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by Talo Segura

Chapter 6

Friday, a whole week had passed and this was the day. Tom said he'd catch up with him on Friday, but Arran hadn't seen him anywhere in college. The only person who might know where he was would be Max Arnold. Arran couldn't think of anyone else, so he skipped his last class and made sure to get upstairs to the Art room before Max left.

He stood outside the door waiting as the students filed out. When it looked like the room was empty, he popped inside. Max was talking to a student, a long legged, slim Asian girl he recognised, but couldn't put a name to the face.

"Mr. Arnold," Arran spoke up when she turned to leave. As she passed, she smiled at him.

"Arran, what can I do for you? Haven't you got somewhere better to be than stuck in here for the weekend," he grinned.

"I wondered if you'd heard anything about Tom? We were s'posed to meet up to discuss our project work."

Max put some papers into his old leather briefcase and shoved it under one arm. "I think he's sick. Caught a late summer cold or something. Might be off for a few days. Guess you'll have to catch up next week when he gets back."

"You wouldn't have his number, would you? Only, he said he'd give it to me, but..."

"He forgot," Max interrupted. He put down his briefcase, walked over to his desk, took out what looked like a diary or address book and flicked through it. He found what he was looking for, picked up a pen and scribbled on a piece of paper. Handing it to Arran, he told him: "I'm not supposed to give out student's numbers. I'm not a dating App." He laughed and picked up his briefcase again. "You didn't get it from me," he said as he left.

Tom sounded alright on the phone, but didn't explain anything, only said to call him again on Sunday. If he was feeling better, then Arran could come over to his place if he wanted. He gave his address. It was the main thing on his mind so, of course, Arran wanted to see him. Friday night he ate at home with his father and could not stop thinking about who he had seen him with that lunchtime. His dad said nothing, only that he had to work Saturday, and would be out all day.

Saturday Arran distracted himself by taking his bike out and going for a long ride. The weather was warm, the sun shining, and a gentle breeze was enough to keep it from being too hot and humid. Although, on the way back home late Saturday afternoon there were clouds in the sky. After he'd put his bike away, he switched on his tablet and tapped in Tom's address to Google Maps. He wondered if this wasn't becoming an obsession, but dismissed the thought.

Looking around in Street View he was a little surprised by the tower blocks, but then he decided that someone must live in those high-rise monsters, and obviously Tom was one of them. He had an idea, Tom had Facebook or Twitter or something, so he went looking online, but found nothing and ended up aimlessly cruising the Internet. Maybe he should call, he thought, but then decided to wait until tomorrow.

Tom said it was okay that he could come over. It was just after ten when Arran got there. He hated the idea of looking like he didn't know where he was going, so walked purposely across the road towards what he thought was the right block -- there were four towers. Some kids were hanging around outside as he looked up at the name over the wide glass doors. Whatever the kids had been doing, they stopped and watched him, making Arran feel slightly uneasy. Tom had said he'd meet him at the entrance, so he thought maybe he'd got the wrong block. Looking back at the other blocks, he saw three big guys walking his way. He wasn't sure, but one of them seemed familiar.

The glass doors opened and he was relieved to see Tom coming to his rescue. The kids moved off to hang around elsewhere, but the big guys were definitely coming this way. Tom saw them too. Arran noticed him looking. He also noticed the bruise on Tom's face. It wasn't exactly a black eye, but it did look like he'd been punched. Immediately he started thinking about Tom's family, imagining his dad pushing him into the wall and punching him, maybe in a drunken rage. That was all nonsense. Arran realised, his imagination was running wild, throwing up images of life on a high-rise council estate born out of television dramas and not reality.

"Let's go," Tom urged.

Those three guys were cutting across the grass, coming in their direction. "I've seen that big bloke before," Arran said.

"Yeah, yeah, never mind." Tom pulled open the glass door and entered the foyer. Arran followed, standing next to Tom as he pressed the call button on the lift several times. Was his imagination still running away with him or was Tom nervous? Those guys were outside when the lift arrived, the doors grinding open. They stepped in and Tom hit Twelve. The doors were just sliding shut as Arran glimpsed the glass door in the foyer open.

As the lift climbed upwards, Arran noticed it smelled of urine. He was standing next to Tom, looking at the graffiti scratched into the metal panels. What if it stopped, if they got stuck, he thought, but they jolted to a stop and the doors opened.

"That guy, I know where I saw him before. He was the guy from the kebab," Arran said as they stepped out.

Tom didn't answer. He moved along the hallway and opened the front door which led into a narrow corridor. He ushered Arran in through the first door on the right, which turned out to be his bedroom. A single bed took up the whole of one side of the room, resting against one wall from the door to the other end of the narrow room. A large window was half of the far wall, leaving little space for anything other than the bed, with a shelf that ran along the wall over the bed.

Arran moved past Tom who immediately crawled up on the bed. Looking out the window he saw those kids crossing the road towards another tower block. They were tiny, like ants; he'd never been this high up. He imagined the building swaying in a storm, but quickly decided that was ridiculous. He scanned the world below, the city with its rows of houses and pattern of streets spread out before him, but from here you couldn't see the park. The prominent feature were the two other tower blocks, one left, the other almost directly in front.

Arran turned to face Tom. "That guy lives here? The one from the kebab?"

When Tom pointed to his eye with one delicate long index finger, Arran frowned, suddenly getting it. "He did that?"

Tom nodded.


"It doesn't matter. Can we talk about something else please?"

Arran didn't want to talk about something else. He wanted to know what had happened, but Tom looked like he definitely didn't want to talk about it, so he didn't. Instead, he suggested Tom show him those sketches he'd seen before, but only briefly, so they could get an idea of how to set up their project. Tom shifted off the bed and pulled out a large drawer from underneath, then extracted the folder with his drawings and opened it on the bed.

He glanced at Arran. "I'm sorry there's not much space in here."

"Nah, it's great. I've never been in a tower block before."

Tom probably thought he was just being nice. He was, but it was also true; it was a new experience for Arran. And he didn't mind how small the room was, he was happy to be there. He flicked through the drawings, taking out one or two, including the one he'd seen before, of the girl.

"You never explained this picture," he said as Tom peered over his shoulder. "Is it someone you know? A girlfriend?"

"What do you think?" Tom replied.

"Could be, or it could even be your sister." Arran pulled out another drawing that showed a girl dressed the same as the other, in a short tartan skirt. In this sketch she was standing, looking back over her shoulder, presumably at someone standing behind. "Because she definitely has a resemblance."

"They're just drawings," Tom said, gathering them up.

"So, the modelling?" Arran asked, deciding he needed to force his hand a bit.

"The modelling, okay. But I'm not sure about modelling nude."

"It's important. Just two sessions, only a few people. Think of taking showers after sports. It's no big thing," Arran tried to convince him, knowing he was halfway there.

"It's easy for you to say," Tom replied.

"Okay, listen. It seems to me you need to try it and see. Let me draw you?"

Tom was silent. The expression on his face was almost comical.

Arran smiled. "You should see yourself."

Tom turned away. "I'm not sure if I could do that," he said quietly.

"Just try It. If you like, you can draw me. I'm rubbish at life drawing. It is only so you feel okay about doing it."

"Tom?" A women's voice called out.

"Wait a minute," Tom said. He got up to open the door, then disappeared along the corridor. When he came back he asked Arran if he was staying for lunch.

"Oh yeah, sure, thanks," Arran replied, happy to spend the whole day with Tom.

"It's nothing special, but it is one of Tom's favourites," Mrs. Rustle announced as she brought in the plates. "Bangers and mash," she added, putting a plate of sausages and mashed potatoes in front of each of them. She returned a moment later with her own plate.

"Thank you, Mrs. Rustle," Arran smiled. "I like bangers and mash as well. It probably ranks up there with fish and chips as traditional British food."

"I think you're right there, but it's not a Sunday roast I'm afraid," she added.

"No worries, Mrs. Rustle, it's perfect," Arran replied. Tom gave him a quick glance. It made him think he might be overdoing it, so he quietly tucked into his lunch.

"Call me Jean," Mrs. Rustle said after a bit. "So you're at college with Tom?"

"Yes, but we're not doing all the same course modules. I'm studying graphic art, but we are working on a life drawing exhibition together."

"An exhibition, Tom hasn't told me anything about that." She looked over at her son, who made no response. "But he's not very talkative as you probably know." Tom looked up from eating now. "Still, I'm pleased he's made a new friend. In his last school he didn't seem to fit in, and didn't have many friends. At least none I saw, or who he brought home."

"Mum!" Tom piped up, looking a little bit embarrassed. "You don't need to tell Arran my whole life story."

She ignored his remark. "Even here he's been getting into trouble. He won't tell me what happened," she said, looking at Tom.

"Nothing happened," Tom replied. "I had a disagreement, that's all."

"Yes, if that's what you call a disagreement. You can't hide it when someone hits you. I really don't know why you're being so secretive." His mother looked both upset and a little annoyed.

Arran felt he was now sitting in the middle of what was becoming a mother and son dispute.

"I don't wanna make a big thing out of it, okay? We only just moved here," Tom told her.

"I've got ice cream for dessert when you're ready," she said, deftly changing the topic, probably familiar with where it was leading and not wanting to spoil the afternoon.

When they'd been served ice cream, vanilla and chocolate, in glass bowls with little spoons and a wafer, Mrs. Rustle smiled and asked, "Where do you live, Arran?" He explained that he lived with his dad in house off the high street, that it wasn't too far from here. "And, if you don't mind me asking, where is you mother?"

"Mum!" Tom objected. "Can you stop giving him the third degree? He won't want to come here again if all you do is ask him stuff."

"No, it's okay," Arran smiled. "Your mum just wants to know who your friends are. I understand, my mum is the same." He turned to Mrs. Rustle, "my parents are separated. I see my mum for a weekend every month, usually. She lives in the countryside. I'm living with my dad because, well, for getting to college. But my dad is usually busy working, so we don't see that much of each other either."

"Satisfied?" Tom asked as he stood and picked up his bowl.

"He can be so touchy," she confided in Arran after Tom left the room. "I'll leave you two alone. It's nice to have met you, Arran." She then began clearing the table. When Arran started to help, she said, "Okay, you boys disappear and I'll wash up."

Tom led Arran back to his bedroom. "Sorry about all that," he said as he closed the door.

Arran studied Tom, then said, "It's okay, don't worry. I like your mum, anyhow. But... to make up for it, you have to pose for me. We've got to get this project life drawing sorted."

It was odd, but as Arran was saying this he became aware of his own heartbeat, feeling an excitement stirring inside him.

"That's just an excuse to see me without any clothes on," Tom grinned as he pulled off his t-shirt, revealing a slim hairless chest. Arran was trying hard not to look like he was too interested, but he wasn't sure he was succeeding. Tom kicked off his sneakers and undid the belt of his jeans. Then he sat down on the bed and pulled his jeans off one leg at a time. He threw his socks aside.

Tom's legs were as hairless as the rest of his body, but Arran's eyes were fixed on the skimpy little blue slip which was the last item of clothing remaining. "Have you got a sketch pad I can use?" he asked a little nervously.

"You told me you're crap at life drawing, so you don't need to pretend you want to draw me," Tom said, standing up in the tiny bedroom and tucking both hands into the elastic of his slip, sliding it down and stepping out of it. Now he was standing totally naked before of Arran, with not very much more than a foot or two between them. Arran felt his heart beating wildly as he took in the details of Tom's physique. The only hair he had was on his head, the rest of him being smooth as a baby. It was, Arran thought, very sexy. It lent a sort of androgyny, a touch of femininity, to Tom because he was slim and smooth instead of muscled. He obviously wasn't feminine though, nor was he the classic model of Roman or Greek statues.

Tom moved back onto his bed and sat at the head, drawing up his legs, resting his chin on his knees and looking at Arran.

"Well?" He asked.

But Arran made no reply. He was swimming in a sea of emotions, like a man who'd fallen overboard, floundering in the waves and coming up for air to try and breathe. Silence reigned for what seemed a long moment, each of them looking at the other. Arran was no longer focused on Tom's body, he was locked into his eyes.

Arran forced himself to break the spell, stepping back towards the window until he felt the glass at his back. "You've got a great figure," he said softly.

"You think?" Tom replied.

Arran stared at him sitting on his bed at the far end of the room, hugging his legs. Suddenly seeing Tom's insecurity, he stepped closer and sat down on the side of the bed next to Tom. "You know, you've got nothing to worry about," he said. You're stunning, Tom. Absolutely fucking perfect."

Tom stared at him.

"I mean it," Arran said, then decided he should cool things a bit. "You'll make the perfect life model, beautiful. It will work out great." At the same time he thought to himself, you'd make the perfect lover. Then he questioned himself. What was happening? Suddenly he stood up, and walked back to the window.

"I guess if I'm not going to try and draw you, you maybe ought to get dressed. I wouldn't want your mum to knock at the door."

Tom grinned. "She wouldn't. She's probably watching the TV."

"Uh, well, you know. Anyhow, I think we're agreed you can do the life pose."

"Yeah, I guess." Tom stood up picking up his slip, pulling it back on and getting dressed. All the time Arran leant against the large glass window and watched him.

"Do you wanna tell me how that happened?" Arran asked, sitting down next to Tom on the bed and gently touching the bruise around his eye. The touch was like a little shock, not static, but something else. It was the first time he'd touched Tom.

"Oh, it's complicated. Forget about it. It'll be nearly gone tomorrow," Tom replied.

"Sure, but if you want to talk."

Tom smiled. "Okay, I know who to come see."

The afternoon passed into evening as the two of them discussed their project, themselves, and lots of other things. But it was true what Tom's mother had said: he wasn't very talkative. But Arran already knew that. Even if he was doing all the talking, he enjoyed being there with Tom and only reluctantly pulled himself away to leave and go home. It was getting dark when he said goodbye to Tom at the foot of the tower block.

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