Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 43

September 2012

It's Saturday. Scott left early this morning, to travel to Greswall's away match in Liverpool. They're flying there – something Reavington could never afford to do – but they still needed to make quite an early start.

The good thing is that he should be back here by around half past eight. It's just as well. Tomorrow, after we've spent the night together, Scott has to join up with the England Under-21 squad, who will be preparing for matches against Azerbaijan and Norway. With Scott away and nothing to keep me here, on Monday, I'll be going home, so I can spend the time hanging out with my friends.

With the time approaching eight o'clock, I start to think about getting up. Before I do, I can't help reflecting on yesterday afternoon. When Scott returned from training, we spent two whole hours making love on our bed. It was extraordinary; everything I could have asked for. Right now, I'm facing the prospect of being without him for more than a week, but when you're in a relationship as strong and valuable as ours, these are the sort of sacrifices you have to be prepared to make.

After breakfast, I potter around for a while, feeling a bit lost. With the work on the flat completed and no friends here to hang out with, I'm at a loose end. I need to go out for a run to clear my mind. I'll feel better once I've done it. I always do.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. From the rented flat in the leafy north London suburbs, running was easy. Trent Park and Hadley Common were close by, and even running on the streets was okay as long as I avoided the main roads. Here in Kings Cross, there's no park and most of the streets are way too busy.

I check the map. We're very close to Battlebridge Basin on the Regents Canal. I could get there in less than five minutes. Heading west along the canal would take me to Primrose Hill, to the west of Camden. I don't know the place, but it looks promising. From there, I can drop down to Regents Park and re-join the canal further west for the run back to Kings Cross.

As there aren't any canals at home, I've never run along towpaths before. But if I'm going to run from here, it's what I'll have to do. I pull on my running kit, stashing my keys in the pocket of my shorts. I check the time. It's coming up to eleven o'clock; time to go!

On a pleasant September morning, it's a most enjoyable experience. The streets leading to the canal are quieter than I expected, and the towpath, though well-populated with cyclists, dog-walkers and other athletes, is great to run on. A couple of the cyclists are a bit of a pain, passing close by me without giving me any warning that they're there, but it's nothing to worry about.

After passing Camden Lock, I turn off the canal and head up onto Primrose Hill, the most demanding climb I've encountered since I've been in London. Even taking it steady, by the time I reach the summit, I'm breathing hard. The view from up here is amazing, with the whole of central London set out before me. I'm not surprised that so many people come up here.

But I don't wait around. I simply make the turn and head back down in the direction of Regents Park, where I rejoin the canal for the run back to the flat. By quarter past twelve, I'm showered, dressed and feeling much better.

At five to three, I park myself on the sofa and turn on Radio 5 Live, where Greswall's match is the featured game. Right from the kick-off, the commentators are going nuts trying to describe how exciting it is.

But by the sound of things, it's not so great for Scott. From what the commentators are saying, it seems that he has two defenders marking him the whole time, giving him no space to play. But it's not all bad. With all the attention they're giving Scott, space opens up on Greswall's right, enabling them to score what sounds like a wellhr / hr /worked goal. At half-time, the score is 1 – 1, with everything to play for.

The second half starts off in much the same way, but around five minutes in, Scott suddenly breaks free. Immediately, the second defender, who's been caught out of position, comes charging across. Diving in, he takes Scott's legs right out from under him. The referee blows for a foul, but that, it seems, is it. He doesn't even give the guy a yellow card. The commentators are enraged.

"That was a dreadful challenge!" one of them says. "He never got anywhere near the ball! And it's an appalling decision by the referee. It should have been a yellow card at the very least!"

"To be honest," the other one agrees, "he's lucky to still be on the pitch. He could have been sent off for that!"

After a few minutes, Scott is apparently back on his feet, but the commentators make it clear that he won't be able to continue. Remembering what happened the last time he got hit by a challenge like that, I'm seriously worried. The only positive is that he hobbles off, assisted by a couple of the club's medical staff, rather than being carried away on a stretcher, so maybe in won't be quite as bad.

The match continues. With each side scoring one more goal, it ends in a 2 – 2 draw. Away from home, against a good side, that's a decent result for Greswall. It's a score line I'm sure they'd have taken before the start of play. But it doesn't feel like that to me. I'm seething, wondering how big a problem Scott and I will have to deal with.

It's nearly half past eight when Scott returns. He's walking, but it's obviously painful for him.

"How did you get back?" I ask.

"I took a cab," he says. "I left the car at the training ground. It should be safe enough. It's my right leg he clattered. If it had been the left, I'd have been able to drive, no problem!"

"So, what's the programme now?"

"I've got to go in tomorrow morning so they can have another look at it and give me some treatment, probably a session in the hydrotherapy pool. They're not totally sure yet, but they don't think it's too serious. If things go okay, they hope to have me back in training in a week or so."

"So what about joining up with the England under 21s?"

"That won't be happening. The club have pulled me out. You're due to go home on Monday, aren't you?"

"I'm not going," I say firmly. "I need to be here."

"You can go if you want."

"No way! I was only going because I didn't want to be on my own for a week with nothing to do. If you're going to be here, so am I! It's not a problem. I'll just make a few calls. People will understand."

"Thanks! You're a star!"

"Why didn't the guy get a yellow card?"

"Terry went to speak to the ref after the match," Scott explains. "He reckoned he 'didn't consider it serious enough to warrant a card.' I've no idea how he came to that conclusion. I was on the ball and Okiyo came diving in, studs up. What was the issue? The least he should have got was a yellow. It's frustrating when things were going so well."

"The commentators on Radio 5 gave the ref a right dissing!"

"He'll probably get more of the same on Match of the Day. It was a very poor decision."

"So, what are you going to do this week?"

"On Monday, I've got to have a scan, mainly to make sure there isn't more going on than they think there is. Then they'll give me some treatment. It'll probably be lunchtime by then, so I'll stay for that before coming home. After that, I'm pretty sure that they'll want me to go in every morning for monitoring and treatment, but I should be back here by midday."

"What will you be doing the rest of the time?"

"My first priority will be to contact Birkbeck College to arrange to transfer my credits from the Open University. I also need to arrange to go in to see them, so we can sort out my study programme."

"How will you get there?"

"It looks like I'll be spending a few quid on cabs over the next few days. It's not an issue."

"So you'll have plenty to keep you busy?"

"I should do. Don't worry; I won't be lying around feeling sorry for myself." He nuzzles my ear. "I don't think you'd let me get away with that, would you? In any case, this isn't career threatening. It's just a bloody nuisance!"

A draw him into a passionate kiss. I love this guy!

The following morning, Scott heads off to the training ground. After pottering around the flat for a while, by ten o'clock I'm getting antsy. It's time I went out for a run.

I could just run to Primrose Hill, like I did yesterday, but as it's Sunday morning and relatively quiet, I decide it's time to be a little more adventurous. I know that one of the places that the running club at UCL trains is Hampstead Heath. I check the map. It's not too far away. At least nine miles, it'll be longer than most of the runs I've done recently, but I've got plenty of time.

Five minutes later, I'm on my way. After starting off the same way that I did yesterday, I leave the Regents Canal at Kentish Town Road, and head north, before bearing left along Highgate Road.

On reaching Parliament Hill, at the southern end of the heath, I set off on an anti-clockwise circuit. I'd like to run over the heath itself, but as I don't know it, I realise that's probably not a good idea. Before doing that, I need to learn some landmarks, so that I know where I am.

I'm immediately faced by what will obviously be a long climb. It's not steep, but it's relentless, grinding on for what feels like forever. I find it tougher than I expected. Although I enjoy running up and down hills, I'm not used to ones as long and unforgiving as this one.

Summoning up all my determination, I press on, sustained by the thought that eventually the road will begin to descend, and I'll be able to relax and allow gravity to do the work for me. In the meantime, I need to stay relaxed and maintain a good rhythm.

As I run along Hampstead Lane, I begin to doubt myself. We're no longer climbing, but there's still no immediate prospect of any downhill running. Not knowing the area, all I can do is keep going. I know I'll get there eventually.

After passing Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane morphs into Spaniards Road. I remember seeing it on the map and thinking what an unusual name it was. It means I'm more than halfway around the loop, and I'm guessing that almost all the hard work is now behind me. With my confidence restored, I'm going well and feeling good again.

A few minutes later, I reach the junction where I turn left towards Hampstead Village. Although we're still up on the plateau, not far ahead, I can see where the ground begins to drop away. All the effort has been worth it. I'm flying along! It's the best I've run for weeks!

Reaching a crossroads, I make another left turn and the descent begins. Held back only by the need to avoid getting run over, I'm totally on it, striding confidently along the quiet suburban streets. Almost before I know it, I'm back at Parliament Hill.

Turning right onto Highgate Road, I retrace my steps back to the flat. Stepping inside, I check the time. I've been out for just over an hour, so I must have covered around ten miles.

It's given me a great deal to think about. Even in near-perfect conditions, running that far on my own was hard. As we go into the cross-country season, I'll need to be doing runs of at least that distance three or four times a week, with shorter, easier runs in between.

While I can do the shorter runs on my own, for the longer, tougher sessions, I need to have guys around me, like I did at school. Psychologically, it makes it so much easier. What I need to work out is the best way to make that happen.

As I stand under the shower, enjoying the relaxing warm water, I consider my options. I could do as Patrick suggested and join Northdene Harriers. While that might work okay for him, I can't see it working for me.

I'm guessing that Patrick will meet up with his coach, Jack Ainsworth, during his holidays from university. I'm not going to be able to do that. Even if the guy were advising me by text and email, the only time I'd actually see him is when I went back home to race. In any case, the idea of going back to the Midlands to race with guys that I don't know and have never trained with just doesn't feel right.

I'm not going to join a local club either. It would be too much of a distraction. As well as giving one hundred per cent to my university course, I need to be there to support Scott. My running will have to fit in around that. Of course, I'm determined to keep it going, but it will be a while before I know how much time and effort I'll be able to give to it. So, for the moment, I'm going to stick to my original plan. I'll join the running club at UCL and see how things go.

It's Sunday again. Much to my surprise, the past seven days have flown past. Scott's been as good as gold, keeping himself busy just like he said he would. He's been to the club every morning for treatment and rehabilitation work. As things have gone very well, he'll resume full training tomorrow morning.

In between, he's visited Birkbeck College and sorted things out with them. Once term starts, he'll have classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings, which he's really looking forward to. Meanwhile, he's made a start on the reading list he's been given.

When Scott's been busy, I've divided my time between running and drawing. Over the past week, I've been out running every day, doing an easy five or six miles on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and a longer, more demanding route on the other three days. It seems to be working! I've been going well and feeling pretty good.

An hour ago, I got back from the running the circuit of Hampstead Heath. It's the third time I've done it. I'm not sure why, but now that I've become familiar with it, it seems much easier than it did the first time. That has to be good!

Using the internet, I've also found several other trails. Yesterday morning, I took the tube to Finsbury Park. From the station, I ran north along the western side of the park to join the Parkland Trail, which follows a disused railway line through Highgate and around Crouch End. On reaching Muswell Hill, I turned around and ran back to Finsbury Park, a total distance of nearly seven miles.

Of course, as it involves a tube journey at either end, it's strictly a 'fine-weather run', but I loved it! I hadn't expected to find such good running so close to central London. Over the next few weeks, I plan to try out the other trails that I've identified. For some reason, it's rekindled my enthusiasm. I can hardly wait!

Since Scott and I moved into our permanent home, our sex-life has been better than ever. Every day, we've spent between ninety minutes and two hours making passionate love. I can't remember ever being as happy as I am at the moment.

But I'm not being silly about it. I know that this is a hiatus, the calm before the storm. Three weeks tomorrow, I'll begin my course at UCL and reality will totally start to bite. This could be the last time for the foreseeable future that I won't be busy, and I'm determined to make the most of it.

It's Monday afternoon. Today was Scott's first day back in full training. I'm concerned about how it's gone. Clearly, he didn't break down or anything. He'd have found a way to call me if something like that had happened. But just because it wasn't a disaster doesn't mean that it went well.

At quarter to three, I hear the door to the flat open. I guess I'm about to find out. A few seconds later, Scott strides into the lounge. I'm relieved to see that he looks like a million dollars.

"How did it go?" I enquire.

"Great! I slotted right back in, no problem at all!"


"Terry made sure I didn't overdo things, but he said he was very happy with what he saw."

"So, will you be in the team for Saturday?"

"Yeah! Terry said he wants me in there even if I can't play the whole match."

"So will your mum and dad be coming down, like you planned?"

"Yeah, it's all systems go! I'm going to call them this evening to confirm."

"Great! I'm really looking forward to showing them this place."

"So you should be!" Scott says, smiling warmly. "Meanwhile, I'm sure that some of your special brand of TLC would work wonders!"

"Oh! " I respond, grinning mischievously. "I'm sure that could be arranged!"

The following afternoon, when Scott returns from training, he's holding a carrier bag.

"These are for you," he says, handing it to me.

I look inside. It's the new Greswall kit: a mainly black top with blue and white trim, contrasting white shorts with blue and black trim, and black socks with white tops. I love it!

"I'm going to put this on!" I enthuse.

Hurrying to our bedroom, I strip naked before dressing in the new kit. I check myself out. Though I say it myself, I do look sexy! I wander back into the lounge, where Scott's sitting on the sofa.

"Mmmm! " he purrs, licking his lips. "You look good enough to eat! Come here!"

As I stand in front of him, he runs his hand up my thigh and inside my shorts, his fingers closing around my throbbing prick.

"Oh, you naughty boy!" he remonstrates. "You've gone commando again! I thought you would!" He gets to his feet. "Come on!" he orders. "I know what you need!"

He guides me back to our bedroom. Immediately, I begin to undress him. Having removed his top, I undo the drawstring on his training pants and push them down to his ankles. Kneeling down, I carefully pull them over his feet, leaving him just in his black CK boxer briefs. After skinning them down his legs, I devour his beautiful hard cock, sucking it right down to the root.

"Oh, babe!" he groans. "That's wonderful! Oh! You'd better stop!"

Very slowly, I allow his penis to slide out of my mouth. Reaching down, he helps me to my feet. Without waiting to be asked, I turn to face the bed. With my feet apart, I bend over, resting my forearms on the mattress.

I guess these new shorts must be a fraction bigger than the ones I've had before. Instead of just putting his hand inside to lube me up, Scott pulls them to one side. The next thing I know, he's kneeling behind me, his tongue lapping at my starfish. He pushes inside. Instantly, I begin moaning and gurgling in response to the thousands of nerve-endings he's stimulating.

"Oh, Scott! " I beg. "I want your cock!"

"Of course, babe!" he whispers soothingly. "It won't be long now!"

A few seconds later, his tongue gently withdraws, to be replaced by a well-lubed finger. A second one is soon added, the two digits corkscrewing around inside me before they slowly slide out.

Almost immediately, he's standing behind me, his penis up the leg of my shorts, homing in on my rosebud. After a moment's pause, he thrusts it in.

"Oh! " I gasp. "That's so good! Go on! Fuck me! You know what I want!"

Within a few moments, he's pounding into me like the athlete he is. The sensations are out of this world! In the five years since Jimmy took my cherry, nobody's ever turned me on the way that Scott does. All too soon, I feel my orgasm start to build.

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

"Oh, yes!" he rasps. "Do it, babe!"

In the next instant, my balls churn into action, my prick jerking wildly.

"Oh! Oh! Ohhhh " I gurgle, rope after rope of teen cum spurting into my shorts.

In the same moment, my starfish goes into spasm around Scott's thrusting cock.

"Ohhh, you're so sexy!" he growls. "Oh fuck! My turn now! Take it babe! Take my spunk!"

Over the next few seconds, his hot cream shoots repeatedly into my arse. Fuck! That was sooo hot!

That evening, Scott takes me to a basement jazz club in Chelsea Harbour. Unlike when we go to the clubs in Soho, Scott drives us there, because there's no problem parking the car.

As we step inside, I'm unimpressed. I guess the décor could be described as shabby chic, but to be honest the place looks pretty run-down. We're here to see Paul Stockton, the guitarist who teaches Franny's band-mate Ryan. He's playing with a quartet consisting of keyboards, bass guitar and drums.

"Don't judge on appearances," Scott advises as we're shown to our table.

The menu is very limited, with a choice of only four main courses.

"I'd recommend the sausage and mash," Scott says quietly. "It's amazing; the best I've ever had."

Although it's probably not what I would have picked, I'm happy enough to go along with his suggestion. It arrives around fifteen minutes later. Looking around, I notice that it's what most of the other diners are having. That must say something!

Inevitably, Scott was right. The large sausages are superb, the mash is smooth and creamy, and the onion gravy is from another planet. I've never tasted sausage and mash anywhere like as good as this!

Just before eight, Paul Stockton and his Quartet appear. I can see immediately why Ryan travels all this way to work with the guy; he's a superb player. His bandmates are good too. While they don't have the magic that the Mike Stern Band had, they're pretty impressive.

Places like this are a key part of why Scott was so keen to come to London. Anytime that we want to go out for the evening, there'll be somewhere we can go where nobody will recognise us, and Scott won't be violating his curfew. It works for us!

When the first set ends, we go to speak to Paul.

"Hi! " I say, smiling. "I believe you teach Ryan Clark."

"Yes, that's right. He's a wonderful young player! How do you know him?"

"My cousin plays in a band that Ryan's a member of. We've seen them a few times."

"Right! What does your cousin play?"

"Saxophone. "

"Ahhh! Would this be Franny, the young man who's at Chetham' s? "


"Oh, he's very good! Ryan, Franny and Josh, the keyboard player, are all on their way to becoming professional musicians. Their bass player and drummer are good too, but probably won't choose to do it professionally. Do you play?"

"No, not at all," I admit.

"I played trumpet while I was at school," Scott says. "Unfortunately, I don't have time these days. We both love to listen though! We're really enjoying tonight."

"Thanks!" Paul acknowledges. "It's been good to meet you!"

Twenty minutes later, the band returns for their second set. It ends just after ten.

"Okay, babe!" Scott whispers. "It's time to go!"

"It looks like they're carrying on," I query.

"Sure! On Tuesdays, they always have two bands on. The second band won't finish till around two o'clock."

"Ooops! " I respond, grinning. "I guess we'd better go then!"

It's Friday afternoon. Scott's driving us to Paddington Station. His parents are visiting for the weekend and their train is due to arrive in around fifteen minutes. We're on our way to pick them up.

Just as we're turning towards the station, we get a text from Geoff to say that their train is just pulling in. Finding a place to stop in the pick-up and drop-off area, Scott brings the car to a halt, leaving the engine running. I reply to Geoff's text to tell him that we're right outside the station.

A couple of minutes later, Geoff and Linda appear. Getting out of the car, I wave to them. They immediately spot us and head our way. After stowing their bags in the back of the car, I allow Geoff, who's taller than me, to sit in the front passenger seat, while Linda and I sit in the back.

In the Friday afternoon rush, the journey to Kings Cross takes more than twenty minutes. After parking the car, we lead the way inside, taking the lift to the top floor. Having opened the door to the flat, Scott ushers his parents inside.

"Oh, this is very smart!" Linda says, casting her eye over the lounge. "It's very masculine though, isn't it? It looks like the reception area of one of these posh office buildings. You can see there aren't any female influences."

"Oh, we don't do fluffy," Scott says, suppressing a giggle.

"Or frilly," I add, grinning. "When we were looking at flats, we saw this one place that looked like Barbara Cartland might have lived there."

"And they were asking lots of money for it," Scott adds, "so we'd have had to move in with it as it was."

"Oh, I see," Linda says. "This is beautifully done. It's just not what I'd have chosen."

"Well, I like it," Geoff counters, nodding approvingly. "You've done very well!"

"Yeah," Scott agrees. "It's been worth the wait. I love it. And there's no way I'll lose money on it."

We show Geoff and Linda to the guest room, allowing them time to sort out their things and freshen up. As soon as they're ready, we get back into Scott's Mini for the drive to Scott's favourite restaurant, which is near Hampstead Heath.

"So what's the state of play with your old place?" Geoff asks.

"Well, I had to get rid of most of the furniture," Scott answers. "David looked after it for me. We sold a few things and gave the rest to charity. The British Heart Foundation came and collected it. I've got a tenant lined up to move in in a couple of weeks."

I'm amazed. I hadn't asked what was happening with his old flat. I thought he might have sold it. I'd no idea he was going to rent it out. I'll have to ask him about that later.

I know that spending the evening with the boyfriend's parents wouldn't be many teenagers' idea of fun. I'm not saying I'd want to do it every week, but occasionally isn't a problem, especially when I've got nothing better to do.

I clicked with Linda the first time we met, and now that we've got to know each other, I get on really well with Geoff too. In the event, a delicious meal is accompanied by relaxed, friendly conversation. What's not to like?

With Scott playing a match tomorrow afternoon, at nine o'clock we leave the restaurant and head back to the flat for an early night. I'd thought I might feel a bit awkward about going to bed with Scott while his parents were in the room a few feet away. As it goes, it isn't a problem. They're our guests. They know we sleep together. If they weren't comfortable with it, they wouldn't have come.

Sex is always a little more intense when Scott's about to play a match, and this evening is no exception, though I do notice Scott doing his best to keep the noise down. Afterwards, I sleep like a log, waking up on Saturday morning still wrapped in his arms. It's wonderful. In a sense it's why I'm here, for those blissful moments that somehow dispel all the frustrations and irritations that everyone has to go through.

At half past ten, Scott leaves to meet up with the rest of the team for their pre-match meal. With time to kill, I go out for a run, returning in time for us to have a light lunch. At ten to one, we're ready to leave.

While Geoff and I make our way towards Greswall, Linda takes the tube to the West End, taking Scott's keys and swipe card so she can get in if she's back before we are. An hour later, Geoff and I are settling into our seats at the football ground, the same ones we had the last time we were here.

"How d'you think it's going to go?" I ask.

"It's hard to say," Geoff says quietly. "They're not going to look like world beaters every week. The important thing is that they win. Good teams find a way to win when they're not playing at their best."

It makes sense. I guess those first two matches were a bit of a honeymoon period, their opponents underestimating how dangerous they could be if given the time and space to play. But the other teams are wise to them now, which has made things much harder.

At five to three, the teams take to the field, raising a deafening roar from the supporters. As the clock ticks around to the hour, they line up for the kick-off.

"Hudson 's the current England right back," Geoff tells me. " Scott 's facing a tough challenge."

And so it proves. Every time Scott gets the ball, Hudson's on him, denying him time and space. It's the same right across the park. Although Greswall are dominating possession, they cannot find a way through.

Thirty minutes in, yet another Greswall attack comes to nothing, the opposition centre back winning the ball and playing it out to Hudson directly below us. He launches a counter attack along their right flank, catching Scott unawares. He puts in a cross, but it's weak. Greswall easily regain possession, the ball coming out to Scott, with Hudson completely out of position.

As Scott sets off along the touchline, one of the opposing midfield players comes across to make the tackle, but Scott wrong foots him, continuing his run, with strikers Jerome Fearon and Alvaro Fernandez up in support. Jerome's running towards the penalty spot, Alvaro towards the far post, the opposing centre backs moving in to close them down.

A yard short of the corner flag, Scott whips in a perfect cross. Jerome rises to meet it, but although he wins the header, with the defender goal-side of him, he has no chance to score. Instead, he nods the ball into the path of team captain Kevin White, ghosting in unmarked along the inside-left channel. Kevin makes no mistake, driving the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal. As usual, the crowd erupts. I'm ecstatic. Greswall's persistence has finally paid off, with Scott playing a key part in breaking the deadlock.

"They'll have worked on that on the training ground," Geoff explains. "It didn't just happen by accident. Alvaro running towards the far post was crucial. He took one of the defenders away, which left space for Kevin to run into."

I grin and nod, indicating that I get it. I used to think football was just kicking a ball, but it's so much more than that.

After half time, the game changes. With their opponents pressing for an equaliser, Greswall's attacking players have more space to play. Just before the hour they add a second goal. Although the opposition get one back ten minutes later, Greswall score a third almost immediately. By the final whistle, they're looking full value for their 3–1 victory.

As the crowd disperses, Geoff and I head back to Kings Cross in high spirits. Not only have Greswall recorded another victory, Scott had an excellent game, causing the opposition problems all afternoon, especially during the second half.

We spend the evening at a large club in south London. I'm impressed as soon as we walk in. Although it's not as posh as Ronnie Scott's, the décor is subtle and understated, giving the place a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. After an excellent meal, the music begins, a fusion of jazz and soul.

"Geoff and I grew up with this sort of music," Linda explains. "We love it!"

Within minutes I'm totally into it. The band and singers are excellent, we've got a great view and the sound is superb. And although I'm clearly the youngest person here, I don't feel in the least bit out of place. I'm guessing that Scott and I will come here again. I certainly hope we do.

The following day, we go for lunch to the pub in Epping Forest. Though it's quite a long drive from Kings Cross, it's well worth it, or at least I think it is. In the afternoon, we take Geoff and Linda back to Paddington for their journey home. It's been a great weekend.

For the next few days, I'm back into the routine of the previous week. As well as running and drawing, I visit every free museum within striking distance. There are a few odd occasions that I find myself without enough to do, but I really can't complain.

After his performance last Saturday, Scott's very much on a high. As a result, our sex-life has been amazing. I can't imagine how two people could we more in tune with each other than we are. Scott gives me everything I could ever want, and as far as I can tell, I do the same for him.

This Saturday, Greswall have an away match in north-east England. They're going to fly there, as they did when they went to Liverpool. This time, however, they've got a 5.30 pm kick-off, which means that they won't be returning until Sunday.

Fortunately, that actually works for me. On Saturday evening, Dean's parents are hosting a party for Dean and all his friends who are about to head off to university. I'm totally looking forward to it. Given how busy I'm likely to be at Christmas and Easter, this could be the last time I'll see most of these guys for quite some time.

It's midday on Saturday when I arrive home. As soon as I come through the door, Mum's all over me. You'd think she hadn't seen me for a year or something. To be fair, I've known all along that she'd find it hard not having me here. Even though Claire's been around, she spends most of her time with Damian, so Mum hasn't seen that much of her.

"What are you doing this afternoon?" Mum asks.

"Nothing much," I tell her. "I'm going to Dean's place this evening."

"Good!" she says. "Your dad and I want to talk to you."

"That sounds ominous," I say, grinning.

"Oh, it's nothing to worry about," she assures me. "There are just a few things we want to sort out."

"Fair enough," I say. "After lunch then?"

"Yes," she agrees. "That'll be fine!"

After we've finished lunch, I load the dishwasher. I guess that's force of habit. Just as I'm finishing, Dad appears.

"Come through to the lounge," he suggests.

I follow him, taking my place on one of the armchairs while Mum and Dad occupy the sofa.

"So how are things working out with you and Scott?" he asks.

"Fine, " I assure him. "Since we moved into the flat, I've been at a loose end a few times, but it's not a problem. Once my course starts, I'll have more than enough to do."

"So, how's living together working out?" he queries.

"It's been great! Scott was a bit sulky a couple of weeks ago, after he had to hobble out of the match up in Liverpool, but he was as good a gold afterwards, nothing like he was the last time he got injured."

"And how are you fixed for money?"

"I'm fine. With the allowance you're giving me, I've got no problem."

"You haven't been getting money from Scott, have you?" Mum demands.

"No, definitely not," I insist. "When we go out, Scott usually pays, but he never gives me money. To be honest, I wouldn't take it if he offered."

"Good," she says firmly. "We wouldn't want you to."

This is one of those times when I realise how fortunate I am. I've moved in with my boyfriend, which was a huge step for somebody my age. But Mum and Dad haven't just left me to get on with it. They're still there for me, like one hundred per cent. I'll never be able to thank them enough.

"Just one other thing," Dad says, smiling. "I finished work on my final project yesterday. So that's it now. I'm going to spend the next week preparing. Then I'll officially begin working for the property development company a week on Monday."

"Cool!" I say, grinning back. "And you're coming to ours next weekend?"

"Sure, that's the plan!"

It's Saturday evening, and I'm at Dean 's house. It's awesome! Even though it's strictly by invitation, everyone's here. It seems that Dean and Rebecca's friends include all of mine.

We 're all excited, of course. A week from now we'll be scattered all over the country, discovering new places, meeting new people, facing new challenges. Apart from me, all the other guys will be in student accommodation. I'm missing out on that, I guess, but it's the choice I've made. I'm not going to dwell on what might have been.

It's around ten o'clock when Patrick approaches me.

"Have you thought any more about joining Northdene Harriers?" he asks.

"Yes, I've thought about it," I say quietly. "Sorry, but I just don't think that would work for me. I'm in a pretty weird situation. I'm going to continue running, but until I've settled into some sort of a routine, I don't know how much time I'll be able to give to it."

"Yeah, I sort of get it," he says, giving me a wry grin. "It's a shame though! We could have had a really good team!"

"Sorry," I repeat, "but I can't do everything. Will you be running from Niall's house tomorrow?"

"Yeah, sure!"

"Cool! I'll see you there!"

And so the evening continues. We all down a few beers, but nobody gets wasted. I have a little more than I usually would, but it's not a problem. At least, I hope it isn't. At half past eleven, Dad arrives to take me home.

"You've had a good night by the looks of things," he says as I settle into the car.

"Totally!" I agree. "Thanks for picking me up."

"No problem. I hope you didn't overdo things."

"No. I'm going to the Taylors' house in the morning to run with the lads from school."

"Great! Will you need a lift?"

"Not really. They live only about five minutes from the bus station."

"Fine! "

"On my way home, I'm going to call in at Anthony's, if that's alright."

"Make sure your mum knows," he advises. "If you want, we can have lunch a bit later."

It's Sunday morning. Having got used to being with Scott, it took me a while to fall asleep, but once I did, it was fine. Despite having drunk a little more than I'm used to, I wake at my usual time, feeling no adverse effects.

After my morning ablutions, I dress in my running kit, put my training top and pants over the top, and head down to the kitchen for breakfast. While I'm eating, I check the football result from yesterday evening. Greswall's match ended in a goalless draw. Against a side who are near the foot of the table, that's disappointing. I guess I'll get the details later.

At half past nine, I make my way to the bus stop. I arrive at the Taylors' house at ten past ten. The other boys seem pleased to see me, but I keep things low-key. This is Nathan's show now. They've already run two races and won them both, so he's clearly doing an excellent job.

At half past ten, we set out to run an eight-mile course. Compared to what I've been doing in London, it seems quite easy. Patrick, who finished working for Bill only a week ago, isn't pushing things, so I keep myself tucked away in the pack. I came here to show support, not to show off.

Back at the house, we relax over cups of tea. Finally, Jake goes to the bathroom to change into a pair of skinny denim shorts, and the two of us head towards Anthony's house.

"So, how's school?" I ask.

"It's okay," Jake says, "but I'm having to work harder than ever!"

"Yeah, that's just the way it is," I tell him. "Make sure you keep it going. A-levels are a big step up. It takes time to adjust. If you want to get on top of it, you have to keep putting the work in."

"Thanks," he says, smiling.

We arrive at Anthony's house.

"Hi, man! " he greets, ushering us inside. "Good to see you!"

"Where's your dad?" I ask, sensing that he's not around.

"He and James have gone to have lunch with friends," he tells me.

We head up to his bedroom. Jake parks himself on Anthony's office chair, making his shorts look impossibly tight.

"Who poured you into those?" I demand.

"No need," he responds, grinning. "They stretch. I like them. They make me feel . . . , you know."

"Yeah, I know," I tell him. "You want to be careful. You'll have all the chicken hawks after you."

"That's what I told him," Anthony says. "Of, course, we have a much more open relationship than you and Scott do."

Jake looks at me provocatively, one hand resting just below his crotch. I'm not going there. Now that Scott and I are actually living together in our own place, it doesn't seem right. We've moved on; it's as simple as that.

"I've brought some pics of the flat," I say, changing the subject.

"Cool!" Anthony responds.

Taking out my smartphone, I open my picture folder. We steadily flick through them.

"That's stunning," Anthony says. "I'd love to see the place properly. You know, during our half term break, any chance we could come down?"

"I'm not sure," I say. "You'll be on half term, but I won't. I'll be working, during the day at any rate. Unless you could stay over, there wouldn't be much point. I'll need to ask Scott in any case."

"Oh, we can keep ourselves busy during the day," he says. "I'll take Jake around some of the galleries and museums. He's never seen them."

"Will your mum be okay with that?" I ask, turning to Jake.

"She'll be fine," he says nonchalantly. "I mean, I'll be seventeen tomorrow."

We leave it there. In one way, I'd like to have them stay over. In another, I'm not sure it's a good idea. Banishing sex from the agenda, Anthony and I spend the next half an hour just chatting and chilling out.

Jake, on the other hand, starts to get antsy. It's okay; I get it. If I'm not going to join in, he wants to get things on with Anthony. I check the time. It's ten to one.

"Actually, I ought to be going," I say, getting to my feet.

A few moments later, I'm on my way. I reach the bus station. By this time, I reflect, Anthony will have got Jake out of those shorts. They'll both be naked, having uninhibited, full-on sex. I feel a momentary pang of envy. Why the fuck didn't I join in? I could have done; the offer was definitely there.

I jerk myself back to reality. I know damn well why I didn't, and I was right not to. When I chose to be with Scott, I knew what the deal was. It's okay for Anthony and Jake to have an open relationship if that's what they want. Scott and I can't do that. Sooner or later, the tabloid press would find out. They'd have a field day, and that could destroy everything Scott's worked for.

In any case, I really don't want that sort of relationship with Scott. It might mean I'd have to share him with someone else. That's the last thing I want!

Lunch is excellent; Mum's really gone to town on it, and with Dad not having to rush back to work, it's so much more relaxed than it often is. Mum seems really happy to have her soulmate back at home full-time. I knew she would be. It's not just that it softens the blow of no longer having me and Claire around. They're starting a new phase of their life, and that's exciting!

Next weekend, they're due to come and visit us, the way Scott's parents did a week ago. They've seen pictures of the flat, but I'm really looking forward to showing them the real thing.

"So, are you all set for your visit?" I ask.

"Oh yes!" Mum enthuses. " We 're really looking forward to it, aren't we, dear?"

"Absolutely!" Dad agrees. "As well as seeing the flat, it'll give me an opportunity to have a face-to-face with Scott, just to make sure we're on the same page."

After lunch, I gather my things together, give both Mum and Dad a big hug, and make my way to the station for the journey back to London. Once I'm on the train, I give Scott a call.

"Hi! " I say as he picks up. "How did things go yesterday?"

"It was crap," he complains sulkily. "They set up to stop us playing. Unfortunately, they succeeded. We totally dominated the play. We just couldn't find that bit of quality we needed to break them down. I was as guilty as anyone. I kept putting in crosses and passes, but I wasn't finding the target the way I usually do. It was a dreadful match, and so frustrating! They offered absolutely nothing going forward. They didn't have a single shot on target. It was a horrible game to play in, and it must have been even worse for the spectators."

To his credit, he's not blaming other people. I'd have been really disappointed if he had.

"It sounds like you had a bad day at the office," I comment.

"Yeah, that's what Terry said afterwards."

"So I guess tomorrow morning, you'll have to pick yourselves up and try to learn from what went wrong."

"Yeah, he said that too!"

"Okay! Well, I'm on my way back. I should be with you about six."

"Cool! I hope you'll be in the mood to give me some TLC; I need it!"

"Sure! " I assure him. "It'll be my pleasure!"

I arrive at the flat at ten past six. As I stroll into the lounge, Scott's up out of his seat.

"Am I glad to see you!" he declares, affectionately wrapping his arms around me.

"Me too!" I respond.

"So what have you been up to?" he asks, drawing us down onto the sofa.

I briefly outline the events of the past two days.

"This morning," I conclude, "after we'd trained, Jake and I went round to Anthony's house."

"And? " he queries.

"And nothing. We chatted for maybe half an hour. Then I went home for lunch."

"Wow! I thought you'd have, . . . you know."

"Oh, I could have done. They were definitely up for it. But now that we're actually living together as partners, I don't feel comfortable with it anymore. It's like we've moved on. You're mine and I'm yours. I really appreciate you cutting me some slack, but I feel that I've reached the point where I don't need anyone else."

"Wonderful!" he purrs. "That certainly works for me!"

"If you're right," I go on, "and I'm sure you are, once I start at uni, I'm going to be saying 'no' quite often. I think it'd be better if we were consistent about it."

"Totally!" He pauses for a moment. "If you didn't have fun with Jake and Anthony, I guess that means you haven't had sex since Friday evening?"

"Correct! "

"Ooooh, " he whispers, running his hands over the front of my jeans. "I can feel your cock throbbing in your briefs! Are you ready?"

"Of course!"

He ushers me into our bedroom. There's hardly any of our usual foreplay. Instead, he simply fucks me senseless, which is exactly what I wanted him to do, with me lying on my tummy, a pillow under my hips, Scott on top of me, his cock pounding my arse like there's no tomorrow.

After we've both cum, he carefully withdraws. As usual, I head into our en-suite. On my return, I rejoin him on the bed. We snuggle up, my lips inches from his.

"You are so horny!" he whispers, his eyes sparkling. "You really wanted that."

"Totally," I agree, our lips meeting in a passionate, post-fuck kiss.

I'm not sure how long it lasts. It really doesn't matter. I'm basking in a wonderful feeling of being needed, wanted, treasured. It's confirmation that I've made the right choice. I belong here. Of course, it's not perfect, but at its best, like now, it's as close as I'm ever going to get.

"What are you doing tomorrow evening?" he asks, gently easing his lips from mine.

"Nothing much," I tell him.

"Great," he says quietly. "I've asked Brad, my agent, to come to dinner."

"Does he know about me?" I ask, somewhat alarmed.

"Not yet," he says. "I thought the best way was for him to meet you. I hope you don't mind."

"So you're going to come out?" I query.

"I'm not going to make a public announcement," he says quietly. " We 've as much right to a private life as anyone else. But I'd like to tell the guys at the club. A few times, some of the younger lads have invited me to join them for a night out and I've had to make excuses. It's starting to get a bit awkward."

"Cool," I say, smiling.

"The England squad for the October internationals will be announced later this week," he continues. "I'm expected to be in it. If I am, that'll raise my profile even more. It's bound to."

"Meaning there's more chance someone will recognise you when we're out together."

"Exactly," he confirms. "And the last thing I want is for my team mates to find out I'm gay from someone else. It'd be like I didn't trust them."

"Yeah," I agree. "I'm with you one hundred per cent."

Scott and I are in the kitchen, preparing dinner. We're doing Scott's Greek-style lamb dish. As I expected, working together in this kitchen is a total joy. Even so, there's little conversation. I guess we're both too nervous.

Brad's expected at any time. At ten to seven, the doorbell rings. Scott goes to answer it. I hear them talking as they move into the lounge.

"This is a wonderful flat," a man 's voice says approvingly. "It's got real class. Not many players have places as stylish as this, even the top guys."

"I'm very pleased with it," Scott responds. "It was well worth the wait."

A moment later he pops his head into the kitchen, gesturing for me to join them. With some trepidation I follow him into the lounge. Brad's a good-looking guy, around the same age as Dad, I'd guess, but dressed far more expensively than Dad would ever be.

"Brad," Scott says, "I'd like you to meet Ian. He's my partner."

Time seems to stand still.

"You mean . . . ," Brad says finally.

"Yes," Scott confirms. " We 've been together for two years."

"You've done a great job of keeping that quiet," Brad says. "Pleased to meet you, Ian," he adds, shaking my hand. "How old are you?"

"I'm eighteen," I say, trying to sound nonchalant. "Next week, I'll be starting my architecture degree at UCL."

"It was Ian who designed this place," Scott says, putting his arm round my shoulder. "It was a shell when I bought it. He designed it all, sourced all the furniture and project-managed the refurb. All I had to do was pay the bills."

"I see," Brad says, looking completely nonplussed. "That's quite an achievement for someone your age. And to me, you don't look eighteen or anywhere near it."

"That's what everyone says," I answer, giving him a wry grin.

"So how d'you manage, you know, when you go out?"

"I carry ID with me pretty well all the time," I tell him. "It's okay; I'm used to it."

"Let me get you a drink," Scott suggests. "We can discuss things over dinner."

Ten minutes later, we're sitting down to eat.

"Okay, begin at the beginning," Brad says.

Over the next few minutes Scott tells him about how we met, how we finally got together, and subsequently told our parents.

"So you've no skeletons in your cupboard?" Brad demands, looking intently at Scott.

"Absolutely not," Scott assures him.

"If there are, I need to know now," Brad persists.

"There aren't," Scott says firmly. "Before I got together with Ian, I was always too scared that people would find out."

"Fair enough," Brad says. "You're not thinking of coming out in public, are you?"

"No," Scott assures him, "but I would like to tell the guys at the club."

"You never said anything at your previous club," Brad counters.

"There was no need," Scott responds. "Ian and I weren't living together then, and when we went out, we were able to keep away from places where people might have recognised us. And as I was living forty miles from the club, I wasn't expected to socialise with the other guys."

"That' s a fair point, " Brad concedes. "You're lucky in a way. If this had happened ten years ago, it would have been very difficult. Fortunately, things have moved on. In the circumstances, telling the people at the club is probably a good idea. You've become an important member of the squad. It's in their interests to back you. So how can I help?"

"I'd like to tell my team mates to avoid misunderstandings," Scott explains, "but obviously I don't want them repeating it elsewhere."

"Leave it with me," Brad says, smiling. "I'll call Terry, arrange for us to meet him, probably before training. Terry's a good guy. He'll know how to handle it."

"Thanks," Scott says quietly.

"And you boys certainly know how to cook," Brad says, grinning. "This is delicious! I've paid serious money and not been fed as well as this."

I allow myself a smile. Finally, I can relax. Brad's on our side. He's going to help us.

"So do you play football?" he asks, turning to me.

"Oh no," I say, grinning. "I was always hopeless. I hated it!"

"So what do you two have in common?" he queries.

"What we have in common," Scott explains, "is an understanding of the sacrifices you have to make if you want to be the best you can be at whatever it is you do. UCL is the top architecture school in the country, so Ian's competing with the best of the best, just like I am. Basically, he supports me and I support him. We're there for each other. We give each other a bit of stability. I need that. I couldn't have done this on my own."

"Well, that makes sense," Brad agrees. "I was wondering how you'd managed to settle in so well. I didn't realise you had someone to come home to. So d'you still hate football now?" he asks, turning back to me.

"Oh, I love watching it," I say, "especially live. It's so exciting! I wouldn't want to play it though."

"So, you've been to some games?" he queries.

"Yeah," I confirm. "I've been with Scott's dad a few times. My dad's taken me a couple of times too."

"Well, good for you!" he says smiling.

"Ian did captain the school cross-country team," Scott adds, smiling across at me, "very successfully too, not that he'd tell you that."

"Oh, I see," Brad says, nodding. "So, when you go out together, where d'you go?"

"Sometimes we just go out for a meal," Scott explains, "but mainly we go to the jazz clubs: Ronnie Scott's, Pizza Express, places like that. Last week, we went to 606 in Chelsea Harbour."

"I didn't know you were a jazz fan," Brad comments.

"Yeah," Scott responds. "I got into it when I played in the big band at school."

"Oh, right," Brad says, nodding. "D'you go anywhere else?"

"Once we're into our routine, we'll probably go to a few concerts, art exhibitions, maybe the theatre if there's something we fancy seeing."

"I take it you don't go to the gay clubs?" Brad queries.

"No," Scott answers. "I've never set foot in a gay club. Apart from anything else, it's not practical. They open so late."

"You want to stay away from those places," Brad says firmly, looking Scott right in the eye. "If somebody saw you in there, tongues really would start wagging. You don't need that."

"Totally," Scott agrees. "That's another reason we don't go."

"So, d'you have any gay friends?" Brad enquires.

"We have a few back at home," I tell him. "Mainly boys I met at school, before Scott and I got together. We don't have any here yet, but I expect to make some once I start at university. That's the idea anyway."

"Oh, right" Brad says, grinning right at me. "What you got up to before the two of you got together isn't an issue. You're not in the public eye, yeah?"

"Definitely," I confirm.

"Well, you lads seem to have your heads screwed on pretty well," he adds quietly. "That certainly helps. And I admire what you're doing. But it may not always be easy. You have to expect some bumps along the road. For one thing, it's unlikely that we'll be able to keep the lid on it indefinitely. I'm sure you understand that. So, if you need any help or advice, make sure you ask. I'll be right there for you!"

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