Juggling the Pieces

by Pink Panther

Chapter 47

December 2012

It's the first Saturday in December. Today, Greswall have a home match with a lunchtime kick-off, and so this evening we'll be going to Ronnie Scott's for dinner, where Kevin and Nicole will be joining us. I'm really looking forward to it.

Because the match is a lunchtime kick-off, it's shown on Sky-TV, so I'm able to watch it. The Greswall team give another convincing performance, earning themselves a two-nil win and maintaining their position near the top of the league.

We 've never been to Ronnie Scott's on a Saturday. During the week, when they put on one show that lasts the whole evening. But on Fridays and Saturdays, they put on two shows each night. We've never been because the first show started too early for us to get there, and the second show was way too late. Today though, the early show will suit us perfectly.

Scott returns home just after four. After spending over an hour enjoying the most exhilarating sex imaginable, it's time for us to get ready. Although there's no dress-code at Ronnie Scott's, most people dress either smart or smart-casual. As this is a special occasion, I dress even more smartly than usual.

We reach the club at half past six. After a short wait, we're at the front of the line waiting to be seated.

"Good evening, Mr Paxton," the maitre d's assistant says. "It's a table for four, isn't it?"

"Yes," Scott confirms. "Are our guests Mr and Mrs White here yet?"

"No, " she says. "I'll bring them to your table as soon as they arrive."

She leads us to a table directly in front of the stage. We're going to have a great view. We're just getting settled when Kevin and Nicole appear. I do a double-take. They've really dressed to impress! They look like film stars.

Of course, they don't act like film stars. They're as grounded and friendly as they were when they came to the flat. We order our food, which arrives just as the support band takes the stage. As always, both the food and the service are excellent. Kevin and Nicole seem more than happy.

We 've not long finished eating when Curtis Stigers and his band come on. All I can tell you is that singer and saxophonist Mr Stigers has to be one of the coolest guys on the planet. He has the audience in the palm of his hand.

I'd been a bit concerned at how Kevin and Nicole would react to being expected to keep silent during the performance. In the event it's not an issue; they're as captivated as everyone else. Finally, the show' s over.

"Thanks for inviting us," Nicole says warmly. "It's been wonderful. We'll definitely come here again."

"Yeah, it's been great," Kevin confirms. "It's not somewhere I'd have considered if you hadn't suggested it, so thanks for that."

Scott settles the bill and we make our way out, heading a few yards along Frith Street to where our cab's waiting to take us home.

It's Monday afternoon. After a great weekend, my focus and energy are right where I need them to be. I'm finally starting to feel like I'm getting on top of things. I'm in a tutorial with Dr Chapman when my phone starts to vibrate, indicating that I've received a text message. As I'm in class, I ignore it, but as soon as the tutorial's over, I take out my phone and check my messages.

The one I've just received is from Scott:

Come home as soon as you can. Something's happened. We need to talk.

I'm alarmed. I've never had a text like that before. I can't imagine what it's about, but it doesn't sound good. I send a simple reply:

Just got out of class. I'm on my way.

I'd planned to hang out with Jody for hour or so, but there's no way I can do that now. After making my excuses, I put my stuff away and head for the door. Ten minutes later, I walk into the flat. I'm on tenterhooks. Scott's sitting in the lounge. This is serious. I can see it in his face.

"So what's happened?" I ask, sitting down next to him.

"After training, one of the other players came up to me," he says quietly. "He accused me of being a paedophile."

"What?" I demand.

"According to his version of events," he continues, "on Saturday evening, I went home from somewhere near the gay village with a boy of around fourteen."

"But you were with me!" I protest.

"Precisely," he responds.

"Oh, shit! Didn't you tell him?"

"I told him he'd got it wrong, but he wasn't listening. Kevin was in talking to Terry, or we'd have sorted it out right then, but before I could do anything, the guy had left."

"Who is he?"

"His name's Carl Briscoe," he says disconsolately. "He's a loudmouth; likes to act the big man. He thinks he's a good player, which he might be if he ever trained properly. He joined the club a couple of years ago. The previous manager brought him in. I guess it looked fair enough at the time. He was an under-21 international and had done pretty well playing in the Championship. But he never cut it. Instead of focusing on making the step up to playing in the Premier League, he got seduced by the money, the lifestyle and all that shit. He's always bragging about what he's bought and the money he's spent.

Well, since Terry took over, he's hardly played. The club tried to move him out back in the summer, but he wouldn't go because he'd have had to take a pay cut. He's out of contract at the end of the season. There's no way that Greswall will keep him."

"So who told him . . . , you know?"

"I think it must have been the cab driver," he speculates, still sounding like he's had the stuffing knocked out of him. "I can't see how it could be anyone else. I don't know what the connection is, but I'm sure there must be one. Anyway, I wasn't that bothered. It's bollocks, right? When Kevin came out of the office, I told him what Briscoe had said. Then we went and explained it to the boss.

Terry was not happy. He doesn't like Briscoe at the best of times. He tried to call him, but Briscoe's phone was switched off, so he said he'd deal with it tomorrow morning. Well, that seemed okay." He takes a deep breath. "But just before I texted you, I had a call from Brad. The fucking idiot's posted his allegations on Twitter."

"Holy shit!" I breathe, the colour draining from my face. "What do we do now?"

"We keep calm and carry on," Scott says quietly, putting a protective arm around my shoulder. "We haven't done anything wrong. We need to remember that. Of course, it's not going to be easy. The allegation is in the public domain so the press can report it. The only way we can refute it is by telling people exactly what did happen."

We sit in silence for a moment while I absorb what he's just said.

"That means you'll have to come out," I say.

"Yeah," he agrees, sounding far less confident than he usually does. "I thought I might have to come out at some point, but I didn't expect it to happen like this."

"So how are you going to tell people?" I query.

"The club will probably call a press conference," he says. "They could just issue a statement, but that'd look like we were trying to hide something."

"Will I have to be at the press conference?"

"Oh no, " he says reassuringly. "It's me that's being investigated."

"I'd like to be there," I say firmly. "I want to support you. And I don't want people to think I'm running away."

"I guessed you probably would, and I'm very grateful," he says, gently stroking my hair, "but let's see what Brad says. How well we come through this will depend a lot on how I handle it. Bear in mind that this is a serious allegation. The police might want to talk to us. That wouldn't be much fun. If they do, we'll just have to tell them the truth. My concern is that when people see you, some of them are going to jump to conclusions."

He doesn't need to spell it out. I know exactly what he means.

"Well," I say thoughtfully. "Once I'd got you to confide in me that you were gay, I just knew you were the one I wanted to be with. There was no question of you pursuing me or anything like that. In fact, you were quite hesitant about it at first. But I wasn't going to give up, and here we are."

"That's not quite how I remember it," he says.

"Well, you'd better start remembering it like that," I insist, "because that's how it was. I'll make sure we've got Claire onboard. There's no-one else who can say any different!"

"Sometimes, you really do amaze me," he says shaking his head.

"I'm not going to have ignorant, bigoted people trying to wreck your career," I say firmly.

"It's unlikely that any reporters will get to you before the press conference," he says gently. "If they do, just tell them we'll be making a statement later and until then, you can't comment. And thanks."

"What's going to happen about Briscoe?" I ask.

"Brad's got the lawyers on it," he says. " We 're demanding a full retraction and an unconditional apology. He'll be in all sorts of shit with the club. They might even sack him. I've spoken to my PFA (Professional Footballers' Association) rep. He says that as long as what I told him stands up, I'll have their full support."

I sink back into the sofa, trying to take it all in. Everything was going so well. Then out of the blue, this happens. Over the past couple of years, I've often wished Scott was in a position to come out properly, so that we could go to places without worrying if anyone would recognise him. It's like people say, 'Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it.'

"Hi Mum, " I say a little nervously.

"Ian! " she says brightly. "I wasn't expecting you to call. How is everything? I hope nothing's wrong."

I briefly explain the situation.

"I wouldn't have bothered you," I conclude, "but it's probably going to be in the papers. I wouldn't want you hearing it from somebody else."

"Well, I think it's terrible!" she says. "Why would this man Briscoe do something like that?"

"He's an idiot," I answer. "And I think he's jealous. Scott's been a success and he hasn't. "

"That sounds more than likely," she says. "To be honest, I was worried that something like this might happen. I didn't say anything because I didn't want to sound negative. Anyway, you know you have our support, so if there's anything we can do, please ask."

"Thanks Mum," I say, before ending the call. "By the way, how's Dad getting on?"

"Oh, he's been keeping himself very busy! Working on his plumbing skills, visiting auction properties, going to the auctions to see what they went for; all sorts of things! Of course, I love having him here!"

"Well, give him my love please!"

After ending the call, I wander into the lounge.

"Kevin just called," Scott says. " He's spoken to all the senior players. He says they're all behind me, which is good. And Brad should be here in around half an hour."

I make my way back to the studio and try to get some work done. I don't get very far. I can't concentrate. The buzzer goes. That'll be Brad. A couple of minutes later I hear his voice in the hall. I follow him and Scott into the lounge.

"I've spoken to Briscoe's agent," Brad says. "The guy's tearing his hair out. Once we've established the facts, you won't have any problems from that quarter. Briscoe will have to apologise. That's all there is to it. And I've spoken to Terry. He's going to call a press conference. We've just got to agree a time."

"I'd like to be there if I can," I say.

"That's probably a good idea," he says thoughtfully. "We don't want people to think we're hiding you away. And it'll mean the gentlemen of the press won't have any excuse for accosting you in the street."

"Will I be able to speak?"

"Oh, we'll need you to speak," he says, smiling. "You might look fourteen, but as soon as you open your mouth, they'll know you're not. I don't want you answering questions though. You're not used to handling the press. I know how tricky some of those scumbags can be. Draft a statement. I'll vet it before the conference, okay?"

"Sure. I could bring my passport to prove how old I am."

"Good idea. Have you got it here now?"


"Could I borrow it? I'll make copies and give them out."

I go to the studio and take my passport out of the drawer.

"Great," he says as I hand it to him. "I'll return it tomorrow, yeah?" There's an awkward pause.

"We 've still got the public reaction to think about," he continues. "For obvious reasons, that could be difficult."

"What people need to understand," I say evenly, "is that Scott didn't pursue me, quite the reverse in fact. He was worried about damaging his career. But I knew he was the guy I was meant to be with, and I don't give up easily. So here we are."

"Really?" he says, looking at Scott. "You never told me that bit!"

"There was no reason to," Scott answers.

"Are you willing to say that in public?" Brad asks, turning to me.

"Yes, of course."

"Excellent, " he says, smiling. " Don 't put it in your statement though. If the question comes up, Scott will ask you to answer it. So what time would suit you?"

"Afternoon; I've got classes in the morning. I don't want to miss them."

"Fair enough," he says. "Let me make a call."

He calls Terry, the Greswall manager.

"Two o'clock okay?" he asks.

"Yeah, fine." I tell him.

"Before you put anything on your Facebook page," he says to Scott, "let me have a look at it. Right, I'm going to leave you guys to get on with your evening."

With that, he's on his way. I head into the studio to draft the statement Brad asked for. I'll send it to him later. As soon as I've sent it, I call Claire. After I've explained the situation, I tell her what I plan to say at the press conference.

"Well, that's not exactly how I remember it," she says, "but it's definitely what you should tell them. And you'll need to remember that that's what you've said if the question ever comes up in the future."

It's good advice. That's our story and we'll need to stick to it. Tomorrow is going to be the most difficult, uncomfortable day of my entire life. But I've got to do it. Our whole future depends on it .

I walk from the tube station towards the Bartlett. I'm like a cat on hot bricks, as though newspaper reporters are going to jump out of the shadows at any moment and start asking me all sorts of awkward questions. They won't, of course. Right now, they don't even know who I am, much less where to find me. When I arrive at college, Jody's waiting for me.

"What's this stuff I've seen on Twitter," he whispers. "You know, about Scott being a paedophile."

I explain what happened.

"What a dickhead!" he says, referring to Briscoe. "So what's going to happen now?"

"There's a press conference this afternoon," I explain. " We 're going to tell everybody what I just told you."

"Is that why you're all dressed up?"

"Yeah. If I don't go, I'll have reporters looking for me. I want to go anyway."

"It must be horrible, having to go through something like that," he says gently, "but you'll do fine. I know you will. And if you need someone to talk to, I'll be here for you."

"Thanks, Jody," I say. "You're a real friend."

It's lunchtime. I've got through this morning better than I thought I would. After a quick bite to eat, I head for the tube station. With London traffic being the way it is, it's quicker to travel by tube, like we do when we go to matches. Scott's arranged for a cab to meet me at the other end. The journey takes twenty minutes. Making my way outside, I spot the cab.

"Cab for Mr Haskell on Mr Paxton's account?" I ask.

The driver nods. I get in and we're on our way. When we arrive, I'm taken to a part of the stadium I've not been to before. Scott's waiting for me. He's looking nervous.

"So how did this morning go?" I ask.

"As usual, Briscoe arrived at the last minute," he says quietly. "Kevin called him a fucking muppet and marched him off to Terry's office. We started training without them. Kevin joined us about twenty minutes later. Briscoe's been put on gardening leave."

"He's a lucky man," Kevin says, coming to join us. "If I didn't have a wife and kids to think about, I'd have beaten the shit out of him."

"After training, we had a meeting in the dressing room," Scott goes on. "Kevin told everyone what had happened. Several of the senior players spoke too. They all said they were totally behind me. Then Kevin asked anyone who had any issues with it to speak to him."

"A couple of the lads did want a word," Kevin says, "but once I'd explained the situation, they were fine with it. You guys have done nothing wrong."

"Hi Ian, " Brad interjects, brandishing my passport. "Good to see you. Thanks for sending your statement over. You did a good job. Have you put in the changes I suggested?"

"Yeah," I confirm, taking my passport and stashing it safely in my jacket.

"The other part was fine, excellent in fact," he goes on. " Let 's hope you don't need it. Right, are you ready for this?"

"Yeah, definitely."

"Okay, come and meet Terry."

He leads to where the Greswall manager is talking to two of his assistants.

"Terry," he says. "This is Ian, Scott' s partner. "

"Thanks for coming," he says warmly, shaking my hand. "I'm sorry to have to put you through this. It's exactly the sort of situation I was trying to avoid."

"It's okay, " I tell him. "I want to be here."

"Right, everybody," he announces. " We 're good to go."

He leads us into the press room. Scott, Kevin, Terry and I sit behind the desk at the front, with Terry between me and Scott, and Kevin at the far end. Brad, carrying copies of my passport, and Terry's two assistants make their way to the back of room.

I look out over the assembled reporters, around fifteen of them. In the far corner is a television camera. I'd never thought about this being on television, but it doesn't matter. I can't falter now. This is way too important .

"Right, gentlemen," Terry says, addressing the reporters. "You know why we're here, so let's get started. For the record, I'm Terry McHale, manager of Greswall FC. On my right are Scott Paxton and club captain Kevin White. The gentleman on my left is Ian Haskell. To begin, each of us will make a statement. Once we have done that, Scott, Kevin and I will do our best to answer any questions you may have. Ian will not be answering questions. Right, I'll ask Scott to begin."

Scott begins by carefully recounting the events of Saturday evening.

"After training yesterday," he goes on, "I was confronted by Carl Briscoe. He accused me of being a paedophile, claiming that on Saturday evening, I'd gone home from near the gay village in the company of a boy of around fourteen. I tried to explain to him that he'd got it wrong, but he wouldn't listen. Before I could do anything, he left.

As soon as Terry and Kevin had finished their post-training meeting, I told them what had happened. Terry tried to call Carl, but was unable to reach him. He said we'd deal with it this morning. However, mid-afternoon, I received a call from my agent to say that Carl had posted his allegations on Twitter. The rest you know."

"Okay, " Terry says. "I'll hand over to Kevin."

"All I want to do is to confirm everything that Scott's told you," he says. "What Carl Briscoe has said is completely wrong. I can also tell you that Scott told us he was gay at the start of the season, when he and Ian began living together. That was absolutely the right thing for him to have done. As a matter of club policy, we were all asked not to make it public."

"I'm now going to ask Ian to speak," Terry says.

"My name is Ian Haskell," I begin. "I am eighteen years old. In case any of you has doubts about that, Brad is bringing round copies of my passport. I carry it with me most of the time, as people often think I'm younger than I am."

"I've removed the number," Brad interjects, while handing round the copies, "but you can see the name, the photograph and the date of birth."

"I'm currently studying architecture at UCL," I continue. "Scott and I got together two and a half years ago, a few weeks after I turned sixteen."

Without giving too many details, I outline how Scott and I met and the background to our relationship.

"We told our parents about it right after I finished my GCSE' s, " I tell them finally. "Initially, both sets of parents had their misgivings. However, I am pleased to tell you that we now have their full support."

"This morning," Terry says. "I had a meeting with Kevin and Carl Briscoe, as a result of which, Briscoe has been put on gardening leave. Posting an allegation like that on social media is a serious breach of club discipline. This is not the first breach of discipline Briscoe has been involved in. He knows perfectly well that any concerns of that sort should be brought to me. I would have investigated, and if I wasn't happy with the answers I was getting, I'd have referred the matter to the proper authorities. In this instance, I'm more than happy with the answers I've been given. Okay! Are there any questions?"

There are lots.

"Are you expecting the police to investigate?"

"Unless somebody makes a complaint to the police," Terry says. "There's nothing for them to investigate. Following our meeting this morning, I can't imagine that Carl Briscoe is going to lodge a complaint."

"So will Scott be suspended?"

"Certainly not," Terry snaps. "I'm not prepared to suspend a player on the basis of an allegation that we know to be a load of rubbish. If he'd been arrested, it would be a different matter, but he hasn't and I don't see any prospect that he will be."

"Scott, wouldn't it have been easier if you'd come out in public?"

"I didn't do that," Scott responds, "first of all because we're as much entitled to a private life as anyone else. Second, you understand the position that gay professional footballers are in. I didn't want to be the first one to put his head above the parapet. In any case, as Kevin told you, I was specifically asked not to. In this present situation, I don't think it would have made any difference."

"Are you taking any action against Carl Briscoe?"

"Yes," Scott says firmly. "We're seeking a full retraction and an unconditional apology."

"How do you think the fans will react?"

"Once they know what actually happened," Kevin replies, "I'm sure our fans will be fine with it. It's hard to say how opposing fans will behave, but the FA has a policy against homophobia. Fans of opposing clubs need to remember that homophobic abuse is no more acceptable than racial abuse."

"Scott, why isn't your partner answering questions?"

"First, because he's not under investigation," Scott says, "and second because we decided he shouldn't. He's not used to dealing with the press. It wouldn't have been fair to expect him to do that."

"Scott, " one of the reporters asks. "As he's said himself, Ian looks considerably younger than he is. Aren't you concerned that people may think you have an inappropriate interest in younger boys?"

It's the question we hoped we wouldn't have to answer, but at least we're prepared for it.

"Of course I'm concerned," Scott says firmly. "That's not a label anyone would want. All I can tell you is that I never envisaged having a partner who looks like Ian does. It's just how things worked out. I can also tell you that because of the very precarious position I considered myself to be in, prior to my meeting with Ian when I asked him to refurbish my flat, I'd never made a sexual advance to anyone, let alone an underage boy. I wouldn't do that, not then, not now and not in the future. Now as the question's been raised," he goes on, "Ian does have something he'd like to say."

I take a deep breath. "What you need to understand," I say, looking the reporter right in the eye, "is that when Scott came to ask for my help to refurbish his flat, he did not pursue me in any way. I sensed he was gay quite early on, but it took quite a bit of coaxing on my part to get him to talk about it. Well, I knew immediately that he was the guy I wanted to be with. Back then I knew virtually nothing about football, but his dedication, and his willingness to make whatever effort was needed to succeed, were inspirational. I guess we're both achievers. We both want to be the best we can be at what we do. But it wasn't as simple as that. Scott was very hesitant about getting into a sexual relationship. It wasn't that he didn't want one. He was concerned it might damage his career. We'd be friends, but he was reluctant to go any further. But I'm not one to give up as easily as that. It took a while, but eventually he came round to my way of thinking."

"So how did you manage that?" the reporter demands.

"I'll answer that," Scott intervenes. "While he was working on getting my flat sorted, I was knocked out by his ability to take responsibility. Here he was, sixteen years old, taking charge of refurbishing my flat and doing a fantastic job. That's amazing. More than that, he took a genuine interest in what I was doing, the way I trained, how I prepared for matches, everything. Over the weeks I came to realise we were meant to be together. We understood each other so well. I've never met anyone like him. It's like he said, we're both achievers. And I can tell you that getting together with Ian is one of the best decisions I've ever made. The support he's given me since we've been together is a big part of the reason I've achieved as much as I have. As the football writers among you will know, early in 2011, I got seriously injured. Ian's sheer determination to get me through that was crucial. Without him, I wouldn't be here now. For my part, I've tried my best to provide the same support to him."

Wow! I didn't know he had it in him to speak like that! I'm almost in tears. And there's a murmur of approval in the audience. It'd be too much to say he's won them over, but he's gone a long way towards it.

"I'd like to add something here," Kevin says. "Ian may look fourteen, but you've heard him speak. In reality, he's eighteen going on twenty-five. He's a good deal more grown-up than some twenty-three year olds I could name!"

I allow myself a grin. That was Briscoe he was having a dig at. And with no further questions, the conference is at an end.

"You were magnificent!" Brad says, striding to the front to put an arm around Scott's shoulder.

"I had to tell them," Scott replies, clearly still emotional. "They needed to know what this is about."

"You did it brilliantly," Brad assures him. "You did well too," he adds, smiling at me.

"Oh, I just said what we'd agreed," I say. "I couldn't have spoken like Scott did."

A few minutes later we're on our way home. I'm still in a daze. I've never heard Scott talk so passionately about anything. Sometimes, adversity brings people closer. That's definitely what's happened with me and Scott. There will still be difficult days ahead, but we're going to come through this, and afterwards we'll be stronger than ever.

I open up my computer. I've got more e-mails than I've ever seen. It's like everyone I know has e-mailed me. I begin to look through them, messages of support, every single one. Finally, I open the one from Franny.

Hi Ian! Sorry to hear about the trouble you've had. But don't worry. Everyone knows Briscoe's an arsehole. All my friends think Scott's totally cool. Give him my best! Hugs! Franny

I can't tell you how much this means to me. I stride into the lounge.

"You should see all the e-mails I've had! " I say brightly. "It's mainly people from school, but there are lots of others. Everyone's on our side. And Franny asked me to give you his best wishes."

"Oh, he's a great kid," Scott says, like he's not sure how to react. "How's he doing at the moment?"

"He didn't actually say, but I'm sure he's doing fine. Apparently, his friends all think you're totally cool."

"My Facebook page has been incredible," he says. "After Briscoe made his allegation, I got some pretty horrible stuff, but now that we've told everyone what actually happened, I've had messages of support from fans, fellow players, all sorts of people. Oh, there are still a few telling me I'm going to burn in hell, but I can ignore those. And there are a few trolls, of course. Most of them are pretty pathetic, but there are some bad ones, you know, threatening me and that. I'm going to get Brad to have a look at them, to see if there are any we need to report to the police."

"Talking of the police," I ask. "Have we heard from them?"

"Yeah, Brad's been in contact. Apparently, they've spoken to Briscoe who admitted he made a mistake. So that's it as far as they're concerned."

"Right," I say. "I'm going to give Franny a call, see if I can catch him before he goes to bed."

I return to the studio and call the number. After a couple of rings, Franny answers.

"Hi, man! " he says brightly. "I'd have called, but I wasn't sure how things would be. You did great at that press conference. That must have been a nightmare."

"Yeah, it wasn't easy," I admit, "but at least we had a chance to prepare for it."

"Well, you did great. What Briscoe said about Scott is total bollocks. Remember when I met him? I gave him the come-on, you know, just to see how he'd react. He didn't want to know. He said he wouldn't go with anyone who was underage."

"Right! So how are things with you?"

"Oh, man! It's been insane! But I've been totally loving it, and my playing's improving all the time!"

"Are you still working with Josh' s band? "

"Oh yeah! We're doing a couple of gigs in the run-up to Christmas. I didn't contact you because I knew you would be able to make it. Aidy's coming though!"

"Nice one! Give him a hug from me, yeah?"

"Sure! " he agrees. "I'll do that. The other news is that I've got a girlfriend. Elena's thirteen, very pretty and plays the oboe."


"Why not? I've never thought of myself as gay or straight. I'm just me. Elena and I get on really well. But with this place being the way it is, we're not going to be. . . you know, doing anything!"

"Well, I guess it helps to have someone to give you a bit of TLC when you need it. Okay, I'd better let you go."

"Yeah, well thanks for the call!" Franny says. "Take care, man! And don't let the bastards grind you down!"

With that, he's gone. It's good to know that he's behind us. Although I'm sort of surprised that he's acquired a girlfriend, that's just who Franny is. He's a total one-off.

It's Wednesday morning, As I arrive for our nine o'clock class, Sam and Theo are all over me.

"Hey man!" Theo whispers. "We saw you on telly. You never told us you were Scott Paxton's boyfriend!"

"Yeah, well nobody was supposed to know."

"Oh, we can understand that," Sam says quietly. "You can't be sure how the fans will react. But Scott's one of the best young players around. We watched the England games, yeah? He did fantastic. You'd never have thought he hadn't played at that level before."

"And these allegations are crap," Theo adds. "He was with you, and you're eighteen. So, what's the problem?"

"Well, we're hoping there won't be one," I tell them.

Over the past couple of days, things have started to settle down. I've had expressions of support from several guys in the LGBTQ group, including Duncan Frazer, who went out of his way to come and find me. I really appreciated that. I also had to see Dr Chapman, my personal tutor. He was really nice. He even complimented me on the way my drawing' s improved.

So far, the press coverage of Scott's coming out has been fairly low key; the lower the better as far as we're concerned. A few papers reported it in quite a positive way. At the other end of the spectrum, two papers were a bit sniffy, like they didn't believe what we told them, though they didn't actually say that. The others didn't seem to take a view, one way or the other.

It's lunchtime. I'm sitting with Jody in the UCL common room. Guys from the LGBTQ group often use it as an informal meeting place. I'm just trying to get my head together. It's been a difficult few days; I can't pretend otherwise. Suddenly Quentin appears.

"Oh, look who we've got here!" he announces in a very loud voice. "Now we know the truth about your so-called boyfriend, don't we? You're shacked up with a knucklehead footballer! You're nothing but a glorified rent-boy!"

"How dare you call me that?" I snap back at him. "You don't know the first thing about us. Scott and I have been together for ages. And he isn't a knucklehead!"

"All footballers are knuckleheads," he sneers.

"The only reason you're slagging me off is because I wouldn't sleep with you," I retort. "I wouldn't sleep with someone as far up themselves as you are if they were the last guy on the planet!"

"So what have you got in common with some football player?" he asks, his superior tone getting right under my skin.

"More than you' d understand, " I tell him, my determination to keep control stretched to the limit. "It's none of your business anyway."

"Well, we all know how you pay your way," he says, an evil grin on his face.

"Shut up, you spiteful bitch!" Jody spits, the first time I've ever seen him angry. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Don 't you dare . . . ," Quentin begins, drawing himself up to his full height.

Suddenly Duncan appears, as though out of nowhere.

"I have to say 'spiteful bitch' sounds a pretty accurate description to me," Duncan hisses, jabbing a finger into Quentin' s chest.

Quentin, caught completely off-guard, splutters incoherently.

"Now let me tell you," Duncan continues, his eyes blazing, "you've dug yourself a deep enough hole already. If you take my advice, you'll get out of here right now!"

Quentin retreats, clearly smarting. I'm shaking, Quentin's attack bringing back memories of Zav. I thought I'd put that behind me.

"Don 't worry about him," Jody says quietly, putting an arm around my shoulder. " He's just a dirty old man."

"Well," Duncan says, stroking his chin. "I'm not sure he's there yet, but he's ageing fast! And I've recorded what he said on my phone," he adds, giving me an evil grin. "He has no idea how much shit he's going to be in!"

"What's wrong?" Scott asks, looking concerned.

I tell him about my encounter with Quentin.

"Well, I'm pleased your maths lecturer friend saw him off," he says gently. "Make a note of what he said, and ask Jody and this guy Duncan if they'd be willing to back you up. I'll have words with Brad, to see if we have need to take legal action."

"Cool! Actually, Duncan recorded it on his phone. He reckons Quentin's going to be in trouble anyway."

"Terry asked me if I was okay to play on Sunday," he says, changing the subject. "I told him I was fine."

"Good for you!" I say, snuggling up to him.

"It helps that we've got a home game," he says. "If it had been an away match, he might not have risked it, but the support from our fans has been amazing."

"Yeah, I can hardly believe all the e-mails I've had. Can you get me a ticket?"

"You're going to go, on your own?"

"Yeah, definitely."

"Okay, as long as you' re sure. Aren 't you worried that someone might recognise you?"

"It's a chance I'll have to take. I need to be there. Watching on telly wouldn't cut it, not now."

"Leave it with me. We're playing one of the newly promoted clubs, so it shouldn't be a problem."


"We still can't be sure how people out there are going to see this," he says, his frustration all too obvious. " We 've done what we can. Who knows if it'll be enough? It's hard, having to wait, not knowing how it's going to turn out. It's like I'm not in control."

"You mean like when you were injured?" I suggest.

"I mean exactly like when I was injured," he confirms.

I know what he means, only this time, there's not much I can do to help. We'll just have to wait.

It's Thursday evening.

"You won't be on your own on Sunday," Scott says, ending the call he's just taken. " Dad 's coming down."

"It's a long way to come," I comment, "especially as the opposition aren't that good. You didn't ask him to, did you?"

"Oh no, " Scott assures me, "He wanted to come. It's his way of showing solidarity, yeah?"

"That's fair enough," I say, smiling. "As long as he's not coming down just so I won't be on my own. Actually, it'll be good, having him there. He always explains stuff to me."

The following morning, Scott and I are getting ready for the day ahead when the buzzer sounds. I go to the flat door and check the security screen. Brad's standing outside the building. I press the button to let him in.

"It's Brad," I say, returning to our bedroom where Scott's getting dressed. "You weren't expecting him, were you?"

"No, " Scott say, "not at all, but it must be important for him to come here at this time."

I return to the door, opening it just as Brad appears on the landing.

"Hi Brad!" I say brightly. " We weren 't expecting to see you this morning."

"I wasn't expecting to be here," he says darkly.

We meet in the lounge.

"I'll start with the good news," Brad says gruffly. " Briscoe 's retracted his statement and issued an apology, everything we asked for really, so that's sorted. And the next thing I have to tell you," he adds, turning to Scott, "is that you'll need to be at the club at ten o'clock in the morning. The BBC wants to interview you for Football Focus. But the real reason I'm here is this."

He produces a newspaper from his briefcase, opening it at the inside back page. " Scott Paxton under attack, " the headline blares. I begin to read the report that follows, my heart thumping.

Scott Paxton has come under attack today from the Christian Families Group. Their spokesman, John Woods, told The Globe, "We strongly dispute the claims by Scott Paxton and his partner that they are in a mature, caring relationship. It is quite clear to us that Mr Paxton is sexually attracted to young boys. If he wasn't, this so-called relationship would never have got off the ground. We believe that the football authorities and the gay community should repudiate Mr Paxton and condemn this relationship."

Their views were echoed by child protection specialist Gaynor Mitchell, who told us, "It's quite clear that Scott Paxton is sexually attracted to younger boys. The present relationship may last for a while, but it is not difficult to see what is likely to happen when Mr Paxton's partner no longer looks the way he does at the moment. In my view, Scott Paxton has to be regarded as a danger to under-age boys."

I'm stunned. I hardly know what to say. Next to the report are two photos, one of Scott and one of me, both taken at the press conference.

"This has been photo-shopped," I snap angrily, pointing to the picture of me. "They've made me look about twelve."

"It's disgusting," Brad agrees, "the whole lot of it. They daren't say it themselves, so they've dredged up this hard-line Christian group and some woman who calls herself a child protection expert to say it for them."

"They wrote a sniffy report after the press conference," I say, recalling what I read earlier in the week.

"Yeah, well they're trying to make something out of nothing, because they think it'll help them sell a few papers," Brad says. "They're scumbags. Look at the Editorial"

He turns to the centre page. "Questions that need answers," is the heading on the left. I grit my teeth and read on.

Despite the generally positive reaction to the press conference earlier this week, the doubts raised about Scott Paxton by the Christian Families Group and child protection experts have to be taken seriously. The football authorities, it seems, wish to claim that this matter is none of their business. This is not good enough. We believe they need to conduct a proper investigation to find out the truth. And irrespective of his achievements on the pitch, if Scott Paxton represents a danger to young boys, he must be banned from the game without delay.

Scott 's gone pale. "This is vicious," he says quietly. "I thought I might get a bit of flak, but nothing like this."

"It's totally out of order," I say, angrier than ever. "They don't even mention me. It's like I don't count. I'm an adult, but because I don't look it, it's like they're telling me I shouldn't have a boyfriend, cause if I do, he'll get labelled as a paedo."

"Good point," Brad says, nodding.

"And it's totally homophobic," Scott says. "If I was straight and had an eighteen-year old girlfriend who only looked about fourteen, nobody would say a word."

"Quite right," Brad agrees. "The question is what are we going to do about it? I have friends in the press, especially on The Sentinel . They' re The Globe ' s big rivals. They'll be more than happy to rip this rubbish to bits, but they'll need our help, and I need to know that you're totally onboard with what we're doing."

This sounds encouraging. The Sentinel was one of the papers that was quite supportive after the press conference.

"Sure, " Scott says. "What are you planning?"

"Well first, I want them to do an in-depth interview with you," he says. "I also want them to go to your old club, talk to Jez Garner who runs the academy. They might even get to talk to some of the boys who are still there and remember you from when they were like twelve or thirteen."

"Yeah," Scott agrees. "That sounds like a plan."

"And I'd like them to talk to someone at your old school," Brad suggests.

"Well, Mr Saunders coached our football team," Scott says guardedly. "Actually, he's in charge of football right across the school. I'm not sure he'll be able to say much though. I played for his team, but that was pretty much it. We weren't close."

"It's still worth them talking to him," Brad insists.

"They could talk to my mum," I suggest. "She'll tell them what our relationship's like."

"Nice one!" Brad says, grinning.

"And then there's the psychologist I saw after I told Mum and Dad I was gay. Mum found it hard to accept at first. She thought I was too young to know. But he said I definitely was gay. He said I had a mature and positive attitude towards my sexuality."

"That could be very helpful," Brad says. "Do you remember his name?"

"Dr Philip Aitken, " I tell him. "Mum and Dad should still have the report and his contact details."

"Great," Brad says, grinning. " We'll contact them. Dr Aitken won't be able to say anything about you, of course, because of patient confidentiality, but he might want to express a view on what this woman Mitchell said." He pauses. "You're really determined about this, aren't you?" he says, looking at me intently.

"Of course I am," I say firmly. " We'll do whatever it takes."

"That's what I like to hear!" he says. "Right, I'll be on my way. Leave it with me. I'll be in touch."

A moment later he's gone. I take a deep breath. At first, I was shocked. Then I was angry. Now, just like Brad said, I'm determined. The Globe wants a fight, and I'm going to make damn sure they get one. If they think they can split us up or wreck Scott's career, they'd better think again.

"You were wonderful," Scott says, putting his arm round my shoulder. "You never wavered for a moment."

"You remember when I was getting bullied by Zav?" I ask. "Looking back, I think it's one of the best things that ever happened to me."

"How's that?" he queries.

"It taught me to stand up for myself," I tell him, looking right into his eyes. "Of course I didn't waver. This is about us. There's no way we're going to let them win."

"I love you, babe," he whispers, drawing me into a passionate kiss.

It's time to go. After sending Mum a text, I'm out of the flat and heading for the tube station.

It's gone five o'clock when Scott gets back from the club.

"How did the interview go?" I ask.

"Pretty well, I think," he says. "The reporter seemed very fair. I was able to bring out some points that I sort of glossed over at the press conference. And it was good practice for tomorrow."

"Sounds cool," I say, smiling.

"He said he'd like to interview you too," he goes on, "I mean on your own. I'm not sure how you'd feel about that. He could come here tomorrow while I'm at the club."

"That's fine. We can't look like we're trying to hide things."

"Yeah, that's what I said to Brad. He was a bit worried because you're not used to dealing with the press."

"I'll just stick to what we've said," I assure him. "I might expand on it a bit, but it'll still be the same story."

"Yeah, that's pretty much what I did," he says. He pauses. "I'm not sure how to say this," he continues, looking uncomfortable. "The thing is, well, you know I do fancy younger boys."

"So what?" I respond. "Do you think you' re ' a danger ' to them?"

"No, of course not," he says firmly. "I wouldn't actually go with one, however cute he was."

"And even if he was obviously up for it," I remind him. "You could have had sex with Franny, but you didn't. That'll do for me. The fact that they turn you on is nobody's business but ours, right? It's our secret."

"Yeah, right," he concedes. "I'll call the guy. Will ten o'clock be okay?"

"Yeah, I've got plenty of work to get on with while I'm waiting." I look right into his eyes. "Now I think it's time we gave each other some TLC," I say quietly. " We 've earned it."

It's half past seven when Mum calls.

"I was hoping I'd catch you," she says. "Your dad will be back soon and I've had a reporter from The Sentinel here for over an hour. He wanted all the background, right back from when you were little. He seemed really sympathetic. I told him I don't care what these people say. You and Scott love each other and you need to be left to get on with your lives."

"Thanks, Mum," I say, almost tearing up.

"I was happy to do it," she says. "You're my son, and I'm proud of you. Anyway, what gives them the right to tell people what they should do and what they shouldn't? If they came round here, I'd give them a flea in their ear!"

Actually, that's exactly what she'd do. Mum may be small, but anyone having a go at me or Claire will soon find out how feisty she is.

"You're a star," I tell her, almost laughing. "Give my love to Dad, yeah?"

It's nearly ten when Scott's phone goes.

"Hi Brad," he says, picking it up. " Ian 's here. Is it okay if I put it on speaker, so he can listen?"

"Hi Ian! " Brad's voice booms from the phone. " The Sentinel ' s pulled all the stops out on this one. As well as the guy who interviewed you, they sent a top freelancer up to the Midlands. It's paid off big time. He started off at the academy. Not only did Jez Garner sing your praises, apparently there was a queue of boys, all wanting to speak up for you. After he'd finished there, he managed to get a comment from Dr Aitken. Then he went to your old school and spoke to Mr Saunders. He gave you both a great write-up. And as if that wasn't enough, the interview Ian's mum gave was absolutely stellar. The Sentinel' s editor is rubbing his hands. He says it's one of the best human-interest stories they've ever run. They're going with it on Sunday. It's going to make The Globe look completely stupid."

"Thanks Brad," Scott says, clearly relieved.

"It didn't happen by accident," Brad tells him. "You've worked for it. You listened to your dad and you listened to me. So instead of thinking you were fireproof like a lot of lads do, you kept your nose clean. In the position you were in, it would have been easy for you to get a bit too close to some of the younger boys at the club, probably at school too, but you didn't. You were friendly, helpful and gave them lots of encouragement and that was all. Well now you're reaping the reward."

"Yeah, I guess," Scott concedes, sounding anything but convinced.

"Since this story broke," Brad goes on, "The reactions you've had have been overwhelmingly positive, yeah? The Globe' s trying to undermine that, but it's going to backfire on them, trust me. And talking of reactions, you should see some of the stuff Briscoe' s had. I'm talking serious hate mail. He's even had a couple of death threats."

"That's not good," Scott says. "He made a mistake. He doesn't deserve that."

"Bear it in mind for tomorrow," Brad says quietly. "The BBC reporter might ask you about it. Right, I'm going to let you guys get on with your evening."

With the call at an end, Scott slumps back on the sofa. He looks bewildered, almost lost.

"What's the problem?" I ask. "You've got loads of support out there. I mean, having the boys from the academy supporting you says it all, doesn't it?"

"Only I'm not sure I deserve it," he says, still looking out of sorts. "Oh, Brad's right in what he says. When I was close to being given a professional contract, I often had younger boys asking me stuff. Sometimes, Jez asked me to talk to them as a group, I guess because I could speak better than most of the lads. Sure, I was careful not to get too friendly, but it wasn't because I thought it was the right thing to do. It's just that I was paranoid about anyone finding out I was gay. I mean it's not like I'm some sort of saint."

"Of course you deserve it," I say firmly. "The fact is that you kept your distance and the boys respect you for it. You don't have to explain why."

"It was even harder at school," he says. "After I got selected for England Schoolboys, some of the school's younger football players treated me like some sort of god. One of them even came onto me in the showers. I think I told you."

"Yeah, and you ignored him, like you hadn't noticed."

"Mind you, I'm not surprised Rob Saunders gave us a good report," he says, changing tack. "I'm sure he knew I liked to peek at some of the younger lads after football training, but he couldn't very well say that, could he?"

"Not when he does exactly the same," I say, grinning.

"I'm sorry," he says, placing his fingers between mine. "I've found this week really tough. I just want it to be over, yeah?"

"And it will be soon," I assure him. "Another few days, that's all. And we're going to win, just like I said."

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