He likes the idea of being a husband.
He’s always liked the idea in theory, from afar, like marriage was a piece of art to be placed on a wall and admired. He’d thought it was a brave thing to do, a nice thing to do, and that if he could get someone to loiter in front of it with him for long enough, if he could get them to pick it apart and explain it to him, maybe he’d give it a go.
There was no time for explanation, with Patrick.
There was no time for David’s elevator pitch on spending the rest of their lives together. He didn’t get a chance to prevaricate, didn’t take the time to spiral, because Patrick hadn’t loitered. Patrick hadn’t left. He’d run headfirst into falling in love instead, with unmatched bravery, enjoyment without restraint. He’d gone all in, all at once, and up a mountain and down on one knee, asked him to marry him like it was the simplest thing in the world, like it was the easiest decision of his life. It was as if he’d had a firm grasp on the whole thing, even when he was shaking with laughter against his neck, trembling as he’d arranged the rings on David’s hand, shivering when the sun had gone behind a cloud and he’d directed them back down the mountain, limping a little, kissing a lot. It was always like he knew exactly what he was doing. David’s still a bit lost.
‘Are you a bit lost?’
David pulls his head out of the fifth cabinet he’s searched in, as Clint moves into the kitchen. Words fumble and die on his tongue about the maze of corridors that make up the mid-century house, or the baby photos he saw on the journey down this morning, or his fruitless search for mugs, because everything sounds churlish, disingenuous, overeager.
‘Coffee,’ is all he manages to choke out, and he wishes he was wearing a sweater so he bury himself in the sleeves of it, but the house is as warm as its occupants, and he’s really glad he at least put on a shirt. He shakes his head clear. ‘I’ve been sent for coffee.’
‘Mm, by him upstairs?’ Clint offers, rolls his eyes, moving to a cabinet on the other side of the room. He can see where Patrick gets it from, the quick humour, the gentle teasing, always soft at the edges, and brimming with affection. He wishes he had more time than the weekend.
He wishes for more time as he’s shuffled into a chair by Marcy, who arrives in pink slippers, who calls him sweetheart . He thinks if he could just watch Patrick’s parents move around each other in Patrick’s childhood kitchen, at his childhood table, he’d understand marriage, and the hard-earned familiarity of the dance they do on the cork floor, all sleepy smiles and the newspapers and a mug for Patrick, too. They make coffee in the morning, and they do the dishes, pay their taxes, seem to really like each other, still, so maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s being married.
He wishes he’d understood his own parents’ marriage more, or sooner. There’s no dishes or cork board floors or pink slippers, with them, and it still seems to work. In spite of themselves, it seems to have always worked.
He just wishes it felt less nebulous, that he could lean into reality with Patrick, who makes his barefoot, bed haired, decaffeinated appearance in the kitchen, makes a beeline for the mug with his name painted on it in splashes of fading childish colours.
‘We should scoot,’ Patrick says, between gulps of coffee, leaning against his chair. He feels Patrick’s fingers slip beneath the neckline of his shirt to tuck an erstwhile tag away, feels them still and start there, grazing absent-mindedly as they inhale their coffee. The whole thing feels painfully domestic, like Patrick already knows how to be married, like he’s being doing it this whole time. He wishes he had his confidence.
He doesn’t realise how nervous Patrick is until they’re picking their way through the crowded cafe.
He knew he was nervous, armoured himself with a new sweater and four rings and his most sociable smile for the gathering of strangers - cousins, college roommates, friends collected before his time. He thought he had a monopoly on desperation to impress, but Patrick’s whole body seems tense, jaw set and hands shoved deep into his pockets until they reach the gaggle of people. There’s a loud bubble of delighted welcomes from their corner, and David wants to run away a little, wants to keep Patrick closer, wants to have known him for as long as they have - a mess of envy and shyness until Patrick gives his arm a squeeze, offers introductions in a fumble.
‘This is my husband,’ he announces proudly, then swiftly turns a deep shade of red, as several sets of eyebrows crawl up foreheads. David can see him shuffle his feet, like he’s willing the linoleum to crack open so the earth can swallow him up, can see him struggling to recover.
‘To be, ’ David offers then, at large. ‘Or not to be.’
‘Definitely to be,’ Patrick shakes his head, and David thinks it’s the best introduction he’s ever had, doesn’t need much more to launch himself into the table of nice strangers.
There’s a script in the back of his mind that he used to recite by heart at this type of thing. There was a discipline to his warmth, a regiment of charms he could fall back on - loop twice around the room and people won’t even notice when he leaves. But Patrick would notice. He thinks people might notice. There’s an ease to their strangeness, a curiosity about him that doesn’t seem intrusive, and it’s only when the food arrives that there’s a brief lull in conversation and he can lean over.
‘Shut up, please,’ Patrick says, between a mouthful of toast, and knocks their knees together under the table.
‘You got a bit ahead of yourself.’
‘Oh no, I like husband.’
David likes babe. He’s not opposed to it at all, especially when it’s said the way Patrick says it, without condescension or control, exasperation or exhaustion - but at the end of texts and the start of the day, and into pillows and against his thigh. He had liked it the first time he’d said it, early on and suffixed with blushes.
He’s thrilled about husband. He’s thrilled about the way it fell from Patrick’s mouth, and the way it sounds around his own, even prematurely, even in jest. There’s something solid about it, something steady, like he could bounce between the syllables and not lose balance. He likes the way it fills him up, and that his tongue stops the sound instead of getting tangled around it. He loves that he’s going to be one, soon. He’s going to have one.
Patrick leans closer, tries to quell his grin against the fabric of David’s sweater for a moment, his lips warm on his shoulder. He’s valiantly attempting to feign annoyance, but his eyes are bright when he peers up at him, and laughter bubbles at the corners of his mouth.
‘Husband isn’t a pet name.’
‘It is now.’
David likes these games they play, on and off, day to day. He likes that he knows the rules, this time, likes that they play together. There are boundaries, and they shuffle within them, skirting the edges if it helps them navigate what he would otherwise take far too seriously. They take turns besting each other in rounds, and still like each other at the end of it. He supposed that’s marriage, too.
This round is his. Any lingering apprehension he has at the way the day might go slips away as the rest of the table catches on, and it becomes a group effort to cajole Patrick into saying it again. They’re all just as quick, just as warm, as him and he watches Patrick as the hours unfold, an unspeakably fond expression set firm on his face, steadfast in his resolve to win. He stays tight-lipped and amused, lets David bookend every sentence with it - between mimosas and through the streets, at half-time of a ball game and in the crowded pub afterwards.
He lets David mumble it against his mouth in the car that night outside his parents’ place with their seatbelts off and their hands all over each other. Patrick lets him say it over, and over, and over (husband, husband, husband) , until David has to pull away to take a breath, feeling light-headed, half-married.
He admits defeat in not so many words, a few hours later, as the mattress in the guest bedroom dips below Patrick’s weight and he’s a bit quieter than David would have liked. He’s worried he’s toed the line too closely, wants to tell him he’s sorry, he’ll stop, he can wait (can’t wait, doesn’t want to wait) to marry him.
‘You okay, honey?’
The triumph is evident from the smile that plays in Patrick’s expression, so he might just be tired. He might have been messing with him, but his hands are restless against the bedcovers, and David watches the words he’s trying to get out spin around in his head until he can put them in the right order.
‘You know earlier,’ he says softly. David knows he’s looking at him, but old anxiety screws his ribcage tight and he fixes his gaze on Patrick’s hands instead, watches him push his thumb roughly along the lines of his palm. ‘Making out in the car. I felt like a teenager.’
‘I wish I could have had that, back then.’
It knocks the air from his chest. He’s not sure what he was expecting, to be admonished, maybe, to be teased, but the admission is gentle, said around a shrug, and David doesn’t know what to say. He wishes he knew what to say. He wishes he had Patrick’s composure, looking at him like he always does - soft, close, and kind, and trying to be honest, always trying to be honest. He wishes Patrick could have kissed the boys he wanted to kiss, twenty years ago in the front seat of his car, parked outside his parents’ place.
The things he wants, the things he wants for Patrick, fill up his lungs like water so the breath he tries to suck in has nowhere to go, the long inhale just reaching the back of his throat, lodged against words he can’t seem to get out. He wants to kiss him. He wants to marry him. He wants to cry.
He shuffles closer, instead, buries his head in the space above Patrick’s collarbone. Their bodies are almost flush, save for a tangle of sheets and a mess of pyjamas, and Patrick fights through them to reach the line of David’s hip, give it a gentle squeeze.
‘Husband ’, he feels Patrick say, feels him brush his thumb against the cool skin at his waist, beneath his shirt. It sounds different, now, less fumbled, more reverent, and David presses his lips against the crook of Patrick’s neck to muffle the wet sob that fight its way from his throat.
‘I like the way you say it.’
‘I like the way you say it,’ Patrick echoes, and David cranes his neck to chance a look at him. He’s not looking back, eyes closed, head turned towards the ceiling, but a smile blossoms full and bright across his face, laugh lines bracketing his mouth. He seems settled and unfettered all at once, in the guest bedroom of his childhood home, like he’s tugged the roots from its walls and let them grow elsewhere - into the cracks between the floorboards of Rose Apothecary, and behind the white-washed walls, between piles of boxes, around the sign above the door, flowers pressed between flowers. His name. Their name, maybe. He’s grown his roots around David, and David has grown his roots around him, and that’s marriage too. ‘I just don’t want you to get sick of it before - ’
‘I’m not going to get sick of it.’
‘Before I am your husband,’ he continues. ‘And you end up calling me something else.’
‘What else would I call you?’ David asks, and Patrick opens his eyes, shuffles down on his pillow and twists so he can shift both arms around David, collect the fabric near his shoulder blades underneath his fingers.
‘I don’t know. Pat?’
‘Or like, “hey, you”, you know?’
He can feel his ribcage expand so his lungs can fill with laughter, and it spills out breathlessly against Patrick's mouth as he surges forward. His shirt is collected beneath David’s hands, his thigh is pressed between David’s thighs, and he tries to catch his lips but they’re too happy to kiss tidily, and it soon dissolves into a tender sort of chaos, all tongues and teeth and teasing.
He can’t find his husband.
‘Maybe he made a run for it after those toasts,’ Stevie offers around a champagne flute, straining her jests above the music, and the thrum of conversation around them.
David is beginning to regret inviting so many people, craning his neck across the room to catch a sight of Patrick. It’s crawling towards midnight, and the room is still swelling with their guest list, fuelled by an open bar and a line-up of power ballads. He needs them to leave. He needs to leave.
Stevie’s face falls when he doesn’t wave her joke away with a dismissive hand, shuffling past her instead and gesturing to the fire door. He wants to tell her he’s had a good day. He wants to dive headfirst into cliche and tell her it’s been the happiest day of his life, because it has been, because it is. He’d always rationed happiness, carved up what he was given and felt it piece by piece like there was some sort of quota on how much joy one person was allowed. But he’d woken up this morning, in his single bed, in his motel room, and felt everything all at once, felt it for the last eighteen hours, feels it now that his family is close by, and he knows every person here, and Patrick, somewhere, wherever he his, married him.
He’s an uneasy recipient for this sort of unchecked love, he thinks, takes and takes and takes it until he feels like he can’t take anymore, exhausted and full to the brim and drowning in it and he can’t, can’t catch his breath. He wants some air. He wants sleep. He wants Patrick.
He finds him at the other end of the long corridor outside the room. He’s a sight for sore eyes, shirt sleeves rolled up his forearms and legs splayed out along the plush carpet, and he wants him, but he doesn’t want to interrupt his peace.
He hovers nearby instead, watches Patrick twist the ring on his left hand, a newly married take on an old telltale habit. There’s an energy about him that teeters on restlessness, a nervousness David’s only been privy to a handful of times, because it’s dampened by a steady charm and irresistible self-assurance. He doesn’t fake it, doesn’t bluster his way into semblances of poise like David does. He just believes in himself, and pours that belief into David, and handles everything until he can’t handle everything, and has to take a moment, take a hike, take a few deep breaths.
It’s David’s own shaky exhale that gives him away, earns him a guilty smile, and a pat to the carpet next to Patrick. He can tell Patrick wants to explain, wants to apologise for disappearing from his own reception, but David shakes his head , sliding down the wall next to him and stretching his long legs out so the tip of his well-polished shoe can tap against the sole of Patrick’s.
He meets his gaze for a moment - soft, tender, tired - before he reaches forward and starts to unravel the tie still knotted perfectly around Patrick’s neck. When it hangs loose beneath his collar, David leans over.
David can feel the soft laughter build in Patrick’s chest, warm and shaking, as he presses a kiss between each button he teases undone, until he can reach the space near his collarbone. He can feel a smile blossom across Patrick’s face, find its shape against David’s hair, as he drops his head against him.