Wake twisted up in sweaty sheets, sweaty pyjamas, heart pounding, mouth dry. My bedroom door slides open, and John stands on the threshold, backlit by the hall light, his dressing gown ajar over his tee shirt and pyjama bottoms.
Blink against the sudden brightness and pull the sheet up to my chin as I sit up, “John?”
“You were calling for me,” John holds up the baby monitor by way of explanation. In my peripheral, I can see the red light of its fellow on my night table.
Flush warmer, grateful for the camouflage of darkness, “Was I?”
John nods, “Nightmare?”
Genuinely can’t remember, but the adrenaline still pricking in me lends credence to the theory. I shrug, “Suppose so.”
John edges a bit further into the room, “Why’ve you got the baby monitor in here anyway?”
“I put Watson down for her three o’clock in here, and I forgot I had it.” Take the baby monitor from the night table and hold it out, “Sorry. Here you are.”
John crosses the room and takes it from me, “Thanks.” He lingers at the foot of my bed, “I didn’t know you let her sleep in your bed.”
Frown at that, “She’s a baby.”
“Right. Well. I should leave you to it.”
“It’s late,” I agree.
Neither of us move.
“Sorry to wake you,” I offer.
John shakes his head, “I was up. Watching a film on telly.”
“Well, if you’re sure you’re all right,” John glances backward at the door.
“Why wouldn’t I be all right?”
“No reason at all,” John pats my ankle through the blankets, then disappears through my bedroom door, shutting it carefully behind him.
Sink back into the bed and count my breaths as my heart slows. My mouth is still stale and dry and when I reach for my bedside water glass, I discover that it’s empty. Kick off the blankets and get out of bed.
Find John on the sofa when I pass through the sitting room on my way to the kitchen.
He shifts to watch me, “Can’t sleep?”
“Thirsty,” I call back. Fill my bedside water glass and drain half of it in a gulp, then fill it again.
John’s left enough room for me to sit beside him on the sofa. Seems rude not to. He smiles at me as I take my seat, “Hello.”
John’s smile broadens a bit, and he inhales as if to speak but only turns back to the television, and we watch in silence for a while.
Film looks familiar, but it takes me a bit to remember what it is. Scoff softly when I do, and John turns to look at me, grinning, “Yes?”
“This movie is frustrating.”
John’s grin grows, “Is it? Do tell.”
Raise an eyebrow, “I thought you didn’t like it when I do that.”
John laughs, “I know you know it’s different when we’re at the cinema. Go on, then.”
“It’s structured incorrectly.”
John leans in a bit, “That’s not nearly what I expected you to say. How’s it structured incorrectly?”
“The principle couple aren’t actually the protagonists. They don’t deserve to be called the principle couple, actually. Their relationship is shallow and seems to be founded on the concept that any heterosexual romance is inherently benign or even admirable.”
John considers that, “But what about Humperdinck? Doesn’t his relationship with Buttercup count against that idea? Not all heterosexual romances are admirable?”
Shake my head, “No, Humperdinck and Buttercup are explicit about the fact that they have no romantic feelings for each other.”
“So who do you think the real protagonists are, then?”
“Inigo and Fezzik, of course. They’re the ones with substantive character arcs and their relationship is founded in years of mutual support and admiration.” Sip from my water, “But they fizzle into ambiguity because-” check myself and have another sip of water.
John chins his hand, delighted, “Because?”
Toss my head, “Because straight men are too obtuse to recognise or too cowardly to admit they’ve been writing a romance between men and they let the threads drop rather than bring them through to their logical conclusion. Hence. Fizzling.”
John shakes his head, “Wow.”
“Not at all. You’re a genius at everything; I shouldn’t be surprised. I sort of thought you didn’t like fiction?”
Tuck my chin in, pleased and embarrassed(probably blushing), “Hardly a genius level analysis, John. Fairly elementary, if you’ll excuse my contradicting you. And it isn’t the first time I’ve thought about the story. I was very fond of the book when I was young.”
John digests that, “Hmm.”
“I’ve got a deduction. Are you willing to confirm or deny?”
“I suppose so.”
John takes my water and sips it, “Do you maybe identify with Inigo a bit? Or did you?”
Raise my eyebrows, “Perhaps a bit.” (think of Inigo’s years of study)(his drinking)(his near defeat)(shake off a prickle of shame).
John nods, smug as if he’s uncovered some fascinating secret, “So what would you do if you were Inigo? Or how would you’ve ended it, if it were your story?”
Shift in my seat a bit, “I wrote an ending, actually. When I was fourteen or so.”
John beams, “ Did you?”
“It would be redundant to swear you to secrecy, I think?”
John crosses his heart, “I would give my right arm to read that.”
“It probably still exists in the files of some ancient desktop or floppy disk gathering dust in my parents’ attic, but I think it’s better that we are unable to revisit it.”
“So how did it end, then? Your story.”
Sigh and take my water glass back from John, “If I recall correctly, Inigo and Fezzik take over the Revenge together and after much agonising, Inigo makes a long speech one moonlit night announcing that Fezzik is the love of his life.”
“‘Moonlit night’” John repeats still beaming. “You old romantic, you. And what does Fezzik say?”
“Fezzik is too pragmatic to have missed that he’s the love of Inigo’s life and responds with something like, ‘Of course I am.’ Probably in rhyme, you know. And then. A request that Inigo trim his mustache to erm.” Gesture to my mouth, “He prefers his pirates clean shaven.”
John strokes his upper lip absently, “Hmm.”
“Nothing really. You’re very. Communicative tonight. Have you rewritten any other stories?” John smiles boldly at me as I look him over.
I used to be bold (sometimes), “Maybe.”
“Did you go into detail about the er. The clean shaven bits?”
Raise an eyebrow, “Not much.”
“Just wondering, “ John ostensibly returns his attention to the television, but he’s still smiling too much.
Makes me feel wobbly in my middle, that look. “Did you ever refinish an unsatisfactory story?” I ask after several minutes’ silence between us.
John turns back to me, “That’s not the sort of thing that would have occurred to me without prompting.”
“Solving doesn’t occur to me,” John murmurs presently, his eyes still fixed on the television.
John turns to face me bodily, “You think of how you can fix things; it’s your instinct. But it doesn’t come naturally to me, the way it does to you.”
Shake my head, “I don’t know that I’d say it comes naturally. It isn’t. It’s not a sneeze .”
John smiles, “I know you put a load of work into your solving, but. The instinct to refuse reality’s shit and make it over again into something better. I’ve always. It’s admirable.”
Seems churlish to disagree, even to insist that he’s better than he’ll admit, “Thank you. Though I’m not sure how you imagine you don’t do your share of fixing the world, considering you’re a doctor.”
John shrugs, “I’m just. I get to know you better. More complete picture. Never gets old. You can understand that, can’t you?”
“Complete. Yes. I suppose I can.”
“I’m not good with this sort of thing,” John says abruptly at breakfast the next day, seeming to address the french press.
Look round at him, and Watson seizes the opportunity to catch hold of the spoonful of cereal I’ve been trying to offer her and dashes it on the floor. Hand Watson a bit of toast instead and she screams her approval and slams a messy hand against her tray. She likes to make her dishes jump.
“But I’ve done a lot of difficult things, and if this is the most difficult, what does that say about me?” John continues, still gazing at the french press.
Try and offer Watson her milk, but she’s still busy with her toast. “John, are you. Surely you’re not talking about putting the coffee on?”
John snorts, but there’s something shocking in his expression when he turns around. Something naked, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Cold spike of dread shoots through me from crown to toe in an instant. Lick my lips (they’re dry), “Can’t do what?”
“I’m sorry,” John says helplessly. “It isn’t fair on you, but. Could you make this a tiny bit easy for me and. Deduce the one thing I’ve been.” He roughs a hand through his hair as if annoyed with himself, “You really? Can’t see it?”
Hold onto my chair with my free hand, press my palm hard into the rounded edge(wish it hurt)(it doesn’t but it’s still grounding), “You’re leaving again.”
“What?!” John lets out a yelp of rather startled laughter. “No, the opposite!”
“The opposite?” The opposite of leaving is coming? But he’s here already.
“What if erm,” John glances at the french press again, then seats himself next to me at the table and gazes into my face, “What if I never left?”
Grip my seat a little harder, scrape my fingernails against the unfinished bottom. “Well, there’re only two rooms,” I answer slowly. “Won’t you. You’ll be outgrowing me. Watson’ll need her own soon, and so will you. I suppose there’s 221C, but it has d-”
John cuts across me, “What if I promised not to leave?” He swipes his tongue across his lower lip and breaks into a self-deprecating smile, “Like in a registry office.”
Feel rather as if my chair has bucked suddenly to drop me onto the ground, “In a.”
“A registry office,” John repeats more firmly, an enchanting, glowing sort of hope starting in his face like glimmers of sunrise.
My brain has stopped. I am completely unable to think, “John? Are you?”
“I want to re-write my ending,” John says quickly, catching at my sticky hand and clasping it between both of his. “I’ve got it wrong before, but I don’t. It doesn’t need much now. I have,” his voice goes a little croaky and wispy, “I have nearly everything I want.”
“But I. I got it wrong as well. I don’t. I’m not good at this either!”
“No,” John agrees with the tenderest little smile that I can scarcely look at. “But maybe if we fucking talk about it, we can work it out between us? You’re rather clever, and I learned recently that you have a knack for this sort of thing.”
Laugh helplessly, “You might say something different if you’d actually read-”
“Sherlock,” John interrupts gently. “We’re in love. Aren’t we?”
Sigh through my nose, shut my eyes, “Yes.”
“Well things aren’t going to make sense until we,” John pauses. I open my eyes, and he smiles at me, “You’re my happy ending. Could. Could I be yours?”
My fingers twitch between his, “John, just so that I. To make absolutely certain. You are. Proposing to me?”
John laughs, “Yep.”
“Haven’t you skipped a fair few steps?”
“Well maybe in the traditional sense, but I don’t think we’re very traditional, are we. Have we missed any that are important to you?”
Consider that, “Not many. But.”
“Maybe a kiss first?”
John shines, sunlike, at me for just a moment and then he kisses me, warm and sweet and (it isn’t magic)(it’s only a kiss)(still) it’s enough to be a very happy beginning.