Here I go out to sea again
The sunshine fills my hair
And dreams hang in the air
Colin Vearncombe (Black) “Wonderful Life”
Bradley sits on the bed holding the silver bracelet he’s taken out of the darkest corner of his wardrobe drawer. The metal feels cool against his skin as he pushes Gaelic knot after knot through his fingers, as if it’s a Catholic rosary and he’s praying to Saint Mary. He wonders if Colin has ever actually prayed with a rosary—he must have at some point.
Bradley sits in silence, rubbing absently at his wrist, missing the weight of the metal there, missing Colin’s touch even though it has been years since the day Colin fastened the clasp. Ten years since Bradley wore it last. Ten fucking years.
“Are you still in love with him?” Jay asked last night. “It’s okay if you are, you know? Bradley, we’ve talked about it.”
And yes. They’ve talked about it. Bradley knows that Jay would be okay with this—whatever this situation with Colin is. But even after all these years, after countless nights spent staring at the ceiling, after relationships starting and failing, Bradley is still clueless.
How come people are so sure of things in their lives, Bradley muses. Like Jay—she wants a boyfriend. She wants a wedding. A night out with her girlfriends, drinking and playing silly games like “who’s the hottest.” A night without a shift at the hospital. A baby. She wants holidays in the sun and skiing with friends, and freedom—the freedom to be happy, even if it means sleeping with other people when the need arises.
Georgia had always known what she’d wanted too—a career, a circle of friends, her special projects and volunteering work. To make a difference.
Even Colin—even he’d known what he wanted all his life. He wanted to act. Above everything else, above his family, above his friends, above Bradley—Colin was an actor, and that defined him like no other adjective could. Not friend. Not lover. Not colleague. Actor. That was the hard truth of it.
And Bradley... Bradley is nothing special. He’d like to think that he’s come to terms with the bitter reality that nothing he does will ever be spectacular. He’s sometimes an actor, sometimes a boyfriend, sometimes a celebrity sportsman for a charitable cause, but he’s not a champion in any of those roles.
And on top of it all he is still clueless.
Actually no, he thinks with force, shouts in his own head. No, he’s not clueless at all.
He’s at least sure of what he does notwant. He doesn’t want another audition, or any more people saying, “You shouldn’t have done that,” about his nose, “you used to have those lovely Roman features.” He doesn’t want to participate in any more crowdfunding projects and Kickstarters—as a mentor or beneficiary, or however else. He doesn’t want to come back to an empty apartment and be constantly jetlagged. He doesn’t want missed calls and unanswered texts. Above all, he doesn’t want to hide his relationships from the public ever again, for any reason.
He actually wants kids too, and a house with a garden, a little sweet grey-spotted puppy, a family Christmas, the Bombardino flavour of apres-ski fatigue, Jay’s laughter when she makes him run with dogs in the park near their apartment, and eating tacos on the floor with her while watching the Premier League, because they own a TV set but not a couch yet. He also wants pale strong hands pinning him to the mattress while he’s being fucked open on Colin’s dick. He wants it all.
But you can’t eat the cake and have the cake.
“Yes?” The bracelet has heated up in his hand and Bradley wonders if he should put it back in the drawer or maybe wear it to prove something to himself.
“I’m going to see the dress today,” Jay says.
“Oh yeah?” He looks up from the bracelet, tries to make his smile convincing. “It’s today?”
“Yes. It’s today.” She tries to sound pissed off but she’s smiling.
Jay leans over so her face is level with Bradley’s. Her eyelashes are shiny, like stars. Her eyes are green in the morning light and Bradley feels something melt inside of him. He smiles and angles his face towards her. The kiss is brief but warmth spreads through Bradley’s chest, and as Jay’s hair brushes his face he wants to inhale the scent of her and keep it safe forever in his chest.
Jay kisses him again, then takes the bracelet from Bradley’s hand and clasps it on his wrist. Her fingers are warm, unlike Colin’s. “Call him,” she says before she goes out.
Bradley doesn’t call.
He doesn’t take the bracelet off, either.
The sun in your eyes
The heat is in your hair
They seem to hate you
“Have a wonderful life.” He’d spat that at Colin, back then.
Whatever he’d dreamed of having with Colin was being crushed again, because Colin’s work was more important than Bradley—always. Whether it was a play or a TV series or a new film, Colin would vanish for weeks on end, sometimes months, working hard on the role, getting acquainted with the character, sinking into it. Even if physically he was next to Bradley, his head was in a totally different place.
“Take me with you!” Bradley wanted to shout right into Colin’s face. “Don’t fucking leave me over and over again.” But what would have been the point? There was no point in Bradley staying in Colin’s empty apartment, waiting for something that wouldn’t come. Bradley had packed his bags the week before, and he was a fool to have hoped for a miracle.
“Bradley,” Colin started, softly, wanting Bradley to understand. He reached out towards Bradley, but stopped his hand when Bradley shook his head.
Bradley then delivered the line that made a stupid ‘80s song get stuck in his head for days, and as the door clicked behind him, he closed his eyes and ignored how his soul shattered into millions of pieces.
“I’ll only ever want what’s best for you,” Colin had said once. If only that had been true.
You know it feels unfair
There’s magic everywhere
“What are you doing?” Bradley asks as he and Jay enter the Thorpe amusement park. The fact that it’s owned by Merlin Entertainments feels like a cruel joke to Bradley. Jay has her iPhone pointed at the entry gate and is smiling brightly as she taps the keypad to add appropriate text to her IG story.
Bradley shakes his head, because as much as he appreciates Twitter and throwing odd photos on Instagram from time to time, he can’t for the love of God get Instastories at all. Maybe he’s too old for this. The idea of filming them is reasonable—at least a little—but the tedious time spent watching those clips, with all the overloud, distorted sounds and stupid laughter and “Hi my darlings! Oh my gaaaawd!” is a synonym for torture. It’d be like being in a constant loop of “Hey, Colin, have you seen this spider? Let’s put it in girls’ bathroom.” He wouldn’t dare post something this trivial, even if ephemeral. He’d literally die of self-consciousness.
When he and Jay first got together, he couldn’t stand her constant attachment to her phone, documenting each moment of her life, as if she was living a double life in a way. But the thing is—Jay’s genuine in that. No matter what the haters that come after Bradley say, Jay’s stories are just the way she is—fun and cheerful and caring, crazy about her team, tired after yet another shift at the hospital helping to bring babies into the world. Bradley still can’t wrap his head around the thing that Jay does for a living.
“You are welcoming humans to this world. Like, literally bringing in new life. That’s pretty amazing, I dare say. Way more incredible than pretending to be someone,” he said when they’d first met and she was fawning over his acting. He admires her still, how she can stay positive and optimistic even on days when things go wrong in the hospital, how she can turn off her thinking and jump right into the fun—going out with her dad, drinking with friends, suggesting she and Bradley check out the new rollercoaster that’s been advertised on the telly. He wishes he had her energy, and he latches onto it, tagging along and letting her brighten his days.
“Oh hell,” Jay says as the top of the ride just before the little car drops down. “We. Are. Going. To. Die.” And isn’t that the same thing Bradley had said to Colin once?
The drop makes Bradley’s heart jump into his throat, and for the remaining blissful thirty seconds of the ride he’s not thinking about anything, not even Colin.
I need a friend, oh I need a friend
To make me happy, not so alone
Jay’s arm is nice and warm under Bradley’s neck. With the other hand she’s scrolling on her phone, frowning at something people once again yapped at her Instagram. The ring on her finger catches the light and Bradley smiles. He likes the look. He likes the word fiancée. He’ll like the word wife even more. He turns and kisses Jay’s neck where she’s ticklish, and she swats him over the head with her phone.
“Ouch,” he says. “That was mean.” So he bites her, earning a finger jammed into his ribs this time around. “Now, this is war,” Bradley says, making it sound veryserious. He props himself up and leaps on her, making her squeal.
He makes her come on his tongue and declines the offer of a blow job.
“I’m good,” he says.
“Have you called him yet?” Jay asks, as she puts her bra back on.
Bradley turns on his stomach and just growls.
Look at me standing
Here on my own again
Up straight in the sunshine
Becoming Jane is playing on TV, and as Bradley watches young McAvoy make Anne Hathaway laugh, he can’t stop thinking about how he and Colin had sat in a hotel room binge-watching those Jane Austen adaptations. Bradley had always thought that Colin would be perfect in a period piece. Of course, Colin’s done that Living and the Dead show, and now he’s in The Happy Prince, which suits his abilities. Bradley still hasn’t seen the actual film, but the trailer and stills have taken his breath away.
He wonders if Colin still gets asked uncomfortable personal questions during promotional interviews—about prospects for a family, a girlfriend, or a boyfriend. It was one of the reasons it couldn’t have worked out between them no matter how hard they both wanted it. As much as Colin had been the dream come true, he’d never allowed them to make it official—not for the world outside. And Bradley had respected that until he couldn’t anymore.
Bradley turns the telly off, takes his iPhone and headphones, puts his Fifa18 playlist on to feel better, and goes for a run.
Just throw it in the fire, the song encourages him, and Bradley feels like this might actually be good advice. Just throw it in the fire.
He doesn’t notice where he is until he’s being buzzed in and is going up the stairs, slightly winded from his run. And then Bradley stands in Colin’s hall, counting his still shallow breaths and staring at Colin’s shoelaces—at the white strips of fabric gone grey where the dirt of London streets has soiled them.
He should have called. He should have texted. He should have done something, anything, so Colin could be prepared for Bradley. As it is, though, they’re standing in the hall together, watching each other like two cats that don’t quite recognize one other after a visit to the groomer.
Then Colin moves, crosses the two steps that divide them, and wraps his arms around Bradley—sweaty T-shirt and all.
He holds tight, so tight, Bradley thinks now they both might be a little breathless, but who cares about a little accidental asphyxiation, especially when there’s Colin involved, and Colin’s scent and Colin’s scruffy beard and deep voice when he says, “Hullo, James.” And Bradley hugs him harder still.
“How come you’re home?” Bradley mumbles somewhere from under Colin’s armpit, or the valley of Colin’s neck, Bradley isn’t sure, they are still holding each other too tight.
“I wanted a break.”
Bradley doesn’t pry, doesn’t ask if it’s a break from acting or promoting, or maybe life in general—it’s all equally plausible with Colin. “I… me too,” he says. It comes out choked, somewhat.
When they finally close the door and get inside the apartment, Colin makes them herbal tea, which tastes as awful as everything Colin has ever imbibed or eaten because Colin’s taste buds are apparently all fucked up.
They should probably talk about whatever Bradley’s doing here, about the ten years’ gap—because even though they’ve seen each other on various occasions, plays and events, it’s as if they haven’t seen each other at all. But Bradley has to settle first, to calm his mind and find some reason in all this.
He looks at Colin, pleadingly, hoping that Colin gets him, and says, “I think I need to not be a doormat for a moment, but—"
Colin doesn’t even tell Bradley to kneel. He just slips off the kitchen stool, places his hand on Bradley’s arm, and directs him gently to the floor in the middle of the kitchen. The moment Bradley’s knees connect with the hard surface, he’s taken under, instantly, swept away in the bliss of letting self-control go.
Colin’s fingers are soft and steady as they stroke Bradley’s hair, still slightly moist from the run.
They stay like that for long, long minutes, with Bradley just kneeling there at Colin’s feet, with his face half-pressed to Colin’s thighs and Colin’s fingers petting Bradley’s hair unhurriedly.
“You good, Bradley? Wanna get up now?” Colin asks then, and as much as Bradley wants to stay at Colin’s feet forever he nods, because his knee is killing him, and he can’t stay in this position for too long.
Colin helps him get up and doesn’t let go of Bradley’s hand after. Instead, he tugs Bradley to his bedroom.
There’s a pink, plush unicorn on Colin’s bed and Bradley raises his eyebrows. “Honestly, Morgan?” And Colin laughs, his sincere, throaty laugh, the one reserved for Bradley and Bradley only.
“Go, take a shower, yeah?” Colin says and throws a towel at Bradley. It’s fluffy and lush, the kind of a luxurious hotel towel Bradley’s always liked.
They lie later on Colin’s bed, the unicorn thrown on the floor, and Colin traces the shape of the bracelet on Bradley’s wrist.
“Soon, there will be a gold band to match that,” Bradley says carefully, waiting for the room to collapse on them both.
“’S true then?” Colin asks. It’s hard to discern if he’s upset about it.
“Mmm,” Bradley hums.
“That what you want?” Colin’s eyes are blue and serious, questioning Bradley if Colin should rescue him once more. Promising Bradley that he would if only Bradley asked.
Bradley swallows, looks the other way. Yes, he thinks. He wants it all. “Yes.”
For a moment Colin stays silent, just playing with Bradley’s bracelet again. “What are you doing here, then?”
“Jay’s… She doesn’t mind me coming to you for this.” He motions to his dick, where it’s already tenting the towel because it has some muscle memory of Colin’s fingers and lips and Colin’s everything. “Also—this.” He now waves to Colin in general, wishing him to understand it’s not about sex, not only about that anyway. “And I need… The thing is, I’m not that clueless anymore. And you said to come to you, once. To come to you if I needed—this. Does it have an expiration date? This invitation?”
He waits and waits, and just when he’s given up hope, Colin’s eyes crinkle, just a little, as if he’s both smiling and trying not to cry at the same time, and he says, “No. No, of course not.” And they are both crying a little, because this is Colin, and this is—a lot. “C’mere,” Colin manages, and tugs Bradley to his chest.
Staying over at Cs tonight, Bradley texts Jay later and gets a single red heart in response. He places his iPhone on the nightstand next to Colin’s bed.
“How was it kissing Rupert Everett?” he asks when Colin comes back from the kitchen with another tea for them both. Colin puts the tea next to Bradley’s phone and crawls onto the bed. Colin leans in to kiss Bradley, long and deep, and when Bradley feels Colin’s soft hand cradling his face, he forgets the question.
“Not like that.” Colin laughs. His eyes crinkle again while he watches Bradley. “I’ve missed you,” he says.
He lies next to Bradley, so their bodies are almost aligned from head to toe, and reaches to push the towel slowly from Bradley’s hips.
“Just hands, yeah?” Colin says. And then repeats, “Just hands. You do nothing, Bradley.”
So Bradley lies still, only his breath quickening when Colin takes them both in one of his hands that’s slicked with warm silicone lube. Colin’s fingers are adept at this, Bradley knows, and while it shouldn’t feel different to how it’s been with any other person in Bradley’s life, it always does with Colin.
“Look at me,” Colin says when Bradley’s eyes flutter closed, and Bradley’s nerves come alive once again. He reaches to touch Colin’s face and the movement of Colin’s hand stops, so Bradley knows he’s done something that’s not right. He remembers and takes his arm back.
“Good.” Colin murmurs this into Bradley’s neck, making Bradley gasp. “Come when you wanna, Bradley, yes? Just… when you need.” It’s so similar to how one of their first times had gone, back when they were still kids, really. But it’s new at the same time.
Bradley shakes and shakes and he’s sure his orgasm has taken away his ability to move, but in the haze he sees Colin tensing and opening his mouth. They look each other in the eyes when Colin’s coming, and Bradley thinks no one should ever be as beautiful as Colin is right now.
And later, when Bradley is all warm and pliant, sprawled next to Colin, and Mazzy Star is playing on Colin’s JBL sound system, because Colin’s a gentle, sentimental bastard who’s always liked all kinds of weird music that makes Bradley’s heart swell—later Colin asks, “Who are you in love with, Bradley?” And Bradley says, “You.” Even though they’ve not been together for ten fucking years, and even though he loves Jay, too.
There are so many facets of love, and Bradley’s only beginning to figure them all out.
“You,” he says again. “Always you.”
Bradley’s clothes are neatly folded and hanging in his wardrobe, next to Jay’s colourful dresses and Jay’s skinny jeans. But he knows that there are socks and boxer briefs and his T-shirts mixed in with Colin’s in Colin’s drawer too, and that makes him smile, his heart doing a complicated vault at the thought that he won’t have to sort this out ever again.
And Bradley thinks that sometimes it is okay to be clueless. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.
And the tune of that tacky ‘80s song is still playing in Bradley’s head.
No need to run and hide
It's a wonderful, wonderful life