GOLD

It was 7:57am, some Wednesday in August, 2002: six days since I had ran away; five days since the idea had been born; two days since the idea had been entertained; ten hours since I and it had been christened and confirmed.

*          *          *

I ran my hands over the soft duvet cover. I ran them over my skin. The nicks. The bruises. The scars. I turned the wallet over in my hands and took out the bills and put them back. I twirled the shamrock in my fingers by its frail green stem; the leaves weren't green now as much as a scarred and soggy brown. They wilted and hung. It was spent.

I brought it to my lips, and crushed it in my fist.

Spent.

*          *          *

"You can stay up here as long as you want," Seamus said to me, with a small smile, "As long as you stay down there." He pointed with the hand that wasn't holding a coffee cup to the floor. The clubroom.

I supposed I should have been very grateful for this gesture. But I just smiled as he handed me a slice of toast, and remembered the four-leaf clover I'd put to rest minutes ago.

I followed him to the table next to the window, and looked out over the street, more than empty at this time of the morning, flooded with golden sun or stained with cloud by turns.

"I've never had anyone live with me up here before," Seamus said.

I turned to him, stopping mid-way through a bite of toast.

"Not even O'Reilly," he said.

"Who's O'Reilly?"

"Belfast."

Even younger than me...

So what?

He looked at me and I said nothing. His eyes flickered away to the window.

"You could've stayed in bed," he told me, "They don't start coming 'til the afternoon anyhow."

With the headache I had, I would've done –

"So what brought you here in the first place?"

– But there was something keeping me from sleeping.

"I..."

I began. I couldn't finish.

"Fate brought you by a rocky road?" he suggested, and smiled.

And I just didn't correct him.

Because – honestly – I had no idea.

He finished his coffee quietly. I put down the crust. Cupping his hands on the table in front of him and staring into my eyes, he searched me expressionlessly, probably almost like he wasn't fully satisfied with my silent answer. And after I'd still said nothing, he got up, dumped his cup in the sink and slipped into his bedroom. I waited at the table until I heard clicking noises, like someone calling for their dog. That was when I got up and followed him into his room.

He turned round from the wardrobe and threw something at me; I caught it and looked down at the magazine in my hands.

A naked man.

"What do you think of that?"

Seamus walked up to me, using his index finger to tease the pages open. The pictures I saw were mirrors:

Oral. Anal. Spittle and spunk.

"That's cute," he said, and patted my crotch. I flushed. "You're queer."

I tore my eyes away from the pages, threw the magazine back into his hands and turned away, trying to hide my budding hard-on. He just laughed softly.

"It's not even the best of glossies..."

He returned to the closet momentarily, while I tried to think of other things. I didn't see there being much point getting hot over anything now unless I was about to be paid for it. This was how I had to think now–

"Now this," Seamus said, coming back, "This is pure gold."

I didn't take the small black book off him.

"Gotta loosen up, kid." He pushed it into my open hands.

I wondered how many times he'd came, saw and conquered; how many of the things he'd seen in the pictures he'd re-enacted with an elder playmate.

He pulled a blazer off the door handle, pulled it on over his shirt and pulled me by my elbow back into the kitchen.

"Heading down," he declared, "Best come with me, might get there to oversee breakfast."

"Breakfast?"

He smiled.

*          *          *

"It's 8:24. Most blokes'll be heading off to the office if they're not already there. Birds'll be left alone for the rest of the day. They're randy bitches, of course, and any slut's gonna pay for dick."

I rather wanted to puff myself up. But I had decided after careful watching that leaning calmly against the wood was the best way to go.

"They need a man whatever the thing. But they're not gonna throw their gold at boy cock. Not in a million years."

But I was sure Belfast's nestled slouch wasn't an idea of the lean.

"Boy gob? Sweet."

I turned to Seamus. "I thought I was queer."

To that, he did and said nothing. His eyes wandered up and over me, to someone behind my head.

"Sea," I remembered Marco's voice, "Liam's at the door."

"And?"

I saw Marco shrug, the movement so heavy his blonde hair bobbed. Seamus sighed loudly and pushed past me out of the booth. Marco let him go through the red curtain, then grinned at me and squeezed in beside me, arm very close to being round me on the back of the seat.

"So, you're the new boy," he said, "Virgin?"

I laughed, "No."

"Fucked her good?"

"He was a ring splitter."

"Oh."

I shifted.

"It's alright," he blurted quickly, "We're all queer here, except Seamus... Maybe..."

I put my face down, smiling.

Queer.

"You'll love it."

I tentatively looked back up at him. Love it?

"Doing what we do. Best job you can get, if you enjoy it, and you will. I can assure you that – and I don't even know you!"

"I'm Aiden," I said.

"That your real name?"

"Of course not."

He put his hands up in mock-surrender. "Aiden. You may well be our new cardinal."

I laughed, only because I didn't know what it meant. Marco grinned at me, and clicked to Belfast, still huddled in his corner, to throw him a packet of fags off the shelf. B & H Gold. The old savoury. He lit one for me and left to buy drinks from the bar.

As he pulled back the curtain, we caught glimpses of one another in the red, sweeping moment: I, and two pairs of staring eyes.

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