Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 44

I receive a text:

Meeting went OK, see you at home. S.

I guess that means that it wasn't a disaster, but I need far more detail than that.

It's now the afternoon, and I'm waiting for him to get home. Finally, the front door opens.

"Well? " I demand as he appears in the lounge.

"It was okay, just like I said," he says casually.

"So what happened?" I persist .

"We started by meeting with Terry," he says, flopping down next to me. "I told him exactly what I told Brad the other night. Well, he wasn't exactly thrilled about it, but he said that as long as I behaved myself, it wasn't an issue. He said that I'd played a big part in the progress the team has made, and the important thing for the club and the supporters is that we keep it going.

Then he called Kevin in. He was totally supportive. Apparently, his brother in law's gay and they get on really well. He said that it was a good idea to tell the other players. He said I'd won their respect and he was sure they'd support me. So, we went into the changing room and I told them. That was tough, but I got through it.

Then Terry told everyone that it had to be kept within the club. They didn't want the press finding out. He told the other guys that there was no reason why they should even tell their wives or girlfriends. He said anyone who had any issues with it had to speak to him.

Afterwards, some of the guys came up to me and offered their support. Not everyone spoke to me, but quite a few did, which was great. The bottom line is that when we went outside, training went exactly as it always does."

"Well, that sounds pretty good," I enthuse, snuggling up to him.

"After training, Kevin spoke to me on my own," he goes on. "He said he knew I had to be with somebody because of the way I'd settled in. Nicole, that's his wife, asked him if he thought I might be gay. He told her he had no idea, but that he was sure I'd open up when I was ready. I told you he was bright, didn't I "

"Yeah," I confirm "You definitely got that right." I look at him intently. There's something he hasn't told me. I can see it in his face.

"So what's the problem?" I ask pointedly.

"Terry said I need to be very careful about going to stuff at the university," he says, grimacing, "and Brad agrees with him. Specifically, they told me I shouldn't attend any Gaysoc events. They reckoned it's too much of a risk. I can see where they're coming from. Suppose we went along together. You'd introduce me to some of the guys you've met, only you won't really know them that well. So, unless I lie about what I do, we can't be sure that one of them won't start gossiping about it. If that happened, I'd have the tabloid press all over me in no time. I guess we'll need to wait until you've made some friends, you know, guys we can trust not to say anything. Then we can invite them here, or maybe meet them on, you know, sort of neutral territory."

This is not what I wanted to hear. I thought we'd be able to go along to Gaysoc events without having to worry about people gossiping. I suppose I was being naïve. I knew that living with Scott not being properly 'out' wasn't going to be easy. It seems that it's going to be even harder than I'd expected.

The following afternoon, I get myself ready to head to Paddington Station. Mum and Dad are coming to London by train.

"Are you sure you don't want me to pick them up?" Scott asks.

"Quite sure, thank you!" I say, grinning at him. "It's not like they'll be bringing heavy bags. At this time on a Friday, it's a total waste of time. When we picked up your parents, it took us forever!"

"Okay then!" he responds, smiling. " I'll see you when you get back."

After an uneventful tube journey, I reach Paddington ten minutes before the train's due to arrive. I wait patiently at the end of the platform. Two minutes after the scheduled time, the train pulls into the station, slowly rolling to a halt a few feet short of the buffers. Almost immediately, Mum and Dad appear.

"Good journey?" I ask, smiling.

"Very good, thanks!" Dad responds.

With me taking Mum's case, we head for the tube.

"You need a haircut," she says. "You should have had it done when you were at home."

"It's okay, " I counter. "I like it like this. In any case, you only saw me a week ago. You never said anything then."

Actually, it's not that long, like over my ears and brushing my collar, but it's the longest it's been. Of course, it's not just me that likes it this way. Scott does too. He likes to run his fingers through it while I'm sucking his cock.

A few minutes later, we're on the tube, heading back to Kings Cross. Mum's not on edge, exactly, but she's wearing her ' I'm reserving judgement on this' face. Surely, she can't be worrying about me living with Scott? It's way too late for that.

After a short walk, we're back at the flat. I let us in, ushering Mum and Dad into the lounge.

"Hi, Mrs Haskell, Mr Haskell, " Scott says, standing up. "Great to see you!"

He gives each of them a respectful hug.

"Well! " Mum says, looking around. "This is nice! The pictures we've seen don't do it justice. You've done really well!"

"Thanks!" he says, smiling, "but it's totally down to Ian. I had very little to do with it. Would you like a cup of tea?"

"Yes, please!" Mum responds, smiling appreciatively.

"This is most impressive," Dad adds, looking around as he drinks his tea. "Your mum's right," he adds, turning to me. "The pictures don't give any impression of how spacious and airy this place is. And you've used the space superbly. I can see how much thought went into the planning. Everything fits together perfectly. I love it!"

I'm glowing! Dad's not a designer, but he knows what good design is. His approval means everything.

"And these paintings are outstanding," he goes on, examining the ones in the lounge. "Where did you get them?"

"They're by a young artist called Joel Carpenter," I tell him. "I found him online. He's based in South London, so I went to meet him. I bought four altogether, plus we've got a couple of Anthony's, one in our room and one in the hall."

"That's wonderful," he says, smiling, "I love the idea of seeking out promising young artists."

"Let me show you where you'll be sleeping," I suggest.

Picking up mum's case, I lead my parents to the guest room.

"Oh, this is beautiful!" Mum says, finally starting to relax. " We'll be very comfortable in here. And I'm very proud of you," she adds, giving me a radiant smile.

"These paintings are outstanding!" Dad enthuses. "It makes such a difference, having stuff as good as this on the walls."

"Joel 's not that well-known yet. That's the only reason we were able to afford them."

"Well, I think they're excellent!" Dad responds approvingly.

After Mum and Dad have had a chance to freshen up, we're off to the same restaurant in Hampstead where we took Scott's parents. As always, the food and the service are excellent. I must admit that I'm half expecting Mum to start asking awkward, niggling questions, but it doesn't happen. She's, like, sweetness and light for the whole evening. The atmosphere couldn't be better. I just hope it lasts.

By ten o'clock we're back at the flat. It's been a long day for all of us, so after a final night cap, it's time for bed.

As always before Scott plays a match, we spend Saturday morning pottering around. At half past ten, he leaves to join his team mates for their pre-match meal. This afternoon, Dad and I are going to watch the game. It'll be the first Premier League match he's been to.

At twelve o'clock, I fix the three of us a snack lunch.

"So what are you going to do, Mum?" I ask.

"Well, first I'm going to the British Museum," she says brightly. "I haven't been there for ages."

"Oh," I say, somewhat surprised. "I thought you'd go shopping or something."

"I might," she concedes, "if there's time. When will you be back?"

"About twenty past five," I tell her. " We 're eating at six. It's all ready to go; I've only got to cook it. The cab's picking us up at ten to seven."

"Where are we going?" she asks.

"It's a surprise, " I say, grinning.

By half past one we're on our way. This is the first time I've taken Dad somewhere, rather than have him take me. It makes me feel really close to him, like even more than usual. We arrive at the ground just before two o'clock. Scott's got us the same seats Geoff and I had, so I have no problem finding them. With an hour till kick-off, the atmosphere's building already.

As the teams take to the field, the roar is amazing. I don't just hear it; I can feel it, right down in my tummy. As soon as the whistle goes, it's clear that the Greswall players are up for it, with Scott causing the opposition problems right from the start. After only five minutes, he plays in Jerome to score the opening goal.

The crowd goes wild. On the pitch, Jerome and Scott embrace each other before being mobbed by the rest of the team. In a way, that's the best part of all. These guys know Scott's gay. He told them. But they're still all over him. I like that!

"That was pretty special," Dad says as the noise dies down a little.

"Yeah, it was," I agree.

A few minutes later, Scott's charging along the left wing, the ball at his feet, the opposing right back going with him. In trying to win the ball, he gives Scott a nudge. Scott goes sprawling. The referee blows his whistle to stop the game, but instead of giving a foul against the defender, he gives Scott a yellow card.

Scott doesn't say anything, but he's not happy, I can see it in his face. That's not like him. He hasn't been booked very often, but when he has, he's taken it with good grace. This time he's seething.

"I guess he thinks he was fouled," Dad says.

"Yeah, I guess," I answer, not at all sure if that's the real reason.

For the rest of the first half, Greswall continue to dominate, scoring a second goal before the break. They troop off to a rapturous reception.

"It's very exciting, isn't it?" Dad says, smiling. " I'd pay money to see football like this."

"Yeah, totally," I agree, grinning back.

The second half is more of the same, Alvaro soon adding to Greswall's lead. They're running the opposition ragged. With less than twenty minutes left, Scott goes on another run, twisting this way and that to beat three defenders before firing a fierce shot into the bottom corner of the net.

Once again, the crowd erupts, and once more Scott's team mates are all over him, even though his own celebrations are as low-key as they always are. With the score at 4–0 and the game safely won, he's taken off. He trots towards the touchline, applauding the fans, but he's not smiling as he usually does, clearly still angry about the booking he received.

As soon as the game's over, we head for the exit. I'm still puzzling over Scott's reaction to being booked. I know the referee might have made a mistake, but why was he so upset about it?

It takes a while to get out of the ground, but we're soon on the tube and heading back to Kings Cross. Being at the match with Dad was completely different from being with Geoff. I still enjoyed it, of course, but Dad can't explain stuff to me the way Geoff does.

Back at the flat, I set about cooking our early evening meal, sliced chicken with stir-fry vegetables and saffron rice. A few minutes later Mum returns. She gives me a peck on the cheek.

"I'm just doing something light for now," I tell her. " We'll be having dinner later."

At five to six, Scott's still not back. He must be on his way, I reason. If there was a problem, he'd have texted me. Right on cue, the door opens and there he is.

"Sorry I'm late," he says, giving me a quick kiss. "I had to do an interview."

Five minutes later we're sitting down to eat.

"You know when you got booked," I ask. "Why were you so angry? You're not usually like that."

"When I've been booked before it's mainly been for mis-timed tackles," he says, "which is fair enough. This time I got booked for diving, which basically means he's accused me of trying to cheat. Well, I didn't. I pride myself on staying on my feet whenever I can."

"Oh, okay ! " I acknowledge.

"He booked me because he said there wasn't enough contact for me to have gone down," Scott continues. "That's just wrong! When you're running, for part of the time you've got both feet off the ground. Well, if you've no contact with the ground, someone's only got to touch you, and you'll go down because there's nothing to stop you. And basically, that's what happened."

"So should the ref have given a foul?" Dad asks.

"Oh, no! " Scott says. "The guy was trying to win the ball. He only just nudged me. You can't give a foul for that. Some people say that if it's not a foul it must be a dive, but that's stupid. It wasn't a foul and it wasn't a dive, so what's wrong with just waving play on?"

"Oh, I see," Dad says, smiling.

"I told them the same thing in the interview," Scott says. "They'll probably show it later."

I understand now. Scott didn't like being called a cheat. I wouldn't either.

The cab arrives right on time. We head downstairs to meet it. It snakes its way into the West End, dropping us at Cambridge Circus, the intersection of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. Scott leads us towards the Palace Theatre, which is right on the corner.

"I've got us tickets for Singin' in the Rain , " he says quietly. "I hope you'll like it."

We make our way inside. He hasn't just got us any seats; he's bought just about the best seats in the house. I've never been to a musical before and have no idea what to expect, but it's fantastic. The music and the acting are great, and the dancing is amazing! Happily, I can see that Mum and Dad are enjoying it too.

The show finishes shortly after ten. We stroll out into the cool of the evening.

"Thank you so much for bringing us here," Mum says warmly. "It's been wonderful."

"Time for dinner!" Scott says. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm hungry! "

Scott guides us through the streets of Soho. On a pleasant Saturday evening, the place is buzzing! After a short walk, he ushers us into a small Italian restaurant. I don't think he could have picked anywhere better. The food is superb and the staff treat us like royalty. Mum is so taken with the place she even starts complimenting them in Italian. That is so cool! When we went to Italy, she always spoke Italian to the waiters and shop assistants, but I didn't expect her to do it here.

With the meal over and midnight approaching, a cab arrives to take us home. It's been a great evening, one of the best ever. We reach the flat, Scott closing the door behind us. We stroll into the lounge.

"Goodnight, son," Mum says, giving me a peck on the cheek. "Goodnight Scott," she adds, "and thanks for a wonderful evening."

"Goodnight boys," Dad echoes, following Mum towards the guest room.

Within a couple of minutes, Scott and I are in our room, climbing into bed.

"What made you pick that place?" I ask.

"Well, I know your Mum and Dad love Italy," he says. "It seemed like the obvious choice."

"You remembered?" I query.

"Of course I remembered," he says, giving me his most beautiful smile.

"You' re a genius, " I whisper, running my hand along his thigh. "It was perfect."

As we missed it the previous evening, on Sunday morning, Scott, Dad and I get up early enough to watch Match of the Day. After showing highlights of the Greswall match, they move onto the interview with Scott, where he explains what happened prior to him getting booked.

"Fortunately," the presenter says, "we've been able to get hold of some super slo-mo footage that shows what happened, so let's look at that."

It's fascinating. Scott and the opposing right-back are running side-by-side, tussling for the ball. They make contact, shoulder to shoulder, and Scott immediately goes sprawling, clearly unable to save himself.

"Wow!" Scott says quietly, smiling broadly. "That's amazing! I didn't know they'd got that."

"So, what do we think?" the presenter asks. "Was it a dive?"

"Definitely not," the senior pundit says. "Even though the contact was very slight, he had no chance of staying on his feet."

"It's to do with the speed he was running at," the other one suggests. "I don't really know, because I could never run that fast, but what I'm getting is that at that pace, someone's only just got to touch you and you'll end up on the deck."

With the programme at an end, it's time for me to go running. I head onto the canal. It's a pleasant October morning, with watery sunshine and just a light breeze. It feels good to be out.

Over the past few weeks, I've got to know Hampstead Heath well enough to run across it, rather than simply running around it. As well as that, I've found a route known as the Hampstead Heath Trail, which includes some wonderful running. Unfortunately, the loop itself is almost twelve miles. Starting and finishing at the flat would take it up to around sixteen, which is too far for me. But by running half a mile down Archway Road, I can cut off the north-eastern corner, bringing the distance back down to around thirteen miles. I can cope with that.

With an hour and twenty minutes running behind me, I return to the flat. By the time I've showered and changed, it's time for us to go out to lunch. As before, we head to the pub in Epping Forest. It's perfect; exactly what we needed.

Back at the flat Dad and Scott head to the dining area to conclude their discussions, while Mum goes to the guest room to pack. I follow her in.

"So have you enjoyed your stay?" I ask, sitting down on the bed.

"Oh, of course I have," she says, beaming at me. "It's been wonderful!" She pauses for a moment. "I needed to see you here," she adds quietly. "I needed to see that you were settled and happy, and you are. I know it's stupid, but I was concerned that once you actually moved in, things between you and Scott might change. I mean, this is his flat. But they haven't. Like I said, I was being stupid."

"Not really," I say soothingly. "Moving in together was a big step for both of us, but Scott's been great, he really has."

"I got that I was being ridiculous as soon as I walked in here," she concedes. "And now tomorrow's your big day!"

"Yes. This is when things start to get serious!"

Fifteen minutes later, we're on our way to Paddington Station to drop off Mum and Dad for their journey home.

October 2012

So here I am. It's Monday. The fateful day has finally arrived. First, I have to go through the business of enrolment with the university. As I completed the pre-enrolment procedure online, it doesn't take long. Within a few minutes I've been issued with my student card. So, it's official. I'm now a UCL student.

The next task is to register for my course at the Bartlett. This involves standing in line and completing forms, but it gives me the opportunity to meet some of my fellow students. They seem okay, on the whole. There's one guy who went to Eton and obviously has a very high opinion of himself, but I guess I was never going to like everybody.

In the afternoon, we all have to meet one-on-one with our personal tutors. I've been allocated to Dr Chapman. I have to see him at quarter to three. With an hour to kill, I wander into the common room, spotting a couple of the guys I met yesterday.

"Hi, " I say, "Is it okay if I join you?"

"No problem. "

"I ' m Ian, " I say, sitting down opposite them.

"I'm Theo and this is Sam. Are you in the residences?"

"No, " I say quietly. "I live in Kings Cross."

"Oh," he says absently. "I thought I hadn't seen you. Are you living with friends or something?"

I grit my teeth. I'd like to tell them the truth. It was what I'd planned to do. But since Scott's meeting with Terry, I've had to have a rethink. I'm still going to be out, but telling people that I live with my partner would just complicate things.

"Yeah," I confirm. " I'm staying with a friend of the family. Will you guys be going to the Welcome Fair at the weekend?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Theo responds, grinning.

"So which clubs do you want to join?" I ask.

"Football and cricket," he says. " I'll probably join the table tennis club too. And I wouldn't mind giving squash a try."

"I'll be joining the football club and the film society," Sam adds.

"What sort of films are you into?" I enquire, my attention perking up.

"Oh, all sorts," he says. "There are great films in all genres. I do like a lot of forties' film noir though."

"So what about you?" Theo asks.

I take a deep breath. This is the moment I've been preparing myself for.

"Well, I'll be joining the gaysoc," I say, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.

"So you're gay?" he asks, looking surprised.

"Yeah," I say. " I've known for years."

"Were you out at school?" Sam asks.

"Oh, yeah," I say casually. "Back when I was thirteen, one of the other boys in my class started picking on me, calling me names and that. So that was it. It was no use pretending I wasn't. "

"That must have been pretty hard," he suggests.

"It wasn't too bad once I stopped trying to ignore it and started sticking up for myself," I respond. "After a while the school found out what was going on. The kid who was picking on me was moved to another class and told to stay away from me."

"You were lucky," Theo says. "A lot of schools would pretend it wasn't happening. So how did the other kids react?"

"Most of them were okay about it," I say, not wishing to go into too much detail. "The kid who'd been picking on me was an arsehole, you know? He thought he was something special, so he didn't have many friends."

"Oh, right," he says absently.

"I've got a few gay friends at home," I explain. " I'd like to get to know a few gay people here. I won't be spending all my time with them though. Most of my friends back at home are straight."

"So will you join any other clubs?" he asks.

"I'll be joining the athletics and running club. I'm not sure if I'll have time for any more."

"So you're a runner then?" Sam queries.

"Yeah, cross-country mainly; I do run on the track, but I'm not that good. I'm not quick enough."

"I'm mainly a footballer," he says, "but I run a bit in the summer. What sort of times have you done?"

"I ran eight minutes forty-two for the three thousand."

"Bloody hell!" he explodes. "I thought you said you weren't very quick!"

"The top boys our age would beat me by half a minute," I inform him.

"Man, that's serious running!" he says, grinning. "I thought four-twenty-five for fifteen hundred was pretty good."

"I've got to go," Theo says, checking his watch, " I'll see you back here, yeah?"

"Sure, " Sam answers.

He strides away. Sam and I continue chatting.

"So what sort of buildings do you like?" I ask.

"Good ones!" he says, grinning, "beautiful ones. I like some modern buildings, especially the Gherkin," he goes on, referring to Norman Foster' s Swiss Re Tower. "It just looks so right. But we're building some real crap, like the Walkie-Talkie. That's dreadful!"

"Yeah, totally," I agree. "It looks really bulky. It doesn't fit into the skyline at all. And the windows act like a giant concave mirror. In the hot weather last summer, it started melting the cars down on the street below. How stupid is that?"

"Very stupid," he says, grinning again. "It's like they never thought about it."

"Of course, buildings ought to look good," I suggest, "but they can't just look good in isolation. They have to fit into their surroundings. And it's even more important that they're great spaces to live and work in."

"Yeah," he agrees. "My brother's at St. Catherine' s College Oxford. "

"Arne Jacobsen, " I interrupt. " I've seen it in pictures. It looks really good."

"Oh, it looks great," he goes on, "but he designed it all right down to the last knife, fork and spoon. He shouldn't have bothered. He might know about designing buildings, but he knows nothing about cutlery. It's not balanced. It's a nightmare to use!"

What an insight that is! I like this guy! Of course, I've never been to St. Catherine's so I wouldn't have known, but it reminds me that this is Britain's top architecture school, and only admits the most able students. Competing with guys like Sam will really keep me on my toes. Just then, Theo reappears.

"Well? " Sam demands.

"All pretty routine," Theo says, sounding bored. "He didn't say anything we haven't been told already."

"My turn now," I say, checking the time. " I'll see you guys later."

"Who are you with?" Theo asks.

"Dr Chapman, " I tell him.

"Cool," he responds. "Let us know if he says anything interesting."

Making my way to my tutor's office, I knock on the door.

"Come in! " a friendly voice calls.

I step inside. Dr Chapman is in his early thirties, with straight, mousey-fair hair that falls over the right-hand side of his forehead and intrudes under his spectacles. He starts by talking about the course and what will be expected of us. He's friendly and enthusiastic, talking passionately about the course and the importance of good architecture. I like him immediately.

"I see you're not staying in the residences," he says finally.

"No, " I say. " I'm sharing a flat in Kings Cross."

"And is it okay?" he enquires, looking concerned.

"Yeah, it's great, thanks."

To my relief, he leaves it there.

"Well," he says, smiling. "If you have any problems, you know where I am."

And that's it; the interview's over. I head back to the common room, say goodbye to Theo and Sam, and head for home. As I expected, Scott's already there.

"How did today go?" he asks.

"Oh, it was all pretty straightforward, mainly administrative stuff. This afternoon, I met my tutor, Dr Chapman, who seems okay. And I got the opportunity to chat to a couple of the lads on the course, Theo and Sam. They're pretty cool."

"Did you tell them you're gay?"

"Yeah. We were chatting about which clubs and societies we want to join, so I thought I should. Like I said, they were totally cool with it."

"That's great," he acknowledges. He pauses for a moment. " I've had the call-up," he adds, grinning from ear to ear.

"You mean to the full England squad?"

"Yep! Kevin, Jerome and I have all made it. It's the first time for them too."

"When do you have to go?"

"On Sunday. We're playing Serbia away on the Friday, and Poland at home the following Tuesday."

For a moment, I'm slightly panicked. After being at UCL for only a week, Scott will be leaving me on my own for nine days. I quickly get a grip on myself. Okay, it's hardly ideal, but it's totally part of what I signed up for. I can't start fretting about it now.

"That's amazing!" I say, allowing him to draw me into a hug. " I ' m so proud of you!"

Within seconds, he's all over me. We kiss passionately. I know exactly where this is going.

At nine o'clock the following morning, we're given an introductory lecture by Professor Jowett, the guy who interviewed me. Afterwards, we're given our course programme, detailing the lectures, tutorials and workshop sessions we're expected to attend. It's pretty full-on. It's not that I'd expected it not to be, but seeing it down there in black and white makes it clear just how demanding it's going to be. At eleven o'clock, it's time to begin work in earnest.

It's Friday afternoon and our first week is finally over. With classes in history, theory, design and technology, to say I've been busy would be an understatement. I've been working my socks off. The good thing is that I'm totally up to date so I've got the weekend to do pretty much what I want.

In between classes, I've hung out with some of the other guys on the course, mainly Theo and Sam. I like them. They're hard-working and unpretentious. They don't talk about it; they just get on and do it.

On Tuesday, Dr Groves gave us a drawing task to complete, similar to the one we were given prior to interview. It had to be in today. I handed mine in at lunchtime. Having spent several hours on it, I'm quite pleased with the result. It's not that I think it's anything remarkable, but it's pretty much the best I could have done. We'll get them back on Monday. At that point, I should have a better idea of how I measure up against everyone else.

It's Friday evening. As usual when Scott has a match the next day, we're in bed by eleven o'clock.

"So, tomorrow you're going to check out which clubs and societies you want to join?" Scott suggests.

"Yeah, that's the idea. It finishes at lunchtime, so I'll need to go in during the morning."

"I know you'll be joining the Gaysoc and the athletics and cross-country club. Any others?"

"I'm not sure yet."

"Join the jazz club," he urges. "With over 40,000 students, they ought to be putting some top guys on."

"I thought you weren't supposed to attend university events?" I query.

"Going to the occasional jazz concert shouldn't be a problem," he responds, stroking my hair. "At that sort of gig, we should be able to stay under the radar without too much difficulty."

"Okay, " I concede.

I'll do it, of course, but it's disappointing. Creeping around 'under the radar' is hardly what I was hoping for.

The Welcome Fair for new students is the big thing this weekend. All the university clubs and societies will have stalls. With Scott playing an away match up in the Midlands, at half past ten on Saturday morning I set off from the flat. I arrive about fifteen minutes later. With well over two hundred stalls, the fair has taken over the quadrangle and most of the main building. It's buzzing!

My first priority is to find the Gaysoc. I check the alphabetical listing. It's not there. This can't be right! They must have one, surely? I make my way to the enquiry desk.

"Oh, you want the LGBTQ Society," says the bespectacled young man behind the desk.

"The what?" I query.

"Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning," he says, giving me a knowing smile. "You'll find them on stall forty-four. They wanted stall sixty- nine, but it would have messed up the numbering."

I check the plan in my Welcome Pack and make my way. There are two girls and two guys at the stall. One of the girls has short cropped hair and is dressed in a denim shirt, jeans and work boots. I don't really want to speak to her. She looks like she might bite my head off.

"Hi, " I say nervously, addressing one of the guys. " I'm interested in joining." I show him my student card.

"Hi, Ian! " he says brightly. " I'm Christian Bell, secretary of the LGBTQ Group. Good to see you and welcome to UCL. What are you studying?"

"Architecture," I tell him.

"Oh, we 've got quite a few members at the Bartlett," he says, smiling, "must be at least a dozen. You won't be on your own by any means. So where are you staying?"

"I'm staying with a family friend in Kings Cross," I tell him.

"Oh, right!" he says, nodding. "I hope you don't mind me asking, but are you out at home?"

"I don't mind at all," I respond, smiling. " I've been out for ages. I told Mum and Dad when I was fourteen."

"That's great," he says, grinning back. "The majority of our members were still in the closet when they got here. This was their first opportunity to . . . , you know, be themselves."

"Yeah," I acknowledge. "I can understand that. I guess I've been lucky, one way and another. Mum and Dad have been great, Dad especially."

"So were you out at school too?" he enquires

"Yeah," I say. "I sort of got outed when I was thirteen. That's when I was really lucky. The school was very supportive. They have a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying."

"That' s good to hear," he says. "On Wednesday evening, we're having our first social. It'll be in the main common room, starting at half past seven. D'you think you'll be able to make it to that?"

"I should be!"

"Great! I hope to see you there! Okay, I'll pass you over to Maggie to deal with the formalities."

He calls over the girl in the denim shirt.

"Hi! " she says, sounding much friendlier than she looks. " I'm treasurer and membership secretary. That means I look after all the boring stuff." She looks me up and down. "You'll need to be careful," she warns. "You'll have the wolves after you." She jerks her head towards Christian. "You know who I mean!"

"Only too well," he responds.

"Well, they won't get very far," I say, grinning. " I've met their type before."

"Oh, I see," she says, grinning. "Maybe you're not as innocent as you look. Well just take care, yeah?"

"Yeah, thanks!"

I pay her my joining fee, receiving my membership card and a programme of events in exchange.

I move on to the Athletics and Cross-Country Club. There are three guys on the stall. Two of them look like runners. The other one, a really big guy, definitely isn't.

"Hi, " I say, presenting my student card. " I'd like to join."

"No problem! " one of the smaller guys says. "You must be a distance runner,"

"Yeah," I say, " I'm guessing you are too!"

"Correct! " he says, shaking my hand. " I'm Stuart Forbes, cross-country captain. So, what sort of standard have you reached?"

"Not bad, I guess," I say guardedly. "Back in March, I finished sixteenth in the English Schools. In the summer, I managed eight forty-two for the three thousand, and four zero-two for the fifteen hundred."

"That's more than respectable!" he enthuses.

"I like the tougher cross-country courses best," I tell him. "You know, hilly and muddy!"

"You'll do okay at Parliament Hill Fields then," his colleague chips in. "That place is a quagmire most of the time."

"We'll be training tomorrow morning if you fancy joining us," Stuart says.

"Thanks!" I respond, smiling. " I'd love to."

"We meet in Regents Park at half past ten," he says, "just by the entrance to the zoo."

"Great," I say. " I'll be there."

After shelling out some more money, I receive another membership card, together with a race schedule for the next two terms, and details of when and where training sessions will take place.

"I'll see you tomorrow!" I say, smiling.

Finally, I seek out my remaining target, the Jazz Society.

"Hi! " I say, smiling the guy on the stall. " I'm interested in joining. Do you have a programme of the events you're putting on?"

"Sure! " he says, handing me a sheet. "Do you play?"

"No, but I've been to a few jazz gigs. I've always enjoyed them."

"Oh, that's fine! This term's pretty much sorted out, but next term's gigs are still being finalised, and we haven't even thought about the summer yet."

"Oh, right!"

"You can keep up to date on the website," he adds, pointing to the sheet and indicating the URL. "Now tomorrow evening, our main house band are playing a free gig in the common room. Come along! You'll enjoy it!"

As I won't have anything else to do, I decide that I probably will. After paying my membership fee, I move away, wandering through the fair, to check out some of the other stalls. There are a few that I'm quite interested in, especially the Art Appreciation Society, but I decide not to join, for the moment anyway. If I have time to attend the meetings, I'll join later.

I return to the flat. It's just gone half past twelve. I've just got time to go for a run before having lunch. I decide not to go too far. Tomorrow morning I'll be training with older, more experienced runners. That could prove quite challenging. I don't want to over-exert myself today.

In the event, I run to Primrose Hill and back, leaving myself with plenty in the tank. After a relaxing shower, I make myself a lunch of Melton Mowbray pork pie, a slice of Cheddar cheese and a mixed salad, followed by an apple. With nothing urgent that I need to do, I can spend the rest of the afternoon chilling out.

One of the benefits of the home entertainment system we've got is that the radio reception is superb. This afternoon, Greswall's match won't be featured on Radio 5 Live. They'll give updates from time to time, and report on any goals scored, but that will be about it.

Fortunately, it is being featured on one of the specialist sports stations. On a lesser system, the reception probably wouldn't be that good. On ours, however, I can listen to it with no problem.

I guess that commentators are less experienced that the ones you get on the BBC. While they're not as smooth and professional, they make up for it with their passion and enthusiasm. I like that! The match is also quite different from the last one that I listened to. This time, against a team that's been struggling, Greswall are well on top.

Despite that, they need a goal. It doesn't matter how dominant you are, until you actually score, it means nothing. With fifteen minutes gone, Greswall still have nothing to show for all the possession they' ve had.

"Ball comes to Paxton, out on the left wing," the commentator says excitedly. "Takes the ball forward; beats his marker. He's approaching the corner flag; puts a cross in. Fearon's there; gets above the defenders. Goal!"

"What a cross that was!" the summariser enthuses. "He didn't check and look up, not really. He just whipped it in. It was like he knew exactly where Fearon was going to be. That is so difficult to defend! It's not surprising that they've both been called into the England squad. That was magnificent!"

Wow! I can relax and enjoy it now, and that's exactly what I do. Twenty minutes later, a second goal follows. The teams go into half-time with Greswall leading two-nil. They've totally bossed the game, with Scott having been at the heart of most of their attacking play. I just wish I could have been there!

The second half is more of the same. With seventy minutes played, Greswall have added two more goals, and Scott's got a second assist. He's immediately withdrawn.

"He's put in a wonderful shift," the summariser comments. "We need to remember that he's still only twenty."

"I'm guessing that's why he's being taken off," the commentator responds. "They've won the game. They don't want to risk him getting injured."

"At the start of the season, people were questioning whether he was ready for the step up," his colleague adds, "but he showed from day one that he absolutely is."

I almost start tearing up. That's my partner they're talking about, my boyfriend. I know it wasn't me out there, but I've played a part. I've been there when he needed me. That's what this is about.

When the match is finally over, I make myself a snack. Scott expects to be home around eight o'clock and as soon as he is, we're going out for dinner. We'll come home in time to watch Match of the Day .

After that, with Scott due to join up with the England squad tomorrow, let's just say that things are going to get pretty intense. I'm as horny as fuck just thinking about it.

It's five to eight when Scott appears.

"Hi, babe! " he says, grinning broadly. "Have you had a good day?"

"Yeah, great thanks!"

"Did you listen to the match?"

"Yeah! It sounded like you guys played really well!"

"Definitely!" he enthuses. "That's the best team performance I've ever been involved in. The score-line makes it look like the opposition was really poor, but they weren't at all. With us playing the way did, we just had too much for them."

"I'm really looking forward to watching it later."

"Me too! We were all buzzing at the end, Terry especially. He knew how well we'd played. Are you ready to go?"

"Sure! "

"Okay, just give me five minutes to get changed and we'll be on our way."

Dinner was great; excellent food and service in a totally relaxed atmosphere. Afterwards, we return to the flat just in time to watch Match of the Day. Greswall 's match is the second game on the schedule.

Right from the first minute, Greswall are totally dominant. It's mesmerising. The home team work as hard as they can to keep them in check, but Greswall have too much pace, skill and tactical nous to be denied. The guys on MOTD are in raptures about their performance.

"Today was one of those days when everything we did worked," Scott says quietly, his arm around my shoulder. "Terry told us afterwards that if we can play as well as that, we can beat pretty much anybody."

"I guess the challenge is to produce that form consistently."

"Exactly that. We're not getting ahead of ourselves, but it's a tremendous confidence boost for us to know that we can play as well as we did."

With the programme at an end, we head to our bedroom. I'm so horny, my cock's already throbbing in my tangas. Our lovemaking is everything I was hoping for, and then some. As soon as we've undressed each other, we climb onto the bed. Even at this stage, I can feel the electricity crackling between us. We snuggle up, and instinctively, I set to work on his nipples.

"Oh, yes!" Scott groans. "More!"

In the mood to give him whatever he asks for, I totally go for it, sucking and biting on his left nipple while tweaking his right one. As he goes wild with lust, I swap over. The result is to raise his performance to a level even I didn't know he was capable of.

At some point, we morph into a sixty-nine, but we're both so far off on it, that's as much as I can remember. A little while later, I'm lying face-down, a pillow beneath my hips, my legs spread apart, although I'm not at all sure how I got here. Lying on top, Scott's fucking me into near-oblivion. By the end, I feel like a rag-doll, but I don't care. It was so worth it!

It's Sunday morning. As so often happens, I wake up wrapped in Scott' s arms. He's running his fingers through my hair and gently stroking my cheek.

"Morning, babe!" he whispers, smiling down at me. "Did you sleep okay?"

"Sure! "

"And how are you feeling this morning?"

"Fine! Why wouldn't I be?"

"So last night, I didn't get too rough with you?"

"You're never rough," I counter. "Things did get very physical because that's what we both wanted."

"Bloody hell!" he says, a grin spreading right across his face. "You're way tougher than you look! So what about this morning?"

"What's the time?"

"Half past seven."

So, in just a couple of hours, Scott will have to leave, to travel to the FA's brand- new performance centre in Staffordshire. I won't see him again until after the game against Poland, a week on Tuesday. We're going to be apart for nine and a half days.

"Okay, but can we keep things fairly gentle?" I suggest. " I'll be meeting up with the guys from the cross-country club at half past ten."

"Sure, babe! No problem!"

As requested, he's very gentle and wonderfully affectionate. It couldn't have been better. A short while later, we sit together to eat breakfast.

"Why are you going by train?" I query. "Wouldn't it have been easier to drive?"

"Possibly," he concedes, "but the Poland game's at Wembley. If I drove to Staffordshire, my car would still be there, and I'd have to go back to get it."

"Oh, right!" I concede, realising that I hadn't thought it through.

"As it is, I'll just take a cab back here, so I should be back just after eleven. This morning, I'm meeting Kevin and Jerome at Euston station so we can travel together. That'll be good for all three of us." He pauses for a moment. "And remember what I told you," he adds, looking at me intently. "If you're coming back here in the evening, get a cab. You've got the number and the code for my account. I know it seems expensive, but you're precious cargo. I don't want to take risks when we can afford not to."

"Yeah, sure!" I agree.

At half past nine, Scott gives me a lingering kiss, picks up his bags and makes his way out. As soon as he's left, I'm acutely aware of how big and empty the flat feels. Having Scott go away was hard enough when I was living at home, but this is going to be way more difficult.

Back then, not only would Mum be around; even during the school holidays, there were always friends that I could hang out with. Right at the moment, I don't really have anybody. That's going to make this even more of a challenge. Of course, it's totally not Scott's fault that this trip has come up when it has, but that doesn't make the situation any easier to deal with.

At ten past ten, already dressed in my running kit, I leave the flat. Making my way onto the Regent's Canal, I head towards London Zoo. With light cloud, a gentle breeze and a temperature around 14˚C, it's a great morning for running.

Turning into Regents Park, I quickly spot a group of guys warming up near the entrance to the Zoo. As I trot over to them, I spot Stuart, the team captain.

"Hi! " I greet, smiling.

"Remind me," he says. "Sorry; I met so many guys yesterday."

"Ian Haskell, " I reply, making sure to keep myself moving. " I'm at the Bartlett."

"Sure! I remember now. Where have you run from?"

"Kings Cross. I've come along the canal."


A few minutes later, we're on our way. I guess there must be around twenty of us. We steadily make our way uphill towards Hampstead Heath. Settling into the middle of the group, I just go with it, staying as relaxed as possible.

Once we're on the Heath itself, the pace picks up. It's still not extravagant, but we're definitely working harder than we were. It seems that they've devised a route that optimises our use of the various trails, some of which I'm familiar with, others I'm running for the first time.

It's superb! Even though we're running at a decent pace, it still feels quite easy. I love it! Eventually, we emerge towards the eastern end of Hampstead Lane. I check the time. It's twenty past eleven. Although the pace hasn't been excessive, I've been running for over an hour, and from here, it'll take me at least twenty minutes to get back to the flat. I immediately approach Stuart.

"I'm going to go back now," I tell him.

"Sure! Do you know the way?"

"Yeah, thanks! I'll see you on Tuesday evening!"

As the others continue towards Crouch End, I head through Highgate Village. Turning right onto Dartmouth Park Hill, I drop down into Kentish Town, rejoin the canal, and return to the flat. By some distance, it's the furthest I've ever run, but I'm still running strongly right to the end. That's very pleasing, but I'm tired now!

After a soak in the bath, I fix myself a salad for lunch. Once I've eaten, I get comfy on the sofa and turn on the telly so that I can watch the first of this afternoon's Premier League matches. Unfortunately, it's pretty dull, and as Scott isn't involved, it doesn't grab my attention. Inevitably, I fall asleep. When I wake up, the match is over and I'm feeling anything but relaxed. Shit!

As it's a pleasant afternoon, I decide to head out. I stroll through Bloomsbury, just enjoying the pale autumn sunshine, returning to the flat just after five. Wondering what to do now, an idea occurs to me. I call Patrick. He picks up on the third ring.

"Hi! " he greets. "I wasn't expecting you to call! How's it going?"

"My first week's gone okay. I'm up to date with everything, and I've been training well. The reason I called it that Scott went away to join up with the England squad this morning, so I'm here on my own. The flat feels really big and empty with only me here. It's like I'm rattling around in it."

"I can imagine. I guess that living off-campus, you don't know many people yet."

"Hardly anybody."

"How long is Scott away for?"

"Nine days. He'll be back after the England game a week on Tuesday."

"That's tough! But hang in there; you'll get through it."

"How's the running going?"

"Okay! There are some good runners here, so I've got plenty of guys to train with. The problem with Cambridge is that it's so flat! You couldn't find a hill around here if you went looking for one!"

"Oh, right! I hope you don't mind me asking, but what's your new coach asking you to do?"

"No, that's fine! Basically, I train twice a day. Monday to Saturday, I get up early and run an easy five miles. Then I train again in the late afternoon. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, it's just another easy five. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, I do my hard sessions, usually around ten miles. That's when I make sure I've got other guys to run with. On Sunday, we run between twelve and fifteen in the morning. Then I do an easy five late in the afternoon."

"Oh, right! That's a lot of running!"

"Yeah, but it's what I need to do if I want to compete with the top guys."

"This morning, I ran with the UCL guys for the first time. We went up onto Hampstead Heath. It was great! It was hilly, too! This area is way hillier than I expected."

After wishing each other all the best, we end the call. He's given me plenty to think about. I'm not going to try to follow his schedule. I just don't think I'd cope with it. But I do like the idea of getting up early on Monday, Wednesday and Friday so that I can run an easy five miles in the morning and another one in the afternoon. While Scott's away, I'm going to try it.

After I've eaten dinner, I make my way into college. I head to the common room. The band are just setting up. It's a six-piece, consisting of two saxophones, guitar, piano, upright bass and drums. Shortly after eight, they're ready to play.

To my untrained ear, they sound pretty good, but even I can tell that they're not up to the standard of the Josh Banham Band. The guitarist in particular sounds very ordinary.

I'm reminded of something that Ryan's mentor, Paul Stockton, said when Scott and I met him at 606. Ryan, Josh and Franny are all on the way to becoming professional musicians. By contrast, although these guys are decent players, for them it's a hobby. They're not aiming to make a living out of it.

At half past ten, the gig's over. Although I was on my own, the music's made it an enjoyable evening. It's now time to go. Following Scott's instructions, I call the company that he has an account with, request a cab and give them the account code.

"He'll be with you within the next fifteen minutes," the guy tells me. " We'll send you a text when he's outside."

It takes less than half that time for the text to come through. Hurrying out of the building, I spot the black people carrier a few yards away.

"Cab for Ian going to Kings Cross?" the driver queries.

"Yeah!" I respond, getting into the back.

Five minutes later, I'm safely back at the flat. I'm just thinking about getting ready for bed when I get a call. It's Scott.

"Hi babe! " he greets. "Have you had a good day?"

"Yeah, thanks! I had a really good run this morning. There were about twenty of us. Running in a group like that makes it feel so much easier. After lunch I fell asleep in front of the football. Then this evening, I went to the jazz gig I told you about. I've only just got back."

"What was that like?"

"It was okay. I think that Franny's band is better though. Anyway, how come you're able to call?"

"I'm sharing a room with Kevin, and he's totally cool, yeah?"

"Oh, right!"

"This place is amazing!" he enthuses. "It's brand new, of course, and absolutely state of the art. The place hasn't even been officially opened yet. That happens on Tuesday. We're the first group to train here, which feels like quite a privilege."

"Yeah, I can imagine!"

"Well, I'd better let you get to bed. Sleep well! I'll call you tomorrow, yeah?"

"Great! I'll look forward to it! You sleep well too!"

Getting up at half past six is a new experience, but I'm determined to try it. After completing my usual morning ablutions, I dress in my running kit and eat a bowl of cereal. It seems that Patrick runs before breakfast. I don't fancy that idea at all!

I leave the flat at quarter to seven, heading for Primrose Hill. On my outward run, the canal towpath is almost empty, but by the time I return, it's starting to get busy. Just over half an hour later, I'm back. I now have time for a leisurely shower, before getting dressed in some casual clothes, drinking a large mug of tea and heading into college for my first lecture.

At eleven o 'clock, we make our way into the studio for our drawing class with Dr Groves.

"Everyone performed very competently on last week's drawing exercise," he says, "so well done for that. Before I return them to you, I'd just like to pick out a few of the best ones."

It seems that he's photographed six of the drawings and turned them into a Powerpoint presentation. Using the projector, he begins to scroll through them.

"The first one's by Robert Wilkins," he intones. "Where' s Robert? "

As Robert puts up his hand, his drawing appears on the screen. I'm shocked. It's way better than anything I can do! As Dr Groves continues to scroll through, each outstanding drawing is followed by an even better one.

"Finally, Theo Boulton," Dr Groves announces. " Theo? "

Sitting right next to me, Theo puts up his hand. I can hardly believe what I'm looking at. Not only is it excellent technically, it seems to possess a life all of its own.

"Wow, man!" I whisper. "You did fantastic!"

"Thanks," he says, giving me a slightly embarrassed grin.

With the show at an end, Dr Groves returns our drawings. Mine has been graded as a B+. I guess that's okay, but I'm not satisfied, at all! This has been a major reality check! I've never doubted my ability where art is concerned. At school, I was always pretty much the best. Okay, Anthony paints better than I do, only as Mr Gault explained, that doesn't really matter. But for an architect, drawing is crucial, and in this company I'm not even close to being the best.

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