Arran's father stayed home the next day, saying he needed to talk to an old friend who was a solicitor. Arran presumed it was the same person he had spoken with yesterday evening. The weather had turned very cold with a northerly wind which stung his face as he waited at the bus stop. He had decided the only thing he could do was see Tom when he got to college and find out if his mum was going to talk to her brother, or Vicky's mum. Perhaps he could ask Tom to get her to phone if she didn't want to go around there. If not, he would go and see Vicky himself.
Although he was somewhat preoccupied with the things going on in his life, he still tried to apply himself to his mornings studies. Lunchtime found him in the usual company. Tom had joined them. Nobody wanted to broach the burning topic of the day, but all eyes were on Tom and Arran.
"My dad's seeing a solicitor," Arran finally said. "The police released him on bail last night."
Tom turned his head sideways to look at Arran. "On bail?"
"Yeah, Vicky told the police she was raped."
The rest of the table stopped eating, drinking, or whatever they were doing. Only the noise of the canteen at lunchtime was filling the space.
"I need to talk to her," Ali said.
Jennifer looked from her to Mark and then Arran, but said nothing.
"Are you okay?" Mark asked.
"I'm fine," Arran said, even if he wasn't sure that was true.
"I'll tell my mum. Tell her to go round and see them," Tom said.
"She could phone if she doesn't want to go there," Arran suggested.
"I'm going to go see her," Ali repeated.
"If you are, I'll come with you," Arran told her.
"Me too," added Tom. "She is my cousin, after all."
"I don't know how we can help, but if..." Mark started to say.
"Yes, if we can do something, just say," Jennifer finished.
"Thanks guys," Arran said, giving them a little smile. "How about we let Tom talk to his mum and we meet up about seven to see what to do? That is Ali, me, and Tom. I don't think you two can do much," he said looking at Mark and Jennifer. "Besides, if we go and try to see her, we don't want too many people. Maybe even three is too many?"
"I want to talk to her," Ali insisted. "But I understand your point, Arran. So I can leave it to later."
"I'll call you," Arran said to her. "Okay?"
"Okay, call me if you want me with you. But call me anyway to let me know what's going on."
They finished their lunch and headed back for afternoon lessons.
Arran met up with Tom at the end of the day. "We never did finish our heart to heart."
He smiled at Tom who was leaning against the railings, his collar turned up and a scarf wrapped around against the bitter chill.
"More important stuff came up," Tom said.
Tom's eyes glistened with the moisture brought on by the cold, and Arran could not help staring at him. An uncertain emotion tugged at his chest, a feeling he couldn't quite pin down, but which he knew had more to it than simple friendship. Still, for now, he pushed all those thoughts away and focused his attention on his father.
"How about I come home with you? I don't mean actually in your flat. I'll hang about in that cafe next to the underground station, grab a coffee and wait for you to call. After you talk with your mum."
Tom looked at him. "But you might just be wasting your time. It might take a while for my mum to talk to her brother and... You'll be hanging around waiting."
"I suppose, but what else can I do?"
"Go home and see what your dad has to say. I mean what his solicitor said. Then I'll call you."
Arran was torn between the logic of what Tom was saying and a desire to be with him, as if the connection with Tom, his mum, and Vicky, offered a sort of lifeline, something to hold onto.
"I'll call you, that's a promise," Tom confirmed, and Arran shrugged, gave a weak smile, and left it like that.
It was nine o'clock when the phone rang and Arran finally heard from Tom. He asked to meet him in the cafe, if it wasn't too late. He said he needed to get out. Arran wondered why Tom didn't just call at his home, but it was what he'd initially suggested, so he didn't think any more about it. Grabbing his thick jacket, the keys, and his wallet, he opened the front door and stepped out into the night.
The Christmas decorations had already been strung across most of the high street, but it was too early for them to be switched on. Besides, the whole street had not been finished. A few shop windows were also getting decorated for the festive season.
It didn't take long to arrive at the cafe around the corner from Tom's tower block. He was glad to step inside and close out the cold behind him. The place was not very busy, but it was nice and warm. On a whim, he ordered a hot chocolate, waited whilst the jovial unshaven and rotund proprietor prepared it, then went to sit down at a table by the window.
Looking out at the passers-by he caught sight of the guy from the kebab, Achim. He watched him talking to someone who he couldn't quite see, then followed them as the two walked past and turned down the passageway. Shortly afterwards the door opened and Tom came in, looked around, then smiled when he saw Arran and came straight over.
"Hi. You want a drink or something?" Arran asked.
"No thanks, I'm fine," he said as he sat down.
"Why meet here?" Arran asked. "I know I suggested it, but now your mum's talked with her brother..."
"She hasn't," Tom interrupted, "he wasn't there. She talked to Vicky's mother, but it didn't go too well."
"What did she say?"
"Basically, she said her daughter isn't a liar. So, if she said she was raped, she was. Then she went off on a verbal attack on your dad. She also told my mum not to interfere, in other words, to mind her own business. Only she was a bit more violent with the words she used. Then she told my mum she ought to deal with her own family, meaning me."
"You? What's any of this got to do with you?"
"Nothing," Tom said. "It was her attacking me because..."
Arran stared at Tom, waiting for him to finish.
"Because… well, you know." Tom looked at the table top and his hands. He began moving the salt shaker around.
Arran knew this was a big thing for Tom. He was disappointed nothing had happened to help his dad, but now he changed his focus back onto Tom.
"I kept asking you and I never quite got the answer. You're gay. I'm thick for having to ask. Stupid as well, I guess."
Tom looked up at him. "You're not stupid, Arran."
A queasy feeling invaded Arran's stomach. The look Tom was giving him seemed to hold a mixture of emotions. Arran felt compelled to reassure him.
"I like you very much. You're a very good friend, okay?"
Tom's expression showed a hint of disappointment, but he quickly disguised it.
"Yeah, so it's all good. I mean for us. I'm sorry I couldn't help your dad. If you like we can go and see Vicky ourselves?"
"I don't know. I don't know if that would do anything."
They sat a moment listening to the radio playing some jazz. The jovial proprietor was serving an elderly gentleman at the counter.
"Do you want to come back to my place?" Tom asked.
"It's getting late," Arran replied. "I think I should get back."
They got up together, Arran took his empty mug back to the counter, said goodnight to the owner, and they left. It was bitterly cold outside, they walked a few steps, Arran about to say goodnight to Tom, when they suddenly stopped dead, hearing the screeching of breaks and flashing blue lights. Car doors were flung open and uniformed and plain clothed police came running in their direction. Arran and Tom stood back, shocked by what was going on.
Three policemen ran past them down the passageway next to the cafe. The last plain clothed officer stopped in front of them. He looked at the two of them standing together. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.
Arran peered at him. "Nothing. We're on our way home."
"I know you, don't I?" the man asked Arran.
"Detective Hammer, I wasn't sure," Arran replied.
At that moment the uniformed officers emerged from the dark alley with Achim and another young man. They were followed by more police, and the two were bundled into a police van.
Arran and Tom watched.
"Drugs!" Detective Hammer announced and turned to join his colleagues.
"I don't believe it," Tom said as the convoy of police cars and van pulled away, sirens screaming, lights flashing.
"I saw him earlier, before you arrived," Arran said.
Tom grinned. "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy."
"You're mean, Tom," Arran joked, draping an arm over Tom's shoulder. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Did your dad say what happened with the solicitor?"
"He said it's Vicky's word against his."
"I don't know. Look it's freezing."
Arran pulled Tom into a hug. "See you tomorrow, alright?"
"Sure," Tom said kind of wistfully as he watched Arran hurry off.
Arran didn't register the tone of his friend's voice. He was in too much of a hurry to get back home.
Climbing the steps at the front entrance of the austere red brick edifice that was the college, Arran was going over everything in his head, checking the presentation of the art exhibition was ready. He hoped they hadn't forgotten anything, since this was important for him and Tom. The one thing that irked was not having seen that final picture. The whole series of sketches and paintings was a sequence which led to that end point, which was the statement of the project. The trouble his dad was in was similarly difficult to dismiss, and it worried him. Putting it to the back of his mind didn't work. He couldn't help imagining what might happen and he had this image in his mind of his father standing in the dock.
Today he hardly noticed the cold, hardly noticed anything, so it was a bit of a shock to suddenly be face to face with Tom.
Arran's surprise was obvious by the expression on his face.
"I was waiting for you to get here," Tom said.
"What's up?" he asked anxiously.
Now he was thinking that final painting wasn't ready, there was a problem with this afternoon's presentation. He stood there staring, waiting to hear the worst.
"I have to talk to you. Can we go get a coffee?"
There was a coffee vending machine in the hallway outside the canteen. Tom dropped some coins in the slot. They clunked down the metallic shoot and he hit the button, the plastic cup popped out into place.
They stood there sipping the hot liquid that was instant coffee. Students walked past as the college filled up with people making their way to classes.
"I've been to see Vicky," Tom said.
Arran was a little relieved that this wasn't about their art project. But why had Tom decided to talk to Vicky?
"I confronted her about what was going on," Tom explained. "And..."
He pulled the Walkman from his bag. It came out tangled with the wires for the earphones.
"It's all here... On tape."
Arran stared at him. He knew Tom had a Walkman, he'd seen him studying listening to music with the earphones in. He thought it was a weird way to listen to music. Now he wondered what exactly Tom was saying.
"It's not all good, but..."
Tom finished pulling the Walkman out and gave one earphone to Arran and put the other in his ear. They had to stand close, Arran leaning into Tom.
Tom pushed the switch.
The tape played back the recording. It was Tom speaking.
"I don't understand why you would want to say that to the police..."
It was Vicky's voice next.
"Why? What's your problem? He deserved to pay for dumping me," she said.
There was some background noise, but the conversation was clear.
"You know you're not only hurting him with these lies, but Arran as well."
"Why should I give a damn about Arran? You know he dumped Ali? Do you know why?"
There was some hissing and a clunk.
"I'll tell you. Because he's gay. He didn't want sex... with his so-called girlfriend. All a fucking pretence! Just like his dad. You know, like father, like son. So why should I fucking care about him?"
"You sound really bitter, but you should know that I care about Arran."
"Yeah, you would. Anyway it doesn't matter anymore. I've moved on. I don't care about him anymore."
"So why the accusation of rape?"
"Because he hurt me. He deserved to pay."
"But he didn't rape you?"
"Nah, of course not..."
Tom switched it off and pulled the earphone from his ear. Arran did the same, handing it back.
"That's the proof your dad is innocent, but..."
Tom looked a little concerned as he watched Arran's reaction.
"But she says you're gay. So if you give this to your dad."
Tom flipped open the machine and handed the cassette to Arran.
"Well, your dad..."
Arran interrupted him. "My dad will know I'm gay."
They left it there. They would be late into class otherwise.
"See you for lunch," Arran said in parting. "And thanks."
He held up the cassette before pocketing it.
Arran and Tom made their way together to the Art room where everything was set for the exhibition. The class sketches of Tom were the introduction to a series of four paintings in which the central figure transformed from pencil sketch to painting. The first three images set against a graphic industrial background, which whilst complex and filling the first picture background, diminished as the series progressed. At the same time the central figure which was a nude study in the four class sketches chosen at the start, transformed into a clothed figure, all the time viewed from behind, but turned slightly.
The stark industrial background drawn by Arran, obscured half of the figure, but more and more became apparent as the series progressed. The final picture would be the figure, clothed, looking back at the viewer. The title, they had agreed, was Revealed, but Arran had not yet seen the final painting.
Arran looked straight at Tom. "You're gonna show me the picture?"
Tom took the picture, holding it up away from Arran.
"Of course," he replied. "It's the culmination of the project and..."
He spun around to face Arran, one hand on each corner holding the picture.
Arran's mouth dropped open.
"Oh!... My God! That's..."
"Yes... It is," Tom said.
Arran stared at the painting adorning the canvas in brilliant colour. Tom, dressed in a short tartan skirt, with striped leggings on his smooth legs. He had a cute smile on his face, and bright, piercing eyes that seemed to look through and beyond the observer.
"That is so sexy."
What the hell was he saying?
"I always found that girl in the sketch exciting," Arran said.
Tom was silent, still holding up the image in front of him like a shield.
"You're very sexy, Tom... Very sexy!"
Tom beamed a broad smile back at Arran.
"I think you already said that."
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