The Jigsaw Puzzle

by Pink Panther

Chapter 3

January 2007

Christmas and New Year have come and gone. In a couple of days, we'll be back at school. I've not seen much of Mark and Andrew over the holidays. That's mainly because we've all had family stuff going on, you know, relatives visiting us and us visiting them. My main present was an iPod, so I've spent some of the money that my aunts and uncles gave me on downloading songs from the internet.

Quite unexpectedly, I've really got into it. When we get back to school, that's what I want to talk about. Well, Andrew and Mark aren't interested, not even slightly; it seems that none of the other boys is either. The girls are though, Rebecca, Jane and Louise especially, so I talk to them about it, like all the time. It means I hang out with them more than I probably would have done, but it's not a problem, is it?

I'm still wrestling with 'the feelings'. Over the past few days I've sort of convinced myself that if I just ignore them, they'll go away. It seems to be working. I haven't had a wank for five whole days. Heading out to morning break, I see one of the boys I fancy in his gym kit. I get hard in an instant. I'm distraught. It's hopeless! I've tried and tried, but it just doesn't work. Whatever I do, the feelings come back stronger than ever.

It's Saturday morning. As usual, I go to Andrew's house.

"Are you sure you don't want to come to the pool with us?" he asks. "We'll look after you. It won't be a problem, I promise."

I grit my teeth; I need this like I need a third armpit!

"It's not just us two," Mark adds. "There's a whole gang of us. Come on, Ian! It's cool, man!"

Is he joking? That just makes things worse; I'd show myself up in front of absolutely everybody! There's no way I'm going to do that!

"No," I say, putting on a smile that I'm not really feeling. "Actually, I've got stuff I need to be doing."

"Well, don't say we didn't ask you," Mark snaps, glaring at me.

They don't mention it again, but the rest of the time I'm there, there's an uneasy atmosphere, like they want to say something but can't bring themselves to do it. At half past twelve, I say my goodbyes and cycle back home. I'm irritated and confused. Things used to be so simple; the three of us were mates and we did everything together. Now we don't. Things are changing; we're changing, and it's pulling us apart.

Of course, I don't really have anything I need to be doing. After lunch I wander up to my bedroom and start messing about on the computer. Only messing about though; after that business this morning, I'm all on edge again; I can't settle to anything serious.

Claire's got her friends over; I can hear them downstairs in what used to be our play room. Claire's best friend is Natasha; they've been friends for as long as I can remember. She became friends with the other two, Suzanne and Martine, after she started at the Grammar School. With nothing better to do, I wander downstairs to say hello.

"Hi Ian!" Natasha greets as I pop my head round the door. "How are things?"

"Good, thanks!" I answer, smiling at her.

She smiles back. She thinks I'm cute; that's what Claire told me.

"I saw that picture you did of Louise," Suzanne says. "It's wicked! Would you do one of me?"

"Yeah, no problem!" I say. "I'll go and get my sketch pad."

Now I haven't told you about that. Occasionally, when we've got the time, I'll do a cartoon showing one of the girls dressed in the latest trendy clothes. They're great fun to do and the girls love them! We have a real laugh every time I do one.

I trot up to my room feeling much happier. I grab the sketch pad and a couple of pencils from the desk and head back down again. I sit cross-legged on the floor where I've got a good view of Suzanne, sketching carefully to make sure I get the outline right. The girls carry on chatting almost as though I'm not there.

"I'd love to go out with Scott," Suzanne says wistfully. "He says he'd like to go out with me too; it's just that he never has time, even in the holidays."

"I don't imagine he does, with all the travelling he has to do," Martine says. "People see these guys on television and it's like they think that they just woke up one morning and could play like they do. Nobody sees all the hours of work that they've had to put in."

I smile to myself. Martine's into sport just as much as Scott is, so I guess she knows what it's like. With no professional club locally, Scott's in the academy of a club forty miles away. He has to travel there for training and matches while keeping up with his school work.

As I finish my outline sketch, I just sit there for a few moments, listening to the conversation. A strange thought creeps up on me. Although Martine is very much one of Claire's gang, she's definitely the odd one out. The most obvious thing is that she has her blond hair quite short, not really short; it brushes her collar and the tops of her ears, but it's much shorter than the other girls'. She never wears girly clothes either. I've no idea why.

"I'll just go upstairs and finish this off," I say, getting to my feet.

"Sue'll have to leave about five," Claire says. "Will it be finished by then?"

"Should be!" I say, grinning.

I leave them to it and head back to my room. I spend the next hour working enthusiastically at putting in all the colours. Finally, it's finished. I'm pleased with it; it has to be my best one yet. I trot back downstairs, get a large envelope from mum and put the picture inside before rejoining the girls.

"Here you are," I say, smiling. "Mum gave me the envelope so you can take it home with you."

The girls gather round as Suzanne takes it out.

"Wow!" she breathes. "It's brilliant! You are so good! I'm going to get this framed!"

She thanks me with a hug and a sloppy kiss on the cheek. Yeah, it's a bit embarrassing, but I don't care. Right now, I need all the appreciation I can get.

February 2007

I just became a teenager, two days ago to be exact. I didn't really want a party this year, but explaining that to mum would have caused no end of problems. As far as she knows I'm still best friends with Mark and Andrew, and right now I don't want her knowing that I'm not. I certainly don't want her knowing why I'm not.

So I'm messing around on the computer waiting for them to arrive. They said about five o'clock, much later than in previous years, but they wanted to go to the pool beforehand. There wasn't much I could say, was there? I didn't want to start that argument again. They arrive pretty much on time. As usual they've bought me a present. I open it up. It's a really nice polo top.

"Thanks!" I say appreciatively.

I mean it too. Andrew and Mark are good kids. I'd never say anything bad about them. It's just that, well, we're not really that close any more. As it goes, it's a very enjoyable evening. They never mention going to the pool or anything. After a really delicious birthday tea – mum's birthday teas are always pretty special – we watch a movie and play a few computer games, laughing and joking much like we always have.

At quarter to ten, Andrew's mum comes to collect them. We finish the game that we're playing; they say their goodbyes and make their way out. It's been good. Throughout the whole evening there hasn't been a single hint that things aren't the way they used to be. But deep down, all three of us know that's not how it is. We've papered over the cracks. It doesn't mean that they're not there.

Half an hour later I'm in bed. Within a couple of minutes, I'm rock hard, Technicolor images of the boy I saw in his gym kit flashing through my brain. Without ever meaning to, I start mulling over another question that's been bothering me. Suppose he did want to do stuff with me, what would we do exactly? Well, we could feel each other's dicks for a start; that would be pretty cool. And I guess we could lie face-to-face with our dicks rubbing together; I'd really like that! Would we kiss each other like boys kiss girls? I guess we could, but I'm not sure if I'd want to.

Somehow I know there's more, other stuff we could do. There just has to be, but what? I really have no idea. I've tried searching on my computer, but the parental controls have stopped me accessing the sites I wanted to look at. It's all very frustrating.

But the really frustrating part is that I'm as sure as I can be that he's not like me and I don't know any boys that are. For all I know I might be the only one in the entire school. That really scares me. It's not just about 'doing stuff'. I need someone I can talk to, someone who understands. Am I going to have to wait until I leave school before I meet someone who knows what it's like to feel the way I do? I can't even think about it.

The Friday lunchtime choir rehearsal has just ended.

"Well done, everybody!" Mr Whittingdale says enthusiastically. "I'll see you all next Tuesday. Ian Haskell, will you stay behind for a moment please? I need a word."

As the other kids make their way out, I go nervously across to the piano. I pretty much know what's coming.

"Ian, I'm afraid I'm going to have to let you go," Mr Whittingdale says gently. "Your voice is starting to break and you're struggling to hit the notes. I'd like to thank you for the contribution you've made since you've been here. You've been excellent. I hope that once your voice has settled down you'll come back as a tenor or a bass."

"Thanks sir," I say quietly.

I head off to afternoon registration. So that's it then, for the moment at least. No more concerts, no more opportunities to ride home with Scott and David. I'm going to miss it. It had to happen, of course. That's just the way it is.

We're very lucky with the teachers we've got this year. They're all good, even Mrs Vickers who teaches us history. Most of them are very good. Best of all is our French teacher, Mr Ashton. He's late twenties, I'd guess, around six feet tall and slim, with short fair hair and sparkling blue eyes; not super-fit, but definitely not bad. I really look forward to his classes. He puts so much energy and enthusiasm into teaching us, there's no possibility of going to sleep. His French classes are fun! We have to work hard, of course, but that's what it's about, isn't it?

Most classes are conducted entirely in French, so we've all been given French names. I'm François. Today we're doing a reading exercise. Louise has just finished reading a short passage.

"Très bien!" (Very good!)Mr Ashton says brightly. "François, lise le paragraphe suivant, s'il te plait!" (François, read the next paragraph, please!)

I start off okay, but after a few words my voice goes haywire. It goes high then low and back again; I just can't control it. The other kids start giggling.

"Restez tranquils, les enfants!" (Be quiet, children!) Mr Ashton demands. "La plupart de vous gars vont en souffrir bientôt!" (Most of you boys will have to go through this soon!)

The class falls silent.

"Daniel," he says, turning to Dean. "Continue!"

That was so embarrassing! I hardly knew where to put myself. But Mr Ashton obviously knew what I was going through and bailed me out. I really appreciate that. Somehow it shows what a great teacher he is.

March 2007

We've just endured another wet games class. It was actually drizzling, but we still had to do it. I hated every single second. As I head into the changing rooms I'm cold, wet and muddy. Yeukkk! I take my kit off and make my way into the showers. At least they're warm. As far as I'm concerned, it's the only decent bit of the whole horrible business.

Back out in the drying area I begin to towel off. Once again there's no need to peek; it's all right in front of me. A few more boys have hair down there now; it makes me wonder when I'll get some. Both Mark and Andrew are still pretty small. They don't seem to have changed much at all. Dean Griffiths has though. It's not as long as mine and still very slim, but it's definitely bigger than it was. Interesting! I hurry back to the changing room and pull my boxers on before I start getting too 'interested'.

I stroll into afternoon registration. Once again, there's no sign of Mrs Vickers. I pull up a chair near to Rebecca, Jane and Louise. We start chatting about nothing in particular.

"Sitting with the girls again, gay-boy?" a posh voice says.

I look up, my heart thumping in my chest. It's Zav, Xavier Stanford to give him his full name. It would be. Zav is very, very clever, especially at English and history. He's quite tall, not as tall as Matthew or Dean, but taller than everyone else and definitely fit. I haven't actually seen his dick because when we have to have a shower he always keeps his hand over it. Even so, if it was just about looks, he's probably the one boy in the class that I'd fancy.

I don't though. For one thing, he's totally up himself; the word 'arrogant' doesn't even come close! But more than that, he's horrible. He loves lording it over other kids, you know, showing them up in front of the whole class like he's just done to me. It's as though he needs to show everyone how superior he is. I hate people like that! Fortunately I've managed to stay out of his way, until about thirty seconds ago, that is.

There's something I ought to explain here. About half the kids at the Grammar School went to ordinary junior schools like I did. The rest went to one of the prep schools that are part of the same foundation as the Grammar School. You have to pay fees to go to them, but almost all the kids from those schools get in here. I guess that's what parents pay for. Zav was at one of the prep schools. Now don't get me wrong, most of the kids from the prep schools are fine, but there are a few like Zav who think that they're something special.

Dean was at the same prep school as Zav. They spend most of their time together. To be more exact, Zav leads the way and Dean follows. Dean's pretty quiet, not a star in class, but he does well enough. The one place he does shine is in gymnastics. Like me he's great at the stretching exercises. It's like we can tie ourselves in knots. But unlike me, he can jump, so when it comes to doing stuff like handsprings and vaulting, he does them easily. I can't do them at all. He's okay though; I've never had a problem with him. I hope I'm not going to have one now.

"You're a little queer," Zav sneers. "I don't know why you don't just admit it."

I don't answer; I can't think of anything to say. Nobody else says a word. I'm confused, like totally. How can Zav be so certain I'm gay when I'm not even sure myself? Or am I ...? A moment later Mrs Vickers appears and the incident is at an end. Only it's not; not really. The voice deep down inside is telling me that this battle's only just started.

As the school ends for the day, I head for home with Mark and Andrew. Usually we find something to chat about. Today, nothing; we hardly say a word to each other. It's because of what happened in afternoon registration. I was actually hoping that they'd say something, like telling me that it was only Zav and not to worry about it because he's like that with everybody, but they don't. There's just an uneasy silence.

We've been here before, of course, over that business about going to the pool. Maybe they're thinking "We saw this coming," or maybe "You've brought this on yourself, hanging out with the girls all the time." Well, if they do have something they want to say to me, I wish they'd just get on and say it. At least I'd know where I stand.

Of course, I could bring up the subject myself, but I don't want to do that anymore than they do. I make the excuse that we're on the bus where other kids can hear us, but it isn't the real reason. I'm a wimp. I hate arguments and confrontations. So the silence continues.

It's half past nine and I'm already in bed. I can't see me getting to sleep any time soon though. I'm upset. I'm upset about what Zav said to me. And I'm annoyed with myself for not responding. I should have told him to fuck off or something. But most of all, I'm upset that Mark and Andrew didn't give me one word of support. We've been friends for years and years, but on our way home, it was pretty much like they were embarrassed to be seen with me. That hurts; it really does. The tears are starting to well up.

Why me? I didn't ask to be gay. So if I really am, why am I? A few months ago, I was just an ordinary twelve year old who got along with just about everybody. Then everything changed, pretty much overnight. I got these feelings I'd never had before. I might as well have been taken over by aliens. And it all happened so fast, I've not had chance to make sense of it. So now I think I might be gay, and since this afternoon, all the other kids in the group know about it. Shit! I wish I could go back to how things used to be!

I need to calm down; getting upset is just making things worse. That's what Zav wants, isn't it? He wants me to get upset, so he can sneer at me even more. Well he can fuck off! I'm not going to let him ruin everything for me. Even if I am gay, I'm not hurting anybody, so it's none of his business, is it?

So what am I going to do? Well, if all he's doing is calling me a few names, I'll just ignore him, the same as I did this afternoon. Maybe I should call him names in return, but I'm really not comfortable with that. The important thing is that I'm not going to let him get to me.

On Saturday morning I head to Andrew's house. When I arrive, Mark's there already. I try to carry on like everything's normal, but there's still that tension in the air. I've had enough. It's obvious that they're not going to say anything. I don't want to either but I don't have a choice, do I?

"Will someone tell me what the big deal is about me hanging out with the girls at school?" I demand. "Matthew hangs out with them almost as much as I do, and nobody says he's gay!"

"Matt hangs out with them because he wants to go out with Jane," Andrew explains quietly. "He'd much rather talk to her on her own, but she likes to be with her friends. So he's just doing what he has to do, yeah? Now you're not going to tell me that that's what you're doing."

"The way you talk to them, it's like you're one of their mates," Mark adds. "Sometimes, it almost looks like you're one of them!"

Owwww! That stings!

"I am not one of them!" I retort angrily.

"I didn't say you were," Mark counters. "I said that sometimes it looks like you are."

For a couple of seconds I go into a sulk. I quickly snap myself out of it. I wanted to know where I stood and now I do. At least they were straight with me.

"Okay," I say. "Let's talk about something else, yeah?"

Just as I expected, Zav does keep up the name-calling: 'gay boy', 'queer', 'poof', whatever. I stick to the plan and ignore him, giving him no reaction at all. He can't do it in class, of course; none of the teachers would stand for it, and I've managed to avoid him at breaks and lunchtimes. It's at registration when Mrs Vickers isn't there, and in between classes, that's when it happens.

I don't like it, of course, but it's not that bad. At least none of the other boys has joined in, probably because most of them don't like Zav much. So for the moment, it's nothing I can't handle.

It's Saturday afternoon; another week's gone by. Next Thursday school will finish for the Easter holiday. I'm looking forward to it. A couple of weeks without having to deal with Zav's name-calling will be more than welcome. I'm in my bedroom when there's a knock on the door.

"Come in!" I call.

Dad walks in, smiling. "So how are you doing?" he asks.

"Pretty good, thanks!" I say, smiling back at him.

"Well, I've got a little design project for you to get your teeth into if you're interested," he goes on.

Interested? You bet I'm interested!

"I've promised Claire that we'll re-do her bedroom this summer," he continues. "She was nine the last time we did it, so it's all pretty tatty. We'll need to do it right through. I've asked her what she wants, but to be honest, she hasn't got a clue. She wants a proper teenager's room, but as to the details . . . no idea at all. I was wondering if you'd like to try designing it for her."

It's no surprise. Claire's a linguist like mum. She's brilliant at stuff like that, but she's not the least bit artistic.

"Yeah!" I respond excitedly. "That would be wicked!"

"You'll have to do it properly, of course," Dad cautions, "measure everything up, you know? I've asked you now because I thought you might want to spend some time while you're off school looking to see what's available, what would fit, what would look good, yeah?"

I nod enthusiastically, my eyes sparkling.

"And then there's the cost, of course," he continues. "We can't spend a fortune. We're thinking of around eight hundred pounds for everything, including the floor covering."

"Floor covering?" I query.

"Yeah," Dad explains. "We could just put down a new carpet, but if she wants to be really trendy, we could lay some laminate flooring, with maybe a rug or two."

I nod my understanding. There's going to be more to this job than I'd initially thought. It'll take a great deal of work to do it 'properly', as Dad put it. I don't care. It's exactly the sort of thing I want to do. I can hardly wait to get started.

We're on the bus to school. It gets a bit awkward at times, but I still travel with Andrew and Mark. It's what we've always done. If they don't like it, they'll have to tell me.

"Dad's asked me to design Claire's new bedroom," I say excitedly. "We're going to completely re-do it during the summer holidays. I'll have to do some looking around during this holiday to work out exactly what we're going to put in it and what it's all going to cost."

"You mean looking round furniture shops and stuff?" Mark queries.

"Yeah," I confirm. "It'll be places like IKEA mainly. We can't spend a fortune so most of the stuff will have to be flat-pack."

Mark and Andrew look at each other. They don't actually say anything; they don't have to. It's written all over their faces: this is not something boys our age ought to be doing. I'm very disappointed, almost angry. If that's what they think, well stuff them! All I'm doing is being me and this is what I want to do. Can't they understand that? More important, I've already told Dad I'll do it. I'm not letting him down just because my so-called friends don't like it.

I knock on Claire's door. She calls me in. The place is tatty. It's obviously a little girl's room too, with fluffy pink bunnies all over the wallpaper. It's not surprising that she wants it changed.

"Dad's suggested that I design your new bedroom," I explain. "I'll need to measure it up to make sure everything fits. I didn't want to come in and do it without asking you."

"Will you be able to do that?" she asks, eyeing me suspiciously. "Design it all, I mean."

"Yeah, I think so," I say, smiling. "I'll draw everything out for you. You'll be able to look at it and tell me whether you like it or not."

"Wow, that's great!" she says, sounding less than convinced.

"I just need to ask you about the floor," I say. "Do you want carpet, or would you like laminate flooring?"

"What's that?" she asks.

"It's like imitation hardwood," I tell her. "It looks just the same. We can't use real hardwood; it's way too expensive. Dad's says we couldn't lay it in any case."

"Oh, I know what you mean," she says, "It's the stuff they have in all the trendy hair salons. That'd look really cool!"

"Yeah," I confirm. "Okay, I'll see what I can do."

"So you're really going to do it then?" she says, still looking rather dubious.

"Oh yeah!" I assure her. "Dad says we'll do it at the start of the summer holiday, while you're in Spain with Natasha. So you'll come home to a trendy new bedroom! But I've got to design it all first."

"Go for it!" she says, grinning.

April 2007

As it goes, going around different shops to sort of what we need doesn't take all that long. A couple of mornings cycling from one place to another and I've cracked it. Finally it's time to sit down and work out what it's all going to cost. Including decorating materials, it comes to just over £900. The problem is the laminate flooring; it's much more expensive than carpet would be. And having asked Claire if that's what she'd like, I don't want to be the one who says she can't have it. I need to speak to dad.

So I still manage to spend most of my time hanging out with Andrew and Mark. I don't mention anything about designing Claire's room and do my best to fit in with them, but it doesn't really work. They don't ask if I wouldn't rather be hanging out with Rebecca and her friends or anything like that, but they're sort of uneasy around me, like they're not sure how to deal with the situation. Things have moved on and we all know it.

In the evenings, I settle down to do the detailed drawings. The floor plan's quite easy. I complete it in less than an hour. The real challenge is to create the artist's impressions, so that I can show Claire what the room will look like. After a few false starts and a great deal of work, they're finished.

I'm still following pop music, of course. There are lots of different types, but the rock bands like Arctic Monkeys are definitely my favourite. One band that I've just got into is Scissor Sisters, who've come out of the gay dance scene in New York. All the band members are openly gay. I like that. I love the music too. The disappointment is that they all look . . . weird. There's not one of them that I think is hot.

I wonder if all openly gay people look like that. It doesn't seem likely, somehow. Maybe it's just in New York that they dress like that. It's all quite puzzling. I still don't know any boys who are gay, of course. I thought I didn't know any gay people at all, but it turns out I do. I had no idea, but it seems that Mr Ashton's gay. I overheard Claire and her friends talking about it.

I was quite shocked at first, so after the others had gone home I asked her. She said that he definitely was, but that nobody minds because he's such a brilliant teacher and anyway he doesn't do anything he shouldn't. I think I know what she means.

It's the Saturday following the Easter weekend. After breakfast Dad comes to my room just as I'm getting ready to go to Andrew's house.

"How've you got on?" he asks.

"Okay," I say cautiously, "but it's going to cost too much." I pull up the spreadsheet where I've set out all the costs. "There's the problem," I say, pointing to the laminate flooring. "Carpet would only cost half that much."

Dad checks it right through.

"You've missed out lining paper," he comments. "We'll need to take off the existing wallpaper and put up lining paper so we can paint the walls.

"Can't we just paint over the paper that's on now," I query.

"We could," he says, smiling, "but it wouldn't be very good. We'd keep seeing those bloody rabbits grinning through at us! Don't worry, it's not a big item, twenty pounds at the most."

"So will you tell Claire she'll have to have carpet?" I ask.

"Hmmm," Dad responds. "Have you drawn this out yet?"

"Yeah," I say, taking out the drawings. "I've done three different colour schemes so Claire can pick the one she wants."

After checking the floor plan, he looks through the artist's impressions, carefully examining each one.

"These are excellent," he says, smiling warmly. "So what d'you think of the laminate flooring? Do you like it?"

"Yeah," I say, grinning back at him. "I think it'd look wicked!"

"Then let's leave it," Dad says quietly. "It costs a bit more than we said, but it'll be okay. Have you shown these to Claire yet?"

"No," I say quietly. "I wanted you to see them first, make sure they were alright."

"Well, I think they're great," he says, smiling again. "Well done!" he adds, giving me a gentle squeeze. "I'll let you get on with your day."

He goes back downstairs. I'm basking in a warm glow. After everything that's happened over the past few weeks, that was exactly what I needed. Although I don't see Dad very much, he's always like that when we do get together. It's like he understands me in a way that nobody else does.

I wonder what he'd think if it turns out I really am gay. Maybe he already suspects? After all, he came up with a design project for me, and you saw how Mark and Andrew reacted to that, like "Boys shouldn't be doing that sort of thing."

Unlikely, the other half of me says. After all, he hasn't seen me hanging out with the girls, has he? He doesn't know about my recent interest in pop music either. Even so, I can't see him being angry. That just wouldn't be like him. I'm not saying that he'd be completely happy, but he'd be okay about it.

Mum though, that's a different problem. She wasn't very pleased when I got dropped from the choir, like she couldn't accept that my voice was breaking, even though she must be able to hear it the same as everyone else can. She seemed to think I was just making an excuse. It doesn't help that I only look about eleven. It's like she still thinks I'm her little boy. Sometimes I almost feel like dropping my pants so she can see I'm not. I won't, of course.

No, Mum wouldn't like the idea of me being gay one little bit. The questioning she'd put me through doesn't bear thinking about. And then she'd want to 'do something', even though that's totally stupid. It's just the way she is. So for the moment, I'll just have to make sure she doesn't find out.

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