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06 July 2007 @ 09:32 pm
Original Fic: Fool's Gold (2/3)  


Part I

After Ciaran nodded hello to Diarmuid on Monday morning, Aidan was all over him to find out the whys and wherefores of the sudden connexion. When Diarmuid told his friend about the private rehearsals, Aidan's reaction was decidedly odd.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Worry ploughed a line between Aidan's brows. It usually only made an appearance when something really terrible happened, for instance involving blood.

"It's not a matter of good or bad," said Diarmuid. "He just needed someone to listen to him. I was there, he asked, I accepted. The end."

"Aren't you worried about what his motives might be?"

"No, because I know what they are!"

"Really? What are they, then?"

Diarmuid swallowed an impatient hiss. "He wants me to run lines with him. That is his motive. It's all pretty simple, Aidan."

"Hmm," was Aidan's only reply. Diarmuid started to see why his friend found it so annoying when he was on the receiving end.

He was so distracted by Aidan's cautionary diversion that he agreed to Miss Starr's request before hearing anything more than the raised tone at the end of her voice.

"Excellent!" Miss Starr clapped her hands together. "You have such a wonderfully angular face; I'm sure the sixth years will find you quite a challenge! Don't forget to bring some of your own clothes next Thursday, then."

Diarmuid frantically backpedalled. "Um, why?"

"It's part of the exam specifications." Miss Starr pressed a sheet of paper into his hands. "You have to wear what they describe. This time it includes a scarf. Well, that's last year's paper, but I want to simulate real exam conditions. It's the last chance the sixth years have to practice before the mocks."

Diarmuid gulped when he read what was on the paper. He'd just agreed to model for the Leaving Cert art class' life-drawing exam.

"Oh, brilliant," he groaned.

"It's great to hear you so enthused about this!" Mrs Starr beamed. "Now, I must find Juliet … she was my other choice. I've written a note for your teacher that period as well. You won't get marked absent, and you'll be paid for your time."

"Uh," was the level of intelligence Diarmuid achieved in response to that.

He sat down at his usual desk and absently fiddled with the frog that was sitting there. Today it was made of luxurious purple paper, which put Diarmuid in mind of the sort of high-class Christmas wrap that cost ten euro a roll.

As soon as the lesson had properly started, Miss Starr bounced back to Diarmuid’s desk. He regarded her warily, wondering if she was going to sign him up for as a nude model for a Return to Education class next.

"Here's your project marks, Diarmuid," she declared. "Seeing as you handed yours in early, I thought it was only fair to give you the marks early too."

"Oh." Diarmuid gulped. He wondered if the D1 he'd earned for his Macbeth essay was the beginning of a trend.

"It was wonderful – witty and very clever. You really transformed the cartoon ideas you had at first. There were some weaknesses in the preparatory page – you'll need to spend more time on those in future – but overall I think it deserved the A2."

Diarmuid coughed, unsure if he'd heard right. "Did you say an A2?" She probably hadn't; she'd said C2 and his ears had momentarily stopped working and –

"That's right." Miss Starr smiled. "You have great potential, Diarmuid. You just need to make sure you don't let yourself down."

"Um, thanks." Diarmuid stared out of the window as she walked away, stunned and unseeing. An A2? He hadn't got an A since primary school. A warm feeling washed through his blood. If all it took to get As in art was putting in a bit of effort, why had he been slacking for so long?

Diarmuid popped the purple frog into his bag, where it joined a pale pink one from four days previously. At home Diarmuid kept them on a sort of shelf he'd fashioned out of hundreds of old football magazines – relics from the days when he'd fondly imagined he'd be the next Ronaldo. The pink one was the best so far, however, and Diarmuid liked to take it out and look at it during boring classes.

All at once, Diarmuid remembered the evening he'd spent at Ciaran’s house. The rays of the setting sun had shone so strongly for a few minutes that the whole bedroom was burning golden. As quickly as it came, the light dropped away and Ciaran had advanced out of the sudden shadow, curling his lip Kenickie-style.

An odd fluttering began in the pit of Diarmuid’s stomach as he thought of the afternoon audition, and his modelling debut – in front of Ciaran’s class. Ciaran might even have to draw him. For a whole hour, he'd have no choice but to look at him, flicking his gaze from Diarmuid to the page.

Diarmuid hadn't realised he'd begun to draw until the pencil lead snapped, right at the moment in his daydream where Diarmuid’s fantasy blush reached new and untold heights. The page in front of him was just a mass of scribbles – much like his brain.

Shaking his head clear, Diarmuid pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and began to draw in earnest. Visions of more As danced like sugarplums in his head, the sweetest vision he'd had for a long time.

+_+_+

Diarmuid ripped through pile after pile of clothes, becoming more frustrated with every article he tossed over his shoulder. By the time he actually got to his wardrobe – packed with all manner of things that had no other home as well as his clothes – he was overwhelmed. He lay down on the tiny patch of carpet that was still visible and groaned.

Mrs Golden backed into the room carrying a huge pile of laundry. She nearly tripped over her son's feet.

"Diarmuid! What are you doing down there? You gave me the fright of my life."

"I was looking for my grey long-sleeved t-shirt and my red scarf," sighed Diarmuid. "I'm modelling for the art class tomorrow and I have to wear my own clothes, but I can't find them anywhere."

"Hmm." Mrs Golden balanced her laundry atop a teetering stack of books. With unerring resolve, she plunged her arm into a pile of clothes Diarmuid had recently dug through and emerged dangling a grey shirt. "Would this be it?"

"Mam, you're a genius!" Diarmuid leapt to his feet and shook out the shirt, revealing the ingrained crinkles in all their glory.

"I'd best run an iron over that for you." Mrs Golden snapped it out of his hands once more and swiftly folded it up. "As for the scarf, I think Aoife was using it as a hammock for her dolls."

"Thanks, I'll go check." Diarmuid shoved a few heaps aside to make his way to the door.

"Hang on. What did you say you were modelling for again?"

"The art class – the sixth year's Christmas exam, actually. They have to draw from a live model."

"You're still taking art, aren't you?" Mrs Golden's eyes shone brightly from her drawn face. "Is that why you volunteered?"

"I didn't volunteer, the teacher asked me," Diarmuid hastened to clarify.

"That's a turn-up for the books. I thought most of the teachers hated you and Aidan."

"That's just it – Aidan isn't in this class anymore. And guess what?" Pride burst out of Diarmuid like a sprung tap. "I got an A for my last project! I think that's maybe why Miss Starr asked me. She knows I take it seriously."

"Oh, Diarmuid." Mrs Golden sounded sad. "That's wonderful, but wouldn't you be better off getting an A in something useful? Like Maths, or Business Studies? Art won't get you far, not if you want a good job."

"Why do you have to be like that, Mam?" Diarmuid fought to keep his voice from shaking. "Can't you just be glad that I did well for once?"

"I am! It's just …" Mrs Golden looked around the tiny room, her eyes lingering on the peeling wallpaper, the wrenched hinges, the second-hand books on Diarmuid’s fourth-hand desk. "You know we're not well-off, Diarmuid. I want you to have a better life than me or your father had."

Diarmuid hated it when his mother started this speech. Although it was never explicitly stated, he knew that his birth had been the catalyst for a number of unpleasant events: his parents getting married too early. His father abandoning his electrician's apprenticeship for immediate wages as a labourer on a building site. His mother giving up her dream of becoming a model in favour of working a till at Tesco and, in rapid succession, having four more children in exchange for her once stunning good looks.

Diarmuid hated feeling guilty for being alive. He hated the disappointment he saw in his mother's eyes with every report card. She had decided that the only way to improve in life was to get a good education. Her favourite phrase was that no one working at Tesco had a university degree. Diarmuid assumed she excluded the holiday workers to make this catch-all conjecture.

"Please, don't," he said before his mother could get stuck in. "I know what you're going to say. I'm sorry I'm not going to be a doctor or a lawyer and make your lives all better. But you know what? It's not my fault they're like that in the first place." He could feel his face grow hotter as he spoke, until by the last word his entire head was like a boiling kettle. "Sorry, I've got to find that scarf."

Aoife wasn't in the room that she shared with her twin sister when Diarmuid went in. He sat down on the ancient Barbie bedspread that had been recycled from Dervla’s time. Aoife didn't even like Barbies; she preferred Bratz, which seemed to be Barbie's more obnoxious and grammatically incontinent incarnation.

Aoife had appropriated a number of scarves to make a hammock for the few Bratz she owned. Most of them had previously belonged to her cousin, who fancied herself a hairdresser even though she was more of a kamikaze barber. It wasn't much trouble for Diarmuid to extract his scarf, although it sported a suspicious-looking brown stain on one end.

There was no time to wash and dry it before tomorrow. His mother had saved up for a tumble dryer a few years ago, but then Dervla had broken her arm and the money had to go to pay her medical bills. Medical insurance was for rich people, and medical cards for poor. Unfortunately, Diarmuid’s family, living as they did on two nominally steady wages, didn't quite fit into either category.

Diarmuid lay on Aoife’s bed for a while, staring up at the cracked plaster ceiling. His mother would be sure to collar him if went back to his own bedroom too soon. He felt bad about what he said, even though it had been festering in his mind for a long time.

He bet that Ciaran Power never had these kinds of problems. When he was in town with Aidan on Saturday, Diarmuid had priced the hi-fi and television that he'd seen in Ciaran’s bedroom. They each cost hundreds of euro. Imagine spending that much money on just one person! The television in Diarmuid’s living room was so old the buttons were worn down to nothing, and it took several good thumps to start it. The girls' Disney videos were run thin. A DVD player was out of the question, of course.

From thinking of Ciaran’s possessions Diarmuid slipped into thinking about Ciaran himself. His clothes were expensive too, but he had one thing that no amount of money could buy – the looks to pull it off. Ciaran could do all his shopping in the Dunnes' sales and still look well. The fact that his jeans were Tommy Hilfiger only meant that they fit perfectly.

Diarmuid sighed out loud as he thought of Ciaran’s jeans. He'd give anything to own a pair like that. Maybe there was something in his mother's argument, after all. If Diarmuid earned a lot of money, he could afford to dress like Ciaran.

With a little jump of his stomach, Diarmuid realised that he was modelling the very next day. Even during his clothes hunt, he'd managed to block the real purpose for finding his best shirt out of his mind. For a best shirt, it wasn't all that great. It had been a gift from his aunt two years ago and, while it still fitted well, it looked more than a little on the raggy side. His jeans were practically antique.

Some people in school dressed daggy because they wanted to. Diarmuid dressed like that because he had no other choice. At least his mother strove to keep all his clothes clean and ironed. Most of Diarmuid’s neighbours didn't even bother to wash themselves, never mind their garments.

Tomorrow, thought Diarmuid miserably, is going to be an absolute disaster.

+_+_+

Diarmuid had purposely refrained from telling Aidan about the modelling until the very last minute, certain that Aidan would make an unholy song and dance about it. He wasn't far wrong. Aidan at first seemed quite impressed by Diarmuid’s task, regaling him with bright futures in which Diarmuid was a Calvin Klein model and Aidan was his manager. Then Aidan happened to ask who he was modelling for.

"The sixth years," said Diarmuid, wondering how many more times he'd have to say it. "Christmas exam."

"I see." Aidan sounded infuriatingly thoughtful. It was as clear a danger sign as the smell of tobacco in a nuclear power plant's no-smoking zone. "And who's in that class?"

"How should I know?" demanded Diarmuid. "Sixth years, I'm guessing. Why?"

"Does Ciaran Power take art?"

"Yes," replied Diarmuid, without thinking.

"And he's a sixth year."

"Yes," repeated Diarmuid. His heart sank at the look on Aidan's face.

"So he'll be in the class you're modelling for?"

"Brilliant deduction, Watson. Now can we move on? I need you to take this note to Mr Daly for me, explaining where I am."

"Sure." Aidan folded up the paper and slipped it into his geography book, without even making a pretence of setting it on fire. That was another bad sign. "Can I ask you one more thing?"

"Can I stop you?"

"Is this nude modelling?"

+_+_+

The exam class hadn't yet arrived when Diarmuid entered the classroom. The other model, Juliet, was muffled in the most fantastic scarf Diarmuid had ever seen: a huge frothy concoction made of five or six types of wool and more colours than a psychedelic high. His own scarf was even less prepossessing by comparison, and Diarmuid fretted over the stain that seemed to have tripled in size. All in all it was almost a relief when the class trooped in.

Diarmuid was kneeling with his arm on a chair for the first pose. Once the class were sitting down Miss Starr darted forward to tilt Diarmuid’s head in another direction, and Diarmuid found himself staring right at Ciaran.

Ciaran sent him a grin of recognition, but Diarmuid didn't dare return it for fear one of the other artists would scream at him for losing his nose shadow. The blush he had no control over; it crept up to his cheeks like a virus, making the room feel very warm and close.

It seemed like forever until the class ended. Diarmuid was sweating profusely. He wouldn’t be surprised if drawings of his forehead were festooned with cartoon-like droplets, the perspiration was so intense. Ciaran’s eyes hadn't stopped raking over him since the exam began. It was perfectly understandable, and Diarmuid knew that the laws of logic and science required Ciaran to have looked away and at his page at least once to complete the drawing. It didn't stop Diarmuid feeling like a specimen under a microscope. A microscope that kept grinning brightly at him.

It was with considerable relief that Diarmuid hopped down from the podium and went to fetch his schoolbag. He'd be earning ten euro for his trouble, which would go towards his CD fund if Aidan didn't discover and squander it on chips first. He wasn't entirely surprised when Ciaran spoke to him – they were friends of a sort, after all – but he still jumped and made a very good stab at toppling a table of first-year clay sculptures.

"You should have kept going," joked Ciaran, his hand on Diarmuid’s arm to steady him. "Those things are a crime against art."

"Ah, they're not so bad," said Diarmuid. He felt almost comfortable, because he was already blushing as hard as he could from all the attention of the last two hours. "I'm sure mine were that bad once."

"I refuse to believe that," said Ciaran. "I had a peek at your folder. It's really good. Are you planning to apply to art college?"

"I, er, hadn't thought about it." Flustered, Diarmuid fiddled with the strap of his bag. The fact was that he had begun to think about it, quite a lot. He just hadn't dared to vocalise his half-formed dreams for fear Aidan or his mother would scoff at them.

Suddenly a warm hand closed on his own. Diarmuid’s eyes widened as Ciaran disentangled his fingers from the strap. His voice was a mint-scented puff against Diarmuid’s cheek.

"Then think about it." Ciaran stepped back and smiled. Diarmuid blinked twice, hard. Maybe he'd imagined what just happened. "Are you coming around tonight to run lines? Not long left now."

"Yeah, sure." Diarmuid wondered why he felt so despondent at the thought. Surely an end to Aidan's excruciating acting attempts was something to be greeted with nothing less than great rejoicing?

"Hey, d’you want to see my drawings before they’re all sealed up?" asked Ciaran. Diarmuid noticed that he was holding a couple of sheets of sugar paper. At Diarmuid’s nod, Ciaran spread them out over a desk.

Diarmuid drew in an amazed breath as he looked down at the swooping lines and rough, hurried cross-hatching. There was a frenzied, impatient quality to the drawing, but that didn't make it any less exceptional. It looked like Diarmuid would if he were … well, if he were beautiful.

"Wow," he said, unable to find any word more appropriate and regretting it sorely. Yet Ciaran didn't seem to want more. His face lit up and his smile grew even wider.

“Thanks,” he said. “Coming from you that means a lot.”

"I'd better get to class," mumbled Diarmuid.

"Yeah, me too." Ciaran let out a gusty sigh. "God, I hate maths. It's the bane of my life."

"Mine too." Diarmuid allowed himself a secret smile. All the money in the world couldn't erase the torture that was calculus. For some reason that was a good thought.

And the way Ciaran’s elbow brushed his as they walked out together – that was good, too.

+_+_+

Diarmuid breathed out plumes of smoke into the frosty air. When he was with Aidan they pretended they were smoking imaginary cigars, but he wouldn’t do something so hopelessly juvenile in Ciaran’s company – especially not when Ciaran was telling him about his application to NCAD and Crawford.

“– I’ve also applied to Slade and St Martin’s through UCAS,” Ciaran was saying, his cheeks stained brilliant pink from the cold. “Not much chance of me getting those, but if you’re not in you can’t win, right? I’m also thinking about Limerick for the CAO. I wouldn’t like to live there, but the art course in LIT is supposed to be pretty good.”

“What’s wrong with Limerick?” Diarmuid wanted to know. “It’s not much smaller than Cork.”

Ciaran wrinkled his nose. “It’s not that – it’s just, I don’t know, I always thought Dublin was the epicentre of culture in this country, with Cork coming second. Besides, what if I got stabbed? What a tragic loss to the art world that would be.”

Diarmuid let out a gurgle of laughter. “Don’t you think there’s way more chance of you getting stabbed in Dublin, with all those gangs roaming around the streets at night?”

“You’ve been watching too much government broadcasting,” Ciaran told him. “Be careful, or you’ll end up like George Lee.”

“That wouldn’t be such a bad thing,” said Diarmuid. “I’m sure he’s got a contingency plan for when the oil and house prices get so high everyone has to camp out in the streets. Maybe we could surfboard to Hawaii.”

“I think that’s on the other side of America from us, Diarmuid.”

“Is not.”

“Is too. Look at you taking Geography for the Leaving – how is it you don’t know basic things like where Hawaii is?”

“We don’t get taught that,” said Diarmuid sulkily. “But I can tell you all about Norway’s main exports if you like.”

“Maybe later.” Ciaran grinned and Diarmuid looked away. He didn’t like the way his stomach got all jumpy when Ciaran smiled at him. It was almost like Diarmuid had a crush on him or something.

Ciaran unlocked the big oak door. The immaculate stained-glass borders glowed dimly in the wintry grey light. Inside, it was soothingly warm, with each subtly placed radiator pouring out heat. Diarmuid felt his fingers prickle at the temperature change. Sorcha had nicked his gloves two weeks ago for a school trip and proceeded to lose them. Now they were both suffering from windbitten fingers.

Chester came sauntering out of the living room to wind around Diarmuid’s ankles, purring like a Ferrari. Diarmuid scooped to pick him up, and Chester solemnly put his two front paws on Diarmuid’s shoulder.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ciaran marvelled. “You know he scratches my kid cousins?”

“That’s not surprising,” said Diarmuid. “Little kids are terrible with animals. My twin sisters had a guinea pig once. I think the poor thing had a nervous breakdown before it eventually committed suicide.”

“How can guinea pigs commit suicide?” Ciaran sounded sceptical as he poured two tall glasses of Coke.

“We found it floating in its water trough,” said Diarmuid. “Do you think it just fancied a swim?”

“Maybe it fell.”

Diarmuid made a derisive noise. “I reckon it would have done anything to get away from Aoife and Sorcha. They treated it worse than a Barbie doll. We had no more pets after that.”

“Would you have liked one yourself?” asked Ciaran, and added, “Mum made more butterfly cakes for you, have one.”

“I’d like a dog or a cat,” said Diarmuid, “but not until I have my own place.” He carefully picked up a cake, trying not to spill icing sugar on the shiny tiled floor.

Ciaran waited until Diarmuid had his mouth full to ask, “Can you stay for dinner later? My parents are keen to meet you. I know that’s a good reason to run for the hills, but they’re relatively okay, for parents. Just kind of sad and boring, like all old people.”

“Oh – okay.” Diarmuid surreptitiously swiped at his mouth, dislodging a few crumbs. “I’d better ring my mam and tell her, though.”

“Of course.” Ciaran smiled again, provoking that watery feeling in the pit of Diarmuid’s stomach. He hastily took a large gulp of Coke, and nearly choked as the fizz hit the back of his throat. “Have you your mobile with you, or do you want to borrow mine?”

“I brought mine.” Diarmuid was loath to take it out in front of Ciaran. He’d seen Ciaran’s phone – the newest Motorola model, as sleek and expensive as everything about him. Diarmuid’s phone was five years old and used to belong to his uncle. It was the size of a brick and looked like something Nokia might have recalled due to lack of sales.

But he knew all about pride, too, and he wasn’t about to sponge off Ciaran – even for a twenty-second phone call. Swallowing his shame, Diarmuid got his phone out of his battered schoolbag and rang home.

His oldest sister Siobhan, who was in third year, answered the phone with an unwelcoming, “Yeah?”

“Hey Siobhan, is Mam home?”

“I think so, will I get her?” Siobhan sounded keen to get away, now that she knew it was only her uninteresting brother on the line.

“No, don’t!” Diarmuid practically shouted. That would eat his credit away to nothing, what with the way Siobhan dawdled when asked to do practically anything. “Just tell her I’m not going to be home for dinner, but I’ll be back around eight or nine.”

“You’d better be – it’s your turn to babysit, and I’m going out.”

“Don’t you have revision to do?”

“Duh, my exams finished today.” Diarmuid could practically hear Siobhan rolling her eyes.

“Make sure you tell her.”

“I will, I will. Now get off, I’m waiting for Kev to ring.”

Diarmuid ended the call with his lips compressed into a grim line. Kev was bad news – a twenty year old tearaway with his own souped-up boy racer and more sovereign jewellery than the House of Lords. Aside from any other consideration, Siobhan was far too young for him, not to mention that two girls Diarmuid knew had already had abortions on his account.

But his father was only interested in sitting in front of the television with a beer and a curry after a long day’s work, and his mother was taking as many extra shifts as possible in order to pay for the Christmas presents. Aoife and Sorcha unfortunately still believed in Santa, and expected miracles under the tree come Christmas morning. Neither Mr nor Mrs Golden had the time and energy to fret over Siobhan’s boyfriend.

“Sisters, eh?” Ciaran was looking at him with sympathy. “All of them are a monumental pain in the arse.”

“You have a sister?” Diarmuid was surprised. Ciaran had never mentioned siblings, and the empty, spotlessly clean house suggested that he was an only child.

“Yeah, Rose. She’s in third year law at Trinity – and doesn’t she just know it.” Ciaran rolled his eyes. “You should hear her putting on the Dart accent – which drops as soon as she wants to use the bathroom for twenty-seven hours. Thank God my parents had an ensuite put in for me.”

“My sisters are like that too, even the littlest ones,” said Diarmuid. “Learning by example, I think. Still, there’s always the garden if me and Da are desperate.”

“Good idea,” said Ciaran, “or you could just peg it over here to use mine.”

“Bit of a long way to go,” said Diarmuid, with a small smile. “Are you ready to rehearse?”

“Yup. You got some snacks?”

Diarmuid held aloft a bag of salt and vinegar Walkers. With Chester curled around his shoulders like a fur muff, he climbed the stairs after Ciaran. Ciaran’s grey school trousers weren’t ripped at the hems like Diarmuid’s, and they didn’t look like an iron had boiled them away to nothing. Diarmuid wished he could stop obsessing about Ciaran’s trousers. It wasn’t anywhere approaching normal behaviour. In fact, his thought processes sounded suspiciously like the way Aidan went on about Marisa’s skirts.

Diarmuid sat on the sofa and fiddled with a loose hem in the knee of his trousers. He could almost see the outline of his kneecap through the thin cloth. He listened with half an ear at Ciaran’s lines, and didn’t realise at first when Ciaran had stopped them.

“Are you okay?” repeated Ciaran, and Diarmuid bestirred himself to look down at the script.

“That’s not on here.” Diarmuid frowned. “You’re supposed to say ‘Betty, oh, Betty.’”

“I know that,” said Ciaran with a flash of impatience. “I was talking to you. Are you okay? You look totally zoned out.”

Diarmuid flushed. “I – sorry. I’m a bit distracted, I guess.”

“Is it exams?”

“No.” Diarmuid almost laughed. He didn’t worry about exams – except, lately, for Art, which he was pretty sure he had covered. “I dunno, end of term – you get a bit tired.”

“Wait until next year,” threatened Ciaran. “You don’t know the meaning of tired yet.”

Diarmuid managed a weak smile. “Do you mind if we take a break?”

“Okay. I might change out of these clothes, then.” Ciaran picked up a pair of jeans and a purple Flogging Molly t-shirt and disappeared into the ensuite. Diarmuid took the opportunity to pop open his bag of crisps. Chester meowed plaintively, but totally ignored the crisp Diarmuid laid on the sofa for her.

“What did you think I had in here, Whiskas?” asked Diarmuid, amused. He ate the crisp himself, rolling it around on his tongue so the tart flavour stung his mouth.

When Ciaran emerged, Diarmuid could smell understated aftershave wafting from him. There was something almost feral about it. Diarmuid contrasted it ruefully to the day-old Lynx he wore and shared with his father. Not much of a comparison.

“So we’re rehearsing the scene where Kenickie impregnates Rizzo,” said Ciaran, sinking on to the sofa beside Diarmuid. Diarmuid whisked Chester away just in time.

“I know that.”

“Right, but listen.” There was something intense about Ciaran’s face, or maybe it was just the way he was leaning forward, closer to Diarmuid than he’d ever been before. Not that Diarmuid was keeping track or anything. “You know Marisa has the worst breath since the Thing from the Black Lagoon, so I’ve been ducking out of kissing her. But I need to practice that too.”

You need to practice kissing?” Diarmuid raised his eyebrows.

“Not like that!” Ciaran swatted Diarmuid’s arm, momentarily lightening the atmosphere. “My skills are not in the least in doubt, I assure you. But I still have to get all the angles and timing right for the scene, otherwise it’ll just look stupid.”

“All right,” said Diarmuid agreeably. It all made sense.

“Great. So I can kiss you, then?”

“What? No!” Diarmuid jumped back, which was difficult as he was on the edge of the sofa as it was. The arm pressed intimately against his solar plexus. “I’m a boy!”

Ciaran sighed. “I know that. But I somehow think practising with Chester isn’t going to give me the same results, and in case you haven’t noticed there’s no one else around.”

“Huh.” Diarmuid clenched his trembling fingers around his crisp packet, hearing them splinter into a thousand pieces.

“It’s no big deal, Diarmuid.” Ciaran’s smile was playful now. “Haven’t you ever fooled around with another boy before? What about that friend of yours – Angus?”

“Aidan? No, gross.” Diarmuid made a moue of disgust. “Please, it’d be like kissing a hairball.”

“Seriously?” said Ciaran. “Have you got off with anyone before?”

“Yeah, a bunch of girls in first and second year.” Diarmuid shrugged. “Not so much lately.”

“Huh. How ‘bout that.” Ciaran lay back on the sofa and stretched out his arm along the back. The tips of his fingers just brushed Diarmuid’s shoulder, and he was reminded forcibly of the last time Ciaran’s hand had touched him on this very sofa. “So no boys, not ever? Not even as a dare?”

“Clearly your class’ dares were crazier than mine,” said Diarmuid, who was relaxing now Ciaran didn’t seem about to leap on him like a hungry panther.

“That’s weird.” Ciaran’s mouth curled up just a little at the corners, making his face look both languid and faintly dangerous. “I had the impression everyone did it at least once.”

“Oh.” Diarmuid stared at his hands. Maybe everyone did – everyone except him. And Aidan, because Aidan would have found it impossible to keep something like that to himself.

Perhaps it was like smoking. Diarmuid had always thought smoking was a rather cool and distinguished thing to do, with a cigarette dangling from your fingers and your lips pursed around the smoke. Then he’d actually tried it, and nearly coughed up a lung. Cigarettes tasted of tar and burnt paper – and that was without even swallowing the smoke. These were the things about which no one told you, because they assumed you knew. Was ‘fooling around’ with other boys de rigeur for most people and, if so, did that make Diarmuid the odd one out?

“Besides,” Ciaran’s voice slid persuasively into his ear, “it’s not like this is for real. You’re pretending to be Rizzo and I’m pretending to be Kenickie.”

Diarmuid took a deep breath. “All right. But just once, okay?”

“Scared you’ll be run away with your passions?” laughed Ciaran. As Diarmuid’s eyes darkened he added, “Fine, just once. Okay ... we’ll take it from ‘Call me Betty.’ Don’t worry about the rest of the dialogue, I’ve got that down.”

Diarmuid nodded, his mouth suddenly too dry to speak. Kissing anyone was a big deal, whether it was for real or not. He was uncomfortably aware that his breath smelled of crisps, that he hadn’t shaved since yesterday and that he had almost forgotten what kissing felt like.

“Oh, one more thing –” Ciaran nudged Diarmuid’s knee with his own “– you have to make like you want this, okay? Rizzo’s into Kenickie, so don’t come over all coy on me.”

“Okay,” Diarmuid managed. His tongue felt far too big for his mouth.

“Okay,” echoed Ciaran, smirking his Kenickie smirk. His hand fell to Diarmuid’s shoulder, rubbing little circles under his collarbone with his thumb. All of a sudden his other hand shot out and curled around Diarmuid’s waist, dragging him closer.

At this point Diarmuid hurriedly shut his eyes. The whole situation was becoming a little too authentic for his liking. Their feet had got all tangled up, and Ciaran had somehow insinuated one leg between Diarmuid’s thighs. It felt hard and hot and disturbingly good. If this was what girls felt like all the time, Diarmuid was very thankful he’d been born a boy.

Then Ciaran was nuzzling the side of his mouth. Diarmuid’s lips fell open in surprise and immediately Ciaran captured them, closing his mouth over Diarmuid’s with surprising gentleness. His lips were both soft and rough: soft near the centre, where they were parted slightly, and chapped around the edges. Diarmuid found he liked the feel of them tickling, just touching his own.

Ciaran took Diarmuid’s hands and guided them to his own hips. Diarmuid could feel denim, thin cloth and a hint of warm skin under his fingertips. This close the scent of Ciaran’s aftershave was heady and intoxicating. Diarmuid let his mouth open wider in an involuntary sigh.

One of Ciaran’s hands knotted in his hair, tugging it almost painfully until Diarmuid tipped his head back and his jaw relaxed. A warm wetness suffused Diarmuid’s lower lip, and before he knew it Ciaran’s tongue had slipped between his lips. It explored his mouth with skilful slowness. Diarmuid’s chin burned as Ciaran’s stubble rasped against it; his hands clenched on Ciaran’s t-shirt, feeling the muscles slide and dip beneath it.

Ciaran’s hand was stroking his neck now, his jaw working as he kissed Diarmuid more deeply, his tongue-work getting messy and wet. His other hand rode up Diarmuid’s side, rumpling his shirt. Diarmuid started as a thumb massaged his nipple, which hardened into a tiny pebble at the touch. His eyes fluttered open, but Ciaran held firm. His tongue coaxed out Diarmuid’s, and Diarmuid became too focused on kissing back to think anything else about Ciaran’s hands except that they were doing amazing things to him.

Diarmuid almost moaned when Ciaran drew his tongue out his mouth, but caught himself in time. He opened his eyes to Ciaran’s face and his mouth, glossy with saliva – his saliva.

“You taste of crisps,” said Ciaran. He licked his lips. “Salt and vinegar?”

“Sorry,” muttered Diarmuid.

Ciaran smiled, brushing his knuckles down Diarmuid’s arm in an oddly intimate gesture. “Did I say I was complaining?”

“What was that – that touching about?” Diarmuid gestured vaguely at his chest, feeling his blush blazing across his cheeks.

“Kenicke feels up Rizzo,” said Ciaran. “As a prelude to more intimate hanky-panky, which I won’t ask you to replicate.”

“Huh,” muttered Diarmuid. He picked up Chester and cuddled him close. Chester rubbed his face against Diarmuid’s chin. Diarmuid couldn’t look at Ciaran, in case Ciaran saw how much he'd liked it. And how much he wanted him to do it again.

He was saved by the bell. “Yoo-hoo, only me!” called a female voice from downstairs. Ciaran stood up, straightening his jeans.

“The mothership has landed,” he intoned. “Are you ready to meet her?”

“Two seconds, I just –” and Diarmuid fled into the ensuite.

No way was he meeting Ciaran’s mother with a hard-on.

+_+_+

Diarmuid had fostered a few vague ideas about what kind of parents could have produced Ciaran. The combination of a huge, fancy house and home-made treats on tap made him think Ciaran’s father must be a high-flying businessman, and his mother a trophy wife who whiled away her days at coffee mornings that lasted all afternoon. Nothing could be further from the truth.

At first, when Diarmuid laid eyes on the whipcord thin woman standing in the kitchen on perilously high heels, her russet hair in a sleek French knot, he wondered if this might be Ciaran’s sister Rose. The woman was chattering away on a tiny mobile in between stirring a saucepan and dicing garlic one-handed. That she had managed to prepare so much food in ten minutes amazed Diarmuid above anything.

“Mum, get off the phone,” Ciaran yelled, grabbing a handful of chopped red peppers and tossing them into his mouth. Diarmuid tracked the movement hungrily, and couldn’t kid himself that it was the peppers he was watching. He’d always hated them.

Mrs Power tucked the mobile into the crook her of her neck. “Just a min, darling, I’m on a conference call to Japan,” she said, mushing her lips together with a muu-muu sound. “Good day, honey?” Without waiting for a reply she returned to firing orders into the phone. Diarmuid recognised a few words from the cartoons on TV – arigato and gomen.

Ciaran rolled his eyes and hopped up on to a stool. He patted the one beside him. “She’ll be a while. Help yourself to anything you see, she always makes twice what we need. Makes her feel better about not eating any of it herself.”

“What do you mean?” Diarmuid snagged a piece of cherry tomato – anything to get the taste of Ciaran out of his mouth.

“You don’t think anyone stays that thin without massive self-control, do you?” Ciaran laughed. “By rights Dad and I should be fat as fools from eating for her amusement. It irritates her enormously that we’re not.”

“My mother’s always trying to diet, but she goes back to the chips within three days, without fail.”

“Women,” said Ciaran.

Chester prowled into the kitchen and made a beeline for Diarmuid’s lap. He offered her his tomato-stained fingers to lick, and after a slight hesitation she did so, but with bad grace.

He felt Ciaran’s eyes on him, as the hair lifted on the back of his neck. “Amazing,” said Ciaran. “You have that cat wrapped around your little finger.”

Diarmuid shrugged, uncertain as to what to reply. At that moment Mrs Power closed her phone with a snap and pirouetted to face them. “Aren’t you a marvel?” she said. “I’ve been trying to get Chester into my lap for the last four years, and nothing doing. Not to mention he nearly scratched my hand off when I gave him tuna and tomato cat food the other day. You aren’t by any chance related to Francis of Assisi?”

“I don’t think so,” said Diarmuid, “but I have an uncle called Francis.” He wiped his hand on his trousers and offered it to Mrs Power. “I’m Diarmuid Golden, I go to Ciaran’s school.”

“I know, he’s told us all about you.” Mrs Power smiled, and Diarmuid nearly fell off his chair with the charm wattage. Now he knew where Ciaran got it. “You’ve been very helpful, I hear.” She turned on her son, waving a scolding finger. “You, bold child, should have invited him to dinner sooner.”

“I know.” Ciaran stretched lazily, and Diarmuid snatched his eyes away from the slice of creamy skin under his t-shirt. “What can I say, I’m a brute of no uncertain stature.”

“Your father should be home soon,” said Mrs Power, absent-mindedly patting Ciaran’s shirt smooth. “Is there any word from Rose?”

“Not a single one.” Ciaran arched away from his mother’s fussing hands, inadvertently rubbing the length of his body along Diarmuid’s arm. Diarmuid's fingers trembled in Chester’s fur, and Chester hissed and dug his claws in.

Mrs Power clucked her tongue. “We’ll get a call one morning at seven am expecting us in an hour to pick up a month’s worth of washing, seventeen friends and all those nick-knacks she can’t seem to survive without.” Her eyes landed on Diarmuid once more. “Do you have any brothers and sisters, Diarmuid? Are they as much of a trial to your mother as mine are to me?”

“Yes, four sisters, Mrs Power.” Diarmuid smiled. “My mother says she never stops running after them from the moment she gets up to the moment she goes to sleep.”

“That sounds familiar.” Mrs Power chucked her son under the chin one last time and left him alone, to crumple his t-shirt back to fashion. “And please, call me Orla. I get enough of the ‘Mrs Power’s in the office.”

“Where do you work?” asked Diarmuid, because he was genuinely curious.

“I run my own accountancy firm,” she replied. “Oh! There’s Nick’s car.”

Her own firm, thought Diarmuid dizzily. Ciaran’s father must be even more successful – perhaps owning a string of businesses, the sort that were always being pulled up for tax evasion by the tribunals.

A few minutes later a man with long grey hair shambled through the door. A shabby mac was hanging over his arm, and he was dressed in threadbare 501s and a spectacularly hideous floral shirt. Diarmuid frowned, wondering if he was one of Ciaran’s uncles. This was put to the lie when he walked straight over to Mrs Power and kissed her on the mouth. They rubbed noses, and the man patted Mrs Power’s butt. If this was Ciaran’s uncle, there was something very, very wrong.

“’lo, Ciaran,” said Mr Power. He ambled over to shake his son’s hand. Ciaran didn’t look as surprised as Diarmuid would have been. A second later he realised why, as the two men started a furious thumb war that ended in Mr Power victorious. He bumped fists with his son, and they hooked their little fingers together.

“Hey, Dad. Nearly got you that time.”

“Two seconds longer than yesterday.” Mr Power looked solemn. “I’m getting old.” He turned to Diarmuid. “'allo 'allo, who’s this then? Don’t tell me it’s your long-lost love child, Orla.”

“No, but I’d swap him for ours any day,” Mrs Power called from the oven. “Just look at the way he’s charmed Chester. The boy’s a miracle worker.”

Mr Power clocked Chester, who was sharpening his claws on Diarmuid’s belt. “Ye gods, did you slip some Mogadon into his Kittikat?”

“Dad,” complained Ciaran. “You know Chester won’t touch anything that isn’t Whiskas.”

“That explains why we spend more on his food than on ours,” said Mr Power. “So, you must be Diarmuid then? The one that’s helping our Ciaran become the next Colin Farrell.”

“Yes,” said Diarmuid, at the same time Ciaran said, “Puh-lease. Cillian Murphy, if anyone.”

“Set the table, would you?” Mrs Power handed Ciaran a handful of cutlery.

Diarmuid followed Ciaran into the dining room, where a long polished table shone with a rosy glow. Banks of gladioli and frangipanis obscured the sideboard.

“Thought I’d better get you out of there,” said Ciaran. “My parents are disgustingly mushy. You’d think they’d been apart for eight months, not eight hours.”

“It’s kind of cute,” said Diarmuid, thinking of his own parents who barely even spoke any more.

“Yeah, everyone says that. But try putting up with it every single day – you’d soon be singing a different tune.” Ciaran tossed down knives and forks willy-nilly.

“What does your dad do? He doesn’t look very –” Diarmuid searched for a word that wasn’t ‘scruffy.’

“Professional? No. He runs a comic book shop. Most of it’s done online. He had a bunch of classic comics from when he was a kid, they’re worth a fortune now, so that’s how he can afford it.” Ciaran shrugged. “Mum brings in most of the money, predictably, but it works for them.”

“And you,” Diarmuid couldn’t help adding. At Ciaran’s stare, he said, “Well, it’s not like you’re wanting for anything.”

“True.” Ciaran’s voice was cool. “Do you expect me to apologise for the fact that my parents have done well in life?”

“Of course not,” said Diarmuid. “But you shouldn’t put them down either.”

Ciaran’s retort was stalled by the entry of his parents into the dining room, holding hands and looking for all the world like newly-weds.

“Dinner will be five minutes,” said Mrs Power. “In the meantime, Diarmuid, we want to hear all about you.”

“Yes – Ciaran doesn’t often bring his friends home,” chimed in Mr Power.

“Do you think he’s ashamed of us?”

“Surely not. We are fantastic parents.”

“Maybe he’s lying about the fact that he has friends at all.”

“Mum!” Ciaran scrunched up his face, managing to eke three syllables out of the word. Diarmuid hid a smile, which soon vanished when the adult Powers turned two sets of jewel-bright eyes on him.

“This, Diarmuid,” said Mr Power, “is what’s called ‘singing for your supper.’”

Part III
 
 
Current Mood: pensivepensive
Current Music: 20 Years of Snow (Regina Spektor)
 
 
 
JRevalangui on July 6th, 2007 10:31 pm (UTC)
ha! I was hopping constantly mentioning how wonderful "The Trouble with Elephants"(even if I thought it was "The problem with elephants") would encourage you to write something else on the line. And even if the same basic story I will be pleased, I mean, it's bound to be more surprising than reading TTWE for the eleventh time :p

Off to read, thanks for this!
(Deleted comment)
JRevalangui on July 7th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
Hhaha, Trouble and problem actually mean the same and sound alike so it's not weird. Also, i think I'm the only one who remembers so well because it took me months to find out what it means.

Mmmm... *hopes there is* I'm thinking about re-reading it, right now i don't remember anything but I will let you know if I find anything not quite-as-perfect. It's not very likely, i have like 2 pages of quotes from it, but i'll try.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Bellescoradh on July 7th, 2007 11:01 pm (UTC)
Mmm, the white elephant thing? I thought it was so terribly clever. :P Not.

Wow, that many quotes? I'd love to know a few of the ones that worked for you. That sounds like begging, but whatever. Anyway, it's really nice to know someone has such affection for the ol' thing. ♥
JRevalangui on July 9th, 2007 01:02 am (UTC)
The elephant thing was a problem because I couldn't figure out what the hell elephants had to do with the story, it's a English expression i didn't know (i guess for a native it can seem terribly obvious like any other comparison). It was clever after i figured it out. I haven't re-read it since then and I don't remember a white elephant at all so... now you see why i re-read so much, don't you?

I can't find the document where i put it :p but i found some quotes i put on one of my own writing tips documents with the advice "be subtle like this", which refers to the first one, which it thought was really hot but not-graphic. I underlined some of the bits i liked the best too :p

* Tim, noting just how low Noel's jeans were slung on his hips when he stood up, agreed -- but for not quite the same reasons.

* A large mound heaped with clothes might be Noel's bed or a portal to Narnia. One closet door swung open to reveal shelves and hangers bereft of clothing, but stocked to the brim with CDs and DVDs. The clothing Noel owned was mainly horizontal and wholly unwashed.

* Then his eyes lit up in a way that told Tim he'd soon be helping Noel to bathe a cat or something equally brilliant in conception and terrible in practice.

* "You're Tim Steele, aren't you?"

"Yes," said Tim. She'd only heard his name in roll-call every day for the past four years, but Tim didn't like to mention it. People got awfully touchy when you pointed out their mental deficiencies. Touchy to the point of pain, even.

* Tim valiantly tried to ignore the black hair that was grazing his nose and how much closer Noel was to sitting in his lap than before. After what felt like a whole era of sexual repression/u>, Noel sat back and presented Tim with a pink envelope.



Thank you for explaining the Irish names, now that I realised Irish isn't written with a different alphabet but just read differently things are starting to make more sense ...v.v Although I'm not sure how i'm gonna figure it out just yet :p
Serenia: Oishi writingserenia on July 6th, 2007 11:51 pm (UTC)
Ooh, please to be writing more hot schoolboy kisses!
Too eager for chapter three to write a decent review. :p
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Fake: hugscoradh on July 7th, 2007 08:30 pm (UTC)
It's only a pity I don't get complimented for my actual technical proficiency. Don't fear - I loves 'em so much there'll be thousands more in the pipeline, if I can but set up enough scenarios for them!
Serenia: Oishi writingserenia on July 7th, 2007 11:14 pm (UTC)
Scenarios be damned - what we need is a series of first kiss drabbles!
jehnt: misc - fashion - green velvetjehnt on August 7th, 2007 05:26 am (UTC)
"Oh, brilliant," he groaned.

"It's great to hear you so enthused about this!" Mrs Starr beamed.


Lol, teachers.

Diarmuid ripped through pile after pile of clothes, becoming more frustrated with every article he tossed over his shoulder. By the time he actually got to his wardrobe – packed with all manner of things that had no other home as well as his clothes – he was overwhelmed. He lay down on the tiny patch of carpet that was still visible and groaned.

I like this description. This is how I found my clothes, too, until very recently. *sympathizes*

Aoife

?!??!??? HELP PLEASE. HOW DO YOU SAY THIS?

(You know, I think Americans are at a real disadvantage here -- from everything I hear, American movies and tv are pretty easy to find in other countries, so you all must hear American names all the time. But foreign movies/tv are fiendishly difficult to find here -- I watch a lot of foreign stuff for an American, but most of it is British [does that even count?], Mexican, Spanish, French, and Asian. The foreign-film rental place does not even have a section for Irish movies. This is why Americans are so culturally stupid, I think. Our primary source of cultural education is not educating us adequately!)

she preferred Bratz, which seemed to be Barbie's more obnoxious and grammatically incontinent incarnation

Oh so true. I hate Bratz. The name is so... eugh.

Diarmuid sighed out loud as he thought of Ciaran’s jeans. He'd give anything to own a pair like that.

YES, HE JUST WANTS TO DRESS LIKE CIARAN. Diarmuid, my man, I'm on to your tricks.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Dirty Pair: Phewscoradh on August 7th, 2007 10:19 pm (UTC)
That's how I ALWAYS find my clothes.

lol, that's my best friend's name. Anyway: ee-fa. Simple, n'est ce pas?

I'd say it doesn't have an Irish section because there isn't really an Irish movie business. This is a country with a population of 4 million, after all. I always wonder what it means when people say 'Irish' or 'British' films - does it mean the people in them are Irish, that it deals with Irish issues, that it's made in Ireland or that Irish people made it? I'm assuming the second one. I wouldn't watch those Irish films - The Wind That Shakes The Barley? Ken Loach propagating 700 years of England-bashing, thanks, we needed that help. >.>

Don't be too down on yourself. America has a culture many want to emulate. You should come to England or Ireland and see how many of us speak American slang, copy American ways of dressing and have American hobbies. I wish the whole 24-hour-shops thing would come in over here.

THERE IS A BRATZ MOVIE, TRUFAX. I SAW THE TRAVESTY OF A TRAILER.
jehnt: - incoherencejehnt on August 19th, 2007 10:25 am (UTC)
"Aoife" is pronounced deceptively simply, it seems. All the vowels confused me. :-/

When I say "Irish film" or "British film," I'm referring to their place of origin and who made it. That's the way my video shop and indie/foreign theater do it, so that's how I think of them. I think the only Irish film I've seen is Breakfast on Pluto. I liked it, but it had cross-dressing Cillian Murphy so it'd have to have been really bad for me to not have thought it brilliant.

The only shops that are open 24 hours over here are Wal-mart, convenience stores, and fast-food franchises, really. There's a nice 24-hour cafe just a few minutes away from my university, though, and it is awesome because you can get a good meal even when you've studied right through when the dining hall and all other restaurants close.

A Bratz movie? Oh god! WHY?