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06 July 2007 @ 09:35 pm
Original Fic: Fool's Gold (1/3)  
Fool’s Gold
© me. Srsly.

Summary: I was tendered some writing advice, and it was: write something with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well, this has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Ta-da.

a/n: I don’t pretend to think that the story will be particularly welcome to those reading this, especially in lieu of half-decent fic; but some people were good enough to be amused by my last effort, and I have hopes that a few will be again. Fool's Gold is in much the same vein as The Problem with Elephants – indeed I fear they might be identical twins. Still, it’s been my experience that nearly everything will entertain someone...



Fool's Gold
by scoradh

Diarmuid maintained the quiet opinion that his best friend, Aidan, was the twenty-first century's answer to Baldrick. His plans never ceased to put both of them in the path of extreme danger to both life and limb. Thus Diarmuid was unsurprised to find himself stricken with a bolt of anxiety as they both stood outside the doors of the PE hall, although everything about the situation seemed wholly innocuous.

"It's foolproof!" Aidan hissed.

Diarmuid had heard those words spoken once too often, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. He rolled his eyes and hung back a little, in case Aidan had booby-trapped the swinging doors. Stranger things had happened.

"That's what you said about Mr Henderson's shed," Diarmuid felt obliged to point out as he trailed behind. "Right up until we fell through the roof."

"Yes, but that was a fluke," said Aidan, dismissing something that might better be described as 'standard practice.' "Using this plan we can meet loads of chicks. And it's highly unlikely that we'll fall through anything."

"Hmm."

"I hate when you go hmm."

"I hate falling through sheds, but you don't hear me complaining." Diarmuid studied the note stuck to the door. It made no mention of gross bodily harm, which Diarmuid took as a good sign.

Neither of them had ever had much luck with the female species. In Aidan's case it was probably due to his unfortunate tendency to call girls 'chicks' to their faces. In his own case, Diarmuid could never be bothered. He meant to get a girlfriend in the same way other people meant to get a haircut, but he'd just never got around to it. So he drifted along, girlfriend-less and with a shaggy mop of hair that had more than once threatened to brush his shoulders. At that point, he was usually attacked by a scissors-wielding sister.

"So, you up for it?" Aidan turned to Diarmuid, his face lit up like a Brown Thomas Christmas tree.

Diarmuid had resolved to turn down the next invitation to yet another of Aidan's mad schemes, but Aidan foiled him with his beseeching expression. Diarmuid hadn't the heart to deny him. Besides, this plan looked almost … well, foolproof.

"All right," he agreed. "But if anyone tries to get me into tights, I'll be gone like a shot."

"A shot. Got it." Aidan nodded. "Onward, soldier. The sign-up's already begun!"

+_+_+

Diarmuid never took much notice of his surroundings, except when they were coming towards him at speed. However, he had a vague notion that the PE hall generally looked more utilitarian and sporty than it did at that precise moment. Swathes of purple cloth covered up the eyesore that was the 1970s climbing frame. Banners bearing two Grecian masks had been unfurled from the basketball hoops. Right in centre court, a large table had been set up. Although effectively disguised by yet more purple cloth, Diarmuid spotted the spindly legs of the prehistoric tables from the storeroom underneath.

One of the English teachers was seated behind the table, scanning lists with an air of great importance. Aidan's demeanour changed to one of obsequious deference as Diarmuid watched; if he'd had a cap he would have doffed it. Grinning, Diarmuid slotted himself behind his taller friend as Aidan approached the table as one would a throne.

"Mrs McCarthy," drawled Aidan. He ran a hand through his corkscrew curls. "We're here to sign up for auditions."

Mrs McCarthy squinted at Aidan through her pink glasses, which had rhinestones dotted around the rim. She looked mightily suspicious, as she had every right to be.

"Aidan Connolly, isn't it?" she asked. "Yes, you were in my CSPE class last year. Didn't you mix glue with washing-up liquid and blow bubbles all over the room when I was called to the office?"

"It was an experiment, Mrs McCarthy." Aidan's eyelashes fluttered at a rate of knots. "I wasn't to know the bubbles would stick."

"Yet you still did it in the next three classes after mine, at which point evidence would suggest that you knew exactly what they'd do." Mrs McCarthy's gaze moved to encompass Diarmuid. "Ah, and your little partner in crime is here also. What are you planning to do? Plant stink-bombs on stage?"

"Nothing of the sort! We just want to be in the play."

"Aidan Connolly, I don't believe you even know what play it is," said Mrs McCarthy.

"Grease, the musical," interjected Diarmuid. He sent an apologetic smile in Aidan's direction. Aidan breathed out an inaudible sigh of relief.

"It was on the tip of my tongue to say it, before Diarmuid so rudely interrupted me," said Aidan. "So may we put our names down?"

"I suppose there is nothing I can actually do to stop you." Mrs McCarthy pushed up her pink glasses, using a fake nail that was painted a matching shade of fuchsia. "Put your names on this list and come back at four o'clock. We're holding auditions here over the next few afternoons. Any trick-acting or horseplay of any kind out of you, Mr Connolly, and you and your friend will be seeing a lot more of detention and a lot less of the bright lights of Broadway. I personally guarantee it."

"Absolutely, Mrs McCarthy." Aidan beamed. "And may I say what a fetching pair of glasses you're wearing?"

"No, you may not," snapped Mrs McCarthy. "Write down your names and get out!"

With a flourish, Aidan accepted the proffered biro and scrawled his name. Diarmuid noticed it contained a lot more loops than usual. Aidan handed over the pen, winked at Mrs McCarthy and said, "I'll wait for you outside, Diarmuid. Enjoy this special moment in your life."

Diarmuid was about to sign his name after Aidan's when he noticed the heading at the top of the page. He coloured up in confusion. "Um, Mrs McCarthy? This is the list for people who want to try out."

"That's right," said Mrs McCarthy. "You were expecting to get a leading part without auditioning, were you?"

"Er, no." Diarmuid flushed harder. "I was hoping there'd be a list for people who want to just, sort of, help out? Like … paint scenery?"

"Everyone's expected to help out and paint scenery. It's part of the deal." Mrs McCarthy's face softened incrementally. "But if you just want to be a general dogsbody that's fine. You'll always find actors wanting prompters and so on."

"Okay." Diarmuid breathed a sigh of relief. "Do I still need to put my name down then?"

"You might as well," said Mrs McCarthy. "Your friend is going to ask you if you have and you don't look capable of lying to him."

"Right," said Diarmuid, not amused. He scribbled down his name and scrammed. He had a sinking feeling that Mrs McCarthy was laughing at him.

Aidan was lounging against the wall, eyeing up a gaggle of girls who were crowded around the audition notice. They scattered like goslings when Diarmuid burst through the door, but Diarmuid paid them no mind.

"What took you so long? Did you have some kind of sexual epiphany in there?" Aidan wanted to know.

"Shut up," muttered Diarmuid, his blush cemented in place. He ignored Aidan's gleeful smile and the cunning looks of the nearby girls. "Let's just get the hell to class."

"Whatever you say, maestro." Aidan held up his hands in defeat. "Or should that be Mr Robinson?"

"You need help. A lot of it," Diarmuid informed him, before bounding up the steps to the lockers.

+_+_+

Despite Aidan's incessant mumblings on the topic, Diarmuid managed to forget about the impending auditions for the rest of the afternoon. He was aided in this by the fact that, after four years, the teachers had grown wise to Aidan's tactics and forcibly seated him as far as possible from Diarmuid in class.

By the time the final bell rang, Diarmuid was ready for home, chips and his twenty-first viewing of Fight Club – not necessarily in that order. His heart sank in sorry realisation when Aidan bounded up to him, his curls more static than ever with excitement.

"Are you ready to wow the ladies with your dramatic talents?" asked Aidan, punching the air for emphasis.

"Let's just get it over with," sighed Diarmuid. He slung his bag over his shoulder, feeling in it the burden of guilt. He hadn't yet told Aidan that he wasn't planning to act in the play. Aidan seemed to be taking this fact on trust.

As with most things, Diarmuid had only been peripherally aware of the existence of a drama club in their school. He was surprised at the large number of people milling around the PE hall when they arrived. It was mostly comprised of other fifth years, a couple of second years and a few from the exam years, so far as Diarmuid remembered their faces from morning assembly. As he was forced to endure assembly every day, he had nothing to do but look around, see who was in which class and try to avoid getting detention for responding to Aidan's incessant chatter.

"Are you excited?" Aidan was flicking his gaze around, his eyes the size of dinner plates. Clearly there were more than enough girls present to people his imaginary harem.

"I'm glowing in the dark," replied Diarmuid. He adjusted his bag on his shoulder, inadvertently elbowing someone in the side.

"Hey!" said the recipient of the elbow in an aggrieved tone. Diarmuid recognised him as a sixth year: his coppery hair and the ruler-straight scattering of freckles across his nose made him difficult to miss in an assembly line up.

"Sorry, sorry." Diarmuid tucked both his bag and his elbow close to his side, feeling his face prickle with warmth. Diarmuid blushed all the time. If there were such a thing as male teenage menopause, he'd be the headline case.

"Hey, don't have a panic attack," laughed the boy. "You startled me, that's all."

"Yeah, well … sorry." Diarmuid frowned at his shoes. I should have left the bag in my locker, he berated himself. Everyone else seemed to have done so. Still, it would come in handy if he had to make a quick getaway.

"Let's shove to the front, it's starting," urged Aidan.

"Oh no," muttered Diarmuid. Aidan didn't hear, but Diarmuid was sure he heard a low chuckle from behind. He felt his cheeks throb with heat and he cursed his faulty metabolism.

Mrs McCarthy climbed on to a stool and waved a handful of booklets as Martin Cahill would a sawn-off shotgun. Today she was wearing acid-green John Lennon specs. "Silence!" she thundered and, unlike in class, that was exactly what fell.

"I have here the scripts for Grease, this year's winter production," she announced. "Today, we're going to hold the auditions for the major male roles: Danny, Kenickie and the other T-Birds. Tomorrow it'll be the major female roles: Sandy and the Pink Ladies. On Wednesday it'll be an auction for the remaining male roles and bit-parts, and on Thursday the same for the female roles. Do not, I repeat, do not audition for Danny or Sandy unless you think you have a reasonable singing voice! And no, singing in the shower does not count!"

There was an obligatory buzz of laughter. Aidan made a noise like a hyena in heat, but Diarmuid kept his lips resolutely shut.

"The cast list will be up by next Monday. Now, everyone auditioning for major male roles step up. Everyone else, skedaddle."

"Are we hanging around?" asked Diarmuid.

Aidan gave him a look usually reserved for people with jackets that tied in the back. "Of course! I want to try out for Danny. Although getting Kenickie wouldn't be so bad, I suppose."

"Aidan!" protested Diarmuid. "You can't even sing. You got us chucked out of the choir in third class for doing those vulture impressions, remember?"

Aidan dragged him forward by the arm. "Diarmuid Golden, have a little faith. Did you not ever hear the saying, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step?"

"Yeah, and? Does this journey end in you becoming the Fourth Tenor? Because otherwise I can't see how it's applicable."

"I'm not going to let your small-minded meanness drag me down," said Aidan loftily. "Who are you auditioning for?"

Diarmuid winced. The dreaded moment was at hand. "I, er, decided –"

Just as he was about to break down and confess, Mrs McCarthy's strident tones interrupted their conversation. "Mr Kelly and I are ready. Anyone auditioning for Danny or Kenickie please come and collect a script. There'll be ten minutes reading time, which I expect you to spend productively. Readers for the T-Birds may do so during the first set of auditions."

Diarmuid hung back as there was a veritable stampede for scripts. He couldn't understand it, himself. Grease was as old as the hills. While Danny and Kenickie were undeniably cool characters, the cachet of acting in a play was not nearly as translatable to everyday life as a place on a sports team. Then again, Aidan might have spread around his great idea for landing chicks. Diarmuid wasn't the only gullible fool in the establishment – just the most cynical one.

The next hour was like being trapped in an alley full of horny cats. Diarmuid sat against the wall with the T-Bird hopefuls, fighting the urge to stick his fingers in his ears. Not everyone auditioning was terrible, but the majority was and, following established precedents, it drowned out the minority. Diarmuid guessed the honour of playing Danny would go to a boy in his class called Roger Sweeney. He was reputed to be in a band. He did have the voice – plus the unsavoury mien of a drugged rocker after too long on a tour bus – but Diarmuid couldn't envision a more unlikely Danny.

Aidan was on a total high after his turn. Nerves, for him, were something that happened to other people. Such was his self-absorption that he didn't even notice that Diarmuid hadn't gone to fetch a script. Instead, he wanted to run through every aspect of his five minutes of fame. Although Diarmuid had thought Aidan's one of the worst performances against some very strong contenders, he was more than happy to oblige him.

It was six o'clock before Aidan would assent to leaving, even though he'd been free to go since his audition ended. Diarmuid had to bribe him with promises of free double chips before he'd come away. Even at that, it was a tough bargain.

"So, what do you think of my plan so far?" Aidan asked later, through a mouthful of curry sauce.

Diarmuid thought of the thrashing his eardrums had taken and being laughed at by the red-haired sixth year. "Well," he said carefully, "it could be worse."

+_+_+

"I don't want to."

"What do you mean?" Aidan sounded genuinely astonished. "This was the whole point of the plan!"

Diarmuid tried a different tactic. "Mrs McCarthy will be pissed. She wouldn’t have made people leave yesterday if she wanted an audience."

"Then we'll hide in the storeroom. It has a window on to the hall."

"Aidan," exclaimed Diarmuid, "are you trying to score with these girls or get slapped with a restraining order? Because that sounds like stalking!"

"Surveying the landscape and calculating probabilities," corrected Aidan. "But I see how the uninitiated might get confused. You're right – we're better off risking getting chucked out by McCarthy."

"What? I never said that!"

"I know the way your brain works," said Aidan. "Now you toddle off and have fun in Art. I have a Business Studies class to torture."

Diarmuid gripped his A2 folder harder. Sometimes being Aidan's friend was hard work. Diarmuid hated confrontation, but he had no desire to spend another evening in the muggy hall listening to a batch of tone-deaf females being put through their musical paces. Aidan's new plan might not cause him to break any bones, but death via boredom was an imminent threat.

Miss Starr, the art teacher, greeted him warmly. Not many people kept up Art after Junior Cert in Diarmuid’s school, so the class was small and cohesive. It was also, since Aidan's departure the previous summer, a haven of peace and quiet.

"Life drawing today," announced Miss Starr. "I'm going to be the model, so try not to disturb me unless the school is actually burning down. We'll have some sixth years coming in for the second period during their free study, so make room and don’t scare them off. You can talk amongst yourselves as usual, but keep the noise down. Any questions?"

"Media?" asked Diarmuid. Art was the one class in which he didn't feel too embarrassed to ask questions.

"Charcoal, conté chalk or pencil. Your pick. There'll be three half-hour poses, so make sure you get enough paper."

Diarmuid lingered over the open boxes, unable to choose. He was confident in pencils, but they were fiddly work. Charcoal was much freer, but lacked the opportunity to achieve the detail for which Diarmuid strove. Eventually he settled on white conté as being the best of both worlds, and carefully transported five sheets of black sugar paper to his desk.

Diarmuid worked steadily. He didn't gossip with his neighbours or take breaks to check on their work, as the others were wont to do. This was the only time Diarmuid had free from Aidan or familial demands, so he made the most of it.

He had finished his first drawing and made a start on a second by the time the first bell rang. Diarmuid barely heard it. Miss Starr's new pose turned her head away from Diarmuid, and he was having trouble getting the line of her back right. He couldn't rub out the chalk, so he was dabbing lightly at the page, trying to plan the strokes before he drew them.

The door opened and closed a number of times and the babble in the room temporarily increased. Diarmuid didn't notice. He was lost in a world of planes and angles, light and shade, curves and folds. He was only alerted to the new additions when one of them remarked, "Hey, that's really good," and startled him so much he scored a thick line right down the page.

"Shit!" he shouted, drawing a few stares and giggles. He'd been this close to getting the line right. Now the whole page was ruined.

"Wow, I'm sorry. But I guess we're even now, hey?"

Wearing a look of death, Diarmuid turned to face the person who'd ruined his drawing. It turned out to be none other than the red-haired sixth year.

"You're drawing her?" The boy nodded at Miss Starr.

"Who else would I be drawing?" Disappointment tinged Diarmuid’s words with unwarranted bite.

"You've got it." The boy drifted his finger down the accidental line. "That's her back, there; can't you see it?"

Frowning, Diarmuid followed the boy's finger. "Yes! But I – it wasn't on purpose."

"That's how the best stuff happens." The boy gave Diarmuid a sunny smile, showing off slightly crooked but very white teeth. "I'm Ciaran Power, by the way. What's your name?"

"Diarmuid Golden." Unable to stop himself, Diarmuid considered his drawing. Unconsciously his hand began to brush light marks against the paper, which fused into the teacher's wild hairstyle.

"Golden, eh?" Ciaran pinched his chin. "Matches your hair."

"My hair's brown," said Diarmuid absently.

"Not in this light." Ciaran crouched down to study the sketch that Diarmuid had put on the floor. "This one’s excellent too. Are you putting together a portfolio for college?"

Diarmuid shook his head, his hand still moving of its own volition. "I'm only in fifth year."

"Never too early to start." Ciaran stood in one fluid motion. He remained behind Diarmuid long enough for Diarmuid to become aware of it, and start to blush. At long last, Ciaran said, "Well, I'd better take my own advice. I might see you at auditions this evening."

"What?" Diarmuid looked at him, surprised, and wished he hadn't. Eye contact always brought out the worst in his blush. "I thought McCarthy told everyone not auditioning to leave."

Ciaran’s mouth went crinkly when he smiled. "Yes, but that's also her way of testing people's interest. If you're told to leave but you come back anyway, what does that make you?"

Diarmuid thought about it. "Disobedient?"

"Tenacious. Besides –" Ciaran winked "– twenty girls butchering Hopelessly Devoted to You is well worth hearing, wouldn't you agree?" And he strolled off, whistling the tune.

Diarmuid couldn't disagree more. But when Aidan met him after class and said dolorously, "Maybe we should just split this evening –" Diarmuid didn't even let him finish.

"C'mon," he said. "I want to stop at the vending machine before we go to the auditions."

"We're going to the auditions?"

"Aidan, you're my friend. I know you. If I don't come along, you're going to sneak into the storeroom, get nailed for stalking and thrown into jail. I just couldn't live with that much guilt." Diarmuid clapped him on the back. "Like I said. C'mon."

+_+_+

Aidan was in a quiver of anticipation all weekend. Mrs Golden had to forcibly extract him from Diarmuid’s room on Sunday night. It was quite possible that he'd have stayed talking right through the night if Mrs Golden hadn't taken measures to ensure her only son and heir got his beauty sleep.

As it happened, Diarmuid couldn't afford to go to bed until three in the morning. He had Art on Monday and was supposed to finish the preliminary sketches for his latest art project that weekend, not to mention write an essay on the theme of kingship in Macbeth and figure out two pages of logarithms. The essay he could postpone with the tried and tested excuse of having left it at home, and the logs would do for lunchtime. The sketches were another matter. Diarmuid actually wanted to do well in art.

The art project was based around a poem called The Skunk, by Seamus Heaney. After trying to eke some inspiration out of the imagery of orange trees, Californian summers and sex, Diarmuid settled for the obvious choice. Using the watercolours and pencils that he'd managed to keep from his little sisters' prying hands, he'd done several drawings of Pepe Le Pew.

That was the easy part. The difficulty rested in convincing Miss Starr that he hadn't slacked off by merely tracing cartoon stills. From the time Aidan left until Diarmuid fell into bed fully clothed, he messed around with glitter and glue, magazine cut-outs and marbling until he saw skunks instead of grey spots every time he blinked.

Surveying his handiwork in the cold light of day, Diarmuid wasn't sure he'd succeeded. Fortunately Miss Starr was a young teacher and still believed in rewarding students for effort.

Diarmuid couldn't hide his yawns as he walked to school with Aidan, who didn't once stop rhapsodising about his future performance as the greatest Danny since John Travolta. Clearly, he thought he had it in the bag. Although Diarmuid had more than once envied Aidan his enormous reservoirs of confidence, he wondered if it always went hand-in-hand with total self-delusion.

"See you later," said Diarmuid as they parted ways.

"First Business, then the world!" replied Aidan, whose mind was clearly on bigger things than the VAT returns he hadn't filled in for Business Studies homework. No doubt he planned to promise the teacher a free tour of his Hollywood mansion if she'd let him off.

When Diarmuid made his way to his usual place by the art room window, he at first thought someone else had got there before him. There was a piece of crumpled paper sitting on the desk. However, there were none of the usual signs of habituation – no jumper slung across the chair, no bag dumped under the desk, no late homework shoved beneath an art pad to be finished on the sly.

Diarmuid put his folder on the desk to mark his territory, and picked up the piece of paper. It took a moment for him to realise that it had been cunningly folded into the shape of a frog, and that the paper itself was no ordinary photocopying standard. It was thin and silky to the touch, and Diarmuid could see a faint watermark when the light glanced off it.

"Morning, Diarmuid!" said Miss Starr, who had suffered a regrettably irreversible overdose of cheerfulness at some point in her life. "Ooh, that's a nice bit of origami. Did you make it?"

"No. I found it on the desk. Is it yours?" Diarmuid held it out to her, although he was reluctant to relinquish it.

Miss Starr laughed – a tinkly sound that brought to mind wind chimes or the boys' urinals. "Nope! Never got the knack of origami myself. Too fiddly by half. It might have been left here by one of the other classes. Or maybe someone's trying to give you a present!"

"Funny sort of present," muttered Diarmuid. All the same, he stowed the frog in his bag before anyone else could lay claim to it.

Miss Starr did her best to keep the class' nose to the grindstone, but only Diarmuid got much done. She was encouraging about his idea, but as ever wanted him to 'expand on it.' After four years of doing art Diarmuid still didn't know what that meant, but generally making daubs of paint that captured the 'essence' of the subject tended to do the trick.

He soon forgot about the frog, absorbed as he was by trying to render Pepe's essence in Impressionistic acrylics. By the time he left the class, after packing away his materials and sketches, Aidan was waiting by the door.

"I heard on the grapevine that McCarthy's posting up the cast list after lunch. Be still, my beating heart!"

"Aidan," said Diarmuid, "what'll you do if, you know, you don't end up getting a part?"

"Oh. I hadn't considered that possibility." Aidan put his head to one side. "My life will probably be a vale of tears if I don't. I'd have to end it all right there in the PE Hall." He caught a glimpse of Diarmuid’s stricken face. "But don't worry, me old sod! That'll never happen."

"Consider this me worrying," muttered Diarmuid, pulling books out of his locker with such violence that the harmonious balance of old sandwiches, ancient chocolate bars and torn notebooks was nearly undone.

"What's this?" Aidan plucked something green off the front of Diarmuid’s locker. "A love letter?"

"Show me!" Diarmuid’s tone brooked no opposition. Aidan meekly placed his find in Diarmuid’s hand, which was a unique event that Diarmuid wished he had more time to savour. However, his attention was arrested by the frog in his palm.

For a paralysing second he wondered if Aidan had stolen it out of his bag. A ridiculous notion, given that this frog was larger and made from patterned green paper.

"It's a frog," said Diarmuid. What he meant was 'it's another frog,' but saying that aloud would invite too many awkward questions from Aidan, who was an Inquisition in and of himself. Privately he wondered if this meant the other frog had also been destined for his possession, but he wasn't so pushed to know that he'd put Radio Aidan on the case.

"No, Diarmuid, it's a piece of paper in the shape of a frog. What have I told you about jumping to conclu …" Aidan's voice trailed off as a group of girls sauntered past them. "Urk."

"I think her name's Marisa, actually." Diarmuid placed the frog in a safe corner of his locker, behind his pristine homework journal.

"Her name should be Loveliness Universal." Aidan sounded somewhat choked.

"Hardly that," said Diarmuid in his briskest 'combating Aidan's unfulfilled lust' voice. "She has terribly bad breath. Anyway, it's Geography next. Tormenting Mr Daly always cheers you up."

"I am in the grip of a love that dares not speak its name," Aidan asserted, "and nothing shall cleave me from the path of earning her affections!"

"Not even hiding all the OS maps behind the radiator?"

"Okay, maybe that."

+_+_+

Over the next few weeks Diarmuid became accustomed both to finding paper frogs on his locker and attending rehearsals. It seemed that nothing could assuage Aidan's disappointment at being cast as Lenny, however.

"I cannot believe that Ciaran Power got Kenickie," he moaned one day, changing tack. "I know he's good looking and all --"

"You think he's good looking?" Diarmuid was relieved. That meant it wasn't weird that that Diarmuid thought so.

"Of course!" Aidan threw up his hands. "He's like one of those setter dogs, all sleek and red and shiny, only he's human. You know he's the most popular boy in sixth year? And he's a carrot-top, for crying out loud!"

As Aidan had never before demonstrated bias based on people's appearances, Diarmuid rather thought it was the fact that Marisa was playing Rizzo that had got Aidan's back up.

Diarmuid was enjoying himself more than he'd anticipated. Different scenes were rehearsed in rotation, and the rest of the cast members were expected to chip in on the scenery painting. As funds were not flowing in the direction of the drama club, Mrs McCarthy kept things simple. There were a lot of bright panels and not much else.

However, when she saw what Diarmuid had done to the clouds, not to mention the windowsills and gutters with which he'd embellished the blocky buildings, she gave him free rein on the decorating – 'within reason.' Diarmuid took reason to the limits of the paint supply. He spent more than one happy evening looking up photo galleries on the internet to find the perfect model for Grease Lightning.

The costumes were also quite rudimentary. Specialised items like the T-Birds' jackets and poodle skirts were being made to measure, but the cast were encouraged to make up the deficit from their own wardrobes. From an early stage, most of them took this as tacit permission to wear whatever they wanted to rehearsal, not to mention the last three classes after lunch.

Often Diarmuid would pause in his painting and become enthralled by the scenes unfolding before his eyes. Against all expectations, Roger Sweeney made a plausible Danny. As for Ciaran, he was Kenickie. Undeniably a bit cocky in real life, his performances turned the arrogance up full blast and added tight blue jeans to the mix. Diarmuid felt a tightening in his chest whenever Ciaran was onstage with Marisa-as-Rizzo, and later wondered at himself for falling prey to the theatrical lure. In any case, Ciaran was certainly adept at eliciting emotion from his audience.

Aidan mooched over to where Diarmuid was watching the part of the drive-in scene where Kenickie confronted Rizzo about her pregnancy.

"I can leave," said Aidan. "Not only have they not recognised the extent of my mad acting skills, they don't want them for the rest of the evening."

"Right," Diarmuid returned. He was somewhat distracted by Ciaran leaning against the cardboard 'car' prop. There was every chance that it'd fall over under his weight.

"Aren't you coming?"

"Nah, I have to finish this." Diarmuid gestured at the scenery board for the dance scene, which had been denied his attentions for the last quarter of an hour.

"Okay. Guess I'll see you tomorrow then."

"Yeah." Eagerly, Diarmuid turned back to the stage, but Ciaran and Marisa were already being ushered off by Mrs McCarthy to make room for Danny and Sandy.

Diarmuid returned to the backboard. The budget had stretched to streamers and balloons for this scene, so Diarmuid was in somewhat of a quandary. There was no need to paint decorations, and anything too fussy would take away from the characters' bright party costumes.

So far Diarmuid had settled on a plain white background and was beginning to block in the words 'Rydell High School' at the top. He heard the sound of approaching feet and sat back on his heels. He tended to get nervous under people's appraisal. Nerves made his hands shake. Shaky hands meant blotchy lettering – a fate worse than death in Diarmuid’s book.

"How's it coming, Michelangelo?"

Diarmuid bit his lip. He was all too familiar with that slightly mocking drawl by now.

"Fine, thanks," he replied, aware that his voice was a little higher than usual but utterly incapable of doing anything about it.

Ciaran dropped to the floor beside him. "It's a little drab at the moment, don't you think?"

"Yes, but I don't want to make it too busy either," explained Diarmuid. "I need something simple but bold."

Ciaran craned his neck. "What about … a repeating pattern of red megaphones? They seemed to use them a lot in the film."

A slow smile crept on to Diarmuid’s face. "That's perfect! Thank you."

"For what? You would have thought of it eventually." Ciaran held Diarmuid’s gaze for a second too long. Under the subdued lighting, his gelled hair looked like wet bracken. "Besides, I was hoping you'd help me out."

"Help you? How?"

Ciaran flipped his script on to Diarmuid’s lap. "Run lines with me. I need more practice than I get here, and my parents are sick of listening to me."

"Oh, okay." Diarmuid examined the script. "You mean now?"

"No, of course not. Can you come round my house after school on Friday?"

"Yeah, sure." Diarmuid cleared his throat. It didn't feel like there was something stuck in it, but speaking was certainly more of an effort than usual.

"Are you sure?" said Ciaran. "Don't you need to run it past your boyfriend?"

"My who?"

"Tall, skinny guy, hair like Bob Marley's on a wet day?"

"Oh, you mean Aidan," sighed Diarmuid. "No, of course I don't need to ask him. We're not attached at the hip."

"Good," said Ciaran, with peculiar emphasis. "See you Friday."

"See you," echoed Diarmuid, watching him leave.

He turned back to the backdrop, but his enthusiasm for it had unaccountably dimmed. Resolving to make a fresh start the next day, Diarmuid dunked his brushes in turpentine and grabbed his bag.

On the way home he found he was humming the tune of Summer Loving.

+_+_+

Diarmuid wasn't shy. Shyness was not a character trait that was well adapted for survival in Aidan's company. However, he could be reticent; and the full power of his reticence was revealed as he accompanied Ciaran back to his house on Friday afternoon.

Diarmuid wasn't used to making conversation. Aidan talked enough for forty-five people. Even when he wanted to, Diarmuid couldn't always get a word in. In consequence, the twenty minute walk was filled with expectant silences during which Diarmuid found himself chewing his lip and wishing he had anything at all to say for himself.

Ciaran’s house looked like a large detached wedding cake. This made Diarmuid even more apprehensive; clearly Ciaran’s people were well-off. He doubted Ciaran had ever kicked cans around on a green the way Diarmuid and Aidan did. Ciaran probably had his own playing field at the back of his house and signed footballs from Beckham and Zidane.

Ciaran unlocked and opened the front door on to a vast, gleaming hall, decorated with Persian rugs and tasteful paintings. It reminded Diarmuid of his orthodontist's waiting room. He'd only had one appointment at the surgery, but it was so vastly unlike anything he knew from home that the memory stuck in his mind.

"No one'll be home for ages yet," said Ciaran, tossing his schoolbag under the hall table. "Do you fancy something to eat or drink?"

Midway into his question Ciaran bent to pet a sleek Siamese cat that had materialised out of nowhere. He was wearing his jeans from the rehearsal. Diarmuid’s heart thumped, drowning out the end of the query – everything, in fact, after 'fancy.'

"What?" he said, more sharply than he'd intended. He'd always made a point never to tell anyone who he fancied, because Aidan would broadcast it around the school in five seconds flat. Not that he had seriously fancied anyone since he was twelve, but that wasn't the point.

"Coke, tea – bourbon?" Ciaran flashed a disarming smile.

"Uh, Coke would be great. Thanks." Diarmuid followed Ciaran into the kitchen. The cat bumped up against his legs and he tried his best not to step on it. The kitchen featured a cooking island with a rack of burnished copper pans hung above it. They were the exact shade of Ciaran’s hair.

"Looks pretty swish, doesn't it?" Ciaran followed Diarmuid’s gaze and laughed. "All for show. Every bit. My mother does all her cooking in a saucepan with no handles that's older than me."

Diarmuid smiled a trifle uncertainly and hopped on to one of the stools. The cat followed him and looked up at him imploringly.

"Chester likes you." Ciaran nodded at the feline. "It's a great honour. He's a very snobby cat."

"I'm, uh, flattered." Awkwardly, Diarmuid leaned down to scratch between Chester's ears. Chester set up a low thrumming noise and arched into the touch.

"You should be." Ciaran leaned across Diarmuid to plant a brimming glass of Coke on the counter. His shirt buttons brushed Diarmuid’s bare arm and he caught his breath. "That cupboard there is the snack bin. Help yourself – I'm just going to get changed."

"Okay." Diarmuid picked up his glass with both hands and sipped from it. He studiously kept his gaze away from Ciaran’s departing jeans, in case his heartbeat should mysteriously start speeding up again.

When he was sure that Ciaran had gone, Diarmuid investigated the snack bin. Fun packs of chocolate bars, bags of crisps, packets of biscuits and a tray of butterfly cakes greeted his gaze. Diarmuid honestly hadn't meant to scavenge for food, but the butterfly cakes were practically begging to be eaten. He sat back down with a cake and his Coke, Chester winding around his ankles, and tried to think about something normal that didn't involve jeans in any way.

He had just about succeeded when Ciaran returned, barefoot and dressed all in black. For a moment Diarmuid found himself understanding where Ciaran’s popularity lay, before his clarity of thought was once again swamped by a mist of confusion.

Ciaran dropped the script on the counter. "Here's what I want you to do: run through as much of the Kenickie's script as possible, while you voice the other parts. I know you don't like to act, but all you need to do is say them. I just want to know if I can remember everything in order."

"That's fine," said Diarmuid, wondering how Ciaran knew about his stage-fright. He'd probably just assumed it.

And before his eyes, he saw Ciaran change. He wrapped Kenickie's personality around himself like a superhero's cloak. Diarmuid, feeling more than a little star-struck, stared at the printed words.

Diarmuid hated having to interrupt Ciaran to correct him, but it was necessary evil on more than one occasion. He didn't look at him when he did, sure that his courage would fail him in the face of direct eye contact. About half-way through, Ciaran called time.

"My throat is starting to get scratchy," he explained. "Do you mind?" He downed the last of Diarmuid’s Coke before Diarmuid could speak. He must've known I would have said yes anyway, thought Diarmuid, shifting around on the stool. It got harder and harder with every passing minute.

"Tell you what –" Ciaran swept the script from Diarmuid’s hands "– let's relocate. My bedroom is far more comfortable. Bring some food if you want."

Diarmuid hesitated, then darted to the cupboard for another butterfly cake. Chester followed him up the stairs, mewling.

When Diarmuid stepped through the doorway of Ciaran’s bedroom, he had to stop and stare. It was as far from Diarmuid’s cramped boxroom as a condo on Venus.

Huge framed posters hung on the walls, originals from the Cavern and Woodstock. A desk occupied the length of one wall and held an enormous television set, a gigantic hi-fi system and a tiny laptop. Two racks of CDs ran from floor to ceiling, which was covered in glow-in-the-dark constellations. An open door led to an ensuite bathroom that matched the size of the one that served Diarmuid’s whole family. It was a frosty shade of white.

"Wow," managed Diarmuid.

"You like it?" Ciaran seemed pleased. "You should have seen it a year ago. It was covered in Batman wallpaper with matching bedcovers. My mother cried when it was all painted over."

Diarmuid thought that his own Garfield wallpaper was probably still up, just hidden beneath mounting piles of possessions and DIY shelving. The only room that had ever been remodelled in his house was the living room. The elimination of the toxic levels of chintz had been a mercy for all concerned.

"Pull up some grass." Ciaran gestured to a sofa – a sofa! In his bedroom! – on to which Diarmuid sank, overawed. Chester leaped up beside him and butted his knee with his head. Diarmuid absent-mindedly patted him as he studied the pattern of stars on the ceiling.

When he got back to Ciaran’s face, Ciaran was smiling. "You'd better eat that cake before Chester does. He has a terrible sweet-tooth, and he's not above using his feline wiles to indulge it."

"Huh? Oh." Diarmuid held his cake out of Chester's paw reach. Chester growled and batted at Diarmuid’s elbow.

Ciaran sat down on his bed, which was a dazzling confection of chrome and severe pinstripe fabric. "So. Diarmuid. Why are you even involved in this play, when you have no interest in taking part in it?"

Diarmuid blamed the intimidating surroundings for his candour. "Aidan thought it'd be a good way to pick up girls," he blurted, and then blushed like he'd never blushed before.

Ciaran stuffed a pillow behind his head and lay back. "Certainly not a unique angle, but probably a profitable one. How many have you picked up so far?"

Diarmuid shrugged, wishing he could dissolve into the sofa. "None yet. Aidan's working on it. He likes Marisa." At Ciaran’s blank expression, he added, "The girl playing Rizzo?"

"Oh, her." Ciaran wrinkled his nose. "Why? She has bad breath. And I mean really bad. I always get the urge to throw Polo mints at her when we're rehearsing."

"Well, love is blind," said Diarmuid.

"And evidently has no sense of smell," said Ciaran. "Has he ever tried, you know, talking to her?"

Diarmuid crumbled the cake between his fingers. "I think he prefers to wow her with his awesome theatrical talent."

"Yes, I can see how that would work," said Ciaran, not sounding at all as if he did. "Wish him good luck from me. If you put a clothes peg on your nose she'd probably be a lovely girl."

Laughter bubbled through Diarmuid’s lips before he could stop it. Ciaran quirked his eyebrows.

"At last. I've been trying to make you laugh all afternoon. My success rate has never taken such a battering."

"Oh! Sorry." Diarmuid could already feel his blush rearing its ugly head.

"You need to stop apologising so much for things that aren't your fault." Ciaran rolled on to his back. "Where were we?"

"Just after the Grease Lightning song," Diarmuid told him, inordinately relieved to be getting off the troublesome topics of laughter and Aidan's extinct love life.

Darkness was falling as Ciaran spoke his last line. Diarmuid was starting to feel hungry, having been denied his usual feed of chips. Ciaran stopped pacing and collapsed on to the sofa beside Diarmuid. He turned his head to look at him, his lax hand brushing Diarmuid’s thigh. Aidan had been known to fall asleep in Diarmuid’s lap and his sisters thought nothing of crawling all over him, so why was Diarmuid so aware of Ciaran’s fingers? They were barely touching him.

"So, how was I?" Ciaran took his hand away to push his hair off his forehead. It only made Diarmuid more confused, because now he wished Ciaran had left it where it was. "Be honest. I can take it."

"You were good," said Diarmuid, "honestly. You had a few slips, but I'm sure you'll iron them out before opening night."

"Really?" Ciaran smiled his crinkly smile. "So you'll help me again?"

Diarmuid suddenly felt as if his entire body was blushing. "Sure. If you want. I don't know how much help I'll be. I mean, how helpful. But yeah."

"Trust me, any audience is better than none." Ciaran’s smile deepened. "And you are considerably better than just any audience." He sprang to his feet. "Do you want to stay for dinner?"

"Nah, I'd better be getting back," said Diarmuid, not without reluctance. "Mam'll be wondering where I've got to."

"Another time." Ciaran knelt before Diarmuid to scoop Chester into his arms. "And I'll get my mother to make more of those butterfly cakes for you."

And I thought I already knew how bad it got, thought Diarmuid miserably, as heat flooded through him. Even his toes were blushing. "Thanks," he muttered. "See you on Monday."

Diarmuid almost tripped down the stairs when Chester leapt from Ciaran’s arms and tried to follow him. "No, Chester. Stay!" Chester gave him a reproachful look, as if to say 'Hello? I am not a dog.'

Diarmuid leaned against the front door after closing it behind him. He felt absolutely shattered, and he had no idea why. But the prospect of more butterfly cakes was definitely a good one, and the thought of Ciaran’s company was oddly warming. Maybe it was because he wasn't a hyperactive maniac, like Aidan and everyone Diarmuid was related to.

Or maybe Diarmuid just liked him.

Part II
 
 
Current Mood: pensivepensive
Current Music: 20 Years of Snow (Regina Spektor)
 
 
 
Gin: Hotty McHottypants.backinblack on July 6th, 2007 11:20 pm (UTC)
Man, I love your writing. This just made my day, and it's my BIRTHDAY, so. I consider this a present.

Hahaha as usual I had to run and look something up on wikipedia. Butterfly cakes! I assume they are tasty.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Blue haired boy w/ phonescoradh on July 7th, 2007 08:19 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad! I'm so terrible at keeping up with lj birthdays that I've given up the matter entirely. I'm as bad IRL, so. But happy coincidence! You're always so supportive. ♥

Ha, those things come in packets over here. Clearly I was eating some when I began this. I can't believe you'd to look it up! :O
Serenia: Oishi writingserenia on July 6th, 2007 11:28 pm (UTC)
This is really, really good! Although I admit that Chester the cake-eating cat has stolen the show in my eyes. :D

Onto the next chapter...
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Blue kissscoradh on July 7th, 2007 08:22 pm (UTC)
Tis easy seen how much I self-insert. Can't have a cat IRL; so brain says, invent one!

...God knows how much of this was written solely to put Chester in it. :D

btw, thanks for giving this a chance! Much appreciated. ♥
moocowmisconstrue on July 7th, 2007 01:36 am (UTC)
*grins big* love it!! and this set up and all the names! (i'm assuming their all very nice normal irish names but for a girl in new jersey they are fairly exotic and exciting and i haven't the foggiest notion how i'd pronounce them but that's all right)

diarmuid totally steals my heart and i know it's original fiction but i can't help thinking of how his and aidan's relationship sort of mirrors my mental image of seamus/dean (when they are not totally gay for each other)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: I'd tap that ♥scoradh on July 7th, 2007 08:25 pm (UTC)
Yes, these are extremely common names. I was careful not to go too mad with it - Ruiari and Caoimhe and so on. :D I've about three friends named Aoife anyway. If you really want pronunciation tips I will of course be happy to oblige!

I'm glad; it definitely wasn't supposed to be a BFF-in-luff story, so it's good to hear I can capture a platonic dynamic also. ♥
jehnt: misc - fashion - green velvetjehnt on August 7th, 2007 04:21 am (UTC)
My first thought: WHOA THOSE ARE NOT NAMES I CAN SAY. Well, okay, I can pronounce "Aidan," but I have no idea how on earth you say "Diarmuid." I think "Ciaran" may be like "Kieran," but I may be TOTALLY WRONG. Still confused on Diarmuid. I have never seen that name before. *ponders*

his best friend, Aidan, was the twenty-first century's answer to Baldrick

Haha, Blackadder!

He meant to get a girlfriend in the same way other people meant to get a haircut, but he'd just never got around to it.

Hee!

I'm liking it so far!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Death of Ratsscoradh on August 7th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)
Deermud. Basically. :D Ciaran's spot on.

Anyway! I can't wait to see your reaction to the end. *evil*
jehnt: farscape - couplejehnt on August 19th, 2007 10:07 am (UTC)
Okay, I was saying "Dermott" because it seemed like an Anglicized Gaelic name that might be pronounced similarly. I'm glad I wasn't too far off!