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I Know That I Miss You, but I Don't Know Where I Stand

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Paul was dreaming about a postman who wouldn’t deliver his letters. They were stacked twenty deep in the postbox, but the postman simply looked at them and walked away. Paul chased after him, threw up his arms. The postman shook his head. Sorry sir, afraid I can’t take ‘em. You need more postage. That was absurd, though, because they were covered in dozens of stamps, Queen Elizabeth’s crowned head plastered higgledy-piggledy all over them. Letters bound for America.

He opened his eyes and startled, his heart thumping hard. The light flooding the hotel room was yellow, summery. Morning light. It had woken him. He rolled his head to one side and peered at an alarm clock. Half seven. Usually he woke at six these days, up with the sun even when he was touring with Linda and the band. 

He started to stretch, then froze. He wasn’t on tour yet and this wasn’t just any hotel room. In his peripheral vision was a lump beneath the duvet, a sleeping body with its back turned to him. He knew without looking that it was John, really John and not the finely settled dust of some dream that could be shaken off by opening his eyes.

His stomach did a nauseating flip and for a moment he thought that he would throw up. Part of it was too much booze and part of it was the certainty that he was cornered. No backing out of this one. More than anything, he was amazed at himself, at his sheer blind reckless stupidity. Linda, what would he say to Linda? How could he look at her after all that? How could he look at John? His first impulse was to deny it to himself: he’d been stoned and drunk, and desperate to have one off just to get some peace from his own unsleeping hormones. What had happened, it was no different than having a wank together as randy schoolboys. Except in the pit of his gut, he knew it was.

John had kissed, but Paul had been the one who kissed back. He could have wiped it away with a “What the fuck, man?”, could have spat it out like it was something poisonous, but he hadn’t. The thrusting and the groping could be explained away (straight men had done stranger things in pursuit of orgasm), but not the kissing. He’d felt something when they’d done it which defied all practical explanation. It made him feel sick, to be honest.

Even as he told himself it was too early to be thinking about this, he was already thinking about it, mind turn, turn, turning in a feverish way. As far back as he could remember, or at least since he’d been in grammar school, his wolfish appetite for girls had been one of the things he was most proud of. Maybe that was silly of him, but he loved the hunt. Loved to watch them melt at his handsomeness, loved to make it with them. When he met John, they’d fed off each other’s raw maleness, bragging, one-upping each other, totting up girls ‘til the numbers had reached the dozens and they’d lost count. It simply wasn’t possible that either of them was—

And Paul could not imagine doing that with him. To him. It was revolting to think of. To each his own, but it wasn’t for Paul. Wasn’t that what made a queer in the first place, the desire to put it in another man’s arse? He didn’t want anything having to do with that—or John’s sexual appetite, either. It was relentless. When he remembered the way John had been with Yoko, the obsession, the need, the way he was consumed by her ... The idea that he himself might become the object of such infatuation, the balm to John’s unrelenting libido, made him feel panicked.

The queer scene wasn’t for him. He knew it wasn’t for him. He and Linda had gone with a few mates to a club once, just for the novelty of the thing, and it put him off: the flirting, the games, the flagrant queerness of it all, the men all girlish in a confusing masculine way. That was unfair, he knew. Not everyone was or ought to be like Brian, who took pains to hide his nature. Those chaps had every right to be happy with one another as anybody else. To see it exposed felt invasive to him, though. Even the queers in Hamburg had communicated in chaste ritual exclusively. A whisper, a nod of the head, a discreet handing off of coins. At the time, John had been fascinated by it and was intent to point it out to Paul. God knows what services they were purchasing he thought, but at least they’d kept it to themselves. He couldn’t help but wonder now if they’d bought the sort of stuff he and John had gotten up to the evening before.

Bloody hell. He had to get away from this hotel room as soon as possible. He could sort out his thoughts on the eight-hour plane trip over the Atlantic. Gingerly, scarcely daring to breathe, he slid out from beneath the blankets and onto his feet. John didn’t stir, so he stopped in front of the window a moment to regard the skyline of the city.

John’s city. The air had that early-morning haze cities get, buildings in the distance looking more mirage than substance. The skyscrapers were crowded in on one another, and in the distance he could just make out the foresty crown of Central Park. He know that John and Yoko took walks there on the regular, had wished before visiting that he could do the same with John, but pictured the pandemonium it would cause—two Beatles!—and knew it wasn’t worth the risk. The streets were noisy at this hour in a way he’d never become accustomed to even after twenty years of touring. Taxi horns echoed off the buildings, motorists gunned it, people shouted at one another and it was impossible to tell whether they were glad or furious. It made him miss the stillness of Scotland. But with each visit, the more he saw the appeal for John. He probably never got bored or restless here, as he’d done in England.

Paul turned away from the window, wondering what on earth had made him think a half hour of—of whatever that had been—was worth his family, his reputation, maybe even his livelihood. He made his way around the bed, skin hot and uncomfortable, smelling his own boozy sweat. The trail of hair leading down his stomach was crusted with dried come.

This time he made sure the shower was proper hot and didn’t bother getting between his toes. He didn’t care. He didn’t know what to say to John. You did things when you were half-drunk, when the marijuana had swept you away on its languorous current, when the night had closed around you and you felt comfortable and bold, that you knew in the morning you’d regret. He was tired and he wanted to go home. If he could wink himself back to his next destination without saying goodbye, he would do it. It was pointless thinking it and yet he thought it nonetheless. He stayed in the shower until his fingertips had shrivelled, but he couldn’t shut his mind down, stop it over-analysing.

When he stepped out, he rubbed a spot in the fogged-over mirror and looked at the face looking back at him. It was the same face as the morning before, but he found it hard to meet his own eyes, could only look a moment or two before he had to turn away. Things hadn’t been easy since the band had split, but at least they’d followed a sort of comfortable logic. Wives, babies, more musical successes, and so forth. At least he and John had been talking lately, could be together in the same room together and get on somewhat. What they’d done last night had no place in the history they’d made together. He didn’t know where to put it in the timeline, how to make sense of it. 

 As the steam lifted and he lifted a toothbrush to his teeth, he caught sight of three tiny oval bruises on his upper arm, puzzling in their symmetry. It took him a moment to realise where they’d come from.

Left by John.

He’d given girls such bruises before, having gotten carried away in the heat of the moment. Somehow the bruises made him feel weirder than anything else. More than his hangover-fuzzed memory, they confirmed what had happened. It had been real. It was what lovers did. He’d done that with his former best friend.

He shut his eyes as a flush of nausea spread across his midsection again. John would tell the whole world, he was confident of it. Or John would tell Yoko and Yoko would tell the whole world. If you could put out a record sleeve showing the entire world your famous Beatle cock and your wife’s tits and bush, you could tell them how you tossed off Paul McCartney. If you could sing about not believing in God, surely you’d have no problem telling the reporters how you’d snogged your best mate and shot off on his stomach. The fear made him want to cry and laugh and punch John all at once. Would he still have a band by the time that this was over? Would he still have a family? He should have thought more about Linda and the girls while he was busy messing about with someone as mad and unpredictable as John. His heart ached for them and behind his eyelids came an onrush of tears. 

Then, remembering where he was and not wanting to hide as he had the night before, he wiped his eyes and finished brushing his teeth, gulped some cold water from his cupped hands, and walked out of the loo before he could find another reason to hesitate. 

To his surprise, John was still deeply asleep. He was turned on his stomach with the pillow pulled over his head to shut out the light. His bare back and shoulders were exposed, and again Paul’s eyes were drawn by the scattering of freckles across them. In an instant, the sight made him forget his turmoil and his heartbeat slowed. It was just John, was all. The same John he knew about as well as he knew himself, perhaps better. He glanced at the alarm clock. Quarter past eight now. Time to get dressed, to think about breakfast and when he needed to be at the JFK. His pyjama trousers had wound up halfway across the room. He fetched them and dragged them on, giving his head one final rub with the towel before discarding it. 

He looked back at John lying there, his ribs lifting and falling in a steady rhythm, and started casting about for the television switcher. He located it after some moments at the foot of the bed, half under the duvet which one of them had kicked off during the night. Paul had been aware at one point of the hangover kicking in and being too hot, and removing his arm from around John’s waist and rolling to the other side of the bed. He let the memory sink in. He’d spooned John, for Christ’s sake. Suddenly, he needed a ciggie very badly. 

He lit one whilst making his way to his side of the bed, still not sure when, or how, to wake up John. He sat down and positioned the pillows behind his back. John sighed a bit, but didn’t move, so Paul switched on the telly, holding down the volume button until it muted. He tried to concentrate on the morning news, but it was difficult even with a second cigarette. His mind still wanted to lure him back into a snare of "What ifs?" and besides that the sight of the expanse of skin between John’s shoulder blades was distracting. Mostly it was John’s painful thinness. His arms were skinny despite their muscle tone, the blades of his shoulders far too sharp. If he bent over, Paul was certain he would have been able to see each knob in John’s spine. The other bit was that in spite of the tumult going on in his brain, Paul found himself wanting to lay kisses between John’s shoulders. In his head, Nat King Cole said softly, Why, it’s almost like being in love!

That made him both smile and wrinkle his nose. Nat King Cole made him think of his dad, the idea of being in love with John made him never want to come to New York City again.

Tired of thinking about it, he crushed out his cigarette and turned to John. “Oy,” he said. When that failed to get any response, he reached for John’s shoulder and shook him. “Oy, slugabed. Up!”

John mumbled something, and Paul shook him again. When John still didn’t move, he lifted the pillow off of John’s head and threw it to the floor. “Up,” he said.

Finally John flipped onto his back, blinking awake and rolling tired eyes toward Paul. He coughed. “Time is it?” he said, his voice scratchy with sleep.

Paul could feel that his body had already gone tense. “Quarter to nine,” he said, avoiding John’s eyes. When he looked back again a couple moments later, he found John squinting at him, studying him with a frown on his face.

“Oh fucking hell, stop thinking about it!” John exploded.

There was no point in denying it, so he simply said, “Can’t.”

“Just lay off it for now, yeah?” he said. Then, “I don’t suppose they’ve sent up tea yet, have they?”

Paul shook his head. “I haven’t rung for any.”

“Got a ciggie?”

Paul sighed, but he handed John his cigarettes and a match. He got up and dialed room service, watching as John propped himself up with his pillows and one of Paul’s, groped for his specs and put them on, and turned up the telly.

“Tea’s on its way,” Paul said, after he’d laid the receiver back in its cradle.

“Sit down,” John said. His voice was gentle.

Paul smoothed the rumpled sheets on his side before sitting back on the bed, aware in a half-uncomfortable and, if he was being honest, half-excited sort of way, that John was nude beneath them. He leaned over and pulled his stolen pillow out from beneath John’s back, but John didn’t protest, just gave him a querying look. Paul folded his arms and sighed.

“God, you are in a state. What is it you’re so damn afraid of?” John said. There was a look of surprise on his face.

“I dunno,” he replied. He paused, looked away. “I mean, supposing someone finds out about what we did?”

John sounded exasperated. “No one’s gonna find out.” He took a drag off the cigarette. “Is that what’s bothering you? That I’m gonna kiss and tell?” he said. “Tell me when I’ve ever done that. Name a girl.”

Paul of course couldn’t. That had been one of their unspoken rules, in the band. There were wives and girlfriends to protect, personal reputations to keep clean, and most of all their wholesome image to maintain. Silence was a small price to pay for so much skirt.

“Yeah, but you’ll tell Yoko you know,” he finally managed.

“And?” John said.

“And suppose I’m not keen on you telling, alright?”

“It ain’t up for debate,” John said, and now there was a sharpness to his words.

“I’m not telling Linda, now am I?”

“I don’t care what you tell Linda,” said John, eyes flashing. Paul didn’t say anything, so John went on. “Anyway, Yoko’s heard far worse, mate. This is the least of it.” He laughed in a mirthless way.

Paul was unimpressed. “I still don’t …”

They were interrupted by a knocking at the door. John was closer, but in his undressed state hardly fit for purpose, so Paul rose to answer it. He exchanged hurried pleasantries with the room-service lady and handed over a couple American notes, glad when he could close the door on her and wheel in the tea trolley. They’d laid out fresh fruit and toast at his request, but he found he wasn’t hungry for it. In silence he poured the tea, passed a cup to John and sat in a nearby chair with his own cuppa, a safer distance away.

“So is that it then?” said John, after a moment or two of silence. “You just gonna bugger off now?”

Paul shrugged. “Told Linda I’d fly out at three.”

John fell silent, sipped his tea. “Wish you would stay,” he said, after a moment.

“Why?” Paul said. Something inside his chest tightened.

“Come have brekkie with me before you go,” John said, not answering the question, lighting another ciggie.

“I don’t—look. I don’t know if that’s such a great idea,” Paul said, realising as soon as the words left his lips how foolish he sounded. 

The expression on John’s face suggested that he’d just stepped in a pile of dogshit and that its name was Paul McCartney. “You don’t know if that’s a great idea?” he said incredulously. “When did you become such a ponce? This isn’t ‘til death do us part, you know, it’s jam and toast. Stop acting like such a woman.”

“It’s just weird, alright?” He took a too-fast swallow of tea and burnt his mouth. “I just ... I dunno what to think.”

“You don’t have to think. It’s only breakfast.”

“That isn’t what I mean and you know it.”

“It was just messing around, there’s nothing to think about,” John said. To Paul’s relief, John didn’t look nearly as confident as he said this. Paul waited, keeping his expression even, and sure enough John spoke up again after a few moments. This time his voice was softer. “I don’t know what that was last night, okay? We did it and we can’t take it back, so will you please just give me two hours before you go.”

Paul regarded John a long moment, took in his mussed, faded hair, his sunken cheeks and the pinched look of his nose, and was no nearer to working out how he felt. There was irritation and impatience and pity but, yes, the same curiosity he’d been biting back for ten years was still there. “Alright then,” he said at last. “As long as you have a proper meal and not just rice and tea.”

“Who am I talking to, fucking Mimi?” John said, but he laughed. “I’ll have a fucking fry-up if it makes you happy.”

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and tossed aside the sheets. Paul blanched at the sight of his sudden nudity, averting his eyes, but for once John didn’t notice. He was muttering to himself as he collected his cast-off articles of clothing. “Going to have a wash-up before we go,” he said, looking over his shoulder at Paul. 

“Sure,” Paul said, his heart quickening. John was so thin. But he also found himself intrigued by John’s bare arse, looking much sparer than it had in the Beatles days but at the same time provoking a strange response somewhere south of his belly. “I’m ringing Linda,” he said, standing up in what he hoped was a casual way and stretching. 

To his relief, John disappeared into the toilet and he was free to sit on the bed and cope with his thoughts in private. 

 

 

New York made him uneasy. Probably it was shell-shock from the touring days with the Beatles. He’d been so used to being on his guard for fans, so accustomed to running and ducking and quick-stepping away, that even ten years on it felt strange not to be doing it. When he traveled with Wings and stepped out into public, it was always with at least a skeleton entourage. When he'd visited New York with Linda before the end of the sixties, his beard had kept him well-disguised. BUt no one looked at him for more than a second or two, which was simply unbelievable, to make no mention of the fact that he was trailing John Lennon, who was not really what you would call inconspicuous with his striding long gate and that aquiline nose of his.

He could feel lyrics bubbling up in him at the sights and sounds of it, the brown and grey buildings too tall, everything vivid in a way that made his head ache. Yellow taxis, a woman in neon green bellbottoms, black Americans with round smooth Afros, a child poking her fingers into a gumball machine outside a grocer’s, big signs that said Burger King and Coca-Cola and Exxon, businessmen in powder-blue suits with sharp-cornered briefcases, no trees whatsoever. The sound of horns was incessant at street-level, busses, taxis, and impatient cars. The smells were of frankfurters and pretzels, soot and exhaust, sweat and cigarette smoke. He wished he was back in the white stillness of the Dakota. He was amazed that people could lead quiet lives with all this surrounding them.

The countryside was his idea of freedom. He got his fill of people with the band and the audiences, got his fill of the city with Cavendish. He was happy to retreat for a few days or weeks to the solitude of High Park Farm and lately Peasmarsh. Watching the easy and untroubled way John moved through the streets, he supposed that city anonymity could be freedom, as well. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d walked around somewhere as just a bloke. It’d been in Liverpool sometime in ‘63, he supposed, before they made it big and the swarms of girls started chasing at their heels everywhere they went.

“Stop acting like you’ve bludgeoned someone, no one knows it’s you,” John said, turning around. “And I wish you’d take off that daft moustache, you look like you’re in a queer porno.”

Paul snorted. “Like that, would you?” But when John wasn’t looking, he peeled off the moustache and discarded it in a nearby bin.

“Nah, I could do without the moustache.”

Still keeping his hat pulled low, Paul rounded a corner after John and they were standing in front of an Italian café with a red-white-and-green awning.

“Italian?” said Paul. “This early?”

“They’ve got good coffee,” John said, stepping inside. “And a garden.”

Paul followed him inside, hands stuffed in his windbreaker, still feeling a bit odd and out of sorts. “Cheers,” he said to the man at the front counter, whom John greeted with a “Vinny!” and an outstretched hand. Paul looked about, taking the place in. It was small and dim, two bare brick walls and some little tables for two, and a cheerily lit pastry case, well-stocked.

“Come on, then,” said John, jerking his chin toward the back door.

They took a table at the rear of the garden, away from the sole other occupied one, and John lit a cigarette. Vinny pushed his way out the door holding a water glass in each hand and a cappuccino in one ring finger. There was an ink pen between his lips.

“What’ll it be today, my friend?”

“We’ll need a menu,” said John, “for Paul.” He gestured.

“Of course,” said Vinny. He set down the drinks and pulled two menus out of his apron. “Back in a minute.” If he recognised Paul, he was polite enough not to say so.

“What are you having?” said Paul. All at once it felt awkward to him, like a first date with someone you weren’t quite sure liked you.

“Prosciutto and mozzarella,” said John, then looked up with an expression of anxiety. “Oh,” he said. “Shit, I’ve forgotten about the, uh.”

He meant Paul’s vegetarianism. “Oh, no. That’s um,” Paul said. He glanced at the menu and saw salads and soups. “It’s okay. I can find something.”

“He can make something special if you need it,” John said. He looked worried.

“No, no, no. That’s alright. I’ll just have a soup and salad, it’s fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. Bit early for dinner, though. Thought you said you’d have a fry-up?” He gave John a smile.

“Don’t tell me bloody pork doesn’t count,” John said, rolling his eyes.

Paul would have preferred toast and jam to be honest, but in the end he ordered a bowl of minestrone, a house salad, and a coffee with milk, and that seemed to satisfy John. He looked more relaxed, at any rate.

John coughed. He looked as though he were casting about for something to say. It hadn’t stopped feeling awkward and forced since they’d risen that morning, Paul realised. “Vinny just opened up,” said John. “Yoko and I come every Wednesday. We brought Sean here last week and he had his first cannoli. Thought he’d be sick, but he ate the whole fucking thing.”

It had surprised Paul as they were readying to leave that John wasn’t more eager to get home to Sean. He seemed preoccupied in a particular sort of way Paul recognised from his own early days of fatherhood. The baby was never far from your mind. You wondered if she was hungry or needed a nappy change, when was the last time she’d had a poo and all that. Mostly, though, you missed her in a primal way that you felt in your bones. You needed to see with your own eyes that she was safe. But John, after he’d hung up the phone with Yoko, said that Sean would be fine for a few hours with his nanny Helen. Yoko was off tying up who-knows-what business deal.

Paul had wondered if she’d caught bits of what had gone on the night before in John’s voice. Thinking about the possibility made him feel resentful as he’d buttoned up his shirt. He had to remind himself again that it wasn’t Yoko who’d brought this about, but John. Once there had been a clear line between what you divulged to wives and girlfriends and what you talked about with the boys, but John had insisted on erasing it the moment he met Yoko. Certainly Linda was more of his mate than Jane or any of his other girls had been, but there were still things he didn’t feel comfortable telling her. The way it was with him and John, for instance, and the nameless feelings he’d kept smothered for ten whole years.

He’d felt guilty from the pit of his stomach when he’d rung her. They chatted about the usual things, the girls, the tour . . . and then before he’d consciously decided it, he told her he’d be delayed a day in meeting her in Texas. The disappointment in her voice absolutely killed him. Whether it was true or not, he’d thought, She thinks there’s a girl. The idea of her thinking he’d fooled around on her was almost too much to bear. He hadn’t mentioned it to John, but until a few days ago he’d never spent a night apart from Linda. No jaunt in the park, being faithful, but he took pride in it after all the affairs when he’d been with Jane. In fact, he’d told himself on this trip that he’d stay true to her no matter what. He couldn’t have ever expected the thing with John, though.

He could hear the strain in Linda’s voice as she carried on as if she wasn’t hurt, asking him what he’d been up to since their conversation the day before, and it might have gone much more poorly except John had exited the loo at that moment wearing a towel about his waist and bellowed, “Hello there, Mrs. McCartney!” That got a laugh out of Linda and the tension in her voice relaxed, and then everything was well again except of course he had been untrue and it was gnawing at him in a horrid way.

He was aware now that he’d been silent for too long, but his mood was like a stray dog, chased off but determined to keep reappearing. He watched the smoke from John’s cigarette waft into the spring air and was saved from further conversation by the appearance of Vinny with his coffee.

“Cheers,” he said, taking a sip as Vinny nodded and walked away again. He never did like coffee much. They never had coffee at home; he’d almost succeeded in turning Linda completely to tea.

“So you’ll be off on tour again soon?” John said.

“That’s right. First time doing America since the old days.”

“Are you nervous?”

“What, me? Nah. Couldn’t be.” He paused and thought. “Maybe in the early days I was, you know. Not knowing if we were going to make it and all that. But you know how it is, you practise enough and it’s just like breathing air.”

The fact of it was that he thrived on it in a way he didn’t care to bring up with John, stuck at home with a baby and no records on the horizon. That was the catch-22 of Paul, he reckoned. He loved being able to withdraw from people into the countryside, into his own little world with Linda and the girls, but he also loved being up there on stage, pouring his music out into world and giving them a show. He lived for it. Performer Paul was hard to turn off sometimes. He’d been the Beatles’s ambassador and PR man, and even these days was ever aware of what he said and who might be listening.

This time it was John who went quiet and Paul wondered if he’d touched a sensitive spot. John had done alright since the band broke up, but he hadn’t done Wings alright.

He cleared his throat. “Bit of a drag, isn’t it? Not being able to get a proper fry-up in New York.”

“What’s it bloody to you, eating alfalfa and turnips?” John said.

Paul felt his cheeks warm. Fucking John. He opened his mouth to fling back a hot reply, but stopped when John shoved his elbows onto the table and thrust his head into his hands. “Christ, I don’t know what I’m doing here. I haven’t a fucking clue. Yoko and I tried to—” He looked up, moving his hands to the side of his face and dragging his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know, Paul, this isn’t how I wanted it to go. I just thought it’d be easier, you know?”

Paul didn’t know, so he said stiffly, “What d’ya mean?”

“You know,” said John, sneaking a glance at the other table as if to confirm that nobody was listening. “The thing with me and you. I mean, it isn’t easy, is it? We can’t just get along.”

“We used to,” Paul said. “Get on.”

“Why’s it so hard, then?” John said. “It’s on, then it’s off. It’s fine and then it isn’t.”

“Dunno. Reckon we should see a marriage counselor?”

John didn’t smile. He looked miserable. His fingers stayed threaded in his hair. “In me head, it’s all clear. But when you’re here . . .”

Paul sipped his coffee. He knew how John felt. In the past couple of hours, mostly he hadn’t been able to think of a damn thing to say. “Maybe it’s the baggage,” he offered. “All the stuff with the band. I haven’t forgotten what you’ve said, ‘Paul’s an imitator and the Beatles were rubbish,’ in case you’re curious.” He cracked a smile.

John twitched the corner of his mouth, mirthlessly. “Here comes Vinny.”

“Here we are,” said Vinny. He balanced his tray on the edge of the table and began setting bowls and plates in front of them. “Anything else?” he said, once the food was laid.

“Paul?” said John.

Paul shook his head. “I'm fine, thanks.”

“You let me know if you need anything,” said Vinny to John.

When he had gone Paul stuck his spoon in the bowl of soup and stirred. It smelled good, but his stomach was knotted. He looked at John who had torn a corner off his sandwich and was nibbling it, without much more evident appetite than Paul. He reminded himself that when John lashed out, it was because he was feeling unloved and insecure.

“How did you want things to go?” he forced himself to say.

John looked up from his sandwich. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but we seemed—we seemed to get on last night, you know?”

Paul had a taste of the minestrone. It was thick, earthy. He ate another spoonful. Last night in that dark room had felt right, but talking about what they’d done in daylight, when he could see their entire history in front of him, felt impossible. “I reckon we did, yeah,” he said, noncommittal.

“You don’t want it to happen again, do you?” said John.

He didn’t want to hurt John’s feelings. “I’m just a bit bothered is all.”

John sighed. “Why can’t you let loose for once?” he said. “It’s always been this way with you, you can’t let loose. Everything’s got to be perfect, you’ve always got to be in control.”

“That’s not true,” said Paul, realising even as he rushed to defend himself that John was (mostly, anyway) right.

“But it bloody well is true! Sometimes I can’t believe you ever went anywhere as a musician. The only thing you ever relaxed about was writing songs.”

“And I should just do as you say? Listen to big brother, is it?”

“You’d have a helluva lot more fun,” John said, prodding a sliver of mozzarella on his plate. He’d abandoned the sandwich.

“Well, it’s worked out pretty well for me so far, hasn’t it?” Paul retorted. “Keeping control of things.” Under the table, he dug his fingernails into his right hand.

John didn’t respond. Paul looked at the sky above them, blue with the buildings looming. He’d fly back tonight if this was the way John was going to be. All the things he could be doing right now and he was here at a café he didn’t care for, helping John carve a wider trench between them. At this rate, they wouldn’t talk for the next fifteen years. Smash up a relationship up too many times and eventually the pieces are too small to be pasted back together.

John was looking down at his plate, looking sad. Paul said, “It’s just, I can’t trust that you won’t say anything.”

John shook his head. He wouldn’t look up. “What do you want me to say to you, Paul? I don’t know how I can convince you.”

“Well, there’s all that stuff you said in Rolling Stone. About it being like Caligula and all that. You’ll be saying the same about me and you five years on.”

“It won’t happen again if you don’t want it to. I can’t make you,” John said.

Paul tried to think of a way to put it to John so he’d understand. “You know I was a mess after the band split up, yeah?” he said. “I guess I was the only one who still wanted it, I needed it more than you three or something. When we made it with Wings, it was never a guarantee or that sort of thing. We’ve made it now and I can’t give up another band for you. I can’t risk it, man.”

John looked up at last and his eyes were hard. “You’re not getting it, are you? Fucking hell, I’ve got more to lose than you do! They’ve only just decided not to deport yours truly, Yoko and I have been trying like hell to get me green card. I’m the one laying it all on the line here,” he said. “And what’s it all for? You’re just going to fuck off in a couple hours and leave me here.”

“I could lose my family over this for your information,” said Paul, not at all prepared to back down. “Sorry Stella, Daddy’s been locked up for buggering Uncle John; what would I do then? It would ruin us. You and me both. The press would never let it go. What would we do?”

“Your family? Christ, what about Sean and Yoko?” said John, and his voice actually quivered. “I’d be deported, I’d never see them again. They’d be on the fucking streets for what I did. People would destroy them. You have no idea what we’ve been through, me and Yoko, the world’s been fucking ghastly to her. I thought you could handle this. I wasn’t fucking about, Paul.”

“It’s not just that,” Paul said. If he was getting it off his chest, he might as well get all of it off his chest. “Dad’s been gone a month.” He stopped, finding it hard to swallow all of a sudden.

“Aye, rang you about it meself, didn’t I?” John said, voice soft.

“I miss him,” Paul said. “And I sort of wonder … I wonder what he’d think about all this.” He knew it was silly, but he couldn’t help it.

“What he’d think?” John said, incredulous. “Your dad doesn’t care fuck-all about what you do with your prick, he’s dead, mate!”

Paul’s face heated at that. Leave it to John to be blunt and cruel. “No, it’s …” He thought. Thought about the way his dad doted on Linda and the kids, ultimate symbols of his son’s masculinity and virility. “He didn’t care for queers, you know.”

“But you’re not a queer.”

“You know what I mean,” Paul said. He added, “And it is queer, what we did.” It made him blush to admit it.

“You might be, but I ain’t,” said John. His eyes glittered, a challenge.

“For Chrissakes, John, call a spade a fucking spade.” He was beginning to remember why they lived continents apart. “Don’t be a fucking coward about it.”

“I’m not a queer. Nobody learns to be queer. Either you’re born that way or you aren’t and I wasn’t,” John said. They’d completely forgotten their food by now, Paul noticed, but it felt good to have out with it, clear the air. If it came to blows he didn’t care, it was better than not being able to talk to each other.

“Oh yeah? How d’ya reckon?”

“‘Cos I’ve looked into it. I’ve read about it. Trying to figure out—” John trailed off.

“About me,” Paul finished. He hesitated. “But you say you weren’t,” he paused, ventured, “born that way, I mean.”

John shrugged. “Doesn’t really matter anymore, does it?”

“It matters to me,” said Paul. He caught John’s eye.

John swallowed, meeting his gaze. “What I was saying earlier, or trying to say, is that Yoko and I went to Chelsea a few weeks ago. She said, ‘Well maybe you need to get this out of your system, so we’ll find a partner for you.’ Leave it to Yoko to be practical, y’know? And it sounded like a good idea, but when we got there I just couldn’t go through with it.”

“Why not?” said Paul, suddenly interested in a way he couldn’t explain.

“Couldn’t. It was, ‘What if people recognise me?’ Too risky,” he said. “And they were too bloody queer! I said to Yoko, ‘I might be a poof for Paul, but I can’t be a poof for them.’ I didn’t know ‘em either and I had to be able to trust ‘em. Not to muck things up for Sean and Yoko and me.”

“So that’s it. You’re a poof for Paul,” said Paul, and he couldn’t explain the sudden feeling in his chest, a swirl of deliriousness and giddiness and a sensation of oh no because perhaps, just possibly, he was going to put himself back into in peril again.

“You’re fucking pushing it,” John said, but his voice had some of its playfulness back. He went on. “The only explanation I could come up with is that we must have been lovers, you know, in a different life. We were married or something, or soulmates.”

Paul’s heart rushed into his throat. In a mad sort of way, it was the only thing that made sense. What they’d had even as lads of fifteen and sixteen was untouchable. He’d talked nonstop to all his mates and anyone who would listen about John, how cool he was. He talked so much they got a bit sick of Paul. Even in those days, whenever John said something horrid, which he did with discouraging frequency, Paul was there to make excuses for him. The truth was, he hadn’t admired anyone as much as he did John until he met Linda.

John took a drink of his cappuccino. “So there you are. You can hold it over me head, I don’t care. I’ve said it and I stand by it.”

“I’m not going to hold it over you. Go on and eat your sandwich,” he said, by way of answer. “I don’t care if it’s made of spaniels.”

John struck a match and lit another cigarette. “Not hungry,” he said, getting a walled-off look to him.

“Alright, well I’ve got to use the loo,” Paul said, scooting his chair out and rising. “Be back in a moment.”

The way to reach John, always, was to make it blatant. It came from his being insecure. Either you had to look him square in the eyes and tell him the thing yourself, not breaking eye contact, or you had to choose the right gesture. And John had had a soft spot for sweets for as long as Paul could remember. When he was back inside, he stopped in front of the laden pastry case and considered the contents. All the pastries were grouped together in trays by kind, cannoli topped with maraschino cherries, bombolini in chocolate sauce, some kind of biscuit with a peach glaze, vanilla sponge fingers. In the end he picked out two chocolate croissants with a slice of flourless chocolate cake to be safe.

“And a Dr. Pepper, please,” he told Vinny.

Balancing the soda in the crook of his arm, he pushed his way out the door and made his way over to the table. John looked up in surprise. “What’s all this?”

“It’s for you,” he said, holding out the saucer with the croissants on it.

What he expected was for John to meet him with that cold silence again or to tell him to bugger off. He hadn’t expected John’s face to crumble and his hand to fly to his face, his shoulders suddenly shaking.

“What’s the matter?” Paul said, setting down the plates and soda in a hurry and bringing his chair closer to John’s. “I’ve brought you sweets!” He looked over to the other corner table to see the occupants weren’t watching, but they’d gone. “Here,” he said, holding out a serviette.

John brought his hand down and there were tears streaming from his eyes. “I’ve gone and cocked it all up, I always cock it up,” he said, taking off his glasses.

“Rubbish,” said Paul, still holding out the serviette. “Here, take it.”

“I’m such an arsehole to you,” he said.

“Yeah, what’s new?” Paul said. “Look, don’t make me wipe your face. I’m not your mum.”

John snatched the serviette, mopped his eyes and blew his nose. “Alright, alright.”

“Hey, I’ve been an arsehole as well. Let’s just forget it, eh? Eat your sweets.”

John gave his eyes a dab and pulled the plate of cake toward him. “What’s this?” he said, indicating the soda.

“Dr. Pepper. Still your favourite, right?”

“You arsehole,” John said, eyes flooding again. He gave a sniff and replaced his specs, but managed a weak smile.

Paul grinned, taking a chocolate croissant. He could feel the muscles in his shoulders begin to relax. The world seemed to have righted again, was enlarged with possibilities where it hadn’t been a few minutes before. “The croissant’s yours, too, ” he said, nodding his head at the other. John smiled a smile that didn’t look so dismal and tucked into his cake.

He’d had two marriages in his life, his marriage with Linda and a shadow marriage with John. They may never have fucked, but even before last night had happened they’d been far more intimate with each other than most husbands and wives. In the early days it had all the best bits of a marriage, comradery and that sort of thing with occasional squabbles, and in the later days the hallmarks of a marriage that had run its course, barking rows and bruised feelings.  Paul was pretty easy to get on with, he reckoned; it was John’s impulsiveness and his perpetual quest for The Answer that drove them apart. Not that he couldn’t be hard-edged if he wanted, but he wasn’t as final as John. When John had made up his mind, it stayed made up. The more jealous he was of you, the likelier it was he’d stick it to you. Lately, however, John seemed readier to apologise. He’d grown up or begun to at any rate, and Paul supposed he’d done the same. He fingered the band of gold around his ring finger as John ate his sweets.

 

 

Paul tried not to think about it too hard. The implications, the repercussions. How they were crossing a line he’d never in a million years imagine they’d cross. He knew he’d lose his nerve if he starting trying to untangle it. Once upon a time, their partnership had involved songs and guitars. This time around it was going in a different direction, and where that direction might lead them and for how long, he didn’t know. He supposed, though, he’d found some measure of peace having gotten proper answers from John at last. They’d fumble their way through this together, as they’d done sitting with their backs against the bricks at Mendips playing chords half-wrong but having a good time.

Unbeknownst to Paul, John had gone forward and rebooked the hotel room before they’d even left for breakfast. It wasn’t the same one this time, this one had a king, John said, but as Paul retrieved his bags from the front desk and stepped onto the lift, he couldn’t resist teasing John about his presumptuousness.

“What were you going to do if I said no?” Paul said.

“Donate it to the hoi-polloi or something, I suppose,” John said, adjusting the guitar on his back. “Or cancel it you twat, what did you think?”

The rude crack didn’t even register. He’s mine, Paul marvelled, watching the numbers on the lift blink red as they travelled up. No matter that it was only for a few hours, it seemed so much longer, a lifetime, really. Anything might happen. He stole a glance at John, chewing gum and also eyeing the floor numbers. When they stepped off, he followed John and tried to play it casual, although his stomach felt like it’d been filled with helium and it was hard to stop himself drumming his fingers against his thighs.

“Here we are,” said John, slotting the key into the doorknob and turning.

They’d done this so many times before, Neil or Mal handing them a key and John letting them into another unfamiliar room, looking bored and like he couldn’t be arsed with life if he was in a bad mood or switching on the television if he was in a good one while they waited around for their bags to be brought up. He didn’t look either of those things this time, though, wasted no time in sitting at the foot of the bed and pulling off his boots. If Paul had to give a read of his behaviour, he would’ve said John was nervous. He wasn’t making any effort to catch Paul’s eye, just looking about the room even though there wasn’t much to see.

Paul set his bags down and coughed. “Feels a bit weird, doesn’t it?”

John looked as though he was going to protest, but seemed to think better of it and said, “Aye, it does.” He ran a hand through his hair.

Paul undid his own laces and slid his shoes off, then sat next to John, on his left. “Shove over,” he said, nudging John with his hip.

John shifted, giving him room. His expression was almost wary. “I’ve no clue how to do this, you realise,” he said.

“Neither do I,” said Paul, finding it was easier to keep his eyes on the trouser thread currently preoccupying his fingers than to look at John. “Shall we call it off?”

“You’d like that, would you?” John said, with a smirk.

“Perhaps you’d like that,” said Paul, grinning back.

John blew out a breath. “I think I used all me courage last night to kiss you. I haven’t got any left.”

“Well, it’s not that different to girls, now is it? You kiss me, I kiss you, we’ll see where it goes together,” said Paul, heart picking up pace.

“Think I’d just like to touch you, to be honest.” John was looking away again.

“Okay, so let’s start there.”

Because the aforementioned was easier said than done, Paul began by taking his socks off. They ought to have been old enough (they were nearly forty, for Christssakes) to conduct themselves with confidence, but then again neither of them had tread in quite this territory before. He was suddenly conscious of silly little things, like whether his breath was bad from the coffee and if he’d bothered to put deodorant on his underarms that morning. Socks dispensed with, there wasn’t anything left to do but stretch out on the left side of the bed again. John climbed in next to him and propped himself up on an elbow. He looked at Paul for a moment and Paul didn’t look away, even though he felt uncertain and shy and was beginning to have his doubts that this would work after all.

John’s laughter broke the silence. “God, we’re acting like teenagers!” He reached out and drew his fingers across Paul’s cheek. “That okay?”

“‘Course it’s okay, you punter,” Paul said, his whole body warming with the caress. It felt manageable this way, taking things by centimetres. He could fit his mind around it this way, go by his instincts.

“You look older,” said John softly. He was cupping Paul’s cheek by now, rubbing his thumb across Paul’s chin.

“You do too, you know,” Paul said, noting the thin lines stenciled on John’s forehead and in the corners of his eyes, but he smiled.

“Still the same old Paul, though.” John slid his fingers back and rested them on Paul’s neck. His thumb played across Paul’s cheekbone, stroked his earlobe. He wriggled his body closer, fingers moving outward and sifting through Paul’s hair. “I could do this for hours,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to do this.”

“Hair down to her shoulders, eh?” cracked Paul, although of course this was lovelier than lovely. It was marvelous to be adored and by John of all people.

“Hair like a goddamn bird,” John agreed, though he had virtually the same cut as Paul. His face was closer now. “You’re going grey,” he said, brushing the hair at Paul’s temple.

“Christ, you’re romantic,” Paul said, mouth twitching. He couldn’t stifle a giggle.

“How’s this for romantic?” John said, and kissed him.

They kissed for a long moment, searching the wetness of each other’s lips. Again, Paul caught cigarettes on John’s breath, cigarettes and coffee, but mostly it was just the taste of John filling his mouth, and that was exciting in way that was all out of proportion.

“Mmm, could take it or leave it,” he said, muffled against John’s lips.

He slipped his hand onto the back of John’s neck and pulled him closer, no longer able to be slow and patient. To his delight, John clambered on top of him and stretched his hips along the length of Paul’s, letting them brush but not putting his full weight down. He was taking his time with the kisses, showing far more restraint than Paul felt capable of, nipping, licking, mouthing until Paul felt ready to go out of his head.

“Bloody hell, where’d you learn to kiss like this?” he said, more than a bit out of breath as he broke the kiss.

John raised himself on his arms, hips sagging against Paul’s in a distracting way. “Down at the docks,” he replied, giving a cheeky grin. Paul swatted John’s jeans-clad backside in response, more to touch him than anything else. “Oh, aye?” said John. “So that’s how you like it, McCartney. Always did wonder.”

“Shut up. Always talking bollocks,” he said, pulling John’s head back down and letting their mouths melt together again.

To his amusement and partial dismay, his body was reacting to John in a strong  way and they hadn’t even properly begun. Already he wanted to snatch John and kiss him hard, grind himself against John’s hips for relief, but then it would be over too soon. He was so warm with need, though, that it was difficult to think about anything else. Sighing, he pressed his tongue into John’s mouth. John pulled him closer and tangled a hand in his hair, his tongue joining Paul’s.

That was too much; a moan escaped Paul before he could catch himself. John pulled back and lifted an eyebrow. He dropped his hips and moved them against Paul, testing. “You’re bloody hard already, aren’t you?” said John, a flush coming to his cheeks.

“Yes, so what?” said Paul. “Aren’t you?”

John grabbed Paul’s left hand and held it to the front of his jeans. It would seem that he was in much the same state as Paul. To Paul’s satisfaction, John’s breath hitched as he applied pressure. Feeling as if they really wouldn’t last much longer if he escalated it then, Paul took his hand away and brought John’s head down for another drawn-out kiss. Then he curled his fingers in the collar of John’s T-shirt and pulled it across John’s left shoulder, exposing John’s freckled skin and the mole he was always so self-conscious of. He kissed every bit of bare skin he could reach. John was unbelievably soft, as if he bathed in honey and cream each day. You’d never expect that from someone as rough as John, but there you were.

“Take off your shirt,” said John, breathless.

“Yours, as well,” Paul said, raising himself long enough to grasp the edges of his shirt and pull it over his head. John clawed his shirt off, ungraceful, and they stared at each other a moment, taking each other in.

“You’ve put on a bit of weight, McCartney,” John said finally, smirking.

“Oh shut up!” said Paul, catching him around the waist and pulling him close. John’s bare torso was warm against his. He smacked John’s arse again for good measure and, because it was nice, kept his hand there as they kissed again. “At least I’m not a walking skeleton.”

Tangling with John like this didn’t feel unnatural anymore, but rather like remembering a task unperformed for a very long time. It turned out to be quite easy when you came down to it, one foot in front of the other and all that. He understood why John wouldn’t have wanted to do this with a stranger. They were in this together; the stakes were equally high if one gave the other away.

John let his hips fall again, knee pressing between Paul’s in a painful fashion that made Paul shift his legs to accommodate it. “Wider,” John said hoarsely, panting against Paul’s mouth. He used his knees to shove Paul’s thighs apart, then he thrust himself against Paul and for several moments Paul’s mind was blanked by pleasure. He’d done that himself countless times with women, parting their legs, but he’d never had it done to him. It did something unbelievable to his brain.

Without thinking about what he was going for, he raised his head and fastened his mouth around one of John’s nipples, making John thrust and swear. “You like that?” said Paul, sucking and licking and feeling an indescribable lick of heat through his body. John didn’t reply, but brought Paul’s chin up and put his teeth into the meat of Paul’s bottom lip. It wasn’t painful, but there was a tantalizing pressure, and when John pulled away the indent of his teeth was on the inside of Paul’s mouth.

“Fuck, Paul, fuck,” John said. He laid down on Paul and put one hand in his hair; the other he dropped to Paul’s groin, palming him through his trousers. Paul circled his arms around John, pressing his face into John’s neck and kissing lightly. There was sweat in the centre of John’s back.

“Good, isn’t it?” said Paul.

John lifted his head, his cheeks all red and his hair mussy. He nodded, mute. They looked into each other’s eyes for a few moments, bodies stilling.

“Christ, you’re gorgeous,” said Paul, cupping John’s cheek and running his thumb down the slope of John’s nose. “Bloody gorgeous.” Maybe that was a queer thing to say, but he didn’t care, and it earned him a peck on the lips from John.

“And you’re soft,” John said, but it was clear he couldn’t be more pleased. “Right. So …” He kissed Paul again. “Can’t stop doing that,” he muttered. He continued: “So, I’m going to take me time and we’ll see where things lead. Right?”

“Right,” Paul said, tilting his chin for another kiss, although he wasn’t exactly sure where John was going with this.

Next thing he knew, John had lifted himself to his elbows and moved lower down his body. When his fingers went to the button of Paul’s trousers, Paul groaned and had to bite back the urge to arch his hips. John hummed a nameless tune as he unzipped Paul, as nonchalant as if they did this every day. “Up,” he said, and Paul raised his bum, obliging, letting his trousers be peeled from him. His heart beat faster as John dipped his head. For one exhilarating moment he thought John was going to kiss him there, on the aching heat between his legs, but when John’s lips landed they were on his stomach.

“Bloody hell,” he managed to say, as John continued to pepper his skin with kisses.

Paul wasn’t sure what he’d expected when they’d come back to the hotel—the wank they’d had last night was good enough—but he was sure of one thing: his mind had not made it here. Of course, he didn’t know if John really wanted to suck him off or was just playing around. The thought of it seemed a bit wrong and yet it gave Paul a hot thrill he hadn’t felt in a long time. He and Linda just hadn’t experimented much and that was fine, but John, who had always been a daredevil, John might be up for anything. No sooner had he thought this than John’s head had moved beneath his navel and he was licking the trail of hair that disappeared beneath Paul’s Y-fronts. Paul sucked in his breath sharply.

“Hey look. You don’t have to—” he started, but John cut him off.

“Shhh.” He’d hooked two fingers into Paul’s shorts by now and Paul found his heart pounding in earnest. Before he was aware what was happening, John was mouthing him, licking him through the cotton.

The noise he heard himself make was more sob than moan. Earlier he’d been conscious of how thin the hotel walls might be, but at the moment he could care less. All that mattered was that he experienced more of this.

“You like that?” John said, catching Paul’s eyes.

Paul didn’t trust himself to answer, but he imagined the look on his face was enough because John returned to his task. He couldn’t stop himself shutting his eyes. It was bliss beyond what he’d ever remembered feeling. Not trusting that he wouldn’t grab John by the back of his neck and force his head down exactly where it was wanted the most, Paul fisted the duvet instead, gasping as a third warm finger curved into his briefs and dragged them down at last. He was completely naked in front of John and the thought made him go so hard it was almost painful. He wondered if he should warn John about how close he was, but John wasn’t quite there yet. The game of kissing Paul’s stomach, his hips, his flank, everywhere except the white-hot centre of his need, had continued.

When John shifted his attention to his thighs, Paul bit his lower lip hard and scarcely dared to breathe, so intent was he not to distract John from what he was doing. Naturally, John noticed at once.

“What’s got you so quiet?” he said.

“Didn’t want you to stop,” Paul said, fighting the compulsion to clutch John’s head and bring it back down to his skin.

“I’m not going to stop, you daft sod,” John said, bending his head and kissing perilously close to Paul’s pubic hair, which made Paul hiss. “Just taking me time.” His tongue darted onto Paul’s testicles.

“Jesus Christ!” Paul said, eyes opening and hands flying to John’s head. He bucked up, rubbing himself against John’s face. He reckoned he’d crossed a line with himself, maybe with John too, but he didn’t fucking care. He needed release.

“That’s better,” John joked, but when he raised his head he looked a bit doubtful.

Paul squeezed John’s shoulder and sucked in a bracing breath. He tried to clear his head for John’s sake. “You don’t have to do this, okay?”

“Nah, s‘alright. Just nerves. I’ve never done this before,” he said, glancing down to the portion of Paul’s anatomy just beneath his chin. “I mean, I thought about it a fair bit, but—”

Paul wanted to hear more about that part, but before he had a chance to ask, John had plunged his mouth down and there was no more thinking then, not until it was over at any rate. He dug his fingernails into John’s shoulders and squirmed.

It would be a stretch to call it the best head he’d ever received because John wasn’t particularly skilled. His teeth scraped and he couldn’t take Paul very deep, but somehow it didn’t matter. The sight was indescribable, John gripping him and his head rising and dipping. His breath was hot, the sounds of his mouth wet and ungraceful. That John would want to do this at all amazed him. It was so good, so ridiculously good, that he couldn’t muster anything but John’s name, repeated like a novena.

“John,” he said, “Oh, John, John.”

John was at it less than a minute when Paul’s climax began to build, much to his alarm. Not ready for it to be over quite yet, he tried to grab onto John’s arms, but John pushed his hands away and held his wrists down, bobbing his head faster.

“John, stop it,” he said. He lifted his hips, trying to get away, but that only made it worse. He was wavering on the edge now. “Please, for God’s sakes!” he said. “Stop, I’m going to—”

That was as far as he got, because it was over and he was clinging to John in a fog as he thrust again and again and again, white heat and fire and choirs of angels and wailing guitars and keyboards and who knows what else as he gasped and sobbed and pushed up into John’s mouth, feeling like he’d been split in two. John worked him softly, easing up on the pressure at the right moment. The final spasm flickered through him and Paul gave a quiet groan.

He opened his eyes in time to see John move away and spit off the side of the bed. When he caught Paul looking, he burst out, “Well, I’m not a complete queer!”

Paul laughed. “No, it’s alright. It’s just.” He whistled. “Whew, bloody hell! Give us a moment, will you?” He tried to catch his breath.

“Sounds like you’ve just swum the Channel,” John said, scooting up and rejoining him. He stroked the hair away from Paul’s sweat-slicked cheek.

Paul grinned at him, euphoric. “I didn’t want to come so fast. Christ, are you sure you’ve never done that before?”

John dug a finger into his ribs in response.

“Ow!” Paul said. “Keep it up and I won’t return the favour.” He was just teasing, but John’s answering look of astonishment stirred something in him.

“Paul, I never expected you to …”

“Hush. Before I change my mind about it.” He leaned over and kissed John. He could taste himself on John’s lips, a strange and rather unpleasant taste, and wondered what he’d gotten himself into, promising such a thing.

John’s nipples had contracted into hard little buttons and Paul gave them each a lick on the way down, which got him a string of unintelligible curses. “Trousers,” he said, tugging at John’s fly.

It was his nature to look, and to look again, and to look some more before he leapt into something, and he’d often left spontaneity in the bedroom to his lovers. He couldn’t deny either that it still felt odd and that he still had misgivings, doing this with John. It was a conflict between head and flesh. At the same time, he felt he had to be good at this and impress John. John wrote a song and he wrote a better one, it had been that way with them since as long as he could remember.

John’s fingers trembled as he pushed his trousers around his knees. “Never thought we’d be here,” said Paul, attempting to soften the atmosphere.

“No,” said John in a grave sort of way, evidently in no humour to make a joke.

There was a problem of what to do next. Paul had a whole library in his head of naughty things girls had done to him, but it was impossible to determine which one of them fit this situation. In the end, still savouring the afterglow of his own pleasure, he licked John through his shorts as John had done to him. He expected to be far more bothered about it than he was. He supposed that made a certain amount of sense, if there was anything sensible about licking your former best mate’s dick. He was a bloke, he had the same equipment, and women had done that deed for him, the only thing he hadn’t been was on the giving end of the equation.

Paul glanced up at John. His eyes were screwed shut and he’d drawn in his lips, as if Paul had done something painful to him. “That okay?” Paul said, searching his face.

John sighed. “Yes, you stupid bastard, what do you think?”

In retaliation, Paul licked him harder. John smelled of sweat and arousal, and Paul wasn’t all that shocked to discover that he liked it. The revelation that there were parts of him he never knew about was something he was growing used to. If he was going to do something queer, may as well jump in head first. He moved up to the crown of John’s dick, where a wet patch had formed, and attempted to take John into his mouth through the shorts. It only worked part-way, but it made John yield another flurry of swears. The taste of him was faintly salty, but it wasn’t bad; Paul reckoned he could even learn to fancy it.  

“Did you used to be this noisy?” Paul said.

“Always, son,” said John, growling. He put his hand on the back of Paul’s head.

“Steady,” Paul said, but maybe it was a warning to himself. It was now or never. Again, there was no thinking too closely about it or he’d panic. He didn’t know what it made him, that he’d want to do this for John but nobody else. Linda, Dad, Wings—they flickered into thoughts, but he brushed them away. Like John said, he had to let loose or else the trepidation would cripple him.

He pulled off John’s shorts, moved them off of his feet (still clad in socks), and dropped them on the floor. Straddling John’s knees between his, he bent his head and licked John.

“There,” John said. “Right there, yes. Fuck.”

John’s response to the activity made it pleasurable in a way that Paul hadn’t anticipated. He still wasn’t quite sure he liked it one hundred per cent, but he certainly liked it enough to keep going. As he took John in his mouth, he tried to keep his teeth out of the way and use his tongue. It was a much more complicated, multi-layered act than he would have thought and he found himself admiring all the women who’d ever done it for him.

“Alright?” he said, looking up again.

“Bloody hell. Ask that again and I’ll murder you,” groaned John.

In revenge, Paul slid his mouth down further than before and John made a strangled gasping sound. The hand on the back of his head was coaching him, teaching him the rhythm. Spent as Paul thought he was, his cock was twitching back to life. He imagined how it would be to do this to John in other places, in the back of a cab with only John’s zip undone or on his knees with John framed in one of the windows of the Dakota, the curtains pulled wide so that anyone might see them, and moaned. John echoed him, arching and almost choking Paul.

He kept his left hand on the blade of John’s hip and used the right one to angle John better in his mouth. It was a tiring activity, this. John had begun to tense.

“Paul,” he said, in a low, warning tone.

“Mmm-hmm,” Paul said, indicating that he understood.

The fingers in his hair clutched painfully now, urging Paul downwards then upwards, and John’s body was quivering, vibrating like a bass string plucked. This was the part Paul didn’t particularly want to experience, but he felt a smug gratification that he could make John feel this good. He picked up the pace, recognising the end.

“Fucking hell,” John uttered, and came in a flood of salty warmth, gripping Paul’s head so hard he could’ve sworn John tore some hair out by the roots. He waited for John to finish, then he spat over the side of the bed. Unbelievably, he was hard again—and that last bit hadn’t been nearly as bad as he’d anticipated.

John had gone limp. Only his chest lifted as Paul crawled back to his side. “Move your arse,” he said, prodding John.

“Mmm,” John said, wiggling over but not bothering to open his eyes.

“I reckon I lost a bit of hair there,” said Paul, laying astride John’s left side. He put an arm across John’s chest and hitched his leg across his stomach. Of course he couldn’t come again, not this fast, but he thought about it as his cock pressed against John’s side.

“I was told that’s how you fancied it,” John said, opening his eyes a slit.

“Sounds like you’re projecting,” said Paul.

“Falling asleep,” John said, closing his eyes. “See you in the morning.”

“Mmm,” said Paul, drowsiness blanketing him. John patted his thigh.

He had a funny feeling in his chest. The thing people got wrong about feelings is that there was never just one. It was a twist of them together usually, and at the moment he could feel sadness, wistfulness, elation, love, and anxiety all braided into one. A melody was beginning to form in his head. He let it play for awhile until he was sure he had it memorised for later. We can clear it up, we can work it out, he thought to the tune. Then, holding John close, he drifted off.

 

 

As it turned out, New York did have trees. Central Park was filled with them, tall and stately. Bonny, his Scotch neighbours would have called them, dressed with young green leaves or like brides in pink, purple, or white. The smell was fantastic, earth not long awoke and the honeysuckle fragrance of flowering trees. It was four o’clock by this time and a bit chilly, but the promise of warmer weather was in the air and the grass was an emerald green. Even the skyscrapers waiting on the edges didn’t spoil the sight. The American ones were different to the robins in Scotland and England, fatter-breasted with a bigger patch of red on their fronts. Their songs dominated the other birds’: Cheerio, cheer up! Cheer up, cheerio! A person tended to forget about robins over the autumn and winter and there was something rather magical in their reappearance.

He and John kept to the smaller paths, hats pulled low. Like John, Paul had brought shades but he found he couldn’t keep them on for very long, not with spring so insistent and immediate. John was letting him lead and Paul was taking his time, clearing his head bit by bit of the soot and concrete and people. They paused in front of an open green to watch people lounging, chasing after children, kicking balls about.

“You feel better?” John said from behind him.

“Do you feel better?” Paul said, slowing.

“I feel just grand,” said John, grinning and throwing an arm over Paul’s shoulders. Paul closed his eyes and savoured the moment.

“Better take this away,” he said after a minute, tugging on John’s sleeve. “People’ll get ideas.”

“Sod ‘em,” John said, but he removed his arm. “I said, ‘Do you feel better?’”

“I feel better,” Paul said. “I think we’ve got it sorted, don’t you?”

“For now,” said John.

“Always the optimist, eh?” said Paul, giving him a gentle elbow to the ribs.

“Always the realist, son,” said John. He started down the path again.

Paul had the strangest compulsion not to let him out of his sight. He quickened his pace until he was at John’s side again.

“Sure you won’t stay another day?” said John.

“I can’t. We’ve got to be in Texas as soon as possible. We’ve a million-and-a-half things to do between now and then,” said Paul. They continued on, shoulders brushing in a pleasant way. “We’ll be at Madison Square Garden in three weeks, though. We could make time to drop in.”

“With Linda?” John said.

Paul blushed, know what John had on his mind. “I hadn’t thought about it, really. We’ll see. The kids are coming with, too.”

“The jet-setting McCartneys! Don’t you ever get tired of it?”

Paul followed the flight of a black-and-yellow bird to a tree some metres ahead of them. “No,” he said, deciding there was nothing to be gained from being dishonest about it. “We’re not made the same, you and me.”

“But we worked for a time,” John said, smiling a little.

“We can work again,” said Paul, nudging him. “We’ll see where it leads, won’t we?”

John smiled what he probably thought was a Sphinx smile, but Paul could tell he was pleased. The melody in his head started up again.

We can make this whole damn thing work out.