A/N: Okay, I think the title might need a bit of explaining. This fiendish plotbunny attacked me and forced me to write, then stubbornly refused to provide a title. So I passed the buck over to the lovely and imaginative murderofonerose, who also failed to come up with anything solid (though she did kindly put on her beta'ing hat for me for a minute - thank-you XD), but suggested there should be milk in the title. So I fell back on the old standby and Googled milk aphorisms. I liked this one....
Disclaimer: Although I have just sat here and talked to myself for fifteen minutes solid about how much I love writing Arthur, I still do not own him (or anything else you recognise), did not create him, and would beat about the head with a stout cudgel anyone who did not acknowledge the greatness of DNA :)
Arthur Dent stood by the window, looking out at the rain. It was a rather half-hearted sort of rain, the sort that you could only see if you caught it against some dark trees or checked the surfaces of puddles. He wrinkled up his nose and took a mouthful of flattish beer. He felt a hand on his arm.
'Hello Arthur,' said the owner of the hand, the voice swaying back and forth past Arthur's ears as its owner tried to maintain their balance while in a fairly advanced state of inebriation. He turned around.
'Oh. Hello. Laura,' he said, rather unenthusiastically. Laura was attractive, but not such a pretty sight now, after a hard session on the wedding champagne and a vigourous attempt at a bit of Scottish dancing with her Uncle John and a woman she'd never met before. She was also perfectly capable of talking the rear quarters off an entire herd of donkeys. Really, Arthur had no desire to spend the next three hours stuck at a table observing her attempts to focus on him properly.
'Excuse me, Laura, I'm afraid I have rather an important appointment to keep, just...I'll see you later, okay?'
He moved quickly away through the throng of people hovering around the disaster area that represented the remains of the buffet, a guilty grimace on his face. He hated lying to her, but today had been bad enough, without that.
It had started with the milk. No milk had been delivered this morning, for some reason. Arthur had called the delivery company and yes, his milkman had done his rounds and delivered all his milk. No, looking at the sheet, Mr Dent was not down for a delivery today. Arthur had demanded to know why. He had asked for milk. He always had milk on a Thursday. He had had milk delivered to this house on a Thursday every week since he had moved there years ago. Perhaps the company needed to take more care of its long term customers? They had apologised profusely and promised milk the next day and on all subsequent Thursdays. However, this did not solve his immediate problem and he had been faced with dry cornflakes and orange juice for breakfast. No tea. Not even enough milk for that. As a result, he had started the day in an appallingly bad mood.
He apologised and excused himself to the door, glad of his slight height advantage over most of the rest of the guests, which at least allowed him to see his goal, even if it didn't make it any easier to get there. The corridor of the inn was also fairly crowded. The reception was taking up only the back bar and function room. The main bar was open to the public, and extremely popular.
The day had not improved. Knowing that he had to be at the church by twelve, he had decided not to go out in the morning, but get a little, much needed, housekeeping done. A little carelessness in the bathroom had caused him to slip, bleach bottle in hand and, while he had avoided dousing himself, spots of it had dripped unnoticed onto his waistcoat, laid out on the ottoman ready to change into later. As a result, he was now unable to remove his jacket, and had had to endure the tropical heat of the wedding speeches and subsequent unavoidable dance-floor shenanigans, fully jacketed and sweating buckets.
Between Arthur and the Gents' lavatories, was a free-standing rail acting as a coat rack for all non-staying guests. It was also acting as the focal point for a number of people who had clearly decided that the inn's ample bar and lounge facilities were inadequate for their purposes. Arthur supposed that they were the sort of people who could manage to spend more than fifty percent of their average working day chatting around the coffee machine, and could not break the habit in their leisure time. Whatever the reason, they were in his way, and their failure to immediately notice him and move to let him pass incensed him in his already overwrought state. He knew it was silly. He knew it would be entirely inappropriate to vent his anger on these innocent souls who, in all fairness, had a perfect right to stand near their coats. He took a deep breath and managed to keep his voice calm enough, though he suspected he might have ended up sounding slightly hysterical.
'Excuse me,' he said, loudly enough to make the nearest person jump and step quickly aside. The rest of the group parted, but only enough for him to squeeze his way through, barely missing trampling on court shoed toes and catching his jacket on diamanté brooches.
'So sorry, sorry, 'scuse me, sorry, oh I am sorry, beg pardon, whoops! Sorry, ouch – sorry, not to worry...'
He emerged on the other side of the huddle, furious with them for not getting out of his way properly and yet, having apologised to every single one of them on the way through, totally unable to display his anger. He smiled weakly at the last person as he stumbled through the lavatory door and shuffled gratefully up to the furthest urinal.
After the bleach incident, he had decided to go out, take the dog for a walk and generally calm himself down. This had worked fairly well. The dog had found a particularly unpleasant patch of mud to roll in, but then it had also found a very wet river, so it had pretty much negated any damage done; although this had meant that Arthur had returned home looking like he had been caught in a brief, one-sided rainstorm. Upon his return, he had let the dog into the back garden and gone upstairs to wash and change. The dog had come back inside without incident and Arthur had left the house for the wedding in relatively high spirits.
The car refused to start first time. It also refused to start second, third, fourth and fifth times. And sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth times. It was just as well for its own safety and longevity (although it did not know this at the time), that it chose to start on the tenth attempt, as by this time Arthur was bolt upright in his seat, mouth drawn back in a primitive grimace, hair ruffled by his attempts to claw at his own brain. He let it rumble quietly for a minute or so, eyeing the dials with manic intensity until he was certain of its stability. This car would not get the better of him, particularly since, and this was the real bugger, its presence in the car park meant that, as a sensible type of man, he would not be drinking tonight. A wedding reception at which he could not drink. The car would pay for that if it tried any more funny business.
Halfway down the road, it coughed and rolled to a halt. It was at times like these that Arthur was glad he lived, to all intents and purposes, in the middle of nowhere, thus giving himself the opportunity to scream obscenities at the offending vehicle without feeling guilty about it. He waited, gave it a chance, wiggled at the choke a couple of times for encouragement and tried again. It leapt forward, throwing him against the seat, before cutting out again. He thumped the steering wheel, depressed the clutch more thoroughly, and they rolled off down the road together. By the time they reached the main road, the illusion of man and machine in perfect harmony was fully recreated, although Arthur felt rather like a lion tamer whose hold over his charge was slipping. A run in with some of the worst traffic he had seen in years, which set him back over an hour and meant he arrived at the church with minutes to spare, had not improved his mood, and it was with great difficulty that he prevented himself from walking out when the groom turned as he approached, raised his eyebrows, looked at his watch and scowled at him.
It wasn't as if he was the best man or anything. He wasn't even late, just cutting it fine. The fact was, the groom didn't like him. The bride was Arthur's cousin, a close cousin with whom he had spent a great deal of his childhood. They were good friends, he was here as one of her most important guests, front row seat, next to her grandparents, and he had every right to be there. However, the groom saw him as something of a rival, he knew. Not in romantic terms, no no, nothing like that, but as friends and confidants, they had had what might have been construed as secretive, even sly meetings without the groom's knowledge. There was nothing whatsoever in it of course, but husband-to-be was taking her away to Scotland, condescending to have the wedding in the South of England only because her parents had raised such a fuss about not only losing their daughter to a distant land, but also having to pay through the nose for the travel and accommodation to see her getting hitched. Arthur was going to miss her, she was going to miss Arthur. Naturally they spent more time together as the fateful day approached.
Still, Arthur was not going to be accused of pettiness and he was not going to miss the wedding, even though he rather suspected that an overheard comment about 'Yon haverin' numpty' had been directed at him. So he took a seat in the front pew, opened his order of service and studiously ignored the dirty looks from across the aisle.
The door of the Gents' swung open and two men came in, very obviously not together. One looked like he was at a wedding reception. The other looked like he was on his way to an art-history lecture. The wedding guest headed for a cubicle, presumably to offload some of the buffet in whatever way proved most expedient; the art-historian came and stood next to Arthur, whistling loudly as he relieved himself and bouncing on his toes to finish off. He zipped himself up, grinned at Arthur, waved at the taps in the sink and left. Arthur went to wash his hands properly. The wedding guest flushed twice. Arthur looked in the mirror. Actually, he wasn't looking too bad. In fact, for someone who had had the sort of day he'd had, he was looking good. A little overheated perhaps, but much better than he'd expected. The thought perked him up a little, particularly when he saw the state of the other wedding guest, who came out of the cubicle and stood next to him, splashing water onto his face. Arthur smiled politely and the man shook his head at him. He swayed a little and rested his forearms on the sink-surround.
'Are you alright?' asked Arthur.
''M fine,' said the man, with great effort. He waved Arthur away, and Arthur reluctantly left him to it.
Back in the function room, Arthur tried hard to get back into the swing of things. Stupifyingly sober, he stood on the edge of the dance-floor, bending his knees and swaying a little in the vain hope that his body would start dancing properly of its own accord. He tried moving his arms a little, just a little, in front of his body, but the effect was generally unpleasing and he soon let them drop to his sides again.
He was just about to find a chair somewhere dark and near the bar and far enough away from the bride's parents that he would not be drawn into conversation, when the bride herself appeared, out of the chaotic mess of people-who-should-never-be-allowed-to-dance-in-public, and grabbed his hands. She swung him onto the floor and put his hand on her waist, the other firmly gripped in her raised hand. Having established herself as a force to be reckoned with today, she allowed Arthur his dignity, and the lead. He manoeuvred her passably deftly around the music and the other dancers and felt his mood start to lighten as she smiled at him and leant in to kiss his cheek. Then he saw the groom staring nastily at him over the shoulder of some other unknown friend-or-relative and felt a sinking feeling again.
'I'm afraid I'm going to have to go quite soon,' he said, as gently as he could, 'I have...work tomorrow. You know. Sorry.'
She rested her head on his shoulder,
'Never mind,' she said at last when she raised it again, 'I'm glad you could come. It was good to have you here. I'll send you the photos. You'll have to come and visit us sometime. I'll write.'
'Yes. Perhaps. I'll write too. You look after yourself, and Steve. Have a good honeymoon, won't you?'
She nodded, a slight wateriness about her eyes, and kissed his cheek again. He left her on the dance-floor, holding onto her hand until it slipped out of his loose fingers. He waved back at her and headed into the corridor once more.
Outside, he stopped by his car to find his keys. He could hear them, just couldn't quite locate them. As he searched, someone came up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. It was the art-historian, who, he could now see, was contentedly tipsy and carrying his bag as if he were on his way home.
'Excuse me, are you leaving?' asked the man.
'Er, yes,' replied Arthur, looking around to see whether, perhaps, he was blocking the man's car into its space,
'Where are you headed?' the man went on, quite casually. Arthur was a little taken aback and was about to tell him to mind his own business, when suddenly he appreciated that a lift was being sought here, and maybe it would be a kind thing to do to round of the evening and make him feel a little better, about himself, if nothing else, when he got to bed tonight.
'Cottington,' he said.
'Good. Mind if I hop in?' asked the man.
'Not at all. Where can I drop you?' asked Arthur, feeling more virtuous already.
'Oh, anywhere near there would do.' said the man. He looked at the car, and then at Arthur, who had just managed to extricate the keys from the corner of his pocket. 'Ford Prefect,' he said.
'No-o, Renault,' said Arthur, looking confused.
'No, I'm Ford Prefect,' said the man, also looking a little confused. Arthur started to smirk, then realised that this would be quite rude and stopped.
'Oh,' he said, 'Arthur Dent. Er, hop in.' He opened the door, went around to the driver's side, unlocked it and got in.
He turned the key in the ignition. Nothing happened except for a few wheezy spins of the engine. He tried again. Nothing.
After twenty attempts, he looked across at the man, who was sitting staring at him, his bag in his lap. Arthur rubbed at the back of his neck, where the hairs had all stood on end for some reason.
'Well, it looks like I'm not going anywhere. I'm sorry, I think you'll have to find someone else to take you home.'
'Okay,' said the man, not looking at all bothered by this. 'Come back inside, shall we get a drink?'
'I'm not...' said Arthur, before it occurred to him that he could now drink and, what was more, probably needed something strong to see him through. 'Right. Yes. On me.'
'Great!' said the man, and together they headed into the slowly emptying main bar.
Will this be the start of something beautiful, or will it be terribly teasing and require many more, rambling long chapters to get anywhere near the sort of friendship the author requires of them? Major plotbunny attack means that, for once, I actually know the answer, but reviews would be lovely all the same ;D