Wherever You Are.
Brendan stepped out of his house.
The world hadn't shifted off its axis. The sky was still above him. The sun was shining, and
Brendan couldn't quite believe it. He hardly dared breathe. He re-adjusted his sunglasses and checked about himself, as was customary; you could never be too careful, what with being a gay man an' all.
There he had said it. Said the words that he had been too frightened to even think, for eighteen years.
He felt sure that he had grown two inches in a day; such was the relief.
The previous day had been a blur.
Cheryl had wanted to talk and talk and discuss, and expound and debate his sexual preferences.
The day had been measured out by Jameson's, coffee, hot chocolate, back round to Jameson's again.
He'd actually run out of ice at one point.
The thing that had struck him the most, the fact that still lingered was that, even with opened eyes, Cheryl still loved him. He had managed to hold on to one person's adoration, now that he stood in broad daylight. A warm glow spread through him.
His psyche could do nothing but smile.
Unable to duck out of the spirit of glasnost that had settled over the house, Brendan had brought Cheryl up-to-date on his current situation - completely.
She was not happy.
She may still love him, but she was not averse to telling him off.
Idiot, fool and numpty had been a few of her well chosen words.
Brendan would have loved to have argued back, but…
So, as efficient as ever, Cheryl had issued him with an instruction for today.
"Go get your man." She had decreed.
Brendan knew when to pay attention.
He still jumped though when Cheryl tapped on the window and made a shooing motion with her hand.
Her admonishment spurred him on.
"Laters potatoes" he murmured to the glass.
He strode away.
He felt as though his toughest day was behind him.
Brendan didn't like to boast (well not usually without an audience), but he really did feel that he could read Ste like a book. He knew temper tantrums were normally followed by sulks and then shy looks, pouts, random bits of conversation and then kisses. The time scale for this one man show ranged from a few hours to three days maximum. By his reckoning, he was due a kiss by lunchtime; and Brendan was feeling hungry.
Instinctively feeling that this meal would have to be self-service, Brendan made his way over to his favourite council estate-not. Fortified with the vitamins of Cheryl's encouragement, Brendan knocked on Ste's door out of a politeness he rarely displayed.
Amy opened the door, the salt had already been spilt on the tablecloth, no matter he would easily brush it aside.
"Top of the morning to ye Amy. May I speak with Stephen please?"
"You can't" came the surly reply.
"Why would that be?" Brendan asked feeling his hackles rise by the second.
"He's gone!" That wasn't in the book.
"I dunno. Just gone. Said he needed to get away." Amy folded her arms in satisfaction.
Brendan ran his tongue over his teeth. They desperately needed moisture, suddenly.
"If you're lying to me Amy, I swear…"
"Why would I lie to you Brendan? I already hate you and I can tell you that to your face, so why lie?
Every fibre of his being wanted to slap that sneer out of Amy's mouth.
Every instinct of his body knew he could not.
So Brendan remained suspended in inactivity. An inactivity which Amy could read and enjoyed reading.
The balance of power between them, shifted slightly.
"Did he leave a forwarding address?" He asked lightly. Even though she was annoying his every last nerve, Brendan knew he had to continue to communicate with Amy for a little while longer.
"If he did, do you think I'd give it to you. He hates you and with good reason. You screw with him. You screw him. Beat him, Abandon him and then expect him to be waiting for you with open arms. How deluded are you Brendan?"
Brendan momentarily closed his eyes to block out her truths.
She doesn't understand. She doesn't understand us.
"He's mine. I love him."
Both Brendan and Amy stopped breathing. They stared at each other wide-eyed. Both equally shocked by the words which had fallen from Brendan lips.
The Gods doubled all their bets.
"What did you say?" She whispered.
"Just let him know I'm looking for him yeah?" Brendan started to back away, deliberately avoiding eye-contact.
Amy stepped forward and grabbed his departing arm. Forcing him to look at her again.
"Is this true? If so, you've a funny way of showing it. Does Ste know?"
"Tell him, I'll be at the club." He said continuing his own private conversation.
Amy gazed at him long and hard before saying.
"D'you know what? I will." She gave his arm the gentlest of pats before letting go completely.
Brendan stumbled backwards slightly, as though she had been holding him up.
"Mmm" was all he could allow himself to mutter. He was putting his mouth on a time-out that was for sure.
Brendan didn't allow the fact that he was stunned to interfere with his stride. If anything he gathered pace as he walked away from Amy's domain. In no time at all he had reached the taxi rank, just in time to see Rae depart the final cab in line. She awkwardly manoeuvred her oversized duffle bag out of the back seat.
She looked unhappy.
Once she spotted Brendan however, she looked positively thunderous.
"You've got a nerve" she called across the cabs.
Brendan paused briefly. Rae had never been his favourite person, nor he hers. He had only seen her as an obstacle and decoy until recently; but not even Brendan could dismiss that easily, the pain that a miscarriage, the loss of a child, could induce, both physically and emotionally.
Brendan had felt that pain.
Rae had the bit between her teeth.
"Swanning around here, without a care in the world, when mine's been shattered thanks to you."
The bitterness that coated her words appeared brand new, although Brendan knew it had been keeping her company for some time.
Despite this, Brendan felt the need to defend himself.
"I never meant to hurt you Rae, believe me."
Incensed, Rae dropped her bag and advanced on him.
"Believe you, why the hell should I? You've destroyed me and my child, all so you could play your games with Ste. Did you even consider me in all this? Or was I just the sleeping partner? Out of sight, out of mind?"
"It wasn't like that. It was meant to be simple, straight-forward. I'm sorry it got complicated."
"It's too late for apologies now, she's dead!"
Her words winded Brendan; he lost the inches he'd grown overnight.
The Gods temporarily turned their backs.
Whilst Brendan's brain tried to come up with an appropriate response, Rae stretched up to her full height, jumped a little and delivered a well-aimed slap to his left cheek.
Brendan nodded in acknowledgement. He deserved that.
"You have to understand, I couldn't let go. I can't let go. I love him."
It was now Rae's turn to be struck dumb.
Not once during her dark days had she ever considered this dalliance to be serious. She had always thought that Brendan enjoyed manipulating people for his own amusement. Never had she contemplated, that he may have invested any part of himself in this affair.
The notion that he had a heart was almost untenable.
Eventually she found her tongue.
"Does Ste know this?"
Brendan crumbled a little more in answer.
"Don't you think you should tell him? Then maybe some good can come out of this whole mess."
Brendan forced himself to look at Rae, as he thought he'd just heard a hint of compassion in her voice.
She was staring up at him, not with love, but with slightly less venom than she had previously had.
"I will" he said with a flicker of a smile. "I will." Brendan backed away from Rae slowly; he wanted to keep an eye on where her hands were.
His to- do list had just got longer.
Brendan continued to walk backwards. His brain was having trouble keeping up with the day's events.
Rae's raw pain had cut deeper than he had expected.
As a result of his backwards stance, he quite literally bumped into Mitzeee.
"Oi watch it Sunshine. Look where you're going why don't you?"
"Ahh Anne, what a pleasure it is to make your acquaintance today."
"Really? Oh. Well anyway I was hoping to bump into you too, only not quite like this.
How are you fixed for later on today?"
"Woah hold it there Anne, I'm busy busy all day."
"You were. Look Brendo this is business, a golden opportunity to raise my profile to the next level."
"You're not listening Bren. The Only Way Is Chester wants yours truly to audition for their next series. This afternoon. I'm just off to get a mani-pedi before starting on my hair. I'm doing that myself because have you seen the state of Carmel's recently and she's supposed to be trained, although trained where is anyone's guess."
"Stop with the syllables woman. I can't do anything today. I'm not available."
"Pleeeeese Brenny. I need a big strong manly man to show me off to my full potential. I can't be overshadowed by those bronzed blonde bits again. I need this."
"I know you can hear me 'cause I'm standing right in front of ye. I said no Anne."
Mitzeee squinted up at Brendan and considered what he was actually saying, for the first time during this conversation.
"I've told you at least twice, I'm busy"
"Doing what?" She shot back.
"It's not anything to do with that fake boyfriend of yours is it?"
Brendan's blood began to heat up.
"He's not the fake Anne, you are and you know it."
"Well who's the only one you're willing to be seen in public with?
Who's the one on your arm? I don't see you buying him drinks openly in bars."
Brendan bared his teeth.
"You don't see it, yet."
"Are you telling me, you're taking the hinges off your comfortable closet at long last?"
Brendan swayed slightly at the suggestion.
"Please you've got to understand, it's not that simple."
"It can be."
"I, I know I can't be without him. I love him, but the details, they're difficult."
The syllables stopped, momentarily.
Brendan felt the cool breeze of freedom drift across his face.
"Well, well, well, a new day dawns. What does Ste say about this? Does he even know?"
Brendan looked in the middle distance, despondent that once again his failings were being pointed out to him, by a woman.
"So what are you still doing chatting to me in the street? Get a shift on. Go."
Mitzeee made use of her triple-decker platform shoes to hug Brendan around the chest.
"Go get him Tiger" She smiled with enthusiasm and hope.
Brendan ruffled her collection of curls.
"Gerroff Brendo, you're just making more work for later" she good-naturedly informed him.
Brendan took his leave, facing the right way this time. He wanted to have his wits about him.
As Brendan put more and more distance between himself and Mitzeee, he thought he heard the faintest crowing of a cock. It sent a shiver down his spine. He absent-mindedly touched his cross and quickened his pace.
Having walked the length and breadth of Hollyoaks to no avail, Brendan decided he needed a new perspective on his situation; so he climbed the stairs of Chez Chez and surveyed all that he could see.
It was at this point that his eyes deceived him, because he thought he spotted Ste and he was not alone.
Everything slowed down.
His heartbeat, his breathing, his movements both body and eye.
Even though he didn't want them to, his eyes relayed the following images to him.
It would seem that Ste was exiting a very plush vehicle with a tall lean black man.
They appeared relaxed in each other's company. They seemed, close.
He watched as they helped each other with their luggage.
Watched as they moved as one.
Watched as they laughingly joined together.
Brendan was sure that he felt his glass heart fragment, shatter and fall to the bottom of his soul.
No-one would be making a diamond from these remnants.
The Gods held out their arms to catch his empty shell of a body.
It was the soundtrack that finally crushed him.
He heard laughter, lots of it.
This man made Stephen happy.
Brendan physically backed away from the railings. His soul could only take so much and he didn't want to be seen to be eavesdropping on elation. To be seen as a Peeping Tom on perfection.
Brendan slipped through the eye of the needle.
How on earth had this happened?
How did a sub-standard sulk evolve into this?
He felt as though his life was a kaleidoscope, which had been involuntarily shifted to the left.
Who was this man?
Why did he know of his existence?
Brendan spied Ste moving in for another kiss. Like a child's doll, his companion tipped his head back and closed his eyes automatically to receive it.
Brendan narrowed his eyes, willing Ste to look at him; which amazingly he did.
His eyes locked with Brendan's.
His features displayed not one ounce of remorse.
In fact he deepened the kiss, gripping his beau's head and clinging to his body until Brendan was the one forced to look away.
Still reeling, Brendan watched as they mounted the stairs beside his flat, together.
A thought struck.
Keep your friends closer and your enemies closer.
Brendan had glimpsed a glimmer of hope.
He rallied himself.
Stephen was and always would be his.
The Gods ordained it.
His soul proclaimed it, and Cheryl said so.
Brendan turned and entered his club, a plan already hatching.
Oh dark one, you may be standing between me and mine now, but you won't be for long.
As the door swung slowly shut behind him, Brendan felt calmer than he had done for several minutes.
He reached his office, his desk and played with his executive toy.
Watching the silver balls rhythmically crash into one another, soothed him.
He now felt as though a gauntlet had been thrown.
If this was the way Ste wanted to play it, so be it.
Ding ding. Round one; but know this Stephen, the gloves are off, no holds barred.
I'm not pulling my punches anymore.
I'm not hiding anymore.
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