by Pink Panther

Hi everybody! I'm back again and ready to resume the battle. All the usual disclaimers still apply, but you knew that anyway, right? This chapter's pretty low-key, but that's just how it worked out. Things will warm up considerably in the chapters that follow. As always, feedback is very welcome. Please send your comments to and I'll reply as soon as I can.

I'm not quite sure when I'll post the next chapter, but it will be within the next two weeks. Much will depend how the writing goes. I don't want to run out of chapters to post and leave you waiting for several weeks for a new one.

Finally, may I make yet another appeal for donations which are essential if we are to keep Nifty as a free site. Please help if you can!


February 1960

It was Thursday evening. They had been back at school for four days. Dressed once again in his best striped blazer, Alex headed back to school for the Third Year parents' evening. This time he was more apprehensive. Although most of 3-Blue had improved considerably, he was concerned that some parents might not be happy, the parents of the three rebels in particular.

Having arrived in plenty of time, he took his appointed place in Neil Fleming's classroom, took out his mark-book and his notes, and waited. As his Head of Department didn't take a third year class, Alex was surprised to find him in attendance.

"Okay?" Neil asked brightly.

"Yes, thanks," Alex responded.

"I don't want to interfere," Neil said, "but I'll be on hand if there are any problems."

Alex nodded, pleased that he wouldn't be expected to deal with any disgruntled parents on his own.

At quarter past seven, the first parents appeared and the main business of the evening began. Alex's first four consultations went smoothly. The parents were very happy with the progress their boys had made and thanked him for the work he'd put in. Northam's parents were especially effusive, hardly able to believe how much their son had improved. It was one of the reasons that Woodchurch was such a good school, Alex reflected. Most parents were very supportive.

His next consultation was with a fashionably dressed woman. She had dark hair and deep brown eyes, and looked younger than most of the other parents.

"Mr Faulkner," she said, her Italian accent instantly recognisable. "I am Mrs Parker. I want to ask what is going on. Lorenzo is a good boy. Why are you are picking on him?"

"I am most certainly not picking on him," Alex said evenly. "I treat him exactly the same as everyone else. He gets in trouble because he doesn't do the work I set them to do."

"So what is all this extra work you are giving them?" she demanded. "Is not necessary! Lorenzo is a clever boy. He doesn't need all this extra work."

"I can tell you that that is simply not correct," Alex replied, maintaining his composure. "Because of problems that occurred last year, in the end of year exam Lorenzo performed well below the required standard, along with most of the other boys in the class. In September, when I took them over, I could see they were well behind where they should have been. After talking to my head of department, I put together a programme of work to bring them up to standard. And I can tell you that I've already spoken to four sets of parents this evening, all very happy that I've been able to turn things round."

"Well I don't like it!" she snapped. "Is not right!"

"Mrs Parker?" Neil said, appearing as if from nowhere. "I'm Mr Fleming, the head of mathematics. May I have a word, please?"

He ushered her away. Alex breathed a sigh of relief. Although he wouldn't have conceded an inch, the consultation was going nowhere. Without Neil's intervention, he had no idea how he'd have got rid of her.

The consultations resumed. Most parents were pleased with the progress made and delighted to know that by the end of the year 3-Blue would have caught up with the other third year classes. At ten past eight, a very large man sat down in front of him.

"Derek Laws," the man said.

Alex took a deep breath, not quite knowing what to expect.

"First of all, I want to apologise for Jonathan's poor attitude and lack of effort. When we got his report, we were appalled. Well, I've stopped his privileges. I've told him in no uncertain terms what we expect. So how's he been getting on since?"

"Much better," Alex said. "He's got his head down and done everything I've asked him to do."

"Does he still hang around with Lorenzo Parker?"

"No, as far as I'm aware, he's stayed well away from him."

"Good, because that's what I told him to do."

"Do you know Parker then?"

"Oh yes, they were both at Stonor House, as was Luke Armstrong. Luke and Jonathan have been friends since they were five. They never used to go round with Lorenzo. That only started recently. Well, I've had to stop it. The boy's a thoroughly bad influence."

Alex nodded his understanding.

"Well keep him at it," Mr Laws insisted. "If there's any deterioration, don't let it slide. I want to know about it."

"Thanks for your support," Alex said quietly. "If there are any problems, we'll be in touch straight away."

Mr Laws stood up and made his way out of the classroom. Alex exhaled sharply. The man was clearly not someone to be trifled with. It was little wonder that his lad had knuckled down.

A moment later, two more parents took his place. Like Mrs Parker they were quite young, but had an artistic, almost raffish look about them. They introduced themselves as Mr and Mrs Stainham. Alex steeled himself. This was going to be a difficult one, possibly the most difficult of all.

"Troy's not doing very well," he said quietly. "I've given him as much help as I can. As far as I can tell, he does his best, but he's struggling."

"He's never liked maths," Mrs Stainham admitted. "When he was at junior school we got him private tuition to make sure he got in here. You see, he does very well in everything else, especially English. In his first year, he seemed to cope alright. Last year, when they didn't have a proper teacher, his maths went downhill, but it was the same for all the boys in the class. I was hoping that this year he'd start to improve again."

"I think the problem is that having got behind, he's lost confidence," Alex said cautiously. "As a result, he's found it very difficult to get back to where he was."

"So what's the answer?" Mr Stainham asked.

"I'm not sure I have one," Alex said guardedly.

"Would more private tuition help?" Mrs Stainham enquired.

"It might," Alex agreed.

"Would you be able to do that?"

"Not really. As you know, I've only just started. Troy needs an experienced tutor who's dealt with this situation before."

"Fair enough," Mr Stainham said, getting to his feet. "We'll have to find one."

Alex breathed a sigh of relief. It hadn't been as hard as he'd expected. And he was pleased to have got through it without assistance from Neil. It was a good outcome.

With the evening winding to a close, he was approached by a very well-dressed woman.

"Helen Calladine," she said sharply, by way of introduction.

"Good evening," Alex said brightly. "Timothy's doing very well, as I'm sure you know."

"But I'm not happy," she said, her bright blue eyes boring right into him. "Oh, he's doing well, but he'd be doing even better if you were actually teaching him."

Alex was taken aback. Mrs Calladine was the last parent he'd expected trouble from.

"I do teach him," he said evenly. I have a session every Friday lunchtime with Tim and four other boys. I resolve any problems they've had with the work from the week before. Then I explain the work for the following week. And I don't leave them totally to their own devices. I look at their work during normal class time. And they know that they can come and ask if they've got a problem. Timothy never has because he hasn't needed to."

"But you're leaving them to work a lot of it out for themselves," she complained.

In some ways Alex sympathised. Calladine was the one truly outstanding mathematician he taught. If circumstances had been different, he'd have spent time with the lad to help him develop his talent. But he was already doing all he could. And he resented the woman's attitude, her apparent sense of entitlement.

"Actually, it's the best way to learn," he countered. "Timothy's thriving on it. And better still, he's pulling the other boys along with him."

"Well it's not good enough!" she insisted. "He's better than the others."

"Then I suggest that you have a word with Mr Fleming, the head of mathematics," Alex said calmly. "He's just there by the door."

Mrs Calladine stalked off. Alex sat back in his chair, his heart rate noticeably higher than normal. That had come right out of the blue. He wasn't sure what the outcome would be. After one more consultation he was about to go home. Unexpectedly, Mr Cope appeared.

"I believe you had a run-in with Mrs Calladine," he said.

"Yes Headmaster," Alex conceded. "I'm afraid I did."

"Well, she spoke to Neil, who backed you one hundred per cent, so she came to see me. Don't worry, we've had trouble with her before. I sent her away with a flea in her ear. The impertinence of the woman!"

Alex smiled. Neil had promised that both he and Headmaster would back him. And when he'd needed it, they'd been right behind him.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

It was Friday lunchtime. The 3-Blue express group trooped into Alex's classroom for their weekly tutorial.

"Sir," Calladine asked. "Last night, did my mum complain that you weren't teaching me properly?"

"I'm afraid so," Alex admitted.

"I do wish she wouldn't," Calladine said, frowning. "It's embarrassing. I love working like this! She wants me to be treated like I'm something special. I've told her how well I'm doing, but she won't listen."

"She spoke to Mr Cope," Alex said quietly. "He told me he gave her a flea in her ear."

"Good!" Calladine said emphatically. "It's about time somebody did."

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

Alex's meeting with Mrs Parker had set off alarm bells. When a boy had been in as much trouble as Parker had, he'd have expected to see the lad's father, but he hadn't. And Mrs Parker, who looked barely old enough to be the mother of a thirteen-year old, clearly doted on the lad. The fact that she was Italian explained the boy's unusual first name. Everything else was a mystery.

Following the parents' evening, he tried to find out more. He spoke to the boy's form master, only to be told that it wasn't their business to delve into things like that. He was not happy. There had to be a reason for the lad being so difficult.

He'd have liked to ask Parker directly, but knew it was pointless. Their relationship had become so bad that it was inconceivable that Parker would tell him anything. He had a nagging sense that he might have been able to handle the lad better if he'd known what the background was. As things stood, all he could do was try to keep him in line.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

March 1960

Since the half term break, the under-15 football team had continued to prosper. Morris had returned to school, fully recovered and ready to go. As promised, Alex had put him straight back into the team. He'd played competently in their first match and well in the second. But their next challenge was the big one, playing away to Northridge.

As a result of their victory in the home fixture, Woodchurch had drawn level on points with Northridge, and had gone to the top of the league because of their better goal average. Since then Woodchurch had won all their matches, while Northridge had won all but one theirs, having drawn their match away at Welham Grange.

The arithmetic was now simple. Woodchurch had a one point lead, so if they could get a draw at Northridge, they would need to win their two remaining games to be certain of winning the league, though because of their superior goal average, a win and a draw might be enough. But getting a draw at Northridge would be a tough task. On their own pitch, Northridge averaged almost four goals a game. No other team had come close to them.

As everyone knew how important the match was, the Woodchurch team had far more support than they usually did. There were parents Alex had never seen before. Chandler and his father showed up, even though the lad wasn't playing. Neil Fleming had come too, along with one of his sons. Even Mr Cope was there.

The first half was closely contested. As they had at the home fixture, Woodchurch kept eight players behind the ball, while for their part, Northridge maintained a deeper defensive line than they had the last time the teams had met.

For more than half an hour, Woodchurch defended superbly, repelling everything that Northridge could throw at them. But with five minutes of the half remaining, Northridge showed their prowess in attack. A dazzling sequence of passes left the Woodchurch defence helpless, an unstoppable shot giving the home team the lead. When the half ended, the Woodchurch boys left the field looking dazed by what had just happened. Alex gathered them together.

"Okay lads," he said quietly. "This is where we have to prove what a good team we are. We're one goal behind, so we have to score. I know it's going to be tough, but I want you to remember two things. First, Northridge have conceded at least one goal in every game they've played. Second, when they came to our place, we outlasted them. Remember, they're not going to sit back and hold onto the ball. They don't play like that. They're going to go after a second goal. Our job is to stop them, and when they start to tire, which they will, we have to take advantage."

The teams returned to the field for the second half. It was all very well for him to talk about it, Alex told himself. That was the easy part. It was the boys who actually had do it. With Northridge pressing for a second goal, the battle was every bit as intense as it had been in the first half. But the Woodchurch defence, with Etheridge at its heart, was magnificent. Having let in one goal, they were determined not to concede another.

With barely ten minutes left, their opportunity finally came. Fittingly, it was Morris who began the move, his thirty-yard pass finding Archer, who was lurking near the halfway line. Although they were not badly positioned, the Northridge defenders were sleeping. Archer simply burst away from them, taking the ball towards the penalty area with Sharp and Rogers sprinting through in support. As the goalkeeper came to meet him, Archer played the ball out to Rogers on the right. Having taken it a few yards further, Rogers returned it across the face of goal. Before the goalkeeper could get back, Archer ran onto it, slotting it into the net.

Although there were several minutes still to play, the match was effectively over, the Northridge players too tired to mount another serious attack. The game ended with no further score. Alex was triumphant. They'd aimed to get a draw. It had taken a Herculean effort, but they'd done it.

"Well done!" Mr Cope said, striding over to shake Alex's hand. "Wonderful match. I could see what you were up against."

"It's the boys you should be congratulating," Alex suggested. "They've given everything today."

For a moment, Alex wondered if he'd got above himself, talking to his Headmaster in that way. But he needn't have worried. Mr Cope immediately took up his suggestion, shaking hands with all the Woodchurch players as they left the field. Finally, Alex got them back in the changing room.

"I can't tell you how proud of you I am," he said quietly. "And you should be proud of yourselves. You were magnificent, every one of you. We have two games left. Now we have to finish the job."

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

It was Tuesday evening. Having completed his homework, Michael spent half an hour watching television. At 9:30, he made his way upstairs. Ten minutes later he was in bed, his mother coming, as she did every night, to tuck him in and put out the light.

But he couldn't sleep, thoughts racing around his brain. Earlier that evening he'd spent a magical half hour with Chris. Having his friend so close made him feel as though he was walking on air. He loved it more than anything. Even so, he was desperate to move things on.

He'd introduced Chris to the word "cum", explaining that it could be used instead of either "squirt" or "spunk", but they'd been performing their present routine for weeks, and that was all the progress they'd made. He still enjoyed ejaculating between Chris's thighs, but there was so much more he wanted them to do. Very soon it would be time for him to show his friend something new. He knew what it would be. He'd suck Chris's cock. He was certain the boy would enjoy it.

Once he's done it, he'd have to be careful. He wouldn't even suggest that Chris should suck his. Having started the ball rolling, he'd have to leave Chris to decide whether he wanted to reciprocate. It would be a big disappointment if he didn't, but what else could he do?

But that wasn't what was really bothering him. The following day, he'd have his regular meeting with Mr Faulkner. They'd go into the store room and have sex. He'd enjoy it, of course, but what would Chris think? On the other hand, he couldn't just walk away. Since the half term break, he'd seen Mr Faulkner every Saturday too. They'd either been joined by King and Mr Brown or gone to see Southcott and Mr Smith.

These Saturday foursomes were wonderfully exciting. Michael definitely didn't want to give them up. But he was letting Chris down, wasn't he? He'd already lied to him about how he'd started having sex. He hadn't liked having to do that, but he'd had no other choice. It was all very difficult.

To make things even more complicated, every Sunday, he visited his Uncle Jack, who knew about Mr Faulkner, but had no idea about the other people he was meeting for sex. Having one secret life would have been hard enough. As it was, he had three.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

It was Saturday morning. Alex's under-15 footballers were preparing for their final match of the season. The previous week they'd played an away match which they'd won comfortably. The target was now clear. A win would assure them of the title. A draw might be enough, though if Northridge were to win by five goals to nil or better, they would overtake them.

They were playing at home against a team in the lower half of the table whom Woodchurch were expected to beat easily. But as soon as Alex entered the changing room, he sensed that something was wrong. Instead of the calm confidence the boys usually displayed, they were on edge.

He'd feared that this might happen. At their Thursday training session, the lads had been buzzing with excitement at the prospect of winning the league. He'd tried his to calm them down, reminding them that they still had to go out and win the game, but his words had fallen on deaf ears.

"Okay," Alex said quietly, gathering them together. "Remember what we said, this is just another match. Go out and enjoy it. Just play as you normally do. That should be more than enough."

They headed out onto the field, where they were greeted by a large crowd of supporters. Even the Headmaster was there. For once, Alex wished they hadn't come. He needed the boys to treat the match as just another game of football. That might be hard to do when so many people had come to see them win the league.

As the game got going, Alex's worst fears were realised. The team's play had none of its usual fluency. Even so, they had chances to score, but weighed down by the pressure of the occasion, they fluffed them. Even the defence, which was normally so reliable, looked out of sorts.

As the first half ended, the game was still scoreless. The only consolation that Alex could find was that they hadn't conceded a goal. Had they been playing against a better team they might have been torn to shreds.

His half-time team talk was the most difficult he'd ever had to deliver. He could have bawled at them for playing so poorly, but that risked making the situation worse. He needed to stay calm and show the boys that he still had faith in them.

"Okay," he said quietly. "It's not gone our way in the first half, but we're still level, so there's everything to play for. We just need to get into our usual flow. Now relax and enjoy it."

With the teams back on the pitch, the match resumed. Alex's calming words seemed to have had little effect, the Woodchurch boys' performance as inept as it had been before the interval. They were dominating possession but not doing much with it. When they did get the chance to score, they couldn't take it.

With fifteen minutes remaining, Archer sent in a cross from the left wing, the first really good one he'd delivered in over an hour's football. Rogers rose to meet it, but instead of powering it into the corner of the net, he put it too close to the goalkeeper who tipped it over the bar.

Alex was distraught. If they couldn't score from an opportunity like that, where was a goal going to come from? At least they'd got a corner. Maybe they'd get another chance. Etheridge and Wilson, big lads and very good in the air, came up from defence.

Archer whipped the ball in. Etheridge rose above the opposing defenders and headed it towards goal, but didn't get much power. It would have been an easy save for the goalkeeper, but another defender attempted to block it. The ball deflected off his shoulder and into the net.

Alex breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was the scruffiest, most unsatisfactory goal that the team had scored all season, but definitely the most welcome. It had much the same effect on the boys. Suddenly, the shackles were off. In the remaining minutes, they played with their usual freedom and confidence, adding two more goals before the final whistle.

As the boys left the field, Mr Cope came across to Alex.

"Well done," he said, shaking Alex's hand. "Until the goal went in they looked very nervous, nothing like the team I saw a fortnight ago."

"I'm afraid the occasion got to them," Alex conceded.

"Yes, but you got the right result in the end," the Headmaster commented. "That's what matters."

"Neil's phoning the league secretary," Alex told him. "He needs to know where to take the trophy."

"Excellent!" Mr Cope said. "I'd better stay if they're going to present it today."

Alex followed the boys back to the changing room. They were sitting quietly on the bench. Nobody would have thought that they'd just won the league.

"Would somebody like to explain what went on out there?" Alex asked.

At first there was silence. Finally, Etheridge put up his hand.

"We got too excited beforehand," he said. "When it came to this morning, we were too wound up to play."

"I'd say that was pretty much it," Alex agreed. "So how did that happen?"

"After we won last week," Archer said. "Well, we'd beaten this lot three-nil at their place. It was like we'd already won."

"I saw it in training on Thursday," Alex said. "I tried to calm you down, but it was probably too late by then. So what lessons are we going to take from this?"

"We have to stay calm and concentrate on every game," Wilson said, "and not take anything for granted."

"That's right," Alex said. "Until the final whistle goes in the last match of the season, you have to stay calm and concentrate on the job in hand. We were poor today. Against better opposition, we'd have been slaughtered. Fortunately, we got away with it, and we've won the league. So well done, all of you. I've really enjoyed working with you. It's been a great experience."

"Thanks sir!" Etheridge called, before leading the boys in a round of applause.

The boys began to pull off their kit and head for the showers.

"Sir," Nicholson asked as they were getting dressed. "Which team will you be taking next season?"

"The under-12s," Alex told him. "At least that's the plan."

"Oh," Nicholson responded, looking disappointed. "We hoped you might be taking the second eleven. That's the team most of us will be paying for."

"Well, we'll have to see," Alex temporised. "It's not finalised yet."

Moments later the door opened and Neil Fleming appeared.

"The league secretary's here with the trophy," he said. "We're ready as soon as you are."

A few minutes later, the boys, dressed in their school uniforms, trooped outside, Alex following behind. While Mr Cope and the supporters applauded, Etheridge stepped up to be presented with the trophy, with each of the boys receiving a winner's medal.

Alex applauded too, proud of the boys' achievement. But he was in a quandary. Nicholson had put him into a dilemma he hadn't even considered. He was still very keen to take the under-12 team, but the core of the second eleven would be boys that he'd been working with for the past seven months. Given the success that they'd had, shouldn't he continue?

"I'll take that," Mr Cope said, relieving Etheridge of the trophy. "In Monday's assembly I'll present it again so everyone can see."

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

On Monday morning, with the whole school assembled in the hall, all fourteen boys who had played during the season trooped onto the stage. Mr Cope shook hands with each of them before presenting the trophy to Etheridge. The team captain held it aloft, receiving a thunderous round of applause.

Although Woodchurch always produced good teams that won more matches than they lost, such successes were rare. Most Woodchurch teams lacked the consistency to triumph in a campaign lasting several months.

For Alex, it was a relief more than anything. Initially, when the team had started to play well, it had been fun. But keeping it going right through the winter had been harder than he'd expected. The final match had been purgatory. They'd so nearly thrown it away. He was pleased to have it behind him.

He taught his Fourth Year class immediately after break. At the end, Etheridge waited behind.

"Yes?" Alex enquired. "What can I do for you?"

"I want to apologise for what happened on Saturday," Etheridge said, looking embarrassed. "After the match the week before, when we were going home, I could see how excited everyone was getting. I should have knocked it on the head right then, but I didn't. I got carried away the same as everyone else. I'm team captain. I should have taken responsibility. I'm sorry."

"Well," Alex said, quite taken aback. "Let me say how much I appreciate you coming to talk to me. That shows real strength of character. Not many boys would have done that."

"I talked to dad about it. He said I needed to get it off my chest."

"And I take it that you've learned the lesson?"

"Oh yes sir! If I'm ever in that situation again, I'll know exactly what to do."

"Then it's been a valuable experience. Now it's time for you to move on. And well done! Now off you go! You'll be late!"

"Thanks sir!"

Alex smiled to himself as the lad hurried to his next class. Etheridge really was a remarkable young man.

0 o 0 o 0 o 0

It was Tuesday afternoon. Michael was in his bedroom, waiting anxiously for Chris to arrive. At twenty past four, the doorbell rang. He flew downstairs and opened the front door. The dark-haired boy was standing there, an expectant smile on his face. Michael ushered him inside and up to his bedroom.

With the curtains already closed, they began to undress, just as they always did on these occasions. Finally, they pulled off their underpants, their erect cocks springing free. They got onto the bed, snuggling up close, their penises grinding together. Very gently, Michael rolled Chris onto his back.

"Do you like being here?" he asked.

"Yes!" Chris confirmed. "Of course I do!"

"Okay, I'm going to show you something."

After shuffling down the bed, Michael leaned forwards, flicking his tongue over the tip of his friend's cock. There was no reaction. He took a deep breath. This was it! Closing his lips over Chris's erection, he pushed down, taking it fully into his mouth. He began to suck. So far, so good.

Slipping his hand between the slender boy's thighs, he carefully worked his way up until his fingers were stroking the lad's perineum. Chris's quiet moans and gasps were music to his ears. After around a minute, he let him go.

"Well?" he demanded, looking down at him.

"Fantastic!" Chris breathed, staring at the ceiling. "I never knew anything could feel like that!" He turned slightly, looking Michael right in the eye. "Did what's his name show you how to do that?"

"David? Yes."

There was an awkward pause, leaving Michael on tenterhooks.

"Would you like me to suck yours?" Chris asked, breaking the silence.

"Yes, if you want to," Michael said quietly. "I mean, you don't have to."

"Of course I want to!" Chris said, grinning mischievously.

They got into position.

"Watch your teeth" Michael warned. "Put your lips over them."

Chris complied to the letter. Devouring Michael's cock, he began to suck. Michael was in heaven. He basked in the exquisite sensations, running his fingers through his friend's dark, wavy hair. It had gone even better than he'd hoped, Chris's slender fingers tickling the sensitive area behind his balls being the icing on the cake. Suddenly, he felt his orgasm beginning to build.

"Chris," he warned. "You'd better stop. I'm nearly cumming."

But he didn't stop.

"Chris!" Michael gasped.

It was too late. His cock jerked against his friend's palate, jets of sticky boy-juice spurting into the lad's mouth. Then it was over. After a few seconds, Chris allowed Michael's super-sensitive penis to slide out of his mouth. Raising his head, he looked down, licking his lips.

"Chris!" Michael repeated. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to . . . Are you alright?"

"Don't worry!" Chris assured him. "I wanted to. And it's only protein. It won't hurt me. It was okay! I liked it!"

"Right!" Michael announced. "Time to do you now!"

He quickly set to his task, sucking hungrily on his friend's penis. Within seconds, Chris was moaning and gasping. Suddenly, his muscles went into spasm.

"Oh! Oh! Ohhhh!" he groaned, his cock swelling and pulsing in his friend's mouth.

It was a dry orgasm, just as all the slender boy's previous ones had been. Even so, Michael found the experience wonderfully exciting.

Finally, they snuggled up again, looking directly into each other's eyes. Michael had never expected things to go as far as they had. He was lost for anything to say. Imperceptibly, their mouths moved closer, as though drawn together by invisible magnets. Their lips touched.

"Open your mouth," Michael whispered, pulling back slightly.

He moved back in. In an instant, they were kissing as though they'd been born to it, kissing like they might never see each other again. At last, their lips separated.

"Wow!" Michael breathed. "You're fantastic! I never dreamed we'd do that!"

"You're not bad either," Chris quipped.

Five minutes later, he was on his way home. Michael was elated. It had, he decided, been the best day of his entire life. He was still floating on air when his mum returned from work.

"What's got into you?" she asked. "You look like the cat that swallowed the cream."

"Oh nothing," Michael answered dismissively. "I've just had a pretty good day, that's all."

Laura Whitney smiled indulgently. She was curious, but not at all worried. She was reminded of her younger brother Jack. At that age, he'd suddenly become quite secretive, and he'd turned out alright, hadn't he? It was, she concluded, just part of a boy's growing up.