The Jigsaw Puzzle

by Pink Panther

Chapter 12

April 2008

We're on the train to Birmingham, en-route to the perspective drawing class. I'm very excited. Just to be in that space, working with other young artists, it's such a buzz. Best of all, John and Richard have decided to take the class. I'm really looking forward to seeing them again.

I've chatted to Richard on MSN a few times. He's really cool! Yeah, I guess I have sort of got the hots for him, but I'm not getting my hopes up. Even if he was gay, which I don't think he is, with us living like thirty miles apart, we wouldn't be able to see each other very often. In any case, he's got an older brother and a younger sister. He and his brother share a room, which means he really has no privacy at all. So even if we were able to meet . . . .

It's twenty to ten when we arrive at the Arts Centre. We check in at reception. Although we've travelled the furthest, we're the first to arrive. Or maybe it's because we've travelled the furthest. Over the next ten minutes, several other guys check in. They all look older than us. Finally, John and Richard appear. We greet each other like long lost friends.

Just before ten o'clock, we're led through to the studio. I look around. There are twelve of us; nine boys and three girls. Ben, the class tutor, introduces himself and outlines what we're going to be doing. Then, after explaining the underlying principles and showing us a few techniques, he sets us an exercise to do.

We've done some of this stuff at school, mainly in Junior Arts Club, but here we're going into it in much more depth. The exercise is far more demanding than anything I've done before. I'm like totally into it. As we're working, Ben strolls quietly around the room to see how we're getting on. He gives me a few words of encouragement to indicate that I'm on the right lines, and moves on.

Almost before I know it, it's half past twelve and time to check what we've done. Possibly because I'm more into architecture and design than they are, my work is way ahead of what Anthony, John and Richard have produced. For some reason, I never expect to outshine Anthony at anything, but I definitely have this time. I can't tell you how good that feels!

"Man! You're good!" Richard says, looking admiringly at my drawing. "I found that pretty tough."

"Oh, he's brilliant at this sort of thing," Anthony says, grinning. "You should see the design project he did last summer."

"What was that?" John asks.

"We sort of refurbished my sister's bedroom," I say, feeling almost embarrassed. "I designed it. Then in the summer holiday, Dad and I did the work. It took us a week."

"It's way more impressive than he's making it sound," Anthony adds. "You'd think a professional designer had done it."

"Cool!" Richard says, smiling at me. "So is that what you want to do?"

"Not exactly," I say quietly. "I really want to be an architect."

After checking everybody's work, Ben selects three pieces to illustrate what he was looking for, another of the boys', one of the girls' and mine. The other two are like seventeen or something. Wow! That is so special!

At one o'clock we break for lunch. We sit together chatting about everything, art, pop music and girls. John loves talking about girls. He's like totally obsessed with them. This could be awkward. Knowing Anthony, I wouldn't put it past him to tell them we're gay. That's alarming. I know it shouldn't be, but it is. I mean, we hardly know these guys, not really. As it goes, he's totally cool, skilfully moving the conversation onto something else. A potential crisis has been avoided.

Back in the studio, Ben shows us some more stuff and sets us to work again. I'm on such a high after the morning session that I'm like totally in my element. It's like I know exactly what to do and how to do it. After a few minutes, Ben comes around.

"That's looking great," he says quietly.

"Thanks," I respond.

"What was this design project I heard Anthony mention this morning?" he asks.

I tell him briefly what it was, thinking that he won't be too interested. I'm wrong.

"Any chance I could see what you did?" he enquires.

"Yeah, sure," I tell him. "I've still got the plans and that. I'll bring them with me tomorrow."

"I'll look forward to it," he says warmly, before moving away.

When the time comes to look through our work, I'm up there again, but on my own this time. I know I'm the best in my year at school, but in this company, I totally hadn't expected it. Wow!

The following day we're back. As soon as we've settled down to work, Ben comes over to me.

"Have you brought it then?" he asks.

I pass him my art folder. He looks through the plans, the costings, the photos, everything. I'm very nervous, sure he's going to pick holes all through it, telling me I should have done this or shouldn't have done that.

"This is excellent," he says finally. "I bet your sister's pleased!"

"Yeah," I say, allowing myself a grin. "She loves it!"

"So is this what you want to do when you're older?" he asks.

"Sort of," I tell him. "I'd like to go to university to study architecture."

"Keep working at it," he says, looking at me intently. "As long as you're prepared to put the work in, you can definitely get there."

"Thanks," I acknowledge.

I've got the message. He couldn't have made it any clearer.

The two-week holiday is almost over. It's been the best ever. Since the drawing class, I've spent most of my time with either Dean or Anthony. With their parents back at work, we could have sex whenever we wanted. I'll leave you to guess how often that was. It's been awesome. It's a shame that it has to end. It does, of course. Tomorrow we'll be back at school.

Monday morning break, I check the gym notice board. Lunchtime circuit training sessions will continue on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The following day, Dean and I are just getting changed into our gym kit when Mark and Andrew appear. So why have they come? They've never shown any interest before. They're here to make a point, to make me feel uncomfortable.

We begin the session with some stretching exercises, the one thing I've always been good at. Dean and I are way better than anyone else in the group. Mark and Andrew are no better than average. We move onto some strength exercises, like press-ups and pull-ups. Mark is only a couple of inches taller than me but way stockier. On these exercises he really shines, but if he thinks that's going to bother me, he'd better think again. As long as I'm improving, which I am, I'm not concerned with how well the other boys are doing, least of all him.

With the session completed, we head back to the changing room to get dressed for our afternoon classes. Dean's changing right next to me.

"I guess you're looking forward to doing athletics this term," I say quietly.

"Yeah," he says casually. "I should do pretty well at high jump. I want to have a crack at the four hundred too. I think I might be okay at that."

"What about the hurdles?" I ask.

"Oh, I can hurdle alright," he says, "but I'm not fast enough. The hurdles event for our age is only eighty metres so you have to be able to run really quick. I'd like to try the four hundred hurdles, but we can't do that till we're in Year Ten."

"Oh," I say absently, having been bombarded with far more information than I was expecting.

I check my watch. The bell will be going in a couple of minutes. As soon as we're ready, we make our way towards afternoon registration.

It's Friday. This afternoon we have games. I can't say I'm looking forward to it. I'll either get totally bored playing cricket or show myself up doing athletics. Okay, I can run now, but I'm still not very quick, and as for jumping and throwing, you can forget it. Despite all the training I've done, I'll be as poor at those events as I've always been. The best I can say is that it'll be better than having to do football or rugby.

We head into the changing room and sit on the benches, waiting to be told what we're doing. Mr Lenham reads out a list. Our group's doing athletics with Mr Saunders. We get changed into our kit. We're just about to make our way out when Mr Saunders appears.

"Dean Griffiths, Ian Haskell," he calls. "I need a word with you."

We wait by the staff changing room while the other boys troop out.

"You two can do athletics every week," he says quietly. "You're not ball players, either of you. Dean, you can work on high jump and hurdles to begin with, then do some interval training, say eight times two hundred, jogging the other two hundred. Ian, I want you to keep your running going. I'd suggest that you run some laps of the school grounds. If you stay close to the fence and go around the back of the workshops, each lap is just over a mile, so four laps would seem reasonable. Just be careful crossing the drive, okay? When you've finished, have a rest for fifteen minutes or so then you can join Dean on his interval training. It's okay, he'll show you what to do."

"Sir," I ask. "Can't I run out of school? On Sundays, Dean and I run together, through the park and the woods. It's not a problem! And I know this area; I won't get lost."

"Unfortunately, I can't give you permission to run off-site," he says evenly. "In any case, as you're going to be running on your own, I wouldn't even consider it. If you were involved in an accident or something, we wouldn't even know. I'm sorry, but you have to stay inside the school grounds."

"Sir," I respond, trying to hide my disappointment. Well, I guess he does have a point.

I head out onto the field. What I'm being asked to do is not quite as good as it might have been, but with no cricket, no jumping, and no throwing, it's an improvement on what I've had to do before. I'm not sure about this interval training thing, but it can't be that bad.

Running on my own takes a bit of getting used to, but after around ten minutes I begin to relax. For a while, it feels like I'm just flowing along, but running laps is pretty tedious. Somehow, it makes the distance seem much longer than it does when we're running through the woods and that. After the third lap, I'm getting bored, and I've only been running for twenty-two minutes. Gritting my teeth, I make myself do a fourth one, like Mr Saunders told me to.

It's quarter to three. We've got another hour yet. I decide to walk a lap of the playing fields before settling down to watch Dean's hurdles training. I see what he means about not being quick enough. He hurdles really well and his stride's huge, but his legs don't actually move that fast. I guess it's something to do with them being so long. After around twenty minutes he strolls across to me.

"Okay," he says. "Let's try this interval session. We run two hundred metres at around ninety percent of flat out, yeah? Then we jog round to the start and do it again, eight reps altogether."

I nod. We stroll round the track towards the two hundred metre start, stopping a few yards before the line. I look across at him, wondering what happens now.

"Rolling start," he says quietly. "It's easier. Let's go!"

He trots towards the line, with me just behind him. Accelerating into the bend, he leaves me for dead, his long legs eating up the ground. He reckons he's not very quick. Okay then, I'm downright slow. He crosses the line at least twenty metres in front of me. And we've got seven more to do. Shit! We jog slowly round the other half of the track. A few yards before the start line, Dean gives the signal and we're off again. This time he beats me by even more.

He slaughters me on every single rep. By the time we reach the fifth one, it's starting to hurt. I want to stop. Dean's not having any of it.

"Just do the breathing recovery exercises," he says firmly. "You'll be fine."

Somehow, I get through it. Actually, the last one didn't feel as bad, I guess because I knew it was the last one. I didn't enjoy it one bit. We jog half a lap of the field before heading back to the changing rooms; a warm-down, Dean calls it. I feel really light headed, like I'm about to keel over. I console myself with the thought that the interval training hasn't actually killed me, and overall, I've had a pretty decent afternoon. Even so, I've had it spelt out to me in big letters. I might be a whole lot fitter than I was, but I'm still pretty slow.

May 2008

"The trials for the athletics team are this week," Dean says casually.

"Oh," I respond.

"Are you going to try for the fifteen hundred?" he asks.

"No," I say quickly. "I don't think I'd be good enough."

"Oh," he says, shrugging. "I thought you might give it a go."

Is he serious? Let's get this straight. Doing running and circuit training, I've got myself fit, or fitter than I was. That's what Mr Broadhurst said I should do and I've done it. But there's no way I'd want to run for the school, even if I was good enough.

I'll admit that now that I've got into it, I do enjoy running. I feel better for it too. But I enjoy it because I can make it as hard or as easy as I want. Oh, I know Dean and I push each other along, but we never actually race. If you're in a race, it's as hard as the other guys make it. No thanks! I'll pass, if you don't mind!

It's Friday afternoon. I'm just about to leave the changing room to go running around the school grounds. Mr Saunders calls me over.

"You didn't show up at the athletics team trials yesterday," he says.

"Oh," I respond, smiling sweetly, "I don't think I'd be good enough."

"Well, I'm not going to force you," he says, "but I'm disappointed that you didn't even give it a try."

He strides away. I set off on my run. So he's disappointed. Tough; I don't want to do it. I'm quite happy doing what I'm doing, thank you very much!

In any case, I've got enough to do. Getting into a good architecture school will take a lot of work. It won't just happen. So I can do without all the bollocks of running for the school.

We've been back at school for three weeks. I have to admit, things have been going okay. Sure, around half the kids in our class still aren't talking to me and I can feel the hostility coming from Amanda and her cronies, but if that's as bad as it's going to get, I can live with it.

It's Friday afternoon. We're strolling off the field after our games class, which for me running four laps of the school grounds, followed by interval training. Actually, the interval training's not been too bad since that first session. I've acquired a pair of running spikes. Not my idea, Dad gave me the money and told me to get some. They're much lighter than trainers and sort of make you run on your toes. They definitely help. And instead of it just being me and Dean, we've been joined by several other boys, depending on which groups are doing athletics.

Tim Powell and Dean are the best. They're way quicker than anyone else. I'm still pretty much at the back, but at least I can stay fairly close to the other boys. That'll do for me. And it hasn't changed my mind about running for the school, not one bit!

Back in the changing room, I'm lost in my own private world. In around twenty minutes time I'll be round at Anthony's house, building towards the highlight of my week. I'm a lucky boy. It's not that long since I thought I'd never find someone I could have sex with, let alone someone like Anthony.

After chatting to Rebecca and the other girls for a few minutes, I head out of school without a care in the world. This is my special time, or should I say our special time. I'm going to make the most of every single second. I reach Anthony's house, walk up the path and ring the bell.

As soon as he opens the door, I sense that something's not right. He ushers me upstairs and into his bedroom.

"Sit down," he says, gesturing towards the bed. "I need to talk to you."

He looks apprehensive. That totally isn't him. I've no idea what he's going to say, but I know it's bad news.

"I don't know how to say this," he says quietly, not even looking at me. "I've met someone else."

I'm like, 'What's he telling me?' The implication sweeps over me, through me, until I'm completely submerged. He's found someone else. I'm being dumped. I'm in shock. Anthony and I have been so close. We have so much in common. We've been getting on so well. So why? What happened?

"It's not like I was out there looking for it," he says. "I wouldn't have, honestly. I just went to the toilets for a piss. Suddenly there he was. I felt the connection straight away. I can't explain why, I just did."

"So when did this happen?" I enquire

"Wednesday after school," he says. "We came back here. That was it. I just knew he was the guy I had to be with. Sorry."

"So who is he?" I ask

"His name's Jayden. He's in Year Ten."

"Not Jayden Kirby?" I demand.

"Dunno," he says, "I didn't ask."

"A bit taller than you," I say, "slim, sort of sharp features, and mousey coloured hair, quite long and a bit curly."

"Yeah," he admits, "That's him."

"His sister's in my class!" I tell him. "Louise, she's one of the gang I hang out with."

"Shit!" he says, sounding alarmed. "You're not going to say anything, are you?"

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

Total mind fuck! Jayden's cute all right, very cute in fact, but he's into football and cricket. He plays for the school and hangs out with all the other sporty guys. There's no way in the world I'd have thought he was gay. I can't imagine what he has in common with Anthony. But that's not the worst part.

"Jayden knows I'm gay," I say, almost through gritted teeth. "He has to. I don't know him that well, but well enough for him to have spoken to me . . . , you know?"

But he didn't, did he? He hit on Anthony instead and stole him away from me. That fucking hurts!

"Dunno," Anthony says, shrugging. "I'll ask him." He pauses for a second. "Look, I'm sorry you're upset, but it's not like we ever said we were boyfriends or anything. We're good mates and we enjoy having sex. This is different, like at a whole new level."

"But Jayden's into sport and stuff," I protest. "What d'you even find to talk about?"

"Look, I don't understand it either," Anthony says, shaking his head. "We just feel so right together, it's like none of that other stuff matters. It's sort of like when you're doing a jigsaw puzzle. You pick up a couple of pieces not expecting anything, but the moment you put them together you just know they fit."

There's little more I can say. Jayden's worked some kind of magic that I clearly don't have. I'm bitterly, bitterly disappointed. So what did I expect? That me and Anthony were going to be together like forever? To be honest, I'd never thought about it, but I couldn't have guessed it'd end the way it has. If the writing had been on the wall, maybe I'd have read it, but there totally wasn't any. What is it the Americans say? "My ducks are all in a row". Well, my ducks were lined up perfectly. They're not anymore!

Anthony's right, of course. We never did say we were boyfriends. I just, you know . . . , assumed. And anyway, I'm in no position to criticise. He's been completely honest about it, just like he always is. He's handled it way better than I would have done. I mean, what have I been doing for the past few months? Having sex with Dean behind his back. So maybe this is like payback time, yeah? It's not that I think Anthony knows, but . . . It makes you wonder, doesn't it?

"I never wanted this to happen," he says quietly. "Things were great the way they were. But that's how it is. You never know what's round the next corner." He pauses. "I hope we can still be friends. You know, all the stuff we do together, going to galleries, the Arts Centre, all of that. I'd hate it if it all stopped."

So what am I going to do? I could throw a hissy fit and go flouncing out, telling him I deserve to be treated better, all of that shit. Like that would do any good! Being friends with Anthony has been one of the best things that's ever happened to me. I don't want to lose it.

"Yeah, sure," I croak, barely able to get the words out.

"Thanks," he says, looking right into my eyes. "I know this is hard right now, but one day you'll meet someone that you click with like that. I don't know when, but you will. And when you do, you'll just know."

It's time to go home. Sitting on the bus, I'm in bits, like a big part of me has been ripped away. And somehow I have to get through it. We've got important exams coming up in a few weeks' time. I can't afford to screw them up. When I got snubbed by Mark and Andrew, it was Anthony who helped me deal with it. Will anyone help me this time?

It's Sunday morning. Dean and I have just finished our run. It didn't go well. I couldn't find any sort of rhythm. I guess my heart just wasn't in it. We head back up to my bedroom. I sit on the bed and pull my top off.

"What's wrong, man?" Dean asks, parking himself down next to me.

"Nothing," I snap.

"Bollocks!" he retorts. "You hardly said a word all the way round and you were running crap. You were the same at the pool yesterday. We're mates, yeah? So tell me. I want to know."

"Anthony's met someone else," I whisper, not even looking at him.

"Shit!" he breathes. That's not good. He was like your main man. I'm not surprised you're upset. So how did it happen?"

"Dunno really," I say. "Anthony says he wasn't looking for it or anything."

"Whatever," Dean says dismissively. "It's still shit for him to dump you like that. So who's the other guy, d'you know?"

"Yeah, but I can't tell you," I answer. "I promised I wouldn't."

He gives me this 'Are you serious?' look.

"I've never said a word about . . . , you know," I say pointedly.

"Fair enough," he concedes, shrugging. "I was just curious."

"Anthony says he still wants us to be friends," I say, "you know, going to the Arts Centre and stuff."

"Ouch!" Dean says, pulling a face. "Are you happy with that?"

"Not really," I admit, "but I'd really miss it if we didn't."

"Then I guess you should," he says, smiling. "Look," he adds, "I know this must feel like shit right now. I'd hate it if anything like that happened to me. But you're strong. You'll be okay, yeah? And if you need to talk any time, I'm here, right?"

Ten minutes later, he's cycling home. I'm starting to feel better already. I'd thought about telling him. I just wasn't sure he'd understand. But he did, totally. It's like a weight off my shoulders. I'd considered talking to Mr Ashton, but that would have meant telling him stuff he probably isn't supposed to know about. It could have put him in a really awkward position. Now I won't need to. Dean's stepped right up. That'll do for me.

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