones we occupied the last time we were here. But there's something strange going on. Although he hasn't actually said anything, I can sense that there's a reason Geoff wanted me to attend this particular match. What hasn't he told me?

I find out as soon as the game starts. There's always chanting back and forth between opposing fans. Most of it is good natured, though sometimes it can get a bit rough. This is different. Our supporters are chanting homophobic abuse at the Brighton fans.

Initially, it's not that bad, like, "We can see you holding hands!" I could have lived with that. But it escalates to stuff like "You like to take it up the bum!" Nobody should have to put up with listening to stuff like that! It's disgusting! For the first time I feel completely out of place, like I'm not wanted here.

"I know Scott's told you about this," Geoff says quietly, "but I wanted you to experience it for yourself. It happens because Brighton has the highest proportion of gay people of any town in Britain. It doesn't mean the supporters are all gay. I'd guess a few of them are, but not that many. A lot of them will be dads. How can they bring their kids along when they're going to be subjected to that sort of thing?"

He's right, of course. There's no substitute for experiencing something first hand. And if fans chant stuff like that at opposing fans, how much worse would it be for an opposing player? I wouldn't wish that sort of abuse on my worst enemy. And having sat through it, I totally get why gay footballers won't come out.

And it's all a great shame, because it's a fantastic match, and Scott's playing brilliantly; not just marauding along the left wing, he's cutting inside and running through the middle too. It's tremendously exciting. There's a buzz among the home fans every time he's on the ball. In a hard-fought 3 – 2 victory, he gets an assist for the first goal, scores the second, and plays a key part in the third.

"He's in the form of his life," Geoff tells me. " He's put in ten years dedicated hard work in order to be able to play as well as that. When he came back from injury, people wondered if he'd be as good as he was. He's not just as good, he's better in every department."

As the players leave the field, the home fans are chanting Scott's name, like he's the new Messiah or something. That's pretty special when they already know he'll be leaving at the end of the season. I wonder how enthusiastic they'd be if they knew he was gay. Scott's his usual, low-key self, quietly applauding the fans to acknowledge their adulation.

Right now, things make more sense than they ever have. What happened today totally explains why Scott's so careful, and why he's so sensitive about what I get up to. I understand now just how tough things could get if he did come out. But I'm not deterred, quite the opposite. I'll be there for him no matter what.

As before, Geoff drops me at the flat where I set about preparing dinner. It's quarter to seven when Scott gets home.

"You were fantastic today," I say, drawing him into a hug.

"Thanks," he says, stroking my hair. "How about you? Are you okay?"


"It was Dad's idea," he says. "I didn't want to put you through that. It's the ugly side of football, that primitive tribalism. I thought you'd find it upsetting."

"Yeah, it was. But he was right to let me see it for myself. What amazed me was that it didn't seem to affect you at all. You were superb! That's the best I've ever seen you play."

"I know it sounds weird, but I use it as motivation. Playing well is like my way of saying 'Up yours!'"

"If you did ever come out, or you got outed, things would get pretty tough, wouldn't they?"

"They certainly could," he confirms. "But you're up for it. I can tell."

"Totally, no question."

"That's good," he whispers, "because I couldn't do this without you."

After dinner, we head for the bedroom where we spend almost two hours having the most affectionate sex imaginable. It's wonderful. Even though it wasn't actually directed at us, the reality having to face homophobic abuse seems to have brought us even closer.

When Dad arrives to watch Match of the Day , Scott and I sit snuggled up together on the sofa, which is not what we usually do. We tell Dad about the match, and the abuse that the Brighton fans were subjected to.

"So was that why Geoff was so keen for you to be there today?" he asks.

"Yeah. He said he wanted me to experience it for myself."

"That can't have been very pleasant for you."

"It wasn't, " I assure him. "It was horrible! For the first time, I actually felt like I didn't belong there."

"Is that why you two are snuggled up like that?" Dad suggests, smiling at us like he totally gets it.

"Yeah. You don't mind, do you?"

"Not at all! I'm pleased that you feel able to be affectionate when I'm around."

I'm like 'Wow! Is he the best dad in the world, or what?'

The next couple of days are pretty quiet. With this being the Easter weekend, Scott has another match on the Monday afternoon, so following his stellar performance on the Saturday, he needs all the rest and recuperation he can get. We still spend time together on Sunday afternoon, but we keep things very low-key. Actually, it suits me. I've got plenty to keep me busy.

It's early on Tuesday evening. Mum's driving me, Jon and Mrs Franklyn to Birmingham for a meeting of the parents' support group. As before, Jon and I are sitting in the back of the car, with our mums chatting merrily away in the front.

"Enjoying the break?" I ask quietly.

"Definitely," he says, smiling. "It's a chance to relax."

"Make the most of it," I advise. "Next year, you'll need to spend a good chunk of your Easter break revising for your A-levels."

"Yeah, right!"

"I understand you haven't seen much of Jake recently," I say, lowering my voice even more.

"No. He's very nice, but we didn't seem to have that much in common."

"Oh, right! He seems to think you've acquired a boyfriend."

"When did he tell you that?"

"A week last Saturday, the day after we broke up. He'd come over to mine so I could give him some help with his maths."

"Oh, I see! Well, yeah, I guess."

"So who's the lucky boy? Jake said he thought it was someone in your year."

"Yeah, Adrian Cooper."

Strangely, the name doesn't ring any bells.

"I don't think I know him," I say.

"You wouldn't. He started at our place last September, after his GCSE's. He used to go to the same sort of school in London, but his dad got a new job as a professor at the university."

That makes perfect sense. Our local university is quite new and fairly small, but it seems to be expanding all the time.

"Oh, right!" I acknowledge. "When did you get together?"

"During the February half term. Aidy's in all my classes, so were already quite friendly. Anthony had told me that he thought Aidy was gay, and that he fancied me, but I didn't have the confidence to say anything. You know how it is. Then at half term, Aidy asked me if I'd like to go over to his place. When I got there, we'd got the house to ourselves. Well, one thing led to another."


"Aidy came out to his mum and dad a while back, and both lots of parents know about us, so it's all good."

"Nice one!"

"Yeah," he agrees. " We 're very lucky."

The meeting goes really well. The main topic of discussion is our participation in Birmingham Pride, which is due to take place at the end of May, on the Saturday of the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.

As Scott and I were away on our first holiday together, I missed last year's event, but with my A-levels coming up, there's no way we could do that this year. I remember that when we got back, Mum and Dad could hardly wait to tell me what a wonderful event it was, so this time around I'm determined to be there. Jon seems a little apprehensive, but Robbie, Noah and I soon talk him round.

All too soon, it's time to go home. In the front of the car, Mum and Mrs Franklyn are chatting away like old friends. You wouldn't think that they'd only met a few times. I like Jon' s mum. She's warm, solid and reliable, much like my mum, I guess. It reminds me just how important that is. I turn to Jon.

"Are you running with us in the morning?"

"Yes, of course. On Friday we're training on the school track, aren't we? "

"Yeah, that's right. Are you looking forward to it?"

"Not really. I've never done much good on the track."

"Neither had I. Trust me, after the winter you've put in, you'll have made a big step forward from last year."

"Will it be okay if Aidy comes along?" Jon asks. "He runs track in the summer, mainly eight hundred."

"No problem! " I respond, smiling. " We'll be pleased to see him."

As Lenny hasn't signed off on it yet, I don't mention my plan to split off the 800 metre runners from the guys who run longer distances. If it happens, I'll deal with it then.

On Friday morning, I arrive at school at twenty past ten. A few of the guys are already there. Nathan and Jon are accompanied by a lad that I haven't met before. I stroll across to them.

"Hi! " Jon says. "This is Aidy."

"Hi, Aidy! " I respond, smiling. "Pleased to meet you! Jon tells me you run the eight hundred?"

"Yeah; eight hundred and four hundred are my best distances. I've run two-o-three for the eight, and fifty-three and bits for the four, so I'm not bad."

I check him out. A couple of inches taller than me, and a little broader, he has wavy, chestnut-brown hair, hazel eyes, clear skin, and regular features set off by a beautifully open smile. I can definitely see the attraction.

"Not bad at all!" I agree. "You'll have plenty of competition though. Shaun, who's the bigger of the two guys heading towards us, has run one-fifty-eight, and Tim, who's not here today, has run close to two minutes."

"Wow!" Aidy says, grinning. "It sounds like I'm going to have my work cut out!"

"So what have you been doing over the winter?" I ask.

"Rugby, " he says. "I play on the wing or at outside centre. I'm too small to make the team, but I enjoy it; it's fun! "

To me, the idea of rugby being fun is an alien concept, but if he enjoys it, who am I to argue? I introduce him to Shaun.

Over the next few minutes, the rest of the guys show up. Even without Simon, who plays cricket in the summer, there are eleven of us. As arranged, Olly is here too, but to my surprise, he's got Brian with him.

"Hi guys!" I say. "Good to see you!" I turn to Brian. "You know that Lenny's not said he's going to allow you to do this yet? I told you. I've got to see him about it on Monday."

"Sure! " he says smiling. "But it's a nice day, and if he does let me do it, I want to make sure I know what I'm doing."

After jogging a lap of the field, we do some stretching exercises, before taking off our training suits, and changing from trainers to spikes. As we're doing so, I check Aidy out again. My eyes widen. He's got a beautiful physique, with muscular thighs topped by what Americans would call a perfect bubble-butt. He is hot!

Before the holiday, I cleared this session with Mr Saunders who informed the groundsman, so there'll be no problem with us using the freshly-marked track.

Basically, we're going to run eight 400-metre repetitions with 60 seconds recovery, but with such a range of runners, it's more complicated than that. Gary and Jake, who haven't done this sort of training before, and are going to be right at the back, will do two sets of three. The two 800-metre specialists will also run two sets of three, but they'll be at the front, and will run the last rep in each set at 800-metre race-pace.

"Okay, guys!" I announce. "This is our first track session of the year, so keep it steady, especially at the start. You can always speed up towards the end if you're feeling good."

After doing a few strides to get our legs moving, we get to work. At the front, we run each of the first two reps in around 65 seconds, with Gary and Jake completing theirs in around 73 seconds. On the third rep, while the rest of us stick to our normal pace, Shaun and Aidy run away from us, Shaun completing it in 59 seconds and Aidy in 61. They look pretty pooped by this point, but they've now got five minutes recovery before having to start again.

The session continues. Patrick, Niall, Nathan and I knock out each of the next two reps in around 65 seconds, with Jon about three seconds behind us, and Rhys and Rakesh another couple of seconds further back. On number six, the other four join us again, the pace remaining pretty consistent.

Finally, we come to the final rep. I know it's likely to be pretty quick, but I'm not worried. Olly calls us into the rolling start, and off we go, with Shaun and Aidy at the front, as arranged.

The difference this time is that Niall and Patrick go with them. It is brutal! Even though I'm running the fastest that I ever have, I can't keep up. On the home straight, I'm running from memory, hardly knowing where I am. As we begin to recover, Olly comes across, brandishing his notepad.

"These are the individual times for the final rep," he says, beaming. "Brian wrote down the names while I recorded the times. I read through them:

Shaun 57.8, Niall 59.6, Patrick 60.7, NK 61.4, Ian 63.7, Nathan 64.1, Jon 66.3, Rakesh 68.8, Rhys 69.1, Gary 71.4, Jake 72.2. For the first session of the season, that's pretty impressive!

"NK? " I query.

"Stands for 'new kid' . " Olly informs me. "We haven't seen him before and Brian didn't know what his name was."

"Oh, right! Well, thanks for doing that."

The other boys gather round to check what time they ran. Then, following a gentle trot around the field, we finish the session by doing six 150-metre sprints. Finally, after our usual warm-down, it's time to go.

"Would you like to come to mine for a bit?" Jake asks quietly as we make our way out of the school grounds.

"No thanks!" I respond, giving him a knowing grin. " I'll be seeing Scott this afternoon."

"That' s okay, " he says, smiling. "Are you going home now, then?"

"No, I'm going to grab a bite to eat in KFC, then go straight to the flat."

"Okay then, I'll see you tomorrow."

I watch as he crosses the main road and disappears along the side-street that leads to Alexandra Square. I and most of the other lads stroll into town before going our separate ways.

As soon as I've eaten lunch, I head straight to Scott's place. Having let myself in, my first priority is a shower. Once I'm feeling clean and fresh again, I dry myself off and dress in my Reavington Town football kit. Finally, I settle down in the lounge to read through some of my history notes.

At ten to three, I hear the front door open. Putting down my notes, I get to my feet. As Scott enters the lounge, I'm there to greet him, my cock throbbing in my shorts.

"Hi babe! " he greets. "Wow! You look so sexy dressed like that! Does that mean you're ready for action?"

"You could say that!"

"Come on then!"

He leads me into the bedroom. Wrapping his arms around me, he gently draws me in.

"Nobody could turn me on the way that you do!" he breathes.

With our lips meeting in a passionate kiss, he runs his fingers down the front of my shorts, stroking my throbbing prick.

"No underpants?" he queries.

"Never wear any under my footy shorts."

"Ooooh! I know what you need!"

Of course he does. It's been a while, but we've been here before. I help him undress. In a little over a minute, he's as naked as the say he was born. He's got a body to die for.

Still wearing my football kit, I kneel on the floor, opening wide and take Scott's penis fully into my mouth. As his fingers run gently through my hair, I worship it, make love to it, sucking it right down to the root.

Finally, I let him go, pick up the tube of K-Y and slather the slimy gel all over his rampant prong. Getting to my feet, I bend over, my forearms resting on the bed. There'll be little of the usual foreplay. We want to fuck and we want to do it now.

A moment later, Scott 's hand pushes up inside the leg of my shorts, his well-lubed index finger homing in on my starfish. He pushes it in, finger fucking K-Y into my arse. After maybe twenty seconds, it slides back out. Shuffling in close, Scott guides his cock up into my shorts and onto my anal ring. As he pushes forwards, I relax, allowing him to penetrate me.

"Oh, yeah!" I gasp.

Holding me around the tops of my thighs, he steadily drives his prong in deeper and deeper until his pubic bone is pressed tight against my bum. This is what I want. I feel so warm and so full. I can't get enough of it.

"You love this, don't you babe?" Scott whispers. "You love having my cock inside you!"

"Oh, yeah! Come on, Scott! You know what I want!"

He knows alright. Pulling well back, he begins to fuck me with long, powerful thrusts. The sensations are indescribable. It's like I've been transported to an alien planet where the normal laws of physics simply don't apply.

"Ohhh! " I whimper. "Ohhh! This is fantastic!"

On it goes, rhythmic and insistent. With Scott's dick stimulating my prostate and my penis rubbing against my shorts, there's no way I'm going to last very long. Within a couple minutes, the tingling sensations have become almost unbearable.

"Oh, fuck!" I groan. " I'm going to cum!"

With my fingers clawing at the bed covers, my balls churn into action. Teen cum surges through my prick, soaking the front of my shorts. At the same moment, my starfish goes into spasm around Scott's thrusting cock.

"My turn now babe!" he rasps. "Here it comes!"

"Oh, yes!" I urge. "Go on, Scott! Fill me up!"

He does not disappoint, rope after rope of his hot, creamy spunk spurting deep into my bum. After a few seconds, he gently pulls out. I'm still totally buzzing, like I'm up somewhere near the ceiling. What an amazing fuck that was!

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