by Talo Segura

Chapter 2

One of the most ugly examples of Victorian architecture, the building towered to four stories of solid rectangle, interspersed with large windows strung out uniformly in rows on each floor. The inside was no better than the exterior, high ceilings and long corridors with classrooms on each side and the large assembly hall. The college had at one time been a school, a building in which children had passed their entire scholastic life, progressing from ground floor to top floor as they advanced in years. The one plus point was the large windows which allowed plenty of light. It was ideal for art.

Arran made a point of arriving early, because he wanted to chat with Max, Mr Arnold, the art teacher responsible for the life drawing classes and the term work presentation in December. Life drawing was not one of Arran's best skills and he was worried about how things might turn out. The project would be a joint effort, working in pairs on their chosen topic, presented as an exhibition, but also requiring a face to face interview to explain their chosen theme and how it had been progressed. It counted for a lot in the final exams, course work was half of the marks and this project was half of the course work score.

The mornings were becoming chilly and Arran was wrapped up in his puffy blue jacket which he'd unzipped as he climbed the steps and walked inside. The corridors echoed to the sound of his footsteps as he took the stairs to the second floor and marched along the corridor. No one was about, although he did pass old Joe the caretaker and said "Good morning," to which, in reply, he got a nod of the head. Still he knew Max would be in the art room getting everything ready for the new term. Usually the appointed students would set things up, but being the start of the new term that wouldn't have been organised yet.

He heard sounds from inside before he even opened the door; the scraping of something being dragged across the floor, furniture being moved around. As he stepped inside he was surprised to see Max was not alone. He was even more surprised when, after shifting the wooden blocks of furniture that formed a stage, they stopped and turned in his direction. Standing at the other side of the block they'd manipulated into place was Tom Rustle, a guy who'd joined their class halfway through last year. Tom had transferred in from somewhere Arran couldn't remember. He'd never really spoken to him, except when handing out materials or collecting them at the end of a class. But that wasn't to say he had ignored the new arrival. From the first time Tom had joined their class Arran had been struck by something about him, intrigued, although he had no idea why he felt like that.

"Arran, you're early," Max smiled. "If you'd been earlier you could have helped us shift all this back in place."

"I didn't think," Arran blurted out, a little embarrassed.

Max walked over and clapped a hand on Arran's shoulder. "Only kidding ya. Tom was here to help," Max looked at Tom, who gave a little, almost coy, grin. "Anyway, it's good you're here because we can chat about the project for this term's course work."

"Yeah," Arran replied. "That's why I came in before classes start."

Max moved around the room, over towards the desk that had been pushed into one corner. Tom stood watching the scene. The guy looked younger than Arran, which he was, Arran remembered that much from the introduction. Tom was a year younger, but had jumped ahead. Certainly he was a talented artist when it came to life drawing and portraits. In that respect Arran envied him.

"Well, you got here at just the right moment because I wanted to suggest that you two work together on the exhibition. I think you'll make a great pair," Max said, moving around behind his desk.

Arran glanced over at Tom, who hadn't moved. They briefly made eye contact before Tom lowered his head and looked away.

Max took an A4 sheet from the desk draw and handed it to Arran. "The theme is True Life, this explains what to aim for; minimum required, something about how to go about things, and the exhibition and presentation. It's all pretty straightforward and I think you two can use each other's strong points."

He left Arran holding the sheet and headed for the door. "I've got to go. Staff meeting. You two discuss it. Okay?"

Arran nodded. Max smiled and left.

"You had a good summer?" Arran asked, attempting to break the ice, because neither of them knew the other.

Tom looked up, but remained silent.

"So you up for working together?" Arran was trying hard.

"It might not work out," Tom finally spoke.

"Why not? We can brainstorm some ideas and you're great at life drawing."

Tom fidgeted uncomfortably. "How do you know I'm great? I might not be."

"I saw a sketch you did." Arran moved over and sat up on the edge of the stage next to Tom.

"What sketch?"

"It was a girl. From behind, she was bending forward picking something up or holding something. It reminded me a bit of a Manga comic, because she had a skimpy tartan skirt and there was just a glimpse of panties."

Tom blushed a deep shade of red.

Arran ignored the obvious embarrassment. "Anyhow it was really good. I'm pretty crap at life drawing, much better at graphics."

Tom still seemed terribly uncomfortable.

There was noise outside in the corridor. Arran glanced at his watch. "Guess school's starting," he laughed. He noticed a tiny smile on Tom's lips, but thought to himself, this is going to be hard work . "Let's get together to talk. How about over lunch?"

"I bring sandwiches."

"So? You can eat them in the canteen. Be there at twelve, I'll be waiting."

With that he turned and exited. Guess he'll either be there or not, Arran thought, but was fairly sure he would be.

Midway through the morning Arran had the History of Art double period, the class he shared with Mark. Looking in the room he saw Mark seated with Jennifer poised on the desk.

He went over to join them. "Hi kids. Swooning around as usual."

Jennifer laughed, studying him. "Has Mark been talking to you?"

"Of course," he joked, putting an arm around his best friend. "Mark always talks to me."

"Right," Jennifer raised her eyebrows. She bent down, gave Mark a peck on the cheek, then stood up and walked away.

Mark looked up at Arran. "How's things dude?"

"I got my exhibition project from Max this morning."

"Good?" Mark asked.

"The project's okay, I guess."

"And who are you paired with?"

"Tom, Tom Rustle."

"Oh," was all Mark replied.

"Why? Don't you like him?"

"Nah, it's just... Well he's a bit of a loner. Might be hard working as a team."

Arran sat down at the next desk. "Maybe it's because he's new?"

The class was filling up and Professor Hunt, the History of Art lecturer, had just walked in.

"I'll soon find out. We're meeting up at lunchtime."

"Good luck," Mark joked.

Arran playfully punched his arm.

The canteen was buzzing. Being the first day of a new college year, it was also chaotic. Arran skimmed his eyes over the glass counter trying to decide quickly what to have, because he was being jostled and hurried by the queue behind him. "Lasagne, please." He took the safe option, moving along, grabbing a small bottle of water and a banana for dessert. "Hey, Trix," he smiled as he handed over the money for his lunch.

"Well, if it ain't Mr Taylor. Last I saw you was the end of last term. After you promised to take me away from all this." Trixy Diamond, laughed her deep belly laugh and surveyed the boy in front of her.

"No, no, Trix. You got me confused with someone else," he joked back.

"Ah, huh!" She drolled, before catching the impatient queue becoming agitated behind him. "Now just you fellows hold on there," she said scowling at the boys lined up after Arran. "Ain't I got the right to a word with my beau?" And she laughed some more.

"I'll see you," Arran said, taking his tray and moving off, leaving behind the exuberant Trixy Diamond, the southern belle of Darrants Lane Modern Art College. Well the star of the canteen at the very least.

He navigated his way through the energetic bustle of students and found a table near the doors with two empty seats. Setting down his tray he moved the other free chair out of reach, reserving it, he hoped, for Tom. However, before his designated project partner showed up, Ali arrived.

"You kept me a place," she said, smiling and peering down at him over her tray.

Ever the gentleman, he pulled out the chair for her and she placed her tray on the table. Obviously more adventurous, he noticed she'd gone for the vegetarian aubergine bake.

"How was your morning?" he asked politely.

"I think we need to have a serious talk, you and me," she said, ignoring his opening question and cutting straight to the point. Picking up her fork and taking a small mouthful of her baked aubergine, she looked across the table at him.

"About what?"

He wasn't sure, or more accurately found it hard to believe, she'd launch straight into a conversation about them, about their relationship.

Alison continued with her meal, whilst Arran's appetite for lasagne had suddenly diminished.

"Do I really have to spell it out?" she replied.

Her tone was neither aggressive nor angry, more a steady neutral.

"Well, not here. I'm supposed to be meeting someone," he told her.

"Someone?" She made the word sound both like an interrogation and an accusation at the same time.

Visibly rebuked for something he had yet to broach with Ali about their friendship, stroke relationship, he couldn't understand that she seemed to be already ahead of him, as if she knew what he hadn't worked out for himself yet.

"Yeah, we've been assigned our project partners," he told her, trying to ignore his uneasiness.

"And you're working with who?"

For an unknown reason he didn't want to say, but quite obviously he couldn't avoid telling her, so he decided to play it down. "Oh, the new kid who arrived halfway through last year."

"You're working with Tom Rustle?"

Now, how in God's name did she know Tom? "Well, yeah. Do you know him then?"

"I know he's gay," she announced, which made Arran look around the room to make sure they were not being overheard. She watched him. "It's no big secret, you know."

Well it was to him. "No. I mean, I didn't know he was."

"Gay!" She exclaimed, like she might be announcing something ever so mundane.

"Can you stop repeating gay all the time. He probably wouldn't like it."

"He wouldn't, or you don't? Anyway, he hasn't shown up, which is no surprise." She pushed aside her plate and unscrewed the top of her bottle of water. It fizzed as the gas escaped.

"Why no surprise?" he asked.

"Because he always eats his sandwiches outside in the yard, under the tree, on the bench seat. But I suppose you didn't know that either? You don't notice anything, do you?"

"Well, I said he could eat his sandwiches in here. What's the difference?"

"Nothing, 'cept, he's not here. So how about I come around to your house?"

Arran fidgeted, but couldn't say no. "Okay then. 'bout five, after college."

"It's a date." She stood up, picked up her tray, and walked off into the crowd.

That was not what he'd planned at all.

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