The Jigsaw Puzzle

by Pink Panther

Chapter 17

September 2008

Going back to school on a Wednesday seems pretty weird, but it's September 3rd, and here we are. Some of the boys I haven't seen during the holiday have changed so much! Not all of them of course, but there are some I hardly recognise.

It's depressing. Twelve months ago, I thought I was starting to catch the other lads up. Now it seems like I'm further behind than ever. It's not just about size. I've grown a bit. At five feet four, I'm not like a dwarf or anything. It's more that I look so much younger than everyone else. It's that Peter Pan thing. I hate it!

"Ian Haskell, Dean Griffiths!" Mrs Vickers announces. "At morning break you're to report to the PE office. Mr Saunders wants to see you."

Dean and I head through the gym changing rooms and knock on the office door.

"Come in!" Mr Saunders' voice responds.

We open the door and make our way inside. "You wanted to see us, sir?"

"Yes. As you know, you're going to be continuing your athletics training during your games' classes. Now, I know you won't want to be confined to running around the school grounds. It wouldn't be very satisfactory in any case. Anyway, after consultation with Mr Lenham and the headmaster, we have decided to allow you to run outside school."

"Thanks sir!" I say, beaming.

"Well, I hope you appreciate that this didn't just happen. I had to produce a risk assessment and all sorts of nonsense that I could have done without."

"Yes sir," we acknowledge. "Thank you, sir!"

"There is one other thing. Your parents will need to agree to you being allowed to run unsupervised outside school." He hands us each an envelope. "These are waiver forms for them to sign. I need them returned by next Monday."

Claire did superbly in her GCSE exams. She got four A stars, five grade As and one grade B. Mum and Dad were very pleased. It will be quite a challenge for me to do as well as that. All Claire's friends did well too. Apart from Scott, who's left to become a professional footballer, they're just starting their A-levels. Claire's doing French, German, History and English Literature. She's hoping to study languages at university, the same as mum did. She's very focused. I know she's going to make it.

Going into Year Ten is a big change. We're still taught in our registration groups for English, Religious Studies and Physical Education, but for our other classes, we're in sets depending on how well we've done. I've been put into the top set for every class but one.

That's going to be tough. I'm not a super-brain, but I work hard and don't like to let things beat me. So over the three years I've been at the grammar school I've moved up from being somewhere around the middle to getting put into all the top groups. Sure, I'm pleased to have got there, but being expected to keep up with all the brightest kids in the year is going to be hard.

The one class for which I'm not in the top set is history. The top set is taught by Mr Thompson. I've never been in his class, but everyone says he's a great teacher. I've been put in the second set, taught by Mrs Vickers. I know why. Zav's in the top set. He's totally brilliant at history so he was bound to be. They've obviously decided that they don't want me and Zav in the same class. So Dean, who's not done as well as I have, is in the top set, but I'm not.

I wouldn't care, but I'm hoping to do history at A-Level. I could tell Mum. She'd complain to the school and get it changed, but she'd also be told the reasons why I wasn't put in the top set to start with. She'd go ballistic that I never told her I was being picked on.

She might even find out why I was being picked on. There's no way I'd want that to happen! So I'll just have to put up with it and do the best I can. I mean, it's not like I'm expecting the guys in Mrs Vickers' class to mess about or anything.

It's Saturday morning when I give Dad the waiver form to sign. He reads through it.

"Hmmm!" he says thoughtfully. "I'm okay with it, but I'll need to have a word with Mum. She wouldn't be too happy if I signed this without telling her."

I grit my teeth, trying not to show my disappointment. I know what Mum's like. She could raise all sorts of objections.

It's lunchtime when she brings up the subject. "What's this about you and Dean being allowed to run outside school during games classes, and when you train after school?" she demands.

"It will help us to get more running done," I explain. "Just running around the school grounds is way too boring."

"Well, I can't say I'm happy about it," she says in a very negative tone. "Running around here is one thing, but your school is far too close to the town centre."

"We won't be going anywhere near the town centre," I counter. "We can run the other way."

"Even so, the roads around there are far busier than they are here."

"Are Dean and his dad coming over tomorrow?" Dad asks.

"Yeah," I confirm

"Then let's wait and ask them about it," he suggests.

"Sure," I agree.

It's not what I wanted, but if I want to keep the peace, it's the best I'm going to get.

It's Sunday morning. We've just returned from our run when Mum and Dad come into the kitchen.

"We want to ask you about this waiver form that the school has asked us to sign," Dad says quietly, addressing himself to Mike Griffiths, Dean's dad. "They want our permission for these two to run outside school."

"Oh, I've already signed Dean's," Mike responds. "It isn't a problem, is it? They're plenty old enough and very sensible. They'll be fine."

"Don't you think it's too close to the town centre?" Mum objects.

"We won't go anywhere near the town centre," Dean tells her, repeating what I said the day before. "We won't even need to cross Birmingham Road. We can cut through the side-streets and get out onto the farmland and the woods. It'll be way better than running around the school grounds."

"Well, as long as you're running together, I suppose we can allow it," Mum concedes. "But if Dean's not able to run for any reason," she continues, turning to me, "you're not to run outside school on your own. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Mum," I agree, not that I've got much choice.

"I'll attach a note to the waiver form to explain that," Dad says.

As it goes, Dean's never off school and he never misses games, so it probably won't make any difference.

It's Tuesday afternoon. We make our way to the sports pavilion for Year Ten games. Dean and I change next to each other. We're almost ready when Mr Saunders comes across with Patrick Keaveney in tow.

"Patrick's going to be training with you," he says quietly. "I'm sure you'll make him welcome."

This is not good news. I remember only too well the way he ran on sports day. I've not had much to do with him before, but this year he's in most of my classes. He might be very bright, but you wouldn't know. He never says a word unless he has to.

"How far are we going?" he asks, eyeing us suspiciously.

"Dean and I usually run about five miles," I tell him.

"We'll probably build that up a bit as we get fitter," Dean adds.

Patrick just nods. A couple of minutes later, we're on our way. As I've never run around this area before, Dean's in charge. Living close by, he knows the place like the back of his hand.

Right from the off, Patrick's up next to Dean, pushing the pace, trying to make us run faster. Dean's having none of it. He hasn't done much distance running since the start of the summer term, so he's not really in shape, and I don't want to run any faster. Patrick's stuck. He doesn't know the route so he has to stay with us. Steadily the miles tick past.

"How much further is it?" he asks eventually.

"About a mile and a half," I tell him.

"Straight back to school, yeah?"


And with that he's gone, accelerating away and disappearing into the distance. My heart sinks. Once he gets fit, Dean will want to go with him and I'll struggle to keep up. That's the last thing I need. When we get back to school, Patrick's waiting for us. We finish off by jogging a lap of the playing field.

"Ian and I train after school Wednesdays and Fridays," Dean says, turning to Patrick. "Are you going to come with us?"

"Sure," Patrick responds, grinning. "I love running."

"What about circuit training?" Dean goes on. "We do it Monday and Thursday lunchtimes."

"Yeah, I guess," he answers, sounding much less enthusiastic.

"Do you run from home?" I ask.

"No way!" he says dismissively. "I live on the Monkswood, yeah?"

I didn't know that was where he lived but I get his point. Monkswood is a big council estate and a bit rough. I can understand why he wouldn't want to go running around there.

"Oh, right," I acknowledge.

There's nothing more I can say. All I know is that I'm not looking forward to training with him.

We've just finished our first art class. It's been great. All the guys actually want to be here. As soon as everyone else has left, I extract my sketch pad from my folder and take it to Mr Gault's desk.

"Sir," I ask. "May I show you something please?"

He nods and smiles. I open the pad at the 'Newquay Surfer Boys' sketch.

"Oh, I like that!" he says, smiling at me. "Good to see you've been keeping busy!"

"Do you think I could use it as the basis for a watercolour or something?" I suggest.

"Absolutely!" he says, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. "That's an excellent idea!"

"So would I be able to do it in class?" I ask.

"Definitely!" he says. "You can use it as one of your exam pieces. Being able to submit the original sketch as well as the finished painting will help enormously." He begins flicking through the pad. "This is good too," he says, stopping at one of my harbour drawings. "You could do this one in pastels."

I screw up my face. My work with pastels has never been that good.

"Working in pastels will be important when you need to produce an artist's impression of one of your designs," he reminds me, "and this would work really well. There's no rush. Take as much time as you need."

He's totally right, of course. Back during the May half term, I did that two-day course on using pastels, which definitely helped. Now's the time to put it to use. So I'll begin with the watercolour. When it's finished, I'll work on the harbour drawing using pastels.

Our Wednesday and Friday training sessions go pretty much as I expected them to. Patrick runs with us most of the way, but once we're heading back to school and he knows where he is, he takes off, leaving me and Dean behind.

That's okay for now, but I can't see it staying like that. Pretty soon, Dean's going to be fit enough to go with him, and when that happens, I'm going to be left on my own. Shit! Circuit training was interesting though. Patrick's worse than I am, like he can hardly do sit-ups and pull-ups at all. I guess it's because he's so scrawny.

This evening, it's the school's annual prizegiving. We're all expected to attend. Mum comes along too because Claire and I both have prizes to collect. Claire's is for her GCSE results, of course; mine is for being in the top twenty in our year group in the summer exams. It all goes smoothly, the same as it always does. Mr Steadman, who's Head of Upper School, reads out the names of the prize winners, I guess because he has a very clear speaking voice.

When it comes to our year, I take my place in the line. When Mr Steadman reads out my name, I step forward onto the stage, collect my prize from the guest speaker – a book about the Bauhaus movement – and return to my place.

A little later, they give out the prizes for the GCSE results. When Mr Steadman calls out Claire's name, I applaud enthusiastically. A few seconds later, he calls out "Scott Paxton". I'm surprised. It had never occurred to me that he might be here. He strides onto the platform. As he's no longer at the school, he's dressed in a very smart charcoal grey suit, an immaculate white shirt and what I guess is his football club tie. I am blown away! He looks amazing, like a film star or something. Almost before I know it, my cock's gone rock-hard.

Afterwards, I spot him with Claire, David and several of their friends. If he'd just been with David, I might have gone to talk to him, but butting into a whole group like that would look odd. It'd be embarrassing, for him and for me. To make matters worse, my dick's still trying to burst out of my boxers. I wouldn't dare to risk someone noticing. Instead, I look from afar and let my fantasies run wild.

I'm in the toilets at school, the ones upstairs in the science block, though I'm not sure how I got here, which is pretty weird. Scott's here too, which is even weirder. I'm fondling his prick and he's stroking mine. He asks if he can fuck me, so I bend over the toilet bowl.

Suddenly, I'm wide awake. I'm all hot and sweaty, and my pyjama shorts are soaked. Fuck! I can't imagine what Scott would think if he knew I'd just had a wet dream about him.

October 2008

"Dad," I say nervously, "I need to ask you something."

"Yeah, fine," he says, smiling.

"Could we go upstairs?" I suggest.

"Sure," he says.

He follows me to my room, closing the door behind us. He sits on the bed. I sit on my chair, swinging it round to face him.

"Well," he asks. "What's bothering you?"

"I'm worried that I'm not growing up properly," I tell him. "I know I've always been small, but last year, I thought I was starting to catch the other boys up. Well now it's like I'm further behind than ever. I look so much younger than any of the others."

"Am I right in thinking that everything 'down there' is in full working order?" he asks gently.

Dad and I have talked before, so I know what he means.

"Yeah," I answer in barely a whisper.

"Then you have absolutely nothing to worry about," he assures me. "I was only looking at you on the beach the other week and thinking how nicely you were developing, especially since you started running and that. You're just like your Uncle Chris, as I think we've mentioned before. When I started going out with your mum, he was seventeen and looked pretty much like you do now. It hasn't held him back. He's got a lovely wife and two great kids, yeah?"

That's Aunt Lucy and my cousins Ewan, who's twelve and Alex, who's ten.

"He's always looked much younger than he is," Dad goes on. "The last time he was here, I think he was thirty. He could easily have passed for nineteen. It's not just being small; you're both exceptionally fair-skinned. That's just how it is. You're a good-looking boy, so stop worrying."

He pauses, like he's expecting me to say something else. I'd love to tell him that I think I'm gay, maybe even to tell him that there isn't going to be a wife and kids. He'd understand. I'm sure he would, well, as sure as I can be.

The problem is that he'd have to tell Mum. Oh, I'm sure he'd try to make her understand too, but by tomorrow he'll be back in Germany. Then the inquisition would start. She'd want to know all the ins and outs, trying to find 'the reason'. It's what she does. Worse still, she'd want to 'do something about it', like it's a disease or something. I couldn't face that.

"Is that it then?" he asks.

"Yeah, thanks," I tell him, smiling.

It's Tuesday afternoon. I'm at Dean's house. We've just been doing what we do. It was wonderful, just like always. Oh, I know he's not gay and that it won't last, but right now it hardly matters. I start to get dressed.

"D'you think we could invite Patrick to come running with us on Sundays?" he asks.

He's caught me totally off-guard. It's not what I want to happen, but how can I say that without sounding like a spoilt brat?

"How would he get to mine?" I counter, playing for time.

"Dad says he'll bring him," Dean responds.

"I'll have to ask Mum," I tell him.

"Yeah, okay," he says, smiling.

So that's it. It's not what I want, but I've said I'll ask so that's what I'll have to do.

"Mum," I begin, "you know when we go running on Sundays, would it be okay if another boy came along?"

"Oh, I don't see why not," she says. "We've got plenty of room. Who is he?"

"His name's Patrick," I say. "He's just started training with us at school. He lives on the Monkswood so he doesn't want to run from home. Dean's dad's offered to bring him. He's at the Grammar School on a bursary because his mum and dad can't afford to pay for him."

"He must be a clever boy then," she comments.

"Yeah, he's in the top set for everything."

"I think you should definitely invite him," she says firmly. "I went to grammar school with girls from every background you could think of, some from very prosperous families, others who had considerably less than we did. We all mixed in together. I think that's good. It helped me understand what the world is really like. The grammar school here is very good, but because it's fee-paying, apart from one or two like Patrick, the kids all come from families who are at least reasonably well off. You don't get to mix with the range of people that I did. I'm pleased you're making friends with someone like that."

To say I'm gobsmacked would be an understatement. Mum can be very picky about my friends, like the way she didn't take to Anthony. But when I ask her if I can invite a boy from a rough council estate, she's all for it.

"Thanks," I say. "I'll tell him."

It's Sunday morning. Patrick arrives with Dean and his dad. He looks very nervous. Mum and Dad try to make him feel welcome, but he hardly says a word. After a few minutes, we set off for our run. Patrick doesn't know the area at all, so he has to stay with us right back to the house. Even so, he keeps pushing the pace, managing to make us run at least a bit faster than we would have done. I can feel it in my legs.

Leaving our trainers in the utility room, we troop into the kitchen. After collecting mugs of hot, milky tea we make our way into what used to be our playroom. Dad joins us. We chat aimlessly about this and that. As usual, Patrick says almost nothing.

"What does your dad do, Patrick?" Dad asks finally.

"He's a painter and decorator mainly," Patrick says. "He does a bit of plastering and tiling too, but if they need, like a whole room plastering, or there's a big area to be tiled, he gets one of his mates in to do it, you know, someone who specialises in that."

"So I guess he knows people in all the building trades," Dad suggests.

"Yeah, pretty much," Patrick agrees. "So what do you do?"

"I'm a model maker," Dad explains. "When the car companies are developing a new model, they have to build a prototype. The bodywork has to be built by hand. That's what I do, along with the team of guys I work with."

"Wow! That is well cool!" Patrick says, giving us a rare show of enthusiasm.

"Unfortunately, apart from Jaguar Land Rover, nobody does any development work in Britain," Dad goes on. "I work in Europe, Germany mainly. It means I don't get to see the family as much as I'd like to. So any ideas yet what you want to do?"

"Something involved with building," Patrick says thoughtfully. "You know after an architect's designed a building, he has to get an engineer to work out how to actually build it, you know, so it won't fall down. I'd like to do something like that."

"A structural engineer," Dad says. "That's great. Work hard; I'm sure you'll get there."

"Thanks," Patrick says, smiling.

I'm amazed. Okay, he wasn't very articulate, but he did actually talk.

It's early October. Being in the top set for every class except history is proving to be as tough as I thought it would, especially in maths. We've got Mr Bentley, which is okay, but in the top set we're expected to do our GCSE exam at the end of this year. That's scary. We've got loads of stuff to cover, so we're going through it really fast. I'm hanging on, but only just.

Zav's not in the top maths set, but it's not because the school didn't want us to be in the same class. It seems he didn't do very well in the end of year exam. That came as a surprise. When he was in our group, he was always near the top.

Then there's physics. We're taught by Mr Harrison. He's a very good teacher and über-strict. When we had him for science back in Year Eight, he treated me just the same as all the other kids. But now, . . . well, he doesn't actually do anything, but he looks at me and talks to me like I just crawled from under a rock. It's because I'm gay; it has to be. He doesn't approve and he wants to make sure I know.

I don't like it, but I'm not going to let him get to me. I'm going to keep working just like I always do. He wants to be able to say, "Oh, the gay boy couldn't make the grade." Well, he can forget it.

On the plus side, I'm starting to get to know Patrick a bit better. Dean's not in the top maths set and he doesn't do art, so in those classes Patrick and I sit together. He's brilliant at maths, and although he never came to junior arts club, he's a better artist than most of the kids who did.

It's been hard work though. He still doesn't talk much. The weird thing is that I've started wondering if he might be gay. That probably sounds like wishful thinking, but it's not. Okay, he's not ugly, but he's very ordinary looking and way too scrawny. I don't really fancy him. And he's not that easy to get on with. He's too quiet, almost defensive. In any case, I'm not saying I think he is gay, but there's definitely something going on. I just don't know what it is.

Our training sessions have settled into a routine. On our longer runs, which we do on Sundays and Tuesdays, when Patrick makes his break, Dean stays back with me. On the shorter runs that we do after school, he usually tries to go with it, although he doesn't always stay with Patrick right back to school. It's okay, I guess. It sort of works.

It's Wednesday afternoon. As soon as classes have finished, we head down to the boys' changing room. It's been raining steadily all day. It's not a problem. We've run in worse, at least Dean and I have. We start to get changed. These days, Dean and I wear proper running shorts, with sewn-in briefs. Patrick doesn't have any. He runs in his school football shorts, so he usually leaves his underpants on. Not today though.

"I'll have to run without any," he says, taking them off. "They'll get soaked."

I take a quick peek. Very nice! Uncut and topped by an unruly crop of dark pubic hair, it's not quite as long as Dean's and a little slimmer.

"These shorts are okay," he adds, pulling them on. "It's not like my cock's going to be hanging out."

We head out into the rain. Forty minutes and six miles later we're back, our running kit clinging to us. We quickly strip off and head to the showers. It's an opportunity for a better look. Dean's calves and forearms are covered in short dark hair. He has hair under his armpits too. By contrast, apart from having more pubes, Patrick's still as smooth as I am.

After a couple of minutes, we make our way into the drying area. Right on cue, Mr Saunders appears, bustling around. We ignore him, chatting among ourselves like he's not there. As soon as we're dry, he disappears again. Patrick and I stroll back to our clothes, leaving Dean to turn off the showers.

"He's a right perv!" Patrick whispers, giving me a knowing grin. "Always watches us when we come out of the showers!"

That grabs my attention. It's not just that he's noticed. His tone of voice tells me he doesn't mind. Now that's interesting!

"Oh, he's quite harmless," I say nonchalantly. "I've been alone with him a couple of times. So has Dean. He never actually does anything."

I don't mention the time when I gave him everything short of a written invitation and he still didn't do anything. That's my secret and I intend it to stay that way.

It's Tuesday afternoon. The half term break is just a few days away. We're back in the sports pavilion after our games class.

"Mark's going to be playing rugby for the school on Saturday," Matthew informs me.

"Really?" I query.

"Yeah," Matthew confirms. "He's been training with us since the start of term. Fair do's to him. He's done well."

"So why's he got picked now?" I ask.

"Jamie Mitchell's hurt his knee," Matthew explains. "The doctors have told him he won't be able to do anything till after Christmas, no games, no gym, nothing. Mark's probably as good in the set pieces, but Jamie's been playing for three years, so in open play he always knows where he's meant to be, yeah? Mark's going to find that hard."

After my last encounter with Mark, I'm not really that interested. Over the past few months, we've pretty much ignored each other. But I'm reminded how much he's changed over the past twelve months. A year ago, he wouldn't have even thought about playing for the school rugby team.

It's Saturday, the beginning of our half-term break. At quarter to two, I arrive at the swimming pool. After locking up my bike, I stroll into the foyer. Andrew's just ahead of me, waiting to pay. We don't speak. We haven't spoken to each other for ages. I guess he's on his own because Mark played rugby this morning. I know Matthew never comes to the pool after he's played a match.

I buy my ticket and head into the changing room. I quickly put on my swimming shorts, stash my outdoor clothes in a locker and trot through to the pool. While Mark and Matthew were playing rugby, Tim and Ed had a football match. We rarely see them during the football season. So while all the girls are here, the only boys from our crew are Dean, Smudger and me.

We start playing on the floating mats, much like we usually do. The only problem is that with Mark not here, Andrew's got nobody to team up with. After a few minutes, he tries to latch onto Smudger, who's been entertaining Louise.

I'm too far away to hear what's said, but I can see that words are being exchanged. Almost immediately, Andrew gets out of the pool and disappears into the changing room. I swim across to the other two.

"What was that about?" I ask.

"Oh, he came across, trying to be all friendly," Louise says, "So I asked him if he was going to talk to you. He said no, so I said he needn't bother talking to us either. For the last six months, I don't think he or Mark has said a word to anyone else in the group. Well now Mark's not here, he can't suddenly decide he wants to talk to us."

I've known Andrew for so long, I almost feel sorry for him.

"He needs to get a life and start thinking for himself," Smudger says, as if reading my thoughts, "instead of just going along with whatever Mark says. It's pathetic!"

He's right, of course. Mark leads; Andrew follows. That's how it's always been. But it's a shame that it had to come to this.

It's Sunday morning. We've just completed a seven-mile run. Patrick never accelerated away, but for the last two miles he's been on the front, pushing the pace. Towards the end, I was barely hanging on. Mike – Dean's dad – got dropped completely.

"You guys are getting far too strong for me," he gasps, trailing in fifty yards behind. "There's a serious danger I'll get fit if I keep this up!"

We wander into the utility room. My legs are aching.

"You coming over Tuesday?" Dean asks, looking at Patrick. "Same time?"

"Any chance of making it eleven?" Patrick asks. "I wanna go to the library first. If I get there as soon as it opens, I'll be able to do an hour and a half before coming here."

"So you work in the library?" I query.

"Yeah," Patrick confirms. "I go there to use the computers. Yesterday I was in there all morning."

"So haven't you finished your homework?" Dean asks.

"Yeah," Patrick responds, "but I've been getting started on my history project."

"What are you doing?" I enquire, having scarcely thought about mine yet.

"Thomas Telford," he says.

"Hmmm, I've heard of him," Dean says vaguely. "Remind me."

"Built lots of bridges," Patrick says, "especially in Shropshire. Well, that's what he's best known for."

Once again, I'm amazed. I think I'm getting to know him. Then I realise I hardly know him at all.

Monday morning, it's half past ten when I arrive at Anthony's house. He comes straight out. We make our way to the main road, turning towards the Art Gallery. There's a new exhibition that we're going to see. It's nothing special, but Anthony and I haven't hung out much recently. It's a chance for us to catch up.

"So who's the scrawny kid you've been going round with?" he asks.

"Patrick Keaveney."

"Oh," he replies thoughtfully. "Isn't he supposed to be really clever?"

"He is really clever," I confirm. "I never really knew him before, but we share several classes now. We run together too. And he's very good at art."

"He never came to Junior Arts Club," Anthony comments.

"Yeah, well he lives on the Monkswood," I respond. "I think he finds it pretty hard to fit in at the Grammar School."

"He's not gay, is he?" Anthony asks, eyeing me suspiciously.

"Dunno," I say casually.

"But you think he might be?"

"It's hard to say," I counter, trying to sound non-committal. "Obviously he knows I'm gay, but we've never talked about it. Anyway, he's very quiet; keeps his thoughts to himself most of the time." I pause for a second. "So how are you and Jayden getting along?" I ask, cunningly changing the subject.

"Oh, we're cool," he says, smiling.

He hasn't told me anything I didn't already know. Anthony's in a good place, his life going the way he wants it to. I'd be able to tell if it wasn't.

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