Coming out to his family hadn't been easy. There was the nervous energy, constant fluttering of his heart rate whenever one or more of his family asked when he was going to get a girlfriend. Or made a homophobic joke. His father was the worst, casually dropping insults just as Martin was about to speak up at the dinner table. So he'd shut his mouth again and push at his food, trying to maintain a facade of "normalacy".
There was also the case of Aunt Julia. Aunt Julia was actually Uncle Julian, and he lived with his boyfriend in central London, working as a prominent drag queen. Martin quite liked Uncle Julian, but rarely spoke to him, the family cutting the man off. When Martin was little, only about five or six years old, Aunt Julia stayed for a few days. He was confused, but curious when he walked in on Aunt Julia putting on her wig and adjusting her breasts. She smiled and sat him on her bed, showing him how she did her make up.
Years later, Martin realised that Uncle Julian only visited in full drag to irritate the family. It made Martin's father particularly angry. Once, when his brother and sister had been taken on a weekend holiday with his parents, Martin had snuck downstairs into his mother's closet. He was supposed to be studying for an exam, but he spared an hour to carefully put some make up on like he remembered, and slip on his mother's green cocktail dress. He didn't try the heels - feet were too large.
He found that he didn't particularly like himself in those clothes.
And then there were the dreams. Dreams of crushes, dreams of men. Martin came to realise that he never had crushes on girls. Sure, they looked nice, but after a few girlfriends and a mortifying experience of heterosexual intercourse, Martin gave up on them. Quietly, he experimented with a few males from school and found that he liked it very much.
Unfortunately, the school didn't like that at all.
Age eighteen, a few weeks from finishing, Martin was caught kissing Sean Victor behind the biology classrooms. The school rang home, and Martin was uncovered to be what his family despised:
Homosexual. Gay. Fag, shirt lifter, faggot, cocksucking ungrateful child that didn't deserve the roof over his head and the clothes on his back.
Martin finished school, took on several jobs at once to pay for university, and immersed himself at Eton. And he was rejected there too, on the basis of his sexuality. So he stopped telling people, hid himself, became meek and frightened.
Which is why he was nervous now. He needed to tell them. He wanted to tell them, wanted to believe that they would accept him for who he was and not because his raft was boys-only.
"Martin, you're almost vibrating. You'd put an Italian Greyhound to shame," said Douglas, "Whatever it is you have to say, spit it out."
Martin took a deep breath, and prepared himself for attempt number twenty-seven. It was like his family all over again. He hoped that he wouldn't get spat on or punched, but Douglas would never do that would he? He's a good man, isn't he? But he was older, he was old school, oh god what to do, what to do, don't chicken out now-
"Do you want to play a game of head chess?"
-and he chickened out. Again.
Douglas gave him a look, eyebrow raised.
"Carolyn, I have concerns. About Martin. He's acting odd."
"And when does Martin not act in a manner that the rest of mankind would define as 'odd'?" asked Carolyn.
She was doing the accounts in her office, red pen in hand, and black pen tucked in her hair. Quite frankly, she didn't have the energy to deal with Douglas at the moment, and she certainly didn't have the energy to deal with Martin. Whatever was troubling the young man would have to wait, because these accounts weren't adding up properly, and she was getting frustrated with them.
"I have come to believe that this is odd odd. Not just odd. He keeps," Douglas paused, searching for an adequate word, "twitching. At high speed. Like he wants to tell us something."
"That sewer rat had better not be trying to get away from MJN Air again," said Carolyn, looking at Douglas over the top of her glasses.
Douglas shook his head. Sighing, Carolyn set down her pen and stared at Douglas, resting her head in steepled fingers. Her eyes flicked over him, looking for falsehoods, before she sighed again, sitting back in her chair.
"If you can get this bloody column to be equal to the other one, then I'll deal with Martin."
"You do remember what I was fired for at British Airways?"
"True. You deal with him. And don't let Arthur eat the chocolate biscuits," she said.
"They're not chocolate. They're mouldy."
Douglas nodded, and closed the door to Carolyn's office. Striding across the runway in his fashionable orange safety vest - it was a wet day, and the uniform tended to blend with the tarmac - Douglas climbed into Gertie to find Martin. Except Martin wasn't there.
Arthur bounded up in his overly enthusiastic way.
"OH MY GOD DOUGLAS! You'll NEVER guess what I just saw!"
"Was it the baggage handler solving a sudoku?"
"No. Much, much better!"
"Was it the engineer making porridge using the welder?"
"No, no, no!"
Arthur was on the point of exploding from excitement.
"Skip was kissing a hostie from QANTAS."
"Don't you mean hostess?" asked Douglas.
It wouldn't have been the first time Arthur mistook a woman for a man. Something about hair-length and trousers tended to confuse the poor boy. But Arthur was shaking his head vigorously, reminding Douglas of a shaggy dog. Still, no indication that Arthur hadn't made a mistake.
On the other hand, Martin had never mentioned previous girlfriends, he wasn't at all that interested in girls, despite flustering about with that horrible Hester woman, and there was that momentary look of terror from the cut-costs Johannesburg when Douglas had suggested he go and seduce a local to stay for the night. He opted for the plane. Which all led to one conclusion.
"Arthur, you have to keep this quiet, or Martin will freak out, and most likely leave," said Douglas. "Do you promise?"
"Will I get a gold star?"
"Yes, you will get three gold stars. Now, promise me you won't tell anyone what you saw."
By some miracle, Arthur didn't say a word about the incident. Douglas quietly passed the information onto Carolyn, and life continued as normal. They had agreed that Martin had probably had a pretty terrible time of it, and decided to let him come out in his own way and in his own time.
Martin was panicking again. Attempts number twenty-eight to thirty-one had gone terribly. Now it was number thirty-two, and it looked to be turning out the same as the previous ones.
He swallowed, mouth dry, heart thumping. He looked at his shoes, and then at the crew, then back at his shoes again. There was still the chance to pull out, he could just start going over the flight-plan, he could, he could -
Ungrateful brat. Ungrateful ball-fondling, penis-worshipping, queer. Nobody outside of your little faggot friends is going to accept you. Nobody.
- he could do this. Screw what his family said! He was allowed to exist, allowed to be with whoever the hell he wanted to be with, and he didn't want to have to work for a homophobic company, so it was best if he got this out of the way, so he could hand in his uniform, and try to find another job.
Martin raised his head, straightening his back and looked at each member of MJN Air determinedly.
"There's a reason why I called you all together today. And it's not for the flight-plan. Well, not exclusively for the flight-plan. I just wanted to let you know that I'm gay. Yes. Gay. Me. That's why I don't have a girlfriend, and that's why I'll never have a girlfriend. And I wanted to let you know that if any of you have a problem with that, tell me now. I refuse to work for an airdot that will reject me on the basis of my sexuality. So, do you have anything to say, or may I move onto the flight-plan?"
The silence that followed shot dread into Martin's body. He took a step back, arms rising to hug himself slightly. Then Carolyn smiled. Arthur was bouncing on the balls of his feet, grinning widely.
"Martin, we've known for quite a while," said Douglas.
"Y-You have?" asked Martin, colour flooding back into his face.
"Yes, and we've been waiting for you to man up and tell us," said Carolyn.
"Oh," said Martin faintly.
A shy, nervous, terribly young smile edged it's way to his lips. That went very well, but they hadn't said anything else, and it was possible that they were going to reject him now that he'd admitted to it, and-
"Martin, stop thinking. You'll strain your brain, and we need you as our captain. Now give us the flight-plan," said Carolyn.
"I told you it was a boy he was kissing!" shouted Arthur, turning on Douglas, "I told you, I told you, I told you!"
"You saw that?" squeaked Martin, covering his face with his hands, now more embarrassed than scared.
"Yes," chimed Douglas, "Nice looking chap. Are you still together?"
"Uhm, no, it was just a bit of a snog," mumbled Martin.
He looked down again, internally flailing around, then realising that they hadn't said anything bad.
"So, it doesn't matter?"
"No, you dolt," snapped Carolyn, "Now give us the flight plan."
Martin fiddled with the edge of the folder, trying to find the right words. He bit his lip, thinking, then let it go. The world was going watery and he sniffled.
"Thank you for accepting me."
Carolyn handed him a handkerchief. Martin accepted it, wiping away the tears, sniffling again, before breaking out into full sobs. Douglas looked slightly startled before placing a hand on Martin's shoulder.
"It wasn't easy, was it? Growing up. Telling us."
"My family cut me off completely. They called me all sorts of names, hit me, spat on me, threw me out of home. I was lucky to get the van. They didn't tell me when dad's funeral was. Mum refuses to speak to me, my Caitlin can't speak to me, and Simon wants to speak to me, but only to call me names, or insult me. I don't have a family."
"It's okay, sweetheart," Carolyn said, taking him in a hug and patting his back, "We're your family now."
"Yes," he croaked, "And I love you for it. I don't ever want to leave. I want to stay."
He pulled away carefully, dabbing the thoroughly soaked handkerchief at his eyes, regulating his breathing. He smiled again, eyes red.