“I think that Ilaria might be onto something, you know.”
Martha was admiring her reflection in the full-length mirror. The sky blue silk of her dress shimmered against the pale, freckled skin of her bare shoulders and the soft drape of the generous cut hugged the swell of her growing baby-bump. Not emphasise, she had told Martha, just to show it enough to make all the women there hate and love you...
“Of course, darling. She’s damn good at her job.”
“Oh, I know she can dress the beautifulpeople, like you, but apparently she has a talent for making silk purses out of sow's ears as well.” She pulled a face at herself and turned to look at Tom.
“Oh, stop it. You know perfectly well you look utterly breath taking.” He grinned as she smiled and looked down shyly, despite herself. “And you always do. Even in jeans and your DMs. But seriously, that colour is really great on you. You should wear it more.”
“Says Mr How-Many-Grey-And-Black-Things-Can-I-Pack…”
An exaggerated expression of outrage appeared on his handsome face.
“I wore the burgundy suit yesterday!”
“And you looked totally Henryliciousin it, Thomas. You should wear that colour more.”
He met her triumphant gaze steadily, but he couldn’t maintain his faux anger for long. Martha looked stunning in that gown, and the excitement of the occasion was beginning to build in his stomach. Martha’s phone pinged and she picked it up, smiling.
“Ooh, nice.” She peered at the screen. “Hannah just sent me a pic of Eddie. He’s wearing the same dinner suit as you, I gather.”
Tom tried to sound uninterested. “Is he?”
She fixed him with one of her hard stares. He tried to resist but it was hopeless, she knew him too well. He shrugged; it was hardly surprising he wasn’t going to be the only one in a particular Guccisuit tonight.
“In my highly sophisticatedfashionistaopinion, it looks better on you, but then, I am hardly an unbiased judge.”
She walked over and wrapped her arms around his waist as he straightened his bow tie for the nine-thousandth time.
Tom took Martha’s head in his hands and kissed her forehead tenderly, then stepped back.
“So, do you think I’ll pass muster?”
“You look, well, okay tome, but I’m not the one you need to satisfy.” A suitable pause. “At thisstage.”
A thrill went through him and she saw him glance at his watch.
“Not enough time now for any hanky-panky, Mr Pine. Later, however…”
The way she said the last words - low, slow, so very sexy - made his cock start to fill and he had to think about making a speech as an antidote to arousal. It worked perfectly; by the time they were stepping out of their suite the line of his trousers was no longer distorted, but he was tenser than ever. He comforted himself with the thought that his bets with Janelle and others were safe, because there was no way he was going to win.
His name. HIS NAME.
Martha’s hand tightened around his as he sat, momentarily immobile. Her heart was thumping very hard and she felt the heat as a blush raced up her chest and coloured her face. The hearty pats on the shoulder Hugh was giving him made her shake too. Somehow, she managed to turn and whisper.
“Oh Thomas! Go on!”
Her heart was full, and the emotion was manifesting itself in a strange deafness. She could not hear what the others at the table were saying. She could not hear the applause or the music. All she could hear was her own breathing, and the paradiddle of her pulses. Then he stepped to the microphone and spoke, and she heard every word. His thoughtful dedication. Thatmade the tears flow and she sat, suffused with a joy she had not expected and waited for him to return from the press clusterfuck backstage.
Martha had won a few awards herself in her career. Nothing as international or glamorous as a Golden Globe, but she’d been there, done that. A Sonyfor a play on Radio 4 three years ago; a TV BAFTAin 2011, for Butterfly Mind; and she had been nominated three times in all for Oliviers as an actor and playwright. But this was not like any of those occasions. This was completely different, because it wasn’t for her, but for someone she loved more than she could ever express.
He had played it down, in that typical, English, self-deprecating way. Insisted that he didn’t mind, that nomination was honour enough, that it was about the whole production: the group effort. But she knew that deep down he wanted the validation; all actors do, no matter what they say. She understood that totally. She had been ecstatic for him when he was given his Olivierfor playing Cassio so beautifully, leading the cheers from her seat. It was a wonderful night. But that was in a different time, on a different planet. Now she was at his side, sharing this much-deserved success and she was flying above everyone, hovering near the ceiling. Susanne was talking to her; she heard, from somewhere far off, the sound of Hugh laughing, but for now all she could do was feel utter joy.
Joy, and swollen ankles.
“Tom, I’m going to have to go back to the hotel. My legs feel like lead.”
He stroked her arm and smiled, nodding.
“OK, Mar. Let’s get the car.”
“No, no. You go, have fun with the guys. Enjoy the whole after-party stuff. You know it’s not really my thing at the best of times, but with Junior here...I just need to get these feet up.”
Tom crept into the suite at around 3am. He was tired, and not a little angry. He was also relieved that Martha had gone back early, and was almost certainly fast asleep before any of the negative stuff appeared online. With any luck he could hide her phone before she woke up...
“Hey, is that you, Sir Galahad the Pure?”
“Yep!” He called. Oh dear. He shook off his shoes and threw the dinner jacket on a chair. He put his shiny award down on the low table beside it. Undoing his tie, he walked into the bedroom to find Martha sitting up in bed, looking at her iPad.
“You saw, then?”
“The utter bollocks from the various shit-smeared nematodes?”
He had to laugh: that was her new favourite insult, stolen from one of the pro-NHS Facebookfeeds she loved.
He sat down on the covers next to her, visibly deflated. She stroked his head and he leaned into her touch. He had missed her very much after she left, and that was multiplied when he finally got wind of what was being said about his acceptance speech. He turned his head and kissed her softly.
“I’m going to write something on Facebook, I think.”
“What, exactly? Not an apology, I hope, Hiddleston?”
He saw her green eyes flash. He loved Angry Marthaabove all.
“Well, a clarification, maybe. I didn't express myself that well.” He sighed.
“Utter crap! They’re just too-”
He pressed a finger to her lips, while admiring the pinkness of her cheeks and the fire in her look.
“No, Martha. I will, because I don't want Unicef, or Medecins, or any of them to get any bad publicity because of this. OK?”
She grunted, reluctantly acknowledging that he was big enough to decide for himself. He looked at the iPad in her lap and had a chilling thought.
“You aren’t tweetingabout this, are you Mar?”
Martha’s angry Twittertirades, while articulate and usually funny, were notorious. No doubt her feed was being monitored constantly. She grinned and shook her head.
“Nah. I was sorely tempted, I admit. When Ginger or Fred here (they had opted not to know the gender of their baby) started doing the American Smooth and woke me up, I thought I’d look to see how your magnificent victory was being covered and…”
He leaned over and pressed his forehead to hers.
“Shut yer face. Not. Your. Fault.” He watched as anger hardened her face. “I did think of a few choice things I could have tweeted…”
He raised his eyebrow and tried to keep his face neutral as he settled a little more comfortably beside her and leaned back into the extravagant number of pillows. He rested his head on her shoulder.
“Well… how people who are sitting in their comfortable ivory towers should shut the fuck up about someone who has actually bothered to go and see what things are like on the ground. More than once. About how people who never even get nominated for anything can’t wait to have a go at someone more talented and obviously ten times as intelligent as them. And prettier.”
“And about how subhuman showbiz hacks who always know what colour Beyoncé’s nail polish is but not the difference between Sudan and South Sudan should do a teeny bit of research every now and then… just to keep their so-called brains from solidifying into lumps of glitter-covered, no-fat moccacino-fueled utter shite-Ooh!”
“What is it, love?”
Martha had stopped in her rant to press a hand to her belly.
“Baby agrees with me… feel that ‘damn right’ kick.”
He placed his palm where she pointed and felt the flutter of tiny limbs through her warm skin. His heart swelled, the sensation reminding him how much he loved them both. All this other crap didn’t really matter. He scooted down to place a kiss on the spot, smiling at the giggle that came from Martha.
“‘Scuse me, Dad. Thanks to your dance-mad child, I need another piss now.”
“My child?You’ve been known to trip the light fantastic yourself, Mummy...”
He stood and helped Martha to clamber off the luxurious but rather enveloping bed and watched her back view approvingly as she shuffled to the bathroom. She had just shut the door when her phone began a rhythmic buzz on the nightstand. Puzzled that someone should be ringing her at this late hour, he picked it up. It was Marianne, Martha’s agent in London.
“Hi Marianne. She’s in the loo. You’re calling her very late!”
The agent’s cheery Mancunian accent came down the line from London.
“Oh hi, Tom. Congratulations… yes, well, I wanted to check...has she calmed down yet?”
“Yes, um… well, I mean, she seems pretty chilled, but I only got back here a little while ago… Why, did she-?”
“She rang me about an hour ago, apoplectic. In full-on Martha East Rage.I think I talked her down, but she was threatening all kinds of violence, shouting...the names, the language… Well, you know her, Tom. She was terribly hurt by what they were saying about you. This is all showbiz, Tom. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. Pay no attention, love. So she’s OK now?”
Tears pricked at his eyes. He noticed for the first time that instead of the usual neat stack of decorative cushions left by the turning-down crew, the corner of the bedroom was filled with a higgledy-piggledy heap. She must have taken it out on the soft furnishings a bit…
He heard the flush and spoke a little louder.
“Oh, here she comes now.” He held out the phone to Martha as she approached. “Marianne for you.”
She glanced at him guiltily, then resorted to her usual form of defence.
“Answering my phone? I’ll be barefoot and chained to the sink in no time!” She took it from him, glaring. “It might have been my lover calling, you know, then where would you be? Hi Marianne…. Yes, I’m fine… no, it’s all good...No I have NOT.”
She pulled a face at a grimacing Tom, who had such a large lump in his throat that he could hardly breathe. It made him laugh and defused the tension.
“Yeah, see you then. Have a good day, darling, Bye.” She put her phone down and looked at him sheepishly. “I suppose I’m busted, then.”
Tom imagined her ranting and raging, his heart full to bursting. He had always loved her passion, her commitment, that fire that burned inside her. It was what made her the woman he had loved for almost ten years. Suddenly desperate to rest his body against his fiery Kate’s, he stood and finished undressing. He went to pee and brush his teeth, too tired for anything more. As he slid under the covers, he looked at his beautiful Martha. If she wasn’t tweeting…
“What areyou doing on the iPad then, love?It’s time for sleep… or if not, then to massage your poor boyfriend’s feet and ego.”
“Right, well…two things, actually. First of all I am writing a list for Marianne of people I will NEVER WORK WITH EVER, EVEN IF WE ARE STARVING. And of websites and publications I will never speak to... unless they make five-figure donations to theUnicef South Sudan fund. And even then, all I’d say to them would be ‘It’s about bloody time!’”
Tom nodded sagely, looking amused.
“And the other thing you’re doing is...?”
An evil grin broke out on her face.
“I’m finding out how much it would cost to charter a plane.”
“To go where?”
“South Sudan, of course.”
Tom sat up.
“But you can’t-”
“Not for me, stupid. For THEM.”
She tipped her head in the direction of the window, and the rest of Southern California. He laughed. And kissed her sweetly.
“As basic as possible. No cabin crew. No comfy seats. No toilets, ideally. Maybe a bucket...”
“I love you.”
“Let’s see how those cock wombles get on, away from their comfy cars and their coffee shops and their up-their-arses social media claques…”
She fixed him with her special look: the one that made him feel inadequate and horny and deeply in love all at the same time. He saw it then: she wanted to defend him; she reallyneededto take to Twitter and lay into the people who had criticised him. But she knew he would not want that, and because she loved him, she had raged only to her agent and then sat on her hands.
After kicking a few cushions.
“I know… I’m not goingto, you know… But, if anyone asks, I want to have the details ready. Just to let them know, Golden Globe-winning boyfriend, baby, and all that… that I’m still me. And I have things to say.”
“Oh my darling, I don't think there’s any doubt about that…”
Tom turned and began to kiss her, his body pressing against hers.
“Oh, Thomas! Is that your Golden Globe, or are you just pleased to see me?”