Simon proposed to Nathan in the most Simon-like way possible.
It was the last thing he expected. There was no build up, no clue about what was about to transpire. It was an ordinary Tuesday evening in October, and Nathan was sprawled out on the couch in their tiny flat, watching Vine compilations on Youtube on his phone with one hand, and dangling his other hand, a lit fag perched between two fingers, out the open window behind the couch. Whenever he took a puff of it, he’d half-heartedly lean towards the window, raise the cigarette to his lips, and attempt to exhale out into the open air. Strictly speaking, the lease said they weren’t supposed to smoke in here at all, but Nathan was all about compromises these days.
Simon had just got home from his last class of the day and taken off his book bag and jacket and sat down on the other end of the couch. Nathan acknowledged him with a wave of his hand (the cigarette one) and nod of his head. When he was done watching this video, they’d probably talk about what to eat for dinner, and what they should watch on telly, if Simon didn’t have too much homework to do, and then they’d probably decide if they wanted to fuck. He was looking forward to it.
Simon cleared his throat, then when Nathan didn’t respond, did it again. Nathan looked at how long he had left on the video: two minutes and thirty-five seconds. Well, whatever. He closed the app and dropped the phone on his chest. “What’s happening, Barry?”
He looked a little nervous, and Nathan wondered what was up. He pitched the fag out the window and sat up.
“I had a meeting with my tutor today,” Simon said. “He thinks I should apply to postgraduate programs in America.” Simon was set to graduate university in the spring.
Nathan blinked a few times. “America?”
“He thinks there’d be more opportunity for me there. He gave me a list of programs to consider.”
So here it was, Nathan thought. The other shoe was dropping, at last, after five years. He wasn’t exactly surprised that it was happening, just that it had taken so long to happen, really. Five years was a long time for anyone to put up with him.
He patted around his pockets looking for his cigarette packet, wishing he hadn’t thrown out the one he’d had started. There’d still been half left before it got down to the filter. He’d have to start being more careful about those sorts of things, because money was going to be a lot tighter. “I suppose I should start looking around for my own place then,” he said, wondering what options were even available. He didn’t make a hell of a lot at his job at the recycling facility. He’d probably have to share a flat with a shitload of strangers. Or maybe his mum would let him move back in again? They didn’t spend much time together, but their relationship was better, at least. She might consider it.
Shit. Twenty-seven years old and considering moving back in with his mum.
“What do you mean?” Simon was asking, his brow furrowing the way it always did whenever Nathan leapt over a few conversational roadblocks and skipped to the end without him.
He found the cigarettes and began fumbling to get one out. “Come on, Barry. You know I can’t afford this place myself.”
Simon shook his head. “You don’t need to …”
“Well, what else am I going to do?” He put the cigarette in his mouth.
“You could come with me.”
He spat the cigarette out. It landed on the floor and rolled under the couch. “What?”
“Come with me, to the US. Provided I actually get in somewhere.”
“Barry,” Nathan said, resting a hand on his arm. “They wouldn’t let me come with yo, would they? I’d need like a job, or a special skill, or something.” He laughed a little at the idea. The only special skill he had was not dying, and he could just imagine putting that down on a visa application.
He slid off the couch and onto his knees to look for the lost cigarette. And so he was still in that odd, reversed position -- on his bended knee in front of Simon, one arm under the sofa -- when Simon clenched his hands into fists and said, all in one long stream, “Youcouldgetinonaspousalvisa.”
Nathan froze, then looked up at him. “What did you just say?”
Simon took a breath. “I said, you could get in on a spousal visa.”
He sat back on his heels and ran the sentence through his head again. It still didn’t make much sense. “I hate to break this, to you, Barry, but I think to get a spousal visa you have to be, you know, married.”
Simon clapped his hands together, looking tremendously relieved that they had finally gotten to the point. “Yes. Yes. Exactly.”
Nathan stared at him. “Barry, did you just fucking propose to me?”
Feeling a little shaky, Nathan eased himself back up onto the couch, cigarette forgotten. “You want to get married … to me?”
“Right. And then you could come with me to the States.”
Yes. Of course. It all sounded very practical, didn’t it? Get married. Get a visa. Go to America with Barry.
The thing was, he didn’t really believe in marriage. He’d never really seen one work out (well, there was his mother and Jezza, but they were only a few years in, there was plenty of time for it to go to hell). The whole thing seemed pretty meaningless to him. He’d certainly never imagined himself doing it, with Simon or anybody else. Then again, Nathan didn’t really imagine himself doing much. He didn’t like to plan, didn’t like to think about the future. He lived in the moment. The fact that all of those moments had somehow piled up into a five-year-long mostly functional relationship still sometimes surprised him, but there you were.
“Nathan? What are you thinking?”
He realized that he’d lapsed into an extended silence, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees, his fingers worrying his lower lip as he thought. He twisted his head to look at Simon. “You don’t have to do this, you know. I can take care of myself.”
Simon looked a little upset. “What do you mean by that?”
He shrugged. “I mean, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to get married to me otherwise. You don’t need to do it just so I have a place to live.”
That, if anything, seemed to make him even more upset. “Nathan, I’m not asking you to marry me just because I want to move to America. I mean, yes, it does make sense. But it’s not the main reason.”
“What is the main reason, then?” Nathan asked, curiously.
“Because I love you, you twat!”
Oh. “Oh,” Nathan said.
Simon looked at him. “Do you love me?” Nathan nodded. “You never say it.”
“Sure I do, Barry!” he protested. He did, didn’t he? He was sure had.
“You don’t, really. You just do what you’re doing now. Nod, or say something like, me too , or ditto . But you’ve never actually said the words.”
Nathan felt pained. Of course he loved Barry, the weird little wanker. They’d been dating each other for five years, and living together for almost four, and he hadn’t cheated or done anything too stupid in all that time. That was love, wasn’t it? The thing was, he felt pretty satisfied with the whole arrangement as it was. Simon put up with his occasional rudeness, and didn’t poke him too much about his lack of ambition, and laughed at his jokes, and they had good sex. Great sex. And in return, he’d made a real effort to curb all of his worst tendencies -- his urge to go for the jugular during disagreements, his general messiness and laziness, etc. He got a job, he contributed to the bills, he even did the fucking chores Simon assigned him on the little chart that hung over the sink in the kitchen. You didn’t do that for someone you didn’t love, did you?
He just found it difficult to say. When he tried, it made him burst out into embarrassed laughter, like a fucking ten year old handing out a Valentine. It was better just to avoid it.
As for Simon -- well, Nathan certainly thought that Barry believed he loved him. He did all the things you’d expect someone who was in love with you to do -- even, apparently, awkwardly propose to him so that they fuck off to America together -- but somehow Nathan still had a hard time accepting it. He just wasn’t very loveable. And the more he thought about the whole scheme, the more it seemed like a pretty bad deal for Simon. What exactly was he getting out of it? Just a lazy Irishman to tote across the Atlantic and leech off of him for a few years.
“Nathan,” Simon said. “You’re spacing out again.” He took one of his hands. Nathan hated it when he did that, because it seemed to tap into some weird, buried romantic tendencies inside himself, and he often found himself agreeing to things he would never have otherwise whenever Simon did it. Simon clearly knew this and pulled it out when he really wanted something. Like the time he’d convinced him to tell their mates that they were shagging -- that is, dating -- or the time he wanted Nathan to try eating a Brussels sprout. And like right now. He gave a half-hearted attempt to pull his hand away, but didn’t get very far, because the truth was he liked it too much to actually stop it.
“Nathan,” Simon tried again. “I want to marry you because I love you, and I want to spend my life with you. Get it?”
He shrugged. His face felt weirdly hot.
“What did you say?”
“I said, yeah, yeah, I’ll marry you, Barry, Jesus,” he muttered, blushing so hard that his eyes were watering. That’s probably what it was, he thought, rubbing at the wetness in the corners of his eyes just before Simon kissed him.
Getting married was a bit of a pain in the arse.
First they had to file a notice that they were getting married and wait a month. A month! Twenty-nine days in which Nathan had to convince himself not to change his mind and call the whole thing off, mostly likely breaking Simon’s heart and ruining everything. Twenty-nine days where he had to wonder what the fuck he was doing, when Simon would realize what a big mistake he’d made, and recriminate himself for being such a selfish fuck that he’d go through with the whole thing just because he really didn’t want to break up, and because Simon holding his hand and looking at him with big, round eyes that made him turn into some useless, mushy moron.
Secondly, he had to tell his mother.
There were a few reasons for this. For one thing, he probably just ought to tell his mum that he was getting married and most likely leaving the country -- it seemed like the done thing, didn’t it? But also, he needed to get his birth certificate and shit from her so they could actually go through with the whole thing.
So a few days after Simon’s proposal, he went round to visit.
“Nathan,” his mother said when she opened the door, clearly surprised to see him. He usually visited on holidays and her birthday, but rarely otherwise. It seemed to cause less trouble if he wasn’t around too much. “Come inside.” She ushered him in, made him a cup of tea, and then asked him if he needed money.
Well, money wouldn’t hurt, he wanted to say, but he managed to restrain himself. “Uh, I’ve got something to tell you.”
She looked thunderstruck. “Oh, please don’t tell me you’ve got a girl pregnant,” she said, clearly terrified at the concept of her son being a father.
Nathan flushed. And here was the crux of the matter. The thing was, he’d never actually gotten around to telling Mum he had a boyfriend.
It wasn’t that he was ashamed, per say. He just didn’t really like to talk about his personal life with her much. It made things less complicated to avoid it altogether.
“No,” he said, “no, no, nothing like that.”
“Oh, thank Jesus,” she muttered. “What is it, then?”
He tried to think of the best way to break it to her -- had been trying to think about it the whole walk here from the bus stop -- and decided to just come out with it. He spread his arms wide and said, “I’m getting married!”
From the look on her face, he could see this was almost as bad a shock as if he had gotten a girl pregnant. “To who?” she asked in a tiny voice. Then she frowned. “Nathan, if this is one of your pranks …”
“It’s not, it’s not, I swear!” He took a big swallow of tea, and readied himself for Act II. “And I’m marrying my, well … my boyfriend, of course.” He grinned.
His mum just stared at him. “Your … boyfriend?”
“Since when have you had a boyfriend?”
He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Since … 2011?”
“Nathan,” she said, “are you honestly telling me that you’ve had a boyfriend for five years and you are planning to marry him and you’ve never said a single word about it to me?”
“Yes?” he said, a little uncertain, and then, “Yes. Yes, I am.”
His mother stood up, went over to the tiny cupboard over the refrigerator, and pulled from it a bottle of whiskey.
“Is that a celebratory drink?” Nathan asked hopefully.
She stared at him, stonefaced, poured some into her tea, then screwed the cap back on it and put it aside without offering him any.
“I guess not,” he said.
She took a long, fortifying sip. “What’s his name?”
He squirmed a bit in his seat. “It’s Simon. You know. Simon.”
“You’ve never even mentioned a Simon to me.”
“Sure I have. The guy I live with. That’s Simon.”
“I thought he was named Barry,” she said, wrinkling her forehead. “You just said he was your roommate.”
“Barry’s just, you know, my nickname for him.”
“Why would you keep that from me?”
He shrugged. He didn’t have a good answer.
His mother sighed, picked up the whiskey bottle, and, relenting, poured some into Nathan’s tea. “Am I invited?”
“To your wedding, Nathan.”
He squirmed in his seat, uncomfortable with the word wedding , and said, “It’s not really a wedding, we’re just going down to the register office … but yeah. Sure.”
She smiled, at last, and held up her cup and tapped it against his own. “Congratulations are in order then, I guess.”
He looked down at the cup of tea as she leaned over and gave him a kiss on the forehead. “Thanks, Mum.”
On a brisk November day, they all assembled at the register office in Islington: Simon and Nathan, Nathan’s mum and stepfather, Kelly, Alisha, Curtis, and Nikki. Simon’s family didn’t like Nathan and had been weird about the whole “gay” thing, so they hadn’t been invited.
Nathan squirmed in the suit his mother had insisted on getting for him. He hadn’t wanted to wear one, but you couldn’t exactly wear jeans and a hoodie to your own wedding, could you? Or civil ceremony. Whatever.
“Never thought I’d see the day,” Alisha said, smirking at him. Nathan adjusted the collar of his shirt. He felt like it was choking him.
“Surprised you aren’t getting one of those civil partnership things instead,” Curtis said. “Seems more your style.”
“They’re not as recognized in other countries as marriage is,” Simon explained. “We thought we’d be more likely to get our visas approved this way.”
That’s why he’d said when Nathan had suggested the civil partnership thing, too. Just the elimination of the m-word would have relieved a huge amount of the unease Nathan felt about the whole thing. But here they were now: sitting around a table in a wood panelled room with a dark-skinned woman with neat braids who was inspecting all their various forms.
“Everything looks to be in order,” she said. “Shall we get started? There’s some formal wording we need to say to make things official.”
She read some things aloud from a piece of paper, then showed Simon and Nathan what they needed to say. He didn’t want to say it -- fuck, it was just embarrassing! -- but he glanced over at Barry, who was smiling a little shyly at him, and at Kelly, who gave him an encouraging look, and went ahead with it. Then they and their two witnesses -- Kelly and Alisha -- had to sign the register. Simon signed first, then passed it over to Nathan.
He held the pen in his hand in a sort of death grip and stared at Simon’s signature. It was neat and precise and tidy. He wondered if he could really do this. The whole thing seemed ridiculous -- him, married! But he thought about Simon moving for away across the sea without him, leaving him alone. He thought about the expression on Simon’s face when he’d said I want to marry you because I love you, and I want to spend my life with you. That didn’t sound so bad, did it?
He signed his name in a quick flourish, and then Alisha and Kelly signed theirs, and his Mum was looking a little teary-eyed, and the lady was asking them if they had rings to exchange, and Simon was pulling a box out of his pocket, much to Nathan’s shock and dismay.
“You’ve got to have rings,” Simon said, a little apologetically, and opened the box. Inside there were two plain bands made out of dark metal.
“How’d you get my size? I don’t wear any rings,” Nathan wondered. He was staring at the rings with an almost feverish dread.
Simon flushed darkly. “I -- I tied a string around your ring finger when you were asleep and brought it in to the jewelry store and they did their best. If it doesn’t fit we can get it adjusted --”
He fumbled around with the ring and slid it on Nathan’s finger. It fit. Nathan pushed Simon’s ring onto his finger without even realizing it.
“And now --” the register lady started to say.
“And now, kiss!” Kelly shouted, and everyone cheered, so they did.
The funny thing was, if you’d asked Nathan at any point before this if getting married actually changed anything, he would have laughed his head off. Of course it didn’t! It was just a shitty piece of paper, it didn’t actually mean anything, except for boring shit like taxes and visas and whatnot.
Except, he’d been wrong. He did feel different.
All through drinks at the bar afterwards, he kept looking down at the ring on his finger and staring at it. I’m married , he kept thinking, with a rush of indecipherable emotion, some combination of anxiety and cautious excitement. I’m a married person now. He looked at Simon, who was talking to his mother and smiling broadly. Barry’s my fucking husband. How weird is that? In some filing cabinet at the register there was a piece of paper with their two signatures on it, Simon Bellamy in neat cursive next to Nathan Young in a mad dash scribble, all official and everything.
He didn’t regret it, exactly. It just that it felt like it must have happened to a different person. He’d been himself one minute, and then he had some kind of out of body experience in the register office, and then suddenly he was back, except he wasn’t himself anymore. He was part of some kind of weird hybrid being, NathanandSimon . Well, he had been for awhile, really, but only among a small group of people, people who actually knew him, but now he was for everybody, and it felt fucking weird.
When they were finally alone, walking back to the flat, Simon reached and grabbed his hand. It was the hand with the ring on it, and when Nathan looked down at their joined hands, with the ring on his finger glinting in the streetlight, he felt simultaneously like shitting himself and snogging the fuck out of Barry.
“You all right?” Simon asked. “You look exhausted.”
He was exhausted. But he said, “I’m fine.” No, fine didn’t sound the way you should feel on your wedding day, did it? “I’m great!”
Simon smiled. “Thank you.”
He blinked in confusion. “Thank you for what?”
“For going through with all of … this.” Simon waved his hand vaguely. “I know you don’t like sentimental stuff very much …”
He didn’t like it, that was the thing. But he’d put up with it, for Simon’s sake. And maybe that was what was freaking him out so much. He’d put up with getting a job, and doing dishes, and not taking up the entire space of the bed for himself, all for Simon’s sake, and he’d put up with it for years, and he hadn’t minded much, because they were small things, reasonable things, and they happened gradually, until suddenly he was half of somebody’s life with all of the rights and responsibilities of that position.
But this was a big thing, bigger maybe than he had imagined, and maybe fundamentally he was doing it so that he could follow Simon wherever he went, but really he was doing it because it was important to Simon and he didn’t want to hurt him. Because …
He pulled Simon in and gave him a kiss, a real one, not the quick peck on the lips they’d performed at the register office in front of everyone. When it was over, and he pulled back, and Simon was smiling slightly with his eyes still closed, he leaned in really close, and whispered:
“I love you, Barry.”