Colin looked around him. The living room of his flat was full of boxes. It was amazing how many thing you could gather in just five years…
Hesighed, slightly discouraged by all the things he still had to pack before the next weekend. It wasn’t easy to organize everything in between shooting and castings. Colin was still excited to move into his new house, though.
It was a big step. Since the start of Merlin, Colin had been renting a small flat in London. For years, he had not felt like moving somewhere else. He could have afforded it but he was travelling a lot and his flat was barely more than a pied-à-terre. And then, for some time, Colin had also hoped he would buy a house with someone. Someone important to him who could have helped him making a home out of a house.
Now, it was different. Colin was older. He had lost some of his illusions and he had started to feel the need to have a place that was his, a refuge where he’d like to come back. Something more than a bed, a table and a fridge.
He had found the house by chance one day as he was walking around. He had seen the sign in the window and looked at the house again. It was a small terraced house with a shiny black door. Nothing unusual in London though Colin had immediately felt attracted to it. He had written down the phone number on the sign and the next day he was shown the house and falling in love.
And here he was, less than three months later, packing all his belongings.
He took an empty box and started emptying one of his desk’s drawer. That’s where he found it. The script of the first episode of Merlin.
Colin wasn’t one to linger on the past but seeing that script he couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. After all Merlin had been the start of so many wonderful things and he had lived so many great moments filming the series.
He turned the pages, reading the first lines like he was discovering it for the first time and the memories came flooding back. His audition for the part. His first meeting with the producer. His first meeting with Bradley.
His experience filming Merlin had offered him the opportunity to meet many great people but Bradley would always play a central part in his memories of these years.
It had started with misunderstanding and awkwardness as Colin had never met someone like Bradley. Someone so honest, expressive and extroverted, someone so easily excited like a puppy and, atthe same time, so full of insecurities.During the first months of rehearsal and filming, Colin had had a hard time coping with the strange mix that was Bradley James.
Then, slowly, almost unnoticed, they had started to understand each other better, discovering how compatible they were behind their apparent difference.
Colin rummaged through the drawer to find some other scripts. He opened the script of “The Labyrinth of Gedref”. They had filmed the scene on the shore after four month and for Colin it had been a reveal about his relationship with Bradley.
Colin turned to see Bradley coming. Him sitting alone on the far end of the shore didn’t seem to be clear enough for the guy. Colin wanted to be left alone. He didn’t need Bradley’s pity or stupid advice.
“What?” he replied coldly.
“I know you want to be left alone but… They decided to stop filming for today. Too much wind they said… So we will resume tomorrow.”
Colin couldn’t help but sigh in relief. For hours now they had been filming the same scene and Colin just couldn’t manage the right expression for it. He knew how important that scene was in the scenario. It was a key moment between Arthur and Merlin, the proof of how close they had gotten. It had to show how Arthur was now trusting Merlin and how Merlin couldn’t let the Prince die, whatever it may cost. Colin kept missing the point, though. He was too moved or not enough. Never making it sound true.
“Ok…” he answered, hoping that Bradley will leave then. Of course, he stayed and even sat next to Colin.
Surprisingly, he stayed silent, looking at the sea. Colin realized that was what he had been waiting for. A silent presence.
Slowly, he relaxed.
Later, as they went back to the hotel, Bradley suggested a film and some junk food. It wasn’t the first time he offered to spend the night with Colin like that. Colin had always refused, preferring to relax alone or learn his lines. That day, though, he didn’t felt like being alone so he said yes.
They sat on Bradley’s bed, decided to watch the first film of The Lord of the Rings and ordered pizzas.
When the credits rolled on the screen, Colin’s jawwere hurting from too much smiling and he knew, instinctively, that there would be so many other nights like this one.
The next day, they went back to film the shore scene. Colin nailed it on the first take.
Colin closed the script. It hurt to think about these moments with Bradley. For years, filming with him, Colin had thought they would be friends for life. How mistaken had he been… Colin hadn’t heard of Bradley in the last two years. What hurt the most was the realization he was the only one to blame…
Colin tried to wipe the regrets out of his mind and mindlessly put the contents of the drawer in a box.
“Eoin! Helping Colin pack doesn’t mean you have to rummage through all his belongings!” Rupert noted.
“I’m not rummaging!” Eoin answered, getting his head out of the closet he was emptying.
“That’s why you’ve spent the last hour asking Colin about all his belongings rather than packing it?”
“Hey! What’s the fun about packing if it’s not about finding things we had forgotten we had? And being shamed about it?”
Colin choose that moment to come back, carrying some fresh beers.
“I knew it was a mistake to accept your help!” he moaned exuberantly.
They all laughed before deciding it was time for a small pause. The beer was welcome and they chatted for a moment.
Colin had seen Rupert regularly since the end of 'Merlin'. It was strange as Rupert hadn’t been his closest friend on set but they happened to cross each others paths often in the months following the end of the filming and since then, they kept in touch. It had been harder with the others. Colin had had a very busy schedule and even when he had promised himself he’d phone his friends, he had always ended forgetting.
With Eoin, it had been different as the guy himself had done everything to keep in touch with nearly all the cast. Colin had no idea how he had managed it, though as he seemed to have a lot of professional projects going on, too.
Rupert had of course been aware of Colin moving and had offered to help. Colin had refused at first but Rupert had insisted and when he had appeared on his doorstep that morning, accompanied by Eoin, Colin had had to accept their helping hand.
In the end, he was quite happy. Having them around was like reliving the filming of “Merlin” with Eoin’s foolishness tempered by Rupert seriousness. They were fun to watch, always bickering.
The beer now finished, Rupert suggested they’d go back to sorting and packing.
It was a few minutes later that Eoin burst out laughing.
“Eoin? Are you alright there?” Rupert asked.
Eoin was still laughing too much to answer and it took him a few second to catch his breath and turn toward Colin.
“I always knew you were such a girl!” He exclaimed holding something in his hands.
Hearing those words and seeing what Eoin was holding, Colin froze, too many memories coming back.
“You’re sure you’re not regretting not going to the water park with the others?” Colin asked as the train departed.
“Colin, I already told you I wanted to go to Paris with you! We will have other opportunities to go to the water park!”
Colin nodded, still suspicious about Bradley’s decision to come with him.
He looked outside, watching the landscape in silence until he heard Bradley rummaging through his backpack.
Colin looked at his friend who was now holding two guidebooks about Paris.
“So? Do you already know what you want to do?” Bradley asked, opening one of the books.
“Not really… But by the look of it, you’ve already planned something!”
And then, for the next half an hour, Colin listened to Bradley’s plan for their week-end in Paris.
Where Colin had been afraid of Bradley not wanting to visit the same place as himself, they found some common grounds quite easily.
They started by the Louvre where Bradley couldn’t help but gasp in admiration every two minutes. This childish behavior was quite endearing.
After that, Bradley dragged Colin to a restaurant he had found in one of the guidebooks. Colin was pleasantly surprised to see it offered lots of vegetarian dishes.
“And for tonight, I’ve marked an Indian place that seems quite great!” Bradley explained once they were seated.
“That’s perfect, Bradley! Thanks!”
Colin really appreciated Bradley’s thoughtfulness. They knew each other for months but for the first time, Colin realized that there was more to Bradley than his eager puppy behaviour. The guy has his heart in the right place.
They spent the afternoon walking around the city’s most iconic places: Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe and ended their stroll on the Champs Elysées.
All the while, Colin enjoyed Bradley’s conversation and his reciting of all the information he had found in his books.
The next day, after a delicious croissant in a small café, they headed to the riverside to visit the bookshops.
The afternoon was spent searching for souvenirs to bring back to their friends. Of course, they chose the most horrible ones.
It was only during the train ride back to Pierrefonds that Bradley gave Colin the keyring. He handed him the small package.
“It wasn’t fair that you didn’t have your own souvenir!” Bradley explained with a goofy smile.
Colin took the package, slightly suspicious. When he tore the paper, he discovered the key ring. It was a small Eiffel Tower, very pink and covered in rhinestone.
“Wow… That’s… Pink… And glittery!”
“I’ve always said you’re such a girl so it seemed perfect!!”
And with that, they both laughed.
Looking back, Colin now realized how much it had meant that Bradley had chosen to accompany him to Paris. Had he understood that back then, things would perhaps have been different. It was another regret to add to the long list that was Colin’s relationship with Bradley. Regrets, missed opportunities, misunderstandings…
“Colin? Are you alright?” Rupert asked.
“You seemed lost in your thoughts…”
“Oh... Uh… Sorry.”
Rupert must have noticed Colin’s uneasiness as he promptly started talking about something else. Eoin gave the keyring to Colin and didn’t say anything, looking at his friend with worry in his eyes.
When Ben had first suggested that Colin could come and stay for a few days at his house during the moving, Colin had refused, afraid of disturbing Ben and Mark’s life. Both had insisted, though, saying it would finally be the opportunity to have that dinner Ben had promised Colin during “Mojo”. Colin had agreed in the end.
That’s how Colin found himself staying with Ben and Mark for two days. On the first night, Mark made them his famous couscous. It was as yummy as Ben had promised Colin. They spent a wonderful evening, talking about everything and anything.
When Ben and Mark went to bed, Colin stayed in the living room, not ready to go to sleep yet. He made some tea and sat on the couch.
Spending time with Ben and Mark had been enjoyable but it had also made Colin feel nostalgic. Nostalgic about something he had never had. The domesticity they shared, that easy companionship, the way they looked at each other, eyes full of love but able to see each other as they truly were.
Colin put the TV on, unable to stand the silence that was surrounding him. Thoughts were swirling in his mind, pieces of a puzzle he had spent years avoiding to assemble. He still wasn’t sure he was ready...
Ben’s voice rose Colin from his thoughts.
“Are you alright?” his host asked, coming to sit next to him.
“I don’t know.” Colin confessed, surprising himself by this sudden honesty.
Colin had never been one to confess easily, even less to people he hadn’t known for years. It was different with Ben, though. Since they met, Colin had felt at ease around him, like Ben knew him and would never judge him.
“Want to talk?” Ben asked.
Colin knew that he wouldn’t press more than that.
“How did you know Mark was the right one?”
If Ben was surprised by Colin asking about such a personal matter, he didn’t show it.
“Because I could see myself growing older by his side.”
It seemed so easy when Ben said it like that. For a second, an image crossed Colin’s mind. An image he had kept buried for too long. Two old armchair, one with a book laying on the armrest, the other with an old Arsenal plaid.
“I think I’m afraid.” Colin whispered.
“Of suffering… Or making the other suffer. Of wasting an opportunity to be happy. Though, I’m pretty sure I’ve already did all of that.”
“Colin, nobody can tell you what to do but it looks like you want to change some things in your life…”
“I’m not sure I’m capable of changing anything… How am I supposed to stop being afraid of losing the people I love?”
“You will never stop, you just learn to live with that fear.”
Colin sighed. In the end, he was the only one to blame for his current loneliness and the only one able to change that.
“I didn’t do anything…”
“You were there when I needed you. That’s enough for me.”
Ben smiled and stood up.
“You’ll thank me when you’ll found the happiness you deserve. Not before.”
Colin nodded and Ben went back to sleep.
Alone again, Colin decided it was time to go to bed to. He switched the lights off, turned off the TV and went to the guest room.
Once in his bed, he reached automatically for his iPod. Music always helped him find sleep when he was stressed out or worried.
Though, this time, he didn’t choose the relaxing playlist he usually favored. He searched for another one, one he hadn’t listened to in months but had never deleted.
“Cols and Bradders big adventure”
“We need a playlist!”
Colin turned to look at Bradley, earning himself a smack on the head from Lisa, the makeup artist.
“Sorry!” Colin said, looking in front of him again.
Bradley was still pacing behind him, waiting for his turn.
“What were you talking about, Bradley?” Colin mumbled, trying not to move.
“We need a playlist for next week!”
“Bradley…” Colin sighed, knowing it was already too late to stop his friend.
“So, I already thought about a few songs!”
And Bradley started naming songs which had in some way or another a link with the idea of a road trip. Colin nodded from time to time, knowing that, when Bradley was that excited about something, it was useless trying to stop him.
So, it wasn’t a surprise when Colin found himself in Bradley’s room a few hours later, searching for songs on iTunes, following his friend’s directions.
Colin listened to a few songs, remembering the filming of the “Real Merlin”. Then, a song started and Colin as sure he had never heard it before. He checked his iPod. He was still listening to the same playlist. Though, they always had listened to it in random play.
It's a little bit funny this feeling inside
I'm not one of those who can easily hide
I don't have much money but boy if I did
I'd buy a big house where we both could live
That didn’t make any sense… Bradley hated Elton John.
If I was a sculptor, but then again, no
Or a man who makes potions in a travelling show
I know it's not much but it's the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one's for you
And the song had nothing to do with their trip…
And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it's done
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world
Colin started to listen more closely to the lyrics.
I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss
Well a few of the verses well they've got me quite cross
But the sun's been quite kind while I wrote this song
It's for people like you that keep it turned on
It couldn’t be…
So excuse me forgetting but these things I do
You see I've forgotten if they're green or they're blue
Anyway the thing is what I really mean
Yours are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen
Colin played the song again and again until he fell asleep.
Colin’s first days in his new house passed like in a blur. He had to reorganize all his things and find his bearings.
Friends came to visit and see his new home, his agent found him a few interviews and he had to read the script of “The living and the dead”.
It was only when he started to sort à box full of Merlin memorabilia Colin thought about Bradley again.
He found the map they had used for the “Real Merlin”. It was slightly torn on the corners. Colin unfolded it gently. A smile appeared on his lips when he saw the little sheep Bradley had drawn on it. And next to it, himself had written “The middle of nowhere”.
More memories came rushing back.
“First stop-off is a place called Mold which is where the largest collection of Arthurian and medieval texts in Wales is so erm…” Colin said.
“Someone’s done their research”
Bradley looked at the map in front of them.
“So it can’t be like that far away” Colin added.
Bradley turned the map and finally found what he was looking for! “It was on the other…it was on the other side. Mold!”
“It’s miles away! It’s the length of Wales we’ve got to travel we’re in Cardiff which is on the coast of Wales, the south coast, Mold is pretty much on the north coast of Wales near Chester.”
“So our quest to visit Arthurian Wales is well underway and over the next three days we are going to drive”
“ Hang on! you haven’t got a licence!”
“Alright! You’re going to drive all over the country and see some of the sights associated with the legend of King Arthur and Merlin.”
“And as we travel we’ll be talking to Arthurian authorities to get their take on whether the once and future king and his wise wizard ever existed.”
“Cut!” the director shouted. “We’re okay with this one!”
“Great!” Bradley sighed, relieved.
“So, guys, we’re leaving you here and we’re meeting in Mold tomorrow afternoon, ok?”
Colin nodded as Bradley was already in the car, eager to reach the hotel and take a shower.
An hour later, what had been scripted for the filming was happening.
“What do you mean you don’t know where we are?” Colin asked as Bradley had stopped the car.
“We should have been reaching a small village a few kilometers ago… and… as you can see there are only sheep.”
“I love sheep.”
Colin took some water from their picnic bag.
“So? What are we doing now that we’re lost in the middle of nowhere?” Colin asked between gulps of water.
“It’s not funny, Colin, we’re lost. And it’s getting dark… And I’ve no idea where we are!”
Bradley was now clearly panicking.
“Hey! It’s okay! We’ll wait for someone to come and ask for directions!”
“Do you think we can ask the sheep?” Colin tried, hoping to help Bradley relax with some humor.
“Stop worrying! We’re together and we have things to eat! And we have a playlist! Nothing to worry about!”
Bradley looked at Colin then, smiling softly. The kind of smile he seemed to keep only for Colin, the kind of smile that made Colin feel warmer.
“I suppose you’re right.”
Just thinking about that smile made Colin feel warm again. How he missed that smile! Now he was realising how stupid he had been. How hadn’t he seen all the hints? Or had he seen them but hadn’t wanted to understand what they meant? Whatever the reason, he had missed an opportunity…
Was it too late? He hadn’t seen Bradley since the end of “Merlin” and they only had exchanged a few messages before Colin stopped answering. He had been very busy and it had been a great excuse to hide that being separated from Bradley was hurting him more than he thought.
And now, everything he had tried to avoid was coming back full force. His feelings for Bradley, the hopes he hadn’t let bloom, the regrets, the fear of having lost his only chance to be happy.
Looking once again at the map, Colin thought about Ben’s advice. He had to do something. He grabbed his phone. He didn’t know what would happen but if he let his chance pass again, he wasn’t sure he could ever be happy.
Colin looked at his phone. He wasn’t sure Bradley had kept the same number. If it wasn’t the case, it would be like a sign. He would not try to find his new number…It would mean it was definitely over.
Colin called and Bradley answered almost immediately.
“Colin? Is that really you?”
“Hum… Yeah… Hi!”
“Hi! How are you? I thought you had been replaced by an alien and had forgotten your old friend Bradley!”
“I… I’m sorry.”
“Hey, I’m just kidding! So, what’s going on?”
“I’ve just bought a house.”
Colin hung up nearly an hour later after having invited Bradley to come over the next weekend.
Epilogue : Piece by piece
The next weekend, Colin started to pace an hour before Bradley was due to arrive.
Half an hour later, the doorbell rang.
“Hi!” Colin said, unable to stop looking at Bradley. He looked different in a way though it was still the same Bradley Colin had met years before.
“Hi!” Bradley answered, clearly as stressed as Colin.
Bradley came inside and closed the door behind him.
“I have a little something for you…” Bradley said, handing Colin a small bag.
Inside, Colin discovered a square black box.
“I wasn’t sure you weren’t allergic to orchids so…”
Colin smiled and opened to box. It contained a small figurine Colin identified immediately.
“Mort! Is perfect, Bradley! Thanks!”
Colin went to hug his friend but he hesitated for a second, not sure it would be welcome
Bradley must have sensed Colin’s hesitation as he closed the space between them and took Colin in his arms.
“I’ve read that interview when you said you’d like to play Mort so…”
Colin reluctantly let go of Bradley.
“Want a beer?”
“Why not… Seems we have a lot of things to talk about!”
It took them a few moments to relax but as time passed by, it was like they had never been separated. Colin laughed more than he had in the past months.
Bradley stayed for dinner as they ordered some Thai take-out and when he finally left, they promised to meet again soon.
This time Colin knew he’d keep this promise.
Three months later, the little Mort figurine stood proudly on the bookshelves in Colin’s house between “The Tempest” and a framed and signed picture of the Arsenal team.