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Fic: Mrs. Icarus 1/2

Title: Mrs. Icarus
Author: Erin Giles
Disclaimer: Cabin Pressure is property of the BBC and John Finnemore.
Characters/Pairings: Martin/OFC, Douglas, Carolyn/Herc, Arthur
Words: 12800
Summary: This story does not begin with the words Once upon a time. Nor does it end happily ever after. It starts with a man, proving to the world, that he is a total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock and it ends with a woman marrying him despite this.
A/N: Sophie first appeared in a couple of stories I wrote anon on the kink!meme and people seemed to like her so much that I thought I would give her a bit more of a life with Martin. Title of the story is taken from Carol Anne Duffy's poem of the same name. I'd also like to say a special thank you to the person who beta read this for me, because she is Martin. Bless her.

22nd July 2011

‘Are you alright to get home, Skip?’

Martin was sat on the steps of the portakabin, his injured ankle stretched out before him, and Douglas could see even through the bandages that Martin’s ankle was nearly twice the size it normally was.

‘Don’t worry, Arthur. I’ll make sure our illustrious Captain makes it home in one piece.’

‘Right-o, see you Monday then, Chaps. Feel better soon, Skip, and thanks for today. It was brilliant!’ And with a little wave Arthur was off across the airfield to his car, still on loan from Douglas. Martin was squinting up at Douglas, his face ruddy and tired looking.

‘Douglas, really, I’m fine.’ As if to prove his point Martin struggled to his foot.

‘Yes, I can see that from the way you seem to be propping the wall up, and hopping about like a one man pogo stick.’

Martin sighed and attempted to put some of his weight on his bad foot. It buckled almost immediately and Douglas had to lunge for Martin to stop him from ending up in an undignified heap on the floor.

‘Come on, hop-a-long,’ Douglas said, putting an arm round Martin’s waist, and hoisting one of Martin’s arms over his shoulder. Martin was greying around the edges by the time they made it to the van while Douglas struggled with the passenger door, which apparently had a habit of sticking.

‘Right, what’s our heading, Captain?’ Douglas asked once he was strapped into the driver’s seat of Martin’s van again, keys in the ignition instead of hidden under the lid of a piano.

‘Um, well there’s somewhere I have to be tonight, if that’s alright?’ Martin was trying to retrieve his phone out of his pocket, shifting to the left slightly while trying to straighten out his leg.

‘Does Sir have a hot date?’

Douglas caught Martin’s ears going red out the corner of his eye as he fiddled with his phone, clearly composing a text message to someone as Douglas drove out of Fitton airfield.

‘Ho ho. Sir does have a date.’ Douglas chuckled. ‘Go on then, who is the unfortunate girl.’

‘Her, eh, her name’s Sophie.’

‘And where are you meeting this mysterious Sophie?’

‘Her flat.’

Martin gave Douglas the address and then sunk further into his seat, tossing his mobile from one hand to the other in a failed attempt at nonchalance. He dropped it in the foot well on the second toss and spent the next few minutes struggling to retrieve it from under the seat, unearthing twenty pence, which he happily pocketed and a packet of chewing gum which he threw onto the dashboard.

‘So how did you meet this girl of yours then?’

Martin spent a moment considering his position. They were still a good ten minutes away from Sophie’s house, and as much as Martin would have liked to, he couldn’t very well spend all ten of those minutes in moody silence, avoiding Douglas’ questions. ‘Icarus Removals. I helped her move house.’

‘Isn’t it frowned upon to sleep with ones clients?’

‘I didn’t bed her the night I moved her in, Douglas.’

‘That I do believe. But you have bedded her I take it?’

Martin coughed, and avoided the question. ‘She invited me in for tea and we became friends. Of course I was completely oblivious to the fact that she found me remotely attractive until she kissed me one night and asked when I was going to ask her out on a date.’

Douglas smiled to himself, amused by oblivious Martin and his hilarious attempts at flirting that he’d witnessed previously. ‘And I imagine after all the attractive stuttering it was probably her who eventually asked you out.’ Martin turned away from Douglas to look out the passenger window. ’How long have you been keeping this a secret then?’

‘It’s not a secret, I just don’t see how it’s any of your business.’ Martin’s cheeks were flushing scarlet with indignance at being accused of keeping secrets; thankfully Douglas was now pulling up outside Sophie’s flat.

Martin made a valiant attempt to manoeuvre himself under his own steam to the front door of the block of flats, but failed rather spectacularly once he’d lost the steady influence of the side of his van. Douglas positioned himself as Martin’s crutch again.

‘I almost didn’t think you were coming.’ A voice came over the intercom before there was the harsh buzz and a click as the front door opened. Martin threw out an arm as much to steady himself as to stop the door locking again.

‘Thank you, Douglas. I’ll be fine to-‘

‘Limp up the two flights of stairs?’ Douglas smoothly interrupted as he pushed the door open the whole way. Martin frowned, but didn’t push Douglas away when he started almost lifting him towards the foot of the stairs.

By the time they reached the top Martin was breathing heavily and refusing to even use his bad foot to balance himself. He had one hand braced against the wall beside Sophie’s front door and the other clutching at the seams of Douglas’ shirt by his shoulder.

‘It’ll be open.’

Sure enough when Douglas pushed the door to 21 open it swung inwards to a warmly lit hallway. His eye caught a glimpse of a collage of photos hanging in the hallway, Martin conspicuously in nearly all of them.

‘How long have you been going out with this girl, Martin?’

‘Six months,’ Martin mumbled as he made an attempt to extract himself from Douglas, but Douglas was already steering them both towards the kitchen and the sounds of dinner being made.

‘I thought you’d got lost in Ottery St. Mary, but I’m honestly grateful that you suggested we stay in for dinner tonight, because I didn’t get that, bloody hell, Martin! What have you done now?’

Sophie had spun on her heel, wooden spoon still in one hand, dripping some kind of tomato sauce onto the kitchen floor as she took in a pale and sweaty Martin clinging onto Douglas, one foot held gingerly away from the floor. Jet-black hair was swept back in a clumsy ponytail, a grey zip-up hoody hanging off a well-defined figure that was gawping rather openly at Martin.

‘I had a bit of an accident this morning. Douglas gave me a lift home, and helped me out this afternoon with that job.’

‘Martin, why didn’t you call me?’ Sophie was putting down the spoon and coming round the kitchen table to get a proper look at the damage. ‘Is it broken?’

‘Badly sprained, and you had that audition and I didn’t want to call you for something as trivial as this.’

‘Martin, sod the audition, I didn’t get it anyway. The fact your ankle is the size of a melon is really not trivial.’

Douglas cleared his throat. ‘Sorry to interrupt, but I think it would be in both Martin’s and my shoulder’s best interests if he sat down somewhere quite soon.’

‘Sorry, yeah, of course. Come on, I’ll move my things off the sofa.’

Sophie pulled un-ironed laundry from the sofa, bags and books came with them too before she moved the cushions to accommodate Martin. His brow was creased in pain as Douglas lowered him into a sitting position and Sophie lifted his legs up onto the sofa. She started unlacing his shoe almost immediately, Martin’s face going through a range of pained emotions.

‘Martin are you sure it’s only sprained?’

‘That’s what the hospital said.’

‘Hospital? Martin, you colossal idiot, call me next time.’ Sophie hit Martin with his own shoe and Douglas had to stop himself from laughing.

Douglas watched Sophie chiding Martin while simultaneously comforting him, peeling his sock off. Douglas gave a hiss in sympathy as Sophie rolled up the bottom of Martin’s jeans and Douglas got a first glimpse of the limb that had caused him such drama. Sophie was right, Martin’s ankle was swollen to the size of a melon and slowly changing into a rainbow array of colours.

Douglas turned away from Sophie poking at Martin’s ankle as he heard the unmistakeable sounds of a pan boiling over in the kitchen and went to investigate. Sophie appeared a few moments after he’d turned the heat down on the pans.

‘I thought I’d salvage your dinner while you were saving Martin from himself.’

‘Thank you. That was really kind of you.’ She pulled a bag of frozen peas from the fridge and started wrapping them in a dishcloth. ‘Thank you for bringing him here as well. I dread to think what other damage he would have done to himself trying to get into that attic of his.’

‘Yes, well, I dread to think what other damage Carolyn is going to do to him tomorrow when she finds out Martin can’t fly for a week and we borrowed Gerti to deliver a piano.’

Sophie laughed as she reached into one of the kitchen cupboards and pulled down a packet of painkillers. ‘I feel that’s a story I definitely want to hear.’

‘Quite the tale of adventure and daring.’

Sophie smiled, shuffled the peas and painkillers to one hand and stuck the other one out. ‘I’m Sophie.’

‘Douglas.’ He noted her firm handshake. ‘Anyway, now that Martin’s in capable hands, I’d best be off.’

‘Stay for dinner.’ Douglas hesitated and Sophie gave him an encouraging smile. ‘There’s more than enough for three of us. And Martin tells me that you’re quite the storyteller.’

*

‘Go on then, out with it,’ Martin demanded as he and Douglas sat in the living room drinking cups of tea while Sophie finished making the dinner. Martin seemed marginally more relaxed now he had a bag of frozen peas draped over his ankle and a dose of fast-acting painkillers in him.

‘Out with what?’ Douglas was busy looking round the living room trying to take in as many details as he could. Martin’s shoes had been thrust underneath the coffee table in the middle of the room that housed a book on aviation next to a brochure for Swan Lake. There was a jumper that couldn’t possibly be Sophie’s on top of the laundry pile and Top Gun next to the television.

‘Whatever witty and demonstrably awful comment you want to make about my love life.’

‘I have nothing to say Martin, except she appears to be a lovely girl, and more importantly head over heels in love with you. I wish you all the best.’ Douglas tested the temperature of his tea and took a more sizeable gulp when he realised it was cool enough to drink.

‘R-really?’ Martin stuttered. ‘Douglas, are you feeling alright?’

‘Quite well, thank you.’

‘It’s just you’ve been extremely nice to me today, with no seemingly ulterior motive in sight.’

Douglas frowned. Of course Martin was right, but Douglas was not willing to admit that he was worried about the younger man, and still feeling slightly guilty about the van keys. ‘I do believe the pain and subsequent painkillers have scrambled your brain, Captain.’

*

They sat round the kitchen table, Martin with his foot up on the spare chair looking significantly healthier now he had wolfed down most of Sophie's homemade sausage casserole. Douglas had to admit that Sophie was quite the cook.

‘So what do you do besides making sure Martin eats his five-a-day?’

Douglas could see Martin scowling from the other side of the table, but Sophie was laughing into her glass of wine.

‘I teach English as a second language, mostly to Japanese students. Well, that’s what pays the bills anyway.’

‘And what doesn’t pay the bills?’

‘She’s a dancer.’ Martin was trying to lean back in his chair to reach the pot of sausage casserole but was in danger of braining himself on the edge of the work surface. Sophie got up to retrieve it for him while Martin smiled bashfully up at her.

‘A dancer are you? The tango or the cha-cha?’

‘Ballet mostly. Although I’m quite fond of tap too.’

‘I saw the Alice In Wonderland ballet at the Theatre Royal in town last year, there was this one girl who was playing the dormouse and she tripped over her own tail in the second-‘ Douglas stopped talking as he realised Sophie was trying to drown herself in her glass of wine. Martin stopped serving himself up another plate-full long enough to give Douglas a look that said he had just made an extremely Martinish blunder.

‘I get clumsy when I’m nervous, which is why dancing doesn’t pay the bills.’

‘You were very graceful until your tail hindered you.’

‘Thanks.’ Sophie refilled her glass of wine, half of the bottle already gone. Which really was quite a feat considering Douglas didn’t drink and Martin had realised half way through his first glass that mixing painkillers and alcohol was probably not his wisest of moves.

*

‘I must say, you’re certainly providing lots more fodder to tease Martin with on long haul flights, which is probably why it’s taken him so long to introduce us.’

Sophie and Douglas were in the kitchen doing the dishes. Martin had attempted to clear the table, but when he’d tripped over a chair leg and almost knocked himself unconscious Sophie had yelled at him to sit down and Douglas had obligingly helped him hop back into the living room.

‘I think he’s scared,’ Sophie said.

‘Martin? Scared? Almost unheard of.’

‘No, I know he gets scared over silly things like people not believing he’s the Captain but I think he’s still genuinely scared that I’m suddenly going to decide one day that he’s not good enough for me.’

‘I don’t mean this to sound derogatory in any way, but I can see where he may get that idea. You’re a very beautiful young woman and from what I’ve seen relatively sane, and Martin, well, Martin is Martin.’

Sophie sighed. ‘There were lots of men, well, not lots, but certainly a fair few before Martin.’ She wrung the dishcloth between her hands. ‘The flat Martin moved me out of before here was my old boyfriend’s place. A cheat. A liar. A drunk. The last straw was him killing the cat.’

Douglas didn’t say anything but placed the glass he’d been washing very carefully in the dish-rack, purposely not looking at Sophie. The bottle of wine she’d opened earlier in the evening sat on the work surface in his peripheral vision, barely a glass left in it.

‘But Martin is funny and kind and loyal and everything that I’ve never been attracted to before. He gets up and makes me breakfast on a morning when he stays over. He brings me stupid presents back from wherever he’s been flying to with you. And he never asks for anything, but he deserves it all.’

Douglas realised he’d stopped washing the plate in his hands some time ago as he turned to look at Sophie and realised she was staring at Martin’s still unwashed plate on the table. He’d put his knife and fork together neatly with the piece of kitchen roll he’d used to wipe his mouth folded symmetrically on top.

It took a moment, but Sophie reached forward and picked the plate up, handing it to Douglas and removing the used bit of paper towel from it. ‘Sorry,’ she apologised. ‘Too much wine.’

*

‘I suppose I should be heading home. Thank you for dinner this evening.’

‘That’s alright.’ Sophie said as they stepped into the living room, stopping when they both realised that Martin had fallen asleep on the sofa in their absence.

‘Would you like a hand carrying the swooning lady through to the bedroom?’

‘That might be for the best. At least with you there’s only a fifty percent chance of him not making it there in once piece.’

‘Come on, Martin, time for bed.’ Douglas reached out to grab Martin’s arm, waking him in the process.

‘What’s going on?’ Martin slurred as Douglas hoisted him to his feet, although Martin very quickly remembered why he was being helped to his feet and winced as he pulled his bad foot away from the floor again.

‘Time for bed, Martin.’

Sophie had pulled back the covers in the bedroom on one side of the bed by the time they got there. On the other side sat decorative throw pillows, which didn’t surprise Douglas. He’d slept in enough women’s beds to know that they were almost par for the course. What did surprise him was the teddy bear dressed in a pilot’s uniform. It even had four gold stripes on the cuffs of its jacket.

Douglas thought about commenting as he helped Martin to sit on the bed, but Martin was trying to swallow a yawn before he started attempting to pull his jumper over his head, looking rather more pathetic than usual.

‘I’m afraid I draw the line at helping you undress, Martin. You’ll just have to ask this lovely lady to assist you.’

Martin mumbled something behind the jumper and Sophie gave a small smile. ‘I’ll just see Douglas out and then I’ll be back.’

Sophie managed to tug Martin’s jumper from him, her hand going through his hair briefly, fingers at the back of his neck as she pressed a kiss to his lips before she was turning away out the bedroom.

‘Enjoy breaking the news to Carolyn tomorrow,’ Douglas said before he followed Sophie towards the flat door. He heard Martin groaning behind him and the creaking of the mattress as Martin no doubt dramatically flopped backwards, still fully dressed, minus his jumper.

‘Thank you again, Douglas.’

‘That’s quite alright.’ Douglas smiled as Sophie opened the front door. ‘It was lovely to meet you.’

‘And you. Hopefully see you again soon.’ She kissed him on the cheek and Douglas felt himself blushing slightly before he was stepping out into the frigid air of the hallway and the door shut behind him. He stayed a moment, listening to the neighbours arguing across the hall before he heard the dulcet tones of Martin being indignant and the sound of someone fondly chiding him in turn.

23rd July 2011

‘He has a girlfriend?’

‘Yes.’ Douglas thought it had been quite a stroke of genius on his part to impart the news to Carolyn of their plane-jacking and Martin’s new girlfriend all in one breath. As he’d hoped, Carolyn had focused on the more surprising news of Martin dating.

‘A living breathing girl that he goes out on dates with?’

‘Yes. Quite shocking, isn’t it?’

‘How long has that being going on?’

‘According to Martin he’s known her for a year and they’ve been together for six months. Also, I couldn’t be sure, but I have a very strong suspicion that he’s slowly moving into her flat without realising it.’

Carolyn seemed to consider this for a moment, staring down at Martin’s neat desk that she was leaning against. ‘How brain damaged is she?’

‘Carolyn!’

‘Sorry, sorry, it’s just that Martin with a girlfriend is like…’

‘Arthur getting a PhD in forensic psychology?’

‘Precisely.’ Carolyn frowned once more before she looked up quite sharply at Douglas. ‘Now what was this about you stealing my plane to deliver a piano?’

17th November 2011

‘Have you made a decision yet?’

‘About?’ Martin was filling up the kettle in his kitchen, trying to angle it under the tap so that it didn’t knock over the pile of dishes in the sink that the students had left. Sophie and he had been out to watch the Christmas lights switch on in Fitton and decided to go back to Martin’s to warm up with a cup of tea.

‘Christmas.’ Sophie was rooting around in one of the cupboards trying to find some clean mugs.

‘I, eh,’ Martin stuttered, unsure what to say. Sophie had asked him a couple of weeks ago if he wanted to go with her to her parents’ farm in the Lake District for Christmas. It wasn’t that he had better plans for Christmas, he didn’t have any plans for Christmas. His own mother hadn’t even invited him to Christmas dinner. It was just that he’d never met Sophie’s parents before.

‘They’re not going to murder you in your sleep, you know,’ Sophie said, putting the mugs down on the work surface after sweeping crumbs onto the floor. ‘Dad may give you the third degree, but Mum will mostly try and feed you until you burst, but don't take that as an attempt to kill you. She does it with everyone.’

Martin didn’t say anything, just watched the kettle, waiting for it to boil.

‘Martin?’

‘I’m not scared.’

‘You are, but I’m saying there’s nothing to be scared of. I just don’t want you spending Christmas on your own in this dump with no one but the mouldy cheese in the fridge for company.’

‘I don’t know what insult to focus on most there. The implication that I have nobody else, that I’m a charity case or that I live in a rubbish heap?’

‘Don’t be like that.’

‘Like what? Offended because you’ve just insulted everything about me?’ The kettle boiled and Martin angrily threw two tea bags into two separate mugs before pouring the water in. In his angry haste some of the hot water sloshed over the side of the cup and scalded his hand. He hissed but continued trying to make the cups of tea.

‘You should run that under cold water.’

Martin ignored Sophie and continued trying to fish the tea bags from the mugs.

‘Martin, I’m sorry, I just…’ Sophie sighed. ‘I want to spend Christmas with you, and don’t fob me off, because I know you don’t have any other plans, but that’s not why I’m asking. I’m asking because I want you to meet my parents, and I want to see what you look like in one of my Gran’s awful Christmas knitted jumpers.’

Martin tried not to laugh, but he couldn’t help a smile pulling at his lips. He was still staring intently down at the cups of tea that he had stirred far more times than needed. Sophie’s hand was suddenly taking his though and steering him towards the sink. She turned the tap on and ran his scalded hand underneath it.

‘Aren’t you worried I’ll be a disappointment?’ he asked, somewhat sarcastically.

‘Martin, you will exceed all their expectations by showing up fully dressed and asking politely for more brussel sprouts.’ Sophie sighed. ‘They’ll be trying to marry us off before the end of the first day.’

Martin wriggled his fingers, feeling them slowly numbing under the rush of cold water but Sophie wouldn’t let go. He knew about Sophie's track record with men from the small throw away comments she made sometimes, and it made him wonder all the more why Sophie was with him.

‘And don’t ever think you’ll be a disappointment to me. Or anyone for that matter. Because you’re not.’

Sophie was still staring down at both their hands under the tap when Martin turned to look at her. He opened his mouth to say something but the kitchen door slammed open and a handful of students tumbled in out of the cold, wrapped up in a ludicrous mismatch of scarves and woolly hats.

‘Oi oi!’ There were a few giggles. ‘Not interrupting anything are we, Marty?’ asked Alex as he started drinking milk straight out of the fridge.

Martin shook his head as he finally pulled his hand out from underneath the tap, eyes still firmly on Sophie who had moved away to retrieve her cup of tea.

4th February 2012

Martin entered the flight deck whistling.

‘You sound very pleased with yourself today, Martin.’

‘I’m not. I mean, do I?’

‘Martin, you’re grinning so much you could put the Cheshire cat, or worse, Arthur, to shame.’

Martin tried to school his features into something a little less toothy, but he continued to whistle the main tune to Peter and the Wolf as he started doing the pre-flight checks.

‘And of course there’s the fact that you practically skipped on your walk-around.’ Douglas smirked as he watched Martin’s cheeks colouring. ‘Could your good mood be anything to do with the fact that this is the night called bella notte?’

‘Bella what now?’

Douglas started singing. ‘Oh this is the night, what a beautiful night and we call it bella notte.’

Lady and the Tramp!’ Arthur yelled bursting into the flight deck rather dramatically with two cups of coffee, most of which sloshed onto the floor.

‘Thank you, Arthur, although we’re not playing name that Disney movie.’

‘Aw, can we though, please? Because I would definitely win at that.’

‘Of that I have no doubt.’

Muppets Christmas Carol!’

‘Arthur!’

‘Sorry, Skip. So what game are we playing then?’ Arthur asked as he handed out the half full cups of coffee.

Douglas took his with a frown. ‘At the moment, “Why is Martin in such a good mood?”’

‘Is it because we had pizza in Pisa, because that was pretty brilliant. We should do that every place we go to. Like eating chillies in Chile. Or, or Macaroni cheese in… in…’

‘Yes, well, while Arthur thinks of something that sounds like Macaroni cheese why don’t you tell the rest of us why the hills are alive with the sound of music, Martin?’

Martin sighed. ‘It’s because, because well, it’s our anniversary. Mine and Sophie’s. And I’ve managed to book us in to The Orchard.’

Douglas’ eyebrows shot up into his hairline. ‘Good Lord, Martin. I hope you’ve paid your rent this month.’

‘Yes, I know, it’s rather expensive, but, well, I just thought that it would be… nice.‘ Martin trailed off and he looked back to the instrument panel, fiddling with buttons Douglas knew he didn’t need to be touching.

‘Romance doesn’t have to cost you the month’s rent, you know.’ Douglas said quietly as he went to the locker on the flight deck. He took a moment shimming it open to finally reveal what looked to be a very small florist.

‘Bloody hell, Douglas. Did you rob a wedding?’

‘They were a gift, from a very nice bag handler in Italy whom I gifted two large boxes of Red Vines from our trip to Chicago in return.’ Douglas was counting out a small bunch of twelve red roses. ‘Here, Martin, flowers for your lady.’ He handed them to Martin with a flourish. ‘I’m fairly certain that Bjorn won’t notice a missing bouquet tomorrow.’

Martin looked down at the white bow Douglas had tied around the roses to keep them together before getting up to place them on top of his flight bag.

‘Oh, and Martin. Remember and add that to The Manual,’ Douglas said as he got on the radio to ATC.

‘Belize!’ Arthur suddenly burst out with. ‘Macaroni cheese in Belize.’

*

‘Martin?’

Martin gave a shy smile, the bunch of roses still held tightly in his right hand. He was wearing his best suit and shirt that wasn’t his uniform – twelve pounds from Cancer Research, hardly worn. He’d been expecting to find Sophie wearing a dress or at the very least a smart top. She was, however, wearing tracksuit bottoms and his jumper that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in her flat.

‘Shit, it’s Friday isn’t it. Oh, God, Martin, I’m sorry, I completely forgot.’ She pushed the door open slightly inviting him in. ‘Um, just give me ten minutes and I’ll put something on.’

Martin watched as she disappeared towards the bedroom. She was clutching at her stomach as she opened the top drawer of her dresser and dragged out a pair of tights. She stood on one leg, groaning slightly as she tried to pull a pair of fluffy Santa slipper socks off her feet.

‘Are you alright?’ Martin asked as he shut the front door and placed the flowers down on the kitchen table.

Sophie sighed and rubbed at her stomach. ‘Aunt Irma’s come to visit.’

Martin looked at her blankly as he stepped into the doorway of the bedroom.

‘It’s my time of to month.’

‘Oh.’ Martin gave a sympathetic smile. ‘We can stay in.’

‘No, Martin, don’t be daft. It’s our anniversary and you’ve been talking about this all week and I’m an idiot to forget it.’

‘Sophie, it’s fine. We can go another day.’

‘But-‘

She was cut off by Martin gathering her into his arms, prying the pair of tights out her hand and kissing her forehead.

‘We’ll stay in and I’ll make us some dinner.’

‘There’s nothing in the fridge apart from half a tomato, pesto and a lump of cheese.’ Martin could feel her fingers clutching at the back of his shirt beneath his jacket.

‘You forget I’m an expert at cooking on a budget.’

She gave a snort of laughter and hugged him a bit tighter, her head moving so she could see over his shoulder back into the kitchen. ‘Thank you for the roses.’

‘Spoils from Douglas’ latest smuggling scheme.’

‘Thank you,’ she repeated and kissed the side of his neck. ‘You smell nice.’

‘Duty free at Pisa.’

She smiled into the collar of his shirt before she pulled away and shuffled past him to head back into the living room where she flopped down onto the sofa and curled up on her side. She hugged the owl cushion to her chest and stared unseeing out the bay window at the night sky. She could hear Martin in the kitchen, the kettle boiling furiously. She felt guilty for forgetting what day it was, and more importantly what plans she’d had with Martin for this evening, but in her defence she’d spent most of the afternoon curled up on the sofa trying not to throw up. She knew he’d forgive her, but she was already thinking of ways she could make it up to him.

‘Here.’ Martin presented Sophie with a hot water bottle wrapped in sheep’s clothing. She gave him a tired smile and swapped it for the owl cushion.

‘Thank you.’

‘I can’t find any chocolate, I’m afraid, but I can make some hot chocolate instead of tea?’

Sophie could feel tears gathering in the corners of her eyes, but she fought to hold them back. ‘There’s a sachet of mint chocolate Options hiding behind the sugar bowl.’

‘I’ll be back in a minute.’

Sophie closed her eyes trying to concentrate on the warmth that was dispersing from the hot water bottle, feeling an excessive swell of gratitude towards Martin. She always marvelled at how thoughtful he was, and how he always knew just what to say or do. She opened her eyes when she heard the dull thunk of a mug being put down on the coffee table.

‘I’d leave it to cool. I made it with real milk.’

‘There’s milk in the fridge that’s not gone off?’

‘It was hiding behind a flat can of coke.’

Martin picked Sophie’s feet up and sat himself down underneath them, one hand on her left foot, rubbing a thumb along the top of her toes. Sophie wriggled them within the confines of her socks, twisting her upper body slightly so she could see Martin’s face. ‘How do you always know exactly what I need?’

Martin blushed and looked away to the television that wasn’t even on. He pulled at the collar of his shirt, loose now he’d removed his tie.

‘I have a manual.’

‘You have a what?’

‘A manual. I made it myself. Although, Douglas helped. Quite a lot actually.’

Sophie was laughing. ‘Why on earth do you have a manual?’

‘Well, you know I’ve never been in a serious relationship before and I really didn’t want to mess things up, and Douglas seemed quite adamant that I probably would at some point, and although I hate to agree with Douglas, past events provide evidence to support his view. Also, Douglas seems to like you enough to help me for whatever ulterior motive he’s got going on, and he gave me some advice and I thought it’d be best if I wrote it down so it turned into a sort of manual. And then Douglas found the manual and started adding to it, and Arthur thought it was a brilliant idea so started making his own, and I really hope that Carolyn never finds out, although I suspect she already knows and is just biding her time on the matter.’

‘You’re ridiculous.’ Sophie was still laughing, but she was looking at him with such fondness. ‘Can I see it?’

‘Can you... You want to see it?’

‘I want to see what else is in there. What other advice Douglas has given you.’

Martin considered for a moment before lifting Sophie’s feet from his lap and standing up. He went to his jacket that was hung over the back of one of the kitchen chairs and pulled a small book from the inside pocket before returning to Sophie. He handed it down to her before taking up his place on the settee again.

She watched him as she held it. ‘I don’t have to read it if you don’t want me to. I could be pleasantly surprised.’

She looked down at the front cover where Martin had written The Good Boyfriend Guide.

‘Just look at page fifty-six.’

‘There’s more than fifty pages?’

She was already flicking to page fifty-six though. The title at the top proclaimed How to deal with her period.

1. Reduce social activities.
2. Let her eat what she wants.
3. Avoid conflict.
4. Things that will help: hot water bottles, painkillers, chocolate & tea.


‘The tea was Arthur’s suggestion. He’s convinced tea solves everything.’

5. Distract her with things she likes.
6. Take on some of her chores.


Sophie turned the page to find a new topic about appropriate gifts for different occasions. She didn’t read it but flicked through the rest of the book only to realise how much effort Martin had put into researching everything.

‘You’re ridiculously adorable.’ She closed the book and put it down on the coffee table before retrieving the mug he’d brought her. She sat back up, turning herself round and bringing the hot water bottle with her so she was curled into Martin’s side. He hesitated for a moment before putting an arm round her shoulders and squeezing tightly.

*

‘I’m sorry I forgot about tonight,’ Sophie said when the adverts came on during some show about aeroplanes or airports. Sophie wasn’t really paying attention; she’d let Martin choose. He’d originally chosen a repeat of X-Factor, but she’d frowned at him and told him to choose what he wanted and not what he thought she wanted, so after several minutes of channel flicking he’d finally settled on re-runs of Airport.

‘It’s okay.’ Martin sounded sincere enough, but Sophie could tell that he was disappointed.

‘You look very dapper by the way.’

‘Dapper?’

‘Yes.’ Sophie twisted round to look at him. ‘Are you questioning my word choice?’

‘Just your word choice in relation to me.’

‘Would you prefer if I called you sexy? Gorgeous?’ Sophie smiled when Martin started blushing and stammering out a thank you.

‘I know how much tonight meant to you, and I’m sorry I ruined it.’ She huddled tighter into the side of him. ‘I did get you something, though.’

‘Soph, you didn’t have to get me anything.’

‘You got me something.’

‘I stole contraband flowers from Douglas. Please don’t say you spent lots of money on me?’

‘I spent £3.95.’ Sophie was pulling herself slowly to her feet, still hugging the hot water bottle to her stomach as she disappeared into the kitchen. There was the jiggle of a bunch of keys as Sophie returned and presented Martin with a lone key before sitting back down on the sofa beside him.

‘It’s a key.’

‘To my flat.’ Sophie was pulling her legs up underneath her as Martin stared a little dumbfounded at the key in his hand. ‘I’m not asking you to move in with me, I’m just saying you can, if you want. Or if not then it’s just a key so you don’t have to ring the doorbell every time you come over.’

‘I, uh, I don’t know… Thank you. Sophie, I really don’t know-‘

‘Martin, I’m not looking for an answer now, it’s your choice. I won’t be offended if you decide it’s just a key. But if you did move in, it would be nice to share a flat with you. It would be nice to share a little bit more of your life. And please don’t let your pride stop you, because I’m not going to make you a kept man or something. I know you don’t earn very much, but we can sit down and talk about the bills and the rent and come to some arrangement or something and-‘

It was the only way Martin could think to stop her talking and express his gratitude all at once. He kissed her. He wasn’t saying yes, but he certainly wasn’t saying no either.

5th February 2012

Martin jumped slightly as the blind clattering in the breeze through the window woke him. He was quite happy to roll over and go back to sleep, but he was met with the dazzling light from the bedside table.

‘Sophie, what are you doing?’ Martin blinked at the alarm clock. ‘It’s three in the morning.’

‘Just some correcting.’

‘Some what? Is that my manual?’ Martin was sitting up in the bed on one elbow now, squinting at the blue book Sophie had propped on her knees.

‘I’m just editing it a bit.’

‘Editing it?’

‘Well it’s going to be to my advantage to do so, isn’t it?’

‘What are you editing?’ Martin was trying to sit up properly now, leaning over and laying his head on Sophie’s shoulder so he could read what she was writing. She was crossing out the entire page that told Martin how to read a woman’s feelings in their actions and writing below it, just ask her.

‘How are you feeling?’ Martin’s voice was sleepy sounding and his breath ghosted over her collarbone making Sophie shiver slightly. She felt the palm of his hand rubbing lightly over her stomach.

‘Happy.’ Sophie turned her head so she could brush her lips against Martin’s forehead.

‘I’m tired,’ he mumbled into her neck. Sophie smiled and set down the manual on the bedside table before turning out the light. Martin shifted to lie back down again and Sophie sorted out her pillows before lying down beside him. One hand was still resting on her stomach rubbing slow circles that was making Sophie drowsy.

‘You know you don’t really need the manual. You’re already a better boyfriend than any of the previous ones I’ve had just by being you.’

‘I am?’

Sophie smiled. ‘Definitely. I had an unhealthy addiction to bad boys before you helped me haul my wardrobe up the stairs.’ She smiled slightly as she remembered that day. Martin had been all awkward clumsiness and she’d joked to him not to drop the box full of glasses, and then he actually had, and he’d been so mortified that he’d said she didn’t have to pay him if she didn’t want and he’d replace the glasses. She’d ended up tipping him and offering him a cup of tea. ‘Sometimes I think you’re too good for me Martin Crieff.’

‘I think the same thing.’ He opened his eyes, but could barely see her in the gloom of the bedroom. ‘Of you, I mean. Sometimes I think you’re too good for me,’ he spluttered. ‘You know I’d feel a lot more reassured if you let me keep the manual.’

Sophie laughed and rolled over so her back was to Martin, making sure that his arm was still round her. ‘I’ll let you keep the manual on one condition.’

‘Oh? What’s that?’

‘You stop letting Douglas help you. He’s doesn’t know anything about what girls want in a boyfriend. You’re doing just fine on your own.’

Continue to part 2

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