There was still no Tom at college the next day, which was preoccupying Arran, so much so he was unable to concentrate on classes all morning. By lunchtime he had more or less made up his mind to call around to Tom's place, but he joined their little group in the canteen as usual.
"What's up, mate?" Mark asked as he sat down. "You look kinda worried."
Alison and Jennifer were there of course, but no sign of Vicky. Arran began explaining everything that had happened, as far as he knew, finishing with the visit by the police.
"And what did your dad say?" Mark asked..
"Nothing. I mean, I haven't seen him. Like I told the police, he left a note last night saying he would be back late, but in the morning he wasn't there."
"Where is he?" Jennifer wanted to know.
"I don't know. I've no idea."
"I might have an idea," Alison told them, and all heads turned in her direction. "Not about where your father is," she said, glancing at Arran. "But Vicky told me she was going to make him pay for splitting up the relationship."
"Well she's already turned Tom's mum against me," Arran said. "I'm not welcome round his place anymore."
"That's probably Vicky's mum, you know what she's like. All holier than everybody, and her daughter can do no wrong. She's such a lovely girl." Ali parodied Vicky applying her lipstick.
"Anyway, that's not the point. Vicky, much as I like her, can be vindictive, and maybe she's done more than bad-mouthing your dad."
"What do you mean?" Arran asked, concerned.
"I mean, if the police came round looking for your dad, it's not about a parking ticket. He's not some Mafia criminal or bank robber, so maybe she's told them a story."
"No!" Jennifer protested. "Vicky wouldn't do that. Not make up something to tell the police."
"I'm not so sure," Mark said. "Ali's got a point. It does make sense."
Arran stood up to leave. "Well, I hope I'll see my dad tonight and find out. For now, I'm gonna try and see Tom."
When he arrived at Tom's place, Arran had to stop and look to work out which block Tom lived in. The four towers were identical. He knew it wasn't either of the two on the outside and he was fairly certain it was the left hand centre one. As he reached the entrance hall he came face to face with the big Arab guy from the kebab. He was hanging around as usual with two of his cohorts. They exchanged glances, but nothing else happened. Arran was relieved to pass through the doorway as someone was coming out.
Once inside he took the lift to the twelfth floor. The graffiti scratched metal walls and faint smell of urine, not completely disguised by bleach, accompanied him. The doors opened onto the landing and four identical doors, but which number was Tom's flat? Arran wracked his brain to orient himself, but it was no easy task. He had only been there once and he couldn't be sure which door it was. He walked up and down the hallway twice, hesitating, before ringing the bell on what he hoped was the right door.
There was no answer. Arran waited, wondering how long he should stand there. Then a door opened at the other end of the landing and an elderly lady stepped out with one of those folding two wheeled trolleys.
"Excuse me," Arran said as he approached her.
The old lady looked at him like he was about to mug her. A mixture of fear, resignation, and annoyance, stared back at him as the lift doors opened.
"I'm looking for..."
The doors clanked shut and he listened to the whir of the mechanism as it descended the lift. The old lady had ignored him, which left a choice between two remaining doors. Arran decided on the one next to the one he had already tried. He pressed the buzzer and waited. Nothing. He couldn't be out, Arran decided. If he had come out of hospital and wasn't at college, he had to be home.
He thought he heard footsteps. It was then he realised each front door had a spy hole. Arran stood there, frozen.
The door opened. Tom was standing in front of him in jeans, t-shirt, and bare feet.
"What are you doing here? How did you get in?"
Arran stared back at him, noticing that Tom had a huge black eye and a plaster over his eyebrow. His lip was cut and his mouth looked a little odd, perhaps puffy, swollen. A hand grabbed hold of his jacket and pulled him inside. They did a sort of sideways shuffle and Tom shut the front door with a solid click of the lock.
"Well?" Tom looked right back at him.
"What happened to you?" Arran felt tears welling up in his eyes. "Who did this? "
Something in Tom relaxed, as if suddenly his whole body gave a resounding sigh. His attitude changed, became softer and he pulled Arran into his bedroom and shut the door.
"If my mum comes back, you're not here," he said, sitting down on his bed.
Arran flopped down next to him.
"Take that thing off," Tom gestured to the jacket. "It's hot in here."
It was, as if the heating was stoked up full. Arran noticed Tom had the large window open slightly at the top.
"It's either freezing or boiling hot, the heating is controlled for the whole building. When it's on, by the time it gets up here, it's blasting out heat."
"I never noticed before," Arran said.
"No, because it hadn't come on. Today it's cold so... But what are you doing here?"
"What happened?" Arran countered.
At that precise moment they both stopped and listened to a key in the lock and the front door opening.
"Shit!" Tom whispered and stood up.
"It doesn't matter," Arran assured him, speaking softly." I need to talk to your mum. I'm not gonna hide under the bed."
That made Tom smile.
"Tom! You in there?" his mother called from outside the bedroom door.
Tom opened the door. Arran stood up behind him.
"Arran's here," Tom announced.
"Yes. I can see that," she said, looking over Tom's shoulder.
"Mrs Rustle, I need to talk to you, please" Arran said, moving up close behind Tom and pressing into him.
"You better come along into the living room then," she told him.
They both followed Tom's mum into the living room and sat down together on the sofa.
"I'm sure my son hasn't offered you tea. You'll have to excuse his manners. Would you like a cup? I'm making one for myself... and Tom."
And so they sat down to tea and Arran explained everything. How worried he was about Tom, what had happened this morning when the police called round, and what Alison had said about Vicky being vindictive. It took some time for Tom's mum to reflect on all this and reply. Tom, himself, was nervously bouncing his leg up and down. Arran found it annoying. He wanted to reach out and grab Tom's leg to stop it moving. But that might not look too good, so he had to put up with it.
Tom took Arran back to his bedroom, his mother maybe coming around in her way of thinking. Whilst she didn't excuse Arran's father from his responsibility in the affair, she did recognise some truth in Alison's exposé of Vicky's character. She promised to speak to her brother and find out what was going on.
They sat once more side by side on the narrow single bed.
"Now tell me what happened?" Arran gently insisted.
"It was Achim, the big Arab guy," Tom confessed.
"The guy from the kebab? The one always hanging around with a couple of others at the entrance?"
"Yeah, him, his groupies, and his brother Salem."
"He was there when I arrived. Giving me an evil stare," Arran told him.
"Be careful. He's a bully and he's dangerous."
"But why? Why... I mean it was him punched you?"
Tom explained how Salem's little brother called him as gay and that somehow gave Achim the idea he was some sort of prostitute. "Who knows how his mind works? But I wasn't playing his game and... this." Tom touched his head above his right eye. Then he laughed. "It's the second time. He's got a wicked right hook. This time he knocked me out."
"You know I've been trying to ask you for ages," Arran turned to his head to look directly at Tom. "Are you?"
"Am I what?" Tom looked right back at him.
Arran lowered his voice. "Gay?"
"What difference would it make?"
"I don't know. I mean it would make no difference to us. No, I mean, between us. Oh, shit, I don't know."
"Yeah, I get it," Tom said. "You're curious? Maybe you're also thinking about yourself. Feelings. How do you feel, Arran?"
"I don't know. I already told you I like you."
"Good. I like you too, and it seems my mum is okay with you now. So it's all good."
"You'll be back at college tomorrow then?" Arran asked.
"Yeah, I guess we need to finish the project ready for the presentation. I won't have the final picture ready till Friday, though. Kinda got delayed."
Arran was happy with that and suggested they sort everything into presentation order ready to set up the exhibition. Then the final painting could just be dropped in. Tom gave him a wicked smile, which made Arran wonder exactly what was happening between the two of them. However, he was more concerned about his father and told Tom he needed to get home to see his dad. Tom said he would call if he got news from his mum, but he didn't think she'd rush over to see Vicky's parents.
It didn't take long for Arran to get home, but as soon as he had closed the front door behind him, he knew no one was home. He wandered through the hall to the kitchen, nothing had changed since this morning. He pulled the business card from his pocket and flipped it around in his hand, reading the name. The idea that he might call Detective Hammer occurred to him, but what would he say?
As he moved to the living room, desperately thinking about what he could do next, the phone rang.
"Hello," he answered, wondering who was calling, and if it might be news about his father.
"Hello," the voice on the other end of the line replied.
He didn't recognise the man speaking. "This is Brian Taterall. You don't know me. I'm a solicitor. Your father asked me to call you."
"He did? Where is he? Do you know?"
Arran thought he must. Why else would he be calling?
"Your father is being held at the police station. He wanted me to let you know, check you were okay, and tell you he should be getting things sorted out and he'll be home when he has."
"What things?" Arran asked. "Has he been arrested? The police were here this morning, looking for him."
"He hasn't been charged. As they say, he is helping with enquiries. He's fine, no need to worry. We should have him back home soon."
"What enquiries? Is this to do with Vicky, Victoria Chambers?" Arran knew it must be, the police had mentioned her name. Of course it was her. What had she done?
"Look, I've got to go. I'm glad I caught you. Like I said he should be home shortly. If not, I'll let you know."
The line went dead, before Arran could ask more questions.
He had forgotten to ask which police station, so now all he could do was wait. Time seemed to drag as he listened to the clock ticking away the seconds, the hands never appearing to move. Trapped in a limbo of his own thoughts and fears, he tried to imagine what would happen. As a diversion he allowed his mind to wander over this afternoon and Tom, but he was too distracted to give those events any serious thought. They added only more confusion to a tangled mess.
He was still sitting in the living room, in semi-darkness with only the small table lamp on and the soft glow from the street light, when he heard the key in the front door. Leaping up, Arran rushed into the hall to greet his father. Very quickly they were back in the living room, this time with the lights on. His father drew the curtains, he looked exhausted.
"You alright?" he asked Arran, which seemed the wrong way around because Arran was wondering if his father was alright.
"Yeah. What happened?"
His dad flopped down in the armchair and looked across the room at him.
"Vicky says I raped her."
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