Chapter 1: Prologue
They’d just gotten back from their very modest honeymoon in France, having managed to persuade Carolyn to give them a wedding present of free flights provided Martin flew himself out and they didn’t drink anything from the mini-bar. They were now unpacking, Sophie Crieff nee Duffy lobbing dirty clothes at Martin through the open kitchen door while he in turn chucked them into the washing machine.
‘Did you even wear this?’ He was holding up a white sundress.
‘I wore it on the first night. It smells of suntan lotion.’
She smiled as she watched him sniffing at it experimentally before shrugging and throwing it in the washing machine with the rest of the load.
‘I’ve got something important I have to tell you.’ Sophie was coming into the kitchen now, a pair of white boxers in her hands, which she gave to Martin.
‘That the last of it?’ Martin was shutting the washing machine door and fiddling with the buttons on the front as Sophie opened one of the cupboards to retrieve the washing powder. She took a breath.
She’d been building up to the revelation ever since they’d finished walking down the aisle together arm in arm, two newly engraved rings on their fingers. She’d planned on telling him before they left on their honeymoon, but they’d both sort of crashed after the reception. And then telling him while he was flying hadn’t seemed the best of ideas. Then she’d tried to tell him at the little café round the corner from their hotel on their first night, but he’d accidentally knocked the bottle of wine off the table after the amuse bouche and they’d never got to the main course.
Somehow the rest of the week had passed and Sophie had wimped out at every opportunity to tell Martin he was going to be a father. He’d even provided her with an opening line when they’d walked past a set of twins in the market stuffing their faces with fraise.
‘Kids in France must get far more than their five-a-day with all this fresh fruit. Wish we had such luxuries back home.’
She should have said, ‘Maybe we should start looking for places in France then,’ or even ‘Douglas could give us smuggled strawberries at the baby shower.’ What she’d actually said was, ‘I’m really craving strawberries now.’ which was odd, considering how nauseous she had felt.
As Martin spun on his heel, an exclamation on the tip of his tongue that he never got out she was reconsidering her plan of attack. He’d spun himself straight into the cupboard that Sophie had opened behind him and knocked himself out cold.
He came too lying on the kitchen floor in the recovery position with a tea towel pressed to his forehead, Sophie kneeling beside him.
It took a moment for the reason for his recumbent position to come back to him.
Sophie nodded bashfully, giving a shy smile.
‘Then I’m brilliant.’
Chapter 2: 8 months later...
Martin looked up as he heard someone wolf whistling, startling him out of his contemplation of his engine, thus resulting in him banging his head on the underside of the bonnet of his van. There was a brief laugh followed by a hand on his back, rubbing an apology as he clutched at the back of his head.
‘Sorry,’ Sophie said, kissing him as he straightened up again, away from the bonnet this time. ‘Can’t help myself when I’m greeted by your arse wiggling a hello. You okay?’
‘Really hurt,’ Martin mumbled as his fingers probed at the back of his head.
‘Let me see.’ Sophie was pushing his hands out the way as he titled his head towards her so he was looking down at the baby bump underneath her coat. He smiled and resisted the temptation to reach out and caress it, knowing Sophie wouldn’t be too happy with him if he covered her coat in grease.
‘You’ll live,’ she said, brushing his hair back into place. ‘What’s wrong with the van?’
‘The fan belt has gone again so I’m trying to replace it before the radiator valve seizes shut and the engine explodes. Literally.’
‘If the engine blows up, yes.’
‘I meant the belt, Martin.’
‘No. They’re just a couple of quid.’
Sophie nodded, trying to smile.
Martin gave her an encouraging smile in return. ‘Don’t worry, we can afford it.’
‘I believe you.’
‘Soph, I’ve got three jobs this week with the van and four shifts at the supermarket. And you’re working three days this week too. That’s enough to cover everything.’ Martin was wiping his hands on his mucky t-shirt so he could take Sophie’s hand. ‘We’ve got savings. Christmas will just be a bit tight this year, okay? We’ll go round my mum’s and get her to feed us. Or head up to your parents and scrounge off of them for a week.’
Sophie smiled a bit easier this time.
Sophie ducked her head. ‘Okay.’
‘How did things go with the midwife this morning?’
‘Fine.’ She smiled. ‘Everything’s fine. I’m going to go and put dinner on. Will you be long?’
‘I have to be at the supermarket in an hour and I need to shower. I don’t have time for dinner unfortunately.’
Sophie sighed and nodded. ‘Yeah, okay. I’ll put the sausages in the freezer then.’ She patted his shoulder before she walked away, opening up the door into the main building and letting it slam behind her.
‘Goodnight,’ Martin mumbled in reply.
‘Martin, we need to do something about this.’ Sophie sighed and Martin could feel the warmth of her breath against his eyelids. ‘We can’t keep going on like this. Our longest conversation this week was written on the back of the envelope for the credit card bill.’
‘I still need to pay that.’
‘I paid off the minimum yesterday.’
‘Thank you,’ Martin murmured through a yawn. He felt fingers combing through his hair before a hand came to rest on his cheek and Martin finally opened his eyes.
‘What are you doing tonight?’
Martin could feel his ears turning red with guilt. This evening would have been the perfect time for him to spend some time with his pregnant wife lounging on the sofa and watching bad films, but Carolyn had called him on his way to work the previous evening.
‘You’re flying somewhere aren’t you?’
‘I have to be at the airfield in six hours.’
Sophie frowned and removed her hand from his cheek. ‘And I need to go to work.’
She slid from the bed and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving Martin lying in bed suddenly feeling very awake. He listened to her showering before she came back into the bedroom to get dressed.
‘I could call Carolyn and tell her I can’t fly tonight.’
‘Martin, I’m not going to stop you doing what you love.’
‘I love you more.’
Sophie laughed. ‘I know that’s not true, but I appreciate the sentiment.’
Martin opened his mouth to protest, but Sophie got there first.
‘Martin, it’s fine. When are you back?’
‘Tomorrow morning. We're only going to Paris and it's an early flight.’
‘I’m not working tomorrow. I’ll come pick you up at the airfield and we’ll spend the day together before you go to the supermarket in the evening, yeah?’
‘I’ve got a van job in the afternoon.’ Martin could feel his stomach doing flips, because he didn’t want to say no to Sophie. He wanted nothing more than to spend the whole day with Sophie even if it just meant lying in bed together.
‘What about breakfast? Can I schedule you in for breakfast? Or lunch? Can you spare me a half hour lunch?’
‘We’ll do breakfast and lunch if you want,’ Martin spluttered quickly. ‘Soph, I’m sorry I’m not around more, but I need to take the jobs so we can pay the bills.’
‘I know.’ Sophie seemed to deflate slightly, shoulders sagging. ‘I’m sorry. I’m just moody, and I miss you.’
‘You can have me the whole morning tomorrow. I promise.’
‘Good.’ She smiled and kissed him. ‘Go to bed. Get some sleep before you disappear off jet-setting.’
Martin had just finished gulping down his third cup of coffee that morning, but he had to stop to yawn every couple of minutes. Now he had his head in one hand, propped precariously on the desk in front of him, his eyes closed. He blinked his eyes open at Douglas’ words, however.
‘Sophie’s lost her job. Well, one of her jobs anyway, the one that paid the rent and the bills and things.’
‘They’ve laid off a lot of the teachers, and because Sophie wasn’t a full time member of staff, and presumably because they knew they’d have to pay her maternity leave soon they’ve let her go.’
Douglas didn’t know if it was because Martin looked beyond exhausted, but he appeared to have no qualms about blurting his current failings at Douglas. He looked almost relieved to be sharing his problems with someone.
‘Either way all we’ve got now is my job as a man with a van, and Sophie’s sort of not really a job working in tourist information.’
‘Tourist information? In Fitton?’
‘That’s why it’s sort of not really a job. Anyway, I’ve just taken on another job working nights at the local supermarket stocking shelves in the run up to Christmas.’ Martin yawned.
‘Martin, you know you can’t fly a plane without having slept.’
‘Which is why I’m trying to sleep now, if my first officer would shut up.’
There was a pause where Martin let his eyes slipped closed again, hoping that would be the end of the matter before Douglas was speaking again. ‘I’ll operate out if you like.’
‘But Carolyn said…’
‘Carolyn won’t care if I tell her you lost flying privileges in a bet. Which means you can have a nap on the flight deck and also have a decent night’s sleep in La Ville-Lumière before we fly back tomorrow morning.’
Martin suddenly felt far more awake than he should. Could his ears be deceiving him? Douglas doing something for his Captain out of the kindness of his heart? ‘Are you sure Douglas?’
‘Sure that I’d rather fly the plane than risk the Captain falling asleep at the controls so we all plummet to our death? Quite sure, Martin, yes.’
‘Martin, your phone’s ringing.’
Martin came out of the bathroom in his shirtsleeves, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Martin had managed forty winks on the plane on the way out, but if anything he felt more tired now than he did before. Possibly because Arthur had kept bounding onto the flight deck every five minutes blurting out false answers to a riddle Douglas had set him to keep him out of the way for the entire flight. Even Douglas was willing to admit that that particular plan had quite possibly backfired on him.
‘Hello?’ Martin was struggling to pull his tie from round his neck now. ‘Speaking.’
Douglas saw the minute all the colour drained from Martin’s face and he sat down rather abruptly on the edge of the bed, almost bouncing himself onto the floor.
‘No. I mean, yes, yes. I’m her husband. Is she… What happened?’
Douglas’s ears pricked up and he stopped faffing about with his flight bag, taking a step closer to Martin. The thumb of Martin’s left hand was unconsciously playing with his wedding band, a look of intense worry on his face.
‘Yeah, no, I understand.’ Martin paused and swallowed. He covered his face with one hand and rubbed at his eyes like he was suddenly far more exhausted than he already was. ‘Could you keep me updated, please? I’m in France at the moment. I’m going to try and get a flight back tonight, but if you could call me if anything…’
Martin nodded a couple of times, apparently oblivious to the fact that the only person who could see him was Douglas.
‘Thank you.’ Martin hung up. He didn’t say anything. He just stared at his phone like it had all the answers.
His eyes travelled up from his phone to Douglas’ face, agonisingly slowly. His eyes were slightly unfocused and he looked like he wasn’t quite present in the room.
‘Is everything alright?’
‘Sophie, she….’ Martin broke off and shook his head before getting to his feet and moving towards the hotel room door. ‘I need to talk to Carolyn.’
‘Martin?’ Douglas went after him, snatching at his room key on the way past. Martin was already haring down the corridor like the place was on fire, his mobile still clutched tightly in his right hand, not caring that he didn’t even have shoes on.
He was knocking enthusiastically on Carolyn’s door when Douglas caught up to him. ‘Martin, what on earth has happened?’
Martin didn’t answer, he glanced distractedly at Douglas and for a moment kept on knocking on thin air as Arthur opened the hotel room door.
‘You okay, Skip?’
‘Carolyn, I need to speak to Carolyn.’
‘Alright, alright, where’s the fire?’ Carolyn called as she appeared behind Arthur.
‘Carolyn, we need to fly GERTI back tonight.’
‘What on earth for, Martin?’
‘Carolyn, I absolutely have to get back tonight. I can’t stay out here when…’ Martin faltered and took a breath. ‘Look, Carolyn. I’m not suggesting we fly back tonight, I’m demanding it, because my wife and my child are in the hospital and I need to be there.’
‘Good grief, Martin. All this fuss because your wife has gone into labour.’
‘No. No there was an accident. They just said she’d been in a car accident. They couldn’t tell me anything else.’
Tears were falling down Martin’s face, but he wasn’t sobbing with the grief or the futility of the situation. He was calmly falling apart at the seams as he waited for Carolyn to say something.
‘Douglas, go and file a flight plan.’
After the shock wore off Martin would realise the Herculean effort Douglas would have gone through not to protest but immediately take off down the corridor towards their shared rooms to collect his bag and make his way back to the airfield.
‘Come on, Martin, sit down a moment while I pack things up again.’
Martin pointed uselessly back down the corridor. ‘I need to pack my things away again too.’
‘It’s fine, I’ll get Arthur to do that.’ She nodded to her son and he seemed to judder into life again as if someone had wound him up and he slipped out the room to follow Douglas down the hotel corridor.
‘Sit down and tell me everything they said to you.’
‘I don’t know,’ he started as Carolyn steered him into the room and sat him down on the end of her bed. ‘They just said that she’d been in a car accident. They didn’t- details didn’t-’
Martin continued to stutter out a few more halting sentences as Carolyn shoved everything back in her overnight bag, going through ever single drawer in the room as she did the same with Arthur’s things. Why the infuriating boy found the need to put something in every single drawer in the room was beyond her. She stopped what she was doing when she realised Martin’s stammering had come to a halt. When she looked up it was to find him staring down at his knees, sniffing slightly as he tried to control his breathing.
He looked up sharply at Carolyn.
‘It’s going to be fine.’
It had been a hurried affair to get back to the airfield and manage to persuade ATC to let them fly back out tonight. It had taken all of Douglas’ not inconsiderable charm to get them onto the tarmac, never mind up in the air.
‘But you flew out.’
‘Martin, look at your hands.’ It took a moment for Martin’s gaze to fall on his hands that were shaking almost uncontrollably as they fluttered uselessly over the flight deck controls. He took a breath, and another one, curled his hands into fists and straightened them out again, but if anything his hands were shaking more.
Douglas pressed the intercom button. ‘Arthur, could you make me a cup of coffee and Martin a cup of tea please. Lots of sugar in Martin’s.’
‘But Skip doesn’t have sugar in his tea.’
‘He does today.’
Douglas started going through the pre-flight checks as Martin continued to stare down at his hands.
‘What if the worst has happened?’ Martin stuttered out.
‘I’m sure they’ll both be fine, Martin.’
‘But what if-‘
‘Martin.’ Douglas stopped what he was doing to look at Martin. ‘There’s no way for you to know until we get there.’
Martin nodded a couple of times but still didn’t quite believe Douglas. As usual Martin was coming up with worst case scenarios where he would go home alone to an empty flat, lie down on his side of the bed and be horribly aware of the fact that the other side was empty, while down the hall there was a newly painted room that would never be able to welcome it’s intended occupant. Martin felt sick. He excused himself from the flight deck and almost knocked Arthur over in his dash to the toilet.
‘Martin!’ Carolyn’s shrill voice sounded over the banging of her fist on the toilet door five minutes later. ‘Martin get out of there now so we can take off you silly boy!’
Martin took a moment, reached up to straighten a Captain’s hat that wasn’t there and decided on straightening his tie instead. He still felt sick, and the sight of himself in the small mirror was frightful, but he had to face the music, because Carolyn was now banging on the door open palmed and Martin feared she’d break it any minute.
‘Alright!’ he called as a warning before emerging. ‘I’m alright.’
Carolyn raised a sceptical eyebrow but said no more on the matter, instead going to usher her son into one of the cabin crew seats so that she wouldn’t have another person to take to the hospital on their arrival in Fitton.
Carolyn ended up driving Martin to the hospital because she didn’t trust him to drive himself and Douglas was too tired to do anymore night time navigating.
Martin was playing with his wedding ring, sat on the edge of the passenger seat and staring at traffic lights like he could get them to change at will. Carolyn glanced across at him as they were stuck at a light and she saw his features, angular and stark. He had bags under his eyes that weren’t just from worry. He looked exhausted.
When Martin and Carolyn finally reached the hospital they were directed to the maternity ward. Martin wanted to thank Carolyn and wish her on her merry way, but he didn’t think he could face this alone. Carolyn wasn’t his mum, but she was the closest thing to familial support he was going to get this evening.
They were steered into the family waiting room where they sat in silence. Martin because he was too distracted to make polite conversation, and Carolyn because she couldn’t think of anything to say. The door into the family waiting room opened.
Martin shot out of his seat at his name. ‘Yes. Yes, that’s me.’
‘I’m Dr. Damien Prior,’ the doctor said as he came into the room and shut the door behind him. He indicated for Martin to take his seat again.
‘Sophie only suffered minor injuries in the collision. She’s fractured her clavicle and has a mild concussion as well as some bruises and cuts. Unfortunately the shock on her body sent her into premature labour.’
The brief moment of relief that Martin had felt evaporated. ‘Is the baby alright?’
‘Because Sophie herself wasn’t strong enough to endure labour we had to do a c-section. The baby’s in the neo-natal unit, but that’s only for observation. She’s a little underweight but apart from that she’s healthy. We’d like to keep them both for a few days until Sophie’s concussion has settled and we’re happy that mother and baby are bonding fine.’
‘She?’ There was a small smile forming at the edge of Martin’s lips now.
Dr. Prior smiled too. ‘Congratulations, Mr. Crieff. You’ve got a baby girl.’
Martin put a hand to his mouth as he sucked in a breath of disbelief. Tears were gathering at the corners of his eyes.
‘I’ll send a nurse in and she’ll sort out the formalities so you can go and see your wife and daughter.’
‘Thank you,’ Martin managed between a sob of emotion. The doctor smiled and left the room, leaving Martin crying quietly in both relief and joy. He jumped slightly when he felt a hand on his shoulder that moved down to rub at his back.
Martin entered the ward that Sophie was in with some trepidation. He’d been told that she was fine, but he refused to believe it until he laid eyes on her.
She was turned away from him slightly, pillows propped behind her back and her left arm braced against her body in a sling. He could see a bruise nearly fully formed round her eye, small cuts where the car window must have broken and showered her in glass.
He felt sick and completely drained as he stepped over the threshold and shuffled forward into the room. A hand found it’s way to her wrist, gripping loosely so his thumb stuttered over her pulse point. She stirred slightly and Martin could feel his heart thudding up into his throat.
She turned her head, eyes fluttering awake as she took in Martin stood beside her bed, hair a homeless mess, eyes wide and bloodshot. He looked a state.
‘Your shirt needs ironed,’ she said softly. Martin started laughing with the relief of the moment and bent to kiss her, thumb caressing the bruise on her cheek.
‘You scared me.’
‘Sorry.’ She shifted slightly in the bed so she could see him properly. ‘Some twat ran a red light. Think the car’s buggered.’
‘Damn the car, Sophie!’ Martin all but shouted. He brought a hand up to cover his mouth and Sophie could see how much he was shaking now. She twisted her wrist round so she had a hold of his hand, tugging slightly, encouraging him to sit down which he did with little resistance on the edge of the bed.
‘I’m okay, hun. And so is the baby. Martin, you’re a dad.’
He pursed his lips, and for once didn’t babble or say anything else. He just nodded, looking at her, not quite holding her gaze as his eyes kept drifting to the cuts on her cheeks or her shoulder and then it hit him. He started crying again, unable to stop himself as the relief and happiness swept over him.
‘Oh, Martin. Come here, you daft bugger.’ Sophie was tugging on his arm again to get him to turn towards her. She reached up to wipe at his tears before hooking a thumb round the collar of his shirt and pulling him in for a kiss.
‘I’ll be fine.’ She repeated when they were nose to nose. ‘We’ll be fine.’ She didn’t let him pull away until she could see the belief in his eyes. It took a while before he nodded and she let him go. He pulled back, sniffing, rubbing the tears from his cheeks with one hand as he tried to compose himself.
‘Was Carolyn annoyed?’ Sophie asked, as she interlocked their fingers, feeling Martin’s sweaty palm inside her own.
‘No, she,’ Martin paused, looking to the door. ‘She’s outside. She drove me.’
Sophie was rubbing circles with her thumb on Martin’s palm to try and calm him down, because his hands were still juddering in Sophie’s gentle grasp. Martin watched as her eyes slipped shut and his heart stuttered in a brief moment of panic again.
Her gentle hum of enquiry was enough to calm him and he remembered the assurance that she’d be groggy for the next few days due in no small part to the concussion and the drugs. ‘I love you.’
‘Love you too,’ she mumbled sleepily in reply. Martin bent to kiss her, stroking a hand through her hair. He stayed there for a while longer just watching her sleep, one of his thumbs stuttering over the pulse point in her wrist, just to be sure.
He almost jumped out of his skin when a voice spoke behind him. ‘Mr. Crieff?’
He turned to see two nurses had made an appearance with an incubator between them. He didn’t quite trust his legs to stand as they wheeled the incubator close to the bed Sophie was now fast asleep in.
‘We wanted to try breastfeeding with this little one, and we thought it’d also be a good time for her to meet her father.’
Martin struggled to his feet then, almost stumbling over to the box and looking down for the first time at his baby daughter. The tag on the end of the incubator said she’d been born at 5.7lbs. She had a white hat over her head, a feeding tube was snaking it’s way up her left nostril and she had nothing on but a nappy. Her fingers were wiggling slightly on her left hand as if she was waving at him, her feet were up in the air as she wriggled on her back, but the thing that captivated Martin most was her blue eyes, staring unblinking up at him.
‘Sophie?’ One of the nurses, was tapping at Sophie’s arm trying to wake her up.
Martin smiled as he recognised the sound of his wife that greeted him most mornings. That sleepy question that said she would be willing to do anything if only she could have five more minutes of sleep. He couldn’t take his eyes off of his daughter though as they continued their staring match.
‘Can I?’ he asked hesitantly as he made to reach inside the incubator.
‘Of course.’ The nurse said, smiling encouragingly.
‘Hello.’ He whispered, the back of his finger stroking against his daughter’s downy cheek.
‘We need to think of a name.’ Martin heard his wife say. A nurse was helping her to sit up in the bed now, and placing a pillow in her lap to make it easier for Sophie to hold the baby one armed. Martin turned back to look at her, smiling before he turned back to his daughter. He was happy to keep calling her his daughter for the moment.
‘Knock, knock,’ Douglas said as he peered round the curtain round Sophie’s bed. His eyes travelled first to the bed where Sophie was seemingly asleep before they caught sight of Martin in a high-backed chair by the bed, a small bundle of blankets in his arms.
Martin didn’t look any less tired than he had done the previous evening, but he looked a lot less stressed. The smile he gave Douglas was easy and relaxed, totally at war with Martin’s usual flustered nature.
‘And who might this pink bundle of joy be?’ Douglas asked, leaning over and pulling back the blankets with one finger to see a wrinkled pink face relaxed in sleep, fuzzy white bonnet pulled down to almost the bridge of her nose. Douglas could already see the resemblance to Martin in the strawberry blond tufts of hair peeking out from under the blanket and hat as well as the slight crease of a frown even in sleep.
Martin smiled. ’Rose Amelia Crieff.’
‘Martin,’ Douglas paused for dramatic emphasis. ‘Did you name your daughter after the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic ocean?’
‘And Sophie let you?’ Douglas seemed mildly incredulous at this piece of information.
‘It was Sophie’s suggestion.’
Douglas smiled, not completely surprised. It was just more confirmation of the fact that these two were perfectly and sickeningly suited to each other.
‘How is she?’ Douglas asked, looking down at Sophie sleeping.
‘Concussed mostly and exhausted.’
‘Yes, well you both better get used to that now you're parents.’
‘The concussion or exhaustion?’
Douglas chuckled at that.
‘Arthur sent me with this.’ Douglas said, pulling a stuffed polar bear out of the bag he was carrying that was easily as big as Rose. He placed it at the foot of Sophie’s bed where it promptly toppled face first onto it’s nose.
‘I warn you now, there will probably be a lot more where that came from. He was searching online for a stuffed otter when I left the portakabin last night.’
Douglas wouldn’t be surprised if Arthur hadn’t purchased a whole menagerie by the weekend.
‘Thank you for yesterday, Douglas.’ Martin said as he watched Douglas trying to right the polar bear with little success.
‘For flying a plane? Sir forgets, I get paid to do that.’
‘You know what I mean.’
Douglas did, but he still couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tease Martin whenever possible, even if he was a father now. And wasn’t that a vaguely terrifying concept. The thought of Martin looking after someone other than himself was almost dizzying. Yet, as Douglas watched Martin holding the child in his arms, so calm and at peace in the current predicament he found himself in, Martin looked more at home than he did in the cockpit of a plane. It made Douglas feel a little jealous and more than a little reminiscent for the first time he'd held Emily in his arms after she had be born. It had been and remained one of the most exhilarating experiences of his life, a moment of pure happiness that had not faded with the years, which made Douglas feel guilty for intruding on Martin’s moment.
‘Carolyn also sent me with the gift of a whole two weeks off flying GERTI. While I bring you the gift of not complaining that I have to share a flight deck with Hercules should we have to fly anywhere in the next two weeks.’
Martin smiled, ‘Douglas, really. You’re spoiling me.’
Two weeks later and their first flight was to Oslo, delivering a rather dramatic group of actors to the Ibsen Festival. Douglas was quite frankly glad to see the back of so many women being quite so shallow, insisting they were getting into character, although Douglas wasn’t entirely sure if that was necessarily the case. He was glad to have Martin back in the flight deck too, albeit looking rather worse for wear, though he would never admit that to Martin.
They were now in the departures hall of Oslo Airport waiting for their turn with the de-icer before they headed back to Fitton, sans actors. Arthur, Carolyn and Douglas had been sat near their gate when they got the call to say that their flight had been delayed, which had resulted in a search party being formed to look for their missing Captain to give him the news.
After only five minutes of half-hearted searching, Douglas found Martin stood in the middle of the duty-free shop next to the various novelty gifts that had an aviation theme to them. He was staring down at the shelf, a look of contemplation on his tired features.
‘Arthur’s looking for you in amongst the Toblerone’s.’
‘What?’ Martin looked up. ‘Sorry. Is it time?’
‘We’ve been delayed, but Carolyn would still like her pilot in her sight at all times so we can leave as soon as humanly possible.’
‘Right.’ Martin nodded and turned lethargically back to look at the small display of toy airplanes.
‘I think maybe the plushie one to start with. Maybe build up to the plastic one when the various parts are no longer choking hazards.’ Douglas suggested when the silence lingered and Martin didn’t show any signs of moving.
‘I had one when I was a child.’ Martin started in reply, pointing to one of the plastic Boeing 747 models, ‘Flew it everywhere, until one day I decided I’d fly it off the garden wall, along with myself.’
‘I always did suspect you’d been dropped on your head when you were a child.’
Martin shook his head. ‘No, I was fine. So was the plane. Simon stole it from me and flew off with it. It wasn’t until a couple of hours later when I was still trying to make myself fly off the garden wall that Simon accidentally flew the plane into my face and knocked my two front teeth out.
‘I didn’t cry until we were at the dental hospital and they were putting fake teeth in. Not because it hurt, they’d numbed my whole mouth, but because Simon chose that moment to show me the bit of plane they’d taken out of his head.’
Douglas didn’t know whether to laugh or not for a moment, it was a typical Martin story, tragic, yet laced with a suitable about of humour, enough to make him chuckle to himself.
‘Do you know I could buy 100 nappies for the price of that plane. But they’ll only last about two weeks.’
‘Yes, I do vaguely remember that particular joy.’
‘Do you know how much money we’ll spend on nappies in the first year?
‘I would imagine it’s quite a hefty amount.’
‘Almost £500 on nappies. That’s ten sweaty days of lugging other people’s furniture around, Douglas.’
Douglas took a moment to let that piece of information sink in, his concern rising for his earnest Captain who now he was properly looking, Douglas could see the bags under Martin’s eyes, the sweat beading on the back of his neck, the poorly disguised creases in his shirt that said he hadn’t had time to take care of himself because he was too busy trying to take care of his wife and his new-born baby.
‘I’m afraid I have some bad news for you, Martin. They don’t get any cheaper the older they get I’m afraid. I’m just grateful I’ve only got another four years before I can legally marry mine off. Or another six before I can send her off to university where she can accrue her own debt and the government can take care of her. Sad to say that’s another sixteen or eighteen years down the line for you, Martin.’
Martin looked pained by that particular piece of information, his brow furrowing deeper than Douglas thought imaginable. Douglas felt like he wanted to say something to lift the weight of the world from Martin’s shoulders that were hunched in his slightly too large Captain’s blazer but Arthur was yelling from down the departures hall for the both them.
He hummed in reply, still intent on the computer resting precariously on the arm of the sofa as he scrolled through job websites. He kept flipping to another open tab that was filled with baby products but he wasn’t fooling Sophie. He’d seemed not only exhausted but distracted when he got back in from his trip to Oslo. Truth be told, he hadn’t seemed himself for the last couple of weeks. She knew he was looking for another job since the one at the supermarket was coming to an end very soon what with Christmas being round the corner.
‘Are you okay to do me a favour this evening?’
He tore his eyes away from the screen at that moment, looking at Sophie properly, and she hated to be asking him because she knew that he would do anything for her, always had, always would. He was just that sort of man. But, she would much rather force him to bed while Rosie was asleep so that he actually got some sleep. He was starting to look ill with sleep deprivation. He may have had two weeks away from MJN, but he’d continued to stack shelves by night and do van jobs by day, while making sure both she and Rosie were well looked after.
‘Could you give me a hand to wash my hair?’
He stopped pretending to look for bottles on the Mothercare website then, and turned to smile warmly at his wife. ‘Of course.’
He pulled himself to his feet and followed Sophie down the corridor to the bathroom. They’d fallen very quickly into the routine of Martin helping Sophie to dress and undress after a few false starts of Sophie being stubborn and insisting she could do it herself, and one very memorable morning where Sophie had almost fallen face first into the wardrobe trying to put on her underwear.
Now though, they were both stood in the bathroom trying to figure out how on earth they were going to manage this new task. After multiple suggestions, Martin ended up running a bath for Sophie and washing her hair while she sat wiggling her toes through the bubbles.
‘I spoke to my mum this morning. She said that she was going to leave Dad to look after the farm for a few days and come down to help out if we wanted. She also suggested I go up and visit for a few days too.’ Sophie dropped in casually.
Martin continued to rub shampoo into Sophie’s scalp, splashing suds all over his t-shirt before reaching for the shower head to wash the shampoo out. ‘What did you say?’
‘I didn’t say anything. I said we’d think about it.’
‘Okay.’ Martin said, which wasn’t much of an answer or opinion on the subject. Sophie sighed as Rosie started fussing down the corridor. Martin finished rinsing the shampoo out of Sophie’s hair before he pulled himself to his feet, drying his hands on a towel.
‘Do you want the bath left?’
‘No, it’s fine. I’ll have a shower. Give me a shout when you need a hand out.’ He left the bathroom then, disappearing further down the corridor to their daughter. Sophie sighed again, closing her eyes as she tried to stop herself from crying. She took a moment, listening to Martin calming their daughter just out of sight, listening to his footsteps heading towards the kitchen to fetch a bottle for her before Sophie struggled to get herself out of the bath, dried and dressed. She didn’t bother yelling for Martin and he didn’t come to check on her.
Sophie pushed open the bedroom door with her foot sometime later, a cup of tea in her good hand, expecting it to be empty since she could hear the shower running. She was almost a little surprised to find Martin in the middle of the bed, still fully dressed in jeans, wet t-shirt and trainers. He had a bottle of milk in his right hand, curled towards their daughter, left hand cradling her head. Both of their eyes were closed as they slept unaware of the world around them. Sophie smiled fondly as she set the mug of tea on the bedside table, rescuing the bottle of milk before there was a wet patch on the sheets.
She started unlacing Martin’s trainers, concerned slightly when he didn’t so much as stir as she struggled to pull them from his feet. She went into the bathroom and turned off the shower and turned out the light before coming back into the bedroom. Both Martin and Rosie slept on. Instead of wrestling the duvet out from underneath Martin she pulled the throw at the end of the bed from under Martin’s feet and pulled it over him as far as his waist. It was only seven in the evening, but Sophie had decided that anytime she found Martin asleep she would leave him to it. She was worried that with the amount of sleep he was getting it was only a matter of time before he had a car accident too.
She needed to do something and soon.
Douglas put down his paper to answer the phone. ’Hello?’
‘Oh, hello, Sophie. How’s things?’
There was a pause that concerned Douglas, worried that something awful had befallen the Crieff family. He wasn’t sure how much bad luck one family could harbour.
‘Douglas, I wondered if you’re free to pop round for a cuppa today? I- uh I wanted to speak to you about something.’
If anything, Douglas was even more concerned about this turn of events. ‘Of course. What time would you like me?’
‘Um, Martin should be home from work about half three, so how about two?’
And now Sophie wanted to discuss something with him that didn’t involve Martin. Douglas wasn’t sure how comfortable he felt with this situation. ‘Of course. I’ll see you at two.’
Douglas could almost hear the audible sigh of relief. ‘Thanks, Douglas. Look, I’ve got to go. Rosie is awake. I’ll see you later.’
Sophie hung up and Douglas was left to speculate for the next five hours as to what had happened that Sophie needed some advice on. He had a vague inkling as to what it might be, which was only confirmed when Douglas turned up at Sophie and Martin’s flat in the afternoon.
‘I’m worried about Martin,’ Sophie said as she flicked the kettle on and started to wrestle two mugs from the mug tree one handed. Douglas smoothly stepped into help.
‘Worried in what sense?’
‘He’s working too much, barely sleeping, and I know how short we are on money at the moment, I’m doing what I can to help, but I know it’s not enough. Thing is, he’s Martin and he’s too proud to ask for help and I know that if I tell him I’m worried about him he’ll just worry more and I think any more worrying may actually kill him, Douglas. There’s only so much one man can take.’
‘Martin does indeed seem to enjoy pushing the limits of acceptable levels of worry on a daily basis.’ Douglas commented, picking up the kettle as it finished boiling to make two mugs of tea. ‘Unfortunately it’s in his nature.’
Sophie sighed, accepting the mug of tea that Douglas handed to her before she led Douglas down the hall to the living room.
‘Sophie, you know that if the both of you are short on cash, I’m more than happy to help you out.’
‘Thank you, Douglas. That’s a really kind offer, and I’m extremely grateful, but… Martin.’
‘Yes, pride is unfortunately one of Martin’s greatest flaws.’
‘Douglas, please don’t think I asked you here just to get money out of you.’
‘Sophie, I know you are an incredibly skilled women, you got Martin to propose after all, but you do not have the deceitful edge to you that all of my previous wives possess.’
Sophie gave a half hearted smile at that. ‘I don’t want him to give up MJN, not when he loves it so much, but, well-’
‘That’s the one thing that’s currently draining him, in all senses of the words.’ Douglas took a sip of his tea. ‘I’m sure we can hatch some sort of plan that enables Carolyn to pay Martin. Maybe not the full salary, but certainly enough to mean that he can stop working three jobs.’
‘The idea will have to come from him.’
‘I’m sure we can help to sow the seeds, though.’
Sophie was just getting off the phone, Douglas and her having just finished hatching a plan when they heard the key in the door of the flat, heralding Martin’s arrival.
It hurt Sophie’s heart to hear the exhaustion in her husband’s voice. She could hear him toeing off his shoes in the hallway and dropping his keys onto the shelf there.
‘Hiya. How was the van job?’ she asked as he entered the living room.
‘Fine.’ He stopped in his tracks when he spotted Douglas. ‘Everything alright?’
‘Yeah, fine. Douglas popped round to say hello and for a cup of tea.’
He nodded before reanimating himself, giving Sophie a glancing kiss on her cheek before he was reaching for Douglas and Sophie’s now empty mugs. Sophie could see he was still sweating underneath his hoodie from where he’d been lugging around whatever he’d been moving that day.
There was the sound of soft crying coming from the crib in the corner and Sophie shifted to pull herself to her feet to go to her daughter. Martin was already putting the mugs back down to go to her too.
‘Let me,’ Douglas said, already heading over to little Rosie Crieff. He reached into the crib to the wriggling, crying child looking up at him.
‘Hello, little lady,’ he cooed, lifting her into his arms and rocking her.
‘Douglas, I can do that!’
‘I’m sure you can, Martin.’ Douglas said, slowly rocking Rosie back and forth whom was already quietening.
‘Give her to me!’
‘Martin.’ Sophie admonished, somewhat shocked at Martin’s anger, ‘She’s fine with, Douglas. Look, she’s stopped crying.’
‘Well of course she has!’ Martin said before storming away to the kitchen after angrily swiping up the empty mugs.
Sophie unfurled herself from the sofa before throwing Douglas an apologetic look and following Martin.
‘Martin, he’s just trying to be helpful, there’s no need to lose it with him.’ Sophie said as she came in the kitchen.
Martin deflated slightly, his head dropping forward, chin resting on his chest. Sophie could still hear Douglas down the hall speaking in hushed, soothing tones to their child.
‘We’ve only got three good hands at the moment, and yours are always busy with something else.’
Martin looked up at Sophie, opening his mouth like he was going to argue but he stopped, reconsidered and turned away from her to regard the boiling kettle instead. She could see his hands shaking slightly as he fisted them before shoving them in the pockets of his hoodie.
A choking sound burst from between Martin’s lips and Sophie frowned, moving towards him. A hand went to his shoulder before migrating to the back of his head, pulling him in for a much needed hug. She let him cry for a moment, hands fisted in the back of her top before she kissed the side of his neck.
‘We’ll be fine,’ Sophie whispered, because she knew this wasn’t really about Douglas and his efforts to play babysitter while Martin was out trying to earn money to provide for his family. This was about everything leading up to this moment, all of Martin’s fears culminating until he came to the false conclusion that he wasn’t fit to be a parent.
He pulled back from her and she reached up with her one good hand to wipe away the tears from underneath his bloodshot eyes. The kettle clicked off and Martin moved to retrieve it, but Sophie had his arm. ‘Stop it.’
‘Stop beating yourself up over this.’
‘Martin, you’re not your father. You’re not-‘
‘I’m not what? Unable to earn enough money to provide for my family?’ Martin paused, clenching and unclenching his fists in the sleeves of his hoodie. He looked distraught. ‘Maybe I should give up MJN.’
Sophie didn’t know what to say for a moment. She stared at her husband.
‘I mean, it’s not as if Carolyn pays me.’
‘Ask her to.’
‘Martin, ask her. Tell her that you’re not free labour and that she should be paying you.’
‘But what if she fires me?’
‘You were quitting a minute ago.’
‘But-‘ Martin spluttered for a moment, trying to form sentences and thoughts simultaneously. Sophie was gnawing on her lip, trying not to say anything, trying to let Martin come to his own conclusions regarding their dire situation. Because Martin was right at least on that count. Things were tight at the moment.
‘Just ask her, hun. The worst that can happen is she says no, and I don’t believe Carolyn has a heart of stone. Especially not when it comes to you.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Just ask her, Martin.’ Sophie pulled three mugs from the draining board and set them beside the kettle. ‘Did you want tea or were you just passively-aggressively boiling the kettle?’
Martin made a little huffing sound and grabbed the tea-caddy, retrieving the teapot and dropping a teabag into it. Sophie smiled slightly, kissing him on the cheek. She watched him pouring hot water into the teapot and then started adding sugar to Douglas’ mug.
‘I invited her and Arthur over for dinner this evening so you can ask her then. Don’t worry – Douglas said he’d help me cook so you can go have a shower and shave before they get here.’
Martin opened his mouth to say something then closed it again, but Sophie didn’t need words to know what Martin was thinking.
‘I know how difficult you find it to ask for help, but it’s not a weakness, hun. Especially when we’ve got people around us who will willingly give us help.’ Sophie smiled, kissing Martin again before she poured herself a mug of tea, intending to take it back through to the living room.
‘Don’t think I’m not onto you.’ Martin called over his shoulder as Sophie was moving to leave the kitchen. ‘Both of you!’
‘Don’t know what you’re talking about,’ Sophie replied, a lightness to her voice that made even Martin smile as she disappeared through to the living room with her mug of tea.
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.
‘Martin, hun, sit down. We need to have a chat.’
Martin stopped in his tracks. He’d just come in through the front door, his van keys were still clutched in his right hand. He’d always dreaded the phrase ‘we need to have a chat’. In Martin’s eyes it could mean anything from ‘You’ve failed your CPL again.’ to ‘You’re father’s died.’, so he cautiously took a seat on the sofa next to Sophie.
Sophie looked nervously down at her hand in her lap. She was fiddling with the hem of her jumper before she reached out to hold onto the hand Martin still had the van keys clutched in. ‘I’m worried about you. About us.’
‘About you working too many hours to make ends meet. About us not having enough money to make ends meet.’
‘I-‘ Martin didn’t know what to say. He felt shame rising up in him at not being able to provide for his family, and his wife calling him out on it. The last time it had happened, she’d very underhandedly managed to rope Douglas and Carolyn into it and he’d somehow come out the other side being paid hourly for flights with MJN air, which was better than the nothing he’d been paid previously. His contract at the supermarket was coming to an end, van jobs had been few and far between and he’d not yet managed to find another job to fill the void of money that was threatening to swallow them whole.
‘I don’t want you to give up on your dreams, but we need to think about this seriously. It was fine when it was just us, bumbling around and chasing our dreams and supporting each other doing that, but dreams change.’
‘I know that…’
‘Dancing was always my dream, but I met you and my dream changed. Marrying you and having a family, that became the dream. And I know you’re in this with me, but it just feels like you’re never here, and I don’t mean the fact that you’re out working all the hours-‘ Sophie paused, hoping Martin would jump in, and had he been any less exhausted than he was at that moment in time, he probably would have. As it was he just stared slack jawed at Sophie, not quite knowing how to form thoughts, let alone the words.
‘Look, my mum’s coming to pick me and Rosie up. I called her this morning.’
Martin noticed the bag by the door then. The car seat on the kitchen table, ready to go.
‘Neither of us are coping at the moment. I took mum up on the offer of help for a couple of weeks until I’ve got two hands again. You won’t have to look after the both of us, and yourself.’
‘But-‘ Martin failed to find anymore words, he wanted to argue, but the words wouldn’t come, and he suspected that was partly due to the fact he knew Sophie was right.
‘Martin, please. We’re not coping. Please, admit that.’ She paused, and Martin knew that was his moment to jump in again. All he managed was a slight incline of his head.
‘I just, I need someone who isn’t trying to make sure we don’t drown in debt to help look after us. If you can take a couple of days off, please come up and join us, but I just can’t cope anymore with the way things are.’
Martin’s brain was drawing a blank. He didn’t know what to say. He knew Sophie was right. They weren’t coping, but it wasn’t through Martin’s lack of trying. He felt close to breaking point, though, but he didn’t want to admit that to anyone, despite the nagging voice at the back of his mind that told him Sophie was already very aware of that fact.
Martin carried Rosie down to the car and strapped the car seat in when Sophie’s mother, Elaine, arrived not 10 minutes later.
Elaine hugged him tight as he emerged back out onto the pavement. ‘Come up when you get the chance, lad. You know you’re always welcome.’
Sophie kissed him, her fingers clutching at the sleeve of his hoodie, as Martin felt sweat trickling down the back of his neck.
‘I’ll call you when I get to the farm. I love you.’ She held his gaze for a long time, her good hand going to his cheek so that he couldn’t look away. ‘I love you,’ she repeated, as if she was scared he didn’t understand the words.
Martin stood in the shower less than an hour later, the water raining down on him. He’d tried to call Sophie 32 times, but each moment where his thumb had hovered over the call button on his phone, he’d backed out, unsure of what to say. He was hoping showering would provide some clarity, help him clear his head, but if anything he felt like he was drowning, unnoticed to the world around.
As the shower turned cold, he realised why he felt like he was drowning. Sophie. Neither of them had been coping, but without Sophie it seemed that much more impossible.
He was on the M5 before his hair had even had a chance to dry, turning the radio on to try and keep him company. The rain was hammering down on the windshield and the wipers were working double time as he tried to stay in lane on the busy motorway full of late workers trying to make it home to their family.
‘Next up, it’s Pink’s new song, Just Give Me a Reason.’
Martin’s phone was ringing. He had one hand on the wheel, the other fishing in his pocket, wondering if it was Sophie calling to say they’d got their safely. He pulled out into the middle lane to avoid merging traffic, glancing down for a fraction of a second to find the speaker phone button. There was a jolt. The scream of metal on metal. A screech of breaks. Glass smashing. The rain sounded louder somehow.
Just a second we're not broken just bent, and we can learn to love again.
‘Martin, you’re just dreaming, hun.’
His fingers were tingling and he felt like his heart was beating out of his chest. He could feel fingers ghosting over his face though, combing through his hair and he wondered if he’d had a bad dream. The last thing he could remember was driving down the M5. Had he made it to the Lake District?
He tried lifting a hand to his eyes as he struggled to open them, but his limbs didn’t seem to want to cooperate with his brain. He knew he was tired, but he felt ridiculously lethargic. So much so, it took him a while to realise that Sophie was staring down at him with a look of deep concern on her face.
‘What’s goin’ on?’ It took his ears a moment to register the slur in his voice. Maybe he could just go back to sleep for a bit. Sophie and her parents wouldn’t mind if he had a lie in would they?
‘What do you remember, hun?’
He closed his eyes as he tried to decipher what he could remember beyond being in the car, but all that came to mind was the lyrics of that annoyingly catchy song that had been on the radio, that Arthur had been singing all week.
‘Car.’ It was supposed to come out as a whole sentence, but the words got lost somewhere on the way out and opening his eyes again seemed like far too much effort.
He must have fallen asleep because when he next opened his eyes he could hear voices that weren’t carrying on the same conversation.
‘-just called her. I wanted to know more of what was going on before I called. She says she’s going to call Simon, get him to drive them up. I said there wasn’t much they could do, either way.’
‘Is there anything more I can do?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t think so. I’m grateful for you driving me in. I don’t think I could- I don’t know what I should be doing.’
‘Taking it easy for a start. We don’t want both of you ending up in hospital before the day’s out. Have you eaten anything since you got here?’
‘No. I don’t know if I’m hungry.’
‘Let me go get you some food and a cup of tea. Sit yourself down and make sure he doesn’t get himself into anymore trouble.’
Martin closed his eyes, still listening. There was the scrap of a chair, the rustle of fabric.
‘They said he’s a 10 on the Glasgow Coma Scale. Douglas, I don’t even know what that means.’
‘It means he’s got a moderate brain injury. He’ll be confused for a while. They’ll just need to keep a close eye on him. I think they’re more concerned about his ankle and his internal injuries.’
There was more background chatter that Martin couldn’t decipher, and he wanted to question Douglas and Sophie who ‘he’ was and who was in the hospital and what was going on, but thoughts were frittering away from him again. He felt detached from everything, including his body. He tried to wriggle his toes, but he couldn’t even tell if he was sending the right signals to get them moving. When had it become so hard to wriggle his toes?
‘Hello yourself. You back with me?’ Sophie’s fingers were back in his hair again, and he squeezed the hand that had found his so easily where it was resting on the bed he was lying in.
‘Am I in hospital?’
‘Yeah,’ she paused, swallowing in that way she did when she was trying to stop herself from crying. ‘Yeah, you are. You crashed the car, Martin. Or more accurately, someone crashed into you.’
‘Oh,’ Martin managed, but he wasn’t really paying attention. He was looking at the baby bump that was between he and Sophie, frowning slightly. ’You’re pregnant.’
There was a lengthy, worried pause before Sophie replied. ‘Yeah, I’m just going to get a doctor.’
‘Okay,’ Martin closed his eyes again, already forgotten that he was in hospital and Sophie was somehow pregnant when he was sure she’d given birth to their daughter several weeks ago. Maybe if he started with one big toe he could wiggle that?
‘Martin, do you know where you are?’
‘Can you remember what happened?’
‘I was driving.’
‘Do you remember the crash at all?’
Martin screwed up his face, trying to remember. He couldn’t. The last thing he remembered was the song on the radio. He tried to grasp for the words but he could only remember one line. My dear we still have everythin’.
‘Your wife is here, Martin. She’s just in the relatives room at the moment. We need to take you up for surgery in a bit. Do you want to see Sophie before you go up?’
He could feel chapped lips pressed to his forehead. Was it morning? Had he fallen asleep on the sofa again?
Martin wasn’t sure what he was apologising for, he just knew he owed his wife an apology. He felt confused and tired and pain was starting to creep in again.
‘They’re going to take you upstairs in bit, but your mum and brother wanted to see you before you went, okay?’
‘Don’t let him pick me up.’
Sophie laughed, her breath huffing over Martin’s face so that he could smell chocolate and something else that he couldn’t discern. He felt lips against his forehead again. ‘I won’t. I promise.’
It was Simon’s lack of usual bluster that sent Sophie over the edge in the end. She thought she’d done all her initial flapping when the police had turned up on the doorstep, but when Simon and Wendy walked into A&E to lay eyes on Martin for the first time it all seemed much more real. Wendy reacted exactly how Sophie had imagined she would, lots of flapping, lots of exclamations as she struggled to restrain herself from hugging Martin to death. Martin, thankfully, was struggling to stay awake again.
Simon however was a different matter. Sophie had expected him to come in with his ‘What have you done now, chap?’ and take charge of the situation, but when he rounded the curtain he’d just stopped. And stared. Which lead to Sophie finally really looking at Martin and the blood that was still in his hair, the scrapes, the cuts, the bruising, the deformed ankle still in an inflatable splint, the neck brace and all the wires and machines attached to him. And she panicked.
Wendy found her in the end after they’d taken Martin up for surgery. She was hiding in the women’s toilets, trying to stop herself from crying with little success.
‘Sophie, dear, are you in here?’
Sophie considered not answering. If she came out of the bathroom she’d have to face Martin again eventually and the very real possibility that he wouldn’t be her Martin anymore. She stayed quiet for a moment longer, but it was her sobbing that eventually gave her away. She sniffed loudly as Wendy politely knocked on the cubicle door.
Sophie leant forward to unlock the door before reaching for the toilet roll, unfurling a wad to press to her no doubt splotchy face. When she emerged from behind the toilet roll, Wendy was looking down at her through the cubicle door.
‘I can’t do this without him.’ Sophie confessed, running a hand over her belly.
‘Oh, Sophie, love. Come here.’ Sophie managed to stand and fold herself into Wendy Crieff’s arms, where she started to cry with renewed vigour.
Douglas was stood outside the hospital in the ambulance drop off area, watching paramedics unload an old dear who was clearly having difficulty breathing. He was exhausted. He’d just got into bed when his phone had started ringing. He’d been half tempted to let it go to voicemail but when he’d seen whom had been calling him, he worried that something had happened to Sophie and the baby. He was surprised to find a very calm sounding Sophie on the other end saying that the police had just come round to inform her that Martin had been in a fender bender and was on his way to hospital, and would Douglas mind driving Sophie.
That had been almost four hours ago now. Douglas wasn’t sure whether to go home now that Simon and Wendy were here. He felt slightly surplus to requirement, but he had one more job he had to fulfil before the night was out, even if it was now three o’clock in the morning.
‘What god awful time of the morning do you call this, Douglas? You better be about to tell me something extremely important or I will personally garrotte you with your own clip-on tie in the morning.’
‘And a good evening to you too, Carolyn.’
Behind all the bluster, Douglas could hear the faint hint of worry in Carolyn’s voice that she was not able to disguise in her half asleep state.
‘Martin’s been in a car accident, and I’ve been at the hospital all night. I thought you’d like to know so you can make alternative arrangements for tomorrow’s flight.’
‘What has that silly boy done now?’
‘From what the police said, I don’t think Martin was entirely at fault here, Carolyn.’
Mention of police seemed to sober Carolyn somewhat, and when she spoke again there was nothing but worry in her voice. ’Is he alright?’
‘Well he’s currently in surgery to repair internal damage. He’s rather severally concussed and he’s badly fractured his left leg where the brake pedal rebounded on him. Apart from that he’s relatively unharmed.’ Douglas knew he was being blasé, but the truth was the sight of Martin had shocked even him. He’d done a year in medical school, he’d learned what car crashes could do to the human body.
‘Are you at Fitton?’
‘No, they brought him to the Trauma Centre in Bristol.’
‘Arthur and I will come down.’
‘Carolyn, there’s nothing you can do. Wendy and Simon have just arrived and Sophie’s here. I’m thinking of leaving myself. I feel a bit surplus to requirement.’
‘Well, just tell Sophie to keep us updated.’
‘I will do.’
There was a pause where neither of them said anything, but neither hung up either, unsure what to say now. Carolyn eventually broke the silence.
‘Douglas, will he be alright?’
Douglas didn’t know what to say at first. He didn’t want to lie to Carolyn, but then he didn’t know the answer to the question himself. Martin was currently very lucky to still be alive from the account Sophie had given him which had been passed on by the police. He also didn’t want to give false hope, so he gave the only answer he knew to be true.
‘I hope so.’