Bradley leans against the windowsill and stares into the buzzing life of the grey and plain asphalty looking streets outside.
Bradley hates the view from Colin's bedroom. It's situated on the street-side of their flat and overlooks the busy two-lane road and all the small, run-down stores alongside it. The window shows the filthy pavements and ugly facades that Bradley detests walking past day in day out. They make his stomach twist and turn sickly. Bradley never feels more trapped somehow, in this urban brick cage, than when he’s standing in Colin’s room.
The view from his own room is infinitely better. At least compared to this, Bradley thinks gruffly, sitting up a little straighter as he watches a man tug his dog across the street.
Bradley’s window overlooks the park next-door. And while the benches are covered in graffiti-words that leave little to the imagination, and the children's playground has seen better days, it's still quite alright. Bradley guesses he must have had a stroke of luck when they were dividing the rooms.
Bradley sighs and turns away from the window. He sits down on the sill and faces Colin's bedroom instead. It’s not much of an improvement though - it’s almost as barren and grey as the streets outside. The walls, painted white, are completely empty, there’s not a single picture frame or anything of the like to be found. A single bed is situated against the window-side of the room, and the wall he shares with Bradley has a cluttered desk pushed up against it. Again there isn’t a single picture or personal item to be seen there either. There’s only books; they’re stacked up neatly next to his bed, forming a makeshift nightstand that’s got a lamp and a glass of water on it. Not a single personal item.
"Okay, I'm ready." Colin closes his laptop after another couple of hurried taps. He turns around in his chair at the desk to smile at Bradley.
"Thank God." Bradley sighs, pushing away from the windowsill.
They're doing the shopping together; it’s one of those things they always do together. Colin always insists that he can go by himself and that he knows what to get them, but he doesn't. Bradley always finds himself scowling at the content of the bags and pulling faces when he tastes the things Colin cooks for him. Colin, in return, doesn't let Bradley go alone either. Apparently he always comes home with stuff they already have and don't need any more of, instead of the things he was sent out to get in the first place. It’s not Bradley’s fault that Colin’s grocery lists just aren’t interesting enough to stick to.
So now they’re here, and Colin's run off to get some of that whole wheat pasta Bradley hates while Bradley himself is trying to decide whether he’s more in the mood for apples or pears. He hasn’t had a pear in he doesn’t even know how long, and the more he looks at it the more appealing it seems. He’s trying to imagine how it will taste and feel in his mouth.
A pretty blonde girl, pushing a shopping trolley full of beer, wine and cereal, comes to a halt right next to Bradley. Bradley quirks an eyebrow at the content of her shopping trolley before noticing she’s picking up one of the same pears as Bradley is holding in his right hand.
Bradley looks at her hand as she squeezes the piece of fruit firmly.
Bradley grins when she looks up at him: “So, you think they’re ripe?” he asks.
She smiles back and tilts her head to the side cutely, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear. Bradley grins even wider, jutting his hip and leaning against the fruit boxes. But then just when she’s opened her mouth to reply Colin appears by his side with their shopping cart.
“Oh, getting fruit?” Colin smiles tightly, his eyes squinting strangely. Colin’s gaze first drop to the apple in Bradley’s left, and then to the pear in Bradley’s right hand. “You should go for the apple,” he suggest.
“But I’m in the mood for pear now,” Bradley protests childishly, a hot and unpleasant feeling of embarrassment washes over him. He doesn’t get why Colin has to go and tell him what to do in front of such a cute girl.
Bradley pushes the feeling down and turns a smile toward the girl, hoping for some back up here, or possibly a phone number. But she’s already left. Bradley scowls at his trainers when Colin guides him back to the registers with a gentle hand at the small of his back.
Bradley opens his eyes at 6:53.
He blinks at the ceiling and stretches before turning on his side towards the alarm clock. He sighs upon seeing the glaring red numbers and buries his head in his pillow. It’s too early, it’s always too early. For the umpteenth time Bradley wonders why his body can’t remember he doesn’t have to get up this early anymore? If it could learn to wake up at 6:55 it should damn well be able to unlearn it. Bradley looks out of his open window at the night sky that’s only just started turning pink.
This seriously has to stop.
Moments later Bradley hears Colin’s alarm clock go off through the wall separating their rooms. The walls in their flat are so thin - just thinking about exactly how much sound they let through has driven Bradley up the wall on numerous occasions. It’s like they’re seriously, no kidding, made out of paper.
It’s not that Colin is ever loud or anything. Colin doesn’t even spend that much time in his room to begin with. It’s just the thought of it really; the thought that Colin can hear everything Bradley’s doing in his room.
Bradley often wonders about how awkward things will get when he brings home a date. He hopes that maybe Colin won’t mind spending a night at a friend’s place. He’s afraid that the thought anyone would be able to hear them would make it impossible for Bradley to concentrate. If it were the other way around Bradley wouldn’t mind taking off for a couple of hours or maybe even the night.
He’s not sure where he’d go though; he doesn’t really know a lot of people there yet. He guesses he could always go to a late night movie or something.
Bradley listens to the sounds of Colin moving around in his room. He’s probably walking on the tips of his toes, Bradley frowns at the thought.
It’s not long before Bradley can hear the soft click of the bedroom door closing behind Colin, the sound of the footsteps dulls down once Colin gets to the kitchen. Bradley closes his eyes; he can almost imagine all the things Colin is doing in the kitchen. He can hear the kettle and the raggedy old toaster they have. The fridge is opened and Bradley imagines Colin getting out some milk and butter.
Bradley can’t even make himself try and fall back asleep until he finally hears the front door close behind Colin.
The last thing Bradley thinks, before dropping back to sleep, is that he’s pretty sure that when push comes to shove he’ll be the one to bring home a girl before Colin ever will – Colin doesn’t give the impression of being even vaguely interested in dating.
When Colin comes home from work that afternoon Bradley is sitting on the couch watching Lost.
He saw the first season way back when, and he still remembered most of it. Bradley had been beyond pleased to stumble upon all the other seasons sitting next to Colin’s (their) television one boring Tuesday afternoon. He’s been watching episodes whenever he gets bored ever since.
“Lost again?” Colin asks with a smile as he puts down his bag on the kitchen island and plops down next to Bradley on the couch.
Bradley squirms and rests his chin in his palm. He hates watching television series and movies with Colin. The problem isn’t that he’s seen it all before, but that it obviously takes every ounce of willpower he has to not just start babbling about it to Bradley. Colin wants to point out all the best parts, the parts Bradley is going to love. It’s really quite annoying.
“Ah – did you go get lunch?” Colin asks, obviously referring to the origin of the bagel in Bradley’s hand.
Bagels, Bradley has decided, are the new best things in the world.
“I went to the bagel place around the corner,” Bradley says, pleased as he munches on his bagel.
“Sundried tomatoes?” Colin looks at the topping on Bradley’s food in confusion. “You don’t like tomatoes.”
“Are you kidding me?” Bradley almost chokes on his next bite. “I love this. It’s like a little piece of heaven, but then dried and soaked in olive oil.”
Colin’s hands move and halt awkwardly as he puts them in his lap and twists them nervously.
Bradley hates it when Colin does that, he never knows what that means. He just knows that it’s probably not a good sign, and that it always happens right after Bradley’s said something wrong. When Colin just remains there, unmoving and rigid, Bradley grabs the bag on the table and thrusts it in Colin’s hands.
“You can have one if you want.” He nods encouragingly when Colin just stares at it dumbly.
“Ah, no thank you. I’m allergic to tomatoes.” Colin shrugs awkwardly. He gets up and puts the bag back on the living room table before walking into the kitchen and preparing his own lunch.
Bradley leans up against the counter a little bit closer and gives himself a mental pat on the back when it gets Jocelyn to grin back at him suggestively. She hands him his bag of bagels and licks her lips teasingly. So in reality bagels might be Bradley’s second new favourite thing in the world.
“It almost looks like you want to get rid of me,” Bradley tells her, accepting the bag with a shake of his head.
“Well, my job is to look after all the customers, not just the hot ones.” She teases, bouncing on the tips of her shoes.
Bradley pointedly looks behind him at the almost empty shop. There’s one elderly woman sipping a cup of tea, and a couple sharing a cream-cheese bagel. Rain is pouring outside, making anyone who’d think about going outside at 10:40 on a Friday morning change their mind.
Jocelyn bites her lip and laughs. “Okay you’re right - but you know what, Bradley?”
And doesn’t Bradley just love the way his name rolls from her lips?
“What?” Bradley asks.
“You always come in here with that smile of yours, and those trousers-” Her eyes travel down to said trousers -and the way Bradley just knows they cling to all the right parts- and she licks her lips again. “But you only ever make small talk. It makes me wonder if you’ve got something to hide, a pretty little wife or something.” She continues, looking at him rather suspiciously.
“In other words, you just want to know a little more about me?” Bradley asks.
She leans forward and nods.
“Well what do you want to know?” Bradley asks.
She shrugs. “I don’t know! Just tell me something about yourself, anything really. Shed some of that mysterious aura you’ve got going on.”
“Well… My name is Bradley, I’m 27, I’m originally from Devon and I like long walks on the beach.” Bradley leers and winks at her.
“And you have horrible pick up lines.” Jocelyn laughs, but she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear either way. Bradley just knows that’s a good sign.
“Alright, small town boy, you’re a pretty long way from home then; when did you move here?”
“I moved to London when I was 14 and then I moved here uhm,” Bradley thinks back at what Colin told him. “Three – no, two and a half. No? I think it was about two years ago.”
She laughs shortly and looks at him a bit funny. “Are you sure you got it right, then?”
Bradley shrugs, “I don’t remember, so I sort of have to go with what people have been telling me.”
The funny look on her face is quickly replaced by pure confusion. “You don’t remember?” She repeats, unsure.
And it’s only fair, Bradley guesses, to tell her the whole story. He can’t just leave it that that. “I was in an accident a while back and it screwed with my memories. I can’t remember the last three and a half years.”
Her eyes widen. “Wow,” She says slowly, “I thought – I thought maybe you meant you were a complete stoner or something.”
Bradley laughs curtly; he doesn’t even know why he forces the sound past his lips, “Nope, just brain damaged.”
She doesn’t laugh, doesn’t even smile.
“What? That didn’t freak you out, did it?” He asks.
“It doesn’t freak you out then?” She blurts. Her eyes widen and she can’t seem to be able to look him in the eye anymore.
“Sure,” Bradley shrugs, “At first it did, but I learned to live with it. It’s okay, really.” He insists.
When she stays silent even longer Bradley forces out another laugh, “Well - you know: blessed are the forgetful for they get the better even of their blunders and all that.”
It’s only after he’s said it that he realises he has no idea where he knows it from.
“I kind of met someone,” Bradley tells his sister on the phone.
The sky has gone completely dark and their neighbourhood blessedly silent. The silence the other end of the line matches it completely until Bradley wonders if he’s gone deaf.
“You don’t approve.” Bradley frowns. He’s tapping his foot against the frame of the bed, making it squeak slightly. He’s distracted and almost doesn’t even notice the sound. When he does he curses and promptly stops, looking over at the wall he shares with Colin, concerned his housemate heard.
“It’s not that, Bradley,” she sighs. She always sounds very far away like this. Surely telephone conversations never used to sound this far away. It’s probably because they have to cross a boundary now.
Bradley hates talking to her on the phone. He hates that he can’t see her face, that he can’t see what she really means when she says it’s not that.
When Natalie had returned home a couple of weeks ago – and she was the last one to leave, a lot later than the rest of his family – he’d felt, for the first time since the accident, truly lost and on his own.
“I just think it’s too soon.”
Bradley sighs into the phone. He resists the urge to ask her all the questions he’s asked her dozens of times before, and to which the answers she provides sound placid and recited, rehearsed even.
“Fine.” He mumbles instead, “I won’t tell you about it then.”
“Bradley, don’t be like that – you know you’ll only make me more curious like this.”
And Bradley wants to see if she’s smiling. She sounds like she is.
“It’s nothing serious, I mean, it’s not like we’re dating or anything,” he adds, suddenly feeling silly for even bringing it up.
She’s quiet again for a while, “So what’s his name then?”
Bradley feels his stomach turn unpleasantly. “What do you mean his? I met a girl – what?” Bradley gets up from where he was lying on his bed and paces towards his door. He stands in front of it for a couple of seconds before turning around and going back over to the bed. He’s got nowhere to go.
“Bradley.” Natalie is saying, “Calm down, just take deep breaths okay? Do you need to grab a paper bag or something? Just get Colin if you’re going to—”
“No it’s—” Bradley pinches the bridge of his nose.
He’s back to sitting down on the bed, elbows digging painfully into his legs as he leans down on them heavily.
“You guys know?” He croaks out finally. “Does dad know?”
And all those feelings – all that shame and all those worries about that part of himself he never wanted to look at too closely – come bubbling up and they burn in his stomach until he thinks he might be sick with it.
“Bradley,” Natalie says gently, “We do and we don’t – we don’t care. It’s okay. We want you to be happy.”
“But dad—” Bradley groans.
“Dad’s absolutely fine with it, he loves you.” There’s muffled sounds at the other side of the line. “Dad’s right here, do you want to talk to him.”
“No!” Bradley says forcefully, “No. I don’t want to talk to him.”
“Okay, Bradley. You don’t have to talk to him.” Natalie assures him with a gentleness he never before knew she possessed.
They stay silent for a couple more moments. Bradley listens to her breathing.
He’s suddenly painfully reminded of that time he almost kissed Tom in the backseat of the senior’s car when he was seventeen. Tom had laughed at him and Bradley had never felt so foolish in his life.
Bradley buries those memories in his mind and wonders why he couldn’t have forgotten all the unpleasant things in his past and just have kept the good.
“I still like girls too,” Bradley tells her after a while, “I still do like girls.” Because somehow it’s important that she knows this.
“I know Bradley – you told us that.”
She sounds like she might be crying. Natalie always cries very silently. Even when they were little she could be off crying somewhere and nobody would notice because she was always so quiet.
“Did I,” Bradley squirms and bites his bottom lip, “when I told you, did I have a boyfriend then?”
“Yes, you did.”
Bradley rubs at his eyes again. “Did I love him?”
“You loved him very much, Bradley.”
Bradley’s chest tightens and his stomach clenches like it’s meant to try and push everything Bradley’s eaten that day back out.
Natalie tells him she loves him at least three times before she finally allows him to hang up the phone.
Bradley lies perfectly still as he strains to hear the muffled voice in the room next-door. It surprises him that even when he really tries (and even if it’s only that paper-thin wall separating them) he can never quite hear what Colin is saying. Sometimes though the pitch of his voice or the speed with which he’s talking tips Bradley off about what mood he’s in. Bradley has no idea how he does it, he just knows he’s right. Just like how he doesn’t know why he has absolutely no problem deciphering Colin’s accent.
By the sound of it Colin’s worried. Sad.
Bradley listens to the soft patting sounds of Colin’s feet as he walks across his room. Next, there’s the sound of the door opening, and then footsteps across the hallway coming closer and closer. He has no idea why it still makes his heart beat a little bit faster when Colin knocks on his door though. Almost like he’s afraid of getting caught listening.
Colin’s head pops around the door after Bradley called out he could come in. He’s smiling, but it’s that weird-squinty smile again. “I was on my way to the kitchen and was wondering if you’d like some hot chocolate?”
“No, I’m good.” Bradley pulls at the edge of his comforter.
“Everything okay then?”
And Bradley doesn’t know why they keep bothering to pretend Colin isn’t here to check up on him. He doesn’t know what aggravates him more: the idea that Colin thinks he’s actually being subtle, or the thought that both him and his sister don’t think he’s clever enough to figure out that every night after she ends the phone call with him, she calls Colin.
It’s no use to tell him to go away, Bradley’s tried that numerous times. It’s easier to just comply and talk to Colin until he looks satisfied that Bradley isn’t going to do something foolish.
Bradley shrugs, “My parents know I’m into guys apparently.”
“Oh.” Colin says softly. “But that’s nothing to be upset about, right? Your family loves you and cares about you no matter what.”
Bradley smiles at Colin gratefully and nods. “I guess. It’s just – you know how I am with new information.” Bradley shrugs again, “I’m too emotionally stunted to cope it seems.”
“Bradley, don’t think that. It would be a lot to take for most people,” Colin shuffles into the room a little further.
His pyjama bottoms are too big, and they’re practically falling apart. It’s no wonder really, Bradley rarely sees Colin go to bed without them on. They’re almost worn to the thread. Bradley stares at the pattern, traces it with his eyes and shrugs.
“Are you okay then?” Colin asks again.
“Not really, no.”
“Well, I’ll just make you some hot chocolate anyway then.”
Bradley shrugs awkwardly, but feels a tiny tremor of relief go through his body anyway.
Bradley was released from the hospital ten days later than he was supposed to. The ten extra days were used to keep him under psychiatric observation. He wasn’t reacting to the new information his family and friends kept giving him very well, even the smallest detail of the life he couldn’t remember would make him hyperventilate or could trigger a panic attack.
He used to have panic attacks as a kid; he doesn’t really remember how old he was when he stopped having them but it was before they moved to London.
Somehow they seem a lot worse now than he remembers them being in his childhood.
Bradley’s pretty sure he’s happier not knowing and not missing it (whatever it is,) than knowing and punishing himself for not remembering. Because that’s basically what he kept doing when he first realized that the last thing he could really, truly remember happened almost four years ago. After that it’s only vague impressions and images that remain.
They told him about how his grandmother had passed away two years earlier and they had to give him a sedative. The feeling of loss and sorrow had crashed over him like a tidal wave of sadness. All he can remember from those days in the hospital is regret and helplessness.
It was mostly the helplessness that really got to him.
Bradley lies in bed, staring at the finished cup of cocoa Colin had brought him.
He had a boyfriend, a boyfriend he’d loved. His gut tightens and he reminds himself it’s better not to remember. Remembering will always mean that he won’t only remember the good, but also the bad – how it ended. Remembering will make him feel helpless again, angry for not remembering the things that went on in his own goddamn life.
He gets up and opens all the windows. On his way back to bed he turns off all the lights and lets the moonlight wash in and calm his thoughts.
Bradley stands in front of the bagel shop for ten whole minutes. He looks inside at Jocelyn helping customers, smiling at them in a way that, he reminds himself, used to make him want her even more. He tries his best to remember what it was about her that attracted him to her not two days ago.
She didn’t know how screwed up I really was, Bradley digs his hands into the pockets of his jeans, those jeans she quite likes. He glances up again.
His very first instinct had been to hear as much about his old life as he possible could, to get every piece of information that was rightfully his. After the heartbreak and pain and helplessness though, his next instinct had been to start over and make as many new memories as he possibly could. Memories they couldn’t take away.
That first month he’d gone out drinking, he’d picked up smoking again and had disappeared for days on end. In the end that particular instinct didn’t last long either. He soon found out his body couldn’t take that kind of partying anymore, especially not in combination with the medication he was still taking.
His psychiatrist found his behaviour destructive and she looked like she was about ready to have him locked up or something. It hadn’t been the same either way, the friends he had partied with when he was younger were nameless shadows in his memory, he’d always been too drunk or too arrogant to care about more than names and looks. He’d tried looking them up, but that had soon proven just a waste of time as the ones he was able to find didn’t even seem to remember him.
So he’d started staying indoors more and more, all but locking himself up. Back then Natalie was still staying over at their place. They talked for hours on end about everything, anything but those years Bradley was missing because when he asked her the answers she provided were never quite enough.
Bradley goes home again without stepping a foot inside the deli or saying hi to Jocelyn. He doesn’t think he’ll be going back there at all.
When he gets home Colin is eating lunch at the dining room table, and there’s a plate waiting for Bradley. Bradley frowns. “I didn’t know you were going to come home for lunch today,” he tells Colin as he sits down.
“I come home to eat lunch here every day. You’re just usually not home when I get back.” Colin smiles softly. “I got you those tomato-bagels you like,” Colin gets up and retrieves a bag in the kitchen. “They’re not from the place you usually go but I hope they’re just as good.”
Bradley accepts them wordlessly, offering Colin a small nod. The bagels don’t taste quite as good as they used to.
Bradley doesn’t tell anyone when he starts remembering things; just little things, really.
What he remembers is so trivial, so insignificant and ridiculous that he doesn't want to get anyone’s hopes up. At the same time he knows that he probably wouldn't survive their dismissal either. Even if they are just small, banal memories they’re still quite significant to Bradley.
Bradley goes through most days feeling like an outsider. He is constantly surrounded by people who know things about him that he doesn't even know himself. To balance that out he sometimes has the urge to surround himself with strangers, to be in the middle of a sea of people who've never seen him before. These people don't know anything but what he tells them when they make idle chit chat or when they flirt.
He likes to get lost in this crowd and relish in the feeling that he knows more about himself there than anybody else. He knows who he is there. He isn’t compared to what he used to be, there.
And so when he remembers things he likes to relish in that too - likes to think I know something the others don't. Like it's a special kind of part of himself only he can touch.
He tells his psychologist though, his hands clammy with sweat as he keeps rubbing them on his jeans. She’s great about it, as was to be expected, and doesn't dismiss it or urge him to tell her what he's remembering either. Bradley would be hard pressed to tell her even if she wanted him to. She gets that, Bradley thinks, or maybe what he remembers really isn't that important. She just seems carefully optimistic that he’s started remembering anything at all.
The memories are usually triggered by something.
Sometimes it's a sound. Bradley will be listening to the radio and quite inexplicably know all the words to the song that's playing. It’s a song he doesn’t remember ever hearing before but there he is, in the middle of the mall, singing his lungs out. People stare and give him funny looks, but Bradley doesn’t care because he remembers this and he doesn’t remember ever feeling this happy about a U2 song.
Other times it's smells. When he opens the box that contains his new laptop (and has that distinct new smell to it) he’s suddenly brought back to that time when they bought their television set. Bradley even remembers how the remote control was missing and they had to go all the way back to the store. He doesn't know what happened when they got back there though. He stares at the remote on the coffee table and grins stupidly. When Colin asks him what’s so funny Bradley just shakes his head and dismisses it.
Today Bradley’s walking through a chemist’s. He’s on his way to pick up his prescription when he just stops dead in his tracks in the toothpaste isle. As he grabs a box with this bright green logo he suddenly remembers that this is his toothpaste. He’s 100% sure, not a single doubt in his mind, that that’s his toothpaste.
He goes home with five tubes of the stuff.
Bradley neatly lines them up on his side of the bathroom-cabinet. He’s looking down at them and feeling very pleased about it all (not just about the fact that he actually remembered, but also about the neat little row) when Colin walks in.
"That's – why did you get those?" He asks, looking at Bradley a little strangely. Bradley can’t place the look.
Bradley slumps his shoulders. "I don't know. I felt like it.”
Colin leans against the doorframe, and a little smile starts playing at his lips. Bradley isn’t sure if the dread he’s feeling comes from what Colin might say next or just the simple fact that now Colin knows he remembers this. That Colin might think (or hope even) that he’s remembering more –
"You used to really like this brand, it’s strange. I always thought it was too minty and then we stopped buying it because it's twice as expensive as the one we get now." Colin babbles happily.
Bradley wants to ask Colin why they shared toothpaste but he doesn't. He simply bites his tongue and keeps staring at the tubes of his toothpaste. He doesn't ask because it’s pointless, he knows why.
When Colin makes him remember something (Colin’s smell, or the sound of his voice,) it’s not like memories start flashing through his mind. What Bradley gets are these notions of feelings he’s supposed to have around Colin.
Unlike all the other memories and little snippets that make Bradley feel so good and alive; the ones that involve Colin simply make his stomach turn in nervousness.
So he doesn't ask. He never asks and he never says anything either.
He softly closes the cabinet before walking past Colin and returning to his room where he opens all the windows and lies down on the bed. He tries to push it all down again, he tries to pretend this confusion isn’t scratching at all his seams.
Bradley can’t sleep. He tosses and turns and tonight even the sight of the stars and the moon can’t take his thoughts away from this mess anymore.
Every time Bradley thinks about Colin he’s reminded of when he woke up in that blasted hospital bed and Colin was right there, wearing the most ridiculous jumper Bradley had ever seen and smiling, crying out of happiness and love – that same relief and love Bradley has been cowering away from ever since.
Bradley’s hit his stride. He thinks he might go insane if he has to spend another day being the recipient of that smile that doesn’t quite reach Colin’s eyes, the squinty smile that screams sorrow and heartache for everything Colin has lost. The lover Colin has lost.
Bradley bites the inside of his mouth and scratches at the palms of his hands as he clenches his fingers into fists. Lover, lover, lover, lover he makes himself think over and over again. He’s in love with you. You were in love with him. You were living together in this horrible apartment, in this horrible city.
When the first rays of sunlight start streaming through the window Bradley sits up and grabs the bag he found a couple of weeks ago in his wardrobe. He shoves as many clothes in there as he possibly can and he walks out the door.
It’s not like Natalie to be angry with him. When they were children they hardly fought and when they were teenagers they seemed to rebel together. Just the two of them against the world and never each other. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t speak her mind though. She’s never afraid to tell him when he’s being difficult, or when he’s being a complete wanker, but Bradley has never seen her outright explode at him like this.
“You’re not that 22 or 23-year old anymore, Bradley. You’re not that irresponsible boy who got drunk and hung out with all the wrong people anymore! You grew up!”
And Bradley wants to scream, is about ready to explode right back in her face, because that’s exactly who he still is. He’s not the Bradley who left his apartment that morning in July, and he’ll probably never be that Bradley again.
“Every single day I wake up,” Bradley all but yells at her, “To watch the people around me being disappointed that I just didn’t magically regain all the memories I lost over night.”
“That’s exactly what it is. I have to watch the people I love be disappointed because I can’t live up to the brother or the son or the boyfriend I used to be. Because that’s not me, Natalie. I don’t know what happened to me three years ago that made me change into this wonderful human being everybody loved so much but that’s not me anymore.”
“You want to know what happened to you three years ago that changed you?” She demands, voice hoarse from yelling and crying. “You got happy. You turned from this self-destructive asshole into the happiest person I knew.”
Bradley looks away, and bites the inside of his lip. He can feel his face screw up and contort along with the clenching he can feel in his chest.
“And do you want to know who made you that happy, Bradley?” She demands.
Bradley shakes his head: “No.”
Natalie snorts and answers anyway, he hadn’t expected her to do anything else. “Colin happened. You fell in love with Colin and it was like you were a different person.”
A better person, Bradley’s mind adds bitterly but he remains quiet.
“But I don’t love him anymore, Natalie.” Bradley says, not surprised that his own voice sounds raw and rough. “I don’t know how to love him. I can’t stay there and keep doing this to him. I can’t keep doing this to myself.”
“Yet.” Natalie says softly. “You don’t love him yet. Don’t say anymore.”
Bradley sighs, running his hand through his hair in frustration.
“You have to give him a chance, Brad.” She continues, the fury seeming to have left her, but the tears are still prickling at her eyes, making them shine. “You owe it to the both of you to give him a chance.”
“I’ve been living with him for four months.”
“You’ve been living next to him and ignoring him for four months,” she objects.
“You don’t know what goes on in that apartment, Natalie. You haven’t been there.”
“But I do know that Colin calls me every night, all but crying because he’s so miserable.”
Bradley doesn’t know how to respond to that.
“If you would just put aside all your pride and fears, or whatever is keeping you away from him, you might just get to know him.” She sighs and looks at him, looking worried all over. “Is that what you’re afraid of? Getting to know him?”
Bradley refuses to meet her eyes.
“Is this one of those gay-panics you had way back then too? Because seriously, Bradley, nobody cares.”
Bradley slumps down in the sofa, his head in his hands as he tries to breathe through it. Natalie is next to him in a matter of seconds, rubbing his back reassuringly as she rests her forehead against his shoulder. “I want you to be happy.” She whispers.
“I want to be happy.” Bradley confesses silently. It’s so soft he’s almost afraid she didn’t hear and that he’ll have to say it all over again. But she keeps rubbing his back and looks back up at him.
“Go watch a movie with him,” she suddenly says – completely serious.
“What’s a movie going to help?”
“Or go ice-skating, whatever. Just go out with him and have fun and get to know him, Bradley.”
Bradley nods, miserable and tired.
Natalie straightens up and wipes at her eyes, “Okay we’re going to get out of here.” She moves out of the living room they’ve been standing in to go get her coat. “Leave your bag right there, you can sleep on the couch tonight but I’m driving you back tomorrow morning.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Bradley mumbles, “It’s two hours away.”
“I guess you’re lucky I don’t work on Wednesdays then,” Natalie says, grabbing her purse and leading Bradley out of her apartment. “And we can turn it into a road trip or something.”
Natalie takes him to the ice cream parlour they always went to when they were teenagers. Bradley remembers feeling too old to go out with his sister for ice cream, always being afraid his friends might catch him being out with her on a voluntary basis. But on the other hand he now thinks back on those Sundays more fondly than the time he spent with those friends.
Bradley gets a banana-split, like he always did when they were younger. Natalie gets the chocolate-special, like she always did when they were younger.
They eat their ice cream in silence and Bradley revels in the familiarity of it all, even if it’s been years since they last were there it still feels normal and safe.
“I guess I don’t see you that much anymore?” Bradley says, “Since we live so far away now.”
He can’t get used to not living near his family anymore, not having them around to bug and bother him, or give him advice, or to simply hug him.
“We call each other all the time, Bradley, and you guys come over every couple of weekends. You just can’t stay away from London it seems.”
“I miss it a lot,” Bradley agrees, but he bites his tongue before he can tell her again how badly he wants to move back there.
He can’t run away from that gaping hole inside him. It throbs in his mind and it throbs in his chest. Being with Natalie and doing something as silly as eating ice cream with her is like a soothing layer washing over this giant ache, but the pain never completely goes away.
If he can’t work things out with Colin there will be nothing holding him in that place anymore. There will be nothing keeping him from London and maybe it will convince his heart that it’s throbbing for nothing, maybe the wound can close up and go numb forever then.
But it’s kind of like he has no choice in the matter at all, isn’t it? He is to get to know Colin and fall back in love with him, it’s as simple as that. That’s the plan everybody around them seems to have. It kind of irks Bradley, to be completely honest, to be suddenly given this responsibility, if you will. They aren’t even asking him for his opinion on it, really. They’re just telling him this is how it was, and it’s how it will be again. Like suddenly there’s this future that’s just been thrust in his arms and he’s supposed to keep quiet and just accept it.
What if this isn’t what Bradley wants? Why hasn’t anyone asked him that?
Bradley tosses and turns in the fold-out bed in his sister’s living room, kicking off the sheets and staring out the windows he opened earlier. Bradley revels in the cold, he revels in the feeling of his skin prickling with goosebumps. He loves feeling every inch of his skin fight to stay warm, just like how he always enjoyed feeling every fibre of his lungs try and absorb as much air as they could when he used to run.
Bradley turns on his back and breathes in a deep lung-full. He loves the stretch of his chest, loves feeling them ache in the cold October night air that’s flooding the room.
How is he even supposed to begin to try and fall in love? How will he even know it worked?
Bradley releases the breath he’d been holding for way too long and gasps.
He’s never been in love before. He doesn’t even know what it’s supposed to feel like, what it’s supposed to be. If being in love means living in a crappy apartment, eating food you don’t like and staying in all the time Bradley can actually see little merit in it.
Bradley gets up and closes the window, leaving the drapes open. He plops back down in the sofa-bed and stares out to the stars.
What if he tries really hard, gives it all he’s got, and it still doesn’t work?
Natalie offers to practice the conversation he’ll have with Colin in the car (because you are going to talk to him, Bradley. You know? Communicate. That thing most normal people do on a regular basis while you’re too busy holing up in your room? Bradley had glared at her and threw the wet and dirty dishcloth he’d been using square in her face.)
And while it reminds him of when they were kids and used to question each other before a big test in school, he almost says yes. Then he remembers that would mean he’d actually have to think about what he was going to tell Colin, and to then actually share this with his sister. So he politely declines and they listen to the radio instead.
The two-hour drive is too short and soon they’re standing in front of their apartment building. Natalie refuses to come inside so Bradley has to face Colin all alone. He drags his bag up the stairs to their floor and waits for another five minutes before fishing out his keys and pushing the door open.
Bradley already knew that admitting this to Colin would be so much harder than the conversation with Natalie could ever be. Natalie is his sister; she’s been this constant in his life. Colin is the guy he met not even three months ago, the guy whose heart was probably on the line here.
What Bradley didn’t expect though, was that it would be this hard. He didn’t expect that he would be crying right along with Colin. It’s never been harder and more painful to tell someone that he doesn’t love them. It makes the throbbing void inside him stab with pain, as if to remind him that he doesn’t really know what love is to begin with, not the kind of love Colin needs anyway.
Bradley feels foolish when the tears slowly start running down his cheeks, he feels like he isn’t really allowed to cry over this.
Bradley wants to apologize for not being Colin’s Bradley anymore, for not remembering falling in love and for not being in love anymore. He wants to apologize for being insensitive and rude most of the time, and for flirting with girls in front of Colin even when he knew (because he’s always sort of known – from the moment he saw Colin’s tear-filled eyes in that chair in the hospital. It just took a hell of a long time for him to be able to accept it himself.)
But most of all he wants to apologize for making Colin cry because at this moment Bradley believes he’s never done anything worse in his life.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, over and over, drying Colin’s tears with his sleeves but letting his own fall freely. “Do you need something? Do you want me to get you something?”
Colin shrugs miserably.
“I could make you some hot chocolate?”
Colin nods and Bradley scrambles out of the couch and into the kitchen, happy he can do something.
He tries to make it the way Colin has made him hot chocolate dozens of times. He adds the little marshmallows and even uses the exact same cup Colin uses every time. Bradley stirs and softly blows in the cup, cooling it off a little before bringing it back to the living room.
Colin’s eyes are puffy and red but he isn’t crying anymore, he seems to have pulled himself together again. Bradley sees now more than ever the front Colin undoubtedly has had to erect in Bradley’s presence time after time, to keep him from knowing how much he’s been hurting Colin. Bradley also sees how he could have purposefully ignored that in the past.
“Well, what do we do now?” Colin asks, voice small as he stares at the cup in his hands. A small frown is etched into his forehead.
“We get to know each other?” Bradley says. “That seems like the right place to start, doesn’t it?”
“So you’re not leaving then?” Colin peers at him through his long, damp eyelashes.
“No.” Bradley says truthfully. Colin doesn’t look too convinced so Bradley quickly adds: “I brought all my stuff back, didn’t I?”
When Colin gives him the barest ghost of a smile Bradley is glad he didn’t add that he’d have to if this – if this thing didn’t work out.
“So we get to know each other.” Colin says, a little pink returning to his cheeks. “And just see how it goes from there.”
“Yeah sure, we could like join a gym together or something.” Bradley tries to joke. His voice is still raw from earlier.
“Or if you stop avoiding me we won’t even have to pay for that since we do live in the same house.”
“I haven’t been – not really.” Bradley protests, spluttering. “Or not that – obviously?” He ends weakly.
Colin smiles a little more real, a little more genuine.
“Were you just pulling my leg?” Bradley asks.
“Sort of,” Colin shrugs, “You’ll – get the hang of it. Don’t worry.”
“Get the hang of what? You bullying me?”
Colin waves his hand awkwardly, “Me.” He stumbles over the words, “My humour – you once said you didn’t really get any of it until four months after you met me.”
“Okay,” Bradley smiles back. “How about I promise to stop avoiding you if you promise you’ll stop bringing up Old-Bradley.”
“Old-Bradley?” Colin repeats with a quirk of his eyebrow.
“You know, the old me.” Bradley says. “The Bradley before the accident. I’m New-Bradley, this Bradley, and I don’t want to be compared to him.”
“Old-Bradley and New-Bradley,” Colin shakes his head in silent amusement, “And here I thought that was all just you.”
“Well,” Bradley says, slapping his hands on his thighs before getting up, “You’re wrong. I’m not him and he’s not me – and to be completely honest, Old Bradley? He’s kind of a wanker anyway.”
“What makes you say that?” Colin asks, frowning again.
“Well I mean,” Bradley says bluntly. “He obviously has no taste in clothes, he can’t smoke a cigarette without getting nauseous and he can’t have more than four drinks without passing out – and I don’t remember my hangovers ever being this horrible. Also he,” Bradley shrugs, “Obviously lied to you a lot.”
The frown deepens. “You don’t know that. Not really.”
Bradley shrugs again, feeling awkward and a bit of a dick for saying that to Colin about someone he very obviously loved a lot. “I told you we were different.”
Bradley is sitting on the couch, watching Colin run about doing laundry. It’s getting dark earlier every day and Bradley can feel the cold of autumn slowly creeping in his bones. Bradley is lying on the couch, huddled up in a blanket and trying to watch television. He keeps getting distracted by Colin, though.
Colin shuffles from the bathroom, where their washer and drier are located, to the living room where he’s put up the ironing board. Bradley leans his head on his arm and looks at the way Colin’s toes peek from underneath those raggedy PJ bottoms he’s wearing again.
“We should go out.” Bradley announces.
“Go out?” Colin repeats distractedly, finishing one of Bradley’s shirts and adding it to neat little stack.
“Go out for something to eat. You know, like on a date.” Bradley adds casually, shrugging and stretching at the same time. Maybe that was a little too much of the causal front.
Colin looks up very slowly. “You’re asking me out on a date?”
Bradley nods, wondering if he should shrug again. Or stretch. He doesn’t want to make a big deal out of this because it’s just a date – he just wants to see Colin out and about, wearing something nice and eating something so good that it makes that dimply smile of his appear. Bradley’s also sort of hungry.
“Sure.” Colin says quickly.
Bradley grins and throws off the blanket he’d been hiding under; he looks up at Colin expectantly.
“What? Right now?” Colin asks uncertainly.
“Yes, now,” Bradley agrees. “I’m hungry.”
“You just had pizza.”
“I’m hungry again,” Bradley grins. Colin should know by now that his stomach can take quite a large amount of food.
“I’m not dressed.” Colin protests weakly. He pulls at the oversized shirt he’s wearing as if to prove his point.
“Then get dressed.”
Colin stares at Bradley a little more intently, like maybe Bradley has lost his mind or something. But he doesn’t seem unhappy about the suggestion. If Bradley can read Colin (which he knows he can,) that’s definitely that small-smile thingy he does when he’s incredibly pleased with something Bradley’s done, but doesn’t want to show him.
“Okay, I guess we could go out. Right now.” He gives Bradley another small smile before all but dashing off to his bedroom.
Bradley trots off to his own bedroom to change too. There’s a pizza stain on his chest and that’s just not the impression he wants to make on this date.
Bradley sits down on the bed. He listens to Colin rush around in the bedroom next door and Bradley has to take a couple of deep breaths. It’s a good first step, he reminds himself, it’s a logical first step. Dating is nice, he’s good at dating.
Next door Bradley hears Colin stumble and fall, pulling Bradley completely out of his train of thought. Bradley opens his door and yells: “Are you okay?” He’s already striding up to Colin’s bedroom, ready to burst through the door if Colin hurt himself.
“I’m fine!” Colin calls back, “Just a little overexcited.”
Bradley feels something tug at the corners of his mouth.
Because it’s already quite late (and there’s never anything exciting to do in this little town) they end up looking around for quite a while before they can find something that’s still open and doesn’t need reservation. The fact that it’s a fast-food place doesn’t have any effect on Bradley’s newfound optimism and conviction that this is the right way to start this. Colin seems to be in a good mood too, he keeps smiling, which in turn makes Bradley feel good about asking him out.
“Okay, let me ask you this,” Colin says, popping a piece of carrot in his mouth. Colin had gotten a salad and the biggest plate of curly fries Bradley has ever seen. “What was your very first impression of me?”
Bradley frowns and looks up from his own plate filled with boring, regular fries and hamburger. “Why would you want to know?”
“I’m curious,” Colin shrugs.
“I was mostly confused back then, Colin.”
“But what was your impression of me? You must remember. What did you think when you saw me?” Colin prompts, sitting up a bit straighter.
“Like I said: confusion?” Bradley tries again.
“Well, what was the next thing you thought then?” Colin insists.
“That you were all angles and – ears?” Bradley blurts out and oh fuck. This is the sort of thing that can get you slapped on a date, isn’t it?
But to Bradley’s great surprise Colin grins and ducks his head in one of the cutest ways Bradley has seen on him. “That’s… yeah.” Colin says softly, still grinning.
“Okay, seriously. Why did you ask?” Bradley asks. “And how was that answer somehow the right one?”
“Nothing!” Colin insists, “It’s just… you’ve told me something like that before. And I actually mean exactly that.” If Colin wasn’t blushing so cutely Bradley would probably have remembered to get upset about being compared to Old-Bradley. But it really is too cute and Bradley just can’t be bothered.
When they get home Colin immediately goes for the living room where he toes off his shoes and shrugs off his coat. Bradley hovers around in the hallway, taking his coat off there.
“So, on a scale from 1 to 10. With 1 being the worst date you’ve ever had and 10 being completely awesome, how did I do tonight?” Bradley asks from the small hallway.
Colin hums for a moment. “You’re definitely a seven.”
“A seven?!” Bradley repeats, slightly incredulous and maybe a little ego-bruised.
“It was lovely,” Colin is quick to add, “There’s just room for improvement. But when it comes to dating there’s really always room for improvement.”
“Okay,” Bradley huffs out in a laugh, playing along. “You can’t just drop that on me and my ego without leaving me any pointers. What exactly do you think I can improve on?”
“Location.” Colin grins, “For starters. Fast-food restaurants aren’t the most romantic places out there.”
Bradley tries not to twist and squeak at the word romantic. “What else?” He asks bravely.
“You don’t have to open doors and pull out chairs for me. I’m not a girl. Come to think of it, I think even girls would find that bit too much this day and age.”
“You forgetting your wallet also—”
Bradley groans loudly and buries his face in his hand. “I will pay you back.”
Colin’s smile goes a little softer. “I would give you a 10 for company though. And besides, you don’t really have to use dates to impress me anymore, I’ve been quite impressed with you for a while already.” Now it seems Colin’s turn to blush.
Colin, clearly irritated by the blood rushing to his face, starts awkwardly scratching the back of his neck. He looks about ready to turn around and flee to his bedroom or something, but Bradley takes his hand before Colin has the chance to.
Bradley leans up to fit their mouths together. Besides the completely disorienting feeling he has from leaning up, it’s not – all bad. Colin’s lips feel very, well, nice against his own. The shocked little face Colin gives Bradley afterwards isn’t totally horrible either.
Bradley simply can’t sleep; he hasn’t been able to sleep in weeks. Sometimes he tells himself that it’s been like this for months; that it’s been like this ever since he got back from the hospital. He knows that’s not true though. It got worse after that conversation with Natalie, that conversation with Colin.
During the day everything is alright, and everything almost even feels good.
He watches movies and television series, and goes shopping with Colin. He also really means with Colin this time, not just next to or alongside. All the little things that used to annoy him, that crawled under his skin until he felt like exploding or screaming don’t bother him in the slightest anymore. Bradley listens to Colin with genuine interest when he tells him he likes smooth peanut butter more than the crunchy kind, and Bradley even feels something not unlike fondness spread through him when they’re watching True Blood and Colin will really want to spoil the ending,but never does.
It’s the nights he used to relish in, the being alone he used to crave, that now makes his mind run a mile a minute and makes him question everything that in the light of day seems so easy.
Because what does it mean that he feels more comfortable around Colin now? Is this love? What does it mean that he misses Colin when he’s gone, and that he feels bad when he speaks before he thinks and Colin’s smile falters just long enough for Bradley to notice? When it’s replaced by that not-quite-real smile Colin seems to have perfected the last months it makes Bradley ache because – why exactly?
Because he feels guilty, because he knows he’s still not good enough, because it’s still not alright?
Because seeing that not-quite-real-smile is just enough to ruin Bradley’s whole day.
Colin’s worried-face is actually quite priceless. Now that Bradley has a chance to look at it when he’s not lying in the hospital or beating himself up over doing something horrible (again), he actually has the chance to recognize how – well – precious it really is.
“Colin,” Bradley repeats, “It’s just around the corner and it’s a flower shop. I could not be more safe if I were working for a unicorn and sunshine provider.”
Colin purses his lips, “You’re not taking this very seriously, are you?”
“I am! I just don’t think that me getting a part-time job moving plants and flowers around is anything to worry about.”
“I’m not worried!” Colin protests, way too strongly and quickly for it to be anywhere near true. “I’m just… you haven’t worked in a long while…”
“Which is all the more reason why I should get back out there and start contributing around here.”
Colin’s eyes widen, “You know we have enough money saved away—”
And that wide-eyed shocked look is even better than the worried-face and without really giving it any thought Bradley leans in for a kiss. He’s already pulled back and looking smug for being able to shut Colin up when he realizes what he just did and goes a bit pink.
“Uhm,” he says eloquently.
Colin just smiles at him and leans down to kiss him again, soft and quick.
“You have to call me during your break, okay?” Colin mumbles against his lips.
Bradley nods dumbly. He guesses he can live with that.
Bradley loads the last of the shipment of roses in the truck when Mister Brown, the owner of the shop, approaches him. “You did a fine job today, lad.” The man must be well over 50 but the pat he gives on Bradley’s back is firm and almost makes Bradley tumble out of balance.
Bradley’s muscles are sore and he is once again reminded he isn’t 21 anymore (and that he really should go running again before he can’t fit in his jeans anymore).
But no matter how much he winces when he rolls his shoulder, or how many times he cut his fingers today (both with the knife he was using or the thorns he kept forgetting about) Bradley feels a sort of self-satisfaction he hasn’t felt in a long time. It’s no doubt that it’s the feeling good (and the feeling good about himself) that makes Bradley decide to take half a dozen roses home with him.
Colin looks confused at first, and then maybe he looks like he wants to kiss Bradley. It makes Bradley’s insides flip funnily until he can’t take it anymore and blurts out: “I think this morning proved that you can really kiss me whenever you want to.” And then, in case that wasn’t clear enough: “I want you to kiss me.”
Colin grins coyly at that. He shuffles a little closer, the roses still in his hands, until he’s standing right in front of Bradley. He has to lean over the bouquet in order to be able to fit their lips together chastely. Bradley doesn’t know if it’s the smell of the roses, or if it’s entirely the softness of Colin’s lips, but that might have been the sweetest kiss he’s ever had.
Later that night they’re washing the dishes together. Their hands keep not-so-accidentally touching and their shoulders keep bumping together.
“So is this the sort of thing we used to do then?” Bradley asks, taking another plate Colin has just expertly scrubbed clean and drying it. “You and Old-Bradley, I mean?”
Colin laughs. “Sometimes. You usually found some sort of way to talk yourself out of it though.”
“Oh, this is getting interesting,” Bradley says, even though he doesn’t particularly mind standing there with Colin in their too-cramped kitchen. “How would I go about doing that?”
“You’d say you were really tired from working, or that because you came home so late we should spend our evenings doing other stuff rather than chores… which of course meant that I had to do the dishes all by myself the next morning.”
“And you fell for that?” Bradley bumps Colin’s hips with his softly.
“Rarely, but you knew that, so you’d give me those puppy eyes and you’d promise me… things.” Colin trails of softly, looking away.
“Things?” Bradley asks, immediately curious beyond belief. “What kind of things?”
Colin shrugs and Bradley notices the faint blush grazing his cheeks. “Random things. Bedroom things.”
Bradley feels his own face heat up too and a silent oh leaves his mouth, his lips a perfect circle.
Silence falls over them. Colin is very harshly scrubbing a particularly dirty pan.
“Well,” Bradley finally says, coughing for a second, “Happy to know that kind of thing would work on you then.”
“So you know how watching movies and shows with you always really annoys me?” Bradley beams when Colin finally, finally comes home from work. It’s not even that he works terribly late or anything (it’s a part-time job). It’s just that Bradley had a quite brilliant idea three hours ago, and he’s basically just been sitting on the couch, waiting for Colin to come home ever since.
“Thank you?” Colin asks, frowning a little but more in an amused than an offended way.
“Because you always know what’s going to happen and you—”
“Make that face. I know, Bradley. We’ve been over this.” Colin’s pout is starting to grow a little more pronounced so Bradley decides to start explaining why this is his best idea this week, by a long shot.
“So I thought we should go and see a brand-new movie together, so I can’t get annoyed and you can’t get all squinty-faced.”
Colin pulls a bit of a tortured face.
“And then I remembered how you don’t like movie theatres because the carpet’s always sticky and the people are always noisy. So,” and he draws the sound out as he grabs the bag of movies he got from the rental place down the street. “I got us some movies to watch right here, in our sticky-free home!”
“Some movies, that bag looks like you got the whole store.” Colin stares at the huge movie-filled bag. He takes it from Bradley’s hands and peers inside curiously.
“Well, apparently I have a card in that video place? Because the guy behind the register sure acted like he knew who I was. And apparently I’ve been saving up a lot of loyalty credits or something and I got a lot of free movies.”
Colin takes all the movies out of the bag, inspecting them curiously and Bradley figures that’s a good sign.
“Plus, I didn’t know if you’ve seen any of them… I got all new ones but I wanted to be sure.”
“Oh man, you must really hate that face I pull.” Colin laughs.
Bradley blinks. “No. I just – I just thought it would be more fun if you could choose what we watch, and if it were something you haven’t seen before. I’ve been forcing you to rewatch a lot of those series… and I just thought this would be nice. Like a stay-in date or something.”
“Oh.” Colin says to the DVD he’s holding, before looking up and giving Bradley a brilliant grin. “Well, when you put it that way.” He gets up from the couch and carefully, softly kisses Bradley on the cheek.
“So you just sit down, pick whatever movie you want to watch first, and I’ll go make us some popcorn.” Bradley babbles, still feeling shy whenever he gets hit with Colin’s gentleness.
“Oh, this worries me slightly.” Colin says, sliding down on the couch anyway.
“You once set the kitchen in your old apartment on fire.” Colin says. He looks completely serious about it too.
“That was Old Bradley New-Bradley’s got this completely under control.” Bradley says, completely self-confident about his abilities to make popcorn.
And okay, so maybe the first batch gets a little burned, but it doesn’t take long for Bradley to get a new batch that’s considerably less black. He figures third time’s probably the charm but he’s getting a little impatient and he’s very curious as to what Colin picked out so he just dumps the popcorn in a large bowl and adds a whole lot of butter.
Bradley’s already got a mouthful of the popcorn when he gets back in the living room. Colin’s put the DVD in the DVD player and has taken off his shoes and jumper. He’s sitting in the couch looking very cuddleable. Bradley thinks this date has got off on a pretty nice start so far.
“They’re good then, yeah?” Colin asks amused.
Bradley, his mouth still pretty much full, simply nods vigorously and sits down next to Colin.
“Shutter Island?” Bradley reads the title on the television screen while Colin takes the remote control and sets everything up. “I read the back – That’s not a really romantic movie, right?”
“Hey,” Colin shrugs, “It was your bag. You didn’t give me a lot of romantic movies to work with.”
Bradley shrugs, Colin has a point there.
“Besides,” Colin adds after he’s tossed the remote to the side and slid just a little closer to Bradley. “Aren’t thrillers excellent for dates?”
It doesn’t take more than twenty minutes for Bradley to be completely engrossed by the story. He’s sitting on the edge of his seat (well, figuratively speaking) and blindly reaching for the popcorn when his fingers tangle greasily with Colin’s in the bucket. Colin pulls his hand away all too quickly and Bradley watches him out of the corner of his eyes, as he slowly pops one kernel in his mouth at a time.
Colin slowly licks the butter from his fingers, his eyes never leaving the screen, while Bradley ironically finds himself unable to keep them on the screen and away from Colin’s lips.
Huh. That’s a first.
Sure, the couple of times it’s happened, kissing Colin had been perfectly nice and all that, but he’s never had his fingers itching to curl in Colin’s hair and just pull him down on his lap. And then of course the more Bradley tells himself to just stop going there and stop thinking about it, the more he thinks about it, the more visually he starts imagining everything.
Huh, Bradley thinks again.
It all happens pretty fast from there on, Bradley doesn’t really need a lot of time to go from realizing he’d like to bite at Colin’s bottom lip to then actually go ahead and do it. Before he knows it he’s got greasy fingers all over his jaw while his own are threading through Colin’s hair. And that feels even better than he thought it would.
Colin’s kissing him back like he’s starving for it, like he can’t get close enough to Bradley, and that in return urges Bradley on even more. He keeps trying to get closer and closer to Bradley until it feels like it might not be physically possible to get closer.
Colin stops kissing Bradley long enough to put the bowl of popcorn on the table before he’s lying down on the couch and pulling Bradley down with him. Bradley concludes that this is definitely their best date this far.
Bradley is woken up by the soft tune coming from his mobile phone. Bradley squints against the lightness of his room, and he’s almost instantly flooded with disappointed. When he checks the alarm clock his suspicions are confirmed: he overslept. Or well, he slept in late for one of the first times since the accident.
Bradley’s mainly just disappointed at missing breakfast with Colin.
The first time Bradley had shuffled out of his bedroom when Colin was having breakfast Colin had almost dropped his toast in worry.
“Was I too loud? I didn’t wake you up, right?” Colin had asked, worry obvious from where he was biting at his bottom lip.
“Oh no, I always wake up around this time.” Bradley had admitted awkwardly.
Colin had made him coffee and toast and it had been nice, okay? It was definitely a lot better than drinking cold coffee and eating his breakfast all by himself.
Bradley glares at the ceiling. It’s not a big deal really, they can have breakfast together tomorrow. It’s no problem, really. Well. It’s just that after last night it would have been nice to see Colin.
Bradley sort of scowls, since when did he start thinking of everything as being nice so frequently?
Bradley decides to ignore it for now and grabs the mobile that just woke him up. There are two texts from Natalie in his inbox: I tried to call you yesterday, everything okay? and then If you’re lying in bed with Colin you’re obliged to tell me. You know that, right?
Bradley huffs at the last message and instantly replies: So I can hear you being all smug about it? No thank you.
Within seconds he gets a reply. Wait… was that a confession?
“Oh fuck,” Bradley groans and throws the phone next to him on the bed and buries his face in the pillow. Why does she have to be so nosy?
Bradley doesn’t have to work today, and since he already missed breakfast anyway he takes his time to fully wake up and drag himself out of bed. When he passes the living room he tries to ignore the mess they made out of the couch. There’s popcorn everywhere (the bowl had not been put away as safely as they had thought), and the cushions have ended up in every corner of the room somehow.
Bradley puts off cleaning for another hour and he showers and gets some food before he finally starts picking up all the discarded popcorn. After he’s cleaned the mess up he gets down in the couch and picks out another movie from the bag to watch. He decides against finishing Shutter Island because he’d much rather finish that with Colin tonight.
Bradley finds himself having a hard time focusing though, and he’s constantly checking the large clock hanging on their living room wall. Noon seems to come around slower than usual today.
When Colin finally does walk in their apartment for lunch Bradley’s movie has been finished for more than half an hour. Bradley feels incredibly, inexplicably nervous for a total of five seconds, before just feeling relieved and kind of excited to see Colin. When he sees that Colin is talking to someone on the phone, someone Colin then calls Natalie, he’s back to being nervous though.
“Natalie, I don’t think that’s…” Colin spots Bradley and goes slightly red. “I already told you nothing happened… Well, I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that.” Colin can’t look Bradley in the eye and Bradley feels his stomach sink, oh fuck.
He rushes over to Colin to sort of uselessly hover around him, half whispering, half mouthing: what does she want?
Colin gives Bradley an apologetic look. He tries to say goodbye a couple of times but apparently Natalie isn’t having any of it. Bradley fishes his phone out of his pocket and texts her: Oh, you bitch.
“Okay. Bye, Natalie… Bye. Yes. Bye!” and finally Colin hangs up with a soft sigh of relief.
Bradley bounces from one foot to the other nervously. “What did she say?”
Colin carefully shrugs out of his coat and puts away his things before saying: “Basically that you told her we slept together.”
Oh bugger, that’s what Bradley figured. Feared, more like it. “I didn’t!” He quickly rushes out, “I told her I wouldn’t tell her even if we did!”
“It’s okay. I think she believes us. I told her we didn’t too… she sounded vaguely disappointed.”
Bradley feels even more mortified. Colin can probably tell from the face Bradley’s pulling, because suddenly he moves closer and carefully entwines their fingers.
“I missed you at breakfast this morning,” Colin says. He doesn’t sound accusing, just maybe vaguely disappointed. Or maybe that’s Bradley channelling his own disappointment.
Bradley groans, “I overslept! Of course that would happen the day after… well.” Bradley trails off, smiling crookedly when he sees a matching expression on Colin’s face.
Colin comes a little closer still and mumbles: “I’m happy you slept well then.”
And Bradley had slept well, after he’d taken care of the little problem that had arisen from Colin sucking at his tongue hard enough to make Bradley’s eyes roll back in his skull. While Bradley had been jerking off with Colin’s lips and those piercing eyes in mind, he’d never been more aware of their paper-thin walls. But somehow the thought had excited Bradley even more until he’d come, biting his fist to keep from moaning out Colin’s name.
Bradley flushes at the memory, “I slept brilliantly.”
Bradley can’t believe he’s taking his sister’s advice on dating – but going ice-skating just sounded like a lot of fun. They have to find an indoor ice rink (or rather, Colin who still has his memory from living there over two years, has to tell Bradley about it.) Colin doesn’t look too convinced about it, but the promise of hot chocolate later in the cafeteria pretty much convinces him in the end.
“If I fall –” Colin says as he gets on the ice a little clumsily. “You do realize you’ll have to do all the work around the house until I’m better right?”
“Don’t worry Col, I would nurse you back to life!” Bradley insists, skating away from Colin for a second and making a turn. Wow, this really is like riding a bike.
“How are you this good at skating?” Colin asks, still clutching at the walls.
“I used to do this as a kid all the time. And I really mean, all the time.” Bradley takes another look at Colin’s miserable state and skates back towards him. “Come on, give me your hands.”
Colin does so with little protest, his glove-covered fingers curling against Bradley’s.
“The trick is to just push back, like with normal rollerblades.”
“I don’t do rollerblading either,” but Colin is smiling already, and his cheeks are a little pink from the cold of the ice rink.
“Well then, why in the hell were you so excited about this date in the first place?” Bradley teases.
“You promised me cuddling and hot chocolate, lots of it.” Colin replies immediately, tentatively skating ahead a couple of steps.
“See, you’re doing it, it’s not that bad! One day you might even be as good as I am.”
They do a couple of laps, Colin clutching at him for most of the first one but during the third lap he can pretty much just do it all by himself. Bradley gives him an applause that makes people around them look up and makes Colin go a bit flustered.
“Now let me see one of your tricks.” Colin says, exasperated.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ve been dying to show off ever since we got here and I’m slowing you down so go. I’ll be here, watching and applauding.”
Bradley grins, “I won’t be long!”
He knows he has to be careful and probably won’t be able to make a mad skating dash for it, with the relative large amount of skaters on the rink, but he tries anyway. Every time he makes a sharp turn or spins around impressively (if he does say so himself,) his eyes are on Colin, looking at him laugh or smile.
It’s because he’s paying more attention to Colin than where he goes that he almost bumps into another skater.
“Oh, sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.” He tells the girl he just had to grab by the waist to keep her from falling.
He lets her go, and she turns around and – “Jocelyn.” Bradley’s stomach sinks and he skates back a step, creating some more distance between them.
“Hey stranger,” she says, eyes big and surprised. “Where have you been hiding?”
“Nowhere,” Bradley shrugs, “I just don’t really like bagels anymore.”
Her smile falters, “Are you sure that’s it?” She tilts her head to the side and bites her lip. “I’m sorry I was so crummy at dealing with the,” she waves at him awkwardly “Well, you know.”
Bradley feels his face heat up. Well, that’s just embarrassing.
“It was just a surprise, quite a bomb you dropped on me there!” She smacks him in the chest playfully and keeps her hand there, pulling at the front pocket of his jacket playfully. “But I’ve been thinking about you a lot.”
“Yeah?” Bradley can’t remember when he last felt this uncomfortable around a girl he was actually really attracted to.
“You should come by the store again.” She says, finally letting go of him and using her hand to push her hair behind her ear. “I would like that.”
“Jo, you know I think you’re really lovely and all, but I don’t think I’ll be coming by again.”
“And why not?” She frowns, looking very confused. “If you like me—”
“I used to like you, a lot. But I’m sort of dating someone now.”
Her eyes go hard and unrelenting in a second. “Oh,” She looks away, “Okay yeah – you could have just said that in the first place.”
Confused and feeling a bit awkward Bradley quickly skates back to where Colin was waiting for him, just to find he’s gone missing. “Oh bugger,” if Bradley was watching Colin all the time, doing tricks for him, Colin was probably watching him too.
Bradley does a quick lap around the rink but to no avail. He’s starting to get seriously worried, but then he finds Colin struggling to get out of his skates on one of the benches during his second lap.
Bradley gets off the ice. “So you’re done then?” He asks.
Colin gives up on trying to get the skate off and shoots Bradley a sad look. “Is she where that sudden interest in bagels came from?”
Bradley blinks at that. He’d figured that Colin had been slightly upset or something, but to then actually hear the jealousy in his voice. Bradley was probably some kind of sick and twisted puppy, but knowing that Colin was jealous sort of made him happy. “You know her then?”
“Yes Bradley, I sometimes have lunch there with people from work.”
Bradley hobbles over to the bench and plops down next to Colin. “Well, there’s no reason to get mad at me.” Bradley says cheerfully, “Because I told her off.”
“I’m not mad,” Colin sighs.
All the cheerfulness drains from Bradley. “Good.” He quips. “I’m starting to believe you can’t get mad or jealous or anything except for polite and so damn nice all the time.” Bradley snaps.
Colin blinks up at him but Bradley feels too justified in the anger bubbling up to stop. “Not once have I seen you get mad at me for flirting, or for doing something stupid and I guess… I guess you must not care that much if I was talking to a pretty girl because if you did, you could have just come out there and told her I’m your boyfriend, and told her to fuck off.”
“I do get mad and I do get jealous but what am I supposed to do? Keep you on a leash? That wouldn’t work and I wouldn’t want that and – and did you just say you were my boyfriend?” And the corners of Colin’s smile are so obviously trying to break free from the rest of Colin’s stern expression, because suddenly Bradley is the recipient of a toothy, dimpled grin and yeah. That might be the best thing he’s seen all week.
Bradley’s anger deflates completely, now he just feels silly and faintly happy. “We’re dating, and we make out and do things together – I thought that’s what boyfriends did?” He says lamely.
That silly smile keeps coming closer and closer until Bradley is getting snogged within an inch of his life right there in the middle of a crowded skate rink. Bradley’s last coherent thought is that he hopes Jocelyn is watching this.
Bradley wakes up with a start.
He’s sweating all over and has a horrible headache throbbing through his head. It takes him a while to get a grip on his surroundings, to realize it was all just a dream, and he’s actually in bed, their bed. Bradley doesn’t sit up, he lies there unmoving. He simply rubs his hand over his forehead to find it’s completely clammy from the sweat that’s gathered there.
It wasn’t just a dream, it was a memory. Bradley takes a deep lung-full of breath and feels how every square inch of his skin awakes and tingles with it. It could almost be mistaken for the feeling he gets when he opens up all the windows and lets the cold night air graze his skin. Except he can feel the difference deep down in his gut. The tingling of his skin and the pounding of his heart feels horrible and dizzying. Bradley sits up forcefully. He rubs at his skin trying to warm it up, trying to make the feeling disappear.
Bradley knocks on the door. He knows it will be too soft for Colin to hear even before he knocks; he ends up just barely grazing the wood with his knuckles. There’s no answer.
Bradley feels silly for a moment. He’s ready to turn around and go back to his own bed, he really is. But what good are good intentions when every extra second he waits just fuels the dread scratching at his chest. He thinks to hell with everything and turns the doorknob. Bradley sneaks into Colin’s bedroom as quietly as he can manage with his heart still hammering in his chest.
The whole room is dark. The curtains are pulled closed unlike in Bradley’s own moon-lit bedroom. Bradley stumbles and feels his way across the room until he can feel the wooden bed frame dig in his shins.
Bradley can just barely make out the outline of Colin’s body in the bed. He’s curled up on his right side, covers pulled up under his chin. Bradley take’s a second to let the sight calm his frazzled nerves before kicking off his loafers and softly, carefully crawling in the bed.
It takes a while for Colin to wake up fully and turn over in Bradley’s embrace. “Brad? What’s wrong?” He croaks out, rubbing his eyes in the most adorable way.
Bradley’s heart is slowed down so much in comparison to before that it feels like it’s stopped beating.
“I remember why I hate tomatoes.” Bradley says.
Colin frowns funnily. “You do?”
“You – why didn’t you tell me?” Bradley asks, “You were in the hospital; they said you stopped breathing.”
Colin looks so confused that for a second Bradley thinks that maybe it really was just a dream, but then suddenly understanding dawns on Colin’s face and Bradley’s chest gives a pull because it really was a memory then.
“That’s why you always told me you hated tomatoes? Because of what happened at your cousin’s wedding?”
“I don’t know where or when it happened.” Bradley says, that doesn’t really matter either way.
He’s got all these jumbled memories he can’t quite place. “I just remember you – in the hospital and all the doctors, and the machines beeping.”
“Hey, are you okay?” Colin asks, kissing the tip of Bradley’s nose carefully.
“What happened?” Bradley asks.
“It was your cousin Betty’s wedding, and our third date. We were having a really good time, but then at the reception I got this little appetizer that had tomato in it. I’ve never had such a strong reaction to it, I swelled up and you had to call the ambulance.” Colin curls his fingers around Bradley’s. Bradley didn’t even notice that he’d been stroking Colin’s wrist and palm until Colin touched him back. “I felt so bad for your cousin.” Colin chuckles, “The poor woman was so worried… you later told me she’d almost gotten in the ambulance with us.”
Bradley tightens his grip on Colin’s hand.
“Hey, really, it’s okay.” Colin soothes, with that perfect voice of his Bradley is just sure was made for calming him down. “I’m okay. I could leave the hospital the day after and I was fine.”
“What if you hadn’t been fine?” And Bradley is horrified by the rawness of his voice.
Colin comes impossibly closer until their legs are tangled and Colin’s thumb is sliding over Bradley’s cheek. “But I am fine.” He repeats, “And that was a long time ago, I almost didn’t even remember.”
“You should have told me,” Bradley insists, “You have no idea how bad I feel over those stupid bagels from that stupid place.”
“Hey now, stop that.” Colin frowns.
In the darkness of Colin’s room, and in the warmth of Colin’s embrace –with Colin’s soft fingertips still stroking along his jaw and his cheeks— Bradley feels brave enough to say: “The thought that I might have lost you back then… that I almost lost you again now because I’m so stupid, and wilful and stubborn like a spoilt child - that scares me more than it scared me to wake up in that hospital bed, all alone in my head without my memories.”
Bradley watches the expressions on Colin’s face change and shift. Some of them he recognizes, some of them, Bradley imagines, are made up just for this moment in time. Just for the two of them.
Colin leans close and kisses Bradley’s nose and cheeks, until Bradley feels like he might explode with it. When Colin’s lips finally reach Bradley’s, kissing and nipping, it’s been long enough and Bradley deepens the kiss, tasting and claiming.
Bradley rolls Colin on his back, looming over him and kissing him with all he’s got. His hands go to stroke through Colin’s hair and slide over his cheeks where they come across the damp trails left behind by Colin’s tears.
Bradley startles and sits up, wipes at Colin’s cheeks. Colin mumbles: “I’m sorry, sorry it’s just –” but Bradley’s already leaning back in, pressing as close to Colin as he possibly can.
“I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot,” Bradley whispers against Colin’s lips. Blinking through his own tears that are threatening to spill, “I love you,” Bradley mumbles, and he doesn’t even realize how true those words are until he says them and something inside him seems to fall into place.
And even in Bradley’s head that sounds a little out there, maybe even sappy. But when he looks down at Colin’s face he just knows it’s true.
Bradley has never had this much fun getting undressed, or undressing someone else. It takes them close to forever because they keep going back to kissing and touching. Bradley slides Colin’s favourite pyjama pants down his legs and gets distracted kissing the inside of his knees. Colin’s fingers are tangled in his hair, pulling and stroking and generally giving it their all in order to make Bradley’s eyes roll back in his eyes.
Colin pulls Bradley back up to eye level. Bradley wants to lean back in for a kiss but suddenly Colin is squirming from underneath him and skidding off to his wardrobe. Colin turns on the little light in the corner of the room and starts fishing through a box of stuff. He returns to the bed with a bottle of lube and a most gorgeous smile on his face Bradley can now actually see because of the light.
Colin slips back under the covers and under Bradley with a grin. “Okay, continue.”
Bradley privately wishes he would have remembered hands-on memories more useful than toothpaste and the tomato-incident because now that they’re getting closer and closer to naked in a bed with a bottle of lube and he has no idea what he’s supposed to do next.
Colin seems to get it because he coats Bradley’s fingers with the lube and guides them down between his legs. Bradley’s panting just from doing this, preparing Colin and listening to him let out those soft pants.
“Curl your finger. Ah, like that.” Colin instructs, now full on gasping. His eyes are closed and his back arched and Bradley’s pretty sure he could do just this all night. He could lie there, figuring out all the different ways to make Colin moan with his fingers and just get off on that.
But Colin won’t have any of that and pulls Bradley back down to his mouth to lick and bite at his lips, and wrap his thighs around Bradley’s hips.
Bradley tries to push in slowly but his knees all but give out at the want/need/have that rushes through his blood the moment he sinks into Colin.
Later Bradley will mostly remember how perfect Colin and him fit together. He’ll remember the way Colin’s hands would clench and unclench in the covers until Bradley took them in his and entwined their fingers. He revelled in the way Colin would now squeeze their hands together with every thrust and every moans.
It doesn’t last very long, for either of them, but that wasn’t what this was really about anyway.
Bradley is lying on Colin’s chest, face buried in Colin’s neck, when he blurts out: “So that is definitely my new favourite thing in the world.”
Colin chuckles and idly rubs his hand over Bradley’s back. Bradley tries to figure out what figures and symbols Colin might be drawing on his back, focusing all his attention on soft fingertips on skin until he shudders with it.
“Well,” Bradley adds when the silences draws out, “I’m sure there’s room for improvement though. On my part I mean, you – you were pretty much awesome.”
Colin laughs, “Is this your way of asking me if I had a good time?”
Bradley grins. “Maybe.”
“Like it wasn’t obvious.” And Colin’s grin makes Bradley realize he needs to be up there again and so he kisses his way back up Colin’s neck. He pays extra attention to his jaw line because it’s so lovely and always looks extra kissable, before finally lying eye to eye with Colin again.
“I think you should move all your things back to my room. Well, our room.”
“Yeah?” Colin grins.
“You know,” Bradley says, sliding his hand down to grab Colin’s ass. “Easy access and all that.”
Colin proves to be harder to tackle than anticipated and Bradley ends up on his back with Colin straddling him. Bradley’s pretty sure that’s because Colin’s just knows all his moves – he’s got a definite time advantage here. But as he stares up at Colin’s wide grin and smiling eyes he can’t quite make himself mind.
Colin is carrying the third box of his clothes inside, (Bradley seriously didn’t even know the guy had that many clothes), when Bradley takes out the box at the bottom of Colin’s wardrobe. It’s much heavier than the boxes filled with clothes and trinkets.
Bradley has been watching his room slowly being transformed into their room again. For the past couple of hours picture frames with Colin’s family members, alongside his enormous book collection have been steadily filling all the empty Colin-shape voids in their room.
Bradley sits down on the floor and pulls the box in front of him, scratching at the remainder of the tape that was keeping the box shut.
It’s exactly what Bradley had figured it would be: the box is filled with their things, neatly tucked away out of Bradley’s sight.
The box contains mostly photo albums, stacks and stacks of pictures as well as picture frames. There are letters too; two stacks of them, all neatly bound together with a bright blue ribbon.
Bradley takes out the first stack, they’re all addressed to Colin, the return address is his old one from when he lived back in his own apartment in London. The second stack is addressed to Bradley.
Colin walks back in the room, crouching down next to Bradley.
“I had to pack all this stuff away the day before you came back home.” Colin sits down next to him and smiles at the picture. “I had to fit all our memories in this box and hide them.”
The urge to hold and hug Colin is too strong to resists and so Bradley pulls Colin down in a hug. Bradley suddenly realizes that now he doesn’t even need to try and resist that urge again.
“What are you going to do with those?” Colin laughs against Bradley’s neck as he wraps his arms around Bradley’s waist tightly.
Bradley looks at the letters in his hands and shrugs, “Read them. I want to know if there’s any filth in these.”
“Ah, I’ve got to disappoint you then, they’re pretty tame. Pretty sweet too.” Colin’s smiles.
Bradley lets Colin go with another kiss on his cheek before kneeling down next to the box again. “We should put these frames and pictures back out.”
“What is this?” Colin laughs, “I thought you hated Old-Bradley.” He teases. “Didn’t want anything to do with him…”
Bradley shrugs, “I guess he’s not that bad now that I’ve given it some thought. I mean, he was smart enough to fall for you the first time, so I could now fall for you again a second time.”
Colin’s smile is bright enough to light a whole house. He leans his forehead against Bradley’s and mumbles, “You aren’t the only one who got to fall in love twice, you know.”
They use the bed in the guest bedroom one last time, Bradley simply can’t imagine wasting the time to walk all the way to their bedroom when he can simply tackle Colin then and there.