June 2003 | Bradley
‘You know the walk up into the hills, to the waterfall?’
Bradley wrinkled his brow in perplexity, though he certainly knew the walk, an unfrequented trail deep in the heart of the Peak District. They’d hiked up there three times already, and they’d only been at the cottage for five of the ten days they’d booked. ‘Yes.’
‘Follow me there. In about an hour.’
‘An hour?’ The wrinkles deepened into a frown. ‘What are you up to?’
Calum’s mouth twisted as he tried to suppress his intent, but of course he failed, and suddenly he burst into one of those wide wicked grins of his that involved not only that delicious mouth, those sea–blue eyes, that intriguing face, but the whole beautiful man… Calum grinned, all of him shone in a grin, and he whispered, ‘Come hunt me.’
Bradley’s lips parted –
But Calum had already turned, and darted out the door.
Bradley was still match–fit, of course, but he wasn’t quite as young as he used to be – and he’d rushed the last climb up beside the stream, because if Calum said an hour then Bradley would be there in exactly an hour if it was at all possible. So he was a little flushed by the time he reached the rocks at the near edge of the pool at the foot of the waterfall, and his breath was coming a little hard. It felt good, though. He could feel his lungs taking in oxygen, his blood coursing through him, his muscles making efficient use of the sustenance; he felt alive and physically capable, physically competent.
As he clambered round towards the waterfall, he kept an eye out for Calum, but there was no sign of him. Until a hint of scrambling movement caught his eye –
And suddenly there he was, about twenty feet away – Calum, standing tall and utterly naked on a huge tumbled boulder, feet apart and hands poised by his thighs as if arrested in mid–move. They stared at each for a long moment, Calum fierce and Bradley awed –
Then Calum broke away, leapt down to the ground, disappeared into the darkness of the surrounding forest, affording Bradley one last glimpse of a pale buttock and long thigh. Come hunt me.
Bradley stirred himself, girded himself. And ran after his wild love.
He caught up with Calum – as no doubt he was supposed to – in a sunlit clearing, Calum pausing in mid–flight as if he’d been temporarily dazzled by the sudden brightness. As Calum faltered, Bradley pounced, and rugby–tackled him to the ground thick–spread with fallen leaves. Lean strength twisting and struggling in his arms – they grappled, Calum trying to get free, turning onto his back when he couldn’t force himself up onto his hands and knees – succeeding only in working deeper into Bradley’s embrace.
Bradley’s mouth gnawing and biting at Calum’s throat and chest, one hand running down that fine flank, shaping itself to Calum’s hip, then slipping under to palm his buttock. Calum groaned, still struggling, but also pushing up, his cock hard against Bradley’s clothes. One leg wrapping round Bradley’s thighs, while Calum stretched tall, tried to wriggle free. Another gut–deep groan.
Bradley knew what was expected of him. What was wanted. God, he wanted it, too. But he’d been taking his time with this, and now it was all happening a lot sooner than he’d planned. A lot sooner. Bradley caught Calum’s hands in one of his, and pinned them to the ground over Calum’s head. Hefted Calum’s hips up closer against him, surging forward just enough so that Calum had to curl up a little underneath him. Nevertheless, he murmured, ‘Calum…?’
The other long bare leg wrapped around Bradley’s rear, Calum lifting himself, making himself available. ‘Fuck me,’ he ordered in a whisper.
Bradley groaned, needing that. Recognising that Calum needed that. ‘I don’t want to hurt you.’
The words tumbled out, contradicting each other. ‘You won’t. I don’t care. I want you to hurt me.’ Calum’s sea–blue eyes were on fire.
Another groan, and Bradley shifted, took more of his weight on his knees, lifted his hips away from Calum, fumbled one–handed at his jeans. God, he was still fully dressed in boots and jeans, shirt and cotton jumper, while Calum was a naked wild creature…
Calum suddenly squirmed underneath him, impatient, arching up with his head back, keening quietly.
There was no lube. Calum would have organised that, if he’d wanted it, Bradley supposed. But then, Bradley was the one who was supposed to take care of Calum in these aspects of their relationship. They were both eager. Bradley finally freed himself, so his cock stood proud from amidst denim and cotton. Calum was just as hard, just as needy, but Bradley asked, ‘God, are you sure?’
‘Yes!’ A furious flash from those eyes, and then the demand: ‘Fuck me!’
Because of course by now Bradley was pretty close to ruining Calum’s scenario. This was how Calum wanted it: natural, instinctive, primitive. A bit too soon, perhaps, but he was ready. And Bradley realised he wouldn’t do much if any harm. He closed his eyes for a moment. Gave himself anew to his love…
Opened his eyes with a scowl, reinforced his hold on Calum, pushed up against him. Made him whimper with need and a dramatised fear. Let that wake his own urge to possess. ‘You’re mine,’ he growled.
Calum turned his face away, and struggled – succeeding only in rubbing more of his unprotected skin against his assailant.
And Bradley spat in his palm, swiped it over his cockhead. Positioned himself. And pushed steadily home…
Moaned as he realised Calum had already prepared himself with lube – Chided himself for not having enough faith in his lover – Cried out as he felt himself sink deep into warmth, pressure, flesh – Cried out again as Calum arched below him, taking him in, though Calum was groaning brokenly as the urge to welcome and the urge to deny battled within.
‘Calum…?’ he gasped. ‘Calum!’
‘All right? God…’ He was thrusting within his love, just slightly, rocking his hips back and forth, almost despite himself. God, he’d forgotten how bloody good this felt. ‘You all right? God!’
‘Yours, I’m yours. Make me yours!’ And the battle was over. Calum freed his hands, lifted his arms around Bradley, fitted them together perfectly – in the same ways Bradley had fitted underneath Calum, and in different ways, too. Perfect.
And Bradley fucked him. Carefully, but with passion. Not hard or fast, but hungry and persistent. And when he could hold out no longer, he quickly brought Calum off with his hand, and as his love quaked beneath him, around him, Bradley did as Calum wanted and planted his seed deep within. Staked his claim. Possessed the last piece of his lover that hadn’t already been his.
The layers of leaves were a bit damp, so Bradley rolled over onto his back, bringing Calum with him so he lay half curled on top of him within the circle of his arms. ‘All right?’ he finally asked once they’d both got their breath back.
‘Yes,’ Calum immediately replied, simply and honestly. After a moment he lifted his head, and propped his chin on Bradley’s chest so they could see each other. ‘You liked that,’ he commented, with a wicked little kick to his smile.
‘I did,’ Bradley agreed. He was smiling happily, helplessly. ‘It was wonderful.’
‘I liked it, too.’
Bradley chuckled. ‘Yeah, I noticed.’
‘So can we do it some more now?’
The chuckle became a laugh. ‘God, I hope you don’t mean right now.
Calum’s light dimmed. ‘No. Not right now.’
‘All right. Sorry. Let’s see how you’re feeling tomorrow. You might change your mind about whether you’re ready or not.’
‘Anyway,’ Bradley insisted, ‘we’re still gonna take this slow. All right?’
‘All right,’ Calum grudgingly agreed.
Bradley kissed him as a reward. It didn’t take much to coax the smile back.
This holiday was the first time they’d spent more than a few hours alone together. After accompanying Calum from Aysaar, Nikki had stayed behind in Manchester, in Bradley’s apartment, having a break for herself and rediscovering city life. Bradley and Calum had made great use of their privacy in this remote cottage Bradley had rented – which basically meant that they’d hung around naked whenever it was warm enough, and they’d fucked at least once in each room and a few times in the garden. They saw each other so seldom during the course of a year that shagging themselves silly always seemed like a real priority when they finally got together. But of course that couldn’t occupy them 24/7, and whether it did or not they needed sustenance. So on the morning of the sixth day they drove into the nearest decent–sized town and bought groceries.
Once the car was loaded up, Bradley announced, ‘I need coffee. Real coffee. Shall we grab some lunch?’
‘All right,’ Calum mumbled, though he was looking half spooked as well as half curious about finding himself in the midst of civilisation. Such as it was.
‘I wanna check my voicemails, too,’ Bradley added. There was no signal at all up at the cottage, or not that he’d found despite much wandering around the garden with the phone held up to the skies like an offering to the communication gods.
The mumbled agreement was even more grudging.
‘Maybe Nikki’s left you a message.’
Calum just shrugged.
Bradley echoed him, and turned on his mobile as he led the way into the nearest café with the word espresso written somewhere on its exterior. Twenty–something text messages and an unspecified number of voicemails awaited him. First up there was an inconclusive text from his manager Greg about the contract negotiations for the coming year. Bradley frowned over it for a moment, and then called him. In between talk of amounts and benefits and conditions, Bradley ordered himself a double latté and two grilled beef, cheese and tomato sandwiches on wholegrain.
‘Bradley… Bradley!’ Calum insisted. ‘What’s that thing I like at Sally and Ruby’s?’
But Greg was in the middle of assessing the likelihood of an increase in basic match fees, and Bradley shrugged him off.
Calum shrank back, closed the menu – which he hadn’t read properly anyway – and shook his head at the waitress. He wouldn’t have anything.
And of course Bradley immediately felt like a complete and utter heel, but the guilt only exacerbated his impatience. ‘Hang on,’ he said to Greg. ‘Tahini,’ he said to Calum.
‘Do they have that here?’
‘You can ask her yourself, you know.’
But Calum just shrank further into himself. It probably didn’t help that the waitress had recognised Bradley as a Man Albion player, and was gazing at him; she was ripe for the plucking. Obviously she didn’t keep up with the tabloids, or else she’d realise she hadn’t a chance.
Bradley sighed. ‘Greg. I’ll call you back.’ He hung up, and let the phone drop to the table. ‘You want your usual, if they have it?’ At Calum’s nod, Bradley rattled off the order.
‘What’s tahini?’ was the waitress’s response. Apparently there was nothing more exotic available than dijonnaise, though it seemed clear that she’d be willing to discuss the possibilities of tahini if only they could do so in private.
Once Calum’s order was sorted and the waitress had swayed off, Bradley said, a bit too shortly, ‘I’m sorry, OK? But this contract is probably the last one of my playing career. It has to be right.’
Calum was looking sullen. ‘You said you’ve got lots of money. Why d’you want them to give you more?’
‘It’s not about the money. It’s about how much they value me.’ But apparently that didn’t mean anything to Calum, so Bradley tried to explain. ‘If they start paying me less, then they’ll be less interested in me, too. They might start dropping me from the starting line–up, things like that. They won’t give me chances.’
‘But you played for England! You’re probably the club’s best player!’
Bradley let out a cynical huff. ‘God, where did you get that from?’
‘Um… I think… Mr Harper.’
His Dad’s neighbour down in Devon. ‘Yeah, well, Jim’s a tad biased. You’re biased. The club isn’t biased at all. We need to give them reason to remember me. To treat me well.’
‘But you –’
‘Calum, now is not the time, all right? We can talk about it later, if you want to try to understand. But right now I wanna call Ben – you remember me talking about my captain, Ben Miani, yeah? – and I need to check the rest of these messages. So, you wanna let it drop? Just give me five minutes, for god’s sake, to have an –’
Bradley suddenly realised what he was about to say, and abruptly shut up. And even though he’d been sure he was speaking quite calmly and reasonably, Calum was sitting there in wide–eyed shock, and pretty much everyone in the café was silently staring at Bradley in accusation or prurience or simple nosy interest.
‘Oh god…’ Bradley muttered, rubbing at his face with both hands. ‘I’m sorry, all right? I’m sorry, Calum.’ He spoke directly to his lover, and ignored the rest of them. ‘I’m being horrible, aren’t I? But I’ve just had this hanging over my head for a while now, and I guess this little holiday could have been timed better.’
The waitress came over and dumped Bradley’s sandwiches on the table, before gently placing Calum’s roll down in front of him.
‘Are you hungry?’ Bradley asked.
Calum mutely shook his head.
‘D’you wanna go back to the cottage?’
‘What would you like to do?’ When there was no response, Bradley sighed. ‘You wanna call Nikki, or something? We could even… Well, we could go see her. It wouldn’t even take us two hours to drive back to the apartment.’
Another shake of the head. Then Calum slowly said, ‘No… No, cos she said I should always try working things out with you first.’
Bradley huffed again, rueful but also slightly happier at the thought. ‘Smart woman, your sister. Didn’t I always say that?’
‘OK. You tell me what we should do then. I’ll start by getting rid of this, shall I?’ And he held up the mobile, made a show of turning it off and putting it away. He was rewarded with a reluctant smile. ‘You wanna try just a bite or two of that roll they made you? It’ll probably be almost as good as Ruby’s.’
‘All right,’ Calum whispered. And he obligingly took a small mouthful of his lunch. Absently chewed at it as if it were as dryly unappetising as dust.
Bradley followed suit. Managed a quarter of one sandwich. God, he was a heel. Bradley looked directly across at Calum. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said softly. Genuinely. ‘You wanna go back to the cottage with me? We could read a story, watch a movie – we could watch Indiana Jones again. And we can make a sandwich ourselves, if we get hungry later.’
Calum nodded. But then he asked, ‘What about your coffee? You wanted real coffee.’
‘I don’t care about that. I don’t care much about anything at all, compared to you. Let’s go back, and maybe you’ll let me cuddle you all afternoon…’
A slightly less reluctant smile. ‘Yeah, I wanna go back to the cottage with you.’
‘Let’s go, then, wild honey.’
Calum’s smile grew further, though it still seemed a bit fragile. ‘Yes, my prince,’ he said as he stood.
Bradley dropped a fifty pound note on the table, and walked out without looking back. ‘Not managing to be very princely today, I’m afraid.’
Calum crept up close beside him as they headed towards Bradley’s car. Slipped his hand into Bradley’s. ‘Even princes have their bad days,’ he commented.
Bradley almost laughed. ‘Where d’you get that from? Nikki?’
‘Yeah…’ Calum was grinning now, though there was a quaver in it. ‘She tried to warn me.’
And Bradley pressed a kiss to his cheek. ‘Wise woman, your sister. Think I’d better talk to her, too.’
The phone rang, and Rupert picked it up without enthusiasm; no doubt it was someone wanting to sell him double–glazing or a conservatory or a kitchen refit. ‘Rupert James.’
‘Bradley! How are you? How was the holiday? And Calum, is he well? I trust you had a great time together.’
‘Um, yeah, look… Well, yes and no.’
Rupert sighed. God, wasn’t Bradley ever going to get it right? ‘What happened?’
‘Dad. I have some news. Before we get to all that. Good news.’
‘About the club. We’ve come to an agreement on the contract.’
‘Ah, yes. Good.’ Rupert knew he didn’t sound terribly interested, but Bradley was into his thirties now, and – well, Rupert had realised over recent months that he himself loved Calum MacLeod dearly. He’d give almost anything for Bradley to be able to make this relationship work.
‘It’s not that, though. It’s that they’ve made me vice captain. Ben asked me to be his vice captain!’
‘Oh!’ Rupert tore off his glasses and burst into a grin. ‘That is good news.’
‘Yeah, they… Well, you know, I thought that was one of the things I’d have to give up. It was something I wanted, but I never thought it’d happen once I came out.’
‘But you really are an excellent leader, on field and off.’
‘Yeah, all right – but also gay. It’s a hell of a thing for the club to do. They’re trusting my judgement, they’re setting me up as an example to follow, they’re expecting people to take me seriously… They’re gonna draw some flack over it.’
‘Son, I’m so very proud of you. And the club, too, in a small way – I’ve almost given up on them a few times over the years. They always seem so reluctant to do the right thing. Perhaps they deserve your loyalty, after all.’
A brief pause, then Bradley tentatively asked, ‘Would you come to a game sometime this season? I’d really like you to meet everyone. Especially Ben and Allegra. They’ve been really good friends, these past couple of years.’
‘Yes,’ Rupert said, surprising himself. But why on earth had he resisted this for so long? These days, he and Jim Harper even watched most of Manchester Albion’s broadcast matches together. ‘Yes, of course. I’d love to.’
‘Thanks, Dad.’ And Rupert’s reward was already there in Bradley’s deeply satisfied tones.
Rupert left a long pause, but eventually he had to risk this still–too–rare accord. ‘Bradley, now tell me. Has something gone wrong between you and Calum?’
‘No. Well… I lost my patience with him,’ Bradley blurted. ‘Just once. In public. It was awful. I, uh… I was rather horrible to him.’
‘Don’t be too hard on yourself,’ Rupert advised.
Bradley confessed, hard and fast, ‘I almost told him to give me five minutes in which to have an adult conversation. I just managed to stop myself in time. But I guess he got the general idea anyway.’
Rupert pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘How did he react?’
‘Surprisingly well, considering. I mean, he was pretty shocked. But he handled it. He forgave me. He told me that even princes have bad days.’
A reluctant chuckle bubbled up from Rupert’s chest. ‘Maybe Calum is more resilient than you give him credit for.’
‘Yeah, I know. He can take care of himself.’ Bradley sighed. ‘Still, I should never have –’
‘Don’t be too hard on yourself,’ Rupert repeated. ‘From what I’ve seen, you’ve had the patience of a saint, except for this one incident. You can’t be perfect, not even for Calum’s sake.’
‘I guess not.’
‘And he’s only going to learn how to interact more with people if he experiences such moments – and if, as you say, he handled it, and while under the pressure of being in public, then he’ll have learned something. It’s a pity he might have learned it the hard way, but that’s a necessary part of being out in the world.’
‘Bradley…’ They were silent for a long moment.
‘So, I wanted to say – I understand. I understand how frustrating it gets for you. With me being way behind you intellectually.’
An amazing point for Bradley to concede. Equally amazingly, Rupert could immediately and honestly reassure him. ‘You have your own skills, your own wisdom and knowledge. It took me a while, but I’ve come to appreciate that. It was your example that really helped me: you appreciate Calum’s own wisdom. You and I have other matters in common. Important matters. You and he share plenty of other things.’
‘You think that’s enough?’
‘Yes, I do.’ Rupert sighed again. ‘It can be. This doesn’t have to be a problem.’ Another silence, before Rupert was brave enough to ask, ‘Are you saying, Bradley, that there has been a serious rupture between you and Calum?’
‘No. No, I don’t think so.’ Though he didn’t sound entirely sure, either. ‘We both made an effort afterwards, you know? And everything seemed fine again by the end of the afternoon. Calum didn’t even mention it to Nikki when we got back to Manchester. I told her. He just seemed so happy about all the other stuff we did, the walks and the countryside and – And everything seemed fine when they left. Well, the usual weeping and wailing,’ Bradley added with a self–conscious humourless chuckle. ‘It’s never easy to part again, but it’s always OK at some level, cos it’s like we know we’re together, no matter what.’
‘And it was like that this time as well?’
‘Yes,’ said Bradley. ‘No matter what.’
‘There you have it, then,’ said Rupert, feeling utterly relieved. By the end of their unprecedentedly long phone call, it seemed that Bradley was feeling rather more relieved, too.
January 2004 | Bradley
Nikki and Calum came to Manchester again to see in the new year, and on the first of January Bradley took them round to Ben and Allegra’s for lunch. It was the first time they’d all met. Calum, predictably enough, was immediately besotted with their hosts’ three–month–old baby girl Laure, and stood there gazing rapt at her resting curled up in the crook of Ben’s muscular arm throughout the introductions.
Once everyone was done saying hello, a silence fell as they all waited on Calum’s reaction. After a long moment, he turned and whispered to Bradley, ‘D’you think I could hold her?’
‘Why don’t you ask Ben,’ he suggested easily. ‘I’m sure he won’t mind.’
Calum shyly dragged his gaze up to Ben’s face to ask him directly. ‘May I…?’
‘Of course you can, Calum,’ Ben responded happily, and was about to just put Laure into Calum’s outstretched hands –
But Allegra said, quite kindly, ‘Do you know how to hold her properly, mio caro?’
Calum immediately took a step back, wide–eyed and pale, dropping his hands to his sides. But he offered, ‘I h–have to s–support h–her head?’
Allegra smiled. ‘That’s right. Of course!’ She patted his arm. ‘Let’s all go through and sit down, shall we? And then you can hold Laure until it’s time for her nap, if you like.’
‘All right,’ said Calum, as he trotted off after her. ‘It’s g–good for babies to h–have a routine, isn’t it?’
‘That’s exactly right, Calum.’
Bradley and Nikki exchanged a wry grin, and followed along after Ben.
The thing was, Bradley pondered, Calum himself was adorable. But Calum sitting there on the sofa with all his love focussed on little Laure, his whole long body curved in an echo of his cradling arms… and with Laure gazing back up at him in a perfect reflection of his trust, gripping his finger as if she didn’t want to ever let him go either, bringing his knuckle to her mouth to taste as curiously as Calum himself might… Bradley was moved beyond measure.
He said, quite rawly, ‘We’re, uh – we’re thinking of adopting, Calum and me. We’d like a daughter. Maybe two.’
And Calum spared a moment from his doting to glance up at Bradley with happy yearning.
‘Oh, it’s hard, though,’ Allegra said. ‘You’ll have a hard time of it, in Britain.’
She belatedly looked up from Laure’s contentment to face dismay from her guests and pain from her husband. ‘I’m sorry! Of course, maybe it will work out for you. But it’s a long hard process. Friends of ours went through it, and they’re still waiting for a child three years later.’
‘Allegra…’ Ben murmured.
‘I’m really sorry…’ She looked from Calum’s grief to Bradley’s concern to Nikki’s brittleness. ‘Money counts for something, Bradley, I’m sorry to say. But they’re so particular these days. They’ll use the smallest excuse to – well, maybe not to disqualify you, but to leave you a long way down the list.’ And she glanced discreetly at Calum.
It was the first time that Bradley had ever disliked her. ‘Of course, I realise I’m not a prime candidate for parenthood,’ he said a bit stiffly, ‘but Calum would obviously be brilliant. So maybe that’ll do the trick for us. Calum’s brilliance and my money. An unbeatable combination.’
She’d gone red. ‘Bradley, I’m sorry… There are other options, anyway. You could adopt a child from overseas, for instance. You’d still need to be approved as suitable within Britain, but you wouldn’t have to wait so long for a child.’
‘Allegra…’ Ben murmured again.
‘If you need any help in applying…’ she offered in atonement, though Bradley knew she would have meant it anyway. ‘Any support or references…’
‘Yes, we’ll have to apply,’ Calum said stoutly, to everyone’s surprise. ‘Of course! Cos, you know, we can’t make a baby ourselves.’
Nikki rolled her eyes, but her mouth twitched into a reluctant smile. Ben and Allegra looked rather surprised. Bradley just sat there waiting for the rest of it. When it didn’t come, he felt quite mournful. ‘Calum…?’
‘You’re not gonna stop trying to make a baby with me, are you?’
Calum favoured him with a wicked grin. ‘Never!’
‘Oh, thank heavens for that,’ he murmured heartfelt.
Ben was chuckling, and shaking his head. Allegra got up and went to sit beside Calum on the sofa, peering at him closely. ‘If anyone could, it would be you, wouldn’t it, mio caro? You have so much love in you.’
Calum smiled at her peaceably. ‘What does mio caro mean?’
‘It means my darling, my beloved. It’s Italian, you know.’
‘Are you Italian?’
Calum brightened in recognition. ‘My father was Italian. Not my real father. But the man who made me with my mother. He was Italian.’
Which was something Bradley hadn’t known. He looked at Nikki, who nodded confirmation – though she added, ‘She met him in Italy. All we have is a name. But it’s an Italian name.’
Allegra was delighted. ‘I knew it! We shall pretend we are cousins, you and I, Calum. Cugino, cousins. I knew I would love you when Bradley first told us about you, but I didn’t know how much I would love you, il mio uomo caro.’
Nikki was rolling her eyes again, but very discreetly. Bradley shared her amusement at Calum making yet another conquest. Sometimes Bradley thought he might even understand why Phyllis MacLeod had kept her son so close, for it seemed the whole world was waiting in line to fall in love with him.
Bradley’s resolve to adopt was further strengthened when Calum was just as happy to go help Allegra change Laure before her afternoon nap. It seemed Calum well knew that babies weren’t all cuddles and adorableness. In fact, Calum seemed to have a very clear perspective on a number of things now. ‘No, that doesn’t bother me,’ they could hear him telling Allegra as the two returned to the living room. ‘Even princes have to do that every day.’
Bradley snorted softly, and commented, ‘I think I’m officially off my pedestal now.’
Ben gave him a commiserating glance. ‘Happens to the best of us, my man. Sooner or later they find our feet of clay.’
Nikki was, incredibly, reassuring. ‘It’s gone deeper. I don’t think he could feel more, but it’s gone deeper now.’
Bradley stared at her, a bit overwhelmed. Which was probably just as well, cos otherwise he’d have laughed at the contrast between this high–flown sentiment, and Calum’s rather more prosaic comment to Allegra, ‘It’s just part of how we work, isn’t it?’
Allegra was beyond delighted. ‘Oh, how I love you, Calum. You are so not English!’
Calum lay behind Bradley that night, curled around him, thrusting long and slow and hard into him, making him whole.
Bradley twisted round a little, and Calum shifted up onto an elbow, so that they could gaze at each other, into each other. ‘I’m not even one any more,’ Bradley murmured, hardly making sense even to himself. ‘Not me alone. This isn’t one and one make two, cos I’m nothing without you. Calum… You and me together make one.’
Calum’s sea–blue eyes seeing all the way down inside him, the undulating waves driving Calum’s cock deep within, Calum’s hand creating him out of nothing with a rhythmic tug of pleasure.
‘I wish I could give you that baby, my sweet wild honey. I have room in here for her to grow. I’m just an empty shell, and you’re the ocean pouring through me.’
‘Then we’ll make her now,’ Calum quietly solemnly replied. ‘With your seed and my seed. With your love and my love. We’ll make our baby now…’
A twist of Calum’s wrist, his thumb–pad pressing down on just the right place – and Bradley was coming with a broken cry, his whole body pulsing, and Calum was pulsing within him, those waves never once faltering, that gaze never faltering, and if there had ever been even the remotest chance of them creating life between them, it would have come into being in that moment.
Bradley was too wrought up to sleep. So eventually he carefully eased out of Calum’s heavy slumbering embrace, wrapped himself in his dressing gown, and padded out barefoot to the living room.
Nikki was there, her study books spread over the dining table. She looked up, and offered him a small smile. ‘Can’t settle?’
He shook his head, and sank into the chair at the other end of the long table. ‘How’s the course going?’
‘Great. Really great.’ She was doing an Open University degree in literature with a side order of social sciences, or some such thing, and planned to write her dissertation on folk tales. After a moment, Nikki glanced away, and said, ‘Rupert’s been a real help.’
‘You’ve been talking with Dad?’
She shrugged. ‘Yeah. Well, you know, he and Calum started calling each other every couple of weeks, and I got stuck on something once, and took the chance to ask him about it. So now he calls for both of us.’
‘Oh.’ It was one of those profound kind of days. Bradley didn’t think he could cope with much more.
‘Don’t mind, do you?’
‘God, no, of course not. That’s wonderful, actually. I always wanted the four of us to be a family, didn’t I?’
Nikki’s smile became a fonder thing. ‘Yes, you did.’
And he really couldn’t cope with anything more, but he took the opportunity to say, ‘If we go through with this adoption idea…’
‘Well, I’m assuming it will mean… some kind of psychiatric evaluation for Calum. Me, too, probably. But they’re gonna want to know… if there is something wrong with him.’ Bradley added, very quickly, ‘I know you said all along there’s nothing wrong with him, and of course there isn’t, nothing wrong at all – but they’re not really gonna see him as normal, are they?’
Nikki sat there and thought about this for a while, with her face lowered. Bradley let her be. Eventually she looked up at him, and said, ‘All right.’
‘It’s a risk, but we’ve got to take it.’
He frowned. ‘What are we risking?’
She wouldn’t reply with anything but a shrug.
Bradley continued, ‘Anyway, if there is something that’s not quite right –’
‘You wanna label him.’
‘Labels can really limit a person.’
‘But maybe it would mean there’s something we can do to help him.’
‘You don’t want to fix him, do you?’
‘No! God, no. I really don’t. But even something like literacy and numeracy courses. If he wants to. And if I helped him with that, I’d probably learn just as much as he would. We read to each other a lot, but I get stuck on words almost as often as he does.’ Bradley sighed when he saw that Nikki still wasn’t wholly convinced. ‘I don’t want to fix him. I love him just the way he is. But I don’t want to hold him back, either.’
Nikki looked at him thoughtfully, and after a while she nodded. ‘All right.’
‘All right,’ Bradley said. ‘Thank you.’ He dragged himself up to his feet again. ‘I think I’m gonna go collapse now.’
She smiled at him. ‘Goodnight, then, brother.’
‘Goodnight, Nikki.’ And he looked at her, and for the first time he called her sister.
May 2004 | Rupert
Towards the end of the season, Bradley organised for Rupert, Jim and his wife Doreen to fly up to Manchester for a weekend match. Calum and Nikki were there, too. The five of them watched the game from a corporate box, somewhat shielded from the furore of fans. Jim and Calum spent the whole thing up against the floor–length glass window, with Jim happily commentating or answering Calum’s eager questions or making doleful remarks about the impossibility of anyone but Jim himself understanding the off–side rule. It was the first live match of Bradley’s that any of them had attended; Rupert didn’t neglect to feel sorry that was so. Rupert sat with Nikki and Doreen, talking with them civilly and occasionally distractedly, while his gaze hardly left his son’s golden head, his number ten jersey.
After much escalating tension, with the scores level, Manchester Albion won in the last moments, with Bradley himself kicking the winning goal. It couldn’t have been better scripted in the slightest. Rupert grinned, his eyes damp, while Calum and Jim jumped around in each other’s arms, whooping. But then Rupert stood to call Calum’s attention back to the field. The captain Ben Miani was holding Bradley aloft in triumph, and Bradley’s arms were raised in acknowledgment towards their corporate box. ‘Calum,’ Rupert said. ‘That’s for you. He was playing his very best for you.’
Happy tears were rolling down Calum’s cheeks as he gazed down at his lover. He put an arm around Rupert’s waist, and said, ‘It was for you, too, Rupert. It was for all of us.’ But then as the team finally jogged off the field together to renewed roars from the crowd, Calum suddenly began weeping, and he turned collapsing into Rupert’s arms.
It was a long half hour before Bradley appeared, fresh from his shower, dressed in his official team suit, tie and shirt. Calum had spent at least twenty minutes of it crying through the aftermath of the excitement, but they’d all managed to calm down by the time Bradley walked in looking like… looking exactly like the kind of son any father would be so absolutely proud of. Handsome, successful, profoundly happy. Bradley walked in, and Calum was immediately in his arms, tucking his head in to press his face against Bradley’s throat. Everyone gathered around, patting Bradley on the shoulder, or shaking the hand he reluctantly spared from stroking Calum’s back. Everyone offered him their congratulations.
Bradley thanked them, and then murmured to Calum, ‘Did you see me wave to you after the game? That was for you, wild honey.’
‘It was for all of us,’ Calum insisted in muffled tones.
‘Yes, it was for everyone.’ Bradley smiled around at their companions, before loudly whispering in Calum’s ear, ‘But especially for you.’
Rupert and Nikki exchanged a fond smile for these two people dearest to them, this lovestruck pair.
Then Ben Miani came in, with his wife. Introductions were made. ‘You must be proud, Mr James,’ Ben said with utter sincerity as they shook hands.
‘I am, thank you, so very proud. And we owe you a great deal, Mr Miani. You’ve been a true friend to my son.’
‘It’s an honour to be Bradley’s friend, sir. He’s a fine man.’ Then Ben stepped back, and looked around them all. ‘Now, we were hoping you’d join us in the members bar. If it’s not too much to ask?’
From the way Jim stiffened, apparently in danger of toppling over in shock, Rupert gathered this was a great honour. He watched as Nikki stepped over to Calum, and gently lifted his face, checking his smile which was a little firmer now. ‘All right, Fir Apple?’ she asked. ‘There’ll probably be lots of people there. There’ll be people wanting to meet you. And we’ll all need to behave ourselves.’
‘Yeah, I’m all right,’ Calum said, though with a sniff. He even loosened his hold on Bradley, just a little.
‘Is there somewhere we can scrub up first?’ Nikki asked Allegra.
‘Certainly, mio cara. Come along, my darling Calum. All the other WAGs are dying to meet you.’
‘WAGs?’ he asked as the two young women led him away. ‘What are WAGs?’
‘It stands for Wives and Girlfriends,’ Nikki said.
‘The players’ wives and girlfriends. You’re one of us now, mio caro.’
Calum snorted a giggle. ‘But I’m a boyfriend!’
‘Well, we’ll just have to –’
But another door closed behind them, and Rupert, Bradley, Ben and the others never did hear Allegra’s plans for this rather unexpected integration.
The WAGs, however, immediately gathered Calum into their fold, and made quite a fuss over him, much to Calum’s bemusement. ‘Everyone falls in love with him,’ Bradley commented to Rupert, watching from a safe distance with a shake of his head. ‘I thank god every day that I saw him first!’
‘I thank god for that, too, Bradley. Because no matter how wonderful Calum is, the fact of the matter is that you deserve him.’
Bradley kept his face averted, and he didn’t reply, but Rupert knew well enough that this was simply because Bradley was moved. Eventually he said, ‘Thank you, Dad.’
Meanwhile, Ben conversed with an awestruck Jim; Doreen seemed happy enough at his side. Apparently Nikki, however, eventually had her fill of football talk. She collected a bottle of red wine and two glasses from the bar, and took Rupert’s hand to lead him over to a grouping of comfortable chairs a little removed from it all, where they discussed her studies in folklore and his own work in medieval history in infinite detail.
It was a good day. It was a very good day.
It was a good day. Except that eventually – once Bradley had rescued Calum from the women, and led him hand–in–hand to introduce him to the team manager and a few of the players and staff Bradley got along best with – except that eventually, of course, their goalkeeper Will Mellor had to ruin everything. He’d obviously had a drink or two more than he should have, and he came leering around Bradley, beerily sizing up Calum. ‘Is this my competition?’ he demanded. ‘Is this whippet what you left me for?’
‘Not now, Will,’ Bradley said quietly. ‘It’s really not a good time.’
‘Not a good time? You broke my heart, Bradley James. It’s never a good time for me.’
Bradley turned to Calum, who was watching in confusion. ‘He’s just kidding around, Calum. Don’t pay any attention.’
‘Kidding around…’ Will scoffed. ‘You might have been fooling. I was deadly serious!’
‘You’re seriously nuts,’ Bradley muttered. This heavy–handed joshing was bad enough when it was aimed at him alone. ‘And seriously straight, remember?’
‘What did you say about my nuts?’ Will asked loudly.
‘Bradley…’ Calum said.
‘Will, please. Not today.’
‘You never used to deny me…’ Will complained. Then, as Bradley turned to lead Calum away, Will added, ‘God, look at that sweet arse! Doesn’t he have a sweet arse, Calum MacLeod?’
‘Yes,’ Calum replied with simple honesty. ‘Bradley…’
‘Just ignore him, Calum. Will, save it for next week, OK? Please. When I don’t have my family here.’
‘You’re gonna make me wait a whole week…’
‘Bradley!’ Calum cried, low and brokenly.
Right. Enough was enough. Bradley gripped Calum’s hand firmly and led him away, winding through the maze of people, trying not to betray his anger, his hurt, his worry. God, all he needed was for Will to provoke Calum into his jealousy – his fierce possessiveness, his temper – and they’d all end up looking like utter fools. Poor Calum would be upset over nothing at all. A perfectly good day would be ruined, the club might re–think being supportive, and Bradley would…
He saw Ben smoothly moving to cut Will off, already calming things down. Then Bradley spied Rupert and Nikki sitting over in the area generally reserved for board members, talking happily together. Apparently they hadn’t even noticed the fuss with Will. Perfect. And there weren’t any affronted board members hanging around, thank god. Bradley headed that way, sank into one of the big soft forbidden armchairs, and drew Calum down into a huddle on his lap.
‘Bradley…’ Calum moaned unhappily. ‘Was he your boyfriend? Is he still your boyfriend now?’
‘No, never. There hasn’t been anyone for me but you, since the first day we met.’ Bradley ran soothing hands down Calum’s shaking back, but Bradley himself was still so mad that it probably had the opposite effect to what he intended. ‘He doesn’t like that I’m gay, all right? It makes him uncomfortable. So he… he pretends he’s attracted to me, as a joke.’
Calum was frowning at him, furiously. ‘No… No, that’s not a joke. That’s not funny. I think he means it!’
‘It’s not funny, you’re right. But it doesn’t mean anything – other than that he’s a complete idiot.’
Nikki chipped in. ‘Do you remember we talked about irony, Calum?’
He was still frowning, but at least he was beginning to turn thoughtful. ‘Um…’
‘It’s when you say the opposite of what you mean.’
Calum nodded doubtfully. It wasn’t exactly a concept he’d find easy to understand.
‘That’s it,’ Bradley agreed, with a grateful nod at Nikki. ‘Exactly. He’s being ironic, cos he knows he’s not allowed to say what he really means. So he says the opposite.’
After a moment, Calum asked, ‘What does he really mean?’
‘That he thinks there shouldn’t be any gay players on the team. There should only be straight players.’
‘But you’re… you’re their best player. You won the game today!’
Bradley smiled at him, and now his hands were firmer on Calum’s lean waist. ‘Well, if anyone does think that’s true, that just makes him hate me all the more.’
‘Oh,’ said Calum, frowning in puzzlement. He eased a little, relaxed into Bradley’s embrace.
‘Do you understand anything much of all that, Calum? Will’s not easy to understand. But sometimes we get ourselves twisted up into these idiotic situations…’ Bradley sighed. ‘You really don’t have anything to worry about.’
‘All right,’ Calum agreed, echoing Bradley’s sigh. He pressed his face against Bradley’s throat. ‘I love you, my prince. My beautiful prince.’
‘I love you, too, my sweet wild honey.’
‘Good,’ said Calum firmly.
It had been a long and emotional day, but Rupert was flying home the next morning, and the four of them might not be together again for months. So Bradley asked for a family meeting, and they sat around the dining table with a pot of tea. Rupert thanked Bradley again for a good day, for including Jim and Doreen, for introducing them all to the people that mattered at the club.
‘That’s all right,’ Bradley replied. ‘Should have done it years ago.’
‘I should have involved myself years ago.’
Bradley nodded in acknowledgement, and decided to launch into the main topic. ‘I might only have two years left in my playing career,’ he started. ‘Well, I’ll probably retire after the 2006 season when my contract runs out, if I’m not forced out by injury or whatever before then.’ The other three were all watching him carefully. Bradley reached out to grasp Calum’s hand in his. ‘We’ll be able to live together then, wild honey. I’m trusting that you still want to live with me.’
Calum’s eyes went wide and damp, and he nodded, just once, decisively.
‘You’ve been very patient, waiting for me to be done playing. You’ve been wonderful, and I love you for it.’
‘I love you, too,’ he whispered.
Bradley looked around at the other two, feeling a bit damp himself. God, and he hadn’t even gotten started yet. ‘I’m guessing we need to start thinking about where Calum and I will live. Cos I want to start looking into this adoption idea – we’re not getting any younger – and the first thing they’re going to ask is where and when. Where our home will be. They’re gonna want to know where we’ll be settled, and when, and I’m guessing we need to at least have some plans. Maybe even buy a place now, and start making it ready.’
‘Yes,’ said Rupert, ‘that seems wise.’
Nikki just sat there, upright and pale. Bradley knew all too well that she had the most to lose.
‘I don’t think Manchester is a great idea for Calum, and I’ll be just as happy to leave it behind. But – and I’m being totally honest here – I don’t think Ayssar is a great idea for me. Not to live there all year round. I’m sorry,’ he said to Calum, ‘I know you love it there, you love your island – but it’s just a bit too remote for me.’
Calum exchanged a long enigmatic look with Nikki, and eventually nodded in Bradley’s direction, a bit shakily.
‘I’ll live there with you, if there’s no other way,’ Bradley said. ‘I promise. If you think you can’t live anywhere else.’
‘We already talked about it,’ Nikki said, sounding strained. ‘Calum said he thought he could live somewhere else now. Not a really big city, though, you’re right about that. But he’ll keep the house on Aysaar. So he can go back whenever he wants to. Needs to. And you could spend summers there, or whatever.’
‘Thank you,’ said Bradley to Nikki. ‘Thank you. You’re very brave,’ he said to Calum, lifting their joined hands to his mouth to press a kiss to Calum’s cool skin.
Calum nodded again, but didn’t venture to say anything.
‘There’s plenty of money,’ Bradley said. ‘I consider it our money, for the four of us. So money isn’t a consideration when it comes to needing to work, or where we live, or anything. But I would like to coach football. Work with kids, perhaps in a school, coach a really good girls’ team, work with people who haven’t had my privileges. I’d really enjoy that. Football is what I’m good at, though I know it doesn’t count for much.’
Even Rupert muttered a protest against that. ‘I believe it counts a great deal.’ They’d come a long way, the two of them.
‘So, I guess I’d like to live somewhere there’s enough people around for me to be able to do that. Even if our home is actually out in the surrounding country, I’d like to be in reach of a biggish town, or a smallish city. Does that make sense? Otherwise, I don’t mind where we are. On the mainland near Aysaar, if you want, Calum. Or – well, anywhere in Britain, really.’
‘Well, Bradley,’ said Rupert, ‘I think –’
‘Dad, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to drive this whole conversation, but there’s one more thing I want to say. And then you can all say what you want. And then we can work out how to make a decision that suits all four of us. But there’s one other thing.’
‘Yes, son?’ he said very reasonably.
Bradley took a breath. ‘Calum and I… we’re better off when you two are around – Dad and Nikki. We’re a couple, sure, but we’re also part of a family, and that’s really important to us. Especially once we have kids to take care of as well. I’m not saying we all have to live together, the four of us, but if there’s any way that the two of you can each be within easy reach, then I would really appreciate that. But I know,’ he added, looking earnestly at them, ‘that would mean one or both of you giving up your homes. Cos Devon and Aysaar are too far apart for that to work.’
Calum reached his other hand to hold Nikki’s, and he looked at her imploringly as if to indicate he and Bradley were as one on this.
Rupert let them have a long moment, and then he said very quietly, ‘Thank you, Bradley. It means more than I can say, that you want me nearby.’
‘I can be the one to move,’ he continued. ‘You just tell me where. I can do my writing anywhere. Well, if we’re near a university library, I would appreciate it. But I can live anywhere. I’ve grown fond of that house in Devon, but my real home is wherever you and Calum and Nikki are.’
‘Oh, Dad…’ Bradley whispered. He hadn’t expected anything like such a prompt and heartfelt commitment.
Calum got up, and went around the table to wrap Rupert up in a hug. The two of them held each other for a long moment, and then Calum headed round further to crouch down beside Nikki. ‘I want to live near the sea,’ Calum said, his voice quavering a bit. ‘I don’t mind which sea, but I love the sea. And I want you with us, Nikki, if you want that, too.’
She smiled at him, just as emotional as any of them at this point. ‘I don’t think I should live with you. I think it should just be the two of you together. But I’d be happy to live nearby, maybe just a few minutes walk away.’ She looked at Rupert and Bradley. ‘I don’t mind where, either. I’m ready to leave Aysaar. It’s been a good place for me, but I’m ready to move on. As long as Calum keeps the house there. It’s your house, remember, Fir Apple. You should keep it so you have your own place.’
‘It’s our house,’ he insisted. ‘Yours and mine.’
‘You’ll need somewhere to go back to at times. You’ll need somewhere on the island.’ She was starting to look a bit brighter. ‘All right. A nice interesting stretch of countryside for Calum to ramble in, near the sea. A big university town nearby with lots of people who want to play football. At least one home large enough for a couple with kids. Am I forgetting anything?’
Bradley smiled at her. ‘That sounds perfect.’
‘It does,’ said Rupert. ‘Wonderful. Let’s not try to pin it down further now. I think we’ve achieved enough for one day! Why don’t we all start looking at maps, and researching, and pondering, and we’ll phone or email each other with some ideas over the summer?’
‘Perfect,’ Bradley echoed. And when Calum came around to envelop him in a hug, he realised he meant it tenfold.
June 2004 | Bradley
After all the excitements of spring, their shared summertime seemed quiet and uneventful. In fact, Bradley felt quite morose, as though he and Calum had achieved their highest point in spring, and – even if it took decades to decline, and they never actually reached a bad place – he felt as if it were all downhill from there.
He played endless games on his Nintendo DS, which Calum seemed to regard as an unfathomable alien artefact – nothing to do with him or his world. Or Bradley would listen to music, using the earphones cos Calum wasn’t interested. Calum didn’t even ask Bradley to sing to him any more. The two of them did a couple of hikes through the mountains on Skye, together but not talking much. Otherwise, Calum worked hard in his vegetable and herb garden. Sally and Ruby had a couple of large catering jobs coming up and also wanted to expand their café menu, so Calum was particularly busy, and drafted Bradley’s help on occasion.
‘We’ll need a proper garden, won’t we?’ said Bradley one day. ‘Would you still like to do this sort of thing? Supply a local restaurant or two? Maybe even run a market stall.’
‘Maybe you’d like some animals. Like a small farm.’
Calum frowned at him in the bright sunlight. ‘Whatever you’d like, Bradley.’
‘No, what would you like?’
But Calum just looked at him, kind of puzzled, and didn’t reply.
At night they’d curl up together to fall asleep, but sometimes in the morning they were lying separate and chilly on either side of the double bed. After a couple of weeks, Bradley woke up early and realised he and Calum hadn’t had sex even once the day before. And, all right, they’d been boyfriends for three years now, but they’d spent so little actual time together, this sudden lack felt like it had happened far too soon. He roused Calum with a kiss, and reached for him immediately. Tugged him to completion while Calum was still blinking bleary and warm, spilling helpless into his hand, mewling. They cuddled afterwards, Calum slipping away again into a doze, until they were forced up by the dull necessities of life.
About a week after that, Calum came over to Bradley as he lay on his back in the grass near the house, slaying monsters made of pixels – Calum came over, and stood looming tall above him, and said very quietly, ‘Don’t you believe in our story any more, Bradley?’
Bradley shaded his eyes to look up at him. ‘Of course I do. Why would you say that?’
‘You’re not happy. It’s almost like you’re not even really here.’
Silence. The little Bradley–sim on the Nintendo withered and died.
‘Come and sit down,’ he said, tossing the game console aside and swivelling up to sit cross–legged. When they were settled next to each other, Bradley asked, ‘How important is it to you to have children?’
Calum shrugged carelessly, but he said, ‘Very.’
‘I just… I’m afraid it’s going to be difficult. I might have gotten your hopes up too far. I just assumed we could do this – but I talked it over with someone in social services, and she felt… she thought we should try fostering first. And I don’t know how that would suit you.’
After a moment’s reflection, Calum said, ‘It wouldn’t be like our own child. Just like we were looking after her for a while.’
‘That’s right. And it might be older children. Maybe someone who’s troubled, or had a hard life. And then if you did come to love him or her, you’d still have to let them go a few years later, maybe even after just a few months. How would you feel about that?’
It was a lot to throw at him all at once, but Calum took it on board, and thought about it hard. Eventually he asked, ‘Is that the only way?’
‘I think so. For now, at least. I don’t think they’re gonna approve us to adopt, even from overseas, unless we’ve tried fostering first. It might have been different if either of us had any direct experience with kids, but we were both brought up alone, we didn’t even have any little brothers and sisters to help take care of. You didn’t know Nikki until you were both already grown up, yeah?’
‘Yeah,’ Calum agreed with a sigh.
Bradley sighed, too. ‘How about you think about all that? And you let me know when you’ve worked out whether it’s a good idea or not.’
But Calum said, ‘If that’s the only way, we should try. Cos we don’t even know, do we? We don’t know if we’ll be any good. So that’s how we’ll find out, too.’
For the first time in a while, Bradley felt a little bit of hope. Which just made it all the more heartbreaking. ‘You’d be brilliant,’ he said. ‘You’d be the most wonderful father ever.’
‘No, you will!’ Calum retorted with a grin.
‘You’d be better!’
Nikki came out the back door with a tray of tea things, to find them wrestling around on the grass. ‘God, like we need more kids in this family,’ she muttered.
They settled down a bit. Calum lay on his back, propped up on his elbows, while Bradley rested his head on Calum’s narrow warm belly. He sighed. God, he couldn’t stop sighing. But maybe it would work out. After all, he’d expected Calum to be angry about this. Resentful. ‘Nikki,’ Bradley said. ‘Did you hear any of that?’
‘Some. You think you’ll need to be foster parents first.’
‘Yeah.’ Bradley looked at Calum. ‘What if they fostered a little girl with us, and we had to let her go back to her mother after a year or something? Long enough to really love her, but not long enough to watch her grow?’
Calum looked bleak, but oddly resigned. ‘If that’s the only way,’ he repeated distantly.
‘I’m worried about you. I don’t think it would do you much good.’
‘We should try.’
‘I’m sorry. This isn’t how the story is meant to go, is it?’
‘No.’ Calum reached out to run a gentle fingertip from Bradley’s temple down his cheek to his chin. ‘Do you still love me?’
‘Yes. Yes, of course. That’s not gonna change.’
‘I still love you.’
‘I know.’ Bradley sat up abruptly, and dropped his face to his hands. ‘I know. But you weren’t gay before you met me, were you? Maybe I’m just getting in your way. I thought I was a good thing in your life. I’m so fucking arrogant! Maybe I should let you go.’ God, it killed him to even say it.
Calum had let out a wounded cry of protest.
‘If I let you go, you can find a woman, and love her, and have kids the old–fashioned way.’
‘No! No.’ Calum was kneeling by him, leaning over him, wrapping himself around Bradley, holding him, his hands grabbing so hard they hurt.
Bradley groaned. ‘Tell me why not.’
‘I love you, Bradley. I love you.’
Nikki said, fierce, ‘Don’t you dare think you’re walking away, Bradley James. Don’t you dare think that’s the right answer for any of us.’
‘All right,’ he said, surrendering. ‘All right.’
‘I love you,’ Calum was muttering. ‘I love you.’
‘I know, my sweet wild honey. I know. I’m sorry. I love you, too. God, I really do.’
‘That’s the most important thing,’ Calum concluded. He stood up, and he was upset enough to give Bradley a shove as he did so. Bradley took it as his due, without complaint. And Calum went back to his gardening, his posture stiff and his face grieving as if his heart might break.
They made love that night, in the darkness of their room. In a deliberate echo of their first time together, Calum lay over Bradley, straddling him, thrusting down between his thighs, and rocking back up to work against Bradley. They kissed, and Bradley wound his arms tight around Calum’s shoulders, eventually sliding his hands down to feel the slight curves of Calum’s rear, to feel the shifting play of muscle under the skin as he thrust relentlessly on. ‘You amaze me, Calum MacLeod,’ Bradley murmured. ‘You deserve better than me.’
‘No, I don’t,’ Calum murmured in reply. ‘I deserve you.’
‘No one is better than you. Not for me.’
It took Bradley what seemed like hours to come. And when he finally did, a sob tore out of him, as if wrenched from his gut. Calum followed him with a mournful cry. And then they held each other close, though neither of them were comforted.
‘All right,’ said Bradley as his fourth and last week on Aysaar was drawing to a close. ‘There’s one other option.’
‘You don’t want to try foster children?’ Calum asked.
‘Only if we have to. I don’t think it’s ideal, cos it would be so disruptive.’
Calum nodded, and went back to kneading the bread dough. ‘What’s the other option?’
Bradley was sitting at the kitchen table, slumped way down in his chair. He had no idea how Calum would take this, and everything else Bradley had done this summer had gone awry. ‘A friend of mine, Geena,’ he began. ‘She’s the sister of a guy who used to play for Man Albion. She’s a lesbian. Do you know what that means?’
‘Sally and Ruby are lesbians,’ Calum said very steadily, as if determined not to feel patronised.
‘Sorry, yes. Of course. Well, Geena used to go to events with me. Awards nights, end of season dinners, that kind of thing. As my date. Just as friends, you understand. Because no one knew I was gay, and I had to pretend. Even her brother didn’t know. But she knew about me, and I knew about her.’
‘All right,’ Calum said, though he didn’t sound overly happy.
‘Then she settled down with a girlfriend, who didn’t like our arrangement, and anyway then I was outed, and I met you. I haven’t seen her for a while. But I thought, she’s someone we could ask… We could ask her to have a child for us. To be a surrogate mother for us. We couldn’t make it legal that we’re the child’s parents, but she was a good friend. I’m sure she wouldn’t cause trouble for us.’ Bradley took a breath. ‘Do you understand what surrogacy is?’
Calum was glaring at him, his hands punched deep into the mound of dough. ‘You wanna shag her?’
‘You wanna make a baby with her!’
‘Not like that, for god’s sake. Why on earth are you always so quick to assume that I have another boyfriend, or that I’m wanting to shag anyone other than you?’
‘Because…’ Petulant now.
‘Don’t you have any faith in me? I haven’t even wanted anyone else since I first saw you.’
Calum shrugged unhappily, and began roughly pummelling the dough again. ‘But you’re there. In the city. With all those people around. Most of the year. I’ve seen how people look at you! And we’re not together. We can’t – And –’
‘And I wait, Calum. I wait for you. When it gets too much, I toss myself, and while I’m doing that I think of you. Only you, Calum.’
After a long moment, Calum looked down at the dough, pulled a strand away from the bulk of it, and examined the texture. Sighed, and dumped the lot in the bin.
‘You don’t want anyone else, do you?’ Bradley asked, thinking only to prove that it was perfectly possible to remain chaste. But then he reconsidered. ‘Or do you? Is that what this is about? Cos it’s OK to think about other people, Calum, if that’s what you do. I just wouldn’t want you… doing anything about it, that’s all.’
Calum had collapsed into a chair at the far end of the table. ‘I don’t think about other people, Bradley,’ he said, rather remotely.
‘Well, good. Thank you.’
‘OK. So how would you make a baby with Geena?’
‘It would be like a medical procedure. One of us would provide the sperm – you know, we’d toss into a cup – and it would be placed inside her at the right time when she has an egg available, and hopefully the sperm and the egg would get together and create a baby.’
‘Then you’d be the father, and she’d be the mother.’
‘Well, yes. Only one of us could be the biological father. But we’d both be the real fathers. We’d have an agreement that she gives us the baby when it’s born.’
‘She wouldn’t want to keep it?’
‘We’d only do it in the first place if she agreed that it’s about you and me being fathers for the child. There’s a chance she might change her mind, I suppose, but she was a good friend. And she has a sense of honour. If she’s generous enough, maybe there could be two babies – one that you’ve fathered, and one that I’ve fathered.’ Bradley frowned. ‘Or maybe it would mean one baby that we raise as ours, and one that Geena and her girlfriend raise as theirs.’
Calum was looking very doubtful.
‘If it was your baby, if it was your seed,’ Bradley said. ‘Wouldn’t you love that?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t know Geena. She’s your friend.’
‘You could meet her first, and then we decide. Anyway, I don’t even know if she’d agree. This is really just an idea at this stage.’
‘Even if it’s my seed, it would only be half my baby! And it wouldn’t be yours at all.’
‘It would be our baby, cos we’d love her. Our love would make her ours, and the fact that we’d be taking care of her. Or him. There’d be no guarantees about gender.’ Then Bradley frowned. ‘You were happy about adopting, and that wouldn’t be our baby at all, not in the sense you mean. We might not even meet either of the biological parents if we were adopting, let alone be one of them.’
But Calum was looking stubborn.
So Bradley quit arguing cos there was just no point in trying to take this further. ‘All right. Think about it, if you want to. Or not. I don’t know any more. I don’t know what the answer is.’
‘I don’t know either,’ said Calum very quietly.
And that was that.
‘Inverness,’ said Rupert. ‘I know it’s a long way away, but I’m getting more and more attached to the idea of Inverness, and I suspect Calum and Nikki will appreciate being within reach of Aysaar.’
Silence. The phone line echoed emptily.
‘I can’t – I can’t even see that far into the future any more,’ Bradley said.
‘It’s really not that far ahead of us, when you consider all that we need to organise in the meantime.’
‘It’s this whole baby issue,’ Bradley suddenly blurted, his tone close to despair. ‘It’s too damned hard. I don’t know what to do.’
Rupert took a moment, then asked, ‘What does Nikki say?’
‘Nothing. I don’t know. I haven’t really talked it through with her for a while. You think I should?’
‘She might have some ideas. And in some ways she still knows Calum best.’
‘Calum… oh god, Calum… I can’t believe I actually thought I was a good thing in his life.’
‘You are, Bradley.’
‘I’ve been a stupid, arrogant twat. I thought I had all the answers, but I’ve got nothing.’
‘You’re being far too hard on yourself.’ Rupert took his glasses off, sat down on the hall chair. ‘Son, any long term relationship requires adjustments. Maybe this is the first adjustment you’ve had to make that has cost you something.’
Silence, but a listening silence.
‘You and Calum will need to know how to face the unfortunate parts of life as well as the good parts. How to face them together. And how to negotiate with each other, when you disagree at some fundamental level.’
‘I don’t even know that we do disagree.’ And then Bradley forced through a constricted throat, ‘I can’t give him what he needs.’
‘You can’t be perfect for him, Bradley. He can’t be perfect for you.’
‘Dad… oh god, Dad… I really need you with me on this one.’
‘I know, son. I’m with you. I should think I’m with you on just about any matter you care to name, but this one… this matter of you and Calum… is particularly close to my heart.’
Silence again. A calmer silence.
‘Talk it through with Nikki,’ Rupert repeated. ‘Nikki has far more insight than she gives herself credit for.’
‘Yeah. Maybe when they come here in the new year.’
‘I’ll come up, too, if you think I can help.’
‘Thanks, Dad.’ Bradley sighed.
They talked in a desultory fashion about more mundane matters for a while, and then said farewell. But it was hours before Rupert could sleep that night.
December 2004 | Bradley
It was almost ten at night when the street–level intercom sounded, so Bradley assumed it was some neighbourhood brats mucking around. ‘What?’ he demanded shortly.
‘Bradley, it’s Nikki.’
‘Oh! What –’ Dread seized his gut. ‘Is something –’ But if something was wrong, she’d come here to tell him in person, hadn’t she? And it was cold out. ‘I’ll buzz you in,’ he said tersely, pushing the button. ‘D’you have your keys?’
Despite which, he waited in the open doorway for the lift to bring her up, anxious. Solemn. He ushered her in without speaking, put the kettle on, waited for her to discard her coat and settle at the kitchen bench.
‘What’s wrong? Has something happened? Is Calum –’
‘He’s fine. Everything’s fine. I… I just had to talk with you. That’s all.’
‘Calum’s at home?’
‘Yes. He’ll be fine, Bradley. He really can take care of himself. He’s been on his own before.’
‘Yes. Of course.’ The dread wouldn’t quite dissolve, though, despite her reassurances. Perhaps she… Perhaps she’d also finally concluded that Bradley wasn’t such a great thing for Calum to have in his life after all. Perhaps she was here to discuss how he might beat a graceful retreat.
Bradley’s hands were shaking as he carried the full teapot over to the bench. Nikki’s hands also shook as she reached for it – but no doubt for different reasons. Bradley went to turn up the thermostat, which had automatically switched to night–time settings. Then he came back and sat opposite her.
‘I don’t wanna walk away,’ he announced in a very small voice, suddenly knowing that was true. Despite all his obvious imperfections, he wanted to stay, and he wanted to do his utmost best to love Calum as he deserved. ‘I love him, Nikki. If you can forgive me for being such an idiot –’
At first Nikki was a bit blank, but soon she shook her head. ‘It’s not about that.’
‘Then, what? You drove all this way –’
‘I’ve been talking with Calum about your surrogacy idea.’
Bradley sighed. ‘He wasn’t keen. But d’you think he could cope with fostering? You’d know better than any of us, but I’m just not sure –’
‘Maybe he’ll be fine by the time we get around to it – After all, it’s still eighteen months away, isn’t it?’
‘Bradley. I’ll be your surrogate mother.’
He stared at her.
‘If that’s not too… weird. I’ll carry your babies for you.’
‘Nikki…’ he breathed.
‘Of course, you’ll have to be the biological father, but they’ll still be related to Calum – as close as he can get, anyway – and I’ve been thinking about this ever since summer, and I haven’t come up with a really good reason why not yet. Except for the weirdness.’
Bradley opened his mouth, but found he couldn’t say anything.
‘Then, once you and Calum have your own family secured, and it’s obvious to everyone that you’re great parents, fostering and adopting become more realistic options. Don’t they?’
A few beats slipped by before he could find his voice again. ‘But what about –?’
‘What about what?’
‘I don’t know.’ Bradley frowned, madly trying to also come up with good reasons why not. ‘Wouldn’t you want to raise them yourself? I mean, like, have kids of your own?’
Nikki took a breath, and then she poured them each a mug of tea, with slightly steadier hands than Bradley had expected. ‘I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I used to assume I wanted kids of my own. But there isn’t anyone in my life…’ She glanced away for a moment – but before he could gather himself to offer hope or comfort, she continued, ‘Time’s getting on. I’m a few years older than Calum. And I really don’t think… I don’t think I’m made to be a fulltime mother. I’d be happy for the kids to know I’m their biological mother, but I’d also be happy for you and Calum to raise them. I know it’s weird, but I’d be perfectly fine with some kind of honorary favourite aunt status, or something like that. And, you know, this idea of the four of us living near each other, me being involved. I’m sure Rupert would be delighted to have grandchildren, real grandchildren that you’ve fathered. So you’d have your kids, and your extended family, and –’
‘Nikki…’ He was around her side of the bench, and wrapping her up in a hug, almost before he realised. ‘Nikki, you’re a godsend.’
She laughed a little, and clutched at him, leaning into him. ‘Only a mixed blessing, I’m afraid.’
‘No, you’re brilliant. God, Calum must be over the moon. How has he managed not to call me already?’
‘Well, he doesn’t know yet.’
He pulled back a little to look at her. ‘You didn’t tell him first?’
‘No, because… I think he will be over the moon about it, and I didn’t want to get his hopes up, if you weren’t going to agree.’
‘But it’s perfect. God, I have been worrying over this for so long. It was all so easy at first just to say to Calum that we’d adopt, but as soon as I started looking into it – And there’s been no good alternatives. Everything we’ve thought about has been too difficult, or one of us hasn’t liked it, or – But this is… this is perfect, Nikki.’
‘So, not too weird, then?’ she clarified with a smile.
Which was when something belatedly occurred to Bradley. He jumped back – he literally jumped back a whole yard. ‘Um… What exactly are your intentions here?’
‘Just to talk to you, idiot. And then you’re not coming near me with anything more intimate than a turkey baster.’
A moment in which she faced him down. And then Bradley spluttered into laughter, and grabbed her in another hug. ‘Oh god, you’re brilliant.’
June 2005 | Bradley
For once Calum wasn’t waiting for Bradley as he drove off the ferry for the start of their shared summertime – but he grinned, cos he figured that meant good news. He was at Calum and Nikki’s house within minutes, and ran in through the hall calling, ‘Calum! Nikki!’ – through the empty kitchen, and out the back door – where he was met by a grinning Calum, who caught him up and spun him around, and cried, ‘We’re gonna be daddies!’
Nikki was sitting on the bench, grinning at them. ‘Idiots.’
Bradley landed beside her, and pressed a proud kiss to her cheek. ‘D’you see the doctor already?’
‘Yeah. Apparently the May basting took hold. We made a baby, Bradley James.’
‘God, you’re brilliant.’
She was still grinning. ‘You’re lucky I’m never gonna get tired of hearing that.’
Calum was kneeling at Bradley’s feet, with his face and hands pressed against Bradley’s thighs, laughing with happiness.
‘You’re feeling all right?’ Bradley asked Nikki, just to be sure. Though it was pretty obvious she was. No one here seemed to have a care in the world.
‘Oh, glowing. When I’m not queasy. Glowing or queasy. Occasionally both.’
‘Sorry,’ he said, trying his best to feel it. Then he couldn’t help but look at her belly, where his child nestled. His and Calum’s and Nikki’s child. Rupert’s grandchild. ‘May I…?’ he asked, with his hand hovering.
Nikki grimaced at Calum, though she was still grinning. ‘Sure. You won’t feel anything yet, though.’
‘I just wanna… connect.’ And he tentatively rested his palm against the first gentle round swell.
‘That would be breakfast. Try lower.’ She shifted his hand down, adding, ‘Don’t worry, you won’t be touching any girl bits.’
Of course he felt nothing other than the warmth of firm flesh, but he also felt as if he was in the midst of a miracle. Calum was watching them in awe. He lay his own hand gently over Bradley’s.
‘Sneak!’ Nikki accused with a laugh.
‘I was only touching Bradley!’ Calum protested.
Nikki told Bradley, ‘I had to limit him to three times a day, otherwise he’d just wear me away, like one of those old Buddha statues where the stomach’s been rubbed for luck for centuries.’
‘You’re brilliant,’ Bradley murmured, pressing another kiss to her cheek. ‘Thank you. Nikki, thank you.’
‘You’re welcome,’ she softly replied.
Bradley looked from one to the other. ‘Does Dad know yet?’
‘Not yet,’ said Nikki, and the grin faded just a little.
‘Shall we call him?’ Bradley asked Calum. ‘D’you wanna tell him?’
‘We can both tell him. I’ll count to three, and then we’ll both say, We’re gonna be daddies!’
‘Sounds like a plan,’ said Bradley. So that’s what they did.
Nikki threw them out after lunch, saying she’d gone to a lot of effort to finally have a good excuse for an afternoon nap, and how was she supposed to rest when they were both running around being such noisy idiots. Though she was still grinning at the end of all that. Calum ran a thumb–pad down her jaw, looking at her fondly. ‘My smile muscles are sore,’ he commented. ‘How are yours?’
‘Totally exhausted, Fir Apple. Now, go away and stop bothering me!’
‘All right.’ He pressed a kiss to her cheek, just as he’d seen Bradley do. ‘I love you, Nikki.’
‘Are you gonna…?’ Bradley heard Nikki whisper to her brother.
‘Yeah,’ came the happy response. And the grins impossibly increased in wattage.
Bradley shook his head over this little mystery, and let himself be led by the hand out the door.
Calum and Bradley found their way back up to the headland where they’d first kissed, where they’d first made love. ‘D’you remember…?’ Calum asked.
‘I’ll never forget, wild honey. Four years ago. You made me so happy.’
‘You made me happy, too, my prince. I didn’t think I’d ever find someone like you.’
Bradley laughed. ‘I knew I’d never find anyone like you, Calum MacLeod.’
‘Bradley, would you –’
‘Come here and kiss me. Like you did that first time.’
‘But, Bradley, I…’
‘Come here, my sweet…’ And Bradley lay back on the grass. Closed his eyes against the dizzying infinity of the sky, of the ocean, of Calum’s loving sea–blue eyes. Felt Calum stalk over to him on all fours, felt the thick grass dip next to him like a mattress, then Calum leaned down and touched his mouth to Bradley’s… And they were kissing softly, and Calum was shifting to lie beside him, and they held each other gently, contentedly, and it almost didn’t even matter when maybe hours later their hands crept lower and they caressed each other into quiet completion, fertile seed spilling over each other and over the grass of the island as clear wisps of air danced away with their tender loving moans.
‘Bradley,’ Calum whispered some while later, ‘my beautiful prince.’
‘My sweet wild honey…’
‘Would you –’
‘I want you to –’
‘Marry me,’ they both said.
They looked at each other, startled. ‘Really?’ they chorused.
Bradley grinned wryly. ‘You already heard about civil partnerships, then?’
‘Yeah. Nikki told me. We figured it all out. And then I talked to Rupert.’
Calum grinned at him cheekily. ‘I asked him for your hand. Though I said I wanted the rest of you, too.’
Bradley snorted with laughter. ‘God, I bet he got a kick out of that.’
‘I think I made him cry. Good crying, though. He said it was a good kind of crying.’
‘Did he say yes?’
‘Yes.’ Solemn sparkling beautiful sea–blue eyes…
‘Thank heavens for that! So, you gonna give me your answer now, or you gonna make me wait?’
‘But we both asked!’
‘I know! Wasn’t that awesome?’
Calum nodded. ‘I’ll count to three, and then we’ll both answer. All right? One – Two – Three –’
20 December 2005 | Bradley
They held the commitment ceremony at a beautiful old hotel on Skye. Despite having only a small guest list, they booked the whole place, and paid extra so that Sally and Ruby could take over the kitchens and cater for them as well as attend. Ben, Allegra and Laure came; as did Jim and Doreen; and Gerry and a couple of other friends of Calum’s father from the island. The ceremony was covered tastefully and exclusively by HELLO! magazine – for the sake, as Bradley insisted, of furthering gay pride – with all the proceeds being donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust and Pink Parents UK.
Rupert and seven–months–pregnant Nikki were the witnesses. Calum looked beautiful and surprisingly elegant in a sage green suit and an ivory shirt, while Bradley wore a dark blue linen suit and a white shirt; neither wore ties, but they both bore pink rosebuds in their lapels.
After the registrar had led them through the formal declarations, they exchanged rings and then spoke the vows they had written themselves. Calum and Bradley turned to each other, holding hands, meeting each other’s open gaze, and they began together: ‘Once upon a time…’
‘I ran away to a distant island to hide,’ said Bradley. ‘One way or another, I’d been hiding who I was my whole life. The only person who knew me at all was my father, Rupert. Until I met you, Calum.’
‘A–and I w–was alone, except for my b–beloved sister Nikki, a–and I never thought anyone would ever love me. Until I met you, Bradley.’
‘And there you were – this beautiful, unexpected man who was so open and fresh, so full of kindness and wonder. And you saw me.’
‘A–and there you were – a beautiful prince, the hero of every story ever told. And you saw me.’
They both said: ‘And I loved you.’
‘So I, Bradley James, promise that I will protect you and love you all my life, no matter what. I will give you babies, and help you raise them into wonderful sons and daughters. I will learn anything you want to teach me. And in all things I will be to you a faithful and loving partner.’
‘So I, Calum MacLeod, promise that you will be the hero of my life’s story. I will love you with my body and my heart and my mind, for as long as there are waves in the ocean. I will help you grow your family, like the most precious garden in the world. And in all things I will be to you a faithful and loving partner.’
And they finished together: ‘And we’ll live happily ever after.’
‘I think the ceremony today was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed,’ Rupert commented to Nikki as he strolled through the hotel grounds beside her.
‘Yes,’ she murmured. ‘It was extraordinary.’
She shivered a little, and Rupert belatedly thought of the cool evening air. ‘Come inside,’ he said. ‘Anyway, I have a gift for you.’
‘You do?’ She laughed lightly. ‘Whatever for?’
‘Because you are a remarkable woman, Nikki Black.’
She laughed again deeply once she’d unwrapped it, up in Rupert’s room. ‘It’s the original Morphology of the Folktale by Vladimir Propp…’
‘I understand it’s the classic text in your field.’
‘It’s a first edition from 1928…’
‘You deserve nothing less.’
‘It’s in Russian, Rupert!’
He took off his glasses and polished them. ‘Entirely frivolous, I know. But does the thought count for anything?’
Nikki was looking at him speculatively. Cautiously.
Rupert sat down on the bed, opposite where she was perched on the chair. Hugely pregnant, and blooming beautifully. ‘I realise this is the most appalling timing,’ he said.
‘You’re carrying my son’s – my sons’ child, for heaven’s sake. My grandchild.’
‘Begotten by a turkey baster,’ she reminded him.
‘And you promised them a second child, didn’t you?’
‘That’s the plan.’
Rupert took a moment. ‘I fell in love with you such a long time ago, Nikki Black. Before all the talk of basting. Then I felt I couldn’t say anything. You made our young men so very happy. Perhaps I shouldn’t say anything even now.’
‘I can take a little more weirdness in my life.’
‘I am so very much in love with you.’
She smiled with gentle humour. ‘Are the men in your family all heroes?’
‘Yes,’ he said, boldly.
‘Then how does our story begin?’
‘With a kiss,’ Rupert replied. And he fell to one knee, cupped her lovely face in both hands, and they began.
They lay on the bed together, naked and happy, Calum and Bradley. Kissing, endlessly sweetly hungrily kissing. ‘We should have included – a vow –’ said Bradley in between, ‘where you promise – to kiss me – forever.’
‘I promise – to kiss you – forever,’ Calum obligingly offered. His mouth began roaming, exploring Bradley’s face and hair and ears and throat and shoulders.
‘The best bit,’ Bradley murmured, lying there taking this gentle assault, ‘was you promising to love me for as long as there are waves in the ocean.’
‘And I will,’ said Calum, his lips and breath tickling a trail down Bradley’s breastbone, ‘with my body and my heart and my mind.’
‘I’ll think of that every time I look into your eyes, Calum, cos your eyes are the colour of the ocean.’
Calum shifted back up to look at him directly. ‘Your eyes are the colour of the sky.’
‘The most beautiful deep blue–green eyes. So open and honest and fresh. Intoxicating, like breathing the sea air after a year of staleness.’
‘No, your eyes are the sea air. Pure and blue, and beautiful even if there’s a storm coming in. Spectacular!’ he added, as if he’d just remembered the right word.
Bradley laughed. ‘I’m glad, but I don’t think we’ll have too many storms.’
‘There’s extra oxygen in the air near the sea. That’s why it’s so magic to breathe. That’s what your eyes are like – the most beautiful pure blue sky with extra oxygen.’
Serious again. Profoundly happy, but seriously so. ‘We belong together, then. The sea and the sky.’
‘We belong together. And here is where we meet…’ Calum fitted them together, the sea lying over the sky this time, and they moved together, slowly undulating like the endless ocean waves. ‘Sing for me,’ Calum murmured.
Bradley took a moment to find the deliberate rhythm, and then he quietly sang their song. ‘Did I know you, did I know you even then? Before the clocks kept time, before the world was made…’
‘I love you, Bradley James.’ The end approaching regardless of how they tried to delay.
‘From the cruel sun… you were shelter, you were my shelter and my shade…’
‘And you love me, Calum MacLeod.’
‘I do, too.’ Bradley smiled up at his partner, who was trembling with the need to finish. ‘Come for me, wild honey. Cos it’s never the end. It’s only another beginning. Come for me…’
And Calum surrendered to the pleasure with a beautiful piercing cry. ‘My prince!’
And Bradley tumbled after him, losing himself in the warm salty ocean. ‘Calum… My sweet wild man.’
They lay there together afterwards, catching their breath, the sea and the sky joined together as one. ‘Say it with me again,’ Calum asked. They were grinning irresistibly at each other. ‘Say our vow. One – Two – Three –’
‘And we’ll live happily ever after.’