Adventures of a Self-Aware Character

Ever read a book where you questioned a character's decision? Maybe you felt the way they acted was cliche or just plain stupid. That's life for Martin, a man in his early twenties who lives in a world where every character is predictable and every story is predictable. Worse, when he tries to alter their cliched lives or point out their stupidity, he only ensures their cliched ways will continue.

Meet the self-aware character.


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3. Chapter 3 - And people say romance is dead

Chapter 3 – And people say romance is dead.

Driving through hundreds of back street lanes, Martin had hardly noticed the trickle of rain that had begun. Nor had he cared when the trickle became a storm. But when the car had stopped, a river beginning to form in the street as water poured down the hill towards them, and he’d realised that they still had to go and get the keys from Lance – well, to say he wasn’t pleased would be an understatement. He turned to Simon with a pleading look. Simon looked out the window, shook his head slowly and locked his car door. With a groan, Martin pushed his door open, attempting to shield himself from the rain, only to be completely soaked anyway as the rain blew directly into the car. Leaving the door open for a second longer than necessary (much to Simon’s dismay), Martin climbed out and slammed the door behind him.

 

Luckily, it was only a short walk to the shop. Unluckily, this short walk took Martin straight through the rapidly forming mini-river in the road; an annoyance he would have seen if not for the lack of light. Eventually he made his way to the shop, bringing a large proportion of the rain with him as he pushed his way through the doorway.

“Uh…you ok, buddy?” Lance said, unsure how to proceed as Martin stood dripping in the middle of his shop. Martin grinned, looking around.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little wet, I guess. How’s your side?”

Lance lifted his shirt, revealing a long scar across his middle.

“Healed well, actually. Thank God it wasn’t any worse.” He patted his pocket, a jingle coming from it. “You’re here for the keys, right?”

Martin nodded, holding out his hand for the keys. But before Lance could get them out of his pocket, the shop door flew open and Simon nearly fell in as he slipped on the trail of water left behind.

“Ah, if it isn’t Simon! How did you find the weather?” Martin teased as his friend shook water from his shoe.

Simon was beginning to form a response when the back door opened and a young woman walked out. She was carrying a cardboard box filled with what looked like cans of dog food.

“Lance, where’d you want these?” she asked, setting the box down on the counter. She turned to face them and caught sight of Simon. Her hands dropped to her sides as she emitted a barely audible gasp. Martin waved to her in greeting, but she didn’t move. Lance gave her an odd look and she unfroze, looking deeply embarrassed.

“I’ll have them by the till, I think. Oh, this is Simon and Martin. They’ll be your new co-workers”

Abbie nodded and turned back to the box, hurriedly unpacking the tins and shoving them onto a shelf. Martin raised an eyebrow at Lance, who shook his head and passed him the keys.

“So you guys’ll have the upstairs rooms. There’s a bedroom for each of you, a kitchen and a bathroom. Rent comes out of your pay, so you should be all set.” He turned to Abbie, who kept her back pointedly to the two. “Abbie works here too, but she tends to pick which shifts she does, if you get what I mean.”

At this, Abbie turned an even brighter shade of red and left through the back door into what seemed to be a staff room.

“I’ll explain the basics of running the shop later. For now, you guys get settled in.”

Lance went to the door, hesitating before grabbing an umbrella from a stand by the door.

“Owners’ perks” he said with a smile, slipping out the door. Martin shoved the keys into his pocket, wandering around the shop. From the looks of it, the shop sold all kinds of things. On one shelf was basic medicine and plasters, on the next a row of neatly arranged water bottles and cups. There was a whole area dedicated to birthdays and party supplies, and a stand in the middle full of children’s soft toys. Along the back, several freezers were full of instant meals. Making a mental note to inspect the shop more fully later, Martin walked over to the staff room door. His hand hovered over the handle, just about to open it, when he heard people talking in the room. He distinctly heard Abbie say something, and another voice mumbled in response. He took a step back from the door, unwilling to interrupt the conversation. Simon had no such reservations.

Before he could stop him, Simon had pushed the door open and walked in. On the other side of the room sat two women, one of which was Abbie. She remained seated as the strange lady walked over to Martin, offering her hand.

“Hi, my name’s Kelly. Pleased to meet you! I hear you’re gonna work here now. That’ll be nice – the town’s just about run out of people our age.”

Simon coughed, attracting the attention of Kelly.

“Hi, Kelly. My name’s S-”

“Simon? Oh, Abbie’s told me all about you!” she said with excitement, looking him up and down. Seeing how uncomfortable this was for Simon, Martin got the keys out of his pocket and walked over to the stairs. Simon followed, waving to Abbie.

 

--

 

“I don’t want to be here.”

Simon looked up from the shelf of dried food in surprise.

“I thought you didn’t care if we came here.”

“No. I meant awake.”

They both turned as the shop door opened and Abbie slunk in, her jumper partly undone at the front. She waved shyly to Simon as she walked through to the staff room, disappearing behind the door without a word.

“What’s up with her?” Simon asked Martin, who was hiding a smirk.

“Oh, Simon.”

“What?”

“You’re so naïve.”

What?

“I mean, have you ever read a romance book?”

“Martin.”

“It’s so obvious.”

Martin nodded to the door. It was as if a light was suddenly switched on inside Simon’s head.

“N-No! She doesn’t….NO!

It was at this point that Abbie decided to enter the room, much to the embarrassment of Simon, who was desperately trying to cover his expression with a packet of pasta. She smiled at him nervously, hands held behind her back.

“Hi, Simon.”

Simon lowered the bag and attempted to smile.

“Oh, hey Abbie. Didn’t see you come in. How’s it going?”

Abbie gave another nervous smile and looked down at the floor.

“Oh, nothing much.”

There was an awkward pause as the two avoided eye contact. Martin took the opportunity to leave the room, winking at Simon. He didn’t even have a chance to sit down when Simon flung the door open and collapsed into a nearby chair.

“Why did you tell me that.” Simon asked after a long pause, sounding fed up. Martin shrugged.

“Thought you should know. She was definitely monologuing about your looks, by the way.”  

Simon pinched his forehead with a finger and thumb, waiting for Martin to continue. When he didn’t, he sighed and looked over at Martin with tired eyes.

“What’s that mean?”

“Well, you know. She’s the female main character. Of course she’s going to describe your every feature in detail and dwell on it for ages. Right now, I bet she’s standing in the shop, staring longingly at the door.”

Simon groaned at this.

“How do I get rid of her?” he asked, staring up at the ceiling with a look of dismay on his face.

“What, you don’t want a girlfriend?”

Simon closed his eyes and shook his head.

“Why not?”

“I’ve been here two days. Two. This is way too much.”

“Fine then. I suggest you tell her you’re taken. Works for most stories.”

Simon glared at him. When he noticed Martin wasn’t joking, he paled slightly.

“I can’t do that! Are you crazy?”

“You don’t seem to have any other suggestions.”

Simon stood up and walked back to the door, grumbling as he went. He swung the door in a slow arc, only to see Abbie standing by a shelf staring at the door. She looked away sharply as he opened the door. Taking a gulp of air, Simon walked into the shop.

 

Martin grinned up at the ceiling, waiting for his friend to return. He heard the shop door shut with a clang, and his friend entered the staff room shortly after. When Martin turned, his face was bright red.

“How did it go?” Martin asked with only the hint of a smile on his face. Simon ignored him and walked off to his room.

“Where are you going? The shop doesn’t run itself!”

But Martin’s yelling did nothing but make Simon walk faster. Pretty soon, he was left alone in the back room. Realising there was little choice in the matter, Martin returned to the shop.

 

--

 

It took Abbie three hours to return to the shop.

“I...Is Simon around?” she asked when she finally plucked up the courage to approach Martin.

“Uh…no.”

“Can you get him for me?”

“No.”

“Just for a second?”

“I said no.”

Abbie looked rather put out, turning to leave when Simon walked back into the shop.

“Sorry I left you to run the shop alo-”

His words were cut short as he saw Abbie standing there. She smiled, then seemed to catch herself and looked down at the floor.

“What’re you doing back, Abbie?” Simon said, taking a step backwards towards the staff room door.

“Oh, I just thought…maybe…”

They waited expectantly for any more words, but none came.

“Well, what a wonderful chat this has been. Maybe next time, there’ll be even more words. See you later, Abbie!” Martin said, the sarcasm dripping from between his lips. Abbie turned to go, then suddenly turned back, gaining confidence from out of nowhere.

“Do you want to grab lunch with me and Kelly?”

Simon’s eyes widened at the prospect. Martin shrugged.

“Sure. We haven’t seen much of the village anyway.”

Abbie immediately brightened up.

“Great! Meet us outside the café in ten minutes.”

With that, she left the shop, looking much happier than when she walked in. Simon gave Martin a slightly annoyed look.

“I don’t want to get to know her.”

“We’ll have to if we intend on working here. Plus,” Martin added, “I think you do like her.”

Simon turned a slight pink colour, looking even more annoyed than before. Martin laughed, grabbing his wallet and leaving the shop, hoping he’d be able to find this café easily.

 

--

 

As it turned out, the café was only a few shops down from their own. Abbie was already seated underneath a red and white parasol, looking up from her hands every so often. Kelly was standing out in the middle of the pavement, waving obviously when she saw Martin and Simon approaching. At one point, she shouted their names, drawing attention from an elderly man on the other side of the street. Upon reaching the table, it began clear that neither woman intended on staying at the café, as neither had ordered food or even set their bags on the floor.

“I don’t like this.” Simon whispered. Martin pretended not to hear him and waved back at Kelly, who practically shook her arm off her shoulder with the force of waving.

“Hi guys! You ready?”

In confusion they looked across at Abbie, who was looking up at them in a shy manner.

“Kelly insisted we go for a picnic.”

“It’ll be great!” Kelly shouted, despite no one being more than two feet from her. “Besides, the park’s nice this time of year. We can get ice cream or something!”

With that, Kelly ran off down the street, waving back at them and laughing. Abbie sighed and stood up, rolling her eyes at Simon and walking off after her friend.

“Let’s just go back to the shop.” Simon protested as Martin turned to follow the girls.

“Why?”

“I don’t like Kelly.”

Martin raised an eyebrow.

“Stop making excuses. I’m going. Anyway,” Martin held up the keys to the shop, “you can’t get back in the shop, so you may as well come with us.”

Simon sighed, seeing no other options, and followed the group down the street.

 

 

The park itself was nice enough – a wide open patch of grass with stone paths running across it, the space lined with tall oak trees and several benches in the shade. There were a couple of sections enclosed by bushes and hedges, allowing privacy for the most part. It was relatively busy there too – in the corner, a father played catch with his sons and a handful of couples wandered the paths, pointing at the summer flowers and holding hands. Some of them were sitting on a bench snuggled close to each other. Upon arriving, Kelly turned back to the group and grinned.

“I’ll go and get us all some ice cream. Martin, you coming?”

Martin looked up in surprise – slightly confused until he noticed Kelly’s eyes darting towards Simon and Abbie.

“Sure. It’ll give these two a chance to start kissing, anyway.”

Both Simon and Abbie turned bright red, looking away from each other as Kelly scowled at Martin. He smiled and started walking over to the van.

“You know I’m Abbie’s sister, right?” Kelly said after some time, trying to brighten the mood. Martin shook his head. Kelly continued talking despite this non-response.

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to get her to date more. She’s very…how do I put this…”

“Shy?” Martin interrupted. Kelly smiled.

“Yes! How did you know?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe the fact that every move she makes and every word she says makes me think of those clichéd women in romantic stories.”

Kelly scowled at him, returning to silence that was only broken when they ordered the ice cream.

However, when they started walking back to Simon and Abbie, they nearly dropped the food on the floor. Even from a distance, it was obvious that they had fallen into each other’s arms, locked in an embrace. A shocked grin was forming on Kelly’s face.

“Ha! Told you!” Martin shouted, throwing an ice cream on the floor by accident. A small squeal came from Kelly as she started running back to the couple. Seeing her approach, Abbie and Simon split apart, sharing a small smile. From a distance, Martin saw Kelly fuss over Abbie, obviously overjoyed by the advance in her love life. Simon just stood there, grinning down at the floor until Kelly dragged him into the excited conversation.

 

Martin hesitated, unsure what he should do. He knew, however, that there were a few options he could decide between.

 

Option 1. Join the conversation and get swept along in the romantic story.

 

Option 2. Walk out the park and leave them to it. After all, it wasn’t Martin’s story to live – why not let Simon wade through the tropes alone?

 

Option 3. Join the story in another way – become Abbie’s other love interest…

 

Martin shook his head, ridding it of the last thought. There was no way he was going to do that to Simon. Besides, it might escalate and end up with him and Abbie as the main couple.

Deciding at last to go with option 2, Martin turned to exit the park, ice cream held in his left hand as he passed underneath a row of oak trees, glad of the shade on what was quickly becoming a hot day. He found an empty bench with little trouble and seated himself on it, facing towards Simon and his new friends. A few minutes passed, and Abbie and Simon were left standing in the middle of the park as Kelly began to approach Martin. Groaning, he stood and made as if to leave, but Kelly was a lot quicker than he assumed she’d be. In no time at all, she was standing in front of him with a smile on her face.

“Not planning on leaving yet, are you Marti?” she said, teasing slightly. Martin cringed at the nickname, choosing to ignore it.

“Yes, I was actually. No-one’s running the shop, and we’re losing business by standing around here. Plus,” he said, looking over at Simon and Abbie, “Those two probably need space. Don’t want to impose on their love story, after all.”

Kelly looked up at him in confusion.

“What d’you mean, ‘love story’?”

“It’s like this. This is their love story – no, actually, probably Abbie’s. Simon is the ‘Love Interest’ of her story – the one she can fantasise about. Granted, it happened quicker than the stories paint it out to, but…” Martin trailed off, seeing Kelly’s eyes glaze over.

“Well. They’ll be left alone for a while as the other characters – that’s us – drift off into the background. Then they’ll argue and come running back to us, we’ll cheer them up, then they’ll get back together. Simple.”

There was silence as he finished his mini-speech.  Off in the distance, the family who were playing catch left the park.

“What does all that mean, though?” Kelly finally said. Martin sighed and looked up at the sky.

“Never mind. Just…leave them alone for a bit. Can you do that?”

Kelly smiled and nodded vigorously. With that, Martin continued on out of the park.

 

Even the short walk back to the shop was exhausting in the heat. By the time Martin collapsed through the door, all he wanted to do was open up the freezer and sit in it. He was unlucky. There was a short queue at the counter, but rather than the people being angry (and rightfully so), there was pleasant chatter among the villagers, many of whom Martin had never seen before. He smiled as he walked to the till, apologising to the people. They smiled back at him, happy to see who the mysterious shop owner was. The first customer was an old lady, her short grey hair done up in a bun and a loaf of bread in her basket. She commented on Martin’s sweaty appearance before paying, clearly trying to strike up conversation. They had a short chat about the heat, before he moved on to the next customer. The last person in the queue was a lady in a large sunhat and a tight dress. The look didn’t suit her. Martin was about to welcome her to the shop when she started speaking.

“You look a lot sweatier than I remember you.”
Recognising the voice, Martin jumped, meeting the eyes that used to give deadly glares. They still looked cold, but not as venomous as he remembered them being. He grinned, and Shannon sniffed.

“You smell awful.”

“Nice to see you, too.”

Shannon glared down at Martin from beneath her hat.

“I came to see Simon. Is he here?”

“Nope. Guess you’re stuck talking to me.”

Narrowing her eyes, Shannon retrieved a piece of paper from her pink handbag, shoving it on the counter. Martin barely had time to look at it before she slapped another piece of paper next to it. Upon closer inspection, it appeared they were envelopes.

“It’s your pay for the week.” She said with a fed-up tone. Martin must have looked shocked, because she continued.

“Yes, I know you’ve only been here for two days. And yes, it’s odd me coming instead of Lance. He’s busy, before you ask.” she said, swiftly interrupting Martin as she saw him open his mouth to speak.

“I saw that girl Abbie in here earlier. It’s her day off, isn’t it?”

Martin nodded, and Shannon sniffed again.

“I don’t know why my husband employed her. She’s not trustworthy – I keep telling him. I hope you, at least, keep an eye on her” she said as she leaned in across the counter. Martin nodded quickly to get her to back off, seeing Simon across the road with Abbie. Shannon smiled and leaned back.

“Good. I’m glad we understand each other.”
She spun around and walked over to the door, placing her hand on the handle when she froze. For a horrible moment Martin was reminded of Bucharest, worried for a second that the door had locked itself. Stuck in a small space with Shannon? He shuddered at the thought. Her hands clenched around the handle as she looked over her shoulder at Martin, an angry glint in her eye.

“Is that your friend I see with Abbie?” she asked, her tone unnaturally calm. Martin gritted his teeth and nodded.

“I’m glad he’s working so hard since Lance offered him this job.” she said, fuming as she stormed out the door and slammed it shut behind her.

 

Life carried on happily for a while after that as the three of them gradually found routines. Simon would wake up first, eating a rushed breakfast and making sure the shop was tidy. Martin woke later at the same time as the shop opened. Abbie would show up around this time too, helping Simon run the shop until midday. While they worked, Martin began writing his story; a semi-autobiographical account of their experience in Bucharest. The shop closed at lunch, allowing Simon and Abbie to eat together at the café. Opening again at 12:30, Martin would run the shop until the sun went down. It was as if the events of a few weeks ago had never happened.

 

--

 

“Hey Martin, d’you know where the new ice-cream order got to?”

Martin continued typing on his laptop, trying to block out Simon’s interruption.

“Uh…don’t know. I think Abbie took care of it.”

Simon reached into the fridge, pulling out a large chocolate bar.

“Uh-huh. And when was this, exactly?”

“Yesterday, I think. Why don’t you go and ask her about it if you’re so worried?”

Simon stared down at the chocolate bar, peeling off the wrapper slowly.

“Dunno. Just…thought you might know.”

Martin’s fingers paused above the keys.

“Look Simon, this is odd, even for you. What’s up?”

Simon didn’t respond at first. He walked to the bin and threw the wrapper in it, took a seat opposite Martin at the table and sighed loudly. Annoyed, Martin shifted to the left while Simon dramatically sighed again and looked out the window. There was silence as Martin stared at him for a moment, confused.

“Stop being such a drama queen and tell-”

“Abbie broke up with me.”

Martin sat in silence, unsure what to say. Luckily, Simon didn’t stop talking.

“It was my fault. We were in the shop; she asked about the book you’re writing. I told her about Bucharest…” Simon paused for a second to gather his thoughts.

“Anyway. I started telling her about the others...I told her about Tara…”

Simon stopped talking, sweat starting to bead on his forehead.

“Guess I didn’t tell her enough. I said she was about my age, told her about what she looked like a little so she could get a mental image…”

Martin groaned, silencing Simon.

“You realise what she thinks now, don’t you?”

Simon shook his head slowly.
“She thinks Tara’s still alive, and that you love her.”

Simon stood up in surprise.

“Nah…no, that’s impossible. Why would she…?”

“Didn’t you tell her you were taken when you first met her?”

A look of horror crossed Simon’s face as realisation dawned.

“Oh God.” he whispered, sitting back down and holding his head in his hands. “I forgot to tell her about Tara’s death.”

Inside, Martin was screaming ‘HOW COULD YOU MISS THAT DETAIL OUT?’, but seeing his friends’ distress he stopped the words leaving his mouth.

“Well…tell her the truth. Next time you see her, tell her Tara died. And that you’re single.”

Simon looked up, red-faced.

“Yeah…ok.”

Sighing deeply, Martin stood and closed his laptop.

“I’m off to shut the shop for lunch. You need anything?”

Simon groaned in response. Martin shrugged and left the room, opened the door to the shop and immediately saw Abbie and Kelly. They were both in the shop, looking through the party supplies. Assuming Abbie had returned to find out the truth he stepped forward. The girls sensed his presence in the room and spun around.

 

 Martin immediately wished he’d stayed in the kitchen. Abbie’s face was bright red, some tears still on her face as she peered towards the doorway. In contrast, Kelly’s face was the personification of rage, her glare not unlike one Shannon would give as she sought out Martin’s gaze. When she noticed it wasn’t Simon standing in the door, her glare softened slightly, but still remained cold and separate. She approached Martin with a purpose-filled stride.

“So, Simon wanted you to do his dirty work for him, then?” she said, looking past him into the staff room. Martin grinned nervously, shutting the door and meeting Kelly’s glare.

“No, I’m shutting the shop for lunch.”

Abbie sniffed, wiping a tear from her face. Kelly didn’t budge.

“Come on, Abbie. Let’s go. It’s clear we aren’t wanted here.”

Kelly spun around on one leg and practically dragged Abbie from the shop. Any attempts to get them to stop failed – neither woman was in the mood to talk. Once they were out of sight, Martin opened the door again. Simon had decided to enter the staff room and was sitting in a chair, a magazine in his lap. Though he was looking down at it, it was obvious he wasn’t reading it, and even more obvious that he’d heard the whole thing.

“I tried to get them to stop.” Martin said, hoping this would ease the situation. Simon didn’t move – he simply stared down blankly at the pages.

“Um…I’ll shut up shop then…”

Simon still didn’t move. Martin closed the door slowly and walked to the front entrance. Once there, he locked the door and leaned against the wall, letting out a groan into his palms.

A familiar feeling rose in his head. He knew there were several options.

 

Option 1. Put aside his friends’ woes and have lunch. Probably not in the café if Abbie’s recent lunch habits were anything to go by.

                                                                                                                                             

Option 2. Go and find Kelly or Abbie and explain the situation. Even better, drag Simon along with him so he could explain himself.

 

Option 3. Run down the street screaming at the top of his lungs.

 

He moved his hands away from his face. As much as he wanted to carry out option three, it would achieve nothing except temporary insanity and exile from the village. Instead, he grabbed a sandwich from the shelf and unlocked the door.

“May as well leave them to it.” he mumbled as he walked down the street.

 

--

 

Forty-five minutes and a long walk later, Martin returned to the shop. As he reached into his pocket to retrieve the keys, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Turning to face the street he saw Abbie on the other side of the street walking towards the café, a folder under her arm and a serious expression on her face.

“Hey, Abbie!” Martin shouted, waving to her and hoping she’d cross the street. Abbie slowed a little, but didn’t stop walking. Martin watched her enter the café without even giving him a single look. He shrugged and finished unlocking the door, only for Simon to nearly walk into him as he swung it open.

“Wha-”

“I’m gonna see Abbie. Did you see where she went?”

Martin looked at his friend. He was nervously sweating and held an envelope in his hand. He hesitated for a moment, before pointing in the direction of the café. Simon nodded his thanks and ran off down the street. Martin stood in the doorway, looked into the empty shop, realised that his friend was likely to ruin any chance he ever had with Abbie and re-locked the door again, muttering under his breath as he did so.

 

Upon reaching the café, he found Simon sitting at a table outside.

“What are you doing?” Martin demanded. Simon stared down at the letter.

“I…can’t.” he said.

“Why not? Tell her the truth before this escalates!”

Simon looked up at Martin with a frustrated look.

“No, I mean I can’t. She’s talking to the manager of the café.”

Seeing his confused look, Simon continued.

“She’s wanted to own this café for a while now. It’s why we always came here. She was gonna buy it with me.” He sighed, turning the letter over in his hands. “Guess that wasn’t meant to be.”

Martin rolled his eyes and grabbed the letter, much to Simon’s protests. He flung the door to the café open and approached the counter. A girl he’d never seen before was serving.

“Hi, welcome to C-”

“Can I speak to Abbie, please?”

The girl frowned.

“Abbie? Who’s that?”

“The girl talking to your manager.”

“Um…I’m not sure I can let you…”

Martin looked to the ceiling, then handed the bemused girl the letter.

“Give this to Abbie, would you?”

The girl stared at the letter, unmoving. The door behind her opened with a click, Kelly and Abbie walking out. They both looked pleased until they saw Martin standing at the counter.

“What do you want?” Kelly said, hands on hips. Abbie looked around Martin and, seeing Simon, flushed red and turned to the girl at the counter.

“Iris, what’s that letter?” she asked when she caught sight of it. Martin looked up at Abbie.

“Read it. Trust me when I tell you it’ll clear everything up.”

Kelly looked distrustful of the letter, but Abbie swiped it and quickly opened it. A minute of awkward silence passed as Abbie’s face went through a full spectrum of emotion, finally ending on happiness. She looked up at Martin with the biggest grin he’d ever seen on a face. Kelly, surprised, grabbed the letter and read it over. In moments, she gave Abbie a slap on the shoulder.

“I can’t believe you’d be this silly!” Kelly said, mock-teasing her. Abbie giggled, running out to meet Simon. Kelly looked at Martin, who was staring out the window

“What’s up, Marti?” she said. Martin looked back at her.

“Eh, nothing. Just glad that Simon and Abbie get their happy ever after, I guess.”

Behind the counter, Iris edged into the staff room and closed the door.

“Me too.” Kelly said, smiling.

 

--

 

The shop was filled with people. Old friends, new friends, family, village folk. In the staff room, Martin was struggling to organise the food tables, while Kelly chatted with the guests and giggled. Lance stood at the shop counter, Shannon at his side. From Lances’ uneasy expression, Martin guessed he’d been forced to visit the shop. At the shop door, Kelly raised a hand and squealed.

“They’re coming!” she yelled as everyone except Martin dived into the back room. Outside, a white car pulled up and two very confused people stepped out the back. Simon held an arm out for his Abbie, who cautiously stepped out of the car and looked around. Seeing Martin through the window, they both smiled and walked over to the door.

“What’s going on?” Simon asked. Martin grinned, mirroring his expression.

“You thought we were going to let you two marry and run off?” came a voice from the back room.

Abbie looked puzzled, as did Simon, until Kelly kicked the door open and yelled for them to join the party. They grinned even wider and, looking at each other, ran forward. Martin made as if to follow, then paused, looking out the window.

“Something’s missing.” he mumbled, running through a list in his head. Marriage, check. Happy ending, check. All problems resolved…

 

The door behind him opened. Martin turned around and saw Lance enter the shop, closing the door behind him.

“Why aren’t you joining the party?” he asked, walked up next to Martin. He frowned, noticing Martin’s troubled expression.

“What exactly have you been doing for the past few months?” Martin asked. Lance hesitated.

“Alright. I’ll let you in on the secret. But please, for the love of all things holy, don’t let on to Shannon what I’m about to tell you.”

Martin nodded, a little uneasy. Lance studied his face for a moment then, deciding he was trustworthy, continued.

“I’ve been in London, working on a case.”

“What? What does that mean?”

Lance closed his eyes and exhaled slowly.

“Yes. A case. To tell the truth, running these shops is a front I put up to tell my wife. My real job involves trailing one of these ‘detective’ types.” Lance gave Martin a sidelong look. “I’m sure you’re familiar. I was helping him on a case – a murder. Nasty business involving a jealous ex-boyfriend and his sister.”

Martin stood in stunned silence, before chuckling slightly.

“Well, Lance. Never thought you of all people would say that.”

Lance smiled.

“Yes, well. My persona makes my disguise all the more believable.” He sighed, suddenly looking twice as old as he had a second ago.

“Honestly, I’d rather quit. I’ve had enough. The only thing keeping me staying is the thought that he’d struggle to replace me.”

Lance looked up at Martin, peering into his eyes. Martin smiled.

“That’s why you offered me the job here, right? You wanted to convince me to replace you?”

Lance smiled and nodded.

“I can tell you’ll be great. Besides,” Lance said, looking towards the party, “your friend over there has a great life starting. I’d advise you not to stick around too much longer.”

Martin stared back out the window, thoughtful. Lance turned to go, stopped, and handed Martin a card with a number on it.

“In case you decide you want this job.” he said by way of explanation. With that, Lance returned to the party.

 

Martin looked down at the card, then into the open room. Simon was dancing with Abbie; both of them laughing at some inside joke, their smiles illuminated by the sunlight streaming in through the window. Martin smiled and looked back at the card. There was no need to run through any options this time.

 

He walked over to the shop phone and began to dial.

 

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