Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 37

June 2012

After living with Scott for a week, waking up on my own feels really weird. But it is what it is. If everything goes to plan, within a few weeks, sleeping next to Scott will become my default position.

After a pee and a wash, I dress in my running kit, with training pants and a hoodie over the top. I check out of the window. It's a sunny summer morning, though nowhere like as hot as Malaga was.

After breakfast, I wander into the lounge. After a few minutes, Dad joins me. Last night, when I got home, I told Mum and Dad all about our trip to Madrid. Dad was fascinated; we had a really long chat about it. As a result, we've pretty well exhausted the topic, so right now, I'm wondering what we can talk about. Then another thought occurs to me.

"How are you and Scott getting on with this property development thing?" I ask.

"Actually, I'll be talking to him about it this morning, while you're out running," he responds.

"So it is going ahead then?"

"Well, that's the plan, unless he's changed his mind!"

"Oh, right! Sorry, I wasn't trying to be nosey!"

"That' s fine! Don 't worry, I'll keep you and Mum informed as things develop. Are you running from the Taylors' house this morning?"


"I'll drop you off on my way to Scott's place. You'll be able to get back okay, won't you? Only I don't know how long we'll be."

"Sure! "

"Call me if there's a problem, okay?"

I've got that warm, fuzzy feeling. I'm so lucky to have a dad like him. He's always supportive, but never interferes. What a total star!

Dad drops me off near Niall's place at quarter past ten. I stroll along to the house, enjoying the summer sunshine.

"Good to see you!" Niall says, ushering me inside.

"Good to see you too!" I respond. "How did things go at the inter-counties match?"

"Great!" he enthuses. "Shaun, Patrick, Dean all won; pretty impressive performances too. I was second to this guy from Merseyside, but I ran another personal best. So now we're all looking forward to the English Schools."

"Where is it this year?"


"Again?" I query. "That's two years in a row! Will you be racing again before that?"

"No, it's only two weeks away, so since the inter-counties, we've been concentrating on our training. Patrick reckons we should start easing off next weekend."

"That sounds about right!" I agree.

Just before half past ten, we're all assembled. Trotting out through the conservatory, we're on our way. On a beautiful morning like this, going out running with these guys is a total blast. Even though I haven't run for ten days, I'm feeling really good.

After around six miles, Shaun, Jake, Aidy and Rakesh take a shortcut back to the house, leaving the rest of us to carry on. Even though we're flying along, we all stay together for the remaining four miles. What a buzz!

Afterwards, we sit around chatting and drinking cups of tea. The atmosphere is amazing. It's that wonderful sense of togetherness, because everybody contributes to the success of the whole group. I think that's pretty special.

Just after midday, I head for home.

"Hi Mum! " I say, breezing into the house. "Dad not back yet?"

"He just called. He's on his way."

He arrives a few minutes later. I can tell by his manner that the meeting must have gone well, but I don't press him on it. I'm sure he'll tell us over lunch, just as he did before. As usual, we sit down to eat just after one.

"Well," he says, smiling. "We still have to go through a few formalities, but basically, it's all systems go. I'll be starting my final project a week on Monday. It's due to take three months. As soon as we've completed it, Jan will take over as team leader, which will end my involvement."

"Jan? " I query. " Is that the Dutch guy you told me about?"

"Yes, that's right. Everyone agrees that he's the man for the job."

Okay, so a gay guy's been chosen to replace Dad as team leader. I'm not sure why that makes me feel good, but it does.

"What will you be doing?"

"While Scott gets his finances sorted out, I'll be preparing to become Operations Manager of the property development company. For example, I'll be researching the local property market, like going to lots of property auctions. I also need to familiarise myself with building regulations, and make sure I know the pitfalls to look out for, like damp and subsidence. And I'll be establishing contacts with specialist trades people, like guys who install damp-proof courses, and professionals like structural engineers. Scott's suggested that I consult Bill Gardner to get some recommendations."

"Oh, right!"

"As well as that, I'm going to do a couple of college courses, one on plumbing, one on plastering. Those are things I've done before, but it's been a while, so they're areas that I want to brush up on . "

"You'll be doing most of the work, then?"

"That depends. On the smaller, more straightforward jobs, I'll do the bulk of the work and just bring in tradespeople for stuff like the electrics. But if we take on a bigger project, we may employ Bill Gardner as the main contractor, with me acting as project manager."

"You seem to have given it lots of thought!"

"Definitely! It's important to do this right. We don't want to make mistakes we could have avoided. You know what Scott's like better than I do. If he's doing something, it has to be done properly."

"That's true!" I agree, grinning.

"One other thing I'm going to do is to convert what's been your clubroom into a home office, where I'll keep everything relating to the business. It'll be ideal."

"Nice one!"

It's quarter to three when I arrive at Scott's place.

"You had a good meeting with Dad this morning then?" I suggest as we flop down on the sofa.

"Yeah!" he enthuses. "Your dad is so grounded! I knew from the start he'd be a great business partner, and he proves it every time I meet him. He's already done lots of work, sorting out what he'll need to know, the skills he wants to work on, the contacts he'll need to make, and all of that. Actually, I think it'll work out really well. By the time I've got my finances in place, he'll be ready to go."

"Cool! So what's happening tomorrow?"

"In the morning, I'm off down to London to pick up the keys for my rental flat. You can come with me if you want, but there won't be much for you to do. I'm planning to spend the rest of the day on the phone and the laptop, trying to organise appointments at places I want us to view. I think it'd be better if you came down on Tuesday, once I've got things sorted out."

"Yeah, that's fine! Are you taking the car?"

"No, I won't need it while I'm there. I'll travel everywhere by train and tube."

"Oh, right! I remember Dad taking me and Anthony to London once. We drove down there. He parked up in Greenford and we took the tube from there."

"I guess with three of you, that would have been quite a bit cheaper. To be honest, I prefer to use the train. It's so much more relaxing."

"Okay! What time will you want me there? Not too early, I hope!"

"The 09:10 train from here gets in at 11:24. That should be early enough."

"That's cool!" I agree, smiling. " I'll book it tomorrow."

"Right, young sir! Would you like to move to the bedroom?"

"I thought you'd never ask! Lead me to it!"

It's Tuesday morning, and I'm on the train to London. Scott told me yesterday evening, that he's lined up four flats for us to view. Tonight, I'm going to stop over. As an added bonus, he's promised to take me somewhere special this evening, but hasn't said where. I can hardly wait.

I arrive in London right on time. Scott's at the station to meet me.

"Great to see you!" he says, giving me a hug. "Had a good journey?"

"Yeah, thanks!" I reply, smiling back. "So what's the plan?"

"Well, our first viewing's booked for twelve," he says, smiling, "so we'll go to that one now. Then we'll grab a bite of lunch before checking out the other places this afternoon."

"Sounds good to me!" I agree.

The first apartment is only five years old and is located near London Bridge. It's a great flat, with pretty much everything we could have wanted, but it's in a rough-looking neighbourhood and looks out over an expanse of railway lines. I don't like that one bit. To make things worse, with it being south of the river, Scott would have a difficult drive to his new training ground.

After lunch, we move onto the next place, which is even newer, and in a nicer area. Looking out over the Regent's Canal, it's also better located for Scott. The downside is that the rooms are a bit small and there's only one bathroom. In theory, it's big enough for us to have one set of parents stop over, which is something we definitely want to do. In practice, having four people in the place would be a real squeeze.

From there, we take the tube to Whetstone, in the leafy north London suburbs. Built around twenty years ago, the flat we've gone to view is beautiful, and in excellent condition. It's well-located too, a 15-minute drive from Greswall's training ground and a 25-minute tube ride from Euston, which is just across the road from UCL.

On the downside, the décor is very old fashioned, all frilly and fluffy, like you could imagine Barbara Cartland having lived there. Cutting edge style it isn't! Now that's not a problem in itself, but with the flat being priced right at the top of Scott's budget, we wouldn't have the money to refurbish it at the moment.

It might still be a sensible option though. We could live in it for a year while Scott saves up enough money for us to fix it up the way we want it. However, that would mean moving out for two or three weeks and putting all our stuff into storage while we get the work done. That's not something we want to do if we can avoid it.

So now we're on our way to see the fourth and final flat of our tour. Heading back towards central London, we leave the tube at Kings Cross St. Pancras, on the northern edge of the central business district. With the British Library and the University of the Arts nearby, and Google's UK headquarters under construction, the area has a real buzz about it. Better still, it's not far from UCL.

After a short walk, we reach a stylish, nine-storey apartment building.

"It was built at the end of the eighties," Scott says, "just before the property crash. At the time, it was pretty much state of the art."

He presses the call button on the panel by the entrance. A buzzer sounds and we make our way inside. I'm apprehensive. This would be a great area to live, but after three disappointments, I'm wondering what the problem will be this time.

We take the lift to the top floor. While there are four flats on each of the lower floors, up here, there are only two. The agent's waiting on the landing. He ushers us inside. I can see immediately that the place is tired and neglected. The previous owner clearly didn't look after it too well. The one exception is the windows, which seem to have been replaced quite recently.

On the positive side, there's a large lounge with bi-fold doors which open onto a balcony that runs the whole width of the flat, an open plan kitchen-diner, two large double bedrooms, one with an en-suite shower room, a third, smaller bedroom and a second bathroom. By some margin, it's the biggest place we've seen. Properly refurbished, it could be amazing, but because it needs so much work, it's actually far less expensive than the flat in Whetstone.

"So what do you think?" Scott asks.

"This is by far the best flat, but what about the location? Wouldn't the last one be more convenient for you?"

"Yes and no. It's obviously much closer to the training ground, but if we want to go out in the evenings, this place will be much better. In any case, I like the idea of having a flat in town, and this area's really on the up!"

"This is the one then!"

"Yeah, I love it," he says. "The big problem is that it'll need a lot of work. Even if you're up for designing and project managing it all, we'll need to find a reliable builder. It's not like being at home. I can't just call Bill and ask him, knowing he'll do a first-rate job. I don't know anyone in this area, and I'm wary about engaging somebody who could turn out to be a cowboy."

"Well, I'd love to design and project manage it, but I've no idea how we'd find a good builder. What do you think?"

"I'll call Bill, explain the situation and ask if he can help me find someone. He's got contacts all over the place. I'm quite happy to pay him as a consultant to make sure we get someone who won't rip us off."

Before leaving, we take a final tour round the flat to help me to get some ideas of what we could do with it. We stroll into the small bedroom.

"If we end up buying this place," he says quietly, "I want you to fit this room out as a home office and design studio. Put in whatever you need."

I look at him almost in disbelief. I thought I'd have to do most of my actual design work at uni, like everyone else does.

"It'll be an investment in your future," he says gently, putting his arm round my shoulder, "our future."

"So what sort of budget will we have?" I ask. "You know, for the whole thing?"

"100K, give or take," he says casually. "Maybe a bit more if we really need it."

With that much money to spend, we should be able to do a fantastic job. But Scott's right. We need the right people. I just hope that Bill will be able to steer us towards them.

Half an hour later we're at Scott's rented flat. It's quite similar to his current place, but not as nice. It'd be okay for me to stay here a few days at a time, but there's no way Scott and I could live here, it's just not big enough.

After a shower, a change of clothes and a cup of tea, we're off out for the evening. Taking the tube to Leicester Square, we stroll up Charing Cross Road, across Shaftesbury Avenue and into Soho. After heading along Old Compton Street, the heart of the gay village, we turn into Frith Street. Moments later I'm being ushered into Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club. It seems we have a booking.

Scott told me we were going somewhere special and it's certainly that. It's like stepping into a whole other world, the place steeped in jazz history and oozing sophistication. We're shown to a table almost directly in front of the stage.

After looking through the menu, we order our food. It arrives just as the support band comes on, four guys in their twenties or early thirties, I'd guess, all dressed in formal trousers, black shoes and long-sleeved shirts.

I've never eaten a meal while listening to music before. It's interesting. Although I find some of the music quite hard to follow, it adds to the club's refined, cultured atmosphere, the audience applauding politely at the end of each tune. We finish eating just as they complete their set.

"Okay?" Scott asks, smiling.

"Yeah," I say. "It was okay. I couldn't follow some of it."

"It's simply a matter of what you're used to," he says, "but they were just the support. It's the main band we're here to see."

As we wait, I look around. We seem to be way younger than anyone else in the club. In front of us, the stage has been reset. On the dot of half past eight, the headline band appears. They look completely different from the guys in the support band. For a start, they're much older, and their leader, guitarist Mike Stern, is dressed in a black t-shirt, tight black jeans and trainers. He's very skinny too, with long grey hair and lips that remind me of Mick Jagger.

And that's not all. His guitar is the sort that rock guitarists play, and is plugged into two large amplifiers. The saxophonist is wearing a bandana. Everything about these guys shouts 'rock and roll' . I'm guessing this is going to be loud.

I'm not wrong! Most of the time, it's loud and very exciting, the tunes like nothing I've ever heard. But in between the mayhem, they play haunting melodies so quiet and subtle you can barely hear them. I'm completely captivated. I glance across at Scott. It's clear why he brought me here. Like the rest of the audience, he's totally into it, applauding uproariously at the end of each tune.

Of all the guys, the one who really catches my attention is the drummer. He's mesmerising. From watching Dean hurdling, and more recently from watching Scott playing football, I've come to appreciate the athleticism, technique and control that they have, and how effortless they make it look.

This guy has it all, his speed and power simply awesome, and his control of the drumsticks is so good that everything he plays fits the music perfectly. Best of all, there's no hint of him showing off. He sits totally still, playing this amazing music with what looks like a minimum of effort. I can't take my eyes off him. They finish another stunning tune to even more rapturous applause.

"Thanks!" guitarist Mike says. " We 're going to take a short break. We'll see you in around twenty minutes."

"Well? " Scott enquires, grinning from ear to ear.

"They're amazing!" I breathe, hardly able to believe that anyone can play like these guys did. "The drummer's fantastic!"

"He's world class," Scott tells me, "one of the best of all time."

I can believe it. I don't know much about music, but I can't imagine anybody being better than that. I think about the commitment he must have shown, and the thousands of hours of practice he must have done in order to play the way he does. I find it inspiring. I guess Scott does too. Commit yourself. Give it everything you've got. That's what it takes. Nothing less will do.

After a rousing second set, we take a cab back to the flat. It's been an evening to remember. I enjoyed everything about it. Scott wouldn't tell me how much it all cost, except to reassure me that it was well within budget. All I know is that it wouldn't have come cheap. I'm guessing we'll be going there quite often.

Spending the night with Scott is always special, this time especially so. We have wonderful, uninhibited sex before falling asleep with me snuggled up in his arms. When I wake up the next morning, I'm still there.

"Hi babe! " Scott whispers, gently rubbing his nose against mine. "How did you sleep?"

"Like a log! I always do when I'm with you. What's the time?"

"Twenty to eight. Now you're awake, I'm going to call Bill."

"Okay, I'll leave you to it. I need a pee."

When I get back, the conversation's still going on. Scott hasn't got his phone on speaker, so I can only hear his end of it, but it all sounds very positive. As I slip back into bed, he ends the call.

"Well? " I ask. "What did he say?"

"He said they could do it for us, which was a total surprise. He'll need to find an electrician, but they'll do the rest of it. He said we'd have to pay for bed and breakfast accommodation and evening meals, which would add two thousand or so to the price, but he reckoned we'd save more than that by not having to pay the labour rates for guys who live in London. So it's all good!"

"That's amazing! I love working with Bill. He's really cool!"

"He reckons it should take them between two and three weeks. He said that he'll be here himself two or three days per week to help with the big jobs. The main two guys would be Patrick, who's going to be working for him again, and a lad called Jimmy, who I believe is a friend of yours."

"Yeah, right!"

"I don't think I know him."

"You wouldn't, " I admit, going bright red.

I could try brushing it off, but Scott deserves better than that. I miss out the part about Jimmy going with Mr Saunders, but other than that, I tell Scott the whole story, right from the day that Jimmy and I met.

"Well! " Scott says, grinning. "You were a horny little boy, weren't you?"

"Yeah, totally! I know I was a bit of a wimp in other ways, but I was definitely looking for another boy to have sex with, and I found one. And not just any boy; he was cute!"

"Yeah, I get that. Even so, considering how things went, I'm surprised that when you ran into him again two years later, you stopped to talk to him. I don't think many people would."

"Why not? He was on his own. He wasn't going to hurt me. Thinking about it, I knew he hadn't meant to hurt me the first time; he just got a bit carried away. Anyway, at the time, neither of us was with anyone, so we started seeing each other, like once or twice a week. I knew it wasn't serious though. We sort of liked each other and we enjoyed the sex, but that was all it was. It was never going anywhere.

Anyway, a few weeks later, after he started college, he rang me one Saturday morning; asked me to meet him. So we went for a coffee and he told me that he'd met someone while he was working out in the gym. And that was it. I haven't actually seen him since."

"Right! So how did he end up working for Bill?"

"Well, I knew he was doing a two-year construction course at college, and I'd spoken to him on the phone a few times. He'd told me he was doing very well. D'you remember Easter last year, when Patrick and I worked on that live-work unit?"

"Sure! "

"Well, in the course of that, Bill told me he was looking for a someone new to take on, so I mentioned Jimmy. Bill didn't seem that keen at first, but he said if Jimmy wanted to give him a call, he'd be happy to talk to him. Well, Bill decided to take him on. That's as much as I know."

"You're obviously a good judge," Scott says, giving me a wry grin. "Bill says he's one of the best guys he's ever had."

"Patrick worked with him last summer. At the time, Jimmy hadn't been there long, but Patrick thought he was good, like really sensible and conscientious. From what I was told, he's pretty ripped these days too."

"I take it he wasn't when you knew him."

"Not really. He always had very strong legs, but his upper body wasn't much bigger than mine."

"That sounds about right. Your lower half always develops first. Then doing the gym work-outs as he grew up, he's obviously put some muscle on. Anyway, I look forward to meeting him!"

"Great, so what happens now?"

"Well, as soon as the estate agent opens, I'll contact them to put in an offer on the flat. It's only just come onto the market, so I think we've got a good chance."


"Which gives us about an hour. So what would you like to do now?"

"Please sir, I'd like you to fuck me senseless!"

"You naughty boy! How can turn down an invitation like that?"

Just after nine, Scott calls the estate agent. They're on for around five minutes. Once again, Scott doesn't have his phone on speaker, but what I can hear sounds very positive.

"You made an offer then?" I ask as Scott ends the call.

"Yeah, I offered £5000 above what they were asking. I wanted to signal to the vendors that we really want it. Don't worry, I'm sure it's well worth that. It certainly will be by the time we've done the work on it. Anyway, the agent will get back to me as soon as he's spoken to them."

"What will happen then?"

"As long as they accept the offer, which he's pretty sure they will, I'll pay the deposit and get the sales process going. As it's vacant possession and there's no chain involved, it should all go through quite quickly. We'll just have to see. While we're waiting, I thought we could go out somewhere. Have you ever been to Hampton Court Palace?"

"No. "

"Well, as it's great weather, I thought we could have a train ride over there, have a look around, grab some lunch. Hopefully, by then we'll have had the answer we want, so when we come back, I can go into the estate agents to pay the deposit and set about buying the place. We can stay here again tonight and go home first thing in the morning."

"We'll be able to go to Franny's gig then?" I query.

"Sure! That's the idea!"

"Cool! This evening, I'll call Aidy to let him know we'll be picking him up. There's no point calling now; he'll be in class. I'll probably call Franny too."

"Yeah, that should be fine."

Hampton Court Palace is amazing. I find it fascinating to visit places where really important historical figures have lived. Hampton Court's first occupant was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, who had the palace built. It was subsequently occupied by Henry himself after he kicked Wolsey out.

I love it, and with its extensive grounds, a warm June day is the perfect time to see it. Just as we're leaving, Scott gets a call from the estate agent. The vendors have accepted his offer for the flat. That definitely calls for a celebration, so off we go for lunch.

The area around Hampton Court is seriously posh, what Americans would refer to as 'upscale'. Some of the houses are huge, and very stylish. Scott reckons that even he couldn't afford to buy a place out here.

After lunch, we return to central London to visit the estate agents. Scott has to deal with everything, of course, leaving me to twiddle my thumbs. I spend the time playing around on my phone, which is pretty boring. Fortunately, we're only there for like half an hour, but that's long enough.

After returning to the rented flat, we chill out, shower and change. Before heading out for dinner, I call Franny and Aidy to let them know that we'll be at the gig tomorrow. Finally, after a meal at an excellent local restaurant, we make our way back to the flat for a well-earned early night.

Right now, it's twenty to ten on Thursday morning, and we're boarding the train for home.

"We 've been very lucky," Scott says quietly as we take our seats, "having everything work out the way it did. I wasn't at all sure it would."

It's six o'clock, and we've just picked up Aidy, on our way to the gig at Newton Valley. Having not seen Franny since last December, I'm really looking forward to it. To be honest, after the way things have gone over the past couple of days, I'm buzzing! Just at the moment, everything seems to be working out for us.

We arrive just after seven. As we're driving into the car park, I call Franny to let him know. As we head into the building, he's there waiting for us. I do a double-take. Franny's always been big for his age. But now , he's not just bigger than me, he's actually a couple of inches taller than Scott.

"Hi guys!" he greets, "Good to see you! I'm really pleased you could make it."

"Good to see you too!" I respond. "You're looking great! This is Aidy, the friend from school that I told you about."

"Hi Aidy! " Franny says, flashing him a killer smile. "Thanks for coming. It's going to be good tonight! You're a pianist, right?"

"Yeah, I'm just preparing to do grade eight."

"You can obviously play then!" Franny says, still smiling.

"Yeah, not bad, I guess. Didn't your band's keyboard player pass grade eight when he was really young?"

"Josh? Yeah, he's a genius, man! It's not just that he can play; he does all the arrangements. We're so lucky to have someone like him."

"So how old is he?"

"He was fifteen last week."


"Is tonight the same line-up we've seen previously?" Scott enquires.

"Sort of," Franny says. "Yunga Bruvaz have brought in a new bass player and drummer who are much better than the guys they had before. The drummer's only thirteen, but he can really play."

"I'll look forward to that!" Scott says, grinning. "Are you guys playing any new tunes?"

"No, we're playing the same set we played the last time. We're doing a couple of new songs with Michelle though. They're both really good!"

"One thing I find odd," Scott continues. "You're supposed to be big Chick Corea fans, but you don't play any of his music."

"Actually, we're starting to work on that. The problem is that most of his tunes are pretty difficult."

"Really? Surely you could play Spain? "

"Yeah, probably, but everybody plays that!" Franny objects. "We've been working on Trance Dance, which is another of his Spanish-influenced ones. We're hoping to play that at the School of Music. The tune of his that we'd really like to play is Got a Match? but it's insanely fast, and the bass and drum parts are rock ! We're not up to it just yet."

"Fair enough!" Scott concedes.

"Okay, I'd better get back," Franny says, before making his way backstage.

"Franny 's very good looking, isn't he? " Aidy whispers to me as three of us head into the auditorium. "Is he really only fourteen?"

"I'm afraid so!" I respond, grinning.

"How is he related to you?"

"Franny 's mum, my Auntie Sarah, is Dad' s sister, " I explain. "Franny takes after his dad, my Uncle Gavin. He's quite a big guy!"

"Oh right!"

'Okay, so Aidy's got eyes for Franny,' I reflect, I settling into my seat. I can't say it's a surprise. It does seem odd though. Aidy's supposed to be Jon's boyfriend, but it seems like neither of them regards their relationship as exclusive. Oh well! That's up to them, I guess.

As we make our way to our seats, I notice that there's a fixed video camera set up at the back of the hall. In addition, a boy and a girl, both around my age, are wandering around with hand-held cameras. I'm guessing they're making a video.

A few minutes later, the concert begins. I can see straightaway what Franny meant about Yunga Bruvaz. They are so much better than they were! Having a bass player and drummer who know what they're doing makes a huge difference. They've got a real swagger and authority about them now. Hip-hop's not my favourite music, but this is good !

After just over half an hour, they end their set to enthusiastic applause. Scott even stands up for them! They leave the stage with the audience calling for more.

"That was impressive," Scott says, resuming his seat. "They've worked hard for that! The new bass player was right on it, and that drummer is a star in the making; very good technique and a wonderful sense of rhythm."

As usual, they're followed on stage by Michelle Hanson and her two acoustic guitarists. They open with Irving Berlin' s Let 's Face the Music and Dance. Aidy is enraptured.

"Is this the girl you told me about?" he asks excitedly. "She's amazing!"

"After the interval, she'll sing with the band," I tell him. "That's even better!"

After two more songs, Michelle and the two guitarists leave the stage to rapturous applause. A moment later, Mr Russell appears to announce a 20-minute interval.

"What do you think of it so far?" Scott asks, leaning across to talk to Aidy.

"It's great," he enthuses. " I've never liked hip-hop music much, but they were really good. And the singer we just heard was superb!"

"Well, trust me; the best is yet to come!" Scott assures him. "Am I right in thinking you've only ever played classical?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

"I was the same. I'd got into listening to jazz, especially the sort of jazz-fusion that Franny's band play, but with my other commitments, I never had the chance to play any."

A few minutes later, with the stage reset, Mr Russell reappears to announce the second half, Franny and his bandmates striding confidently onto the stage. After a few last-second tweaks and checks, keyboard player Josh launches them into the tune I recognise as Canteloupe Island.

Oh yes! Franny told me that his playing had improved considerably, and it certainly has, but he's not the only one. The band has moved up to a whole new level. They were good before, but there's an energy and assurance about their playing this evening that far outstrips what they've achieved before. They are rocking!

One great tune follows another, with every member of the band taking their opportunity to shine. Along with the rest of the audience, we are totally into it. As before, their final tune is Billy Cobham' s Stratus. Concluding with a feature for drummer Greg, it brings the set to a stunning climax. The audience applauds uproariously.

"I can see why they chose to stick to the same set," Scott comments. "They're totally on top of those tunes, which meant they could play with much more freedom. Good decision!"

"I thought Franny played his socks off!" I add.

"Oh, he's improved out of all recognition," Scott says, grinning. "It's lifted the whole band."

"I love the way that Franny and the guitarist work together," Aidy suggests.

"Yeah," Scott agrees, "especially considering they don't play together that often. Ryan's an exceptional player. His solo on Minute by Minute was top class."

After some more introductions, Michelle Hanson returns to the stage, alongside three girl backing singers. With Josh using a very tinkly electric piano sound, they begin their first song, Just the Two of Us, which I sort of recognise, although I can't say where from.

After two verses of Michelle's creamy vocals, Franny takes an impassioned saxophone solo. I'd thought he was playing well earlier, but this tops everything. The emotion that he puts into it just blows me away.

After one more verse, they bring the song to a close. The audience goes wild!

"That was a bit special!" I say, turning to Scott.

"It certainly was!" he responds, grinning from ear to ear. "Franny totally nailed it. That's the best I've ever heard him play. Amazing!"

Their second song is slow, bluesy and very sad. "It's called Drown in My Own Tears, " Scott whispers to me. This time, it's Ryan 's turn to take a solo. I can hardly believe it. He makes the guitar cry; there's no other way to describe it. He's captured the mood of the song perfectly.

In contrast to many songs like that, the ending is quiet and subdued. There's a second of total silence before the audience erupts again.

"That was sheer class," Scott enthuses. "Most girls who try singing that give it the big one, like they're trying to outdo Aretha or something. She didn't; she controlled it beautifully. And Ryan was unbelievable! He didn't overplay; he didn't play too loud. It's was so beautiful! I was almost in tears listening to him."

"Give it up for Ryan Clark on guitar!" Michelle calls.

The audience responds enthusiastically.

"You know this next song," she goes on. "Or at least you should by now! So please welcome to the stage: Zac Reynard!"

The rock-band singer saunters onto the stage just as the band launches into a foot-stomping version of Compared to What? It's the perfect way to end the evening.

"Wow!" Scott says, grinning from ear to ear. "That was well worth coming for! These guys get better every time I see them!"

"Yeah!"Aidy responds. " I'd no idea they'd be as good as that!"

"From what we understand, there's a lot of hard work gone into it," Scott says quietly. " Franny 's at Chethams, Ryan has lessons with a guy at the Royal Academy and the other three all work at the Birmingham Music School. They're serious players."

"We 're not in a hurry, are we?" I ask.

"No, " Scott agrees. "We can hang out for a bit if you want."

A couple of minutes later, members of the band emerge. As his colleagues begin to pack their stuff away, Franny saunters over to us. He's got twelve-year old Daniel in tow.

"Well done!" Scott congratulates, shaking Franny' s hand. "That's the best I've ever heard you play. Your solo on Just the Two of Us was superb!"

"Thanks," Franny acknowledges. "It's such a blast working with these guys. We really spur each other on."

"Well, excuse us," Scott says, smiling. "I want to have a word with Ryan before he disappears."

Leaving Aidy with Franny and Daniel, Scott and I stride across to where the lanky guitarist, assisted by a tall guy with dark, collar-length hair, is putting his amplifier into its flight case.

"Hi! " I say, smiling. "My name' s Ian; I ' m Franny 's cousin, and this is Scott. We've just come to say how much we enjoyed your playing. We thought you were amazing!"

"Your solo on Drown in My Own Tears was one of the best I've ever heard," Scott adds. "How did you learn to play like that?"

"I guess it's the way I was brought up," Ryan explains. "Right from the start, Uncle Mark always insisted that I had to play proper lines and concentrate on my phrasing. He told me to forget about shredding it, you know, just playing loads of notes, and to only use technical tricks where it contributes to the music."

"I'd agree with all of that," Scott says, nodding sagely. He looks at the tall guy. " I'm guessing you must be Mark," he continues. "You're doing a great job!"

"Thanks," the guy acknowledges, "but it's past tense these days. A couple of years ago, we'd done a couple of summer schools together, Ryan had reached the point where I couldn't teach him anymore. Fortunately, I managed to fix up for him to have lessons with Paul Stockton, who' s a visiting professor at the Royal Academy."

"During our last summer holiday," Ryan goes on, "I had a lesson one Saturday. Well, Paul was doing a gig on the Sunday evening, so Mark and I stopped over so we could go and hear him play. One of the tunes they played was an instrumental version of God Bless the Child. The feeling that he got into his playing was fantastic! It was a total light-bulb moment. I was like 'So that's how you play those tunes!' It was so inspiring!"

"Well, I'm sure he'd have been proud of you this evening," Scott says warmly.

"We hope so," Mark answers. "They've been recording this gig on video. They've got some good kit here, and a few of the older guys are very competent sound engineers, so it should be good!"

"Yeah, we saw them when we came in," I say. "It sounds really exciting!"

Looking around, I see Franny and Aidy still chatting enthusiastically. Daniel, however, is looking antsy. I'm pretty sure I know why.

"Sorry!" I say, grinning at Scott. "I must go and rescue Franny, before Aidy talks him to death!" I hurry across. "You guys seem to be getting on well!" I say brightly.

"Yeah!" Aidy enthuses. " Franny 's going to come to mine during the summer holidays so we can play together."

"Oh, that's pretty cool!" I respond.

To be fair, I'm sure they will play together. It's just that I know damn well that that's not all they'll be doing. Seizing his opportunity, Daniel pretty well drags Franny away. There are no prizes for guessing what that's about! For his part, Aidy looks distinctly miffed.

A moment later, Scott joins us. Just as he does so, Tommy, Josh's footballer boyfriend, appears.

"Hi guys!" he says, smiling warmly. "Good to see you again! Thanks for coming!"

"Hi Tommy! " Scott says, grinning back. "It's been a pleasure! They were superb!"

"So, it's Premier League for you this season?"

"Yeah! We start pre-season on Monday."

"Best of luck! You're going to do great!"

"Thanks, man!" Scott says, giving him a quick hug. "Okay guys, it's time we weren't here!"

After Aidy and I have added our goodbyes, we head out to the car to begin our journey home.

"So, what's the score with Franny and Daniel?" Aidy asks, still sounding annoyed. "Surely they can't be boyfriends?"

"During the school holidays," I explain, "when Franny rehearses with the band, he stays at Josh's house. Now Josh's boyfriend is Tommy, whom you just met. He's Daniel 's older brother. As I understand it, Daniel does not like being left out of things. So, when Franny's there, he keeps Daniel 'entertained', which means that Tommy can spend all his time with Josh."

"Oh, bloody hell!" Aidy says, sounding relieved. "That's pretty wild! It sounds like it's nothing I need to worry about, though."

"Not really. I think Josh and Tommy are pretty serious. Daniel's really just a third wheel, but he seems to be one of those kids that's very difficult to say ' no ' to. I believe Tommy's very protective of him."

"Yeah," Aidy agrees. "I can imagine that. Tommy looks like the sort of guy you wouldn't want to get into an argument with."

"You've definitely got that right," Scott confirms. "I hope Franny knows what he's doing," he adds darkly. " He 'd be in all sorts of shit if he got caught doing stuff with a kid Daniel' s age. "

I don't respond. Franny 's not stupid and he knows the risks. It's not my problem, and I'm not going to get involved.

After dropping Aidy at home, Scott drives towards Whitecroft.

"So what's the plan for the next few days?" I ask. "I know you want me there next week, when you start training. When are we going back? I need to tell Mum."

"I've got a meeting with my solicitor tomorrow morning," he says. "I thought we could have a leisurely drive down on Saturday afternoon. Then we'll be able to get some shopping done on Sunday."

"Yeah," I agree. "That'll work."

Actually, I was hoping to delay our return until Sunday afternoon, leaving me the opportunity to run with the lads before we leave, but being realistic, that would leave things very tight. In any case, it might be better if I didn't do that. If I keep popping up at odd times, some of the boys who don't know about me and Scott might start asking awkward questions.

It suddenly hits that my career as a member of the school's distance-running group is finally over. Hard as it is, I now need to draw a line under it.

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