THE JIGSAW PUZZLE

by Pink Panther

As the end of summer term approaches, Ian is slowly adjusting to his new situation, although it's not without its problems. Please read on and enjoy, remembering that all the usual disclaimers still apply. Feedback is always welcome; send your comments to archimedes294@hushmail.com , and I'll respond as soon as I can.

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN


June 2008

It's Friday afternoon. We've been back at school for a week. It's been okay. We've got our end of year exams coming up, so I've been pretty much focused on school work, which helps to keep my mind off other stuff.

It's Friday afternoon, and very warm, so I've only run three laps around the perimeter of the school rather than my usual four. Even so, I'm very sweaty. Our interval training this afternoon is a new one, eight three-hundred metre repetitions with just a one-hundred metre walk/jog in between. It sounds pretty tough, so I want to give myself plenty of time to recover before we start.

Mark's in the shot-put circle. Seeing him in shorts and an athletics vest, I'm suddenly aware of how strong and muscular he's become. I'd never really noticed before. He's not much of a runner, better than I used to be, but he's too stocky and his legs are too short for him to ever be really good. On the other hand, powering across the shot-put circle, he's explosively fast. He drives upwards, sending the shot an impressive distance. As he does so I notice something else: hair under his right armpit. I'm like `Where the hell did that come from?'

The weather's been dry for quite a while now. It's been months since we've had to have a shower after games, but the last time I saw Mark naked, he only had a small dick and not a trace of pubic hair. Now he's got hair under his arms, so he must have some down there, probably more than I've got. Shit! He got that in a hurry!

I remember what Mr Ashton told me. Some boys grow up so steadily you hardly notice them doing it. That would be like Andrew and a few more I can think of. But for other boys, he described hitting puberty as like being on an out of control roller-coaster. That's how it was for me last year. I guess it's what Mark's going through now. Is that why he's so aggressive? I don't know, but I'm sure it has something to do with it.

Another thought niggles at me. Mark's not the only one who's got hair under his arms. Some of the boys are getting hairy legs too. Matthew's started shaving. He hasn't said anything, but I know he has. I started getting pubic hair before most of the other boys. Right now, I've got a neat little crop, not straggly like it was to begin with, but that's it. The rest of my body's as smooth as it's always been, and although I've grown, I'm still the smallest in the year. It's like I'm Peter Pan. Won't I ever grow up?

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

The interval training is every bit as tough as I expected. Even so, it goes better than I thought it might. With the repetitions being longer and the recoveries shorter, the pace is considerably slower, which suits me. For the first few reps I'm still at the back, but as the session goes on, some of the other boys start to struggle. On the last few reps I actually finish in front of a couple of them.

We jog half a lap of the field before heading to the changing rooms. My legs are tired and I'm a bit light-headed, but nowhere like as bad as I've been after some of the earlier sessions. I guess I'm getting used to it.

As we approach the sports pavilion, Mark stomps across to me.

"What were you looking at?" he demands.

"I was watching you put the shot," I respond, completely taken aback. "You looked good."

"Well don't!" he snaps. "I don't like it!"

"Is there a problem?" Matthew asks, putting himself between us.

"He was staring at me," Mark snaps.

"I was watching him put the shot," I counter.

"So how far away was he?" Matthew asks, looking Mark right in the eye.

"Dunno," Mark concedes, "Twenty yards?"

"He was watching you put the shot," Matthew says firmly, his eyes still trained on Mark's. "Get over it."

Mark hesitates. He's clearly not happy, but Matthew's way bigger than he is. He's not about to get into an argument. After a second, he turns, making his way into the building. Fuck! That was not nice! But I've got the message. The next time I see Mark, I'll pretend he's not there.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

The end of year exams went okay. I'm confident that I've done as well as I could, so it's just a matter of waiting for the results. I'm not expecting any unpleasant surprises. Meanwhile, things are winding down towards the end of term. It's Tuesday afternoon. Dean and I are strolling towards Alexandra Square, enjoying the warm June sunshine.

Neither of us is saying much. Dean's often rather quiet, and I'm wrestling with a problem. I still haven't told him what Claire said that day she came home unexpectedly. I know I ought to. If he'd asked, I'd have told him, but he hasn't, and I just can't bring myself to do it. It might mean we'd stop having sex. That's the last thing I want.

"It's Sports Day in two weeks," he announces suddenly. "Are you going to run the fifteen hundred?"

I pull a face. I've never taken part in Sports Day before and I'm not keen to start now.

"Come on, man!" he insists. "You'll be way better than anyone else we've got."

This is probably true. On sports Day, the six registration groups compete against one another. Apart from me and Dean, nobody else in our group runs regularly or takes part in the interval training during games classes.

"You won't win," he admits. "Tim'll win. He always does. Just sits on the shoulder of the leader all the way round then sprints away down the home straight. I guess Patrick Keaveney will be second, but there's nobody else you have to worry about. You won't get shown up, trust me."

I'm far from convinced, but this isn't Mr Saunders asking me, it's Dean, the guy who's been there for me when I needed him most. Refusing to do it would be selfish. I'd be like letting him down. I can't do that. I'm still not keen, but saying no just isn't an option. I'll just have to get out there and do the best I can.

"Yeah, okay," I say, giving him the best smile I can manage.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Twenty-four hours later, the weather's completely changed. It's been cloudy and overcast since this morning. At lunchtime a fine drizzle set in. With classes over for the day, Dean and I head for the changing rooms. It's still drizzling, but it's not cold. We've run in worse.

Once we get going it's actually quite pleasant, the light rain keeping us cool. Half an hour later, we're back. We begin to strip off.

"Okay, I need to get going," Dean says, quickly towelling himself off.

I look at him like he's gone mad.

"I've got a dental appointment at quarter to five," he adds. "I thought I told you. Sorry!"

Within a couple of minutes, he's on his way. I'm more than a little miffed. I'd assumed we'd be going to his house like we always do on Wednesdays. I'd got myself bang up for it. Now it's not going to happen. Shit!

With the weather the way it is, there's only me and Mr Saunders around. A very bad idea occurs to me. I mean, it's not like I really fancy him. He's too old. Even so, I pull off my shorts, turn on the showers and stroll in. After a few minutes, I emerge into the drying area. Just as I expected, Mr Saunders is in the changing room, watching me.

I've already got a raging hard-on. I make sure he gets a good look at it. He's pretty well drooling. Pretending I haven't noticed him, I casually turn round, bending down to dry my feet, so he can see back there too. I can hardly make it any clearer. So what's he going to do? I guess I'm about to find out.

As soon as I'm dry, I turn around and saunter back into the changing room. He's disappeared. I look around. There's no sign of him. It's just like when I had to put the balls away after our games class. I begin pulling my clothes on. I'm still confused. Maybe having sex with the boys at school is a line he just won't cross, so he gets as close as he can without actually doing it. Who knows?

To tell the truth, I'm relieved. I never really wanted to do anything with him. I just thought . . . , well, I don't know what I thought. And what would have happened between me and Mr Saunders if we had done it? Things might have got even more weird. Maybe that's why he never went for it. Actually, I'm starting to feel pretty stupid for coming onto him like that. And not just stupid, sort of . . . well it's not nice, is it?

And that's not the only thing. From what I saw that time in the store room, Mr Saunders is definitely not small. He could have an absolute monster. Taking that up my bum might not have been the best idea on the world. I could have been sore for days. So on Friday when I'm supposed to go to Dean's, I'd have had to make an excuse not to, because if I went, he might realise, yeah? It doesn't bear thinking about.

To be honest, I don't even know why I did it. I mean, it's not like I needed to. I was at Dean's house yesterday and I'll be there again on Friday. It's not like this was my only chance or anything. Now I've thought about it, it's probably for the best that nothing happened.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Just under a week on and I'm at Dean's house again. Over the past two days we've had just about all our exam results. They're even better than I expected. I'm pretty much up there in every one. Dean's done okay too, even in maths and the sciences which he used to find really tough.

"Mum and Dad are well happy," he says, giving me his most beautiful smile. "You're even more flavour of the month than you were before."

"It's you that's put the work in," I remind him.

"Yeah, but Mum and Dad are right," he counters. "It's you that's made the difference. When I used to hang out with Zav, it was all about him, yeah? You're not like that."

He's right. I'm not. More than that, I'm glad I'm not.



0 o 0 o 0 o 0

July 2008

Sports Day is finally here. We're in luck; the weather's just about perfect, warm and sunny with just a gentle breeze. The fifteen hundred is the last race before the relays. I'm very nervous. What I know about running in races you could get on the back of a stamp. Dean says I won't get shown up. I just hope he's right.

Over the next couple of hours, the events slowly unfold. Dean wins the high jump and the four hundred metres. Mark wins the shot. Matthew wins the javelin and finishes second in the discus. Our group is doing well, better than I thought. As I prepare for my race, we've got a very good chance of actually winning.

To be honest, it would have been easier if we hadn't. I know I don't care much if we win or not, but the other kids do, especially the boys. I need to make sure I don't mess this up. The six of us are called to the starting line. Tim's already run the eight hundred, which he won, so I'm guessing he won't want to do any more than he has to.

The gun sounds and we're on our way. After an initial charge along the back straight, Patrick Keaveney hits the front. With him being in a different registration group, I don't know him that well. He never talks when we're doing interval training, not to me and not to anyone else. What I do know is that he's at the Grammar School on a bursary because his parents can't afford the fees, so he's super-bright.

Physically, he's even more of a stick insect than Dean. He's not just slim, he's downright skinny. He looks like he doesn't eat. He's a few inches taller than me, but I doubt if he weighs as much as I do. He's not ugly or anything, but with shortish, mousey coloured hair and very pale skin, he's the sort of kid you'd walk past without even noticing him.

I settle in at the back of the group, trying to make sure I stay in touch. After two laps, I'm still there. Patrick and Tim have pulled well clear, but the other three are not far in front of me. This is where the running I've done starts to pay dividends. One by one I pick them off. As I reach the home straight, Tim's just finishing, with Patrick not far behind. I run through as hard as I can, comfortably finishing in third place.

After I've got my breath back, I go across to Mr Harrison, the chief timekeeper.

"Sir," I ask. "May I see what times we ran please?"

He glares at me before showing me the sheet. Tim ran four minutes fifty six; Patrick four fifty eight. I finished in five minutes eleven. So I didn't do anything special. I just outlasted the three boys I beat.

But to my surprise, my classmates seem well impressed, or at least the ones who are still talking to me do. That's when it hits me. Turning out today and running as hard as I could might not have been important to me, but it was important to them. In the situation I'm in, that matters.

"As long as we do alright in the relays, we're going to win," Dean says, his eyes sparkling.

I sit down to watch. The girls manage third. That's okay. The boys need to finish no lower than fourth. The gun sounds and Andrew sets off on the first leg. He hands the baton safely to Matthew, who charges down the back straight. Because they're running in lanes, it's difficult to tell exactly, but we seem to be there or thereabouts.

The baton is passed on to Smudger who runs the second bend. He struggles. As he hands on to Dean, we're fourth or fifth. Dean isn't fazed at all, quickly moving through to second and almost snatching the win. So we've won the group trophy. I might have been a reluctant participant, but I have to admit it feels good to have been part of it.

With the presentations completed, we head back to the changing rooms. Mr Saunders comes across to me.

"I'm sorry now I didn't twist your arm a bit harder to turn out for the athletics team," he says. "Apart from Patrick Keaveney, you'd have done far better than the boys who did run."

This is not what I wanted to hear. It may not matter right now, but it's clear that next summer I'll be expected to run for the school. That's not good news at all, and unless I make a complete arsehole of myself, which I won't, I can't see how I'm going to get out of it.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

The lunch break has just finished. We're heading in for afternoon registration. Mr Broadhurst is striding along the corridor, heading towards us. He calls me to him.

"It was great to see you out there this morning," he says with obvious enthusiasm. "I've seen your school report and this time it's excellent right the way through. You've obviously worked very hard to make the improvement you have. Well done!"

"Thanks sir," I acknowledge. "But I'd never have done it if Dean hadn't helped me. I wouldn't have known where to start."

"I'm pleased to hear you say that," he says thoughtfully. "He's done very well too. I'm not sure how it happened, but I'd say you two have been very good for each other. I'm delighted to see it."

I can't imagine what he'd think if he knew what else we get up to. Fortunately, he doesn't.

"So have you learned to swim too?" he asks.

"Yes sir," I tell him. "I learned last term."

"So now you're able to go and enjoy yourself with your friends," he suggests.

"Sir," I respond. "I go most Saturdays."

"Well done!" he repeats. "You've done really well."

I'm not going to tell him that Mark and Andrew don't talk to me anymore. Whatever else I am, I'm not a grass.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

With school over for the day, I head to the bus station. As I arrive at our bus stop, Scott and David are standing there, chatting. To my surprise, Scott beckons me over.

"You did well this morning!" he says as I join them.

"Hi!" David adds. "You probably didn't notice us. We were sitting down, recording the results."

"Oh, right!" I respond, grinning. "Yeah, it went okay."

"Claire says you've made friends with the tall kid who used to hang out with Stanford," Scott continues.

"Dean? Yeah, we've become really good mates."

"He's a good athlete. Was it him that got you into running?"

"Yeah."

"I believe you've learned to swim too?"

"Yeah."

"That's great! Make sure you keep it up! It'll make a huge difference."

It's the icing on the cake. Scott's even more gorgeous than he was when I first met him, but since the confrontation with Zav, I've hardly seen him. I've been busy; I guess he has too. I can't tell you how much it means to have him speak to me like that.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

"Ian Haskell," Mrs Vickers announces. "Mr Lenham wants to see you. Report to his office at morning break."

Mr Lenham, that's the head of boys' physical education. I'm not sure exactly what he's going to say, but I've got a pretty good idea.

At morning break I make my way to the gym changing room. I knock on the office door.

"Come in!" a stern voice says.

I step inside, closing the door behind me. Mr Lenham is sitting in his office chair, looking up at me.

"You wanted to see me, sir," I say quietly.

"Yes," he says calmly, eyeing me up and down. "At the start of this term, I understand that Mr Saunders told you that you could use your games classes to pursue your running."

"Yes sir," I acknowledge.

"Had I known that you subsequently declined to turn out for the athletics trials," he goes on, "I would have insisted that that concession should be withdrawn immediately. That, however, is history. What I am concerned with is that we are perfectly clear what is to happen from here on. I am happy for you to continue to run during your games classes, but there is a simple quid pro quo. Next summer, you will be expected to run, when asked, for the athletics team. And when you move into Year Eleven and subsequent years, you will be expected to compete for the school cross-country team. If you are not willing to do that, then next term you'll be back playing football or rugby in your games classes. So which is it to be?"

I'm not too happy being bounced into it like this, but in reality it's a no-brainer. If running for the school will get me out of ever having to play football or rugby again, it's a price well worth paying.

"I'd like to continue running, sir," I say politely.

"Excellent," he says. "I'd call that a win-win deal. So please remember that we've had this conversation, because I certainly will."

"Sir," I acknowledge.

"Have a seat," he says in a far more friendly tone, indicating the chair opposite his.

I do as he says.

"Don't worry about being in the cross-country team," he says gently. "They train after school Mondays and Thursdays, and for most of the boys, that's all the training they do. From what Mr Saunders tells me, that's less than you've been doing. So don't think you're suddenly going to be expected to do far more than you've been used to. That's not going to happen." He leans back in his chair. "You've done pretty well here," he suggests. "Am I right?"

"Yes sir," I respond. "I think so."

"So you're happy with the education that the school has provided you with?" he continues.

"Yes sir, definitely."

"Then think of this as an opportunity to give a bit back," he says. "You used to be in the choir, didn't you?"

"Yes sir."

"And when you performed, it was very important that you did the best job you possibly could, because performances like that are seen by people from outside, and what they think of the school is very important. What we do out on the sports field is exactly the same. We are presenting this school to the outside world, so we need to do it as well as we can."

"Sir," I say quietly. To be fair, I do sort of see where he's coming from. I'd just never thought of it like that.

"When I came here twelve years ago," he explains, "the Cathedral School was way ahead of us in almost every way. It was very difficult for us to persuade parents of really able boys to send them here. But over that period, people have worked extremely hard to turn that round, so that now there's really nothing to choose between us. And you're reaping the benefit of that. You're on an art scholarship, aren't you?"

"Yes sir."

"In order for us to fund those scholarships we need to persuade people businesses and individuals to invest in this school and the education that it provides. They don't just happen. And one final thing; I noticed that your efforts yesterday were not unappreciated by your classmates."

"Sir," I respond, giving him a wry grin.

"You should value that," he says.

"Oh, I do sir," I tell him.

"Right!" he says, smiling. "Off you go!"

I head out for what little remains of morning break. Surprisingly, I'm actually quite pleased that he spoke to me the way he did. He didn't lecture me or tell me off. He just explained why he thinks it's important for me to represent the school if I'm good enough. And to be honest, I can't argue with anything he said. I'm still not keen on the idea of running for the school, but it means that I'll be allowed to run during games classes right through the autumn and winter. That can't be bad!