Alfred sold his car to afford the engagement ring, but as he's heading for church, he's still not sure he's picked out the right one. It's slim and discreet, because Arthur has never liked for anyone to make much of him. He has too much pride for that. Even as they started dating he rejected all of Alfred's gifts. "I am a grown up man with work," he said, "I can buy the things I need." Alfred smiles a bit at the memory and turns around the corner by the supermarket to roll downhill. His red bike is old and falling apart, but it's good enough for him. With the small box making a bulge in the pocket of his jacket, he feels there's more to happiness than owning a vehicle.
They've never had much, Arthur and he. They've always barely made it. When they met, Arthur was running his own bookshop selling children's books, and Alfred was a high school student sent out to interview him for the local paper. They argued for hours about books and morals and whether or not today's child is spoiled with technological wonders, but by the time Alfred had his article written, they still hadn't come to agree on the matter. That was their first excuse for meeting up for coffee. Then came the sexual frustrations that Arthur had been carrying around for years, and which Alfred was a constant slave of due to his age. Later came love.
Alfred's grip around the handlebars tightens as he spots the red light in front of him. He stops by the crossing and rests his right foot on the ground while looking around. He's once driven through this exact intersection as he was going on a picnic with Arthur. Arthur had insisted on making the food. At that time he'd tried to be a bit of a housewife, but he couldn't cook, and on their way home they'd made a stop by McD. As he thinks about is, Arthur never learned to clean either. Every week Alfred was the one in charge of doing the laundry and vacuuming the living room. Arthur would even pester him to please clean the windows at his bookshop. "My back hurts," he would always moan, making Alfred's heart soften, but whenever he took a break to get a glass of water, Arthur would be running around carrying more books than what was good for even Alfred's spine. Because Arthur loved his work. He just hated all the duties that followed with it.
As the light turns green, Alfred continues to the left. He can now see the church in the distance. It's situated centrally; just next to it is the local park. Alfred still loves to go for a swing there every now and then at the colourful playground. Arthur used to push him up high whenever he convinced him to go. But the man quickly got tired of it. He kept complaining about his arms hurting. Alfred suspects he was just out of shape or lazy. But to please him they always rented some old, British love movie on their way home. Alfred looks to the right as he passes the place where they used to rent movies at. It has now been changed into a teahouse. Much to Arthur's liking, he's sure.
The closer he gets to the church, the wetter his palms seem, and Alfred can feel that his heart has started to beat unsteadily. It's making him all warm and sweaty. He's even dressed up for the day in a starched shirt smartened up with a black bow tie. He won't feel very chic with smelly armpits and a red face, though. He tries to slow down. But still he's stomping harshly on the pedals. Despite worrying about his look, he wants to get there as early as possible.
It's easy for him to find a spot for his bike. The parking lot is almost empty, and he leans it up against the stairs before walking up. He takes two steps at a time and unzips his jacket in the go to show off his shirt. It's new. His mom helped him pay for it. "Since it's a special day and all," he said, though she didn't sound like she really understood. But she never understood the relationship he has with Arthur anyway. At first she thought him too old. Then too boring. Now she just seems to have given up on him.
"Arthur!" Alfred greets with a smile as soon as he eyes him, and he hurries in between the tombstone to stop by the one shaped like an angel. He sends it a flustered smile. "Sorry I'm late. Or early."
Arthur's burial place is small but neat. Alfred paid extra to make sure he would get the site by the big trees. In the summer they shadow nicely for the sun. Arthur hates the sun, and Alfred isn't going to challenge his tan now. He kneels down by the picture and waves at it happily. "I took the bike. I know you're wondering why I didn't just drive the car. Well, you always complained that it wasn't good for the environment for me to drive anyway. So now I sold it." The man on the picture looks indifferent, but Alfred knows that if Arthur could speak, he would tell him to stop listening to everything he says. He would tell him that now he's a grown man as well, and that he can make his own decisions. Even if one of them is to ruin the world.
The picture of Arthur was taken just a week before he died. When Alfred looks at it, he sees a healthy man who could've lived for at least twenty more years had he not decided to come home early that Wednesday evening. According to witnesses, he'd just closed the shop and turned down a customer as the shootings started. The paramedics said that he never felt any pain. Alfred knows they lied to make him feel better, because the customer later wrote him a letter about how she'd tried to stop his bleedings while he bawled his eyes out as he was trying to breathe. But he hadn't been able to breathe.
"It's a new shirt," Alfred says and shrugs off his jacket. "Isn't it nice? It wasn't too expensive. But Mom helped me out. Now, don't say I shouldn't dress up, I have my reasons." Alfred's fingers slip as he tried to open the pocket of his jacket. He smiles awkwardly at the picture of Arthur. "I know you told me that you never wanted to marry, and that you don't need a piece of paper to know that you love me. But it's not about the paper for me. It's about you knowing that I'll always be here for you." He withdraws the small box and shakes it a bit as if he's a child checking out his presents. He smiles at Arthur, then he opens the box and shows the ring to him. The little gold in it glimmers in the sun.
"Do you wanna marry me?" Alfred asks, but he doesn't even linger at his own words: "I know you can't say yes or no," he adds quickly and slowly puts the box down by the picture. "I'm not even sure it's legal to marry you as… well, as it is. But I like to imagine that you would say yes if you could. I mean, of course you would complain and tell me that you're the man and that you should be the one kneeling if it was to go down like this, but…" Alfred pauses as he breathes in deeply.
"But… I don't want anyone else telling me 'I do'." He sits down on the ground fully. He's smiling softly now as he runs his fingers through his messy hair. He's not even worried about making it messier. "It's been ten years. Ten years is a long time. Do you remember how I told you about dating? And how those awful girls always wanted this and that from me? You never wanted anything but for me to like you. Just like you the best I could, and let you know if I ever stopped liking you. I know I tried to stop liking you. That's why I stayed away that year… But that's past now. I'm here now. And I want to be here until I can join your side." Alfred looks at the tombstones on each side of Arthur's place. "When that time comes, we'll have to move you so that we can be next to each other. This isn't good. I know you're probably fine with," he leans to the side to read the names, "Mrs. Blue and," he leans to the other side, "Mrs Johnson, but you really do belong with me. Whether you like it or not." Alfred gives the picture a stern look, but he quickly breaks out in laughter. "I mean it lovingly," he promises. Then he shakes his head and gets up. He picks up the box with the ring.
"Now you know," he says and smiles, "please consider the offer, okay? I'll bring this with me every time until you've decided. There is no need to hurry." He closes the box and puts it in his jacket as he picks it up from the ground. Then he leans in and pecks the cheek of the angel, then down as he pecks the picture. "I have to go home and change for work. The boss has given me forty hours this week. Would you believe it? Forty!" He lets his fingertips slip down the face of the angel. He chose it because Arthur always liked angels. At Christmas he would decorate the whole bookshop with small angels cut out of paper, and figures out of gold, and he would sing songs about them. Alfred likes to think of him as an angel whenever he's down. But mostly he's just Arthur Kirkland, his old boyfriend who can't cook.
Alfred takes a step back. What he hates the most is saying goodbye, because he never knows how to do it properly. He nods shortly at the angel. "I'll be back on Saturday," he promises. "Till then, think about the offer, okay? If you wanna marry me…" He smiles wryly, then he turns around and leaves hastily.
Alfred has never liked goodbyes. Maybe that is why he still leaves the door open for his love to come back home. But if he hadn't been in a hurry, maybe he would've noticed the writing that appears in the ground by Arthur's picture as he leaves: