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Colliding Like the Stars That Night

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i.

Sometimes, usually when he's drawing blanks on auditions, Bradley goes to New York and potters around eating dirty water hotdogs and counting every dime in his pockets as they inevitably drain away into the great sinkhole that is the big city. He hates being out of work, hates being poor, hates that he obviously looks like a student drop-out from one of the less prestigious Brooklyn colleges and that he catches in the eyes of the well-dressed women of Fifth Avenue like grit flown up from the sidewalk. He keeps his head low and his scarf wrapped almost around his mouth, so he won't be tempted to say anything in reply to those looks of disdain and disgust. He looks down at the holes in his jeans and clenches his fists against the cold, keeps walking, aware that his hair is flying away in the Manhattan gale, what his agent calls his 'crazy haystack look'. Bradley frowns and picks up his pace heading toward Broadway.

"Hey!"

He looks around, just in automatic response to the call, not really thinking it has anything to do with him, but then he realises that a yellow cab has slowed to his own walking pace, that the window is being rolled down --

"Hey, you just gonna walk right by me?"

Bradley stops, at a standstill in the middle of the street; he doesn't hear the muttered curses of the passersby now forced to walk around him. He breaks out into a grin.

"Richard Schiff."

"How ya doin'? You wanna get in, or shall I just drive right through the jerks there?"

Someone hears this and by way of reply hurls a fuck you, buddy through the open window of the cab. Richard chuckles. Bradley slams his fist down on the roof of the car, then hurls himself around it and into the road, opens the door, and throws himself into the passenger seat.

"Hey," he says, grinning.

"Hi."

The guy sitting across from him is wearing a Yankees jersey from three seasons ago, sleeves pushed up past his elbows, the hair on his arms thick and black, the skin tanned as though from long work outdoors; the muscles in them flex as he curls his fingers back around the steering wheel. A peaked cap has been pulled around the crown of his head, angled up, so there is no shadow falling on his face. He is grinning; his very special watch-as-I-explain-the-world-to-you best shit-eating grin that Bradley remembers very well.

"What the fuck are you -- you're driving a cab now?"

"Good money," Richard says. "Which I will forego from demanding from you. Just this once. Since you look like you have about a dollar eighty-five in the whole world."

"It's a whole thirteen bucks, actually."

Richard grins. "I'm nearly done here. Come back with me."

ii.

Richard is still made up of darknesses; not like his brother, who was Bradley's best friend, who smiled more than once a month and used to play Monopoly with Bradley late into the night, drinking cheap beer in their dorm room, hidden under blankets, not feeling the cold. Richard, the elder brother, a grand twenty-two when they were eighteen, his face covered in coarse black stubble and wearing a torn work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his biceps, full to capacity with a relaxed strength that Bradley found mesmeric even then, as a callow skinny kid who read Beckett and thought he knew what it was about. Richard would tease them and get them drunk, and when they were really drunk he would talk to them about acting in the kind of metaphors that had always evaporated into the air the next morning. Bradley, who had always considered himself straight as a die, felt something uncouple inside him when he was stared at by those black, perpetually amused eyes; a runaway train, unpredictable and likely to crash, on a desert hillside, in a tower of flames. Now, sitting in Richard's tiny apartment with the windows open so he can hear the scream of the street below, Bradley feels that old rush again, clattering over loose rails.

"So, nothing on the cards?"

Bradley starts, because he wasn't listening; and because Richard's voice vibrates in the room, tender in Bradley's throat like a shot of whiskey.

"Uh. No. I think maybe I need a haircut or something," he says, grinning, ruffling his hair with his right hand.

"Maybe."

"Or just a good break. I fucking hate this town sometimes, you know?"

Richard nods, ponderously. He isn't even thirty yet, but he already seems old, if only around the eyes in this dim light. "It'll come," he says, softly. "So don't curse New York out too soon."

Bradley sighs.

"Not the first one to tell you that, huh?" he says, watching the restless movement of Bradley's head and the twitching of his left knee, up and down up and down, with a glimmer of that old amusement, black as molasses, sticking to Bradley's memories.

"My agent. She ... she also thinks I need a haircut."

Richard, whose hair is disappearing fast in an uncompromising strip down the centre of his skull, presses his flexed thumb against his forehead and smiles a wry smile. Bradley blushes, just a little, but enough to make the scarf which is did not take off on entering the apartment, feel tight around his neck. Though the hair on the top of his head is getting wispy, his sideburns and the curls at the back of his neck are thick, rich, and black. Bradley wonders, for a second, exactly what he slicks it back with, what makes it glisten like that, then he looks up and says, embarrassed:

"Sorry, man."

Richard shrugs, his mouth quirking up to the left. "Hey, no complaints from my side of the street. Some of us," he says, reaching out for the mug of black coffee he placed on the table between them and taking a sip, "Don't need such shallow marks of beauty to feel complete as men." He stares at Bradley, for a long second, then grins. Bradley just blushes back.

iii.

It gets late, and Brooklyn curls in through the open windows. It turns out that Richard directs now, between cab fares of course. Small things, he says, off-Broadway, nothing anyone would have heard of. And Bradley tries to imagine this, and ends up with a picture of Richard in his head that looks like something from an old Gene Kelly movie -- a cap and sweater vest over beige slacks with little turn-ups, and suddenly he's struggling to keep down a laugh.

"You're thinking that sounds pretty pretentious from a guy who spends most of his time driving a cab that stinks of pot and three-day-old male musk, right?"

"Well not exactly," Bradley says, smiling.

"What were you thinking?"

"It doesn't matter," Bradley says, trying to stifle a laugh at the same time.

"Something funny, huh?"

"Tell me something, Richard, do you wear a little cap, or -- "

That's as far as he gets before he collapses into giggles while Richard watches him, running his index finger around the neck of a bottle of imported beer. When Bradley is done laughing and is wiping the tears that have gathered to celebrate his impromptu hysterics away from his eyes, Richard is taking a long slug from the bottle; his lower lip protruding over the mouth, wet with beer and the last nudge of his tongue. And that blows the last throes of Bradley's laughter away; he can hear it rattle away to nothing in his throat. Richard's eyes seem to have darkened with the day, not the warm brown they were only a few hours before but the same colour as the dregs of the coffee still sitting in his mug by the beer on the table. His pupils are wide, inviting. Bradley tries not to stare.

iv.

He feels eighteen again, searching for air, opening his mouth around moans that morph into his name -- Richard, hissed then gasped out, the 'd' elided into a desperate oh, a curse, the start of a scream, fuck, until his fingers curl into Bradley's mouth, index and middle and bending at the first joint so that his knuckle hits the top of Bradley's palate and he gets a burst of flavour on his tongue, first sweet then a darker salt taste as his fingers rub over Bradley's tongue. Mouth open wide and eyes closed, saliva gathering on Richard's fingers as he draws them out, strokes them over Bradley's chin, slowly, pondering again. Bradley feels himself tighten in his jeans, brushing up to Richard's hip, trying not to buck, trying to seem grown-up, not just a horny kid, not some stupid kid with a crush he can't keep a lid on.

Richard's hands slip to Bradley's shoulders, the heels of them pressing into the muscle, pushing Bradley back to the wall. Richard tilts his head, stares at him; his mouth is open and the lips wet. His eyes are shining now, almost completely black but for that shine, which is the light of Broadway to Bradley; promises that he doesn't quite believe in, made to seem more like truth once he's seen them in this face. He'll never curse New York again -- she gave him this, and now the big time has a new definition. Richard kisses him, with open lips and his teeth pinching at Bradley's upper lip sharp enough to hurt and his tongue not waiting for answers but supplying its own and his stubble scraping over Bradley's cheek as he drops his head to suck at Bradley's neck.

Fuck. God. Please --

Fingers in his belt, as though Richard has done this a hundred times, deftly slipping belt tongue from buckle, his index finger flicks away the two ends; his whole fist pressed up to the button of Bradley's jeans for a moment then a release of pressure as the button is undone. Bradley can feel himself thrumming; a rise of dark blood thighs to belly, his whole body thrusting into Richard's hands, no more game-playing, nothing left of his pride to defend, only Richard's fingers reaching one by one into his boxers, catching on hair and rustling over skin, then his hand pulling backwards and bringing boxers and jeans with it, then cold Brooklyn air hitting Bradley's hips and thighs. He closes his eyes again.

Richard's hand is strong, unremitting; he keeps pulling Bradley forward, tugging on his cock, absorbing Bradley's weight against his own chest and Bradley shudders against him, with his other arm tight around Bradley's waist.

If Bradley opens his eyes -- jolted with the force of collapse across Richard's body -- he sees points of light, rising and falling; stars, shining.

Richard's hand slows, slips, pulls hard twice all along Bradley's length, then tightens; Bradley comes, gasping for breath with his fingernails biting into the walls, watches as his cum whitens Richard's hand, gathers in the hair at his wrist, splatters over the Yankees jersey. Richard smiles, a very slow smile, and lets go.

"Jesus Christ."

"Yeah," Richard says, wiping the back then the palm of his hand on his own jeans and then his palm over his forehead. "What would he say?"

v.

When Bradley gets the part in Curse of the Starving Class, he calls four times before he actually gets Richard on the other end of the line. It's awkward, because both sets of dreams weren't meant to have come true: Bradley feeling alive under the heavy spotlight of the little off-Broadway theatre just like he'd fantasised about at age fifteen and a half, declaiming Shakespeare in his dreams even though he never even liked Shakespeare that much; that dream colliding with that runaway train of long ago, that he used to think about in his dorm room bed, after Richard's brother was snoring, letting his hand slide only by inches down between his thighs. That Richard's voice -- low and sardonic, attaching remarks that could be taken more than one way onto the end of every other sentence -- seems to indicate that he knows all this; that he looked into Bradley's heart that night, over cheap coffee and expensive beer, and made it all come true, only makes it worse.

But Bradley still tries.

"So, I'll be around. If you ... I don't know, if you wanna hang out? Or something."

There is a long pause, into which Richard's breath crackles.

"Which theatre?"

"Promenade."

"Huh."

"Richard?"

"I know it."

Bradley doesn't want to say it, but he does. "Will I see you then?"

A chuckle down the receiver, like a half-hearted rumble of far-off thunder. "Yeah."