Present Day (Day 1)...
You move on in life, don't you? Like you had to after the incident six years ago.
Shit happens. Bad Shit. The kind of shit that gets you close to putting blades to your wrists, a bag over your head and then jump off a bridge. But you don't because you know you have kids who would lose a father and a best friend who happens to be mother to those kids. She would never forgive you. They would miss you incredibly. They would care that you have gone. The only ones except for Martin, you think. No. You know, because with every fibre of your being you are certain that he didn't care. Still doesn't probably. He made that perfectly clear. Brutally so. Like daggers stabbing you multiple times in the chest. Pins in eyeballs. A round-house kick to the nuts.
You didn't even see it coming.
He had been so close to being the person you always wanted. He had dropped the pretence of not wanting you near. He took the gentle teasing from his sister Cheryl, Amy and Lynsey about how he was lucky to find someone like you. As 'patient and adorable'. He was one hundred percent open to them about you eventually. Treated you like his other half.
And they probably weren't the only ones who knew in that small village called Hollyoaks because he had started to slip up; act towards you in public the way he did in private but diluted. The looks. The light graze of his fingers against your skin. The sharp inhalation of air when near you. The words; their tone too familiar for a boss to an employee, too intimate for friendship.
People were probably beginning to know and he seemed not to care anymore. He would catch them staring at the two of you in disbelief as the penny dropped and give them the eye that said,
'Yes. This is what it looks like. And what?'
Then everything changed in the blink of an eye. He tossed you aside while you were broken and bleeding, when you needed him most. Right when you knew that his arms around you, the thud of his heart against your own, and the scrape of his facial hair as he brushed his lips against yours would have been enough to make you feel protected and grounded. Not lost at sea, petrified, vulnerable and wanting to end it all.
But he didn't stick around. He ran a mile; turned his back on you.
It was up to your kids and Amy to give you the strength to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Eventually it was Martin who helped you close that chapter on your life and move on from your ex. God knows how, but Martin held your hand and acted as scaffolding while you built yourself back up from the inside out.
He is your rock and people say you are his. Five years together and still going strong...
"Ste, you aren't eating."
"Huh?" You look up at Martin abruptly. His Glaswegian lilt filters into the centre of your brain. For a few moments the Italian restaurant you two are dining in faded away to make room for memories of an increasingly distant past.
"It's just that I have to get going soon, babe." He says eyeing you closely.
"What?" You sound blank and distant but Martin is used to this. He is used to all your quirks and traits having been your boyfriend for five years and knowing each other for a year before that. The blankness was far worse in the past. He won't get alarmed by this momentary lapse of yours.
"The conference." He says with a smile that is a perfect balance of concern and amusement. "The reason we are out here in Dublin."
You nod and smile slightly in that 'Oh yeah, silly me' way.
Of course. Ireland. Three days. UK Council for Psychotherapy Annual Conference. You are his plus one for the Conference dinner event on the last night. You have just the suit for it. The one that made Martin go crazy and say,
'Suit makes you look caliente, babe! Is it wrong that I want to rip it off you now? With my teeth. Fuck it. Screw me ma's birthday... let's fuck!'
You laughed shyly because Martin knows how to make you feel desired. The use of foreign langauge is his 'thing'. He is multilingual and has a talented tongue...
Anyway, the dinner event and the suit wearing aren't for another three days. Until then you are going to do what you always do when you travel with Martin on one of his trips and he is busy with work; catch some sights and absorb local culture to fill the time.
Dublin is no Kuala Lumpur, your last trip together, but you'll find something to do.
"It's no KL." He says with a broad knowing smile. "But-"
His smile is one of the first things that got you about him.
'He's hot, Ste! And those muscles... I approve!' Amy said after she first met him.
You grab his hand across the table and grin back. "It'll be fun. I am good at keeping myself occupied. Plus I need to revise the cafe's menu so-"
You look down at your plate which is untouched save the fork piercing a few pieces of pasta as you think of your own small eatery back in Chester. You have lost your appetite. You try and ignore why your cheeks ache from the effort of smiling. You know it has something to do with being in Dublin. This restaurant.
"What's wrong?" Martin asks.
"Nothing." You practically hear the creek of your facial muscles as they try for a more genuine happy expression. You get a flash of him in your mind; cheeky grin, Irish lilt, cocky glare.
Martin raises a sceptical eyebrow.
"You can't fool me." He links your hands, staring down as your fingers curl up together. "Is it because we are in Dublin? You know, where Brendan's from."
Your heart seems to stop at his guess then you get annoyed. "Please don't try to analyse me. I am not one of your clients. Anymore." You pull your hand away from his and close your eyes. You whisper before you can stop yourself, giving your state of mind away,
"And please don't mention his name."
You open your eyes again and take in Martin's downturned mournful eyes.
"This isn't Candyman, Ste. Saying his name once in a while won't lead to bad things happening."
"He is in my past."
"Yeah. That is exactly how you are acting. Like he is well behind you." He mutters sarcastically. "Makes me muy feliz that even his name still has a massive effect on you."
"What does that mean? Stop using Italian words."
"It's Spanish." He looks at the time and adds. "And I've got to go."
You snatch his hand when he stands up to leave feeling a rush of panic that your rock is walking away. "Okay. Fine. I admit it. Being here is messing with my head a little but that's understandable, innit?"
After a pause Martin's releases a reluctant grunt. It is a lighter, cleaner version of how he used to grunt.
"He is in my past Martin. I have moved on but that doesn't mean I have forgotten everything. It still feels raw at times but that's normal, right? You told me it was." He sits back down. "And yeah, being here is harder than I thought it would be, kind of, and I don't really like hearing his name but I'm fine. We're fine. Yeah?"
He studies you closely and you know you have managed to win him back around. His mouth twitches into a sly lopsided grin,
"We just brought the drama for no good reason, didn't we?"
"I think I am stressing over my presentation. That's all." He says.
"You'll be fine. You always are." You reassure. Martin is in your heart; locked and tucked away."I love you. You know that, right?"
You say it and you mean it.
He gives your hand a squeeze. "'Course. Love you, too."
There easy. You are back on track.
You split the bill and make plans for the evening as you head out of the restaurant. You are so engrossed in what Martin is saying that you collide into someone. Solid. Tall. Suited and booted.
The apology on your lips dies as you look into the person's face; his blue eyes, dark almost black hair, moustache. Still the moustache...
His eyes widen momentarily in recognition before showing you a flash of exquisite pain that is gone so quickly you almost miss it.
Sweaty palms, palpitations, butterflies in stomach, dry mouth, tingly all over... You don't know whether you are terrified or turned on. Do you want to run and hide or ram your tongue down his throat?
"Sorry about that." Martin says on your behalf to him when you find yourself frozen into inaction and silence.
For a second you think that Martin will recognise him from your endless descriptions and stories of him in the past. But he doesn't and your instinct suddenly sharpens into a need to move as far away from where you are as possible.
"Yeah." You hear him whisper quietly while never taking his blue eyes off you. "No problem, mate."
"Daddy bear, can we please sit? My feet are killing me."
You look over at the woman by his side, the one he has a loose hold of. She is predictably pretty, young, dressed in a figure displaying dress and sky high shoes that don't look designed for walking.
You bore your eyes into her in a manner not dissimilar to a bullet piercing through flesh. You feel the licks of jealousy, anger and resentment deep in your soul.
"Oh my God!" She says when she sees you as though she recognises you. She can't. You have never met her before. "You are-"
He nudges her and silences her in the process, clears his throat and speaks directly at you,
"This is Nicole. She-"
You interrupt him not wanting to hear him say the words 'girlfriend' or 'wife' or whatever. Shakily you say,
"Um, we are running late. Martin, let's go."
"Stephen." You hear him say as you grab Martin's hand and drag him out of the restaurant quickly. For two blocks you don't break your stride or your grip on Martin's hand even while he asks you over and over again
'What the fuck just happened, Ste?'
'Who are they?'
'Who the fuck was that?'
He finally stops you by wrapping his arms around you and practically lifting your feet off the ground.
"Stop!" He says kindly but firmly.
You feel tears streaming down your face quietly while you hold his gaze. It takes him only a further second to put two and two together.
"Shit!" He says softly before wiping your tears away and kissing you softly on your forehead then your lips. "That was Brendan."