22nd July 2011
‘Are you alright to get home, Skip?’
Martin was sat on the steps of the portakabin, his injured ankle stretched out before him, and Douglas could see even through the bandages that Martin’s ankle was nearly twice the size it normally was.
‘Don’t worry, Arthur. I’ll make sure our illustrious Captain makes it home in one piece.’
‘Right-o, see you Monday then, Chaps. Feel better soon, Skip, and thanks for today. It was brilliant!’ And with a little wave Arthur was off across the airfield to his car, still on loan from Douglas. Martin was squinting up at Douglas, his face ruddy and tired looking.
‘Douglas, really, I’m fine.’ As if to prove his point Martin struggled to his foot.
‘Yes, I can see that from the way you seem to be propping the wall up, and hopping about like a one man pogo stick.’
Martin sighed and attempted to put some of his weight on his bad foot. It buckled almost immediately and Douglas had to lunge for Martin to stop him from ending up in an undignified heap on the floor.
‘Come on, hop-a-long,’ Douglas said, putting an arm round Martin’s waist, and hoisting one of Martin’s arms over his shoulder. Martin was greying around the edges by the time they made it to the van while Douglas struggled with the passenger door, which apparently had a habit of sticking.
‘Right, what’s our heading, Captain?’ Douglas asked once he was strapped into the driver’s seat of Martin’s van again, keys in the ignition instead of hidden under the lid of a piano.
‘Um, well there’s somewhere I have to be tonight, if that’s alright?’ Martin was trying to retrieve his phone out of his pocket, shifting to the left slightly while trying to straighten out his leg.
‘Does Sir have a hot date?’
Douglas caught Martin’s ears going red out the corner of his eye as he fiddled with his phone, clearly composing a text message to someone as Douglas drove out of Fitton airfield.
‘Ho ho. Sir does have a date.’ Douglas chuckled. ‘Go on then, who is the unfortunate girl.’
‘Her, eh, her name’s Sophie.’
‘And where are you meeting this mysterious Sophie?’
Martin gave Douglas the address and then sunk further into his seat, tossing his mobile from one hand to the other in a failed attempt at nonchalance. He dropped it in the foot well on the second toss and spent the next few minutes struggling to retrieve it from under the seat, unearthing twenty pence, which he happily pocketed and a packet of chewing gum which he threw onto the dashboard.
‘So how did you meet this girl of yours then?’
Martin spent a moment considering his position. They were still a good ten minutes away from Sophie’s house, and as much as Martin would have liked to, he couldn’t very well spend all ten of those minutes in moody silence, avoiding Douglas’ questions. ‘Icarus Removals. I helped her move house.’
‘Isn’t it frowned upon to sleep with ones clients?’
‘I didn’t bed her the night I moved her in, Douglas.’
‘That I do believe. But you have bedded her I take it?’
Martin coughed, and avoided the question. ‘She invited me in for tea and we became friends. Of course I was completely oblivious to the fact that she found me remotely attractive until she kissed me one night and asked when I was going to ask her out on a date.’
Douglas smiled to himself, amused by oblivious Martin and his hilarious attempts at flirting that he’d witnessed previously. ‘And I imagine after all the attractive stuttering it was probably her who eventually asked you out.’ Martin turned away from Douglas to look out the passenger window. ’How long have you been keeping this a secret then?’
‘It’s not a secret, I just don’t see how it’s any of your business.’ Martin’s cheeks were flushing scarlet with indignance at being accused of keeping secrets; thankfully Douglas was now pulling up outside Sophie’s flat.
Martin made a valiant attempt to manoeuvre himself under his own steam to the front door of the block of flats, but failed rather spectacularly once he’d lost the steady influence of the side of his van. Douglas positioned himself as Martin’s crutch again.
‘I almost didn’t think you were coming.’ A voice came over the intercom before there was the harsh buzz and a click as the front door opened. Martin threw out an arm as much to steady himself as to stop the door locking again.
‘Thank you, Douglas. I’ll be fine to-‘
‘Limp up the two flights of stairs?’ Douglas smoothly interrupted as he pushed the door open the whole way. Martin frowned, but didn’t push Douglas away when he started almost lifting him towards the foot of the stairs.
By the time they reached the top Martin was breathing heavily and refusing to even use his bad foot to balance himself. He had one hand braced against the wall beside Sophie’s front door and the other clutching at the seams of Douglas’ shirt by his shoulder.
‘It’ll be open.’
Sure enough when Douglas pushed the door to 21 open it swung inwards to a warmly lit hallway. His eye caught a glimpse of a collage of photos hanging in the hallway, Martin conspicuously in nearly all of them.
‘How long have you been going out with this girl, Martin?’
‘Six months,’ Martin mumbled as he made an attempt to extract himself from Douglas, but Douglas was already steering them both towards the kitchen and the sounds of dinner being made.
‘I thought you’d got lost in Ottery St. Mary, but I’m honestly grateful that you suggested we stay in for dinner tonight, because I didn’t get that, bloody hell, Martin! What have you done now?’
Sophie had spun on her heel, wooden spoon still in one hand, dripping some kind of tomato sauce onto the kitchen floor as she took in a pale and sweaty Martin clinging onto Douglas, one foot held gingerly away from the floor. Jet-black hair was swept back in a clumsy ponytail, a grey zip-up hoody hanging off a well-defined figure that was gawping rather openly at Martin.
‘I had a bit of an accident this morning. Douglas gave me a lift home, and helped me out this afternoon with that job.’
‘Martin, why didn’t you call me?’ Sophie was putting down the spoon and coming round the kitchen table to get a proper look at the damage. ‘Is it broken?’
‘Badly sprained, and you had that audition and I didn’t want to call you for something as trivial as this.’
‘Martin, sod the audition, I didn’t get it anyway. The fact your ankle is the size of a melon is really not trivial.’
Douglas cleared his throat. ‘Sorry to interrupt, but I think it would be in both Martin’s and my shoulder’s best interests if he sat down somewhere quite soon.’
‘Sorry, yeah, of course. Come on, I’ll move my things off the sofa.’
Sophie pulled un-ironed laundry from the sofa, bags and books came with them too before she moved the cushions to accommodate Martin. His brow was creased in pain as Douglas lowered him into a sitting position and Sophie lifted his legs up onto the sofa. She started unlacing his shoe almost immediately, Martin’s face going through a range of pained emotions.
‘Martin are you sure it’s only sprained?’
‘That’s what the hospital said.’
‘Hospital? Martin, you colossal idiot, call me next time.’ Sophie hit Martin with his own shoe and Douglas had to stop himself from laughing.
Douglas watched Sophie chiding Martin while simultaneously comforting him, peeling his sock off. Douglas gave a hiss in sympathy as Sophie rolled up the bottom of Martin’s jeans and Douglas got a first glimpse of the limb that had caused him such drama. Sophie was right, Martin’s ankle was swollen to the size of a melon and slowly changing into a rainbow array of colours.
Douglas turned away from Sophie poking at Martin’s ankle as he heard the unmistakeable sounds of a pan boiling over in the kitchen and went to investigate. Sophie appeared a few moments after he’d turned the heat down on the pans.
‘I thought I’d salvage your dinner while you were saving Martin from himself.’
‘Thank you. That was really kind of you.’ She pulled a bag of frozen peas from the fridge and started wrapping them in a dishcloth. ‘Thank you for bringing him here as well. I dread to think what other damage he would have done to himself trying to get into that attic of his.’
‘Yes, well, I dread to think what other damage Carolyn is going to do to him tomorrow when she finds out Martin can’t fly for a week and we borrowed Gerti to deliver a piano.’
Sophie laughed as she reached into one of the kitchen cupboards and pulled down a packet of painkillers. ‘I feel that’s a story I definitely want to hear.’
‘Quite the tale of adventure and daring.’
Sophie smiled, shuffled the peas and painkillers to one hand and stuck the other one out. ‘I’m Sophie.’
‘Douglas.’ He noted her firm handshake. ‘Anyway, now that Martin’s in capable hands, I’d best be off.’
‘Stay for dinner.’ Douglas hesitated and Sophie gave him an encouraging smile. ‘There’s more than enough for three of us. And Martin tells me that you’re quite the storyteller.’
‘Go on then, out with it,’ Martin demanded as he and Douglas sat in the living room drinking cups of tea while Sophie finished making the dinner. Martin seemed marginally more relaxed now he had a bag of frozen peas draped over his ankle and a dose of fast-acting painkillers in him.
‘Out with what?’ Douglas was busy looking round the living room trying to take in as many details as he could. Martin’s shoes had been thrust underneath the coffee table in the middle of the room that housed a book on aviation next to a brochure for Swan Lake. There was a jumper that couldn’t possibly be Sophie’s on top of the laundry pile and Top Gun next to the television.
‘Whatever witty and demonstrably awful comment you want to make about my love life.’
‘I have nothing to say Martin, except she appears to be a lovely girl, and more importantly head over heels in love with you. I wish you all the best.’ Douglas tested the temperature of his tea and took a more sizeable gulp when he realised it was cool enough to drink.
‘R-really?’ Martin stuttered. ‘Douglas, are you feeling alright?’
‘Quite well, thank you.’
‘It’s just you’ve been extremely nice to me today, with no seemingly ulterior motive in sight.’
Douglas frowned. Of course Martin was right, but Douglas was not willing to admit that he was worried about the younger man, and still feeling slightly guilty about the van keys. ‘I do believe the pain and subsequent painkillers have scrambled your brain, Captain.’
They sat round the kitchen table, Martin with his foot up on the spare chair looking significantly healthier now he had wolfed down most of Sophie's homemade sausage casserole. Douglas had to admit that Sophie was quite the cook.
‘So what do you do besides making sure Martin eats his five-a-day?’
Douglas could see Martin scowling from the other side of the table, but Sophie was laughing into her glass of wine.
‘I teach English as a second language, mostly to Japanese students. Well, that’s what pays the bills anyway.’
‘And what doesn’t pay the bills?’
‘She’s a dancer.’ Martin was trying to lean back in his chair to reach the pot of sausage casserole but was in danger of braining himself on the edge of the work surface. Sophie got up to retrieve it for him while Martin smiled bashfully up at her.
‘A dancer are you? The tango or the cha-cha?’
‘Ballet mostly. Although I’m quite fond of tap too.’
‘I saw the Alice In Wonderland ballet at the Theatre Royal in town last year, there was this one girl who was playing the dormouse and she tripped over her own tail in the second-‘ Douglas stopped talking as he realised Sophie was trying to drown herself in her glass of wine. Martin stopped serving himself up another plate-full long enough to give Douglas a look that said he had just made an extremely Martinish blunder.
‘I get clumsy when I’m nervous, which is why dancing doesn’t pay the bills.’
‘You were very graceful until your tail hindered you.’
‘Thanks.’ Sophie refilled her glass of wine, half of the bottle already gone. Which really was quite a feat considering Douglas didn’t drink and Martin had realised half way through his first glass that mixing painkillers and alcohol was probably not his wisest of moves.
‘I must say, you’re certainly providing lots more fodder to tease Martin with on long haul flights, which is probably why it’s taken him so long to introduce us.’
Sophie and Douglas were in the kitchen doing the dishes. Martin had attempted to clear the table, but when he’d tripped over a chair leg and almost knocked himself unconscious Sophie had yelled at him to sit down and Douglas had obligingly helped him hop back into the living room.
‘I think he’s scared,’ Sophie said.
‘Martin? Scared? Almost unheard of.’
‘No, I know he gets scared over silly things like people not believing he’s the Captain but I think he’s still genuinely scared that I’m suddenly going to decide one day that he’s not good enough for me.’
‘I don’t mean this to sound derogatory in any way, but I can see where he may get that idea. You’re a very beautiful young woman and from what I’ve seen relatively sane, and Martin, well, Martin is Martin.’
Sophie sighed. ‘There were lots of men, well, not lots, but certainly a fair few before Martin.’ She wrung the dishcloth between her hands. ‘The flat Martin moved me out of before here was my old boyfriend’s place. A cheat. A liar. A drunk. The last straw was him killing the cat.’
Douglas didn’t say anything but placed the glass he’d been washing very carefully in the dish-rack, purposely not looking at Sophie. The bottle of wine she’d opened earlier in the evening sat on the work surface in his peripheral vision, barely a glass left in it.
‘But Martin is funny and kind and loyal and everything that I’ve never been attracted to before. He gets up and makes me breakfast on a morning when he stays over. He brings me stupid presents back from wherever he’s been flying to with you. And he never asks for anything, but he deserves it all.’
Douglas realised he’d stopped washing the plate in his hands some time ago as he turned to look at Sophie and realised she was staring at Martin’s still unwashed plate on the table. He’d put his knife and fork together neatly with the piece of kitchen roll he’d used to wipe his mouth folded symmetrically on top.
It took a moment, but Sophie reached forward and picked the plate up, handing it to Douglas and removing the used bit of paper towel from it. ‘Sorry,’ she apologised. ‘Too much wine.’
‘I suppose I should be heading home. Thank you for dinner this evening.’
‘That’s alright.’ Sophie said as they stepped into the living room, stopping when they both realised that Martin had fallen asleep on the sofa in their absence.
‘Would you like a hand carrying the swooning lady through to the bedroom?’
‘That might be for the best. At least with you there’s only a fifty percent chance of him not making it there in once piece.’
‘Come on, Martin, time for bed.’ Douglas reached out to grab Martin’s arm, waking him in the process.
‘What’s going on?’ Martin slurred as Douglas hoisted him to his feet, although Martin very quickly remembered why he was being helped to his feet and winced as he pulled his bad foot away from the floor again.
‘Time for bed, Martin.’
Sophie had pulled back the covers in the bedroom on one side of the bed by the time they got there. On the other side sat decorative throw pillows, which didn’t surprise Douglas. He’d slept in enough women’s beds to know that they were almost par for the course. What did surprise him was the teddy bear dressed in a pilot’s uniform. It even had four gold stripes on the cuffs of its jacket.
Douglas thought about commenting as he helped Martin to sit on the bed, but Martin was trying to swallow a yawn before he started attempting to pull his jumper over his head, looking rather more pathetic than usual.
‘I’m afraid I draw the line at helping you undress, Martin. You’ll just have to ask this lovely lady to assist you.’
Martin mumbled something behind the jumper and Sophie gave a small smile. ‘I’ll just see Douglas out and then I’ll be back.’
Sophie managed to tug Martin’s jumper from him, her hand going through his hair briefly, fingers at the back of his neck as she pressed a kiss to his lips before she was turning away out the bedroom.
‘Enjoy breaking the news to Carolyn tomorrow,’ Douglas said before he followed Sophie towards the flat door. He heard Martin groaning behind him and the creaking of the mattress as Martin no doubt dramatically flopped backwards, still fully dressed, minus his jumper.
‘Thank you again, Douglas.’
‘That’s quite alright.’ Douglas smiled as Sophie opened the front door. ‘It was lovely to meet you.’
‘And you. Hopefully see you again soon.’ She kissed him on the cheek and Douglas felt himself blushing slightly before he was stepping out into the frigid air of the hallway and the door shut behind him. He stayed a moment, listening to the neighbours arguing across the hall before he heard the dulcet tones of Martin being indignant and the sound of someone fondly chiding him in turn.
23rd July 2011
‘He has a girlfriend?’
‘Yes.’ Douglas thought it had been quite a stroke of genius on his part to impart the news to Carolyn of their plane-jacking and Martin’s new girlfriend all in one breath. As he’d hoped, Carolyn had focused on the more surprising news of Martin dating.
‘A living breathing girl that he goes out on dates with?’
‘Yes. Quite shocking, isn’t it?’
‘How long has that being going on?’
‘According to Martin he’s known her for a year and they’ve been together for six months. Also, I couldn’t be sure, but I have a very strong suspicion that he’s slowly moving into her flat without realising it.’
Carolyn seemed to consider this for a moment, staring down at Martin’s neat desk that she was leaning against. ‘How brain damaged is she?’
‘Sorry, sorry, it’s just that Martin with a girlfriend is like…’
‘Arthur getting a PhD in forensic psychology?’
‘Precisely.’ Carolyn frowned once more before she looked up quite sharply at Douglas. ‘Now what was this about you stealing my plane to deliver a piano?’
17th November 2011
‘Have you made a decision yet?’
‘About?’ Martin was filling up the kettle in his kitchen, trying to angle it under the tap so that it didn’t knock over the pile of dishes in the sink that the students had left. Sophie and he had been out to watch the Christmas lights switch on in Fitton and decided to go back to Martin’s to warm up with a cup of tea.
‘Christmas.’ Sophie was rooting around in one of the cupboards trying to find some clean mugs.
‘I, eh,’ Martin stuttered, unsure what to say. Sophie had asked him a couple of weeks ago if he wanted to go with her to her parents’ farm in the Lake District for Christmas. It wasn’t that he had better plans for Christmas, he didn’t have any plans for Christmas. His own mother hadn’t even invited him to Christmas dinner. It was just that he’d never met Sophie’s parents before.
‘They’re not going to murder you in your sleep, you know,’ Sophie said, putting the mugs down on the work surface after sweeping crumbs onto the floor. ‘Dad may give you the third degree, but Mum will mostly try and feed you until you burst, but don't take that as an attempt to kill you. She does it with everyone.’
Martin didn’t say anything, just watched the kettle, waiting for it to boil.
‘I’m not scared.’
‘You are, but I’m saying there’s nothing to be scared of. I just don’t want you spending Christmas on your own in this dump with no one but the mouldy cheese in the fridge for company.’
‘I don’t know what insult to focus on most there. The implication that I have nobody else, that I’m a charity case or that I live in a rubbish heap?’
‘Don’t be like that.’
‘Like what? Offended because you’ve just insulted everything about me?’ The kettle boiled and Martin angrily threw two tea bags into two separate mugs before pouring the water in. In his angry haste some of the hot water sloshed over the side of the cup and scalded his hand. He hissed but continued trying to make the cups of tea.
‘You should run that under cold water.’
Martin ignored Sophie and continued trying to fish the tea bags from the mugs.
‘Martin, I’m sorry, I just…’ Sophie sighed. ‘I want to spend Christmas with you, and don’t fob me off, because I know you don’t have any other plans, but that’s not why I’m asking. I’m asking because I want you to meet my parents, and I want to see what you look like in one of my Gran’s awful Christmas knitted jumpers.’
Martin tried not to laugh, but he couldn’t help a smile pulling at his lips. He was still staring intently down at the cups of tea that he had stirred far more times than needed. Sophie’s hand was suddenly taking his though and steering him towards the sink. She turned the tap on and ran his scalded hand underneath it.
‘Aren’t you worried I’ll be a disappointment?’ he asked, somewhat sarcastically.
‘Martin, you will exceed all their expectations by showing up fully dressed and asking politely for more brussel sprouts.’ Sophie sighed. ‘They’ll be trying to marry us off before the end of the first day.’
Martin wriggled his fingers, feeling them slowly numbing under the rush of cold water but Sophie wouldn’t let go. He knew about Sophie's track record with men from the small throw away comments she made sometimes, and it made him wonder all the more why Sophie was with him.
‘And don’t ever think you’ll be a disappointment to me. Or anyone for that matter. Because you’re not.’
Sophie was still staring down at both their hands under the tap when Martin turned to look at her. He opened his mouth to say something but the kitchen door slammed open and a handful of students tumbled in out of the cold, wrapped up in a ludicrous mismatch of scarves and woolly hats.
‘Oi oi!’ There were a few giggles. ‘Not interrupting anything are we, Marty?’ asked Alex as he started drinking milk straight out of the fridge.
Martin shook his head as he finally pulled his hand out from underneath the tap, eyes still firmly on Sophie who had moved away to retrieve her cup of tea.
4th February 2012
Martin entered the flight deck whistling.
‘You sound very pleased with yourself today, Martin.’
‘I’m not. I mean, do I?’
‘Martin, you’re grinning so much you could put the Cheshire cat, or worse, Arthur, to shame.’
Martin tried to school his features into something a little less toothy, but he continued to whistle the main tune to Peter and the Wolf as he started doing the pre-flight checks.
‘And of course there’s the fact that you practically skipped on your walk-around.’ Douglas smirked as he watched Martin’s cheeks colouring. ‘Could your good mood be anything to do with the fact that this is the night called bella notte?’
‘Bella what now?’
Douglas started singing. ‘Oh this is the night, what a beautiful night and we call it bella notte.’
‘Lady and the Tramp!’ Arthur yelled bursting into the flight deck rather dramatically with two cups of coffee, most of which sloshed onto the floor.
‘Thank you, Arthur, although we’re not playing name that Disney movie.’
‘Aw, can we though, please? Because I would definitely win at that.’
‘Of that I have no doubt.’
‘Muppets Christmas Carol!’
‘Sorry, Skip. So what game are we playing then?’ Arthur asked as he handed out the half full cups of coffee.
Douglas took his with a frown. ‘At the moment, “Why is Martin in such a good mood?”’
‘Is it because we had pizza in Pisa, because that was pretty brilliant. We should do that every place we go to. Like eating chillies in Chile. Or, or Macaroni cheese in… in…’
‘Yes, well, while Arthur thinks of something that sounds like Macaroni cheese why don’t you tell the rest of us why the hills are alive with the sound of music, Martin?’
Martin sighed. ‘It’s because, because well, it’s our anniversary. Mine and Sophie’s. And I’ve managed to book us in to The Orchard.’
Douglas’ eyebrows shot up into his hairline. ‘Good Lord, Martin. I hope you’ve paid your rent this month.’
‘Yes, I know, it’s rather expensive, but, well, I just thought that it would be… nice.‘ Martin trailed off and he looked back to the instrument panel, fiddling with buttons Douglas knew he didn’t need to be touching.
‘Romance doesn’t have to cost you the month’s rent, you know.’ Douglas said quietly as he went to the locker on the flight deck. He took a moment shimming it open to finally reveal what looked to be a very small florist.
‘Bloody hell, Douglas. Did you rob a wedding?’
‘They were a gift, from a very nice bag handler in Italy whom I gifted two large boxes of Red Vines from our trip to Chicago in return.’ Douglas was counting out a small bunch of twelve red roses. ‘Here, Martin, flowers for your lady.’ He handed them to Martin with a flourish. ‘I’m fairly certain that Bjorn won’t notice a missing bouquet tomorrow.’
Martin looked down at the white bow Douglas had tied around the roses to keep them together before getting up to place them on top of his flight bag.
‘Oh, and Martin. Remember and add that to The Manual,’ Douglas said as he got on the radio to ATC.
‘Belize!’ Arthur suddenly burst out with. ‘Macaroni cheese in Belize.’
Martin gave a shy smile, the bunch of roses still held tightly in his right hand. He was wearing his best suit and shirt that wasn’t his uniform – twelve pounds from Cancer Research, hardly worn. He’d been expecting to find Sophie wearing a dress or at the very least a smart top. She was, however, wearing tracksuit bottoms and his jumper that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in her flat.
‘Shit, it’s Friday isn’t it. Oh, God, Martin, I’m sorry, I completely forgot.’ She pushed the door open slightly inviting him in. ‘Um, just give me ten minutes and I’ll put something on.’
Martin watched as she disappeared towards the bedroom. She was clutching at her stomach as she opened the top drawer of her dresser and dragged out a pair of tights. She stood on one leg, groaning slightly as she tried to pull a pair of fluffy Santa slipper socks off her feet.
‘Are you alright?’ Martin asked as he shut the front door and placed the flowers down on the kitchen table.
Sophie sighed and rubbed at her stomach. ‘Aunt Irma’s come to visit.’
Martin looked at her blankly as he stepped into the doorway of the bedroom.
‘It’s my time of to month.’
‘Oh.’ Martin gave a sympathetic smile. ‘We can stay in.’
‘No, Martin, don’t be daft. It’s our anniversary and you’ve been talking about this all week and I’m an idiot to forget it.’
‘Sophie, it’s fine. We can go another day.’
She was cut off by Martin gathering her into his arms, prying the pair of tights out her hand and kissing her forehead.
‘We’ll stay in and I’ll make us some dinner.’
‘There’s nothing in the fridge apart from half a tomato, pesto and a lump of cheese.’ Martin could feel her fingers clutching at the back of his shirt beneath his jacket.
‘You forget I’m an expert at cooking on a budget.’
She gave a snort of laughter and hugged him a bit tighter, her head moving so she could see over his shoulder back into the kitchen. ‘Thank you for the roses.’
‘Spoils from Douglas’ latest smuggling scheme.’
‘Thank you,’ she repeated and kissed the side of his neck. ‘You smell nice.’
‘Duty free at Pisa.’
She smiled into the collar of his shirt before she pulled away and shuffled past him to head back into the living room where she flopped down onto the sofa and curled up on her side. She hugged the owl cushion to her chest and stared unseeing out the bay window at the night sky. She could hear Martin in the kitchen, the kettle boiling furiously. She felt guilty for forgetting what day it was, and more importantly what plans she’d had with Martin for this evening, but in her defence she’d spent most of the afternoon curled up on the sofa trying not to throw up. She knew he’d forgive her, but she was already thinking of ways she could make it up to him.
‘Here.’ Martin presented Sophie with a hot water bottle wrapped in sheep’s clothing. She gave him a tired smile and swapped it for the owl cushion.
‘I can’t find any chocolate, I’m afraid, but I can make some hot chocolate instead of tea?’
Sophie could feel tears gathering in the corners of her eyes, but she fought to hold them back. ‘There’s a sachet of mint chocolate Options hiding behind the sugar bowl.’
‘I’ll be back in a minute.’
Sophie closed her eyes trying to concentrate on the warmth that was dispersing from the hot water bottle, feeling an excessive swell of gratitude towards Martin. She always marvelled at how thoughtful he was, and how he always knew just what to say or do. She opened her eyes when she heard the dull thunk of a mug being put down on the coffee table.
‘I’d leave it to cool. I made it with real milk.’
‘There’s milk in the fridge that’s not gone off?’
‘It was hiding behind a flat can of coke.’
Martin picked Sophie’s feet up and sat himself down underneath them, one hand on her left foot, rubbing a thumb along the top of her toes. Sophie wriggled them within the confines of her socks, twisting her upper body slightly so she could see Martin’s face. ‘How do you always know exactly what I need?’
Martin blushed and looked away to the television that wasn’t even on. He pulled at the collar of his shirt, loose now he’d removed his tie.
‘I have a manual.’
‘You have a what?’
‘A manual. I made it myself. Although, Douglas helped. Quite a lot actually.’
Sophie was laughing. ‘Why on earth do you have a manual?’
‘Well, you know I’ve never been in a serious relationship before and I really didn’t want to mess things up, and Douglas seemed quite adamant that I probably would at some point, and although I hate to agree with Douglas, past events provide evidence to support his view. Also, Douglas seems to like you enough to help me for whatever ulterior motive he’s got going on, and he gave me some advice and I thought it’d be best if I wrote it down so it turned into a sort of manual. And then Douglas found the manual and started adding to it, and Arthur thought it was a brilliant idea so started making his own, and I really hope that Carolyn never finds out, although I suspect she already knows and is just biding her time on the matter.’
‘You’re ridiculous.’ Sophie was still laughing, but she was looking at him with such fondness. ‘Can I see it?’
‘Can you... You want to see it?’
‘I want to see what else is in there. What other advice Douglas has given you.’
Martin considered for a moment before lifting Sophie’s feet from his lap and standing up. He went to his jacket that was hung over the back of one of the kitchen chairs and pulled a small book from the inside pocket before returning to Sophie. He handed it down to her before taking up his place on the settee again.
She watched him as she held it. ‘I don’t have to read it if you don’t want me to. I could be pleasantly surprised.’
She looked down at the front cover where Martin had written The Good Boyfriend Guide.
‘Just look at page fifty-six.’
‘There’s more than fifty pages?’
She was already flicking to page fifty-six though. The title at the top proclaimed How to deal with her period.
1. Reduce social activities.
2. Let her eat what she wants.
3. Avoid conflict.
4. Things that will help: hot water bottles, painkillers, chocolate & tea.
‘The tea was Arthur’s suggestion. He’s convinced tea solves everything.’
5. Distract her with things she likes.
6. Take on some of her chores.
Sophie turned the page to find a new topic about appropriate gifts for different occasions. She didn’t read it but flicked through the rest of the book only to realise how much effort Martin had put into researching everything.
‘You’re ridiculously adorable.’ She closed the book and put it down on the coffee table before retrieving the mug he’d brought her. She sat back up, turning herself round and bringing the hot water bottle with her so she was curled into Martin’s side. He hesitated for a moment before putting an arm round her shoulders and squeezing tightly.
‘I’m sorry I forgot about tonight,’ Sophie said when the adverts came on during some show about aeroplanes or airports. Sophie wasn’t really paying attention; she’d let Martin choose. He’d originally chosen a repeat of X-Factor, but she’d frowned at him and told him to choose what he wanted and not what he thought she wanted, so after several minutes of channel flicking he’d finally settled on re-runs of Airport.
‘It’s okay.’ Martin sounded sincere enough, but Sophie could tell that he was disappointed.
‘You look very dapper by the way.’
‘Yes.’ Sophie twisted round to look at him. ‘Are you questioning my word choice?’
‘Just your word choice in relation to me.’
‘Would you prefer if I called you sexy? Gorgeous?’ Sophie smiled when Martin started blushing and stammering out a thank you.
‘I know how much tonight meant to you, and I’m sorry I ruined it.’ She huddled tighter into the side of him. ‘I did get you something, though.’
‘Soph, you didn’t have to get me anything.’
‘You got me something.’
‘I stole contraband flowers from Douglas. Please don’t say you spent lots of money on me?’
‘I spent £3.95.’ Sophie was pulling herself slowly to her feet, still hugging the hot water bottle to her stomach as she disappeared into the kitchen. There was the jiggle of a bunch of keys as Sophie returned and presented Martin with a lone key before sitting back down on the sofa beside him.
‘It’s a key.’
‘To my flat.’ Sophie was pulling her legs up underneath her as Martin stared a little dumbfounded at the key in his hand. ‘I’m not asking you to move in with me, I’m just saying you can, if you want. Or if not then it’s just a key so you don’t have to ring the doorbell every time you come over.’
‘I, uh, I don’t know… Thank you. Sophie, I really don’t know-‘
‘Martin, I’m not looking for an answer now, it’s your choice. I won’t be offended if you decide it’s just a key. But if you did move in, it would be nice to share a flat with you. It would be nice to share a little bit more of your life. And please don’t let your pride stop you, because I’m not going to make you a kept man or something. I know you don’t earn very much, but we can sit down and talk about the bills and the rent and come to some arrangement or something and-‘
It was the only way Martin could think to stop her talking and express his gratitude all at once. He kissed her. He wasn’t saying yes, but he certainly wasn’t saying no either.
5th February 2012
Martin jumped slightly as the blind clattering in the breeze through the window woke him. He was quite happy to roll over and go back to sleep, but he was met with the dazzling light from the bedside table.
‘Sophie, what are you doing?’ Martin blinked at the alarm clock. ‘It’s three in the morning.’
‘Just some correcting.’
‘Some what? Is that my manual?’ Martin was sitting up in the bed on one elbow now, squinting at the blue book Sophie had propped on her knees.
‘I’m just editing it a bit.’
‘Well it’s going to be to my advantage to do so, isn’t it?’
‘What are you editing?’ Martin was trying to sit up properly now, leaning over and laying his head on Sophie’s shoulder so he could read what she was writing. She was crossing out the entire page that told Martin how to read a woman’s feelings in their actions and writing below it, just ask her.
‘How are you feeling?’ Martin’s voice was sleepy sounding and his breath ghosted over her collarbone making Sophie shiver slightly. She felt the palm of his hand rubbing lightly over her stomach.
‘Happy.’ Sophie turned her head so she could brush her lips against Martin’s forehead.
‘I’m tired,’ he mumbled into her neck. Sophie smiled and set down the manual on the bedside table before turning out the light. Martin shifted to lie back down again and Sophie sorted out her pillows before lying down beside him. One hand was still resting on her stomach rubbing slow circles that was making Sophie drowsy.
‘You know you don’t really need the manual. You’re already a better boyfriend than any of the previous ones I’ve had just by being you.’
Sophie smiled. ‘Definitely. I had an unhealthy addiction to bad boys before you helped me haul my wardrobe up the stairs.’ She smiled slightly as she remembered that day. Martin had been all awkward clumsiness and she’d joked to him not to drop the box full of glasses, and then he actually had, and he’d been so mortified that he’d said she didn’t have to pay him if she didn’t want and he’d replace the glasses. She’d ended up tipping him and offering him a cup of tea. ‘Sometimes I think you’re too good for me Martin Crieff.’
‘I think the same thing.’ He opened his eyes, but could barely see her in the gloom of the bedroom. ‘Of you, I mean. Sometimes I think you’re too good for me,’ he spluttered. ‘You know I’d feel a lot more reassured if you let me keep the manual.’
Sophie laughed and rolled over so her back was to Martin, making sure that his arm was still round her. ‘I’ll let you keep the manual on one condition.’
‘Oh? What’s that?’
‘You stop letting Douglas help you. He’s doesn’t know anything about what girls want in a boyfriend. You’re doing just fine on your own.’
12th February 2012
Martin sneezed and Douglas nearly growled in annoyance. Martin had been sniffling into a handful of grotty tissues for most of the week now and looking progressively tried every day he came in to sit at his desk while they waited to fly to Cancun. The prospect of warmer climes however, didn’t stop Martin’s constant sniffling from being annoying. Not when Douglas knew for a fact it was because Martin had been sleeping in his damp attic room rather than Sophie’s rather sumptuously heated flat. He wasn’t the one to say something however, because Carolyn chose that moment to launch herself out of her office and confront Martin with the full force glare of both boss and mother figure in one.
‘Will you just swallow your pride for goodness sake, Martin, and damn well move in with the girl!’
Martin looked mortified for a moment, as always unsure what to do now that his relationship seemed to be weekly flight deck gossip. Martin sneezed again, trying to regain his composure and sniffed into an already well-used tissue. ‘It’s not that simple.’
‘She asked you to move in didn’t she?’ Carolyn was leaning over the desk, Martin looking too terrified to answer now. ‘And you want out of your damp attic before you die of pneumonia or Ebola or mad cow disease if those agricultural students are anything to go by?’
Martin nodded timidly. ‘Well, yes.’
‘Then I really don’t see how it could be anymore simple than you packing up your meagre possessions and sharing a very nice flat with the girl you love.’
‘Because, Carolyn, what she pays for her very nice flat is not something I can really afford as a man with a van with a very time consuming hobby as a pilot.’
Carolyn ignored the jibe at her having a pilot whom she paid in meals rather than actual wages. ‘Has she asked you to pay the rent?’
‘We haven’t had a chance to discuss it yet. I haven’t really seen her this week.’
Carolyn tutted in annoyance. ‘Oh, for goodness sake, Martin, talk to the poor girl! She’s asked you to move in, probably full well knowing your dire financial situation. She obviously earns more than you and can already afford to live there without you moving in. Maybe she might be happy paying the rent every month if you pay the bills, or maybe you could open a joint account together so both your earnings end up in a pool that you both take from.’
Martin sniffed and looked thoughtful for a moment. ‘I never really thought about it like that.’
Carolyn sighed, almost in relief. ‘Relationships are about a bit of give a take, Martin. Maybe if you give up your pride and take a little money things really would be that simple.’
Martin bristled slightly, but the effective glare he had been mustering was ruined slightly by him sneezing.
‘And for pity’s sake get her to make you some soup or something before you give the rest of us your horrid cold.’ Carolyn slammed the door into her partitioned office making the walls shake slightly, effectively ending the conversation.
Martin turned to Douglas. ‘Do you think-‘
‘Martin, you already know what I think, have asked me several times this week on my opinion regarding you moving in with Sophie,’ Douglas chided. ‘What I will say, now Carolyn has thrown in her Tuppence worth, is that no one ever choked to death swallowing their own pride.’
Martin felt awful. He was not cherishing going home to the damp attic in which he resided while the students got drunk because it was Thursday or because someone had finally thrown out the mouldy piece of cheese at the back of the fridge they’d named Pierre or any number of other mundane reasons to throw a party. He was not enthused by the notion of coaxing his van into starting and then making it the seven miles home under it’s own steam and not towed by a breakdown vehicle he didn’t have cover for.
He wanted a comfortable bed and dry socks and heating that worked and food sitting warm in his stomach. He wanted these things so much that he’d managed to drive to Sophie’s block of flats before he’d given the idea much thought and in that moment he knew Douglas and Carolyn were both right.
He stood staring at the buzzer for a moment, hand hovering between it and his pocket. In the end he fished his keys out his pocket and fought with the door for a moment before it allowed him into the building. He considered knocking on Sophie’s door, and eventually went for the compromise of letting himself in, but knocking and calling out at the same time.
‘Martin?’ Sophie’s head appeared out of the spare bedroom, a smile of surprise of her face. There was a streak of blue paint across Sophie’s left cheek and in her hair. She came down the corridor towards him, blue fingers reached for a stray strand of hair and tucked it behind her ear. ‘I was going to give you a call tonight. I haven’t seen you in a week.’
‘Work. I’ve been on stand-by.’
‘You said in your texts. Look, don’t stand in the doorway, come in.’ She made a grab for his arm and stopped short when she realised she was still covered in paint. ‘Let me just de-paint.’
He stood in the hallway as she went to the bathroom. The spare bedroom door was propped open beyond and Martin could see a half finished bright blue wall. He didn’t think to take off his shoes or coat, so just stood there looking like a lemon, staring at Sophie’s work shoes.
‘I thought maybe I’d scared you off with the key,’ she shouted over the rush of water in the bathroom.
Martin gave a high-pitched laugh. ‘No. No. Not at all. No.’
‘Yes, definitely not scared.’ Sophie appeared in the doorway, drying her hands on a towel, a frown on her face. He coughed as she moved down the hall towards him.
‘Look, Sophie, I didn’t mean to come round unannounced and interrupt your decorating project. I’m sorry, I’m…’
Her hand was on his forehead, damp fingers rubbing gently at his hairline before she turned her palm away, back of her hand to his forehead before knuckles grazed his right cheek. ‘You’re sick.’
She was tugging his jacket from his shoulders now and hanging it up, steering him further into the flat and pushing him in the direction of the sofa.
‘Come on, sit down and I’ll do us some dinner and we can talk about how I’ve freaked you out by giving you a key when all I really meant to do was make a gesture.’
He picked up a cushion that was shaped like an owl before taking its place on the sofa. He stared at its patchwork feathers as he listened to Sophie banging pots and pans in the kitchen and filling the kettle.
He wriggled his toes, his feet reminding him of the puddle he'd stepped in that afternoon. He bent down, starting on the arduous task of taking his shoes off. He grasped his foot with his hand once he'd wrestled his shoe from it with a wet pop, trying to warm it as he shivered. He was pulling at the other shoe when Sophie came back into the living room and caught him shivering. She pulled her jacket from the back of the sofa and retrieved the garment underneath.
‘Here.’ Sophie handed him a jumper of his he thought he’d lost. ‘I borrowed it.’
‘Thanks.’ He struggled to pull it over his head, trying to find the right holes for his arms and realising not soon enough that he had it on back to front. ‘Sorry.’
He stopped and looked up at Sophie.
‘Stop apologising,’ she said softly before she was helping him with his jumper. When she was done she didn’t move away though. She leaned in closer, lips barely an inch from Martin’s. ‘I missed you.’ She pressed her lips firmly to his.
‘You’ll get my germs.’
‘Good. Then I’ll have a legitimate reason to stay home from work tomorrow and spend the day with you.’ She kissed him again and Martin felt his cheeks flushing with heat as she crawled onto his lap. They stayed like that for a moment, Martin’s hands on her back, Sophie’s fingers at the back of his neck and in his hair. Martin could feel a tickle building at the back of his throat, pulling away from Sophie as the kettle boiled and he coughed into the shoulder of his jumper.
‘Sorry.’ Martin shuddered and Sophie rolled her eyes as she pulled herself from him, a hand brushing back the hair from his forehead and kissing him one last time before she was going back into the kitchen to make a pot of tea. Martin pulled the sleeves of his jumper down past his hands and fisted the ends between his fingers.
It was warm in Sophie’s flat. It was always warm in Sophie’s flat. She didn’t seem to worry too much about excessive heating bills and damp creeping in during the winter months. The radiator clicked to remind him it was still there as he pulled his cold feet up onto the sofa and buried them beneath the owl cushion.
‘I’ve got some sausages in so I could do your favourite if you like?’
Martin wanted to cry with happiness. His mum was the only other person who had ever known his favourite food and how it had never changed since he was seven years old. ‘That would be wonderful, thank you. I don’t mind cooking, though.’ He was already uncurling his feet to get up.
Martin sometimes wondered where Sophie had come from and why she felt the need to be with such a hopeless, poor, extremely ordinary man with a van who had delusions of being a pilot. He’d never dared ask her, but he’d heard Douglas offhandedly enquiring what an attractive and seemingly sane girl like Sophie saw in a boy like Martin the first time they’d met and the answer had made Martin blush right down to his stomach.
‘There’s a Toblerone in my flight bag for you. I meant to give it you last week after Pisa, but I forgot,’ he said as she came back into the living room with two cups of tea. She handed one to Martin, smiling as she kissed him on the cheek.
‘Thank you.’ She placed her own mug on the coffee table. ‘Let me just go put the oven and some potatoes on and then I’ll be back through.’
He hugged his cup of tea to his chest, closing his eyes and leaning his head on the back of the sofa, lulled by the sound of life in the next room that wasn’t raucous students getting drunk. He was almost asleep by the time the sofa dipped beside him and he blinked himself back to some form of consciousness as Sophie almost sat on his feet.
‘Jesus, Martin. Your feet are freezing.’ Sophie pulled the throw from the back of the sofa and started mummifying Martin’s legs in it.
‘It’s cold in the portakabin,’ he told her, watching her as she sat cross-legged, facing him on the sofa, blue paint still streaked across her face.
‘You have, eh,’ Martin reached out and attempted to rub the paint from Sophie’s face without much success. He licked his thumb and made a second attempt.
‘Sorry, that’s disgusting.’ He pulled back, wiping his thumb on his jumper. Sophie laughed but didn’t move to wipe the spit or the remaining paint from her face.
‘So do you want to talk about the key now?’
Martin swallowed the too hot tea that was burning his tongue before speaking. ‘Actually, I wanted to talk about moving in.’
He watched Sophie’s lips quiver as she tried to force a smile back down, bringing her mug of tea to her lips to try and hide it. ‘Oh?’
‘You know I don’t earn very much, that I struggle to pay the rent on my attic as is, but I would want to contribute to living here, because Douglas would find it too hilarious if I became your kept man.’
‘And here I was looking forward to having a house-husband.’ Sophie realised what she’d said and tried to back peddle. ‘Not that I’m saying you’re my husband. House-boyfriend I meant, not husband, because we’re not married.’ She laughed nervously. ‘But, I know what you mean, Martin. Which is why I said to you when I gave you the key we could come to an arrangement. If we live together we’re sharing everything, which means not just sharing the bills, the rent, food, etcetera, but sharing our income.’
‘But, I earn more than you, yeah I know. And I know how much it will have taken you to swallow your pride and come here tonight. So, why don’t we go to the bank tomorrow and ask about opening a joint account, yeah?’
‘I’m still on stand-by. I have to be in by nine.’ Martin suddenly felt exhausted at the prospect, and yawned as if to emphasis his point. ‘But I suppose-‘
‘Shit,’ Sophie said, as there was the sound of a pan boiling over in the kitchen. ‘Hold that thought.’ Sophie was scrambling over the arm of the sofa in an attempt to get to the kitchen faster, almost falling headfirst into the bookshelf before she righted herself and tumbled on out the door.
Martin couldn’t really taste anything when they sat down to dinner. They tried to finish the serious conversation of moving in together, but Martin’s mind kept wandering and he felt so fuzzy headed by the end of the meal he wasn’t sure he could even string a sentence together.
‘Thanks for dinner, Soph,’ he said when they were finished, wiping his mouth with his napkin and making to stand up. ‘I should probably be heading home now.’
Sophie’s hand was on his, tugging at the sleeve of his jumper to make him sit back down again.
‘Martin, you’re sick, you’ve just agreed to move in with me and you’re trying to go back to a place where you have a mattress on the floor of a damp attic in a house filled with agriculture students.’ She gave him a look that broached no argument. ‘You’re staying here.’
‘But you’re painting the spare room.’
‘When have you ever slept in the spare room?’
‘I just thought, because I’m not feeling all that great…’
‘You can sleep in the same bed with me so I can make sure you don’t expire in the middle of the night? Good thinking.’
He opened his mouth to protest but everything died as a croak in his throat as Sophie started gathering the dishes up. He lurched to his feet, trying to be helpful, but she turned the tap off almost as quickly as he turned it on.
‘I’ll do them in the morning.’ She was tipping the remainder of the dishes into the sink before prising the pot that she’d made the mashed potato in out of Martin’s hands. ‘Come on, bed. Before you fall down in the kitchen.’
Sophie deposited a glass of water and a box of tissues on the bedside table next to Martin before dropping the bin from under her desk onto the floor.
‘Yup?’ she asked as she started getting ready for bed.
‘You know I love you, right?’
‘Course I do.’ She turned and smiled at him, halfway undressed. Martin would blame it on the fact that the sausage and mash that had been sitting comfortably in the pit of his stomach was now threatening to repeat on him, but he suddenly felt emotionally overwhelmed as he watched Sophie finishing changing into her pyjamas.
‘I love you too,’ she said, smiling shyly down at him before she crawled into her own side of the bed and turned the light out. Martin turned towards her.
‘Thank you,’ Martin said softly into the shell of Sophie’s ear. ‘For everything.’ He kissed the side of her neck, trying to ignore the churning in his stomach as his hands slid beneath her top. ‘I never… oh, God.’
Martin was sliding out the bed and stumbling towards the bathroom. He landed on his knees with a smack beside the toilet, but his groan of pain was lost to the retching heaves as his stomach emptied itself.
He could feel shame rising up in him as he shuddered on the bathroom floor, first hot then cold as he started sweating through his t-shirt. He could feel his ears going red with embarrassment as he heard Sophie’s feet on the tiled floor, a hand on his back rubbing soothing circles.
‘Sorry,’ he managed as he sat back on his heels when he was finished and took the damp flannel Sophie offered him, wiping his mouth. ‘I meant for that to be more romantic.’
‘I happen to love your brand of clumsy romance.’ Sophie smiled and even though he’d just been sick and was still sitting on the bathroom floor bathed in his own sweat, she kissed him.
7th September 2012
‘Good morning.’ Douglas smiled indulgently at Martin as he stumbled into the kitchen, blinking furiously against the onslaught of natural light coming in through the window.
‘Last time I checked.’
‘What are you doing here?’ Martin was slowly taking in details of his surroundings. ‘Making coffee.’ He glanced at the clock on the wall. ‘At eight in the morning.’
‘I met the charming Sophie on the doorstep and she let me in before she went for her run. Told me to help myself to coffee as long as I saved a cup for you and your hangover.’
‘Did you?’ Martin was lowering himself rather gingerly onto a chair at the table.
Douglas poured out a cup and slid it over the surface towards Martin. ‘And how is Sir’s hangover?’
‘Oh God, Douglas.’ Martin lowered his head into his hands. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been so drunk in my life.’
‘Was there a cause for such merriment?’
Martin squinted down at his coffee trying to recall why he’d gotten so drunk the previous evening. It trickled back in slowly.
‘I think, although I can’t really be sure, but I think I proposed.’
‘Are congratulations in order then?’
‘I, eh, I don’t know.’
‘You don’t know?’
‘No. I’ve only just remembered I proposed. I suppose that explains why she was a bit off with me this morning. Oh, God, what if she said no and now it’s going to be really awkward and I’ll have to move out. Douglas, I don’t have anywhere to live.’
‘Ah, well, you know how women are about these things. So fickle. What might have been a no last night was probably a yes this morning.’
‘Yes, well you would know, wouldn’t you, Douglas,’ Martin snapped, before cringing at both his word choice, and how loud the words were in his head.
‘Anyway, I hate to interrupt this happy trip down drunken lane, but I was rather hoping to be driving you to a plane that you were planning on possibly flying sometime today.’
‘Ah.’ Martin frowned as he pulled himself to his feet rather cautiously. ‘Let me just go shower and get dressed.’
‘Let us hope that today is not the day that Mr. Lewinski decides to take us off standby to fly him to Las Vegas,’ Douglas said to Martin’s retreating back.
There was an excessive amount of banging before the shower turned on and Douglas helped himself to a second cup of coffee, hoping that Sophie returned before he and Martin had to depart. Or even better, before Martin even got out the shower.
Sophie did indeed return before Martin was out the shower, breathing heavily and perspiring as she leaned over the sink to drink straight from the tap. The earphones to her iPod were dangling dangerously close to the water as she tried to spit stray strands of sweaty hair from her mouth.
‘Is he alive now, then?’ she asked as she wiped the back of her hand with the sleeve of her top.
‘He’s in the shower.’ Douglas’ eyes moved to Sophie’s hand. ‘I see congratulations are in order.’
‘Thank you.’ She grinned, looking down at the ring. ‘Did he tell you?’
‘Martin? No, he’s only just remembered he proposed, but he seems to be under the illusion that you may have said no.’
Sophie laughed. ‘He was so drunk, Douglas. After I’d done being angry about how drunk he was and figured out why he was so paralytic it was rather hysterical to watch him flailing around on one knee.’
The door of the bedroom opened at that moment and Martin emerged back into the kitchen, wet hair combed back and his pilot’s uniform on, minus shoes, tie and epaulets. Douglas saw Sophie putting her left hand behind her back out of the corner of his eye.
‘I hear you’ve remembered you proposed now.’
Martin’s eyes looked huge in his head for a moment. ‘Yes, sorry about the drunkenness.’
‘I don’t think you need to apologise again, Martin. You did quite enough of that as you were trying to get your trousers off last night without undoing the belt.’
Douglas snorted into his coffee.
‘Um, I have just one question, quite a big one actually. The thing is I can’t quite remember, what with clearly being preoccupied with my trousers, but I was just wondering what your answer was?’
‘After you asked me to marry you?’ Sophie looked deep in thought for a moment. ‘Well, after you’d asked me not to go gentle into that good night while I was trying to get you up off the living room floor, not sure I can actually remember.’ She frowned as Martin looked mortified. Douglas could see he was perspiring almost as much as Sophie was.
‘Maybe? I think I said maybe.’ She put her left hand to her mouth in thought, and it took Martin a moment to realise she had a ring where there wasn’t normally one. It glinted in the overhead lights of the kitchen as he blinked stupidly at the modest stone setting.
‘I said yes, you idiot.’
‘Oh, well, that’s good,’ Martin said rather dumbly. Sophie just rolled her eyes and crossed the kitchen to kiss a still rather bemused looking Martin.
‘Try and survive the day and I’ll see you, hopefully sober, for a proper proposal dinner this evening.’ She kissed him one last time before moving round him.
‘Congratulations, again.’ Douglas got to his feet and kissed Sophie on the cheek before she pulled him in for a hug. ‘I’m glad Martin’s finally found someone who can look after him and put up with him at the same time.’
Sophie laughed as she headed towards the bedroom. ‘Thanks, Douglas.’
‘Right, come on Dylan Thomas, we have to go present you to Carolyn and hope she’s lost her sense of smell,’ Douglas told Martin as he thrust Martin’s untouched cup of coffee into his hands just as Douglas' phone started ringing.
‘Speak of the devil incarnate,’ Douglas said before he picked up. ‘Hello, Carolyn.’
‘I’m getting married.’ Martin was staring at Douglas with a look of shock on his face.
‘Yes, we’re on our way now. Martin’s just having a marital crisis.’
There was a confused pause on the other end of the phone line before Carolyn spoke. ‘But Martin’s not married.’
‘She said yes, Douglas. Oh God, I’m getting married.’ Martin started hyperventilating.
‘Morning, Chaps!’ Arthur greeted with his usually amount of enthusiasm as Douglas steered Martin in the door of the Portakabin and shut the door behind them.
Arthur was frowning at Martin who was stood in the middle of the room now staring down at his desk as if he’d never seen it before. ‘Is Skip alright?’
‘Martin imbibed a little too much last night.’ Douglas manoeuvred Martin into one of the office chairs. ‘Also he appears to be in some amount of shock. Pop the kettle on will you, Arthur?’
‘Shock? Why? What happened? He didn’t stick a knife in the toaster to try and get his toast out did he, because I just thought Mum was being overly cautious when she told me about that, but it really does give you a shock and makes you all sort of buzzy for the rest of the day.’
‘Not that kind of shock, Arthur. A shock in the sense that he’s just realised that he will soon be a married man.’
‘Skip’s getting married? That’s uh, that’s…’
‘Yes, I thought it might be.’
‘Aw, wow! I’ll need to think of a brilliant present. Do you think there will be cake too?’
‘I don’t know, Arthur. Let’s ask Martin, shall we.’ Douglas swivelled in his chair to face Martin. ‘Martin, will there be cake at your wedding?’
‘Cake?’ Martin frowned, thinking about it. ‘Yes, cake. Lots of cakey type cake. Yes. Which is what she said. Yes.’
‘Are you sure Skip’s alright, Douglas?’
‘I think Martin is experiencing what we men who have been previously married have come to know as cold feet. Sadly, as with all things in life, Martin appears to be several months too early.’ Douglas took his mug of coffee from Arthur. ‘He’ll be fine in a couple of months.’
30th October 2012
‘Um, Douglas.’ They’d been in the air for an hour already and Martin had been uncharacteristically quiet for most of the time. Even Douglas’ suggestion that they play ‘Famous people who sound like swear words’ hadn’t captivated Martin long enough to distract him from whatever was bothering him.
‘Yes, oh Captain, my Captain?’
‘There was something I wanted to ask you. Quite important actually.’ Martin was purposely looking out the front of the aeroplane, intent on flying it rather than looking at Douglas.
‘Well, I was wondering, since you and I are, well, I suppose we’re friends.’
‘Of a sort.’
Martin ignored Douglas. ‘Well, I was wondering if you’d be my best man? At the wedding.’
There was a lengthy pause while Douglas watched Martin perspiring nervously, waiting for an answer. Douglas was flattered to be asked, but he vaguely wondered if Martin was just winding him up. Either way, Douglas’ initial reaction was to react defensively by joking about it.
‘Am I really the right person for the job, Martin? Surely you’d much prefer Arthur?’
‘Oh, yes, with a bachelor party at McDonalds after a trip to the cinema to see the latest Disney film.’
‘Oh, now, be fair Martin. Arthur’s allowed to go and see 12A’s now as long as you or I are with him.’
‘Douglas,’ Martin warned, but there was the hint of an easy smile as he glanced Douglas’ way.
‘Are you honestly asking me to be your best man?’
‘No, Douglas, I’m asking you for a joke, of course I’m asking you to be my best man. I can’t think of anyone better to give me advice than a man who’s been married and divorced three times.’
‘Sir does flatter me so.’
Martin sighed, losing patience. ‘Douglas will you be my best man or not?’
‘Happily, Martin.’ Douglas smiled. ‘Happily.’
12th March 2013
Martin awoke with a snort, coming too to find himself entangled in someone else’s limbs. For a moment he thought Sophie had found her way home earlier than she had planned, but then he remembered the previous evening, the words STAG NIGHT looming large out of the storm of a hangover that was slowly building behind his eyes.
Martin raised his head from the chest it was resting on to peer over the body of which he was now almost positive belonged to that of their hapless Steward, to stare at Douglas who was sitting on the sofa, a cup of tea in one hand.
‘Not one word, Douglas,’ Martin said as he extracted himself from Arthur’s limbs and stumbled upright, perusing the area around him with a frown. He and Arthur had been lying on top of a Twister mat, but Martin couldn’t actually recall playing Twister at any point during the night. If he was entirely honest, he couldn’t actually remember making it home.
He stumbled towards the kitchen and found an array of mismatched items on the kitchen table. He picked up a small inflatable sheep, frowning down at it in confusion. He tried to sort through the blur of the previous evening but nothing would come to him.
‘Shall I leave you to puzzle it out yourself or would you like me to connect the dots?’ Douglas asked from where he was leaning in the kitchen doorway.
Martin turned to look at him holding up the sheep, mouth hanging open in a gormless expression. He wondered if he really did want to know, or if he’d much rather prefer crawling into a bed with industrial strength painkillers and happily living in the land of ignorance. His eyes fell on a ticket for a show entitled ‘Ladyboys of Bangkok’ and he decide to head towards the bathroom to find some ibuprofen.
21st March 2013
Douglas pulled his tie away from his neck and undid the top button of his starchy shirt. He downed his third orange juice of the evening as he watched in almost quiet jealousy while the bride and groom shared their first dance together. Sophie’s clumsy limbs seemed to have been reigned in for the evening as Martin and she quickstepped round the dance floor.
The wedding had gone off largely without a hitch. The groom had been the one to show up late, but that had mostly been due to Arthur’s appalling sense of direction as he’d driven Martin to the church. Sophie had almost tripped over her own dress – thankfully not a meringue, but a rather simple dress that Sophie appeared to have been sown into – walking down the aisle, but her father was clearly a man who was used to his daughter’s clumsy ways and had saved the moment remarkably well.
Mr and Mrs Duffy were busy talking with Martin’s mother near to the open bar now, no doubt trading embarrassing stories about their children that they were probably looking forward to sharing with grandchildren some day. Martin’s niece and nephew were chasing Arthur round the present table, all three of them smeared in wedding cake.
Douglas was reminded of his first wedding as his eyes drifted back to the bride and groom. He could just make out Martin singing in Sophie’s ear the words to a highly appropriate song, that Douglas was grateful wasn’t a wedding cliché. Well, certainly not a wedding cliché he’d heard recently. To be honest, Douglas was just glad that Sophie and Martin seemed to have more taste than Wind Beneath My Wings.
‘It’s perfect for a flying honeymoon, they say,’ Douglas sung to himself before he noticed Carolyn and Herc joining the newly wedded couple on the dance floor, other couples following their lead. Sophie was grinning into Martin’s starched collar as they lingered by the band, Martin whispering the lyrics in Sophie’s ear like it was love poetry.
‘I honestly never thought I’d see this day,’ Carolyn said as she sat down beside Douglas at the top table.
‘I honestly thought I’d never see the day where Martin managed to talk to a girl without stuttering.’
Carolyn was rosy cheeked either from dancing or the champagne, Douglas couldn’t be sure. She was watching Martin and Sophie dancing in a loose waltz. Martin had Sophie’s high heels in one hand that was slung low round her back, while Sophie draped herself over his shoulders. Martin laughed loudly at something Sophie had no doubt whispered in his ear, throwing his head back in amusement.
‘It’s nice to see him so happy.’
‘It certainly makes a change, yes.’
Carolyn and Douglas spent a long moment watching the happy couple before Carolyn’s eyes shifted to Herc who was helping Arthur piece together Arthur’s present to the newly wedded Mr and Mrs Crieff. Although, Carolyn suspected the present was more for Martin than Sophie. Hercules had a long-suffering look on his face as he tried to help Arthur. ‘Any luck finding Mrs. Richardson the fourth?’
Douglas sighed, almost sadly. ‘Unfortunately no, although it’s not through lack of trying on my part.’ Douglas gave a sly smile. ‘I sometimes think I should give it all up, though. I look at Martin and Sophie and I can honestly say that a woman has never - not even my three wives - looked at me with such adoration in their eyes.’
Carolyn’s eyes moved back to Sophie and Martin who were now being parted by Sophie’s parents so Sophie could share a dance with her father. Sophie’s mother was leading Martin away by the arm, apparently intent on having a word with her son-in-law, but Martin’s face made it look like he was being marched to his death. He glanced back over his shoulder at Sophie, a pleading look on his face that soon melted into an open look of disbelief that he had somehow ended up with this beautiful woman.
Douglas sighed. ‘Likewise, I think I can safely say I have never had such a puppy dog look of love in my eye as Martin has for that girl.’
Sophie was stood out the back of the golf club where they’d held the reception on the stairs down to the putting green. Just beyond the light of the clubhouse she could make out three figures arguing in the light drizzle.
The rain suddenly stopped and Sophie looked up to find an umbrella blocking out the steel grey sky. At her side was Carolyn, watching her son, Sophie’s new husband and the first officer arguing.
‘Boys and their toys,’ Carolyn commented as the remote control aeroplane Arthur had bought for Sophie and Martin’s wedding lifted slightly off the ground before nose-diving into a bunker.
‘Your husband – husbands – were they ever…’
‘Grade A pillocks?’ Carolyn sighed. ‘Yes, I’m afraid you won’t be the first, and certainly not the last wife to realise you married a total and absolute idiot.’
Sophie smiled and then laughed as there was an indignant cry of Douglas! followed by a fight for the remote of the model aeroplane.
‘I think however, that unlike me, you have married a man who genuinely loves you, although I can’t guarantee he won’t try to steal your jet should you be so inclined to buy one.’
Sophie laughed. ‘Just call me Mrs. Icarus.’
They watched Martin for a moment patiently trying to teach Arthur the mechanics of a plane, no matter how small and the model did a brief loop the loop, causing Douglas to duck out the way.
‘He’ll certainly make a good father.’
Sophie’s hands drifted to her stomach without her thinking about it, smiling to herself. ‘He will.’
‘How far gone are you?’
Sophie pulled her hands away quickly, turning to look at Carolyn sharply who had a knowing smirk on her face.
‘Just a few weeks. I found out this morning.’
‘Does Martin- No, wait, let me answer that question myself. Martin obviously doesn’t know because he’s not hyperventilating into a brown paper bag somewhere or passed out in the corner.’
‘Thought it probably best to wait until after the wedding to tell him. Already enough going on today to send him into a tizz.’
‘Very wise. Might I also suggest waiting until tomorrow morning if you plan on actually having your wedding night.’
‘Thanks for the advice.’
‘You’re quite welcome.’ Carolyn turned back towards the building. ‘Oh, and Sophie?’
Sophie beamed brightly just as there was an indignant cry of Arthur! followed by the sound of a crashing aircraft.