Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 33

April 2012

It's Monday. Following a fairly ordinary weekend, we're back at school. At morning break, I head to the P.E. office to see Mr Lenham. I'm surprised to find that Brian Armstrong is already there.

"Come in! " Mr Lenham says brightly. "Mr Saunders and Mr Bentley were both pretty keen on your idea, so I've decided to allow it. I was just explaining to Brian what I expect of him. You won't let me down, will you, Brian?"

"No, sir. "

"Good!" Mr Lenham turns to me. "Mr Saunders is drawing up a training programme for the 800-metre runners. How many of them are there?"

"Three, sir, or possibly four," I reply. "There's Shaun Mc Nally, Tim Powell, and Adrian Cooper."

"Cooper; that's the new lad isn't it?"

"Yes, sir. He trained with us on Friday. Jon Franklyn brought him along."

"Hmmm! He 'd be a decent rugby player if he was a bit bigger. Who's the other one?"

"Leo Caulton, sir. He's definitely not slow, so he might be better training with that group."

"Yes, that would make sense. How many will that leave in your group?"

"Eight or nine, sir, unless there's someone I don't know about. I'm not sure whether Ben Snowden's going to be running with us or not. He's worked quite hard all winter, but he's hardly improved at all."

"So I understand. I believe he's asked to play tennis, and in the circumstances, I'm inclined to let him."

"Yes, sir," I respond politely. "I think it would be best if Brian worked with our group to begin with, because we largely know what we're doing. For the other group, everything's going to be new."

"That sounds sensible too," Mr Lenham says, nodding. "Okay, then! I'll leave you to get on with it."

Leaving the P.E. office, I'm feeling pretty good. I got what I wanted, and didn't even have to do anything.

After morning break, I have a double period of art. I take my usual place, on the front row, on the side furthest from the door. Grant Bishop's in his usual place too, right at the back, on the side nearest the door.

It's amazing how quickly the time goes when you're enjoying yourself. When the bell goes for lunch, the 80-minute double period seems to have flown past in no time.

"I'm off to lunch," Roz announces, coming across to my desk. "Are you coming?"

"I'm just going to finish this off," I say. " I'll see you in a few."

As she leaves the room, I get back to what I was doing. The next time I look up, Grant is standing in front of me. I'm a bit apprehensive, but he doesn't look threatening or anything. He's just standing there, like, waiting until I'm ready.

"Yeah?" I ask. "Did you want something?"

"Yeah," he says, looking very uncomfortable. "I wanted to apologise for what I said to you at Tim's party. I was totally out of order. I promise it won't happen again."

"That' s okay, " I say casually. "Apology accepted!"

I expect him to walk away. Instead, he stays right where he is, looking like his whole world has fallen apart.

"Are you okay?" I ask.

"Man! " he sighs. "I have so fucked things up! Darren won't even speak to me."

"Really? Why's that? You guys go back, like forever!"

"I told him I'd passed my driving test, only I hadn't. "

I'm like, 'You did what ? ' I couldn't even think about it, let alone do it.

"Not one of your better moves," I say quietly. "I can understand why he's upset. But you've done one thing right. It takes a man to apologise, that's what my mum says. And the world has not just come to an end. You'll have to pick yourself up, learn from it, and move on with your life. Darren may come round eventually. I don't know him that well, so I can't really say."

"Thanks," he says quietly. "You' re okay. "

Leaving me to put my stuff away, he heads out through the door. A few minutes later, I go to lunch before finding my friends in the sixth form area.

"You took your time!" Roz quips.

"Yeah," I respond. "Something weird happened. Grant came to apologise for what he said to me at the party."

"Not a complete surprise," Matthew comments. "His dad may well have told him to. Martin Bishop is the chief executive of the county council. It looks bad enough when his son gets done for driving under the influence, but I guess quite a few young guys fall into that trap, so it's maybe not that serious. On the other hand, the council are champions of equality and diversity. For the chief executive's son to be spewing homophobic abuse the way Grant was is a definite no-no. There's no way that he'd want anyone to find out about that!"

"Oh, right!" I respond, surprised that Matthew knows all this.

"Dad knows him through work," he explains quietly. "As far as his job goes, he's very good. He's totally dedicated, very fair, and good to work for. All round, he's very well thought of. The problem is, it's all he thinks about. For the six and a half years that I've known Grant, his dad's never been there for him, not once."

"So what's his mum like?"

"How does stuck-up, selfish, lazy cow sound? Mum and Dad have met them at these civic functions they have to go to. Mum can't stand her. The last time she came home seething about how rude and 'entitled' the woman is."

"So what does your mum do?"

"She's a nurse. When Mum and Dad met, he was as a traffic cop and she was working in A&E. These days, she works at a hospice for terminally ill kids."

"Sounds like she'd get on well with my mum," I comment.

"Oh definitely! The guys who've been to your house all say that your mum makes them feel really welcome, but she wouldn't stand for anyone taking the piss."

"Yeah! That about sums it up!"

"When we were in Year Seven, I went to Grant's house a couple of times," Matthew continues. "I hated it. His mum was so condescending!"

"Doesn't she work then?"

"Well, that's another thing! When he was appointed as chief executive, she thought he could fix her up with a cushy job where she'd get paid lots of money for doing bugger all. To his credit, he told her it wasn't going to happen. So she just swans around doing whatever. Remember that woman who had a go at you in the pub? Well, she's like that, only younger."

"That's not good. Grant said something about having told Darren he'd passed his driving test when he hadn't. "

"That just shows how far up his own arse he is, or was. Darren would never have got in the car with him if he'd known. Fuck! Darren's had Grant's back for as long as I can remember. Then he pulls a stunt like that! What a dickhead! Well, it's bitten him on the arse! Not only is he being done for being seriously over the drink-drive limit, you can add driving unaccompanied on a provisional licence, and as that invalidates the policy, he's also been charged with driving with no insurance. And to make it even worse, because he had no insurance, the car was impounded and his parents had to pay £150 to get it back!

And it doesn't stop there. When the coppers interviewed him, he told them his mum had given him permission to use the car, even though she knew he only had a provisional licence. But when they spoke to her about it, she denied it. She claimed they'd been in all evening and she didn't even know he'd taken the car. So he's also been charged with taking the car without the owner's consent. And just to complete the picture, when they searched him, he'd got some weed on him."

"Fuck! Who do you think was telling the truth about the car?"

"I think he was. Grant's mum always gives him what he wants, because it's the line of least resistance. It keeps him from bothering her. But when the heat came on, rather than take responsibility, she threw him under the bus. And his dad let her get away with it because it doesn't look quite so bad for him. For him, letting Grant take the fall was like damage limitation."

I'm shocked and appalled. Yes, Grant's been a pain in the arse, and has grown up to be selfish and irresponsible. But with parents like he's got, what chance did he have? It's no wonder he looked so crushed when he was speaking to me. Maybe, just maybe, this will be the catalyst for him to turn his life around. I hope it is.

"I'm trusting you not to spread this around," Matthew says quietly. "As you were right in the middle of it, I thought you ought to know. But a lot of what I told you came from Dad, and I'm really not supposed to know about it, so we're just keeping it among ourselves, yeah?"

"You've got it," I assure him. "I won't breathe a word."

The timetable for this summer term is different from normal. Usually, the Spring half term week begins on the last Monday in May, which is a public holiday. But this year, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee falls on Tuesday June 5, and because it's such a special occasion, it too will be a public holiday. To allow for this, the half term week, and the public holiday that starts it, have been moved back a week, so we'll be off school for the week beginning Monday June 4, with both the Monday and Tuesday being public holidays.

This does make quite a difference. First, and most important, instead of preparing right up to the half-term break, having a week off, and then coming into school to do our A-level exams, we will have to do some of our exams during the week before the half term break. Then we'll have a week off before coming back to do the rest.

Moving the half term break will affect my running too. Usually, the county schools' athletics championships are held on the Saturday after the spring half term break. This year, they're set to take place a week before half-term, on Saturday May 26.

It's not a huge change, but it is different. Fortunately, with Easter having been quite early, we've got plenty of time to prepare. To pull together my A-levels and my athletics will require good planning and good time-management, but I know what I need to do. Now I have to execute.

In both history and maths, we've covered all the topics that we need to study, so our classes are now focused on exam preparation. In maths, we're spending some lessons going through past exam questions on a particular topic. In others, Mr Hawkes works with us individually, reviewing the past exam papers that we've been working on. Our history classes follow a similar pattern. In some, we brainstorm particular topics, while in others, Mr Anderson spends time with us one-to-one.

The individual work is an interesting study in social dynamics. In our maths class, we all get a fair slice of Mr Hawkes' time, and so there are no real issues. By contrast, in our history class, Katie Somers would completely monopolise Mr Anderson's time if he'd let her. He won't, of course, which she seems to resent.

"I don't know why you seem to think Mr Anderson should spend all his time with you," Matthew comments.

"Oh, but I need it!" Katie whines, her sense of entitlement all too obvious.

"If you'd worked a bit harder over the past two years, maybe you wouldn't 'need' it quite so much," Matthew counters.

"You are so horrible!" Katie protests.

"No, " Jane intervenes, smiling at her. "Matt just tells it like it is . "

Seeing absolutely nobody on her side, Katie looks most upset. I suppress a giggle. She's not unpleasant, just a bit deluded. Despite all the warnings we've been given, she's never adjusted to the amount of work that A-levels require. I'm guessing that it's about to come back to bite her.

It's Wednesday, and the weather is not playing! It's been raining on and off for the past couple of days, including torrential downpours on Monday night and early this morning.

After lunch, we make our way to the sports pavilion for senior games. It's not raining, but because our playing fields are only a quarter of a mile from the river, and only a few feet above it, the water-table is always quite high. Right at the moment, it's so high that the field is very soggy.

"Okay gentlemen!" Mr Saunders announces. "At present, the field is completely unusable. The distance runners can go out for a run; the rest of you can go home. Distance runners, you are not to go on the track. You'll cut it to pieces!"

This is not what I want to hear. While it won't hurt us to go out for a run, at this time of year, we ought to be doing the properly calibrated speed-endurance work that's difficult to do anywhere but on a running track.

After chatting to Patrick, we settle on a route of around six and a half miles, which will include a number of ' fast ' sections of between 200 metres and half a mile. In the circumstances, it's the best we can manage.

In the event, it goes very well. Predictably, Gary and Jake struggle a bit on the fast sections, while Aidy and Leo, who aren't used to the distance, find themselves having to hang on as we make our way back to school. But there are no real problems, and the atmosphere's superb.

Back in the pavilion, we strip off ready to have a shower. Although it wasn't raining, the fields and tracks we've been running on were wet and muddy, so we're all quite dirty.

"According to the forecast, it's going to keep raining for at least another week," Tim informs us, "so I guess we'll be doing quite a bit more of this."

That' s alarming. Tim 's not the type to say something like that for no reason, and if he's right, we won't be able to train on the school track for at least a couple of weeks. But there's nothing I can do about it now. I step into the showers.

Aidy 's already standing there. He's got a smallish, uncut cock – I'm guessing that maybe he's a grower rather than a shower – and apart from a neat little crop of pubes, he's as smooth as Jake. He is well cute! I can certainly imagine Jon giving him a good seeing-to. I don't think Scott would have a problem with that either.

I wander back out of the shower and towel myself off. As I begin to get dressed, Mr Saunders appears. I relay what Tim told me about the weather forecast.

"Yes," he agrees. "It looks like the wet weather's set to continue for some time."

"It doesn't make much difference to me," I say, "But for lads who are hoping to run at the English Schools, not being able to train on the track will be very disruptive."

"Leave it with me," he says. " I'll see what I can do."

A few minutes later, I'm on my way to Scott's place. I don't give the weather and its effect on our training another thought. Mr Saunders is aware of the problem and asked me to leave it with him, so that's what I'm going to do. I need to focus on my A-levels instead.

"The club awards night is coming up in a few weeks," Scott tells me as we flop down on the sofa."

As they've got their final match of the season on Saturday, that makes sense. I know where this is going before he asks me.

"D 'you think Roz might be willing to help us out again?" he suggests. "Last year, she was superb, and I know she enjoyed it."

"I wouldn't think so," I say cautiously. "Last year, she'd split up from her boyfriend, Ed Jarvis. But last summer, after we got our end of year reports, they got back together, so it's a bit awkward now."

"Ed Jarvis, " Scott muses. "Quite a big lad, plays in the centre of defence, good mates with Tim Powell?"

"Yeah, that's right. Last year, Tim and Ed drifted apart a bit. Tim was in the first team, but Ed was in the second eleven, alongside the likes of Adam Barr and Jayden Kirby."

"So I guess he started hanging out with those wankers? You don't need to tell me what that led to!"

"Yeah, that's why Roz dumped him. Anyway, when we got our end of year reports, Ed's mum and dad were not happy. Basically, they grounded him, except for a couple of exceptions. He was allowed to hang out with Tim, and if he could persuade Roz to take him back, he could go out with her. So that's what happened. They've been together ever since."

"Right! I guess that's it then."

"I could still ask," I suggest. "But we'd have to tell Ed what was going on. Otherwise, it could come back to bite us on the bum."

"Ed wouldn't go spreading it around the school, would he?"

"I'd trust him. Since he got back with Roz, he's been, like, totally solid. And as he made the first eleven this year, he and Tim have become really close again."

"Will you ask them, then?"

"Sure! "

It's at break the following morning, sitting in the art area, when I'm able to talk to Roz. I make sure not to varnish it or dress it up. I tell it how it is.

"What will I say to Ed?" she asks.

"We'll have to tell him. We can't go behind his back; that wouldn't be right. We'd want him to promise not to tell anyone else, but if he's not comfortable with the idea, we'll just forget it."

"Oh, I'm sure he'll be okay with that. Why don't we meet here at the start of the lunch break? Then you can explain it to him."

"That works for me."

"Okay; I'll go and grab him."

At the start of lunchtime, the three of us meet in the art area, before settling ourselves in what I've come to regard as ' my ' corner.

"Well? " Ed asks, grinning. "What's the big secret?"

Very quietly, I explain the situation, including my relationship with Scott, and the way that Roz helped us out last year. Ed is gobsmacked.

"So, you're Scott Paxton's boyfriend?" he demands, his eyes looking like saucers.

"Yeah. We've been together for two years."

"Holy shit! You've done well to keep that quiet! Does anyone else know?"

"Only Dean and Patrick. That's it."

"I guess you're pretty close to those guys."

"Yeah. That's why I thought it was better to tell them."

"And last year, Roz helped you out by going along to his club awards evening, sort of like she was his girlfriend?"

"Yeah. You were out of the picture at the time, so there was no reason to tell you. Well, the awards evening is coming up again, but this time you're very much back in the picture, and so if we're considering doing the same thing again, we needed to be straight with you. Of course, if you're not comfortable with the idea, we'll forget it. We're not going to twist your arm."

"To be honest, I don't know what to think," Ed admits. "It does sound a bit weird, but it's not hurting anyone, is it?"

"Well, that's certainly the idea," I tell him. "We wouldn't do it if we knew it was going to create a problem for someone else."

"Have you ever met Scott?" Roz asks.

"I did when I was younger," Ed says. "I would have been in Year Eight. He was in Year Ten, and had just been selected to play for England Schoolboys. He came and talked to us. First of all, he gave us a pep talk, encouraging us to work hard and focus on becoming better. Then he spoke to us all individually. I thought he was great; really friendly and down-to-earth. He never bigged himself up once!"

"That sounds like Scott," I say, smiling. " He's still the same now."

"I saw him play a few times too," Ed goes on. "He was mesmerising! He was so quick and so skilful! He made the other guys look like carthorses!"

"What are you guys doing on Saturday evening?" I ask.

"Nothing special," Ed says. "At some point, we'll probably head into town to meet up with some of the others."

"Why don't you come to Scott's place for dinner?" I suggest. " He's got a home match on Saturday. I'll be going over there to cook dinner for when he gets back. You'll be very welcome." I turn towards Ed. "This is not us trying to put pressure on you. If you don't like the idea, all you have to do is say so."

"Cool! What time?"

"How about seven for seven thirty? Scott usually gets back about quarter to."

"That' s fine. It 'll leave us plenty of time to meet the other guys later on." He turns to Roz. " D 'you know where it is?"

"Oh, I'm sure I can find it," she says smiling. "It's not far from the town centre."

"I'll write down the address for you," I offer. "And you've got my number. It's pretty easy. I wouldn't think you'd have a problem."

"Saturday night it is, then!" Ed says, grinning.

After school, I make my way to the sports pavilion. We're in the middle of getting changed when Mr Saunders appears.

"Listen up, please!" he calls.

The room falls silent.

"Okay! " he announces. "As some of you know, the wet weather we've been experiencing is forecast to last for some time. Until it ends, you guys won't be able to use the school track. To make sure you don't lose out, we've arranged for you to train at Monkswood athletics track after school on Mondays, and during your games class on Wednesdays."

He pauses, looking around. "For any of you who haven't run there before, the important thing to note is that it's a synthetic track. That means your spikes must be no longer than 6mm. If any of you don't have any 6mm spikes, make sure you buy some over the weekend, and put them into your shoes. On Monday afternoon, you are to come here, get changed and pack your school clothes into your bag, just as you would if you were going to a cross-country race, so we can start work as soon as we get there. Right! Are there any questions?"

"Will you be taking us, sir?"

"I'll be taking you on Monday. On Wednesday, it'll be Mr Bentley."

"Will we have to change into our school clothes before we go home?"

"No, ideally, you'll go home in your training gear. The one exception is if you have to train while it's raining. If that happens, we'll allow time for you to have a shower and get changed before you go home."

He looks around again. There are no more questions.

"Okay, boys," he announces. "Enjoy your run! I'll see you on Monday!"

Just after five, I'm on the bus heading for home. As this bus isn't too crowded, I take the opportunity to give Scott a call.

"Hi babe! " he answers. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"At lunchtime, I spoke to Roz and Ed. Ed was pretty gobsmacked, to be honest, like he didn't know what to think. I took the liberty of inviting them to have dinner with us on Saturday evening. I hope that' s okay. "

"Good idea, especially as you're going to be cooking anyway. Are you still going to do the red mullet?"

"Yeah, I don't see why not."

"Cool! As we're having guests, are you going to do your party piece?" he asks, referring to my apple and apricot crumble.

"Yeah, I thought I would."

"Wonderful! We haven't had that for ages! Okay, I'll make sure to buy all the ingredients. What time did you tell them?"

"Seven for seven thirty. Afterwards, they're going to head into town, so they'll probably leave around quarter to nine."

"Sounds good! That'll leave us at least an hour to ourselves."


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

On Saturday afternoon, I arrive at Scott's place at half past four. There's quite a bit of preparation to do, and I hate having to rush. I start with the crumble. It's not difficult to do, but making the crumble mix, then peeling, chopping and coating the apples does take quite a while.

An hour later, with the crumble safely in the oven, I give myself a break before getting to work on the main course. As usual these days, my top priority is to check the football results. Playing against a team occupying one of the play-off places, Reavington have got a two-all draw. In the circumstances, it's a good result. Scott will give me the details when he gets home.

Just after six, I get back to work. We're having the mullet with pancetta, tarragon and baby potatoes. The fish have been gutted but not scaled, so that's my first job. After using scissors to remove the fins, I put the fish, one at a time, into a large plastic bag. Then I run the back of the kitchen knife from tail to head to flick off the scales, which land in the bag.

Having removed the scales from all four fish, I slash them three times on each side, right down to the bone. Next, I mix some olive oil with tarragon and crushed garlic, which I brush over the fish, making sure to work it into the slashes, before leaving it to marinate.

With preparations complete and the crumble fresh out of the oven, Scott appears.

"Hi babe! " he greets, giving me an affectionate kiss. "That crumble smells amazing! Everything else okay?"

"Yeah, no problem! I'll start cooking in a few minutes. How did the match go?"

"It was good, a really open game. It must have been very exciting for the fans. A draw was probably a fair result."

Just before seven, I begin to steam the potatoes. I then put the diced pancetta, a finely chopped red onion and a little more oil into the bottom of the roasting tin, and place it in the oven.

A few minutes later, the doorbell rings. Scott goes to answer it, returning with Roz and Ed, who's carrying a slim plastic bag. He looks at the marinating mullet.

"Roz said we were having fish," he says, producing a bottle, "so we brought some white."

"Pinot Grigio! " Scott responds, smiling approvingly. "We like that!"

"How did your match go today?" Ed asks.

"Not bad; we drew 2 – 2. Against a good team, it wasn't a bad way to end the season."

"Did you score?"

"Not today; close but no cigar! The ball came to me on the edge of the box. I had a clear sight of goal, but with defenders around me, I had to hit it first time. I struck it really well; had their goalie well beaten. But I just hadn't got enough bend on it, so it hit the upright and came back out. Disappointing, but it's one of those things. If we'd taken all our chances, we could have had four or five. But so could they, to be honest."

"A bit of a frustrating day then?" Ed suggests.

"Not really," Scott counters. "I put in the cross for our first goal and started the move that led to the second one. As a midfield player, I'll settle for that."

With my eye on the time, I take the roasting tin from the oven, place the fish on top of the onion and pancetta, drizzle a little more oil over it and put it back.

"That looks good!" Ed says, licking his lips. "How long will it take?"

"Fifteen minutes. "

Scott takes our guests into the lounge, leaving me to concentrate on the food.

It's twenty past seven when we sit down to eat. Ed and Scott are talking about football, and the reality of being a professional footballer. Ed, it appears, has never actually been to a league football match, and is hanging onto Scott's every word. The conversation moves onto the subject of abuse.

"Black, or should I say non-white players, come in for abuse of a fairly regular basis," Scott says. "It's patchy though. Some guys seem to get much more than others. The clubs and the football authorities go through the motions of clamping down on it, but they're clearly not doing enough."

"And the fear is that if you came out, that's what you'd get," Ed suggests.

"Yeah, very much so."

I intervene to tell them about attending the match against Brighton.

"That's awful!" Roz says.

"Didn't it make you feel really uncomfortable?" Ed asks, looking horrified.

"Absolutely," I confirm. "It's the one time that I've felt like I didn't belong there."

"Well, I can totally understand why you don't want to come out," Ed says. He turns to Roz. "You're happy to go to the Awards Evening again, aren't you?"

"Of course!" she says. "Last year, we had a great time!"

"Well, I don't have a problem with it," Ed says. "You guys are friends, and we're happy to help."

"Actually, it was quite a learning experience," Roz says, smiling at him. "For one thing, the wives and girlfriends weren't anything like I'd expected. The ones I met were really nice. But the biggest surprise was how young some of the players were when they got married. I know that our parents got married when they were quite young, but these days, that's really rare."

"I guess professional footballers can afford to do it," Ed suggests.

"Well, there is that," Scott agrees. "The other reason is that it gives them a stable home life. The game is so demanding now that players have to lead very disciplined lives. A happy home environment is essential. Lee Baxter, one of my team mates, is twenty-five, and a totally nice guy. He got married when he was twenty. He now has two children, aged four and two. When he's not playing football, he lives for those kids. That's quite common."

"So when's this awards evening happening?" Ed asks.

"Two weeks today," Scott says.

"No problem! " Ed declares, grinning. " We 're totally fine with it."

"And this was delicious!" Roz adds, beaming at me as she finishes her main course. "Thanks so much for inviting us."

"Oh, Scott 's the real cook," I respond, grinning. "He showed me how to make this. I was just following his instructions."

"Mum started teaching me when I was ten," Scott adds. "All boys would learn to cook if she had her way."

"Quite right too!" Roz says, grinning.

"We 've still got dessert to come," I tell them. "Spiced apple and apricot crumble. Mum showed me how to make that."

"Yummy! " Ed enthuses. "I smelt it as soon as we came in."

"How many calories does that have in it?" Roz demands.


"Just a small portion for me then!"

After munching our way through dessert and some more general chat, it's time for Roz and Ed to leave.

"I think that went okay," I say, as Scott and I make our way to the bedroom.

"Oh, I'd say it went more than okay," Scott responds. "Thanks for getting it organised."

Monday is a pretty important day. After turning in the last of my coursework for both history and history of art, I begin work on the first of the two exam pieces that I have to do for art & design. We have to do these under strictly controlled conditions. This means that we're not allowed to bring in any preparatory notes or sketches, and other than asking the invigilator for materials, we mustn't talk to anyone while we're working.

Actually, I'm looking forward to it. I spent time during the Easter break planning out what I was going to do, including making notes and drawing sketches. Not being able to take them in with me doesn't really matter. Just doing them helped me to work out what I'll need to do when I get in there.

With classes over for the day, along with the other distance runners, I make my way to the sports pavilion to get changed for our training session at Monkwood. Olly and Brian are there too, though they're not getting changed, of course. I'm just packing my school clothes into my bag when Mr Saunders appears.

"Sit down as soon as you're ready," he instructs.

A couple of minutes later, we're all sitting on the benches, waiting to go.

"Okay, " Mr Saunders says. "Is there anyone who doesn't have 6mm spikes in their shoes?"

Gary puts his hand up. " I'm sorry sir," he says. "We were busy over the weekend and I forgot I needed to buy some."

"Then you'll have to run in trainers," Mr Saunders tells him.

"Sir, " I say quietly, " I've got some spares. As long as he's brought his shoes, I can change them over for him while we're driving there."

"Thanks, Ian," he says. He turns to Gary. "Well? Have you brought them?"

"Yes sir. "

"You're a lucky boy, aren't you? Running in trainers on a wet track, you'd be sliding around all over the place!"

"Yes sir. Thank you."

"Don 't thank me; thank Ian. Okay lads let's go!"

When we arrive at the track, we split into two groups. While Mr Saunders and Olly work with the four 800-metre specialists, the rest of us reprise the session that we did on the Friday before term started, with Brian timing us.

It goes really well. Although the track' s wet, we 're still running faster than we would on the grass track at school. Once again, Gary and Jake only do six of the eight repetitions, but instead of missing out the fourth and fifth, this time they miss out the fourth and the eighth.

With the main part of our training completed, we all come together to jog two laps of the track before doing six 150-metre sprints. I'm pleased to find that although Tim, Niall, and Shaun are well ahead of me, I'm up there with Aidy, Leo and Nathan, and slightly ahead of Patrick. That's a major improvement!

Later that evening, I'm in my room studying when I get a call from Niall.

"Hi Ian! " he greets, when I pick up. "Dad wants to talk to you. I'll put him on."

"Hi Ian, Cameron Taylor here! I wondered what you were doing on May 12th; that's a week on Saturday?

That's the date of Scott's awards evening, and with the football season now over, I guess I'd have spent the afternoon at his place, but it's not set in stone.

"I haven't got anything planned," I respond.

"The County AAA Championships are taking place that day. This year, they're being held at Monkswood. I'm entering Niall for the under-17s' 1500 and Shaun for the under-17s' 800. There are also races for the under-20s. I wondered if you'd like to run."

Given how much I've improved, I'd definitely like to run. In any case, I can use it as a warm-up for the City Schools' Championships which take place the following Thursday.

"Yes, please!" I tell him. " I'd like to run in the 1500."

"Okay, I need your date of birth."

"February 13th, 1994," I tell him. " I'm sure Patrick will want to run too, and Nathan. Patrick's date of birth is October 8th, 1993. I'm not sure about Nathan's, but I can call him and ring you back."

"Yes, do that please. The entry fee is £1.50. You can give it to me on the day."

"No problem! " I assure him. "Thanks for letting us know!"

May 2012

Over the next two weeks, the weather doesn't improve at all. We've only had to run a couple of times while it's actually raining, but there have been several heavy downpours, and so the school playing field is still unusable. As a result, we've been doing all our track sessions at Monkswood.

Finally, it's Saturday, the day of the County AAA Championships. My race, the men's under-20 1500m, is scheduled for one o'clock. Dad drops me at the track at half past eleven. Although the early morning rain has stopped, the weather is still damp and overcast, and with the temperature around 16˚C, it's not exactly warm. The one redeeming feature is that there's very little wind.

Entering the stadium, I collect my competitor's number before finding Mr Taylor and giving him my entrance fee. I also buy a programme so that I can see who I'm going to be running against. Apart from Patrick, Nathan and myself, all the other entrants are club runners. As far as racing on the track is concerned, that's a first for me.

Niall's 1500m race starts at half past twelve. I pause my warm-up to watch. One of the other competitors is a dedicated front-runner, who sets a good pace from the start. Niall tracks him relentlessly, before unleashing his characteristic finishing burst to win in 4:02.1, a new personal best. That's encouraging. In our training sessions, I've been running Niall pretty close.

Half an hour later it's our turn. Ten of us line up, the gun sounds and we're off. A guy I don't recognise immediately hits the front. He's setting a strong pace too, but it's nothing crazy, so I tuck in behind him, along with Patrick and another lad.

We complete two laps in 2:07, which is quite a bit quicker than I'm used to. As we head along the back straight, Patrick moves onto the leader's shoulder. With 600m to go, he takes off. The other guys in the leading group are caught off-guard. It's like they're wondering if he's miscounted and thinks that this is the last lap.

Of course, I know what's going on. Patrick's making a long run for home, aiming to draw the sting out of their finishing speed. But by the time they've reacted and begun to give chase, he's stolen around fifteen metres.

Unfortunately, I'm left in no-man's land. Having run the first part of the race a little too fast for comfort, I'm now completely isolated. Drawing on all my training and experience, I try to maintain my rhythm, but it's probably the hardest thing I've ever done.

Coming onto the home straight for the last time, I'm still in fourth place, but my legs are feeling heavier with every stride. Then I sense someone behind me. Slowly but inexorably, Nathan forces his way past, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.

I'm bitterly disappointed. Nathan hasn't beaten me for well over a year, and he shouldn't have beaten me here. The fact of the matter is that he judged it better than I did. To put it simply: I. Cocked. It. Up!

Once I've recovered, I congratulate Nathan, Patrick and the guys who finished second and third. Disappointed as I am, I'm not going to throw a hissy-fit. I despise people who do that. I need to pick myself up, get on with my training, and learn from today' s mistakes.

A couple of minutes later, they announce the results. Patrick ran 3:55.4, which is outstanding, the guys in second and third running 3:59.1 and 4:01.6 respectively. Nathan ran 4:05.7, while I managed 4:06.4. All three of us have run personal bests, which definitely sweetens the pill.

Having changed from spikes to trainers, we put on training tops and bottoms before going for a warm-down.

"You'll be running in the City Schools' Championships now," I say, turning to Nathan.

"Are you sure?" he queries. "That's the first time I've beaten you in ages, and it was by less than a second."

"We said that this would be the trial," I remind him, although it was only an informal arrangement between the two of us. "You'll be running."

Having run the heats before I arrived, the under-20 men's 400 metres, in which Dean will be running, is scheduled for three o'clock, to be followed twenty minutes later by Shaun's 800m final. These guys are friends; I want to watch both of them.

I guess I could have spent the afternoon at Scott's place, but there's no real need. We had a wonderful time together yesterday afternoon, and I'm looking forward to another one tomorrow.

Since the football season ended, Scott's been keeping himself busy by catching up with his Open University studies, and that's what he'll be doing this afternoon, before going to his club's awards evening. Being in love doesn't mean we have to see each other every day!

Just before three, Dean and seven other guys line up for their 400-metre final. Dean, who's in lane four, is wearing his club vest rather than the school one, and he's listed in the programme as representing the local athletics club. That doesn't matter though; he's still one of us!

The starting pistol sounds and they're off. Striding along the back straight, Dean looks amazing, his enormous strides eating up the ground. Coming off the top bend, he's pulled out a big lead, which he extends as he powers along the home straight to win in 48.2 seconds.

That was impressive! If I ran 400 metres flat out, I reckon I could do it in under a minute, but not by much. I can't imagine what it must feel like to run as fast as Dean just did.

Shortly afterwards, it's Shaun 's turn. Though not quite as tall as Dean, at 6' 0 ", he still towers over me, and wins emphatically. After running the first lap in around 57 seconds, he strides away to complete the distance in an excellent 1:56.2. I'm delighted for him. He worked hard all winter with only a few team medals to show for it. Well, this is where his efforts are going to pay off.

"Well done!" I congratulate as he returns to the stand. "This is your time now!"

A few minutes later, I set off for home feeling much better than I might have done. Even though I didn't perform as well as I'd hoped, overall, we've had a good day.

Although we do get a bit damp in the intermittent drizzle, our Sunday morning training run is a blast. In addition to our regular squad, we're joined by Tim and Aidy, who, along with Shaun, Rakesh and Jake, run around seven miles, while the rest of us do nearly ten.

As usual, the atmosphere is great, really friendly and supportive. These guys have become a big part of my life. I'm going to miss them when I move to London. Finally, when everyone else has gone home, I make my way upstairs to have a shower and get changed.

After lunch, it's raining again. Rather than have me use the bus, Mum drops me at Scott's place before taking Dad to the airport.

"How did things go yesterday?" Scott asks, welcoming me inside.

"I messed up."

"How so?"

"I went with the early pace, which was quite a bit faster than I'm used to. By the time I got to the home straight, I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. Well, that's what it felt like. Early on, Nathan had sat off the pace, so he was able to come past me. It's the first time he's beaten me for more than a year. But we both ran personal bests, so I guess it wasn't that bad."

"Who won?"

"Patrick. He ran three minutes, fifty-five and bits, which is amazing! Nathan ran four-zero-five and I ran four-zero-six. We finished fourth and fifth."

"Disappointing, but hardly a disaster."

"Yeah. And we did well elsewhere. Dean won the four-hundred, and in the younger age-group, Niall, that' s Will 's brother, won the fifteen, and his mate Shaun won the eight. Lenny will be pleased, not that the school had anything to do with us being there."

"Oh, right!"

"So how did the awards evening go?"

"It was great, it really was," he says quietly. "I thought some people might be a bit funny about me leaving, but they weren't at all. When I went up to get my young player of the season award, the host said how proud they were of what I'd achieved. He said they were pleased that I'd got a move to a top club like Greswall, and wished me all the best in my future career. It was the best send-off I could have hoped for."

"Wonderful! How did Roz get on?"

"Oh, she was superb, just like last year. When she chatted to some of the other girls, she was really friendly without actually saying very much. She told them that if her A-levels went okay, she'd be studying in London, but she never said that she was my girlfriend or anything like that."

"I'm glad that it went well."

"Yeah, it's good for Mum and Dad to be able to go to things like that. They've supported me all the way through, since I was small. I wouldn't have been able to do this without them." He puts his arm around my shoulder. "Now before we go into the bedroom, there's something I need to talk to you about. Over the next few weeks, there are a few things that I need to do. First of all, I have to do some formal assessments for my Open University course."

"You mean exams?"

"Yeah, sort of. The centre I've got to go to is in Milton Keynes. I'm not sure if it's actually on the OU campus, but it's in that area. As well as that, I'll need to go to London at least once, maybe a couple of times. First off, I need to rent a furnished flat for a few months so that we've got somewhere to crash. Once I've got that sorted out, I'll need to look for somewhere permanent."

"Cool! Thanks for letting me know."

"It means that I'm going to be away at least three times, for two or three days each time."

"Obviously, I've no control over the dates of the assessments," he goes on, handing me a list of dates. "but I can be flexible on the trip to London."

I look through the list. He's got exams on the Wednesday and Thursday before half term and he's pencilled in a trip to London immediately after the Golden Jubilee. He's then got more exams on Wednesday and Thursday of the following week. With his exams taking place at much the same time as mine, it could definitely be worse.

"When you start looking for somewhere permanent," I query, "will you want me involved?"

"Oh, definitely!" he assures me. " I'll do the initial research, but I won't settle on anywhere without you seeing it first. After all, it's going to be your home too!"

I snuggle in closer. 'My home too.' That sounds good!

It's Monday afternoon. While we're preparing for our training session, I take the opportunity to have a word with Mr Saunders.

"Sir, on Saturday Patrick, Nathan and I ran the under-20's 1500 at the county AAA Championships. Patrick won it, Nathan was fourth and I was fifth."

"Really? How did that happen?"

"He paced himself better than I did. It was quite quick early on. I allowed myself to get sucked in and paid for it towards the end. So I think it'd be fairer if Nathan ran on Thursday rather than me."

"Well, as I don't think it'll make much difference, I'm happy with that."

"Actually, I think it might work better that way. Nathan would like to do the 1500 in the county championships. I want to run the 3000 with Patrick, like I did last year."

"That's fair enough. I'll make sure the team managers know."

"Will you want me to come along on Thursday, sir?"

"There's no real need," he says, smiling. "With your A-levels coming up, I'm sure you've got better things to do."

Another week has gone past. Depressingly, the weather hasn't improved at all. Even when it's not raining, it's cool and cloudy. Although we've avoided it here, there have been major floods on the Somerset Levels and along the Thames Valley, with flash floods in other places. I've never known a spring like it.

On Thursday, the city schools' athletics championships took place in damp, blustery conditions. In the senior boys' events, Dean won the 400m, Patrick won the 1500m, with Nathan second, and in the 800m, Tim finished second and Aidy fourth. In the intermediate boys, Shaun won the 800m and Niall the 1500m. Inevitably, all the times were slow. To be honest, I'm glad I wasn't there.

It's Sunday afternoon. I arrive at Scott's place at quarter to three. As soon as he lets me in, I can tell he's grouchy.

"This bloody weather's doing my head in!" he complains as we flop down on the sofa. "I know we said we wouldn't go on holiday this year," he goes on, looking at me intently, "but I'm having a rethink."

"We can't go during half term," I remind him. " We 've both got exams the following week."

"Yeah, I know that. Remind me, when's your last exam?"

"Friday June 15th; history of art."

"That's what I thought. I thought we could go the following day, just for a week."

"I guess we could, but I'm not sure if we can afford it. Mum and Dad aren't having a holiday this year. They're saving the pennies to prepare for Dad's career change. I can't ask them to pay for me to go on holiday when they're not having one."

"Oh, don't worry about that!" he says. " I'll pay for it. You'll have some spending money, won't you?"

"Oh, yeah!"

"Well, that's all you'll need. I can sort the rest out. Babe, I need some sun! I think we both do!"

It's not exactly a surprise. Like most people who tan very easily, Scott's a born sun-worshipper. But given the weather we've been having, I can understand where he's coming from.

"Shouldn't we be spending that week finding somewhere permanent to live?"

"We 've got time," he counters. "I start pre-season training on July 2nd, so we'll still have a week once we get back from holiday. As long as I keep my eye on the property websites while we're away, that should be long enough."

"Where were you thinking of going?"

"Would you fancy going back to Malaga? It worked pretty well last year."

"Cool! I'll stay off the Sangria this time!"

"Actually, if you'd like, I thought we could have a day in Madrid. There's a fast train service. It only takes just over two and a half hours. We could visit, . . . you know, the famous art gallery?"

"The Prado? That'd be fantastic!" The idea of visiting one the world's greatest galleries has really got my juices flowing. "How long will we have in Madrid?"

"If we take the first train, we'll be in Madrid just after twelve. So we'll have six hours at least."

"D 'you think we could go to the Civil Court building as well?" I suggest, trying to keep my enthusiasm in check. "It was designed by Zaha Hadid, who's an amazing architect! Although she's based in London, most of the buildings she's designed are abroad, so I've never seen any of them."

"I don't see why not!" he agrees, smiling. "But my first job will be to sort out flights and accommodation. I'll get onto it this evening."

I snuggle in closer. In response, Scott wraps his arm around me, his fingers gently stroking my hair. I love this guy!

It's Monday, and we're into our final week of classes. I've completed the first of my two exam pieces for art and design, and so far, I've done six hours on the second one. That means I have four hours left, though I don't think it'll take that long. After that, I just have to do my exams, and that will be it. After seven years, my time at this place will come to an end. In a way, that's quite scary.

In just a few short months, I'll be stepping into a very different world. The good thing is that I'll have Scott with me. I support him and he supports me. That's the way it's been since we first got together.

The week passes off uneventfully. I finish my second exam piece with almost an hour to spare. In maths and history, I dot all the i's and cross all the t' s. I'm as well-prepared as I've ever been. All I have to do now it deliver.

Outside of class, my training continues to go well, despite the indifferent weather. Patrick and I work out a schedule for Saturday's race. Provided the weather's okay, I'm confident that we'll be able to stick to it.

As the icing on the cake, Scott's booked our holiday. Our flight times will be the same as they were last year, and we'll be staying in the same general area, though in a different apartment. He's even booked our trip to Madrid. I have to admit, I'm really looking forward to it.

It's Friday evening. I'm working in my room when I hear Dad come in. After giving him a few minutes to say hello to Mum, I bookmark what I'm doing and make my way down to the lounge.

"Hi Dad!" I greet. "How's your week been?"

"Not bad thanks? And you? Everything still on track?"

"Yes, thanks! My training's been going really well."

"So you're looking forward to tomorrow then?"

"Yeah, very much so. Will you still be able to take me?"

"Of course! Just remind me of the timings."

"Our race is at five past twelve. Dean's on at about quarter past eleven, so I thought if we got there for eleven o'clock, I'll be able to watch Dean's race before I need to start warming up."

"That should work well. I'll stay to watch Dean's race and yours, then come home for lunch. Will you be staying to watch the other guys?"

"Yeah, they' re on later. Shaun 's race is on last, at about four o'clock. Afterwards, I'll go straight to Scott's place. I think we're going out for a meal. I'm not sure where."

"Fair enough!"

"He's got something else to tell us," Mum says, looking at Dad. "It's written on his face." She turns to me. " Well? "

"As soon as I've finished my exams, Scott and I are going on holiday for a week. We're going to Malaga again."

"I thought you were going to be flat-hunting?" Mum queries.

"Yeah, we need to do that too, but Scott needs some sun; this weather is making him grouchy."

"I can totally understand that," Dad says. "It's been dreadful!"

"When we get back, we'll have a week before Scott starts his pre-season training. He reckons that as long as he does his research beforehand, that should be long enough for us to find a place."

"It sounds a bit tight to me," Mum cautions, "but it's up to you."

"Actually, that should work out quite well," Dad says. " I'll be off work for the last two weeks of June. We won't be going on holiday as such, but we will be having days out. You not being here will give us a bit more flexibility."

It's Saturday morning, the day of the county schools' athletics championships. Although the weather's still cloudy, it's dry and a little warmer than it was. Once again, there's only a light breeze. For distance running, the conditions aren't bad.

Patrick's worked out a schedule, which is only slightly faster than we ran last year. We're going to lead alternate laps; he'll do odds and I'll do evens, aiming to complete six laps in around 6:50. That should be no problem. Then, over the last one and a half laps, we'll race each other.

Dad and I arrive at the track just before eleven. As we take our seats, the 400m hurdles races are about to start. They begin with the two girls' races, with the hurdles set to 2' 6 ". Then the hurdles are raised to 2' 9 " for the intermediate boys, and finally to 3' 0 " for the senior boys.

This is Dean's race. Although he's a superb athlete, I'm a little apprehensive. I remember what happened last year, when he tore a hamstring. Surely, nothing like that could happen again?

The seven competitors line up, with Dean in lane 4. They're called to their marks. Once they're all settled, the starter calls them into the ' set ' position. Moments later, the gun sounds are they're away.

Dean starts powerfully, closing down on the lad outside him before the end of the first bend. Heading along the back straight, he establishes a clear lead, rising to each hurdle well before any of his opponents. Going into the second bend, he reaches the fifth hurdle.

Last year this was where it all went wrong. This time, however, there are no problems. Continuing to run aggressively, he crosses the finish line just as his closest challenger is taking the final hurdle. He's smashed it! Just as Patrick and I are getting ready to warm up, the results are announced, giving Dean's winning time as 54.8 seconds.

"Bloody hell!" I say quietly. "I couldn't do that on the flat!"

"Me neither!" Patrick agrees.

Heading out to do our warm-up, we pass the timekeepers' stand. Sitting among a group of older guys are Olly and Brian, both in their school uniform.

"Hi guys!" I greet. "Good to see you!"

"You too!" Olly responds, smiling. "For your race, the chief timekeeper has given me permission to call the lap times at the start."

"Thanks, Olly!" I acknowledge. "That's really helpful!"

Having completed our warm-up, with just under ten minutes to go, we gather at the start, along with eight other lads. On the dot of twelve, we're called to our marks, the gun sounds and we're on our way. Immediately, Patrick hits the front, with me close behind.

As we approach the end of the first lap, four of us have broken clear.

"Sixty-seven!" Olly calls as we pass him.

That's right on target. As we round the bend, Patrick moves away from the kerb, allowing me to slip through on the inside to take my turn at the front. I keep as relaxed as I can, running at a good pace while conserving energy.

After a couple of 68-second laps, I'm back on the front. I'm still relaxed, but I'm having to concentrate now. We run along the back straight to complete our fourth lap, the last of our opponents slips off the pace.

"Four-thirty-two!" Olly calls.

'The last lap was 69 seconds,' I reflect, moving out to allow Patrick to go past me. 'We need to maintain that to stay on schedule.'

Just over a minute later, we're starting our sixth lap. I move to the front again. This is getting hard now. 'Rhythm, relax and dig in,' I tell myself. At last, we come to the end of the lap, Patrick moving up onto my shoulder.

"Six-fifty-one!" Olly announces.

Immediately, Patrick picks up his pace, moving smoothly away from me. I'm still running well, but I can no more go with him than I can fly in the air. After running along the home straight for the penultimate time, I reach the bell for the start of the final lap.

"Seven-twenty-six!" Brian calls.

That's okay; as good as I'd expected to do, but Patrick's around three seconds ahead. I make my way around the final lap still running smoothly, but increasing my pace is out of the question. I finish clear in second place, some sixty yards behind Patrick.

I know that my time must be somewhere in the high eight-thirties. I'll have to wait till they announce the results to get it officially. As I retrieve my training kit that the monitor-kids have brought across to the finish, the public address system comes to life.

"Here are the results of the senior boys' 3000 metres, " the announcer says. "First: P. Keaveney, 8:28.3; second: I. Haskell, 8:37.7, . . ."

Yes! I don't listen any further. That's a good time, over twenty seconds faster than I did last year. I'll settle for that! Patrick's just a class apart. After a gentle warm-down, the two of us return to the stand, where Dad's ready to go home.

"Well done!" he says, shaking Patrick' s hand. "That was outstanding!" he turns to me. "You too," he adds, drawing me into a hug. "You looked superb out there. I'm really proud of you."

"Thanks, Dad," I acknowledge. "Are you off home now?"

"Yeah, get some lunch then help your mum with a few things. We'll see you later. Don't be too late, will you?"

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