RED

"Aiden. How'd it go?"

1:32, some Wednesday. Half an hour since I'd done it right a second time.

"Well," I shrugged, a leaning apprentice against the bar-top.

"Well," Braden repeated, swishing the stuff round in his glass, "Guess you won't be doing that again for a while."

I was satisfied to know that the thought less than pleased me. I guess I was really getting into the swing of things, wanted to turn this into a nice, smooth job rather than the bitty experiences I'd had in the past week.

"He's got his eye on you," Braden muttered, pointing in the direction of the red curtain, beside which Seamus was smoking a black and half-listening to a young bird; "And I tell you, when he does that it's more than likely you won't be getting out of here for a while at least."

"Why?"

He took a swig of cider, staring blankly.

"Does he think I'm gonna go get myself killed or something?"

He smiled. "Nothing of the sort."

I sniffed. "Bray, don't suppose you could give me a fag?"

I saw him grin. "I suppose I could, Aiden."

He gave me his lighter to burn it with. "You can keep that," he offered.

"You're nice," I said.

He laughed. "Please. Don't make yourself sound like a kid all over again."

I put my head down. He was quiet for a while.

"You're doing very well," he said. I glanced up at him. "You should be proud of yourself."

I was.

Braden finished the few centimetres in the bottom of his glass in one go, sighed: "You know, that might just do me for now," and motioned that I come with him to the regular booth. He limped off, settling himself into the seat on the very edge, stretching his legs out and wincing.

I passed Seamus. He turned briskly just as the girl walked away, and watched me intently as I pushed under the curtain. So why did he have his eye on me? What was it about me that made me a thing unfit to be trusted?

It couldn't be that I needed a guardian. I'd been an orphan for 3  years.

"Aiden!"

The redser.

He greeted me with wide arms, wide eyes. Liam.

"My new favourite boy," he grinned, and pulled me into the corner. Belfast was nowhere to be seen.

I was forced to huddle in his place, and into Liam's side, where he fixed me with a surprisingly strong gangly arm. Seamus watched him. Again, his face was blank.

"How're ya likin' it?" Liam asked, his smile warmer than any I'd had in a long time. It was like nothing had happened the night before.

"I'm getting there," I said, truthfully, "Liking it."

"Good," he laughed, giving me a bit of space to tap the ash off my cigarette, "I was, ah, 17 when I started doin' this."

I listened without eye contact, deciding I had better be interested.

"Started off on paper, which is alright if ye know where to do it... But nothin' compares when ye come 'ere. It's just grand..."

He watched me stub the fag out in the ash tray.

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