Story Of My Life


melissa_icon.gif russo_icon.gif

Scene Title Story Of My Life
Synopsis Russo comes over to do some apology gardening, which leads to a shocking discovery.
Date September 28, 2010

Little Green House

It's a sunny Tuesday morning. Very very sunny. In fact, there isn't a cloud in sky — in fact, the sky itself appears as nothing more than an unending expanse of azure painted across the horizon. And even with the impending dawn of winter, avid outdoorsman and the like want to be outside.

A familiar SUV is parked between the little green house and its neighbour, not quite in front of one or the other, in essence, it's owner could be at either locale. Otherwise, the block seems relatively empty. Most people are at work. Those that aren't could be sleeping—it's not terribly early, but certainly not late, leaving the block relatively silent.


The silence doesn't last.

Is that coming from the little green house's backyard?

Unfortunately, Melissa hasn't been home for long, and for a girl like her who hates mornings, being up this early does not make her a happy camper. Hearing the sound she frowns, coming to investigate. And since she hasn't changed yet, that means her pistol is with her. And her clothes look slept in. But there's a sound coming from her backyard, and nothing she owns would make that sound!


The sound changes.


When Melissa reaches her backyard she'll see a familiar man, wielding a rather unfamiliar weedwhacker. His ears are covered by a pair of headphones designed to cut out the noise, and a pair of goggles that Karolina had insisted he wear; his mother had tried for years, but only his dead fiance could persuade him of his eyesight's importance.

Bradley Russo is dressed in a pair of faded blue jeans — ripped at the knees and soiled with dirt from Melissa's yard; he's been here awhile — that much is evident from the state of the yard itself. Along the fence he's built a flower bed of sorts and has planted several large bushes and on the far right of the yard two small trees have been planted — nothing huge, but seedlings to take over the course of the coming months. While fall isn't the best time to plant, Brad knows these particular plants can still take this time of year in New York. The edging along the flower beds is being polished by the ninja-gardener.

The sight has Melissa staring at Brad for a few minutes before she rubs a hand over her face. "Too early for this," she mutters before striding across the yard towards him, and when she comes up behind him, she taps him on the shoulder, not quite gently. Sorry Brad, this is what Mel is like in the mornings.

The tap on the shoulder actually causes Brad to jump, fortunately NOT enough to drop or lose control of the weedwhacker. After catching her displeasure in the corner of his eye, he shuts off the machine, and with a single hand pulls the headphones to rest on his shoulders before shooting her a rather wry smile. The goggles are pulled from his eyes and tossed haphazardly on the ground as he physically turns to face her.

His eyebrows turn up indiscrimnantly, nearly apologetic in their turn while he watches her before finally greeting nearly apologetic in turn, "Hello Missy…" Why he's apologetic? Anybody's guess.

"It's before noon, and you're making a hell of a lot of noise in my backyard." And Melissa yawns, as if her body wants to prove a point. "Why are you making a lot of noise in my backyard before noon? Please tell me there's a good reason and I don't have to go upstairs and bury my head under a pillow?"

"I'm making it better," is the simple answer Brad gives as he crouches down to lay the weedwhacker on its side. He shoots her a lopsided grin, "Sorry about the noise. I'll keep it down if you want…" His eyebrows furrow as he motions to a corner of the yard, "I have a thermos of coffee if you want some. It's good. Tiramisu. This specialty stuff I get — " he cuts himself off with a shake of his head. "Sorry." His cheeks tinge pink again as he runs a hand through his hair. Once again, why he's apologizing is unclear; he's already apologized for the noise…

Melissa frowns as she stares at him hard. "Okay, what's the deal, Brad? You kill someone? Did you bury their body in my yard? Did your proposal make it in some tabloid and you're afraid I'll kill you because of it? Did you raid my fridge and empty it while I wasn't paying attention? What?"

"Skating. You cancelled." It's to the point. Plain and simple. Brad's eyes shift to the weedwhacker, the thermos, and then the sky. "Look. I don't understand women." At least he can admit it. "I just… don't. BUT. I do know when a lady cancels 9/10 times it's because said guy was an utter asshole. So…" He shrugs. "I'm not sure if my singing, or rapping was that bad BUT…." he shrugs again. "Whatever it is, I'm sorry. And… I'm making it up to you." He quirks an eyebrow, "The only way I know how…"

There's more blank staring, before Melissa rubs her hands over her face and shakes her head. "You didn't do anything. Nothing to make up to me," she says when she lets her hands drop. "I had things to do on Saturday that took precedence over skating. My life is pretty damn complicated, actually. But why are you so worried about that? It was a fake date anyway. You just asked me so I couldn't say I'd never been on a date before," she says, sounding baffled.

"Yeah…" Brad's eyes shift from the horizon to Melissa and back again. "Right." He nods slightly and forces his celebutante smile as he crouches down and retrieves the weedwhacker. "I guess… I guess I should go…" his jaw tightens as he treads a few steps away, his heavy mud-caked workboots even heavier on the ground than usual. His back is quite literally to her as he crouches and begins collecting his gardening tools: the spade, the rake — everything, really. He glances over his shoulder towards her and raises an eyebrow, "But… what if it wasn't? Can there really be a fake date? I feel like my life is this game in semantics…" his cheeks flush a little brighter now as he turns away again, busying himself with his collection.

That…was not the reaction that Melissa was expecting, and it shows on her face. Right up until his last comments that have surprise showing. "Wait, wait. Hold up. You leave right now and I promise I will hurt you. And believe me when I tell you that when I make that promise, it's not an idle threat." Her head tilts. "Are you saying that it was a real date? Or that you wish it had been a real date? I thought you were all still hung up on…" Be nice, Mel, be nice. "…what you lost."

"To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die," the quote is Thomas Campbell's, not Bradley Russo's, but he uses it just the same as he issues her a small shrug. There's no real answer across his face. Although, taken together, the evidence suggests he has more to offer than he lets on. A tug is given to his ragged t-shirt. He sucks on the inside of his cheek as he awkwardly holds his hands behind his back, rocking his weight back and forth on the balls of his feet like he's stuck in that spot like rooted tree swaying in the breeze, but unable to actually move thanks to Melissa's threat.

The quote has Melissa frowning, her hands settling on her hips. "What does that even mean, Brad? Come on, you brought it up. The least you can do is explain yourself. Especially when a misunderstanding here leads to apologies and early morning gardening."

He shrugs again, still rocking in the spot. Brad's smile has faded as he resumes that position, wholly there, but mentally distant. The silence is almost deafening as his eyes gaze up to the sky, that expanse of blue acting as the only grounding force keeping him from going everywhere at once. The smile is long gone, replaced by some manly facade insistent on suppressing any emotion that threatens escape. When he finally speaks, the words are but a croak, "It means if I let her go, she's actually dead." He clears his throat, the dryness creeping in at the questions. He clears it. "Have you ever lost someone so special you couldn't stand the thought of forgetting them? That by living your life you were betraying them?" His eyebrows furrow.

Those first words have sympathy flooding through Melissa and showing on her face. "Brad…I know it's not easy. It's not something anyone ever wants to do," she says softly, resisting the urge to give him a hug. If it was anyone else, she would, but the situation is complicated enough as it is without adding in hugging. "I've never been in your exact position, no. But think of it this way. If positions were reversed. If she were the one who lost you. Would you want her to spend her life alone and mourning, or to live? To be happy anyway she could? Don't you think she'd want you to be happy?"

Brad watches Melissa carefully, his jaw tightening slightly. It's not angry, just another suppression, another means of killing his inner thoughts and feelings. His lips twitch when he means to speak, only to reneutralize. "What does that even mean? Are you happy? Is anyone actually happy? I just… I talk to a lot of people and clinging to something… be it anger, revenge, desperation, fear… clinging to anything… so many people cling to any lifeboat that will keep them floating, but…" Now he manages a smile, another quote slipping into his thoughts: "The amount of happiness that you have depends on the amount of freedom you have in your heart."

He swallows as he takes a single step towards her. Just one, and then he's rooted again, planted to the ground. "I want freedom from this."

"No, I'm not happy," Melissa says without having to think about it. "But we're not talking about me. What is it you want freedom from though, Brad? Freedom from the past? From having to deal with it? From having to cling to something to get by? What?" she asks, not moving, just tilting her head up slightly when he takes that single step.

"And that's my point. No one is happy," he quips back with a shift of his eyes, their blue turning to her momentarily before turning back to the blue sky. Brad sighs heavily with another shake of his head. "From the ghosts of Christmases past." He shoots her a tight lipped smile, guarded, but perhaps hopeful in an odd way. His eyes close gently as he hangs there, that odd space between them. "I haven't been inside the house in ages. It's been four years since I went into the house I grew up in. I hired someone to go in an put drop cloths over the furniture. Of both homes." That he now owns. "I don't want to forget. But I want to be okay enough to remember. And be content with the memory." The smile turns wistful. "And okay with keeping it as that. A memory."

Melissa's quiet for a long moment, just studying his face. "Would it make it easier to go back, to face the ghosts and be able to live with them, if someone went with you? If I went with you?" she asks, shrugging a little as she makes the offer.

There's another flicker of those grey-blue eyes as they rest on her; his gaze lingering there in quite consideration. Finally his hands are released from behind his back, lowered to his sides as he takes another rather stilted step towards her. The answer comes out simple enough as he nods, "Yes. It would."

Melissa lifts one hand, just enough to make it clear she's offering it to him. "Then come on. Let's go. Now. Before you change your mind. Then afterwards, if you need to, we'll come back here and devour my tequila stash."

The hand actually beckons him forward, Brad's own laces with her fingers as guides her back to the SUV, his nerves creeping into his stomach, his rugged appearance reflecting his own rawness — his emotions close to the surface.

Strangely, he's near silent the rest of the journey, from the moment they enter the SUV to the moment they pull up at the Jersey townhome. The outside, ironically, is one of the few not in disrepair — it's red siding well kept with a fresh coat of paint layered on during the summer. The front yard is also incredibly well maintained. The grass has been recently cut, and flowerbeds complete with blooming red and purple petunias (his mother's favourites) rest underneath the window sills. The black SUV is smooth as it pulls up to the curb. But he lingers there. In the drivers' seat, staring forward before turning to look at her.

His hand gets a comforting squeeze and Melissa gives him a reassuring smile. She's quiet as well on the drive to the house, and once they arrive she looks over the house for a minute before looking to him. "Come on. Let's go inside," she says gently, before opening the door and climbing out of the SUV.

With a deep inhalation of breath, he opens the door and slides out of the SUV. Slow, indecisive steps carry him to the front door. Goosebumps form along his arms as he casts Melissa another sidelong glance. He takes another deep breath as he puts the key in the lock, his hand lingers there a moment, that feeling of upset pulling more butterflies in his stomach. He frowns and sniffs once, redness creeping over his eyes, that itchy bloodshot feeling only produced from tears not permitted to fall.


With one motion, with one flick of his wrist, the door is unlocked.

He takes another deep breath before looking at Melissa, "I…" his cheeks flush brightly against those feelings he struggles to hide. "I…" he takes a single step back before glancing at the doorknob. "Can you…?" His eyebrows furrow."

"Sure," Melissa says, nodding, but she reaches for his hand before letting her other turn the knob and push the door open. "Just remember. You're not doing this alone. And there's tequila waiting back at my house if you need it. But it's just a house. Full of memories, yes, but you can do this."

The smell of stale dusty air greets the pair with the opening of the door. That smell of familiarity long gone thanks to the nearly four years that have passed. Brad's eyes water as he shifts his weight and steps into the house, the hardwood floor creaking with complaint under his weight. The house itself is dusty and dark. While it's not really worn, it's aged and tarnished from lack of use. He sneezes once as his gaze turns to the living room to the right and the kitchen to the left. It's his mother's home, covered in white drop cloths, concealing the truly familiar forms underneath. The formerly yellow paint peels on the walls in a desperate cry for a little TLC. He runs a hand along a particular wall, his height chart that his mother had tracked for every birthday up until 25, convinced he was still growing after 18; he wasn't.

His weight shifts as he squints at the kitchen. There's a box on the counter. With furrowed eyebrows he shifts towards its, his feet still producing creaked steps along the complaining hardwood. "I…" it wasn't in his mother's nature to leave anything out. She was a nurse, disorganization was her worst enemy.

Dust. The bane of OCD cleaning queens everywhere. Or at least the bane of Melissa. But after a faint wince she pushes her desire to clean to the back of her mind. There are bigger things to worry about right now. She moves with him, keeping her word about not letting him do this alone. "You okay?" she asks softly at that stalled sentence.

"She wouldn't… she never… she doesn't leave things out. Didn't leave things out… wouldn't…" his eyebrows furrow further as his fingertips line the shoebox sitting there. Curiously, he blows on the dusty lid which only has three words written on it, his name: Bradley Benjamin Russo. His nose wrinkles as his fingers gently engage the lid, removing it from the box, as if the cardboard may turn to sand within his hands. At the top are photos: baby pictures, photos of him growing up… it's a collection, he was getting married — this is the small box of things she'd intended to give him. The pictures are relegated to the counter as he examines the other contents… letters. And they're not addressed to him, in fact, there's no postmark at all, just white envelopes unsealed, free for the peeking.

"Maybe this was special. She was going to bring it to you or mail it or something," Melissa suggests, shrugging a little and peering into the box. "Are those you?" she asks upon spotting the baby pictures, before reaching for an envelope, slowly enough that he can smack her hand away if he doesn't want her snooping. She's curious, but not totally insensitive!

Upon lifting the envelope some of the glue on the back falls away, letting the letter slide out and into view. The paper is old, so old that the ink has bled through in several places, making it look more like onion paper than stationary. It's folded but the black blotches clearly come through at the top.

Dear Benji,

I didn't want to do it like this…

"Yeah… those are me…" Russo quips back as he glances at the pictures until the letter peeks out. His eyes narrow on the words as he peeks over her shoulder to see the words. "Who the hell is Benji?" The narrowing continues when he reaches over to grasp it, fully intending to read the rest, theoretically, it's his. "May I?"

"Benji?" Melissa glances at the top of the box while she lets him take the letter. "Short for Benjamin? I take it your mom didn't ever call you Benji?" she asks, looking at him curiously.

When Brad picks up the letter it falls open easily, the black ink coming into view like a neon sign on Broadway… or what used to be a neon sign on Broadway. A quick skim would definitely be enough to tell him that it is indeed his mother's handwriting, a little more hurried causing a bit of a tremble in the letters. Perhaps it's his mother's emotion showing through.

Dear Benji,

I didn't want to do it this way, I tried to get in touch with you but you're either too busy to take my calls or not interested in talking to me at all. I can't believe that things went this way, we loved each other so much. At the very least, I love you so much…

"Never." There's a pause before he adds, "But my middle name is Benjamin…" his eyes narrow suspiciously as they scan the letter, his face paling some at the words they find. "She's… " he has that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, an unsureness at the words he finds. Someone she'd loved. His face pales slightly accompanied with a guilty pull of his lips. It seems voyeuristic, even with her dead. "She's upset. It shows in her writing." His eyebrows furrow at Melissa as she sidles closer to her, so they can both easily read the words.

Melissa nods slowly and reads the next part of the letter before stilling and glancing up at him. "Um…Brad? You've not mentioned your dad before, just your mom…Was his name Benjamin?"

I'm pregnant.

I'm pregnant and I'm going to have our child. I will never mention you to him and you won't have to bother yourself with us. You made your decision when you walked away from me and left the house for yet another conference. I hope when you came home a few days later you noticed that I was gone right away instead of just hanging up that damned hat and turning on some war movie.

Brad clears his throat as he side glances Melissa, his eyes peeling from the letter momentarily to explain in a raspy voice, his eyes still bloodshot with that suppressed emotion he fights — just seeing his mother's handwriting could elicit tears, "I… never knew anything about him. Nothing. Not his name. Not where he went. Not what happened between them. She avoided it. Every time I brought it up, she avoided it, making up a different story every time. Once… he was a peacekeeper overseas, another time some kind of anthropologist. Another an astronaut. When I was older she just relegated it to nothing more than a fling. Stating that she got all she needed from him: me."

The text earns a furrowing of Russo's eyebrows and a distinct frown. This was clearly not a fling. Marriage. Families. There are no words to accompany this refrain. No comfort in the text. In fact… it does the opposite. In a raspy whisper all he can manage are two words, "She lied."

Melissa winces a little after glancing back at the letter, then she slips an arm around Brad's shoulders. "I know, hon. I don't…I know this can't be easy. Come here to try to put ghosts to rest and just dig up more." She looks back at the letter, scanning it, searching for a name, or at least some clue to the father's identity. She's already planning a trip to go with Brad to meet his dad. Won't that be fun?

I love you Benji, I hope someday you'll realize what you lost. I would like to wish you every happiness in the world, but right now I just want you to rot in hell for what you've done to me and our baby. I'm never going to let you hurt him the way you've hurt me. Have a good life at Primatech.


After that, there is nothing. The letter ends in those bittersweet words, Always September.

Russo frowns. How many Benjamins must have worked at Primatech? It's not a completely unusual name. He leans his head back against one of the cupboards and stares up at the ceiling. His hands are shoved into his pockets while his teeth braze his bottom lip. This must be what a stroke feels like. His eyes close involuntarily, the words of the letter needing more explanation from a dead woman who can't possibly answer. His hands are removed from his pockets, made to cling to the counter, cementing him in place — his eyes turning misty under the duress of the news.

Primatech? Melissa frowns a little, mouthing the word. It seems familiar. She shakes her head and looks at Russo, looking apologetic. "I'm really sorry, Brad. I wish there was something I could do or say…"

Melissa's words earn the smallest curl of lips. "Story of my life." Brad pushes himself away from the counter, looking up at her, his eyes visibly bloodshot. "Always more questions than answers."

He sniffles loudly before running a finger under each of his eyes. "Allergies," he murmurs quietly. There is a lot of dust in here. He slides the letter back into the box and stacks the pictures back on top of it before closing the lid. "Let's go get drunk." And then with a slight narrowing of his eye he turns to face the cupboards; this was his home, he knows where his mom keeps the good stuff. He opens the cupboard and moves a rather old (and likely VERY stale) bag of flour to reveal a dusty bottle of scotch. "Forty years old," he murmurs as he slides it from the cabinet. "She was saving it." For his wedding. How ironic. With that, he turns on his heel towards the door.

Melissa smiles faintly. Allergies. Right. "Of course. Yeah, let's go get drunk," she says, nodding and following him towards the door. She pauses there, pondering grabbing the box, but opts to leave it instead and go for the quick fix. For now.

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