Arran toyed with his pencil as he pretended to listen to the lecturer whilst contemplating other things. The sunlight caught the top of the large window but failed to enter the room, having travelled around the building just as the afternoon had moved on. He was only half aware of what was being said, lulled into apathy by the rhythm of the voice and the stillness in the classroom. Things had not quite gone to plan. He needed to talk to Tom Rustle, to discuss their project. Why, he wondered, hadn't he shown up in the canteen?
It was after the last period of the day when he went in search of the one thing that had preoccupied him since lunch: the allusive Tom, the boy Ali knew, the boy who was gay. But how did that matter? It didn't, not at all. Or so he convinced himself. It was another piece of the intrigue. He had no idea where to look, and the corridors were crowded and loud; instinct led him back upstairs to the Art room.
Pushing open the door he went inside and looked around. Nobody. Max had left, the room was empty. He was about to turn around and leave when the other door to the little walk-in cupboard where all the materials were stocked, opened. Tom looked up, saw him, and stopped. Arran closed the door behind him, it clicked shut, blocking out the noise from the corridor. They stood facing each other across the room, like a Mexican standoff, the late afternoon sun bathing the room with its soft yellow rays.
A silence hung in the air, until Arran posed the question: "Why didn't you show up at the canteen lunchtime?"
Tom took a step forward. "I did."
"You did?" Arran repeated like a robot mimicking a human.
"You were there with your girlfriend. I didn't want to interrupt."
Arran moved across the room and hoisted himself up onto the stage. "Can we discuss things now then?"
"You know Ali?" Arran asked.
Tom looked around the room like he might be searching for something. "Alison, yeah, sort of. How'd you know I'd be here?"
"So, do you want to talk about Alison or the art project?"
Arran laughed. "You can be quite funny if you want, can't you?"
"Well, which is it?" Tom gave a little smile.
"The art project. I was thinking that we could do an exhibition focusing on true life drawings of one subject, which would be a sort of progression. It would start out with a class contribution. We'd do a couple of class life sketches and choose the ones we liked. After, introduce a development from there, with our own drawings. The subject, the model, becoming clearer and more defined. Maybe merge the drawings into a collage, and finally end with a portrait by you."
Tom was silent for a moment. "You've given this a lot of thought since this morning."
"What can I say? I had some boring lectures." Arran shifted on the stage. "What do you think?"
"I like it, but where are we going to get a model?" Tom asked, sounding keen.
"Yeah, I thought about that too. I got inspired. You!" Arran exclaimed almost jubilant.
"I'm going to be the model and the artist?"
"Yeah, don't you see? It's brilliant because it's a progression. In the end, the final portrait, it's a self-portrait. The progression is from multiple points of view to a single point of view, that of the artist himself."
Tom didn't say anything. It looked to Arran like he was weighing things up. He knew it was a good plan, he hoped Tom would agree.
"Okay, it sounds good."
"And you don't have a problem with being the life model?"
Tom hesitated a moment. "Why would I?"
"Because you'd be posing nude."
That's when the realisation struck. He'd been swept up by Arran's description of his idea. But, of course, it was True Life, a nude. "You mean I should be naked in front of a room full of students? Girls and boys?" Tom looked aghast.
Arran grinned. "Well, maybe not totally nude."
"Oh what? I get a loin cloth?"
"No, but you are perfect for the role."
"Ah, wait a minute. You just said no. I don't get a loin cloth."
"No. I mean, yes." Arran blushed. "I thought we could use a contrast of life portraits interposed with a stark industrial landscape. So you get some props, because it's the background introduced in the class sessions."
"No, no, I'm still naked, with or without props. Why don't you be the model?" Tom started pacing the room.
"Because it wouldn't work. I'm good at graphics. I'll sketch in the background. But you are the portrait genius and besides..."
"Besides what?" Tom grumbled.
"The contrast." Arran tried to explain.
"The contrast?" Tom repeated.
"The stark industrial background against which the beauty of the life figure emerges."
Arran looked away.
There was another silence.
"I don't know if I could do it," Tom finally said.
"Well, think about it. Please, it'll be great. I know it will. I have to go, got to meet Ali, Alison, at five. Just think about it, okay?"
Tom nodded and Arran jumped off the stage and headed out of the art room.
When he arrived home, Arran saw Ali walking up the road, looking like the girlfriend any boy would love to have. Long hair blowing in the gentle breeze, which now pleasantly lifted the heaviness of the day. She could definitely be a model: long slim legs, the way she strolled down the street, her whole comportment. Maybe, if Tom wouldn't model for the art project, she might agree.
"Perfect timing," Arran smiled at her. "Come on in." He pulled the key from the pocket of his jacket which he regretted wearing as the day had turned out hot in the afternoon. "Anyone home?" He called out, pushing open the front door. There was no reply. "Might as well go in the lounge. Dad's not home, so we have the place to ourselves.
She followed him into the lounge, looked around, then chose to sit in the armchair.
"You always have the place to yourself."
"True, nearly always," he smiled. "Want a drink?"
"A glass of water is fine," she replied, shifting a little in the armchair and crossing her legs.
Arran went into the kitchen to fetch the water and a beer for himself. After handing the glass of water to Ali he took the sofa and put his bottle down on the little side table. "So," he sighed, looking over at her.
"So," Ali repeated. "What's wrong?"
Arran wasn't sure how to respond. "Wrong?"
A frown creased her forehead. "Look, Arran, something's wrong."
"With us." She sounded exasperated. "Our relationship. Do we even have a relationship?"
"You mean like as in boy and girlfriend?"
"Of course. We like each other well enough, but I don't think you are really taking our relationship seriously. Do you?"
"What do you mean?" He posed the question, but he already knew where this was leading. "What is a serious relationship anyway? I s'pose you mean like Jen and Mark?"
"I mean we're not going anywhere, our relationship is stalled. Jennifer and Mark, I'm not comparing us, but yes, if you think about it." She uncrossed her legs and leant forward in the armchair. "What do you want to do?"
Arran was silent. What should he say? She was right, their relationship was at an impasse. As boyfriend and girlfriend it wasn't going anywhere. He liked Ali well enough, but was he in love with her?
"No, I guess you're right. I just don't know if..."
"Yes, I know," she interrupted. "And it's okay."
She smiled, stood up and went over to join him on the sofa. She leant over and planted a kiss on his cheek.
"Maybe I've been a bit distant?" He needed time, he didn't know how he felt. "I don't think it's okay, but I've had stuff on my mind and I guess I haven't been very attentive. I kind of took you for granted and that's not right."
"If you've got problems or whatever, we can talk about it. You know that, right?"
She was being nice and he felt bad, but he didn't want to get too deep into discussing their relationship.
"You know I have this project to do?" He said, changing the topic of conversation.
"The one you're working on with Tom Rustle. You mentioned it."
"Well the thing is I came up with a great idea."
"And he didn't show up. I was there at lunchtime, remember?"
She snuggled up close to him.
"I saw him later and discussed the project."
"And?" she prompted.
"Well, I need a life model. The project is about life drawing. Maybe you don't like Tom, but he's great at portraits."
"Hold on! When did I say I didn't like him?"
"It was the impression I got when you said you knew he was gay."
"Um, well, he's a loner, but I never said I didn't like him. I don't know him."
"So if you don't know him, how come you know he's gay?"
Arran wondered if she really did know or was making assumptions.
"Seems like he is." She stroked his back, moving upwards, brushing her hand through the hair on the back of his head.
"I saw one of his sketches of a girl. Maybe it was his girlfriend? Perhaps you're wrong?"
"Maybe. Who cares?" She was now half on top of him and their lips touched as she leant in for a kiss."
The sound of the front door opening announced the arrival of Arran's father. Ali sat back up, brushed her hand through his fringe, then stood up. "Guess I should be going," she announced.
Arran didn't stop her. He stood up and walked her to the front door.
"Hello, Alison," his father said with a smile.
"Hello, Mr. Taylor," she said, returning his smile. Then she turned towards Arran gave him a brief kiss before opening the door and stepping outside. "See you tomorrow, then."
He watched her walk back along the road, then he went inside, picked up his beer from the lounge and joined his dad in the kitchen.
"Good first day back?" his dad asked.
"Yeah, you know," Arran replied in a non-committal tone.
"Oh, doesn't sound that great," his father said, opening the fridge and taking out a beer for himself. "Everything alright with you and Ali?"
"I think so. We were... talking about things."
His father sat down on one of the kitchen stalls and grinned. "Oh, I see. Me and your mother used to talk about things."
"It wasn't anything bad," Arran said, leaning against the kitchen counter and sipping his beer.
"Good. What you want to do for supper? You hungry?"
Arran's first day back at college ended with a pizza at home.
The double glazing didn't entirely block out the traffic noise, although usually it was lost in the background, blocked out by being familiar. It was there, but he was not conscious of it. Only tonight he was. It seemed busier than usual, but perhaps it was the thoughts buzzing around his head that kept his focus outside the room.
Arran wondered what might happen between him and Ali. Was he pretending? Maybe it had been perfect when they were younger, very cool having a girlfriend. But was it just for appearances? Was he that shallow? Not a great realisation, but perhaps he was. And what about the art project? It was important. His idea was a good one, but would Tom do it? If not, would he dare to ask Ali? Tom. He was on his mind. He needed to sort things out there. Was he gay? Should he ask?
It made the intrigue deeper.
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