And we have arrived at last at the final chapter, and in case it wasn't clear earlier, I don't own Bread. This one comes full circle from the beginning, so you may find some scenes referencing the earlier chapters of the story. But yes, anyway, it took a lot longer than I intended, but finally, this story is done (and I should really give my poor, damaged wrists a break now, except that I'm already in the middle of a tonne of Bread fics so it's just a matter of figuring out which one to finish first...ah, decisions.) Anyway, hope you like.


31
The end of the beginning

Martina wasn't sure what it was that made her jolt awake. She raised her head groggily, taking in her darkened bedroom, the fluttery shadow of her curtains against the opposite wall, her own murky reflection in the mirror, the warm entity pressed against her back, curled around her in the narrow bed.

She wriggled onto her back, turning her head in her selfless lover's direction. Even in sleep, Joey Boswell remained a gentleman to the last, taking up no more than his fair share of the bed, even when there was precious little room for them to divide between them, positioned so the blankets fell evenly across them, arm draped over her waist to tuck her safely and warmly against him. Joey's breathing was heavy but even, and she took a few moments just to listen to it and let it lull her. A few months ago, she wouldn't have been able to envision this. A few months ago, she was starving and freezing, lying in a pool of resentment, wishing somehow she could have taken back even having met Shifty. Now she was warm, well-fed, housed in the Boswell fold with Joey beside her, and despite the agony it had put her through, Martina found herself glad of all the Shifty-related drama. Without it, she might still be in her own flat, true, but she would never have known what it was like to have a family.

What it was like to have Joey.

What it was like to be surrounded by love on all sides.

And as Martina carefully shifted herself onto her other side, curling contentedly into Joey's chest and drifting off to the purring sound of his breathing, she found herself thinking in drowsy wonderment about the way a dreadful situation could turn out to be a doorway to something infinitely better.

The thought put her to sleep with a smile on her face.


Joey pushed the door open as slowly and quietly as he could, peering through the crack to check if the coast was clear before he stepped out into the passage.

Seemed all right. Mam's door still shut, his and his brothers' room all secure…he'd better get clear of Martina's room while he had the chance, before anyone noticed he…

'Mornin'.'

Joey flinched and stumbled back against the wall. For someone who tended to galumph through life, Jack had done a terrific job of appearing in their bedroom doorway unnoticed.

He leaned on the doorframe, dishevelled as always in mismatched pyjamas and messy hair, staring up at Joey with the mother of all lascivious smiles.

'Oh! Jack!' Joey laughed uncomfortably. 'Didn't see you there! I just…er, got up a bit early, thought I'd get my turn in the bathroom before anyone else awoke and claimed it…'

Jack snorted. 'It's not as if we didn't notice you sneakin' out of our room 'alfway through the night…'

'I…had a job,' Joey bluffed, despite knowing that the fact he was wearing his robe was evidence against this story, 'nothin' out o' the ordinary…'

'Our room's next ter Martina's, you know,' Jack's smirk reached an unprecedented level of facetiousness, 'and the walls aren't that thick.'

Aw, hey, NO. Bloody hell. Joey felt himself redden, and for once in his lifetime, the smooth-talking oldest Boswell sibling was completely and utterly lost for words.

'I'll, er…' Joey reached up to touch his head, suddenly unsure what to do with his hands, or his whole self, for that matter, 'I'll just go and…get the post!'

And he fled downstairs, tripping and stumbling his way down the staircase as fast as his bewildered and embarrassed self could take him.


Jack's lecherous grin hadn't gone away by the time the family assembled for breakfast, and Joey, although he did his best to ignore his brother, could feel his eyes on him.

'Shaping up to be a nice day, isn't it?' he said, determined to act casual, to ignore the obnoxious twinkle in Jack's irises.

'For some people,' Jack said.

Joey would take no notice of such immaturity. He poured himself some cereal and pushed two pieces of bread into the toaster as if everything was normal—and it was, actually. As a matter of fact. Just because Jack had overheard them—and surely he'd have been listening to even hear anything at all. It was just like his brother to do so—but if he knew what was good for him, he'd refrain from going on about it in front of anyone else.

'Morning, Adrian!' Joey called cheerfully as the poet emerged from upstairs, dressed but not fully ready for the morning, judging by the slump of his shoulders and the slowness of his walk.

'For you, perhaps,' Adrian said. 'But I got no sleep last night—my energy is 'angin' by a thread! Not to mention my last shreds of sanity.'

'Well, insomnia is a common affliction of the creative genius,' Joey said amiably, his good mood, despite his slight annoyance at Jack, coming through.

Adrian glared at him as he sat down, but before he could say anything more, if indeed he was going to, Billy was thundering down in search of breakfast, Martina not far behind, and Nellie was sailing into the kitchen with the dignity of a Bishop.

'Mornin', my beloved family!' said Joey.

He was met with a few dirty looks.

'Eh, Joey, did you—'

'Prayers,' Nellie cut him off.

'But before we say prayers, can I just ask—'

'Prayers!' Nellie barked.

They all bowed their heads.

'We thank Thee, dear Father, for food and family and love… but we ask Thee, O Father, to forgive us for those times when we indulge in sinful behaviour. Amen.'

Joey felt a chill go right through him, though at the same time his face was heating up. He opened his eyes reluctantly, meeting Martina's from across the table. The DSS lady looked the way he must be feeling, cheeks glowing red (if he weren't so mortified, he would have been more curious as to how they might feel if he kissed them, warm against his lips), her eyes huge, her shoulders tense.

She bit her lip. Joey reflexively did the same.

'Yeah, about last night,' Adrian said, 'I'm glad that was brought up.'

'Is this about—' Billy began, but Adrian stuffed a piece of toast into his gob to prevent whatever lewd expression was about to leave it.

'We all know what it's about!' Nellie snapped. She folded her hands, placing them in a tight, businesslike knot on the table. 'Now let me make something clear, you two.'

She looked from Joey to Martina, both of whom were shrinking further into their seats.

'It's all well and good that you two are in love, and we're all very happy for you, but noisy expressions of that love at three in the morning are not tolerated under this roof, do you understand?!'

Joey cringed into his hands.

'I don't know what came over the both of you to think that was even vaguely appropriate, but we will not be having any more of that sort of behaviour, will we?'

'Sorry,' Joey muttered, his face still buried in his hands.

'Sorry,' he heard Martina parrot.

'We got a bit…' he raised his head, the cool air on his face betraying just how hot it still was, '…carried away.'

'So I heard.' Nellie glared. 'So the whole street must have heard!'

'It was just the moment, Mam, we were caught up in it… we were so happy and we didn't really…stop to think.'

'Didn't stop to think about showing consideration for your family, you mean? Really, I'm surprised at the both of you.'

'It won't happen again,' Martina said.

'No, it won't!' Nellie wasn't cooling down about this any time soon. 'Really, I love you both, and I want you to be happy, but even our Billy went over the road!'

'What do you mean, even Billy?' Billy wailed in protest. 'Am I different to all of you, then?'

He was ignored by everybody.

'Even our Adrian,' Jack put in his four penneth, 'used to go…'

'If you're about to mention those bushes…' Adrian banged his cutlery down.

'Okay, okay,' at least the family's little fight had given Joey a bit of time, and an opportunity, to gather himself and put his humiliation aside. 'Settle down, all of you. We don't need any rows occurin' about anybody's bonking places. And Mam, rest assured, Martina and I won't inconvenience anybody again. Okay?'

A vague murmur of assent. Nellie gave a grim smile and settled down to her breakfast.

'Right,' Joey said, putting his spoon down, 'I think it's about time I was takin' Martina to work. Come along, then, sweetheart.'

Martina seemed only too grateful to leap up and follow him out the door.


'I've never been so humiliated in me life.'

Martina was pouting, or sulking, or even cringing, or perhaps a combination of all three, and the sight of her, sitting in the passenger seat of his Jag, her arms folded as tightly as they'd go, made Joey want to laugh and ruffle her hair and kiss her, and he would have done so, too, had he not had one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the gearstick.

'Forget about it, sweetheart. Everyone's always gettin' at each other for their love lives—you should have heard the fuss we all made when our Billy first spent a night at Julie's. And Mam was just as angry with him…if not more…'

'All right, all right,' Martina sighed, looking out the window. 'But I'm not particularly chuffed that everybody heard us…I thought we 'ad a bit more privacy than that.'

'Privacy doesn't exist in our house, sweetheart,' Joey said. 'You might want to get used to that, if you're gonna be with us for long haul.'

Martina muttered unintelligibly to herself.

'We'll work around it, sweetheart,' Joey grinned, 'we'll work around it. You know, from experience, the seats in the Jag are lovely and comfy…particularly in the back…'

'Don't be filthy at this time in the morning, please,' she admonished him. 'I'm not in the mood to hear any of your sordid little plans after what just happened.'

'Oh, cheer up, sourpuss,' Joey risked getting into an accident to lean over and kiss her while driving. 'It's a beautiful day, you're home, we love each other. And love makes a poor man rich…'

'In which case, you won't be needin' yer Social Security benefits anymore.'

'Not literally rich,' he cackled. They were nearing the DSS now, and Joey slowed down and pulled in towards the curb. 'In poetic, metaphorical ways.'

'Much like yer speeches when you're claiming,' Martina said, undoing her seatbelt. She moved for the door, hesitated and then leaned back over and kissed him goodbye.

Joey caught her face in his hand when she went to pull away.

'Just one moment, beautiful lady. I've had an idea—you know what we still haven't done?'

'Well, I know what we 'ave done… so does the entire family,' she muttered to herself.

'Come on, forget about that now! Anyway, I wasn't talkin' about that.' Joey took her hand, then her other one, squeezing them both in his. 'Remember that dinner we were gonna have?'

'You mean the vegetarian one where you were gonna try and convince me why eatin' meat substitutes was better than the real thing?'

'That very one. How about tonight?'

Martina's face softened, a smile coming to it for the first time since Nellie had told them off.

'Lovely.'

Joey kissed her again and released her.

'Have a good day, beautiful,' he said. 'I'll be thinkin' of you.'

Martina rolled her eyes. 'We've only been goin' out one day and he's already gone soppy,' she said to herself, exiting the car and giving him one last headshake before heading off to work.

But she was smiling.


Diana had made the obligatory comments about Boswells and fraternising when Martina had come in to work, had handed her her suitcase with a brief mention of Joey and things they were up to, but the day had passed fairly smoothly, all in all. Martina had relayed to her colleague what had occurred between them, the decision they'd made to stick together and see how it worked out, Joey's promise that she wouldn't be separated from the family and that they'd stay friends if it didn't, and how all was well on the Boswell front once more (censoring out, of course, any references to the hideously embarrassing incident this morning), and her friend had seemed pleased enough for her. And the thought of dinner with Joey tonight had kept her going, had kept her motivated, had even softened her up enough to be friendly and amiable to a few of the clients she encountered, resulting in some very odd stares.

And Joey had been there at the end of it, waiting like a gentleman by the Jag, looking so achingly beautiful Martina's heart had sung at the thought that he was all hers, that she got to be greeted by that every day, that if she wanted to kiss that beautiful face she could without having to pretend it was on some pretext.

'Greetings!' Joey exulted as she came closer. 'Good day at the office, dear?'

'We're not an old married couple; you don't need to do that,' she shook her head, holding up her face to receive her kiss.

'Well,' Joey said, delivering it, and then another quick one for good measure, 'not yet, anyway.' His eyes sparkled and Martina ducked her head, unwilling to let him see her unstoppable smile.

'Anyway,' she teased as the climbed into the car, 'if you're askin' me about how me day was at the office, doesn't that make you my little housewife?'

'I'm not going to bother answerin' that,' Joey said, flicking his hair girlishly. 'Anyway, I'm far too masculine for that.'

'Except you did answer just then. And Grandad thinks you're a fairy cake, you know.'

'He thinks that about everyone. He's just stunned by this amazing display of masculinity…doesn't know how to respond.'

'All right, o macho man, o epitome of manliness,' Martina rolled her eyes and shook her head, 'hurry up and take us home, then. You can prove yerself by sweeping me off me feet at dinner tonight and romancing me.'

'That I shall do, sweetheart, don't you fret. I shall wine and dine you in style and lavish you with attention and…er..lavish presents fit for the most cherished love of a formidable provider.'

'The eloquent Joey Boswell usin' the same word twice in a row?'

'Gimme a break, sweetheart, this level of eloquence and quick wit takes a lot of energy. I'm bound to have a few lapses now and again.'

'Just make sure you have the next one inside the DSS—then I'll have you right where I want yer.'

'No, I don't think I shall be doin' that.' They had arrived back at Kelsall Street now, and Martina leapt out the car, eager to breathe in the air of the street and bask in that feeling that she'd come home for the day. That this was her home.

'You look very joyous, my dearest love.'

'You can stop sayin' things like that at the end of every sentence now. And yeah, I am joyous, much as it goes.'

'Oh dearie me. And I was enjoying doin' that. Never mind, you still have me permission to call me the epitome of manliness any time you like.' He wrapped his arms around her waist from behind, leaning in to kiss the side of her neck, seemingly oblivious to Martina's deliberately audible mutter of not bloody likely.

'And what brings forth this cascade of joy, then?'

'Oh, just,' she leaned back into him, sighing happily as his hand came up to her face to caress her chin, 'thinkin' about home. And family. You know.'

'And to think,' Joey said, working round the kiss the other side of her neck now, 'a little while ago you were pickin' to pieces that very same family you now hold so dear and bringing down your judgement and shame upon our unity.'

'No I wasn't,' Martina said.

'Oh, I think you were…plannin' all the ways you were out to get us…'

'No, not 'us', not all of 'em, just you…'

'Ah, so you did have a plan to get hold of me even back then…'

'No I didn't,' Martina tried to protest, but Joey was either not listening, or deliberately reading his own meaning into her words, and now he was adding a few tasty little kisses into the mix and she really couldn't be bothered arguing with him anymore. Not when there were better things to be doing with her mouth. Not when she could be kissing him back, kissing that obnoxious gob and those obnoxious lines around his bloody obnoxious eyes and…

'Oi! Stop it! Stop it now!' Grandad was standing in front of them out of nowhere, eyes beady and narrowed, mouth pursed into a scowl, a large bucket of what appeared to be filthy water in his hands.

'I don't want any hanky panky outside my house! I like to sit in me chair and look out into the world without havin' to see hanky panky on the street! Shameful, it is! Shameful!'

Joey laughed guiltily, taking the bucket from the old man before he had the chance to tip it all over them and placing it down on the pavement.

'Well, now, son, you can't blame us for bein' in love, can you?'

'Bein' in love? Being in love isn't the same as doing in love! As behavin' like that! This is a public street, you know, not your hanky panky chamber!'

'We don't have a hanky panky chamber,' Joey cackled.

' 's not what our Billy said when he delivered me tray.'

Martina cringed into his shoulder. Grandad too?!

'Yeah, yeah, don't worry yourself about that, Grandad. We're sorry. We won't kiss in the street, if it'll cheer you up.'

'Me dinner's about the only thing that could cheer me up. Hours I've got to wait! And I only 'ad crumpets for tea! I can't live on crumpets! Full of 'oles, they are!'

'I'm sure it'll be soon,' Joey reassured him. 'Speakin' of which, we'd better go and get ready. I'm taking this lovely lady out to dinner, and we don't want to be late, now, do we?'

And, taking Martina by surprise, Joey moved in quickly, tipped her over his shoulder and carried her into the house.

'Send me to an early grave, you will!' Martina heard Grandad shout after them as they went inside.

'Poor man.'

'Ah, he's just jealous, sweetheart. Back in his day he and Edie Mathieson could've put us to shame, kissin' on the street…well,' he reconsidered, 'they would've done, if me Granny wasn't liable to find out.'

She shook her head, dizzied for a moment as Joey put her down and the world righted itself, and then headed upstairs to change.


'Okay, now try this one.'

Joey watched Martina's face as she obliged.

'I liked the other one better.'

'Fair enough,' he swapped the plates around, taking possession of the dish Martina had rejected. 'Hey, I'll tell you what.'

He reached out and gently took hold of Martina's wrist, her fork halfway to her mouth. The corners of the house charm on her bracelet dug into his palm, but instead of grimacing at the sensation, Joey smiled. The bracelet, not only as his Christmas gift to her, but as a symbol of her place within her family, and of her connection to him, hadn't left her wrist since he gave it to her. He'd have to get her a new charm for it, he thought to himself. Perhaps a little heart. He'd pick one up tomorrow and surprise her with it.

Martina had her eyebrows raised, and Joey quickly turned his thoughts back to the reason he'd interrupted her.

'Seein' as that has a red wine sauce on it,' he said, 'it goes well with some wine…' he poured her a glass, holding it up to her mouth.

Martina took a sip.

'…and a kiss.' He leaned across the table, tasting the wine on her lips, remembering how last time they'd sat down to dinner in a cosy little restaurant, it had been Martina doing this to him, and it had all been a little charade. Or had it? Martina had murmured, in a sleepy half-conversation last night, something about that kiss which had led Joey to wonder if she was trying to tell him she'd meant to do so all along. It was hard to tell—they'd been both slipping off the edge of consciousness, and he couldn't be sure he'd heard right, and that she'd garbled anything truly intelligible at all , but Joey liked to think she'd loved him even back then.

'Well, now,' he said, settling back into his seat, 'what d'you think?'

'Of the kiss or the food?'

'I did mean the food…' Joey said thoughtfully, 'but I'll gladly accept a compliment on me kissing skills, should you bestow one.'

'That arrogance of yours,' Martina tutted. 'I have to say, it's all been much nicer than that cheese-leek-sausage thing you had back when we were sick.'

'Thinkin' of converting, are you?'

'Don't try and push me into that, love. I still want to have a proper conversation with you about this—and I will listen, I promise you that—but I don't want to get into a serious discussion at the moment. Not when…' her eyes flicked coyly down to the table, 'not when I've finally got a chance to just…'

'Just what?' Her cheeks were slowly turning pink.

'Just…appreciate you. Does that sound daft?'

'No, sweetheart, it doesn't.' Joey took her hands across the table, kissing the palm of each one. 'I know the feeling—even now a part of me can't believe I'm sittin' here with you and everything's all right and you love me as much as I love you…'

'Yeah.' Martina clenched her hands around his, smiling shyly, but still brightly enough that he could see that underneath her calm façade there was an ecstasy she couldn't fully disguise. She let her eyes lock with his for a moment, giving him an entire speech just in one look. Joey spent a little while memorising her irises, the exact shade of blue they were, the way they glimmered from the dimly lit restaurant, or perhaps from emotion. He'd never get over just how lovely they were. The only thing that could have made them better at this moment was if they'd narrowed and crinkled into her I'm out to get you smirk.

'What are you starin' at me for?' he teased, in the hope of provoking the expression from her, and he was not disappointed.

'Just watching you for signs of weakness, Mister Boswell,' Martina said.

'Exploitin' me weaknesses…how very unprofessional, Miss DHSS lady.'

'Who said anythin' about exploiting? Now eat yer dinner and let me plot against you in peace.'

'As you wish, sweetheart,' Joey said, 'as you wish.' He applied his fork to his plate, still keeping his eyes on her.

'Oh, don't be suspicious,' she laughed, flicking her napkin at him.

'I'm not. I'm just admirin' your beauty.'

'Oh, well, in that case,' Martina said, smiling, 'I suppose you'd better carry on, then.'


They'd spent the rest of the dinner alternating between eating and teasing and now, to make the evening complete, they were just walking aimlessly hand-in-hand, going up and down Kelsall Street just to be able to spend a few extra moments in each other's company before they went in.

'So,' Joey said, sitting down on the bonnet of his Jag and taking her with him, 'tell me, sweetheart, where do you see yourself in the future?'

'Why are you askin' me this?' She turned to him, and the moonlight, dim though it was when partially obscured by what could have been a cloud and what could have been fog, was on his face, softening the angles of his jaw, hitting his eyes, making him so achingly beautiful she couldn't allow the conversation to continue without stopping first to deliver a smouldering kiss right to his mouth. Joey kissed her back, the two of them melting into each other's embrace, and it would have been quite easy to let this take the course it was already beginning to lead to, even right there on the street, except Martina wanted to know what he'd been getting at with that future question.

She broke the kiss off, holding his face to keep it close to hers.

'Why are you askin' about the future?' she probed again.

'Oh, just curious.'

Martina shrugged. 'Don't know.'

'The way I see it,' Joey said, pulling her tighter against him, 'things keep on as they are now for a bit—you and me and the fam-i-ly—then in a while, all things going well, of course, maybe you and I could, oh, say, get a nice little flat or a little house where we could live…just the two of us…'

Her eyes flew wide open.

'We'd still visit here a lot, of course,' Joey said, clocking her face. 'We wouldn't stay away from the others, I just thought, you know, in time, it might be nice to have a place of our own where we wouldn't have people makin' brash comments every time we wanted to have a little kiss…'

'No, I wasn't worrying, love,' Martina said, laying her head against his shoulder, 'I was just…I hadn't really thought about that.' She had a quick think now, enjoying immensely what her mind conjured up. She wasn't quite ready to leave Kelsall Street yet, not when she'd only just been able to cast aside her inhibitions and doubts and allow herself to be adopted into the Boswell family, not when she was still coming to know the joys of a proper family life. But some day, some day, when they'd had a bit more time, when she'd had a bit more time to live at home and she and Joey had ironed out a few of the wrinkles that would inevitably soon start turning up in their budding relationship, the prospect of setting out to build a little nest of their own would be very lovely indeed. Not to mention, as he had implied, it would be nice to be able to curl up in bed beside Joey and fall asleep in his arms without somebody either wolf-whistling or being judgemental about their actions. Speaking of which, she'd have to make sure they forked out for one of those decent mattresses—she'd rather got used to having a comfortable night's sleep…

'Martiiiina,' Joey sang, pressing a gentle kiss to her temple. 'You've wandered off somewhere in your 'ead, haven't you?'

She shook her head, returning to reality.

'Sorry, love. I was a million miles away.'

'I noticed, yeah. Your eyes were very distant, they were. Would it be impertinent of me to ask where you went on your imaginary travels?'

'Oh, just,' Martina mused, 'to a distant daydream of the future.'

He bumped his shoulder against hers. 'And was I there?'

'Oh, you might've been, Mister Boswell, you might've been…'

Joey kissed her again, gently, softly, and slid down off the car.

'Come on, then, sweetheart. We'd better go in now.'

She followed him to the door, her arm linked with his.

'Are you extending me an invitation to stay tonight?' Joey asked as they stepped inside.

'Mm, I think not, love. After the fuss we caused this mornin', I think it'd be wise to be on our best behaviour for a little while.'

'Aww,' he sighed in disappointment, his breath tickling her ear. 'Perhaps you may be right there, sunshine. But just for company…I won't try anything…'

'No, we're not gonna risk it tonight, Joey,' she said firmly. 'Not even if there's nothin' in it. Not so soon. No-one would believe us if we told 'em it was innocent.'

'Okay, fair enough,' Joey kissed her temple, then the top of her head, squeezing her to him for a second. 'We don't want to aggravate everyone all the time, do we?'

'Quite right, love,' Martina said, 'quite right.'

They walked up the darkened staircase hand in hand, pausing outside Martina's bedroom door.

'Well, good night, then, dearest Martina,' Joey said, as though dropping her off after an ordinary date, as though they didn't live in the same house, and placing a sweet, ordinary-date, goodnight kiss on her lips.

'G'night, love,' she murmured, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him again.

The door across the landing creaked. Joey and Martina jumped apart.

'Your own rooms, NOW,' came Nellie's voice through the darkness, and the two of them fled.


It was an odd thing, the way people reacted to good fortune. There were phases of joy and of a thrilled disbelief and of extreme thankfulness all pounding against each other and turning up at different times. Martina seemed now, though, to have entered a phase of contentment, and she intended to enjoy it.

This is my home…this is my family, they chose me and I'm theirs and they're mine…

She sat down on the sofa beside Joey, smiling as his arm found its way around her and glancing happily around the parlour, to where Adrian was reciting the draft of a new poem to himself (sounded like it was entitled My Grandad's Chair), to where Jack was admiring a statue Joey had confided to her wasn't going to fetch him a profit, to where Billy was still drooling over a girl he'd seen for about thirty seconds this morning, from a million miles away, and was now convinced was going to be the new love of his life. Nellie was out there in the kitchen, thank you-ing on the phone, and Martina had shot her a wink when she'd ducked in there earlier to make herself some tea.

And Joey was holding her, was gazing at her with affection and there was a new charm on her bracelet he'd given her this morning, a little heart with an arrow through it to symbolise their love, and her future was no longer a big, menacing blank, it was mornings and evenings around the table, listening to the family banter she'd grown to love, it was going to work and coming home to embraces and inquiries about her day, it was spending quiet moments with Joey, and not-so quiet moments with all of them jabbering on around her, it was taking turns taking Grandad's tray and throwing pound notes in the pot and prayers and warmth and listening to arguments and finding ridiculous purchases in the parlour... it was a chaotic, but still somehow routine and dependable certainty, and Martina was loving every moment of it.

'D'you have to do that in here?!'Jack scowled, slamming his statue down on the coffee table just as Joey honed in to press a kiss to the corner of her mouth.

'And all that time,' Joey said, 'you were protestin' that we weren't acting on our feelings. Now we are…'

'And the whole world is sick of it! Can't you just sit there on the sofa and watch telly like normal people instead of watchin' each other? You've seen each other's faces before. You don't have to stare at them all bloody day.'

'And yet when you used to bring Marjorie Wainright round…' Joey grinned.

'Oh, but that was different, that was…'

'You?' Joey offered.

'Yeh…and that's just it. You've got love and I'm still failin' to chat up girls down the bank.'

'You mean you're jealous?' Martina chimed in.

'Of Joey? Nah…' But he was biting his lip. 'I can get girls, I'm not jealous of 'im …'

'You are…' Joey was enjoying this far too much.

'Oh, yeah? Well I'll show you, mate; I…'

'Oh, do we really need all this?' Adrian was looking up from his papers now, a cross expression on his face.

'You're just jealous an' all,' Billy butted into the conversation. 'What about when Carmen…'

'Not again! If I hear one more word about Carmen…'

'Well it did 'appen, are you forgetting?!'

'Oh, and what about Julie, then?!'

'Don't you mention that traitorous…that…that Jezebel to me!'

They were on their feet now as they hollered, and Joey was shouting at them to cut it and settle back down, and Nellie would soon be coming in to tell them off, no doubt, and the situation was all so wonderful in its mayhem that Martina just sat back on the sofa and enjoyed watching it unfold.

If anyone had been observing her, they might have found it odd that she was sitting there smiling while a family feud raged in front of her.

But Martina belonged with these people, and even when rowing, her heart swelled with love for them.

She'd got the Boswells, but not in the way she'd envisioned when she'd threatened them about it from the other side of the Social Security desk. She'd got them for life.

She'd got them to keep.

Everything that had crashed down on her when she'd first read that eviction notice had been lifted, and replaced with a joy she couldn't contain.

She was happy.