The next morning Martin woke up. He was still in Louisa's lap, who had managed to doze off despite the uncomfortable position. It took some time before he realised where he was, and when he did realise, his conscience sneaked in.
Louisa felt Martin stir and woke up. Martin wanted to jump up to leave. Louisa pulled him back, tilting his head to kiss him gently on the cheek.
"Don't Louisa, I'm all scrubby."
"Shhh, that's OK, I don't mind."
Martin drew back. "No, Louisa. Please."
"Just stay in bed a bit longer and relax."
"No. You know what I want. What I really want. First I have a shower and shave, and then we pick up Peter. I really want to have Peter back here. Do you mind?"
"Mind? No, Martin, I do not mind at all!" And she kissed him full on the lips, stubble or not.
o – o – o – o – o – o
Later, after they had picked up Peter, peacefully asleep, and walked through the empty streets of Portwenn, Martin, pushing the pram proudly, asked Louisa: "Can I ask you for one more favour?"
"Sure, fire ahead."
"Well, as it is, I have to tidy up at the farm and, to be honest, I wouldn't like to go there alone." He looked towards Louisa. "It's not that you need to do the work." He quickly added. "Just – for company."
"Sure Martin, no problem, and I'm also glad to help. The two of us can get rid of the mess in no time."
After a stop at Louisa's cottage for a short breakfast and preparing Peter, they drove down to Havenhurst Farm. Martin's heart was heavy. In all probability, it would be the last time he would drive down there. This farm and its inhabitants had accompanied him all of his life. It was almost like a marriage – in sickness and in health, in good times and bad times. This little farm bore so many memories, and to be honest, most of his pleasant memories were connected with this spot. Now, he had to make it clean and tidy, so someone else could take it over.
He swiftly parked his car in front of the farm, like he had done so many times before – but never again. When he got out of the car, he stood beside it for a moment, straight as can be, calmly looking around, breathing every sound, sight and smell in. He saw the fields where he had been stung by a bee, the barn where the dog had bit him, but somehow Aunty Joan had always made it better. Like no one else ever could. Like no one else ever…no, that wasn't right. He turned around to look over to Louisa, who had waited just behind him, not saying a word, cradling their son. There would be someone who could make it better. Louisa could. Louisa had done so the night before.
Solemnly Martin put his arms around her shoulders and led her inside.
"Well, let's see." He looked around, assessing the mess the wake had left behind. "Really! One would think it's the remains of a teenager's party!" Disgusted, he looked at all the empty bottles and glasses, even some half-smoked cigarettes.
"Let's start then!"
Louisa placed the Moses basket into a corner and started to collect the bottles. Martin did the same with the glasses. They worked together companionably without talking more than necessary to coordinate their work. After a few hours, the place was neat and tidy, maybe even more so than when Aunty Joan had been around. By that time, Peter had made it clear that he was in desperate need of attention. Louisa went over to take care of him. Martin offered to make some tea, which Louisa thankfully accepted.
Both tasks done, Martin placed a mug in front of Louisa, then sat opposite her. "Louisa, about last night…"
Louisa looked quietly over to that solemn face. She reached out to touch his hand gently.
"It's just, I never…I mean…." He sighed. "I never cried in front of anybody else before, but you didn't say a word. You didn't …" He gulped and looked at the table.
"Of course you cried. You've just lost the person who was as close to you as no one ever was. You're no heartless monster who doesn't care. Of course you felt deserted."
"Uhm, right – but I didn't want to take it for granted that you were there for me. I never felt such comfort than in your arms."
She rubbed is hand slightly. "I'm glad, Martin, but that is what partners are there for, isn't it?"
Martin slowly looked up and caught Louisa's eyes. He sighed. "Louisa. I've never been comforted like that, and I'm sure I am not able to comfort anyone like that. When you need comfort one day, I won't be able to repay you this favour. So…."
Martin took a deep breath.
"Could you teach me? Teach me to comfort you?"
"Of course, Martin. We'll get there."
"And if Peter needs help, please show me what to do. I want him to experience this…security…you can give."
"Oh, Martin! Maybe you don't know it, but you give me security. When you take me in your arms I feel safe. When you knelt down beside me during the birth, I knew everything would be alright."
"Yes, Martin." Martin took a sip and looked around.
"I will miss this place. Even though I always ran into the beams."
Louisa squeezed his hand. They drank in silence. Martin was sadly looking around. When he poured the second cup, Louisa felt confident to ask the question she hadn't dared to ask three nights before.
"When you sorted out the papers the other night, what were you so engrossed in when I came in?"
Martin looked into her eyes. She couldn't read his expression. Then he silently got up and walked out of the room. Louisa stayed put, watching the doorframe. After a short while Martin came back and silently placed a book in front of Louisa. She opened it and could see that it was a family album. Joan was frightfully young in this photo, beaming into the camera, her hand firmly placed around the waist of a man of considerable size – in all directions. Her other hand rested on the shoulder of a little boy with a stern expression, blonde hair who was wearing a suit, of all things. He seemed a bit frightened.
"You know, I can hardly remember Joan's husband. He must have died frightfully young. Tell me about him." Louisa coaxed Martin into memory lane.
Slowly Martin started to talk about the three people on this photo. At first, he didn't know what to say, stumbling over his words, but as time went by and they turned the pages of the photo album, childhood stories poured out of his mouth. Louisa laughed and cried. Martin had more vivid memories connected with this farm that Louisa thought had been possible. He told her about this feeling of coming home whenever he boarded the train down to Cornwall, Joan's home-baked cakes, the long walks and sand castles, the way Aunty Joan read to him when he lay in bed tired from the Cornish air.
He described Uncle Phil, warm and quiet, always listening to the little problems, the way his huge hand on Martin's back seemed to make things better, the way he forced the little townie to take part in the farm's activities. The way he was taken seriously by them. They let him explain things he had read without belittling him or making him feel precocious.
When they had finished looking through the album, Martin asked if Louisa would accompany him on a little walk around the farm, visiting for the last time the places he connected with those memories. The nearby bay where he stood crying because of the splinter in his finger, the field Joan used to take him to for picnics, partly because she wanted to see her lover off as he learned much later, the field where he had told her about his engagement. Martin was carrying Peter, and Louisa hang at his other harm, listening attentively. She was glad that he was finally talking.
At last, they returned to the farm. Martin washed the mugs they had used and placed them in their usual place. Then he looked around quietly.
"Time to go." He sighed. Louisa squeezed his arm.
"Joan will be with us as long as we remember her. She'll be in the love you give to Peter, as it is her love who made your love for him possible. She's not gone."
Martin silently took Louisa in his arms. How much he liked to believe that, but his scientific brain told him otherwise. Then he took Louisa's hand and Peter and walked towards the door. Louisa followed, but then pulled him back.
"The family album."
"I don't know whom Joan wanted to have it."
"It should be yours, really, as you are the most prominent person in it besides Joan and Phil. What's more, I really would love to have it for Peter. He can meet Joan through this book and the stories you can tell while looking at it."
Martin paused a moment, thinking about it.
"If you think so." He handed Peter to Louisa, then went back to pick up the photo album. He put his arm around Louisa while they left the farm for good and locked it.
After Louisa had secured Peter in the child seat in Martin's Lexus, she turned around, putting her arms around Martin and snuggled close.
"Now you're not leaving, are you?"
"No, not if you will bear with me."
"Oh Martin, of course I'll bear with you! In fact, I don't want to miss you for anything in the world."
He kissed her gently. Louisa sighed contently. Finally he was at peace.
I thank all kind readers, especially those who took their time to comment. It was a huge encouragement.
My very special thanks goes to my proof reader, fanficfan71, who didn't know what she got herself into when she offered me her help. Thanks for the patience with my stubborn refuses to listen to her advice and for the very quick corrections I always got. All my errors are my own.
My last but not least thanks goes to Buffalo Pictures for creating such wonderful characters. As always, it had been fun to play with them for some time. I hope, I'll return them to you undamaged.