Martin ended the call. There was a hard tension already forming in his chest and he felt slightly sick and very nervous. He leaned on the wall of the Portacabin and looked out at the relatively busy airfield to calm himself down. It didn’t work very well. If anything, he felt even worse. He didn’t want to leave behind the sense of routine and comfort he’d come to cherish here.
He went back into the Portacabin. He’d have to tell Carolyn. He wondered if she would tell him never to come back. He wondered what Douglas would say.
Douglas was the first one to notice his return. “Ah, not a long phone call, was it?” He was sitting at the table with Arthur, still trying to teach him the difference between a crocodile and an alligator.
“No, it wasn’t very long at all,” Martin agreed quietly, slowly gathering up the confidence to tell them what happened. He tried not to look at Carolyn, who was at her desk, busily going through her account book.
“Skip, are you all right?” Arthur said, looking at him very closely. Even Douglas had seemed to notice, in his smug way, that something was wrong with Martin.
“I’m fine,” Martin lied. There was a silence, and he realized that they expected him to continue. Even Carolyn seemed to have stopped muttering numbers under her breath.
He took a deep breath, steeling himself. “My grandmother died,” he said very quickly.
“That’s awful Skip!” Arthur exclaimed, leaping out of his chair and giving Martin a very big hug that knocked his captain’s hat off his head. It wasn’t a very comfortable hug. Arthur seemed to have forgotten to put down the book about crocodiles and it was now digging into his stomach.
“No, no, it’s fine,” Martin rushed to tell Arthur. “I’ve never met her, so it’s fine.” But to his extreme consternation, he found that tears were beginning to form in his eyes. The rest of what he was going to say got stuck in his throat and he inhaled sharply. For a single moment, Martin bent his head into Arthur’s shoulder and gripped the other man’s arms tightly. Then he pulled away and rubbed his eyes roughly.
“If you’ve never met your grandmother, then why…?” Douglas asked. It had to be Martin’s imagination, but his voice seemed gentler than usual.
“That was Simon on the phone, my brother,” Martin said. “He and Katelyn are going to go to Germany too. Who knows how long we’ll have to be there, getting everything sorted. At least a month.” As he said it, he became more and more anguished. When he travelled with MJN Air, he never stayed in one place for too long and he nearly always stayed in the hotel room by himself. He had no idea how he was going to survive being in a foreign country for that long with Simon and Katelyn.
Martin finally made himself look at Carolyn. He was relieved to see that she did not like furious. In fact, her face was uncharacteristically blank. It usually had at least some trace of irritation or vindictive pleasure.
“Martin, are you telling me that you need to take an indefinite time off?” she said, her voice as expressionless as her face.
“Yes,” Martin said. He knew that his face was very red and he thought at any moment like he was going to burst out into tears again. “I understand i-if you fire me, if you replace me. This is such short notice and I don’t know how long—”.
“—Martin, don’t be completely stupid!” Carolyn interrupted him sharply and he stared at her with surprise. “It’ll be difficult to run this company without you, but we’ll manage somehow like we always do and if you don’t come back to work after you’re done in Germany, then I will hunt you down and set my dog on you. And that is final.”
Overcome with relief, Martin suddenly found it very hard to stand up. He quickly found Arthur’s vacated seat and sat down.
Douglas regarded him with some amusement. “Honestly, what fuss.”
Martin found himself stammering out apologies. “I’m just terrified of staying in Germany for that long and having to face Simon and Katelyn. They’re both so perfect and successful and I’m not. I mean, we haven’t spoken in ages, I didn’t even know that Simon had my mobile number. And then on top of that, I didn’t think you’d be so… I mean… thank you,” Martin said.
“Hooray!” Arthur cheered, and gave Martin another hug that scooped him out of his chair. As he was squeezed hard enough to hear his ribs screaming protest and patted on the back by Douglas, Martin realized that no matter what Simon and Katelyn said to him or made him feel, this was his family now and it was the kind of family that didn’t let you escape from the bone-crushing grips of aeroplane stewards even when you had to get home quickly to pack.
He’d miss it. Even if it was only a month, he’d miss it. He had barely spent two days together away from G-ERTI and now he was going to be a passenger on a plane, flying to Germany and staying there for however long. Arthur, and Carolyn, and Douglas. He’d miss them too and he was surprised at that. He tried to memorize them and memorize this feeling.
And for once, Martin knew for certain that he was very, very lucky.