This year it was raining in Liverpool on Saturday, October 9th, but there were plenty of years when the weather had been bright and even teased of summer long since past. John had a memory of Julia visiting him and Uncle George in the garden at Mendips, red hair shining and face beaming, a brightly wrapped present in her hands. They’d sat on the grass to open it, and John remembered the sun smelling just like she did: warm and lovely, perhaps a bit sweet from the chrysanthemums.
He remembered Mimi coming out, too, and she hadn’t seemed in a mood. It was a nice afternoon, as John recalled. Julia was close the whole time, helping him blow out his candles and running his new tin cars across the garden path.
It had rained the next day, John was sure, but even then he could still remember that smell. Warm and lovely and sweet. Sometimes, even over 20 years later and no matter the weather, he could still smell it. Only now, the smell was shared between Julia and someone else, someone just as warm and lovely and sweet. John figured she wouldn’t mind sharing, knew she wouldn’t, really. It was Paul, after all, who was just as warm and lovely and sweet.
And this evening in Mendips, rain at the windows and occasional gusts of wind in the tree, he could smell both of them. Julia, years in the past, and Paul, sitting at his feet against the armchair. He’d just finished putting Julian and Mary to bed — Heather had dozed off on John’s lap much earlier, easily tired thanks to a small cold, and neither of them had the heart to move her — and now the couple was passing the evening chatting with Mimi, steadily knitting some manner of wool creation from her own chair.
“John, you’ve hardly touched your tea," she observed as she started a new row. "You should have told me you didn’t like it.”
“I like it fine, Mimi,” John assured kindly.
“Then perhaps enlighten me as to why you’re not drinking it.”
“Still as needling as ever,” John chuckled. “But, since you ask, Paul has a bit of a sore throat. I think he's getting it from Heather.”
Paul had hardly noticed he had one himself. Somehow, though, John had known.
“So you’re letting him drink it?”
“Yeah, he needs it more, I reckon.”
Paul’s heart swelled. His John, so kind, so loving.
“You’re always able to surprise me, John Lennon.” Mimi gave a small laugh of her own.
“Was my younger self really that incapable of kindness?” It was spoken with humor, but Paul had some notion that deep inside, John intended it seriously.
“Never incapable of kindness, John,” Mimi said, patiently framing her words. “But forgetful, yes. Occupied with things aside from those close to you.”
“I must have been even more of a terror than I’ve apologized for being, musn’t I?” John let more humor into his tone, bolstered by her reassurance.
“I’d hardly categorize you as a terror.”
“A delinquent, then?” John teased.
Paul smiled to himself.
“I won’t deny that I had that thought more than once in your teen years,” Mimi returned the humor, though still in a soft way.
“And now look what I’ve turned out to be, a delinquent rock and roller,” John said, eliciting a laugh from Paul.
“I don’t think I or the kids would say you’re a delinquent, love,” Paul assured, patting John’s slippered foot.
“Little Miss Mary might, you never know.”
“I think she has a while before she’ll have any form of complex thoughts at all. We should at least wait until she sleeps through the night.”
“I can change her tonight, if she wakes up,” John offered, making an aside.
“Nonsense. Your birthday present is a good night’s sleep.” Paul reached up and squeezed John’s hand. Soon one of John’s other hand was stroking through his hair.
He had other birthday presents for John, too, of course, and one had been given at dinner — an original sketchbook from a niche Swedish artist, full of the man’s absurdist and surrealist drawings, that John had drooled over at an art show in Edinburgh — but he deserved some sleep all the same.
“If you insist. Let me take care of you at least a little, though. The tea I've been saving you won’t do anything if you don’t drink it.” John passed it down to Paul, then swayed back into the main conversation. “So Mimi, what do you think about me being a delinquent rocker?”
“I don’t think I’d put you in the delinquent category now,” Mimi said, her knitting needles slowing to match the flicker of the fire.
“Then perhaps it’s your turn to enlighten me. How would you categorize me, then?”
“As yourself.” The needles stopped altogether. “As John.”
“Taking the easy way out with my question?”
“It’s true, John,” Mimi repeated. “Since you were a boy, you’ve only ever answered to yourself. Not the ideal personality type for me to raise easily, of course.”
“Of course.” John swallowed a friendly smirk. Paul nudged him playfully in the shin, but stayed silent. He was enjoying being a silent part of this conversation.
“You were so unapologetically determined to follow your own path,” Mimi continued. She seemed thoughtful, truly reflecting on the past as she spoke. “As much as I disliked dealing with it in your more raucous times, and perhaps as much as I disagreed with it, I saw where it could take you. You’ve always been you yet you’re always full of surprises.”
“How’s that, then?”
“Well for one thing, I never once thought I’d see you befriend someone like Paul, and I certainly never expected you to follow his lead or to put him before yourself.”
“Chalk and cheese?” John offered.
“That’s what I thought at the time. But here we are, talking together with him in the family, and your tea ready for him.”
Paul smiled, nestling his head against John’s knee just slightly, brimming with love.
John ran his fingers along the shell of Paul’s ear. “‘Love changes people,’ isn’t that what they say?” Paul could almost hear John blush. He had always been a little bashful around discussions of emotion.
“For some people, I’m sure.” Mimi took up her needles again.
Evidently the avoidance of this topic was hereditary. John pressed a bit, both curious and unwilling to let Mimi drop the conversation with a response of that nature. “Did love change you? Or Uncle George?”
“Why on Earth would you want to know a silly thing like that?”
“Why on Earth not? I’ve always wanted to know,” John pointed out. “You just never entertained my questions when I was younger.”
“That was because if I answered one of those types of questions they’d never stop,” Mimi countered, her hands busy with the knitting. “You were insatiable. I don’t have to wonder where Julian gets his curiosity from.”
“Well, perhaps you’d be so good as to satiate some of my interest now, as a birthday present,” John coaxed.
Mimi paused, as if she were actually considering, and Paul’s ears perked up even more. This would be interesting. If she accepted, that is.
“For a limited number of questions, yes,” she decided a beat later.
“Certainly not that many.” Mimi picked up her previous knitting pace in a demonstration of her refusal.
“Three, then?” John bartered
“I’ll accept that,” Mimi agreed. “I must admit I was expecting you to settle on 31 as the only suitable number.”
“Even I don’t have that many questions. I can wake Jules up for you, if you like, though.”
“He asked me quite enough while we were baking this afternoon.”
“If you refused to answer him, I’ll give you an earful,” John warned, both serious and lighthearted. Paul chuckled.
“Of course I didn’t. It’s different with grandchildren, John,” Mimi defended, perhaps taking slight offence at John’s insinuation. “I raised you well so I’d be able to spoil any of your children that came along, knowing they’d get good lessons from you at home.”
“You always planned things out, didn’t you?” John gave an accepting sigh.
“It made things more manageable that way, though I didn’t expect everything for your future to turn out how it did,” Mimi admitted.
“What, you mean you didn’t anticipate me being a queer, then becoming world famous and married to this prim and proper gentlemen? Not to mention having three children and an overgrown mop for a dog?”
Paul jabbed John gently in the leg again, this time in defense of Martha.
“That wasn’t exactly what I meant,” Mimi said. Paul could see a glint of humor in her eyes. “You’re not wrong in your general assertion, but you are wrong about one thing.”
“What’s that now?” John raised an eyebrow.
“Is that one of your questions?” Mimi raised one of her own.
“Hmm.” John’s brow stayed raised. “I suppose so.”
“Right, then I’ll answer it after I address your first one.”
“First one?” John’s eyebrow went higher.
“About your Uncle and I.”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” John gave a rye smile.
“Yes, rather. Perhaps I should introduce this game with Julian.”
“Heather would like it too, I reckon.”
“I still don’t understand why you call Julian ‘Jules’ but haven’t abbreviated Heather to some other name. Hetty or Hattie or something similar.”
“Well it’s the same number of syllables with her name either way. Jules drops two off.”
“In that case, I’d be interested in hearing your explanation as to why you’ll be calling Paul several things longer than one syllable once you think I’ve gone to bed.”
John and Paul choked at the same time.
“Wh-what?” John coughed, then suppressed a second one to avoid waking Heather. He pounded his chest lightly, eyes wide.
For his part, Paul went as red as the coals. He felt his skin physically warm, then grow hotter. It wasn’t shame so much as shock intertwined with an intense embarrassment. He resisted the urge to clear his throat.
“I’ll admit that I never heard you two engaging in such activities while you were still living at home, John — I had no idea then,” Mimi spoke nonchalantly, “but in the time since you made me aware of the details of your relationship, you’ve been less… quiet at night.”
“Didn’t you say you were going to answer the question about you and Uncle George?” John cut in, voice hoarse.
He had no desire to know what Mimi had heard him and Paul doing over the past few years. Paul, still flushed like the apple peelings from this afternoon, was equally disinterested about that. In fact, he had never been more interested about John’s uncle in his entire life.
“And if love changed us?” Mimi said casually.
“Uhm, yes.” John swallowed, itching to move forward.
“Well the obvious answer is yes, though perhaps in ways you wouldn’t expect. Your uncle was always full of humor and affection. He gave it so effortlessly. If it was currency, he would have been inexplicably wealthy; he gave so much of it away but always had more to spare.
“In that way, he taught me how to relax. I’d always been on alert before. Taking care of my sisters and then working at hospital kept me edgy, you might say. But he was so good at unwinding in the evening. He’d find stations on the radio that helped settle my mind for the night. And sometimes we danced or read together. I felt able to laugh around him as well. I never realized I had a strong sense of humor until we lived together.”
“I remember joking with him,” John smiled quietly, looking down at Heather. He could hear her laugh in his head, warm and clear. Just like Uncle George’s. “For hours, sometimes, it seemed.”
“He was very good with you.” Mimi’s gaze traveled to a few pictures on the mantle. More than one was of John and his uncle. “He loved you very much, John. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yeah. Yeah, he was the most loving man I ever knew as a child,” John recalled fondly. He began to stroke Heather’s hair. “If I can be anything like him to the kids, I’ll be happy.”
“You already are, John. You and Paul, the two of you, you’re raising them with such joy.”
“You think so, honestly?” John looked up, eyes earnest.
Paul leaned forward in spite of himself. He was just as eager to hear as John.
“Of course. I can see it in how they react to you,” Mimi explained, as though it was obvious. “Mary’s only five weeks old and every time she sees one or the other of you, she has a smile.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t that cheerful of a child.” John suddenly felt rather guilty. Paul reached a hand up and mingled it with John’s.
“You were, though. All of my memories of you as a young boy have joy in them, John. You had no fear of the world. None at all.”
“Is, is there, well,” John stumbled a bit. Paul squeezed his hand. He took a breath. “Do you, umm, have a favorite memory of me? From when I was younger?”
“Every new day in the first few years is always a favorite memory, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I supposed it is,” John agreed. “I guess I couldn’t pick just one for any of the kids yet. I love every moment so much.”
Paul nodded along, both in agreement and contentment. It was odd to hear John talk like this with Mimi. He’d need years to get used to it, probably, what with how tumultuous their previous relationship had been.
“And Paul tells me you worry about being a bad father,” Mimi smiled calmly. Her face was sincere, and John felt some reassurance in it.
“Can’t help it sometimes, y’know,” John explained. “Thank you, though. That’s… very kind of you.”
“I’m also capable of kindness, as much as it may surprise you.”
“Doesn’t surprise me anymore,” John smiled, resting in the warmth of the moment.
A short while later, Mimi broke the silence. “I suppose you still have that second question, yes?”
“Ah, yes,” John roused himself. “A favorite memory of me, if one exists, from when I was a child.”
“As it happens, it’s a memory from another holiday. You were six or so, I believe, so it must have been your seventh Christmas. George and I took you to the Empire. That was the first year we all went, the start of that tradition. I don’t suppose you remember going every year, do you?”
“Of course I do!” John corrected with emphasis.
Paul knew he did, too. Sometimes, when they had been younger and John was feeling reflective, he told Paul more personal childhood stories. They were the simple ones, the happy ones that made John smile as he told them. The ones that betrayed his softer side, showed how much he cared for people and how deeply he felt things.
He’d told Paul about Christmas shows at the Empire, several times in fact. He had such lovely memories of going that they now took the kids to see the nutcracker at the London Ballet every year. This Christmas would be Mary’s first time going, and Paul couldn’t help thinking about how adorable she’d look in a red and white swaddle, maybe with one of Mimi’s hats over her dark hair.
“Well, I’m glad you remember,” Mimi sounded touched. “George and I loved taking you. It made us feel like an official family. And of course George always insisted on taking you to the toy shops afterward.”
“I remember that, too,” John voiced aloud. “It was my ‘pre-Christmas’ gift, to keep me out of your hair until the 25th.”
“That wasn’t the only reason we bought you it. Seeing you that happy was wonderful. You loved going in all the stores. George would put you on his shoulders and let you look at the top shelves.”
“The best ones were up there, y’know,” John pointed out.
Paul and Mimi shared a knowing smile. “Well, regardless of your present picking, that’s not the memory I was thinking of. It was, as I said, when you were about six. We took you to see ‘Puss in Boots’ that year. It started snowing before we left the house, so we had to suit you up in your galoshes. George sat with you in the kitchen and helped you with them. They were a bit big, I would imagine, but you trooped happily into the theatre still wearing them.
“Naturally we weren’t going to take them off in the theatre, as you’d only have to struggle back into them later, so there you sat in the large chair with your large boots. You were so excited, too, bouncing gently to the opening music. Even then, you had rhythm and beat in you.
“And then the curtains swung wide and out walked the man playing Puss, the eponymous character himself, in these tall black boots that looked rather like Wellingtons. At least you thought so, because as soon as you saw them, you leapt from your large chair in your large boots and shouted:
“‘Mimi, he’s got his Wellington boots on! Just like me!’
“Your voice was so small in comparison to your chair and your boots, but the whole audience seemed to hear it. They all looked at you and smiled and you smiled back. You weren’t a bit afraid. Oh! You were happy, John. And I remember thinking that was who you’d always be: unafraid, perhaps a little brash, and so terribly independent.”
Paul could have cried then and there. His heart throbbed in his chest, trying to push him off the ground and into John’s arms. It was so wonderful to hear about John from people he loved, especially when one of those people was Mimi. There was such joy in learning about John as a child, too, and then connecting his current qualities back in time.
To his heart’s delight, the two of them talked for a while longer, recalling times from John’s childhood and early teen years. Paul listened happily, letting the warm voices fill the room with a calm joy. So calm, in fact, that Paul felt his eyes growing heavy.
When his head began to physically nod, he roused himself enough to sit up fully again, and suddenly recognized his name in their conversation.
“You can’t just say that ‘as soon as I started spending time with Paul, you knew we were going to have a family,’” John pronounced in humored protest. The movement from Paul, rearranging himself against John’s legs, diverted his attention. “You getting sleepy, love?”
Paul opened his mouth to answer and let out a yawn instead, partially answering the question put before him. “A bit, I suppose. If Heather is pretty deep into it I can take her up now.”
“You’re so endearing when you’re half asleep,” John chuckled. He scratched Paul’s head fondly. “Come ahead, love. Stand up and give us a kiss and then we can all go up.”
Paul stood up without a thought, but then paused. Mimi was here. Her earlier comment hadn’t faded. He looked at John with uncertainty in his eyes.
“Oh come here, you,” John scoffed. “You heard her; she’s heard loads worse.”
And with that, John pulled Paul’s lips to his, pressing firmly, wantingly. Paul hesitated, but when John cupped his cheek, running his thumb over the skin above his beard line, he softened. John was right. Mimi knew.
John kept Paul to him a few beats longer than normal, smelling that hint of talc that never failed to remind John of their family. Warm and lovely and sweet, he thought.
Paul’s lips were clearly as tired as the rest of him, and in the last moment of their kiss, John knew he’d like to have time together that evening. He loved when Paul was tired. His dark hair disheveled and his eyes droopy, his movements clingy and his mind caring. More so than usual, that is. Sometimes he was rather handsy, too, and the thought made John’s heart pick up a bit.
“I’m quite willing to take Heather up if you’d like some time alone.”
Paul pulled back from the kiss, blushing again, while John looked almost proud of himself. He smiled widely and ran his thumb across Paul’s cheek again, whispering with their eyes.
Then, when John supposed Mimi was losing patience for a response, he spoke again. “You still owe me a real answer to the third question. The thing I was wrong about in my assertion that you didn’t expect me to be famous and queer and married with kids.”
“Ah yes, I suppose I do.” Mimi finished off her last row for the evening, set it down in her knitting basket, and stood up from her chair, smoothing her skirt as she did so. “I didn’t expect you to be famous and I didn’t anticipate your romantic disposition, so to speak. But the longer you and Paul stayed friends, the more I knew.”
“Knew what, pray tell?” John looked both curious and amused. Paul, too, was intrigued, and he sat himself carefully on the arm of John’s chair and did his best to pay attention.
Mimi strode over and leaned down to carefully scoop Heather into her arms. Heather stayed as loose as Fritz the horse, still grasped in her small hands, and her head leaned against Mimi’s shoulder. It was a heartwarming scene, and John made note to draw it sometime. Maybe even tomorrow evening before one of the kids repeated their role of falling asleep on him.
“I knew that somehow or another, the two of you would stay with each other,” Mimi explained plainly. As she elaborated, though, a tenderness fringed her words. “It was the small things. Things you might not even have known you were doing. The way you always opened doors for him, John, or stood just slightly in front of him when I spoke to him, as if you wanted to protect him. And you Paul, touching against him when he was upset, to reassure him, looking him in the eyes when he spoke, because he was important to you and thus so were his thoughts. You wanted him to know that. To know that he mattered.”
Again, the two men flushed in unison, feeling a trifle exposed now that their behaviors, even though some had been unconscious, had been so clearly read. Still, neither was too embarrassed to shift closer this time. There was that same wanting behind it, albeit a contained one. It was nice to simply be close to each other. Paul slipped into John’s lap and leaned into his neck, arms squeezing him gently. John returned the affection automatically, pulling Paul closer and planting a kiss in his hair.
“I wasn’t certain as to how the two of you would stay attached,” Mimi continued. “Perhaps as friends, perhaps like brothers. I suppose I might have considered you would be more than either of those things one day, but regardless, it just seemed plain to me.
“So no, I didn’t anticipate every facet of your life, John, but the two of you in one of my armchairs and your children in my guest bedroom… I knew I’d see something like this, someday. And I know I’m hardly the sentimental or emotional type, but seeing as it’s your birthday, John, I’d like to say that I’m glad ‘someday’ turned out to be today and many yesterdays past.”
Paul, curled in John’s lap, shifted his head to look at Mimi directly. “Thank you, Mimi. For your understanding. And for always looking out for John.”
“I have just as much to thank you for, Paul,” Mimi said simply. “You’re the best thing that could have happened to my John. Our John.”
Paul nodded thoughtfully. Then he nudged John in the shoulder. “You alright, love?”
John wrapped Paul closer. He inhaled Paul’s smell again and the room itself. Maybe even a bit of the apple cake scent still mingled Mimi’s clean-knit jumper. It was all so warm and lovely and sweet. “I love you both. Thank you, Paul, for loving me as your friend and your husband, and for raising our children so well. And thank you, Mimi, for loving me as your nephew and your son — and even as a delinquent — and for raising me so well.”
“You’re welcome, John,” they whispered together, looking at John with fondness in their eyes.
They exchanged final gratitudes, Mimi dipped Heather down to receive a kiss from both her parents, and then they bid each other goodnight. Mimi turned the lights down as she left the room, leaving some silence in her wake. It wasn’t an unpleasant kind, though.
The fire was still lively enough for the occasional crackle, and the rain outside was a pleasant reminder of how cozy it was inside, especially as the two of them were squashed into one armchair. John absentmindedly stroked his fingers along Paul’s neck, swirling the wavy strands of hair at the nape. Paul sighed with content, letting his head fall more against John’s shoulder. John breathed in the smell of apple cake that Julian and Mimi had baked that afternoon and a bit of the sunshine they’d had on their morning walk to the woods yesterday. Warm and lovely and sweet.
After a while, their lips met again, rather lazily. They sighed happily into the slow movements of their mouths and hands, drifting in and out of the rain and dancing firelight. It was almost as if they were the ones dancing, two flames twirling across a wooden stage to the music of an aquatic orchestra. John would have preferred to stay that way all night if he had his way about it, but as Paul shifted in his lap, his leg began to lose its pulse.
“Macca?” John mumbled in between kisses.
“Yes love?” Paul answered just as messily.
“You’re,” John kissed him again, “ you’re putting me leg to sleep a bit.”
Paul pulled back at that, a wink in his eye. “Too heavy am I?”
“Never.” John pecked his nose. “Just in the wrong spot at the moment.”
“I’m rather comfortable right here, though,” Paul bemoaned childishly. He blinked his eyes with concocted sorrow.
“What if I told you it could be my birthday present from you?”
“But what if me getting to sit here is my anniversary present from you?”
“You’re a stubborn one aren’t you?”
“Knew that when you told me you fancied me ten years ago today.”
“Paulie, I’m dying here,” John groaned, feeling pins and needles spread across his leg. “Just get up for a beat so I can reposition, yeah?”
Paul said nothing for a moment, then gave a friendly huff. “Fine, I suppose I’ll do the chivalrous thing and put myself through pain for you.” Paul disentangled their limbs and did his best to smoothly extricate himself from the chair.
“You’re a gentleman, James McCartney.” John shifted both his legs, feeling the blood flow back in a rather unsettling, albeit relieving, way.
While he waited for John to gain some feeling back in his thigh, Paul drifted over to the bookshelf and sideboard. He ran his fingers over familiar books, remembering the afternoons he and John had spent reading them in companionable silence. A collection of vinyls, most from George’s trove of early 1900s dance music and a few from Julia’s collection that she’d wanted Mimi to have, rested on the shelf below them.
He’d danced to them with John more than once, mostly in the intimacy of the night, and sometimes they’d done a little more, too. He blushed at the recollection of Mimi’s comment: she’d heard them… together. Paul could only hope it had been infrequent and tame. But if she’s heard John call him something more than one syllable…
A thought came to him.
“Mmm?” John looked up from the armchair, now comfortably situated.
“Do you think Mimi really could hear things down here if she were, y’know, upstairs?”
John chuckled. “I think what she meant was that she heard us going at it in my room.”
“So if we were to, oh I dunno, put on a record, she might not hear us right where we are?”
“What, in the front parlor?” John laughed.
“It’s not as if we haven’t done it before,” Paul pointed out. It had only happened twice, and both times had been quick, but it had happened.
“You’re the cheeky one all of a sudden, aren’t you?”
“You’re the one who just about snogged me in front of her, y’know. Besides, I was liking where we were going in the chair, before you made me move that is. It’s your birthday and our anniversary, after all.”
John flushed slightly. The collar on his sweater suddenly felt rather right. “I suppose she wouldn’t hear us with an album on.” He swallowed. “Or the radio.”
“You sure?” Paul teased. “Should we wait?”
“I uh, I’d rather not,” John said quietly, almost embarrassed. He’d been hoping they could as well.
“Just be a moment, then,” Paul smiled.
He took an album sleeve from the shelf, determined it suitable, and set about placing it on the turntable. Then, with a reasonable volume delivering the songs into the room, he turned from the machine and crossed the room directly to John.
“May I?” He asked quietly. John nodded, and Paul carefully seated himself on John’s lap, pressing gently against his chest. “Alright?”
“More than alright,” John hummed. He touched their foreheads together. “I love you, Macca.”
Paul murmured it back, then found John’s lips a moment later. It was just as soft and smooth as a few minutes prior, but this time it was more intentional. Their years of practice and feeling placed a purpose behind every movement of their mouths and tongues. They had no intentions to be raucous or particularly athletic. They were hardly in the right place for that.
But it was them, together, close, intimate. It was John putting his glasses on the side table so he could tilt his head against Paul’s just so and rest his hands at the nape of Paul’s neck, where he most liked it. It was Paul kissing John in places where he still felt insecurities and holding him steadily when they had to separate for a moment.
It was the two of them carefully undressing each other with quiet gasps and stifled sighs, staring in awe at the beauty of the other. There were the familiar feelings of love and anticipation moving through them as they got closer to slipping together, then did so in a smooth embrace. John held Paul close to him, hardly able to comprehend everything and how wonderful it was, breathing his name and then other titles, and none with a tone of degradation: angel, princess.
Paul moved rhythmically in John’s arms, alternating between kissing him deeply and looking fondly into his eyes. He shifted slightly, giving John a better angle than he’d had, and making sure he was alright before they began going just a bit faster. They whispered their usual but no less sacred vows of love and wonderment before finishing, one and then the other a breath or two later.
They lay in the armchair for a while, listening to the record and the rain until the former stopped and the promise of curling up together called them toward the stairs. Paul tidied up the furniture and John broke the coals apart in the hearth and then Paul’s hand was on the small of John’s back as they ascended the steps.
At the top of the steps, though, instead of turning toward the guest room, John made for his childhood bedroom. Before Paul could ask or correct him, he found himself there, too. So many memories in this room. It was much less cluttered now, of course, but it felt the same nonetheless. Laughter and tears, music and poetry, friendship and tentative feelings. It had all happened here.
John settled himself on the bed, and motioned for Paul to sit beside him. They faced each other, just a few inches apart, and John reached for Paul’s hands, bringing them up from his waist and kissing them tenderly.
“Five years married now, Macca,” he murmured.
“And 10 years in all, Johnny. I love you so much, darling.”
“I love you, too. More than anything, y’know.” John paused, swallowed a rising lump in his throat, and looked at Paul in earnest. “I really do, Paul. I love you beyond what I thought I could and, well, I suppose I’ve been thinking about something.”
“Yeah? Everything alright?” Paul searched John’s eyes through the dark.
“It’s wonderful, really. I’ve been thinking, like I said, and I just can’t believe I get to call you my partner, my husband. Makes me so happy, so proud. And I know we said no anniversary gifts, but I sort of have one for you”
“I thought it was going to be letting me stay in the chair,” Paul teased. He squeezed their hands.
“This one is a little bit better,” John promised. “Trust me?”
Paul nodded. Confirmation given, John’s hands focused around Paul’s right ring finger. They circled his wedding band, feeling it carefully, then began to twist it off.
“Shh, love. You trust me, yeah?” John’s voice was gentle, loving.
Paul nodded again, bewildered, but he didn’t protest. A moment later, the ring was gone. Paul’s stomach dropped and he knew in a moment he’d cry — it was that strong, that sudden of a reaction. His finger felt exposed and empty and something in Paul was so incredibly terrified, but then he felt something against his other hand, something cold and smooth pushing onto one of his fingers. His ring finger. His left ring finger. It was his ring. His wedding ring. John had just put his wedding band on his left ring finger.
“J-John? Darling, you can’t, I mean this, do you know what this means?” Paul was incredulous. They’d always kept their rings on their right hands. They couldn’t risk it otherwise.
“I do. It means people will know you’re well and truly married. I know it didn't matter to us before, but I love you and I’m proud to be with you so I figured there’s no point in pretending otherwise, is there?”
Paul looked down at his hand in amazement, making out the glint of the ring in the watery light from the street lamps shining through wet glass.
“I’m married,” he whispered. “I’m really married.”
“And if you do the same to me, I will be, too.” John smiled and nudged him a bit, flexing his own ringed hand.
“Can I? Do you want to do it yourself?” Paul looked nervous, almost.
“You were the one who put it on all those years ago, love.” John kissed his forehead. “I don’t want anyone else taking it off or slipping it into its new place.”
Still in awe, Paul delicately worked John’s own band off his right ring finger, cajoling it over his knuckles. Then, hands shaking just slightly, he pushed it down the length of the corresponding finger on John’s opposite hand.
“Think it looks alright here?” John asked, glowing despite the darkness.
“I think it looks perfect. Both of ‘em. We’re married, Johnny. I mean we always have been, since we put them on, but this… I can’t explain it. We’re really married! All proper!”
“Well then I think it’s only proper I kiss my husband, don’t you?”
“I think so, Mr. Lennon-McCartney.”
Neither could hide their smile.