"How much longer until we get to leave?" Arthur had his nose pressed up against the portacabin window and was looking at the quiet Fitton airfield. Arthur always got excited before a flight, but today, he was a little more wound up than usual. MJN had been chartered to fly a group of insurance executives to the "insurance capital of the world", Hartford, Connecticut, in the United States. Martin knew it was due to the fact that they were flying somewhere Arthur had never been, but he didn't know how to calm him down. Arthur was even starting to get on his nerves and that didn't happen often.
"They're not expected to be here for another two hours. What has gotten into you today?" Douglas snapped without looking over this newspaper. An overly excited Arthur could be hard for him to tolerate on a good day. Today was not a good day. In fact, today was a very bad day.
"I've never been to Connecticut before! I bet it's brilliant! Plus, the airport is in a town named Windsor Locks! Windsor Locks! I wonder if we'll see any locks! Do you suppose it was named after a locksmith named Windsor?"
Martin looked up from his paperwork. "Arthur, what's 'U'?" Arthur had been trying unsuccessfully to learn the phonetic alphabet on and off over the past several years. Needless to say, the spot check method of revision still wasn't working. In fact, it was so bad that both Carolyn and Douglas had given up on him. Martin knew how important it was to Arthur that he learn the alphabet that he would quiz him every once in a while. He couldn't remember the last time they had gone through it, so now was as good a time as any.
"U. Ummmm, this is easy. Umbrella!"
Martin shook his head. "Try again."
"Udder! Usher! Uppercase! Ugly! Upset!"
"It's something you wear, Arthur." Martin hinted.
"Shirt! Hat! Trousers! Pants! Hat! Socks!"
"It starts with U-N-I..."
"Unicycle! Universe! Unicorn!"
Douglas muttered something under his breath and ruffled the newspaper. After several years of trying to get past Helena's affair and rebuild their relationship, Douglas had finally decided his third marriage was going the way of the first two. He had received his decree absolute, the final step in his divorce, a few days ago. He had been in a terrible mood ever since and it was getting worse by the day. It was obvious to Martin that Arthur's usual joie de vivre was going to push Douglas over the edge. The last thing he wanted was for Douglas to snap at Arthur. "It's 'uniform'."
"Oh! Right-o, Skip! Uniform like what we're all wearing now." Arthur smiled. "That's an easy one."
Douglas grumbled again. Martin looked at Carolyn and then at Douglas. "I'm going to go out and grab some fresh air. Do either of you want anything while I'm out?" Douglas glared at Arthur, making sure Martin got the message that the only thing he wanted was Arthur as far away from him as possible.
Carolyn shook her car keys. "Martin, could you please run out to my car? I forgot my book." Martin took the keys and headed for the door.
"Can I come, Skip?"
"Sure! The more, the merrier." Martin held the door open for him, glad that Arthur didn't need to be told to come along. He stole a look at Douglas, who was buried in his newspaper again, and felt his stomach do a small flip. It had been doing it ever since the first meeting between the two men. Martin tried to convince himself that it was due to the cup of coffee Arthur had made him this morning rather than his crush on his First Officer.
"How do you spell 'Skip'?"
It took Martin a moment to figure it out. "Sierra, Kilo, India, Papa."
"Sierra, Kilo, India, Papa spells 'Skip,'" Arthur mumbled to himself. "'G-ERTI' is spelled Golf, Echo, Romeo, Tango, India." He looked at Martin, a huge smile on his face.
"That's very good. How do you spell your name?"
"A... A... A..."
"Remember when you watched that show about the dogs? There were three types of dogs and the first ones were called..."
"Alpha dogs! So, A is Alpha! A, R... G, E, R... Romeo. Alpha, Romeo. G, E, R, T... Tango. Alpha, Romeo, Tango. H... H..."
"Where do we sleep when we have to spend the night in a different city?"
"In beds?" Martin shook his head, a small smile turning up the corners of his mouth. This was actually turning out to be a lot of fun. He couldn't understand why Carolyn would give up on her son so easily. Arthur may not have been the smartest person, but he was capable of learning things. He just needed someone to be patient with him. Martin had noticed over the years that his patience regarding all things Arthur had gotten much better. Hopefully, today his patience would pay off and Arthur would finally learn the alphabet he'd struggled with for so long.
Just when Martin was about to give up, Arthur finally exclaimed, "Hotel! Alpha, Romeo, Tango, Hotel..." He could practically see the gears turning in Arthur's head as he put the pieces together. "Alpha, Romeo, Tango, Hotel, Uniform, Romeo?"
"Perfect!" Martin suddenly realised that he might have found the way to get through to Arthur. "I think it's easier for you to learn the alphabet by spelling words than it has been by plain memorisation. Spell 'Skip.'"
"Sierra, Kilo, India, Papa!"
"Spell your name again."
"Alpha, Romeo, Tango, Hotel, Uniform, Romeo!"
"Do you have a copy of the alphabet with you?" Arthur shook his head. "Well, I'm going to fix that. I'll write it down when we get back to the portacabin. That way you have something to look at when you get stuck."
"You would do really do that for me? Thanks, Skip!" Arthur paused for a moment. "Did you have a hard time learning it too?"
Martin thought about it carefully. He had struggled with a lot of different things, but this had actually come easily to him. He decided to fudge the truth a little bit. "I did, but I worked really hard on it and now I can recite it without even thinking. You can do anything you want to, Arthur. You just need to want it bad enough."
"Like you and flying?" Arthur's smile was so sunny, Martin couldn't get annoyed by the reminder that it had taken him several tries to get his CPL. Besides, Arthur wouldn't try to make him feel bad on purpose, unlike Douglas or Carolyn.
"Yes. Just like me and flying." They had arrived at Carolyn's car. Martin poked his head in and located the book easily. He was pretty sure she had read it before, but if she wanted her book, he would give her the book. He wondered if she sent them out to the car to buy some time. Hopefully, she was going to speak to Douglas about his bad mood. If anyone could get through to him, she could. She would have to - his bad mood was affecting all of them, except for Arthur. As usual, his cheerful disposition kept him insulated from most of the negative things in the world. Martin doubted that Arthur could remain unscathed if Douglas turned on him, and the thought frightened him. He made a silent promise to Arthur that he would protect him.
# # # #
They were on their third lap of the airfield when Arthur asked, "What's wrong with Douglas, Skip? He seems awfully grumpy."
"His divorce to Helena was finalised." Martin swallowed hard as he thought about what this divorce meant to Douglas. It was his third, and Martin couldn't understand why his relationships didn't last. It was obvious he had loved Helena very much, and he had even tried to forgive her for cheating on him. What would cause her to cheat on Douglas in the first place?
Martin wouldn't cheat on him. He wished he could find someone who would go to all the trouble of hunting down the original recipe to his favourite condiment. He wanted a relationship with someone like... well, not someone like Douglas. He wanted Douglas, but the odds of that happening were not in his favour. Based on the number of stewardesses he'd pulled in airports across the world and those three ex-wives, Douglas had to be straight. Very straight. Not that Douglas' sexual orientation mattered; Martin was still hiding in the closet and keeping up the illusion that he was rubbish with women. He wanted to stop being attracted to his First Officer, but spending so much time in the flight deck with him made it hard for Martin to focus on anything but Douglas.
After several more laps of the airfield, they sat on a bench outside the portacabin. Arthur hadn't spoken another word since he found out about the divorce. "Poor Douglas. He really liked her, too, didn't he?" Arthur's voice was barely a whisper and at that moment, Martin couldn't decide which of the three men was more upset about the divorce.
Martin wrapped his arm around Arthur's shoulder and pulled him in tight. "He loved Helena very much. More than his other ex-wives, I think. He tried very hard to make their marriage work, but she'd hurt him too badly and he had to leave her."
"Oh." Arthur fell against Martin, seeking comfort. "It wasn't nice of her to hurt him. Douglas is brilliant."
Martin couldn't argue with that. "Douglas is brilliant. He's a good man, and he deserved to be treated better."
"You like him a lot, don't you, Skip?"
"Why-why would you say that?" Martin suddenly felt panicked. What did Arthur know?
"He's your best friend!"
"He-he-he is?" The panic subsided. Arthur didn't have a clue about his true feelings for his co-pilot. However, Martin couldn't be sure that he and Douglas were actually friends, let alone best friends. Douglas always seemed to keep him at a distance.
"Isn't he?" "I never thought about it."
"Oh. Why not? You spend all your time together in the flight deck talking and playing games. Mum and I play games and talk and she's my best friend!"
Martin nodded at Arthur's logic. Of course he and Douglas were best friends. Why wouldn't they be? Maybe it wasn't true, but Martin was content to play along. "I guess that does make us best friends."
"Brilliant!" Arthur jumped up and grabbed Martin's hand, pulling him up and off the bench. "Do you think it's time to go yet? I can't wait to get to Windsor Locks!"
Martin laughed at the young man's excitement over something as stupid as a town's name, and let himself be pulled into the portacabin. "Let's go find out. Maybe they're finally ready for us."