This fic is pretty close to being finished now! (Not everything will be 100% resolved, because that's not realistic for some of the situations, but I'm ending on a note of hope). Some reasonably big revelations will happen in this chapter, and some more general progression.
Anyway, usual housekeeping: I don't own Bread, original Joey and Aveline, no particular message about mental health, just a story. And the quote from Are You Being Served comes from Series 2 Episode 2, 'Cold Comfort.' And the song this chapter is named after and which is mentioned is also something I don't own.
They have a peaceful Christmas. Martina seems heartened by the festivity around her, by Belle's over-the-top enthusiasm (for someone who dresses like a ghoul, Belle has always been a cheery soul, especially at this time of year), by Nellie and Billy's visit, by Adrian and the kids' visit on Boxing Day, and Joey relishes every moment.
New Year's Eve goes equally well, Joey spending a fantastic few hours down the pub with his brothers, and they all end up having a few too many. Even Adrian, who's a lot more of a laugh with a few Guinness in him, drops his affected pomposity and sings at the top of his lungs with the rest of them, seeming more like the Jimmy he remembers from their childhood.
Joey stumbles home just in time to make midnight and practically falls forward into Martina's arms.
'Don't,' she ducks his attempt at a kiss. 'Not with breath on yer like that.'
'It's tradition,' Joey insists.
'So is working nine to five, but you've never kept that one.'
'You're only jealous 'cause you couldn't get pissed yourself.'
He's missed that a little bit. Martina drunk is rare but endearing; her blurry attempts at sternness are hilarious, and the brazen forwardness that often comes out isn't something he'd complain about either. He's been on the receiving end of some pretty spectacular seductions over the years because Martina's put a few away; fond memories all of them.
She points forcefully in the direction of the stairs. 'Go to bed. And if you're sick, Heaven knows I'm not the one who's gonna be cleanin' it up.'
Joey stumbles up to their room, pretends to be blacked out when she comes up herself, then ambushes her and drags her down for a snog.
'Oh, God!' Martina wrests herself free and cuffs him. 'Couldn't you have brushed yer teeth?!'
And so 2011 commences with her telling him off.
That's tradition as well.
So far so good.
You grow to look like your job, don't you, the cows in the queue for her counter used to drawl, filling the old DHSS with smoke and whinging at her. It might just be a trick of the mind, but Martina's noticed herself un-DHSS-ifying. Her voice is softer; no need to try and talk over someone shouting her down. Her fingers are losing the calluses she's had all those years, born of clutching her pen for dear life to contain her irritation; the RSI in her wrists from scribbling and typing case details seems to have cleared up. There's a little more colour in her cheeks, she squints less and blinks more; though she's been put through the wringer these past few months, her face has softened. She doesn't have to harden it and pretend to be impenetrable. She doesn't have to pull down a visor to get through each day at the DHSS.
Oh, God, she's started calling it the DHSS and all. She supposes that really does mean she's removed from it now, the fact that she's reverted to using its old name, become one of those people who ignores that it's the Jobcentre and was the DSS for a long time. She always tells Joey off for calling it that. She supposes being around him day in, day out was bound to rub off on her eventually.
Still. There are worse fates than picking up mild Joey Boswell character traits.
Doctor Daker's daft exercise isn't that bad this week; just think about a few things that she's thankful for. So she decides to get it over with, sits on the sofa with Fat Edgar half in her lap and considers.
She loves her husband, devious bastard that he is.
She loves her daughter, obnoxious little monstrosity that she is.
She loves her dog, though she would never let on.
She likes her house. Is still thrilled about it, in fact, even after sixteen years in it. She'd never expected to have something so beautiful to her name. Joey had let her choose it (from a list of his favourites, but no matter); they'd gone and bought furniture together (after a few squabbles over their differing tastes); they'd made this into a home.
She's got her Mam now; another chance.
And then there are the Boswells as well. God, if anyone told her, long ago, that she would consider the Boswell family one of the better things in her life, she would have told them to get their head checked. And yet they are.
Nellie, whose dislike of her softened after Annabelle was born, and with whom mutual respect developed after they realised their fierce protectiveness of Joey united them.
Freddie, who's not around much but is a laugh, who's always been kind to her, even if she doesn't approve of how he treats the others.
Billy (she's never going to call him Bill), well-meaning even if he is a bit simple, who was appreciative when she helped set him up with a premises for his sandwich business, who is generally friendly towards her, albeit tactless.
Adrian, with his crap poetry, always trying to educate her. He's still a bit afraid of her after all this time, but he was always on hand during Annabelle's early years to take care of her, and gave her the gift of cousins Belle loves like siblings. (Martina's got a soft spot for his youngest, Davey, herself. She'd spent a lot of time looking after him, growing to love his gentle, quiet affection. He's a nice antidote to Belle's brash behaviour sometimes.)
Aveline, who…well, she doesn't like Aveline that much, but Oswald is a good friend, and Ursula and Nick have always loved her dearly, and that makes Aveline tolerable.
And Jack. She doesn't speak to him that often, usually goes through Leonora, with whom she gets on surprisingly well, but Martina feels a fondness for Jack she doesn't for the other Boswells. Because she and Jack, in spite of having little in common, are on the same wavelength in some ways. She can empathise with him, coming home disappointed after yet another thing fell through for him – she's been there so often.
She thinks of some of the others, and lets herself drift through a phase of anger as well – counterintuitive to what she's supposed to be doing, but oh, well. She's more or less forgiven them, but part of her still can't believe Shifty killed himself, can't believe her dad gambled away a lot of the money her Mam saved, can't believe her family kept Roger from her or that Roger concealed himself from her for decades, or that so many of her claimants thought shattering her self-esteem in the name of their own selfish desires was justified.
But the only person she really, truly hates, she realises as she drifts further away from the point of the exercise, is Oscar Hartwell. Thinking of him sets brimstones of resentment alight inside her. It's not even jealousy. It was once, when she was pregnant with Annabelle. Not anymore. It's because after the decade of torment Roxy put him through, to see Joey suffer the same way again at the hands of Roxy's son is truly horrific. That hatred soon drifts, reawakening her resentment of Joey for letting himself be put through that again, for forcing her and Annabelle to be dragged into the middle of it. And that sets off a chain reaction, unleashing anger she didn't even know she had – about Joey not bothering to tell her he knew she was depressed, about Joey knowing for all these years what had become of Roger and not thinking to mention it.
And by the time Joey comes in, she's not calm, as she had hoped she would be after this exercise, but seething.
'Greeti—' Joey stops mid-trill when he sees her face. Heaven knows what it looks like. If it looks anything like it feels, it's probably terrifying.
Joey wrings his hands – he never seems to know where to put them in an awkward situation. His suavity drops a few degrees. He fiddles with the wedding ring on his left hand and the signet ring on his right, plays with the buttons on his cuffs, twiddles his thumbs.
'What's wrong with you, then?'
She can see his eyes darting about as he tries to work out what he's done recently to spark her ire. She's been in a good mood consistently for over a week.
But it isn't something he's done recently. It's everything he's ever done. And she doesn't even know where to begin explaining that.
'I need to talk to yer,' she tries anyway.
'What about?' Joey is apprehensive.
'Why,' Martina shuts her eyes, 'why didn't you tell me?'
'Tell you what, sweetheart?'
'You knew all these years what I was goin' through…even when I couldn't put a name to it. You knew,' she finds the words she needs, and the anger comes out with them. 'And you didn't say anything. For all you claim you care, you couldn't sit down and have one conversation with me about it until things reached boiling point, could you? Why didn't you care enough to do that?'
Joey looks befuddled.
'Where'd this come from?'
'Why?' Martina demands.
He opens his mouth.
'And don't give me that I won't be told anything rubbish. Why didn't you?'
He wrings his hands, grits his teeth. 'Look…'
Martina raises an eyebrow, sees him wince before he goes on.
'I didn't think you wanted to hear it. That's why.'
She eyes him suspiciously.
'I mean…I thought you needed to work it out for yourself. Perhaps I was wrong to do that, sweetheart. I thought it'd only do you more harm, that's all, and sometimes…sometimes you'd go through stretches of bein' cheerful and I'd think maybe everythin' was gonna be all right… I kept writin' it off. Because I didn't know what to do to help you, and it was easier sometimes to think it could be explained away as other things, that maybe you were just wary because of Shifty or just beaten down because of a hard day at work... I'm sorry, sweetheart…I should have talked to you. I know I should.'
It makes sense, she supposes, but it's not enough. Martina pushes.
'And why did you keep writing it off, I ask myself. Because for all you claim,' her voice is nasty now; she can't help it, 'you care, for all you claim I can trust you, when it comes down to it, I can't, can I? Your mind's only half on me. Because when it comes down to it, what I can offer you – what Annabelle and I are to yer – isn't enough for you, is it? It never 'as been.'
'What's brought this on, for God's sake?!'
She knows she's not being rational. She's leaping from grievance to grievance without any logical transition, but she doesn't care. She ignores Joey's interjection, continues as if he hasn't spoken.
'Because as soon as it was possible, you were off again, weren't yer, taking off after Oscar Hartwell and trying to revive that part of your life. It doesn't matter how unhappy you were with Roxy, how ill-treated you were, how much she made you hurt your family back in the day, how much Oscar was inevitably gonna do the same thing to you…you fell for it time and time again – and sometimes I can't help but wonder if you wanted to fall for it.'
'What d'you mean, I wanted to fall for it?' Joey splutters.
'You knew full well what was gonna happen to you if you enabled him. You chose self-inflicted suffering because you couldn't let go of a ridiculous pipe dream that somewhere out there you had a son –'
'– I thought we were over this!'
'You were over it, so obviously I just 'ad to forget about it, didn't I?
'I thought you knew, Martina,' he sounds a bit desperate now, 'when we talked about it the other night, that I'd let go of that idea. That I'd closed the book on it. That I knew it was harmin' me…and I thought you understood – you even said – '
' – Oh, yeah, you accepted it harmed you, but you seem to forget that everything you did, that destroying yourself that way didn't just hurt you – it was at my expense, and at Belle's expense – you left us in the lurch and worried for yer whenever he needed something – '
She's not sure what triggers it, but it's as if something in Joey snaps.
'All right, just cut it, now, Martina!' He hasn't shouted at her for a very long time. It startles her.
'You can't tell me, sweetheart, that it's never crossed your mind to drop everything for fam-i-ly when they need it? Even if they're someone that hurt you repeatedly? Even if it's someone who nearly destroyed yer?'
Martina's heart stops. Because she knows exactly what he's implying, and it's as if he's thrown a bucket of cold water over her head.
'Never occurred to you, did it, that abandonin' your parents for Roger's sake wasn't…oh, I don't know…exactly the same sort of thing I did for Roxy and Oscar? Don't you think perhaps enablin' Roger was, maybe just in some tiny sense…exactly the same as me enablin' me son? And perhaps takin' off to go and see him because he needed you was in some way…slightly similar to me takin' off because Oscar needed me? Perhaps it doesn't occur to you, little DHSS lady…' oh, he's furious, if he's calling her that now, 'for all your talk about my hypocrisy, you're far more of an 'ypocrite than I've ever been!'
Martina just stares at him, stunned into silence. He's given her a few hard emotional whacks, hitting all her sore spots, though the biggest sting is that it's bloody true. She can't even refute what he's saying.
'So don't you dare have a go at me for Oscar,' Joey hisses. 'Because you know, Martina – you know – had it been you in that situation, you would have done the same. And you did. You disappeared into thin air to go to Roger. Left me and Belle afraid for your life while you ran off to lick his wounds.'
'It's not –' Martina begins, but she can't get further than that. Because to say it's not the same would be a lie.
'And as for you askin' why I didn't care enough – I don't know how many more hoops I can jump through, Martina, to prove to you that I've done nothing but! God, yes, decades ago I was someone you couldn't trust because I was on the scrounge and you were handin' out the dole. And that's how it was, that was all. It was your job not to trust me, and it was my living to get what I could from you to help me fam-i-ly survive. But why does that mistrust still have to hang like a black cloud over everything we do?'
'In case you haven't noticed,' Martina snaps, 'I don't work there anymore.'
'Well how do you account for it then?!' Joey bellows back. 'If that's not the reason, then what is?! All I ever did to you, Martina was try and love yer… all I did was try and show you that!'
'It never made sense; I never understood it, that's why,' it's only when her voice breaks she realises she's crying. 'Why would you care, anyway? It's not as if I…'
It's not as if she…what? Is good enough? She can't put it into words exactly, but it drifts along those lines. A part of her has always felt that way. Nobody else has ever loved her enough to want just her, without wanting something else on the side. She doesn't qualify for unconditional love. Shifty wanted a place to stay and to hide his stolen trinkets, someone to take care of him, a receptacle for his lust now and then. Even her own brother used her, taking her money, her forgiveness, her goodwill in exchange for a bit of fraternal care. And remembering Joey running after Oscar all the time only reinforces the notion she's not enough for him either.
She thought she was over thinking this way. That she'd accepted it wasn't true. But something today has tipped her back off that cliff, and she can't control the thoughts exploding like fireworks in her brain.
'I don't know…' she tries again, 'if you needed someone after Roxy went or more benefits or you wanted a child…you have to want something from me or it doesn't make sense.'
'I don't believe what I'm hearing,' Joey's voice is low, dangerous. 'I don't believe it.'
Martina opens her mouth, but Joey gestures so viciously she shuts it again.
'Don't talk. You've done enough damage.'
In normal circumstances, being ordered to shut up like this would make Martina's blood boil. It would make her snap back, hit back with everything in her artillery. But these are not normal circumstances. She's already regretting what she's said, realising, now she's been shocked out of her mood, that she didn't mean a word of it. Not really. Her bloody insecurities have spoken too loudly on her behalf – and now her relationship with Joey is on the edge of something dangerous, something irreversible if she doesn't tread carefully.
'If you need me to list a hundred things I love about you, Martina, I can – but I shouldn't have to. Because I show it every single day, Martina. Every day. I've not stopped showin' it since the moment you came back into me life. And if you still can't see that, then p'raps we're just ploughing concrete here, sunshine.'
Martina's adrenaline spikes so sharply the whole room spins.
'Don't say that,' she pleads.
Joey rakes a hand through his hair, teeth gritted in frustration.
'God, it's been seventeen years and I'm still talkin' to the same stubborn little girl who won't accept I love her. Jesus! I thought we'd be past all that by now! It never crossed me mind, sweetheart, that after seventeen bloody years, after all we've been through together, you'd still – God,' he says again, his breath hissing out of him. 'I can't talk to you right now, Martina. I can't. I – just – can't – believe this.'
He turns away from her, strides to the door, tension radiating through his body with every step he takes.
It reminds of her of the day she realised she was in love with him. She'd fled their dinner together, terrified by the revelation, and found herself in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Joey had run after her, sheltered her from the cold and the rain, done his best to keep her warm and dry and reassure her everything was going to be all right. And she had still had a go at him, slung every possible defence in her repertoire at him until he was hurt enough to back off.
She's always been determined not to let Joey love her. She's not even sure why, given she wants his love more than anything. Some strange, self-destructive compulsion in her still resists it, even now.
She doesn't want that anymore, though. She's sick of her faulty defence mechanisms attacking Joey, forcing him away when she needs him the most.
'Joey, I – '
He hesitates, turns back to her, eyebrows raised almost threateningly. She can see his jaw throbbing. He's angry, the kind of angry that suggests he's been severely rattled, that usually compels him to leave for a while, disengage, sit in his Jag or drive aimlessly until he's cooled down. She usually lets him. It's what he needs, and yet she can't bear it right now. She wants to be selfish.
It sounds pitiful. She doesn't know what she's trying to convey by saying it. Just doesn't want him to leave the room.
'I want you.'
Joey scrutinises her face for a second. And then something in him softens behind his outward anger; he crosses the room, sits down beside her, pulls her into his lap. He cradles her to him, crushing in his embrace, his stroking of her hair almost aggressive.
'I am not gonna hurt you, Martina,' Joey growls at her, even as he's caressing her, comforting her. 'And I'm not goin' anywhere. Get it into your head, okay? I'm sick of sayin' it.'
He's practically in tears himself now, he's still ferociously angry with her, and yet she understands why. Understands, in a burst of clarity, that this hasn't been easy on him either. That she hasn't been easy on him. She's led him on a merry dance, trying to stay on her good side, and he goes far beyond what many people would put up with to stay strong for her. He deserves to be frustrated once in a while. He can't magically be expected to cope all the time just because she can't.
The startling realisation comes that this conversation has been years in the making. Decades, even. She's carried it round with her all this time – and so has Joey. And now it's gone, out the way, Martina feels a weight she didn't even know she was carrying is gone. She's had it out with him, every last little hurt. He's thrown his worries and insecurities out there as well, all their separate and combined fears projectiles they've flung at each other.
And in spite of the emotional carnage lying scattered around them, somehow they've come out the other side clinging to each other for dear life.
And she doesn't care that he's angry with her, just as long as he's still here.
'Love doesn't have to make sense, Martina,' he shudders against her; he's crying too now. 'I wish you'd stop tryin' to find some horrible way to explain it. There's no devious meaning behind it. It just is.'
'I know,' she whispers with feeling.
'Why did you say all that, then? Why?' He's gripping her too tightly now; it hurts.
'I had to get rid of it.'
'How'd you mean?' she can hear the confusion in his voice.
'I hadn't made peace with yer. I thought I had, and yet…it was all still bottled in there. And I had to get it out to go on.'
Joey's touch is suddenly gentler, his caresses softer. He understands. He's still hurt, but he recognises the necessity of what just happened.
'And is it all out? Now?'
She shudders out a sigh. 'Think so.'
Joey kisses her painfully hard.
'Good, 'cause if you ever say that to me again, Martina, I'll thrash yer. I'm not going in circles with yer again. I've had it with all this.'
It's an empty threat and they both know it, but Joey is trying to convey the seriousness of it all. He can't cope with attacks like that. It's tearing him apart, the thought that she still mightn't believe he loves her. He needs her to stop closing her barriers to him every time it gets hard – they have to stay open, no matter how insecure she's feeling. If they're going to get through this together, that's what needs to happen.
And that's a frightening concept, no matter how far she thinks she's come.
But she wants to do it, she really does. She doesn't want to keep hurting him.
'I love you,' she squeezes him tighter to herself, feeling his arms constrict around her as well.
'I know that,' Joey whispers into her hair. 'I just hope that you know it as well.'
It's several minutes before either of them moves.
It's a strange old life, Joey thinks, loving someone who's being treated for depression. There are ups. Then there are downs. Then in the midst of some of the darkest, downest periods, there are sudden ups that surprise him.
She's got another appointment this afternoon, and Martina's getting restless and irritable as she always does. She still hates going to the psychologist, even though she often comes back feeling okay now, sometimes even a bit better. She still doesn't like being vulnerable in front of people or letting her emotions out, because it means she has to let them take her for a while.
They don't always row, not like they used to, but Joey doesn't want to take the risk. It hasn't been a week since their explosive argument; he's not keen on another, no matter how mild. He's got an idea today.
'What are you plottin' over there?' Martina looks up from her sulk on the sofa when she sees him come in, the colourful bundle in his arms. It had taken him ages to collect his bounty, going on a hunt round the house over the past few days, and he's no idea how many of these things he's got.
'You've got all these crocheted squares you've made over the years and just abandoned. You should do summat with them.'
He dumps them all over her, just to hear the annoyed noise she makes.
Martina pushes one off her head.
'What, you mean get rid of them?'
'I was thinkin' more make summat with them. Join them all up. You've got enough there to make a good big blanket for us for next winter.'
Martina's eyes narrow.
'Are you giving me homework?!'
'I am, yes,' says Joey. She needs external motivation to do things she enjoys; he's going to give it to her. It was one of his promises to her; he intends to keep it. 'You've got skills in this, sweetheart. You could use them to create something, make summat meaningful. No need to sit around starin' at the wall.'
'Mm,' she looks at the huge pile of squares, her own beautiful handiwork, though she doesn't appreciate them as such. 'Maybe.'
He presses one of the squares into her hands, curls her fingers around it. 'Do it.'
She gives him a little glare, as she always when he orders her do something for her own self-care, but he sees her relent, get down on her knees on the floor and start laying the squares out in front of her.
The sight of her actually doing something creative makes Joey's heart melt a little, but not so much as when he returns from the kitchen with freshly-made tea to see her utterly absorbed, organising her squares into piles by colour, and hears, to his surprise, a little nightingale-like noise.
She's singing to herself, a song he recognises from the past but can't quite remember. He hasn't heard her sing in a long time, not since Belle was little and she'd do all the Christmas carols with her, and even then, she was always a bit half-arsed with it, a bit self-conscious. And he doesn't remember her ever singing to herself before. Not once in nearly sixteen years of marriage. She's relaxed now and it's happening naturally, and her voice, though a little bit out of key, is soft and lovely.
He comes closer and sits beside her on the floor, ears on stalks listening for the words, and he works it out. Chanson D'amour.
'Je t'adore…each time I hear…'
'Rat-a-tat-a-tat,' he trills in her ear.
She elbows him, belts up in embarrassment.
'Aw, don't stop. It was nice, you doin' that.'
'No, it was. I've never heard you singin' to yourself before.' He wraps his arms around her, squeezes her shoulders. 'Happy little you.'
'Not – happy.'
Joey sighs. 'I know, sweetheart. But…it's like little bits of you that have been gone are comin' back now and again. Gradual, like. Bits you've lost for a very long time. Even bits from before I met yer, that I've never seen before. Don't let that slip away, sweetheart; it's nice to see.'
Her hair's tied in a messy knot on top of her head, exposing the little curl he loves on her neck. He fiddles with it as she works.
He ignores, her, pressing a kiss to the back of her neck.
Martina shakes her head, keeps on sorting, resigns herself to being caressed by him.
'So,' Joey says, watching Martina put a group of pinkish squares together in a pile, 'like that song, do you?'
'I think I did once.'
'When it was popular. I would've been, what? Seventeen or eighteen? It's the last song I can remember really liking.'
'Well we've got a start, haven't we? You have got a taste in music somewhere in there. Even if it's…questionable.'
Martina elbows him again.
'Well, it's better than Belle's, I'll give you that. At least that's a cheerful song, even if it is crap.'
'Want to try for three?' Martina's elbow is poised to strike again.
'Oh, go on then.'
Martina gapes at him in surprise. Joey knows all too well that playing the shock card makes it easy to get one over on her.
'You want me to hurt yer?'
'No,' Joey grins, watches her seethe, 'I just wanted to see that look on your face.' He's laughing as he grabs her round the waist, pulling her against him, and then she's laughing as well, a light in her eyes he sees more and more these days.
She still grumbles when it gets to half past one and he tears her away from the squares to go to her appointment, but she goes with him without having to be dragged.
She spends most of the session debriefing on her row with Joey. It's altered things somehow – although, she's surprised to find, it's altered them for the better.
'It's as if for the first time,' Martina can't look Doctor Daker in the eye, embarrassed by her admission, 'I'm not holding a grudge against him anymore. But God, it took a bloody catastrophe to get there. I was worried I'd lost him for a minute.'
'And why is that?'
'I've never seen him so…wounded.' She cringes saying it, admitting she'd dug the knife in until Joey had bled. 'He couldn't believe I still had that in me.'
'And why did you?'
There was a time when she had been irritated by Doctor Daker's constant probing. When she'd clamped her gob shut and kept herself from revealing too much. She's long past that now.
'I always felt it was too good to be true,' she sighs. 'I mean…it just didn't make sense – what I was seeing. Joey was always a devious bastard when I encountered him at work and then… to see him being so kind to me…'
'You couldn't believe there wasn't an ulterior motive.'
It's awful to admit, but…
'Yeah.' Martina lowers her head, ashamed. 'I thought I was past all that…it was always there, though. In the back of my mind. I never really got to grips with the idea that the Joey Boswell who loves me is the same Joey Boswell who used to try and charm me to get what he wanted.'
Doctor Daker half-smiles at her.
'And what about all the times you've sat there telling me how the people who claimed from you had you down as a nasty piece of work, and treated you as such? You kept telling me you wished they'd see that was your job, and what you were doing to survive – that it wasn't you.'
'Yeah, all right,' Martina shakes her head. 'I take the point.'
'I took it then and all. I was aware of it, you know. What I was doing. What I was accusing 'im of. I just didn't know how to stop meself until it was out of me system. And I had to get rid of it no matter what.'
'Good to see you facing up to some of those unrealities in your head. Taking them down.'
'Oh, yeah? Done something right, have I? Does this mean I'll be free of you soon?'
'I wouldn't get your hopes up,' Doctor Daker says, his smile kind even as he's teasing her. 'I think you and I will be seeing a great deal more of each other yet.'
'Oh, God,' Martina moans, rolling her eyes.
Funny thing is, though, this doesn't seem as devastating as it would have a while ago. Either their bloody sessions are actually starting to help, or she's just getting acclimatised to them.
She'll sort of miss him, she supposes, when she graduates to a stage where she doesn't need him anymore.
Leaving her job has been cathartic in a lot of ways, but it opens the door to something Martina wasn't expecting to experience – boredom.
The last time Joey had a daytime job and left her on her own, he'd come back to find her in tears, having fallen into the mental traps of her own making without anything to distract her. That was before she'd found a medication that worked for her though, before she started actually responding to therapy. She's feeling pretty self-possessed this time, and she's determined to keep it together today and make good use of her solitude.
She cleans the kitchen, puts a few loads through the washing machine (having a husband who predominantly wears black and white and a daughter who predominantly wears black and red makes sorting the washing an easy task), cleans out the dog dirt from the back garden. She has a bath, gets some Hoovering done, dusts anything and everything.
By midday she's at a loss. The house is spotless. She's got nothing to do. Martina supposes this is where interests and hobbies come in handy. What else do you do all day when you're not working, stressing about work or despairing about one problem or another? She could crochet but she's not really in the mood. She's pulled a couple of rows together on her blanket, but she's got to make a couple more blue squares to balance it out, and she's procrastinating. She's never made them with a purpose before.
She takes out Joey's laptop, her own work one having been relinquished when she resigned (and good riddance) and has a look at a few job listings, but even considering putting in an application makes her feel a bit sick. She's not ready yet. She closes the laptop again.
When Joey walks in at half past one, Martina's so relieved she pounces on him.
'If I'd known I'd get a welcome like this,' Joey chuckles after she's kissed him ferociously, 'I'd have come home earlier. What's brought this on, eh?'
'Boredom,' Martina says, twisting closer, wrapping her arms around his waist.
'I would also have accepted sheer joy at the return of my handsome husband,' Joey teases, 'but I'll take it.'
She has to hand it to Joey, he cures her sense of boredom exceptionally well.
'Whatcha do with yourself all day?' he asks her afterwards, holding her against his chest and kissing the top of her head.
'Nothing,' Martina mutters. She adjusts the blankets around them, nestles closer. He's warm, and it's a bit chilly in their bedroom, and she wants nothing more than to feel his arms around her for eternity. Funny, a few months ago, she'd found him holding her irritating, stressful even. He's done her head in more than ever since she started treatment, pushing her about, playing the bad guy and forcing her to attend her sessions and take her medication when she doesn't feel like it and generally driving her up the wall – and yet right now, she doesn't want him anywhere but by her side.
'You're not going back out tomorrow, are yer?'
'Fraid so, sweetheart. 'Fraid so.'
'We'll find summat to keep you goin',' Joey hugs her to him. And then he pulls back, looks at her, and she can practically see a little lightbulb appear over his head.
'You wouldn't be interested in givin' me a hand, would you? I need a second person to pull this job off. Me mate backed out and our Jack's not free.'
Martina's mouth drops open.
'What, you mean come with you on one of your shady jobs? You want me to help you with that?! After I spent thirty years workin' against the likes of your devious little schemes?'
Joey grins. 'Yeah.'
Martina rolls her eyes, but she can feel her mouth trying to form a smirk. And she's surprised by her own response.
'All right, then.'
Joey is thrilled. 'We'll make a proper Boswell of you yet, sunshine,' he says, leaning over her and kissing her, 'we'll make a proper Boswell of you yet.'
'I wouldn't count on that, love.' She chuckles as Joey kisses her neck, hands sliding down her body, and she's losing her train of thought and slipping back into the bliss of a few moments ago when Joey sits up suddenly.
'It's three o'clock.' He leaps out of bed.
'Oh, God.' Martina is up and by his side in seconds, helping him do up his shirt. Good thing Joey noticed or Belle might have come home to something she'd rather not witness.
They're downstairs and decent by the time Belle wanders in, leaving a trail behind her as her school things fall out of her satchel one by one. Martina would normally tell her to pick up after herself, but right now she's so happy to see her she simply gets up and wraps her arms around her until Belle whines out a gerooofff and retreats up to her room.
Years of sitting behind a social security counter, pitting her wits against everything thrown her way, have made Martina into a natural negotiator. She not only talks the bloke paying Joey out of trying to rip him off, but she bumps up their fee as well, and it's surreal seeing prim and proper little DHSS lady Martina making dodgy negotiations, but there's something about the situation that makes Joey smile. She'd been a pretty good little partner in – not crime per se; today's job was technically legal, just tax-free – a good little partner to work with, had followed his instructions pretty well, and they got the job done in record time.
'Don't think I'm gonna help you do yer dirty work all the time, Mister Boswell,' Martina says as they get back in the Jag. 'I just needed something to distract me from me boredom.'
'Fancy a trip to Adrian's? We'll get you bored enough to agree to help next time.'
'Don't try it. If I 'ave to listen to another dreary poem at your behest, the outcome'll more likely be physical pain inflicted on your squashy parts.'
But she's smiling as she does up her seatbelt, and Joey realises something profound. Martina has always claimed to know what he's up to, but for him to actually take her with him, introduce her to his world this way, has pulled down a barrier he didn't know was there.
'What are you smirking at?' Martina demands.
'Oh, just…' Joey chuckes to himself. 'Ponderin' the mysteries of life, sweetheart.'
He sees her arch an eyebrow in his mirror.
'All these times we could have worked together instead of against each other. You know, with your charm and my academics…'
'—we already live in Gateacre.'
'—we could go into business together,' Joey finishes instead.
'Don't get yer hopes up, Mister Boswell,' Martina shakes her head. 'We are not going into business, so get that idea out of yer 'ead before it makes a home in there. '
But as he's steering them toward home she reaches out, closes her hand over his on the steering wheel and smiles at him, the look on her face heart-meltingly lovely.
'What are you up to?'
Martina eyes her daughter suspiciously. Annabelle is pretending to read, but her eyes haven't been on her book this whole time. She's watching Martina in a way that sends suspicion running down the ex-DHSS lady's spine like a shiver.
'Stop it,' Martina chides.
'Stop starin' at me. What d'you want?'
'Will you show me how to do that?'
Martina frowns. 'Do what?'
Annabelle jerks her head in the direction of Martina's hands.
'Yeah.' Belle nods too eagerly.
'Are you trying to get out of readin' that book?'
'It's dull,' Annabelle whines.
'You'll have to read a lot of dull things in your life, love. You'd better get used to it.'
She may as well not have spoken. Belle's come over and is sitting beside her now.
'Annabelle, just read the bloody book and get it over with.'
'Yeah, but it won't be over with,' Belle grumbles. 'I'll have to do an essay on it, and then I'll have an exam on it…'
'Then you'd better get it read, hadn't yer?'
Annabelle looks at her with pleading eyes.
'Oh, all right. Don't turn that Boswell manipulation on me. I'll show yer – for half an hour, mind – and then you are going to sit there in that chair until you've read at least three chapters of that book, even if it means you're there til midnight. Do you hear me?'
'Great.' Belle snuggles closer to her, and Martina knows she's trying to procrastinate but she senses there's something more to it. Belle's been worried about her. Martina has tried her best to hide the worst of this from her, but Annabelle (Boswell that she is) wasn't born yesterday. She's seen her Mam suffer through the side effects of four different antidepressants, heard the rows between her and Joey, spotted Martina crying even when she's tried to hide it. And she wants to be with her now, spend time with her. Do something nice together.
Martina shakes her head for appearances' sake, but she pulls a spare hook from her bag and a bit of wool, starts a square off, shows Belle how to do a double stitch and helps her finish off a round.
'Did you learn this from your Mam as well?'
'I did.' Martina is thoughtful. 'I was prob'ly your age, you know.'
She used to sit and sew with her Mam as well, around the same time. She'd been trying to give her something to do, Martina realises now, to make her feel better because Roger had just been chucked out of home. And Martina had tried, in her way, to help her when she'd taken in extra sewing to help pay off Martina's dad's latest gambling losses.
'God, I'd forgotten,' she murmurs to herself. It's strange, she'd always thought you were supposed to block out bad memories, but it seems all these years she'd been blocking out the nicer things.
'You know why that is, don't you?' Belle has a grin in her voice and Martina knows a facetious comment is coming her way. Presumably about her age.
'Annabelle, if you say what I think you're gonna say, you're in trouble.'
Belle inches closer and leans against her side. Martina is aware the half hour is nearly up, that she's supposed to be reminding Belle of her end of the bargain and pushing her to get her schoolwork done, but the moment is so nice that she lets it go, kisses the top of Annabelle's head and pretends not to notice when Belle keeps going and ignores the time.
Joey comes in two hours later and they're still at it.
Martina insists, whenever Joey brings it up, that she is not happy. It's just that her brain won't let her focus on being miserable enough to stop functioning. And so she might as well get on with it.
Joey doesn't really understand this, but whatever's happening seems to be a good thing, as far as he's concerned. It's as if petals of her are opening up, and Joey watches her blossom tentatively, stumbling shakily in the right direction. He's not sure why, but he thinks that row they had – explosive, destructive, no punches pulled, no words minced, everything laid out excruciatingly – has somehow brought them round a corner. She's stopped fighting him – and having the two of them on the same page, united rather than divided, working towards something together rather than battling over it, is a good start. And so Joey keeps gently guiding her and finds himself rejoicing in the little things, the little ways that something – therapy, antidepressants, a general purging of everything that's been eating at her – is starting to breathe flutters of life into her again.
She laughs at the television for the first time…ever, one night, and it surprises Joey so much he nearly falls out of his seat.
An old Are You Being Served? episode is on, which he was barely paying attention to, which he didn't realise Martina was actually watching and not just leaving on in the background until now.
'May I enquire what has amused Miss Martina so?'
'It's you,' she grins, inclining her head towards the television.
'What, Mister Lucas?'
'Because of the oil shortage we're using more coal to make electricity. And we need the electricity to boil our electric kettles to make the hot water for our hot water bottles to keep our feet warm. If you wear these novelty foot warmers, you don't need a hot water bottle to keep your feet warm, thereby saving electricity and saving the fuel our country so desperately needs.'
'Oh, God,' Martina is laughing again. 'Reminds me of when you came to me counter, and you'd make up some elaborate little excuse to explain why you'd racked up such an enormous heating bill…Joey…he's you! I never noticed it before, but…God, Joey…he's just a fictional version of you!'
'Where do you get these ideas from?!'
Martina flops sideways into him, still laughing, her head in his lap, and though Joey would prefer to argue with her for the sake of his image, he hasn't seen her this happy about nothing in particular in a long time, and so he lets himself laugh at his own expense too.
A couple of weeks later, she brings him a scarf she's crocheted for him. It's pretty basic, all one colour, but the love in it is so powerful, and the fact that she's actually sat down and made something of her own free will is so overwhelmingly wonderful that Joey puts it on with pride.
'I didn't expect you to actually wear it,' Martina rolls her eyes.
'I like it, though,' Joey insists. 'I look the business in it.'
She rolls her eyes at him again, but he can see she's made up.
She decides to get baptised, even though she still believes the basic principles of Christianity are the same regardless of which church you go to. Still, it would be nice to choose a side, to belong to one or the other after years of sitting on the fence. And of course, Martina chooses Catholicism, because despite always saying she was out to get the Boswells, for many years now she's stood beside them, as one of them. It's nice for that to be official.
She hadn't banked on the fact that that would mean relentless hugs and kisses and exclamations from Nellie Boswell. Her mother-in-law is overjoyed she's finally seen sense and starts banging on about how Joey should get an annulment from Roxy and they should get married again properly, now Martina is a real Catholic.
(They both ignore her. Joey had his marriage to Roxy annulled on the quiet almost as soon as the divorce came through; not difficult given Roxy had been married already; but had chosen to marry Martina in a Proddy church anyway. She doesn't tell Nellie this, though. If Joey hasn't mentioned it, he has his reasons.)
She'd intended to keep it a small, intimate affair, just Joey, Belle and both their Mams, but Nellie Boswell hearing means that word spreads and every damn Boswell turns up anyway, because Heaven forbid they're apart for one afternoon.
Martina feels the water on her head and something strange comes over her. She raises her head, feeling the touch of something holy and wonderful, and sees her family – her bloody enormous, infuriating but bloody wonderful family – all around her, and suddenly she realises what Joey was talking about earlier. She'd never experienced it before, but now, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, she understands.
Some days, it just feels good to be alive.
Adrian quietly takes her aside outside the church afterwards.
'If you need a sponsor when you get Confirmed,' he says, touching her shoulder, which surprises her a bit, because Adrian never touches her, 'I'd be happy to.'
Martina hadn't even thought that far ahead, but she's moved by the gesture. She and Adrian have been forced to interact over the years, through Joey, through the fact that Davey and Belle were inseparable growing up. They have a wary camaraderie, but it's never really graduated into anything more than that, namely because Adrian refuses to see her as anything more than a terrifying dragon out to get him, even when the other Boswells have eventually accepted she isn't.
Now, though. There's a different look in his face, one she's never seen before.
'And I thought you didn't like me,' she says just to clock his reaction. Much to her surprise, he doesn't flinch.
'It wasn't a question of not liking, it was…' he can't think of how to put it tactfully, 'caution.'
'But since you've left the DWP, you're…different. You're more…' he makes a gesture with his hands.
'– happy.' Adrian smiles at his own choice of words, even though they're not particularly intellectual or poetic. 'You're at peace with yourself.'
'I think that's a bit of a leap,' Martina says. 'I just want to…make the most of the life I have left.'
'See, things like that, you'd have never said before. You were so clouded in your own resentment, it was as if you couldn't see the beauty in anything.' Adrian kisses her, which startles her a little. 'Welcome to the beautiful world.'
'It's okay,' Martina says stubbornly. 'Would be better without poetics in it.'
'And here's me getting my hopes up you might stop making fun of my poetry evenings.'
Martina grins in spite of herself. 'That'll never happen, love.'
'Joey was so proud of you today,' Adrian says. 'I could see it just shining from his face.'
'Just because I decided not to be a Proddy?' she teases.
'It's more than that. It's…acceptance. Of the life you have. Of him. Of God. Of us…the family…that you're one of us...it's trust. He likes all that, does Joey. All he's ever wanted for you is to see you happy in life.'
And then he hugs her and pulls back to shake her hand, and this is all becoming a bit too much for her, all this deep and meaningful stuff.
'I know,' she says weakly.
Adrian mercifully moves on, but then the rest of the family descend upon her one by one, so she doesn't really have a chance to step back and reflect.
'You've left the club, kid,' Jack says when he claps her on the back.
'The life is bleak and meaningless club. You were like me. Disillusioned. Now the sun's shining out your arse.'
'Well, I'm on antidepressants, you see. The world looks a bit different when you're being drugged into thinkin' it does.'
'Good for you, kid.' He claps her on the shoulder. 'Good for you.'
Jack shrugs away her concern. 'Ticker's fine for the moment. Leonora's got me on all this healthy crap still. It's so clean you can feel your arteries wake up again, you know. God I miss food. Real food, not rabbit food. Of all the things I could've got from me dad, it had to be this.'
'You're alive, though.' Martina touches his arm.
'You really are on drugs, aren't yer? Not like you to be sayin' appreciate life.'
'Yeah, well,' Martina shrugs. 'Do us a favour, Jack, won't yer?'
'Favour?' Jack is visibly taken aback. 'Depends what it is.'
'Talk to Joey about yer heart. And, er…' she smiles wryly, 'play it up a bit. What it felt like. Give 'im a bit of a scare. He eats so much cake, I'm worried he'll be next if he doesn't take a bit more care.'
'He looks okay. Bit o' middle aged spread, but he's not fat.' Jack smiles wryly down at himself; several stone heavier than he used to be. 'Not like me.'
'Yeah, but what do his insides look like?' Martina's mouth twists. 'His arteries? I do worry.'
'I hear yer, kid. I hear yer.'
Oswald comes up afterwards, and she's not surprised to see him, even though he's had to come over to the other side for a day. Despite the fact that Aveline misguidedly thinks they flirt and has never forgiven Martina for it, the truth is, Oswald been an incredibly good friend to her over the years. Being close to God all the time makes him understanding and empathetic.
'No hard feelings, vicar,' she teases, holding out her hand. 'It's not you, it's me.'
Oswald shakes it, laughing to himself.
'And you know as well as I do that you'll still be down in my territory on Christmas Eve.'
Martina smiles, because she will. What she believes hasn't changed. Oswald is one of the few people who understood that. It's why she wanted him to be the one to marry her and Joey in the first place.
'You're not going to change. You've just acquired… a club membership now.'
'And you know as well as I do,' she says, her smile stretching, 'that if I have to go down one path, I'm going with my husband.'
This last comment is as much for Aveline's benefit as anything. Martina knows she's standing behind Oswald, quietly cross, even though it's plain as day there's nothing in this conversation worth being suspicious about.
'I wouldn't expect anything less of you.'
'Oh, for God's sake, Aveline,' Martina says eventually, when she's had enough of Aveline's glaring. She embraces her, whether Aveline likes it or not, and enjoys the squeak her sister-in-law produces. She may not be a civil servant anymore but when it comes to frightening people, she's still got it.
'For the last time, I'm not interested in good boys. Far too dull. If I were, d'you think I would've married Joey?'
'Eh – what are you insinuating, there, sweetheart?' She hears Joey's voice in her ear, feels his arms wrap around her waist from behind.
'You know what I'm insinuating.' Martina leans back into him, mainly just to prove a point. 'Crook.'
'Eh,' Aveline's eyes widen, 'Our Joey's a good, decent, upright, lovin' man!' She's nodding her head as she enunciates each word, her ridiculous hairstyle bobbing. She's undoubtedly about to launch into some anecdote about the little animals Joey has rescued over the years, her usual testament to Joey's goodness (Martina's heard it all before).
'You think I don't know that?'
'You think I don't see every day how good and loving our Joey is?'
This comment is for Joey, even though it's directed at Aveline. A little reminder that she knows he cares.
Joey turns her around to face him, pulls her tighter into his arms, and Oswald, sensing the beginnings of a tender moment, tactfully guides Aveline away.
'Our mams seem to be gettin' on, don't they?'
Martina nods in agreement, stealing a glance at them. They're immersed in conversation, a surreal sight. Belle's got an arm round each of them, and seems to be obnoxiously trying to insert herself into their discussion.
'I may have done something devious to bring about that one,' she admits.
'Oh, yeah? And what did you do that's so devious?'
'Your Mam's always known one of me parents was Catholic and one was Protestant…I may have been a bit misleading about which way round that was.'
'Martina Boswell,' Joey's chide sounds too affectionate to be sincere, 'makin' dodgy deals with me, twisting the facts to your advantage…all these years you were chastising me for supposedly bein' devious, and all the time you aspired to be me, didn't yer?'
'Don't feed that ego of yours prematurely, Mister Boswell,' she scoffs, though she can't resist embracing him again. 'Just because I've let me standards slip does not mean I've been harbouring any secret admiration for your sneaky little schemes. And because I know you're about to bring it up again, I am not going into business with you. '
Joey laughs into the top of her head. 'Methinks she doth protest too much.'
He's got her stupid scarf on again, she notices, over the top of his suit and coat.
'That'll need washing at some point, you know.'
'Then I'll wash it, sunshine. I'll wash it.'
'I didn't make it for you to ponce around in all the time. It was just symbolic.'
'Oh, I know. And I am symbolically wearin' it as a gesture of my undying love.'
'And I might give you a symbolic clout round the chops if you don't stop doing me head in.' Martina lunges at him. 'Take it off.'
'Resorting to physical force, I see. Just another sign you will never win an argument against me.'
Martina shakes her head fondly. She can feel the warmth in her smile (it may just be the sun on her face, but she'd like to think it's her, all the same).
'Oh, I might, Mister Boswell, one day. I might.'
Yeah the row could have been a chapter by itself but...I sort of like that there was a theme running through this one of her relationship with Joey repairing, so I thought I'd keep it all together for the full effect.
Only one more chapter to go now.