Chapter 1: The Lie
It had started when Arthur burst into the cockpit announcing he had a new girlfriend. Of course, it took several moments of persuading before Douglas or Martin even conceived of believing him, and it wasn’t until Carolyn herself confirmed it that congratulations were bestowed on the beaming steward. The conversation quickly steered itself to Arthur wanting the crew to meet her, which led to the planning of the Christmas party.
Douglas had been the traitor to suggest it, remarking in an offhand way that it might be nice to have a bit of a holiday get together for the crew. Arthur had pounced on the idea, boasting of grandiose plans and inviting his new girlfriend. He insisted Douglas should bring Helena and Mum should invite Herc, since he was hanging around all the time anyway. And then Arthur looked at Martin.
And the slightest hint of a frown began to pull at his mouth.
And Martin couldn’t stand another moment of the awkward silence beginning to fill the cockpit. “I’ll bring a date. My girlfriend,” he said quickly before the oppressive quiet could suffocate him anymore.
“Oh! Skip, you have a girlfriend? That’s brilliant! Why didn’t tell you tell us sooner?”
“Well, b-because I just didn’t feel it was appropriate work conversation.” Martin replied quickly, shooting Arthur a reprimanding look. Douglas spoke up, though, a smug grin on his face, “Really Martin, you should have told us! Well now you’ll have to fill us in on all the details. How long have you two been dating?”
Martin swallowed hard, staring down at the controls, “Oh. Um. Not too terribly long. But really this isn’t appro—“
“How did you two lovebirds meet?”
“Very good. Say, you’ve got to have a picture of her, haven’t you? Let’s have a look.”
“Now really Douglas, let’s just drop it. We’ll be approaching Fitton soon. Arthur, if you’ll clear out the plates and go secure the cabin.”
“Sure thing, Skip! But we’ll get to meet her, right? At the Christmas party?”
“O-o-of course!” Martin squeaked.
“Great! Can’t wait! Maybe she and Farah will be friends, just like us!” Arthur grabbed the empty catering plates and made his way out of the cockpit. Silence again dominated the small room, and Martin quietly prayed that Douglas wouldn’t broach the topic again. The first lieutenant was looking thoughtful, and when he spoke, Martin couldn’t help but flinch.
“Farah? What an odd name," the older man mused aloud, before casting a sideways glance at his captain, "You failed to mention your gal’s name.”
“Yes, yes I did.”
“Guess I’ll just have to wait to meet her at the party and find out then.” He said with that mischievous smile Martin was so use to seeing on his face. Martin felt his stomach knot.
“You will. Now, if you will Douglas, we have a plane to fly.”
And that was the end of it. It wasn’t until Martin was walking back to his attic flat, dodging around the drunken uni students in various degrees of intoxication, that it hit him. He had to find a girlfriend in the next two weeks.
Him. Martin. Find a girlfriend. He hadn’t managed to do that in the last ten years! How did he possibly think he could pull it off in a matter of days? With a groan, he collapsed onto his creaky futon and fell into a restless sleep.
Chapter 2: The Meeting
Internet was not a luxury Martin could afford. Of course, his uni flat mates were kind enough to allow him to use their Wi-Fi, but that required lugging his ancient laptop downstairs to the sitting room. And today he didn’t want a flock of students hovering over his shoulder to see what he was doing. Instead he carried his computer several blocks away to the nearest coffee shop, where he ordered the cheapest cup of tea on the menu and set himself in the window to work.
It had been an idea Douglas had planted in his mind long ago. A dating website. He’d turned his account to inactive months ago, frustrated with the plethora of emails flooding his inbox. All of them had been from spam machines enticing him to fake profiles that advertised all means of enhancement drugs. Of course, the first time it had happened, he had made the mistake of thinking it was a real woman emailing him. (Albeit it a rather …brass woman) After he had replied to that message, the tirade of spam had begun and he swore never to return to a dating site again.
But desperate times called for desperate measures. And this was quite the desperate time for the captain, he couldn’t bear the idea of the smug look that Douglas would smother him with when he admitted to lying about having a girlfriend. Or that awful, almost pitying look Arthur had favored him with. He didn’t even want to imagine Carolyn’s reaction to it all.
Martin frowned, it couldn’t be that hard, could it? People went on dates all the time. And honestly, all he needed was one real date for Christmas. Just a nice girl who would be willing to help him out. The website was teeming with females looking for a date, certainly one of them would be willing to pretend being his girlfriend, at least for one night.
An hour in, he had managed to have two IM conversations. The first had seemed nice enough, until he checked out her profile and saw her list of interests. Half of the words he didn’t recognize, but things like “whips,” “chains,” and “safe word” had been enough to scare him away. The second woman had more promise, but had requested to see a picture.
Martin had no photographs of himself, but managed to download a few Arthur had uploaded to the MJN website. When he sent one of him and Douglas standing in front of GERTI, making sure she understood that he was the one in the captain’s uniform, her reply had been that she wasn’t interested in an older sugar daddy and promptly signed off.
“I’m wearing the hat!” Martin snapped at his computer screen, but it was too late. Perhaps it would just be easier if he set a profile picture. The site kept suggesting it each time he tried to edit his profile.
He settled on a slightly blurred photo of he, in his aviator sunglasses, and Arthur in his handmade stewards hat. With a bit of cropping, he supposed it wouldn’t be all bad. It took the better part of an hour for his aged computer to edit the picture to his satisfaction, and another twenty just to save the file. But when he went to upload his work, an error message popped up with a bing.
A loud groan escaped the captain as he glowered at the screen. “What do you mean the file is too big? It’s just a small bit from an even bigger picture!” He threw up his hands in exasperation when he realized that his shouting had garnered several angry looks from fellow coffee patrons. Blushing, he quickly slouched even lower in his seat and ducked his head down as close to the keyboard as he could manage.
“Um, did you compress the file? That usually works. Or even saving it under a different file extension can do the trick.”
Martin peeked slowly over the edge of the screen at the source of the soft voice directed his way. A young woman with a thick braid hanging over one shoulder was seated at the next table over, a book laying open in front of her. She offered him a gentle smile and Martin suddenly found his tongue much thicker then he remembered.
“C-c-compress?” he stammered, looking from his keyboard to the woman. She chuckled, taking a seat in the empty chair at his table pulled the computer closer. It gave a loud whir in protest. “Sorry, it’s a bit of a hand-me-down.” Martin muttered, finding it suddenly impossible to look at anything but his shoes. They were scuffed. Horribly so. He tucked them quickly under his chair as the woman spoke up, “Oh, that’s okay. My computer complains all the time too. They can be fussy. Anyway, here, I’ll show you how you can shrink the file size.”
With a few quick clicks, she had fixed the problem, “Where were you trying to load it? Let’s make sure it works now.”
Martin looked up aghast. He hardly wanted this completely random, really rather attractive, stranger to know he was using a dating website. He tried to sputter out an excuse but she had already pulled up the website much to his horror. “Oh!” she said, casting a sideways glance at Martin.
He wanted nothing more than to dig a hole and bury himself in it at that moment. Go fly GERTI into a mountain. Be eaten by polar bears. Anything but be staring at his dating profile with this woman. He tried lamely to explain, “It’s not—I mean, I just wanted to try it out—It’s really just because I need one real date, is all…”
He managed to cast a furtive glance at the woman, waiting for her to burst out in laughter and leave him is his humiliated misery. But instead she only grinned widely, “I’ve got a profile on here too! Hang on, I’ll show you in a tick.” She finished updating his picture before pulling up her own profile.
Pink. Lots of pink.
Once he had gotten past the onslaught of the color, he saw that her picture was mostly comprised of a fat cat, and what he assumed to be her arms holding it up in the air. He couldn’t help the quirk of an eyebrow and the woman blushed immediately. “That’s Toby,” she explained, “maybe not the best picture to pick for a dating site. Your picture is loads better, you look fantastic in it, very handsome.”
A moment passed and they both began to redden then, looking away to the floor. “T-thanks,” Martin managed to stammer, panicked by the compliment. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had called him handsome. If ever. The woman managed a mute nod, just as embarrassed to be sprouting such things to a stranger.
“Its says you are from London? What are you doing here in Fitton?” Martin asked, eager to change the subject, but desperate to continue some conversation with the woman. She latched on excitedly, “Yeah, I live there. Just on an extended holiday is all. Needed a break from…things.”
“And you came to Fitton?”
“I guess its not really a tourist hot spot, huh?” she giggled, “Well, my sister lives out here so at least the price is right.”
And then the awkward silence was back. Their eyes darted around the coffee shop, dancing around one another’s face without ever making real contact. She cast a look back over to her table dejectedly, and he could hear the scrape of her chair against the floor. She was leaving! No, not yet! Think, man, think!
“I’m Martin!” he burst out, louder than he had expected, thrusting his hand out towards her. Her eyes widened, and she leaned back in her chair, taken aback by the outburst. Martin was certain she was going to race out of the coffee shop screaming and began to pull his hand back. He stopped as he felt her soft hand slip into his own, the soft pressure of a friendly handshake.
“I’m Molly. Nice to meet you, Martin.”
“Nice to meet you, too, Martin,” he answered automatically. “Molly! Nice to meet you too, Molly! Oh God.” Yet as he felt himself about to fall into another flustered Martin attack, Molly began to laugh. But it was a different kind of laugh then he was use to. It wasn’t cruel or mocking the panicking ginger, but it was gentle and warm. Martin managed to crack a small smile in response.
He calmed himself with a few deep breaths, summoning every ounce of courage his body processed. Which didn’t amount to much, but he still had to try. “Um, would you…would you want to finish having your coffee with me? I mean, that is, if you want to. It seems like you were reading a rather lovely book about…oh, about dead bodies? Cadavers. Ah. Right. Yes. Anyway, I’m sure it was very interesting, way more interesting than having a coffee with me. But, well, I just thought…” He trailed off lamely, feeling rather miserable that he had just butchered his attempt with the lovely woman from London. “Please?”
But Molly was giving him an odd smile, just slightly crooked but entirely pleased. “I’d love to!” She gathered her things, only managing to drop her book once in her excitement (which Martin immediately scrambled to pick up) and settled into the seat across from Martin. They shared a mutual, shy smile.
Martin set her book on the table, pointing at the cover. “A hobby?” Molly shrugged, somewhat embarrassed, “No, no, its my job. I guess a bit of a hobby, too. I’m just one of those weirdos who enjoys doing work, even when I’m not actually at work.”
In that moment, Martin was certain his day couldn’t get any better.
Chapter 3: The Argument
A week into her holiday, Molly felt that Fitton might be her vacation spot for every holiday she took henceforth. Of course, that all might have slightly to do with the charming, blushing pilot she had met a few days ago, but she tried not to let her mind linger to long on that idea.
Not that her mind paid any heed to those desires, and her thoughts often found themselves wandering back to Martin. He was currently on a trip for MJN air, but had promised to contact her when he returned within the next day or two. Not that it had stopped Molly from obsessively checking her phone. Even though the volume was up as high as it would go. And on vibrate. It still didn’t hurt to double check.
Every twenty minutes.
She was currently curled up on her sister’s couch, trying to immerse herself in a book. It had been a quiet day in the small flat, her sister gone to work. It wasn’t until she heard the door bang open that Molly realized she had been successful in her endeavors, now halfway through her novel. Where had the day gone?
Had Martin called? No. No missed calls.
She frowned and glanced up at the woman who entered the room. Megan Hooper was two years old than Molly, sharing the same nose and eyes. However, the older sister was blessed with the voluminous blonde hair of their father and the striking figure of their mother, neither aspect Molly had inherited. Megan quirked an eyebrow, “Have you moved at all today?”
Molly shook her head, “No, not really. Kind of lost track of time.” She stood and stretched her sore muscles, listening to a few relieving cracks and pops of her bones. A satisfied sigh escaped her. Megan simply rolled her eyes in annoyance, prying her heels off her aching feet, “God, what I wouldn’t do for a holiday.”
“I told you, you can come visit me anytime.”
“Not all of us can just take time off whenever we want, Molly. I work two jobs, remember? Doesn’t really mean a whole lot of free time.”
Sensing the bitterness of the familiar argument, Molly dropped the subject. “Well you look beat. I can order take away or make dinner.”
“Sure, whatever.” Megan replied, heading back to her bedroom to change. Her voice soon rang out shrilly at the sight of a pile of laundry still heaped on the floor. “Molly! You said you’d do laundry today!”
The younger sibling cringed. Ah, right. She knew there was something productive she meant to do today. “Sorry—“ Her voice cut off with the distinctive sound of her ringtone jingling from the couch. With an excited squeak, she sprang on her phone.
This is Martin. From the coffee shop. The pilot. You said it was alright to contact you, so I am. We’ll be landing in Fitton soon. It would be really nice to see you again, if that’s okay with you.
Molly couldn’t suppress a wide grin that made her cheeks ache. Before she could even phantom a reply, her mobile jingled again.
I hope that wasn’t too forward. We could meet whenever you like, I’m free all weekend. Or not at all, if you prefer. Sorry, I don’t want you to feel like you have to say yes or anything. It would just be really nice if you wouldn’t mind seeing me again.
A heavy blush fell on Molly’s cheeks as she imagined how frazzled the poor pilot must have become just from writing those two messages. She found it entirely endearing, and a feeling began to blossom in her that she hadn’t felt since…well, since him.
“Did you even hear a word I said?”
Molly pulled her gaze up from the screen to see her sister eying her sourly, several shirts clutched in one hand and the other hand placed on her hip. “No, sorry,” she replied, holding out her phone, “Martin finally texted me.”
As soon as the words left her mouth, she wished she could take them back. A hard, dark look began to cloud Megan’s features. Her hands flew up in the air, scattering the clothes she had been holding. “Oh how absolutely wonderful for you, Molly. The guy you haven’t shut up about all week has finally called you. Now you can add a PILOT to the list of your charmed life while the rest of us peasants meander on with our dull lives and chores!”
“No, Molly, you don’t. I’m so tired of you acting like such a princess, having such a perfect life while the rest of us have to struggle and fight for every little thing!”
“Oh stop it, Megan! Why do we always have to argue about this? It’s not my fault that you chose to stay here. You made the decision and now you have to live with it!”
“Chose? Are you kidding me? Someone had to take care of Mum, and you sure as hell weren’t going to leave your precious castle in London!”
“This isn’t about Mum and you know it. This is about Keith! You blame me for everything, but you refuse to accept it was really your fault. Just because you have terrible taste in men doesn’t mean I do too. You can’t stand it because I finally found a nice guy!”
Silence pervaded for several heavy minutes. Angry tears began to pool in Megan’s eyes and Molly felt her fury immediately fizzle out. “M-megan…I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…” She was answered with the bedroom door slamming in her face and a shout of, “Leave me alone!”
Molly’s shoulders slumped, and tears began to prickle in her own eyes. Solemnly she began to pick up the discarded clothes, bundling them up into a bag. She fetched her shoes from the hall, the spare key and paused when she picked up her phone.
I’d love to see you again Martin. How about tonight? I had a slight row with my sister and could use a little company.
Martin’s reply came a few moments later once she had already left the flat and started down the stairs.
Yes! Yes of course! Just tell me when and where, I’ll be there as soon as I can.
She gave him the address of the launderette and proceeded to head there herself.
Chapter 4: The Laundry
Bonus points if you get the reference in here.
Martin had been admittedly surprised that his second date with Molly would be at a launderette. Practical, certainly, but not exactly romantic. Not that it really mattered; he was simply overjoyed to be seeing her again. Ever since they had met, Martin’s thoughts had rolled around with daydreams of Molly.
He’d never hit it off with a girl like that before. They had stayed at the coffee shop for hours, simply talking. Martin didn’t even realize he could talk that long about something other than airplanes, but Molly seemed to be able to draw a conversation out of him about anything. It wasn’t until the baristas had shooed them out at close that Martin realized just how long they had chatted.
But he had hoped when he had texted her that he would be able to take her out to dinner. Something classy, refined, nice. Something to match the caliber of such a woman. And as long as he ate only an appetizer, Martin knew he could have afforded it with only minimal amount of debt. Besides, he had several Icarus Removal jobs lined up in the next few days so that would just mean skimping out on having a baked potato this month. Molly was worth it. She was worth ten potatoes.
Ah, well. Next time, he’d take her out somewhere nice. That pub Douglas was always going on about. Or maybe the Italian place Carolyn had mentioned. Yes, that would perfect. A bit on the romantic side.
Wait. No. Hold on. Next time? Martin was certainly getting ahead of himself. He had no guarantee of next time. A stab of uncertainty tightened in his chest. Here he was, lugging his laundry down the street in a dingy old backpack one of the Uni students had left behind a few years ago. And, because it had suddenly turned into laundry day, he was stuck wearing his worst clothes. The ragged trousers with the hole in the knee and his father’s old sweatshirt. Hardly the outfit to woo a girl.
He came to a dead stop in the middle of the sidewalk, eyes wide with sudden terror, barely noticing as a man slammed into him from behind. “Hey mate, watch where you—“
“My pants! She’ll see my pants!”
The stranger stared back at Martin, blinking dumbly. “Congratulations?”
“No, this is horrible!”
“Alright…well, good luck—“
“What should I do? Should I just call her and tell her the plane crashed? That I can’t make it? Planes crash all the time, its not that unbelievable is it?”
“Uh…I guess not? Listen, I’m late for an appointment.”
Martin frowned at the man. “Yes, right, of course. Sorry.” He watched the stranger scurry away before mulling over his dilemma. There was no way he could let Molly see his…no. No no no. He would just have to call her, tell her he was going to be late. He could run back to his attic, drop off his unmentionables, and return.
Yet as he fished his mobile out of his pocket, his eyes happened to glance up at the launderette. He spotted Molly posed in front of one of the machines. She was carefully applying a layer of lipstick and nervously rearranging her hair. Her eyes cast a worried look down at her watch, then her phone, and another glance at her hair. Martin felt his worries melt away as he watched her, and found his feet eagerly propelling him towards the door.
Of course, he probably should have watched for traffic before blindly walking out in to the street. And with a screech of tires, repeatedly apologizing to honking vehicles, and in general becoming rather flustered at narrowly dodging a nasty accident, Martin finally stumbled through the door. Molly looked up immediately and a wide smile broke out with recognition.
It was a short-lived smile. “Martin! Are…are you alright? You’re panting.”
“Yes! Fine! Yes! Fine!”
“Okay. Well, here, why don’t you sit down over here anyway.”
“Yes. Fine. Chair. Good.”
“Was all that honking just now because of you?”
Martin glanced away. His trembling hands were still clutching at his pounding chest. He could only manage to look sheepish in reply. A quirky smirk crossed Molly’s face before she disappeared, saying she’d find him a glass of water. Martin took the opportunity to jam his clothes into the nearest washing machine and get it started before Molly could even have a chance of glimpsing his boxers.
She returned several moments later with two bottles of water, which Martin gratefully accepted and began to chug down. They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping their waters, when Molly began to look around. “Didn’t I see you bring in some laundry?”
“Oh, y-yes, I already got it started.”
“That was quick. But what happened to your bag?”
Martin looked toward the washer, hid a scowl. He caught glimpses of bright green in the swirling soap and clothes. “It…It was dirty. N-n-needed a washing.” He twisted in his seat so that he was facing her. “Um, so, how are you? Everything okay?”
“Yeah.” She had a cheerful look, but upon closer inspection, Martin noticed a suspicious amount of red puffiness to her eyes. He didn’t want to upset her, but he was concerned by her text message about her sister. He had gathered from their first meeting that the two were not on the best of terms, but Molly hadn’t seemed eager to divulge a lot of information or linger on the topic. But from her occasional sniffle, and the tissue clutched in her hand, he suspected that the argument had truly upset her.
“How was your trip? You were taking someone to America, right?”
Martin nodded. “An movie producer. He was going to West Virginia, although Arthur kept telling him they should rename it to North Virginia. Said it was more north than it was west. He even created a sort of slideshow presentation with a marker and pad of paper. Of course, when Douglas told Arthur there was another state just called Virginia, Arthur was quite upset that one didn’t have a direction assigned to it. He said it was going to get lost and confused.”
He paused as Molly giggled, letting the sound linger in his ears. He was surprised how quickly she seemed to be perking up, but pleased nonetheless. She was leaning forward, chin propped up in her hand. “Arthur seems like an…interesting person.”
“Interesting is a kind way to put it.”
“I think I’d like him.”
“Y-y-yeah, you might. He grows on you after awhile.” Martin found himself suddenly stumbling over his words as he recalled his other purpose for wanting to see Molly 30tonight. Tucked into his back pocket was an invitation to the MJN Christmas party. Arthur had been quite proud that he had helped pick out the invites, but eventually confessed that Farah had taken over the planning and that now it was going to be a bit bigger party than just MJN staff.
However, Martin was suddenly terrified to hand her the invite. To explain that he might have lied and said that she was his girlfriend. Well, not her specifically. Just that he had one. And would she mind lying about it? At least to Douglas, because he was the one with that irking, smug look Martin couldn’t stand and he really wanted to just once, just one single time, be the winner. Come out on top. If she met him, she’d understand just how unbearable the first officer could be. But, oh, the conversation was lulling. This would be it, the perfect chance to give her the invitation. Steady, man, steady, this is it...
“We went to Hooters!”
Martin cleared his throat, suddenly finding himself blushing. “Hooters, it’s a popular restaurant in America, apparently. Our client recommended it.”
“Oh. Was it good?”
Molly quirked a curious eyebrow, “Well, yes. Unless they are known for something else?”
“What? Else? What else? No! What?”
Molly’s other eyebrow shot up, now in amusement as Martin’s face began to redden all the way up to the tip of his nose. “I don’t know. Do they have really good drinks or something?”
“C-c-chicken! They are famous for their chicken breasts. Wings! Wings, definitely chicken wings. It was good. No, not really. Not that good. Don’t go there. Never mind.” He cut himself off by taking a particularly long drink of water, casting worried glances over his water bottle at the pathologist.
Did she know? Would she be upset? The truth was Martin hadn’t even enjoyed his meal that much. He’d been so busy staring at the table, uncertain of where to look with so many scantly clad beautiful women running about, he couldn’t even taste what he gobbled down.
Douglas had loved it though. Of course Douglas had. The first officer had to order for poor stuttering Martin, and Arthur couldn’t stop exclaiming “Wow!” The rest of the time, Douglas kept offering tips and advice on proper flirting technique. Arthur had written it all down, Martin did his best to act indignant while trying desperately hard to remember all that Douglas had taught.
Molly made no further comment on the issue, to which Martin was abundantly grateful. They spent time chatting about the book Molly was currently obsessed with, the Uni students Martin called flat mates, life in London, airplanes. Time paid no heed to the two, and soon the sun had long disappeared and the moon taken its place high in the sky.
Chapter 5: The Truth
The two stood side by side, folding laundry. Molly had suggested they play a word game like the ones Martin had told her about that usually occupied his time in the flight deck, but the best idea either had come up with was Would You Rather.
It was Martin’s turn to dream up a question; he’d been dancing around it for several rounds but hadn’t quite worked up the courage to outright ask it. He glanced sideways at Molly, watching her fold the clothing as she patiently waited for his question. With a sigh, trepidation building as he feared her answer, feared her guessing the real reason he asked, he said, “Would you rather have a job that you really, really love but not get any money for it or have a job that you don’t particularly like-- no, that you really just don’t like at all-- but at least get paid for it?”
Molly paused thoughtfully, placing her last shirt into her laundry bag. Her head cocked to one side, “Hm, that’s a tough one. I mean, I love my job and I can’t really imagine doing much else. But you obviously need money to pay the bills. Especially in London.” She smiled, “Maybe I could move somewhere cheaper, though? So I guess I’d rather do what I love and just figure it out somehow.”
She paused, still mulling her answer over, “Its miserable doing something you hate, isn’t it? Just not worth it. Life is too short to go around doing things you don’t want to. Maybe it’s because I work with so many dead people, but I wouldn’t want to waste my time with things I don’t like. Ah, but maybe now I’m just being a bit silly, hm?” She looked to Martin, a rosy hue of embarrassment coloring her cheeks as she prodded him with her elbow, “Anyway, you know how this works. Now you have to tell me which you would pick.” Martin shrugged noncommittally. Mostly because he didn’t trust his voice not to crack with the sudden surge of emotions her response had evoked in him.
Seeming to sense the change, Molly allowed him a few quiet moments to regroup as she reached across him and picked up some of his laundry to begin folding. Their companionable silence was broken with a quiet giggle from her. “Okay, my turn. Would you rather I tell you that I think these are cute or that I pretend I didn’t see them at all?” And to his absolute horror, Molly held up a pair of boxers she’d been folding.
Not just any boxers. The boxers with the cartoon airplanes on them, and the word captain printed across the backside. A prank gift from Douglas that Martin had secretly liked, though he made sure to say quite the opposite.
“Oh God, I am so sorry! Just…oh God, I knew I should have hidden them! Oh God, this is just—“
“Martin,” Molly cooed, laying a soft hand on his forearm, “Relax! I was just teasing you.”
“But, but, this is so embarrassing!”
Another bought of laughter broke free from Molly before she managed to give him a sly look, “If I thought it would help, I’d show you a pair of mine. But they’re decorated with dead bodies.”
Molly wasn’t sure if he looked so pale at the thought of her undergarments or the thought they might be designed with cartoon corpses. Perhaps it was best not to ask. “Oh goodness, I’m kidding! It was a joke! Ah, maybe you should sit down again?” She guided him back to their chairs, handing him the rest of her water bottle, and finished folding the rest of his things (while being quite careful to hide the fact that she folded two more boxers before stuffing them in his bag).
They each gathered their bags, making their way out to the street and lingering by the doorway. Neither seemed eager to depart, despite the fact that Molly commented she hadn’t realized how late it had gotten. Martin shuffled his feet, nodding. Silence.
“Thanks for meeting me, Martin. “
Another round of silence.
“It was lovely getting to see you again.”
The silence was becoming thick, and Martin still hadn’t looked up from the sidewalk.
“Are you alright? I really am sorry I teased you about the pants.”
“Would you go to a Christmas party with me?” Martin reached back into his pocket, withdrawing a slightly crumpled but red envelope. He held it out to her, his face matching the shade of the paper. Molly took it, reading the scrawled writing and quirking an eyebrow.
In blocky handwriting, “To Marin’s Girlfriend” had been written across the front of the envelope. All the color that had risen to his face suddenly drained away, “Arthur! No, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice it earlier! Arthur wrote that, I can explain!” And then Martin knew he did have to explain, explain why he had wanted to start a dating profile in the first place, his lie, and as he was rambling, he could only worry how upset Molly might be, how foolish she would consider him.
Molly listened with a carefully neutral expression, occasionally nodding but allowing Martin to offer his full explanation. When he finished, she looked thoughtfully down at the envelope, traced its bent corners. She watched Martin fidget anxiously before her, the look of a deer caught in the headlights clear in his wide eyes. “You know,” she said slowly, choosing her words, “you aren’t the first person who has lied to save face.”
Her fingers moved from the corner to now trace the words written on the front. Now it was her turn to redden, her voice lowering and coming out in a rush of nervous air, “Besides, it doesn’t have to be a lie.”
Silence reigned again. The only sound either could hear was the unbearably loud and fast drumming of their own heartbeats. Martin tried to speak but found his voice cracking, cleared his throat, tried again, “A-a-are you saying…?”
Molly peeked up shyly, looking through her eyelashes. There was the slightest of nods.
It took every ounce of self-control for Martin not to shout with exploding joy and bounce around like a child at Christmas. But no, calm down. Think about this. Martin Crieff, the pilot without pay. The man with a van, the van that barely works as it is.
And there she is, Molly Hooper. Beautiful, intelligent, and way out of your league type of woman. “I…” Martin stared down intently at some crumbs on the ground. It hit him like a brick to the brain. Suddenly all of the daydreams, all the hopes and aspirations he’d allowed his mind to conjure up the last few days came apart and revealed the lie he had centered them on.
Molly Hooper was the perfect woman. And Martin Crieff hardly qualified himself to even be called a man. She could do so much better, deserved so much more than a pathetic excuse of a pilot.
“Molly, I…I think you are wonderful. Better than wonderful. But…but I’m not. I’m really not.”
Martin forced his eyes up, meeting her face. Oh no, she didn’t understand. He could see it written all over her face (only because he recognized the look so often on his own), she thought he was rejecting her. And for the second time that evening, he found his mouth spewing out the truth before the rest of his mind could comprehend or try and phantom a way to at least retain a small bit of pride.
“So, you don’t get paid to be a pilot?”
“No. No, not really. No.”
“And you make money by moving people’s things?”
“Yes, although my van really is rubbish. But, well, now you see, don’t you?”
A deep frown creased Molly’s brow as she shook her head. Martin shifted his backpack to his other shoulder, rubbing a hand along the back of his neck. He looked up at the flickering sign of the launderette, talking quickly. To make her understand so she could escape and he could just go home and curse the fates for tormenting him again. “I’d really make an awful boyfriend. I can’t really treat you to things, things you deserve, and I’m busy all the time. When I’m not flying, I’ve got moves scheduled. I live in an attic. Just look at me, I’m nothing, just this ridiculous ball of ginger hair and freckles And look at you! You’re just too beautiful and wonderful. And I’m just not—“
The pilot froze, mouth still open, shocked to hear such command come from the woman in front of him. One hand was on her hip, the other pointed dangerously close to his nose, and a fierce look tugged on the lines of her face. For a moment, he was reminded of Carolyn, except that the lightest sheen of tears was reflecting in Molly’s eyes.
“Martin, don’t you dare say another bad thing about yourself! I won’t hear it. I don’t care if you don’t have money. I don’t care if you are a mover. I think it’s fantastic that you are living your dream. And I think you are the most handsome man I’ve met and it absolutely breaks my heart to hear you say such awful lies about yourself. So stop it!”
Martin could only sputter, very much resembling a fish out of water. Molly thrust the unopened envelope toward him. “I want to go to this party, I want to go with you, but I won’t. Not if it’s a lie.” Her shoulders slumped, and for a moment it seemed she might topple over.
Her outburst appeared to have absolutely drained her. Several tears leaked from the corner of her eyes, and she wiped at them away tiredly. “I just…I just wish you could see that you are a good person, and that I like you the way you are.” She reached down to pick up her dropped duffle bag but was stopped by Martin’s hand wrapping around her wrist.
“I’m sorry.” It was barely audible, but he looked her intently in the eyes. “I didn’t mean to upset you. Please don’t cry anymore. And I want you to go to the party with me. I really want you to.”
He paused to take a steadying breath, his fingers sliding from her wrist to encompass her hand. She could feel the tremble in his hand, the warmth of his grip, the calluses of his fingertips. Determination shone through the fear in his face. Even though he had managed to mess up everything else this evening, he would do this proper.
“Molly Hooper, would you be my g-g-girlfriend? Please?”
There was no hesitation to her reply. “Absolutely yes!” Before either of them realized what precisely was happening, Molly sprang into his embrace and Martin’s lanky arms were wrapped tightly around her. He made a gallant effort at spinning her, but managed to slam them both into a streetlight.
They stood, slightly stunned and suddenly sore, still clutching one another. They only pulled apart when the snickering of teenagers across the way reached their ears, and only then, they pulled away with certain reluctance. However, as soon as their gazes met, they erupted into their own fit of laughter and their euphoric feelings reigned once again.
Martin offered to walk her home, swinging her bag over his shoulder, and shyly extending his hand towards her. She clasped it eagerly and led them in the direction of Megan’s flat. The smile never left either of their faces the entire walk back, and their hands never released their grips. They made plans to see each other the next day, Molly volunteering to help him move a couch across the city despite Martin’s insistence that he only wanted her company for the van ride and he wouldn’t let her do any of the lifting.
When they came to the front stairs leading up to the flats, Molly paused on the first step with an audible sigh. Her eyes looked up to Megan’s flat, seeing the light on. She had managed to forget about their fight for the last few hours, now it came crashing back. “Guess I’ll have to go apologize,” she muttered begrudgingly.
Martin offered a half smile, he understood family feuds quite well. “Good luck,” he said with an encouraging squeeze of the hands. He slipped her bag off his shoulder and held it out to her. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow around 8 then?”
“Yep.” Molly took her bag, and looked at Martin with a wink, “Well, good night boyfriend.”
Martin blushed uncontrollably. Molly giggled and wrapped him in a quick embrace, surprised to find his arms still locked tightly around her when she went to pull back. She hid a smile against his shoulder and snuggled into his warmth. Finally he released her with a deep sigh, and took a step back. A goofy grin was plastered on his face, and Molly realized that the same look might be reflected on her own.
“See you tomorrow, Molly.” Martin said wistfully, and after biding one another good night again, Martin made his way towards home. When he finally arrived in his quiet little attic, he threw his bag to the ground and pumped the air with both fists triumphantly. “I’ve got an amazing, brilliant girlfriend!” he shouted to the empty air gleefully. He fell asleep still grinning.
Chapter 6: The Couch
“Come on, just a bit further,” Martin whispered at the steering wheel, cringing as the engine gave a particularly loud pop. “Look, its just right up that hill and then you can have a rest,” he urged, and pet the console pleadingly. With a wheeze, the van complied and came to a halting stop outside of the flats Martin had been at just last night.
Molly was seated on the front steps, book open on her lap as she poured over the words. She had glanced up when she heard the vehicle making its precarious way up the path. Gathering her things, she skipped down the stairs to hug Martin as he stumbled out of the van.
“Hello,” Martin greeted her shyly, already a blush covering his cheeks as they broke apart their hug. Molly suspected that he might blush every time they embraced, and she rather hoped that would be the case. “Morning Martin. Ready for a big day of hauling?”
Martin flexed his arms, looked suddenly horrendously embarrassed, and pat the side of his vehicle. “Oh I’m ready. But it’s not me we have to worry about. This old girl seems to be extra fussy today.” Molly eyed the van, dented and battered with a fading hand painted sign on the side. “Icarus removals?”
“It’s seemed more proper to have a business name, rather than just being Martin, the man with a van. Is it silly?”
“No, I like it. Has a nice ring to it.”
“I thought so too.” Martin looked pleased. “Were you waiting long? You didn’t have to wait outside for me.”
“That’s alright, it was a nice day out. And it was…stuffy inside the flat.”
Martin raised an eyebrow, “Didn’t make up with Megan, I take it?”
“Well, I tried last night. Sort of. But when I told her about us being a couple now,” she paused, allowing a pleased smile then grew solemn and continued, “she got all huffy. And, ah, it became a bit of a shouting match by this morning.”
Martin blanched, “She’s mad about you dating me? Should I go apologize to her? Maybe if I—“
“Martin, relax.” Molly slid her hand into his, giving a quick squeeze to his fingers, “That’s not what its about. It’s not about dating you, it’s about me dating at all. It’s kind of a long story, really. I’ll tell you along the drive.”
“You’re certain it wouldn’t help for me to go say something? Because I can. Apologize or whatever you think would help.”
“I’m sure, yes, thank you.”
He nodded, then led her to the passenger’s side of the van and held the door open for her. He scurried around to the drivers side and climbed in. “Okay, here’s the map. You get to be the navigator.”
“Yes sir, Captain! Oh, I’ll need a pilot’s type hat, don’t you think? It’ll make it official. Hey, what’s with that look?”
“Nothing. Just…just don’t say hats are brilliant. Or paramount.”
Molly smirked, “Alright, alright. But they are rather fine.” She pointed to the sunglasses on the dashboard, “Well, you can at least wear your aviator shades to make up for it.”
“That I can do. What do you think?” Martin slid the sunglasses up his nose and turned to model them. Molly was hit by an unexpected wave in her stomach as color rose to her face. Surprised by the electric jolt of sudden attraction, Molly turned to stare quickly down at the map, “They look nice…really nice. Um, so, do you have an address?”
Martin handed her the information about the job, finding himself staring at the steering wheel with the same flustered look on his face, and proceeded to coax his vehicle into starting up. It was a short trip to the house where the couch was to be picked up, and Molly insisted upon passing the time by learning aviation terms. Martin was ecstatic to comply, going off on tangents every few minutes. Molly listened patiently, waving off his apologies when he realized that his flying obsession was dominating the conversation yet again.
When they arrived and were walking up to the door, Martin again began persuading Molly that she needn’t help, that he didn’t want her having to heave anything when he was entirely capable. Molly smiled indulgently, but was spared having to answer when an elderly gentleman opened the door. “Oh, ah, hello! We’re Icarus R-removals, we’re here to haul away your couch?”
The man waddled out onto the front stoop, snatching up Molly’s hand and completely ignoring Martin. “My, my, you are much prettier than I expected! If I had known they would be sending beautiful women, I’d had this old sofa moved ages ago!” Molly giggled, more at the look of indignation on Martin’s face than the compliment, and winked at the older man, “Yes, but we charge double for the pretty pick ups!”
“And worth every penny,” he guffawed, leading her inside. Martin followed huffily, eyeing the client with unbidden suspicion. The couch to be moved was a large leather sectional, twice the size Martin had expected. He did his best not to flinch at the sight of it. “Yes, right, okay. Not a problem,” he muttered, pacing around it several times as the old man and Molly chattered away.
Martin was able to break it apart into three sections, awkward and large but at least manageable. He hauled the first part out on his own, wheezing slightly and only dropping it once. Luckily, it was outside the range of the client (and Molly’s) vision. Unluckily, it was on his foot. Howling, he hoped around the van and blinked back tears.
Molly appeared in the doorway moments later. “Martin! Are you okay? I heard you yelling.”
“Yep, yep. I’m fine. Just fine. Fine.”
“Why are you standing like a flamingo then?”
“Oh, I’m s-s-stretching? I forgot to stretch beforehand. Its very important when moving heavy things to warm up your muscles.”
“You dropped it on your foot, didn’t you?”
“No! I…well, yes.”
“This is ridiculous. I’m helping you move the rest of it. “
Martin’s dignity reared its head in protest, but the throbbing in his foot began to win out. Molly looked at him pointedly, “Besides, that guy is giving me the creeps. It’ll be a good excuse not to have to talk to him.”
Martin nodded finally. Well, if it was for her honor, then so be it. “O-o-okay. But I’ll do the pulling, alright?”
Yet as they walked back into the house and took up positions on either end of the sectional, Martin realized his mistake. The old man was seated where he could get quite the view of Molly struggling to bend down and pick up the corners of the couch. A dark feeling spread through Martin’s chest as he caught sight of the smirk that spread across the man’s face. “M-Molly!” Martin squawked, “Switch me places.”
She gave him a quizzical look, to which he pointed at his foot and feigned a look of pain. She hurriedly traded spots with him and they were able to haul it out without incident. Of course, Martin took a moment to glare at the man as they swapped and wiggled his fanny when reaching down to pick up the couch. The client gave an audile sigh of disgusted disappointment and Martin felt rather accomplished as they took the couch out to the van.
The third and final section went out without complaint, until Martin managed to drop the corner on his other foot when he panicked that Molly might be losing her grip and tried to help. He was sent to the passenger’s side of the vehicle, sulking and trying not to sniffle, as Molly finished up inside with the older man. She came back out several minutes later, and climbed into the driver’s side.
“I think I can drive now,” Martin protested, still clutching the van keys in his hand. Molly rolled her eyes; prying at his fingers, “Look at your shoes laces. They’re stretched from the swelling. Just prop your feet up and let me take care of it. I promise, I’m a good driver.”
“I’m sure you are! But, well, I didn’t want you to have to help me with all this. I wanted you to be the one able to relax.”
Molly paused in her struggles to wrench away the keys, smiling softly. “I appreciate the sentiment, Martin, but I don’t mind helping. I want to. That’s what you do for people you care about. Now give me the keys or I’ll start tickling.”
Terror crossed Martin’s features and he immediately relinquished control. To his surprise, Molly was able to start up the van on the first try and they were soon on their way. Once they were on the motorway, and Martin seemed able to trust Molly’s driving ability, Molly began to ask him how it was he came to own the van in the first place. Martin answered honestly enough, trying his best to keep any bitterness from his voice, but Molly still picked up on it.
“Guess I’m not the only one with family problems,” she commented.
“I think problems come along with the territory of family. If its picture perfect, then something must be terribly wrong. Or you’re adopted.”
Molly laughed and smiled wistfully, “Tell that to Megan. She seems to be under the delusion that families are suppose to be perfect and never make mistakes.” She sighed, and although Martin was curious to ask, bit his tongue as he watched Molly process her thoughts.
“We use to be a fairly happy family, all things considered. I mean, we had our squabbles, but that’s to be expected. It wasn’t until my second year of university that things fell apart. Mum and Dad got into a car accident, and it was pretty bad. Mum never really recovered, and Dad….well, he never got the chance to.
“Megan thought I should move home to help take care of them. And I was planning on it, honestly. But when I went to visit Dad in the hospital, he begged me to stay in school. Said he was so proud of me. Wanted me to finish my education. Get a good job. He made me promise that I would, that I wouldn’t give up on everything because of the accident. And I did, I promised I would. He died two days later from an infection. He looked happy though, you know? I didn’t know a dead body could look so happy, so at peace. It was…nice? Well, no, it wasn’t nice. But it was comforting.”
Molly paused, her voice thick with emotions but no tears came to her eyes. She’d shed them all years ago. “Anyway, Megan was furious when I said I was going to go back to school the following quarter. She’d already been living at home when it all happened, so she’d been taking care of Mum already. But she had started dating this guy Keith and wanted to move in with him, marry him, have her own version of a happy ending. And I wanted to go to school and have mine.”
Darkness colored her eyes, “We were really awful daughters, arguing about all this with Mum stuck in the middle. Megan wound up getting engaged to Keith and I went off to school. Poor Mum, I think she felt like such a burden that she went into assisted living. But she likes it there now, has lots of friends. So that’s good at least.
“Anyway, I finished up school and moved to London. With the life insurance money we got from Dad, I was able to actually afford a nice flat for myself and to pay off all those awful loans. Megan got married to Keith, and they seemed all right for a while. But from what I can figure out, they started arguing about things, about having Mum move in with them, and Keith was a prat to begin with and, well, they got divorced and Keith managed to get most of the money. Megan’s been working on paying off all of the lawyer bills since, working three jobs. ”
Molly glanced sideways at her boyfriend, sadness etched on every feature of her face, “Megan was pretty jaded by it all. She’s angry with me because she somehow got it in her head that if I’d moved in with Mum, she would have had a charmed life with Keith. I don’t know, I know I have a part of blame in all of it, but she just doesn’t want to place the blame where it really belongs.”
Martin reached across the seat and rested a comforting hand on her shoulder. He didn’t say anything, simply giving a soft squeeze and rubbing at the tenseness that had begun to form in her neck. It caused a surprised wash of emotions to surge into her throat, emotions she thought she’d long used up. Coughing to cover up the choked sob that threatened to break free, she motioned at the map, “I think we’re getting close, yeah?”
“Almost. Just take the next exit, two lefts and we should just about be there.”
Martin withdrew his hand and Molly bit her tongue as she wrestled her feelings back under control. They remained quiet the rest of the way, until arriving in a small neighborhood with limited parking. The silenced was broken by several gasps and winces from Martin as Molly struggled to convince the van into a parallel parking position.
“Ah, there we have it! And you were worried. I knew I could do it.” Molly proclaimed proudly, despite the fact that back half of the van was still taking up a fair portion of the street. She went to clamber out of the vehicle but was stopped by Martin clearing his throat nervously.
“I, uh, I just think you should know that I don’t think you did anything wrong, Molly. Maybe there were b-better choices to make, but that doesn’t mean you going back to school means you are a bad sister or daughter. You were just keeping your promise to your Dad, trying to make him proud. It’s rotten for Megan what happened. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be happy because of her bad luck.” Martin touched her hand, “And for what its worth, I think your Dad is really proud of you.”
Molly stared out the window, but couldn’t see anything through the thick veil of tears swarming her vision. Try as she might, the sob broke free and her shoulders shook uncontrollably with the tears that flooded freely. Martin panicked at the sight, desperately reaching across the seat and pulling her tightly into his embrace.
“Oh God, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to upset you! Please, Molly, I didn’t want you to cry! I’m really sorry!”
She wrapped her arms tightly around his torso, burying her face so deeply in his shoulder he could hardly make out her reply. “I’m not angry, Martin. It’s just…that’s what I’ve wanted to hear for so long.” The captain relaxed then, still hugging her just as tightly, but soothingly running his hand along her head. “Ah, oh, good,” he murmured quietly and continued to brush at her hair until her tears were done.
She sat back, sniffling and wiping at her face with the sleeve of her sweater. “I must look an absolute mess,” she said apologetically, “Do I have mascara everywhere?”
“I think you look beautiful,” Martin answered truthfully, but reached up to wipe away a black smudge under her eye. Molly smiled appreciatively, “Thank you, Martin. I haven’t really talked about Dad in a long time, and you remind him of me in ways. Good ways.”
“I wish I could have met him.”
“Me too. He’d have liked you. Anyway, enough of this.” She gave a final scrub to her face and pushed open the driver’s door, “Let’s go finish moving that couch.” Martin opened his door as well, “After you, Captain.”
Chapter 7: The Curry
Molly tapped at the screen of her phone, frown lines creasing her face. “I just can’t seem to get any signal around here.”
“That’s Fitton for you. Well, at least I think this is Fitton. Maybe.”
The two had finished moving the couch hours ago. The elderly couple they had delivered it to were planning to open a bed and breakfast and had invited Martin and Molly to explore the renovations they had made on their home. It wound up with Martin and Molly rearranging half the furniture in the house several times over until the fickle wife was pleased.
They were invited to sit and enjoy some tea (and Martin was given two bags of frozen peas for his now obviously swollen feet) until they were well-rested. It had been a far more pleasing afternoon than Martin had planned, except for the throbbing pain in his lower appendages. But by the time Molly and he had begun to make their way back to the van, his feet were nearly back to their normal size.
It was dark by the time they left, and Martin insisted on taking Molly out for dinner as a thank you for her help. The elderly couple had doubled their promised pay for the additional help so Martin was eager to spring on the chance of a proper date before his bills ate away the additional funds.
Yet in an attempt to make good time back, Martin took what he assumed was a short cut.
But it was very much not.
They now sat in the middle of an empty field, being watched by a small herd of sleepy sheep. Martin twisted the map back and forth in his lap as Molly tried to load the GPS on her phone. With a heavy sigh, Martin leaned his head out the window of the van, shouting at the sheep, “You don’t happen to know what road this is, do you? The first to answer gets this old bag of crisps!”
The sheep started blankly back at the gangly man. Apparently none of them were eager to try the crisps.
Molly watched with a bemused expression. “Alright, well, look out past that hill over to the right. Seems like there is light coming from that direction, at the very least it could be a town where we can get directions.”
Martin peered at it hesitantly before maneuvering the van in that direction. “Better than just sitting here.”
“Well, we can keep trying to bribe the sheep if you think that’ll work better. The one in the front looked like he was about to crack and tell.”
“Maybe you should have used your womanly wiles on him.”
“Unfortunately those wiles are about as good as my navigational skills.”
“They worked on me.” Martin pointed out and Molly blushed before wiggling her eyebrows, “That’s true. Guess they aren’t as rusty as I thought.”
The van rumbled over the country road, eventually proving Molly’s theory correct as they pulled into a small city. They pulled over at a petrol station, both jumping out to stretch their legs. “Oh, what’s that smell?” Molly asked, eagerly sniffing the air, “Something smells delicious.”
Martin gave a few sniffs, expecting a whiff of petrol to fill his nose, but was met with the scent of exotic foods. He held back a cringe, managing to force a smile, “You must be hungry if you could smell that over the petrol.”
Molly nodded guiltily, “Yeah. But I think it’s actually coming from the shop. I’ll check it out.” She wandered into the station building as Martin topped off the van’s tank. He went inside to pay and found Molly seated at a small table. While half of the building was dedicated to selling various car related odds and ends, the other half was converted into an Indian restaurant.
Molly hurriedly motioned him over. “Sorry,” she muttered, “the man was very insistent about us staying to eat. Do you mind Indian food? It looks like they at least have a good selection.” Martin decided it best not to mention that it had been years since he last had Indian food, and his stomach had been surviving on noodles for the past two months.
“Well, I’m not sure—“
He was interrupted as the station cashier and restaurant host came scurrying over. “Welcome, welcome sir. Sit, sit! Can’t leave pretty lady alone, yes, yes?” Martin didn’t have time to object before a chair was thrust against the back of his knees and he found a menu dangling before his eyes. He found his hands automatically grabbing it before his mind could object.
“I bring you some wine, okay, okay.”
“Oh, um, no. Too much driving to still do. But, really, I was just going to pay for the petrol—“
“Pretty, pretty lady still wants wine though, yes?”
“Water will be great, thank you.”
Before Martin could insist they just pay for the petrol and leave, the man vanished behind a curtain into the back. Molly seemed entirely amused by the situation and kept giggling to herself as she looked over the menu. “Guess we are eating here then?”
“I don’t think we honestly have a choice in the matter.”
“Seems not. What sounds good to you?”
Martin stared at the menu, the words looking like gibberish. Didn’t they offer a simple fish and chips? Molly, however, seemed excited by the prospects. She made several suggestions before Martin simple gave up, closed his menu, and told her to order for the both of them. Molly complied and rattled off their order when the waiter reappeared. Martin could only nervously sip at his water and hope those strange words she was spouting were food items. The only one he had recognized was curry.
When their dinner arrived, Martin was overwhelmed by the array. And slightly suspicious as several dishes had an uncanny resemblance to Arthur’s Surprising Rice. Molly piled his plate high all the same, chatting away happily as she indulged. She looked at Martin worriedly when he was still poking at the side dish with his fork, “You don’t like it? I’m so sorry, Martin! We should have gone somewhere else.”
“No, no! T-that’s not it! I just…well, it’s rather orange, don’t you think?”
Martin took a hesitant nibble. He wasn’t sure if he honestly enjoyed the flavor or if his hunger was suddenly awakened as a roaring monster, but he was soon shoveling in food by the mouthful. By the time they finished, the first feelings of queasiness began to settle in his stomach and he gave a slight groan.
“Just ate too much, I think. Hey, wait, put your wallet away, I’m paying for this.”
Molly stopped when she saw the look of injured pride on the pilot’s face. He stared at the table, face red with embarrassment, “I know I don’t have a lot of money, but I don’t want you to feel obligated that you have to pay for things for me. I want to treat you, you are my girlfriend. And you helped me out today, so this is also a thank you.” He peeked a short glance up at her, and she realized with the look that he considered her paying as an act of pity.
Quickly she put back her wallet and offered a smile as apology, “Well, thank you, Martin. It was delicious and maybe next time, you’ll let me treat you.”
“Maybe,” Martin replied with a smile, standing. His legs wobbled for a moment and the queasiness he had been feeling became stronger. He did his best to hide it, paying for the meal and leading the way back to the vehicle. Molly was watching him with obvious concern. When he paused to lean against the van side, she worriedly grabbed his shoulder, “Are you sure you’re alright? You don’t look well.”
He managed a nod, but that only made him feel worse. He didn’t even put up an objection when she took the keys from him and led him to the passenger’s side. By the time they’d reached the outskirts of Fitton, he’d broken out in a cold sweat and Molly was becoming increasingly concerned. “Should we go to hospital?”
“No, no, I’ll…I’ll be fine. Just need some sleep.”
“You aren’t fine! You’re obviously sick.”
“It’s o-okay…just maybe…” Martin broke off with a groan, clutching his stomach. “Just maybe, can we stop by my flat? It’s close. I just need a quick stop there.” He suppressed another moan as a wave of heavy nausea rushed him. Molly quickly agreed and followed his slurred directions to the house. She was still in the process of trying to coax the vehicle into a parking space when Martin paled suddenly, gave a cry of “No! No, no, not here I won’t!” and sprang out of the car into a dead sprint into the house.
Molly was left staring after her retreating boyfriend with mouth agape. She snapped out of it by an angry honk from a car behind her. By the time she had finished parking, a young man came sauntering from the front door towards her. He was obvious a student with his university sweatshirt and cocky attitude that oozed from every aspect of his person. He gave her a once over and a low whistle, “Wow, so the Cap’n really did bag a girl.”
“I’m sorry, but who are you?”
“Ah, right. I’m Paul, one of Martin’s roommates. Nice to meet you. Martin made a mad dash for the bathroom, don’t think he’s doing well. Anyway, he asked if we’d bring you in so here you go.” Molly followed the student inside where she was greeted by three more of them.
“This here is Stu and Michael and the drunkard over there is Walden.”
“I’m not a drunkard!”
“Shut up, Wal, no one cares! Anyway chaps, this is Martin’s girlfriend.”
The group of them stared at her with wide eyes. She shifted uncomfortably, giving an awkward wave, “Um, hello. I’m Molly.” Stu leaned over, speaking in a loud whisper to his friends, “I didn’t think the Cap’n had it in him.” Michael nodded, “Good on him!” Walden took a few staggering steps forward, thrusting his hand out towards her, “Pleased to meet you, Molly! The Cap hasn’t stopped talking about you for days, but frankly none of us actually believed you were real.”
“Yes, well, I am.”
Walden gave a slow nod, still holding her hand, “Yep, yep. I see that you are.” Molly gingerly slid her hand free and set a pleading look toward Paul who immediately took the hint. He swung an arm over Walden’s shoulders and led him back to the couch and a table full of beers. “We were just watching the match,” Stu offered with an apologetic nod towards his intoxicated mate, “You’re welcome to join us. Promise we won’t let Walden off his leash.”
The students crowded back on the couch in front of the telly as the game came back on, and Molly perched herself on the free loveseat. Walden tried twice to switch chairs next to her, but was wrestled back by the others each time. Molly was laughing by his third attempt as Michael, the largest of them all, finally sat on top of the other student. Amidst protests from Walden, Molly heard Martin’s quiet voice, “Everything okay?”
She twisted in her seat to look at him, pale and shivering. She sprang up worriedly, snatching a throw off the back of the chair and placing it over his shoulders. “Oh poor Martin. Looks like dinner really did a number on you.” Martin tried to brave a smile but failed miserably, tucking the blanket tighter around his frame. Molly patted his cheek consolingly and led him to the kitchen to get some water in him.
He sat on a stool at the counter edge, looking thoroughly miserable as she hunted down a clean glass. Not an easy task. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, “I’m really pathetic, aren’t I? Managed to absolutely ruin our date.” Molly plunked the water in front of him, grabbing his clammy hand, “I won’t hear that rubbish talk, Marin. You can’t help that you got sick. Now just let me take care of you without any more fussing, alright?”
The pilot sipped at the water then gave a feeble nod, “Thank you, Molly.” She smiled and led him back to the loveseat. Martin was sick twice more, Molly taking care of him and leading him back to the seat after each incident. Eventually he fell asleep while resting against her. She didn’t last much longer than him, despite the cheers and general noise of the other boys. Her head eventually rested against Martin’s and her eyes drifted closed as a smile remained on her lips.