THE JIGSAW PUZZLE

by Pink Panther

School term continues along its normal course, but then, something unexpected happens. Please read on and enjoy, but remember that all the previous disclaimers still apply. As always, feedback is more than welcome. Please send your comments to archimedes294@hushmail.com and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

Finally, please remember to donate to Nifty, which relies on readers' donations in order to keep operating as a free site.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

November 2008

In between hanging out with my friends, I spent the remainder of the half term break studying, drawing and running. Right now, we've been back at school for two weeks and autumn is very much with us. As we head towards our games class, it's been raining on and off for the best part of three days. There's no way they'll be able to play football or rugby. But cross-country goes on in anything short of a full-scale blizzard, so our little group will still be expected to run. We troop into the pavilion.

"Runners get changed as usual," Mr Saunders announces. "The rest of you sit down quietly!"

We begin to get changed.

"Any volunteers want to join them?" Mr Saunders asks.

"I will," Tim says.

That's no surprise. Although he doesn't train for it, he's still the best runner in our year.

"Anyone else?" Mr Saunders demands.

He's met with silence.

"What about you, Simon?" he demands, addressing himself to Simon Heath.

Simon's in the top set for maths, physics and chemistry, so he's another boy I've got to know over the past few weeks. He seems really nice. He's good looking too, around five feet seven, on the slim side of average and definitely cute. The badge on his blazer proclaims that he plays cricket. I've seen him a couple of times. Despite not being all that big, he can hit the ball miles.

"How far will you be going?" he asks.

"About five and a half miles," Dean says, "but we won't be hanging about, not in this weather."

"Yeah, okay," Simon agrees.

After getting into our kit, we set off. It's five past two and still raining steadily.

"We should be back by quarter to three," Dean explains. "Have a quick shower; we should be changed and ready to go by three. As long as nobody's been messing about, they'll probably let us go home then."

I remember this from previous times when we haven't been able to do games. As long as everybody's been sensible, they send us home just after three o'clock. With two inexperienced guys with us, I thought we might run a little more steadily than we usually do, but we don't. At our normal pace, Tim and Simon seem more than comfortable. We even pick it up over the last mile.

"Made it with time to spare," Dean says. "Just under thirty-seven minutes."

We make our way back into the pavilion. There's no question of us not having a shower. We're not just soaked; having run part of the way over fields and through woods, we're pretty dirty too. We quickly strip off, grab our towels and head for the showers.

It's the first time I've been able to get a good look at Tim while he's naked. It's an opportunity I'm not going to miss. He is gorgeous! He's got a nice dick too, uncut as most of us are, a little smaller than Dean's and topped by a neat patch of thick dark hair. It looks perfect on him. I can think of lots of things I'd like to do with it.

If I'd seen him like that a year ago, I'd have got a hard-on for sure. Fortunately, I've got through that. These days I've got a bit more self-control. I know the score anyway. Tim's straight, like one hundred per cent. His girlfriend, Joanne Cross, is even prettier than Jane.

I wander into the drying area. Simon's standing right in front of me. With his beautifully proportioned body and creamy white skin, he is stunning, his slim uncut cock with its neat little crop of golden pubes the icing on the cake. Tim might be the fittest boy in our year, but as of now, Simon's a very close second.

"Did you run on Sports' Day?" I ask, strolling across. "I don't remember seeing you."

"I ran the eight hundred," he replies. "I finished just behind Tim."

I guess that shows how much attention I was paying. I glance to my left. Mr Saunders is watching us, just like he always does. I ignore him and concentrate on getting dry.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Saturday afternoon finds us at the swimming pool. We're just stashing our things into a couple of lockers when Tim and Ed show up. I'm surprised to see them. It's quite a rarity during the football season.

"Bloody weather!" Tim complains. "There's no football today. None tomorrow either!"

"I think the rugby team played," I say, noting that Matthew and Mark aren't here.

"Yeah," Tim says. "They had an away match in Birmingham. It's not been as bad there. Still, as we weren't playing this morning, last night we went to an under eighteens' disco. Jo and Roz were keen to go, and as we didn't need to get up early this morning, we couldn't let them down, could we?"

Roz is Rosalind Marshall, Ed's girlfriend. I've only got to know her quite recently we have art and history together but she's great fun to be with. I like her a lot. Even so, for the first time in ages, I feel really awkward. Tim and Ed went to the disco to hang out with their girlfriends. One part of me would love to go somewhere like that, but I just couldn't. I'd be like a fish out of water. It'd end up being totally embarrassing.

We make our way into the pool, Tim and Ed joining us a few minutes later. I'm surprised to see that Roz and Joanne are here. That's another first. It's the biggest gang we've had here for ages. Best of all, we're all getting along, having fun and just . . . , being teenagers, I guess.

Just after three, we head back to the changing rooms and into the showers. It's weird. When we have to have a shower at school, we all strip off like it's no big deal. But here we all keep our shorts on. I guess the other boys don't like being naked while there are older guys around. I'm not sure if I'd like that, to be honest. Some of the older guys are pretty gross.

As soon as we're dressed, we head out into the foyer to wait for the girls. They always take longer than we do.

"We're going to see Ratatouille tonight," Tim says. "D'you want to come?"

All my muscles tense up. I'm trying to speak but no sound's coming out. I do want to go, but I'm terrified it'll turn into a disaster.

"It's okay," Tim says disarmingly. "There's a whole group of us going. We won't all be paired off or anything. It'll be a laugh, yeah?"

"Yeah, sure," I say, embarrassed that I'd reverted to wimp mode. "I'll have to ask, but it should be okay."

"Come over to mine for seven," Dean suggests. "Dad'll drop you home afterwards."

"Yeah, thanks," I respond. "I'll call you if I can't make it."

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

The cinema trip was great, a real laugh, just like Tim said it'd be. It set me thinking though. Hanging out and trips to the cinema and other places like that aren't a problem. But discos are different. That's boys with girls and boys chasing girls. There's no way I could fit into that.

And the next thing will be parties. For the past few months, I reckon Claire's been to a party, like every other weekend. And from what I've heard, things can get, well, quite out of hand, one way and another. I'm not sure I could deal with it.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

It's the morning after our cinema visit. As he's got no football, Tim's been out running with us. It wasn't a problem. Mum loves us to bring our friends round. Inevitably, he makes a very favourable impression. Polite, well spoken, obviously intelligent and a real achiever; he ticks all her boxes. Finally everyone's gone.

"What a pleasant young man!" Mum says, beaming. "And so good looking!"

That is seriously embarrassing! I mean, I can hardly tell her I think he's gorgeous, can I?

"Yeah." I croak, hoping she won't notice how red I've gone. "All the girls like him."

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

It's Thursday afternoon. In a few weeks we'll break up for the Christmas holiday. Our final class is chemistry. As soon as we're dismissed, Dean hurries off so that he can walk Rebecca to the bus stop. I'm at something of a loose end. Sure, I've got homework to do, but nothing that I need to rush for.

On my way downstairs, I go into the boys' toilets. There's just one stall, at the far end, separated by a partition from the urinals and washbasins. I make my way in, bolting the door behind me. I take my time. Like I say, I'm not in a hurry. Five minutes later I flush the loo and exit the stall. As I head to the washbasins, the door opens. It's Zav.

"Oh, look who we've got here!" he says, an evil grin on his face. "And there's nobody to look after you!"

I quickly change my mind about washing my hands. That can wait. I try to leave.

"You're not going anywhere, bumboy!" he snarls, blocking my path.

He tries to grab me. I squirm away from him, retreating towards the stall.

"So where are you going to go now?" he sneers.

He's got a point. My back's only inches from the partition. I've nowhere left to run.

"Right, you little slut!" he growls. "I'm going to give you what you've been asking for!"

To my horror he unzips his flies, the hard bulge in his boxer shorts poking through the opening. You don't need to be a genius to know what he's planning. A year ago I'd have caved in, let him do what he wanted. Not anymore. It's not going to happen.

Now I know I like gay sex, but I decide who I'm going to do it with. And there's no way I want to have sex with that dickhead.

He makes another grab for me. With nowhere to go, I kick out at him. It's about the only thing I can do. He tries to get out of the way but doesn't quite make it. So instead of kicking him in the shins, my foot catches him directly under his right kneecap.

"I'm gonna kill you, you little bastard!" he howls, hopping around on his left leg.

I can't really explain what happens next. I hate violence. I've never attacked anyone in my life. But this is different. It's him or me, and this is my chance, probably my only chance. I guess my self-preservation instinct takes over. Charging at him, head down, I slam into his chest, planting my right foot behind his left. With his right leg temporarily disabled, he loses his balance, striking his head on one of the washbasins as he goes down.

I don't wait to see if he's okay. I'm out of there! I rush down the stairs, out of the building and across the playground, not slowing down until I'm on the street where there are plenty of people around. I finally reach the bus stop, sinking down onto the bench.

My head's completely gone. I know that I got away and he never actually did anything, but the idea that he'd even think about doing something like that is a total mind-fuck. Forcing someone to have sex with you is evil! Of course, I've said that about Zav before. Now I know what it means.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

The evening's difficult. Somehow I get my homework done, but my concentration's just not there. At ten o'clock I tip myself into bed. I want to sleep but I can't, the events of the afternoon playing over and over in my mind. I have the overwhelming sense that I got lucky. Next time, things might not go so well. But will there be a next time? I don't know, but there could be.

Finally, it's time to get up for school. I feel like shit. I guess I did get some sleep, but it wasn't much. I'll just have to get through today as best I can. We're on the bus heading towards school. I've hardly said a word to anyone, and after a night without sleep I'm very jumpy.

Through our first couple of classes I struggle to concentrate. I make my way to my maths class. Somebody mentions that Zav's not in school. Nobody knows why. It's some relief, but not much. Fifteen minutes into the class, Mr Bentley gives us an exercise to do. I'm all over the place. I can't focus. Patrick tries to help. I still can't do it.

This isn't fair! I'm frustrated and angry. It's then that the answer dawns on me. I have to talk to someone. There's only one possibility. We've got French after break anyway, but I can't wait till then. As soon as we're let out of maths, I head straight to Mr Ashton's classroom.

"Hello, young man!" he says brightly. "What can I do for you today?" He pauses, looking at me intently. "Are you okay?" he asks, looking concerned.

"Not really," I admit.

"Take a seat," he says gently.

I sit down and tell him what happened. He listens intently, absorbing every word. Finally he's heard it all.

"That's appalling," he says, shaking his head. "I knew Xavier was pretty screwed up, but I didn't think he'd try anything like that. I'm relieved that you were able to get away, so a big `Well done!' for that. Even so, it must have been a very traumatic experience. You're right to be upset about it. I know I would be if anything like that happened to me. And well done for coming to talk to me. Keeping it bottled up would just make it worse."

"So what am I going to do now?" I ask. "D'you think I should tell Mr Steadman?"

Mr Steadman's the Head of Upper School. Back in the day, he played rugby for Oxford University in the annual match against Cambridge. Nobody messes with him!

"That," Mr Ashton says quietly, "is a problem. As you emerged without so much as a scratch, there's no evidence. Xavier will simply deny it. He might even say that you attacked him. It'll be your word against his. I'm not saying that Mr Steadman won't believe you, but without any evidence to back your story, there's not much he can do. The worst Xavier will get is a slap on the wrist and a warning to stay away from you."

I'm devastated. He's going to get away with it!

"There's another thing," Mr Ashton adds. "Have you told your parents that you're gay?" I shake my head. "If you report this to Mr Steadman," he goes on, "they're going to find out. It's inevitable. I'm sure it's not the way you'd want them to hear about it." He pauses. "I know this isn't what you want to hear," he adds, looking right into my eyes, "but that's how it is."

"I'm worried that he'll try to do it again," I say.

"For what it's worth, I think that's unlikely," he answers. "You need to remember that rape's not about sex, it's about power, domination, humiliation. Xavier went after you because he didn't think you'd fight back. But you did. After coming off second best, I doubt that he'll give it another try."

"He might try it with somebody else," I counter.

"That is a worry," he concedes. "What we can do about it is another matter."

There's a long pause. I don't have any answers. It seems that he hasn't either.

"I know it's difficult," he says gently, "but try not to worry. But if you are feeling a bit down, I'm always here. You know that."

So that's it. He was right about one thing. It wasn't what I wanted to hear. I know he did his best, but . . . well, it didn't get me very far. I check my watch. It's almost time for class. It's not worth going out. I go to my place and get my French books out.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

The bell sounds for the end of the school day. I'm supposed to be running with Dean and Patrick, but I just can't face it.

"I'm not feeling too good," I say, turning to Dean as we pack our things away. "You run with Patrick. I'm going home, yeah?"

"Yeah, okay," he responds. "Are you going to be okay for Sunday?"

"Yeah, I should be fine by then," I say. "I'll call you if there's a problem."

"Yeah, cool," he says. "See you Sunday."

I stroll out of school and make my way to the bus stop. For the first time in ages, Claire and I are on the same bus. When we get off, she stays at the stop, chatting to some of her friends. I head straight home. Up in my room, I change out of my school uniform and try to relax. A few minutes later Claire appears. I go out onto the landing.

"I thought you'd be running," she says, reaching the top of the stairs.

"I wasn't feeling right," I tell her. "Is it okay if we talk?"

"Yeah, of course," she answers, looking concerned.

We go into her room and close the door. We sit side by side on her bed while I tell her the story.

"He needs locking up!" she says angrily.

"Yeah," I agree, "but he's not going to be." I relay what Mr Ashton said.

"That doesn't mean he's got away with it," she says, a look of determination on her face. "He's got a short memory. When we had that run-in with him last year, I told him he wasn't to even breathe on you. He seems to have forgotten. We'll have to give him a reminder."

I'm not sure what sort of reminder she has in mind. To be honest, I'd rather not know.

"You're really upset about this, aren't you?" she asks.

I nod my agreement.

"Don't be," she orders. "You won. Remember that. He got a bang on the head and wasn't even in school today. So don't let him get to you, yeah? He's not worth it."

"Thanks," I say quietly.

For some strange reason I feel better already. I guess that was what I wanted to hear.

"But you're going to have to think about telling Mum and Dad soon," she goes on. "You know, about being gay."

I sit bolt upright. That's seriously alarming. And what's she thinking about? She says all the right things then springs this on me.

"Why?" I demand. "You know Mum won't be able to handle it. You said that yourself."

"All your friends know you're gay," she explains. "And it's not just your friends. Lots of other people at school do too. I'm not saying anybody will say anything on purpose, but you know how it is. Things slip out. Mum or Dad might easily hear it from someone else, Mum especially. Then she'd be really upset."

I have to admit I'd never thought of it like that. But Claire's right. I might not be too keen on the idea, but if Mum and Dad are going to find out I'm gay, they have to hear it from me.

"I'll have to be careful what I tell them," I say. "I could drop you and Dean right in it."

"Oh, you shouldn't have to tell any actual lies," she says, smiling. "Just be economical with the truth."

That makes me smile. I've not heard that expression before. I like it.

"They won't mention Dean," she goes on. "They know he's going out with Rebecca, so you can leave him out of it. Anthony's a different matter. If they ask you about him, you mustn't try to pretend he's not gay, or that the two of you weren't getting up to anything. They'll know you're lying. Then you will have a problem."

I swallow hard. This is going to be even harder than I thought. But I'm not going to get Anthony into trouble. That would be totally unfair.

"You'll need to think about what you're going to say," Claire advises. "Then let me know so we can sort out any awkward bits. But keep me in the loop, yeah?"

"Yeah," I say, resigned to my fate. "I nearly told Dad a few weeks ago. I think he'd have been alright with it, but he'd have had to tell Mum. He was going back to work the next day. That's when Mum would have started, you know, all the questions and that. I couldn't face it."

"You could do it in the Christmas holidays," she suggests, "like a couple of days after Christmas. Dad will be here for at least a week after that."

Well, that gives me a few weeks to prepare. I'm not looking forward to it one bit, but it doesn't look like I've got much choice. What a Christmas holiday this is going to be!

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

It's Monday morning. Zav's back in school. He's got an ugly bruise on his left temple where his head hit the washbasin. He is a mess! He's telling people he slipped over. I guess he's too embarrassed to admit what actually happened. I don't know why, but that makes me feel much better.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Ten days on and I'm back to normal, pretty much. I still have the occasional worry that Zav will come after me again, but nothing's come of it. We've just come in from morning break. It's English, so our registration group's all together.

"I hear Zav's out of school again," Smudger says, smirking.

"That's no surprise," Matthew says. "Yesterday afternoon, I was at the bus stop talking to Jane when he showed up. He could hardly move. He said he'd had an accident but he hadn't. Somebody had kicked him in the balls. I could tell by the way he was walking."

I know straightaway. It was Claire's reminder. She and her friends must have been stalking him, waiting for their opportunity. Yesterday, it finally arrived. They'd have come out of the shadows, predatory, feline, surrounding him, giving him no chance to escape. Claire would have spelt out exactly why they were there. I can pretty well hear her. The `reminder', delivered by Martine, would have been swift, painful and definitely not pretty. I don't even want to think about it, Zav's attackers disappearing into the woodwork as quickly as they'd emerged.

"I'd love to know who did it," Smudger says acidly, "so I could go and shake his hand."

I keep my mouth firmly shut. Claire and her friends could get into a lot of trouble if anyone found out. Zav won't say anything, of course. For one thing, he'd look stupid. Worse than that, people would find out why the girls were after him. That's the last thing he'd want.

So it's a secret, his and ours, and that's how it's going to stay. I breathe a silent sigh of relief. I finally feel safe again. As long as Claire and her friends are around, Zav won't come anywhere near me.