It was a couple of weeks later that Martin found himself behind the wheel of a hire car trundling down the road on a chilly December morning, keeping well below the speed limit as Sophie pressed on imaginary breaks anytime a car was anywhere within 12ft of them.
Martin wasn’t sure if it was a relief or not to be going to his mother’s for Christmas dinner. On the one hand he was grateful to have several extra pairs of hands around to help look after Rosie, but on the other hand he would have to endure his family. Although it did mean one less meal he had to provide for his family, and if they were lucky the presents provided would be useful baby things that he couldn’t afford at the moment, even though Carolyn was now paying him a small salary.
Martin pulled into the drive of his mother’s house, trying to figure out if there was enough space to wedge the hire car between the hedge and his sister’s ford fiesta. He was almost grateful to note he couldn’t see Simon’s car anywhere. That didn’t mean he wasn’t already there. Unfortunately his and Pamela’s house was within walking distance of his mum’s, so a surprise flying hug could be waiting for him behind the wreathed front door.
He was right to anticipate a surprise flying hug because as he dumped several bags at his feet, Simon already had him round the waist. He was so tired though he tolerated it with the air of a well loved teddy, letting himself be lifted and thrown around. He was vaguely worried that Simon would attempt the same with his newborn, but if anything the arrival of Rosie and Sophie through the front door distracted Simon into dumping Martin back on his feet and turning his much more reserved attention on Martin’s daughter.
‘Well she’s definitely got her mother’s looks, hasn’t she, chap!’ Simon boomed, before elbowing Martin in the ribs. Martin sighed. It was going to be a long day.
Wendy had just popped upstairs to check the heating when she heard raised voices coming from downstairs. She wondered if the children had gotten into an argument over Pictionary again. She remembered one awful Christmas where Caitlin had stuck a pencil up Martin’s nose because she’d gotten so annoyed with his by the rulebook attitude to the game. As she came out of the spare room, however, she soon realised it wasn’t the voices of her children she could hear, well not all of them anyway. She had a foot on the top step of the stairs when Sophie came out of the living room, grabbing at her coat and the handle of the buggy that contained their sleeping daughter before reversing it out the front door. Wendy was sure that had she not wanted to wake her sleeping child, Sophie would have slammed the front door behind her.
‘And don’t even think of coming after me you stubborn bastard!’
Wendy inhaled slightly, bringing a hand to her mouth as she tried to refrain from gasping. As much as she disproved of name calling she was inclined to agree with Sophie’s side of the argument from what she’d heard.
She’d spent all day watching Martin run from room to room with an energy she didn’t know he possessed, before quickly realising he didn’t as she saw him flagging with each step.
She watched as her youngest son now seemed to lose all the energy that was keeping him on his feet, sagging against the wall in the hallway. Wendy sighed, putting a hand on the banister, intent on going to her youngest son, but he seemed to pull himself back together and swerve back down the corridor towards the kitchen. A moment later she heard the clattering of plates as Martin started doing the washing up. Wendy decided to take a different tack, and disappeared back into her bedroom to find a pair of warm wooly socks.
Caitlin found her brother in the kitchen, scrubbing his way through the dishes having removed them from the dishwasher. She didn’t say anything, choosing to pick up the dishcloth and start drying the soapy gravy boat instead. Martin sniffed, wiping his nose with the crook of his elbow, turning his face away from Caitlin as they continued to clean the dishes in silence. After the dishes were all but done, Caitlin finally spoke.
‘I’ve never seen you two fight like that before.’ Caitlin paused. ‘In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen you two fight.’
‘Doesn’t happen often.’ Martin mumbled.
‘She has a point though, Martin.’
Martin didn’t say anything in reply to that, just pursed his lips tightly and started scrubbing heartily at the pan that had contained the roast potatoes, trying valiantly to ignore his sister as she continued to dry the dishes and talk at him in a far too logical manner for his liking.
‘You need to slow down before you burn out and Sophie ends up having to look after you.’
Martin still didn’t say anything, so Caitlin, clearly bolstered by his silence, continued.
‘As Dad used to say you can’t burn the candle at both ends.’
‘Since when did you ever follow Dad’s advice?’
‘Well someone has to be the grown up.’
‘You’re the youngest.’
‘Simon wanted to speak to you, so I’d say you got off lightly.’ Caitlin smiled at him and was relieved to see him return a rather watery smile in return. ‘I’ll finish those. Why don’t you go have a nap? Simon’s entertaining his two and Mum’s gone to see if she can find Sophie to have a chat.’
‘Maybe I should go see if I can find her?’ Martin suggested trying to stifle a yawn.
‘And give her more reasons to want to kill you, which I don’t think she’ll manage before you kill yourself. Martin, go and bloody lie down before I tell Simon you won’t listen to my suggestion.’
‘Caitlin, I really need to speak to her.’
‘Okay!’ Martin all but yelled, trying to clamp a wet hand over her mouth.
‘Well go lie down then.’ She shoved him away from the sink bodily. He stumbled slightly, soap suds and water dripping onto the floor as he made a grab for the tea towel Caitlin threw his way.
He shuffled away via the living room, finding Simon there with his two little ones playing hungry hippos by the fire.
‘Everything okay, chap?’
‘Fine, Simon.’ Martin said with some resignation, dropping down onto the sofa at one end and crossing his arms in defeat.
‘We’ll put the kettle on, love. I think we could all do with a nice cup of tea.’ Wendy enthused as she shut the front door behind herself and Sophie before helping Sophie off with her coat, who was struggling after having parked the pram against the hallway wall. Rosie had remained oblivious throughout her whole parents dramatic hour.
‘I’ll go pop it on.’ Sophie offered, trying to put off talking to Martin. She’d calmed down enough that she could have a civilised conversation, if he was willing to have one.
‘No, no. You go and speak to Martin, love. I’ll go put the kettle on.’
Simon emerged from the living room as Sophie started fussing with the pram, checking that Rosie was tucked in properly.
‘What-o, both? Everything alright?’
‘Fine, thank you, love. I was just going to pop the kettle on for us all.’
Wendy headed off down the corridor as Sophie started fussing with Rosie and Simon hung back, watching her.
‘He’s in the living room. I’ll keep an eye on this little one.’ Simon said after his patience had worn out. He manoeuvred the pram down the corridor, leaving Sophie to hover between the hallway and the living room, uncertain.
Martin hadn’t fallen asleep in the most graceful of positions. His right cheek was turned into the sofa, squashed against his shoulder as he lay slumped, feet crossed at the ankles and his hands shoved in the pocket of his hoodie. Simon’s kids were currently sat transfixed in front of the TV watching Frozen as Martin slept obliviously on. Sophie lowered herself onto the sofa beside Martin, sighing, but he didn’t so much as stir. She leaned into him, kissing his neck and inhaling the smell of him. She hated fighting with Martin. They did it so rarely that when it happened tempers that were normally non-existent exploded and things ended up being said that neither of them actually meant.
Sophie turned slightly, resting her head on his chest as he slept on, letting out a long breath as she tried to keep the tears at bay that were threatening to spill over as blurred images of dancing snowmen caught the corner of her eye.
‘I’m sorry.’ Martin said as he wrestled his arm from under Sophie and wrapped it round her shoulders.
‘Me too. I shouldn’t have yelled. I just-‘ Sophie sighed. ‘I get frustrated and then I end up transferring it onto you, so I’m sorry. For that.’
‘But not for being right?’
’No,’ Sophie said. ‘Definitely not sorry for that.’
‘No, you usually aren’t.’ Martin sighed and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.
‘Let’s stay here tonight. Your mum has offered us the spare bedroom.’
Martin hesitated. He didn’t really fancy spending the night at his mum’s, but in the same breath he didn’t really fancy driving home right now. Seventy miles suddenly felt like a lifetime away.
‘Your mum can spend the night fussing over Rosie and we can actually have a proper nights sleep.’
He sighed, before nodding his head, stubble rubbing against the top of Sophie’s head before he pressed a kiss to her hair.
Martin woke the next morning to the sound of pipes creaking and hands in his hair, teasing at one of the curls. For a moment he thought it was his daughter, but when he opened his eyes it was to find his wife staring back at him with a half asleep smile on her face. She watched him for a moment before leaning forward to press a kiss to his lips. As she pulled back Martin smiled, content. He would remember this moment a few days later when he was blindsided by something he never saw coming, thinking how foolish he had been.