The following chapter contains a fight that might sound very harsh to you,
but was necessary for this story. Both points of view are very subjective, hurtful and might
come off as mean if you like the character they’re being yelled at. Please be aware that
this is not my opinion, but what I feel the characters might say and feel in the given situation.
Written by: Nemesis
Days, I’ve missed so many days
In a world that has become an unfamiliar place
I’m losing myself again
Will you still be there with your heart boarded up
Nailed with my mistakes // Should I start giving up
When revelation calls and everything is blown away
In sheltered days, everybody wants more
We never change
12. What’s Love Got To Do With It
The room seems empty, no sign of May or… “Salene?”
Bray steps forwards, in the half-darkness, unsure whether to wait in the room or search elsewhere. He almost stumbles over a carton that stands out from underneath one of the beds and curses quietly, while sitting down on the bed.
It seems like a nice place for Salene. He can understand why Amber would be worried, but there are no empty or full bottles anywhere in sight and the room smells fresh and clean, maybe a little dusty; no trace of alcohol. For one wild moment he imagines Salene hiding her booze in one of her drawers or even the carton he just barely missed, but then snooping around in his friend’s business just feels wrong. If she says, she didn’t drink, shouldn’t they give her the benefit of the doubt? And as long as she lives with May, someone is clearly having an eye on her. And searching through her stuff, probably.
“Bray?” Salene is carrying a coffee cup, half-empty, probably cold. She puts the cup down on her drawer, when she sees his face. “Did something happen?”
“No – it’s nothing, just … Amber was worried, so she asked me to look after you.”
Salene’s face grows darker with every word. “She thinks I was drinking again.”
“No, it’s just – she wants to make sure you’re well”, he feels the immidiate need to defend Amber. “Look, if you say you’re not drinking anymore, then I believe you. But if there’s anything you need…”
“I know where to find you.” Salene takes the coffe cup and drinks the last rest. “Was there something else you wanted to see me about?”, she asks, when Bray seems to be hestitating to leave.
“I’m not sure.”
“Not sure … if you need help?”
“Not sure how to ask this from you. You’ve got a lot on your mind, it’s just, if you have time right now, I really could use some advice on something. Someone. Trudy.”
“Trudy.” Salene nods, slowly, trying to figure out where this is going. “What about her?”
“Well, it’s hard to describe. You know, when you’ve known someone for a really long time and you think you’re really close friends, right? And then, all of a sudden, this person comes back into your life in a way you’d never expected and everything is different. Do you know what I mean?”
Salene looks up, surprised at the sudden question, suppressing the image of May from her mind. “I guess.”
“So, what would you do?”
“Do when?” This is getting more and more riddiculous! Okay, so she might have had some wine last night on the roof. But that’s worn off by now, he can’t even tell anymore, so surely it must be his story that has the holes here, not her attention span!
“If you had feelings for someone, but you’re not sure whether it might destroy a friendship. Or more than just one, actually. What would you do?”
“Are… are we still talking about Trudy?” Salene asks, carefully not to tread on any left-over landmines from over three years ago. “You mean you care for her, as a friend, right?”
“That, too.” Bray shakes his head, helplessly staring at her, like he always does. Not elsewhere, not at his own hands, Bray’s always been looking directly at her, really seeing her, in a rather indaubted way. Just looking at her, like she was the only person in the world, like their conversations were the only thing that mattered. This intense, bold care, the way he never seemed to fear anything… Maybe that’s why she fell in love with him all those years ago, maybe that’s what was wrong with her and Ryan. Or maybe it was just what was wrong with her…
“I really don’t know”, Salene answers, just to keep talking. To give some kind of response. “Does – does Trudy know? And Amber?”
“Trudy knows.” Bray has this sort of caught expression that appears on his face whenever someone mentions Amber, or Amber herself appears in a room. She wonders if he knows that’s what he does. As if he’s feeling guilty and happy at the same time. Maybe this is why, maybe it’s because of his feelings for Trudy.
“And does she feel the same way about you?” It just seems like the next logical question.
“To know that I’d have to be sure what I feel exactly, and I’m really not, so – maybe”, Bray gives one of his classic speeches about any girl he’s ever dated except for Amber. “But we – we decided we’d go there and now I have no idea what to tell Amber.”
“And why should Salene know what to tell her?” May asks from the door frame, making both Salene and Bray jump.
Bray looks more caught than ever, but very controlled.
“Were you there the whole time?”, Bray asks, his voice cold and sharp.
Something about his calm, icy attitude seems strange to Salene, very strange. It’s just – not the Bray she knew. The one who always seeked excuses for people, gave them second chances. Who did everything he could, if he cared about his friends. The way he’d live and die for them – for Trudy, all this time she was pregnant… maybe that’s why, maybe he always had these feelings for her and just put them away because of Brady? Salene shakes her head. It’s very confusing.
“Long enough to hear you have a thing for Trudy now”, May responds, shrugging the fact off as if she eavesdropped on that sort of secret-revelation everyday. Then again, maybe she did.
“That wasn’t exactly polite”, Salene hisses at her room mate.
“So? Why do you ask Salene anyway, it’s not like she knows how to tell someone about your feelings the right way. Then again, just avoiding the topic until it hopefully goes away might be just your style.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, May, I just wanted to give some really good advice. Like writing her a letter with all your feelings stuffed and not telling her face to face at all”, Salene blurts out, sending May an angry look.
“You think I should – write her a letter? Doesn’t that seem kind of cowardish?”, Bray interjects, not sure if they’re still talking about the same thing.
Salene looks grimly satisfied with his answer. “Your right, Bray. That is the coward’s way.”
“Really?” May towers over both Salene and Bray, both hands in her hips. “Sometimes it takes guts to write a letter like that at all, did you ever consider that? Maybe this is a joke to you, but it’s not to me!”
Bray looks from one girl to the other, slowly convinced that they’re not talking about him, Amber or Trudy anymore, maybe they’re not even talking about revealing letters, but something they don’t want to say out loud in front of him. “Do you maybe want some privacy?”
“No, it’s great, it’s perfect! I don’t mind if the whole world knows what an idiot I am! Since Gel and Sammy already know, it might not even make a difference, if I just tell you, too!”
“May, please…” Salene looks flushed, unsure of what to do with her hands and avoiding Bray’s eyes at all costs.
“I should really go, it doesn’t seem like a good time right now”, Bray mumbles, leaving the two fighting girls, who didn’t pay much attention to him in the first place, leaving the room, and feeling like it would be a good idea to leave the Mall, too. Just for now, to get out of all the drama that noone seems to able to explain to anybody involved.
The fresh air feels good on her skin. Soothing, relaxing. Trudy can’t think of a time when she has needed a bit of fresh air, a new start and new energy this much. And it seems like life has given her another chance at happiness, even if it is an unexpected one.
Bray sets the picnic basket down. “Do you think this is safe?”
“Sure. It’s not like Mega would sit in some sky scraper with binoculars. Besides, there’s no hiding place, we could see anyone coming.” Trudy opens the basket, takes out the grapes and the juice bottle. “So, would you like to start with desert or the main course?”
Bray blinks into the sun. “Is that a food question?”
”Hey!” Trudy pats on his hand, when he tries to steal the grapes. “So – dessert first, then?” She notices Bray’s amused look. “Oh, who are you – Lex?”
Bray sits up, looking at her sincerely. “That’s a terrible insult. I’ll let it pass, but I want my grapes back.”
“You know, I should’ve had this picnis with Brady, if I wanted a mature conversation.”
“Yes, where is she? Didn’t she want to come?”, Bray asks, his usual oblivious self.
“You don’t think I’m bringing my daughter to our first date?”, Trudy asks him, her eye brows raised.
“Of course not.” He puts one arm around her, kisses her cheek lightly, then her neck. “I’m sorry, I think I’m out of practice. The last girl I actually had a date with… well, there was Danni, but it was a party and she left when I danced with – I the last girl I actually had more than one date with is Ebony.” He exchanges a quick look with Trudy. “Not the right time to bring this up, I guess.”
Trudy takes one of the grapes. As long as he pronounces Ebony’s name that way, it surely won’t become a problem! “Not really.”
“Okay, let’s make a pact. I arranged for a talk with Amber tonight, where I’ll – well, I haven’t figured out how, but I’ll tell her about us. And then I’ll revenge you for all this”, he gestures towards the picnic, “and we’ll have another date. Not on a roof top. Deal?”
Trudy leans forwards, kissing his lips lightly, her heart beating faster for more than one reason. “Deal. So, what kind of date are we talking about?”
Bray returns the favor, spreading kisses all over her face. “What kind would you want?”
“Okay, this is gonna sound stupid”, Trudy admits, hestitating, seeking his eyes. But he’s busy kissing her neck, which is both confusing and oddly encouraging. “Well, back when we were in high school, I used to have this fantasy that you would ask me out – to the movies, you know, really classic, with popcorn and everything. And – there was a movie, I don’t remember which one, but I went there with a friend and I imagined what it would be like, if you were there. I was so caught up in my fantasy of what it would feel like if our arms were lying next to each other between the seats, or our hands would touch when we’d both go for the popcorn, I couldn’t concentrate on the movie at all. ” She falls silent, her face flushed.
Bray’s lips brush her earlobe. “And then.”
“Well, technically it’s a fast-forward, but – we’re at your place, and… I don’t actually know what your room looked like, but I imagined it with posters of the bands I knew you liked and there were candles everywhere and you gave me a flower while music was playing – it was really cheesy.” She clears her throat, since Bray still seems eager for more. “You know, this one boyband I was into, Take That – you would have hated it. I’m not sure if I could still listen to it. Anyway…” Her face feels bright red now. “Then we’d kiss and…”
“And?” He seems caught between amusement and fascination.
“Nothing then, I was fourteen! Why do you think there’s a Take That CD in your room?”
“I obviously must really like them. Or it’s a CD you brought with you.” Bray plays along, then furrows his brow in light confusion. “I forgot, where they the American guys?” He notices Trudy’s bright red face, that she’s now hiding against his shoulder. There seems to be something in his throat, it’s suddenly not so light and easy anymore. There are questions, questions he never wanted to ask. “I didn’t know you liked me so much back then. I thought it was just because I took you in and helped you before Brady was born.”
“Let’s not talk about it, okay? It was such a long time ago… no need to – you know.” Trudy leans in closer, enjoying the closeness, the moment, all of it. Right now, everything is perfect, everything is beautiful. She swallows down the bitter memories of all the other girls who Bray liked that way, all of them. They’re together now, that’s all that counts.
Amber fills up the little bottle with heated milk, when Bray and Trudy enter the kitchen. She gives them a warm smile, which they return. “You made it just in time. Ellie and Salene made dinner for everyone. Have you seen May?”
They exchange awkward glances, shake their heads. Strange. Amber shrugs and picks up her son.
“May’s really strange lately”, Gel tells everyone who will or won’t listen. “You don’t think she’s working for the Technos again?”
Nobody wants to answer her, they all stare at their plates. Jack even avoids her eyes and looks over her head, grinning sheepishly, which confuses Gel a little. “What? It’s possible, wouldn’t be the first time!”
“Gel, that’s enough”, Amber interrupts her strictly.
Gel pouts, putting down her fork with a lot of sound. “Why? What have I done now?”
“She’s, err… standing right behind you”, Jack explains, while Ellie giggles at Gel not getting this herself and needing her boyfriend to point out the obvious.
May turns to leave, but Amber stops her. “Please, stay for dinner. Nobody here suspects you and I’m sure you’re hungry.”
May follows her invitation grudgingly, noticing that not everyone seems to smile at her. Gel still looks doubtful, even if she’s embarrassed, Lex is smirking, and even Bray’s face is suspiciously expressionless, while his eyes look at her, directly and icy, without even avoiding a confrontation. He only gets distracted when Sammy asks him for the bread basket.
“Let’s talk about something else”, Trudy suggests, looking at everyone with that smile on her face. That smile, that always shows how she’s trying to hard, just to have a bit of peace, to avoid anyone having any arguments around her beloved Brady.
“Yes, wasn’t it great of Salene and me to make you all dinner?”, Ellie points out. “Actually, Salene made it, I just cut the bread in slices and set the tables”, she corrects herself, when Jack sets on for a cheeky remark.
“Well, this soup is definitely the greatest thing since sliced bread”, Lex complements Salene and everyone laughs.
“It tastes wonderful, Salene”, Jay agrees, which earnes him a smile from Amber with whom he seems to be on better terms again.
Bray sends the Ex-Techno a challenging look. “Anyone wanna say a prayer?”
“I know one!”, Sammy interjects excitedly, before Jay has the chance to answer. There’s more laughter, mostly because the Mall Rats are relieved that Sammy’s blissful ignorance has saved them from Jay and Bray getting into their toxic-but-polite modes again and trying to make the other one lose their cool. It looks like noone will provoce a fight tonight.
“Isn’t this nice?” There’s a smile on Salene’s face, one that most of her friends haven’t seen in a long, long time. Her eyes are shining, and her cheeks are flushed from the heat over the gas cooker. “All of us together, after such a long time. It’s like a good omen, like it’s only a matter of time until we find the rest of our friends!”
Everyone nods, some exchange smiles, others, like Lex and Ellie, seem lost in thoughts.
May snorts. Really? This is it, that’s what they are so happy about? A couple of friends they’ll probably never see again and that might be dead like Pride and tomato soup?
“Something a problem?”, Bray asks, his voice silky ans harp at the same time. The Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Perfect tour – Bray, the great leader, the silver-tongued dream of every girl and woman in the city, May thinks bitterly. She never bought it, never saw what Amber, Salene, Trudy, Ebony, Danni were so fussy about. Who does he think he is?
“Sure, we’re all one happy family!”, she blurts out. “Jack and Ellie fight all the time out of sheer sucking love, Salene keeps a gin-collection in a box under her bed, Gel cares more about her mascara than about real people, Lex still thinks his precious Tai San will come back to him and Trudy and Amber switched boyfriends! Great week, really!” She pushes away her soup bowl and leaves the cafeteria towards her room.
Everyone stares after her, awkward glances are being exchanged.
“Salene?” Trudy looks at her friend, a worried look on her face.
“It’s not true!” Salene looks at everyone, tries to laugh it off. “Come on, as if anything she said is true – except for Tai San maybe, and we’ll find her! That box is just the empty bottles I still have; I didn’t get the chance to bring them away!”
Amber puts a hand on her shoulder, ignoring the uncertain faces around her. “We know she’s making this up, noone accuses you. We just need to be there for each other more. You know we’re all here for you. And now, let’s eat, before the rest of the soup gets cold!”
The spoons begin to scratch over the bowl and plates again, and for the rest of the meal, there is silence, only interrupted by Brady’s little giggles here and there. Obviously broken bread crumbs remind her of something funny, even if most of the grown-ups don’t know what it is.
Amber sits down, looking at Bray expectantly. “What did you want to talk about?”
He’s hestitating, she can see it in his eyes. He’s sitting down beside her, avoiding her eyes.
There’s that look, that look telling her he doesn’t want to talk about this and it makes her more than a little nervous. It might be about Jay again. Is he going to request something crazy, like that Jay can’t be around their son anymore? Or is that just some weird fantasy Jay made up in his own jealousy? Does he want to reassure her that May was just talking nonsense, throwing around wild accusations, like so often? Will it be about Bray’s feelings for her, even? Does he want them to give their relationship another shot, for the baby, or for other reasons? A part of her fears a startling confession of love, and another one almost hopes for it, even though she is unsure on how she would respond to that.
“I’m glad we can still talk”, he starts, still hestitant. “And I’m really glad we’re still friends.”
“Me too.” Amber smiles, half-disappointed, half-relieved about this introduction and still in the dark about what it is that he wanted to discuss with her. It now seems that it might be more of a small favour or a minor, daily issue that has to be talked about for the sense of conversation in parenthood or friendship itself.
“I couldn’t do it without you”, Amber continues, since Bray doesn’t seem to feel any hurry for his own revelation. “I couldn’t bear it, if we couldn’t do this together, now that you’re back… as friends”, she adds, because the look on his face is questioning, almost afraid.
“That’s good.” He smiles, encouraged, looking over to the baby bed. “I’m glad, really, it’s just… I hope we can keep it up, even if – well, there’s a chance we might new people, which – you already have and… I don’t want anything to ruin this. i just want you to know there’s nothing that’s more important to me than our son, even if…”
Amber looks at him expectantly. Is this going to be some sort of apology for how he treated Jay? Did he do something she doesn’t know about yet? Will he try to be friends with Jay, too, for that baby’s sake? It seems highly unlikely at the moment, but she can’t think of anything else he would want to discuss with the way their conversation is going.
Bray looks at her, the most apologetic look on his face. “May didn’t lie. I’m seeing someone.”
“Oh.” What else is there to say? She feels like she missed a step while walking down the stairs, that weird sensation in her stomach – and she realizes now how naive her first assumption was. If that is what it feels like, right now, to be replaced in the heart of someone who meant that much to you, why should he want to be friends with Jay – ever?
“Yes?” There it is again, the insecurity, the fear of her rejecting his decision to move on. That look that should have told her right away what was going on.
“I’m just surprised, that’s all. I mean, I knew you were out there, meeting everyone with the rebellion and all going on, I just didn’t think you’d – meet someone. I mean, of course you would, why wouldn’t you – I just didn’t… didn’t think you already had.”
“I know it seems sudden”, Bray answers, choosing his words carefully. “It surprised me too, it just sort of happened, you know?
“Of course.” Amber swallows down her whirl of mixed emotions, places her shaking hands in her lap. “And – who is she? Where did you meet?”
“I didn’t technically meet her”, Bray starts his second confession, stalling time with each sentence. “Or I did, just not now, but a few years ago – we already knew each other.”
Amber nods, still trying to get a hold of her own feelings. She’s not sure anymore, whether she’s sad, disappointed, or anything else. It just feels like one door of opportunity closed for good, like a final seal on their break-up. “What’s her name, do I know her?”
“You do.” Bray doesn’t look at her directly, as if that could buy him more time, as if this was the last thing he wanted to do. Something is wrong, terribly wrong, she can just feel it!
“It’s Trudy. May – May knew, she was eavesdropping when I told Salene.”
The words are like a deafening drumbeat – Trudy. Just like that. She can see his eyes, how he’s looking at her, waiting for an answer, waiting for any reaction at all. When the deafening feeling wears down, she can feel something else, something she really didn’t expect: anger.
“Trudy. Seriously?” Now that she’s started shaking her head, it seems impossible to stop. “I don’t… no – no, you wouldn’t do that. Bray, I know you’re hurt about me being with Jay, you’re angry, I get, okay, but why Trudy? I thought…”
“I’m sorry, I know this must look weird to you – but it just happened”, he tries replacing the bond he just destroyed between them with a physical one by putting one hand on her shoulder. “I was surprised, too, but you can’t control who you have feelings for. You know that, Amber, you know I wouldn’t tell you if it was nothing!”
“Like you didn’t tell me about Danni”, she can hear herself answering before it’s too late, her voice dangerously close to tears. “And Trudy, of all people! Don’t you think she’s been through enough? After she just got her heart broken, after what happened the last time, it’s unbelievable!”
“What do you mean, “the last time”?” Bray seems to have gotten over his apologetic mood pretty fast. His voice is shaking, too, and he seems really perturbed by her reaction. What did he expect, flowers?
“Are you kidding me? The whole Trudy, Salene mess, the way it ended, did you really think it was appropriate to come back for a second shot after that? Look, you have every right to hate me, but please, don’t drag Trudy into this!”
“What!??” He’s taking a step back, looking at her in sheer disbelief.
“She tried to commit suicide, for heaven’s sake, Bray! Don’t you get the effect you have, the way you’re capable of braeking hearts like they’re toys? – Salene’s bulimia, did you think that came out of nowhere? Did you already forget about all that? Because I didn’t! I see it before me, it haunts me, and I’m not even the one who caused it! How could you be so…”, she pauses, breathing heavily. There’s just no words for this!
“Oh, but I am!” Bray looks at her, a strange sense of horror on his face. Does he see now, does he finally see what he’s doing here? “Just answer me one question: Did you ever love me?”
“Well? Did you? By the way you’re talking it doesn’t sound like I ever managed to live up to Amber’s moralistic standards that were required for you to even look at me!”
Amber folds her hand, to be able to hold on to something, feeling her ring, their ring between her fingers. This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening… What happened to Bray that he became like this? “What are you talking about?”
“It was so easy to love you, you know”, he laughs bitterly. “Because to me, you were perfect. No matter what you did, no matter what happened, I would always have loved you. But do you know how hard it was to be loved by you? The entire time we were dating, I felt inferior, because I always wondered how I deserved someone so perfect, so infallible. There was a part of me that always wondered if you felt the same way about me. I guess now I know.”
“That is riddiculous!” Amber throws down the ring, where it bounces off the ground and rolls under the baby’s bed. “Don’t try to change the subject here! How dare you make this about… I did everything for you, I mourned you, I was devastated when you were gone. How dare you say this was nothing to me!”
“I guess now that I have a comparison of what kind of person doesn’t have to live up to perfection, it brings some things into perspective”, Bray tries to defend his argument, but he sounds just bitter. “Be honest: What would you have done if I walked into your life, taking half your friends prisoners and invading the city for some army tribe madness? Would you even have bothered looking at me?”
She doesn’t answer, just feels helpless in all of this – Trudy and Bray… Bray of all people – and Trudy, who used to be so fragile, so desperately in love with Bray, who admitted to her that she had never been so crushed in her entire life, that when she found out he didn’t love her… And now here’s Bray, actually thinking…
“You know what? I’m glad you found Jay”, he suddenly states, a stubborn, almost hateful expression on his face. “I hope you two are real happy together. At least now you’ll know you’re with a cheater, so you can get on his nerves with your trust issues for as long as you want, because I’m done. For good!” He leaves the room without any other words.
Amber blinks furiously, forbidding herself to cry. She bends over her baby’s bed, tries to hide her teary, messed up mood from his frightened little face. “It’s all right, honey, it’ll be alright.”
He doesn’t even cry, when she picks him up, but clings desperately close to her shoulder. She rocks him softly, watching Bray making his way around the fountain and to the stairs, were he meets Trudy. Watches her best friend’s smile fade, as Bray just cuts her off and leaves the building towards the sewers, torn between Trudy’s futural pain and her own, present one.
This is what Bray does. This is what he always does. She guesses that solves the riddle, if people do change, for better or worse.