“6:30? That was the only time they could call?”
“Don’t ask me why.” Paul sat himself on the window seat with an air of melancholy. He was just next to Mary’s bassinet, preparing to set her in it after he finished her swaddle.
The afternoon was light and crisp, and the windows in the master bedroom allowed a clear view across the hedges and down from St. George’s Hill. With Julian and Heather napping, the accompanying quiet was almost peaceful. It would have been if Mary, slowly drifting off to sleep, hadn’t been breathing with a tinkling rasp.
“You’d think they could schedule these things better,” John huffed. “It’s what they do for a living, after all.”
Paul wound the wrap with a practiced hand, eyes fixed on Mary. “They had to rush these tests for us, Johnny. They’ve been more than accommodating.”
“I know, I know.” John leaned against one of the bed posts and ran a hand through his hair. “I just, I don’t want you to miss this. You know how much Jules is looking forward to it.”
“I don’t want to miss it either, love. I don’t want him to be disappointed … and it’s important to me, too. The traditions we have mean the world to me.” Paul felt like curling into a ball. Shrinking away from the day and coming back when it had passed. “Seems so silly now, me making costumes for Mary and I when now we aren’t even going out. Pathetic, you might say.”
“Love, that’s not what I meant at all. You know that, yeah?”
“Of course I do, it’s just I can’t help feeling that way," Paul sighed.
John watched Paul finish the swaddle, check it for loose tucks, and then place Mary in the bassinet. His hands were steady, his movements sure. The only thing uncertain about him was his eyes. They blinked too often, and while they weren’t holding back tears, they were an attempt to steady him. John’s heart twitched.
“You’re really worried about this, aren’t you?” He finally said.
Paul swallowed. “It's... well, it's Halloween, isn't it?”
John wanted to slap himself. How could have forgotten? Halloween wasn't exactly a cheerful holiday for Paul, not when he'd lost his mother on it, 15 years ago.
"Paulie, I'm so sorry," John murmured. "I, I shouldn't have forgotten. That was rather selfish of me, wasn't it?"
"Not selfish, love. You just have other things on your mind. It's alright."
"I'm still sorry, though." John moved over to the window seat, taking Paul's hands. "Is this why you're so worried? Because of your mum, how she passed?"
"Yeah. Both of them named Mary. I just... ” Paul shook his head. “I feel like it's a jinx or something.”
“Paul darling, please, look at me,” John coaxed.
Paul hesitated, then acquiesced.
“That stuff isn't real. Not hexes, not jinxes, none of it. And maybe your mum is watching over Mary today, keeping her safe. It's gonna be okay, you know?”
Paul gave a half-nod before answering fully. “I know. And I know I worry too much. I’m sorry. I’ll feel better after that phone call, maybe.”
“‘course you will,” John encouraged. “We just have to keep you occupied until then. Can’t let you sit around all day waiting for something to happen. That’s not good for you, either.”
“I wish they’d just call now.”
“I know, love. Me as well. But can you think of anything to distract you?”
“Taking the kids trick-or-treating with you would certainly help. But it’s not as if I can go and be back in time for the phone call.”
“Maybe you can. I guess we could be back by 6:30, now that I think about it. It’ll be dark by then anyway. Both of them will be tired.”
“But Johnny, I’ll have to be back before then, to get ready, to make sure I answer in time.”
“Then we’ll finish a little before 6:30 and get ourselves home with a few minutes to spare.”
Paul thought for a moment. “What about Mary? If I go she has to come and you’ve seen her sniffling all the time when she’s awake. What if she starts coughing again?”
“She’ll be fine all wrapped up, yeah? We took Heather out for walks in colder weather after she was born and nothing came of it.”
“I guess so, I just don’t want to make anything worse before we get the results.”
“I’m sure everything will be fine. Not to use Heather as an example again, but she seems chipper now and we got her throat tested, too. It’s probably just lingering a bit because Mary’s younger.”
Paul nodded slowly. It could work. “Back by 6:30 though, right?”
“Right. I’ll take the call with you if you like, if it would make you less nervous. Our little pair will be busy with their candy.”
“You’re lovely, Johnny.”
“Anything for you, darling. Now, how about we go find those costumes you made for you and Mary? I want to admire your handicraft again!”
The night had gone well. Houses in St. George’s Hill gave out all the best sorts of sweets that children could dream of, and the neighborhood itself was friendly. In identity-obscuring costumes — John as a casual greaser-turned-Elvis-impersonator and Paul as a cowboy — the duo shepherded their flock with ease and normal privacy. And the volume of collected candy was rather impressive in and of itself.
That didn’t stop Julian from seeking out more, though.
“Can we do one more house, Daddy?”
“You’ve got a lot of candy in that bucket, Jules.” John peered into his jack-o-lantern-shaped candy carrier as they walked up the road toward Kenwood. “Besides, I think you and Heather are getting sleepy.”
“We have to be home in a little bit, too, remember?” Paul reminded gently. It was almost 6:20.
“But Daddy, the house up here is Annie’s house!” Julian protested, pointing just up the road.
“Who’s Annie, baby?” John asked, wracking his brain for which one of Julian’s classmates she could be.
“She gets on the bus after we do, she has a red backpack just like me.”
“Oh, that’s Annie?” John vaguely recalled a few kids boarding the local bus after he and Julian got on. One of them looked to be about Julian’s age, but John had never seen the two interact on the bus.
Riding the local bus was their weekday routine. He and Julian waited at the stop near Kenwood and rode to his nursery school, just next door to the primary school. John stayed a little while at the start of class until Julian was alright with him leaving, as did a few other parents with their own children.
Then, he started walking back to Kenwood on the main footpath in St. George’s. About halfway there, Paul appeared from the other direction, pushing Heather and Mary in a stroller, and turned around to walk home with John.
“Mmhmm! We sit on the rug next to each other and sometimes we’re painting partners. She paints nice flowers, but not as good as you—” Julian suddenly stopped and tugged on John’s sleeve. “This is where! This is Annie’s house!”
John stopped, too. “I’m sure both of you are excellent painters. Now, you’re sure this is where she lives?”
“She told me it was, she said it was the house with the blue gate and the white pumpkins.” Julian pointed to the small blue gate set in a low brick wall. Three white Cinderella pumpkins sat on the wall, grinning sloppily at passersby.
It was a merry scene for Halloween, and John felt rather cozy looking at it. He’d always enjoyed going out as a kid, often with Uncle George, to look at the pumpkins and corn stalks people put out in the week before trick-or-treating. It was lovely to share that tradition, and the candy collecting, with his kids.
Dressing up was perhaps the most enjoyable part, though. When he was younger, John enjoyed being able to become a different person, almost. His costume came with a new identity, a chance to explore an imaginary world beyond his everyday life. He could walk into story worlds or make up one all his own. It was a good escape, and he still remembered some of the stories he’d invented to go along with his characters.
Tonight, he wasn’t trying to escape reality, though. He had a good enough one in front of him, after all, what with Paul and the kids. All were in costume: Mary was a cow in the baby carrier on Paul’s chest and Julian and Heather were some sort of partnership with matching caps and sparkly, ruffly shirts. Julian had described his idea as “glitter magicians” when Paul asked what he wanted to dress up as, and thus was the beginning of a week-long battle at the sewing machine.
“Daddy, please?” Julian called John back to attention.
“What if she’s out trick-or-treating, though?” John posed, hoping to pry Julian back home before he got too tired or Paul missed the phone call.
“She said she’d be back to hand out candy with her sister when it gets dark and it’s dark now.”
John was tempted to give in. They wanted to encourage Julian to be social with other children, after all. He looked at Paul. “What do you think, Macca? Do we have the time?”
“It’s getting pretty close. I should probably head back.” Paul looked at the house again. It looked so cheerful and Julian looked so excited… “But maybe you three can go and get home a bit after me?”
“You sure?” John sounded worried. “I said I’d be there to take the call with you.”
“I know love, but I’m sure it’ll be fine. I might still be on the phone when you get back, too.” He gave John a reassuring smile, then winked at Julian and Heather. “Get some good candy for me, alright?”
Julian cheered, jumping a bit out of excitement. Heather let out a gleeful noise of her own, despite not fully understanding the situation. John and Paul exchanged a quick kiss, and then Paul and Mary were headed just a bit further up the road to Kenwood. John watched him for a moment, perhaps out of habit, and then followed Julian and Heather through the blue gate and up the well-kept path to the door.
The house was smaller than Kenwood, to be sure, but it was of the same tudor style. Candles flickered in the wavy glass windows on either side of the wooden door, and a large scarecrow doll greeted them from the porch bench.
“Do you want to knock, baby?” John asked, gesturing to the door.
Julian looked from his father to the door, and then back again. “Maybe you can knock and then I can say hello?” He asked quietly.
Nursery school had made him a little more bold, but he still had an air of shyness in most situations. John secretly hoped he would become more social but still never lose his quiet nature. The world needed more people who thought before they spoke and who were content with silence.
“Alright, you ready?” Receiving a nod in response, John set his knuckles against the door in short succession.
For a moment, they heard nothing, but soon muffled sounds came from inside. Then they saw the vague outline of a person behind the wavy glass, and the door swung inward seconds later.
“Well hello!” A woman who looked to be a few years older than John, perhaps her mid-thirties, greeted them with a warm smile. She wasn’t in costume, but she wore an orange dress and black stockings, suggesting the spirit of the holiday. John pegged her for a typical upper-middle class suburban mother. “What kind of trick-or-treaters do we have here tonight?”
“Um, is, uh, is Annie here?” Julian stumbled a bit with his wording, then realized he hadn’t answered her question, and quickly looked back at John with wavering eyes.
“It’s alright Jules,” John assured, crouching down. “Do you want to tell her what you’re dressed up as?”
Julian turned all the way around, trying to hide himself in John’s chest, and shook his head.
“Aw, baby,” John smiled softly. He let Julian latch onto his shoulder, lifted him up, and took his part in the conversation. “These two are glitter magicians this year,” he addressed the woman with a chuckle and also gestured to Heather, who was absentmindedly standing on his shoes. “Not something I’d heard of before, but here we are!”
The woman smiled with understanding. She didn’t seem to have recognized them yet, and her reaction to Julian’s shyness seemed genuine and kind. “My oldest wanted to be a kitchen fairy a few years ago, which made things rather difficult, especially as she decided two days before.” The two parents shared a laugh at that. Then, she continued with a question. “Did I hear him ask about Annie, perhaps?”
“That you did! This is Julian — do you want to say hello, Jules?” Julian shook his head against John’s shoulder. “Ah, well, he says they’re sometimes painting partners at nursery. We may be at the wrong house, thou—”
“Oh, so this is Julian!” The woman exclaimed. “Annie talks about him all the time! It seems like they have such a nice time at school together. She’s just in the parlor, I’ll go and fetch her if you like!”
John had hardly answered in the affirmative when she ducked back inside with a swish of her dress. He blinked. He’d rather forgotten how… expressive some people could be, especially after spending a week with Mimi.
He bounced Julian on his hip, trying to invigorate both of them. “Annie will be here in a moment, baby. Do you want to say hello to her?”
There was a period of silence, a few breaths. Then, in a very small voice: “Yes, please.”
“Good job! She’ll be happy to see you I’m sure,” John encouraged. He gave him a smattering of kisses to elicit a few giggles, and then set him on the porch next to Heather, who was still trying to stand on John’s shoes. Julian joined in, rather nervously at first, but soon he was laughing with his sister as they took turns stepping on and off their father’s feet.
The door opened a few moments later, revealing a young girl in a red dress with a red cape. Julian’s eyes lit up with recognition, and he gave a hesitant yet cheerful wave from where he stood, just a few feet away.
“Julian!” The girl was more than a little excited to see him, rushing through the door and giving a clumsy hug, the best way that four-year-olds know how. “You’re here!”
“Yeah! Did you go trick-or-treating?”
“Mmhmm! I got some of those candy squares that you liked at school!”
The child conversation bubbled forward, aided by the occasional word from Heather. The parents watched for a moment, perhaps impressed that their children were able to converse on their own, before realizing the lack of discussion between themselves.
“So!” The orange-dressed woman smiled. “It’s nice to meet you, though I suppose the kids haven’t told each other very much about us, so I can’t say I’ve heard very much about you! I’m Margaret.”
John returned the good humor. “Well it’s always nice to make your own first impression, especially when the alternative is being introduced by walking imaginations.” He extended his hand. “John, it’s a pleasure.”
Just as recognition had come over Julian upon seeing Annie, something passed through Margaret’s eyes at John’s introductions. He didn’t have his glasses on and was in costume, but it was common knowledge to the local community that he and Paul lived nearby. And, with a child named Julian, it would be hard for anyone to come to a different conclusion as to who was on their porch.
Margaret looked to be coming to the same one, but to her credit, she did her best to appear unphased. “I must say that your costume is much better than my attempt; I just settled for the colour scheme!”
“Sometimes that’s all it takes to feel festive, though,” John noted with a smile. “I didn’t try quite as hard either. Their costumes are the real triumphs. And even then I wanted to give up once I got them dressed.”
“Lord, don’t I know it,” she commiserated cheerfully. “And Christmas pictures are coming so soon.”
“I’d almost forgotten about that, now that you mention it.” John pretended to shudder. “I’m considering just sticking them in stockings and hoping they stay put long enough for the shutter to snap.”
“I wish they made stockings big enough for my older ones! That would certainly solve a few problems.”
“How old is your oldest?” John inquired, doing his best to make conversation. Paul was the real talent in this area, but John figured he’d try.
“She’ll be 11 in November, and then I have two eight-year-olds. Twins, as a matter of fact.”
“Twice the fun or twice the trouble?” John’s question danced easily.
“Both, as it happens,” Margaret shared. “They were a lot of work for the first year, but now they give us such a laugh in the evenings. They get along very well, thank heavens.”
“Julian was a tricky newborn, too. I used to think there was some uniformity to it all, but I have since been proved completely wrong,” John admitted.
Margaret laughed. She still didn’t show obvious recognition at who John was, which he appreciated. It was nice to have a normal conversation as a normal parent. Sometimes he wished he and Paul had met in another life, maybe as farmers in Scotland or painters in Paris. They could have had lives that were so much simpler. Fewer worries about their children, fewer worries about their careers, fewer worries about everything, really. But the sound of a telephone from inside the house reminded John of the life he had waiting for him at home, and he knew he was more than content with it.
“It’s been lovely talking to you, but your phone just reminded me that we have a call of our own at home in just a few minutes.”
“Oh of course! I hope I didn’t keep you too long. It was so wonderful to meet you!”
“It was lovely to meet you as well, and Annie. She and Julian seem to be getting on very well.”
The two children were still talking cheerfully, mostly about fairytales. John had overheard Annie saying she was dressed as Little Red Riding Hood.
“They do, don’t they! We’d be happy to have him over after school one day,” she enthused. “Now, say goodnight, Annie.”
“Julian has to go home now, love. But you’ll see him at school tomorrow. Say goodbye now!”
Annie gave Julian a hug, delivered one to Heather, too, and then waved with a tinge of melancholy.
“Gonna say goodbye, Jules?” John prompted when Julian began to look down at his shoes.
Julian mustered his childish courage and looked up. “G’bye Annie!” He managed, giving a shy wave of his own.
Margaret and Annie gave another farewell, and then the door closed and the two families were back in their own worlds, headed to their own hearths.
“Have fun, Jules?” John asked. He watched Julian walk in step next to him.
“Yeah, and she liked my costume!”
“You said thank you to Dada for sewing it for you, right?”
“Mmhmm!” Julian trilled, reaching up for John’s hand. “He made the best costume ever. And Mary’s! I want to wear hers.”
“Hers would be a bit small for you, I think.” John confided as he scooped up Heather in his other arm. Her last few steps had come close to tripping. “You just keep growing!”
Julian giggled, content with that explanation as a reason for not getting a cow suit, and kept his hand in John’s the whole way home. He was perfectly at ease, incredibly happy. John almost was as well, the evening having soothed his nerves about Paul and Mary.
Paul was certainly the larger worrier of their partnership, the band, and probably even of all of Apple Corps. John chided him for it at times, but even he was rather concerned about Mary. Saying so wouldn’t have helped anything, and he didn’t think a short outing for trick-or-treating would do harm, but he knew coughing wasn’t exactly normal for newborns. At least not the kind Paul described Mary as having.
These concerns had lessened somewhat in the walk around the neighborhood — it seemed normal and pleasant and secure. That was until John unlocked the walk-through gate at Kenwood and stepped into the gravel parking area. A car he had never seen before was parked by the house, and yet he instantly recognized it. Recognized the model, that is.
He’d seen Humber Super Snipes before, and twice he’d seen them this close. It was easy to remember both incidents, seeing as they were ambulances. The first was just after Christmas in ‘65. Paul had stumbled back to Forthlin after falling off his moped and getting a botched lip surgery from a local doctor. He made his way over the threshold, spit blood into the kitchen sink, and then collapsed to the floor. Jim and John had practically broken their necks running to the phone.
The second was a few years later, perhaps six months after Julian was born. John had come back to Kenwood following a trip to the supermarket and found Paul sprawled across the floor of the nursery, hardly breathing. Julian, as if sensing something was wrong, was bawling in his crib. John had called 999 then, too, and he and baby Julian had ridden in the ambulance as medics worked Paul back to consciousness.
It had been an accident, of course. Paul had miscounted his medication for the day and mistakenly taken too much Valium. He’d woken up in the ambulance absolutely terrified that he was somehow dead. He clutched Julian to him, sobbing, and John didn’t think twice about pressing kisses against his face. The technicians said nothing, half in shock themselves.
And now here was a third time, a third ambulance far too close to John than he wanted. It was just as horrible as he’d remembered, too. Except this time he had a feeling it wasn’t Paul who needed it, and that made it somehow worse.
“Daddy? Who’s here?” Julian’s voice was quiet and careful. Almost as if he knew something was wrong this time, too.
John couldn’t decide whether to lie or give a soft truth. It was such a fine line between letting kids live without worries while also informing them of life’s realities. Hse squeezed Julian’s fingers a little tighter with his other.
“I think Dada called a doctor to check on Mary.”
“Is she really sick?”
“How do you mean, baby?” John led him to the front door, opening it and ushering him in first before following with a sleepy Heather still in his arms. When they all reached the shoe rack, he set her down.
“Like how you and Dada say Uncle Ringo was when he was little.”
John sighed to himself. He certainly hoped Mary wasn’t sick like that. From what he knew, Ringo hadn’t started out as an ill infant. He’d grown into it, so to speak. In an unfortunate way, Mary theoretically still had time to become a chronically sick child.
“Daddy, my shoe stuck.” Heather stuck her foot out.
“Well let's take care of that then, shall we?” John knelt down to help both kids. He set about answering Julian’s question, too. “It’s very rare for people to be sick like Uncle Ringo was. You don’t need to worry about Mary. I’m sure everything will be fine. Now, how about counting your candy, hmm?”
“Will you help?”
“Of course! I’m just going to talk to Dada and the doctor for a little bit. How about I meet you in your room?”
Julian seemed to think highly of that plan, because as soon as his shoes were off, he was running for the stairs. Heather hurried after, candy bucket bobbing in her hand.
“Careful on the steps!” John called, quickening his own pace to catch any potential tumbles.
He kept his ears open for any voices, either Paul’s or the doctor’s, but all was quiet as he followed the two magicians to Julian’s room. He watched them promptly dump their buckets onto the rug and begin to sort through the brightly wrapped bits of sugar. He lingered a few moments, making sure they were focused enough to stay out of trouble, then withdrew quietly to the hallway, bound for the master bedroom, hoping he’d find Mary, Paul, and the doctor there. And that they’d all be fine.
From the time he’d seen the ambulance to the time he’d reached Julian’s room, John had been intently focused and keeping Heather and Julian in one piece: no fingers caught in the door, no tripping on the stairs, no fighting over candy. Now that they were safely squared away and in good spirits at that, John’s mind was open to anxiety.
No one had been rushing out to the ambulance, which meant the doctor thought it best to take care of things inside, but there were still so many possibilities. Maybe another, better ambulance was on its way. Maybe Mary couldn’t be moved. Maybe she was already… No, John couldn’t think that. The house wouldn’t be this quiet if… that had happened. Paul was hardly a silent crier.
John reached the door, knocking lightly. If a potentially delicate medical procedure was underway, the last thing he wanted was to mess it up by barging in without notice.
“Paul? It’s me, we’re back now, love.”
“John?” Paul’s voice reached his ears. It was quiet, almost unintelligible through the door.
“Yeah, it’s me, Macca. I’m home now. We all are. Alright if I come in?”
A Paul-esque mumble passed through the door. John couldn’t make it out. His worry spiked.
“P-Paul? Can I come in?”
“Yeah, sorry.” A pause, with the accompaniment of throat clearing. “It’s alright. You can come.”
Carefully, John pushed the door open, slipping through in as little space as possible and pressing it closed behind him. He took a breath in the extra moment, gathering himself for whatever he’d see when he looked away from the door knob. He had to face it, of course, but he had to be strong for Paul, too, no matter what he saw.
He didn’t anticipate seeing the same thing as he had that afternoon, though, a few hours before trick-or-treating. Paul was seated on the window seat, rigid and nervous, looking down into the bassinet beside it. It was almost uncanny, and John blinked to take in any new details.
Paul was in different clothes, of course, and he looked undeniably more tired. A black medical bag was open on the bed, a few instruments lying next to it. Mary’s cow costume lay crumpled on the floor. John swallowed.
“Paul… Is she?” It was hardly the strong opening line John had planned, but it was all he could manage.
“Hey, Johnny.” Paul was just as quiet as before. His eyes stayed down on the bassinet. “She’s alright.”
Maybe John could at least not cry. Not fall apart. He could be strong for Paul that way. But then Paul drew in a sharp breath of sorts and looked up . His eyes were tinted red, a bit swollen in the lids and shallow underneath. John couldn’t hold it back.
“Paul, she’s not, Mary, I mean,” he choked out in a chopped stream of gasps, “please she can’t be, she has to be—”
“She’s alright, love,” Paul repeated softly. “I know I look a mess, but she’s safe. It’s not critical, I promise.”
He put out a hand for John and soon the latter was stumbling toward it with relief. In the wrenching, elongated second before he got to the bassinet, John fought desperately to keep his tears back. Christ, he’d been more scared than he thought.
And then, very quickly, his hand was in Paul’s and they were pressed against each other on the window seat and John was looking into the bassinet. There was Mary, unswaddled, just lying on a small quilt atop the mattress, dressed in a pair of white bloomers. She looked alright, John thought, maybe a bit peaky, but not ill. Her hair seemed a little darker, but maybe her complexion was a bit paler. Maybe she was cold. John reached out with his other arm, instinct telling him to warm her, but Paul tugged it back.
John looked at his husband, desperate. “I, she’s cold, please, I just want to hold her. You said she was alright.”
“I know darling, I know,” Paul soothed. “But she’s not cold and we’re not supposed to move her around very much. Just let her sleep.”
“But Macca, she’s our baby! Our little girl! I can’t, we can’t— please, I just want to hold her!” John was getting closer to tears with every pained word that he managed to get out.
“Oh, Johnny .” Paul wrapped his arms around John, squeezing him tightly. “I know it hurts, I feel it just the same, but the doctor, he said we’ve got to let her rest, we have to. I want to hold her just as badly. But we can’t, we have to be strong for her.”
Strong for her. For Mary. Maybe that’s who John should have been trying to stay strong for.
“We have to do it for her,” Paul repeated, cradling John’s head. “You understand, yeah?”
John let out a shaky sigh. “Y-yeah. For her.” He pulled back a bit to wipe his eyes. “It’s just, I don’t, I don’t understand. What’s wrong? Why is the ambulance here? And where’s the doctor?”
Paul thumbed away one of John’s tears himself, searching his eyes delicately, deciding how best to explain it all. John recognized it, too. He’d had those eyes on him for so long that he couldn’t help it. And he’d been looking back.
Somehow, their eyes always found each other. Sleepless nights, concerts with small stages, crowded dinner parties, private inbetweens. John remembered facing each other in their small twin beds, before they’d ever admitted to anything. He remembered pressing closer on the Hamburg stages, singing to Paul more than the audience. There were dinner parties where they had to mingle among the many guests, making their way through the modern mansions with magnetism and mindless chatter, but they’d always catch each other’s eye across the rooms. Most intimate were the spells of time they had alone, sitting with novels or sketch pads or notebooks but focusing on the other far more than their hobbies.
So John was used to those inquiring looks from Paul, the delicate ones that searched for calmness and capability in a moment of worry.
“You can tell me, love. I need to know, after all. Two of us, we’re in this together.”
Paul nodded slowly. He let his hands drop to his lap, closing around John’s again. He started with the ambulance.
“The first thing is that I didn’t call for an ambulance. The people at hospital, who were giving me the test results, sent a doctor over and that was the car he came in.” Paul stopped to make sure John understood, then continued. “The second is that the doctor—”
“Where is the doctor?”
“He’s down in the kitchen putting together the medication doses for the next week. That’s why he’s here, to deliver medicine for her.”
“So… she’s only sort of alright?” John’s face contorted in confusion.
“Well, she’s not very alright now,” Paul looked down at their fingers, “but she will be. The doctor is helping with that. She just needed medication sooner rather than later. The people on the phone described the need as ‘mildly urgent’.”
“So what did the tests show? What’s the medication for?”
Paul sucked in some air. “She’s got croup. A right bad case, but she can still breathe alright. It just won’t clear up on its own. She needs the steroids the doctor brought.”
“They’re prescribed for bad cases like this. They’re perfectly safe.”
John nodded slowly. “So that’s it? She just needs a few doses and she’ll be fine?”
Paul withdrew a hand and scratched at his neck. “Not exactly,” he admitted, looking almost guiltily at the floor. “Apparently the tests showed that she’s rather, uh, prone to it.”
“No, well yes, but to lung infections in general, really.” Paul looked up to find John in a state akin to mild shock. He rushed to explain. “It’s not permanent! She’ll grow out of it, as her lungs get stronger. Only a few years, really. And there are ways to mitigate it. Medication, climate… ”
John swallowed. “She’ll be sick, like this, until she’s Jules’s age?”
“It won’t be continuous, at least. Just more frequent than normal,” Paul added.
“I, I don’t know. They said it’s impossible to know for certain.” Paul looked away again.
They sat in silence. No wind, no rain to add some background. Just the reality of not knowing what the next years held. The reality of their child, hardly two months old, being ill for the foundation of her childhood. Neither wanted to accept it.
“You said there are ways to help it?” John asked hollowly.
“Oh, yeah.” Paul found John’s eyes. “Medicine, depending on what she has. And cooler weather. Especially by the sea, y’know. All the fog and breezes.”
“How much does that help, being near the ocean?”
“They said it could do a good bit. Probably mean she’d be sick less often and less seriously. The doctor said — I wasn’t going to tell you this tonight, what with everything happening — but he said we should try taking her down to Brighton this week, soon as we can.”
“Why weren’t you going to tell me tonight?”
“Everything is hectic enough as it is, isn’t it? Halloween and steroids and then Jules has school tomorrow. Figured it was one less thing for you to worry about.” Paul paused. “You don’t have to come. No sense in dragging you and the little pair into this, too.”
“What do you mean? We’re a family, you know.”
“Of course I know!” Paul spluttered. “I never doubt that, never wish it was a different way. I just don’t want to disrupt everything for everyone. It’d be easier for you all if it was just me. And Mary, of course.”
“We knew having a family was going to be hard, Macca. I’m not about to ignore the fact that our daughter needs better air in favor of making it easier for me.”
“But we’d have to take Jules out of school for the week.”
“He’s in nursery school, darling. And we both knew he’s above that learning level anyway.”
“What about his friends, like Annie, wasn’t that her name?”
“Paul McCartney. Do you seriously believe that missing one week of school will negatively impact our son’s social skills for the rest of his life?”
“… I suppose not.”
“Then there’s no reason we all shouldn’t go, is there?”
“I suppose not,” Paul repeated, though this time with a small smile.
“That’s settled, then. I’ll make a few calls in the morning about where to stay and help our little magicians get packed.”
“Thank you, love. I don’t know what we’d all do without you.”
“We’re a family, Macca. We’ll never have to do without any of us.”
It was then that the door to the bedroom opened, and in peeked Julian and Heather.
“Hello there, Jules,” Paul smiled. “Dada and Daddy are right here. You two come ahead, yeah?” He motioned for them to join on the window seat.
Julian and Heather shuffled over, almost shy, and John helped them climb onto the cushions. Julian crawled into Paul’s lap, burrowing into his chest.
“Dada, is Mary gonna be alright?”
“Mary’s going to be just fine, baby. We all are. Daddy and I will take care of everything.”
“You promise?” Julian looked at them with wide eyes.
“We promise,” John vowed. “Now, how would you two like to go to the seaside for a few days?”
Julian and Heather’s smiles were the most endearing answers their parents could have gotten.