Shortly after Tom left, the phone rang. "Hi, what's up?" Arran answered as soon as he saw it was Mark calling.
"You know you asked me if I knew what Ali was going on about with your dad?"
"And what?" Arran was a bit anxious.
"So Vicky apparently told her that the older guy she's been seeing all summer is your dad!"
Arran was shocked. "What!" He almost yelled into the phone.
"Ali told Jennifer who told me because I'd asked her if she knew anything. Sorry, man."
"Nah, it's okay. Thanks." Arran hung up. It wasn't okay and he wasn't okay. 'What the fuck! Shit!' Were the thoughts that struck him.
Arran was pacing around the living room when the front door opened and his father walked in. "Dad!" He called out.
His father hung up his jacket and entered the room. "Hello, Arran. How's things?"
The two empty beer bottles were still in the lounge, He'd cleared away after dinner, but forgot to pick them up. He did now, first one then the other, needing something to occupy him.
"Arran?" His father found his behaviour a little odd. "You had a friend round I see. And..."
"Dad, what's going on?" Arran interrupted before his father could say any more. I just had a call from Mark and he told me you've been seeing Vicky."
His father looked at him, then moved to sit down in the armchair. As Arran watched him, he thought he looked tired. "I mean it's not my business, but... Vicky?"
"Ah huh, she's your age, but yes, it happened."
"It happened? You mean it's over? Or What?" Arran paused and sat down on the sofa opposite, still holding the beer bottles."
"It's over, but she's making my life difficult. I guess she can't accept it's over. Probably why she told Mark. She threatened to tell everyone. It's to get her own back. It won't be good for my reputation, but not much I can do. I suppose it was not the cleverest thing to have done."
"To get involved, or break up?" Arran asked.
"Both, son, both."
"Well it's not very nice to go round making life difficult. Maybe she won't spread the gossip. Mark heard it from Jen and Ali."
"Maybe she won't, but I can't do much about it.
"I'm tired, so I think I'll get to bed."
"You okay, dad?"
"Sure, don't worry about me." He got up and turned to leave. "See you in the morning," he said.
"Okay, goodnight." Arran sat there thinking. He could maybe talk to Vicky. Convince her to keep this quiet. He knew, despite anything his dad said, it would not be good for him or his business if lots of people found out. Whatever went on between the two of them, it seemed kind of mean-spirited of Vicky to start going around spreading gossip. The more he thought about it, the more similar in a way, it seemed, to Ali's reaction to their break up.
It was getting late, he'd see Mark at college tomorrow.
The rain was a light drizzle, a fine mist making everything damp. Little droplets hung on the leaves of the large tree in the college yard. Arran was waiting to see Tom. He had given some thought to all that had gone on, last night he'd laid awake for ages churning things over in his head. It seemed as if everything revolved around Tom, that he was the linchpin. Arran was determined to sort things out.
As Tom strode towards him down the college steps Arran became nervous about the coming confrontation. He watched Tom march across the yard, his hood pulled up against the rain, only some unruly hair peeking through the top. "Are you really going to sit and eat lunch in the rain?" He asked.
"No. I came to find you after your text."
Arran looked at him standing there. "Let's go inside then."
"No, let's go to the sheds first, Tom argued. "You can tell me there what this is all about, in private. Since you said this was serious, I don't want people listening in."
They walked out of the yard towards the main entrance where an old wooden shed, open down the full length of one side, housed metal racks for bicycles. There was an assortment of them chained in place with various different metal bars and locks. Not surprisingly it was also half-empty. A lot of people preferred leaving cycling for when it wasn't raining.
Tom pulled him undercover and turned to face Arran. "Well?"
"Well, my dad's being seeing Vicky, your cousin." Arran told him, a slight nervousness in his voice.
"Yeah, I know who my cousin is," Tom replied.
Arran ignored the possible sarcasm. "Then there's Ali spreading rumours that you're gay. You never did answer when I asked you."
Tom frowned, but said nothing.
"Vicky already told Ali, who told Jennifer, then Mark, which is how I heard. I talked to my dad. He said she's getting back at him for breaking it off."
Tom still remained silent.
"Perhaps Ali is getting back at me for breaking up with her? She started hinting about my dad and hinting about you." Arran took a deep breath, he could feel his heart beating. "I've... we've kinda been here before. I don't care anything about Vicky or Ali. Well, I don't like them spreading gossip, especially about people close to me. But forget that. I just need to know about us. I need to know how you feel. We are friends, but..." He paused and looked away from Tom along the row of bikes.
Tom sighed. "I'll talk to my mum. She can talk to Vicky's mum. Maybe that will help sort things out."
Arran smiled. "Thanks. That would be good. And you?"
"You know, Arran, I have my own problems. You ever thought about that?"
He did think about it, but Tom was right to ask. Ali had accused him of being self-centred. Perhaps he was.
"I'm here, I'll help you. You just need to tell me," Arran said, trying to understand Tom.
"It's not like that. Here is a problem, now solve it. Life is more complex, don't you think?"
"I don't know what I think anymore."
The rain had turned from a misty haze into a heavy shower. Water pounded the corrugated metal roof and sluiced off like a waterfall. Arran stared out across the yard where puddles had formed in the uneven surface. The rain didn't look like it would stop anytime soon.
Tom took a seat on one of the bicycles and offered Arran a sandwich. "Egg mayonnaise," he said.
Arran took the sandwich, examined it, then took a bite. Tom watched him and grinned.
It is impossible to calculate all eventualities, and what in appearance was a good resolution of the situation didn't necessarily provide the expected outcome. The shower ended at the same time as the end of break, so they made their way back across the yard together.
"I guess I'm never gonna find out about you, am I?" Arran said.
Tom glanced at him and grinned. "You got me to model, didn't you? So you're making progress. See ya later, Arran."
With that Tom disappeared inside and up the stairs while Arran made his way to his least favourite class: History of Art.
Tom kept his promise and talked to his mum that same evening. She listened to his explanation about Arran's father, but didn't exactly conclude with the same reasoning that Vicky was to blame for talking to Alison. Rather, she told him that was probably the only thing she was able to do. Perhaps she didn't want to tell her mother.
"The problem is not Vicky," she told Tom. "It's Arran's father starting a relationship with a girl young enough to be his daughter."
"I don't think he started it," Tom told her.
"Never mind if he did or he didn't; he should have been more responsible."
"He ended it, didn't he?"
"Tom, you really don't know what happened. That's what he told Arran and what Arran told you. We haven't heard what Vicky has to say. But anyway, it wasn't right, it shouldn't have happened."
"But..." Tom tried to defend Arran.
However, his mum cut him off. "There are no buts. It should never have happened. Have you thought that maybe Arran and his father aren't telling the truth?"
"No," Tom replied.
"I don't want you going around with that boy anymore, or visiting his house."
Tom was shocked. "He's the only friend I've got here. And besides, I like him. We're working on that school project together, remember?"
"I don't want you seeing him anymore outside of college. Is that clear?"
His mother sounded angry. So not wanting to upset things further, he agreed.
Friday was the second life drawing session with Tom as model, and also the last. From then on they would be working on the final sketches. At least Tom would be doing the sketches and Arran the graphic background. Tom was already in the Art room and undressed, the dressing gown draped around him like a film star waiting to act in the next scene. Seeing Tom always seemed to affect Arran, and seeing him like this, even more so.
"Tom, you should come over to my place tomorrow. We can hang out and work out what we do next."
Tom stared at him. "What we do next?"
"With the project." Arran gave him a sly grin.
"Yeah, of course. I knew you meant that. Only there's a problem."
"What?" Arran asked.
He explained how he'd spoken about Vicky to his mum, but that she saw it all differently and blamed his father, plus told him not to see Arran anymore.
Taken aback, Arran asked, "And your mum, did she speak to Vicky's mum or to your uncle?"
"I don't know, but if I come round to your place I can't tell her where I'm going and she mustn't find out. She's not got a very high opinion of either you are your father. I'll have to make up some story. It's difficult because I already said you're the only..."
"The only what?" Arran interrupted, but the rest of the students were filing in and Max was there to oversee the class, so they didn't get to finish the conversation.
When the life drawing was over, Arran collected the different sketches to make copies. He wanted to check things with Tom, but Max said he would like a word with Arran. Tom headed off, saying that he would call about tomorrow. Arran sat down with Max to discuss the direction of the project. He explained the idea and Max seemed fine about it.
"And Tom, it's working out with him?"
This made Arran wonder if his teacher actually wanted to discuss the art project or talk about Tom. "It's all good with us," he replied. But in reality there were quite a few issues to resolve.
"Good," Max said. "I only wanted to check that you were getting along okay. It's good that you're friends seeing as how he doesn't know anyone here and..." Max paused. "I don't know what he might have said, but things at his previous school were a little difficult."
"Difficult? How?" Arran asked.
"This is absolutely between us, alright?"
"He had a lot of problems; he was victimised, bullied, and isolated."
This was news to Arran. He wondered what had happened before. It sort of explained Tom being a loner. It also worried him. What exactly happened, what did it mean?
"Well, I only wanted a little word, so I'll let you get off and have a good weekend."
Arran gathered his stuff and walked out, still thinking about what Max had said.
Achim Seif was crossing from between the row of parked cars in front of Tom's tower block. With him were two of his band and his younger brother Salem. Tom saw them, but too late. They were in front of him and blocked the entrance doorway. He should perhaps have turned around, but he wanted to get home.
"My little bro here told me everything you do," Achim said, glaring at Tom, one fat arm barring the door while his two companions surrounded Tom.
"Just let me through,"
Achim opened the door, but as Tom walked through he grabbed a hold of him and bundled him inside. Together with the other two guys and followed by Salem, they shepherded Tom past the lifts and into the bottom of the stairwell. The battered old door scarred with graffiti swung shut behind them. There was an eerie silence and the ever present odour of piss, mixed with disinfectant. The burly Arab towered over Tom and pushed him backwards, prodding his chest, one step at a time until Tom's back was hard against the wall underneath the concrete stairs.
"You owe me something," Achim told him.
Tom stared at the floor, but said nothing.
"And Salem tells me you're a little fairy. Is that what you are?" Achim was spitting as he said it.
Little droplets of saliva spattered Tom's face as he looked up at Achim. He pushed with both arms against the big guy. Caught by surprise, Achim fell back against the concrete stairs, hitting his head. Tom tried to push through to escape, but the two friends of Achim caught him and wrestled him to the floor. It was impossible one against four. Now Achim was angry, he leant over Tom, rubbing his head and cursing. Tom saw the fist, his vision fixed on the gold ring and the thick chain that hung off a hairy chest. Then everything went black.
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