“Mar?” He dropped his keys on the table by the door. The house was suffused with the scent of vanilla and lemon. She had been baking; Tom felt a little twinge of anxiety. It was not a good sign. She was supposed to have been writing; her texts had said it was going well…
“Mar?” He was crossing the sitting room. He could hear baby laughter – his new favourite noise – and then the clatter of metal, along with some muffled swearing. He braced himself. Martha baked when she was stressed. And when she baked, she really baked…
The kitchen was only slightly less of a chaotic mess than Tony Stark’s apartment at the end of Avengers.It appeared that every cake tin in the cupboard had been used, and most of them were currently piled up next to the sink waiting to be washed. The floor by the unit where Martha stored her ingredients was littered with jars of nuts and dried fruit, little bottles of colouring, vanilla essence and tubs of sprinkles. Her big Kenwood mixer was looking the worse for wear. Not a square inch of worktop was clean. In fact, all the surfaces in the room were coated in a thin layer of flour and cocoa powder. Spread out, beside the oven, were all the cooling racks they owned, piled high with cakes, muffins, scones and cookies.
In the middle of the wreckage was the only clean thing in the room: their daughter Audrey, blonde curls bouncing, blue eyes sparkling with amusement as she watched events from her little padded chair. And beside her on the tiles, sitting with her legs crossed, glasses on the tip of her nose as she peered at a recipe book, was BAFTA-winning, Olivier-nominated Martha East.
The love of his life.
She had a teacloth over one shoulder, cake batter in her hair and flour like face powder on both cheeks. She didn’t look up as he walked in.
“Writing not going well, love?”
Martha’s head shot up as if she hadn’t heard him arrive. Which she hadn’t, because she was in one of her mad baking sessions when all that gets through is the ping of the timer, the smell of the goods in the oven and Audrey. Always Audrey. She shrugged at her man. “Can’t seem to get down to it, so I thought maybe if I filled the freezer…”
Tom walked over, crouched down to kiss the top of his daughter’s head and gently but firmly pulled Martha to her feet. “There is no more room in the freezer, love. Not even for these.” He tipped his head in the direction of the stack of cooling goodies as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tight against him. “I know it’s hard for you to concentrate. Look, we should really think-“
“No!” She knew what he was going to say. He had been nudging her about getting a nanny to watch the baby, especially now, so she could write the play for the National. But it felt wrong to her. She wanted to work and fulfil her commission, but she also wanted to be Audrey’s Mumand today she was failing at both. Every time she began to type the baby would wail.
So, being Martha and in a corner, she lashed out. “I won’t do that! No!Just because we have money… No, Tom. I mean, millions of women manage. I can too.” She pushed at Tom’s chest as he held her firmly, not moving, not loosening his grip. “She sleeps for hours, for fuck’s sake. No reason why I can’t write when she’s asleep. It’s just that today-“
She stopped, not wanting to admit to him that she had not written a word in a week. She turned away and he released her. She began belatedly clearing up the mess. When he came in she had been looking for recipes. She wanted to use the few things in her store that she had not so far incorporated, but now she had lost the urge to continue. She knew it wasn’t rational, this urge to mix and beat and whip rather than write, but baking had always helped before.
She heard Audrey gurgling happily and looked round to see that her father had lifted the baby out of her chair and was snuggling her to him, kissing her rosy cheeks and the tip of her button nose. Martha’s heart squeezed tight. She had not expected to find the sight of the two of them so moving, but every time she saw them together – her little family – it made her want to cry. And to feed the baby. She could feel her nipples tingling as she watched their daughter rooting against Tom’s chest.
“Eheheheh. I think you need Mummy for that, sweetheart.”
Martha walked to the other end of the kitchen and sat down in the carver chair by the table. When she was ready, Tom handed her the baby who quickly latched on, gazing raptly up at her mother’s face. While she fed, Tom put a pinnie on and washed up, humming to himself as he scrubbed the tins and brushed the batter off wooden spoons. The minute-minder dinged and he checked the oven. He brought the tray of cheese scones over for Martha to look at. “Just lift one so I can see…Yes, they’re done.”
“These smell fabulous, darling. Shall I make some soup for supper? They’d be lovely with something tomato-ey.”
“Oh, no Tom. I can cook dinner! You’ve been-“
Tom caught her eye and the words died in her throat. He was doing it again: looking at her with such steadfast love and patience that she could not keep up the front of ‘coping’. Fat tears began trickling down her cheeks. He kissed her temple, then above her eyes, then he dipped and brushed his lips over her salty, wet ones.
“It’s alright not to be perfect, Mar.” He looked down at the baby who was just beginning to slow in her feeding, almost sated. “Perfect does not exist. Audrey doesn’t mind, and neither do I. You’re only human, love.” Martha handed him the baby and he walked around, winding her on his shoulder before putting her carefully back in her chair. He returned to Martha’s side as she stood up and hugged her to him, stealing another kiss. “So, I have looked into this, Mar. We could get someone to come in – just days– and I think we should rent you an office to write in.”
“What?!! NO!” Martha was shaking her head and struggling to free herself from his long, too strong arms.
“Yes.” His voice was quiet; implacable. “As long as you are in the house, you will be distracted. You’ve told me yourself that the slightest whimper from her gets the milk flowing, right?” He released one arm to lift her chin. “I have asked an agent to find you somewhere near here – walking distance if possible.” She looked up into his face, overwhelmed with love.
Damn him and his logic
“That way, you can come home for lunch – hers and yours – if you want to, without it messing up your flow too much.”
Still shaking her head, Martha picked Audrey up, chair and all, and marched off to the nursery with her. She changed her nappy and then put her down in her cot. As she sang softly, she arranged the motley crew of cuddlies around the child: Tom’s ancient, wafer-thin little blue rabbit, washed a million times; her own ‘special Teddy’, the one her Dad had bought in the hospital shop in the hour after she was born; a garish yellow Pikachu that Guillermo del Toro had given Audrey and which made her smile every day.
When Martha turned to leave she saw Tom filling the doorway. He opened his arms and she walked back into his embrace. She knew he was right, and as usual, he was going about proving her wrong and making the arrangements in the kindest, sweetest possible way. He kissed her softly, but that wasn’t enough for her. She walked him backwards along the hall to their own room, their kisses becoming more heated the closer they got, until they were pulling at each other’s clothes.
“Say we did get some help.”
“Yes?” He was cautious. Martha often set traps, and he still fell into them from time to time. He rolled on his side and gazed at her profile. It still made his heart stop to look at her. She was on her back, looking up. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips swollen and the room still smelled of their lovemaking. He felt himself stirring again; he wanted her all the time. Still. More than ever.
“Promise me something.”
“You won’t do a Jude?”
“Martha… Of course not. Why would I go out for fish and chips when I’ve got caviar at home?”
She turned to look at him, a sceptical eyebrow raised. “I always thought I was more mushy peas than caviar, but I’ll take that as a compliment, Mr Fancypants.”
Tom lifted his arm to rest his head on his hand. “It’s not an admission of defeat, you know. When you wrote all the timeyou were single. You didn’t have to answer to anyone or share your time unless you wanted to… No one will think the less of you for getting a bit of help now.”
“Mum will.” She was staring at the ceiling again.
“No she won’t. And if she does, it’s because she is still not understanding what your reality is. And even if she does, better that curable misunderstanding than you working yourself into a frazzle and baking enough cakes to feed an entire film crew for a week.“ She shrugged. “Which reminds me. Can I take some of the European cake mountain into work with me tomorrow?”
She sighed with relief and grinned at him. “Thank fuck. Please do! I have zero idea what the fuck I’m going to do with them otherwise.”