Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 46

October 2012

It's Thursday lunchtime. With our morning classes at an end, I meet up with Jody and we head over to the Students' Union. But rather than seeking out Daryl and Jamie, he manoeuvres me into a quiet corner of the common room.

"There's something I've been meaning to ask you," he says, parking himself down next to me. "You know you said you live with a friend of your family? Well, I think that there's a bit more to it than that."

I swallow hard but don't reply, not knowing what to say.

"I mean, I'm sure he is a friend of your family, but he's really your boyfriend, isn't he? "

"What gives you that idea?" I counter, playing for time.

"It was last weekend, when we were at Heaven. When you booked us a cab to go to Max and Brandon's place, it was from the most expensive minicab firm in London. You had their number in your phone. And when you went home, you booked another cab and gave them an account number. That just seemed really weird. I mean, there's no way you could have an account. So, who was paying for it? I mean, your family aren't rich or anything, you told me. My guess is that your boyfriend's minted, and that's who you're living with."

I've got a decision to make. I'm not going to tell an actual lie. As I know from experience, they come back and bite you on the bum. I could just tell him that it's none of his business, but there's no way I'm going to do that. Jody, aka Joseph Philip McDonagh, is one of the sweetest, gentlest people I've ever met. He's reads voraciously and his knowledge of the arts is amazing; music, literature, film, you name it. I like him tremendously. I'm going to need friends like him, and that means I'll have to have to trust him.

"If I tell you," I respond quietly. "I'll need you to promise that you won't say anything."

"Of course I won't if you don't want me to. But why didn't you just tell me?"

"We 're in a bit of an awkward situation," I say guardedly.

"Awkward how?" he queries. "I guess he works in the City or something. He obviously earns plenty of money, but I don't see why that would be a problem."

"This is confidential, yeah, and you're not going to tell anyone else?"

"Yeah," he confirms. "I promise!"

"My boyfriend does not work in the City. He's a professional footballer. Since the start of this season, he's been playing in the Premier League."

There's a pause. He looks at me like I've gone mad, his mouth opening and closing without any sound coming out.

"Your boyfriend is a professional footballer?" he says finally.


"That seems totally weird! I mean, what do you have in common?"

"Scott wants to be the best he can be at what he does, just like I want to be the best I can be at what I do. What we share is that we both understand how hard you have to work to make that happen."

"So how did you meet him?"

"At school. He was in the same class as my sister. He left after doing his GCSE' s. "

"Wow! So is he quite well known?"

"He's getting to be. The thing is that football is very tribal. Players routinely get abused by fans of the opposing team. Black players get racial abuse. An out-gay player would get homophobic abuse. That's just the way it is. We don't want that, and neither does his club."

"Fuck! I can understand why you were wary about telling anyone."

"Scott 's out to his team mates at the club, but they've been told not to say anything. I'd love to bring him here, introduce him to people, but it's way too risky. Someone might start gossiping. Then the press would get hold of it. We don't need the hassle, yeah?"

"Oh God, you wouldn't want that. You'd have them all over you. So going back to last weekend, didn't you tell us that the guy you live with was away on business?"

"Yeah," I confirm. "He was. He was away with the England team."

"You're not talking about those evening matches that they showed on the telly?"


"God! The television room in the residences was so packed you couldn't get in! Not that I'd have wanted to. And your boyfriend was actually playing?"

"Yeah, he played in both games."

"Oh, shit! Living with someone in the public eye like that must be really hard!"

"We love each other to bits, so we do what we have to do, like staying away from the obvious places where he might be recognised."

"Yeah, right. Well, I won't breathe a word, I promise."

After lunch, I head back to the flat and settle down to work. Just before three, Scott returns from training. He wanders into the design studio.

"Hi, babe! " he says, standing behind me to gently massage my neck and shoulders. "Working hard, I see!"

"Yep! "

"Want a cup of tea?"

"Please!" I pause for a second. "Actually, there's something I need to tell you."

"Carry on; I'm all ears!"

"My friend Jody has worked out that the 'family friend' that I'm staying with is actually my boyfriend."

"That's not good news," Scott says, looking concerned. "How did it happen?"

I briefly explain.

"Couldn't you have just brushed it off?" he queries. "After all, it's really none of his business."

"I guess I could, but I didn't want to. Jody's really nice! I want us to be friends. I need friends like him!"

"And you trust him not to go telling everybody?"

"Absolutely! Jody's definitely not a gossip. He went to an all-boys' school. From what he's told me, it was pretty homophobic, so he couldn't come out there. He's not out to his parents either, so he knows what it's like to be stuck in the closet. Anyway, when I explained the situation, he totally got it. The bottom line is that if we want to have some gay friends, we'll have to find some people we can trust."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Scott says, nuzzling my ear. "To be fair, you've always been pretty much spot-on about that sort of thing."

"Thanks!" I acknowledge, smiling up at him.

Shortly after dinner, I get a call. It's Anthony.

"Hi, man! " he greets. "How are things going?"

"Pretty well," I respond. "I'm starting to settle in. It's hard work though! So, what can I do for you?"

"Next week, while we're on half term, The University of the Arts is holding an open day. I'm planning on coming down for it, yeah? I wondered if I might be able to crash at yours the night before."

"I'll have to check with Scott, but I think it should be okay. Which day are we talking about?"

"The open day's Wednesday, so I'd be staying at yours Tuesday night. If it's okay, would I be able to bring Jake with me?"

"Just a minute, I'll ask."

I stroll into the dining area, where Scott's working on an economics assignment.

"I've got Anthony on the phone," I tell him. "Next Wednesday, he's coming to an open day at The University of the Arts. He wants to know if he can stay here the night before. And if it is, would it be okay if he brought Jake with him?"

"Hmmm! " he says thoughtfully. " We 're going to Pizza Express next Tuesday evening. I'll have to call them to ask if they can squeeze a couple more in. I'm sure it'll be fine!"


"Hi! " I say, getting back onto the phone. "Scott says it'll be fine!"

"And it's okay to bring Jake?"

"Sure! "

I notice Scott gesturing to me.

"Do they understand there won't be any foursome-type activities?" he whispers to me. "I take it we are sticking to that?"

"Of course!" I assure him, smiling.

I get back to the phone.

"I just need to make sure you and Jake understand that now Scott and I are actually living together, our relationship has become completely exclusive," I say quietly. "You and Jake will be in the guest room, and you can do as you like, but we won't be joining you."

"That's cool!" Anthony says. "Jake will be disappointed, of course, but he'll just have to suck it up. Out of interest, whose idea was that?"

"Actually, it was mine."

"Respect, man! With the situation that Scott's in, it was the right thing to do."

"Thanks! That's what I thought. Okay, Scott wants a word!"

I hand over the phone.

"Hi Anthony!" Scott says brightly, turning the phone onto speaker so that I can listen in. "How are things going?"

"Pretty well, thanks!"

"How' s Jake? "

"He ' s fine. He's still adjusting to how much work he's expected to do, and sometimes he still acts more like thirteen than seventeen, but he'll be okay. Fortunately, he's got some good guys around him that help to keep him on track."

"You being one of them."

"I guess. But it's not just me. There's Jon and Aidy, and Gary, one of the other lads he runs with. It's weird. From what I've been told, they used to hate each other. These days, they're really close, even though Gary isn't gay. "

I allow myself a smile. I remember when Gary and Jake were at each other's throats. Even though Dean and I helped to put a stop to it, I wouldn't have envisaged them becoming friends.

"Thanks for the paintings, by the way," Scott continues. "They look superb! There's one in the entrance hall and one in the guest room where you and Jake will be sleeping."

"Cool! Having heard so much about it, I'm really looking forward to seeing your new gaff!"

"Yeah, well we'll see you next Tuesday. Okay, I'll hand you back to Ian to sort out the arrangements."

"Hi! " I say, taking back the phone. "Scott and I will still be working, of course. Will you guys be able to keep yourselves entertained until five o'clock or so?"

"No problem! " Anthony confirms. "There are loads of places we can go!"

"Well, around five o'clock, you'll need to get yourselves to Pancras Road, which runs between the two railway stations, yeah?"

"Yeah, I know where you mean."

"Wait by the entrance to St Pancras Station and give me a call. I'll come and meet you. It's only a five-minute walk."

"Cool! We'll see you there!"

We end the call.

"I thought you might have invited them to come a bit earlier than that," Scott says, giving me a wry grin.

"That's early enough," I argue. "I still want us to be able to spend some time together, and get some work done!"

"I love you!" he whispers, drawing me into an affectionate kiss.

Over the weekend, things go back to normal. As Greswall have a home match, Geoff comes down. The two of us go to watch the home team win a hard-fought match against one of their London rivals, prevailing by two goals to one. Scott puts in another solid performance, making a major contribution to Greswall's attacking play, and adding another assist to his tally. Afterwards, Geoff stays for dinner before taking the train home. The sense of togetherness is wonderful.

On Sunday, having trained in the morning, I spend most of the afternoon working, although it's punctuated by a wonderful hour with Scott. In the evening, we go out for dinner to a pub in Kingston, where Paul Stockton's band is playing.

I guess it's a very different weekend from the one most of my fellow students will have experienced, but I don't care. I wouldn't change it for anything.

It's Tuesday. As soon as our morning classes are over, I return to the flat. After a home-made ploughman's lunch, I settle down to work. At ten to three, Scott returns from training. Inevitably, we spend a wonderful, relaxing hour together. Nobody will ever be able to make me feel as good as he does!

At four o'clock, I head out for an easy five-mile run. Returning half an hour later, I have a relaxing shower before dressing ready for this evening. Shortly after five o'clock, I get the call.

"Hi, man! " Anthony says as I pick up the phone. " We 're on Pancras Road, by the entrance to St Pancras Station, where you said."

"Cool! I'll come and get you!"

Pulling on trainers and a hoodie, I stride purposefully towards our meeting place. They're waiting right where we agreed.

"Hi guys!" I greet, giving them each a hug. "Great to see you! What have you been up to?"

"Well, as we were that side of London, we started off at the V&A," Anthony says. "I haven't been there for ages! It was very interesting, wasn't it, Jake?"

"Sure! " Jake says, grinning.

"How's your running going?" I ask him.

"It's good! We've won all our races, and last week I made the scoring six!"

"That sounds excellent!" I enthuse.

"Yeah!" he responds. "Our sixth scorer is usually Shaun or Rakesh, but last week the course was quite hilly and a bit muddy, and I beat both of them!"

"Well done!" I congratulate. "I take it you've been beating Aidy, then?"

"Yeah, he struggles with the distance."

"I thought he might, but putting the work in over the winter will make a big difference when he comes to run on the track next summer. And that's a very solid team you're part of."

"Yeah, that's what Mr Bentley said. In one race, we won by two points, but only because we got eight runners in before the next team's sixth one, so even though Rakesh and I didn't score that day, when Nathan pointed it out to us, it felt like we had."

"Nice one!" I say, grinning broadly. "It sounds like he's doing a good job."

"Oh, he's just continuing what you did."

Well, I guess you can't get a better endorsement than that.

"So, how are you doing?" he asks.

"I've been going okay in training," I tell him. " We 've got our first race tomorrow afternoon. I'll have a better idea after that."

"Are you looking forward to it?"

"Sort of," I say guardedly. "To be honest, I'm pretty nervous. I haven't raced for months. It's five and a half miles, which is further than I'm used to, and I'm really not sure what to expect. I don't think the overall standard will be that high, but there will be some good runners there, especially the postgrad students, who'll be much stronger and more experienced than me."

"Well, best of luck!" Jake says, smiling.

Arriving at our building, we take the lift to the top floor, where I let us into the apartment.

"There it is, in pride of place!" I say, pointing to Anthony's first-ever oil painting, the one he did when the two of us were in Antibes together. "It's the first thing that people see when they come in!"

"Nice! " he acknowledges, smiling.

I shepherd them through to the lounge.

"Jake! Anthony! " Scott says, getting up from the sofa. "Great to see you again!"

"Good to see you too, man!" Anthony responds, allowing Scott to give him a hug.

"So where did you go after the V&A?" I ask.

"We went into the Gay Village to have some lunch," Jake says, grinning.

"Did anyone try to pick you up this time?"

"Nah! " Jake says. "I was hoping someone would so I could wind the guy up."

"He means flirting with him," Anthony says.

"Not really flirting," Jake argues. "Just pretending to."

"Well, you need to stop it," Anthony insists. "Or one of these days, it'll bite you on the arse! You're of legal age now. A guy could pick you up and claim everything was consensual. If you've been leading him on, you'd have a hard job getting people to believe it wasn't. "

"That sounds like sensible advice," Scott says quietly.

"Where did you get these paintings?" Anthony asks.

"They're by a young artist called Joel Carpenter," I explain. "I think he's about twenty-four. I found him online. He's based down in south London, so I went to meet him. We bought four altogether; the three in here and the one in our bedroom."

"Cool! He's good!"

"I believe he studied at the University of the Arts."

"So, you can understand why I want to go there!"

"Totally! The next time you're down, I'll try to arrange for you to meet him."

"Thanks, man!" Anthony enthuses. "I'm sure I could learn a lot from talking to someone like that. Anyway, what are we doing this evening?"

"You guys like pizza, don't you?" I ask.

"Yeah, of course!" they chorus.

"We'll have a snack now," I explain. "Later on, we're going to Pizza Express in Dean Street, not far from where you were earlier today. It's a bit of a special place; you'll see. Actually, I usually train with the UCL cross-country team on Tuesday evenings, but because of tomorrow's race, we're not doing that. Anyway, let me show you where you'll be sleeping."

I take them through to the guest room.

"Oh, there's the painting you bought off me!" Anthony says, grinning.

"Nice bed!" Jake adds approvingly. " We 're going to enjoy ourselves in here!"

"Well, you'll have everything you need," I assure him. "There's even lube in one of the bedside drawers."

"We won't need that," Anthony says, grinning. "We brought our own."

"I wish we were going to have another foursome," Jake says, removing his puffer jacket.

"Jake! " Anthony reprimands, scowling at him. " Don 't be rude! I explained that to you. Their gaff; their rules, yeah?"

"Sure! " Jake responds, smiling sweetly. "But I'm allowed to say that I'm disappointed, aren't I? "

"Oh, I'm sure Anthony will keep you happy!" I shoot back, grinning. "Just don't keep us awake half the night!"

"We won't! " Anthony assures me.

"Okay, let me show you the rest of the flat," I say, smiling.

I follow them out of the guest room, with Jake, now dressed in skinny jeans and a tee-shirt, directly in front of me. I'm struck by how young he looks; still smaller than me, very boyish and totally smooth. It's no wonder that Scott finds him attractive. I give them the tour. We finish up in my design studio.

"This is my pride and joy," I say, smiling. "When we decided to go for this place and there was a third bedroom, Scott told me to make it my design studio. So here it is! I love it!"

"Is all this stuff custom built?" Anthony asks, looking at all the cabinet work. "It looks amazing!"

"Yeah. It pretty much had to be."

"Wow!" Anthony says, nodding his approval. "This place is so cool! I knew it'd be pretty neat, but I hadn't expected it to be as good as this!"

We stroll back to through the lounge and into the dining area, where Scott's putting out some snacks for us. We quickly munch our way through them.

"Where did you go after the Gay Village?" I enquire. "You can't have stayed there all afternoon."

"The British Museum," Anthony says. "It was the obvious place."

We continue to chat about this and that until it's time for us to leave.

After taking the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square, we head north across Shaftsbury Avenue and up Dean Street to Pizza Express. To Anthony and Jake's surprise, we head right through the main restaurant and down the stairs, where the maitre d' shows us to our table.

"So, is there a band on?" Anthony asks, seeing the instruments on the stage in front of us.

"Yeah," Scott confirms. "This is one of the jazz clubs we go to. We come here pretty much every week. We're lucky tonight. These guys are totally amazing."

And so it proves. Impossible Gentlemen, led by pianist Gwilym Simcock, blow everyone away, including us. At quarter to eleven, with the show at an end, we make our way out to the cab that Scott's booked to take us home.

"That was something else, man!" Anthony says. "They were unbelievable! The best thing was that even though the music was really imaginative, it wasn't at all difficult to follow."

"Yeah!" Scott agrees. "That's what makes them so special!"

Back at the flat, it's time for a final cup of tea.

"I know I might be getting a bit ahead of myself," Anthony says quietly, turning to Scott. "But if I did end up coming here, and Jake wanted to visit me, like at half term, d'you think he might be able to stay with you guys?"

"In principle, I don't see why not," Scott says, sounding positive without actually committing us to anything. "It'll depend on what we've got going on at the time." He pauses for a second. " Okay! " he adds, getting to his feet. "It's time we hit the sack!"

Scott and I make our way to the master bedroom. After undressing each other, our love-making is gentle but intensely affectionate. Late at night, that's usually the way. As the guest room is on the far side of the landing, we'd only hear Jake and Anthony if they were being really noisy. Fortunately, they're not. Within half an hour, we're fast asleep.

I wake to the sound of the alarm clock. It's seven o'clock.

"Good morning, babe!" Scott says quietly, gently stroking my hair. "Did you sleep okay?"

"Great, thanks!"

"Okay, it's time I got moving!"

As always, I allow him the first use of the en-suite. Although it's only thirteen miles, his drive to the training ground takes over an hour. He emerges a short time later. I lie there watching as he dons his training kit of shorts, tee-shirt and sweatpants. I'm lost in admiration. Even now, I find it hard to comprehend how gorgeous he is.

He disappears out of the room, heading for the kitchen. A moment later, I slip out of bed, making my way into the en-suite. I check myself in the mirror. There's the vaguest sign that I'll need to start shaving, maybe not just yet, but definitely sometime fairly soon. It's time for a pee and a shower.

I'm back in the bedroom getting dressed when Scott returns.

"I wish Jake wouldn't run around the flat just in his underpants," he says.

"Really?" I tease. "I thought you liked him."

"I do," he concedes. "That's just the trouble. He's way too fuckable."

"Oh," I say, giving him a mock pout. "I thought you were all mine."

"I am, babe," he says, playing along. "But it'd make things easier if he didn't make his 'availability' quite so obvious."

Leaving Scott to get his things together, I make my way out of the bedroom. Jake's sitting in the dining area. Dressed in a pair of white Calvin Klein briefs, he's eating a bowl of cereal. He's got a very obvious erection.

"Hi! " I greet, smiling. "Did you sleep okay?"

"Yeah, great thanks!"

"Scott was complaining about you running around the flat just in your underpants," I tease, giving him a mischievous grin.

"Well, I thought if we weren't actually going to do anything, the least I could do was to remind you and Scott what you're missing. I don't know what the problem is anyway. It's not like I'm exposing myself!"

"You're not hiding a great deal either!" I point out.

"Hmmmph! " he snorts. "Sometimes, you guys are really boring!"

"Didn't you and Anthony have sex when you woke up?" I query.

"Yep! " he says, grinning. "As well as doing it twice last night! The first time I was on all-fours. Then a few minutes later, he had me on my back."

"Then why have you still got a hard on?"

"I don't know!" he counters. "I can't help it if I'm horny all the time. It just happens!"

Hmmm! I guess I asked for that!

At twenty past eight, we leave the flat. As the open day that they're going to doesn't start until ten, they walk with me to UCL so that I can show them around a little before going to my first lecture. At ten to nine, we arrive outside the Bartlett.

"Okay, " I say, giving them each a quick hug . "I need to get ready for my first class, so I'm going to leave you to it. Have a good day! Call me when you get home!"

It's five to three. We're at Parliament Hill Fields, where the first race of this season's London Inter-Colleges League is about to start. Stripping down to my racing kit, I make sure that my spikes are secure and line up with my teammates.

Apart from the Open University, UCL is the biggest university in the country, so it's not surprising that we have one of the largest teams, with more than twenty of us in a field of over two hundred. Apart from the English Schools', it's the biggest race I've ever been in.

The gun sounds and we're on our way. We're running two laps, each of almost three miles. One thing I've decided is that I'm not going to attempt any heroics. I'll start steadily and try to work my way through.

At the end of the first lap, I'm around sixtieth, but feeling quite comfortable. Gradually, I start to pick off my rivals. As we approach the finish I'm going better and better, overtaking guys all the time.

I finish in 34th place; not bad for my first race at this level. Handing my finishing disc to my team manager, I discover that I'm our team's fifth scorer. That's better than I expected. Once I get used to starting a bit faster, I know I'll be able to improve. Later in the season, if I run my best on a course that suits me, I could make the top twenty. That has to be the target.

Another week has gone past. Studying, running and spending time with Scott has been keeping me very busy. I don't mind. I'm totally into it now. Just after three, Scott returns to the flat.

As usual, he greets me with a passionate kiss, before guiding my onto the sofa.

"You know that we're playing our local derby this Saturday?" he asks.

I smile and nod.

"Well, we've been given a lunchtime kick-off. Even though it's at their place, it's only up the road, which means I'll be back really early. Anyway, I took the opportunity to invite Kevin and his wife to come and have dinner with us. Is that okay?"

"Of course it is!" I say, smiling warmly. "That'll be great!"

To be honest, I've got mixed emotions. On the one hand, having heard so much about Kevin, and how well he and Scott get on, I'm excited to meet them. On the other, I can't help wondering, 'How will they react to me?'

November 2012

It's Saturday afternoon. The local derby that Greswall are involved in proves to be a superb match, ending in a two-all draw. Against another of the strongest teams in the league, it's a good result. At least, that's what all the pundits say.

Just before four o'clock, I hear the door open. A moment later, Scott appears in the kitchen. Wrapping his arms around me, he draws me into a passionate kiss.

"So how was it?" I ask, grinning.

"Pretty good," he says, not getting too excited. "I had two guys on me for the whole match, but I'm getting used to that. And it was a great game. I'd say the result was about right. We're definitely looking forward to getting them back to our place."

"Great," I say. "I've made the crumble and prepared all the other stuff."

"Yeah," he acknowledges, nuzzling my ear. "I can see you've been busy. Kevin and Nicole won't be here till seven, so we can relax for an hour or so."

"Sure, " I say, smiling, as he guides me towards our bedroom. "Sounds good to me!"

It's almost seven o'clock. Everything's just about ready. There are only the last-minute things still to do. I'm excited but slightly apprehensive. This is an important evening, for Scott especially. I hope it goes well.

Right on cue the buzzer sounds. Scott answers, pressing the button to let them into the building. A couple of minutes later, he's welcoming them to the flat.

"This is my partner Ian," Scott says, ushering them into the lounge.

I've seen Kevin on television loads of times, so I know that he's a good-looking guy, but I'm surprised by how big he is, around six foot two, and needless to say, he's got a great physique.

Nicole is around the same height as Scott, but slim, with a nicely defined figure, hazel eyes, long dark hair, classically regular features, beautiful skin and a smile that would melt what's left of the polar ice cap. She is stunning!

"Pleased to meet you," Kevin says in his soft Northern accent. He extends a hand.

"Pleased to meet you too," I respond, accepting his handshake. It's firm but not the least bit aggressive. I like that. I exchange a hug and a peck on the cheek with Nicole too. Kevin looks at me quizzically.

"Sorry," he says. "I wasn't expecting you to look . . . , you know, so young."

"Don 't worry," I say, smiling. "That's what everyone says. I've always looked younger than I am."

"His mum and dad are quite small," Scott explains, "his mum especially."

"And I believe you designed all this?" Nicole queries.

"Designed it, sourced everything and dealt with the contractors," Scott says proudly. "I didn't have to lift a finger."

"The builder we used helped me a lot," I explain. "I've worked with him a few times. He vetted the sub-contractors, suggested improvements to the design and made sure I wasn't wasting money."

"Even so, it's a lot of responsibility for someone your age," she says.

"Yeah, I guess," I concede. "I've got used to it. When I was thirteen, I redesigned my sister's bedroom. Dad told me I had to do it properly, you know, measuring up and working out what everything would cost. Then we did the work together. It's just gone on from there."

"Well, you've done a great job," Kevin says, smiling. "Any young guy would want a place like this. It's got style and quality written all over it."

"You should meet Ben, my brother," Nicole suggests. "You'd get on really well."

"So what does he do?" I ask, figuring that this must be the gay brother that Scott mentioned.

"He ' s a production designer, " she says. "He works on television dramas."

"He had a real struggle to get started," Kevin continues. "He had to take all sorts of crappy jobs just to get himself known."

"Yeah," Nicole agrees. "He got his first break about four years ago with a couple of low-budget dramas. Being low-budget, it was really hard to make them look good, but he did it great. A bit later, one of the big costume dramas came up. Well, he called the line producer, not expecting anything, but it must have been his lucky day. Her regular designer was working on something else, so she gave him the job. He hasn't looked back since."

"I've got nothing but respect for him," Kevin says. "He knew what he wanted to do and he stuck with it, even when it looked like he wasn't getting anywhere. He's a really nice guy too. The boys love him to bits."

"How old are they?" I ask.

"Kane 's five and Ashley's three," Nicole says.

"So is he looking after them this evening?"

"No, my mum's with them," she explains. "My dad died a few years ago. Well, there wasn't much to keep Mum in Bolton, so she moved down here to be near me and Ben. And she loves being Granny!"

"She's got a flat about half a mile from us," Kevin says, "plus she's got her own room at our place. It works well for all of us."

"Excuse me," I say. "I'd better go and check on things in the kitchen."

"D 'you mind if I sneak a look?" Nicole asks.

"No, of course not," I say, smiling.

"Oh, I love this!" she says as I lead her through. "It's like one of these kitchens you see on the telly. It's wonderful!"

"Scott and I both like cooking," I explain quietly, "so we wanted somewhere good to work in."

"Well, you've done fantastic," she says, her smile so warm I can feel myself glowing. "Okay, I'd better leave you to it."

Wow! I'm floating on air. I hardly know what to say. Five minutes later Scott and I are serving dinner.

"This looks good!" Kevin says appreciatively.

We sit down to eat. I'm opposite Kevin, with Nicole to my left.

"I was right," Kevin says, tucking in. "This is excellent!"

"So how did you guys get together?" I ask.

"Oh, we were teenage sweethearts," Nicole says, smiling again. "We got together at school when we were fifteen. It's been twelve years now."

"That's great!" I say. "It's a bit like us, in a way. When I was twelve, Scott was best mates with my sister's boyfriend. That's how we met, singing in the school choir. Then just after I turned sixteen, he turned up one day to ask if I'd like to design the refurb for the flat he'd just bought. Well, I jumped at the chance. It just developed from there."

"I think that's sweet," Nicole says warmly. "You guys look like you totally belong together."

"So where do you go when you go out?" Kevin asks.

"The jazz clubs mainly," Scott says, " like Ronnie Scott 's and Pizza Express, Dean Street."

"We 've never been to Ronnie Scott' s, " Nicole says. "I believe it's very good."

"It's the best," Scott enthuses. "We go there quite often. If you're interested, the next time we have a home match with a Saturday lunchtime kick-off, I could get tickets for us."

"D 'you fancy it?" Kevin queries, addressing Nicole. "It'd be something different. We haven't been anywhere like that for ages."

"I'd love to go," she says. "Mum can look after the boys."

"Great," Scott says, smiling. "I'll fix it up."

"So what's it like being an architecture student?" Kevin asks, turning to me.

"It's great," I say, "It's hard work though. UCL is the top architecture school in the country, so all the guys on the course are really good."

"Oh, you'll do just fine," he says, his eyes locked on mine. "From what I've heard, you thrive on challenges, just like Scott, always looking for ways to improve. I did well in my GCSE's. I could probably have gone to university. Maybe I should have continued my education like Scott has, but at the time, all I wanted to do was play football."

"I stayed on at school," Nicole says, "did my A-levels. Then I went to college and trained as a nursery nurse. It's come in very useful now I've got two of my own."

I smile and nod. Kevin and Nicole are friendly, sensible and totally grounded, nothing like the image many people have of Premier League footballers and their wives. I like them a lot.

After dinner, I show them the rest of the flat.

"You can see it's a guy's flat," Nicole comments, "but in a totally good way."

"You should have seen this one place we looked at," I quip. "It was a great flat, and it was up in Whetstone, so it would have been very convenient for Scott. But the décor was unbelievable. You'd have thought Barbara Cartland had been living there!"

"Oh, that wouldn't have suited you at all," she says, giving me another blast of her killer smile.

We 're all laughing. The atmosphere couldn't be better. At half past ten we settle down to watch Match of the Day, Scott and Kevin eagerly dissecting every move.

"Do you understand all this?" Nicole asks, turning to me.

"Some of it," I say.

"I wish I did," she says, grinning.

They leave just before midnight, Scott closing the door behind them.

"That went well," he says, drawing me close. "I hoped it would, but I've not met Nicole before."

"Oh, she's a star," I say, grinning. "I thought she was wonderful."

"And she certainly took to you," he says, nuzzling my ear.

"Yeah, but you don't need to worry," I answer, running my hand over his crotch. "She hasn't got a cock."

The last few days have totally flown past. Before I know it, it's Thursday. As usual, with our morning classes at an end, I meet up with Jody. As we head to the Students' Union, I notice that he seems really hyper.

"I've got something to tell you," he whispers excitedly as we head into the building. "I've met someone."

"Great!" I say. "When was that?"

"Last night," he says. "I went to the student night at Heaven. I got talking to this really cute guy. His name' s Zoran. He ' s at King 's, doing languages. After a bit, we went back to his place."

"And? "

"It was awesome!" he says dreamily.

"Zoran? " I query. "Where's he from?"

"Oh, he was born here," he tells me. "But his family are from Croatia. They came here in the early nineteen nineties, during the war between Serbia and Croatia. They lived close to the border. They had to get out or they'd have been killed."

"Wow! That's not good!"

"If you come to the social tomorrow evening, you'll meet him."

"Great! I'm certainly planning to be there!"

Later that afternoon, Scott and I are snuggled up on the bed.

"Jody seems to have acquired a boyfriend," I inform him.


"Yeah! They met at the student night at Heaven. The guy' s name is Zoran, he's from Croatia, or at least his family is, and he's doing languages at Kings."

"Sounds interesting!"

"Jody seems to think so. He's bringing him to the LGBTQ group social tomorrow evening, so I should get to meet him."

"I wish I could go with you," Scott says, stroking my hair. "But you know how it is."

"Yeah," I agree. "I wish you could too. But it's okay. We'll just have to suck it up."

It's Friday evening. After getting ready to go to the LGBTQ group social, I stroll into the lounge, where Scott's watching a music video.

"I'm going now," I say, smiling.

"Have a good time!" he urges, drawing me into a goodbye kiss. "I'll pick you up at ten."

After taking the tube to Euston, I briskly make my way to the Students' Union, and head to the common room where the social is being held. I quickly spot Jody, and I can hardly miss the guy he's with.

Zoran is as cute as all hell. He's around the same height as Scott, with deep brown eyes, jet black curly hair and smooth, deeply tanned skin that gives him a quite boyish appearance. Even though he's fully dressed, I can see he's got a great body, not as well developed as Scott, but definitely more muscular than I am. He is hot!

Better still, he's funny, charming and clearly very intelligent. It's also clear that he and Jody are totally into each other. I think it's wonderful. Jody needs someone like that. I'm really happy for them. We chat for a while.

A little later, I go and talk to Daryl and Jamie, but as they have other things on their mind, they don't stay long. With nothing better to do, I return to Jody and Zoran. Although they're quite welcoming, I feel as though I'm intruding.

It's frustrating. When I was at school, I was never very keen on going to parties with my straight friends. I felt like a spare prick at a wedding. Now here I am, with a bunch of gay guys. I ought to be in my element, but with my friends all pairing off, it seems like nothing's changed.

Quentin, sitting on the far side of the room, is chatting to a tall, slim boy with straight fair hair that I don't remember seeing before. I look around to see where Julian is. He's with his friends and clearly having a great time. I don't want to interrupt, and I'm not going to try rescuing the lad myself. It's not my business and I'd probably get told to fuck off.

Finally, my phone bleeps. After saying goodbye to Jody and Zoran, I hurry downstairs to where Scott has the car waiting.

"So what was Jody's boyfriend like?" he asks as I get in next to him.

"Oh, he's really nice!" I enthuse. "And he and Jody are totally into each other!"

"I'm guessing tall, dark and handsome," he suggests.

"Dark and very cute," I agree. "Not tall though, he's around your height, and quite boyish-looking."

"Sounds lovely," he says, grinning. "I was thinking of the Croatian tennis players. They're all very tall. Most of their footballers are too."

There's no getting away from it. Cute, boyish-looking guys turn him on. I'm not worried. What Scott and I have goes way beyond sex.

It's Monday afternoon and I'm at home, working in my design studio. Just after three, I hear the door open. Moments later, Scott wanders in, smiling.

"Hi babe! " he says, coming up behind me to massage my neck and shoulders. "I've been selected for the England squad to play against Sweden next Wednesday . We'll meet up on Sunday, and I'll be back on the Thursday."

"Is this another of these meaningless friendly matches?" I ask.

"Pretty much," Scott agrees. "I expect we'll be without several senior players for one reason or another. It won't be meaningless for me though. It'll be another opportunity for me to show the management what I can do. The same goes for Kevin and Jerome."

"Cool!" I say, smiling up at him.

He'll be away for four days. Of course, I'll miss the sex, not to mention the wonderful emotional support, but I'm so busy now, and so into what I'm doing, I know that the time will just fly by . I've even got another race on the Wednesday afternoon, before he plays his match in the evening. This time, I'm ready to handle his absence without it becoming an issue.

It's Thursday evening. After I come back from training, Scott and I snuggle up on the sofa.

"Are you still friends with Jody?" he asks, gently running his fingers through my hair.

"Sure! "

"And is he still with his boyfriend?"

"Very much so! Why d'you ask?"

"I was thinking," he says quietly. "The weekend after I come back from Sweden, our match is on the Sunday. We may do some light training on the Saturday, but it won't amount to much, even if we do. I wondered if you'd like to invite Jody and his boyfriend for dinner on the Friday evening. They could even stay over if they wanted to."

"Really? What brought that on?"

"Well, if we want to make some gay friends, we need to start somewhere. Jody already knows the score with us, and we know he hasn't said anything because you'd have heard about it if he had. So he seems the obvious choice."

"Yeah, that'd be really cool!"

"So let's invite them then! A week on Friday; seven-thirty for eight!"

It's Wednesday afternoon. The last few days have flown past. With Scott having been away since Sunday, I've been keeping myself as busy as possible. Although I have done some studying at the university, I've been feeling quite comfortable working at the flat. I guess I'm getting used to it. I still miss Scott, of course.

The other thing I've done during the past few days is to invite Jody to bring Zoran to dinner on Friday evening. He accepted without hesitation. I'm really looking forward to showing them the place.

Right now, we're at Wormwood Scrubs in west London, for the second London Inter-Colleges League race. Compared with Parliament Hill, the course is flat and boring. It won't suit me at all. But it is what it is. I've been going well in training, so I just have to get on with it.

At three o'clock, the starting pistol sounds and we're away. Feeling confident, I make a point of getting out faster than I did in our first race. After half a mile, I've settled into my running. I'm going well and feeling good.

On courses like this, overtaking people is not easy. Even so, once we're into the second half of the race, I begin picking up places. With a mile to go, I'm flying along, overtaking one guy after another.

Almost inevitably, I lose a couple of places on the run to the finish, ending up 26th, an eight-place improvement on our first race. I'll settle for that! As long as I keep improving, I'm well on course to be making the top twenty before the end of the season. Once again, I'm UCL 's fifth scorer, though quite a bit closer to our fourth scorer than I was last time.

We 've won the team race too. Being the largest institution represented here, that's not a total surprise. It's still very pleasing though. It tells me that I'm part of something worth belonging to.

By this point, I'm starting to get to know my teammates. I really like most of them, but there is one exception. Alex Poulton is our best runner and won today's race. Three years ago, he was a junior international. He's now twenty-two and a postgrad student, and last season he represented Team GB at under-23 level.

Well, I don't care how good a runner he is; I think he's a prick. He went to one of the top public schools and talks down to people. He also seems to think that because he's our number one, Stuart, our team captain, should organise things to suit him. I avoid him as much as possible.

England's friendly match against Sweden is being shown on one of Sky's sports channels. That's fine for us; we've got them all. With England missing three of their most experienced defenders, the Swedes are on top right from the start. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who plays his club football in France, is causing havoc in the England defence.

On a more positive note, when England do get the ball, they attack with purpose, and score two good goals. Scott gets an assist for the first and is involved in the build-up to the second. The match ends with Sweden having won by four goals to two. In the circumstances, I guess it's as good as I could have expected.

With the match over, I just try to chill out. After almost an hour, my phone rings. As Scott's rooming with Kevin again, it's no problem for him to call me.

"Hi babe! " he greets. "Did you watch the match?"

"Yeah! Disappointing result, but you seemed to do okay."

"That sums it up pretty well!" he agrees. "Considering how little possession we had, scoring two goals is not bad at all. It certainly won't have done my cause any harm!"

I allow myself a smile, remembering what he told me before he left. Although the result really didn't matter, it was an opportunity for him to establish himself in the England squad, and he took full advantage of it.

"How did your race go?" he asks.

"Not bad; I finished twenty-sixth."

"That's a step in the right direction!"

"Yeah! And Wormwood Scrubs is really flat, so it didn't suit me at all."

"And most of the guys who beat you would have been older?"

"Sure! There may have been a few guys my age in front of me, but not many."

"Well, just keep working at it!" he urges. "You're doing really well!"

As I don't have any classes on Thursday afternoon, once I've spent a few minutes catching up with Jody, I head back to the flat. Scott's already there, preparing lunch.

"It's great to be back," he says, drawing me into a wonderfully sensuous kiss. "Will you be training with the group this evening?"

"No, after racing yesterday, I got up early this morning to run an easy five, to help me loosen up. I thought that after lunch, I'd work for a couple of hours. Then I'd go out for another steady run while we've still got some light."

"So, you're going to make me wait?" he queries, giving me a fake pout.

"Yes," I respond. "But once I've come back and had a shower, I'll be all yours!"

"Hmmm! " he purrs, gently running his fingers through my hair. "Now there's an offer I can't refuse! "

It's quarter to five before we eventually make it to our bedroom. As we undress each other and snuggle up on the bed, the sense of togetherness is indescribable.

We spend an hour simply making up for lost time. It's not that we do anything we don't normally do, but we're just so in tune with each other; it's magical. I can't imagine living without it. Eventually, I find myself lying on my back with my legs wrapped around Scott, while we fuck and kiss like nothing else matters. And right at this moment, it probably doesn't.

It's Friday evening. Just before half past seven, my phone rings. It's Jody.

"Hi! " he says as I pick up. " We 're on Pancras Road, outside St Pancras Station like you said."

"Cool!" I respond. "I'll come and get you. I'll be with you in five!"

Leaving Scott behind in the kitchen, I pull on my coat and head out of the building. A few minutes later, I'm striding towards them.

"Hi guys!" I say, smiling warmly. "Great to see you! Come on; it's not far!"

Returning to the flat, I usher them inside.

"Wow! This is nice!" Jody says, looking around.

"Amazing!" Zoran adds. "It's like one of the show-homes you see on those television make-over shows."

I lead them through to the kitchen.

"Guys, this is Scott," I announce. "Scott, this is Jody and that' s Zoran. "

After an exchange of hugs, Jody produces a bottle of red wine.

"Thanks!" Scott responds, smiling. "That'll be perfect!"

Leaving Scott to do what he does best, I lead our guests back to the lounge.

"I love the pictures!" Jody enthuses, looking around again.

"They're by a young artist called Joel Carpenter," I say quietly. "I found him online. He's based in south London, so I went to meet him. We bought four altogether. There's another one in our bedroom."

"I think they' re superb! " Jody says. "They take the room to a whole different level. I wish I could paint like that!"

"Let me show you the Holy of Holies," I say, leading them into the studio.

"Oh, my God! " Jody exclaims, his eyes the size of saucers. "So this is where you do all your work!"

"Yeah," I say quietly. "I'm very lucky to have somewhere like this."

At ten to eight, I seat the guys at the dining table, while Scott and I serve dinner.

"This is wonderful," Jody says, smiling appreciatively. "It's the best meal I've had since I've been in London"

"Totally," Zoran confirms.

"I knew you'd have a nice place," Jody goes on, "but this is amazing! It must have cost a fortune!"

"Maybe not as much as you'd think," Scott says, grinning. "When I bought it, it hadn't been touched since it was built. We had to gut it and start again. So, meet the designer and project manager!"

"You designed this?" Jody asks, looking at me like he doesn't quite believe it.

"Yeah," I admit. "I designed it. Fortunately, we were able to bring in this builder from home that we've worked with before, so once we'd agreed on everything, I could largely leave him to get on with it."

"Ian also sourced the furniture and everything," Scott adds.

"Wow!" Jody gasps. "I wouldn't have known where to start!"

"I'll tell you about it sometime," I say.

I'd tell him now, but I don't want to bore the other two. It can wait till we're hanging out at uni.

"You're the first of Ian's gay friends from uni that we've invited here," Scott says quietly. "We trust you not to talk about it."

"Oh, you can rely on us," Jody says. "We know how awkward it must be."

"You set up the first goal when England beat Serbia," Zoran says, grinning from ear to ear. "They're our big rivals. The Serbs and the Croats used to fight all the time, except when Tito was in charge. He was a Croat, but everyone respected him because of how he led the partisans during the (Second World) War."

"They pretty much invented guerrilla warfare as we currently know it," Scott explains.

After dinner, we sit around for a while, finishing the bottle of wine and chatting about all sorts of stuff. Finally, Scott and I load the dishwasher before joining our guests in the lounge.

"Ian tells me you' re into film," Scott says, handing Jody the DVD of North Sea Texas. "Have you seen this one? It was shown at the London Gay Film Festival a couple of years ago."

"No," Jody says. "I've heard about it though. I'd have thought about buying the DVD myself, but I didn't really have the money."

"We like it, don't we Ian? " Scott says gently. "It's in Dutch with English subtitles."

"I speak German," Zoran says. "I should be able to understand most of what they're saying."

We settle down to watch. Despite having seen it before, I'm more than happy to see it again. For me, it captures the realities of growing up gay better than anything else I've seen. As it finishes, I glance across. Tears are streaming down Jody' s face.

"That was wonderful," he sobs, drying his eyes. "I really felt for Pym. That could have been me."

"It was very good," Zoran confirmed. "I think that's how things are for lots of boys growing up gay."

"Cup of tea anyone?" Scott asks.

"Please!" we chorus.

We sit quietly, drinking our tea. There's not much conversation, Jody still clearly affected by watching the film. I can understand that. I check my watch. It's twenty to eleven.

"Come on," I say, getting to my feet. "I'll show you where you'll be sleeping."

"Are you sure you don't mind us stopping?" Jody asks.

"Of course not," Scott assures him. "We wouldn't have invited you if we did."

I lead them to the guest room.

"This is beautiful," Jody says appreciatively. "You've got a great eye. Who did the painting? It's not the same artist as the ones in the lounge, is it?"

"No, this is by a friend of mine from school."

"Really; he's very good. How old is he?"

"He's just eighteen; for the last few summers he's spent time in Antibes, where the impressionists used to paint. I went with him once. Next year, he's hoping to study at what used to be Central St. Martin' s. It 's now part of the University of the Arts, which is just around the corner."

"Is he gay too?"

"Yeah; we were an item for a while."

"So how old were you?"

"I was thirteen when we first got together."

"Wow! You didn't waste time! I wouldn't have dreamed of doing anything when I was that age. So why did you split up?"

"He met someone else, that he thought was the guy he was meant to be with. We stayed friends though."

"Oh, right," he says absently, his face telling me that he really has no idea.

"Okay," I say. "I'll leave you to it. You know where the bathroom is."

"Yeah. Goodnight. And thanks; it's been great."

I head to our room. Scott's already in bed. After a quick pee, I pull off my clothes and join him.

"That was interesting," he says, "Jody saying he couldn't have designed this place, or project managed the work. To be honest, I don't think many of your fellow students could have done what you did."

"Maybe," I concede.

"And you were right about Zoran," he goes on, snuggling up to nuzzle my ear. " He's very cute; not in your league though!"

"Mmmm! " I purr. "I've told you before: flattery will get you everywhere!"

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