It’s dark when Martin pulls the van along the curb, easing behind Douglas’ Lexus. Parking brake on, headlights off. Turn of the key in the ignition and the vehicle shudders to a standstill, engine ticking. And Martin sits.
He grips the steering wheel. Cold under his aching, gloveless hands. Sharp cracked vinyl covering scratching his palms. Lingering smell of petrol and sweat and the coffee he spilled on his jeans.
He listens to his own breathing, loud in his ears, loud in the stillness of the van’s chilly interior. His breath clouds in little puffs of frosty frustration. His heartbeat a dull thud in his temple.
He watches Douglas through the well lit front window, moving confidently in the small kitchen, wearing pajama pants and a worn jumper. Making a lovely hot dinner. For Martin.
But he can’t go in just yet.
It’s been a long day.
Not necessarily bad. No, Martin is very aware of what ‘bad’ days are like. ‘Bad’ days involve failed jobs and vicious dressing downs by Carolyn and authentic emergency landings in shitty little airfields.
No, today has been a long day. A long, tiring day with a few emotional bumps and physical inujuries along the way.
Like an early morning flight to Paris with a broken coffee maker and mouldy biscuits. A morning in Roissy with no money and no food and no Douglas because the man was off “exchanging gifts” behind the Louvre. A midday flight back with Arthur singing Alouette at the top of his lungs.
Like an afternoon of lugging boxes from one very nice home on one side of London to an even nicer home on the other side of London. An afternoon punctuated by snide remarks from his client and a minor fall that busted his lower lip against a marble floor.
Like a call from his Mum, heavy with gentle disappointment about his life choices. A call from Caitlin, filled with oblivious gloating about her own successes. A text from Simon, a grudging invite to Sunday dinner with the family.
Like cold coffee in his lap.
And still, Martin knows that a day like this is not the end of the world. Certainly not.
Six months ago, he would have come home to his little attic bedsit and snuffled a bit into his Pot o’ Noodles and re-read a few manuals and told himself that his family simply didn’t understand and tomorrow would be better. He’d soldier through, like always, with his pride mostly intact.
Just three months ago- shortly after beginning his relationship with Douglas- he would have done nothing more than a bit of whinging over dinner while Douglas listened and made a few witty remarks to get his smile back.
But now. Now Martin sits in in his van in front of the lovely little flat he shares with his new lover. He imagines the smell of whatever Douglas is cooking, spicy and warm. Imagines the strong embrace and deep, soothing rumble waiting for him inside.
He closes his eyes and feels the tears swelling up as he squeezes the steering wheel and gives the tiniest of sobs.
Just so... utterly, pathetically grateful. For the cozy flat. For the good food. For the very knowledge that he won’t spend this night alone.
Grateful for Douglas. His sweet, affectionate, irritating, arrogant bastard of a lover, Douglas.
The van door swings open. A rush of frigid air, scent of aftershave and garam masala, and a familiar voice. “ Martin? You’ve been parked for ten minutes. If you’re this hesitant to sample my world renowned Richardson Vindaloo I’d be perfectly happy to order take-away. ”
Martin startles and covers his eyes with one hand. Wipes at the moisture, chokes out a laugh. “ No, no, no, just... stupid exhaust fumes...allergies...” He can’t look just yet, presses his fingers against his closed eyes and chews on his busted lip. Chuckles again through a ragged exhale.
A heavy hand curling around his neck, pulling him in. Hot breath against his forehead. “ Come inside, Martin. It’s too cold out here for proper snogging.”
Martin sniffles. And grins.
And makes sure to remove the keys from the ignition before sliding out of the seat and into Douglas’ waiting arms.