Despite having five sisters, John Paul hadn’t grown up with dreams of fairytales and white weddings. Jacqui was determined to make it on her own, fiercely independent and burdened with too much responsibility at too young an age. Mercedes fluttered like a butterfly from one man to the next, never landing anywhere too long for fear of having her wings clipped. Tina didn’t dream of anything as substantial or dramatic as that. The intellectual aspects of love were always much more appealing to her.
Carmel, the closest thing to a princess that John Paul had ever known, might have dreamed of castles and knights in shining armour, but she was much more grounded than anyone ever gave her credit for. She kissed frogs and she hoped they’d turn into princes, but she never really believed it. The falter in her smile was subtle, but John Paul never failed to spot it.
When Michaela got to the age where most girls were wrapping lacy tablecloths around themselves as mock wedding dresses and parading up and down the garden, she’d already seen far too much of what love really did to a person. Happy endings were something that happened to other people, if they happened at all. She was jaded when she should have been open, and John Paul worried that, if she didn’t let people hurt her, she’d never really understand what it was she was hiding from.
Myra gave the impression of someone who had always looked for love, albeit in all the wrong places. When John Paul was growing up, he looked at Myra’s romantic history, at all the men she’d supposedly settled down with, had children with, and she looked like a woman who believed every time that she’d met the right one, that this time it would last. He saw more clearly now. It had never been about the men for Myra. She never truly believed that any of her partners would stick by her, and so, instead of trying to become a wife, she concentrated on being a mother. She built a brood of children, creating a family she could love who would always love her back.
And so John Paul understood love, his house had always been filled with it, even through the shouting matches and family feuds, but romance had him stumped. And that was why, as he prepared to marry Kieron, he’d never been so terrified in his life.
He felt like he had about as bad a track record as all the other McQueens. Hannah he’d destroyed and Craig had just about destroyed him. Things might have worked out alright with Spike if John Paul’s head had been in the right place, but in the end it was just another thing that he messed up. He was on good speaking terms with all of them now, the past being in the past, but as for the future... Well, that was the bit he was worried about.
He thought about this as he sat on the end of the bed, staring down at the notebook in his hand. He shouldn’t have opened it, but it wasn’t like he was prying. He had a song in his head, a tune that would fill a gap in his set, and he wanted to make a note before it slipped away again. He climbed out of bed, careful not to wake Kieron, his eyes casting around for something to write it down on. There, on the desk, was Kieron’s notebook, a pen placed neatly beside it. Perfect.
John Paul couldn’t remember the name of the song now. He couldn’t remember anything except for just how wrong every relationship he’d ever witnessed had gone.
Kieron stirred and John Paul tensed, looking over at him. His hair was ruffled, his cheeks pink from the warmth of being wrapped up under the duvet, and John Paul hadn’t realised how cold he’d gotten, sitting there in his boxers. Kieron looked so peaceful and John Paul wanted to reach out, run his fingers through the hair that Kieron claimed was too long now. John Paul would admit that it looked a little scruffy, but it suited him. He’d dissuaded Kieron twice from getting it cut now. He wasn’t sure he’d be so lucky a third time.
The smile that tugged at John Paul’s lips was small but genuine and brimming over with fondness. He knew that this was love. There was no other word for it. That should be something he could trust in, but he’d never quite learned how.
He looked back down at the notebook in his hand. Venues, tailors, colour schemes, menu ideas. John Paul should have been thinking about these things too and he felt guilty that he hadn’t. There Kieron was, making lists of things he wanted for his wedding day, and John Paul hadn’t yet bothered to conjure a single image of what it might be like.
“Aren’t you cold?”
John Paul jumped at the sound of Kieron’s voice, turning back to face him. “No,” he replied distractedly. “Yeah.” He turned around more fully, waving the notebook in his hand. “Sorry. I wasn’t snooping. I was just looking for a piece of paper.”
“It’s alright,” Kieron responded, shifting in the bed. His eyes were still sleepy and John Paul wanted nothing more than to climb under the covers and join him. “See anything you like?” Kieron asked, nodding towards the notebook.
John Paul looked down at it in his hand. He knew he didn’t have an answer that wouldn’t make Kieron’s gut twist with insecurities. Part of John Paul thought it was unfair that this should come so easily to Kieron, but it was a petty thought, he knew it was. Still, it was the one that managed to escape his lips.
“Your parents are still together, aren’t they?”
“What?” Kieron asked, sounding lost.
“Your parents,” John Paul said again, turning to face Kieron’s confused expression. “They’re still married.”
“Yeah,” Kieron agreed hesitantly.
“Yeah,” John Paul echoed with a sigh, tossing the notebook onto his bedside table. “I don’t know anyone who got married and didn’t get divorced.”
“Ah,” Kieron said. It was that grown-up, knowing tone that made John Paul feel tiny and stupid. He knew that wasn’t Kieron’s intention so he tried his best not to get defensive. “Come here,” Kieron told him, pushing the covers down slightly, an irresistible invitation.
John Paul moved, climbing under the covers before fitting himself to Kieron’s side. He liked it here, just the two of them, the world nothing but a distant memory. Things were never scary in the moment, when he and Kieron were together and there was no room for doubts in his mind. It was when he looked at the big picture, that was when it all shattered and fell down around him. Happiness had a shelf-life; it came with conditions. No one had ever shown him a series of events where everything had turned out for the best, especially not where white dresses and vows were concerned.
When he explained this to Kieron, in his usual rushed and inelegant way, he couldn’t help feeling somewhat offended at the way Kieron laughed, completely unconcerned.
“Were you planning on wearing a white dress?” Kieron asked. “Or did you fancy seeing me in one?”
“You’re not taking this seriously,” John Paul complained. “Shouldn’t you be upset?”
“Upset?” Kieron asked. “That you’ve got cold feet? It’s natural. I’m not going to take it personally.”
“I haven’t got cold feet,” John Paul insisted.
Kieron shifted in the bed, rubbing his own feet against John Paul’s. “Feel pretty cold to me.”
“Kieron,” John Paul snapped. “It might be easy for you to believe in happily ever after, but some of us don’t have such fantastic role models.”
Kieron paused, moving back slightly from John Paul to look at him. “You think it’s easy because my parents are still happily married?” he asked, his tone suddenly more serious than John Paul wanted to hear it. “I have friends who haven’t made it. I’m taken confession from people who’ve cheated on and lied to the people they loved the most. I’ve married people, tied them together in the eyes of God, and then watched them fall apart again. And you can’t tell. You can never tell which ones are going to make it and which ones aren’t. There’s no secret, John Paul. No one can tell you how to have a happy ending.”
John Paul blushed, pressing his lips firmly together to stop himself from saying anything else idiotic. Maybe Kieron didn’t have a disaster of a family, a mess of a romantic history, but that didn’t mean he was naive. Sometimes John Paul just couldn’t help seeing Kieron as sheltered. He hadn’t spent the last few years falling in love with straight boys or trying to navigate the prickly gay scene. He’d spent them all cosy in a cassock, dreaming of love.
“I hate that term anyway,” Kieron muttered, and John Paul wasn’t sure whether he was talking to himself now. “Happily ever after,” Kieron said, a note of bitterness in his voice that surprised John Paul. “It implies that you don’t have to work at it. I think it might be people who believe in happily ever afters who have the harder job ahead of them. They don’t see the hard work coming. Me? I know what I’m up against. I’ve never had anything worthwhile that I didn’t have to fight for. I don’t let go of what I want easily, and I think, at the end of the day, that might be the thing that makes all the difference.”
John Paul looked at him, pride and love swelling up inside him until he felt like he was going to burst. “I can be stubborn,” he said. “If nothing else, I can be stubborn.”
“I noticed,” Kieron said dryly.
“It’s not because I’m spoilt,” John Paul said. “I’m not entitled. Everything was a battle in my house growing up. Everything went to the person who shouted the loudest and fought the hardest. So maybe... I dunno, maybe they did teach me how to do this.”
Kieron smiled at him. “Yeah, marriage is just one long argument over the straighteners.”
“Shut up,” John Paul told him, slapping him on the chest.
They lay in silence, warm and safe, John Paul’s thoughts moving more slowly and in a much more positive direction. He could feel Kieron’s hand on his hip, fingertips rubbing gently back and forth, and his body responded effortlessly, craving him like it craved oxygen. He rolled towards him, closing his eyes and arching his neck for a kiss. Kieron reciprocated, their lips pressing softly together, feathery kisses that lingered longer and longer. John Paul shifted until he was half-covering Kieron, the heat at their bodies pressing together, making him push shamelessly closer. When he pulled back, his teeth caught on Kieron’s bottom lip as if their bodies were conspiring to keep them together.
“I like blue,” John Paul stated.
“You like blue,” Kieron repeated, clearly thrown by the non sequitur.
“For accents,” John Paul explained. “Ties or... whatever. I like blue.”
“For the wedding,” Kieron nodded in understanding.
“Red’s romantic but it’s overdone and I think blue...”
Kieron rolled them, pinning John Paul to the bed. “It matches your eyes,” he said. He leaned down, joining their mouths for another drawn out kiss. “Endearing as your sudden enthusiasm for colour schemes is, do you think we might be able to talk about it later? Got something else on my mind right now.”
“Oh yeah?” John Paul teased, giving him a look.
“Yeah,” Kieron responded, coaxing John Paul easily into another kiss, their tongues sliding together in a way that made John Paul groan. “Unless you had better ideas.”
“It can wait,” John Paul agreed, letting his eyes slide closed.