John didn’t want to admit that he knew exactly how he’d gotten here. How he’d arrived at a point in time where he was balancing outrage with the sense to remain civil. A point where his husband’s eyes were rimmed with spiteful tears. A point where he couldn’t solve anything in the moment. It was all because he hadn’t said one hard-syllabled word: No.
Everything had started fine. He’d arrived with Paul and the kids at Abbey Road, feeling only a bit nervous about his impending interview with a man from some music magazine. They’d talk about his most recent album, maybe a bit about his art and writing, perhaps even touch on his recent interest in film, and that would be that.
It should have been that. It could have been that.
But then when the time came for Paul to take the kids out of the studio and entertain them elsewhere in the building — probably Martin’s office — and leave John in peace for his interview, Julian latched onto his leg and asked if he could stay. John knew the logical answer was to shake his head and convince his son to trot along. The interview didn’t pertain to Julian or John’s family in general. He only had to say one word, really, and Julian would have listened.
Yet an image shifted to the front of John’s mind. Him, just a few years older than Julian, clinging to Mimi’s leg with the desperate wish to be allowed a few more minutes downstairs in the evening, listening to the radio and the clicking of her knitting needles. She rarely acquiesced, and John always felt a tinge of melancholy at the denial. He didn’t want Julian to have an overflowing chest of the same type of memories. Perhaps it would be alright if he stayed?
So John said yes and Julian stayed. Paul stayed, too, and Heather and Mary. The four of them sat in the corner of the studio, kids entertained by Paul’s quiet demonstration on a range of small instruments. John seated himself at the piano in the room’s center, testing out a few keys and even playing the beginning of “Let It Be”, which earned him a quick but loving glance from Paul. That was how the interviewer found them when he came in, just after 10, all smiles and professional yet casual suit, notebook in hand.
“Mr. Lennon, I’m very glad to meet you, truly!”
“Pleasure is all yours,” John joked, eliciting a chuckle.
John stood up from the piano, leaning forward to meet the interviewer’s outstretched hand. They shook before John seated himself again. He gestured to a nearby chair, and the interviewer took a seat and introduced himself. Some unmemorable name. Then, flipping to a fresh page in his notebook, he pulled out a pen and began the questions.
“So, I’d first like to congratulate you on an incredibly successful album release. Did you expect this kind of a reception?”
“I mean you never know, do you?” John shrugged. It was another poorly chosen interview question, but he was used to it. “You can certainly hope, put in the work, get feedback and all that. But then you won’t know until you put it out there.”
“Ah yes,” the man half-laughed, perhaps realizing the slight pointlessness of the question. “Well, umm congratulations all the same. Now, the uh, the title track, the eponymous song, so to speak, has resonated with people in a particularly strong way. What was your intent when writing it?”
A better question, John mused, thinking for a moment before answering. The man listened intently, alternating between writing down notes and focusing on John. The quality of the questions drifted from bland to somewhat interesting.
Minutes passed on, question by answer, answer by question. John could have digested the interview on autopilot, regurgitating basic answers for the ease of it, but the man seemed genuinely earnest and invested. Besides, it was an interview for a semi-prominent magazine and John was genuinely pleased with the quality of the album.
In one way though, John knew he wasn’t entirely focused. After all, in the corner of the studio sat Paul and their kids. They were keeping quiet, even Mary, which was to Paul’s credit, but they were there all the same. John found his mind wandering to that morning at the breakfast table, watching Paul feed Mary from her bottle and listening to Julian and Heather talk excitedly about “going to work with Dada and Daddy.”
John remembered after breakfast, too, when Julian and Heather had trotted to the playroom for a brief spell and Paul had taken the opportunity to press him up against the sink in the kitchen. They’d kissed, hard, and then some. John could nearly feel himself melting under Paul’s touch, almost whining into his husband’s mouth when his hand slipped below his hips. Paul had left him wanting, though, as a prelude of time they’d have that evening with both children exhausted from a day out.
“--apart from your artistic interests?”
John blinked once, twice, behind his glasses. He’d been on an automatic setting more than he realized. He cleared his throat. “Could you repeat the question?”
“Of course, just asked how you are apart from your artistic pursuits.”
No. That’s what he should have said. His personal life wasn’t relevant. It didn’t pertain to his album, with the exception of the hidden mentions of his love for Paul in “Sleep Well, Love” and “Oh You Know!”. And even that wasn’t anyone’s business but his own. No.
But something in him wanted to answer: he was doing well, after all. His third child had just been born, their family was headed up to Liverpool in a few days to see his aunt whom he cared for dearly, and he’d be celebrating his 10th anniversary with the man he so hopelessly loved. He was doing wonderfully, in every sense of the word.
Not that he could exactly discuss all of those factors in detail, regardless of his sexuality, but he might as well touch on the general idea rather briefly. Paul and the kids deserved to have something to look back on, in writing, that proved how much he loved them, how happy they made him. A small comment would be alright, wouldn’t it?
“I’m doing right well, in all honesty. The album has definitely buoyed me up a bit, but beyond that, in my life outside of art, as you say, I’ve had a good year of it. One of my closest friends had a very successful concert for an important cause in summer, my son started nursery school, and I’ll be visiting some family and friends in the next month.”
“Headed back up to Liverpool then?”
“We’ll see where we end up,” John answered vaguely. No sense in alerting the whole world to his travel plans.
“You and Julian then?”
“I’m sorry?” John resisted the urge to tilt his head. That question had been oddly specific.
“You said ‘we’. Just curious as to who that entails I suppose, with him being in school now.”
Ah. That made a bit more sense. John released his thumb and his forefinger, hardly aware he’d been pressing them together. That was odd. Best to keep his next answer equally vague. “Well the nice thing about nursery school is that he won’t have homework stacked up on him on holiday.”
“School going well for him?”
“Seems to be, anyway. I’m right proud of him. He’s quite smart. We’ve had to stop buying him toys meant for his age group. They don’t keep him that entertained anymore,” John smiled at the thought. Julian was easily one of the brightest kids in his class, but more than that, he genuinely loved learning. He regularly checked out books from the school library and lugged them home for his parents to read to him at bedtime.
“Who’s buying him all these toys, then?” The man had a smile in his eyes, almost. Perhaps he had children of his own. Maybe even a son Julian’s age.
“My aunt buys a few, and so do my sisters. But I think Paul and I are about the worst. Probably buy him a few too many,” John grinned.
“Mr. McCartney buys them?”
John stopped. What was the purpose of that question? Conversational? Something about it didn’t seem casual. “He buys some. He has a knack for it I suppose.”
“Good with kids, is he?” The man asked levely.
“As much as you’d expect,” John said in an equally flat tone.
“So Mr. McCarteney helps you raise him?” The man’s questions were no longer conversational.
They were no longer quiet, either. Paul had heard, raising and turning his head in confusion. Curious, Julian’s eyes followed Paul’s, both of them looking at the interview pair.
“I imagine you can fill that one in for yourself, seeing as it’s common knowledge we live in the same house.” John’s voice was icy, and he was doing his best to keep it civil. It hadn’t taken much, but he could feel himself growing angry.
“How does it feel to know you’re raising him that way?”
“Raising Paul in what way?” It could have been funny, in an entirely different situation. But now it was a challenge, John forcing the man to say exactly what he meant.
“Your son. Julian. Raising him in a potentially detrimental way?”
That was what he wanted. John had wanted the man to say that. Wanted to know what he meant. Now it was time to end it. There was no point in hearing anymore. Nothing good would come from it. He needed to say it, that one hard syllabled word: No. Now was the time.
But he couldn’t let it go.
“I beg your pardon?”
“A house with essentially two fathers and no mother? Psychologically that has to have a detriment, him co-parenting, wouldn’t you say?”
And then that was enough. John stood up in a flash, piano bench scraping backwards across the herringbone wood paneled floor and almost toppling, teetering on two legs before tapping back to the ground. The man flinched in surprise, shielding himself in case of attack.
But the only thing John lashed out for was his notebook. He snatched it away, ripping but not separating a collection of pages in the process. His eyes flashed over the paper, glancing at words from both previous interviews and his own. Bland and nominal, all of them. Then he looked up, finding the man caught between the states of protest and fear, and his gaze hardened.
“ No. To answer your question: No. I do not believe I am raising my son in a detrimental way despite the fact he doesn’t have a mother. I would speak for ‘Mr. McCartney’ as well on the subject, but I don’t have an urge to put words in people’s mouths.” John swallowed a rising wave of outrage and a collection of harsh words. “Now. That will be all. I’m sure you and your agenda can find your way out; there are two of you, after all.”
The man knew better than to ask for his notebook back or to offer some poorly-formed apology. He hurried from the room, shoes smacking the floor. John stared down his retreat, watching every movement until the door closed with a definite “klunk”. He was gone. It was over. It should have been over before it began. He should have No . But now it was finished.
Except it wasn’t. Because Paul’s thumbs were frozen on a kalimba and his eyes were pooling in a way John had seen before: after Jim had openly insulted homosexuals, not knowing Paul’s sexuality; after some American bird had pointed out his most insecure “feminine” features in a public interview; after George had ripped apart one of his songs in a recording session during a rare argument. Today it looked just as painful as ever.
Worst of all was that John could hardly do anything here. Controlling his anger had never been a strong suit of his, and if he and Paul were alone, he would have cursed and stormed about the room. But, of course, the kids were there. His irate vocabulary would hardly be something to let them hear, and he knew his manner would terrify them.
He couldn’t do the opposite instinct, either. Couldn’t take Paul into his arms and comb his hair softly and lift him off the ground and kiss him with determination but tenderness, cradling his very heart — their children would worry at how severe the situation really was. That something was irrevocably wrong with their father.
The only solution was to find time alone, and soon. Time to get home.
When they passed Kensington Gardens on the drive back, Paul’s left hand dropped from the wheel and reached across to brush John’s fingers. John grasped it firmly, letting some of his suppressed temper out as love instead of anger.
Their hands indeed wove tightly together, so much so that it was the most lovely embrace John could imagine. Rough fingers slipping together and pairing thin with wide, slender with stocky. It was more intimate than a true hug, really. They could feel each other’s everything in their hands. Their calluses from years of music made together, from acres of fences built side by side. Their creases from chord positions on thin necked guitars, from clenching fists tightly in suppression of inexpressible emotions. Their bumps from lyrics scratched out with old fountain pens, from letters written back and forth and passed on tours where they hardly had moments alone enough to breathe together.
They’d held hands long before they ever admitted their true feelings, passing the united physicality off as something else and even then only the darkness of ill nights and early broken mornings. They thought of it as a strong friendship perhaps, at least on the outside. Two teens who’d lost their mothers, who dressed in leathers and thought in music, who fell in love with the idea of something more. Underneath, they were longing schoolboys hiding the fact that they were just that: longing.
John kept their hands together — sealed, really — until Paul parked them in the garage and they separated to take the kids in their respective directions. Paul carried both the girls upstairs for their naps, kissing into their hair in the same way he remembered his mum doing with him. Once, soon after she passed and when Jim thought he was asleep, Paul had felt him do the same. A gesture from mother and father, and one he’d never forgotten.
John took Julian to the piano and set him on his lap, knowing it would take a bit longer for him to get tired. They placed their fingers on ivory and ebony and John led them through simple notes and bits of songs.
“Dada seemed sad.”
“Dada’s alright, baby. Just a bit tired of some things.”
“Tired of me?” Julian asked.
“Never tired of you. We love you more than all the grass in the garden.”
When John lay Julian down for his own nap a short while later, his small mind was still marveling at how much love that must be. John wrote the moment in his notebook, smiling all the while.
Then he padded down the hall from Julian’s bedroom, calling out softly. “Macca?” He poked his nose into Paul’s study, but it was empty. He continued on toward their room. “Paul love?”
“Mmnh.” A sound emanated from the other side of the bedroom door.
“That you darling?” John slipped into the room.
“Mm hmm.” A figure was sunk on their bed, partially obscured by the quilt and a throw blanket. A pill bottle sat on the closest nightstand.
John’s heart quickened. “P-Paul?”
“Are you alright?” John was already climbing onto the bed. “You did, you didn’t take anything, did you?”
Paul sighed, finally raising his head enough to be seen above the nest of blankets. “It’s Anadin, Johnny.”
“Oh thank God,” John exhaled before he could stop himself. Memories of Paul and Valium would always be too terrifying. “I-I’m sorry, I just… I shouldn’t have assumed.”
Paul set his head back down and mumbled a tired “It’s alright.”
“But you’re not.” John crawled closer, settling next to Paul on the bed, looking over him.
“No, I’m something quite wrong, quite detrimental , according to the rest of the world.”
“Paulie, you can’t think like that!”
Paul sighed again. He rolled so his eyes were up, staring at the sloped ceiling. “What would you have me think? I’ve thought better things to myself since we left the studio. … And there have been days, since the beginning, when I think it for hours. All night sometimes.”
“Does it help?”
Paul didn’t answer. He looked desperately at the ceiling and blinked. A tear slipped along his waterline and traveled from the outer corner of his eye. It swam over his cheek bone and pooled in his ear.
“It’s not working, Johnny. Not today,” Paul managed, voice disjointed and far removed. “I keep thinking it. Keep thinking ‘it’s not wrong, I’m not something wrong.’ But it’s not working.”
John leaned down, kissed Paul’s forehead, paused, tried to take the pain away. From both of them. From their room. From their home. Paul squeezed his eyes shut at the touch and a spring of tears welled up. He mumbled the message to himself out loud, praying it almost, until it slurred with saltwater.
“Shh, Macca. Don’t force it. You’re alright, darling. We’re alright. We’re something right.” John smoothed Paul’s hair back, fingers smoothing against his scalp. Gradually, Paul relaxed. His eyes stayed closed as John continued to run his hands in some rhythm that they’d played before and were always adding to.
They’d never played it exactly the same way twice, though. And yet it was always familiar. It was always them. Two of them. That was the most right thing in the world that John could think of. That the two of them had met and got on so well, fallen for each other and stood by the other, complemented and contrasted so well… John couldn’t decide whether it made him believe in God or in magic.
Probably both, and maybe even something else. It certainly felt that way whenever Paul kissed him. When had they kissed last? Really kissed? That morning in the kitchen, against the sink. John flushed at the thought, just as he had in the studio, and then suddenly, gently, he was leaning down over Paul again, lips breathing kisses against his pale skin and dark beard.
“Johnny…?” Paul cracked his eyes open, momentarily bewildered.
“Lie still, love. Let me take care of you, yeah?”
“Mm.” Paul acquiesced, closing his eyes.
John continued his light kisses, tracing the frame of Paul’s face and cradling his head in his hands. When his lips pressed the corner of his husband’s mouth, a sigh slipped out. It was filled halfway with sleep and all the way with love, spilling softly and warming John’s heart. At the second sigh, following a kiss to the other corner, John felt something else grow warm, too. His position almost on top of Paul told a similar story.
As if adding further evidence, Paul murmured a quiet, almost unintelligible whisper: “I love you, Johnny.”
John swallowed. “Macca?”
“Hmm?” Paul’s eyes fluttered but stayed closed.
“Can, can I,” John stuttered at the beginning before catching himself with a reassuring sigh of his own. He spoke again in a voice bordering on husky. “Can I make love to you? Show you how right this is? How right we are?”
“Of course, darling. Love you tender,” John smiled.
Paul nodded, steady in his answer. “Yes, please, Johnny.”
“So polite,” John murmured. He slipped his hands to the button placket on Paul’s shirt. “Do you want this off, love?”
Paul nodded again. He melted at every touch of John’s fingers. It was a contrast to this morning, when he’d so expertly pulled John apart by the sink with flicks of his tongue and tugs of his hands. Now, he was content to let John lead, feeling him bestow gentle reassurance through careful touches.
Years ago, both of them younger and certainly more reckless, John would have remedied the situation in a more athletic fashion, and Paul wouldn’t have minded. They’d have lain, gasping, at the end, breathing in each other’s sweat and reassurances.
Paul remembered when a bird in Hamburg had slagged him off because he repeatedly turned down her advances. She was drunk and young and he doubted very much if she’d have had the same bold or rude manner in a sober state, but the words had still stung. They hit him to his core and struck that one chord he most feared, the one that said his sexuality would make him lesser than. Never enough.
John had put that to rights in their hotel, a better one than the Bambi Kino and a mostly private one at that, with the passion to make Paul see stars and to give John a bruise or two in lower places. Aside from demonstrating their physical strength, it proved well and truly that they were enough for each other. More than.
It was interesting to remember that instance in conjunction with the current one. Overlaps and originalities and just as much love.
Paul let himself feel it fully now. John settling him down on the bed in a way that would be comfortable. John kissing him across his torso in the sweetest way. John easing him out of his trousers. John massaging his thighs to relax his muscles.
Then John was working him open with cautious fingers, only as much as needed. Pushing inside slower than necessary just to let Paul adjust, then waiting for him to nod. Rocking back and forth, not even thrusting, to keep Paul feeling filled.
“How does this feel, love?” John asked, dipping to Paul’s ear as he moved gently against him.
“Feels good,” Paul murmured. He began to return the movement, mirroring to meet John’s hips. “Feels right.”
John hummed in agreement. “We’re something right, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Paul breathed, then sucked in a gasp of air as John nudged his prostate. His face flickered and John faltered, then froze.
“You alright? Should I not go there yet?”
“No, no it’s good. Just felt… right.” Paul nodded to encourage John forward. “You feel right.”
“And so do you, darling. Feel so good for me, like this and in everything else.” John shifted slightly, moving Paul as he did so, angling more directly into him.
It felt more than good, really. The word close came to mind. Paul beneath him and connected so intimately, face balancing pleasure with quiet calm. John made sure that their final moments of closeness in this way were just as pleasing for Paul. John stroked — not grasped — Paul’s cock when his eyebrows creased in anticipation of his climax.
"I'm close, Johnny, please, don't stop, please love," he babbled, hands lightly squeezing at John's thighs.
"I've got you darling, not gonna stop, I promise," John comforted, staying as smooth and steady as he could.
"John-Johnny, I'm gonna come, oh ohh ohhm," Paul moaned as he came, face showing a quiet satisfaction.
John worked him through to the end, when his chest was falling slower and his muscles had relaxed. He then finished himself off quietly, resisting the urge to speed up and press harder. There would be time for exuberant intimacy at another time.
He eased out, leaving Paul resting on the bed for only a moment before cleaning him up with a damp towel. He helped Paul back into his trousers a few moments later, knowing full well either of their toddlers could come in from a break in their nap, and then did the same for himself. Then he stretched out next to him atop the covers. Paul curled himself into John’s side, tired but content, and John lost no time in wrapping his arms around him.
“We’re something right, Paulie. Two of us.”
“You’re wrong about some things, you know,” Paul pointed out lazily, humor in his yawn.
“Not about this I’m not. You’re the most right thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“Just did me again.”
“You git,” John chuckled. “I’m trying to be romantic here! Trying to be sincere, too. I mean it. I’ve messed up a lot and all, and Mimi can tell you all kinds of things I’ve gone and ruined. But even she knows this, you and I, are right. You know that, too, don’t you?”
“I know, John love.” Paul nuzzled into him. “You’re alright, y’know that?”
“You’re alright also, Paulie."
Their tired laughter filled the room to the ceiling, floated through the window, and drifted into the garden. The distant neighbors might hear if the wind was right, but there was nothing wrong with that. In fact, there was everything right with it.