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My oh My

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  1. War.

Boys, everywhere, trudging through mud, fingers thick with it as they climbed the trench ladders, the low rumble of planes, the high rumble of guns, the drone of falling bombs—

Rat clutched the sheets on the bed, feeling his leg throb with pain. Legs, arms, head… He felt whole, but painful. Burnt.

Bleached white ceiling, the smell of ammonia, the thick wall of iron blood. Hospital. Where? When? His brain felt like fog, like remembering his last actions was akin to pulling at a lost dream.

Then, with a burst of clarity and a sudden shot of adrenaline, his hand came to his arm, as if checking it was still there. Craning his neck towards it made the skin on his neck pull and crack like skin on a roast pork, but when he saw the bandaged skin on his arm, he felt more at rest than before.

“Nurse… Nurse…” He could feel, more than see, that it was late afternoon, the sun low in the spring cold. There were dozens of other occupied beds beside him so his voice was a whisper, not wanting to disturb any of his fellow moaning men.

“Nurse…”

A hand on his forehead, pushing him back down onto the bed, the nurse above him tutting. “If you keep on moving it like that, it won’t heal proper.” The nurse, finding his bedding in a disarray, began tucking the edges of the sheets in under the mattress, stretching them tight over Rat’s body as if to keep him trapped there.

“The boys—”

“Your boys are fine, Sargeant. You took the blast. Lucky your boys were too scared to follow you up.” Nurse took a towel from the bedside table, dipped it in water and] wrung it out a little before resting it on Rat’s head. It was cool, and made Rat realise just how hot he felt. Fevered, even. But his boys were safe. The churning feeling of dread begun to slip away, even as the Nurse continued. “They, the ones what brought you here, told me what you did inspired them to no end. Very brave, they said. Said they won that battle just ‘cos they saw your bravery.”

Ratty felt his eyelids become too heavy to fight, eyes suddenly dry and body light.

-

Next time Ratty saw the Nurse, he was sat up, needing desperately to use the lav. Spotting him up, Nurse scurried over with a hushed “Hey, you need to be lying, Sargeant.”

Getting a better look at the Nurse now Rat could concentrate through the headache, Rat allowed himself to be lain back on the bed. “Din’ know they let fellas be nurses, now.”

“Oh,” the Nurse said, dipping his head slightly with a smile.

“Still gotta wear the frock though, ey.”

Nurse’s fingers straightened the front of his pinny, patting the soft pleats of the skirt underneath. “Think it’s rather neat, myself,” the Nurse said, sounding like he hadn’t considered how others might perceive him until now.

“Yeah, ‘suppose,” Rat said, wondering for the first time why lads couldn’t wear frocks if they wanted. He didn’t think he’d say it down the pub, but here in his little room of curtains, it didn’t seem too radical. Nurse suited it damned fine, too, his little pudgy tummy, the red cross across his chest, the soft-blue woollen dress with its rounded collar and his pristine little white hat.

“Plenty enough of the ladies in breeches nowadays, ‘specially those ones who go in and haul you lot out of the mud. Only fair we get their dresses.” Nurse straightened the covers of Rat’s bed in a way that didn’t really seem to do much to the overall neatness with a “Now, Ratty, you stay lying, d’ya hear.”

“Rat’s fine.”

“‘Should be sleeping, Ratty, else you’ll not heal.” Ratty closed his eyes, then squinted them open to check whether Nurse had left yet.

“Bit cute, innit? Ratty? Not a name that strikes fear into enemies.” Ratty attempted to flex a little under the covers, casually bulking himself up.

“Don’t see what’s wrong with that. Striking fear into enemies and the like.”

Ratty sank back into his pillows with that, feeling like Nurse was probably a nurse because of what was going on out in the world. “Nurse…?”

“Gotta get on, Ratty, no time to natter.”

“I need a slosh.”

Eyes fully closed, he grinned as he felt the heavy weight of the porcelain pot being placed on his stomach.

-

Ratty was healed enough within the week to return to his boys. As Nurse was making his bed up for the next lad, Ratty fluffed the pillows and worked up the courage to speak.

“Er, Nurse?”

“Yes, Ratty?”

“Thanks, like, for the help.”

“Well it is my job.”

Ratty shrugged one shoulder. “Well thanks anyway. I er, I hope to see you again.”

“I rather hope not, Ratty.”

Nurse’s instantaneous reaction had Ratty reeling slightly. “Oh. Right.”

“Couldn’t bear you getting hurt again now, could I?”

-

1945 - later

One of Ratty’s boys had been hit, right before his eyes. They were alone. The boy wasn’t going to make it. There was blood. Ratty pulled the bandage from around his arm and pressed it against the boy’s wound. In seconds it was useless, blood seeping through.

That night, a hopeless-seeming night, where boys had died and blood had stained everything, where the stars were hidden and light was hard to find, Ratty looked at his arm for the first time since conscription.

Words, so tight and neat to read almost like newspaper print. “My oh my!” The words his soulmate would say the day they found themself in love with Ratty. The words seemed surprised, Ratty thought, soft. Not dead, or toneless like a news reporter might sound.

His arm had been bare when the man who’d done his health check had investigated his body for words. Boys with words already, boys who had met their sweethearts, they were more likely to be accepted. Said it gave them something to fight for. Ratty knew it actually meant higher-ups didn’t want to have armies full of boys claiming to be soulmates to get out of a suicide run. Ratty had been quite glad to find his was bare. Thought it meant maybe he’d never get one, and didn’t have to bother with the search.

But, no. ‘My oh my.’ That meant Ratty had met his soulmate some time in the last three years. Plenty of people had touched him in that time. During training, through fights, hauling villagers from houses. The health inspector had bloody-well touched him. There was that nurse, too. Many nurses, probably.

Ratty inspected the words again. A speck of blood sat between the first ‘my’ and the ‘oh’, giving it the look of a splotch of ink on a newspaper. The blood of a dead boy. How many of the people Ratty had touched were dead now? How likely was Ratty’s soulmate to have survived, out here?

A shiver ran through Ratty’s spine and he pulled his sleeve down. He would find a scrap of cloth somewhere, and try to forget the words tattooed there.

-

1955

White shirt, pressed and neat, blue tie tightened in a single knot, long coat in pristine white, buttoned at the front. Scruff of beard shaved clean, hair slicked into neat portions.

The night had barely passed for most, but with the first chirping birds, Ratty was awake with his van, already on the road back from the fish market with a van full of goods to gut and to scale before the first of his customers graced his door.

By eight-thirty, his display was glistening: Cod and haddock fillets, mostly, a couple of pilchards, sardines and the sort. Some good, Cornish mackerel, blue and silver amongst the ice.

With his boy out front, sweeping the front step, all that was left was to clean the windows, in and out. He liked doing the inside ones last, because then he got time to look out at the street as the other shops began to open. The postman, the greengrocer, the little sweetshop on the corner and getting ready to open their doors.

All but one on the street opened at nine, sharp. There was a florist right across from them, who Ratty would have thought abandoned if it wasn’t for the overgrown mass of green in the windows that rotated every few days. Ratty had been to many a local home decorated solely with the flowers from little place over the road, and he had to admit the owner had quite the touch. Naming sense, not so much, he thought, inspecting the flaking white sign, where the simple, fading black type called itself ‘Village flowers’. There was a newer splotch of paint in the corner, a small red flower that livened the sign up, but he suspected a child had drawn it, from the level of skill.

From what he knew from the village, the owner of Village Flowers was a small, bumbling chap, pudgy and good-mannered, who had a penchant for cake, joining the ladies in the tea shop on a sunday afternoon. Ratty had a nice image of a portly older chap in moleskin trousers and a well-used smoking jacket, smoking his trusty pipe and calling the older ladies ‘girlies’.

Next time he had a free hour, Ratty thought, he might offer the old man some help re-painting his sign. He was quite curious to match imagination with reality, and to finally match their opposite schedules. For whatever reason, the old man didn’t open until mid-afternoon, long after Ratty had sold his last fish.

With the strike of nine, the bell above the door chimed and the villagers waiting outside his door in their orderly queue bustled in.

“Trout for you and the kids, Mrs. O? Only the best for you.”

Mrs Otter didn’t need to reply, her usual order unchanged in the decade Ratty had lived in the village. “You should meet him, Ratty. He’s always talking about you.”

“Oh?” Ratty wrapped the fish in its oiled paper, before packing it into a paper bag.

“Says he’s always right sorry to have missed you, closing your doors when you do.”

“Just good business,” Ratty said, tapping the wooden countertop with his knuckles. “Old chap should place an order with me and I’ll save it for ‘im.”

“Oh, he’d like that. I’ll let him know, next time I see him.”

“Yeah, you do that.” Ratty smiled as he put a tally mark in his order book against Otter’s name. The week’s fish all in neat rows, months of unbroken orders of trout. Porscha really did like the stuff.

Otter dipped her head a little as she left, both Ratty and his boy calling a short ‘morning in practised echo.

“‘Hoy, Rab,” Ratty called to the next customer, Toady’s butler, carrying his list of far more eclectic items, smiled, rather nervously.

“What’s the chance you’ve got two dozen pilchards?”

Though Ratty hated Toad’s excesses, he really did love the challenge of working to pull together the man’s truly ridiculous menu.

-

“Trout, Mrs. O?”

“And a mackerel, if you’ll please.”

Ratty raised an eyebrow, but picked out the nicest fish, eyes still clear and scales still glinting, caught only hours before. “What’s this then, deviating from the norm?”

“Our dear florist would like to open a book.”

Ratty felt himself grin. “Well it’d be my pleasure.” He fished under the counter for a blank book and a pen. “Rather rare to start a new one,” he said, the village small enough that almost everyone in the village had their own book under his counter. “What’s the name?”

“Mr. Mole.”

“Mole, huh.” Ratty’s smile kept itself up. “Suits him.”

“You’ve never met him!”

“Well, suits my image of him, anyway. Keep this aside for him, shall I?”

“You’d be waiting quite the while, I’m afraid. I’ll take it and pop it over to him once he’s open, shall I?”

“Why’d you say that?”

“He’s a bit of an odd one, no mistake. Up all night, doesn’t get out of bed until four in the afternoon.”

“No wonder I miss ‘im.”

A clearing of a throat behind Mrs. Otter got Ratty’s attention, and he handed her the bag with a quick raise of the eyebrows and a hand-to-forehead salute.

“Morning Rab-”

-

Ratty found himself eagerly awaiting nine the next morning. With a small village being as it was, nothing much out of the ordinary happened when Toady was having a quiet week — which Ratty did appreciate — but sometimes it was nice having something special to wake up for.

“Morning, Mrs. O. Trout, today?” Ratty tried to keep the expectation out of his voice, but from Otter’s look, he didn’t think he’d succeeded very well.

“Yes please, Ratty,” Mrs. O said, for the first time in years, which Ratty took to mean she had something else to say.

When neither said anything further, Ratty caved, knowing that, out of the two of them, he was more likely to lose in a battle of wills. “And anything for Mr. Mole?”

Otter nodded, the hint of a very pleased smile on her lips. “Yes please, Ratty.”

Ratty felt relief, weirdly. “Any request?”

“Dealer’s choice.”

Ratty had bought some fat sardines that morning, pregnant too, bursting with the extra flavour of their eggs. He took three, then considered and added two more. “Did he like the mackerel?”

“Didn’t get much of a chance to ask, did I? Had to get home to cook me own tea!” Ratty must have looked crestfallen, because she gave him a soft ‘oh Ratty’ before continuing with a consoling “Looked very pleased, your man did, when he saw the fish. Said it was a beautiful colour, and that he very much looked forward to his supper.”

Ratty handed over the fish with a smile, and was met with a promise of more news once Otter had gone to see Mole that evening.

-

And so it continued, for months thereafter. Ratty found it a highlight of his morning, going through the market at the crack of dawn and trying to find the tastiest looking fish for this man he had never met. It felt almost fulfilling: as if his life, now, was to provide the best fish to this one stranger for his approval.

Each morning, Otter would ask for her trout, collect Ratty’s gift to Mole, then share what praise Mole had for him, and the recipes he had used the previous night.

“Sounds like a real chef,” Ratty commented one morning after hearing about the lemon sole Mole had cooked the previous night.

“Oh, the recipes are very creative,” Otter said, slightly hesitant, “But… he’s a little… forgetful. Gets a bit distracted. Half the time he says he’s burnt the thing, the other half he eats half-cooked so he doesn’t forget it!”

There was something charming about that thought: this old man, eating his food half raw to respect Ratty’s fish. “Well, comes with old age, dunnit.”

“Old age! Talking about the lad as if he’s got one foot in the coffin.”

Ratty held his hands up. “Meant no offence,” he said, an implicit “I know what you old folk are like” in his voice.

Mrs. Otter scoffed as she picked up her bags, Ratty knowing that if she weren’t in polite society, she’d likely cuss him out for being a cheeky git.

-

It was a hot morning, of that there was no doubt. Not even seven yet and the heat of the day was making a track of sweat down the spine of Ratty’s back. He dreaded having to get into his work overalls, the cotton thick and non-breathable.

He kept the windows of his van rolled down as he drove, feeling the cool wind blow as he drove. Slowly, the scent of smoke started to grow, becoming stronger as he made his way to the centre of town. Perhaps a family had had a bonfire the previous night, and it was still finding a way to burn.

As he pulled up to the back of his shop, he began to hear the low crackle. The beginning of a fire? Ratty frowned, going out into the street, looking up and down the road for any sign of panic. Nothing.

Then, a cold chill as he turned back to his own shop and saw the reflection across the road.

Ratty took off across the road without thought, pulling his tie out of its knot as he went, pressing it against his nose. He tried the front door but, of course, it was locked. He rammed his body against it, again and again, but it looked new and, with the fire directly behind it, would burn his skin before he could topple it.

He glanced up at the flat above the shop, the curtains drawn and the window adjar. No smoke leaked through the top windows, but it wouldn’t be long before the fire reached there, too. “MOLE!”

With his sudden intake of air came a billow of smoke from the door, and Ratty coiled over with coughs as the burning ash coated his throat. “MOLE!”

Ratty pressed his tie tighter over his nose as he went ‘round the back of the shop, through an alley full of off-cuts of stems and old metal containers.

The first ram against the back door had its lock splintering open, the entire lock coming off of the door with it. With the burst door, a gust of wind blew through the smoke, into the house, but was, in less than a second, replaced with more, leaking through the open doorway. “MOLE!”

The shop had the exact layout as Ratty’s, a door separate from the shop leading up a narrow flight of stairs.

The fire seemed contained in the front of the shop, the smoke thicker down here than at the top of the stairs, which was hazy at worst. Hearing the splintering of the house foundations, Ratty took the steps three at a time, still yelling, still coughing.

Then, in the darkness, he heard another, smaller cough. He cocked his head towards it, then followed the sound to the bedroom. Locked. “Mole! It’s me, Ratty, let me-” the door unlocked and a small shape barrelled into Rat, shaking as it hugged him.

“Is there anyone else in here?”

“No,” the shape said, wheezing with its words. Ratty nodded, hefted the lump over his shoulder, shoved his tie in their face and pressed the sleeve of his shirt against his own nose.

Once he’d hit fresh air, he kept going for as long as his legs could go before dropping the lump to the ground, as softly as he could before becoming overcome with coughs. His eyes were pressed together and stinging from the heat, but he hoped he had come far enough from the fire for the person to be safe.

The shop.

The man’s precious shop.

Ratty pulled himself up to his feet, rubbed the back of his hand against his eyes and looked around, as much as he could. People of the street were bursting out of their doors now, buckets in hand. In the back of Ratty’s van there was a box of ice — he grabbed it and led the crew of helpers out to the back door, which was now a thick wall of smoke.

Feeling the others hesitate, he grabbed their buckets so he was holding two in each hand, before plunging in.

-

Heaven hurt more than Ratty had expected. He had quite hoped that pain wouldn’t exist up here, but with each breath, his lungs informed him that that was a decision they wouldn’t back.

Heaven also looked a lot like his bedroom above the shop.

“Oh, I’m sorry to have woken you!” A familiar face swum into view above him, dripping teatowel in hand.

“Nurse?”

“Well, once upon a time, I suppose.” Nurse wrung out the towel, before dabbing at the skin of Ratty’s face.

“It’s me! It’s Ratty!”

Nurse nodded at him like Ratty had gone slightly daft. “I know who you are, Ratty. You’re the fishmonger.”

“How long have I been asleep?”

“‘bout half a day, I suppose. Yer boy opened the shop for you, so your fish didn’t spoil.”

“So then how long have you been here?”

“What, beside your bed? I haven’t left you, Ratty, not while there’s a chance the smoke might’ve done somethin’ bad to your lungs.”

Well , Ratty thought, heart picking up just a little, at least Heaven has him.

“Ratty,” Nurse said, taking up Ratty’s hands in his own, “Thank you, for saving my shop.”

Ratty closed his eyes, smiling with the thought. It was strange how this dream version of the village cast the Nurse as his damsel in distress…

Ratty cracked one eye open, a question having niggled at him since they’d parted that decade ago. “Nurse?”

“Yes, Ratty?”

“Nurse, what’s your name?”

“Oh dear,” Ratty heard Nurse mutter to himself. “It must have gotten to his brain…”

-

“Mrs. O!”

When Ratty woke again, his lungs felt less like steaks, and the first person in his sight was the Otter herself.

“Good gracious, Ratty, you know how to give a street a fright!” Mrs. O stood from her chair by his bed and came closer so as to whack his arm. “What were you thinking, jumping in like that?”

“The shop, and Mole— oh Christ, is Mr. Mole okay?”

“And a damn near fright you gave him, too, asking him who he was like that, made the man fear you’d been knocked on the head. Amnesia, he thought.”

A soft click as the door opened and closed, and a waft of food came with it. “Oh drat, I’m sorry, did I wake him?”

“No, love, he was already up.”

Ratty blinked, then blinked again as Nurse brought over his bowl of soup, spectacles fogged up slightly by the steam.

“You’re real.”

Ratty pulled himself up on the bed, turning to Mrs. Otter. “He’s real?”

Mrs. O and Nurse looked between each other, concern bare on their faces. “He really did hit his noggin, didn’t he.”

“Here,” Nurse said, setting the bowl of soup in Ratty’s hands, “Get this down you, and I’ll go fetch the thermometre.”

Ratty sniffed it, instantly distracted. “Haddock?”

“Oh yes,” Mrs. Otter said, “Your boy came up earlier, said to assure you the shop was fine, and that you were to get your rest. Said you probably wouldn’t mind if Mr. Mole fed the haddock for his supper to you.”

“Moley made this?” Ratty said, dipping his spoon into the thick soup, digging around to see haddock, potato, chunks of carrot, bacon and sweetcorn. It smelt beautifully buttery and it made Ratty’s stomach rumble just thinking about it, so he dug right in, caring little for how hot the soup was. It was salty and warming and it tasted exactly what he expected heaven to taste like.

“Good?” Otter asked, laughing as she watched Ratty shovel food into his mouth. “It’s like you’ve never been fed a proper meal before!”

“Nothing like this, that’s for sure,” Ratty said around a bite.

“It’s the parsley.” Nurse arrived back with his thermometre, beaming a warm smile to see the bowl nearly finished. “Fresh from the garden, cuts through the richness.”

“There we go, you see, Moley and his plants. Might as well get you to cook for my kids, God knows they’re fussy ones.”

Ratty laughed, scraping the bottom of his bowl, one second away from licking it.

He smiled, content, leaning back in his bed.

Then, his eyes opened and his face dropped.

You’re Mr. Mole?!”

-

“I don’t know, I was imagining an old man, in a- in a smoking jacket and moleskin trousers and-”

-

“-feed a man for half a year and don’t even know what he looks like-”

-

“-only moved in a decade ago, didn’t realise everyone lived in the same damned town-”

-

At some point during the evening’s revelations, Mrs. Otter went home, claiming that her kids needed feeding but leaving the boys with a wink, directed most obviously in Ratty’s direction.

Somehow, without Otter to mediate, it seemed like a much quieter, much more intimate room.

“So er, I did what you said not to do, huh.” Ratty played with a corner of his blanket.

“What’s that, then?”

“Well, see you again.” Ratty waved at himself, indicating the bed, the injuredness, the wet towel on his head. “Like this.” He took a glance at Mole, who seemed, mostly, confused. “You said you hoped you didn’t see me again. ‘Cos seeing you meant I was injured, and you were worried about me or…”

A slow smile spread on Moley’s face. “Well I’m glad I have.” Moley patted Ratty’s hand. “Not to mention you saving my shop, and my life!” Moley looked up. “Oh dear, Ratty, you’re burning up!”

Mole pressed a hand against Ratty’s forehead. Ratty let Mole believe it was the heat of the room, the heat of his burnt skin, the heat of the covers.

“It’s funny,” Ratty said, once safe in his nest of covers, the smell of good food in the room and good company to boot, “This place finally feels like home.”

-

It was a slow day. Too hot for people to bother with their groceries. Ratty had sent his boy home for lunch and told him not to come back in the afternoon. Let the kid spend the afternoon on the cricket field with the other boys.

He’d not had a customer in about a half hour, so he allowed himself to sit on his stool, elbow on the counter, chin in hand. It saved his neck some ache, at least, having spent the better part of the last three days craning his head to see out the window as Mole began to strip the paint from his shop.

He was just curious, he said to himself, and worried. Definitely more worried. Worried that Mole would finally find a beam that was unstable and collapse more of the shop onto himself.

Never mind that the internal damage had been entirely unsubstantial and mainly decorative.

Never mind that the amount of smoke had been purely because green leaves gave off more smoke than flame.

Never mind that Moley had, apparently, been looking for anything to kick him into spring cleaning the place.

Never mind that it would be easy to repair.

“I can help you with that, if you want.” Ratty had his hands in his pockets as if he was nonchalant, and like it hadn’t taken nearly three days to work up the cross the road.

Mole turned back on his ladder, falling back from his tiptoes as he did, wobbling very unstably, but with very little concern as to his own safety.

Moley blinked down at him, adjusting to the light from the doorway, having spent the majority of his week in the dim room. “Ratty!” He descended the ladder like it wasn’t over six foot, bounding to Ratty’s feet. “Would you? Do you mean that?”

Once again caught off guard by Mole’s readiness to agree, Ratty crossed his arms over his chest. “Yeah, ‘course.” He sniffed, then rubbed a knuckle over his nose. “Shop closes at 4, ‘can help you past five.”

“Oh but you must be busy!”

Ratty shrugged. “Only missing a game on the green, boys can do without a subpar bowler for an evening or two.”

“Well! If it’s not that much trouble, I’d be glad of the help!”

So it came to be that, five on the dot the next afternoon, Ratty was on Mole’s doorstep in his painting clothes, looking the scruffy self he rarely showed when at work. He’d found some paint leftover from when he’d painted his own sign, almost ten years ago now, that was still good. Meant their signs would match in colour, but what was a small village without some semblance of community?

Ratty knocked this time, suddenly finding it almost improper to enter without notice, despite having entered without permission every time he’d been in the place.

“Door’s open!”

Ratty placed the paint cans beside the doorstep, wiped his hands against his trousers before opening the back door, the same one he’s crashed through a fortnight ago. The local locksmith had changed the door free of charge, on the promise of a bouquet of roses for his wife come their anniversary. It was a much nicer lock this time, too, which did good for Ratty’s nerves.

Stood in his kitchen was Mole in a flower-y pinny, stood over the stove like a real housewife. “Fishcakes for tea!” Moley said over the spitting butter in the pan, circles of pinkish fish browning in the pan. “Plates, Ratty, quick!” Mole waved his non-spatula hand at a cupboard to Ratty’s left, which he dove for, reaching for a plate which he recognised from his time incapacitated in bed. For a week Mole brought him lunch and dinner, all neatly served on a floral blue china plate.

Mole took the plate and scooped two of the fishcakes from the pan, before waving at Ratty again, so he took a second plate from the cupboard and handed it over. Once they were off the heat and the pan wasn’t spitting oil, Mole handed both plates over to Ratty, who held them as Mole dolloped out spoonfuls of mash and greens.

“For me?” Ratty guessed.

“I can’t pay you for your help, Ratty, thought I could ‘least fill you up before we start.”

“You know I can’t say no to yer cooking, Mr. Mole.”

-

Ratty and Mole worked on the shop every evening (bar Sundays) for a month; stripping back paint, washing down furniture, replastering and repasting and repainting, until finally, finally Mole could think about ordering plants again to be sold.

Every Sunday, they would meet for lunch (cooked by Rat if only for pride’s sake,) before heading to the green together to join a game. Moley was turning out to be a decent fielder, and Ratty enjoyed having a teammate encourage him, (not that he disliked the good-natured ribbing he got for being a semi-decent bowler, but sometimes it was nice to be complemented.)

Then, one day, Ratty popped over, only to find the the shop looking pristine. The plants had arrived, the paint had dried and Moley had cleared away the last of the dust and the inside of the shop was, for the first time, recognisable as what it was. A florist.

If just seeing this made Ratty emotional, it was incomparable to the expression he saw on Mole’s face, once the man had taken a second to really look around and appreciate the beauty of the place. “It’s finished.”

“It’s finished,” Ratty repeated.

“Done,” Mole said, sounding completely overwhelmed. Ratty felt something tap against his hand. He looked down to see Mole grabbing it and giving it a squeeze. “Oh, thank you Ratty.” Mole took a deep, slightly shaky breath, evidently bowled over with emotion. He squeezed Ratty’s hand, then dragged him out of the shop doors to the street.

“Need a name,” Mole said, pointing at the sign with the hand not currently attached to Ratty.

“What’s wrong with ‘Village Flowers’? Simple, innit?”

“But Ratty, I want it to be my shop.”

Ratty bit his lip with an unspoken ‘I guess’. “So what were you thinking?”

“I want you to name it.” Mole looked up at Ratty, an unbelievable amount of trust in his eyes. It was almost hard to recieve, that amount of devotion. It made Rat look away, instantly, considering the sign as if he could think in this heat, under this pressure.

Heart beating, his thoughts went to his arm, bandaged as always. “‘My oh My’,” he said, under his breath.

There was a long pause before Mole said anything. “‘My oh My’,” he repeated, as if part of a song, making Ratty’s heart lurch with the tune.

Ratty was in love.

-

Above Mole’s heart was a single word in a messy handwritten script. Home.