It’s Christmas time again. Paul Maddens hasn’t feared December in a year, but he’s wiser now. He can see the signs of ruin a mile off, and doesn’t even bat an eyelash when Jennifer comes to him with her bags in hand. “I have to go back.”
“I know.” The hot chocolate burns his tongue when he takes a sip, but it steadies him, grounds him.
“You can come with me.”
Paul doesn’t have to say a word. They both know his answer and it seems like a waste of energy just to repeat it out of courtesy.
This is rather redundant, given that there are boxes all over the now bare flat, but if there were anyone who would need such clarification, it’s Desmond Poppy. “What? No! You can’t! What about next semester? With the St. Patty’s Day party and the egg hunt?”
“I’ve already taken a position at Fitton Primary, to start next month. St. B’s already got my replacement – it’ll be fine.”
Paul pulls on the packing tape, screeching it so loudly that, for a moment, he could almost block out the sound of Mr. Poppy’s indignation. “But – but – you can’t just leave! I’m your wing man, after all, don’t I get a say? You can’t just abandon us!”
Sighing, the primary school teacher finishes closing the box before he responds. “Mr. Poppy, I don’t expect you to understand. But I can’t stay here anymore. I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to go. Getting the position at Fitton was, honestly, a bloody miracle. You’ll get on without me, I’m sure.”
Mr. Poppy falls silent, fooling Paul into believing that he actually understands and accepts the situation. “Well, that’s settled then. I’m coming with you.”
“What? No, that is – no!”
Unfortunately, when it comes to Mr. Poppy, ‘no’ isn’t really something that can be enforced.
Paul expects Fitton Primary to refuse Mr. Poppy’s demands, but instead they welcome the student assistant with open arms.
The second Mr. Poppy lays eyes on Fitton’s small toy shop, it’s love at first sight. Divided into sections by types of toys, it is a neat store, albeit cramped, but the young man adores it all the same, imagining it to be a magical moment, like the children in the fantasy movies whenever they make a discovery in an antiques store.
There’s another man, standing by the model aeroplanes, that Mr. Poppy is immediately drawn towards. He has an enthusiastic nature about him that the teacher aide could easily relate to – and when the two meet up in front of an old WWII model, it is as though Fate herself had handpicked the pair to meet. “Which do you think is cooler, the Wildcat or the Zero?”
“Wildcat, definitely. It looks the way a fighter plane should, not all thin and whistle-y, plus it’s got a cooler name. I mean, Wildcat, that’s fierce!”
The stranger smiles at this, nodding, as he compares the back of the boxes. “That’s what I’m thinking! But see, it says here that the Zero was the most technologically advanced plane at the time. The guy I’m getting it for loves stuff like that, you know, all the stats and ‘which one flies better’ sort of thing. But the Wildcat is just so much cooler!”
This certainly is a dilemma indeed…until Mr. Poppy notes a box, slightly obscured by some of the Wildcats. “How about this one? It’s called ‘Tempest’, which, granted, isn’t as cool as Wildcat but much better than Zero, and it was really powerful! Like, one of the best we had, it says.”
“Brilliant! This is the one, then. Thanks, mate! I’m Arthur Shappey.”
“Desmond Poppy. But I work as a classroom assistant and everyone just calls me Mr. Poppy. I think that fits better than Desmond, which is a bit stuffy. Like ‘old English professor in a turtleneck’ stuffy.”
It’s an instantaneous friendship. “Mr. Poppy, it is! Would you like to come to my Christmas party next week?”
“Of course! Can I bring a friend?”
The Knapp-Shappey’s house is less of a house and more of a miniature mansion, at least to Mr. Poppy and Paul Maddens when they pull up the long driveway. “Are you sure this is the right address?”
“23 Bader Ave,” Mr. Poppy repeats from the torn paper Arthur had given him. Without a second thought, he hops up to the front door, and rings the bell once (any more might be annoying and rude, which he found out when he was eight during Halloween), while Paul drags his feet and feels more than a little out of place.
Thankfully Arthur answers the door, in a colorful Christmas jumper and a Santa Claus hat. “Ah, brilliant! Come on in!” Despite the size of the house, there isn’t a large group, just about half dozen or so of others, and Paul feels as though he’s intruded on something intimate. “Guys, meet my new friends-!”
After introductions, Paul makes his way to a corner, untouched cup of punch in hand. “So, uh…you’re the friend of Arthur’s new friend.”
“Yeah, even though I tried to be a ‘colleague’, but that’s impossible with him. Paul Maddens.”
The man laughs, a little bit loudly; the others turn to look at them, and he blushes, right up to the roots of his red hair. People in Coventry hardly ever blush, and particularly not like this - they pretend to blush in bars when they want to flirt with strangers, but it’s more of an imitative motion than the real act. Paul can’t help but love this peek of sincerity, something that he’s sorely missed in his peers since he was a child. “I know what you mean. Martin Crieff, Captain of the airline that Arthur’s mum owns. So, you’re a primary school teacher, then? If you work with, um…”
“Desmond. Although apparently he’s going solely by Mr. Poppy now. Yeah, I am, although I’m sure that being a pilot is much more interesting.”
“With this crew, I suspect it’s much the same thing.”
They laugh, together this time, and in their mirth they fail to notice Mr. Poppy and Arthur watching them with a glint in their eyes.
That night, Mr. Poppy stays over, and he and Arthur make a fort to plan in. It makes it more official, like the secret planning of spies when they’re still in enemy territory. “Okay, let’s start the first meeting of the Polar Bear Appreciation Club. Our goal: to get Martin and Mr. Maddens together.”
Arthur hums in agreement, hugging his animal pillow as he thinks this over. “…oh! We could maybe invite them over and lock them in a room for half an hour, and then…”
This goes on for most of the night, some ideas better than others, with Mr. Poppy keeping a record on a small white board in Christmas colors.
That morning, before breakfast they glance over this board, and look at each other with satisfied expressions. “Operation Secret Santa is now in play.”
I'm having far too much fun with this story. Comedy isn't my forte so I apologize if the style seems a bit wonky considering I'm still finding my feet in the genre.
There is a winter fair in town, all crafts and roasted snacks and hot chocolate, and it seems like a good place to start. In the fear of Martin and Paul catching on to their ruse too early, the duo opts on a meeting spot to ‘accidentally’ bump into one another. “Friday, 1:30 PM, at the saucy sizzler stand.”
“And call ahead if he says no!”
Surprisingly, there’s little resistance from either side. Martin hasn’t got a job scheduled, and Paul is simply bored; when they meet up at the food vendor and watch Mr. Poppy’s and Arthur’s overly zealous greeting, they think nothing of it. “I wish I could be that excited over seeing a friend,” Paul remarks, and Martin nods.
“Sometimes, I wish I could just be like them. Everything would be so much simpler, feelings wise and all.” The pilot sighs, and Paul can feel the sadness that weighs down on him, underneath the solemn pride and genuineness. “Just to be obliviously happy…”
“I know how you feel,” Paul says softly, gently patting his arm.
Meanwhile, Mr. Poppy and Arthur dart ahead and duck behind a colored stones table to watch their pair talk, whispering (which is nothing more than hoarse shouting, but at least Paul and Martin are too far away to notice) commentaries like sports broadcasters. “They’ve been talking since we’ve left them, that’s a good sign, isn’t it?”
Arthur moves right to see past a couple that had paused to look at the stone. “Mr. Maddens just grabbed Martin’s arm! Physical contact, they say is one of the foremost signs of a future relationship.”
“Yes. I read it on Wikipedia.”
They continue to watch from their hiding spot, as their friends begin to look around for them. “And now Mr. Maddens' offering Martin those little hot packets that keep your hands warm in the cold…Martin tries to decline, but Mr. Maddens insists, and now they’re walking together and...oh no.”
“Oh no?” Mr. Poppy asks, leaning across the steward for a better look. “Oh.”
Paul and Martin have found them, bemused glances on their faces. “What are you doing back here?”
Instead of answering, Mr. Poppy innocently offers up a small cardboard box. “Roasted chestnuts?”
A few days after this, MJN has a client, so Arthur and Mr. Poppy put their plans on hold as the crew flies out to Philadelphia.
While the young man is otherwise occupied in serving the passengers, Martin turns to Douglas and asks, “So, what do you think of Arthur and Mr. Poppy?”
“I think it’s rather incredible our gallant steward has found such a perfect companion. But you know what they say – everybody’s got somebody out there for them. He seems like a nice enough bloke. Why?” Immediately, the First Officer narrows his eyes suspiciously at his Captain. “You’re not seriously implying that you--?”
“What? Oh…no! No. Not me, anyways. I just…I went with Arthur to the Fitton Winter Market Fair.” Noticing the eyebrow flick, Martin quickly adds, “Just as friends, of course, since Carolyn didn’t want to go and, well, I didn’t have much else to do. Anyways, we just so ‘happened’ to run into Mr. Poppy, out with Paul. And then they ran off, canoodling about!
“I just thought…I mean, you don’t think…?”
A silence creeps over the flight deck as this thought sinks down thoroughly into their minds. “…well, Arthur never has mentioned a preference before.”
The door clicks open, and in bursts the aforementioned man, cups in hand. “Coffee, chaps!”
Douglas winks as Martin blushes, but the steward’s usual air of cheery naivety is left untarnished.
In Philly, the hotel is a little run down but mostly clean, and that’s about as far as Martin’s expectations extend now. It’s late, but he’s jet lagged and can’t sleep, and so he changes into an old t-shirt and a pair of worn jeans. Gently pressing down on the bed, it’s a little bit too soft but he’s learned not to be a Goldilocks anymore, and plops down onto it, letting his head rest against the rickety headboard.
Being alone is nice; for the past few weeks, Arthur’s been even more clingy than usual, and he can’t imagine why. Perhaps Carolyn has gotten incredibly skilled at refusing him her company, but even he can see the love she feels for her son underneath her cynical teasing, and so even she can’t put up that front for so long. So why is he suddenly being invited to every little thing under Arthur’s whimsical sun now?
Not that Martin can really complain much though. He’s painfully aware that the MJN crew are his only close friends as it goes now – and it’s nice to have some company, even if it is Arthur.
Just as he thinks this, there’s a knock on the door, and muffled through the wood is unmistakably the man in question. “Hey, Skip! They’ve got trolleys going around!”
Martin can’t help but smile.
Paul, on the other hand, has hardly noticed Mr. Poppy’s insistence, mainly because there is nothing unusual about it. Nearly every night they have dinner together, usually one that Paul cooks, and Mr. Poppy brings a movie or something to do (so long as it’s not charades). He’s fairly certain that the other teachers at Fitton Primary are under the impression that they’re dating; one that Mr. Poppy does nothing to dispel when he talks loudly and candidly about weekends at the fair, or going to the local cinema.
Honestly, though, it doesn’t really bother him much. Nobody asks anyways, so denying would simply look suspicious. No, what Paul wonders about instead is Mr. Poppy’s intense interest in Arthur – does it mean anything? With the two of them, he just can’t tell beyond what it looks like, and if there’s one thing he’s learned from his assistant, it’s that things are never really what they look like. Arthur is somehow the perfect match to him as well, so Paul is pretty sure this is nothing, but it doesn’t help his curiosity.
He also wonders if Martin has noticed the same thing. Maybe he should ask him the next time they see each other; after all, Arthur doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would keep such a thing secret, particularly in the close quarters of an aeroplane.
As it turns out, Paul and Martin don’t want to watch the latest animated film, and the dramas that are out just look dull. Mr. Poppy and Arthur try to compromise with a good old action flick, but Martin doesn’t care for plotless explosions and Paul’s busy planning classes.
“Maybe we’re coming on too strong? We don’t want them to figure it out too early.” Arthur suggests through a handful of popcorn, but Mr. Poppy shakes his head.
“But what if one of them forgets about the other and ends up dating someone else? They’re too perfect for each other for us to let that happen!”
While they think on this, more popcorn and some assorted sweets are devoured, and the television plays a cartoon about a monkey and a dog. “Hey, Mr. Poppy…did you say that Mr. Maddens' class is doing Career Week next week?”
“Yeah! It’s going to be so exciting! We’ve got a firefighter coming, and a policeman, and a doctor – oh. OH!”
And so the next move is determined, which means full attention can now be paid to the show.
I really shouldn't be posting considering I'm supposed to be on holiday with my sister, but I had this written and so I had to type this up for you guys. Happy holidays, everyone! ♥
“Class, welcome Captain Martin Crieff. He’s an airline pilot.”
The group of young children clap heartily (although none so much as Mr. Poppy), and there are looks of intrigue and hints of admiration in their eyes, standing before them in his full uniform, hat underneath his arm. “Er, um…hello there.”
Without any idea what to say, Paul watches how quickly Martin’s embarrassment takes over his features, starting at his neck and steadily rising. It makes him smile yet at the same time he can’t help but pity the poor man, coming to his rescue. “Captain Crieff, why don’t you tell them about why you wanted to become a pilot and what it’s like to fly a plane.” In his head, his words sound simple but encouraging, and Paul is expecting him to rattle off something nice but entirely superficial, like all the others.
Instead, Martin clears his throat and says, “I’ve…I’ve always wanted to fly. For as long as I can remember, that’s all I’ve ever wanted; as an aeroplane before I was six, then as a pilot.
“It’s certainly not as, well, as nice or easy as television makes it look. Actually, it’s quite complicated, with air pressure and compass readings, and…well, that doesn’t matter. Because regardless of how hard it is, the fact is that it’s doable if you want it. That’s what really counts in a job, you know.
“So, er, try not to think about jobs that are glamorous or famous. Just focus on doing what you love, because in the end that’s all you have.”
Martin looks at Paul awkwardly, as if to silently convey ‘what now?’ but the teacher doesn’t respond for a moment, too busy digesting what the other had said. Teaching has never been to Paul what flying is to Martin; it had almost seemed like a last resort, given how badly acting had failed for him. Certainly, he enjoys being a teacher, despite the rough moments and the difficulties that some kids presented, but it’s nothing compared to the way that Martin talks about being a pilot.
After a moment’s worth of slightly awkward silence, Paul steps up and asks, “Any questions?”
Little hands shoot up into the air, a few practically bouncing in their seats. This is even more of a success than even the firefighter, who generated quite a few of his own awestruck fans. “Okay, okay, one at a time. We’ll go by rows. Leila?”
The girl called stands, very business-like for such a young age. “Captain Crieff, can women become pilots too?”
“Yes, of course. Have you ever heard of Amelia Earhart? She’s a very famous woman pilot – the first to fly across the Atlantic by herself. So long as you work hard, gender doesn’t matter.”
They continue on along the desks, and Martin answers questions about life in the cockpit and the tests to actually become a pilot. One child even asks about pay rates, leaving him to stutter something about variables, such as experience and companies and how many hours in the air.
Then a small child in the back raises his hand, timid and nervous. Martin is reminded of himself, the way he shies away from the attention with the fear of ridicule in his eyes. When he finally gathers up the courage, he squeaks out, “Do you ever touch the stars?”
Before Paul can interfere, Leila calls out, “Don’t be so stupid, Julian! Planes can’t fly into space, everyone knows that.”
Julian is thoroughly embarrassed; Mr. Poppy is already swooping in tissues and bear hugs, ready for the tears that seem inevitable. “I don’t touch the stars – just clouds,” Martin starts, “But that doesn’t mean you can’t, okay? There are special pilots called ‘astronauts’ who can. Do you want to become an astronaut, Julian?” The little boy nods, eyes shining. “Then you will, no matter what anyone says.”
A second later, the bell for dismissal rings and all the kids and Mr. Poppy scatter. Martin lays his hat on the nearest desk and helps Paul to straighten up the room. “I’m glad you were able to visit, Martin. That was really amazing, and I think the kids really benefited from hearing someone so sincere about their work.”
“Yeah…” Martin sounds distant, and the sadness from the fair returns, double fold. “I just…I-I feel a bit like a fraud, actually.”
“How so?” There’s absolutely no way that Martin can possibly have lied to those children, and if he did, then nobody can be trusted anymore.
“It’s…complicated.” Shaking his head, the redheaded man finishes picking up his things to leave. “I’m sorry, I never should have mentioned anything. Just, thank you. For, you know, asking me to talk as a professional.
“I should probably get going now, though. Next flight’s tomorrow night, so I, er, need to pack and all.”
“Of course, no problem. Thank Mr. Poppy, he’s the one who thought of you.” Is it even possible for Martin’s eyes to get sadder? Paul thinks they look a bit like the eyes of the poor in black and white pictures of the Great Depression. “And I’ve got classes to plan anyways. See you around, Captain.”
Tipping the pilot’s hat that he’s just donned, Martin sends a bit of a lopsided smile his way – Paul wonders if he’s just seen the relaxed side of him that’s normally so deeply buried.
Knowing Arthur’s schedule, Mr. Poppy wastes no time in relaying the details back to his co-conspirator. “It went great! Even better than we could have hoped – Mr. Maddens couldn’t keep his eyes off of him!” But before Arthur can get too excited, a look passes over Mr. Poppy’s face, one that settles into his stomach. “But, there is a little something…”
“Uh-oh. What is it?”
“Well…I pretended to leave but didn’t, and hid myself in the hallway to listen in on them, which is bad, I know. But I heard Martin tell Mr. Maddens that he felt like a fraud and then he left. And now I’m scared that he’ll think Martin’s lied or something!”
“But that’s impossible! Skip is a brilliant pilot! Well, not brilliant in the same way that Douglas is brilliant but he still is!”
Mr. Poppy’s face is still grave through this counter argument. This calls for drastic measures.
I’m very sorry that I said I was a fraud. I didn’t mean it, like I had lied. I am a very good pilot, it just took me a while to get there so sometimes I don’t feel good enough.
Sorry about being confusing but I’m not the best at talking sometimes. I’d like to try though. How about dinner when I get back on Thursday?
P.S. Tell Mr. Poppy that Arthur says hi!
Paul is certain that this note is not actually written by Martin, but there’s a part of him that wishes it was.
When Douglas first hears about the Career Week success through Arthur, he thinks it perfect joke material, and has already planned a few when Martin walks into the portacabin. He has on his thinking face – the First Officer has seen this plenty of times, particularly when his Captain cannot decide to divert or not – and practically exudes prime opportunity, so Douglas puts the jokes on hold. “Might the lowly and humble servant inquire on the depths of the Supreme Commander’s wise and knowledgeable thoughts?”
“Oh har har, hilarious as usual Douglas. It’s none of your business what I’m thinking. Let’s just get ready, alright?” Martin remarks, picking up the flight file and leafing through it. “Oh great, we’re bussing a bunch of rich kids to Greece. Sounds perfect.”
It’s really not Douglas’ place at all; everyone has lousy moods, himself included. But even he hasn’t failed to notice the way Martin’s eyes light up at the prospect of getting back into the air, regardless of the reason, and when that’s gone…it’s obvious that something is taking up the majority of Martin’s mind. “Captain, do put my mind at ease that you’re fit to fly. Something is off, and I want to be able to avoid crashing GERTI. The poor girl’s been through quite enough without that particular misfortune.”
Martin continues to stare at the papers for a moment, trying to suppress the desire to unload, but Douglas can see the way the words are filling up his chest, desperate to tumble out.
With a sigh, he puts the file back onto the table and looks around as stealthily as he can manage (which is not very). Arthur is busy cleaning up the plane and Carolyn isn’t accompanying them on this trip considering she has better things to do than deal with spoiled posh students, so it’s just the two of them. “Okay. So, I-I got this note that’s supposed to be from Paul, that asks to meet him for dinner when I come back. I’m pretty sure it isn’t from him, but…”
“But what if it is? What if he really does want to have dinner with me?”
All Douglas really remembers of the teacher is from Arthur’s Christmas party, in which he had only shared introductions and seasonal greetings with the man. However, he also remembers the way Martin had edged up towards him, as well as the picture of the two of them chatting, and actually laughing. Paul seemed to have enjoyed their time together, but how much? At the time, Douglas didn’t think anything on that. “Well, first of all, do you want to have dinner with him?”
The flush that enters Martin’s face through his neck speaks infinitely louder than his mumbled assent. “Then it doesn’t matter if the note isn’t from him. Take it as a sign, and when you get back, call on him about it. It’ll at least plant the idea in his mind.
“The worst thing that can happen is that he declines. But at least you hear it from him, instead of being stood up.”
Taking the flight plan and his overnight bag in hand, Martin nods to this advice, steeling himself for the long trip. “Yes, yes. You’re quite right. I think that’s what I’ll do. Thank you, Douglas.”
“Anything I can do to help the romantically challenged, Sir.”
The thunderous glare that Douglas gets in return only solidifies his point.
Sorry for the long wait on this update, guys. I've not really written this type of romance before, at least not this intricate or lengthy, so I'm in unfamiliar territory. All con-crit is readily accepted and appreciated. x]
It’s Thursday evening and Paul has disregarded the note as nothing more than the silly whims of Mr. Poppy when Martin appears on his doorstep. “Oh. Hello.”
The surprise on his face is enough to make Martin backtrack, swallowing hard and shifting uncomfortably. “Um, uh…this was a mistake, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come. Sorry to bother you.”
“No, no. Don’t go. You got a note too, I take it.”
Martin nods, ducking through the doorway into Paul’s flat. “I mean, I, uh, I kind of figured that you didn’t write it. B-but…”
“Just in case?” Paul is bemused and the look makes Martin’s stomach drop. He’s seen it before – a precursor to rejection. “I think I know what’s going on. Did Arthur coerce you into coming?”
Sitting down upon the sofa, Martin pets Paul’s dog, Cracker, allowing the canine to sprawl into his lap. “Uh…”
“Don’t you see?” Paul sits beside him, one hand instinctively slipping into his dog’s long fur. “Arthur and Mr. Poppy are trying to, you know, get us together.”
And there it is. It’s not quite the rejection that he’s anticipating, but it’s there all the same. “Oh. Of course. How silly of them. I guess I’ll just be leaving then.”
“What for? Besides, I was thinking. Maybe we could pretend, for a bit. To prank them for trying to interfere.”
This is not a good idea. Martin has more sense than this; he can see precisely all the different roads that this could lead down, and all of them have very bad endings.
“Ye-yeah. Sounds hilarious. We’ll get them good, huh?”
The rest of the evening goes rather smoothly, but it’s not the night that Martin had envisioned, and with every passing minute, he hates himself for agreeing to it just that much more.
After Paul relays the false information to Mr. Poppy, the latter wastes no time in going to Arthur’s to tell him the good news. “It’s official – they’re dating!”
They pop open a bottle of pineapple juice and some of the really nice chocolate biscuits to celebrate.
The first non-date is a movie, so there’s limited correspondence and the altogether feel of a casual outing, therefore Martin can’t bring himself to mention anything. They share a tub of popcorn and a large soda because it’s cheaper and it makes them look more like a couple. “This is really brilliant, isn’t it, Skip?” Arthur grins, thankfully not noticing the way his Captain squirms uncomfortably underneath the gaze.
It’s not just his own feelings that are unsettling Martin, but the ill feeling of deceit that inevitably arises from the naïve trust that both Arthur and Mr. Poppy exude. Like kicking a puppy when it’s only ever blindly obeyed.
But then, they are grown men who attempted to meddle in his life. Is Paul even gay? Perhaps Martin’s just feeling for reasons to call all of this off, even though he has the only one he needs – that it isn’t fair on himself. A fake relationship is no substitute, and shouldn’t be treated as one.
Then Paul looks over at him and smiles, that little secret one that is supposed to remind him of their plot but only succeeds in making him feel like the only other person in the theatre. Good God, I’m screwed.
Halfway through the movie, Paul leans his head against Martin’s shoulder and falls asleep. Martin feels every tiny breath on his shoulder and prays that the movie never ends.
It’s just supposed to be a joke. Those were Paul’s own terms and conditions that Martin seemed more than happy to accept; so why didn’t it feel like that to him at the cinema? With a sigh, Paul flops onto his sofa and lets Cracker jump into his lap and lick his face. “Maybe they didn’t have such a bad idea after all, eh?”
The dog doesn’t make a noise, just tilts his head and sits on Paul in such a way that he can feel all of the canine’s bones sticking into his flesh. “I mean, it’s not like I haven’t dated guys before. It’s just…well, it’s been a while.
“Maybe it’s too soon…it could just be something simple, though. Nice and slow. What do you think, Cracker? Should I try? Bark once for yes, twice for no.”
Cracker distinctly barks once, before jumping down to the floor and treading out of the room. Paul is pretty sure this is the first sign of insanity, but he’s too busy weighing all of the different ways this could go terribly wrong to worry over that minor question of his mental health.
“Good Lord, Martin. Have you gotten any sleep between flights?”
It’s only been a few days, and this time Douglas wastes no time in pointing out Martin’s discomfort, with hardly the level of snarkiness as the previous time. “Ah, Douglas. As sympathetic as always.”
“Did he reject the ‘sharing of meals’ idea, then?”
Given Martin’s long face, Douglas’ imagination immediately comes up with colorful ideas about what Paul could have said or done to his Captain. But before he can even ask, Martin moans, “He wants us to pretend to be together to fool Arthur and Mr. Poppy. Since they’re playing matchmaker with us, you know? And I am so bloody desperate that I accepted.
“I don’t know what I really expect out of this. A fake kiss to make them squeal before we pop out and say ‘Ha, we fooled you’? A couple of nights where I don’t have to eat cheap pasta alone? Just for it all to dissolve in front of me, as usual.”
There are things that Douglas will never admit to, even under cruel and unusual torture. His actual fondness for Martin is certainly one of them. “You have to tell him.”
“What? No! Not yet, anyways. I can pretend for a bit and then…”
“Either you tell him, or I will.” Douglas can feel Martin’s incredulous expression, obviously wondering what on earth has gotten into his First Officer. “The last thing I need is for you to crash the plane in your distracted state.”
There’s something hidden underneath that, but Martin just lets it go.
Alright, Paul. You can do this. It’s just coffee, not a big deal. You’re not asking anything that you two haven’t already done. There just won’t be Arthur and Mr. Poppy around, and it’ll be real. If he says no…you can handle it. You’re a big boy.
Oh, for God’s sake, just bloody ask him!
Despite all this internal preparation, the next time Paul sees Martin, all courage seeps out of his pores, making the words ‘why don’t we rethink this relationship being a prank over a cup of coffee’ absolutely impossible. “Hello, Captain.”
Martin never fails to flush with pride at the acknowledgment of his title, and so Paul uses it every chance he gets. He’s yet to put that ‘my’ in front of it, though, in full awareness that it makes all the difference. “Hello, Paul.”
The greetings process is being drawn out rather awkwardly, and they’re both acutely aware that Arthur and Mr. Poppy are hesitating in the hopes of a kiss or a bit of cuddle. It’s selfish of Paul, and he knows that he probably shouldn’t, but at least he has an excuse to do it all, and without further prompting, leans over to give Martin a gentle peck.
When he pulls away and reaches for the other man’s hand, Paul glimpses that ever present sadness in Martin’s eyes. At the carnival, he tries his hardest to erase it, even winning him a plush aeroplane, but it’s not enough and he knows it.
Oh god, I'm ashamed at how long this chapter took. I've got the rest of the story all nicely planned out so the last chapters shouldn't be too long in coming now. Also, I cannot write like a child for the life of me. Hope this chapter is okay and that you guys still enjoy it!
Douglas extracts Paul’s address from Arthur after a flight, out of earshot of Martin, under the guise of needing a tutor for his daughter. And so he drops in on the primary school teacher for a surprise visit one night. “Er…do I know you?”
“Douglas Richardson, First Officer at MJN. We need to talk.” He doesn’t wait to be invited, merely pushes his way through and sits in an armchair, crossing one leg over the other and somehow looking like a stern headmaster in his own office. “Martin’s incapable of standing up for himself so I came on his behalf.”
Paul narrows his eyes and crosses his arms over his chest; refusing to sit, he stands in an attempt to assert his authority but ends up completing the metaphor by appearing more like a naughty schoolboy. “I don’t understand.”
“Rubbish. The man’s desperately in love with, and even I can tell that.”
There’s a denial on the tip of Paul’s tongue that dies at the sight of concern in Douglas’ eyes. Seizing this momentary falter, the First Officer leans forward and says, “Stop leading him on. Break it off with him, because it’s honestly hurting him even more this way than just getting rejected.
“It may have seemed like a riot then, but it’s not funny anymore. It’s simply rude.”
A layer of unspoken threats edge his words; it doesn’t matter that Paul has no reason to believe that they are anything but empty because they do their job to spark the guilt he’s been harboring from his cowardice.
Avoiding the implication, he huffs, “As if I’m the only one who’s ever hurt Martin with my actions. Don’t put all of the blame on me.”
“Martin has always seemed a bit like a younger brother to me; ridiculous and therefore primed for teasing. I merely take advantage of this situation as, in an extension of the metaphor, an older brother. I don’t hold his hand and kiss him as though I love him under the pretense of a practical joke.” Douglas stands to leave, pausing only to add, “Hope you’re pleased with yourself. Now fix my pilot.”
Paul thinks on this for a moment, before reaching for his phone.
Arthur receives a phone call from Mr. Poppy, insensible through his tears by anyone besides himself. “They-they’ve BROKEN UP!”
After a few cups of tea, Mr. Poppy has calmed enough to tell the whole story. “I had just gone ‘round to Paul’s with a video, and he looked all sad and stuff. So I said, ‘oh, someone’s got a frowney. Tell Mr. Poppy what’s wrong!’ And he goes, ‘yeah, no, it’s nothing. I just have something to tell you. Martin and I aren’t dating.’”
“Just like that?” Arthur gasps.
“Just like that!” Mr. Poppy sobs, face in hand. “What are we going to do?”
Sighing, Arthur cuddles up against his friend, biting his lip as he thinks. “I don’t know. Research time?”
Luckily, there’s a rental shop just down the road.
When Martin gets the call from Paul, he can’t say he isn’t expecting it, but still he’s more than a little crushed. There’s a part of him that had hoped for just a few more dates, a few more stolen hours where he can pretend that he isn’t so alone, or feel so repulsive and unwanted. “This whole idea was just foolish…I should have been more mature rather than trying trick Mr. Poppy and Arthur. They’re so well meaning, they don’t deserve that…”
Martin interjects with the appropriate mutterings. “Yeah. Mhm.” They hang up on a positive note but the pilot can’t shake the feeling that this is the end of their short lived friendship, or whatever it was.
Well, it certainly was more than he had any right to hope for. With a plate of buttered noodles and a piece of slightly stale bread, he tries not to dwell on what this speaks about himself and instead puts a film on his battered television to take his mind off of everything.
Normally during recess Mr. Poppy immerses himself in the games with the children, so to see them all huddled together in a corner of the playground draws no more of a question from Paul than a mere curiosity as to what they had agreed upon playing today. The actual conspiratorial nature of this did not even occur to him, despite it seemingly being so obvious.
“Alright, guys. Do you remember Captain Crieff, from Careers Week?”
“Do we ever!” The kids exclaim excitedly, as they recollected the Captain’s visit.
“Well, my friend and I have been trying to get him together with Mr. Maddens. They’re perfect for each other! We’ve got them on a few dates but now they’ve broken up, without a reason or anything.” Mr. Poppy lets out in one long rush, and at the end, the children turn and peek at their teacher, sitting forlornly on a bench, book in hand.
Leila, with all her perception, cries out, “Is that why Mr. Maddens has seemed so sad lately?”
“I think so. They need to get together for, for…the world to be right again!” Sighing, the teaching assistant pulls out a small notebook, half filled with scribbled outlines from meetings with Arthur. “Only thing is, we’re all out of ideas.”
“And that’s where we all come in?”
Leila taps one tiny finger against her chin, her child brain working fast at the problem at hand. The other students naturally flock around her, ready to help as well. Mr. Poppy’s pretty sure he’s watching a future prime minister. “Alright, I think I’ve got something…”
The last trip Martin takes is a short one, and he’s only been gone a day, so to see that in that short span of time he’s actually received mail that isn’t the usual rubbish is surprising.
The handwriting is sloppy and the spelling atrocious, but he can still make out the general gist of it all.
Dear Captin Creef,
Hello, this is Mr. Maddens class. You came to talk to us Carears week. We reely liked you. You wer nise. It made us sad wen we herd of your brake up with Mr. Maddens. Mr. Maddens is reely sad and misses you too.
Can you pleese get back togefer so we can all bee happee and maybee you can come see us agen!
Mr. Maddens year 3 class.
Mr. Poppy at least is still playing matchmaker, Martin realizes – he knows he’s the one who put the kids up to writing this, and thus it has nothing to do with the truth. Most likely Paul is continuing on with his life, unimpeded by the stuttering, stumbling presence of an awkward pilot. Full knowledge of this doesn’t keep the phrase ‘Mr. Maddens is reely sad and misses you too' out of his head.
I think this is my favorite chapter so far, but I'll let you guys be the judge of that.
Paul only begins to suspect something when the kids start begging for a tour of Fitton Airfield, but even then he can’t bring himself to believe in an ulterior motive behind their enthusiasm. “Please, Mr. Maddens! You’re friends with a pilot there! Can’t he give us a tour?” Seeing the reluctance upon his face, and their plan falling slowly to pieces with his refusal to participate, Leila jumps up with begging eyes and pleads, “Oh, Mr. Maddens, I really, really want to be a pilot. And so I’d really, really love to see a pilot doing…pilot-y things.”
After all the years that Paul has been teaching primary school, he was certain that he had become immune to the puppy dog eyes of pouting children. But as he looks into Leila’s face, so hopeful, waiting with bated breath for his acquiescence, there’s something in him that concedes. “Well…I’m not promising anything, but…I’ll give him a call.”
The whole class cheers, Mr. Poppy included. While he knows that Martin has struck a chord with the kids, the teacher simply can't see what had brought this up. It doesn't even cross his mind that his teaching assistant might have involved the students in his matchmaking scheme. (Although, unbeknownst to either of the adults, the students have been secretly attempting to plan the Maddens-Crieff pair ever since Careers Week.)
That night, Paul picks up the phone with a sigh and stares at it until the dull tone becomes etched into his eardrums before he finally dials the number.
Two tones. Martin’s out of breath when he answers with a simple, “Hello?”, and Paul feels as if he’s interrupting. This feeling turns into an imagined knowledge of getting in between Martin and whoever’s he with, because clearly he must be with someone if he is panting slightly. And no doubt they are better than Paul is and actually deserves Martin and oh, why is he calling again? “Uhh…hello? Anyone there?”
“Hi! It’s me. Paul. Paul Maddens, the primary school teacher.”
“Who?” Paul can almost see the smile unfolding, small but monumental, on the pilot’s face. “Hi there, Paul. Um…what’s up? How’s Mr. Poppy?”
“Good, good. And yourself?”
“Same. I was just helping the kids downstairs move some stuff.”
In Paul’s current state, he doesn't quite catch the meaning of that, but just leaves it, and instead blurts out, “The kids wanted to take a trip to Fitton Airfield and the problem with teaching primary school is that they can be awfully persuasive at times. I – they were wondering if you could help plan and…host?”
“…I would be delighted.” There’s no ignoring the actual excitement that’s present in Martin’s voice, and it makes Paul smile. “Let me ask around about the necessary forms and stuff and I’ll get back to you, okay?”
“Okay. Talk to you later, Martin.” And this time, he knows he actually will.
“What are you doing, Martin?”
They’ve been on standby for a few days now, a state of affairs that looks as though it will carry on for an indefinite period of time. By now, they’ve run out of paperwork to do, so Martin’s begun to root through the airport’s guidelines to see the possibility of Paul’s class trip. “…nothing. Just passing the time, same as you, but you don’t see me interrogating you about what you’re doing.”
“Golly gee,” Douglas says, which Martin promptly ignores in favor of marking something with a sticky note. “I simply inquire out of the curiosity of one friend to another, as I simply figured you had all of those memorized by now.”
With the roll of his eyes, Martin retorts, “Just because I like routine and doing things properly, doesn’t mean I’ve committed the entire book to memory.”
“Only the parts relating to pilots and their aeroplanes, then?”
Douglas leaves it at that for a while, watching the way his Captain continues his perusal, sticky notes in hand, obviously in search of something in particular. “Oh fine, I’ll bite. What are you looking up, then?”
“Oh just...quelling my boredom with a hypothetical situation. This time it’s if I were to, I dunno, host a group of kids around the airfield to interest them in planes and piloting. I’d never really looked into that before and I figured, we have all this time…oh, and also – Carolyn!”
The MJN CEO reluctantly leaves the confines of her office that protects her from dealing with her ridiculous crew unless completely necessary. “What, what is it?”
“What would you say if – continuing with my hypothetical scheme, of course – I were to give a tour of the portacabin and GERTI to a group of primary school children?”
At the phrase ‘primary school’, Douglas’ memory is triggered, and the suspicion that has started to fester now bursts into a known fact. “…does this hypothetical scheme have anything to do with Paul, the primary school teacher?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Gentlemen, please! Why have I been called to answer a hypothetical question?” Carolyn asks in exasperation.
“Because you never know when it may become useful,” is Martin’s simple response, and his denial of any current relation with Paul is tiring – Douglas wonders if Paul told Martin of his little visit. But then, there was no anger at his interference during the initial few days after the ‘break-up’ (if it can even be called such a thing), only sadness, so it’s probably mere pride that keeps him from admitting anything.
Douglas is probably being hard on Paul, who seems otherwise a fine chap, and particularly since he’s only heard the small snippets from Martin (who is not known for his ability to read or understand people) but the point remains that feelings were hurt and they didn’t seem to be Paul’s. “Well, I would say that the idea of you touring little kids around this old dump is, quite frankly, absolutely ridiculous, but so long as you’re not getting in the way of MJN making money, I really do not care if you drag a group of poor unsuspecting children all over.”
And with that, Carolyn retreats back into her office. Douglas waits a beat, before starting, “Martin, can I just-?”
“No, you can’t.”
It’s at this awkward junction that Arthur makes his appearance, the same old cheer filling the room. “Brilliant day, isn’t it, chaps? Any game being played? Or drinks that need fetching?”
Douglas is forced to leave the subject for now, but he can’t help but worry, as though Martin is his teenage daughter that has just begun dating.
Underneath a pile of paperwork, cups of coffee, and the crumbs of a sandwich, Martin feels at peace. With Paul, he’s just worked through the paperwork to send in for the trip, and now they’ve pulled up a map of the airfield, to work out the general plan of the day. “So do you think the kids will like that?”
“I think they’ll have the time of their lives,” Paul replies with a bit of a nervous smile. “Again, thanks so much for doing this. I…I didn’t think you would.”
“What, because of…?” Martin doesn’t know how to describe it, so he doesn’t even try. “Why? It was just a bit of a joke, right?”
“Right,” is the immediate reply, much too quickly. “Just a joke.”
All Martin wants to do is comfort the suddenly forlorn teacher; an arm around the ever so slightly drawn shoulders, a hand brought up to stroke a smile onto the weathered face, eroded from the intensity of emotions better suited for dilution over a lifetime rather than the concentration of a few years. It’s familiar territory, and Martin hates to see it written on the faces of others. “I’ll turn all this in tomorrow, then.”
Paul smiles at Martin and all of that fades into the background, yet the shadow of it lingers and all the pilot wants to do is kiss it away.
It’s late morning, the sun is shining, and Martin is happy. Not in the ‘small wonders make daily life better’ sort of way that Arthur loves to perpetuate, but rather in the elusive ‘once in a lifetime so enjoy it while it lasts’ variety.
He’s in his Captain’s uniform – and actually being treated like a Captain. Never mind that it’s by little kids who probably still believe in magic; it’s the feeling that counts, and actually makes him feel less like a failure of a human being. They’re asking questions as they gaze around the airfield, and god, if it doesn’t feel good to actually be able to talk about all those facts and figures about flying in his head, without being ridiculed.
Along with him in the front is Paul, who, along with the children, does not look at him with judging eyes; an amazing feat considering he is the teacher, the mature adult who should be finding amusement in Martin’s juvenile obsession. Bringing up the rear are Mr. Poppy and Arthur, abiding by the buddy system along with the pupils.
They go up into the Air Traffic Control Tower and meet Carl, who lets them listen in on a correspondence with an incoming aeroplane, and explains the phonetic alphabet. Then, Martin takes them down to the portacabin and shows them all the paperwork that he does for each flight – the flight plan and log books, scattered along with manuals both old and new.
After all of this is explained, Carolyn makes an appearance, inspiring awe amongst the children at being the CEO of MJN Air – and, more importantly, being the owner of an aircraft. Reminded of the days when Arthur was a young boy, she embellishes her speech just a trifle and the students lap up every word of a fabulous life spent touring the globe. Douglas figures he could sneak in during this, and take a seat in the corner until they finish up and move on, but he’s slightly late and laughing a bit too audibly to go unnoticed. “…thank you, Carolyn. Oh, and, uh, everyone, this is First Officer Douglas Richardson.”
As the kids chorus their greetings, Paul raises an eyebrow and asks, “Would you care to explain what you find so comedic, First Officer Richardson?”
“Not particularly,” He smirks, and the teacher likens it to that of a shark – Martin is too busy watching the puncturing of his fleeting happiness to notice. “But since you asked so nicely, I suppose I could oblige-“
“Oh, Douglas, please,” Martin hisses, coming in between the two. “Not here, not now. Just this once, for me?”
Douglas and Paul share a look, one that completely surpasses Martin, and the First Officer actually retreats, giving in to his Captain’s request. “Oh, fine. I’ll leave you to your teachings, then. Try not to bore them too horribly.”
With that, he escapes into Carolyn’s office, and Martin hesitates to continue, knowing that Douglas can still hear every word – lying in wait until the end to begin the mockery, no doubt. “Anyways, Captain – is there anything else you want to talk about here or should we move on? You did promise us a tour of the plane.”
The second the word ‘plane’ is mentioned, the children latch on to it, staring up at Martin in unrestrained excitement. “But wait, Captain Crieff-!”
Surprisingly enough, Leila is not the perpetrator of this outburst, but rather Julian, with his arm stretched as far up to the sky as he can reach. “You know those special pilots you told me about, those astro-nots?”
“Oh, come on, Julian!” Leila groans, but the young boy steadfastly ignores her, raising his head up proudly as if her comment had no effect on him whatsoever – yet the tremor in his voice as he continues to speak tells otherwise.
“Well, I talked to one at a museum after you visited, and they weren’t very nice. Not like you are, Captain Crieff,” at this Martin flushes, and smiles sheepishly, “So I want to be a pilot instead, not an astro-not, just like you!”
Speechless for a moment, Martin’s overcome by the realization of the impression he has made; that he’s the object of some child’s idolatry, despite being an unpaid pilot who moves boxes for a meager living who was always told that he’d never make it. Of course Julian doesn’t know any of this, but that didn’t matter, not with his eyes shining so bright as he looks up at him. “I’m so very flattered that you want to become an airline pilot because of me,” Martin starts, and if his voice catches slightly, it’s only because he’s been speaking all day, “But don’t give up your dreams because of mean people. There’s a lot of meanness out there, and people will try to keep you from doing what you believe in. But you can’t let them win!
“Just, always keep in mind that I’ll always be proud of you – all of you,” Martin corrects, as the other students look on as well, “-pilot, astronaut, or whatever, so long as you stay true to yourself.”
With relief, Julian runs up and throws his arms around Martin’s waist, pressing his face into his stomach. Gently patting the boy’s shoulder, Martin looks up to see Paul, decidedly not focusing on him and blinking just a little bit too quickly. But after a moment, their eyes meet, and in them there is compassion, and tenderness, and (dare Martin even think it?) what might possibly be classified as love.
Martin’s probably just being hopeful. But he’s banked his entire life on thin hopes and the whispers of wishes. Swallowing hard, he lets Julian go, and straightens up. “Alright, now. Who wants to see some plane?”
All the little hands shoot up immediately.
Oh my God, this took forever. I think I lost my muse for a little while, but since I was so close to the end, I really want to finish it. This is actually the first chaptered story I ever finished - and I hope the end does it justice. I love con-crit, especially since this is kind of huge for me, and I've always struggled with endings, even with short little one shots. This was a lot of fun writing, and I hope that I'll be able to do more stories like this again; perhaps even better ones. ;D Thanks to anyone still reading this, you guys are amazing and I'm so, so glad you liked it. Sorry for the wait.
Ever since the field trip, Martin is all Paul can think about. A little ginger man with a stutter and stiff limbs but a rather gorgeous smile in a Captain’s hat dances around his mind as he teaches grammar and arithmetic, and he realizes this might be a bit of a problem when he picks up a calculator to check that two times three really does equal six.
Sighing, he pulls off his glasses and rubs his eyes, suppressing a groan when Mr. Poppy knocks upon the door and pokes his head in. “Oh no, is someone a sleepy head? Here, I’ll help grade.”
“No, that’s okay. Remember last time you tried that?”
“You didn’t actually read the responses. You just gave them all gold stars.”
“But they all deserved gold stars for trying!”
Still, Paul pulls the papers closer to ensure his assistant can’t happen across any unprotected assignments. Within minutes they fall into a system where Paul grades one worksheet, and then Mr. Popper places a sticker next to the name, regardless of what score they received.
This doesn’t take long, and when the pile ends, that pilot’s uniform once again makes its appearance within Paul’s head. “…but honestly, Pixar is kind of the animated film business. They did the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, Up…clearly superior. …Mr. Maddens?”
“Hm?” Paul realizes he’s been staring at Mr. Poppy without hearing a word. “What was that? Something about Dreamworks?”
The look he receives for this tells him that he is very wrong, but there is no annoyance or irritation at having been ignored – instead, Mr. Poppy’s eyes soften, and he reaches over to gently press Paul’s hand. “You’re thinking about Martin, aren’t you?” Paul doesn’t know how to respond to this, but Mr. Poppy takes his silence as confirmation. “Alright, so here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to call Martin, tell him how much you miss him, and—“
“And what? Expect him to say that it’s all alright and we’ll be together? No, I tried that before. It didn’t work.”
“But Mr. Maddens! You guys dated before! So, whatever happened was just a tiny blip, and…” The words begin to fad at the sight of Paul’s face, growing graver with each syllable. “…what?”
“It was a joke! Just to mess with you and Arthur for a bit, because I figured out that you two were trying to get us together.”
For once, Mr. Poppy has nothing to say. It seems like Paul has been waiting for this moment ever since that fateful winter at St. Bernadette’s where the pair had been forced together, and yet now that it’s arrived, he feels absolutely horrible and desperate for the younger man to say something, anything. “…but if it was all just a joke, why do you miss him?”
Paul doesn’t have an answer to this, merely starts to pack his things to leave for the night.
Immediately, Mr. Poppy drives over to Arthur’s to tell him all that he’s learned from Paul. “We have to do something and quick! But what?”
Arthur gives this some thought, until images of red patterned tablecloths and wicker baskets begin to dance around his head. “A picnic! At Fitton Airfield, they’ve got this new little park section overlooking the tarmac so people waiting for flights can eat lunch and look at the planes. Only it’s new, so most people don’t know it’s there. They could have a nice little picnic there, and Martin could tell Paul all about the planes and everything, and then they could get together for real!”
“Yeah, but they’ll suspect we’re up to something if we do the notes thing again. How do we get them there?”
This puts a damper on their picnic idea for a while; at least, until the phone rings, reverberating throughout the rather large house, and they both get a gleam in their eyes, before rushing to it.
To call Fitton’s Outside Café a “little park section” as Arthur did would be a major exaggeration. In actuality, it’s a little cordoned off section of some suspiciously green grass, a couple of bushes, and a tree, with a handful of those clunky wooden tables normally seen at real parks which take up the majority of the space. Regardless of what it actually contains, it’s the positioning that matters: off to the side, so one doesn’t get the full ear shattering blasts from the jet engines, but angled just right so that one could still get a view of the planes taking off and landing towards the east, and for that reason Martin loves it, ever since its opening a few weeks ago.
Unfortunately, due to his hectic lifestyle, he hardly has the time to spend there, so when Martin gets a call from Arthur asking to meet him there for lunch on one of his free days, he doesn’t hesitate to accept, despite having to spend a few of his precious pounds on materials to make sandwiches.
When he sees Paul sitting at one of the tables, along with a tub of homemade potato salad and a couple of cans of Coke, he can’t help but laugh a bit, albeit nervously. “They just don’t stop, do they?”
Paul turns to look at him, and Martin expects to see resignation or disappointment in his features – but instead, only momentary surprise flickers across before he chuckles, also sounding slightly nervous. “No, I suppose they don’t. Although, we do keep falling for their schemes.”
“Is this just that, then? A scheme?” Martin dares to ask, although he’s certain that regardless of Paul’s answer he will sit, and act accordingly.
“I sure hope not,” Paul dares to answer, hoping it’s the right one.
A tiny spot of hope bursts into Martin’s heart as he sits, placing the bag of food on the table. “I brought sandwiches. Er, ham and turkey –“
“What are we doing?” Paul interrupts.
“I am telling you what I brought as a segway into asking your meat preference,” Martin responds, hesitantly.
The expression on Paul’s face makes it obvious that it was not what he meant – Martin doesn’t really think it was, but at the same time, he also really doesn’t want to talk about the alternative. “Oh look, an Airbus. Looks like one of the A320 family but I can’t quite tell which one.”
“I told Mr. Poppy that it was all a joke. He’s not mad, or anything. I doubt Arthur will be either so I don’t think you should worry next time you see him.” Paul pauses, and waits, but Martin says nothing, only slightly twists one of the handles of the bag around his finger. “And, er. Your friend Douglas came to see me. He told me to break off the joke, so I did.”
This gains Martin’s full attention. The plastic rustles as it falls from his fingers before settling. “Why would he do that?”
“He said he could tell you were ‘desperately in love’ with me, and somehow seemed to think I didn’t return the sentiment. He made a metaphor of being an older brother to you.”
“He-he-what?” Disbelief spreads through Martin, at the knowledge that a man who does nothing but mock his entire existence actually seems to care for him.
“But…” Paul continues, after a deep breath, “But, was what Douglas said about your feelings true? Because what he said about mine wasn’t. I just…didn’t want to hurt you, anymore.”
Surprisingly, this has an unexpected response within Martin – almost one of sadness, and there’s a distinct wetness in his eyes that looks like tears. “Wait, I…haven’t been entirely honest with you and, well, I won’t be hurt if your feelings change, after.” He takes a moment to regain himself, before saying, “I-I don’t get paid to fly. It took me seven tries to get my license which, according to anyone, is six times too many. The only person who would hire me now is Carolyn and certainly not for money. So I live in the attic of a crappy student share house and subsist on toast and pasta. Any money, I get from a removals service I started after I inherited my dad’s old van.”
Everything clicks in Paul’s head – the sad eyes, the conversation after the ‘Careers Week’ class, the confusing aspects of the phone call to ask about the field trip – and he simply wonders that he didn’t put it all together sooner. “I’m glad you told me,” Paul replies, reaching out to stroke the blush upon Martin’s cheeks, the skin flushed fire hot underneath his cool fingers.
“And now you’ll bugger off, and never speak to me again,” Martin sighs, forlorn and resigned, yet still he leans into the touch.
“Actually, I was just thinking about how you never answered my question. About what Douglas said.” Paul lets his hand fall, and he smiles, as if to say, ‘hey, I am still here, right?’
Martin finds strength in this smile. “What Douglas said about my feelings was…true. I wish I had a funny witticism about the ‘desperate’ part not being true but…well. My whole life is kind of desperate, isn’t it? So this shouldn’t really be any different.”
That statement is accompanied with the saddest little smile that Paul has ever seen in his life, and he’s pretty sure his heart breaks just a little bit. In an attempt to lighten up the mood, he says, “So, now that I know your secret and now I realize that this means I have an excuse to keep asking you to dinner. I can’t let you fly planes on an empty stomach, now, can I? I’d be doing my civic duty.”
“…most of our flights are in the morning, though.”
“Well, I’ll just have to make you breakfast, then.”
The implication hangs above the table. Martin takes Paul’s hand in his own, linking them together with an encouraging warmth. It’s the perfect moment, ad Paul doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of it, leaning forward to brush their lips together, as if to ask, ‘Is this okay? Are we okay?’ Martin responds by finalizing the kiss, a little awkwardly, as he nibbles on Paul’s lower lip and bumps their noses together. But it’s real, it’s tangible, and it’s happening, and the slight discomfort is a reassurance that all of this isn’t a dream.
When they pull away, neither really knows what to say. Paul looks back down at the table, before saying, “Turkey.”
“You asked me for my meat preference. Turkey.”
They stare at each other for a long moment before both bursting into laughter.
A few years later…
Five minutes into the flight, Douglas cracks and says, “Oh, out with it already.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Martin’s grin is untouchable, softening his usually nervous stricken features, and not even Douglas can deny that he’s quite attractive.
“Rubbish,” the First Officer quips, without any malice. Martin is silent, staring forward into the horizon; it’s a lovely day, cloudless, endless blue. These are the days that drew both pilots to fly, and both are content despite that their destination is far. Martin in particular always loves the long flights. “Come on, then. I would say we haven’t got all day, but…”
“But we do,” Martin laughs, an almost foreign noise in the flight deck. For a fleeting moment, Douglas believes that Arthur’s spiked the coffee , but Douglas knows what Martin’s drunken laughter sounds like, and this is clear and sober. “Okay, okay. Fine. I’ll tell you, spoilsport.”
Right as Martin takes a breath to use in order to say his next statement, Arthur throws open the flight deck door with a bang, and shrieks, “Skipper! How come you didn’t tell me you and Paul got engaged?!”
This impromptu exclamation deflates Martin, but only slightly. “Who’s the spoilsport now?” Douglas jokes, earning himself a bit of a severe look in return. “My sincerest congratulations, though, Martin.”
“Don’t worry, Arthur, I was going to tell you. During dinner, tonight, after we landed.”
The steward adopts a sheepish expression. “Oh. Mr. Poppy just called on the phone to tell me.” But only a second later, this changes into one of excitement. “But really, Skip, congrats! I know – we should throw a party! Hold on, I have to call Mr. Poppy back!”
Martin waits until he is certain that Arthur is on the other side of the plane before clearing his throat, and saying, “I, uh. I never thanked you before. For everything. So…thank you.”
“Eloquent as usual, Captain,” Douglas retorts, with a bemused smile. “And, as much as I would like to accept this heap of gratitude that prolonged exposure to the magnificence of my being seems to have brought on within you, I fear that the honesty I am so known for prevails, and insists that I point out that Arthur did all of the work, along with his little helper.”
“Well, yes, I know that, and I’ve already thanked them both a thousand times over. But I mean…Paul told me about that times you went to see him for me. Because you cared and didn’t want to see me hurt. Believe it or not, I have learned a lot flying with you, and that really touched me. That’s what I’m thanking you for.”
Douglas doesn’t know what to say, and his usual scarcastic remarks die on his tongue. “You’re welcome,” He finally settles on, because it seems safe, and for once he doesn’t want to ruin the moment just to fluster his Captain. “I hope you have many happy years with Paul.”
“I hope so too.” Martin pauses, letting the blue sky fill him up with courage. “You know, there was another reason I was waiting for a big reveal.”
“I wanted to ask both you and Arthur to be my groomsmen.”
There is a short silence, in which the entirety of their time together at MJN is reflected upon, all the teasing and the stress, the fake emergencies and real ones, and the moment is not an uncomfortable one. Both Douglas and Martin once saw MJN as one final shot, and both now realize they found so much more than that. “That is certainly an honor I cannot refuse.”
“Good. If you had tried, I would have revoked your invitation.”
“Well, two out of three guests isn’t so bad, is it?”
Douglas and Martin smile at each other, and the flight deck is peaceful. Only for about a second, though, before Douglas says, “Oh, and Martin?”
“Simon Says, oh, out with it already.”
“No, that doesn’t count. I didn’t actually answer – Arthur did!”
“You were going to answer, therefore it does count.”
“I demand a rematch!”
“Whatever you say, Captain…”