By Pink Panther

All the usual disclaimers apply.

Unsurprisingly, Ryan has a major run-in with the games master as a result of his failure to attend rugby training. Read on to see how that works out. Just one note for my American readers: a stone is equal to fourteen pounds, so 19 stone, as mentioned is this chapter, is 366 pounds.

More feedback would be very welcome; it’s been rather thin over the past couple of weeks. Please send your comments to and I’ll reply as soon as I can.


Everything was agreed and the arrangements made. Ryan would join the school band and would attend that week’s rehearsal. Rachel would drop him off at school with his guitar and amplifier, collecting him at around quarter to six once the rehearsal had finished. The following Thursday he would begin piano lessons with Mr. Allingham. Taking Ryan’s guitar and amplifier to school each Friday would be something of a chore for both him and Rachel, but not one which either of them resented.

That Thursday afternoon, when school finished for the day, Ryan walked home with Ashley, giving not a moment’s thought to the Year Seven rugby training session that was due to take place. Within fifteen minutes of leaving the school they were romping around naked on Ryan’s bed, much as they had on almost every afternoon since term started. Being at the grammar school was intense and demanding, with Ryan finding the formality of the place especially irksome; having sex at the end of the day was the perfect way to unwind.

The following morning, Ashley arrived at Ryan’s house at quarter past eight, the two boys piling into Rachel’s car for the short trip to school. At twenty five past, they disembarked outside the school gates, unloading their things from the boot.

Okay, give me your bag,” Ashley said. “I’ll wait for you by the entrance to the classroom block.”

Ryan handed it over, hurrying off to take his guitar and amplifier to the safety of the music room.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

When school ended for the day, Ryan made his way back to the music room. He collected his equipment, taking it to Big School where the rehearsal would take place. He arrived to find several boys already setting up.

There you are!” Mr. Allingham said, smiling warmly. We’ve put a chair for you by the piano. I’ve had to dust off the guitar parts; we haven’t had anyone to use them for a couple of years.”

Ryan quickly set up his amplifier and plugged in his guitar. After a quick tuning check, he flicked through the book on his music stand. He was familiar with some of the tunes; others he hadn’t played before, though the parts didn’t appear difficult. He sat down and looked around. Some more boys had joined them, making a total of between fifteen and twenty. The other boys were all older than him, he noted, most of them much older. While two or three of the brass players looked as though they might be in year nine, the pianist was clearly older than that, and the drummer and string bass player were both sixth formers. Ryan felt butterflies in his tummy; being expected to play alongside boys so much older than himself was a big challenge.

That looks more like a rock guitar,” the boy at the piano said, eyeing it suspiciously.

It’s versatile,” Ryan responded, shrugging. “You can play anything on it, pretty much.”

After everyone had tuned up, Mr. Allingham called the band to order.

Welcome, everybody!” he said brightly. “Good to see you all again! We already have a new member; Ryan Clark from Year Seven is joining us on guitar. I know you’re going to make him feel welcome. Okay, let’s get started. We’ll begin with number four.

Everyone quickly found the page, Bill Ashton’s tune ‘Are We Keeping You Up, Sir?’ a staple of the National Youth Jazz orchestra. It wasn’t a tune Ryan had ever played, but his part looked quite straightforward. Mr. Allingham allocated a couple of solos and they were away. Ryan was relieved to find that as long as he maintained his concentration, he could keep up quite easily. Duke Ellingon’s ‘Take the A-Train’ came next, followed by an arrangement of the ballad ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’. Ryan began to feel much more relaxed, fitting in without a problem. The test would come when he was asked to take a solo.

Well done, boys!” Mr. Allingham called, clearly pleased that the band was sounding good, despite the long summer break. “Right! Number ten!”

They turned to the page. ‘Bugsy’s Blues’ was a twelve-bar in F, standard chord changes with a couple of minor tweaks; it wasn’t anything Ryan hadn’t played a hundred times before.

Solos!” Mr. Allingham announced, “Matthew Stokes, Ian Hartley and Ryan Clark.” He turned to Ryan. “Each solo is three choruses; the first two on your own, just with the rhythm section; on the third you’re playing call-and-response with the brass; they call, you respond. Just listen to the first two solos; you’ll soon get the idea.”

Ryan nodded; he was pretty sure he knew what was needed. He remembered Mark’s advice: just concentrate on his phrasing and don’t show off. Mr. Allingham counted them in. The tune was a rip-roaring blues stomp, with the brass section giving it absolutely everything. After two choruses, trumpeter Matthew got to his feet. Though only fourteen, he was already an accomplished player. After two polished choruses, the brass section joined in, playing a blaring riff at the start of each four-bar phrase, to which he gave a scintillating response. The same pattern was repeated by tenor saxophonist Ian, a good-looking sixth former with a mop of dark curly hair.

Finally it was Ryan’s turn. He turned up the volume on his guitar and began his solo, playing neat, bluesy phrases. There was only one problem. Playing just with the rhythm section he was barely loud enough; responding to the brass riffs he was going to get buried. There was only one thing for it. As his final chorus began, he hit his footswitch, moving his amplifier onto the ‘overdrive’ channel, and moved the pick-up selector back a place. Though this wasn’t meant to be jazz-funk, it was the only way he could get enough power. To his delight, it worked beautifully, the powerful rock-guitar sound in perfect balance with the brass. Even better, he played every bit as well as he had at summer school. After the rehearsal, Ian Hartley came over to him.

That was a great solo you took,” he said warmly, “especially the final chorus. How long have you been playing?”

I’ve been playing guitar since I was eight,” Ryan said. “I’ve had the electric about six months.”

That’s excellent; you’re doing fantastic!” Ian enthused. “Great to have you onboard.”

Ryan packed his things away and headed for the main entrance to meet Rachel. That had been great fun, the perfect way to end the week. Maybe being at the grammar school wouldn’t be so bad after all.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Ryan’s weekend passed off quite normally, with nothing of note to report. He headed back to school on the Monday beginning to feel as though he belonged. At the start of their games class they were split into different teaching groups. The boys who had been summoned to attend Rugby practice, together with several others, including Ashley, were placed in the group to be taught by Mr. Thomas.

Ryan viewed the prospect with some trepidation. He’d taken a dislike to Mr. Thomas the previous week; he’d thought that he’d avoided having to be taught by him. He found being in this group much harder. Over half the boys were quite big, including three who were considerably bigger than he was. In addition, everyone in the group could catch, pass and tackle at least reasonably well. But the biggest problem was that every time someone made a mistake, they got bawled out; he hated that. Somehow he got through it, but it was not enjoyable.

They trudged back to the changing room. Ryan was in process of putting on his school uniform when Mr. Thomas came in. He looked angry.

Clark!” he shouted. “Where is he?”

Ryan put his hand up, wondering what he could have done. Mr. Thomas came across, standing right in front of him.

When I say I’d like to see you at rugby training,” he spat, “that is not a request; it’s an instruction! So let’s make it clear; rugby training is after school on Thursday, and I expect you to be there!”

I won’t be able to, sir,” Ryan said calmly. “I’m having a piano lesson with Mr. Allingham.”

Don’t argue with me, boy!” Mr. Thomas roared, looking almost apoplectic. “Cancel it! Rearrange it! Do whatever you like; just make damn sure you’re here on Thursday!”

He stomped out, the boys all holding their breath. There was an audible sigh as he left the changing room. Ryan was shaking; nobody had ever spoken to him like that. Worse still, as far as he was concerned, he hadn’t done anything wrong.

Five minutes later the bell went. Ryan and Ashley began the walk home, Ryan still trying to calm down and unscramble his brain.

I’ve been talking to Jacob,” Ashley said quietly. “I wondered why he wasn’t in our group; I was sure he’d be better than me. He said his brother warned him that if it looked like he was any good they’d make him play, so when someone passes him the ball he fumbles it, and when he passes it, it never goes where it’s supposed to.”

Shit!” Ryan muttered darkly. “I wish we’d done that!”

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

The following morning, Ryan went to see Mr. Allingham.

Well, not attending training without making your excuses was possibly not your best move; even so, it was a minor infraction at worst. Tell me; d’you want to be in the rugby team?”

No, sir,” Ryan said firmly. “I’m not into sport; I never have been.”

In that case, I can’t see the point of making you attend training,” Mr. Allingham sighed. “Leave it with me; I’ll have a word with the Headmaster. Don’t worry; come and see me at he beginning of lunchtime tomorrow; I’ll let you know what the outcome is.”

Ryan went on his way, but he did worry. Suppose the Headmaster said he had to go to rugby training? Being at the grammar school was difficult enough without having to do something like that. He needed to get the matter settled and wouldn’t be able to relax until it was.

The next day, when their final class of the morning ended, he reported back to the music room.

It’s all sorted,” Mr. Allingham said brightly. “I’ve spoken to the Headmaster and explained the situation. He has said that you do not have to attend rugby training and that he’ll speak to Mr. Thomas about it. So we can go ahead with the piano lessons as planned.”

Thanks, sir!” Ryan said, smiling.

I intend spending the first two or three lessons just assessing where you are and getting you back into it,” Mr. Allingham said. “Then all being well, we can make a start on grade five. How does that sound?”

That’s great, sir!” Ryan responded.

Right! Off you go then!” Mr. Allingham said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Ryan headed out to find Ashley, feeling relaxed and positive again.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

The arrangements for Friday were complicated. As Rachel was going out straight after work, to attend the leaving party for one of her work colleagues, Ryan had arranged to stop over with Ashley. Rachel had suggested that in order not to make a nuisance of himself, he ought to miss the band rehearsal, but Ashley’s mum had come to the rescue, volunteering to pick him up at school when the rehearsal was over.

The band rehearsal went like a dream. Ryan felt completely at home, playing every tune without a problem and taking another solo, which went even better than the one the previous week. He headed off to Ashley’s house in high spirits. He’d just played as well as he ever had, and was about to sleep over with his best mate ever. What could possibly be better than that?

All too soon it was Monday again. After a most enjoyable weekend, Ryan headed back to school feeling confident and positive. The morning flew by. He was beginning to enjoy his classes, getting stuck in and working hard. After lunch, it was games again. It wasn’t something he was ever going to enjoy; he’d just get through it as best he could. In the overall scheme of things, it wasn’t that important.

After trotting a circuit of the playing field, they divided into their groups.

Right!” Mr. Thomas barked. “We’re going to start with some tackling practice, in pairs.”

Ryan expected to be working with Ashley, as he had the previous week. Mr. Thomas, however, had other ideas.

Clark!” he announced. “You will work with Winyard!”

Ryan was horrified. Winyard was huge, the biggest in the whole year, a couple of inches taller than him, and built like a tank, weighing in at around one hundred and fifty pounds compared to his one hundred and ten. To make matters worse, the big lad had played mini-rugby from the age of eight and knew exactly what he was doing.

The tackling practice began. Ryan ran with the ball, Winyard charged in, grabbing him round the thighs and taking him right off his feet. He slammed down hard on the grass, spilling the ball. That hurt! He hesitated before getting to his feet.

Get up!” Mr. Thomas snapped. “Next time, release the ball under control! Don’t just let it fly out of your hands!”

The roles were reversed. Winyard ran powerfully, carrying the ball. Ryan ran in somewhat tentatively to tackle him. Winyard ran right through the tackle, leaving Ryan sprawling on the ground.

Bloody hopeless!” Mr. Thomas snarled. “Your problem, Clark, is you’ve got no balls! You’ve got to go in hard!”

Ryan was distraught. He knew exactly what was going on. Mr. Thomas was picking on him because he’d avoided rugby training. And right then, there was nothing he could do about it. The class continued. On every tackle, Winyard went in harder than he needed to. His own tackling did improve, however; he found it hurt less if he did actually go in as hard as he could. But Mr. Thomas was not satisfied, putting him down at every opportunity.

After around twenty minutes, they moved on to passing drills. Ryan performed as well as most of the boys, but it made no difference; however hard he tried, the games master’s verbal barbs kept coming. Finally, they played a game of fifteen a side. Ryan, thoroughly demoralised, simply went through the motions, desperate to get through it any way he could.

At last, they trudged back to the changing room. He was almost in tears; it had been the most distressing, humiliating experience of his life, and all because he didn’t want to play for the school rugby team. That wasn’t right. He got changed pretty much in silence. Most of the other boys wouldn’t even look at him, seeming scared that they might be given the same treatment if they were seen associating with him. Just as he finished getting dressed, the bell sounded for the end of school and they were dismissed. Ryan and Ashley made their way out of the school gates.

That was terrible!” Ashley said quietly. “What are you going to do?”

In the morning, I’ll go and see Mr. Allingham,” Ashley responded.

Hopkins told me that Mr. Thomas told Winyard he wanted you flattened,” Ashley added.

Yeah, well he made a pretty good job of it,” Ryan said acidly.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Jim Allingham listened sympathetically as Ryan outlined the events of the previous afternoon.

Well, as far as I’m concerned, that’s totally unacceptable,” he said. “However, what goes on in games classes really isn’t my business. You could speak to your form master, but the best way would be to ask your mum to take it up with the Head. That’s what I think you should do.”

Thanks, sir,” Ryan said, a little disappointed that the music master was not going to intervene.

He left the music room feeling depressed and isolated. It seemed that Ashley was the only friend he had. Telling his mum would not be easy. He’d been in trouble several times at primary school, and Rachel had backed the teachers every time. He’d need to pick his moment very carefully.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Ryan sat in his room, finishing his maths homework. It was five to six; Rachel would be home any time. He took a deep breath, working out what he was going to say. He just hoped she’d be in a good mood. At ten past six, the front door opened. Ryan steeled himself and went down stairs. To his disappointment, Rachel seemed tense and edgy. This, he decided, was not the time. He’d have to wait for a better opportunity.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Another day had passed. Ryan and Ashley lay snuggled up on Ryan’s bed.

There’s a problem,” Ashley said quietly. “I’m not going to be able to come here as often as I have been doing.”

Ryan eyed him suspiciously. Was his only friend about to desert him?

Things are a bit difficult at home,” Ashley explained. “The building project dad was working on has been put on hold, something to do with this credit crunch thing. He hasn’t even been paid for all the work he’s done. The two projects he was supposed to be going onto have been cancelled as well, so he’s got no work. That means he’s at home all the time. Yesterday when I got back, he asked me where I’d been. I said I’d been here. He said that Tuesday and Thursdays when I go to the athletics club, I’ve got to come straight home and get my homework done, cause last night I had to finish it when I got back from the club. And Mondays he’s going to pick us up from school so we don’t have to lug our games kit all the way home. Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.”

So when will you be able to come here?” Ryan questioned. “I can’t make Fridays cause I’ve got band practice.”

Just Wednesdays, I guess,” Ashley suggested.

Ryan was terribly disappointed; over the previous couple of days, having Ashley around had been crucial. Being deprived of his company was the last thing he needed.

As six o’clock approached, Ryan hoped once again that Rachel would be in a good mood, but as soon as she stepped through the door it was clear that she wasn’t; Ryan hadn’t seen her as tense and angry for almost a year.

Mum, what’s wrong?” he questioned.

If you must know,” Rachel snapped. “Jack and I have split up.”

Why?” Ryan asked, hardly able to believe it.

When we went out last Friday,” Rachel said sharply, “I had a few drinks. I know I shouldn’t have, but I got picked up by a guy in the bar. Well, some little shit-stirrer told Jack about it, so he’s dumped me.”

Ryan was devastated; just when he’d thought nothing else could go wrong it had. It was the last straw.

Stupid cow!” he spat, not even thinking about it. “What did you do that for?”

A shouting match ensued. He was sent to his room for the rest of the evening.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Ryan wasn’t sure how he got through the rest of the week. It was a struggle just to concentrate. Homework assignments for which he could have got at least eight out of ten were only worth sixes. He knew he couldn’t let things carry on like that, but with him and his mum at each other’s throats, it was hard to see a way out of it. Band practice went okay, but his enthusiasm had gone. He didn’t enjoy it the way he had the previous two weeks.

Saturday passed in much the same way. He did everything he usually did, but all he was doing was going through the motions. Finally, after a practice session at the rehearsal studio, he found himself back at Mark’s flat.

Right,” Mark said firmly, parking him on the sofa. “Before we do anything else, I want to know what’s wrong.”

Nothin’,” Ryan mumbled.

Bollocks!” Mark retorted. “You’ve been as miserable as sin all day! There’s clearly something wrong and I wan’t you to tell me.”

Everything!” Ryan said vehemently “Mum’s being horrible cause Jack’s dumped her; Ashley’s dad’s stopped him from comin’ to my house after school, and the games teacher’s usin’ me as a punch bag cause I don’t wanna be in the fuckin’ rugby team! I hate it! I never wanted to go there in the first place! And you’re only nice to me so you get to fuck my arse!”

There was a stunned silence. Mark could easily have reacted to Ryan’s final remark, but he wasn’t going there. The boy was having a bad time and was lashing out at anyone who happened to be in the vicinity. Suddenly Ryan burst into floods of tears.

I’m sorry!” he wailed. “I didn’t mean it! I’m sorry! After all the help you’ve given me I know it’s not true!”

Mark put his arm around Ryan’s shoulder.

It’s okay,” he said quietly. “Just take your time.”

Gradually the tears subsided.

Okay, one thing at a time,” Mark encouraged. “You said Jack’s dumped your mum. Do you know why?”

When she went out last Friday,” Ryan croaked, “she had too much to drink, as usual. Got herself picked up by this guy in the bar they were in. Someone told Jack about it, so he dumped her.”

Oh, I see,” Mark observed. “I thought she wasn’t full of the joys of spring. So when did you find out?”

Wednesday, when she got back from work.” Ryan said.

And let me guess,” Mark suggested. “You got yourselves into a shouting match.”

Yeah, “Ryan admitted.

Which only made things worse, right?”

Yeah,” Ryan repeated.

Okay, now what’s this about Ashley’s dad stopping him from coming to your house?” Mark questioned.

Ryan related what Ashley had told him.

Well, that seems very reasonable to me,” Mark said quietly. “He’s not stopping you seeing each other; he just wants Ashley to come straight home from school to get his homework done; I can’t argue with that. And he can still come home with you on Wednesdays; be grateful for that.”

Yeah, I guess,” Ryan conceded.

And what’s this about your games master?” Mark demanded. “He hasn’t hit you, has he?”

No he got one of the kids to do it,” Ryan said. “We were doing tackling practice. He made me work with this great big kid called Winyard who’s been playing rugby since he was eight. Every time he tackled me I got flattened, and me tackling him was even worse. And Arsey Thomas kept having a go at me all through the class, even when I was doing okay, saying I was useless, I’d got no balls, all sorts of shit.”

And this was because you’d been excused rugby training?” Mark queried.

Yeah,” Ryan confirmed. “He tried to make me go to training, but Mr. Allingham, the music master, got me out of it.”

That’s appalling,” Mark said. “Who have you told about it?”

I told Mr. Allingham,” Ryan explained, “But he said I should get mum to take it up with the Headmaster.”

And have you?” Mark queried.

I was going to,” Ryan said, “but you can’t talk to her when she’s in one of those moods.”

I see,” Mark said, nodding. “Now I’m going to say something you’re not going to like. You and your mum are very alike in many ways. You both have lots of good qualities; you work hard, you’re very reliable, all of that. But you both have one big weakness; you do not react well when things go against you. You need to remember that you’ve got some good people around you, and that they might need your support as much as you need theirs.” He paused for a moment. “Think about Ashley for a start. It must be worrying times for their family with his dad having no work, especially if he’s not been paid for some of the stuff he’s done. It can’t be easy for any of them, so right now, Ashley needs your support every bit as much as you need his.”

Ryan nodded sheepishly; it was obvious now it had been pointed out to him.

Then there’s your mum,” Mark went on. “D’you think she’s stupid?”

No,” Ryan conceded, “But she does stupid things when she’s been drinking.”

Correct,” Mark agreed. “But when Jack dumped her, she’d have known she’d screwed up, yeah?”

Yeah,” Ryan agreed.

So how d’you think she’d have been feeling?” Mark asked.

Pretty bad, I guess,” Ryan suggested.

Exactly,” Mark said. “And you telling her she’s stupid won’t help. Think what else you might have done.”

Dunno,” Ryan said.

Well how about telling her how sorry you are and giving her a hug?” Mark offered.

Yeah,” Ryan said, looking ashamed.

What you have to understand,” Mark went on, “is that you getting in a bad mood because your mum’s in a bad mood just makes things worse. What you need to think about is how you can make things better.”

Yeah, I’ll try,” Ryan said.

There are always little things you can do,” Mark counselled, “like making sure you’ve got everything ready for when she comes in from work. It shows that you’re not just thinking about yourself.”

Ryan nodded.

Okay,” Mark said. “Time we got you home. When we get back, I’m going to have a chat with your mum. You just make yourself scarce, okay? Afterwards, the first thing you’re going to do is apologise to your mum for getting into a shouting match. Then you’re to tell her about what went in your games class. Understand?”

So aren’t we . . . , you know?” Ryan queried.

No,” Mark said firmly. “The first priority is to get you back on track. After that, we’ll see. And let me say one more thing. If you don’t want to have sex with me any more, you must tell me, and that will be the end of it. I’ll continue to help you for as long as you want me to whether we’re having sex or not.”

Twenty minutes later, they were back in Newton Oaks. Ryan sat at the piano, working through some of the stuff Mr. Allingham had given him, while Mark went into the back lounge room to talk to Rachel. Eventually he emerged, strolling into the front room. Ryan stopped playing.

Okay, Mark said gently. “Your mum wants to talk to you. Remember what we said.”

Ryan walked apprehensively into the back lounge room, hardly daring to look at Rachel.

Mum, I’m sorry for what I said,” he mumbled. “I promise it won’t happen again.”

To his surprise, his mum pulled him into a hug.

It was as much my fault as yours,” she said candidly. “Mark’s right. You’re stuck with me and I’m stuck with you, so we both need to try to make the best of it instead of fighting each other”

Yeah,” Ryan agreed, rather taken aback by his mum’s reaction.

So the first thing I need is for you to tell me what went on in your games class.”

Ryan carefully related the events of the previous Monday afternoon. Rachel made notes, writing down the names of the boys involved and those who had had heard what had been said.

When I get into work on Monday I’m going to ring the school and arrange to see the headmaster,” Rachel said. “This isn’t right, and I want to hear what he has to say about it. Have you got Ashley’s number?”

Yeah, course,” Ryan said.

Dial it for me please,” Rachel instructed. “I need to speak to his mum.”

After a brief conversation, Rachel put down the phone.

What was all that about?” Ryan asked.

After dinner we’re going over to see them,” Rachel said. “I want to hear what Ashley has to say about it. It’s not that I don’t trust you; it’s just that when I see the headmaster, I want to make sure I’ve covered all the angles.”

Thanks mum,” Ryan said, smiling.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

The following Monday, Ryan returned to school in a much more positive frame of mind. He wasn’t even worried about his games class. He didn’t care what Mr. Thomas did; his mum would do exactly what she’d said she’d do: she’d call the school and arrange to see the headmaster. And she’d get it sorted out, there was no doubt about it.

In the event, the games class was more of the same, including being put to work with Winyard again. There were more put-downs, more insults. Finally, the bell went for the end of school. Ryan and Ashley left the changing room together. Mr. Thomas and Mr. Sherwood were standing together in the corridor.

What you are looking at there,” Mr. Thomas said loudly, waving in arm in Ryan’s direction, “is the typical product of a one-parent family.”

Ashley couldn’t believe the man had said it; after all, Ryan wasn’t the only boy in that situation. Ryan, however, almost welcomed it. He’d tell his mum; it’d be one more bullet for her to fire.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Headmaster Max Elliott, a tall, well-built man of forty one, stepped out of his office. There was a smartly dressed woman sitting in the foyer. He strode across.

Mrs. Clark?” he greeted in an urbane manner. “Thanks for being so punctual. Please come in.”

He ushered Rachel into his office,

Please sit down,” he added, indicating the comfortable chair that he had strategically placed in front of his desk.

Right, how can I help?” he asked, taking his seat behind the desk.

Over the next five minutes, Rachel set out the series of events that had led to her visit, referring to her notes in order to provide as much detail as possible. Mr. Elliott listened attentively, taking care to give nothing away.

I would have contacted you sooner,” Rachel concluded, “but I only found out about it at the weekend. Ryan isn’t the type to come home telling me stories. Let me say too that I expect Ryan to do as he’s told. This it the first time I’ve ever been into school to complain about the way he’s been treated.”

Well, let us take one thing at a time,” Mr. Elliott said calmly. “Mr. Allingham came to see me two weeks ago, requesting that Ryan be excused rugby training. Once he’d explained the situation, I agreed, and informed Mr. Thomas of my decision. That ruling stands. I am determined to promote excellence in a whole range of out of school activities, and as you rightly point out, with his musical commitments, it would be very difficult for Ryan to be involved in the rugby team, even if he was keen to do it.”

He paused, taking time to compose himself.

Now we come to what occurred during his games classes,” he said. “You may be assured that I will investigate this thoroughly. I know young Winyard; I played rugby with and against his father for twenty years. Roger Winyard is headmaster of Wansford Park High School; excellent chap; I know him very well.”

Rachel eyed him suspiciously. Was this going to be a case of rugby players closing ranks?”

Before my appointment here,” Mr. Elliott said reassuringly, as if reading her thoughts, “I coached school rugby teams for sixteen years. Over that period, every one of my players was a volunteer. Let me thank you for giving me such comprehensive information; that is very helpful. I will get to the bottom of this. Can I call you tomorrow?

I’m deputy manager for Jobcentreplus at Marchdale,” Rachel explained. “It’s not always easy to get me on the phone.”

What time d’you take lunch?” Mr. Elliott asked.

Between one and two,” Rachel informed him.

If you call me between one and one-fifteen,” Mr Elliott offered. “I’ll make sure I’m available.”

Thank you,” Rachel said, smiling. “I’ll do that.”

Mr. Elliott courteously saw her out. He returned to his office, sinking into his chair. He’d known from the day he’d taken up his appointment, a little over twelve months earlier, that he and the tyrannical Mr. Thomas would find themselves on a collision course. If the information he’d just been given proved to be correct, as he was sure it would, a collision would be unavoidable.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

It was Wednesday morning. Ryan and Ashley walked in through the school gate and headed for the classroom block. To their surprise, Winyard approached them.

I want to say sorry for what happened in games,” he said squeakily.

It’s okay,” Ryan said shrugging, surprised by the big lad’s high-pitched voice. “You were only doing what Arsey said.”

Yeah, but my dad said I had to apologise,” Winyard responded.

How did he know about it?” Ryan queried.

Mr. Elliott rang him,” Winyard said. “They played rugby together for years.”

Oh,” Ryan said absently. “So is your dad big like you?”

Yeah,” Winyard said. “Six foot five and nineteen stone.”

That’s not big,” Ashley said, falling about with laughter. “It’s huge! I bet Arsey wouldn’t want to get in an argument with him!”

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Lunchtime was almost over. Ryan strolled across the playground towards the classroom block. They were met by saxophonist Ian Hartley, accompanied by the school band’s drummer and bass player.

Hey!” Ian said brightly, addressing himself to Ryan. “We were looking for you. Is it right that Arsey tried to make you do rugby training?”

Yeah,” Ryan said, “but Mr. Allingham got me out of it.”

So Arsey picked on you in your games class?” Ian suggested.

Yeah,” Ryan admitted. “Mum had to come to see Mr. Elliott about it.”

Yeah, well Elliott’s given him a bollocking over it,” Ian said, grinning. “A few of us were going past Elliott’s office at break this morning. Arsey was in there. We couldn’t hear it all, but it was definitely a bollocking.”

Ryan grinned. His mum had got it sorted; he knew she would.

Arsey’s a prick!” the drummer commented. “Mind you; if Smithies, the old head was still here, he’d have said you had to do rugby.”

Anyway,” Ian continued, “the real reason we were looking for you is that as well as the main band, we have a small jazz group; the three of us, plus Vernon on piano and Stokes on trumpet. We wondered if you might like to join us?”

I don’t know,” Ryan said. “I only bring my stuff to school on Fridays.”

That’s okay,” Ian said, smiling. “We rehearse Friday lunchtimes in the large music room. So are you interested?”

Yeah, sure!” Ryan said, grinning.

Great!” Ian said. “See Mr. Allingham; he’ll give you a pass for early lunch.”

Ryan went into afternoon registration feeling happier with life than he had for more than a week. Being included in the school band was one thing; being invited to join the small jazz group was quite different, because it was the boys themselves that had asked him. That was something special.

Right! Off to class!” Mr. Armitage ordered at the end of registration. “Clark, stay here for a moment, I need a word with you.”

As the other boys left, Ryan remained behind.

Before you go to class,” Mr. Armitage instructed. “You’re to go the Headmaster’s office; he needs to speak to you. When you get there, knock on the door and walk in. Don’t worry you’re not in trouble.”

Despite Mr. Armitage’s assurances, Ryan made his way with some trepidation. Mr. Elliott was an imposing figure; being spoken to by the Headmaster so early in his grammar school career was not something he’d had in mind. He followed Mr. Armitage’s instructions, knocking on the door and walking in. Mr. Elliott was sitting at his desk.

You asked to see me sir?” Ryan asked politely.

Yes, come in,” Mr. Elliott said, leaning back a little. “I understand that you received some rather harsh treatment in games lessons which your mother asked me to investigate.”

Yes sir,” Ryan said.

As a result of my investigations,” Mr. Elliott continued. “I have decided that you will no longer be in Mr. Thomas’s group for games. You will go back into Mr. Sherwood’s group. And that, I hope, will be the end of the matter.”

Yes sir,” Ryan repeated.

I also understand from Mr. Armitage,” Mr. Elliott said, “that last week, possibly as a result of what had occurred, that your work was not up to its usual standard. Your priority now is to ensure that your work gets back to the highest standard of which you are capable; is that understood?”

Yes sir,” Ryan agreed.

And if you have any further problems,” Mr. Elliott instructed, “Mr. Armitage is your first port of call.”

Sir,” Ryan acknowledged.

Mr. Allingham tells me that he’s already recruited you into the school band,” Mr. Elliott said in a much lighter tone.

Yes, sir!” Ryan said, smiling.

Being good enough to play in the band as soon as you arrive here is quite rare,” Mr. Elliott said quietly. “I believe that the last one was Stokes, who’s now in Year Ten, so that’s quite an achievement. I’ll look forward to hearing you play.”

Thanks sir,” Ryan said appreciatively.

Right! Back to class!” Mr. Elliott said, quickly scribbling a note on a compliment slip and handing it over.

Ryan strode back to class with a definite spring in his step, reflecting how different everything had looked just a few days earlier.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

So how are things at home?” Ryan asked quietly as he and Ashley lay snuggled up on his bed.

Oh, okay,” Ashley said, smiling. “With dad being around all the time, he takes me to the athletics club instead of mum having to do it. It means he can come out running with us, which is great. He spends a lot of time with David too, you know, sitting with him while he does homework then going out in the garden to have a kick-about with him afterwards. So it’s not all bad!”

Ryan didn’t reply immediately, reflecting on the calm way in which Ashley was dealing with the situation. As Mark had said, that was something he needed to learn.

So what d’you want to do now?” he asked finally, gently stroking Ashley’s stiff penis.

Everything!” Ashley whispered. “We can only do this once a week, so let’s make the most of it, yeah?”

Sounds good to me!” Ryan responded, grinning from ear to ear.

Fifteen minutes later, Ashley was on his way home. Ryan sat cross legged on his bed, picked up his classical guitar and began to play. They’d had wonderful, uninhibited sex; it couldn’t have been better. What a difference a week had made. Mark was right; he did have good people round him, and as long as he worked with them he could achieve anything he wanted.