It was a step in the right direction.
My heart was beating - as they say - nineteen to the dozen, and you have no idea how I was trying hard to not think of anything connected to the word ‘dozen’ and it’s ominous overtures. None of this ’thirteen, unlucky for some’; for me twelve didn’t sound like a happy number either. And I wasn’t even sure it would be twelve – it could be twenty-four or, God forbid, thirty-six. Or it might be some number in between that wasn’t so wrapped up in tradition and customs. And why the hell was I obsessing about numbers all of a sudden?
Gordon hadn’t experienced those traditions – he was too young; we both were - so why was I assuming he would follow them today when he never had done so in the past? Was I trying to invent a number to give myself something to hold on to . . . a limit to reach for? Or to give the whole thing some sort of recognisable structure, a connection to some formal procedure that my imagination had fashioned? That could be it. As a gay couple there were lots of social customs closed to us and that had been on my mind a lot recently. Maybe I was fighting against those closed paths as a way to let me feel in control. Anyway, numbers were associated with things like canes, slippers, paddles and we didn’t have anything like that and if we did, it wouldn’t be here in this room with us. Gordon had always maintained that his hand would be enough and I believed him. God, did I believe him! I never wanted to do something bad enough to warrant anything worse than his hand. Long ago I’d come to the conclusion that either he’s abnormally stronger than he looks or I’m a complete and utter wuss. I honestly had no idea that a hand spanking could hurt so much – talk about being an innocent.
The term ‘Die of Embarrassment’ is just a phrase – I proved to myself, if not to any wandering scientists passing by, that it’s not possible. If it were, I would have fallen to the ground already – had Gordon not been holding me securely, that is. At this precise moment in time, holding me emotionally if not physically.
They say that a drowning man sees his life flash before his eyes. Although I was sure I wasn’t about to die, my brain insisted on giving me a private slide show of what was about to happen in my immediate future instead of what had gone before – and it wasn’t pretty. Well, seeing a grown man squeal – Gordon says I’m not allowed to yell loudly - while he lies pinned across a pair of strong thighs with his trousers and underwear flapping around his ankles, kicking his legs in protest at being spanked can hardly be considered ‘pretty’, can it? No one in their right mind would look forward to seeing something like that! Okay, there are some people out there who probably would like to see something like that, or even experience it, but a bit of Hanky Spanky for a laugh and a giggle is one thing, a real life, proper bum smacking for discipline purposes is something totally different. Isn’t it?
Why, if I thought this whole process ‘barbaric and cruel’, had I agreed to the damn thing in the first place. Actually, even that isn’t true - I didn’t ‘agree' to it as such, I bloody suggested it! Well, I did and I didn’t. I told Gordon that I wanted him to punish me but I didn’t come out and say ‘I want you to spank me’. Spanking me was his idea and I said yes. Either way, the answer must be ‘because I’m an idiot’ or ‘because I never thought it would actually happen’. Or some combination of the two – I must be an idiot if I thought it would never happen. Anyone who knows Gordon knows that when he gives his word on something, he keeps it. No broken promises allowed. Neither by him nor to him.
And he had promised me a well spanked bottom if I did what he had warned me against. He says that nerves and anger is no reason to take it out on the person who loves me over all others and wanted nothing but the best for me. The person who had stood by me through all my ‘difficult’ times - oh, come on, they weren’t that bad - and had never once let me down. That I knew my words would hurt and I had lashed out irrespective. My defence of my sister being a bit of a selfish cow didn’t cut any ice – it was wrong of me to run her down to my own mother and force that sweet, kind, loving – he was really going for it now – warm-hearted woman to face things that she maybe already knew but didn’t want to admit and that she certainly didn’t need to see proof of what one of her offspring thought about the other. I was accused of vindictiveness, sulking, temper tantrums and Christ knows what else and these were deemed – under Gordon’s rules – as Not Acceptable. As much as I bridled at the harsh accusations, I was honest enough to admit that he had a point. I hadn’t been very diplomatic in explaining to my mother why her eldest offspring was a cow. Certainly my timing was off.
“Don’t make me come get you, Rob” murmured Gordon in a tone that was part warning and part rebuke as he saw I was tittering on the verge of backing out of the room in panic. “This is not a game and I’m not having it reduced to me being the villain by chasing you about the place – I won’t do it. You agreed to this so you have to hold up your end.”
Yes, very funny, Gordon. Jokes I don’t need at this point, especially ones about my end being ‘up’.
And I should have been happy about the news that he refused to chase me – that meant that if I run, I would get away with it. Didn’t it? Unless he just caught up with me later on and then I get double of course?
No. No, he wouldn’t do that. He said that he wouldn’t chase me and by that he meant that I have to come to him, not that he would catch me unawares another time. I have never tried to dodge a punishment from him before. . . I might try to wriggle my way off his lap once I’m there but I’ve never tried to wriggle my way out of the punishment entirely. And I maintain that my lap wriggling is instinctive – I can’t stop my body from reacting that way no matter how stoic I try to be.
No, if I refused to do this then he wouldn’t insist but it would damage us - that I did know. Not damage us because he wasn’t getting his own way. It would damage us because we’d discussed it at great length before we committed ourselves and by refusing it would mean that I didn’t have much faith in us as a couple. That I didn’t have faith in him to see me right and give me what I need. Not necessarily what I want, but definitely what I need.
No…of course I don’t need a sore bum … that’s not what I meant – but I need what it represents. Security. Foundation. Love. Does that sound silly? How can a sore bum represent love? But it does, you know. Love can be shown in many different ways, they don’t have to all follow the same blueprint (the first person to snigger and mention’ handprint’ is going to get seriously kicked when I think that Gordon isn’t looking). Anyway, his words had a deep effect on me. Instead of making me nervous or frightened, they settled me, calmed me. Reminded me of why I chose him, why I gave my heart to him. Why I believed in him and why I believed in us. Why I believed in our future together.
I was getting the eyebrow treatment now. Not the frown variety, but the slightly inquisitive look that meant ‘Well?’ And my shoulders sagged as I gave in to the inevitable. This was so wrong but so very right at the same time. I shrugged my jacket off and draped it round the top of a high backed chair conveniently found nearby. I turned round to see that Gordon had done the same with his jacket and was now seated on another chair waiting for me. I fully expected the Death March to sound from some hidden location as I dragged my feet towards him with my hands at the belt of my trousers. A last minute puppy-dog look complete with soulful eyes had no effect whatsoever and I never really expected it to do so – Gordon is nothing if not resolute.
It’s all over, Robbie-boy, might as well grin and bear it. God, I was doing puns against myself now!
As slowly as I possibly could, I flicked open my belt, pushed though the button on my trousers and lowered the zip. Gordon did nothing but watch me placidly and without the slightest inclination to change his mind.
I sighed in defeat and pushed my trousers down to my knees and blushing furiously, slid my pants down to join them. Gordon took my hand in his and held it there for a second or two. I looked to see our how hands joined together, fingers intertwined, palms touching. It seemed important somehow. They fitted together as easily and comfortably as if they were of the same person. Holding each other in equal parts. I understood his message and closed my eyes momentarily to focus just on the feel of his hand and mine together and all it represented.
A small pull of his arm had me shuffling round to his right side and I found myself leaning forward across his knees to safely land in his lap. He shifted me further over a bit and brought me closer to him by moving his left arm to lie across my lower back and letting his hand cup my right hip. I was feeling ever so slightly terrified and Gordon knew that. This wasn’t the first time I had found myself in this position but today it felt different. Today my senses and feelings were heightened and everything was rawer; sharper somehow. He calmed me by stroking his right hand from my lower back, across my pale and, so far, unmarked bottom down to my thighs. I wondered what he was waiting for – it seemed like this ritual went on for ages although it can’t have been more than 30 seconds or so. His reassurance transmitted itself through his hand and I let out the breath I hadn’t known I was holding and my body sank into his lap as the tension left me.
OW! That was what he had been waiting for! The sneaky sod – he knows it hurts more if my flesh is relaxed. Well, that was the only spank he got in with my behind in that state as the astounding sting sent me rigid with shock – it never gets easier and experience doesn’t prepare you for that first blow, I don’t care what anyone else says. Smack after smack fell sharply and smartly all over my bottom and I didn’t like it One Little Bit! He bounced his hand off my backside with great prowess and I, in turn, tried to bounce my backside off his lap with considerable less grace and no success whatsoever.
It went on and on and on. An eternity. The longest two or three minutes of my life. Who could have known that such damage could be done so quickly! I knew we didn’t have a lot of time so I thought I’d get off lightly because of it. . . that this was going to be a token spanking. Christ, was I ever wrong! It hurt like blazes and I was wriggling like a worm on a hook by the time he had finished. I was also gasping for air.
I was lifted gently from his lap and held firmly while the blood rushed back to my head – what blood hadn’t set up permanent home in my bottom, that is – and I stood numbly while he rearranged my clothing with care before holding his arms open for me to fall, oh so gratefully, into.
I clung to Gordon’s shirtfront like a drowning man who has found land. I was gulping and crying with liberation as quietly as possible as Gordon wrapped his arms around me and shushed me and kissed my temple tenderly with a steady hand holding the back of my neck. He held me close until he could feel my heartbeat slow down to something approaching normal. His circling arms lost their tightness but they were no less supportive for all that. I knew I could lean away from him once the blood had stopped pounding in my ears.
“M’sorry,” I told his chest, not really wanting to look up at his face just yet. But he placed one finger under my chin and applied enough upward pressure to bring us eye to eye. What he saw in my eyes other than tears, I don’t know but I recognised what I saw in his. Love. Conviction. Faith. And I bloomed and grew under his gaze and fell in love with him all over again.
“I’m sorry it was necessary, Rob,” he replied gently. There was no recrimination in those words, just a whisper of apology and regret. I smiled softly and said “I know.”
We stood in each other’s arms and the world disappeared for one glorious calming moment as we took strength from each other and returned it twofold. Through the thick walls of the building there was a very faint sound of voices talking and doors opening and closing but they were a million miles away from the small cozy room that Gordon and I stood in. Something happened inside that room – something that had no title or explanation or understanding. We became part of each other – God might not be able to join us, but we knew that no man could ever put asunder our relationship. This was ‘till death do us part’ in all its glory, for both of us, even though the words would never be spoken.
He put me from him and instructed, “Now then, you horror, go downstairs and apologise to your mother while I try and get myself together and check my shirt for snot marks. She’ll be upset and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you get a smack off her as well. Go on, scoot! I’ll be down in a second.”
And with those words and a gentle shove, I was out the door before I could pout and push myself back in for another kiss. Oh well, here goes nothing.
Some five minutes later, I’d managed to dodge a fair few of the people who were wandering around, find my mother amongst the guests we had invited, pull her to one side and apologise to her with a strong taste of disgrace and shame in my mouth. She looked at me and said with resignation, “You’re a terror, but I love you anyway. Parent’s do that, you know – love their children even if they don’t always do the right thing. I know that you were angry with Sherry but, please, I’m asking you not to be. She’s here now so no damage is done. I worry for her as much as I worry for you and that will never change. Now, go and do what you have to do and let me and your Dad get settled.” And with that, and a kiss to my cheek, I was off the hook, and off to the side of the room to recover my composure and wait for Gordon to appear.
I spotted him across the room and took a few seconds to think how handsome he looked. He scrubs up well, that’s the God’s honest truth, and I was sure that I wasn’t the only one in the room who thought so. His eyes pinned me to the spot with the passion I saw there and a lump came to my throat at my good fortune. I walked towards him and he did the same, meeting me halfway, and that was symbolic. Neither one of us had to go further than the other to come together. The ferocity of his look burned me and I was compelled to lower my gaze to avoid the intenseness of the love I saw there – and to avoid my already emotional state making me cry again. Doing so brought into view his hand, out-held slightly, palm up – a gentle invitation. We held each other by the tips of our fingers, enough of a touch to connect us once again. There was music playing somewhere softly in the background but I couldn’t tell you what the song was although I know that I knew it – I had chosen the music, after all. Probably Fly me to the Moon by Tony Bennett and I don’t care if people think it’s sappy – it is, but it’s ‘our’ song and has been since the morning after the first time I stayed overnight at Gordon’s and we lay in bed, relaxed and happy, as his radio-alarm kicked into action and showed us the power of simple words.
I was aware of people shifting about out of the corner of my eye and then the soft approach of a woman, Rebecca, in a smart grey skirt suit who smiled at us with kind eyes. We’d met her recently and both liked her. She was very understanding of our relationship which is always nice. Don’t get me wrong, I hold my head up high at being gay, but it’s a welcome relief to find people who aren’t bothered one way or another if I have a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend.
Is it wrong of me to say that I didn’t hear one word in four of what Rebecca said to us? If that counts as rudeness, please . . . don’t tell Gordon because I might get spanked for it. She did most of the talking and in the pauses she allowed, Gordon and I both answered her in turn without taking our eyes from each other. She turned to Gordon and smiled in anticipation of his response to her most recent words. He followed her prompt but his words were spoken to me.
"I, Gordon Albert Hilliard, take you, Robert Justin Stevens, from this day forward, to have and to hold as my partner in life, to whom I give my deepest love and devotion. I open my heart to you as a sanctuary of warmth and peace, where you may come and find a refuge of love and strength. I will love you enough to risk being hurt, trust you when I don't understand, grieve with you in heartache, and celebrate life with you in happiness. I will receive you as my equal throughout all of our days."
Mine definitely wasn’t the only sniffling to be heard in the room – that was his mother and his Auntie Maureen getting all weepy in the background whilst his father, sat between the two, handed out tissues all round and raised his eyes to heaven. (He was later seen having a small dust-in-his-eye-allergic-reaction moment while people were being rounded up for the photographs on the lawn outside.)
And while my Mum’s Uncle Alfred blew his nose loud enough to put a trumpet to shame, which in turn made Gordon’s nephew and two nieces giggle uncontrollably until shushed by their mother, the lady with the kind eyes turned to me to indicate that it was my turn to say my vows.
I promised to cherish him, to nurture him, to be faithful, to be supportive and loyal. I swore to be his companion, to treasure his presence in my life, to offer my strength at all times, to honour him. I offered him my respect. I pledged him my love. Always.
OK, now it was my mother doing her best not to cry. At this rate, at least I’d have a good excuse if anyone commented on me having red eyes.
When working out our vows – which we didn’t show to each other - I had thought to put in a comment about obeying him but decided not to in the end. Apart from thinking that someone was bound to snigger – my mother, probably, my sister, most definitely – I wasn’t too sure about Gordon being happy at having something like that mentioned in public. I was sure that he would think that our guests would see it as a joke of some sort and our advent into discipline was anything but. What helped me decide was that I worked out that I didn’t need to mention it. He already knew I would obey him – hadn’t I proven that! I pledged him my obedience two years ago when we decided that we were going to go ahead and make him the official supervisor of my behaviour – with full rights to apply consequences. That was the real moment we became Partners in Life!
Weirdly enough, the fact that he had spanked me earlier on made me feel all the more certain that I had made the right decision. I had chosen the right man. He’d shown me that I had grounds to believe him when he promised to punish me, so logically, I had no grounds to disbelieve the sincerity of his vows to me nor fear for our future as a couple. He was determined that we would prosper even if it meant he had to strip me of my trousers on a day like today.
Okay, yes, I knew it anyway. I knew he loved me - I wouldn’t be marrying him otherwise, but the positive, albeit stinging, proof of his word of promise gave me a feeling of peace and total faith in his commitment to us. The sting in my bottom was still there but was fading by the second whereas the love that I had felt for him since the day we became ‘boyfriends’ and which I thought had reached its pinnacle, now grew in relation to that fade. It occurred to me that the only pain that really stays with us is that of the love we hold back. Gordon’s love for me would not bring pain to my heart although I couldn’t guarantee my backside would get off scot free.¹ And even though he had been calling me Bridezilla all month and rolling his eyes when I wanted to talk about flowers, I still adore him! But I think I resent him accusing me of stomping my foot and sulking because the mauve cala lilies I wanted weren’t available this time of the year.
Gordon pulled my fingers deeper into his hand until we were fully grasping each other with our hands fully entwined.
The registrar continued with her plotted speech while Gordon and I smiled happily at each other but when it came to exchanging rings, our nerves got the better of us. We had taken so long choosing them, scouring jewellers looking for just the right ones to suit our personalities. We didn’t want anything flashy or anything that tried to make a statement about Gay Lib. No rainbow colours or linked male gender symbols. We chose ¼ inch grey titanium rings that had a thick stripe of black titanium running round the centre. They were simple, understated but very luxurious.
Gordon managed to put mine on without problems but I nearly dropped his and everyone started giggling which then set me off. It didn’t matter though – in the end it went where it belonged and I rather enjoyed the small break in tension. Gordon was doing his best to stop himself from laughing out loud.
We were jolted back to solemnity by the registrar’s next words.
“Gordon and Robert, every day you live, find things within you that you can share. Have an open heart and a sincere mind. From this will come security and strength.
“You have made your promises to each other in the presence of myself and your witnesses here assembled. May today form a milestone in your lives which you will look upon with much love and joy in your life together.”
Ceremonial words for a uniquely personal occasion. They were probably said by rote to dozens of couples but, fair play to Rebecca, she said them as though she meant them, as though she was happy for us. I’d have liked to think that she received some level of happiness in doing her job. Maybe the fact that we had arranged for our ‘wedding’ to take place somewhere other than the local town hall helped make it feel special for her as well.
The stunning 17th century country house that we had hired for the weekend had its own grounds which helped with those guests who lived too far from our home in Wiltshire to make it there and back in one day. We couldn’t have the church wedding but no one was going to stop me from having all the trimmings. It was beautiful. Wooded parklands in the distance, lawns, flowerbeds, a pagoda, a large pond with the obligatory family of ducks, even a Weeping Willow – chocolate box pretty.
Gordon and I had a luxurious Honeymoon suite in a separate wing – which I seriously hoped helped with sound control – with its own sitting room and bathroom (with the most wonderful double ended bath tub for two) and none of the other rooms open to guests or public when used for a wedding unless they were needed. The opposing wing housed ten additional bedrooms; smaller but still tastefully decorated and normally enough to keep all the guests away from the wedding suite. The ground floor was made up of two large rooms used for the meal and the evening venues, a conservatory attached to a bar which also opened onto a large terrace and the pièce de résistance – a hall! No, I don’t mean that space behind the front door before you get to the other rooms, I mean a proper, ancient Hall. Oak panelling, stained glass windows, hand-carved fireplace, minstrels’ galley; the lot! It cost a bloody fortune but it was our present to ourselves.
Everything was perfect. OK, I’m not going to mention my sister who phoned our mother yesterday at the last minute to say she wouldn’t be coming down that night as planned because something had ‘come up’ but that she hoped to get there for the ceremony. That was the cause of me getting spanked. Her absence really upset my mother and father – I could see they were strained by her message last night. She was also one of the witnesses so I thought it was perfectly understandable my getting angry at her when I found out and this morning stress made me run off at the mouth! Cow! Unfortunately for me, I had already done the deed by the time we received another phone call to say that she was 30 minutes away and would be there in time after all. Even more unfortunately, Gordon caught me in full vent – I think I’m lucky I was guided away only by his hand firmly on my elbow and a polite ‘Excuse us a moment, please’ towards my parents instead of a hold on my ear dragging me upstairs. He was meant to be checking the menu order with the event organiser anyway, not sneaking up behind me listening to my whispered tantrum! I hadn’t meant to slag my sister off, really I hadn’t. . . it just got away from me somehow when my mother asked how I was bearing up and had I slept well. Gordon had warned me last night that I was to say nothing to my parents and that if need be, we would come up with another witness at the last minute and I promised him that I would behave even though I was seething inside. This was so typical of Sherry!
The ensuing scene back in our suite wasn’t nice. Oh, I got my chance to explain why I did precisely what he told me not to – not that it was much of an explanation. And he allowed me to rant about Sherry and get it out of my system, I’ll give him that. It didn’t change things though. . . I had snapped at my parents; caused them upset on top of what they were already undergoing and I had disobeyed him. That was new. Up to last night, I don’t think I’d ever been given a clear order that I was not to do something specific – his admonishments had been more along the lines of ‘behave nicely’ or ‘think before you act or speak’. Never anything like ‘I forbid you to do x, y or z’. I don’t think I realised at the time and maybe he hadn’t either but in our ‘chat’ afterwards when he took me to task for disobedience, it didn’t even occur to me to question his right to issue such an order.
“It now gives me great pleasure to declare that you are partners for life. Ladies and Gentlemen, please offer your congratulations to Gordon and Robert on the occasion of their union.”
And then, within the space of half hour, I was once again in Gordon’s arms and crying. But I was also being kissed full on the lips in front of our families and friends who were clapping, cheering, whistling or cat-calling according to age and inclination.
After we signed the Certificate with our witnesses (Gordon’s brother, Ian, and yes, my sister Sherry, having claiming car problems for the delay), we were herded hither and thither by the photographer, who posed us, turned us, propped us and generally manhandled us into position until she had the totally natural looking photos that she wanted. And that we loved. We looked very Man About Town in our hired Moss Bros suits. It would have been silly for us to buy suits as we weren’t ever likely to need a dress suit again and we both had suits that we could wear for special occasions. The one concession we did make was to buy the silk waistcoats and cravats that went with them. Mine was soft mauve patterned with swirls and Gordon’s was a gentle moss green with a rather funky leaf pattern on it. I kept telling him they were marijuana leaves until he went and checked it on the computer and then chased me round the kitchen when he confirmed that they weren’t. Being kissed into submission for telling fibs is such a lovely punishment.
The meal afterwards was superb and the cava was chilled to perfection; a Brut Nature with just the right amount of dryness to bite. I smiled like a Cheshire Cat all the way through while Gordon smiled to himself when I couldn’t resist the odd wriggle or two. In future I shall try to remember to not get spanked when I am about to sit down for two solid hours at a function.
When the meal and the speeches were over we did the cake cutting. And no, we didn’t go with two grooms as a cake topper. We did see some at the cake shop – modern life reaches darkest Wiltshire! – but we didn’t like them. The figures of ‘real’ grooms were, frankly, quite horrible but there were some great fun ones that the baker showed us online saying that he could order one if we saw one we liked – cartoon figures that made us giggle. There were cowboys, hippies, a groom with his partner thrown over his shoulder, Ernie and Bert figures that were coping a feel when viewed from behind, chubby figures that reminded us of Nick Parks characters. We couldn’t decide which was the funniest and eventually the shop owner showed us other options just to move us on. We had almost decided to go with monogrammed initials when I saw the heart shaped photo topper and that was that. Decision made.
Yes, it sounds twee but it looked superb. Our photographer was willing to take some photos before the day and we had a very artistic black and white close-up face shot of Gordon and me that wasn’t actually one of the shots that we posed for. We’d taken her to the country house two weeks before the day so she could plan her photos and see what she had to work with and we followed behind giving our opinions to her suggestions and making some of our own. She caught us unawares just after we’d sneaked in a quick kiss in the gardens thinking that she was studying angles and such. She was. She’d been studying how to make us let our guard down and shot us through a gap in the trees when we thought she wasn’t looking. She said it was wonderful – I thought so too but she was referring to the photo and I was referring to the kiss. Gordon had been whispering ‘only two weeks’ in my ear and the shot she caught captured the dreaminess I was feeling. That very special photograph now sat on top of our cake encased in an acrylic heart laid on one of its side. I wanted glass originally as I didn’t think that acrylic was fancy enough but the weight of glass would have put it in danger of sinking into the cake so acrylic it was. And afterwards it would go in our bedroom as a reminder of our happy day.
There was a longish gap between the meal and the evening do – mainly to give people a little time to recover. Some of our local friends and guests went home for a while; the people who were staying at the house either went for a rest in their rooms or circulated round the grounds and chatted to people they hadn’t seen for ages while marvelling over the estate and the facilities. The bar was kept open for those who wanted teas and coffees and there was a fair amount of alcohol being served as well. Gordon and I spent an hour walking the gardens and being fussed over in general and being introduced to the members of each other’s family that we hadn’t met yet. Eventually we came across my sister sitting in a quiet corner of the garden with my parents and talking in earnest.
Something was going on, I could see that clear enough because my mother was on the point of crying and my father looked shell-shocked. I bristled immediately and was ready to believe the worst until Gordon discreetly ran his hand down my back and softly tapped my backside twice as a reminder. Before I could say anything, Sherry’s husband, John, came alongside us carrying a tray of drinks and asked us to come and join them for a moment. We went.
I didn’t know what to expect but I was mindful enough of the leftover sting in my bottom and the fact that we were in public to bite down on the urge to become instantly annoyed.
Sherry turned to look at me as we approached and smiled happily. I could see that she looked pale though and was on the point of tears herself. As we sat down John put the tray down and shot off quickly mumbling about getting more glasses. A glance at the tray showed a bottle of cava and three champagne flutes as well as a small bottle of tonic water and an empty tumbler. We all sat and looked at each other until he practically bounced back clutching two more flutes and proceeded to open the cava. I assumed the tonic was for him if he was planning to drive and was surprised to see him hand it to Sherry instead.
Sherry fiddled with her glass while my mother searched for a hankie to stem her tears.
I could resist no longer.
“What? What? Will someone tell me what’s going on?”
My mother beamed through her tears and looked towards Sherry in anticipation. My sister took a deep breath and solved a lot of unanswered questions with just two words.
I’m not left speechless very often but this was certainly one of those times. I’d always assumed that she and John hadn’t wanted children; they’d been together for something like twelve years, married for eight. I’d just thought it was something that wasn’t in their plans but I suppose it’s normal for people to change their minds about things like that as they get older. It’s not that Sherry is old or anything but at 35, her clock must have started ticking loud enough for her not to be able to ignore it any longer.
I recovered quick enough to go forward and kiss her cheek and offer my congratulations to John with a handshake.
“Well done, it’s about time I had a niece or nephew of my own to spoil – so far I’ve had to share Gordon’s and he’s very possessive about being the favourite uncle. We practically fight over giving them treats. I’m very happy for you both.”
It was meant to break the ice and although everyone laughed, I didn’t miss the flinch of pain that crossed Sherry’s face. She shuffled up the bench she was on and patted the space beside her in a mute appeal for me to sit beside her. Gordon saw her move and went to congratulate first John, and then my father on his imminent change of status to that of grandfather.
Sherry took my hand as I sat down and I was puzzled. . . when did she become so touchy-feely with me?
“Did you mean that? About wanting a niece or nephew, I mean?”
“Yes, of course I meant it. Kids are always fun so it will be nice to have one in the family. I know you’re a long way away from us but I promise to be the most indulgent uncle by post that I can.”
“That may not be so much of a problem. John and I will be relocating nearer to London soon so you could be in with a chance at baby-sitting if you play your cards right. He’s finally been offered a partnership in a firm in Surrey and I am going on leave shortly and may not go back to work for a while after the baby is born.”
I knew about the move or at least I’d been told by my Mum that it might be happening.
“On leave already? How far gone are you? You haven’t got any belly at all – you can’t be that far along yet.”
“I’m just a few days past three months.”
That was a bit of a shock. I know some people like to wait until after the three month date before telling people but I wouldn’t have thought that Sherry was like that. . . or that I hadn’t somehow found out beforehand, even if it had been via my mother but it was obvious from her tears that she hadn’t known either.
“Oh, I didn’t realise. . .”
“No. No-one did.” She paused and was obviously thinking about whether to carry on or not.
“The thing is, Rob, we’ve been trying for ages and ages for this baby but it just wasn’t happening. And it wouldn’t have happened now if we hadn’t started IVF treatment a couple of years ago.”
Now that I wasn’t expecting and my face must have shown it. Today really was my day for receiving shocks!
“IVF. . . ?”
“Unfortunately, yes. This is our fifth attempt and was going to be our last try. We’re incredibly lucky. The time that we didn’t turn up for Dad’s birthday. . . ? That was our third attempt and the reason we were staying in London. I was a bit upset at the time and was told to rest for 24 hours – that’s why we didn’t make it.”
“Does this have something to do with you not getting here last night?”
“Kind of, yes. We were on our way down last night and I was feeling a bit tired and yucky. I’m one of the unfortunate ones who has morning sickness all day long it appears and it doesn’t seem to be letting up. Anyway, John is rather manic about the idea of driving for hours on end during the pregnancy; I think he likens it to flying or something and that being seated for such a long time isn’t a good idea. He’s turned into a fuss-pot like you wouldn’t believe. You know those old wives tales about women not being meant to strain themselves by lifting things. . .?”
I nodded to say yes.
“. . . well, John has bought into the idea one hundred percent. I can barely get out of bed before he’s hovering round me in case I bump myself or something. I won’t say it’s not nice being waited on hand and foot but frankly, he’s a bit obsessive about it. Aww, I can’t really blame him; he’s so excited about the prospect of becoming a dad and the wait has been as hard on him as it has on me. So, when I said I wasn’t feeling great, that was it. He was off the motorway before you could blink and we were checked into a hotel for the night! Then we couldn’t get back on to the motorway this morning because of road-works and ended up having to drive miles out of our way before we even knew where we were. I hope you didn’t think that we weren’t coming?”
“No, of course not. I just wondered what had happened, that’s all.” Well, I could hardly tell her that I had accused her of being an uncaring cow, could I? I thought it best to change the subject.
“So, why didn’t you tell me all this? Did Mum and Dad know?
“They knew we were trying, and failing, but they didn’t know about the pregnancy until just now. I wanted to get some time behind me before we told anyone. I wasn’t going to mention it now at all, not today, but Mum took one look at me and sort of guessed, I think. Something about my nose having changed shape. . . no, don’t ask, I have no idea. And stop looking at my nose – it’s the same as always! Anyway, I was going to wait until you and Gordon came back from your Honeymoon and then tell you all together but she asked how I was and I couldn’t stop myself. We’ve been wanting this for so long, you have no idea. It’s been agony seeing all our friends have children and for us not to be able to.”
“I didn’t even know you were trying.”
“I know. I asked Mum not to tell you. She wanted to; said I was stupid for not saying something but I couldn’t talk about it. And I didn’t tell you about the IVF because. . . well, to be honest, I didn’t know how to. It was such a big thing to go through and you feel like a bit of a failure that you can’t manage it without help. Also. . . I wasn’t sure you’d be that interested, to be honest.”
I felt slightly ashamed that our relationship had become so distant that my own sister thought I wouldn’t want to know if she was having a baby. . . or more to the point, that she had been obviously wanting one for quite a while and I knew nothing about it.
“Sherry, I know we’ve not been that close always but I would have been interested in knowing that.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for my part in that.”
“Your part in what?”
“In us not being that close. I did try, you know, but you were so spiky with me after you came out that whatever I said came across as wrong.”
“I thought you disapproved of me.”
“Why? Because you’re gay? I admit it was a bit of a shock when Mum told me and I was hurt that you left her to do it but I got over that. And it’s hardly something you choose to be, is it? Why would I disapprove of you for something that wasn’t your choice? And you think I didn’t meet people who were gay when I was at University? There were at least two in my economics class that I knew of and a girl along the hall was gay – we all still write to each other and exchange news! Didn’t you know that one of John’s cousins is gay as well?”
No, I hadn’t known that. Why had I not known that? Not so much about John’s cousin, but that my sister had gay friends? That she clearly wasn’t homophobic.
“Rob, the only thing I disapproved of back then was your fashion sense. It was horrendous.”
I laughed out loud at that. “I know. Thank heavens I got hold of all the photos Mum had and tore them up. My street cred is safe.”
“That’s what you think. I asked Mum for copies of them and I have them safely tucked away. I shall bring them out when Jnr here is old enough and in a position to laugh at you properly. And probably bribe you for some awful toy that I’ve said he can’t have.”
I dropped my head into my hands theatrically as if in despair.
“God. Family – who needs it!”
“I do.” I was surprised at the seriousness of her comment and then thought about what she was saying.
“Yeah, so do I, sis, so do I.”
“Rob, I have a favour to ask. Will you be a Godparent? We’re going to ask John’s sister as well but we’d like it to be two couples so it will be Alisha and her husband Darren and, we hope, you and Gordon as well.”
Okay, yes, I cried. Happy now?
I literally beamed at her and said yes straight away.
“You want to ask Gordon now?” I was half out of my seat to fetch him.
“No. You speak to him later. This is your day – I don’t want to steal your thunder on such a special occasion. And we aren’t telling anyone else either. It’s early days still, so for now, let’s keep it for only the really important people. . . my immediate family and John’s.”
I really couldn’t think of anything to say in response to that. To know that she considered Gordon to be part of her immediate family meant so much to me. All I could do was return the squeeze to her hand in thanks. I think she knew what that stood for.
The noise of a chair being scrapped back brought me from my thoughts and proved to be Gordon getting up and coming my way.
“I think I’m about to be whisked away. . . we’ll talk more when I get back from our holiday, yes?”
“I’d like that, yes.”
Gordon took my hand and pulled me gently to my feet.
“Sorry folks, but I’m going to steal my man away for a while. We still have people to say hello to and we want to put our feet up before the evening starts. No, you all stay here and enjoy your news for a while; I’ll have another bottle of cava sent out to you. . . Sherry? Congratulations once again. When the baby is born and having a temper tantrum, if your Mum can’t help you out, then feel free to come to me – I have lots of experience with ‘Tantrums à la Stevens’.”
I was just too happy to take offence at the fact that everyone laughed and took my revenge by poking my tongue out at Gordon as he turned to shake John’s hand in farewell.
We made it back to our suite in just under 50 minutes, which wasn’t bad going considering the amount of people who stopped us to wish us well. To be honest, I was ready for a rest but Gordon had other things on his mind.
He said he’d never made love to a married man before and he wanted to investigate the theory that it felt different.
“Whose theory is this exactly?” I asked as he set about undoing my waistcoat without so much as a by your leave. The way I shrugged out of it must have encouraged him to continue.
“My own. I have lots and lots of theories that I’m going to look into when we’re in the Maldives. You might as well get used to the idea.” Growled softly in my ear.
Oh God, he didn’t know what that tone of voice did to my libido! Or maybe he did. I clung to his shoulders to keep myself upright. . . I had absolutely no blood left above the neck and was suddenly dizzy with lust.
My voice was reduced to a croaked whisper.
“And do you need a fellow investigator to look into these theories or is it work for one?” I slid my hands down around his waist and spanned my hands against his back. There is no finer feeling than a muscular back felt through a crisp cotton shirt. I am most definitely banning him from wearing my cashmere jumpers ever again – this was too good to be covered up.
His hands finished unbuttoning my shirt and moved on to my trousers. I was helpless with desire and love and need.
“Oh, your collaboration would be most welcome - although not vital. Come here, you, I’m going to show you how a real hands-on investigator works.”
And he did.
We dozed afterwards until the call he had asked to be placed came through and reminded us that we had guests downstairs and duties to perform. As we re-dressed I told him about my conversation with Sherry and her request that we both be Godparents. He was visibly touched by that and said he’d love to accept if Sherry and John really meant it.
He was already a Godparent to his own nephew but Jamie was born before I met Gordon and I think he was single at the time. Even had he had a boyfriend back then, I don’t think everyone would consider asking a gay couple to be Godparents together. Maybe there is too much assumption that the relationship won’t last. It’s different with het couples – there’s a belief, warranted or not, that the marriage will continue so there’s less risk in asking the partner of a family member to add that tie into the mix. That’s unfair of course because in the past the marriage option wasn’t open to gays so we were unable to show to the world at large our desire to form a proper relationship – we were denied that sheen of respectability and permanence that marriage offers.
And of course, a marriage between a man and a woman will generally result in children who will always be part of the family even if a divorce happens later. That normally means that in some sense both separated parents continue contact with their in-laws to some degree so they could still serve as Godparents. A gay couple doesn’t have that tie because of the lack of offspring, so if the relationship ends, there is no reason for contact to continue and then you would end up with a Godparent missing in action.
It meant a lot to us to be viewed as equal to any other couple; to be seen as having the same chances of a long and lasting relationship. It wasn’t only a case of the law allowing us to form a civil partnership – it was that the people who knew us and loved us saw that we had something that was good and true. We knew it, but it was good to know others thought it so.
I passed through the door he unlocked and, making our way down towards the noise on the ground floor, took his hand in mine. A simple gesture and one we normally didn’t make in public, but here, surrounded by family and friends who didn’t judge, it was allowed and even expected. I revelled in the experience. Being able to walk beside him, holding his hand like any of the dozens of couples you see in the street daily; that was special. We aren’t ashamed of who we are but we normally contained ourselves when out for the sake of other people’s sensibilities.
Today we didn’t have to do that; today we didn’t have to make sure we were in a gay pub or a secluded corner to permit ourselves that small, simple sign of affection with each other. Today was a day for dancing slowly in each other’s arms, for giving a kiss on the cheek, for standing near enough to allow our shoulders to touch, for brushing the fringe back from his forehead with a proprietary air. Today was a day for holding hands!
“I told you your sister didn’t have a problem with me.”
“Oh, don’t be so smug. It’s not good for you to always be right, you know. . . you’re going to have to pack it in!”
“I’m your husband – I’m supposed to be right; it’s probably written in stone somewhere.”
“Yes, but I’m your husband as well, so how does that work out?”
He squeezed my hand tight.
“It works out well enough for me.”
Fly me to the Moon - Tony Bennett
Poets often use many words
To say a simple thing
It takes thought and time and rhyme
To make a poem sing
With music and words I’ve been playing
For you I have written a song
To be sure that you know what I’m saying
I’ll translate as I go along
Fly me to the moon
And let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars
In other words, hold my hand
In other words, darling kiss me
Fill my heart with song
And let me sing for evermore
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words, I love you
And let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars
In other words, hold my hand
In other words, darling kiss me
Fill my heart with song
And let me sing for evermore
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words, I love you
¹ To get off scot free means to escape without punishment - scot free (originally 'skot free') meant 'free of taxes', particularly tax due from a person by virtue of their worth. Scot was derived from the Norse 'skot', meaning tax due from a tenant to his landlord. Less significantly, a 'skot' was also a slate in Scottish pubs onto which customers' drinks debts were recorded; drinks that were free were not chalked on the slate and were therefore 'skot free'. In the USA, the expression was further consolidated by the story of Dred Scott, a slave who achieved freedom in the 19th century, by crossing the border from a 'slave state' into a 'free state'.