50 Years Later…
Arthur's back creaked in protest as he dragged himself up the stairs of the pub. It seemed like every day it got harder. One of these days, he told himself. One of these days he was going to install an elevator. He grumbled to himself as he finally reached the top and walked slowly into the living room. He fell heavily into his favourite armchair and looked across at Alfred, who sat watching the small television set absently. "One of these days I am going to install an elevator."
Alfred's lips twitched in a tiny smile. "You say that every day, Arthur."
"I mean it, too. Mail's here."
Alfred looked over, his eyes lighting up. "Ooh, what'd we get?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. He didn't know how Alfred managed to get so excited every day about something as simple as the mail arriving. He leafed through the pages and envelopes. "Just the newspaper and some catalogues. Oh, and a postcard from Matthew and Francis."
"Where are they now?"
"Cruising around the Spanish coast, can you believe it?" Arthur examined the postcard with a picture of a pristine beach on the front and Matthew's handwriting on the back. "When will they learn they're too old like the rest of us?"
"Hey, speak for yourself, old man."
Arthur ignored him with the practiced ease that only came after fifty years of living with a bloody irritating American. He leant back against the soft cushions and opened the newspaper. It was a special issue to celebrate the 50th VE Day, the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. Alfred had been invited to numerous ceremonies of course, but he never was one to make a big deal of these sorts of things. He had barely mentioned anything about the day and seemed quite content to simply watch the proceedings on television. Arthur focused on the newspaper. After flicking past a few articles on the end of the war and the current celebrations, he came to a page that made him pause in shock. "Well, blow me down."
"Hm?" asked Alfred vaguely, his eyes glued to the television set.
"You're in the paper!"
Alfred looked over, surprised. "What? Is it about the UFO sighting I reported last month?"
"Is it about that cat I rescued from the tree out front last week?"
"It's not about that can of tomatoes I forgot to pay for at the supermarket is it, because I took them back and the girl was real nice and she swore she wouldn't get the police involved…"
"Alfred, shut up." Arthur held up the lift-out from the paper. Alfred leant forward and squinted.
"What's it say? Hold on, I need my stronger glasses…" Alfred rummaged around on the coffee table.
Arthur smiled slightly and shook his head. "It says, 'Fighter Aces of World War Two,'"
Alfred raised his eyebrows. "You don't say?"
"And look, there you are." Arthur gazed at the black and white photo of nineteen year old Alfred in the paper, grinning widely at the camera with his military cap at a skewed angle. He looked exactly the way Arthur remembered. Arthur sighed quietly. "You were so handsome."
"What's with this 'were' business?"
"Shush." Arthur read the article out loud. "Lieutenant Alfred F. Jones of the American Army Air Force only flew in combat for a few short months in 1944, but quickly distinguished himself as one of the best fighter pilots of the war. Known by the enemy as 'The Magician' for his unparalleled skills in evasion, his record of seven kills in a single flight has never been equalled by an American pilot, before or since. Lieutenant Jones' last flight, during which he was isolated by a squadron of German Messerschmitts in allied airspace, is still considered one of the most courageous moments in aviation history. Greatly outnumbered, Jones took down seven enemy planes while defending strategic airspace and drawing fire away from his squad into enemy territory. Here he was shot down, captured, and…" Arthur faltered over the next few words. It was amazing how, even fifty years later, any mention of that incident still affected him so strongly. He looked up at Alfred, who smiled gently back at him.
"Skip that bit."
Arthur took a deep breath, skipped ahead, and continued reading. "For this act of bravery Jones was awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor. He went on to become a greatly respected military flight instructor. He travelled extensively between England and the United States and has been formally recognised by the British government on several occasions for services to the Commonwealth. Alfred Jones currently resides in London with his…" Arthur trailed off once again.
"With his what?" Alfred prompted.
Arthur's mind spun in disbelief. His mouth went dry and he could barely manage to choke out the words. "With his long time partner Arthur Kirkland." Arthur shook his head in astonishment. "They put that in the paper… can you believe they actually wrote that in the national bloody newspaper!"
Alfred giggled cheerfully. "Ah, the times they are a-changing. Wait and see, we'll be walking down the aisle one of these days!"
Arthur just stared unbelieving at the words in print before him. After all these years of being the partner of a war hero, it was the first time he had been publicly acknowledged as such. He couldn't help the wave of pride he felt, knowing that the entire country would read that paper and those words. He also couldn't help the wide smile that spread across his face. Then he looked up, saw Alfred grinning at him, and felt slightly embarrassed. He folded the paper and tossed it down beside him. "Huh, well, there you are then. What is this rubbish you're watching anyway?"
Alfred turned the volume up. "Some concert celebration for the 50th anniversary."
Arthur shook his head in disgust. "I never did like these depressing wartime songs." Alfred just laughed. When the next song started, Arthur recognised the tune immediately. His stomach turned cold. "Oh no."
Alfred's face lit up and he looked over at Arthur excitedly. "Arthur! It's our song!"
Arthur just repeated, "Oh no."
But it was too late. Alfred had already pulled himself out of his chair and was attempting to drag Arthur to his feet. Arthur attempted a protest, but he already knew it was in vain. He finally let himself be dragged out of the chair and into Alfred's arms. Alfred held him in the familiar dance position and began waltzing across the floor. And, of course, he started singing. "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when…"
The sun flooded through the curtains as memories of this song flooded Arthur's mind. Fifty years. Fifty years that had passed in a heartbeat. Fifty years of dancing and laughing and terrible singing and everything else that came with it. In decades past they had danced to this tune playing from a wireless radio, a gramophone, a record player, a black and white television, a tiny cassette player, a CD player Alfred had excitedly brought home one morning in 1983, and on one memorable occasion from a military band at a highly select function as several amused and confused international delegates looked on. And on this particular afternoon they danced to the tune playing from their small colour television set. Of course they danced a little slower, and Alfred didn't swing Arthur around and dip him like he used to. But some things, just like the song itself, never changed.
"Keep smiling through, just like you, always do…" Alfred's hair was thin and grey. His handsome face was lined with the years. But that grin still had the exact same effect as ever. "til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away!"
"Well, one thing certainly hasn't changed," said Arthur, smiling up into Alfred's blazing blue eyes.
"What's that?" asked Alfred, grinning down as he held Arthur tightly by the waist and ran his thumb over Arthur's palm.
"After all these years, my dear, you are still the most bloody awful singer I have ever heard."
Alfred just laughed as they danced slowly to the swelling music while the afternoon sunshine flooded the room. "I love you too," he replied, before bursting back into song.
"But I know we'll meet again, some sunny day!"