The Jigsaw Puzzle

by Pink Panther

Chapter 10

December 2007

I've been having some totally weird thoughts recently, about being fucked again. Back during the summer holidays when I did it with Jimmy, it hurt like hell. It was really humiliating too. So why the fuck am I thinking about doing it again? Not with him of course, I want Anthony to do it. I keep telling myself that it's mad, it's stupid; but the idea just won't go away. When I'm lying in bed, there it is, gnawing away at me. Trying to fight it off just makes it worse. So I'll have to give it a go. Am I crazy or what?

Anthony may say he doesn't want to do it, of course, but I don't think he will. And he's not as big as Jimmy, so it won't hurt as much. Even so, I'll need to get myself ready. For a start, I'll need to get some of the gel that Jimmy used. That'll definitely make it easier.

It's Thursday afternoon, the one day that I usually go straight home from school. Instead, I head into the town centre. I stroll into Boots the Chemist and start mooching around. After a few frustrating minutes, I find what I'm looking for. I pick up a tube and take it to the checkout. My heart's racing. I'm sure the assistant's going to ask me why I want it. She doesn't, of course, just takes my money without batting an eyelid.

When I get home, Claire's already in her room, busy with her homework. Mum won't be back for at least an hour. I head to my bedroom, shutting the door behind me. After closing the curtains, I strip off. I check myself in the mirror. I've got more pubic hair than I had a few months back, not as much as some of the boys, but definitely more than I had. I wonder when I'll get more. Soon, I hope. I take a step back to get a better look. I'm still small, of course, and a bit on the skinny side, but definitely not bad. I'd far rather be me than a blob like Olly Stephens.

I get onto the bed and open the tube. How am I going to do this? At first, I can't find a suitable position. Finally, I get it. I lie on my back with my legs pulled up so that my knees are by my shoulders. This way I can use one hand to push a finger into my bum. Just touching myself up there makes my dick tingle. I wrap my other hand round my prick and begin to stroke. It's like, wow! I hardly have to do anything. The result's way more intense than wanking off usually is; it's far more productive too.

It's Tuesday afternoon. I'm on my way to Anthony's house. I've been 'practising' since last Thursday. I'm as ready as I'm going to be, so if all goes according to plan, today's the day. Five minutes later we're where we usually are, lying on his bed, kissing and fondling each other. He runs his hand along my thighs, his fingers caressing the sensitive area behind my balls.

"Stroke me further back," I whisper.

He does as I ask. His index finger touches me right on the spot.

"Mmmm!" I coo. "That's nice!"

I reach down, retrieving the tube of gel from my bag. I pass it to him.

"D'you want me to . . . , you know?" he asks, looking right into my eyes.

I hesitate for the briefest of moments. This is a big step, maybe the biggest of all. But in the end, it's a no-brainer. It's what I've been fantasising about, what I've been preparing for. I can't wimp out now.

"Yes!" I confirm.

"Get on all fours," he tells me.

He positions me with my feet hanging over the end of the bed, my bum pushed right back, my head and shoulders down low. Standing behind me, he uses one finger to work some gel into my bum. After a minute or so, he adds a second one. I wince slightly.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

"Yeah, it just stung a bit; that's all."

He pushes both fingers in and out, twisting them around as he does so. It's scary but very exciting. Finally, he lets them slide out. A moment later, the head of his cock is nuzzling my bum-hole.

"Are you ready?" he asks.

"Yes!" I tell him.



He sticks it in. It stings even more than his fingers did.

"Ooooh!" I gasp.

"Do you want me to take it out?" he asks.

"No! Just hold it where you are. Let me get used to it."

Almost immediately, I begin to relax, the stinging sensation ebbing away.

"Okay," I tell him. "You can carry on now."

Holding me around the tops of my thighs, he steadily pushes it in. It thrusts over my prostate, making my cock twitch and tingle. Moments later, Anthony's stomach's pressed tight against my bum. After pausing for a few seconds, he starts to fuck. OMG! It's the most wonderful, exciting thing ever! My penis is tingling so much, I hardly know which planet I'm on. I've no idea how long it lasts.

"I'm going to cum!" he warns suddenly.

In the next instant, his hot boy-juice spurts into my bum. After a few seconds, he slowly pulls out. I'm elated, like totally! We've done it! I'm not sore. I'm not even that messy. And it felt amazing! Moving around to the side of the bed, he kneels on the floor, pointing to his open mouth. I get up onto my knees, turning to face him. It's over in seconds, my spunk squirting onto his palate before making its way down his throat. He gently pulls away.

"That was awesome!" he says, smiling and licking his lips. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," I breathe. "It was wicked!"

"I thought you must have liked it," he says, smirking. "You came even more than you usually do."

Riding home on the bus, I'm as high as a kite. I've had Anthony right inside me. It's the best feeling ever, like it was what I was born for. I can hardly wait to do it again.

The following afternoon, I'm training with Dean. It's going well. Even though we're running faster than we used to, I complete the first lap still completely in control. After half a minute or so, we set off for a second circuit. I'm still feeling comfortable. There's no question of needing to stop. We approach the changing rooms, around two hundred yards to go. Dean picks up the pace. I go with him. As we complete the lap, I'm blowing like an old steam engine. My chest feels like it's on fire. It doesn't matter. I did it. Strangest of all, I actually enjoyed it. We head back inside.

"That was great!" Dean says warmly. "You're doing much better than I thought you would. Next week we'll run two laps straight off. I'm sure you can do it."

"How far's that?" I ask.

"Two kilometres," he says, "around a mile and a quarter."

Running over a mile without stopping, that's a big breakthrough. And I will be able to do it, there's no question.

"So are we going to mine?" Dean asks, pulling on his clothes.

"Yeah, course!" I say, smiling.

I wouldn't miss that. We'll chat and listen to rock music, the same as always. And I'll help him with his maths if he needs me to. But we'll do something else as well, and that makes it really special.

"Dad," I ask, trying to be as polite as possible. "Not yet, because I don't think I'm quite ready, but when it's my birthday, would you and mum pay for me to have swimming lessons, one-to-one?"

"Yes, of course!" he says, smiling warmly. "We'd pay for that anyway. You don't have to have it as your birthday present."

"Thanks Dad!" I respond, grinning from ear to ear. "You're the best!"

We give each other a hug.

"What brought this on?" he asks. "Another of Dean's ideas?"

"Not really," I say. "All the other kids can swim. It's embarrassing, not being able to join in with them when they go to the pool, but Dean said I needed to wait until my breathing was really strong."

"Well, I can't disagree with that," Dad says quietly, squeezing my shoulder. "I've been very pleased to see you getting yourself fit. I'm delighted that you want to learn to swim. That takes real guts. I remember how scary you found it when you were small."

I don't know what to say. I feel so lucky, so privileged. I know Dean's dad's cool, but I've got the best dad in the whole world. Nobody understands me the way he does.

January 2008

The Christmas holiday is finally over. I've hardly seen Anthony. I've been to his house a couple of times, but his dad and James, his dad's boyfriend, were there, so we couldn't do anything. They're nice guys though. I like them both.

I've seen more of Dean, mainly when we've been running together, but once again, there were parents around every time we met. Once, after we'd run from our house, there was a chance that Mum and Dad would go out and leave us on our own, but it never actually happened. That totally sucked! I'm pleased to be back at school so things can return to normal.

Tuesday afternoon and I'm round at Anthony's house. It couldn't come soon enough. It's the first time we've been together, just the two of us, for almost three weeks. That makes it very special indeed. It's weird. I used to fantasise all the time, but things never got that difficult. But having got used to, you know, doing it two or three times a week, going without over the holidays has been an absolute nightmare. This afternoon, concentrating in class was almost impossible.

We don't rush. We never do. We kiss, we fondle, we suck. Finally, Anthony lifts my legs up, pushing my knees back until they're close to my shoulders. Getting the idea, I hold them in place, allowing him to shuffle in close. I watch entranced as his cock slowly disappears into my bum.

I'm expecting him to do it where he is, but I'm in for another surprise. Instead, he pushes himself down between my thighs. I know I'm not the fittest kid on the planet, but I am pretty flexible. As he lowers himself, I wrap my legs around his back, drawing him right in.

A moment later, we're kissing and fucking like the world's about to end. OMG! It feels like I've died and gone to heaven! The intensity is incredible. Suddenly, I feel Anthony's spunk spurting into my bum. Without anyone touching my cock, I squirt all over us.

After a few seconds, he pulls out and flops down next to me.

"Sorry, I've made us all sticky," I say, noticing the spunk splattered over his tummy.

"Don't worry about that," he says, grinning. "That was unbelievable!"

"It was for me too. What gave you the idea?"

"Saw it on the internet. Twinks, you know, eighteen and nineteen-year olds."

"Oh, right!"

Travelling home on the bus, I'm on cloud nine. I've just had the best experience of my entire life. Nothing could possibly feel better than that did. I've become really close to Anthony. Not only is he very bright and a superb artist, he's independent and adventurous. He's opened my eyes to all sorts of stuff I might never have known about. But most important of all, I know he'd be there for me if I needed him. He really is pretty amazing.

Training with Dean is going even better than I expected. I haven't noticed much effect from the circuit training we've done, except that I've got a bit better at doing the exercises, but the running's improving all the time. I feel stronger and more comfortable every time we go out.

It's Sunday morning. As usual, Dean arrives just before half past ten. I let him in. As we head towards the lounge room, Claire's coming the other way.

"Hi!" she says brightly.

Dean looks at her nervously, like he doesn't know what to say.

"Don't look so worried," she says quietly. "That's all history. We're cool."

"Thanks!" Dean says, smiling at her.

She disappears up the stairs. Five minutes later Dean and I are trotting briskly towards the park. It's a great morning to be out, sunny and quite warm for late January.

"Want to try two laps this morning?" Dean asks.

"Yeah, okay," I agree, though I'm not totally sure I'll be able to manage it.

We turn into the park, clipping along at a good pace. I'm feeling the best I ever have, strong and relaxed, delighting in the watery winter sunshine, the gentle breeze blowing through my hair. Only a few weeks ago I wouldn't have believed I'd ever be able to do this, much less that I'd actually enjoy it. We reach the far side of the park.

"What's through there?" Dean asks, indicating the gate around a hundred yards ahead.

"Oh, that's Cooper's Wood," I tell him. "And there's farmland beyond that."

"Looks like it'd be great to run through" he says. "D'you know the way?"

"Yeah, pretty much," I say.

"Is there a circuit we could do that would bring us back here?" he asks. "It'd be more fun than running the same lap twice. Not too far though."

"Yeah, I think so."

We head through the gate, following the path up a gentle hill, down the far side and across a stream. Dean was right. The woods aren't just good to run through, they're wicked! We swing right-handed, following the stream for almost half a mile, before crossing a bridge and heading uphill towards the gate. Back in the park, I'm starting to tire.

"Rhythm and relax," Dean says encouragingly. "You can do it."

I'm familiar with this part of the run. I know there's not far to go. All I have to do is concentrate, relax, maintain my pace. Out of the park, there's half a mile left. This is hard, but I'm not giving up now. Finally I can see the house. I guess it's only been two or three minutes since we left the park. It feels like it's taken forever. I run the final few yards on sheer willpower. We walk slowly up the drive. I am out of it.

"You did fantastic," Dean says enthusiastically.

"How far was it?" I ask, still gasping for air.

"Must be about three miles," he says. "It's taken us almost twenty-one minutes, and we weren't hanging about."

I can hardly believe it. After training for a little over two months, I've just run three miles without stopping. It's one of my proudest ever achievements. It's not like doing well at something I've always been good at. When I started this, I was useless.

As usual, we go around to the back of the house, entering through the utility room where we discard our trainers. Dad comes in from the kitchen.

"You've been a long time!" he comments, looking a little concerned. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, thanks," I assure him. "Just a bit tired."

"Where did you go?" he enquires.

I quickly outline our route. "Dean says it's around three miles," I conclude.

"Oh, it must be," he confirms, smiling. "No wonder you're tired!" He pauses for a moment. "Thanks for helping him," he adds warmly, turning to Dean. "It's made a huge difference. He's always shied away from doing anything like this."

"Oh, it's been great," Dean says, looking a bit embarrassed, "especially this morning. He's starting to go pretty well. We definitely weren't jogging out there."

"So d'you think he's ready for these swimming lessons?" Dad asks.

"Yeah, no problem!" Dean says, grinning.

February 2008

My swimming classes have been arranged, Saturday mornings and Thursday afternoons. For all my new-found confidence, to say that I'm apprehensive as I head to my first lesson would be an understatement. My heart's pounding. Given the history, this is going to be the hardest thing I've ever done; there's no question about it.

I go into reception. I tell the girl at the desk who I am and why I'm there.

"It's all paid for," she confirms. "Go through and get changed, then you can wait by the side of the pool. Wendy's just finishing a group session."

Wendy? That comes as a surprise. I'd assumed that my instructor would be male. I'm not at all sure how this is going to work. I make my way into the changing rooms. I've already got my swim shorts on, so I've only got to take off my street clothes and I'm ready to go. After stashing them in a locker, I trot through to the pool.

I spot Wendy at the far side, working with a group of six and seven-year olds. She looks about the same age as Mum. I stroll across, sitting down on the concrete buttress that runs alongside the pool, close to the shallow end. I listen intently as she finishes the session. She's firm but gentle. I like that. This might be okay.

A couple of minutes later, the younger kids are out of the water and disappearing into the changing rooms. I stand up, meeting Wendy as she walks towards me.

"Hi, I'm Ian," I say. "I'm booked for a lesson with you."

"Hello, Ian," she says, smiling. "I'm Wendy."

"I came for lessons when I was six," I say quietly, "but I couldn't do it at all. I was petrified of the water. I kept having panic attacks."

"Well, you're not the only one to have had that problem," she assures me. "I'm pleased you've come back. Most kids don't. So how old are you now?"

"I'll be fourteen next week."

"Great," she says encouragingly. "That's about the right age. You'll be able to deal with stuff that you couldn't handle when you were younger." She hands me a plastic float. "Right, in you get!"

Holding the float with both hands, I have to swim towards the deep end, using my legs to drive me forwards. It's not difficult, but it's painfully slow. By the time I've completed half a length, I understand exactly what Dean meant about needing to get my breathing sorted out before I came. If I hadn't, I'd have got nowhere. I finish the length, blowing hard.

"Not bad at all," she says.

I set off back towards the shallow end. It's hard! Even though I'm keeping my head up, the water splashes into my face, the chlorine stinging my eyes.

After half an hour, the lesson's over.

"Before your next lesson, buy some goggles," Wendy advises. "That'll make it easier."

I walk slowly back to the changing room. My tummy muscles are tight and my thighs feel like they belong to someone else. I take my time in the shower. It helps a bit, but not much. I hadn't expected that. I've been so focussed on overcoming my fear of water, it hadn't occurred to me that I'd find it hard physically. But I'm only just starting. If running with Dean has taught me anything, it's that as long as I stick at it, it will get easier.

School is about to finish for the half term break.

"Have you ever been to Birmingham Art Gallery?" Anthony enquires.

"Yeah, I've been a couple of times," I tell him. "Why?"

"They've got an exhibition of surrealist art on at the moment," he says. "I thought we could go and see it next week while we're off school."

"Yeah, okay," I say.

Birmingham's not my favourite place to visit, even if the art gallery is pretty good, but going there with Anthony sounds okay, like a sort of adventure. We'd have to go on the train. We've never done that before.

"While we're there, we'll be able to see their Pre-Raphaelite paintings too," he goes on. "It's the best collection in the country. Are you into them?"

He's caught me on the hop. I've seen all the paintings that are on permanent exhibition, but it was a couple of years ago and I'm not too sure what was what.

"Oh, man!" he enthuses, "I love the Pre-Raphaelites! They were amazing! Back in the 1850s and 1860s there was nobody else doing what they were doing. They called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, almost like a secret society. They were pretty wild!"

"A bit like you, you mean?" I quip, grinning at him.

"Yeah, I guess," he concedes, "though I don't think any of them was gay. Their main man was Dante Gabriel Rosetti. He was seriously wild! And what an amazing name! I'd love to have a name like that! I'm just plain Anthony Howes. That's so boring! I haven't even got a middle name. Mum and Dad never thought to give me one."

"Oh," I say absently. "Is that why you insist on people calling you Anthony?"

"God, yeah!" he says vehemently. "I hate it when they call me 'Ant' or 'Tony'. My name's short enough as it is!"

I have to smile. I like Anthony a lot, but we're very different personalities. He loves to stand out from the crowd. Me? To be honest, I'd rather not.

"You've heard of Edward Burne-Jones?" he asks.

"Yeah," I confirm. "He was a leading figure in the arts and crafts movement, worked with William Morris, mainly designing textiles and ceramics."

"Yeah, but he was a painter too," he continues. "He was never actually a member of the Brotherhood, but they were a major influence on him."

He puts me to shame sometimes. He knows way more about all this than I do.

We arrive in Birmingham just after half past ten. It takes barely five minutes to walk from the train station along one of the main shopping streets to the art gallery. The surrealist exhibition is pretty impressive, with works by artists like Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel and René Magritte.

I don't care for the Magritte paintings. There's one of a guy smoking a pipe, only his nose comes right down into the bowl, so it's like he's smoking his nose. How weird is that? And another one is like a back-to-front mermaid, with a fish's head and body joined to a woman's hips and legs, I mean, like totally gross!

I'd guess I like the Dali paintings best. They sort of grab you somehow. And it's not just the paintings, they have like really cool titles. His most famous painting, the one depicting melting watch-faces which usually hangs in the Tate Modern, is called 'The Persistence of Memory'. I think that's pretty neat.

Then we're off to see the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition. Anthony's enthusiasm is infectious. I've seen the paintings before, but with his help I'm looking at them in a totally different way, like I actually understand what the artists were trying to achieve.

We leave the gallery just before twelve. "Are we going to get something to eat?" I prompt. "I'm getting hungry."

"Me too!" Anthony responds, grinning. "You're not in a hurry to get home, are you?"

"No, why?"

"I thought we could go to the Midlands Arts Centre," he says. "It takes about ten minutes on the bus. We could get something to eat there, check out the exhibitions, hang out for a while. Half-term week, there are bound to be other guys like us there. I love it!"

After another short walk, we're on the bus heading out of the city, through the sort of poor, run-down area that you always see from the train, one of the reasons I've always disliked the place. But within a few minutes, the aspect improves considerably, mature trees and large, imposing houses lining the main road.

"We're here," Anthony announces, getting to his feet.

We get off the bus by a major crossroads, turning left into a prosperous-looking suburb. A couple of minutes later we're entering a large municipal park. It looks very well cared for. The Arts Centre is located in the centre. It's a standard chunk of 1960s modernism. Like many buildings from that era, it's beginning to look tatty, but as soon as we step inside, all that's forgotten. There's a buzz about the place, a vibrancy. I'm excited just to be here.

We quickly locate the café and buy some lunch. I look around. Anthony was right; the place is full of guys our age or a bit older, mainly chatting in small groups. This place is so cool! I wish we had somewhere like this where we live. Having finished eating, we return to the reception area to look at the notice board.

"Look at this," Anthony says, indicating a list of Easter holiday courses. "They're running a two-day perspective drawing class. It only costs ten quid. D'you fancy doing it?"

"Yeah, sure!" I say enthusiastically. The opportunity to come here again to actually do something seems too good to miss. Fortunately, I've got enough money in my account to pay for it, and Anthony seems to be in the same position. As it goes, I'm pretty sure that when I tell Dad about it, he'll give me the money.

We speak to the receptionist and book our places. I'm looking forward to it already. We move on to check out the exhibitions. Anthony's self-confidence is a huge asset in situations like this. Within five minutes we're talking to two other boys. If I'd been on my own, I doubt if I'd have spoken to anyone.

John and Richard are fourteen and attend a state grammar school about three miles away. It seems unfair that because of where we live, our parents have to pay for us to go to grammar school and theirs don't, but that's how it is. They're both into art, the same as we are, and living not far away, they come to the Arts Centre at least once a week. I wish we could do that.

"On Sundays I come here to rehearse with the Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra," Richard tells us.

"What d'you play?" I ask.


"Cool!" I say, smiling at him. "D'you like rock music too?"

"Yeah," he says guardedly, "but I prefer playing jazz. It's more challenging."

We return to the café. We get a table together and sit around drinking coffee. I like these guys, Richard especially. He's well fit! I could be very naughty with him given the chance. It won't happen, of course. For one thing, he's almost certainly straight, but there's no harm in dreaming, is there?

Almost before we know it, it's nearly three o'clock. We quickly exchange mobile numbers and MSM user names, promising to keep in touch and hook up again during the Easter holidays. It's time to go. We make it back to the station in time for the 3:25 train.

"Are you coming to mine?" Anthony asks as we get off. "We've just about got time."

"Yeah, of course!" I say, grinning.

Well, I wasn't going to miss that, was I?

March 2008

My swimming lessons have been going okay, I guess. It's been a bit 'two steps forward and one step back', and I still can't swim unaided, but I'm definitely getting there. I've just about learned to co-ordinate my breathing, and using goggles has helped a lot. So holding the float with one hand and doing a crawl stroke with the other, I can do a length quite easily. I haven't totally overcome my fear of the water, but I'm far more confident than I was.

It's a warm spring morning. Dean and I head off on our usual Sunday run. It's the sixth time we've done it. I'm used to it now. There's no question of getting tired. As we head back to the house, I'm feeling as strong and comfortable as I did when we set out. We even manage to pick the pace up slightly.

"Nineteen minutes fifty seconds," Dean announces, checking his watch as we walk up the drive. "That's not bad. We ought to think about running a bit further."

"I'm not sure Mum will be happy with that," I say, pulling a face. "She'll be worried that we'll get lost."

"You won't, will you?" he asks.

"No, of course not," I say firmly. "It's just Mum being . . . , you know!"

"How about if I asked my dad if he'd like to run with us?" Dean suggests. "I'm pretty sure he would if I asked him. And it'd help me. I wouldn't have to bring my bike."

"Yeah, okay," I agree, "only if he wants to though."

We let ourselves into the utility room.

"So how are the swimming lessons going?" he asks, taking off his trainers.

"Not bad," I say, quickly explaining where I'm up to.

"And how many lessons have you had?"

"Seven. I'm supposed to have twelve altogether."

"Well, you're pretty much there," he says casually. "All you have to do now is actually swim."

He's right, of course, I know that. But saying it is one thing. Doing it is quite another.

It's Thursday afternoon. This is it. I have to try to swim without using the float. I settle into the shallow end of the pool. I'm very nervous.

"Okay," Wendy says gently. "You know what to do. You'll be swimming right by the wall, so if you get tired all you have to do is reach out and grab the rail. And I'll be walking alongside you all the way. You're going to be fine."

I nod my understanding.

"Right," she says. "Take a few deep breaths to get yourself relaxed."

I do as she says.

"Okay," she instructs. "Off you go!"

I take one final breath and strike out towards the deep end. I'm swimming! I'm actually swimming! At about halfway, I make the mistake of glancing across towards the far side of the pool. It suddenly hits me that I'm out of my depth. Instinctively I grab the rail.

"Well done," Wendy says encouragingly. "That was pretty good. So why did you stop?"

"Sorry," I mumble. "I panicked when I realised I wouldn't be able to stand up."

"Okay," she says, in her firm but gentle manner. "So now you've got to complete the length."

I swallow hard. I'll be out of my depth all the way, and to make it even harder, as I can't stand up, I'm unable to push off to get myself going. I take another deep breath. Wendy's been great. She says I can do it. I'm not going to let her down.

Somehow, I get moving again. This time there'll be no looking around, just total concentration. I remember what Dean says when we're out running together: "Rhythm and relax". I repeat it to myself as I slowly make my way along the pool. After what seems like forever, I touch the far end. I've done it.

"Well done!" Wendy repeats. "That wasn't too bad, was it?"

I have to agree. It was pretty slow, but once I put my mind to it, it wasn't bad at all.

"Right, take a minute to recover," she says. "Then you're going to swim back to the shallow end. And this time you're not to stop and I want you to swim a bit further from the wall. You know you can do it. By the time you start getting tired, the water will be shallow enough for you to stand up."

I go through the breathing recovery exercises that Dean taught me. It's time to go. I push off and begin swimming towards the shallow end, the side wall just out of reach. Wendy was right. I do know I can do it. All I have to do is concentrate and keep going. And because I know I can do it, I'm more relaxed, moving more easily through the water. Finally, I touch the wall at the shallow end.

I'm over the moon. I've swum a complete length of the pool, just over thirty-three metres, and I've overcome my greatest fear to do it. It's the breakthrough I've been working for. I can't tell you what it feels like. I'm not sure if it's better than sex, but it's pretty close!

"That was excellent!" Wendy says enthusiastically. "What you need now is plenty of practice. You're a bit awkward at the moment. Now you can actually swim, we can work on improving your stroke."

"Thanks!" I say, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

After more breathing recovery exercises, I set off again, Wendy calling to me to reach forward more, which I do as best I can. Touching the wall at the deep end, I'm not feeling tired at all. Flushed with enthusiasm, I turn immediately, heading back down the pool. It's a serious mistake. As I approach the shallow end, I'm tiring badly. I've swum far enough that I could just stand up, but I'm determined not to. I complete the length on a mixture of willpower and adrenalin. My legs are like lead, my shoulders are burning and my chest feels like it's going to explode. I'm in bits!

"You'll need to build yourself up before you can do that," Wendy advises. "Over the last ten metres, your stroke had completely gone."

I'd pretty much worked that out for myself. Yes, I've learned to swim and yes, I've done well, but in reality, it's just the start.

"I did it!" I whisper as Dean sits down next to me. "I actually swam!"

"How far?" he asks.

"Well to start with, I did about half a length," I tell him. "Then I did the other half, up to the deep end. I knew I hadn't really needed to stop, so I swam back all the way to the shallow end."

"Nice one, man!" he says, grinning. "I knew you could do it."

We slap hands.

"I tried to swim two lengths without stopping," I tell him. "It was a killer! I made it though."

"Oh, you'll soon get used to it," he says casually.

"So are we all set for Sunday?" I ask.

"Yeah," he assures me. "Dad says he's looking forward to it."

That's good to hear. I'm looking forward to it too.

It's ten to eight when I hear the front door. I hurtle downstairs just as Dad appears in the hall.

"Dad!" I call excitedly. "I've done it! I can swim!"

"Well done!" he says warmly, putting an arm around my shoulder. "That's a great achievement for you. I'm so pleased! How far did you manage?"

"I can do a full length without stopping," I say proudly. "I did eight lengths altogether."

"That's excellent," he says quietly, squeezing my shoulder. "I knew you'd do it. If we'd pushed you, it wouldn't have worked. But you really wanted it. That's what made the difference."

I'm glowing again. He couldn't have said it better.

My weekend homework is finally completed. I look out of the window. It's a glorious spring morning. I can hardly wait to get out there. I smile to myself. Me? Looking forward to going running? How weird is that? I check the time; it's twenty past ten. I slip on my trainers and wait.

Dean and his dad arrive right on time. I show them into the lounge room. Mum and Dad get up to greet them.

"Good morning, I'm Mike Griffiths," Dean's dad says. "Delighted to meet you."

"Colin Haskell," Dad says, shaking his hand, "and this is Judith."

Within seconds, the three of them are chatting happily like they've known each other for years. They've clicked in an instant. That is so cool! It'll make things much easier for both me and Dean.

"Well, we'd better get going," Mike says finally. "I've got my mobile in my pocket just in case, but I'm sure we won't need it."

We head out through the utility room and trot down the drive, turning towards the park.

"Don't start off too fast," Mike says quietly. "It takes me a while to get my legs moving."

That suits me. The route I've worked out will add on well over a mile to our previous run, maybe more. In any case, just being out in the warm spring sunshine feels wonderful. We head around the edge of the park, into Cooper's Wood and across the stream, the same as usual, but instead of turning to follow the stream, we carry straight on, the path taking us out of the woods and into the fields beyond.

We're running a little faster now, the pace having increased without me really noticing. I've never felt as good as this. It's strange. If I'd had to do this on my own, I'd have found it hard, but with Dean and Mike there, it seems almost effortless. After a long, gentle climb, we turn onto a narrow lane. We're right out in the country now, with hills and fields stretching far into the distance. In the clear spring light, the view is fantastic.

A few minutes later, we swing onto a farm track, heading back towards the woods. A quick glance at my watch tells me that I've under-estimated how far it's going to be. We've been running for well over fifteen minutes and we're only just past halfway. But it's not a problem, not yet at least. Running slightly downhill, I'm still feeling pretty good.

Back in Cooper's Wood, we drop down to the bridge. We've reached the hard part, the path ahead climbing steadily towards the park. A few weeks ago, I might have wilted, but not now. Maybe the swimming's helped, I'm not sure. Dig in, concentrate, keep the rhythm going.

Finally, we emerge through the gate. We're back on almost level ground, only a few minutes from home.

We're all tired, but we don't slacken off for a moment. We drive on towards the house, Dean leading the way, me almost level with him, Mike just behind. We reach our drive, slowing to a stop.

"Well done, boys!" Mike says. "That was great, really enjoyed it."

"Thirty-four minutes, eighteen seconds," Dean announces. "That has to be five miles."

I've just run five miles. Wow! Even more surprising is that I'm not totally knackered. Sure, I'm very tired, but it's not like I'm dying. By this afternoon, I'll be back to normal.

Leaving our trainers in the utility room, we make our way into the kitchen. Dad joins us. The four of us sit there, chatting and drinking hot, milky tea. Dad and Mike act like they're old friends. It's hard to believe that they've only just met.

It's just after twelve o'clock when Dean and Mike say goodbye and head for home. I make my way up to my room, stripping down to my shorts. My legs have begun to stiffen up. Running much further than I'm used to seemed okay at the time, but I'm feeling it now. I pick out some clean clothes and stroll into the bathroom. I usually have a shower. Today I opt for a soak in the bath.

Having got it the way I want it, I climb in. I bask in the warm, soapy water, the stiffness in my muscles gently ebbing away. It feels wonderful. I lie there, completely relaxed, my mind running through the events of the past few months.

Last summer, if someone had told me that I'd have taken up running, I'd have learned to swim and that I'd have made two new friends that I'd be having sex with, I'd have thought they were mad. But that's what's happened. An odd thought strikes me. I guess I'd have hooked up with Anthony anyway, but if Zav hadn't been picking on me, I'd never have done any of the other stuff. Mum often says that things happen for a reason. Maybe she's right.

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