I feel so guilty about killing Shifty in ATEOTD, and I feel guilty that I'm going to be quite cruel to Martina in my next (and final) ATEOTD fic (plus it still needs a massive edit), so to make up for all the sad, depressing stuff I've been writing, I thought I'd cut through the treacle with another silly, fluffy Joetina I've had sitting around for a while.
Also, I'm sick and they made me get the test, so I'm now stuck at home for the foreseeable future until the results come back. Yay. So I wanted to post something a bit cheerier/a reminder of when the world was still okay. Hopefully it will be again. It's sad what's happening in Italy and the rest of the world. Even here pretty much everything has closed and loads of people have lost their jobs. Hopefully this all gets better soon.
Set during the Series 4 Christmas special. This one's a bit cracky and silly and the drunken letter thing is very cliched, but oh well. Also, it probably goes without saying, but the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in Joey's letter are intentional.
I knew you wouldn't make it. Gone home. Thanks for the ride. – Roxy.
Joey crushed the note in his fist, feeling a lump stick in his throat, a prick in his chest.
Why, Roxy? He'd found himself asking that question ever since she left him the first time, and yet it never seemed to be answered. Every time he thought they were finally getting somewhere, history repeated itself; he helped his family, even in just a minor way, and he was watching her dust again as she stormed off in a huff. He'd thought Rome would have been different. A new start, a clandestine romantic minibreak to breathe life back into their relationship, and yet five minutes of lateness had destroyed that again.
Joey drove the minibus recklessly back to the Hotel Flaminio, the note still crunched between his fingers.
Now what? He'd had a romantic evening planned, and now if he didn't want to end up wandering the streets alone, looking like a pathetic sod while everyone else was out soaking up the atmosphere with someone special, the only other option was to wander around with Adrian, pushing Grandad around in a wheelchair.
He supposed that would have to do. Joey didn't want to waste holiday time alone in his room. He rang Adrian from reception, made the arrangements, and headed upstairs to try and clean himself up and calm down before he showed his face to anyone else.
His hotel room seemed empty, miserable. He glanced over at the bottles of red on his bedside table – one he'd bought for dinner with Roxy tonight, the other as a souvenir for himself, both fantastic Italian wines he'd tried and loved and had been excited to share with her – a terrible idea taking hold in his mind.
Well, why shouldn't he? After all, he'd just suffered a massive disappointment. He deserved to indulge himself.
Joey uncorked the bottle that had been intended for him and Roxy, pulled out one of the long-stemmed glasses he'd had ready to take to the Hotel Roma, and poured himself a drink, going right up to the very rim of the glass.
The velvety taste of the wine on his tongue calmed him, and so Joey took another sip, then a bigger one, and then another, finishing the glass more quickly than he intended.
For God's sake, Roxy. Why couldn't you have waited five more minutes? He downed another glass, shuddering. He had a good mind to phone her, international charges be damned, and let her have it. After he'd gone to all that effort to arrange everything, paid for her ticket – why did she have to go off in a huff the minute he had anyone else to take care of; fly herself out of the sodding country just to prove a point, why couldn't she ever understand…
No. He'd go one better than a phone call. He had a good mind to write her a letter, pouring his feelings out for her to read; she couldn't twist his words when they were in front of her in black and white. He'd let her know exactly how hurt he was, how she'd truly crossed a line, and perhaps it would only serve to extend her silent treatment of him, but it was worth a try.
Joey pulled out his musical pen and reached for the hotel stationery in his bedside drawer.
Hmm. The hotel's logo was glaring up at him from the bottom of the page, letters swirling in his vision, which was starting to blur now he was onto his third – or was it fourth? – glass. As Joey pressed his finger to it, another person's words wafted into his mind, and the idea to craft a very different letter.
Hotel Flaminio, Rome. Very nice, Mister Boswell. What's it gotta do with me?
Joey laughed loudly to himself. It was a great idea, if he did say so himself. He could picture the look on her face, and though it wasn't the same as pouring his heart out to Roxy, amusing himself might at least cheer him up.
Dear Martina, he wrote, still chuckling tipsily. He took another sip of wine to grease the wheels.
Good start. He considered, wrote a bit more.
Or should I say saluti, for that is greetings in Italian, and I learnt that specially to say to you when I got back. I thought I'd send you a postcard, only you can't fit much sentiment on there, and how am I supposed to lord it over you that the DHSS paid for us to come here on a tiny space like that? Well. I just got stood up in Rome which means I have all the time in the world to write a good long letter to you and since I have consumed plenty of wine now I have decided to do so while I have the courage.
He read back over what he'd written so far, the words swimming before his eyes. Not bad, Joey thought. He drained his wine, poured himself another, a bit of it sploshing onto the paper. Joey cursed, attempted to wipe it off, then accepted it, kept going, swigging at the wine every now and then, his ability to spell and remember where the punctuation went slowly disappearing, although he couldn't really care less.
I know you don't like to hear long elaborated speeches from me and like people to be boring and succinct and get straight to the point, but guess what. I am far far away and there's nothing you can do about it. So I am going to do a speech and that is the end of it okay right then sweetheart as you know my united family are here because of my poor aged grandfather who is old and quite frankly could do with some enjoyment in his dreary little existence before he kicks the bucket and possibly gets his foot stuck in it as well. So the thing is the reason i'm writing you this letter is when i came to your counter to ask for the necessaries i asked if you had grandparents and you said no I don't and I just think Christ that's sad no wonder you look angry all the time I think i would be angry at the world if that was me as well. You probly look angry right this moment as you are reading my brilliant epistle although it doesn't matter for you shall never read this for when I finish writing it I shall chuck it in the Meditera Meditte in the sea and you will never find it thank you very much little dshs lady.
Joey put his down his pen, feeling strangely uplifted, though that could have been because his head was spinning, his mind floating away into space. Once he'd put pen to paper he'd found he couldn't stop, the cathartic experience of spewing forth whatever stray thoughts came to his mind for Martina to not-read cleansing him, or at least helping him temporarily forget the debacle of Roxy's visit. That, and the wine. He was onto the second bottle now. Not that Joey approved of drinking to forget one's troubles, but just now, given his spectacular disappointment, being stood up in one of the world's most romantic cities, it seemed to be doing the trick, getting him out of his high dudgeon. He poured himself another glass, an astronomical bout of inspiration taking hold of him as he had another gulp. He lifted his pen again, clicked it (the music had died during his last bout of creativity, but no matter) and put it to the page again.
Now where was I? Oh yes you were angry at the world which is understandable although i can't help wondering sometimes sweetheart why do you bother? That job's got to be making you angrier and not just because it gives you a case of frosty face but being trapped in that box with no light can't be good for the soul. people weren't born to that, sunshine, they were born for the sun and the fresh air, so here's the thing lovely martina, and don't raise your eyebrows at me because in fact you should be impressed by my genius idea. how about I marry you and take you away from all that. given i am amazingly brilliant and you have quite the evil mind even if it's wasted on all that i'm out to get you mr boswell rubbish which face it is never going to work, our children would be brilliant think about it sweetheart theyd probbly take over the world wouldn't they? And anyway it's not like I've got anything to lose, i just got stood up in rome after all and you had that brief thing with shifty which I told you to be careful about but you just started banging on about glass carriage clocks and wool but lets be honest here i don't think shifty could ever satisfy you, I know him and i would be far better at that and that's a guarantee. Except not now because I think ive had offishaly too many wines. But I could try I suppose if you wanted me to.
Joey moaned, the light from his bedside lamp hurting his eyes as he opened them.
Adrian was standing over his bed, a cross expression on his face.
'I thought we were gonna take Grandad to do the town.'
Joey lifted his head weakly. 'You go, son. I can't face it.'
'What's the matter with you?' Adrian shuffled towards him, taking hold of the bottle on his bedside table.
'Oh – Joey! You didn't?!'
'Fraid so, sunshine.'
'Oh, if that doesn't take the biscuit! My holiday is hangin' by a thread, Joey! I have had my heart ripped out and stomped on by a beautiful Botticelli temptress…'
'A what?' Joey slurred.
'And instead of exploring the sights to expand my mind and inspire my creativity, I have been stuck towing an old man around in a wheelchair! And now to cap it all off, my brother, to whom I look up…'
'Stop talkin' like a twat, son,' Joey muttered.
'Has gone and got himself drunk, when he was supposed to share that task! I can't believe you, Joey; I really –'
'D'you mind, Adrian? Not so loud!'
'And I suppose you want me to feel sympathy for you, do you? I never would have expected it of you, Joey – you're always the wise one, the sensible one…'
'I have me disappointments as well, you know. You weren't the only one who 'ad their heart ripped out tonight, so steady on there, Adrian.'
It occurred to Joey, through his foggy brain, that he might have said too much. Mercifully, he'd poured his heart out to the one sibling who wouldn't spread rumours throughout the entire hotel.
'Oh, Joey,' Adrian had come over all sympathetic, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing. He was liable to start thrusting his hand into Joey's face to shake soon enough. 'If I'd known…I never should have presumed…'
And yes, there was the hand in his face, most likely about to be followed with some daft poetics about tragic love.
'You understand the pain. The tragedy of being shot down in flames…'
Joey groaned. His siblings seemed to enjoy going around broadcasting their woes, commiserating with each other, but he preferred to keep his private. Particularly when he had now attained a state of drunkenness where either passing out or vomiting was likely soon.
'Please, son…' it was hard to drag the words out from the tangled mess that was his mind and out his mouth without letting some vomit fly as well. Fortunately, Adrian seemed to be picking up on that, and he mercifully stood down.
'I'll er…I'll leave you to it, then,' he said gently, retreating for the door.
Joey didn't bother to respond, buried his face in his pillow instead.
'Oh – er –' Adrian paused mid-exit. 'D'you want me to take this letter? I'm sending a postcard to Auntie Ethel; I can pop this in the post box while I'm at it.'
'Mmf? Oh, yeah,' Joey waved a hand at it. He'd added the finishing touches just for fun; folded it, stuffed it, sealed the envelope, stamped it, just to make the exercise complete, not really stopping to think of the implications, and he was too detached from his rational mind now to realise what he'd just consented to. And so when Adrian stacked it under his own post and bore it away, he didn't give it a second thought. Joey's head was now spinning so fast he could think of nothing but lying still, focussing on keeping the room steady, his head motionless, and letting himself slowly drift into a state that wasn't quite sleep, but was at least a relief from consciousness.
When Joey came down to breakfast the next day, trying to conceal his hideous hangover with dark glasses, he barely had time to even think back to last night, to what had transpired, before a catastrophic series of events unfolded which culminated in his Dad being rushed to hospital.
It wasn't until the crisis was over, days later, and they were all safe and sound and settled on the flight home, that something occurred to him.
His brother was singing what sounded like a nursery rhyme to himself, looking quite pale, even though they hadn't taken off yet.
'Er… did you post a letter for me a few days ago?'
'Oh. Er…yes, I did…you seemed pretty out of it, and I was going that way anyway, so I thought…'
The rest of his sentence was lost in space, no longer reaching Joey's ears as a horrific realisation settled over him. Aw 'ey, son. Please say you didn't. He couldn't tell if he were mentally chastising Adrian or himself.
'Don't worry, I didn't look at who it was for,' Adrian said, ' I know what it's like to have my privacy invaded by radio Billy and my personal life thrown all over the table for everyone to see. I thought I'd spare you that.'
That was something at least, but Joey couldn't really speak properly, the hideous thought consuming him that that cringeworthy drunken letter might actually make its way into Martina's hands, that she might actually read it. And then what? He couldn't remember exactly what he'd written – she could do him for harassment, if it had gone one way, fraud if he'd gone another, or she could just be furious at the fact that he dared do it… or worse still, she might mock and taunt him forever about it. Any option seemed pretty bloody awful. His only hope would be that it got lost in the mail.
'Why?' Adrian pressed when Joey didn't say anything. 'Is something wrong?'
'Oh, no,' Joey said, plastering on a cheerful smile, 'all is well. Great. Fantastic. Thank you, son.'
He turned his face towards the window, making sure it was out of his brother's sight before he let the feigned smile drop, and let the horror that roiled within his guts take its place on his features.
It had been a good week.
The city had been divested of every single living Boswell for seven whole days, and there were more Boswell-free days yet to come stretched ahead of her.
Martina had slept better than she had in years, had woken with a smile on her face, had come to work feeling – well, not happy, not necessarily pleased to be there, but as if that feeling of dread she faced each day had lessened somewhat.
Another whole day of no Boswells stretched ahead of her. And her partition was closed until eleven, which meant she had a whole scrounger-free morning to catch up on some admin and enjoy her morning coffee.
She pulled up her chair reaching for her in-tray, only to find a very strange handwritten envelope addressed to her on the top of the pile.
Hmm. She didn't usually get post at work.
Martina scrutinised the envelope. There was a large purple stain across it; a wine spill, perhaps? On closer inspection, the postmark showed it had come all the way from Italy, and the DHSS lady couldn't help groaning and rolling her eyes. She knew exactly who had sent it now, and he surely must be up to something devious to have forked out for international postage. Probably wanted to gloat, or try to claim for whatever luxurious activities the Boswells were indulging in.
Fuming, but also curious in spite of herself, Martina tore open the envelope, pulling out the wine-stained pages within. Joey Boswell's handwriting was messier than normal, numerous crossings-out littering the pages, startling her slightly. He wasn't usually this sloppy.
Frowning, she took a sip of her coffee and started to read.
And did a spit-take about three lines in, snorting coffee all over her desk and through her nose.
Martina's colleague in the next partition gave her a strange look, and she hastened to gather her composure, still reeling from the shocking realisation of what this actually was, and the sudden uncontrollable urge to laugh. Spluttering, she pulled herself together, wiped down her desk, settled herself again.
Well. She certainly hadn't been expecting that. It was probably a bad idea to read on now, in working hours – yes, her partition was closed, but people across the room could still see and hear her, and if she gave in to a sudden bout of hysteria, that could be it for the terrifying persona she'd worked so hard to perfect.
It was irresistible, though. Never had such a weapon been delivered right into her hands before, and try as she might to even consider putting it out of her mind, that was never going to happen. She pursed her mouth tightly shut, in the hope of keeping herself in check while she feasted on the letter's contents.
Her self-control lasted about thirty seconds. The further she read on, the harder it became to keep a lid on herself, until her shoulders were shaking in her desperation not to let a hint of a giggle escape. Martina screwed her eyes shut, bit her lip, but to no avail. It was too much, and the fact that he'd actually written…
Her laughter exploded out of her, echoing throughout the entire room, drawing far too much attention to her. She didn't care.
'What's the matter with you?!' Martina's colleague hissed at her.
Martina hastened to gather herself.
'I just…need to sort something out,' she muttered, making a hasty exit into the back room.
Once alone, and out of earshot, she reread the letter, howling with laughter, unable to believe what she had just received – Joey Boswell's usual eloquence diminished, the workings of his clever, devious brain messed around by alcohol, and he had, likely unwittingly as a result of imbibing too much, laid all this good fortune, all this ammunition she could use against him, right in her lap.
And the icing on the cake – at some point, if he wanted to receive his giro, Joey Boswell would have to come in here and face her.
And she finally had something she could use to knock him off that arrogant pedestal of his.
This week just kept getting better and better.
Anyway, when you do agree to marry me I will shower you with gold jewlry and probly force you to wear it as well that is the sort of genrerous soul that i am you see and you could do with updating your wardrobe because you are in fact very beautiful but you dress as if you are a frosty social security lady which I suppose is true, but still. You already spend your days repeating your tonsils and shrieking next you could dress to bring out those lovely eyes while you do it. And i know I shouldn't really afford that jewelry but you have no proof I did it's just your word against mine and I am a genius wordsmith.
It was all Martina could do to keep a straight face. This was just too good. Joey Boswell had finally shown himself, nearly a week after the family had returned, and was looking unmistakeably sheepish as he approached her counter, hesitantly, minus his usual overconfident gait and wall-to-wall smile. He knew he was about to face the music.
And oh, if she wasn't going to enjoy this.
'Greetings.' It lacked its usual lustre, though he was clearly trying to pretend nothing was perturbing him.
She had planned to wait until after he struggled through his claim, keep him in suspense, but Martina was only human, and she couldn't wait any longer to get stuck into tormenting him.
'I got an interesting bit of post the other day, Mister Boswell.'
She saw him tense, stop breathing, eyes nearly bugging out of his head, even though he must have seen this coming. Still, she had to give it to him – he rallied, tried his best to fob her off.
'I'm sure, working in such a thrilling establishment as this, you receive lots of interestin' fan mail. Now, the reason for my visit…'
'Not so fast, Mister Boswell.' Martina held up one finger, enjoying the look on his face as it sunk in that he wouldn't be allowed to escape this conversation, no matter what tricks he tried. 'You know, when people want to get away with puttin' in claims they're not technically entitled to, such as, say, for family holidays masquerading as care for their Grandads…they usually have enough sense not to draw too much attention to themselves.'
Joey sucked in air through his teeth.
'So you can imagine my surprise when I came in to find a wine-stained envelope in me in-tray, with four pages of drunken drivel inside.'
Joey's cheeks had actually turned scarlet now. Any darker and he would almost exactly match the stain on the aforementioned envelope, which Martina was holding aloft, tauntingly close to his face, but tightly enough that she could snatch it back should he attempt to grab it.
'Enjoyin' yourself a bit too much, were you?'
'Now, be fair, I had just been…' Joey stopped short in his tracks, aware she had just tricked him into admitting he had written it. There could be no backing out now. He had walked into her trap, and he would have to take whatever humiliation she threw at him now.
'May I point out to you, sweetheart, that I was in…shall we say… a state of intoxication when I wrote that letter…and whatever I inadvertently might have said…I don't even remember now, so perhaps we should just forget about–'
'Oh, you don't remember what you wrote, Mister Boswell?' Martina abruptly cut him off, feeling her smile stretch across her face. Whether he was telling the truth or lying in an attempt to save himself further humiliation she wasn't sure, but he'd just given her a perfect opportunity to fire her new artillery at him.
'Well, then. Let me refresh your memory.'
Seeing Joey sink lower into his chair was already worth it.
She read the whole thing out to him, slowly, enunciating carefully so he didn't miss a word, rubbing salt in the wound by pointing out where words were misspelled or he'd well and truly lost his usual eloquence. He was squirming in his seat now, face turning redder and redder. He couldn't even look her in the eye anymore.
'Look, I never intended for you to read that!' Joey whined, cringing as she reached the part about him marrying her and showering her with jewellery. 'It was never meant to get sent… our Adrian posted it when I was still pissed, and I couldn't stop him, and…'
Martina simply shook her head, held up her hand, and kept going, because this was one of the best bits.
'And I know I really shouldn't afford that jewellery – jewellery is misspelled – but you have no proof I did; it's just your word against mine, and I am a genius wordsmith. Is that a written admission of guilt, Mister Boswell?'
'Oh, God, please stop!'
'Not every day I see the great Joey Boswell pleadin' with me,' Martina said triumphantly. 'Unfortunately for me, the letter ended abruptly there, and whatever rubbish you were plannin' on spoutin' is forever lost. Lucky for you.'
Joey frowned. 'I remember finishing it. I remember signing it. I put a lot of effort into that signature.'
Martina shrugged. 'The last page must be missing. Not that I need to read it. I've got enough on you here, Mister Boswell, to keep you in line for the rest of your life.'
He was looking apprehensive again, and Martina, having humiliated him to within an inch of his life, now laid her cards out in front of her.
'It could be argued, Mister Boswell, that there is sufficient evidence here for me to report you. Trying to, as you put it, lord it over me that the DHSS paid for your holiday, admittin' you shouldn't be able to afford your possessions…however,' she said as Joey's face turned to horror, 'you gave me a good laugh… and the added bonus of gettin' me own back on you. In light of that, I might consider bein' lenient.'
Martina folded her hands.
'As you have just admitted in your letter, you are in 'ere all the time making claims for things you don't need, bleedin' the state dry and generally driving me mad. But I experienced some peace for the first time in me bleak existence when you went off to Rome, and I intend to have more of it. You are not to come in here with any ridiculous speeches, soliloquies or dramatic tales of woe for…let's see, four pages, that's four weeks. No claims, unless they are absolutely necessary, for four weeks, Mister Boswell. And while you're at it, when you come in for your necessary claims, I wanna see evidence you've been actually looking for work. At least four applications by the end of the month.'
She grinned wickedly. 'If you can manage that.'
Joey looked defeated, a sight she wanted to burn on her brain forever. No, she wanted a picture of it in a frame, to bring out on days when he was doing her head in.
Sending him on his way was easy after that – Joey left meekly, still embarrassed beyond belief, and though she knew he wouldn't be able to last four weeks, would take a few days to work out a loophole in her words and be back again, equipped with ridiculous claim and sans proof of job searches, she savoured her victory.
Something he'd said came back to her, though.
There had supposedly been five pages in this letter, and if she could locate the last one, she'd have something to retaliate with if Joey did try and find a loophole.
Martina pulled the envelope back out from where she'd stashed it under her in-tray, feeling it again. There was definitely a lump in there, and she reached for it, pulling out the final page, covered in wine, which had dried it shut, folded together.
Martina inserted her pen into a gap at the edge, gingerly working the page open.
Oh, good. Nearly half a page more of drivel for her to enjoy. She settled back in her chair and started to read.
But you see the thing is and this is not me having you on so please take it seriously under all that i have deduced using my brilyant deducing skills that you are acktualy a nice person. you sweetheart are a good one I told shifty that only he didn't listen because, and listen because I have a point, you know I think sometimes you know full well we don't really need something for example this holiday or when grandad put his great foot in it about the fire and the electricity you knew but you said you were deaf. and I think you know sometimes we don't deserve things especially me but you let us have them because I think you know life is rough for us sometimes even if it doestn look like it and you are kind to us sometimes and that is what I think. I cant spell magnamanis when ive got a headache and all the letters are sort of blurring together but ill tell you what that's what your heart is deep down. If ever I did marry someone and it wasn't roxy I think it would be you. And if it wsnt me i would hope it was someone who thinks the world of you the way I do
wish you were here except you might tell me off
Martina stared at the page, astounded and oddly moved. It was drivel, of course, more rubbish sentiment riddled with bad spelling and Joey repeating himself and losing his train of thought. But knowing now that he really hadn't remembered what he'd put in there, hadn't intended it for a joke, and knowing that this was the conclusion Joey, in his drunken candour, had been working towards, put the rest of his letter in a completely different light.
She read the words over and over again, but for the life of her, she couldn't find them funny.