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The Fairy of Shalott - Part 1/4

I'm in a wide open space, I'm standing
I'm all alone and staring into space
It's always quiet thru' my ceiling
The roof comes in and crashes in a daze

I'm in a wide open space, it's freezing
You'll never get to heaven with a smile on your face from me
I'm in a wide open space, I'm staring
There's something quite bizarre I cannot see

I'm on the top of a hill, I'm lonely
There's someone here to shout to miles away
I could be back in my house, for I care
They do not hear me, it's the same old case

I'm in a wide open space, it's freezing
You'll never get to heaven with a smile on your face from me
I'm in a wide open space, I'm staring
There's something quite bizarre I cannot see.

“Wide Open Space”, Mansun.




Colin knows every sort of customer that there is.

He knows the thoughtful type, with glasses and shadows under their eyes from reading late, the offhand glamorous type, looking for the new bestseller that has just become a motion picture, the quiet type, looking through cheap paperbacks for something other than the TV to distract themselves before they fall asleep in the evening, the student type, with rumpled lists of textbooks in their pockets, the penniless type, reading in the corner for hours before they get shown out by a shop assistant who has lost their patience, and is afraid that the book will look read and worn afterwards. He is never the one to lose his patience – he likes people reading, likes watching their expressions flicker and their fingers turn the pages deftly. It calms his rather fretted nerves somehow.

Shalott is small, but bright and cosy and the books are strewn all over the place: across the shelves, the floor, the chairs and windowsills and coffee tables. Colin smiles a lot as he is asked, many times a day, whether they have this or that book, and he doesn’t know and has to go ask Richard.

Technically, Richard has retired. Colin is unsure as to how old Richard actually is, but he knows that Richard had been an actor for most of his life, and a damn good one for that matter, but then grew tired of the hectic filming schedules and bought his favourite bookstore. Apparently, running a bookstore is tiresome too, so there are Colin and Helen and the Tury twins, who all work in shifts so Richard can spend his days the way he likes. Mostly, he prefers to drink tea in the backroom and read something, and occasionally come to help Colin because smiles are well and good and, some say, cute to the point of approximately two hundred and forty kittenwatts, but they can’t replace the book requested. Sadly.

Also, they won’t get him what he wants most, but he can live with that. He already knows how.

One can’t say that this tiny bookstore is an example of thriving business, though they get by with what they earn. However, Colin has quite a lot of time when he isn’t busy and he spends those hours either reading, exploring the shelves to remember what is where, or trying to compile a database of everything they have so that he wouldn’t have to memorize each single book. This doesn’t go that well, because Colin is not all that brilliant with computers, and even if he were, the old computer they own seems to be under the impression that it is retired as well, and doesn’t work more often than not. Maybe it shuts down every fifteen minutes or so just to irritate the hell out of Colin, he isn’t sure.

The database compiling is what Colin’s doing when a new customer walks through the door.

Ah, Colin thinks. The glamorous type: blond, fit, impeccably handsome and surely knowing it. His white trainers are spotless, which most probably means he doesn’t walk around like mere mortals do, but instead uses his undoubtedly shiny car. Colin checks quickly in his mind if they have any copies of bestsellers left. If the guy is looking for a gift for his girlfriend, he is sure to find two or three different Stephenie Meyer novels in the far right corner. If he wants something for his parents, something stern and non-fiction, like Zakaria’s Post-American World, will do for his father – probably some businessman or a back-bench politician; and for his mother – The Love Dare which just appeared in paperback yesterday, and looks elegant enough for a sappy love story. Or, maybe, Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me? which, since February, has flown out of the store the minute they put a new pile on the floor. If, by any chance, the guy isn’t just a football team captain and a regular of every posh night club in the city, but is into family business or law, that new Grisham shall fit him fine, or one of those numerous economics things that Colin privately finds utterly boring, like Soros’s The New Paradigm for Financial Markets. On the off chance the guy might be inclined to read himself, he could be looking for King’s latest, Duma Key, or even The Tales of Beedle the Bard, but Colin wouldn’t bet his life on it.

The guy, the guy’s life, parents, girlfriend, future career, tastes, and habits are all sized up neatly in Colin’s head. Colin looks at the guy pointedly from behind the till and asks:

“How can I help you?”

He remembers to smile, but he’s careful not to let out anything more than five or seven kittenwatts. The glamorous type doesn’t care much for the sincerity of shop assistants anyway.

The guy turns to Colin and smiles sheepishly, tilting his head to the side a little bit, like a child asking an adult for a favour. He looks a tad lost among all the uneven multicolored piles, and this helpless and hopeful expression doesn’t fit into Colin’s opinion of the guy, so much that it’s almost painful to see.

“Hi,” the guy says, sounding abashed and in awe. “This place… um… it’s a maze. I’m, well, I’m looking for a book.”

“Indeed you are,” says Colin, his face a serious polite mask. “Which book, exactly, would you like to find? We have plenty, fortunately.”

This is kind of a moment of truth, and Colin waits for the answer with a trepidation, of sorts. This unusual guy is the most exciting thing to happen to him today, he can afford to admit that much emotion.

“I thought you might have a copy of Isherwood’s A Single Man,” the guy says. “I can’t find one anywhere. The best I managed to dig up is his autobiography and that creepy Frankenstein story. So if you don’t have one, I’ll have to hope that Amazon or E-bay has it, but I don’t really like online-shopping?..”

He finishes his little speech as if he’s confessing some awful childish sin, like stealing sweets from the kitchen before dinner, and looks at Colin – his, it seems, partner in crime here – expectantly. This is the cue for Colin to chime in as a true professional and say ‘Yes, we happen to have one. It’s old and second-hand, but pretty decent-looking, so if you’ll be so kind as to wait a minute while I find the ladder and take it from the upper shelf on your left?’ But Colin just sits there and looks at the guy with his eyes wide open, ‘cause the guy isn’t supposed to exist but he does. He can’t even say if he’s more disappointed that his classifying skills have failed completely, or stunned by the idea.

“Ah…” Colin says. “Yeah, sure, we have it, I saw it three days ago on that shelf up there, so, sure, we do. What do you need it for, by the way?”

The guy shrugs.

“I was told it’s a good read,” he smiles, widely and cheerfully this time, and there are dimples on his cheeks. Colin would estimate each of them as at least fifty kittenwatts. “But the person who said that took the book from their university library and I don’t have access to that one, and I thought, why the hell not buy it.”

“So you like reading, then?” Colin gets up, not looking away from the guy and thus bumping into the corner of the counter. It hurts, but he suffers through the results of his own idiocy silently.

“Don’t tell me you’re going to laugh at me for that, too!” The guy looks very dramatically hurt and long-suffering. “My teammates do, but you’re working with books, how can you?”

“I’m not laughing,” Colin interrupts, before the guy starts performing some scene of inconsolable grief right in the middle of the store, just for the sake of entertainment at Colin’s expense. “I was just… surprised.”

“Why?”

“You don’t seem the type,” Colin mutters, hoping that his voice is muffled enough, as he is on the highest step on the ladder now, and is bent among the piles on the shelf in a weird, worm-like, totally spineless way.

“If you fall down,” says the guy solemnly, and Colin can swear he feels the guy’s intense eyes on his backside and legs, “I’ll catch you. But it’s too high so we’ll end up with our legs broken. Which would you prefer to break, the right or the left one? We would be lying in a hospital all symmetrical and I’d read you A Single Man out loud.”

“I prefer not to break either of them.” Colin disentangles himself from the books with the dusty copy of A Single Man in hand. “And who says one of us isn’t going to break his neck? What would you suggest if that happened?”

“I’d cry over your grave, clutching the book for which you gave your life, I think.” The guy laughs, throwing his head back, obviously pleased with the conversation, but Colin doesn’t join him.

“So you just assume it’d be me who broke his neck? Why not you?” He clicks the buttons to print the check and writes down the author and the title in the logbook.

“Yours just looks a lot more fragile than mine.” The guy shrugs guiltily. “Sorry, mate; I really didn’t want you to die.”

If Colin continues this conversation for a second more, his brain’s likely to explode and cover everything around him in blood, flesh, and gore. He pushes the book into a brown paper bag with the pale logo of Shalott printed on it, and drops it into the guy’s hands.

“Thank you for having chosen our store, have a nice day!” He singsongs, flopping down onto his chair and staring at the screen very intently.

When the guy says “goodbye”, sounding a bit wounded, and leaves, Colin understands that the computer has shut down again at some point, and the screen is dark and empty, and every piece of data he managed to feed the computer with today hasn’t been saved.


Richard leaves at five, as usual, looking content with his working day spent with Proust and Heinlein. Colin’s shift is till eight, and he closes the store on his own. The keys are heavy in his fingers, and he knows it means he’s tired with a medium-sized tiredness. When he takes an afternoon off – never explaining what he needs it for, but getting one anyway because Richard is the nicest boss this side of Atlantic – he leaves Shalott still full of cheery, purely physical, taut strength. The bone-deep exhaustion comes only before holidays like Christmas, when customers are literally swarming all day long. Today was just an ordinary day.

Colin walks down the street to a small coffee shop which is open till midnight and orders his usual – double espresso with whipped soy cream and triple sugar and marble syrup. Katie the barista smiles, handing the cup over to him – she thinks he’s got a sweet tooth the size of the Eiffel tower. They like to chat, and they have bonded a bit, both being Irish and lonely in London and having a sarcastic quirky sense of humor, but he never tells her that he orders this because it’s his dinner. He can’t afford much with his wages and he doesn’t need much, so he fools his body successfully, managing to fall asleep in the evening before it recovers from all the sugar and demands some proper food.

Besides, he has a bit of a sweet tooth and, after a long shift, a puffy cloud of syrupy whipped soy cream is something that can convince one that the world is a nice place, no matter what.

He turns around, sipping his still too hot coffee, and in the far corner he sees someone he didn’t expect to see. The blond hair of the not-falling-under-any-type-guy is shining under the lamplight, and there’s a dry smudge of something jam-like on his upper lip. Colin watches the guy for half a minute, staying unnoticed.

The guy is reading, evidently fascinated by the story. He turns the pages quite quickly, very carefully, and never looks around. His back looks stiff – if he’s been sitting here since he left the shop, then Colin can’t blame the guy’s spine for rebelling, even though the guy ignores it efficiently.

“Has he been here for long?” Colin asks.

“For hours,” Katie says, leaning on the till beside Colin. The shop is empty for the moment and she uses an opportunity to relax. “He’s been reading since late afternoon. He must be rich, I think, otherwise he’s ruined after how much coffee and muffins he’s bought today.”

“Maybe he just fancies you but he’s too shy to approach?” Colin gathers some cream on the end of his straw and eats it like that, slippery and clumsy. It feels good.

“He fancies the book.” Katie laughs. “He has eyes only for it, trust me. I wonder what it is that made him glue his pretty arse to the chair like that.”

“It’s Isherwood,” Colin says, not objecting the pretty arse notion as, impartially, it is just as nauseatingly pretty as everything else about the guy. “A Single Man. I sold it to him today.”

“Isherwood?” Katie repeats. “Haven’t read anything of his, but it sounds pretty solemn. Is he a literature student?”

“Who, Isherwood?” Colin chuckles into his coffee and gets punished for that when a considerable portion of the cream lands on his nose and cheeks.

Katie makes an attempt at revenge, trying to slap him with a towel, but Colin is swift enough to duck in time. They laugh together, and something tight unravels in Colin’s chest a little bit.

The sound of laughter tears the guy away from his book: he looks up, confused, and precisely half a second passes before the guy recognizes Colin and smiles so happily as if he’s met his best friend after several months apart.

His smile is broad and boyish, and two or three of his white teeth are a little crooked; it makes his face with its perfectly balanced features so alive and joyous and unrestrained that Colin can’t help but smiles in return, feeling the full power of a couple of hundred kittenwatts beaming outwards.

“Hi,” the guy says. The book is forgotten; the chilly evening wind from the window, which is slightly ajar, flips the pages back and forth, but the guy doesn’t register that. “What’s your name? I never asked.”

“Do you know the names of everyone you buy something from? You must have a memory worthy of the Rain Man,” Colin says.

“No.” The guy is embarrassed, and no one with shoulders so broad should be able to look so adorable, because adorable is not something that guys with broad shoulders and a posh Eton-like accent do. “But you are weird so I remembered you. I’m Bradley, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you,” says Colin, since his mother taught him to be polite under any circumstances, and when he doesn’t know what to do or say – like right now – politeness saves the day.

The guy – Bradley – watches him, waiting for something. Oh, yeah. He forgot to introduce himself.

“Colin,” he says, squeezing his cooling cup tighter. Suddenly, he just wishes to be out of here and halfway home, where he’d be if it weren’t for stupid Bradley, with his stupid habit of telling people that they are weird and smiling at them like they are special and precious when in fact they are not.

He might be starting to hate Bradley a little bit, just for that thought of his own.

“You’re Irish, right?” Bradley asks, still sitting and looking at Colin, and Colin is still standing and holding the cup, and Katie is watching them with acute interest.

It’s all rather stupid in a quite ordinary non-adorable senseless stupid way. Colin’s fingers hurt from the cup that’s too hot – has Katie put boiling water inside?.. – and his ears and nose, on the contrary, are numb from cold. It’s dark outside, and Colin’d better make it home soon – he has a hard day tomorrow and a lot of book dust in his hair right now.

“Yes, I am.” he says. He turns to Katie and bids her goodbye, turns back to Bradley and nods hastily before rushing out of the coffee shop.

That’s how one does it, Colin thinks. Coffee drops on his lips seem to be turning into ice in the chill. That’s how one just walks away from all phenomena that throw you off balance – and Colin values his balance over many things.


First thing Colin does coming home is check his e-mail. He feels like a spider, sitting in the centre of his newly created web and waiting for the delicious meaty flies of information to come to him. He gets lots of letters, most of which are rubbish and spam, but about thirty per cent deserve deeper consideration. Day by day, nothing comes out of it in the end, but Colin doesn’t despair, because that’s the main thing in his life now, and possibly for years to come, and he can afford waiting.

He makes a plan for tomorrow and writes out the addresses and some other details so as not to make a fool of himself due to a misunderstanding. Following the plan, he’s gotta get up at six tomorrow, earlier than he gets up for work, but tomorrow is Helen’s shift in the morning and he only has to come at two, which is fine.

Colin drifts into sleep, watching the shadows dance on the ceiling. He waits for them to start making sense and resembling pictures or letters, and when it happens he knows that it’s the first dream of this night starting. He thinks that if they ever start making sense while he’s awake, it wouldn’t mean anything good for him, but evening after evening they behave like good shadows should.

He wishes them goodnight before slipping entirely into a long dream full of tiring activities, like climbing mountains and drowning in lakes.


Helen adores long dresses with heavy belts and the dresses adore her. Colin watches Helen fidget with the sleeve of her new creamy silky dress while talking to Santiago, and wonders just how much more time it will take for Santiago to stop buying random thrillers, love stories, and Chinese-Spanish dictionaries and to ask Helen out. Santiago is a promising actor, and though so far his most prominent role on TV was that of a playboy Ben in a drama show – and the gist of his part was accidentally fishing a girl’s knickers out of his pocket and pretending he didn’t know how they got there – Santiago is still really good. He is also handsome like hell, and Colin likes the way he and Helen look beside each other.

“Oh, hello, Colin.” Helen ruffles his hair and he lets her. It’s in disarray anyway. “A pretty boy came this morning to see you.”

“A pretty boy?” Colin echoes, shrugging off his jacket.

“Yes.” Helen tosses the till keys to him, and he catches without looking, because he’s used to her doing that. The first time she left him with a key-shaped shiner, but that didn’t stop her, so he had to learn to survive, somehow. “He promised to come by this afternoon again.”

“Was he blond, fit, and with an idiotic smile?” Colin asks in a bored voice, knowing the answer even before Helen claps her hands in inexplicable glee and confirms his suspicions.

He busies himself with kicking away the book piles that don’t let him move his chair a bit further from the till and stretch his legs. Helen puts her coat on, and there’s such tentative hope on Santiago’s face that Colin catches himself thinking that she’s either blind like a bat – which she is not – or she doesn’t want to go out with Santiago but doesn’t want to tell him, or doesn’t know how.

She takes a look at her watch and exclaims eagerly:

“It’s half past two already! Damn it, I’m terribly late. Colin, Santiago, see you later!” Colin mouths the words along silently. They are too predictable to resist.

Santiago sees him doing it, though, and he looks so sad when he catches up on what’s going on that Colin now feels like a maniac. A regular puppy-kicker who devotes his rare hours free from puppies to abusing babies and taking their ice-cream from them, cackling ominously in the meanwhile.

“I’m sorry,” Colin says, although he didn’t lead Santiago on and definitely didn’t encourage him to have a crush on Helen. He, however, is the one to take on the weight of Santiago’s broken heart, because he’s a sympathetic miserable git like that. “She just… doesn’t really like anyone. She’s only ever loved Shalott.”

Santiago nods and heads off after awkward goodbyes.

This is not good, Colin thinks. He’ll have to put all those spare Spanish-Chinese dictionaries into the database now, and he’d sort of hoped that Santiago would eventually buy the whole stock.


Bradley appears on the doorstep fifteen minutes before Colin has to close the shop. It’s raining outside and Bradley doesn’t have an umbrella with him, and he’s soaked through, his hair dark and damp on his forehead, his clothes soggy and his trainers squelching.

“You’ll catch a cold,” Colin says.

Bradley sneezes and grins at Colin.

“Hello to you too, you grumpy Irish fairy.”

“Fairy?” Colin is unsure how to interpret that.

“Well, a leprechaun would be even more authentic, but you’re too tall to be one and it’s not like you’re keeping any gold anywhere, under the rainbow or wherever.” Bradley explains, not really making his words any clearer. “Unless you are a leprechaun in a clever disguise sneaking around the mortal world for your own leprechaunish reasons, in which case I apologize for the assumption.”

Colin shakes his head, but Bradley’s nonsensical babbling seems to have stuck itself to his brain and it messes with him quite thoroughly.

“Are you thirsty?” Bradley asks.

“What? Why do you ask?”

“I’d ask you out for a drink to chat instead of hanging out here – seriously, this place is creepy, I’m truly afraid that the minute the door isn’t in my sight I’ll get lost inside this bookmaze – but, well, I don’t drink anything stronger than tea.” Bradley looks sheepish again. “So, well, when no alcohol is meant, people don’t say ‘drink’, do they? How does one ask another to have tea or mineral water together?”

“I’m a vegetarian,” Colin says. This seems somehow more fitting than a reply along the lines of “are you out of your bloody mind” or “wait a minute, I’ll check with all the loony bins in London in case one of them has lost a patient whose description matches yours recently”.

“You are?” Bradley takes Colin’s frame in and nods. “That explains the lack of meat on your bones. I think, though, you won’t start preaching over a steak if I want to eat one, will you?”

Colin isn’t narrow-minded. He knows that human interaction doesn’t fit the schemes he makes up in his mind, no matter how elaborate they are. But he’s convinced that the bloody thing should at least correspond to some kind of common sense or inner logic, and without it he feels like he’s lost the steady ground under his feet. He’s actually getting sea-sick standing in a bookstore in the outskirts of London.

“Look, why don’t you just go away?” Colin suggests. Politeness, it should be the salvation. “I don’t even want to know what you want from me. Just go home, dry your hair, have a cup of your blasted tea and forget that I exist altogether.”

It is the wrong thing to say, and not only because it wasn’t really polite in the way it was worded. The meaning of it as it hits Bradley, and it makes Colin’s insides go stiff, because he isn’t ready to see another pair of wounded puppy eyes today. He’s already seen his monthly quota this afternoon, why must he be subjected to it again?

“I…” Bradley starts, and stops to think for a second. “You…”

He sneezes again, loudly. Colin imagines tiny angry germs falling from their warm wet homes in Bradley’s nose and mouth onto the ground. The germs are wearing pyjamas and are showing their pointy teeth in nasty snarls.

Colin goes to the backroom without a word. Bradley trails after him, either having forgotten his bookstore-maze-phobia, or fighting it for the sake of curiosity and whatever it is that keeps Bradley ticking – Colin doesn’t even try to guess anymore.

There’s an old kettle in the backroom. There’s also a bathroom with a sink, and Colin fills the kettle and switches it on.

In the drawers, Richard keeps a plastic bag full of chocolate cookies for emergencies. Colin has never been sure what kind of emergency requires sweets in abundance, but he figures it might just be something like what’s happening right now, so he puts it on the table.

He takes a roll of paper towels from the cupboard and throws it at Bradley across the room. Bradley doesn’t catch it, letting it hit him in the chest instead, and generally he’s just standing there looking at Colin mutely with his clear blue puppy eyes, and that is really disturbing.

“Try to dry yourself,” Colin says. He thinks, what if Bradley is some sort of maniac who goes after young skinny Irish men, and what if his lifeless body will be found here tomorrow morning. Well, if Bradley is one, then he sucks at the secrecy that a decent psychopathic criminal should keep up to – too many of Colin’s acquaintances in London already know about him. And anyway, he doesn’t look threatening. He just drives Colin mad and vulnerable, and that isn’t considered a crime in any country. Though maybe it should be.

The rain becomes heavier. The window looks like someone is pouring water from a barrel on it, it’s just an incessant steady flow – not even a furious torrent which would, maybe, end in a few minutes, and Colin feels cold wind creeping in between cracks in the window-frame. If it doesn’t stop any time soon, he’ll have to call a taxi for himself and Bradley, because they both don’t have umbrellas with them. This waste of money is not something he’s looking forward to. Maybe he should shove Bradley into the taxi and cover himself with those plastic sheets from packages that are stuffed in the cupboard.

The kettle whistles deafeningly, hinting that the water is boiling. Colin makes some rather obnoxious tea with cheap tea-bags while Bradley dries himself with towels, succeeding only in leaving chunks of soaked paper in his hair and on his face. He looks cold, and Colin, cursing under his breath in Gaelic, finds an old blanket that is supposed to keep several Chekhov novellas in Japanese and Dutch from dust. It will do for Bradley, and if it doesn’t he can go and find something more suitable on his own, the idiot.

“Thank you.” Bradley takes the mug, wrapping his fingers, pale from cold, around it. They are as beautiful as the rest of him; unlike Colin’s own, they are graceful without being too long, and manly without being rough. What exactly is he doing here tonight, with Colin? Shouldn’t he be somewhere else, with rich lovely people surrounding him and catering to his every whim, with much more delight than Colin does?

“Welcome.” Colin settles on politeness, as usual, and blows at his tea – he doesn’t like it scalding, his tongue and palate are way too sensitive for that.

They don’t talk for a while, sipping their tea and eating the cookies, which prove to be a bit stale but still fine. Maybe Colin won’t need a coffee tonight, since he’s eaten half a dozen cookies already.

Bradley’s fingers are covered with chocolate, and he doesn’t notice that he leaves sticky brown smudges on everything he touches. Colin doesn’t mind – this place needs to be cleaned anyway, and Richard has a habit of doing it on his own every two weeks or so, as it’s actually his realm.

“Why do you work here?” Bradley asks.

“Why are you asking?” Colin asks back.

“Dunno.” Bradley shrugs, almost losing the blanket. “I just want to know.”

“Why do people work? They need money for a living. You seem to be unfamiliar with the concept, I see.”

“I work hard!” Bradley looks genuinely offended.

“Who are you, then?” Colin raises a skeptical eyebrow.

“I’m a professional footballer,” Bradley says, and immediately goes pink. “Well, I’m not playing as it is, but I’m training with everyone, and if there’s a spot in the team next year, I’ll be the one to take it.”

“Which team?” Colin doesn’t actually care, but Bradley looks like he hopes that Colin will ask, and just in case Bradley is a maniac, it won’t do to disappoint him about such little things, will it?

Arsenal.” Bradley goes all bright-eyed and even more boyish than before. He puts his mug down and starts gesturing wildly, explaining his position on the field and some football tactics. Colin is lost after the first half of the first phrase, and Bradley’s voice just washes over him like the sound of the rain, lulling and tuneful.

“I don’t have a clue what you are talking about.” Colin confesses when Bradley takes a break to drink some of his tea. “But go on, never mind.”

He isn’t sure if he’s being sarcastic here or if he really wants Bradley to continue with his cryptic football tales. Bradley looks like he isn’t sure about it either.

“I always wanted to be a footballer.” Bradley says after a pause. “I’d thought of being an actor but chose football in the end. Did you always want to be a bookstore fairy ghost?”

Now it’s a ghost as well. Nice.

“Nope,” says Colin, nonchalant. “My heart’s desire has always been to be a guardian angel for stupid footballers who don’t know what to do with their evening except for loitering around bookstores and calling me mythical creatures of all kinds.”

Bradley isn’t taken aback by that: he grins mischievously and steals one more cookie from the bag.

“I like that you’re getting the point,” he says through a mouthful of chocolate.

“The point? What point?”

“Being my guardian angel suits you. Better than selling books. I think you should pursue this career.”

All of a sudden, the thought of maniacs becomes somewhat less than a joke.

“I knew there had to be something wrong with you.” Colin is disappointed – though he has no idea why – and he lets it be heard in his voice. “All those good looks and toothy smiles, I thought they were bound to hide a jerk underneath, just for balance, you know. But you are not a jerk, you’re a crazy stalker of some kind, aren’t you? All the shit you’ve been saying was just shit, right?”

Bradley coughs, choking on his half-chewed cookie, and for a brief moment Colin contemplates helping him get it through – and then Bradley makes it on his own and starts laughing. The trills of his laughter fill the small room; his eyes are closed, his head is thrown back, his mouth is, for dumbfounded Colin, a mess of wet, bright pink lips and shiny white teeth; he’s shaking with sincere, uneven laughter, entirely enthralled with it like there’s nothing more important in the world than opening himself up like that, so completely that it’s almost physically painful to see for Colin. He’d rather crawl back to his metaphorical shell right now and hide from Bradley, whose laughter on its own seems aglow and blinding.

“Sorry,” Bradley exhales after about forty excruciating seconds. “I just… I never thought you’d actually think something like this. God, I’m sorry, I was just kidding, have you no sense of humour?” He giggles delightedly, like a little girl.

Colin feels like an idiot. And the more understanding sinks in, the more stupid and fussy and paranoid he feels, and he doesn’t like either the feeling or the one who caused it in the first place.

“I think my mission is complete, then.” He smiles at Bradley – there’s not a single kittenwatt involved though, it’s just a stretch of lips, which alone requires a certain amount of willpower. He takes the phone and opens the phonebook lying nearby to find a taxi service number. “You are now dried, fed and entertained; it’s time to go home.”

“Wait…”

“Don’t worry, I’m not making you walk in the rain, I’m calling a taxi,” Colin interrupts.

“But…” Bradley frowns. “I said I’m sorry and I truly am! You… you can’t just kick me out so suddenly just because you feel like it. Surely?”

“You just watch me,” Colin says, and rings the taxi service, having finally found a number.

Bradley looks at him disbelievingly all the time. While Colin orders a taxi, while they are waiting and Colin rinses the mugs and hides the cookies, while the taxi pulls off and moves into the rain and Bradley’s face is plastered to the back windows between his spread palms, and he’s looking at Colin like he still expects him to snort and say: “it was a joke, gotcha!”

Colin never says anything like that and, frankly, he doesn’t feel the slightest inclination to do so. He’s really tired, and he sits down at the table where he and Bradley had their tea.

I’ll just stay here for a while before I have to go outside, Colin thinks. He registers falling asleep with his cheek on the wooden surface, but only barely so. His neck will give him hell in the morning, and his spine probably will too, but Colin can’t be bothered right now.

He reminds himself to wake up early so as not to be laughed at by the twins, who have the morning shift tomorrow, and there are huge alarm clocks in his dreams all night: they scold him for laziness in high-pitched ring-y voices, and they all have clear, reproachful, unblinking blue eyes.


The morning proves to be fruitful in the aspect of those day-to-day duties which can never be accomplished once and for all: Colin buys cereal and tea and beans and some washing powder and cleans his tiny flat from top to bottom, since it’s high time to do that if he doesn’t want to break his neck stumbling on a pile of something or get an allergy to dust. The duties are tedious and well-known; Colin does them automatically, every motion habitual and worked out to fit the others for maximum efficiency in the minimum amount of time. He usually likes it, but today it’s bad because nothing distracts him from thinking, and for some unfathomable but yet irritating reason, he can’t stop thinking about Bradley.

Bradley is no one in his life, just a bizarre stranger. Colin shouldn’t feel any regrets knowing that Bradley will hardly come back today or any other day in the foreseeable future; that’s what he wanted, after all. But then he thinks of Bradley laughing and saying all kinds of senseless things and reading Isherwood intently, and can’t help but wonder why Bradley liked the book so much. Was it a bet, or a dare, or did he actually read serious things like that out of his own volition? Perhaps if Bradley turned up again Colin would ask him about that, and Bradley would answer honestly. But if he has anything that can count as pride and brains, he’ll consider himself unwelcome after last night.

The beans Colin cooks for lunch taste like stale chocolate, and he downs two cups of strong tea to wash the annoying reminder from his mouth.



Part 2

Masterpost

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
alby_mangroves
Nov. 6th, 2012 01:03 am (UTC)
This is such a complete delight. I'm barely stopping. Must read on, but just wanted to tell you how much I love this characterization of Colin. He's just like someone I know in my life and I love the sensitivity with which you're treating him and his interactions in the world.
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