THE JIGSAW PUZZLE
By Pink Panther
Ian's settling into being back at school, and being back with the group of his regular group of friends. But it's not all plain sailing. There are still problems to deal with and hurdles to be overcome. So read on and enjoy! If you would like to make a comment on what you've read, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org , and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.
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It's Sunday morning. By half past ten, we're all assembled. Mum's all over David, telling him how much he's grown and stuff. I guess she hasn't seen him for a couple of years. As David suggested, we're all going to run around seven miles. Then Dean, Mike (Dean's Dad) and I will come back here, leaving David and Patrick to run an extra couple of miles.
After forty-five minutes running, we've reached the park on our way back towards home. We've kept the pace quite steady. Dean might be stronger and faster than he used to be, but he's not in distance running shape. I'm guessing his dad hasn't been doing much running either.
Dean, Mike and I turn for home, leaving David and Patrick to run their extra loop. It'll be brutally fast. Patrick's been champing at the bit for the past couple of miles, eager to get on with it. I'm glad I'm not going with them.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It's Wednesday, the day of our first race. We're at a park on the south side of Birmingham, about half a mile from the host school. The course is undulating. The climbs aren't severe, but they'll be quite testing, especially on the last lap when everyone's tired.
There are four schools taking part, each with ten to fifteen runners. The first six finishers from each school score in the team race. At half past two we line up. The hooter sounds and we're on our way.
The start's a killer. After half a mile, I'm near the back. It does get better. As the race goes on, I pick up several places, but having started so poorly, I was never going to do any good. At the finish, I'm given a ticket bearing the number 31. There were around fifty runners, so I guess it could have been worse. I hand the ticket to Mr Bentley.
"Well done," he says. "Not bad for your first race. You could have started a bit faster than you did, but you'll learn."
I scan the envelope he's filling in. David was second and Patrick sixth, which is quite impressive considering he's two years younger than some of the boys. Our sixth scorer was Simon, who finished twentieth. That's pretty good too when you remember he's only just started training.
Out of our fourteen runners, I was ninth, with Dean, the three runners who don't train with the main group, and another boy from Year Twelve behind me. It's not great, but I couldn't have done any more. It seems we've finished second in the team race, fourteen points behind our hosts.
"It's the best start to a season we've had since I joined the team," David says as we pile into the school minibus for the journey back to school, "and we're only going to get better."
Well, I guess we might. To be honest, I'm not that interested.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Additional maths is rock! Some of the ideas we're dealing with and the algebra we're doing are way harder than anything we've met before. It's depressing. I worked my socks off to get a good grade in GCSE maths. Now it's like I'm back at square one, having to start all over again. Patrick and a few of the others are lapping it up, of course, which only makes it seem worse.
But if I'm going to do A-level maths, and it's important that I should, I'll have to master this stuff sooner or later, so there's no use feeling sorry for myself. I'll have to do what I did last year; put in the work until I get on top of it.
Other than art, my most enjoyable class is history. Oh, I still have to work hard, as I do in all my classes, but in Mrs Vickers' group, Roz and I are the pace-setters. I like that. It sort of takes the pressure off.
On Saturday afternoons I go to Jimmy's place. I love having sex with him, but that's as far as it goes. Jimmy's no sort of company, at least not for me he isn't. The only thing we ever talk about is sex. But as neither Patrick nor I have anywhere safe to go, I'm not going to turn him down.
And right now, that's pretty well my only free time. For the rest of it, I'm either studying, drawing or running. That would be okay, if it wasn't for the irritations. For a start, even though I'm back in with Rebecca and her friends, almost half the kids in my registration group, including Mark and Andrew, still won't talk to me. And Mr Harrison's been treating me like I crawled out from under a rock. I know it's only small stuff, but somehow it wears you down. With me working harder than I ever have, I really don't need it.
But the real killer is that Mum and Dad have been acting like the three wise monkeys. When they got the report from Dr Aitken, I thought they might try to find out a bit more, maybe get in touch with one of the groups for parents with gay kids, but they haven't actually done anything.
It's difficult for Dad, being away working most of the time, but Mum said she'd read the book and the leaflets that Claire gave her. Well, if she has, she's never mentioned it. It's like she doesn't want to think about it or hear about it. And she definitely doesn't want to talk about it.
Now don't get me wrong; since I came out, Mum and Dad have treated me just the same as they always have. They've never been unpleasant. There's been no tension in the air. So what am I complaining about? I'm a lucky boy, aren't I? I'm not being bullied or even picked on. I'm doing well at school, and I've got some great friends, mainly straight, that I enjoy hanging out with.
From what I've heard, I'm having a much easier time than many boys growing up gay. Maybe that's the problem. I'm doing okay, so Mum and Dad are happy to let me get on with it. But it's not as simple as that. I'm used to Mum and Dad being there to help me and support me whenever I need them. But when it comes to helping me deal with growing up gay, I'm not sure they are.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It's Friday afternoon, classes have finished and I'm heading for home. As I reach the bus station, Gareth Kirby's waiting at one of the stops, chatting to three other boys. I sort of recognise one of them, but for a moment I can't place where I've seen him. Then it clicks. He's the boy that Zav followed into the toilets by the physics lab, the owner of the smaller pair of feet that I saw under the partition.
Wow! Now that is interesting! I wonder how Gareth knows him? And is he providing the same sort of favours for Gareth that he was giving to Zav? I'd love to know the answers, but I can't very well ask. I mean, it's not my business, is it?
I wish it was though. I should have spoken to the kid when I had the chance. Maybe I'll get another opportunity. At least now I know somewhere I'll be able to find him.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It's morning break. I've been agonising for days about whether I should talk to Mr Ashton about the situation at home. I don't really want to. It's going to sound like I'm criticising Mum and Dad, and it's not that at all. But I need to talk to someone, and he's the only one I can think of. I step into his classroom. He's sitting at his desk, reading.
"Hello, young man!" he says brightly. "What can I do for you?"
"Would it be okay to have a chat, sir?" I ask.
"Of course," he responds. "Pull up a chair."
I briefly tell him about coming out to Mum and Dad and what's happened since.
"That's difficult," he sighs. "Your mum's very sensible about most things. I thought she'd have been more positive."
"I think Dad sort of gets it," I go on. "Over the summer we went to the Algarve. We were staying not far from the Kirbys' place, so Louise invited us to go and see them. Mum got totally the wrong idea. When we got back to our villa, she started asking me how Louise and I were getting on. Even Dad was embarrassed. When I went to bed, he came and apologised. The problem is he's not around most of the time."
"Yes, I understand that," Mr Ashton says, grimacing.
"It's like he gets it, but he doesn't want to say too much in case he upsets Mum. I just need to know they're on my side."
"You get on pretty well with your dad, don't you?"
"Yes, sir. Well, I always have before."
"Then you need to talk to him," he says quietly. "I know it won't be easy, but I don't see what else you can do."
I take a deep breath. That wasn't what I wanted to hear. He might as well have suggested that I try pulling out my own teeth. Telling Dad that I'm gay was hard enough. Explaining that Mum's making me miserable because she won't face up to it is going to be way harder.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It's Saturday evening. We've not long finished dinner. I'm up in my bedroom.
"Right, so what can I help you with this time," Dad asks, closing the door behind him.
He takes seat on my chair, while I sit facing him on the bed.
"I don't know how to say this," I begin, hardly able to look at him, "but after I told you I was gay, and after you got Dr Aitken's report, I thought you and Mum would, . . . well, try to come to terms with it, maybe contact one of the groups for parents of gay kids, to find out what it's like, what sort of problems we might have to face. Well, it's been months now, and nothing's happened. It's like I never told you."
"I think that's a bit harsh," he counters. "We talked at some length when you first told us. Since then, you've pretty much done everything we asked you to do, so as far as I was aware, there wasn't anything we needed to talk about."
"It's not you," I go on. "You pretty much get it. But Mum doesn't even want to think about it. Remember when we were on holiday and she quizzed me about how I was getting on with Louise Kirby? It's like she's still hoping that she might be right and that Dr Aitken and I have got it wrong. Well we haven't. I'm gay. I didn't choose to be gay; that's just how it is. Mum's always been a rock for me and Claire, but it's like she doesn't want to deal with me being gay, and it's eating away at me."
I take a deep breath. This is the hard part.
"I need to know that she can accept me the way I am."
I'm choked, fighting back the tears. Dad moves across to sit down next to me, putting an arm round my shoulder. He's not done that since I was about nine.
"This has been difficult for all of us," he says gently, "especially Mum. It's taken her right out of her comfort zone. You know that. But maybe it wouldn't hurt for us to find out a bit more, if you think that would help."
"Yeah, please," I whisper.
"And let me say one other thing," he adds. "Over the last couple of years, you've shown tremendous guts and determination with the running, learning to swim and the way you've gone about your school work. I'm very proud of you. You being gay doesn't alter that one bit."
I nod that I understand.
"You'll have to leave it with me," he continues. "Now it won't happen overnight, but what I can tell you is that we will get through this, together, as a family. And I'll repeat what I told you right at the start. Mum and I will love you and support you just like we always have."
"Thanks, Dad," I croak, scarcely able to get the words out.
"Right," he says. "While I'm here, is there anything else bothering you?"
I swallow hard. I wasn't going to talk about this, but now he's asked . . .
"Yes," I admit. "Mr Harrison, our physics teacher, sort of picks on me."
"Picks on you how?" he asks.
"He talks to me and looks at me like I'm some lower form of life. It's because he knows I'm gay. He doesn't treat any of the other kids like that."
"Are you sure you're not imagining this?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Well if it's happening, it's not right," he says gently. "So what have you done about it?"
"There's not much I can do," I respond. "It's not like he does anything he shouldn't. It's his tone of voice and the way he looks at me, yeah? I try to ignore it. He's hoping I'll fail, but in the summer exam I got eighty-five per cent, fifth best in the whole class. When he returned our papers, he said `Well done,' or `Very good,' to all the kids who'd done well. But when he gave me my paper, he never said a word."
"Well, you've probably given him the best answer of all," he says. "Rise above it. That's easy to say; not easy to do. But next summer, when you get an A-grade you can watch him choke on it."
"Thanks Dad," I say, smiling at him.
"D'you want me to mention it to Mum?" he queries. "You know what'll happen if I do."
I know alright. She'll go steaming into school demanding Mr Harrison's head on a plate. That's the last thing I'd want. This is my battle and I've got to fight it.
"No thanks," I say. "I'd rather we kept it between us, yeah?"
"Great," he says, nodding. "Remember I'm here if you need a chat, well, at weekends anyway."
He makes his way out. I lie on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I am so, so lucky. I must have the best dad on the entire planet. I'm sure most boys growing up gay wouldn't get the sort of support and understanding that he's given me. In fact, I know they wouldn't.
I wonder if he'd still be proud of me if he knew I'd had sex with four different boys since he told me not to. On the other hand, I'm not sure he'd be that worried. Somehow, I've got the feeling he told me I shouldn't be having sex because he thought he had to. Or is that wishful thinking?
I remember what Mr Ashton said about his experience of coming out to his parents, "Because I had a family that loved me and cared for me, we got through it, not without a few tears along the way, but we made it." A few tears along the way; right now, I guess that's where we are.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It's Monday afternoon. Having finished our cross-country training, we make our way to the bus station. David and I wait by the stop for the bus to Whitestone. We're the only ones who go that way.
"I saw Scott on Saturday," he says quietly. "He asked me if I knew how you're getting on. He was really pleased when I told him that you've joined the cross-country team. He said to tell you to stick at it."
"Thanks! And how's he doing?"
"Really well! He's getting regular first-team football now. That's fantastic, considering he won't be eighteen till January. He's not started a match yet. They bring him off the bench to play the last twenty or thirty minutes."
Inside, I'm glowing. Scott's not just stunningly good-looking; he's really nice too. When I was getting bullied, he played a major part in putting a stop to it. I'll never forget that. I'm really pleased that he's doing well. He deserves it.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It's Saturday. Rebecca was sixteen two days ago. Today it's her party. She's invited all her friends, like most of the gang that used to meet up at the swimming pool, plus a few others. Now it's not one of those parties. Although they're staying in the background, Mr and Mrs Cawley are very much around, so nobody's going to get up to anything they shouldn't.
I was worried it would be one of those boy-girl things and I'd feel totally out of place, but after everything that's happened there was no question of not coming. As it goes, I feel totally at home, spending most of my time chatting to Roz and a few of the other girls. It's like they feel safe talking to me because they know I'm not going to try to get into their knickers. I don't care. It's fun.
So have Dean and Rebecca actually done it yet? For me, that's the burning question, but it's like nobody else is interested. I'll just have to be patient. I'm pretty sure Dean will tell me when they have. It's half past ten when Dad picks me up.
"You look like you've had a good time," he says as I get into the car.
"Yeah," I say, smiling. "It's been great, thanks!"
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
"Rebecca came over on Friday evening," Dean whispers as we head towards the physics lab. "Mum and Dad had gone to the theatre."
"And?" I demand."
"It was fantastic," he says quietly. "Totally awesome!"
So that's it then. They've done it. I sort of knew he'd tell me.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It's Wednesday morning. I'm on my way out to break when I meet up with Patrick.
"That arsehole Stanford's in trouble again," he says. "He got pulled out of geography. He's still in Steadman's office now. He's been in there over half an hour!"
"Really?" I ask. "What's he done this time?"
"Seems he's been spending his breaks and lunchtimes with a group of younger boys."
"Oh, right!" I comment, rather taken aback.
"I don't get what it is with him" he adds. "He picks on you for being gay. Then he goes hanging out with these younger kids. What's that about?"
"Fuck knows," I respond.
I could have said a whole lot more, of course, but I don't want to go there. He doesn't need to know what Zav tried to do to me.
"Actually, there's something else I need to tell you," he adds, lowering his voice. "I've got a girlfriend. Her name's Ann-Marie, she lives just around the corner from us. We got chatting at the youth centre last Friday night. She's alright, yeah?"
"So I guess we won't be getting together during half term," I suggest.
"Nah," he agrees, "especially after what happened with you and Dean."
That's something else I didn't want to hear. This term's been tough. A couple of get-togethers with Patrick during our half term break would have brightened things up no end. But it's not going to happen. Shit!
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Waiting for afternoon registration, Zav's run-in with Mr Steadman is the hot conversation topic. The word is that he'd gathered a group of boys from Years Seven and Eight and had been indoctrinating them with some pretty poisonous stuff, like how Hitler and Franco were the greatest leaders of the twentieth century.
I'm guessing that Gareth's friend, the boy I saw in the toilets with Zav, would have been one of them. I wonder if Gareth was there too. For some reason, I don't think so. Anyway, Zav's been told that if he's caught talking to younger boys again, he'll be sent home.
"I don't know about indoctrinating them," Smudger says, "more like he was trying to get into their pants. That is well pervy!"
He doesn't know how right he is. I could add fuel to the flames, but I'm not going to. It would be a very bad idea.
"Well, he is a perv, isn't he?" Amanda cackles.
"You've changed your tune," I say sourly. "You used to think he was the greatest thing since sliced bread."
"I wasn't talking to you, you little poof!" she snaps.
It stings like a slap in the face. The hostility towards me is always lurking below the surface. But now it's there for everyone to see.
"You're a fine one to talk," Jane retorts.
I've no idea what she's referring too. I guess she must know something I don't. Amanda gives her a look of sheer hatred. The atmosphere in the room is electric. Another wrong word and there could be a fight. Fortunately, Mrs Vickers appears. I've never been so pleased to see her.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
"Is it okay if I come in?" Claire asks, putting her head round the door of my room.
"Sure," I say.
"I hear Stanford's been grooming some younger boys," she says, closing the door behind her.
"Yeah," I confirm. "But I don't think he'll be doing that again. Steadman spent the best part of an hour bending his ear over it."
"He might already have done something he shouldn't," she suggests.
"Maybe," I say guardedly. "From what I've heard, Broadhurst's going to be speaking to the kids he was hanging out with. If Zav was up to anything, I guess they might say something. If they don't, well, I don't think there's much we can do about it."
"Probably not," she concedes.
"Actually, I wanted to ask you something," I say. "We were talking about it while we were waiting for afternoon registration. I said something. Amanda Lees called me a little poof. Jane told her she was a fine one to talk. I haven't a clue what that was about."
"Oh, I have," Claire says, grinning. "Jane, that's Matthew's girlfriend, isn't it?"
"Then I guess she'd know."
"Know what?" I demand.
"Amanda's the rugby team groupie," she explains. "Since the start of term, three of the first fifteen have had sex with her, all guys from our year, and they're just the ones I know about. Two of them have regular girlfriends, for god's sake!"
"Are you sure they're not bullshitting?" I query.
"They are not bullshitting," she insists.
It's a total surprise. I knew Amanda was a cow. It had never occurred to me that she was loose as well.