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What’s it all about?

Meet Matt. He’s complicated. He’s obstinate. He’s sweary. Come with him and his friends on their journey through the ups and downs of life.

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140. The end

In which it is the end.

Laura

I had just hung out a load of laundry and was sitting down with a cup of tea when the doorbell went. Sighing at the interruption to my busy sitting, I got up and answered it, to find Dec standing there, looking a bit dazed. I was pleased to see him; he hadn’t called round since Matt died, and although Tom said he was handling working again, I knew it had been hard for him, hard enough that seeing me, coming to our home, had been too much. I’d seen Amy a lot, and hoped I had reassured her that I knew Dec would do things in his own time. I opened the door wider and let him in.

‘Lau … I just … here.’

He held out his hand, which contained a flash drive.

‘I won’t stay, it’s just … I read it, and it made sense, and I started it a long time ago, but when I read it, I thought I’d do some more, but it’s too much, so I’ve just done up to when it was all good, and …’

As he was speaking, tears were beginning to trickle down his face, and he started to back away, towards the door.

‘Dec, flower, come and sit down.’

He stood, undecided, still holding out the flash drive, shaking his head slightly.

‘No, it’s OK, I just wanted … oh fuck it Lau, I’m sorry.’

Tears were now streaming down his cheeks, and his face was contorted with the effort of trying not to sob.

‘Dec, it’s OK. Come and sit down, I’ve just made a cuppa.’

He nodded, breathed deeply and went into the living room, walking like he might step on a landmine, while I went into the kitchen.

When I returned with his tea, he was sitting on the sofa, staring into space. I handed him the mug.

‘Thanks, Lau. Sorry. I’m being a fucking nutter. Amy made me come, I wanted her to bring it.’

He held the flash drive out again.

‘It’s weird being here.’

‘I’m glad Amy made you come, I haven’t seen you for ages. What’s on the flash drive? I didn’t quite get everything you were saying.’

‘Sorry, I’m just not handling it, am I? And I feel like, shit, if anyone should be not handling it, it’s you, so I just didn’t want to come here, where he isn’t, and be all like I just was. Oh fuck, I’m a bloody mess.’

‘We all are, flower. People just do things differently, that’s all.’

‘How are you being so fucking normal, Lau?’

‘I’m very far from normal. The kids are helping, we’re helping each other.’

‘They’re great kids.’

‘I know. So what’s on this, then?’

Dec had stopped holding the flash drive out, and put it on the coffee table. He took a deep breath.

‘I read his story. Fuck, it was amazing. How did he remember everything?’

I shrugged, being unsure myself, but having a suspicion.

‘Well he did have a good memory, but he was also pretty good at making it sound like he knew stuff when he was at best only partly sure.’

Dec stared. ‘What, you mean it was all bullshit?’

‘No, not exactly, some of the conversations I remembered, and they were almost word for word, and to my knowledge, everything that he said happened, actually happened. But the thing with remembering who said what is that it’s so subjective, you don’t recall the specifics, just the gist. So let’s be generous and call it artistic licence.’

Dec continued to look at me, wide-eyed.

‘Fuck, I wish I’d known. I’ve been racking my brains trying to get everything bloody word perfect.’

He indicated the still unexplained flash drive.

‘So what have you been doing then?’

‘Oh, well, it’s something I started way back, years ago, when I was seeing Adam, actually, when I first started seeing him. I tried to contact him, see if I could book in some more sessions with how my head’s been recently, but he’s retired, or moved away or something. I guess I need to find someone else to clear out my box of shit.’

‘Your what?’

Dec smiled to himself.

‘Oh, that’s what me and Matt called it when we needed our heads sorting.’

I still wasn’t clear exactly what it was that Dec had brought round.

‘So what has Adam got to do with this, then?’

I pointed at the flash drive.

‘Well, he had this thing where when you were having trouble with shit, if it was just going round and round and you weren’t thinking straight because of it, or if you wanted to work something out with someone but it was hard to actually say because you weren’t sure how you felt, he’d say write it down, in a letter, or a story or something.’

‘Oh! Matt did that. He’s written things to the children, from before they were born. I think Adam suggested that too.’

Dec nodded. ‘Yeah, probably. Anyway, it was a useful thing to do, especially back then when I was younger and there was a lot of shit that was unresolved, and I started this kind of story type thing, it helped me understand how I’d got to where I had with Jay and everything that went on, before and after. And then I put it away and forgot about it, but sometimes things would crop up, and I’d write about them again, but it was all just put away on the computer, for years, and then you emailed Matt’s thing, and I thought what a fucking amazing way to make us bloody remember him, the bastard, and I wanted to do something so my kids would know me, how I’d been when I was young and not an old fart like they all think I am, but then …’

He stopped again, tears welling up in his eyes. He looked at me, stricken.

‘Sorry Lau.’

‘OK, no more sorries, flower. You don’t have to tell me, it’s all here, isn’t it?’

I gestured to the table.

He nodded. ‘Yeah, but I didn’t get as far as I wanted to. It’s nowhere near as long as Matt’s. I couldn’t go past when Adam told me I didn’t need to see him any more That was kind of when everything seemed perfect – I had Amy and the kids, we were married, you and Matt were married, Rose was still here. After that … well it wasn’t exactly a downward slope, but I couldn’t go there, when he started to get ill, when Rose started to … you know. And I did this weird thing instead of he said she said, using symbols, kind of wish I hadn’t but couldn’t be arsed to go through and change it all. Nowhere near as good as his.’

‘Dec, you do know it’s not a competition, don’t you?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Do you, really? Because most of your life you and Matt have had this contest thing going on – you know, I can get drunker than you, I’m madder than you, I can swear more, I can call you at a more annoying time of night, any of this sounding familiar?’

Dec laughed, and the cloud lifted from his face for a moment.

‘Yeah, I know. It kept us entertained.’

‘Well thanks for doing this, flower, and don’t worry about where you stopped, or what you’ve written. You don’t have to show me, I’m not going to mark it like a teacher. I just thought that as Matt’s had helped me, it might help someone else to give it a try. I’m going to give it a go myself.’

‘No, I want you to have it, I want you to read it. I’m going to give it to everyone, like you did. There’s …’ a cheeky grin crept over his face, ‘… there’s no porn in it, though.’

‘Thank God for that. I’m not sure I could cope with any more detailed descriptions. I probably should have cut those bits out.’

‘What? No way. Gives me a whole new perspective on Matt. And you. Bloody hell, Lau. You didn’t send it to your bloody mum, did you? Or Carol?’

I nodded, sheepishly. ‘I wanted them to read it all. I did put a note in, warning them.’

‘Yeah, I know, but still. It’s like him, though, isn’t it, to write all that and not give a shit who sees it. The whole thing was like him, it was like he was in the room telling me it sometimes.’

‘Yeah, it was. It is. I’ve read it through a few times.’

‘Have you bookmarked the naughty bits?’

‘That would be telling.’

‘Lau … I’m glad I came round.’

‘I am too. You’re welcome any time. You can even text me in the middle of the night if you like.’

‘Ha ha. I miss that, you know. Declan Charles Summers, it’s 3am and time for beer. And I’d know he needed a chat, and even though he woke me up at some ridiculous times, and so I’m getting more sleep now, I bloody miss it.’

‘You meant a lot to him.’

‘I know. It’s bizarre isn’t it, how things work out. When I was thirteen, I had no one, and here I am, part of the world’s largest weirdest family, some of the best people on the planet in my life.’

He took a breath and got to his feet.

‘You know we always had this thing, you shouldn’t be alone when you’re feeling this shit?’

I nodded, well aware of how Matt and Dec had supported each other through their respective bad times.

‘Well that’s one of the hardest things now, he always knew when I was feeling shit and when he needed to come and be an arse to make me feel better, but that’s gone now, and I feel really shit right now, and he’s not … he won’t ever … you know.’

‘Yeah, I know.’ There was nothing else to say; I had a newly formed unfillable place inside me too, which words couldn’t describe. I stood up, opening my arms for a hug, and Dec clung on tightly while taking some deep breaths, but didn’t cry again. When we let go, I looked into his eyes and saw sadness and recognition, then he straightened up and brought himself back into the present.

‘I’d better get back, Ames wants me to put a picture hook up.’

‘Really?’

I raised an eyebrow at him.

‘Yeah, I know, be prepared for the bloody house to fall down. Got to get used to doing DIY shit for myself now.’

‘You could always ask Tom, couldn’t you?’

‘What, and admit to my son that I’m useless with a drill?’

‘Dec, he knows. It’s not like your, er, skills are a secret.’

‘Yeah, but that’s not the same as admitting it. Thanks, Lau. It’s good to talk, isn’t it.’

‘Yeah. Come again, soon. I like remembering Matt with you.’

Dec gave me a wistful smile, and I knew he wasn’t ready for that quite yet. Maybe if he found another psychologist, that would help. I plugged the flash drive into the laptop and saved the file with the rest them, under PP, which I had belatedly worked out stood for Philpotts.

Cal

Other people slowly got round to reading it, although Josh never has to my knowledge, and Lau got lots of memories from us all to add to her own. When, a year or so later, Lau sent her own apparently highly censored story to us all, it was another nudge for me to think about what I was going to write. My life hasn’t been filled with anywhere near so much emotional drama as Matty’s, but I started to think of it as like a photo album – little verbal snapshots of moments in time that I remember as important to me. I didn’t start writing straight away, as I still had Uni to finish. But every time I remembered something, I’d jot it down on my phone or on the laptop, so I had a store of things to write about.

Laura

I haven’t done a memory. This whole story is my memory, a tribute to what he was and what we had. I’ve been so incredibly touched and moved by what everybody has written and said to me. Matt would have loved to have heard it, although he would have covered up his pleasure with some kind of silliness. I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing him.

And so that’s it. That’s the complete record of Matt and Lau, start to finish and beyond. To anyone who might read this, thank you for sticking with it until the end. If anyone is offended by anything, well, I wrote it mainly for me, and anything I wrote helped me through a difficult time so, in the words of the master, ‘fuck you’. Obviously, Mum, if you’re reading this, I don’t mean you.

It’s going to be difficult to stop typing, to save the final version of this file and put it away for good, as I’ve lived it for a long time, both reading Matt’s story over and over again, and writing, re-writing, revising and editing mine. But it’s time to stop, for me.

The last words should go to Matthew Robert Scott. It’s on my wedding ring, and his:

Forever yours.

Cal

And so now here I am, up to date. I qualified as a Physiotherapist a year ago, and after working for a year in various settings to get experience, I’m now with … Raiders. Apples don’t fall far from the tree, I guess. Ironically, Kieran, the young student who set me on this path back then, is here too, and he’s my boss. There are enough people still here from when I was a player that I get the piss taken out of me on a regular basis.

Conor is six and Lily is four, and now we have bump number three to look forward to.

Should I do the rounds of everyone, just to get you up to speed? Then someone else can take over the reins, if they have the urge.

OK, so Chrissie, me, Con, Lil and Winterbottom the Third. We’re doing great. Chrissie is just about to give up teaching, maybe for good, we haven’t decided yet. I’m at Raiders, so having set days can be problematic with games being played here there and everywhere, and Chrissie would love to be there for the children full time as long as they need her.

Mum and Dad are off on their second round the world trip – they’re doing a cruise this time, trying to fit in lots of the things they didn’t see last time. Dad has got a taste for travelling. He even goes hiking so he can see things you can’t drive to or see out of your hotel window. Sometimes, Mum has to tell him to slow down. Way to go, Dad.

Iz and Ben are still happily living in sin (oh the shame …) up in Manchester. Still no nieces or nephews, even though we’ve all had a go at persuading them, but Iz remains steadfast. I can’t understand it. She loves kids, loves Con and Lil, but she says she doesn’t want any of her own. We reckon she’ll change her mind, when it starts getting a bit more urgent, but she says no. Ben is non-committal, and I think if he were to stick his oar in, Iz might do a U-turn, but I know he won’t try to influence her. Mum is nearly beside herself, sometimes it’s all she talks about, until we forcibly change the subject. Mum loves being Nana to our two-nearly-three, but apparently your daughter’s children are different. Ah well, I’ll have to wait to find out if that’s true.

Gran is still remarkable. She’s ninety now, and although she needs more help than she used to (or at least than she used to admit) she’s still living in her own home. She had a fall a year or so ago, and we thought she’d broken her hip, but she’d just badly bruised it. It shook her up, and she let us help her a bit more, filling her freezer up with meals, doing her washing, all the things that you just don’t have to do if someone else is willing to do it for you. After a bit of persuading, she agreed that it might be nice to have a rest from housework after all these years. She’s still got all her marbles, though, and it’s great to go and chat to her over a cup of tea (which she refuses to let anyone else make) and a slice of Mum’s cake. The kids love her, mainly because she’s always got chocolate around somewhere.

Dec and Amy are still in the same house they’ve always lived in. Various of their children come and go, and I don’t think it’s been just the two of them – well, ever I guess, as they had Charlie when they first moved there. Dec and Tom are managing the business between them, with Amy and Lau giving some admin support, and it looks like Dec and Matty built something good there.

Charlie is still in search of the perfect job. She changes her mind about what that might be at least four times a week. At the moment she’s into alternative therapies, and has filled her flat with candles, crystals and disgusting smelling incense, but she’s previously been certain she was meant to be an HGV driver, a veterinary nurse, an actor, a chocolatier, a beauty therapist and a radio DJ. Her enthusiasm waned every time, once she realised she was going to have to work pretty hard to achieve her latest dream. But let’s be generous and say she still hasn’t found the one thing that makes it worth her while. Charlie has a lot of energy and a lot to give to the career that eventually keeps her attention. Until then, she seems destined to try a bit of everything. Her romances follow the same pattern, with blokes catching her eye but not able to hold her attention for more than a couple of months. One day she’s going to fall hard for some lucky (or barking mad) man, but she hasn’t found him yet.

Tom is working hard, more than filling Matty’s shoes at Linebreak. He’s about to move out of home, and in with his lovely girlfriend Maria. They’ve bought a small flat, and Maria is already there, making it homely, with their puppy, Yips. Tom has always been the planner of the Summers family, and I have a sneaky feeling that Maria and Yips might be on a spreadsheet somewhere.

Gracie beat me to qualifying as a Physio by a few years, and is at the moment working in New Zealand on a temporary visa. We haven’t seen her for nearly a year, apart from Skyping, but she’s due home in a few weeks, and we’re going to have a huge welcome home party. We’re going to have to do it without Mum, who is on a ship somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, but she’s left instructions for the best way to do things, which I think we’re going to ignore. Gracie is going to stay with Dec and Amy until she finds her feet, but I doubt she’ll stick around here for long. Having talked to her, she’s realised that the whole world needs Physios, and she’s using it as her passport to travel.

Rosa is a successful jewellery designer. She didn’t go to Uni, having already decided what she wanted to do while she was at school, and taking courses from home while selling her jewellery. She is very talented, makes lovely stuff, and sells it on the internet and in her tiny shop in the city centre. Rosa hasn’t left home yet, and has converted the attic (which used to be Charlie’s room) into a studio. She has just taken on an apprentice, so she doesn’t have to spend every waking hour bent over a table going blind making masterpieces out of gold and silver. She hasn’t had time for romance, so she tells me – although Charlie, who takes after Mum in knowing everything about everyone before they even know it themselves, confidently assures me that Rosa will marry Darrin, who is her best friend from school, who adores her. Well I suppose I can vouch for the best friend approach.

Lau is amazing. She helps out at Linebreak, she volunteers at the local Age Concern day centre, she spends some time every day with Gran, making sure she’s OK without making Gran feel rubbish about not being able to do as much, she’s always popping by here and bringing pens for the kids, or some chocolate chip cookies she’s made, or just coming for a sing with Lily (who fancies herself something of a pop star). I know Lau thought about going back to work after Matty died, but I don’t know where she’d fit it in, amongst her Linebreak work, her volunteering and her Pilates. Plus, she’s got a wedding to plan across two continents.

Which brings me on to Ella. And Basty. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between England and Argentina before it finally occurred to the two of them that they would be better off both staying in one country. But which were they going to choose?

Ella didn’t have a job as such, being used to finding temp work as and when, but her family was here. Basty had his rugby in Buenos Aires, and although theoretically you can play rugby anywhere, he stood a better chance of playing for Argentina if he was living in Argentina. So for a while they were in England in the off-season, Argentina in the rugby season. This suited Ella, who loves mixing things up, hates being tied to one place. But then Basty was offered a great contract with TomCats, who are based in London, and their twice yearly globe-trotting seems to be at a temporary end.

Basty proposed the day he found out, and Ella said yes immediately, and we all wondered what they’d been waiting for. So now they’re looking for somewhere to live in London, and Lau and Lis are joining forces to outdo Beth in the wedding planner stakes, because they’re going to get married twice – once in Devon and once in Buenos Aires, to satisfy both sets of friends and family. Although having said that, most of us are going out to Argentina for the second wedding too, because we’re all sadly obsessed.

Josh has left Raiders. It feels wrong (just kidding Joshy – you made the right decision). He plays for Warriors, who are also based in London, and broke the mould of Scott men staying with Raiders until they were too old and toothless to do anything else. He’s been playing out of his skin this season, and has been called up to the England squad for the Autumn Internationals. He might play against Basty, at both league and international level. Josh is loving life in London; he’s really enjoying the team he’s playing for, they have a great ethos, and have introduced him to the London clubbing scene, which he was never particularly into down here. He’s been out with actresses, TV hosts and pop stars, and is currently playing the field. Sometimes, just for a laugh, I tell him he ought to think about what he does when he finishes rugby, but he just gives me a look, one I think he learned from Matty, and laughs.

Ayesh and Sam have two kids, Bonnie and Georgia. They live not far from me and Chrissie, and we see each other all the time. Our children all get on really well, and Chrissie and Ayesh are best mates. We’ve even been on holiday together – just to Centre Parcs. Never would have imagined that happening ten years ago or so.

Baggo – well, Baggo and Jen got divorced, but it was all fairly civilised, and he’s still in London, still sees Daisy, still sees Jen actually. I think it was just one of those ‘can’t live with you, can’t live without you’ things, and they’ll always be in each other’s lives, I think, in one way or another. He comes down to stay every so often, usually sleeping on the couch, usually disappearing for a night in the middle of his stay then turning up looking rough half way through the morning. The kids love him, because he has a mental age of a three year old anyway, and spends half his time here putting chips up his nose or farting loudly. But when the kids have gone to bed, and Chrissie has made herself scarce, we still have really good chats, about everything. He’s my best mate, always will be.

So that’s it, really. This has been the life of Calum James Scott so far. I wanted to see if I could do it, because Matty showed the way, and I still miss him, and writing about him brought him closer for a while, although I missed being able to ask him about spelling and grammar. I’ve read Lau’s and Dec’s stories, and whether this has added or taken anything away from them is for you to decide.

The next chapter is down to you …

Iz

And there we have it. Start to finish, everything everybody wrote. I have so loved putting this together, it’s been a real eye-opener seeing some mythical family events, like ‘that Christmas’, through the eyes of three different people, but extremely frustrating that the same three people chose to stay silent on some equally significant Scott family escapades. I guess we all see different things as important.

I feel like I know everyone so much better, especially the ‘authors’. I’ve enjoyed correcting my big brother’s appalling spelling and grammar, even though he wanted it all left in for ‘authenticity’; Lau made me blush with her no holds barred explicitness; Dec made me cry because I never knew him when he was that fucked up teenager, and it explained a lot; Julia – well do you know, I looked her up, managed to find her, and told her what she’d started when she sent her story to Matty. She didn’t want to read all this, but she’s lovely, still in Norfolk, never married – I have a kind of feeling that she loved Matty after all.

It’s been great reading different versions of people I know too – Baggo, Gran, Amy, Mum and Dad, Andrew, even me – when you see people through someone else’s eyes, it gives you a different perspective, helps you understand them.

And Matty. I know and understand Matty so much better. I always loved him, he was a huge presence all my life, but I don’t think I ever truly understood him until I read both what he had to say, and what Lau, Cal, Dec and Julia had to say about him. I wish I could have talked to him about it, but even if I’d been able to try he would have deflected it away from the serious by arsing about.

It’s time to put this away now. Life goes on, and sometimes it makes a story, but more often than not it just makes life. Make sure you appreciate it.

139. Love letters

In which a loved one is remembered.

Cal

A couple of months after Matty died, there was an email from Lau.

I was at home studying when it popped up in my inbox, and I immediately clicked on the link to open up the document. Two hours of reading had gone by before I looked up, neck stiff from being bent over the laptop for so long. Two hours, and I was nowhere near finished.

I reluctantly closed down the computer and went to pick up Conor and Lily from Mum, who had been giving me a break from them so I could get some work done. I felt a twinge of guilt as I walked up to the front door, knowing I should have been writing my essay, but Lau had been right; it felt like Matty was talking to me. He wrote like he spoke, not afraid of using flowery words, or more fruity words, and definitely not a shrinking violet when it came to writing about his sex life. I hadn’t got to any bits with Lau in yet, and wondered if I would actually be able to read them. Time would tell.

Mum answered the door with Lily in her arms, and I could hear Conor squealing delightedly somewhere else in the house. Mum gave me a hug and tilted her head in the direction of the squealing, while Lily held her arms out for me.

‘Someone’s having fun.’

I raised an eyebrow.

‘Grandad’s giving Conor pony rides.’

‘Really?’

‘Really. I fear for his knees. But it’s great to see. There has been laughing.’

‘What, real laughing? Bloody hell.’

I carried Lily into the living room to see the spectacle for myself. Dad was, indeed, crawling around on all fours, with a very excited Conor sitting astride his back shouting ‘faster horsey’ and pulling on Dad’s collar like it was reins. Dad had a huge smile on his face, which I hadn’t seen for two months or more, and he was making clippy cloppy noises with his mouth.

I had a flashback to a much younger me. Dad had carried me around this very living room in exactly the same fashion, and I had squealed much as Conor was doing now. Lily reached out an arm, clinging on to me with her other hand.

‘Lil doot.’

‘Maybe when Grandad’s finished giving Con a ride, Lil.’

‘Lil doot Ganda.’

Dad looked up, his face red with exertion, but looking more animated than I’d seen him for a long time. If I’d known messing about with the kids would have this effect on him, I’d have brought them over every day for the last two months.

‘OK, Conor my man, let your sister have a go.’

‘Oh but Grandad …’

‘Come on, mate. Fair’s fair. I think Nana’s got something for you in the kitchen.’

A boy after my own heart, young Conor Scott could not resist the thought of Beth Scott’s cooking and he scooted out in search of cake or cookies, or whatever Mum was likely to be enticing him with.

Dad sat up on his haunches, panting slightly, and looked up at Lily.

‘Jesus, this is more tiring than being at the bottom of a ruck.’

‘Have a break then, before round two.’

‘Nah, can’t disappoint my girl.’

And with a whinny, he dropped back down into a crawl, while I held Lil on Dad’s back, and watched my daughter being entranced by riding her ‘pony’.

After a while, Dad had had enough, and Mum and Conor came back in, Conor carrying a mug of tea towards me.

‘Hey, Con, look at you carrying hot drinks all by yourself.’

I took the mug from him, and looked up at Mum as I felt it wasn’t actually that hot. I wrinkled my nose at her, but took a sip of the tepid liquid.

‘Yum, mate. Best tea ever. Thanks a lot Nana.’

Mum laughed. ‘You’re welcome, sweetheart. Did you get much work done?’

‘Hmm, well, I started off with good intentions, then that email came from Lau and I got sidetracked.’

‘What email?’

‘She sent it to everyone, this afternoon. With Matty’s story.’

‘I haven’t checked my emails yet today, we’ve been a bit busy with your children. What story?’

‘Matty wrote a story, apparently. Well more like his life story. Lau’s just found it, and she sent it to everyone.’

‘Really? James, where’s the laptop?’

I glanced at Dad, and saw a closed look had settled back on his face. Dammit. He’d forgotten himself playing with Con and Lil, and now he’d remembered he was feeling miserable.

‘Where you left it?’

‘I left it in here. Have you moved it? Oh, there it is.’

The computer had got pushed under a sofa, probably while Dad was winning the imaginary Grand National. Mum opened it up and logged on, while I sipped some almost cold tea and Conor and Lily tipped the box of Lego out onto the floor.

I watched as Mum read the email, Dad watching the children as if he didn’t care, but all his attention was focussed on Mum.

‘Ohh. God, Cal, that’s just amazing. Did you know he was doing that?’

‘I don’t think anyone knew. I read a bit of it – well, a lot of it – this afternoon, when I should have been writing about the spinal nerves, but it’s pretty long. I haven’t even got to Lau yet.’

‘What do you mean, ‘got to Lau’?’

‘Well it’s his whole life, not in minute by minute detail, but from when he was little. He’s been around a bit, hasn’t he.’

Mum clicked on the computer and read, presumably the start of Matty’s tale. As her eyes darted along the words, I saw amusement turn up the corners of her mouth, and then she laughed out loud.

‘Oh my God, it’s just like him talking.’

‘I know. I couldn’t stop reading it.’

‘James, you have to read this.’

Mum held the laptop out towards Dad, but he pushed it back.

‘No I don’t. No thanks, Beth.’

‘But James, you’d –’

‘Enough. I said no.’

I’d never heard Dad use that tone, not with Mum. I mean, at Raiders we’d heard it all the time, but this was different. He really meant it. For a minute I thought Mum was going to push it, and I braced myself for impact, but she nodded and folded the lid of the computer down, looking back at me with a too-bright smile on her face.

‘I’ll save it for later, then. Thanks, sweetheart, it could have stayed there for days before I saw it.’

I wondered if words would be said after Conor, Lily and I had left, but somehow I doubted it. Mum never backed away from a fight, but she was backing away from Dad a lot these days, and it seemed wrong somehow. She usually knew what she was doing though, and surely she’d talk to someone if she needed to, wouldn’t she?

So I read Matty’s story. God how I wish I’d read it when he was still alive, it helped me know him so much better, understand why he was so fiercely independent. But I suppose that was the thing. Matty didn’t like people knowing shit about him, he liked being in control. Lau was the only one who got right in there, full access all areas, and I guess as long as he had that, as long as there was someone who completely got him, then that was OK. It made me worry more about Lau, though, about where she would anchor herself now Matty wasn’t there digging his heels in and holding them both in place.

And Matty’s story helped me understand more about Dad. Dad never talked about his dad, my grandfather who died long before I was born. Gran never really talked about him either, so I never thought about him. But I could kind of see how Dad would feel that he needed to look after Matty, as his little brother, even when they were grown up, hence the dashing up to Stafford when Matty was ill the first time, and hence the guilt now he hadn’t been able to stop Matty dying. Not that there was a thing he could have done about it, but I could see now, Dad was feeling guilty. Wasn’t there something about stages of grief? I was sure one of them was guilt. Maybe Dad was stuck there. I had no clue how to help, other than lend my children for pony rides as often as I could, which at least got him smiling.

Laura

From: bjscott@myweb.com

To: lustylau@hotnet.co.uk

Subject: Re: Matt’s Story

Hi Laura. I’ve just finished reading Matty’s book. I cried all the way through, I don’t know how you managed to finish it, it’s so lovely. What a lovely thing for him to do for you and the children, I feel like I understand him so much better. I want to do a remembering thing for him, but maybe I’m having trouble putting it into words. I miss him so much, he’s left such a large gap in all our lives. It was very moving to see how much he loved you, and to know how much he loved his family, all of us. I’ll come round soon and we’ll have a good old natter. James hasn’t read it yet, I think it might be a while before he can bring himself to, but he’ll get there one day.

See you soon – lunch on Sunday?

Beth xx

Dear Laura

I will see you at the weekend anyway, but I wanted to send you this, something more permanent.

I have read Matthew’s words, even the – I’m not quite sure how to put it, dear – livelier portions. It wasn’t easy reading, it all feels so recent, and I’m not sure I’m ready to consign him to history just yet, but thank you for sharing it with me.

Matthew was never an easy person to understand, and this has helped considerably. I will always remember him as a kind, caring, gentle boy who did the right thing, once he’d worked out what it was. He was so good to me, to the detriment of his career and his life at the time, and what happened to him was undeserved and cruel.

He loved you and the children very much, and despite having been taken from us too soon, it gladdens me that he had so much happiness in his life.

With much love

Carol

‘Laura, I just finish Matty’s story. I cry very much, is beautiful, like Matty. We miss him a lot, to get texts to make us laugh, to see him smile on Facetime, to say ‘no I am OK’ when he don’t walk or breathe good. He is brave, special man. We come to see you soon, we have holiday in England. Much love Nico and Lis xxx’

From: andypippadistock@hnxn.com

To: lustylau@hotnet.co.uk

Hi Laura

Wow. I just got through Matt’s tome. Took me a while, and I had to go back and read a lot of it again, there was so much in there. He thought about a lot of shit, didn’t he.

I don’t know where he found the energy or the persistence to keep it up, I know I’ll never be able to stick at anything that long.

OK, you asked for us not to forget Matt, not that it’s likely that we will, he’s blazed a trail through all our lives, you only had to be there at his funeral to see how many people were there, and hear what they were all saying about him, how much everyone thought of him. But anyway, if you want the Andrew Distock perspective on Matt Scott, here it is.

From the day we first met, back on the first day of secondary school, we were mates. I mean, the person who shares your all-encompassing love of Tottenham Hotspur has to be special, right? So we were destined to be mates. Matt was the same as me, a weedy nerd, with a sense of humour, and although that first day he pretended to like Spurs because I did, he came back the next day knowing shit about them even I didn’t know. You had to respect someone who was that desperate for a friend – ha, no, that’s not what it was. Matt never did anything half-heartedly. He’d find out everything he possibly could about it before taking the plunge, and then once he’d decided, that was it, part of him. So Spurs, sorry Matt’s family, my fault.

We geeked along through school together, with our nerdy side-kicks at times, but we both changed when we got to Uni, I guess life caught up with us, or maybe it was my girlfriend at the time with her hair-cutting scissors. We both got more confident, Matt was a particular favourite with the ladies, but he was always a gentleman himself. He remained a gentleman, even in the midst of his young, free and single days. He knew how to treat – well I was going to say a woman, but he knew how to treat everyone. He had this way of just being easy with everyone. Oh, I see that could be a double entendre, because there were times when, yes, he was very easy, but that’s not what I meant. He never made you feel like it was an effort to be with you, you always had his full attention.

I am going to miss the old bastard a lot. It’s not like we spent a lot of time together, sometimes it could be a year between contacting each other, but we’ve texted, emailed and called each other, whenever, as if we only saw each other at school yesterday. I think he’s the only person I’ve known who, after several months of not being in touch, could send me a text that said ‘Whoa just found out Spock fought Wolverine and WON!!’ and then we could both be happy with nothing more for another year, when one of us would call the other one and we’d spend an hour gossiping about films and computers and nothing remotely important.

Pip read some of Matt’s story too, and she said something that really hit home. She’s only met him a few times, and once was at our wedding, so she had other things on her mind, but she said ‘He was always just out there, wasn’t he?’ She meant that what you saw was what you got. I guess, reading about it all, yeah, that was true. He tried hard to hide a lot of what he was feeling, but to people who knew him, he was an open book.

Becca remembers him fondly as ‘your sweary Spurs nerd mate’, and I suppose if you were going to soundbite Matt, that would sum him up somewhat. But there was so much more to him than that. He was sensitive and kind, loved you and the kids to the moon and back. I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for you, Laura. I’m proud and glad to have known him, and thank you for sharing this story with me.

Please keep in touch.

Yours,

Andrew

Cal

Once I’d finished Matty’s lengthy story, which I had to read in-between assignments and studying, I called Lau. I pressed her name, and as I was waiting for her to answer, I felt tears welling up in me. Shit. I really didn’t want to cry all over her, I hadn’t cried over Matty for weeks. I was just about to hang up when she answered, getting the full force of a huge sniff and a choked back sob.

‘Cal! Whatever’s the matter?’

‘Sorry … Lau. I wasn’t … I …’

I sniffed.

‘Shit. OK. I’ve stopped now. I wasn’t going to bloody snivel at you, it just came over me, when you answered. Shit. Shit. OK. I’m OK.’

‘Are you alright, flower?’

‘Yeah, yeah, I just wanted to say, I’ve read Matty’s bloody long story thing, shit, you could have warned me.’

‘I did say in my email …’

‘You said about intimate shit, I thought you meant bed stuff.’

‘I did. Why, what did you mean?’

‘All the bloody emotional shit. Jesus, Lau. That bastard, he never says an emotional word to any of us from one decade to the next, and then he bloody whacks us round the head over and over with this.’

‘Did you really not know how he felt about you?’

‘Well, I suppose I did. But to see it there, just written, in plain sight. Jesus. Sorry. It was awesome, reading it. I might give it a try myself, write something.’

It would be once I’d qualified as a Physio, but once all that was out of the way, I really felt like I wanted to do the same for my family, tell them how things started out for me.

‘That would be great, flower. I’ve started doing mine.’

‘Really? How’s that going?’

‘It’s a bit stop and start. But it’s helping.’

‘That’s good, Lau. I’m glad something’s helping. Chrissie says come over soon, have dinner, watch a DVD, chill.’

‘I’d love that. I haven’t had a smush with Conor and Lily for ages.’

‘Oh, yeah, that’s something else. We’ve been meaning to ask, with Matty gone, Conor’s lacking a godparent. Would you do it? I mean, not the whole ceremony and shit, just do the job?’

‘Oh Cal! Really?’

‘Yeah. We’d like it, a lot.’

‘So would I. Thank you my love.’

Lau had always been unofficial godmother to the kids, with or without Matty. She was great with them, and they loved her, and we just wanted to recognise it, as if she was doing it for Matty as well as for us.

‘Has anyone else finished Matty’s book?’

‘Yes, I’ve just heard from Andrew, do you remember Matty’s friend from Stafford? He emailed me with some memories. Nico’s read it, Carol sent me a lovely letter –’

‘Gran’s read it?’

‘Yeah. I wondered if she’d find some of it a bit difficult, but when I called her she said it helped her, that it made a change for Matt to be open about things, although it was typical to do it in a way that no one could argue with.’

‘Ha ha, well she’s right there. She knew him pretty well, didn’t she.’

‘Yeah, your gran always had Matt sussed. Beth’s read it too, no one else has let me know yet, but they might not.’

‘Not Dad, then?’

‘No, not that he’s said. Your mum said he’s still struggling with it all.’

‘Yeah, well, he’s not a great talker. I think, having read this, he thinks he should have been able to do something.’

‘Mm. I know what you mean. Maybe I’ll have a chat with him.’

‘Can’t hurt. Anyway, let us know about coming over. Or just come, we’re always here. Unless we’re not. Ha ha.’

‘I’ll text, flower. Take care, Cal.’

Laura

‘Just started Matty’s thing. Jesus Laura, how did you read it? I’m in bits. God I miss him. Jay.’

‘Jay.’

‘Laura?’

‘Hi. Where are you?’

‘At home. Beth’s out, she had a – oh shit.’ Sniffing.

‘I’m coming over.’

I got out of the car and hurried up the path, tapping on the door before letting myself in.

‘Jay?’

There was no answer for a few moments, then from the office:

‘In here.’

I opened the door to Jay’s office. He was sitting at his desk, in front of his computer, and he turned as I opened the door. I could see his sadness on his face, and tears had tracked their way down his cheeks.

‘Oh flower. Come here.’

Jay stood up, and I hugged him, and we cried for a little while. Since Matt died, Jay had cried a lot, as if it had opened something deep inside him. Slowly the sniffing and gulping subsided, and I needed to wipe my nose. I released Jay and rummaged in my bag, and found tissues for both of us. Jay stepped back, looking embarrassed.

‘Sorry, Laura. I don’t know why I keep doing that.’

‘Because you’re sad. I keep doing it too.’

‘But it’s been months.’

‘And have you stopped missing him?’

‘No.’

‘Then keep on doing it. It’s all fine, no-one’s judging you, except you.’

Jay nodded, but didn’t say anything. I suspected that he was his own harshest judge, and somehow crying was something to be ashamed of.

‘How far did you get?’

I gestured to the computer. Although the screen saver was showing pictures of Iz and Cal when they were little, I was pretty certain that Matt’s story, the cause of all this, was lying in wait underneath.

‘I only just started it. I’ve been trying to pluck up courage, Beth’s been going on, you know what she’s like. In the end, I thought, it’s only words, everyone else is saying how great it was to read it all, how it was just like hearing him talk, and maybe I was ready for that, but Jesus, Laura. He hated me.’

‘What? No he didn’t. He loved you.’

‘It’s there in black and white.’

‘Let me see.’

Jay moved the mouse and the screen saver disappeared. He pointed to the offending sentences, and I read It’s one of the reasons I hate him. Not really hate him. Oh but, yeah, really really hate him. He’s my brother, doesn’t that come with the territory?’. I looked up at Jay.

‘This is only the second page.’

‘What’s that got to do with it? Jesus, how many more times does he say it in the next hundred?’

I sighed. I could really see how it would look to Jay, but I’d read this many times, and I knew Matt inside out. I hoped I could explain without making things worse.

‘Jay, Matt wrote this story for lots of reasons. Some of it was so that he could say how he felt without having to literally say it face to face, but a lot of it was a way of working out for himself how he was feeling. He didn’t hate you, but you can’t deny that you had a love-hate brother thing going on when you were younger?’

Jay looked at me and slowly nodded.

‘If you think you can read more, you’ll see it, how much he loved you, all the things he wanted to say to you but never did because neither of you said stuff to each other.’

‘He doesn’t say he hates me again?’

Jay looked like he really wouldn’t be able to deal with reading those words again. I quickly reviewed the rest of Matt’s story, in an attempt to be honest and to prepare Jay if I could.

‘Well, he has written about that time you fell out about the Raiders job –’

‘Oh Jesus.’

‘– and he’s pretty straight about how he felt at the time, but keep on going and it’s got a happy ending. You know that, right? You know he loved you.’

‘I suppose.’

‘Don’t suppose, Jay. Know it. You don’t have to read it all, or any more of it, but don’t stop there thinking he hated you. Look, just a few lines down: ‘I also hate him for rescuing me when I nearly died. I also love him for rescuing me when I nearly died. My relationship with Jay is really fucking screwed. But then again, probably no more screwed than any other family’. He was trying to work it out, not tell the world how it was. Had you not read any further?’

Jay shook his head. I tutted.

‘Boys. Get it now?’

Jay nodded.

‘Thanks, Laura.’

Cal

Mum told me later that Dad had started to read the story not long after I called Lau, and he’d only got a few pages in when he had to stop. He’d texted Lau, something along the lines of ‘how did you manage to read this?’, and she went straight over. She somehow got him to talk about Matty, using whatever magical speech extraction methods she possesses, the witch, and Dad had a good blart (see? I’m picking up the Stafford lingo now). After that, things were easier for him. Lau gave him a good talking to about not feeling guilty, and told him that if he read Matty’s story, it might help with that, although she could see that it might be too difficult for him to do. Dad started to read it, a bit at a time, when he felt able to cope, and eventually he finished it, and agreed that it helped, that he still felt sad he and Matty hadn’t been able to say important things like how much they loved and admired each other face to face, but that in the same way he could see how Matty felt, Matty must have known how he felt.

Laura

From: ellsbells@bipbopboo.co.uk

To: lustylau@hotnet.co.uk

Subject: Re: Matt’s Story

Hi Mum

So I finally did it, I read Dad’s book. I got up early and turned my phone off, and got like snacks and drinks and stuff, so I didn’t have to stop for anything. It took me all day, and then some. It is so awesome. A bit weird in places, especially all the steamy love scenes with you, like ew parental advisory or what, but all the OTHER WOMEN – what on earth was he trying to do, get a publishing deal with eroti.com? But I loved loved loved knowing what he was like when he was younger. You forget that your parents were ever your age, don’t you? Does Granny have any pictures of him when he was little, or when he was at Uni or whatever? I can’t remember ever seeing him in his nerd days, surely there is some incriminating evidence somewhere??

He was the best Dad ever, I know he hated being ill, but it never mattered, he was just as awesome when he was in bed as he was when he was up and about. I never told anyone this, but part of me liked it when he wasn’t well enough to get up, because I could just go and be with him, and we could natter, and swap games and things on the computer, or he’d be asleep and I could just do my own thing, and he didn’t have anywhere to be, it was just us. When he was up and about, there were always more people who wanted to talk to him – oh, that sounds like no one talked to him when he was ill. No, he had loads of people around, didn’t he. It’s just when he was upstairs, people were more likely to think he needed a rest, and he probably did, but I could sneak in and just be there, have him all to myself.

Just one thing – how did he know about me and Basty? We were so like careful, because we weren’t sure, and we didn’t want this big thing. I swear there are too many people in this family who have a freaky like psychic vibe going on. Still, I’m glad he knew. I’m glad everyone knows now.

Can this be my memory thing? This email? I did a special font and everything. I don’t think I’ll ever do like a bazillion page thing like Dad did, but I love that he did it, it’s so him. Reading it made me miss him more, but feel close to him again.

Love you Mum, see you soon.

El xx

From: tom@linebreak.co.uk

To: lustylau@hotnet.co.uk

Subject: Re: Matt’s Story

Hi Lau

Here’s something for your memory thing for Matty.

01100111 01101111 01101111 01100100 00100000 01100010 01111001 01100101

0100100100100000011011010110100101110011011100110010000001111001011011110111010100100000011000010110111001100100001000000100100100100000011001010110000101110100001000000111000001100001011011100111010001110011

0

Tom

‘Hey Mum.’

‘Hi Josh, how are you doing?’

‘Good. Yeah. Can I have longer to read Dad’s thing? I don’t know about it. I know Ella’s done it, but …’

‘As long as you like, my love. You don’t have to at all, if you don’t want to.’

‘Yeah. I might not. After the letters, they were a bit full on for me, it was a bit, like, intense.’

‘I know, flower. Don’t worry, there’s no pressure either way.’

‘Yeah, but everyone else has read it, and they’re talking about it like it’s some amazing thing, but … oh I don’t know, I’m just being a dick.’

‘You shouldn’t worry about what anyone else has done, Josh. Tell you what, shall I give you a quick summary?’

‘Er … how quick? It was, like, twelve million pages long wasn’t it?’

‘Very quick. Three words.’

‘Really? Go on then.’

‘I love you.’

‘What?’

‘That’s what he was saying, in his roundabout, never coming to the point kind of way, to all of us. He was just telling us he loved us. So you don’t have to read it, because you know that, don’t you.’

‘Yeah. Thanks Mum.’

‘Hi Lau. R U home? Just found completely the perfect thing 4 yr Matt memory collection – this photo. <pic>. Says it all, when I remember him it’s like this, laughing, making everyone else laugh. It’s on my phone, and yrs 2, now, but maybe we can get it on yr computer, without Tom – let’s b brave! A x’

‘Hey Lau, it’s Charlie. Bugger, I hoped you’d be there. Oh well, I’ll just have to do this, I’m like on my way to work. I did it, I read it, it was hard, wasn’t it, reading all that, the last bit especially, when he started to get worse. Look, I don’t think I’m going to do anything like that, I don’t really do writing, but I just wanted to – oh, return to city centre please – where was I? Oh, yeah. I just wanted to say I loved him, I really loved him, he was so fucking great and it’s so fucking unfair that he’s not here any more I can’t say any more, I’ll just get too upset. I put off reading it for like weeks, but I’ve done it now, and I’m glad I did. I can’t say any more, I’ll be a wreck, and I don’t want to smudge my mascara. God, Lau, you told me he was a bit of a goer, I had no idea, he knew his shit when it came to the nasty, didn’t he. Like, whoa Matty. Anyway, if I keep on I’ll just be in pieces, so I’d better go. I’ll come and see you tonight, maybe we can look at some photos or something. I finish around five thir- <beep>

Dear Matty

Lau sent us all your book, and I’ve read it over and over again. It makes me feel like you’re still here, as if you’re talking to me. Lau said it would be good if we could write some of our memories of you, and I think it will help her so I’m going to do it. Not like you did, because there are only so many hours in a day, but the highlights. You seemed quite fond of bullet points, so here are mine about you.

  1. You were an awesome cook. I loved it when we stayed at yours and you’d do breakfast, because it wasn’t just cereal or toast, it would be eggs benedict or croissants with pate or something else delicious. And that time when Beth had the flu and you did Sunday lunch – don’t tell Beth, but I sometimes wished she was ill more often so you could do the roast potatoes.

  2. You gave the best hugs. I still remember from when I was little, you reading me stories before bedtime, but later too, I always felt safe when I was surrounded by your arms.

  3. You were completely naughty. Someone only had to make a rule, and you were looking for a way to break it. You were the best at breaking rules and getting away with it.

  4. You were so brilliant with computers. You helped me set up my blog for Rosa Is Red, and I’ve got so much business from it, it’s like you’re still a part of it all, and I love that.

  5. You talked to me like I was a grown up, and I don’t often get that, being the the youngest. I guess I realise now that maybe you understood that better than anyone else.

  6. We had the same birthday, and that means we’re the same somehow, which makes me happy.

  7. e^x=x because I want to think of you trying to solve it and never being able to, so you’ll always be here somewhere.

Rosa x

From: Izflo@pfsnet.com

To: lustylau@hotnet.com

Subject: Re: Matt’s Story

Lau, OMG, that was just awesome. It was like getting a letter from him or something. Thank you so so soooo much for sending it, sorry it’s taken me a while to reply, but I’ve read it over and over, and been thinking hard about my best memories of him. He’s been in my head for the last month, all the things he wrote about, when I was little and he was Unca Matty, and all the things he didn’t write about but I can remember, like all the chats we had, all the bad guy advice he gave me, I mean advice that was bad, not advice about bad guys – although maybe there was that too. There’s so much awesome stuff he did, it’s great to remember him like this rather than just being sad. Maybe we should have done it while he was still here, maybe it’s made me think about saying what people mean to me while they’re still here to appreciate it. You and Matty, Lau, you were so awesome when I needed it, when I couldn’t talk to Mum without screaming at her, I think we might have had a serious falling out if I hadn’t been able to Facetime you or drive over at midnight to get things off my chest. But anyway, I’ve come up with a Matty-style top ten awesome things about him that I remember. They are, in no particular order (except they are 1-10, but not order of awesomeness):

  1. Yeah, I remember the park and the Pizza Place, and I remember loving spending time on my own with Unca Matty. He was fun, I never even noticed he was ill.

  2. He never minded doing girly things – I was always painting his nails and putting bows in his hair, and he’d drive home in them or, who knows, maybe just round the corner and take it all off, but sometimes he’d still have purple nails the next time I saw him, like he’d been to work in it or something, and that was pretty cool.

  3. He never let Cal boss me when he was around, he always stuck up for me. Thinking about it, there was a similar age gap between him and Dad …

  4. God, was there anything he wasn’t good at? Computers, maths, cooking, women, handymanning, housework – you lucked out, Lau! But so did he, with you. He was a babe for an old guy though LOL.

  5. He was never too busy for us lot. If we called or texted or Facetimed or came round, he always made time for us. I mean, his job was pretty full on, right? But we were more important.

  6. He gave me a pair of shoes for my twenty-first that I’d been hankering after for months. I don’t know how he knew, I hadn’t told anyone. Maybe you had something to do with it, Lau?

  7. Ben really liked him. That means a lot, Ben’s quite particular, but he really likes me, too, so I know he has good taste 🙂

  8. He loved being active, walking, getting out in nature, going for a bike ride, swimming in the sea. It was hard to see him in bed, as if it was prison, but then when he’d get a bit better and go out again, it was like you could see him coming back to life.

  9. He had a quiet word with a bloke who was hassling me. Did you know that? This bloke kept calling me and texting, and it was freaking me out. Matty made me tell him who it was, and I don’t know what he said or did, but it stopped. Oh you probably know, there’s not much you don’t know, and you two always told each other bloody everything.

  10. Last one. Or not the last, because there’s so much in my head now that I hope I never forget, but last one to go wherever it is you’re going to keep all this. You. You and him, Lau. You were always, always so into each other, I’ve never seen anything like it. Even when he was with us all, messing about, chatting, playing games, his eyes would follow you, like he couldn’t stop looking at you. When you weren’t there, you could just tell he was thinking about you all the time. You were the soppiest couple I’ve ever known, always holding hands, snogging, whispering lewdness in each other’s ears – yeah, we all knew what you were up to. I’m glad you had it, had him, had each other.

So that’s it, the top ten. I’ll come and see you soon, and we can go through the rest of the pop chart if you like!

Take care of yourself, Lau. You know where I am if you need a chat, it’s about time I returned the favour.

Lots of loveliness

Iz xxx

‘Dear Laura

I’ve been thinking about the story you gave me to read and I’d like to come and see you this afternoon. Matt was a special man, and I’d like to spend some time thinking about him with you.

Mum x’

From: graciesummers@tinterweb.co.uk

To: lustylau@hotnet.co.uk

Subject: Matt’s Story

Lau, there’s nothing I do that doesn’t make me think of him.

I make a coffee in the morning and I remember him insisting on freshly ground fairtrade organic; not because he was particularly ethically minded, but because he liked to be a bit awkward.

I go anywhere in this city, by bus, car or on foot, and I remember him pointing out something interesting somewhere – a bird’s nest, a stone gargoyle, a path that doesn’t go anywhere, a weird pattern in the roofs you can only see from the top of John Lewis.

I flick past a documentary on TV and I think of him going ‘oh, stop there, ooh, shoelaces’ or whatever.

I get in the car and I remember the one time he took me driving when I was learning. I know he used to like a good swear, but I didn’t think it was possible to say ‘fuck’ that many times from our house to the end of the road.

I go to the beach and I remember him trying to surf, and getting all grumpy because he couldn’t really do it very well, but we all could.

I pick up something from the bakery, and I remember him eating a bit of flapjack because he knew it was making me sad seeing him wasting away.

I tell someone I literally jumped out of my skin, and I hear him say ‘Gracie Summers, you did not. You’re not a pile of bones and guts. Literally means you actually did something’.

I go for a run and it makes me remember how much he loved being outdoors, how he’d sometimes dash out into the rain and dance about like a lunatic in the garden, while we watched through the window.

I type something on my computer and remember him ranting about the autocorrect, or taking us all on an internet safari, or setting up some intricate email forwarding system.

I talk to Dad and I remember how they used to love messing about, how it was all banter and bickering but they’d do anything for each other.

I go past your house on the way to see Mum and Dad and just for a second, it’s like it’s all still the same, you’re all there together and we’re all up the road, and any minute your house is going to be full of us, and Matty’s going to be there in the middle of it, winding us up, arguing with us, making us think for ourselves, making us laugh, loving life.

I remember him all the time, and it makes me sad, but it makes me happy. He loved life, his life, so much, it was obvious to everyone. I miss him loads.

Gracie

The Philpotts Letters – 14

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make (The Beatles).

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make (The Beatles)

My dearest, darling, wonderful, amazing, awesome Josh and Ella

Hey there. I know, pretty hard-core sentimental for me, eh? Well, there’s a reason, and I’ll get to it in a moment, but first, I want you to be perfectly and utterly sure that you know you are the most precious people in the world to me. You are both, without exception, shining examples of what people should be. Well, OK, sometimes you do smelly farts. And occasionally you don’t reply to my texts within a milisecond of receiving them. And also, your mum could do with a hand with the dishwasher every now and then, and the hoovering doesn’t do itself. But, you know, in general, shining examples and all that.

I just wanted to make sure you know that, because I’m pretty sure I haven’t told you enough, and now I’m not going to get much of a chance to tell you again, because it’s got me, the fucking bastard, it’s caught me, and I think it’s going to have its way with me. I’ve escaped a few times before, but it’s never held on this tightly, and I’m so fucking tired, I haven’t got the strength to beat it off again.

I wish I did have the strength, because I don’t want to miss any of it, of you growing up, having your own families, making me a grandad. Oh I so wanted to be a grandad.

OK, stop it, Matt, this isn’t about wistful hankering, this is about … oh I don’t fucking know. Kids, I’ve barely got the energy to type this, but it feels important that I do. I’m hoping the spellchecker will kick in, because I can hardly see what the fuck these bloody useless fingers are doing to my words.

Right, focus. I guess I want to apologise for leaving you. I know it’s going to be hard. I’ve tried my best to make as much of it as easy as possible, but some things I just can’t have any control over, however much I want it.

I’ve used this, the Philpotts Letters, over the years, as a way of letting off steam, a way of ranting about things I was freaking out about, and a way of thinking through some of the challenges that being a dad has brought. But looking back at it, it’s almost like a verbal photo album, snapshots of your lives, entwined with mine, and I wanted to finish it properly, so it didn’t just stop with me going ‘bloody hell, you’re eighteen, how the fuck did that happen’.

I want you to know you are awesome.

I want you to know how much you are loved by me.

I want you to know how much you have enriched my life.

I want you to know how amazing your lives are going to be.

I want you to know how sad I am that I won’t be there to see it.

I want you to know so much that I can’t say, because I can’t put it into words.

God, kids, I love you so, so much. It is unbearable, the thought of leaving you behind, and I am terrified of it, so scared, but I’m so, so tired, I just can’t go on.

Please, guys, look after your mum, I know you will, you’ll look after each other. If there’s a way, I’ll be looking down on you, or more likely up at you (I’ll be checking you’re not wearing indecent underwear, Ella, so watch it), and keeping abreast of Scott family developments.

OK, that’s me done. I’m falling asleep, and these days I never really know how long I’m going to be asleep for, or what state I’ll be in when I wake up.

Thanks for everything.

I love you.

Goodbye.

Dad xxx

138. PS I love you

In which life goes on, and hidden messages are found.

Laura

The next week passed, somehow. Arrangements were made, forms were signed, people took me here there and everywhere and asked my opinion about churches and flowers and coffins and songs, and I kept telling them, it’s all written down, Matt knew what he wanted, no church, no sad faces, no black, balloons, silly songs; Darth Vader, Joy Division Oven Gloves. That was what he wanted. It was all written down.

There was a gathering, everyone was there, they said things about Matt, they said things to me, none of it stayed with me because there wasn’t room for any of it in my head. All there was room for was this huge scream, this enormous cry of rage, this whirlwind of loss. Of course, eventually the whirlwind died down, and the cry diminished to a whisper, and the scream became a moan, and then there was room for other things, for other people, and I saw that they’d been holding me all this time. And although the whisper and the moan were always with me, I started to cover them up with the rest of the world.

Cal

Looking back, although things didn’t instantly change for Lau, perhaps they started to. A few days later she started to call a few people, then she’d stay in the room when people visited, and after a while, she was back, Lau again. Not happy, still grieving, but noticeably herself.

Dec took longer. He came out of his silent mode, but didn’t seem able to concentrate on anything. When you talked to him, his eyes would wander all over the place, and you often had to repeat yourself a few times before he got what you were saying. He forgot arrangements, and got things wrong. None of it was good for his business, which needed someone in charge. Tom did a lot of the techy stuff, and also took over the contact part, but there were people who needed to deal with Dec, and if it didn’t start happening soon, it was looking shaky for Linebreak.

Dad, well it was sometimes difficult to see when Dad was withdrawn, because he was never one of life’s socialisers. But he just had this air of, like, an old teddy which had lost some of it’s stuffing. All the plans he and Mum had made to travel had been put on hold, and he spent even more time than usual lying on the sofa flicking through the sports channels. He started to put on weight, because he wasn’t getting any exercise now he wasn’t running around a training ground every day, and it was driving Mum nuts. Dad was so used to her going on that nothing she said made any difference to him.

Gran was amazing. She is so stoic, so practical about everything. I can’t imagine, don’t want to imagine, what it must be like to lose your youngest son, and I’m not saying she wasn’t upset, but she just carried on with things, saying ‘well, dear, life goes on, doesn’t it’ and ‘Matthew would have been annoyed if I’d moped about’. She didn’t get around as well as she used to, and we all made an extra effort to call and see her, keep her in the middle of everything that went on, because we knew without her having to say it that not having Matty around caused her a lot of pain.

Me? I coped. Life went on, because no one really has a choice about that. Uni was hard, for several weeks, especially as I’d really only just started, and I couldn’t concentrate that well and failed an assignment. But none of that really mattered, it was just stuff. As we’d all known would happen, the family all helped each other. Led by Mum, and her ‘open house’ policy with additional gatherings for cake and meals and coffee, we saw a lot of each other, did a lot of crying and a lot of laughing, and a lot of mending. I held my kids extra tight and tried not to imagine what it might be like to lose them.

Lau started coming out a bit, Josh and Ella felt OK about leaving her on her own, although they both lived at the house for the time being. Josh had officially moved out, but he wanted to stay with his mum for a while. Ella hadn’t finished globe-trotting, and was waiting a while to plan her next move. Her next move seemed to very much depend on Basty’s next move.

The two of them had finally come clean about seeing each other – well it had been pretty obvious for weeks, and Chrissie said she’d had a feeling for months – and although a part of me felt like it was a bit weirdly ‘in the family’ kind of thing, well they weren’t actually related, so if they didn’t feel weird what right did I to?

The only problem really was that they lived in different countries. Basty was yet another family rugby pro, but he was currently based in Buenos Aires. These things were always negotiable, and Basty was currently in his off-season, so was staying with Ella while they discussed things.

Laura

Ella and Josh had stayed at the house, and a couple of months after Matt died, a weird message popped up on my phone. It wasn’t a text, more like a reminder.

‘PP laptop L=Gt^2/s^4’

I wasn’t sure where it had come from, and it freaked me out a bit. I called Tom.

‘Hey Lau. How’s things?’

‘Oh, getting there Tom. How about you? Been busy?’

‘Yeah, tons of emails today. Dad’s been busy the last week.’

‘That’s great, I’m glad he’s getting out and about again.’

‘Yeah. Me and Mum had a word with him, told him if the business went under, it wasn’t much of a memorial for Matty. Did the trick, I think.’

‘I’m glad. It’s been tough for all of you.’

‘And you, Lau.’

‘Tom, I’ve had a strange message come on my phone. I thought it was a text at first, but there’s no number; it’s more like from within the phone, like a calendar thing. But I didn’t put it there. I’m a bit worried, I don’t know if someone’s hacked my phone or something.’

‘What does it say?’

I told him what the message said.

‘Hm. Not sure what to make of that. Those letters and numbers are ringing a bell, it’s an equation or a formula or something, I’ve seen it before somewhere. Has anyone else had access to your phone?’

‘No, I always have it with me. I had it at Cal’s the other day and Lily was playing with it, but she wouldn’t have known how to do that, would she?’

‘Doubt it. Doesn’t PP mean someone’s signed something on your behalf?’

‘I think so, but that still makes no sense.’

I’d hoped Tom would be able to put my mind at rest; I hated techy things I didn’t understand, and usually stuck to the things I knew how to do. Without Matt nearby to sigh exaggeratedly, roll his teasing eyes and help me out, blips like this made me feel uneasy, and I worried about some faceless hacker stealing all my money.

‘Have you checked the laptop? Maybe you’ve got an email, some kind of automated delivery note or something? Have you ordered anything online?’

‘No, but I suppose Josh or Ella might have done. But it’s not a message, there’s no ‘to’ or ‘from’. Hang on, I’ll just check my emails … no there’s nothing that fits.’

‘Hmm. Alright then, how about files? Is there a PP file?’

‘Oh, do you think that’s what it is? A file?’

‘It might be. Worth checking.’

‘What if it’s a virus?’

I didn’t really understand how viruses worked, although Matt had explained it enough times (with my eyes glazing over before he’d got more than a minute into it).

‘Ha ha, Lau, it would have to be a more sophisticated virus than I knew had been invented to be able to access your phone and your laptop independently and then link them with a message. But you never know. Do you want me to come over, check it out?’

‘Oh that would be lovely, flower, but don’t rush over, come when you’ve got a moment.’

‘OK, I’ll be there in a bit, I’ll run that equation thing past Rosa, she’ll know what it means.’

Tom came over that evening. Josh had just got in, and was making himself a snack, and Ella was watching TV. I put the laptop on the kitchen table, and Tom sat down and looked through the menus. I heard his sudden intake of breath.

‘Here it is. PP. What’s in it, Lau?’

Josh looked up from his sandwich.

‘What’s this?’

‘Your mum got a weird messagy thing on her phone today, telling her to check a file on the laptop, and some other stuff. A bit freaky. Oh, I asked Rosa about the equation, she said she didn’t recognise it, but she’s on the case, checking the net and that. Here we are then, yep, it’s password protected. I bet those numbers are the password. Have you ever seen it before, Lau?’

‘No, but then I haven’t delved too deeply into the inner workings of the laptop. All I ever needed to know was the web address for the online food shop, and where all the photos were.’

‘What do you want to do? Open it?’

‘Could it be a virus?’

‘I really don’t think so, but it’s up to you. I can run it through the virus checker if you want.’

‘There’s a virus checker?’

Tom tutted and shook his head, much as his uncle would have done.

‘Yeah, Lau. You need to keep it updated. Josh, sort it for your mum.’

‘Or maybe you could show me another time, Tom? I should learn I suppose.’

Josh had been brilliant, I don’t know how I would have coped without him these last few weeks, but it was time I started doing things for myself and took some responsibilities away from him.

A tone on Tom’s phone blared out. He rolled his eyes.

‘Sorry, Rosa made me put that on because I’m always telling her I didn’t hear my phone when she texts me. Oh, she’s found it, she says it’s the equation for love.’

‘What? That makes no sense.’

‘No, wait a minute, Josh. The only people who would have been able to put a reminder on my phone recently are you and Ella, or maybe, when he was feeling up to it …’

‘Dad?’

My heart had started to pound. What had he done? How had he done it?

‘Open it, Tom. Put the password in. Ella!’

‘Yeah?’

‘Come and look.’

Ella appeared at the kitchen door.

‘What?’

‘I’m not sure yet. Tom?’

‘There are some files. This one says ‘Letters to Philpotts’, this one says ‘For You, Lau’. The other one says ‘In the event of my demise’. Oh, it’s a video file.’

‘Whoa. Open it, then.’

‘No. Wait.’

I sat down, suddenly.

‘I don’t know if I can.’

‘Actually, Lau, I think I should go. This is just for you guys. It’s not a virus. Looks like Matty’s left you a message. Double click here if you want to play it.’

I grabbed Tom’s hand and squeezed.

‘Thanks, flower.’

‘Bye, Lau. Let me know how it goes.’

Josh and Ella sat either side of me, and we all looked at the little icon, with the heading ‘In the event of my demise’.

All kinds of feelings were whirling around inside me. I didn’t know if I could cope with a video. I had hardly been able to bear to look at a photo of Matt. But I also couldn’t bear to not see it, to see him moving, alive again, if indeed that was what the video was of. For all I knew it was his favourite YouTube clips, of animals falling over and footballers scoring own goals, to give us a laugh. I looked at Ella and Josh. They looked nervous, but gave no other sign of what they wanted me to do.

‘Well?’

‘Your choice, Mum.’

‘Yeah, like Josh says, totally up to you. When you’re ready, if you ever are.’

I looked at them. They both looked like they were trying hard not to appear too keen in case they influenced me. I took a deep breath.

‘OK, let’s do it.’

I double clicked on the icon. The screen blacked out for a few seconds, then slowly brightened up to reveal Matt sitting up in bed, a smile on his face. I felt Ella’s and Josh’s hands grip mine. It was so, so good to see his lovely face again, to look into his big grey eyes. I’d forgotten what a startling colour they were, how they crinkled at the corners as if remembering all the times he’d ever smiled and laughed. How could I have forgotten? Then he spoke.

‘Heh guys. Sohry if this is a bih frehky, kind of whoo, beyond the gravey type of thing, oh, ha ha, beyond the gravy, sohnds lihk ohn of Beth’s roast dinners. Buh I digress. OK. Well, hehrs the thing. I wahnt suhr I’d geh tuh say goodbye, yuh never know, and chances ahr I’ll beh first tuh peg ih, soh hehr ih is. Bye guys. Yuh hahv behn the most awesohm, fucking amazing fahmly a blohk could have wished fuh.

Josh, Ella, sohry yuhr old dad’s such a fucking crihpl. Yuhr mum signed up fuh ih, she kind of knew wha she was letting herself in fuh, buh yuh guys, I, well, if I could hahv spared yuh seeing meh lihk this, I would hahv. I’m soh proud of yuh both, yuhr the best kids. Hippo, if yuh dohnt play fuh England I’m cohming bahk tuh haunt yuh. Squeaks, if yuh dohnt becohm a pahtner in a top law firm, expec a visit from zombeh dad. I lohv yuh both soh much, yuhv made my lihf complete. OK, kids, if yuh could both jus pretend not tuh listen, I wana talk tuh yuhr mum.

Lau. Heh Lau. Fuck, I lohv yuh soh much. Never, ever stopped lohving yuh. Yuhr in my bluhd. Dohnt think I can say goodbye tuh yuh, maybeh dohnt nehd tuh, we’ll beh hohding hahnds fuhever. I know I’ve been a miserable bastahd a loh of the tihm I’ve been wih yuh, buh I’ve always behn hahpy, inside, soh hahpy because I’ve goh yuh. Dohnt know wha the fuck I’d hahv done wihouh yuh. Yuhr soh sexy, Lau, I only hahv tuh see yuh smile, or bend over an … well depends wha state my bluhdy nether regions are in, buh yuh know wha I mehn. We’ve had sohm greht tihms, hahvn’t weh, sohm awesome sex, sohm awesome lohv, some awesome kids. I wish there’d behn mohr, of all of ih. I fucking hate this bastahd MS foh taking meh away from yuh. Buh I’ve kind of goh tuh lohv ih a bih, cos I migh not hahv met yuh if I hadn’t had ih.

OK kids, yuh can listen again, I’ve finished ghost-flirting wih yuh mum. I bet yuh wehr listening anyway, wehrnt yuh. I know ih’s not cool fuh mums an dads tuh say they lohv each other an hahv sex, buh weh duh, when conditions allow, an ih’s greht. Yuh know, I was a bih of a lad in my day, lohs of ladies befohr yuhr mum, not tha I’m proud of ih or anything, buh I thoht one day I migh shahr my experiences, kind of a learning thing. No chance now, too late. Ask yuhr mum, tho. An maybeh Rach. Oh, an fuh further insights intuh wha I thoht when I was younger, read the Philpotts letters. Lau, duh yuh remember? How fucking frehked I was? Sehms lihk centuries agoh.

OK, guys, I’m gona stop wittering now, befohr yuh fall aslehp. Jus nehded tuh say, I lohv yuh all, an I’m gona miss yuh, if I’m sohmwehr missing’s an option.’

Matt blew a kiss towards the screen and it faded to black.

I sat back in the chair, unable to name all the emotions that were assaulting me. I breathed out, only then realising I’d been holding my breath in for the almost the entire duration of the video. Josh and Ella were still holding my hands; I risked a look at their faces. Ella had a few tears on her cheeks. Josh looked a bit dazed.

‘When the fuck did he do that, Mum?’

I shook my head. ‘I don’t know, Josh. It looks like a little while ago.’

‘It must have been after I got back from Sri Lanka. He’s wearing that t-shirt I brought him.’

‘That was awesome. Are you OK, Mum?’

I thought about it. It had felt very strange seeing Matt, but in a way it had released something. I hadn’t talked about him, or wanted to see pictures of him; I had found it hard to say his name, and had often left the room if people were talking about him. But seeing him there, on a screen, made me miss him so much, I wanted more. I wanted to see all the photos, hear all the stories.

‘Yeah. It was just a bit strange, seeing him.’

‘I know what you mean. He did say ‘whoo beyond the gravy’. You OK, Ella?’

Ella nodded. ‘Do you think there’s any more hidden anywhere?’

‘I don’t know, my love. If anyone could have hidden them, your dad could, but I wouldn’t have a clue where to look. We’ll just have to see if any more messages pop up. But I don’t think it’s likely. That was goodbye, wasn’t it.’

‘Maybe Tom can look?’

Ella looked hungry for more.

‘Well we can ask, but I don’t want you to be disappointed.’

I had an idea, something that might satisfy all of our hunger for more of Matt.

‘What about this other thing, the thing that’s for you?’

I had a feeling that Matt didn’t want the children seeing whatever it was, so I took Ella’s hand and brushed her hair back from her face.

‘I’ll look later, my love. I should think it’s just some silly poem or something. I’ll let you see once I’ve looked.’

Ella looked so disappointed that I told her what I was thinking.

‘How about we get all the old photos out? Your dad used to make albums of special occasions, and there are loads on the computer and the iPad. We can have a good old reminisce. There must some other old bits of video around as well.’

Ella nodded, and Josh said ‘Awesome.’

I left Josh to find the photos on the laptop, while Ella searched through the iPad. I delved in the back of the wardrobe, where the old albums were kept. There weren’t any recent ones, but there were several large books, each labelled with Matt’s curly handwriting, showing the date and events held in the books. The bottom one was our wedding album. I carried them all downstairs, to find Josh and Ella laughing at some of the pictures they’d found.

‘I can’t believe you used to wear this, Mum.’

‘Hey, that was my best dress. Your dad used to say it showed off … well, certain assets.’

‘Yeah, it certainly does. You tart!’

‘Ella Elizabeth Scott, that’s no way to speak to your mother. I can still just about fit in that dress.’

‘What? You’ve still got it? Oh you so have to let me have it, I’ve got a party in a few weeks, I’d be the talk of the town. Or call-girl of the week – oh, is that your wedding album? I haven’t seen that for years.’

I put the folders on the table and opened the first one, my heart contracting as Matt and I smiled out of the pages, more than twenty years younger, many hairstyles ago in my case, the same dishevelled hairstyle in Matt’s.

‘This isn’t your wedding.’

‘No, it’s before. We got married a few months after we met, so Dad decided to do a, oh what did he call it, before and after or something. This is on top of Gap Hill. I was nearly dead, that’s why I look so red faced. Your dad had marched me up the top, wouldn’t listen to me telling him I needed to rest, and practically had to carry me back down. I let him go hiking on his own, or at least with people who didn’t need a full resus kit with them, after that.’

‘Where’s this one?’

‘That’s your dad’s swanky flat in Avondale. I think this was the day I moved my stuff in, that’s me under a heap of cushions. He didn’t really approve of girly touches, and he piled them all on me as a protest. I managed to scatter a few here and there, despite him, though.’

‘Is that … Rach? Didn’t Dad say something about Rach in his vid? Mum? Spill.’

‘Oh, yeah, I’d almost forgotten. Before I met your dad, I knew him a bit by reputation. He was a bit of a … hm, how can I put it politely … womaniser. That’s not polite, but that was his reputation. I used to see him at parties and clubs, at a distance, making the moves on the hot ones; he left with a different girl every time.’

‘No way. Dad? No, no way.’

‘Yes way, Ella. Anyway, a couple of years before I met him properly, he’d, er, oh it feels strange telling you this. It was a very long time ago, long before he met me, he was different, he’d changed by the time we got together. But he’d had a one night stand with Rach, and –’

‘Mum! Rach? Rach of Jed and Rach? Fat Rach?’

‘Ella! That’s a horrible thing to say. Rach is larger than she used to be, but most of us are. But yes, Rach of Jed and Rach. At the time I first knew him, there weren’t many women I knew who hadn’t had a one night stand with him, or that’s how it felt sometimes.’

‘Dad, you dog!’

‘Thank you, Josh. Anyway, I think that’s what your dad meant, that there were witnesses to how he used to be. It’s not how he was when he was with me, though.’

‘Is this your first Christmas?’

‘Yes. We were at Jay and Beth’s for most of the day, but this was first thing in the morning. It snowed, and, look, you can see the view behind us from the window over the moors, it was so beautiful.’

‘Were we on our way by now?’

‘Yes, I suppose you must have been, just about, but neither of us knew about it, I didn’t find out until a few weeks after Christmas. Then we got married a week later. It was completely mad.’

I smiled to myself as I remembered the whirlwind.

‘Things didn’t really calm down – well ever I suppose, there’s always been something going on.’

‘Oh! This is Dad in his kilt. Have you still got it? He looks awesome, so does Jay. God, doesn’t Jay look young. Dad doesn’t look much different. He’s a bit heavier here, isn’t he, but he never lost his hair. Few more wrinkles I suppose.’

‘Yeah, I’ve still got the kilt. It was his own father’s.’

‘Oh for fuck’s sake. Ella, look at this, Dad displaying all. Put it away, Dad.’

‘You’ve seen these before, haven’t you?’

‘I think I must have blotted these ones from my memory. He wasn’t shy, was he.’

‘Not specially. He was quite proud of the fact he went commando under the kilt, while Jay opted for boxers.’

‘Aw, is this your first dance?’

‘No, that’s later. The first dance was the one where he’s displaying all, it was a fast folky thing with lots of twirling.’

‘You look so into each other.’

‘Yeah, we were. Always.’

‘Aw, Mum.’

Ella took my hand and squeezed.

‘Ooh, gay Paree.’

‘Yep, that’s the view from our hotel balcony. Jay paid for our honeymoon, it was a beautiful hotel.’

‘Is this us?’

Josh pointed to the ultrasound picture. I looked at it, and everything flooded back like it was yesterday.

‘Oh bloody hell, Mum, you’ve gone all sloppy.’

‘Yeah, your first baby picture. I’ve got the DVD somewhere.’

‘Have a look for it later, that’d be awesome. Which one’s me, and which one’s Josh?’

‘We couldn’t tell, you were too cosy with each other.

‘Can you imagine being all snuggled up so close to me, Hippo?’

‘No thanks, Ella. You dig me in the ribs enough as it is. I bet I was black and blue when I came out. I was first, I should think I was trying to escape.’

‘More like I pushed you out to get some peace for a bit.’

‘Well you both made enough noise when you were reunited. Look at this one, you’re both yelling your heads off.’

‘Aw, doesn’t Dad look proud.’

‘He was, he always was, but he was so happy the day you were born. Although he nearly missed it, being out on the lash.’

‘What?’

‘He was at a stag do, you came a few weeks early, he had to do an emergency dash back home. I’ve told you this loads of times before.’

‘Yeah, but I like hearing it. Didn’t Dec have to break in or something?’

‘No, he didn’t break in, he was yelling to me through the letter box, then he had to help get me down the stairs, and drove Matt’s car to the hospital because your dad was a bit the worse for wear. We were lucky you weren’t born in the back of the car. Your dad would never have forgiven me if I’d got afterbirth on his seats.’

‘Who’s this with Lis? Oh, that’s never bloody Nico! He’s got hair! Lis looks exactly the same. Is that Basty? Get him to text me, Ella, we were going to play that new online battle thing together.’

‘Oh, Mum, who are all these babies? There’s tons. Oh, that’s me and Josh, isn’t it? And this is – is it Cal? He looks so grumpy.’

‘Yeah, he would have been about twelve. He was pretty much grumpy from when I first knew him, until he was about fifteen, and from then he was pretty much how he is now, laid back and gentle. He really didn’t like being the oldest, as you can see. There’s you and Hippo, you’re about six months – I think this was the only Christmas Beth didn’t do it at her house. We had it here and up the road – look, there’s the corner of the Christmas tree. Charlie was nearly two, Tom was nearly one, Iz would have been about five and Basty was about eighteen months. You were all so cute, it was chaos. Oh, and here are the grown ups.’

‘Oh, is that Rose? God I miss Rose. We had the best chats.’

‘She loved seeing you, my love. I know Dec always appreciated you going to see her.’

‘You make it sound like it was a favour. I just really liked her.’

‘I know, Squeaks, that’s what’s so lovely.’

‘We’ve got a crazy family, haven’t we?’

‘Absolutely bonkers.’

‘Oh, here’s Granny Carol and Nana April. Looking sprightly.’

‘I promised Nana April I’d go and sort out her tax thingy.’

‘Good girl. Thank you. Josh, have you been to do Carol’s garden recently?’

‘Yeah, I went with Tom on Tuesday. She’s bloody amazing, Mum, I know her hands are all gnarled up and shit, but she’s still living there on her own. Tom said Cal and Jay were trying to persuade her to go and live with Jay and Beth, but she wouldn’t hear of it.’

‘Carol’s got the Scott stubborn streak.’

‘Ha ha, yeah, like Ella.’

‘Hey. I’m not stubborn. I just know my own mind and don’t take any shit from people.’

‘Oh, silly me, I thought that was what stubborn meant.’

‘No, Josh, stubborn is when you carry on doing something even though you know it’s wrong, or don’t do something when you know you should, just because someone’s told you what you ought to do. Like, for example, asking a certain girl out.’

‘Piss off, Ella.’

‘Hey, stop that, you two. A certain girl, Josh?’

‘Nothing, Mum. Just Ella sticking her beak in. Oh look, Dec and Amy’s wedding. Ha ha, Cal looks grumpy again – ooh, hang on, here’s another one of him with a girl. Go Cal.’

‘Aw, Iz and Charlie are so cute.’

‘They managed cute for about five minutes, then they were at each other’s throats all night.’

‘No change there, then. Oh my God, Dec looks so hot. He was the buffest when he was playing, wasn’t he. Lucky Amy. Aw, look at this one, Dec holding Charlie, and Amy holding Tom, all dancing together. Oh, is Gracie there as well, kind of, in Amy?’

‘Yes, she was on her way, she was kind of the reason for the wedding. Did you know Dec used to ask Amy to marry him all the time, for years? She always said yes, but they never made any plans, then Gracie was on her way, and suddenly it was all systems go.’

‘He still asks her.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah. Not all the time, but every so often.’

‘Ooh, spiffy beard Dad. What possessed him to grow that? It’s horrible.’

‘He was trying to see how long I would last before I made him shave it off. He got fed up with it itching before I did. I told him I was more stubborn than him, but I don’t think he believed me until then.’

‘Oh, this is that holiday in – oh, where did we go? Was it France or Spain? Huge villa thing, hundreds of us, complete anarchy.’

‘We had a couple like that, one in France, one in Spain, where everyone came. Then Dec went to Australia and we just never did it again when he came back. Maybe we should try again before everyone scatters.’

‘Oh, is that what all the cork hats are? When Dec went to Australia? I remember Facetiming Tom and there was this bloody enormous spider on the wall behind him, and I couldn’t say anything because I didn’t want to freak him out, but I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying, and I couldn’t stop looking at it.’

‘Oh, this is the party when they came back. Look at the smile on Dad’s face, he missed Dec, didn’t he.’

‘Yeah. I think Dec misses your dad now, too.’

‘Yeah. Well, we all do.’

‘Your dad had a special place in everyone’s heart. I wish he’d believed that a bit more.’

‘Oh, is this another Beth special?’

‘Yes, it’s Dec’s party when he retired from Raiders. And here’s one of him and your dad celebrating their first client in their new business.’

‘I remember this Christmas, going into the hospital to see him, the whole lot of us. We must have made such a racket.’

‘Ooh, you look cosy here, Mum, are you sure this one shouldn’t be censored?’

‘Ha ha, no, that’s our tenth anniversary. We spent the day in bed – don’t look at me like that, Ella, he wasn’t well enough to get up. But we went all over the world on the iPad.’

‘Oh, one of Dad’s virtual tours. I used to love when he did that, getting all sidetracked and going off to look at weird animals and star charts and old videos on YouTube and stuff.’

‘Here’s you, look, Josh, playing for mini-Raiders. Looks a bit cold.’

‘It was usually bloody freezing up there. This must have been before I broke my nose, look. Oh my God, Ella, however many different clashing colours could you be wearing? That is gross.’

‘It was a rainbow party.’

‘That’s not a rainbow, it looks like someone’s puked up a paint shop on you.’

‘Oh look, Cal’s wedding. Have we missed a load, Mum?’

‘No, I don’t think so. I don’t think we always took pictures, and your dad wasn’t always so finicky about putting them in albums in the last few years. There must be a lot on the computers that need sorting. I think that’s the last of them.’

‘Do you want me to take them back upstairs for you?’

‘No, my love, leave them here for a bit. I’ll have a bit of a wander down memory lane, I think. I’ll have a rummage on here as well. Thank you both, I think that was just what I needed.’

‘It’s always awesome to remember Dad with you, Mum.’

‘Yeah, Mum. We should get some of these blown up and framed. I’d like to have a couple, so I can take them with me wherever I am.’

Josh and Ella continued sorting through the pictures, deciding which ones they wanted copies of, which ones they thought should be framed, while I held the memories inside me.

This evening of looking back, beginning with the startling video, had unlocked something in me. I’d begun to lose that sense of ‘holding hands forever’, not feeling like I had anything to hold on to. Now I knew I had these memories, these pictures, all the time I’d spent with Matt, and I had our children. I could hold them all in my heart, and was never going to let go.

Much later, when Josh and Ella had both gone to bed, I was sitting on the sofa, laptop open, finger hovering over the mouse button, cursor poised over the ‘For you, Lau’ file.

Seeing the video earlier had been a bit of a roller-coaster, and I wasn’t sure that I had the strength for much more tonight, but looking at all the photographs with the children had made me miss Matt, and I wanted more of him. I would play the video again and again in the days to come, until I knew the words off by heart. For now, this was something unknown and a bit scary. I stared at the screen for a long time, until almost of its own volition, my finger double-clicked the file.

There were three folders. The top one was entitled ‘Read this first’. The next was ‘Really, Lau, only read this if you want to’. The last one was ‘Take a deep breath, it’s a long one’. I clicked on the first file. It was a document.

‘Hey Lau. I feel very secretive, hiding all this shit on the laptop for you to find. And I feel bad, because there’s something I’ve kept from you, something I’ve been doing that I should have told you about, but I thought I was going to finish it and then I could tell you, but I don’t think I am, now, at least not in the way I wanted to. Right then, before you worry any more about what I’ve been deceiving you about, it’s not really deceit, not technically, not unless your definition of deceit is not telling you about something. Oh, right, that is the definition. Bugger. Oh well, sorry. So what I’ve been doing is writing my story, from beginning to end, although it all got a bit rushed with recent events, and well, you might have to do the actual ending yourself, as I doubt I’ll be in a fit state. I’m no writer, and I’ve rambled on a lot, and you’re probably wondering why I’ve seen fit to take up laptop kilobytes – oh that’s right, you don’t know one end of a kilobyte from the other, but anyway, you’re probably wondering why I feel the need to unburden. It’s because of you, Lau. I want you to know just how awesome you are, how much you have changed my life for the better, what a truly fucking awesome time I have had with you and how much I owe you for the life I’ve had. I think, if I’m realistic (which you have taught me to be), I haven’t got long now, but I don’t have one single regret about the time I’ve spent with you and married to you – oh, except maybe letting you paint flowers on the garage door. But that’s it. So my story, although it starts off about other people, it ends up about you. You and me. And maybe you’re wondering why I decided to waste my time doing such a bloody stupid thing. This is the main thing I’ve kept from you. It’s not really that huge, it was a letter I got, that GreenScreen forwarded on to me, years ago. From Jules. I hadn’t even thought about her for years, and then suddenly there was this letter, with a note saying ‘I wrote this, and it’s about you. I thought you had a right to see it. Julia.’ Nothing else, as if she just sent me shit every day, and was likely to reply or as if I wasn’t likely to have moved on from GreenScreen bloody years ago. But she was a bit like that. Anyway. So I didn’t know what to do with it, and I never read it, I just shoved it in a box with all my other GreenScreen stuff, forgot about it. But about a year ago I was going through it all, chucking old shit away, and I came across it. And I started reading it. It was kind of her story, from when we got together until when we broke up, and I should have told you, I know I should, I’m sorry, I’ve never kept anything from you in my life before, but as I was reading it, it gave me an idea, that I wanted to tell you my story. I know, I’m a bit of a big-head, but if my middle name wasn’t Robert it would be Egotistical Prick. Oh, that’s two middle names, as befits an egotistical prick. But anyway, if I told you about the letter from Jules, I’d tell you about doing my story, they both seemed to go together, so I just got on with it, and I really thought I’d finish it and then I could tell you, and we could have a laugh, but now there’s no time, and I’ve done as much as I can, but I don’t have the energy to tell you now, and go over it all, analyse it all, I just want to finish this and stop. I hope you can forgive me.

I hope you find this, otherwise I’ve spent a large part of the last year or so getting up in the middle of the night for nothing, so I’ve cobbled together this devious system. I wasn’t going to tell you how I did it, but I’m so chuffed with myself I’m almost rubbing my hands together in glee and going ‘hee hee’ to myself like the oversized infant I am, and I can’t resist. OK, here’s what I’ve done. Now, I know that I might have to stop writing at any time, and not really have much control over what happens after that, so I wanted to make sure there was some kind of automatic message set up to point you in the right direction. I toyed with it saying ‘I love you Lau’, but didn’t want to freak you out totally, and I’ve said that lots, in many different ways, all over the bloody place anyway. So I hid these files on the laptop, in a folder where I was pretty sure no one would look, and wouldn’t have the password anyway, and set up that reminder on your phone, to go off three months after I set it, with a reminder for me a few weeks before, so that if I was still around, I could postpone it for another few weeks. If I wasn’t in a fit state to fuck about with your phone, then I wasn’t going to need to cancel it anyway, get my drift? Did you like the password, by the way? Have you worked it out? Oh, I’m pretty bloody sure you won’t have done, but Tom or Rosa will have it sussed by now.

I’ve mainly done this for you, but if you want to share it with the others, well there are bits in there that are just for them anyway, so that’s fine. You might want to censor some of my more graphic descriptions, or you may not. I know you’re pretty bloody open about sex and all that shit, so who knows. I’m not proud. Or rather, I bloody am proud of what we’ve had, but maybe the kids … oh fuck it, it would be bloody great if they knew the awesome lovin’ me and you have had. Whatever, it’s fine with me.

The thing from Jules really wasn’t a big deal – it really wasn’t, Lau, but I know how you used to get about Jules – however, I’ve saved it in the next file. If it makes you feel weird to read it, don’t. There’s some quite juicy stuff in there too, Jules would have made a good porno writer and I admit to cribbing some of her best stuff. But like I say, don’t worry if you don’t want to read it, it won’t make any difference. Delete it if you want to. The last file, though, I’ve spent the last year or so writing it, and if you could at least give it a little peek, that would be bloody awesome. You’re in there, more than half of it’s about you, and the rest of it is the build up to you.

Lau, you have been my anchor, my rock, my place of safety. I love you so much, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to leave you, but I don’t think I’m going to have any choice. I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you (repeat to fade).

Matt x’

I sat for a long time, reading and re-reading his words. I was feeling lots of things, some of which was anger that he’d kept all this from me in our last year. Matt always had his head buried in a computer, and I had never questioned what he might have been doing on it. I did feel deceived, and there was a part of me that was angry that I couldn’t yell at him about it or discuss it with him. But overwhelmingly what I felt was love. He might have left me, but he had left me with something; something solid.

It was nearly midnight, but I sat staring at the files, cursor hovering over them. I almost clicked the one that said ‘only read this if you want to’, but my courage deserted me just then, and I clicked the last one, the one that Matt had written for me. I started to read.

I was still reading when I heard footsteps down the stairs, and looked at the time. It was seven o’clock, and this would be Josh, coming down for breakfast, on his way to training. I shook my head, trying to come back to the real world. I’d been living in the past all night, it seemed. As Josh passed the living room, he saw me on the sofa.

‘Oh, hey Mum. You’re up early.’

‘Not quite.’

‘Huh?’

‘Haven’t been to bed.’

‘What?’

I gestured at the laptop.

‘Your dad left me a story. I’ve been reading it.’

Josh came in and sat next to me, peering at the screen.

‘You’ve been reading all night? What the fuck sort of story is it then?’

I frowned at Josh’s language but didn’t comment on it; it made as little difference when I did as when I’d commented on his father’s.

‘His story, his life.’

‘What? Let’s have a look.’

I suddenly felt protective of it. I hadn’t finished reading yet, and I hadn’t thought about whether I was going to share it all with the children. I lowered the lid of the computer.

‘I haven’t finished it yet. I might do some editing before I hand it round.’

Josh frowned. ‘What sort of editing? Family skeletons?’

‘Ha ha, no, but your dad’s been quite, shall we say, explicit about some things, and I need to think about who needs to see some of those bits.’

‘What, smut? Oh! You and Dad smut? Ew. Yeah, get your point. But whoa, what’s it like, reading it? Is it, like, Dad’s whole life? Every single day?’

I thought about it, what it had been like, immersing myself in Matt. I understood him better, I knew him better, I loved him more.

‘It was a bit overwhelming, but it’s just … him. No, it’s not a diary, it’s important things to him, some longer stories, some snippets. Some of it’s funny, some of it’s dark, and some of it’s from before I knew him, so knowing the full story about some things has been weird, especially now I can’t ask him about it. When I’ve finished, I’ll let you read it, if you want to, but I need to think about it first.’

‘Cool. I think I’d like to.’

‘What’s going on down here? People trying to have a lie-in upstairs, you know.’

Ella was standing in the doorway, bed-hair tangling over her shoulders.

‘Ella, Dad’s written a story for Mum, his life story.’

Ella was still half asleep, and a grumpy frown creased her face as she tried to work out what Josh meant.

‘What? When?’

‘Sometime in the last year or two, apparently, my love.’

‘Oh, so is that what was in those files?’

‘Yeah. Mum’s been up all night reading Dad-porn.’

‘Dad-porn? What do you mean? Oh! Oh God. Is it, like, really gross?’

‘Well, I don’t think so, but I think before you and Hippo get to read it, I might decide what’s staying in and what’s being cut out.’

‘Ha ha, Dad’s life the director’s cut. Appropriate, Mum. Right, I need brekkie before I go out. Want a cuppa, Ella?’

‘I’ll do it. Mum?’

‘Yes please.’

I listened to them chatting in the kitchen as I thought about Matt’s story. Their father’s death had hit them hard, as it had hit all of us, and I was pretty sure this would help them, for them to know Matt in a different way. In fact, it would help the whole family, and I decided that I was just going to send an unedited version to everyone, maybe with a warning, and just let them make of it what they would.

I opened the lid of the laptop and started reading again, hardly noticing when Ella put a cup of tea by the sofa.

Several days later, I had read it all, Matt’s story, Julia’s version, I’d watched the video over and over again, and I’d emailed Matt’s story to everyone. I didn’t expect people to have read it for a while – it had taken me all night and into the next morning reading non-stop, and people had busy lives.

Josh had changed his mind, and wasn’t now sure if he wanted to read it at all, and I knew Ella wanted to squirrel herself away somewhere she could read uninterrupted, so I put it to the back of my mind. I didn’t want to become obsessed, although it would be easy to read it over and over again, to try and cling on to that feeling that he was still around in some way.

137. I will remember you

In which final goodbyes are said.

Cal

We had hardly agreed about anything before it was time for lunch, and soon after that, Iz arrived. They’d had a nightmare journey with roadworks littering the motorways, so that had to be discussed, they all had to have food and drink thrust on them, and then we realised the kitchen was getting rather crowded, so we moved into the living room.

Dec was still sitting staring at nothing. He didn’t seem to have moved since I’d talked to him earlier, and I saw glances pass between Mum and Amy, and between Rosa, Tom and Charlie.

‘Dec, sweetheart, sorry but we’re going to have to disturb your peace. There’s not enough room for us all in the kitchen. Do you want anything to eat? Or drink? Dec. Please look at me.’

Mum was using her ‘no arguing’ voice. She didn’t bring it out very often these days, but it seemed to have some kind of residual effect on Dec, who slowly raised his eyes to Mum, although I wouldn’t like to swear that he actually saw her.

‘Do you want anything to eat?’

There was a small shake of the head. Iz was looking at Dec with a worried expression, and I saw her talk in a low voice to Amy, who nodded and spoke back to her in the same whisper.

Iz, never one to shirk a fight, even when she’s only just arrived on the scene, mentally rolled her sleeves up.

‘Right, then, Dec. I think it’s time for some plain speaking. Apparently you’ve been moping about like some teenage girl since last night. Get over yourself and either have a good cry or say something supportive to your family, or help Mum with the washing up. Something. This sitting here staring into space isn’t doing any of us any good.’

We all stared at her. OK, once I’d seen the look on her face, I knew she was just trying to get a reaction, but to start with I couldn’t believe how insensitive she was being. Dec looked at her and did another little shake of his head, but it wasn’t a ‘no’ shake like when I’d tried talking to him; it was a ‘shake myself out of it’ kind of shake. Then he spoke.

‘But … Matt …’

‘Yeah, Dec, we all know. Matty’s dead.’

Jesus but it sounded harsh. It was what Dec needed, though. He shuddered as she said the words, then looked at Amy pleadingly, as if she was going to jump in and save him from my cruel sister. My cruel sister had other ideas though, and she kept on.

‘We’re all feeling it, but there are things to be doing, and the first thing is to all look after each other. We can’t do that if you’re not even with us. We all miss him, we all feel like nothing’s ever going to be the same, but there are things we need to do, for him and for Lau.’

Dec looked at her, really looked, like he was seeing her, and realising where he was for the first time. His eyes were wide, and he nodded.

‘OK. Sorry.’

‘Don’t be sorry, Dec, just come here and give me a hug.’

And to my amazement, he stood up and walked over to Iz, folding her up in his arms. I expected both of them to cry, but they didn’t, and after a while Dec let go and stood in the middle of the room looking lost.

Iz was still on the warpath.

‘Right then, Dad’s next. He’s not going to be escaping everything in his pit.’

She turned to walk out of the room, but Dec put his hand on her arm.

‘I’ll go.’

Iz turned back, surprised.

‘Really? You’re sure?’

Dec nodded and walked past us all. We could hear his footsteps as he climbed the stairs, and then his and Dad’s low voices. Then we all stopped being astonished and looked first at Iz and then at each other.

‘Well done, sweetheart. That was some speech.’

‘I just couldn’t bear to see him like that. Was I a bit over the top?’

‘No, you were just right. And you didn’t even swear.’

‘Yeah, well, with Dec swearing’s like water off a duck’s back. He probably took more notice because I didn’t.’

Iz shrugged and sat down and we all regrouped to eat lunch.

Mum was insistent on sorting out as much of Matty’s list as was possible. She’d called undertakers and venues, but there was still a lot of detail that needed arranging. We eventually realised that, list or no list, we were going to need Lau to give the final say on things. We couldn’t do that today, because it was too soon, and she’d asked to be left alone. Josh and Ella were with her, and maybe they could help tomorrow.

Chrissie arrived with the children mid-afternoon, not long after Dec and Dad appeared in the living room. They were both red-eyed and quiet, but looked more with-it that they had been earlier. My family has always worked best when people are talking to each other, rather than isolating themselves, and maybe Dec and Dad were feeling similar enough things that they could help each other.

Neither of them were going to stop being devastated for quite some time, but I wasn’t as worried as I had been earlier.

Eventually, after we’d talked about arrangements as much as we could, and Mum had fed us more cake and tea, we felt we’d done all that could be done for the day, and we just talked about Matty. We’d been doing this anyway, as part of the arrangements, but now it was full-on reminiscence.

‘Oh, do you remember when he started wearing that stupid hat? It was some kind of trilby thing, and he thought he looked so cool.’

‘Nah, he knew he didn’t look cool, he just liked seeing who would say something and having a discussion about it.’

‘It wasn’t as bad as his shorts phase – remember when he would only wear his cargo shorts, even if it was below zero outside? Some bollocks about lower temperatures being good for circulation in your calf muscles.’

‘Yeah, he loved a crackpot theory.’

‘What, like his ‘cats are really aliens’ thing?’

‘I think he might have had something there. I mean, we just let them wander into our houses, eat food we’ve bought for them and then wander out again to who knows where. We’ve been brainwashed.’

‘I see he brainwashed you too. You do know practically everything he ever said was so we’d all argue with him?’

‘Well not everything. Some things were specifically to wind Mum up.’

‘Oh, you mean his fruity language, Cal? I didn’t mind that.’

‘What? You never stopped complaining about it.’

‘I know, it kept him occupied, kept his brain ticking over. I loved the way he used words, he couldn’t just call someone a twat, they had to be, oh I don’t know, a giant thundertwatted pissarse of a fuckninny.’

Mum!

‘What?’

‘Just … Jesus.’

‘Well someone needs to keep it up, it’s not the same without the slightly blue tinge to the air round here. I miss it.’

And so it went on. There was a lot to talk about and remember, because Matty was a man who had never sat still, literally or metaphorically. And we all wanted to remember lots of things, because for a short time it made it feel like he was still there, still with us in the room.

But children need feeding and putting to bed, and I’d left Chrissie on her own with them all day, so eventually we went home. I wasn’t sure what to do about Uni. I wasn’t due in for lectures tomorrow, but didn’t know how understanding they’d be if I took any more time off. In the grand scheme of things, uncles don’t rate that highly in the compassionate leave stakes, but Matty wasn’t ‘just’ an uncle. He was the life and soul of our family, and I was going to need a while to get used to him not being there.

I decided the best thing to do would be to call my tutor tomorrow, and at least try to get an extension on my essay.

At home that evening, the children in bed, lying on the sofa with Chrissie, sadness just washed over me. Our family had lost another member, and it felt smaller. Not just because there was one less of us, but because Matty was such a big personality. He filled a room with his laughter, his chat, his way of including everyone in what was going on, and I knew we were going to feel his absence every time we all got together.

We had respected Lau’s wish not to have anyone contact her, but I texted Josh, to check there was nothing I could do. I suspect I wasn’t the only one.

Hey Joshy, just wanted to say hope ur OK. Anything u need, u know where I am.

Yeah, thanks cuz. OK for tonight, but might need something tomoro, if u can call round?

Sure thing.

Chrissie and I went to bed early, having got little sleep the previous night. Lily was no respecter of grief, or lack of sleep, and she screamed the place down in the early hours. Chrissie got up, even though she was working the next day, and left me to try my best to get back into the fitful doze I’d been having beforehand.

I may have slept a bit during the night, but I spent a lot of it remembering Matty, thinking about things he’d done, things he’d said. He always had something to say in any situation, and would often choose his words so that people laughed instead of crying or getting angry. I remembered him really pissing off Amy’s parents once.

It was not long after Amy was expecting Charlie, so I must have been about nine or ten. Amy and Dec’s news hadn’t been very well received by Amy’s mum and dad, and she’d hardly spoken to them since telling them and then walking out when they gave her a hard time. My mum, of course, was unable to resist trying to mend things, and invited them over for Sunday lunch, imagining that what everyone needed in their lives was a good feed and several million family members making a bloody racket while spilling drinks and dropping gravy on each other.

Amy’s parents were very straight-laced. They only had Amy, no other kids, and they weren’t used to a lot of noise and chaos, and they looked really uncomfortable, both sitting on the sofa waiting for lunch, and then sitting at the table eating it. Mr Wright asked several times for someone to pass the salt before anyone heard him, and then just as it was heading down to his end of the table, Iz tried to climb on his lap to show him her latest soft toy, and knocked the salt cellar over. He took several deep breaths and decided to do without salt.

Neither Mr Wright or his wife said much, except to respond to the occasional question about their garden or the weather. None of us really knew what to say to them; even Rose was a bit non-plussed, and they didn’t give much back in the way of conversation.

I think Mum had been holding back on baby talk, maybe thinking that if they talked about it too soon it would leave nothing to talk about at the dinner table, but she could finally wait no longer, and waded in.

‘So are you excited about the baby, Diane?’

Amy’s mum looked down at her plate and didn’t answer, and I saw Mum frown, as a look passed between Dec and Amy. Amy’s dad took a deep breath and did his own bit of wading in.

‘I don’t see how we can be excited at the prospect of our daughter being an unmarried mother. We warned Amy of the dangers of irresponsible behaviour, but she didn’t listen, and now this is the result. Single parents are a scourge on society, and for our daughter to be one, well it’s unacceptable. Your ward has a responsibility to Amy.’

I was puzzled by the word ‘ward’, although he seemed to mean Dec, if the direction his fork was pointing in was anything to go by.

‘It is his duty to marry my daughter, and I can’t see why you aren’t insisting it happens before this child is born. It’s a disgrace.’

He managed to silence everyone. Even Iz stopped talking to her peas and looked up at us all, every one of us staring at Amy’s dad, wondering if we’d actually heard what we’d heard. Dec looked like he was going to punch him, Amy looked like she was about to cry, Rose’s eyebrows had nearly disappeared into her hair, Mum was actually lost for words.

Matty recovered first. He picked up his wine glass and held it up, so we all looked at him.

‘I would like to propose a toast to disgrace and the disgraced. If behaving disgracefully can bring the same smile to a face that Amy and Dec have been unremittingly wearing of late, then long may it continue. I personally plan to be a disgrace for the rest of my life. To disgrace.’

And he lifted the glass to his mouth and downed his wine in one swallow. He might have wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. His eyes did not leave Mr Wright’s the whole time.

It silenced the tirade, although Amy’s dad muttered ‘well’ under his breath, which wasn’t really much of a comeback to be honest.

They made their excuses and left pretty soon after that, and Mum gave Matty a big hug.

Matty always seemed to be able to talk in public like that – off the cuff, saying the right thing, remembering everything he needed to say, getting things in the right order. His wedding was a case in point, where he remembered his vows to Lau without a single scrap of paper or any words written on his hand. There were one or two teary eyes that day, too, although not because anyone had insulted anyone.

I was too cool to say at the time, but Matty and Lau’s wedding was awesome. Mum organised it with about five days’ notice. Matty and Lau announced they were having a baby, and getting married the next Friday, on the Sunday before, and they planned to have a quick, quiet do, but Mum was never going to let that happen. She would have managed something spectacular with less than a day, I reckon. But she pulled out all the stops and called in a lot of favours so that Matty and Lau had a really special day.

The registry office in the city centre was the venue for the ceremony, and Matty had asked me to be in charge of the CD player. He had planned loads of little surprises for Lau, to make it seem like less of a rush and more like he wanted it to be special. The first surprise was when we arrived.

Gran and Rose had picked me up from school with Iz. I’d been allowed out early to get ready for the wedding, and had been promised it didn’t mean getting dressed up in anything uncool. Mum had even bought me new trainers and a Hollister sweatshirt, and the new clothes were waiting for me to change into at Gran’s.

Rose drove us to the nearest car park, and we walked up the street to where we could see a few people gathered. As we approached, a taxi pulled up, and Dad got out, and he was wearing a skirt! OK, he was wearing a kilt, but seriously, what’s the diff? I was embarrassed, I mean, it was my dad, running round the streets wearing women’s clothes. And then Matty got out of the taxi, and he was wearing exactly the same. Dad ran into the building, holding his skirt down front and back, looking suitably ashamed of himself, but Matty took his time, waving at people, chatting, as if he wasn’t wearing something completely ridiculous. I heard Rose and Gran talking.

‘Oh love, don’t they look handsome. I bet you’re that proud.’

‘They do look lovely, dear.’

What? Oh well, they were women, they were bound to think that. I looked around, worried that by some misfortune, anyone I knew had seen, but my luck was in, and I didn’t see anyone I knew, from school or rugby or anywhere else.

When we got inside, Matty was talking to loads of people, while Dad stood in a corner and looked like he didn’t want anyone to notice him. The waiting room was starting to fill up, and Matty wanted a practice run of our ‘turn the CD player on’ routine.

‘Soh, Cal, when I wink like this –’

He did a wink with both eyes, twice.

‘– yuh turn ih on, yeah? Give ih a goh.’

He did the winking thing, and I pretended to press play. It’s not like it was hard. Why he couldn’t just say ‘now’, I had no idea, but Matty liked to make things complicated if he could.

‘Awesome. Keep an eye on meh, they’ll be here soon.’

And sure enough, Lau came up the stairs, looking very pretty, and Matty did the double wink thing, and I pressed play, and bagpipe music blared out. Bagpipes. I had been responsible for bagpipes. I thought it might be some embarrassing slushy love song, that would have been bad enough, but bagpipes. Ugh. However, everyone else seemed to love it, including Lau, and not long after that the ceremony got going.

As I said, Matty remembered his words, although if it wasn’t written down anywhere, who’s to say that’s what he was always going to say, and he and Lau snogged with tongues, twice. Which was ultra embarrassing, although, again, no one else seemed that bothered.

Then we all got in our cars and drove to the barn at Thursley, which Mum had hired from my friend Archie’s mum. I’d been there before, because we’d used the barn for Archie’s party when he did paintballing. It was huge, and Mum had spent most of the week decorating it, or telling other people how to decorate it. It looked really different from when we did paintballing, and there was loads of food.

I suppose I did get bossed about a lot at the party, but mostly it was Lis doing the bossing, because she’d helped Mum with the party. Lis was much better at bossing than Mum, because she made it seem like you were doing her a favour, not like you should just do what she says and like it like Mum did. I ran about taking messages to people, and some of it was cool because I got to go backstage, where not many people knew there was anything going on, and talk to the band and the choir, and tell them important messages, and bring them drinks and food, and I even plugged in a microphone.

Best of all, even though there was a lot of dancing, I didn’t have to do any of it, because I managed to look busy enough that I escaped. I know Mum nearly caught me, but I told her I’d be back in a minute after I’d taken Gran a glass of wine, and she looked kind of proud and let me go, and oh dear, I just never found my way back to her after that.

I suppose, given Matty’s past, it was a wonder he ever settled down with a family. I didn’t know him very well before we moved up to Stafford, but after we all came back to the city, and Matty was better, well let’s just say he wasn’t a shining example of monogamy. That’s not to say he flaunted women, or maybe not that much anyway, but they were just never around long enough for me to take much notice of them. He did bring women round, sometimes for Sunday lunch, sometimes just to say hi, but we hardly ever saw them more than once, and they weren’t usually that interested in me or Iz, so we learned to ignore any woman Matty had with him. There were one or two who stood out, though, like the really tall, thin one with bright orange hair, and piercings pretty much everywhere. I couldn’t stop staring, and neither could Iz, despite Mum’s not so gentle reminders to be polite. The woman, whose name I can’t even begin to guess at, just stared back at us, with a kind of ‘what?’ look on her face. I think she was there to give Mum something to go on at Matty about, because she wasn’t his usual type, who was typically blonde, a fair bit younger than him, short skirts, high heels, lots of perfume. One of these ones threw up in Mum’s rosebush, before she even got inside, and Matty got a mouthful that time for not ensuring his ‘friends’ were recovered enough from their night of partying to come to lunch.

And of course there was Julia. Julia was not Matty’s usual type at all, either to look at, or in personality. She was fairly quiet, small and dark-haired, and dressed mostly in grey or browny colours. ‘Sludge tones’ as I heard Mum whisper to Lis once. We didn’t see that much of her, because Matty often came over without her, but he was with her for a long time, and everyone started to assume they were a couple, even though they didn’t live together, or even seem to do that much together. She was good to talk to, though. She never treated me like a kid, didn’t just ask about school, but asked me about X-box games, remembered my friends’ names, that kind of thing. She came round less and less, though, and so did Matty, and it seemed like she was taking him away from us, so I didn’t mind too much when I found out he’d broken up with her.

Then Lau came, and it was like someone had plugged Matty in and switched him on. He was so different. Maybe it was just because he’d been ill, and was sad about being ill, and about breaking up with Julia, but he seemed like a different person. Just the way he looked at Lau, it was like in films, all soppy, and he touched her and kissed her all the time (ugh sooo embarrassing), and you could tell by the way that she looked at him that she felt the same. From then, it was no more women, you could see there wasn’t going to be anyone else for him but Lau. Maybe the children came earlier than planned, if there had ever been a plan, but that was right too.

Seeing Matty with his children gave me something to want to emulate. He adored the pants off those little tykes when they were young, and loved them with all his heart when they were growing. Twins can’t have been easy, although I don’t really have more than a faint memory of those early days – I didn’t do any babysitting until they were well past the screaming and pooping stage. But I will always remember the look on Matty’s face as he walked up the path to Mum and Dad’s house, one or other of the twins in his arms, looking like he’d found the thing he’d been searching for all his life. Like he finally fitted, and it was in the place he’d least expected.

So it was those thoughts and memories that kept me awake that night, the night after Matty died. They were bittersweet, because Matty was great, but he’d gone, and every remembering reminded me of that. I dozed and drifted on the tide of recollection, and then finally fell under into sleep.

The next day, Chrissie let me sleep while she got the kids up and dressed, and only woke me up when she was about to leave. Did I mention my wife is bloody awesome? I’d managed maybe three hours tops, but the extras under the duvet was much appreciated.

Having kids to take care of tends to help take your mind off your troubles; a three-year-old and an eighteen-month-old together are more than enough to occupy your mind and body. I wanted to call my tutor, but I couldn’t until the afternoon, when I rather hopefully tried to get them to nap together again. Lily went down with little fuss, but Conor wouldn’t stay in bed, and in the end I relented. I called Uni anyway, and they were really understanding, telling me to keep in touch, and let them know how much time I needed.

I texted Lau, but didn’t get a reply. I spoke to Mum and Iz, neither of whom had managed to contact Lau either, but we decided there was nothing to worry about, and Amy and Dec were just down the road if a drop-in was required.

I remembered Josh saying there might be something I could do, but he hadn’t said what, and on a whim, once Lily had woken up, I bundled them both in the car and drove over there.

I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Lau, not really. I’d just begun the very first steps towards accepting Matty was gone, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to find or how I was going to react. But I did know that Lau, Josh and Ella were part of our family, and it didn’t feel right for this huge thing to have happened to them, and us not know how they were dealing with it, or be helping them however we could.

I got Conor and Lil out of the car, and we walked up the path to the front door together.

I thought no one was going to answer the door at first, but after a while, I heard the latch, and Ella stood there, pale-faced with red-rimmed eyes.

‘Cal! Oh, you know what, it’s great to see you. Come in.’

She opened the door wider, and we walked into the hall, where I gave her a big hug and mumbled ‘I’m so sorry’ into her ear. She nodded against me, then stood back.

‘I didn’t think I wanted to see anyone, but I just realised I want to see everyone. Thanks for coming over.’

‘Hasn’t anyone else been?’

‘No, we’ve been putting people off, Mum’s not really up to it.’

‘Should we go, then?’

‘No, don’t, I don’t know if she’ll want to see you, but you can have a drink in the kitchen if not. She’s in the living room. Hey, Conor, do you want to see the cool game I’ve got on my laptop?’

Conor, as much of a gamer as his old man, nodded and followed Ella into the kitchen, as Josh came down the stairs.

‘Oh, hey Cal. I thought I heard you. I didn’t miss your call, did I?’

‘No, I just thought I’d come over.’

‘Thanks.’

There was a brief pause while I tried to decide whether to hug him, and what to say, but he made that decision for me by moving towards the living room door.

‘Did you want to see Mum?’

‘Yeah, just a quick hi.’

I opened the door to the living room and went in, Lily still in my arms. Josh was hovering behind me, as if he wasn’t sure I wasn’t going to say or do something stupid. He had a point, this was all way out of my comfort zone, and anything could come out of my mouth if I wasn’t careful.

Lau was sitting on the sofa, legs tucked under her, watching the TV. Or rather, with her face pointing in the direction of the TV. Her face had the same expression I’d seen on Dec’s the day before, and she didn’t look up. I stood between Lau and the screen, and she slowly lifted her eyes to me. It scared me to see how little of Lau there was in her face – she looked like she hadn’t slept, which was likely, and she looked so pale, so sad, almost haunted.

‘Hi Lau. Me and Lily just wanted to come and give you a kiss, see how you are.’ I wanted to say ‘I’m so sorry’ but it didn’t seem right, she didn’t look like she’d cope with me saying it, and I hoped she’d know without me saying.

I put Lil down on the floor, and she toddled over to Lau and held her arms out to be picked up. Lau usually gave the best smooshes, and Lil loved her to bits, but Lau didn’t react. I scooped Lily up again and held her close so she could kiss Lau, which she did, but Lau still didn’t seem to notice there was anyone else in the room.

I looked around at Josh, who shrugged and tilted his head to beckon me out. We joined Ella and Conor in the kitchen.

‘How’s it been for you guys? Lau looks pretty terrible.’

Josh nodded. ‘She didn’t sleep, as far as I can gather. She spent the night like that, on the sofa. I think it’s because of the bed.’

‘Shit, I never thought.’

For Lau to have gone to bed, she’d have had to sleep in the room with Matty’s empty hospital bed. There was no way it could happen.

‘I wondered if you’d help me move her bed upstairs? I mean, eventually she’ll need a bigger one, maybe, but for now, I think we should just move her back upstairs to their old room.’

‘Yeah, sure thing. I should have thought. Are you sure you’re up to it?’

‘I’d rather do it now, it’s been on my mind all day.’

Ella seemed absorbed in the computer with Conor, but her eyes kept sliding my way as if she wanted to say something.

‘OK, let’s do it then. Ella, are you OK with Lil as well?’

‘Yeah, as long as I don’t have to do any nappies.’

‘Shouldn’t do. I haven’t brought one anyway. I could do with a cuppa when we’re done, yeah?’

Ella nodded, seemingly satisfied that whatever she wanted to say could be postponed until after moving the bed.

It wasn’t hard to do, physically. What was hard was going into that room and seeing that empty bed, and trying to ignore it while we packed up the single divan and carried it bit by bit up into the upstairs room that used to be Lau and Matty’s room but had been turned into a lounge for Josh and Ella when Matty got too frail to do the stairs. Even now, using a word like ‘frail’ to describe Matty just seems wrong; he was so full of life, until just a few weeks beforehand, that we never thought of him as weak, really.

But anyway, Josh and I managed to move the bed and re-make it upstairs, not to Lau’s hospital corners standards, but well enough that she would be able to sleep in it.

Josh went to tell Lau what we’d done, and I went to collect my reward in the shape of a cup of tea.

‘Kettle on, then, Ella?’

She gestured to a steaming mug on the counter, which I picked up with a grin.

‘Good timing.’

‘Yeah, it’s not like you weren’t stomping around like a herd of bison so I could tell exactly when you were coming back down.’

‘I suppose. Good guess work then. How’ve you been?’

I bent down and scooped Lily up from Ella’s lap and held her up towards the ceiling, as I noticed Ella’s face crumple.

‘It’s been terrible. I feel so bad. I wasn’t here, was I, and Josh has been so brilliant, phoning everyone, talking to Beth about arrangements, I’ve just been bloody useless …’

Her voice tailed off as tears began to run down her face.

‘But I thought – Mum said you got here in time.’

‘He never woke up, I never said goodbye.’

‘Last time you spoke to him, though, you know, like, on the phone or whatever, you said goodbye then, didn’t you?’

‘Yeah, of course.’

‘Then that’s all that matters. Knowing Matty, he knew every time could be the last time, and that’s how he would have taken it. It really isn’t that important to actually say the words, is it? You were here for your mum, and that would have mattered more to Matty than saying a word.’

‘Maybe.’

‘And the same goes for feeling useless. People do things in different ways. Josh has done what he’s been able to; if he couldn’t then one of us would have done it. Ella, it’s not a competition. Being here is enough. And we’re all here for you too, you don’t have to stay here day in day out if it’s too much. Go and see Mum, or pop up and see Amy.’

‘Isn’t it too soon?’

‘Who for? You should do what you feel.’

‘It’s bloody shit being here, but I don’t think I should leave Mum. Not that I’ve been any use. As soon as I look at her, I just start crying.’

‘You definitely need to get out then. Go and see Mum; we were just saying yesterday no-one’s seen you for weeks.’

‘But what about Josh?’

‘What about him?’

‘I shouldn’t leave him here, should I?’

‘I think Josh is big enough to cope. And he knows how to use a phone, funnily enough, so he can call one of his eight million family members should he require assistance with making a sandwich.’

‘Yeah, alright, piss off. I just feel guilty that I spent so much of last year away from here, and now I want to go again.’

‘OK then, how’s this. Go and sit with your mum, take her a cup of tea and a biscuit, either chat to her or sit and watch the TV with her, do it for a good hour, so she knows you’re there for her, and then go out for a bit. Then come back and sit with her again. Does that feel doable?’

Ella nodded, a little uncertainly.

‘You can tell her to go and get some sleep now her bed’s been moved.’

‘Yeah, see, I couldn’t even help with that, Josh said I wouldn’t be able to lift it.’

‘Well, he’s got a point. Hey, there’s lots you can help with, though. We’ve got a whole list going on at Mum and Dad’s. You know your dad has still got us twisted round his little finger with his ridiculous arrangements?’

‘Really? Like what?’

I reeled off some of the things Matty had requested for his funeral, and Ella laughed, then immediately looked guilty for laughing, then smiled again as I rolled my eyes at her.

‘Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad. I might go and see Beth, but I’ll make a drink for Mum first.’

Ella sighed and stood up to put the kettle on as Josh came in.

‘Ella tells me you’ve been awesome.’

Josh shrugged.

‘Have you got much time off?’

‘Only today and tomorrow, so I can be with Mum. I’m playing on Sunday, so I’ve got to train. I’m going to be playing for Dad. If I score, it’s his.’

‘Aren’t all your tries for him?’

‘Yeah, not that I ever let him know they were all for him, he was big-headed enough anyway, but the next one is, well, special.’

Josh was always so chilled. I had no idea how I would have reacted, when I was playing, to losing one of my parents, but I knew how I was when I left Ayesh, and it knocked me back for weeks. If Josh really felt up to playing in a few days, just so he could score a try for his dad, it showed a depth of determination and mental strength I wish I’d had at his age.

Ella finished making the tea, and took two cups in to the living room. Josh watched her go.

‘Has she just gone in with Mum?’

I nodded, and Josh let out a big breath.

‘Good. I thought I was going to have to wrestle her in there. She’s been sat in here every waking moment, like she can’t bear to talk to her, in case she breaks.’

‘Josh, I’ve just had a bit of a chat with Ella, and I’ll say the same to you. Maybe you need to get out a bit, see people, just to stop you going nuts? I know this is difficult, a fucking awful time for you all, but as long as you or Ella are here with Lau, there’s no reason not to leave the house.’

‘Yeah, I know that, but I couldn’t go out if Ells couldn’t be in the same room. Mum shouldn’t be on her own. Hopefully it’ll be OK now. I’m going back to training in a couple of days, so things will have to be sorted by then anyway.’

‘Make sure you have time for yourself, mate. Don’t just sort things for everyone else. You need time to feel … what you need to feel.’

‘Yeah, I know. I have. Do you mean blarting?’

Matty had a special ‘Stafford’ word for crying, and it seemed Josh had adopted it.

‘Yeah, if that’s what you need to do.’

‘Well I have done, but only on my own. I don’t really do that shit in front of people.’

‘Fair enough.’

We heard the living room door open, and footsteps went up the stairs, as Ella came back into the kitchen.

‘Mum’s going to have a lie down. I think she’s really pleased you moved the bed, she’s knackered.’

‘Did she say anything?’

‘No, just nodded when I said it might be good for her to have a rest, then went up there.’

‘Well done, Ells. That’s pretty major. Maybe she’ll feel like saying something, or eating something, when she’s had a sleep.’

This seemed like something that Mum might be able to help with, although I wasn’t sure Lau was ready for the full-on Beth Scott rescue package.

‘I think Mum would like to come and see you all. I know she’s got things she wants to talk about for the funeral and afterwards.’

Josh and Ella both nodded. They, obviously, weren’t identical twins, but they often used the same gestures – small head movements and glances – which showed how close they were.

‘Maybe she can get Mum to talk. If anyone can, Beth can.’

‘Give her a call. She’s been holding back to give you some space.’

‘Really? This is Beth holding back? She’s texted me, like, every five minutes today, asking about songs and cakes and halls.’

‘You know what she’s like. She’d love to come over.’

‘Yeah, I’ll call her.’

I thought about what Ella had said about Josh calling everyone.

‘I’ll tell her. I’m on my way over there now.’

Josh looked at me gratefully and nodded.

‘Thanks for coming, Cal, you’ve been great.’

‘Sure thing, family and all that. You both know where I am if you need anything, any time. This little one makes sure I’m awake at all kind of interesting times.’

I scooped Lily up and kissed the top of her head, smiling as she threw her arms round me.

‘Actually, Ella, why don’t you come over to Mum’s with me? I know she’d love to see you.’

Ella looked furtively at Josh, as if it was wrong to want to go out. Josh smiled at her and stroked her arm.

‘Yeah, go Squeaks. You must be going stir crazy.’

Ella smiled gratefully at her brother and went into the hall to pick up her bag. Conor was still absorbed in the computer game Ella had shown him, but I prised him away and we all left for Mum and Dad’s.

Ella was quiet as I drove, and the kids were occupied with their car toys, so I worried about Lau. She was a coper, I’d never seen her down, or at a loss, and it was so weird to see her not make a fuss of the kids. She loved Conor and Lily, and would always play with them, getting down on the floor to inspect a Lego house or a teddy den, chattering nonsense with them about dollies and chocolate biscuits.

Lau and Matty had been a unit for so long, married for over twenty years, that Lau had truly looked like she’d lost half of herself. I was pretty sure Mum would know what to do, how much to push her, and when to leave her alone, which was one of the reasons I was going over there now, as well as to save Josh another call and get Ella out of the house.

Josh had impressed me with the way he’d stepped up and sorted things. I knew there were lots of people who needed to know about Matty, and although Mum had called some of them, Josh had a list and had gone through it until everyone on it had been contacted. That can’t have been easy; it had been bad enough calling Iz and using a code word. And he was being really supportive of his mum and sister. I wasn’t sure I would have coped as well at his age.

As I pulled up outside the house, and started to unbuckle Conor and Lily, Mum opened the front door and came to help, her smile widening as she saw Ella get out of the car. Mum could never resist a cuddle with her grandchildren, and always wanted to get going as soon as possible, so she took Lily straight out of the car seat and gave her a big squeeze.

‘This is a nice surprise.’

‘We’re doing the rounds. We’ve just been to number forty-seven.’

Mum looked at me, eyebrows raised.

‘I can see that. I would have come over, Ella, but Josh said not to go yet.’

‘I know, Beth. We didn’t think Mum would cope, but it was fine with Cal. She’s gone to bed, first time she’s slept I think.’

‘And I didn’t call first, I just went over. We texted yesterday, and he said there was something I could do, so I just got us all in the car and popped over.’

In your face, Mum, is something I would have never said, but she didn’t have dibs on getting things accomplished. At least not always.

‘Oh. What did he want help with?’

‘Lau wouldn’t sleep in her bed, so we moved it upstairs. She went and had a lie-down straight away.’

Mum started walking towards the door again, talking over her shoulder.

‘I never thought! That empty bed just sitting there. We’ll have to arrange to get it taken away.’

‘I think Josh has got a handle on things, Mum, you don’t have to do everything. Although, Josh did ask if you’d go over sometime, chat with Lau.’

We got inside and headed for the kitchen, because Mum could never have a visitor without feeding them, and she always had something wicked to spoil Conor and Lily with. Sure enough, once she had given Ella a big hug and installed her in the living room with Dad, she managed to rummage in a cupboard with the hand that wasn’t holding Lil, and pulled out some chocolate fingers.

She had looked a tiny bit pleased when I passed on Josh’s message, and spoke quietly to me.

‘How are they all doing?’

‘Josh is great. He’s just getting on with things. Ella needed to be told to get out, have a break, but Lau is … not herself. I mean, not that it’s not completely understandable, but it’s like she’s shut down.’

‘It’s been tough on her, especially the last few weeks. Even when you’re expecting it, it’s a shock.’

‘Yeah, I know. And she’s been half of this ‘Matty and Lau’ team, and now there’s just her. And with Josh just moving out, that house is going to feel enormous.’

‘We’ll just have to look after her. I’m glad I can go over.’

‘How’s Dad?’

‘Well he got up today, so that’s a plus. He’s not said much, though. Dec’s not answering his calls, either. I talked to Amy, and she said he’s quiet, too. It’ll just take time, sweetheart. Everyone does things their own way. I heard from that catering place – they need to know rough numbers. I wonder if Ella knows?’

‘I don’t think Ella has been … that involved with the arrangements. Josh seems to have been doing it all himself.’

‘Hmm. I’ll definitely pop over tomorrow then. Maybe I can ask him then.’

And that was how Mum did things. She organised, she planned, she lost herself in arrangements. While Conor and Lily were occupied with chocolate biscuits, I gave her a big hug. With Dad incommunicado, I wondered where she was getting her support from. It would be me right now. Mum clung on tighter than normal, and when we let go, there were tears on her cheeks.

‘Thank you sweetheart. I needed that. It’s all so sad, I don’t know what we’ll do without Matty.’

‘We’ll never forget him.’

‘No. He’d never forgive us. Oh, Lily darling, mind where you’re putting your fingers – oh too late. Don’t worry sweetheart, I’ll get a cloth. Cal, keep an eye on her, I’ve just had those chairs cleaned.’

I herded the children away from Mum’s impractical cream upholstery, and once fingers had been wiped and mouths cleared of chocolate, we moved to the living room, where Ella was sitting on one of the sofas and Dad was stretched out on the other one, watching TV. To all intents and purposes, he didn’t look much different from usual, but there was a heavy sadness about him, maybe it was the set of his jaw, maybe a slump to his shoulders. He was hurting.

We didn’t stay much longer, having filled the kids up on chocolate biscuits just before tea time, and headed home to Chrissie, leaving Mum to take Ella home later.

Arrangements were made, and a date set for Matty’s funeral. Mum and Josh did most of the planning between them, as every time anyone asked Lau anything, she’d just say ‘it’s all written down’. We stopped asking in the end, as it was obviously too much for her to think about.

There was no church service, as Matty had made it clear he didn’t want any type of religion ‘impeding his passage to the afterlife’, as he put it. But the largest chapel in the crematorium couldn’t hold all the people who wanted to give him a send off. There were people stood at the back, and out of the doors. I knew a lot of them; there were former colleagues from Raiders and from his GreenScreen days; business contacts; friends and family from all over the city; Nico and Lis came, with Basty, and it became apparent that Basty and Ella were finding each other’s company particularly consoling; Matty’s old mate Andrew came, with a couple of people they both used to work with in Stafford; the place was full to bursting.

The notice in The Herald had been written by Matty, but edited by Beth, who had wanted people to at least know where to come to remember him.

Please note that

WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT

the artist formerly known as

Matthew Robert Scott

should henceforth be known as

The Late Matthew Robert Scott

Work it out for yourselves, people!

Memorial Service – City Crematorium 1st November 1pm

and afterwards at Hilton Hotel

No flowers, donations to a charity of your choice

One of the many things Matty had specified was that he didn’t want anyone to have to deal with ‘heaps of dying blooms from my heartbroken followers’, and he had instead requested that everyone attending should be given a balloon. He even said what he wanted printed on them:

‘Matt Scott Road Trip

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day

it’s a new life for me

and I’m feeling good

which was a quote from one of his favourite songs (Muse or Ella Fitzgerald, he loved them both). I guess it was better than ‘I told you I was ill’, which Josh told us was what he wanted to have before Lau persuaded him otherwise.

So the whole place was filled with bobbing helium-filled balloons, all colours, and it was almost enough to give it a party atmosphere, rather than a funereal one. Almost.

Lau sat ramrod straight, between Josh and Ella. Ella was crying before the coffin even came in, and Basty, who was sitting behind her, put a hand on her shoulder more than once. Josh remained dry-eyed, and I remembered him saying that he didn’t cry in front of people. Lau – well, she was there in body, but her mind and her heart were elsewhere that day, as if she’d hidden herself away so as not to be able to feel it. I couldn’t blame her; it was what I felt like doing.

Matty had suggested that, rather than a eulogy, people be invited to write down one word that summed him up as they came in, to be put in a hat (a top hat, naturally) and ten of the words pulled out and read at random. Josh had volunteered to do this, and the rule was, apparently, no repeats but no censorship. The words were:

Loving

Dedicated

Brilliant

Inappropriate

Hot for an old guy (which is officially five words, but was allowed through)

Mate

Lovely

Old Bastard (again over the word count but allowed through due to truthfulness)

Literally

Heart

Josh then went on to read a message Matt had written for everyone. Trust Matty to write his own eulogy:

‘Hello Everyone. Thanks for coming, sorry to interrupt your day, I’m sure you will be amply compensated with food and drink in a short while. I hope you’re enjoying the balloons.

Now, I trust none of you are moping or wearing black or some such shit, because I very specifically asked that you didn’t. There’s a reason. This get together, well, it shouldn’t be about dying and sadness, although I’m going to miss all you guys and I’d like to think you might miss me a little bit, even if it’s just because you can now have control of the TV remote.

Anyway, the reason I didn’t want black and moping is because I had a great life. I had a wonderful, gorgeous wife and two fantastic children, and if I could have traded it all for a longer, healthier life without them, I wouldn’t have. I had the best life I could have imagined. Fuck the fact I had the bastard MS. Fuck my bastard lungs. My family are the best, and I want you all to look after each other. My life has been a great success because out of it came Me and Lau, and Josh and Ella. And if that isn’t a reason to celebrate and wear neon pink, then I don’t know what is.

Take care of each other.’

Josh looked up after he had finished reading, and took a deep breath.

‘My dad was the best. I can’t believe he’s gone. I’m going to miss him so much.’

And with that, he broke down, blarting like the rest of us, and Beth had to go and help him back to his seat.

I expected Lau to comfort him, but she didn’t seem to have heard any of it, and just sat staring at the coffin.

To be honest, after that, we were all in tears. Balloons or not, we were saying goodbye to a good man, one of the best, and it was heartbreaking. Chrissie and I held each other’s hands tightly, and most people there were comforting the people near to them.

There weren’t any hymns; Matty had stated he didn’t want anything religious. There was a sing-along version of Time of Your Life (Good Riddance) by GreenDay, and a montage of photos of Matty through the ages projected onto a screen and accompanied by Another One Bites the Dust. The coffin had been brought in to Darth Vader’s theme (people who knew Matty well had smiled at this, score Matty), and disappeared to Joy Division Oven Gloves. And when it was all over, Goodbyee Don’t Cryee made us all smile again, and we filed out of the chapel and into cars for the final leg, leaving Matty there.

Conor and Lily were at the childminder’s for the day. We didn’t need to use childminders very often, as both of us were around enough, and we had Beth, Lau and Amy as willing victims – er, volunteers – most of the time. But today, we all wanted to be there, and the funeral would be too much for the little ones. After the official gathering, we would collect them and go round to Mum and Dad’s for the family get-together.

It’s odd how weddings and funerals are the places to see people you really wish you kept in touch with, but never do. Cousins, aunts and uncles appear that you hardly ever think about, but when you meet up again and chat, you realise are pretty ace people. Of course, sometimes there are people you wish had stayed in whichever dark corner of the country they came from, but on the whole, the extended Scott family, and lots of Matty’s friends, were excellent people, and I made a lot of new Facebook friends that day, if nothing else.

We’d all hoped that the funeral would be a closure for the people who were feeling it the most – Lau, Dec and Dad – but it didn’t seem to have worked out like that for any of them. They all had the same blank expression, that made you wonder where they’d gone. Dec excused himself not long after the service; Dad only stayed because he was practically stapled to Mum, who didn’t let go of him all day; Lau was only there in body. She said ‘hello’ and ‘thank you for coming’ to everyone, and said ‘fine’ when anyone asked how she was, but she was on automatic. Josh and Ella were never far from her side, and did most of the talking.

136. Someone great

In which a dreaded event comes to pass.

Laura

In the October of that last year, Matt was home from his latest visit to hospital, but not making a lot of progress. He’d been in bed for weeks, needing constant nursing, pressure sores blooming on his skinny rump. He was hardly ever awake, and his rasping breathing rattled through the house day and night. Our double bed had been replaced by a hospital profiling bed for Matt and a single one for me.

Josh had just moved into a shared house with some mates from Raiders; he’d been meaning to move out for weeks, but had felt bad about going when his dad was so ill. I had to persuade him to go, although I missed him terribly and felt like we finally did have an empty nest. He’d been in touch every day, either visiting or on the phone, and the family were still as constant a presence in our lives as they had ever been, but now the children were gone, it felt different.

Matt needed so much care at the moment, I did as much as I could myself. We had the works – hoist, special bed, oxygen mask, drip stand, even, to Matt’s shame and something I swore to him I would never tell anyone, incontinence pads for when neither of us could get him to the loo.

Since he’d been out of hospital, Matt had needed constant nursing. I did as much as I could, and promised Beth I’d tell her when I needed help. Very occasionally I’d ask her to come over if I needed to go out, but I wanted to be there as much as I could. It felt like our time was running out, and I didn’t want to miss any of the times when he was awake. He could still make me laugh, or make my heart melt with a look.

Eventually, Matt started refusing his medication. I thought long and hard about fighting him, but couldn’t bring myself to force him. He was still getting the anti-biotics via the drip, although they didn’t seem to be doing much good, but nothing else was going into his system, including food. He would drink a little bit every now and then, as his mouth got dry and sore, but he was wasting away before my eyes and it was destroying me. He was being visited regularly by his GP and his MS nurse, but we all knew there was little we could do to make him either eat or take his meds. I’d been there before so many times with my patients, and I knew how it was going to end.

Matt was just getting his breath back after a huge eruption of coughing had shaken him for several minutes. I picked up the oxygen mask and put it over his mouth and nose. Matt raised his hand to the mask and pushed it away; I could see the effort it had taken, and could easily have pushed it back on, but I allowed my hand to drop away, still holding the mask. Matt was looking at me, his grey gaze burning into me.

‘Hahd … enuhf … Lau.’

‘What do you mean?’

Although I knew exactly what he meant, and he knew that I knew. I could see it in his eyes, how tired he was, exhausted of the battle. He could do it, another monumental fight to get better, one more time, but we’d soon be back here again, and then again. He had the right to stop. I knew what was going to happen, and it wouldn’t be long now.

‘Soh … ry.’

It was barely a whisper, and I struggled to hear him over the rattle of his breathing.

‘It’s OK.’

I tried to keep my voice light as I stroked his cheek, although inside I was screaming ‘no, don’t go, it’s too soon, I’m not ready, I’ll never be ready’.’

We’d talked about it, several months ago, how one day he would need to be in control, no arguments, and I’d agreed, but now it was here, and it was hard; the hardest promise I’d ever had to keep.

‘You have a rest. You’ve earned it. Lazy sod.’

He moved his hand toward mine and I dropped the oxygen mask, gripping his icy fingers with one hand and stroking his clammy forehead with the other. His eyes held mine, full of sorry, full of love, full of pain and full of goodbye.

‘Hohd … hahnds … fuh … eh … ver.’

We looked at each other and acknowledged what was going to happen. He started to speak and I bent my head closer to hear him.

‘Luhv … yuh … Lau … ra … Lou … ise … Scoht.’

It took so much effort to say that he went even paler, closed his eyes and swallowed hard as sweat ran down his face. Or it may have been tears. Each breath tore through him painfully.

‘I love you, Matthew Robert Scott.’

‘Niht … thehn.’

‘Night, beach boy. Sleep well.’

I leaned over as he opened his eyes, then I held his gaze for a long time, until finally I kissed him, and felt his mouth smiling under mine. His eyes closed, his face relaxed and his fingers stopped gripping mine as he let go and slept.

I sat up, still holding his hand, watching his face for a while, his long lashes resting softly on his cheeks. He was deeply asleep, almost unconscious, by the time I picked my phone up from the small table by the bed, and with shaking hands made a call to Josh.

‘Hey Mum.’

‘Josh … Dad’s, er … sorry my love, I think it’s time for the chain.’

‘No …’

Some time ago, we’d come up with the idea of a chain of phone calls for when the family needed to know things were at a certain point with Matt. I knew I wouldn’t be able to call everyone, so we decided that I would ring one person, who would ring another one, or two, and the message would get round that way. Josh was going to call Beth, and Ella, who was staying with friends up north.

‘I’m sorry, Josh.’

‘Do you want me to come home?’

‘Yes …’

I couldn’t speak any more.

‘I’ll be right there.’

As I disconnected, my phone rang. The screen announced Dec. That was impossible – Josh wouldn’t have had time to call anyone, let alone any messages getting through to Dec. I answered.

‘Dec.’

‘Hey Lau. I just picked up a text from Matt. He said Plan B.’

‘Plan B’ was Matt’s code word for when Dec needed to hand over the IT part of the business solely to Tom, when he knew he wasn’t going to be around for much longer. Dec sounded close to tears, if not actually crying. I nearly hung up, I was finding the whole situation unreal and upsetting.

‘Sorry, flower, I think it is.’

‘No. I’ll come round, talk to him, we’ll get him back on his feet.’

‘Not this time, Dec.’

‘But I can’t, I can’t fucking do it without him, I just can’t.’

He sounded distraught.

‘None of us know how we’re going to do anything without him. We don’t have a choice now. I’m sorry, Dec, I can’t … I just can’t right now.’

Cal

One lunchtime at the end of September, I got a call from Dec. His kookaburra ringtone sounding like some kind of manic laughter and the picture from my retirement party of him with a pair of Australia underpants on his head (these ones were the red, white and blue flag with ‘100% Aussie’ across the front, even though that was a downright lie) always made me smile and shake my head, so I was grinning as I answered.

‘Hey old man.’

I expected some kind of come back, but there was silence for a while, some breathing sounds, and then one word. It was really quiet, and I hardly heard it.

‘Tottenham.’

Then the line went dead.

It took me a little while to figure it out; it had been over a year since the ‘Chain’ meeting, and I’d almost forgotten. Then it slammed into me and nearly brought me to my knees. Back then, Dec had reluctantly agreed to call Amy and me, to tell us with that one word that Matty was nearly gone, to expect the worst.

My first reaction, after sitting down, breathing hard and saying ‘fuck no, fuck no, fuck no’ to myself, was to call Lau and check how she was. But the whole point of The Chain was that she knew she wouldn’t want to talk to a load of people, and I needed to get going on my part of the calling.

The original idea had been that one person would call one person each, but in reality it hadn’t worked like that. Dad had point blank refused to call anyone; Dec had wanted to refuse but been persuaded with the one-word message idea; Mum had taken responsibility for Dad and Gran (who everyone agreed shouldn’t have to call anyone), and I was down to call Chrissie (well obviously) and Iz. I needed to get started, because people needed to know quickly.

Chrissie was working, and wouldn’t have her mobile on in the classroom, so I left a voicemail message, just the one word as agreed, and then tried the office at school to see if I could get a message to her. Then I texted her with the same word, then felt bad, even though we’d agreed that’s what we’d do, and sent her a longer text.

Shit Chrissie, I can’t believe it. This can’t be happening. Call me when you get a moment Cal xx

And that left Iz. Iz kept weird hours; she was an interpreter, having aced languages at school and Uni, and that meant she often worked evenings when people were having functions, or were doing something in different time zones. I had no idea where she would be when I called, or if it would be convenient for me to call her, or whether I should text. But if she was around, I really wanted to talk to her. I pressed her name.

‘Hey Cal. Got bored waiting for your beans to boil dry?’

Iz was fairly scornful of my attempts to make myself a meal, quite rightly as I remained as crap at cooking as I had always been. I couldn’t banter though, I had a job to do. It was the hardest word I’d ever had to say.

‘Tottenham.’

‘What?’

I didn’t say anything, just let it sink in.

‘Cal? Did you just say Tottenham? Oh. Oh no. Oh fuck no. Have you talked to anyone?’

‘No. Dec just rang me, but he just said the word and hung up. Chrissie’s phone’s off.’

‘Oh my God, Cal, I can’t believe it. I thought he’d get better. He always gets better. I want to talk to Lau, but that’s what this is all about, isn’t it, so she doesn’t have to deal with all of us. Shit. Maybe I’ll call Mum.’

‘Haven’t you got someone else you should call?’

‘Oh shit, of course. I’ve got to tell Gracie. Oh bollocks to it, Cal, this is so hard. You know what, now I’m glad it’s only one stupid word, so I don’t have to actually say it.’

‘The next time’s going to be harder.’

‘Don’t. I can’t think about it. I’m going to call Gracie, she’s in a class – oh, maybe I’ll catch her having her lunch. Text me later, yeah? We’ll talk soon.’

We disconnected, and I thought we’d be talking again pretty soon anyway, with The Chain part two.

I tried to call Mum, but her line was busy, so left a message for her to call me. I was starting to feel emotional, and although Conor and Lily were at home with me, I felt lonely and a bit scared. This was a big thing to be facing, and I wanted to share it with someone.

To try and distract myself, I turned back to the essay I’d been trying to write, but the words were just swimming around on the screen. I couldn’t settle, not knowing anything, not knowing how anyone was doing, thinking about how upset everyone was going to be, but not wanting to tie up my phone in case Chrissie called.

I knew Dec was going to be in a bad way, not only from his call, but from how he’d reacted with Rose. I sent him a text, but with no expectation that he would reply. I texted Mum, Dad, Tom, Josh and Ella, but none of them replied either, and I imagined them all talking to each other, a little whirl of family support, and felt even more on my own.

The children were both having afternoon naps, miraculously unconscious together for once, but I felt like waking them up so I could hold them. I needed to hold someone.

And then, as I was about to start my next round of texting, and to have another try at contacting Chrissie, I heard a car pull onto the drive and a key turn in the front door, and she was home. Chrissie was back, and I was so glad to see her I practically fell into her arms.

Laura

I disconnected, knowing that this was going to devastate Dec, but he had Amy to look after him and I just needed to be here with Matt, holding his hand.

I barely registered when Josh came in. He put his arm round me and gave me a kiss on the cheek, then bent down and kissed Matt too, and stroked his forehead lightly. Josh spoke to him, but I didn’t take in what he said. It was a while later, Josh had pulled up a chair and was sitting reading a book, when I thought about Ella.

‘Did you call your sister?’

Josh looked up and nodded. ‘Yeah. She’s coming straight down. Might take her a while.’

‘Thanks, my love.’

‘How’re you doing, Mum? You’ve not said a word, I don’t think you heard me earlier.’

‘Sorry. This is … weird.’

‘Yeah.’

We sat and listened to Matt’s rasping, laboured breathing for a while.

‘No one’s called. I thought someone might.’

‘Wasn’t that the point of the chain, so everyone knows what to expect, but not to bother you?’

‘Yeah, I suppose.’

‘Do you want to talk to someone?’

‘No, not really.’

Not except the one person I was never going to talk to again, or who at least was never going to talk to me.

Josh carried on with his book, and we sat through the night, watching Matt slip away, his breaths becoming more erratic. Eventually, Josh’s head kept dropping forwards as he dozed, and I shook him and told him to go to bed.

‘I’ll shout if I need you.’

He nodded and went off to his room.

Cal

We held each other for a long time, and Chrissie whispered how sorry she was, stroked my hair and stopped me from falling. I realised my legs were shaking, as what was really, actually happening started to hit home. Chrissie pulled me over to the sofa and made me sit down.

‘Oh Cal. It’s been such a long time coming. How awful.’

‘I know. I thought, though, the chain thing was going to make it easier, but this, waiting for the next call, I think I might go mad. I’ve texted people but no one’s answering.’

‘Did you call Iz?’

‘Yeah. I did the word, but we talked a bit too, then she had to tell Gracie, so we didn’t say much.’

‘What about your Mum?’

‘I left a message. I guess they’re all talking to each other.’

‘Or not talking to each other. It might be hard, they’re not all going to want to talk, are they. That’s kind of the point of all this.’

‘I know.’

My phone rang with Mum’s tone.

‘Hey Mum.’

‘Hi sweetheart. Sorry, I was talking to your gran.’

‘Oh, how is she?’

‘Well, you know what she’s like, she’s not saying a lot, but she’s obviously upset. How are you?’

‘Freaking. This is horrible, Mum. I’m going to jump every time the phone rings. Do we have any idea what’s going on?’

‘Not at the moment. Josh said he’d text if he can, he’s gone over to … wait I suppose. We’re just going to have to wait too, we can’t disturb Laura.’

‘No, I know, shit Mum, whatever it’s like for us, it must be a thousand times worse for Lau. I’m glad Josh is there. Is Ella coming home?’

‘Yes, she should be on her way.’

‘Will she make it … in time?’

‘I don’t know, sweetheart. I think … well I don’t really want to guess at timescales, but not long. I hope she gets here.’

Shit. Fucking hell. That meant hours, rather than … anything longer. I really couldn’t get my head round it. The Chain had been a theoretical thing, something we talked about and felt weird about back then, and I’d half-forgotten it, what had driven it, what it had meant. I’d been fooling myself about how ill Matty was for the last few months, and now it was rushing up at me at great speed.

‘Fuck. Mum, you’ll let me know if you hear anything won’t you?’

‘Of course, sweetheart.’

‘How’s Dad?’

‘Not good.’

‘Shit. This is fucking horrendous.’

‘I know. Is Chrissie there with you?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Take care of each other, then. Bye, sweetheart.’

We disconnected and I turned into Chrissie’s arms again.

‘Where are the kids?’

‘Sleeping.’

‘What both of them? Did you feed them knockout drops or something?’

‘No, just lunch, then I had a stiff word with them, told them I needed to write my two thousand words on the origins and insertions of the muscles in the upper limbs, and they said ‘Righto Daddy’ and put themselves to bed.’

‘You arse. How long have they been down?’

‘About an hour. Anytime now –’

‘MUMMY.’

‘Right on cue. Let’s go and get them. We can have a lovely play together, it’ll take our minds off things for a bit.’

And having the children awake was a distraction. I closed my computer down, knowing my essay was going to have to take a back seat for quite a while, then Chrissie and I played games with Conor and Lily.

Slowly, people replied to my texts, but no one else called, and there was a heavy atmosphere of dread. Each time my phone made a sound, I jumped, until I realised it wasn’t Dec’s kookaburra. I wondered if Dec would even be the one to make that next call; he’d found it hard enough to do the first one.

There weren’t many texts, and Mum was the only one who called me. Eventually I realised that everyone was just waiting, and no one wanted to make people think that it had happened, this dreaded ‘it’ that was going to happen soon. So we just waited, where we were, everything suspended in some kind of emotional limbo until the next part of the the chain began.

Chrissie and I gave the kids their tea, gave them a bath, put them to bed, we did all the family stuff, trying hard not to let them feel how we felt. Then, once it was all quiet, we put some music on, curled up together on the sofa and waited.

Waiting is shit. Waiting for anything is shit, but waiting to be told that someone you love has died is about the shittest thing I’ve ever had to wait for. My nerves were shot; I was on edge; I was in a constant state of recognising the inevitability of it while at the same time trying to convince myself that someone must have got it wrong. Maybe Lau had made a mistake, and Matty was going to pull through. But Lau was realistic, and she wouldn’t have put us all through this unless she was absolutely sure.

And so it went on, until I wore myself out with trying not to think about it. We went to bed, but neither of us slept, and neither did Lily.

Laura

A while later, in the early hours, I heard Ella come through the front door.

‘Mum?’

She sounded like a small scared child.

‘In here, my love.’

She came into the bedroom, eyes reaching for Matt’s face, scanning him to see if he was still breathing. She let out a big sigh.

‘He’s still here. Oh Mum, I was so scared, I thought it would take me too long to get here, I should never have been so far away.’

‘Have you had anything to eat?’

‘No. I’m not hungry. I can get myself something later. Can I … I was thinking all the way here of all the things I’ve never told him. I suppose it’s too late now.’

‘He might still be able to hear you, Squeaks. No one really knows. Let me go and make you a cup of tea. You have a chat with your dad.’

I dragged myself away from Matt, not really wanting to break my connection with him, but recognising that Ella needed some time alone with him. As I walked into the kitchen I heard her voice.

‘Hey Dad, it’s me. Well I guess you know that if you can hear me. I just … well I suppose it’s a bit late to beat around the bush. I love you, alright? I don’t think I ever told you. You told me lots, but it’s just not cool to say it to your dad, is it …’

I smiled to myself as she chattered on, thinking for the millionth time how different she was to Josh, who would sit with me and Matt, not feeling the need to say anything, but communicating all he needed to by his presence. If I didn’t have their shared date of birth branded on my heart, I would never guess they were twins.

I stayed in the kitchen for a while, to give Ella some time, then made her drink. As I carried the cup of tea back into the room, she was still talking.

‘… and then there was that time when I told you I was at Nicci’s sleepover, but really I was drinking cider with Jonny Gatzenberg – oh, Mum. Thanks.’

‘You know he knows about Jonny Gatzenberg.’

‘What?’

‘If you were just confessing all your past crimes, Ella, you’d be surprised how many of them he knows about. And forgives you for. We both remember what it was like to be young. And he loves you, never forget that. But you don’t have to tell him everything, keep some secrets, my love. No one tells their dad everything, dads can’t cope with all the sordid details.’

‘But I feel so guilty now, I wish I’d never lied to him, or screamed at him or all the other horrible things I did.’

‘Didn’t I just hear you tell him you love him?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Then that makes everything alright. Everything. He loves you so much and he’s so proud of you. We’re both so proud of you. Drink your tea and go to bed.’

She nodded, took a couple of mouthfuls of tea then stood up, and looked at Matt for a long time. Finally, she bent down, kissed his forehead and stroked his cheek.

‘Is Josh here?’

‘He’s in bed.’

‘I might go and sleep on his floor.’

Since they were little, whenever either of them had felt out of sorts or upset, they had slept in the same room. It had persisted through their teens until Ella went away to university. This was the first time she’d done it since. I smiled at her, and took Matt’s hand again, listening to him struggle for breath and watching small twitches wrinkle his face from time to time.

Eventually I felt my eyes start to droop. I leaned forwards, resting my head close to his, feeling his staccato breath on my hair, still holding his hand, telling him everything I needed him to know through my grip on his fingers.

Cal

Lily often woke in the middle of the night, and was hard to get back to sleep. Luckily her brother slept like a log, and she never woke him up, but Chrissie and I always took it in turns to get up with Lil. If I didn’t have to be up for Uni, I’d get up, and Chrissie did it when she wasn’t working.

That night was no different, and the cries started about two thirty, which was pretty standard. To be honest, I was relieved to have a distraction, and I got out of bed more willingly than usual. Chrissie reached for me.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yeah, babe. Can’t sleep anyway. Want me to bring you some tea when I come back?’

‘That would be nice. I doubt I’ll be asleep either.’

‘I’ll be back in a bit.’

I crossed the landing to Lil’s room and found her standing up in her cot, red-faced and screaming. She reached her arms up when she saw me, and despite the noise she was making, the gesture of trust tugged at my heart as I picked her up and held her to me.

Lily’s screams could be used as a four-minute warning for a nuclear attack, they are so piercing. I have often apologised to our neighbours, being convinced that she must wake the whole street. They kindly say they never hear a thing, but that girl has a seriously powerful set of lungs.

As I held her to me, Lily’s cries gradually quietened, but I knew from experience that she would only start up again if I put her back down in her cot. We took a little walk downstairs, did a tour of the living room and kitchen, wandered into the dining room, peeked into the conservatory, checked all the coats and shoes were where we left them in the porch, and then she started to get sleepy. I could feel the change in her little body, as she started to relax against my shoulder.

I went into the kitchen and put the kettle on for Chrissie’s tea, then wandered around a bit more, to be sure Lil really was asleep. Something was stopping me from taking her back to her room, something was making me hold her extra tight and kiss her head where it rested on my shoulder.

It was the thought of losing someone, it made me want to cling on to the people I loved the most. I wondered how Lau was doing, how Josh and Ella were doing, how Matty was doing, how everyone was doing. I think it was the only time I can remember when there was some sort of family crisis that we didn’t all meet up and face it together. It felt weird, disjointed, cracked.

Lily was fast asleep by now, and I went up to her room and laid her back in her cot, looking down at her as she slept, her cherubic cheeks and rosebud mouth hiding the decibel monster she could be. I brushed her hair away from her forehead, then went downstairs to make some tea.

Chrissie was asleep when I got back to bed, so I put her mug by the bed and sat up drinking mine. I checked my phone, just in case anyone had texted or rung me. I should have had it with me, I suppose, but Chrissie would have heard it if it had gone off.

Sitting there with my phone in my hand, I really wanted to talk to someone, just to contact them so I wasn’t alone with all of this swirling round my head.

I’d told Iz I’d text her later, but if I contacted her now, she’d think it was part two of the chain, and that wouldn’t be fair. I didn’t want to disturb anyone else, and I sat looking at my contacts list, undecided, when a picture flashed up and a tone jangled out. I nearly dropped the phone, my heart racing, but it wasn’t Dec, or Amy, or Mum. It was Iz. Iz wouldn’t be texting me with news; I was the one who was going to call her. I calmed down a little and read the text.

Sorry if I woke u up. Can’t sleep. Wanna talk?

Wasn’t asleep. Wld LOVE 2 talk.

I checked Chrissie. She had stirred when the text tone went off, but seemed to have drifted off to sleep again. I got out of bed, turning the volume down on the phone as I went, grabbed a hoody and walked down the stairs. I plopped onto the sofa as Iz’s tone started ringing.

‘Hey.’

‘Hey. So. This is about the least fun I’ve ever had.’

‘I know. We all thought it was such a good idea, didn’t we? Now, it’s like ‘here’s some really bad news that’s almost happened, but why don’t you all just sit there waiting for it all night’. It really sucks, Iz.’

‘I feel so far away.’

‘You are far away. Manchester is far.’

‘You know what I mean. If I was there, we’d all be together, helping each other.’

‘We’re not though, that’s the weird thing, no one’s rung, Mum hasn’t said all come round, as far as I know everyone’s at home doing their own thing. Which is probably the same as we’re doing – not getting any sleep. I wanted to call someone, but I think we’re all deliberately not calling or texting, because we’ll all think ‘this is it’ when the phone goes.’

‘But you’ll all get together … after, won’t you. I can see how it all feels weird now, but, you know, I think I’m going to come down. I mean, whatever, it’s not going to be long, is it. I just want to be there.’

‘Can you get time off work?’

‘I’ll take it, and worry about it later. Maybe Gracie will want to come, I’ll suggest it.’

‘How was she, when you told her?’

‘Oh you know Gracie. She was with her friends, she just said thanks for letting her know, didn’t chat or anything. When she came home, though, we had a little cry. She is the most perfect crier I’ve ever seen. I go all blobby and snotty, my face swells up and my eyes puff into pigginess, but Gracie, no redness, just beautiful tears falling symmetrically from her eyes.’

‘The cow. I expect she just does it to annoy you.’

‘Yeah, I bet. Ha ha, no, that’s the other bloody annoying thing about Gracie, well apart from her being gorgeous and having the body of a dancer and yet being able to put away half a chocolate cake with no ill effects, no, the other bloody annoying thing is she’s so bloody lovely, really thoughtful. She gives me and Ben space, goes out, stays in her room, but when she is with us she’s such good company. I’m so glad she’s staying with us this year.’

This felt better, talking to Iz, general chatter as well as acknowledging what was happening in a house half way across the city to someone we both loved.

‘Yeah, you lucked out there. Just think, you could have had Charlie if things had been different.’

‘What, you mean if she’d actually given Uni a proper go, or gone to a Uni that was less than two hundred miles away from where I live?’

‘Yeah, well, apart from that. God, can you imagine, student Charlie living with you?’

‘You mean things like the door banging at three in the morning, the sulks when we asked her to turn her music down, the ‘borrowing’ of my clothes and make-up, the ‘can I just take your car’, the unwashed dishes. Ben would have left me.’

‘Yep, you definitely dodged a bullet. Be thankful Dec managed to produce one or two normal children.’

‘They’re all lovely. Charlie’s lovely, just a bit …’

‘Overwhelming.’

‘Yeah. Can you remember who was calling her?’

I hadn’t given much thought to who was where in the chain; I just knew who was calling me and who I had to pass it on to. I tried to remember the discussion from that night over a year ago.

‘No, but I think it would have been Amy – wasn’t there some argument about age order, didn’t it go Charlie, Tom, Rosa? With you getting Gracie because she’s up there with you?’

‘Yeah, I think you’re right. God help Tom, then. He might never get the call.’

‘I expect Amy will have it under control.’

Talking about it made me shudder with anticipation. It wouldn’t be long before Dec was calling me again.

‘Know what, Iz, we shouldn’t be tying up our phones, in case they’re trying to get through.’

Iz was silent for a moment.

‘No, you’re right. I was hoping for a bit of a distraction, but we’re just going to have to wait it out, aren’t we. Thanks for chatting, Cal. I’ll talk to you later. Let you know about coming down.’

‘Take care of yourself. Is Ben awake?’

‘No, but he said to wake him up when there’s some news. I’m glad he’s here.’

‘I’m glad he’s there for you. Talk to you later.’

‘Bye Cal.’

I disconnected, noticing that my phone didn’t have much charge left. I plugged the charger in by the TV, and turned it on so I could watch some late night drivel while I waited for it to charge up a bit.

Laura

I woke with a start. At first I didn’t know what had woken me, then I heard it. The silence. It was quiet. Completely quiet and still. I was clasping his hand, but Matt had gone. I sat up with a whimper. Shouted out in panic.

‘Josh! Josh!’

It only took a couple of seconds before I heard stirring from his room, but it felt like a hour as I sat and looked at Matt’s face, his perfectly motionless face. He was never motionless; even when he was asleep he fidgeted. Josh burst into the room, Ella at his shoulder. I looked at them, stricken.

‘I think …’

I gestured at Matt, who was no longer there, not really.

‘Oh Mum.’

Josh moved quickly to the side of the bed and felt Matt’s forehead.

‘He’s not breathing is he. Oh Mum.’

He turned to me, face full of sorrow, and leaned down and hugged me. I sobbed onto his shoulder. I felt Ella’s arm round my neck, as her hot tears splashed onto my arm. They both knelt by my chair and we put our arms round each other and wept. We stayed like that for a while, then I looked up at Matt’s still face, his head turned towards me, mouth slightly open, and I didn’t want to be there any more, in that room, where he wasn’t.

I stood up, Josh and Ella making way for me as I walked into the hall. I stopped there, dazed, not knowing where I’d intended to go.

‘Come on, Mum.’

Josh took my arm and led me to the living room, where he gently pushed me down onto a sofa.

‘Sit there for a bit. Ella, stay with her, yeah?’

‘Why, where are you going?’

‘Just upstairs. Gonna call Beth.’

It was chain of calls phase two. Josh had agreed to be the first in the chain, but looking at his face it was going to be one of the hardest things he’d ever have to do.

Matt

OK, that’s your lot with the sloppy love notes, folks. It’s getting harder to type this shit, and the voice rec software can’t understand my unintelligible bollocks any more, so I think I’m going to

It ends here; I don’t know if he got interrupted, or was just too tired and ill to carry on and thought he’d finish later. Tom tells me that the last date this file was modified was about three weeks before Matt died, and he was hardly awake much after that, let alone capable of writing anything. So this is the end of the story of Matthew Robert Scott. I’m going to write my version, although I’ll probably steal a lot of his words, as I don’t think my memory is as good as his, and I don’t have his way of putting things into writing. But I’ll take it to the end, because there’s a lot he didn’t get to tell you about. I would have loved to have read Matt’s version of his fiftieth birthday, of Dec and Amy coming home, of Josh and Ella’s twenty-first, of Ella’s graduation, of Josh’s debut for Raiders, of Cal’s wedding and Conor’s christening, of so many things he didn’t get the chance to write down. I hope you might think about doing the same, or if you don’t think you can do the whole thing, maybe write something, it doesn’t matter how short, and send it to me. Please remember him, he was a special man.

Laura

Cal

Before I knew it, my eyes had closed, and I woke up to the jarring sound of two bits of music playing at the same time. It was some kind of poppy advert jingle, conflicting with a power ballad and it jangled me awake, disoriented for a bit until I realised what it was. My phone was ringing, Amy’s ringtone.

Amy. Oh God.

‘Hey Amy … er …’

‘Hi Cal. I’m so sorry, but …’

She paused. There was no point waiting for her to get herself together enough to say it, so I did it for her.

‘Hotspur?’

‘Yeah.’

At the time, when we were making plans for The Chain, it had seemed like ‘Tottenham’ and ‘Hotspur’ would be so appropriate for this, it made us smile to think of telling each other this awful news in this way, as if somehow it would make it seem better, lighter maybe. It didn’t. It made it seem more unreal, almost as if it was taking the piss.

‘Thanks Amy. How are you?’

‘Oh, you know.’

I did, because I was the same. Matty was gone. So much I was going to miss, so much I was never going to tell him, so much he was never going to see. I never said goodbye – although that was his choice.

Matty had spent a lot of time with Lau making plans for what he referred to as ‘My Demise’. He wanted people to come and see him, but not to be ‘morose wankers’, he didn’t want any goodbyes, he had a whole theme park event planned, what he called ‘putting the ‘fun’ back into funeral’, and had even written his own notice for the Herald. Maybe it was going to help in the days to come, but for now, we were all just going to be hurting.

‘Yeah, I know.’

‘Dec couldn’t do it, call you. He’s completely just in bits. I’ll have to go, Cal, I’ve got to call everyone else.’

‘Everyone?’

‘No, just Charlie really, but she’ll probably want me to call Tom. And I want to call Beth, see how she and Jay are.’

And I had my own call to make, too.

‘OK then. We’ll talk later, though, yeah? Maybe all get together?’

‘Yeah, that’d be good. It’s been awful, this last night, I didn’t know what to do.’

‘Yeah, we were the same. See you later then.’

‘Bye Cal.’

We disconnected and I called Iz.

‘Hi Cal, don’t say it please, I’ve been dreading you saying it, so don’t say it OK?’

‘OK. I won’t. But that’s what I was calling to say.’

‘I know. Fuck. Why does this feel worse than before? We knew it was coming, but now it’s happened. And although I know everything I need to know, I don’t know any details. I shouldn’t want to know details, should I? That’s, like, so none of my business, but maybe I’m just trying to cling on to him … oh Cal. He’s gone. Matty’s gone …’

Her voice trailed away and I could hear her crying, then Ben’s voice as he talked to her, then as he talked to me.

‘Hey Cal, it’s Ben. Iz and I are coming down today, we’re bringing Gracie. Sorry about Matty, it’s just shit, isn’t it.’

‘Yeah, mate, it is. We’ll see you later, then.’

We disconnected, and I sat on the sofa and felt misery welling up in me. It was what I’d been feeling, lodged inside, since Dec called yesterday, but I’d been holding it back, waiting, it seemed, until everything had finally happened. My throat constricted, my eyes pricked and stang, and finally, with a loud sob, it all came out. Tears, snot, loud noises. I was lost in sorrow for Matty, and for myself and how much I was going to miss him.

After a while I felt arms go round me – small arms and larger arms – and Chrissie and Conor were giving me a cuddle. I pulled myself together, mainly for Conor, who was looking at me with concern creasing his little forehead.

‘Sorry mate, I’m just sad.’

‘Why you sad, Daddy?’

‘Well, Unca Matty, you know he’s been very poorly, he just got too poorly and too tired, and he’s died.’

Chrissie and I had talked about how to tell the kids. Lily was too young to grasp any of it, but Conor loved his Unca Matty, and it was going to be hard for him to understand it all.

‘Conor, you remember Confucius?’

Confucius was Rosa’s pet rat. He had lived a long and happy life in an enormous rat playground in Rosa’s room, until one day he conked out. Conor had seen the stiff little body and been to the ratty funeral in the back garden.

‘Yes, Mummy.’

‘Well, Confucius got very old and his body stopped working, and the same has happened to Unca Matty. He got too poorly and his body stopped working. And we’re going to miss him, which is why Daddy’s sad.’

‘Will he go in the garden?’

‘No, sweetie, there’s not enough room for Unca Matty in the garden. He’ll go … somewhere else.’

‘Where?’

This was going to be the tricky one. Matty wanted to be cremated, but Conor was too young to understand everything. I couldn’t deal with this, was finding it too hard to think about, and I ran my hands through my hair. I felt Chrissie’s hand on my arm and looked up to see her looking at me. She mouthed ‘I’ve got this’ at me, and I gratefully disappeared upstairs, as she started to explain difficult concepts to our son.

I thought about going back to bed, wrapping myself in the duvet, shutting everything out, but I heard Lily moving around in her room, and decided instead to head another screaming session off at the pass. I picked her up and held her close, hearing her snuffles and then her babble, as she talked to me without needing to know the answers to serious questions. I felt so lucky to have my family.

Not long after, it was morning proper, and although Chrissie and I weren’t going to be doing our normal everyday things, the kids still needed to be up and about. My phone started ringing soon after eight, Mum first, then Iz, who was on her way, Ayesh, and a couple of mates from Raiders who had heard somehow (Mum I expect). I realised there were people I needed to check on too, and I called Gran, Josh and Amy.

It felt better, reconnecting with everyone, knowing how everyone was. Mum was coping by organising us all. We were going there for lunch, then getting started on plans for Matty’s funeral (like, wait a day Mum? Unlikely). Even though I didn’t really want to think about it, it did need doing. She was going to try to get Lau to come over too, but Lau wasn’t answering calls or messages, and Josh said she didn’t want to see anyone.

Dad and Dec seemed to have been hit the hardest out of the rest of us. Neither of them were answering calls or texts, and Mum said Dad wouldn’t get out of bed. Apparently Dec had spent the night staring into space while sitting on the sofa, and was not speaking to anyone.

Gran was with Mum, and both of them were cooking – at least, Gran would be sat at the table looking at recipe books while Mum made cakes. Gran’s gnarly old hands made it difficult for her to bake much these days.

It was going to be a while before Iz arrived, but I needed to be with the others, and before long Chrissie looked at me, hand on a hip.

‘Just go, Cal.’

‘What?’

‘Go to your mum’s. I’ll bring the kids after lunch. Iz won’t be here till later anyway. Just go.’

I looked at her gratefully. She always got me, knew what I wanted to do, without me even having to say it half the time. Not that she didn’t make me say it, because it was good for me to ‘be in tune with my feelings’ or something, but we had a lot of shorthand, particularly with young ears around, that meant we didn’t actually have to say things with words.

‘Thanks, babe. You’re awesome. Ring me if it gets hairy, though.’

‘Yeah, like they can throw anything at me I can’t handle.’

‘Hmm. Remember Sunday of the Shits?’

‘Oh God. Thanks for reminding me. But there isn’t any sign of runny poo so far – go while the going’s good. If I start to drown I’ll text.’

‘Deal.’

I drove off to Mum and Dad’s feeling more purposeful, which was weird because I was going to be doing just as much sitting around there, and less actually being useful, but it felt good to be going to see people, even if we were just going to be sad.

Amy’s car was already parked outside, and when I went in, they were all congregated in the kitchen, except for Dec, who was sitting on the sofa on his own, staring at the TV, which wasn’t on. There was a lot of talking going on in the kitchen, and I didn’t think they’d heard me come in, so I started with Dec, a little freaked out by the expression on his face.

‘Hey old man.’

He didn’t even look up, just shook his head slightly. I went and sat next to him, and he let out a huge, ragged sigh.

‘So, this is shit, eh?’

His eyes slid sideways, but didn’t quite meet mine. I’d only seen him like this once before, when Rose died. I fleetingly wondered just how he’d coped when he was a young boy and his parents were killed in a crash – had he gone all silent like this, or did anything that felt like that time bring it all back so much that it just shut him down? He never talked to us about it, so it was hard to know, and that made it hard to help him now.

‘Come on, Dec, I think there might be cake to be eaten in there.’

I nodded my head at the kitchen, from where baking smells were drifting. Dec only shook his head again and carried on staring at the blank TV.

‘Alright then, I’ll go and get you a coffee or something.’

I stood up and followed the sound of voices into the kitchen.

‘Cal! When did you get here, sweetheart?’

‘A few minutes ago. I was trying to talk to Dec.’

Mum gave me a big hug. She looked like she’d been crying, as did Gran, Amy, Charlie and Rosa. Tom was sat in front of a laptop and looked his usual chilled self.

‘He’s not really up to talking.’

‘I noticed.’

‘We’re giving him a bit of time and space.’

‘Yeah, it seems to be what he wants. Where’s Dad?’

‘He won’t get out of bed.’

Mum huffed a sigh and shook her head at this. Mum could never understand anyone who met a crisis with inaction; she always had a plan and it always involved doing something.

‘I’ll go and say hi.’

‘If you like, sweetheart.’

I quickly hugged everyone else, then went upstairs. Mum and Dad’s bedroom door was open, but the curtains were shut. I went slowly into the darkened room, letting my eyes adjust to the light, and perched precariously on the edge of the bed.

‘Hey Dad. Mum says you’re not getting up.’

‘No.’

Well at least he was talking, that was one up on Silent Boy downstairs.

‘Want to talk about it?’

‘Not really. What good would that do?’

‘Might make you feel better. Might make me feel better.’

‘Really Cal? Is it going to change anything?’

‘No, well, it won’t change that Matty’s gone –’

Dad hissed a sharp breath in.

‘– but it might change what you do about it, which might change how you’re feeling.’

‘I want to feel like this.’

‘OK, fair enough. We all feel like shit, to be honest. Dec’s downstairs staring at nothing like he’s lost the ability to speak. I don’t know what it’s like to lose your brother, but I do know what it’s like to lose your uncle, I know what it’s like to lose Matty.’

‘Jesus, Cal, stop saying that. Stop fucking saying it.’

‘Is that why you’re not getting up? So you don’t have to hear us all talking about it? So it feels less real?’

This was quite a major talk for me and Dad. We’d had our moments over the years, but usually it was him giving me advice because Mum told him to, or stuff about Raiders. I suddenly felt like I knew him, like for those moments I got where he was coming from.

Dad didn’t reply, just squeezed his eyes shut to try and stop tears leaking out of them. He opened his mouth and breathed in, his breath shuddering. I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder.

‘I’m not saying it’s not a good strategy, short term, but it’ll all be here when you get up in the end, unless you’re planning on staying in bed forever. And I have to say that is a plan I can understand, but the downside of it is you’ll have Mum going on at you until the end of time, so it won’t be as peaceful as you might imagine.’

There was the ghost, the tiniest hint, of a smile.

‘Piss off downstairs Cal. I’ll get up when I’m ready.’

‘Sure thing. No rush. Mum’s making lemon drizzle, but I’m not bringing you any.’

‘Bastard.’

‘Yup.’

I got up and left the room, pulling the door to behind me. It wasn’t going to do any good to make Dad face things just yet; he’d do it in his own time, if Mum left him alone long enough. Dec was more concerning right now, but I didn’t know what to do about him.

I went downstairs and sat next to Tom, looking over at what he was doing on the laptop. There was a document open, headed ‘Matt’s Wishes’, and under it was a list of what seemed to be the things he wanted for his funeral. I looked away from it, recognising an echo in myself of Dad’s desire to avoid the whole thing.

The trouble with looking away from something in a room full of people is that you have to look at something or, more likely, someone else. I caught Mum’s eye; she clocked what I’d been looking at.

‘We were just talking about all that, Cal. Matty made a list of what he wants to happen now, he did it with Laura some time ago. Laura wants us to organise everything, but some of his requests are a bit, well, you know what Matty was like, he never did anything traditionally. He might ruffle a few feathers.’

‘But you’ve got to do it if it’s what he wanted.’

‘There are just a few things – the songs, the notice in the Herald, we weren’t sure if people would be offended.’

‘That’s probably what he wanted. He liked ruffling feathers. This is his last chance.’

Mum nodded. She knew that better than anyone, having had most of her plumage well and truly trampled by Matty over the years. She looked over at Gran, but didn’t say anything, and I realised what she meant. That she didn’t want Gran to be upset, any more than she already was.

‘I’m sure Matt took all that into account when he was planning this, Beth.’

Amy always saw everyone’s side, tried to smooth over disputes. She’d had enough practice with her large family, and usually managed to say the one thing that made everyone see sense.

‘Maybe, maybe not. He’s always liked the thought of making people do things differently than they think they should be done.’

‘But they’re his last wishes, aren’t they?’

Charlie had looked up from her phone.

‘You have to, like, obey them, don’t you?’

‘Usually, Charlie, but you also have to bear in mind other people and how it might affect them.’

‘But it’s not like he wants to have a Nazi flag on his coffin, or make people recite the Satanic Verses or something. What’s the worst thing he wants?’

I risked a look at the list Tom had up on his computer, and glanced down it. Some of the things on it made me smile, some of them made me wince.

‘He wants the Darth Vader death march when they bring the coffin in.’

Rosa laughed. ‘That’s brilliant. I mean, inappropriate much, but brilliant. Do you think they’d do it?’

‘That’s not the point, sweetheart. We can’t offend people like that.’

‘Seriously Mum? Who’s going to be offended? Anyone who knows what it is will think it’s funny, and Mattyish, and anyone who doesn’t know what it is will just think it’s a bit of a weird tune, a bit kind of doomy. Do you even know what it sounds like?’

Mum was looking daggers at me, but I pulled up the tune on YouTube and played it to her. It didn’t seem to help matters.

We talked around in circles about this and plenty of the other things Matty had expressly said he wanted, for ages. I suspected he never thought in a million years we’d do most of them, it was just a way to make us talk about things and get together, but it was difficult not to be on the side of letting Matty have his way.

135. Loose ends

In which a friend works things out, and goodbyes of a sort are said.

Cal

Just before Christmas, I got a phone call from Baggo.

‘Hey Callywally.’

‘Bags. How’s it going?’

‘It’s going great. Fucking great. You around on February fourteenth?’

‘Don’t know offhand. What day of the week is it?’

‘Thursday.’

‘Oh, then yeah, probably. Depends on games and stuff, but more than likely it’s my day off.’

‘Great. Glad to hear it, mate.’

There was a silence. I could almost hear him bursting to tell me something.

‘Baggo, please just spit it out. I haven’t got time to fuck about, I’m supposed to be picking Conor up from Mum’s.’

‘You always spoil my fun Callywally. So on February fourteenth, which is Valentine’s Day in case your cold hard unromantic heart has forgotten, me and Jen are getting married.’

Now it was my turn for silence. I needed a moment to compute what he’d told me. I knew it was going well, that he and Jen had sorted out some of the things that happened when he went off to Europe, but I had not expected this.

‘Holy shit Baggo. Seriously?’

‘Seriously, my friend. And I have a very serious favour to ask you.’

Naturally, he was going to want me to be his best man. Fair was only fair.

‘Yeah, anything, mate. Just ask.’

‘I thought that’s what you’d say. You’re my best mate, after all. OK then. What we need is some sparkly tablecloths, like those ones your mum used at your thirtieth. Could you ask her where she got them? Or even better, if she could give us a lend?’

‘Er … tablecloths?’

‘Yeah, mate. Jen’s dead set on them, with some little heart shaped candle holders. It’s gonna look really cute.’

‘Yeah. Sure. I’ll ask her.’

‘Oh, and something else you could do?’

OK, this was it now. He’d just been stringing me along. His little joke.

‘Name it, mate.’

‘Could you pop round the flat and have a look in the cupboard under the stairs for me? I think I’ve left my posh black shoes there.’

‘Oh. Shoes. Right. Sure thing.’

‘And while you’re there, check the answer machine and pick up the post?’

‘OK. Anything else?’

‘No, can’t think of anything. I’ll let you know.’

Oh who was I kidding? Baggo had two older brothers; he was kind of obliged to ask them, wasn’t he. I swallowed my disappointment and told myself I was happy for Bags, the important thing was he and Jen were happy.

‘You’ll be my best man though, right?’

Oh the bastard. He’d got me, right between the eyes.

‘Baggo, you complete arse. Of course I will. I thought you’d ask Michael or Wheels.’

‘What? And cause a fight because I asked one and not the other? No fucking way.’

‘So I’m just a fight avoider?’

‘No, not just a fight avoider. You’re probably better at stag dos than either of them.’

‘You’re never going to say I’m your first choice, are you.’

‘Nope.’

‘Fair enough. Fourteenth of February, you say?’

*

Baggo and Jen’s wedding was quick, intimate and romantic. There were only a few guests – Jen’s mum and sister, Baggo’s mum and brothers, Chrissie and me, Ayesh and Sam, a couple of Jen’s friends, and Daisy, who was a pretty cute bridesmaid.

We went back to Angus’s flat afterwards for a takeaway, which we ate at a table covered in sparkly tablecloths donated by Mum.

The full story was that Baggo had managed to get a job, with prospects no less, in a music shop, part of a chain. He was going to do some training, which would mean a promotion, and kept him in some small way in touch with the music world. He and Jen were trying hard to make things work between them, and she liked being in London, so they were staying. Daisy had started school at the beginning of January, and they were about to move into their own rented flat near Jen’s sister. Jen had got some evening work as a care assistant, and planned to study for a degree in the daytime at Open University, which she hoped would lead to a better paid job.

I was sad that Baggo was moving away permanently. He’d been around, part of the scenery, part of my life, since I was five, and although keeping in touch by phone, text, email, was easy, it wasn’t the same as having him text me at ten in the evening for ‘a quick half before closing‘ or being able to pop round there with Conor and Lily at the weekend.

But it was a good outcome of what could have been a tragedy for him, and I was glad for them all.

Laura

That last year, Matt and I had been to Ella’s graduation. It had taken a lot of organisation, as these things tended to have lots of rules attached, and pre-planning was required for any kind of disability. Matt was determined not to miss it, whatever it took, and in the end he was having a rare good day, and it wasn’t physically too difficult for us. His face as Ella received her certificate, the look of pride and love on it, was something that will stay with me the rest of my life, and he managed to charm all of Ella’s friends with his ever-present wit.

Josh was playing regularly for Raiders, and loving every minute of his rugby-filled life, and Matt and I went to watch him when we could, although I still didn’t ever really know what I was cheering.

Cal and Jay had retired at the end of the same season, Jay ending up being the longest serving coach in the league, and Cal being one of the longest serving players Raiders had ever had.

When I think about it, the rugby-playing side of our family is very lucky not to have had any life-changing injuries (although Josh and Basty are still playing, so fingers crossed and let’s not think about it more than we have to). Jay has a bit of an ongoing hobble because of his knee, Dec has the facial scars and nose expected of a rugby player but which had actually been caused by a vindictive madman many years ago, and Cal and Nico and got away relatively unscathed. So celebrating retirement seemed the right thing to do, although Jay and Cal were both going to miss their respective roles in the sport they loved.

Huge parties were had by all, it also being Beth’s swan song as a party planner. She had sold her business and she and Jay were planning a big trip, taking in America, where Beth’s mum was, Argentina to visit Nico and Lis, and Australia and New Zealand.

It felt like the family had scattered; even Dec and Amy had talked about moving over to Australia for a while, Dec wondering if there was a market over there for some of the IT stuff he did with Matt.

Cal

That year started off so well, with Baggo’s wedding. It was my last year of playing professional rugby, and although a couple of years ago I would have mourned this, I had come to terms with it and, thanks to my awesome wife, had planned to start training to be a Physiotherapist in the September afterwards. I say thanks to Chrissie, but there are more people who deserve thanks.

Chrissie was the one who chivvied me, supported me, calmed my nerves, talked me into it, gave me confidence I could do it, showed me how we could organise our family and her job so I could do it and we could afford it. Chrissie was just amazing.

Gracie helped me see it was what I wanted to do; I visited her up in Manchester and spent time in a couple of her lectures, talking to her a lot about how the course worked and how she decided it was what she wanted to do.

Iz, who had Gracie as a lodger in the house she shared with Ben, got drunk with me and told me how proud she was of me (she could only do this drunk, and I could only let her drunk), not for being a successful rugby player, but for finally choosing to do something with my life, rather than just going along with what was in front of me.

Dad, who was retiring with me at the end of same season, also seemed to come alive with ambition, and he and Mum were full of plans for what they were going to do with their free time. I saw in them what I wanted for myself – a sense of having worked hard for a long time, with personal achievements that led to a reward of having enough money to stop and take in some of the world. I still had that ahead of me – I hadn’t made enough money playing rugby to stop yet, and I had my family to support.

Dec and Amy – well if it hadn’t been for them plying me with cups of tea and beer when I went round there and bored them to tears with my should-I-shouldn’t-I, rather than booting me out on my arse and telling me the truth, that I needed a good kick … well I’m just very grateful.

Matty and Lau – they’ve always been there, for all of us, and at the start of the year Matty was in pretty good shape for a while. After his little talk a while back, he hadn’t felt the need to try to interfere in my life plan, such as it was, but when I told him what I wanted to do, he looked as much of a smug git as he usually did when things went his way. Matty and Lau were the ones I could call at stupid times of the night when I was worrying about how Chrissie was going be able to do all the things she assured me she was going to do; they were the ones who said we could leave the kids with them anytime we needed to; they were the ones who would call for a chat at just the right moment, when I was pulling my hair out with how to make everything work.

Mum was equally awesome. She organised the retirement party to end all retirement parties for me and Dad. It felt like everyone who had ever played in or even been to a rugby match was there. But even though Mum was up to her eyes in organising all that, she was round at ours practically every day giving Conor and Lily cuddles, offering to babysit, telling us all the news about everyone.

How she kept up with it all I have no idea, but Mum was gossip central, as well as meddling central. It was never enough for her to know something about someone; she had to do something about it too. I know some people (ahem Matty) found it a bit much, but she cared so much about people, and she was a fixer. Yeah, of course she stuck her oar in with me, she’d been trying for years to get me to sort my after-rugby life out, and she had her opinions about the best places to go to train, the best exams to do to get in, and the best ways to study. And of course I ignored her and did things my way. It gave us something to talk about.

So my new attempt at a career was underway – I managed to pass two A levels and a GCSE in the years leading up to my retirement from playing, and I got on to the only course I applied for, forty minutes drive away from home. Well I’d always lived here, it’s not like I was looking to move.

Ella graduated from Uni with a first in Law, the bloody know-all, and to everyone’s amazement Matty made it up to her graduation, all the way up to bloody Durham. There was just no way he was going to miss it – Lau’s got a picture in the front room of Matty looking at Ella, in her cap and gown, and I swear it should be captioned ‘Proud’, because that’s all you can see on his face.

Matty was equally proud of Josh, who was starting regularly for Raiders. He’d made it to as many games as he could, which wasn’t many, but he got the tech bods at Raiders to stream him footage when he couldn’t make it. That season, my and Dad’s last for Raiders, saw us win the European Cup and come second in the League, and when Josh gave Matty his Cup winner’s medal, Matty hung it over his bed and told everyone he kissed it every night. He was a lying bastard, he never did any such thing, but it meant a lot to him.

Charlie managed to bag a full-time job. She’d tried Uni, but couldn’t be doing with the organisation and, let’s face it, hard work she needed to do to make it. She’d come back at the end of her second term and been through bar job after waitressing job after shop job, but had finally found, for now, her niche. Beauty therapy. Massage, pedicures, hair, make-up, all that. And she was studying for qualifications. She still lived at home, but it was possible to be a hundred metres from Dec and Amy’s house and not hear her screeching in anger about something.

Tom was helping Dec and Matty with their business, in fact he covered for both of them more than either of them knew. He was even more of a genius with computers than Matty, and now Matty wasn’t as able to keep up with new developments, Tom would shyly suggest that the new ‘insert something techy here’ programme might be as good a fix for the ‘insert some techy problem’ that someone was having, and should he let Matty have the details or just email direct; and he’d often pick up emails and phone calls that Dec should have answered days or weeks ago, and smooth things over and promise to have things sorted as soon as. To be honest, he could have run the business on his own, but that would have left Dec and Matty with far too much time on their hands to play computer games, when really they should be doing something useful.

So until the end of the summer, that year was going well. Chrissie and I took the kids on our first going abroad family holiday. We went to the South of France and played on the beach all day, soaking up the sun, loving watching our children make sandcastles, loving being together and relaxing. It gave me a chance to feel like things had really finished at Raiders. We went when everyone was going back to pre-season, and although part of me missed all the coming back together banter and bonding that had always gone on, most of me really didn’t miss the back-breaking conditioning work that we had to do to make sure we were fit after the six-week lay-off. Being away while pre-season was going on made sure my mind and body knew all that was over.

When we came back, it was to the news that Matty was ill again. He hadn’t been ill since the winter, not like this, but Lau had all the kit, and he rarely had to go into hospital these days.

We went straight round to visit him, and he did look worse than I’d ever seen him, even those days in Stafford when he was so close to … whatever.

He managed a smile, but had no energy to talk, and he drifted in and out of sleep while we were there. Lau didn’t want us to stay in his room for long, so we went and sat in the living room with her for a bit.

‘You should have texted us, Lau.’

‘No, flower, there was no point worrying you. I didn’t want you to rush back.’

‘He looks worse than usual.’

‘Yeah, he’s not good. But tell me about France. You look like you all caught the sun.’

And that was as much as Lau was prepared to say about it. She would talk to Mum and to Amy when things got too much for her, but mostly she just coped on her own, as Josh had just moved out with some mates, although he still called round most days. She didn’t want to keep going over things with people, and we respected that. She and Matty still supported each other, and I wondered fleetingly what she was going to do without him. Then I banished that thought, because Matty always got better. It took a lot out of him, but he always made a huge effort, and with Lau and medication and all of us, he’d turn the corner and be back to his old self.

It was taking a while, though, and there were the inevitable family discussions.

Matty and Lau hadn’t been to Sunday lunch for a while; in fact, Mum hadn’t done Sunday lunch for a while, because now there were fewer of us around (like, only twelve on a good day), it apparently felt ‘too empty’.

Mum and Dad were getting ready to go on a huge round the world trip. They were going to start with the States and stay with Nana Jane, then branch out to South America, Australia and New Zealand and then take it from there. They spent a lot of time looking at different destinations, or rather I suspect that Mum looked and Dad nodded, and I think they were waiting for Matty to get better so they could firm things up and start making some reservations. Dad even got excited when he talked about it, and I wondered why he hadn’t done something like it sooner.

So, because it had been so long since the last one, when Mum asked us all round for Sunday lunch, everyone who was about made the effort. Chrissie and I picked up Gran, Josh brought April, Dec and Amy came with Tom and Rosa, and apologies from Charlie who had her usual Sunday hangover, which was huge enough to last most of the day. Matty wasn’t up to it, and Lau had stayed with him, but Josh had orders to bring roast potatoes and lemon tart back with him ‘to tempt Matt’, although it was more likely Lau would scoff most of it.

There were enough of us to make a bit of noise, enough kids that the older children (Dec and me) had plenty of fun, enough food that we were all stuffed before dessert but still managed to cram it all in and go back for seconds, but enough room for us all on the sofas without having to spill out onto the floor or split into two groups, one in the living room, one staying in the dining room.

Conor fell asleep on Gran’s knee, and Lily seemed happy enough to be distracted by various aunts while we chatted, and the topic inevitably got round to Matty. He and Lau were never really far from any of our thoughts.

‘Anyone seen Matty this week?’

Mum was angling for making a list of who wasn’t pulling their weight, but it turned out we’d all been round one way or another. So now she used the opportunity to compare notes.

‘He seems a bit brighter, don’t you think?’

‘Not when I was there, Mum. He was asleep most of the time, and when he was awake, he wasn’t really with it.’

‘Yeah, he was a bit like that when Ames and me went yesterday, he dozed off about three times, and we were only in there five minutes, but Lau said he’s been fairly good in the mornings. I think the day wipes him out and by the time it gets to Cash in the Attic, he’s had enough.’

‘So should we be trying to go round in the mornings more?’

‘Then he’ll just get more tired more quickly, Beth. Maybe we should go round less? They’re never going to turn us away, are they.’

‘No, James, but they need to know they’re not alone. It must be awful lying in that bed all day –’

‘– watching TV and being waited on hand and foot. Yeah, it’s a bit shit.’

‘Dec, you know he wouldn’t be in bed if he could choose. Matty’s always liked being out and about. I was wondering though … I had an idea.’

We all waited to find out what Mum was going to make us do now. More timetables and scheduled visits was my guess, but I was way off the mark.

‘It’s such a shame that Matty can’t go hiking any more; even if he was up and about, most of his favourite walks are too steep for his wheelchair.’

‘And too down sheer cliffs.’

‘Which was my point, Cal. I know most of us have been walking with him at one time or another, and I wondered about everyone filming his favourite rambles so he can watch them from his bed. It might make him feel more like he’s outside.’

We all sat, a little stunned, for a few moments. It was the best idea I’d ever heard.

‘Mum, that is brilliant. How did you come up with that?’

‘Well I can’t claim total credit, I did steal it slightly. I was in the dentist waiting room the other day, and they had a screen showing clips of walking trails around the area, and it just got me to thinking. Shall we do it then?’

Mum liked nothing better than everyone agreeing she’d had a great idea, so she could boss us about and get it done. We had a long discussion about Matty’s favourite walks, who was going to do them, and how we were going to film it. Matty was a legendary hiker, and some of his most favourite trails were too long for us – it wasn’t unusual for him in his prime to be gone all day and cover twenty miles or more.

I remembered going with him to the top of the big hill overlooking the sea, down the other side and then back round it. It was easily ten miles, and I had been wiped well before we got back, but Matty had still been fresh as a daisy. I volunteered to do that one.

Josh remembered doing some shorter walks with Matty when he was younger, and he and Rosa decided to do a couple together. Mum and Dad said they’d do a couple of walks on the moors that they knew Matty had enjoyed, and Dec and Amy said they’d walk along the beach near where they’d got married, because ‘there should be footage of the sea’ (and because old man Summers had let himself go a bit, and anything with a slight incline would have him puffing like a steam train).

Mum and Dad had a video camera, which had hardly been taken out of its box but seemed the ideal place to record the walks; Tom was the obvious person to ask to put all the footage together so Matty would be able to watch it.

It made us feel useful, almost excited, like we were doing something positive to help, rather than just calling round and never knowing if we should be there or not.

Doing the walks was good fun too. Chrissie came part of the way on mine, circling back after a while and meeting me at the end with the car. It almost felt like I was doing it with Matty; I was seeing things through his eyes, pointing the camera at birds I was seeing, standing with the lens capturing the view from the top of the hill, slowly panning round to see back to the woods, trying to make it as much of an experience through the camera as if he was actually there.

It was all a surprise for him, and we would have loved to have all been there to see his face when he watched them for the first time, but he really wasn’t able to cope with all of us crammed in his room, or even all being in the house at the same time, so we had to hear about it second hand from Mum who, as the one who’d thought of it, got to drop round the DVDs to Lau.

Matty apparently cried, although he would be quick to deny it and when questioned about it said he’d got chilli on his fingers. After that, I’d often find one of the walks on the TV screen when I went round, and as well as doing what Mum wanted, which was to mentally take him outside of the four walls of his room, it meant we didn’t have to sit and watch crap on TV or make conversation which tired him out.

The walk videos had always been intended as a two-fold thing – to bring the outside in to Matty, and to give him some motivation to get better. And his spirits did seem to lift afterwards.

But Matty didn’t get much better, and it started to occur to us that he’d been ill for much longer than ever before. Mum made one of her rotas to give Lau time off – we’d take it in turns to spend an evening or an afternoon with Matty once or twice a week so she could go and get her hair done, or have coffee with a friend, or go to a yoga class – but more often than not she’d just sit with us instead. It was like she couldn’t bear to leave him even for an hour or two, and often when I turned up she’d be sitting by Matty’s bed holding his hand, just looking at him.

Their old dining room was their bedroom now, and Matty had a special bed that went up and down and could be tilted up to let his chest drain, a bit like the bed he used to have in Stafford only swankier. I still had an urge to mess about with the controls, but I managed to contain myself.

Sometimes I took Conor with me, and would have a weird sense of deja vu when he’d play with his cars on the floor while Matty drifted in and out of sleep. It took me right back to Stafford, and I think Matty recognised it too, although we never mentioned it. Once, he woke up with a start, looked really disoriented and said ‘Tehl Beth … do ih mysehf … dohnt wana mihs Chrihsmus dihner’ and I was sure he thought he was back there too.

Lau slept in a single bed in the same room, so she could respond immediately if Matty needed anything in the night. In the day, when she wasn’t in the room, there was a monitor so she could hear if his breathing changed. It really was full circle back to the time he was first ill, and it wasn’t lost on me that we’d nearly lost him that time. I tried not to think about it. Matty would fight back, he always did. If there was ever a stubborn bastard who got his own way, it was Matty.

Summer turned to Autumn, and still Matty languished in his bed. He hardly ate, he wasn’t awake much, but he still had his sense of humour. Sometimes he felt a bit brighter, and I’d get a text from him.

Fancy an arm-wrestle? Now ur retired, cld beat u no sweat.

or

Tottenham Tottenham no one can stop em they’re gonna do it like they did last year

And he’d make me smile, and it would feel as if he was just texting me from his desk, rather than laboured letter by laboured letter in his sick-person’s bed surrounded by drips and oxygen masks. That was Matty, he always wanted us to think of him as Matty the dude, rather than Matty the pity case, and we tried, but it was hard watching him, it was hard to go there and just kid about with him, pretending like he hadn’t fallen asleep while we were telling him about the kids or bantering with him about the footy. It was hard, but we did it because he was Matty, and he deserved it.

Matt

Before I go, as I said, I want to tell you all what you’ve meant to me.

I’m going to start with Lau, because, my only and forever love, you have meant the most. Without you, none of this would have happened. I would have been gone, offed myself probably, at least be sunk in a sea of anti-depressants in a mental hospital somewhere. I don’t know if you fully appreciate how much you turned me around, how different I am now from who I was, and who I was becoming. You are my world, my shining star, my sun, my moon. I could not exist without you. I would not be Matthew Robert Scott without you, and I thank the universe for the day you swapped your day off with Anna and ended up doing your sex talk in that church hall. I only have one regret, which is that our time together has been marred by the fucking bastard, that you’ve had to do so much more for me than a wife should have to do for a husband.

Lau, I still love you, so fucking much. You made my life complete the day you walked into it, and to have had our bloody brilliant family together has bested anything else I may think I have achieved.

If I were going to choose one moment to put in a memory box and take with me, it would be – oh fuck it, I can’t choose one. So many things have come flooding into my mind: you, looking like you’d been lit up by a sunbeam on that day in the church hall; tousled and naked after some awesome lovin’; looking as beautiful, although fully clothed, on our wedding day; looking less beautiful, although only slightly, and employing somewhat juicier language, while giving birth to the twins; laughing with the family; making the most of the wettest camping holiday in history with an impromptu game of hide the spatula; mind-blowing sex; paint on your nose when we did Mum’s living room; crying after taking Josh and Ella to school for the first time; playing Jenga with me when you were so fat (pregnantly of course) that we couldn’t go out, and laughing so much you made the tower fall over – five times; getting rat-arsed on your fortieth birthday; mind-blowing sex; spending our tenth anniversary in bed and making me feel like it was because you wanted to be there with me, not because I couldn’t actually get out on my own; crying at sad films and happy films; mind-blowing sex; singing boy band shit; looking happy; oh, just tons and bloody tons of things, including some bloody mind-blowing sex. It’s all crowding in now, and I couldn’t possibly choose just one. I’m not going to get all maudlin, I’m going to say thank you. I will hold your hand forever with the last of my strength. I love you.

OK kids, your turn. How the fuck did I manage to father both a future England rugby international and a future top international lawyer? Left to their own devices, my genes would have produced two skinny, short-sighted nerds with no ball skills and a penchant for computer code, so I think you must have your mum to thank for any rippling muscles or off-the-scale IQs.

Josh, the day you made your first start for Raiders was the proudest I have ever been of you. I have no doubt you will play for your country. But sport aside, I am proud of you for the man you have become. I remember when you were little, you used to follow your sister round like a little sheep (yeah, I know, ‘little sheep are actually called lambs, Dad’. Don’t get clever with me, alright?), and you’d let her make all your decisions for you. Then, about the time puberty hit in an explosion of body hair, pustules and growth spurts, you worked out that she’d been using this to her advantage, and took control of your own destiny. I saw you change from a follower to a leader, and I love the quietly assertive Josh who stops your mum from fussing about whether you’re eating right with a look and a ‘chill, Mum’, who sits on the edge of my bed and says ‘about time you got out of your pit old man’, who picks up a screaming Conor and quiets him with a cuddle without making Chrissie or Cal feel bad.

Ella, you seem to have spent your whole life trying to make up for being the youngest. Baby girl, it’s only fifteen minutes, get over it. You’ve taken the world by the horns and shaken it to let it know you’re here, and it can’t help but take notice of you. Your brother’s a home bird, but you’ve flown, and although it’s been so quiet when you’ve been off on your travels, and when you were at Uni, it’s been OK too, because it’s like you’re out there doing what you want to do, spreading Ella-ness around the globe. I don’t think a dad has ever been prouder of a daughter than I was of you when you graduated. I’m so glad I was here for that.

Hippo and Squeaks, you are both fucking awesome. I have loved being a dad, best thing I ever did, but above all I am privileged to have been your Dad and to have been able to watch you grow up. I love you both so much.

Who next? Mum. Mum, I’m so sorry. Oh fuck, I really didn’t want this to be a big mope, but it’s not right, is it? I’ve been thinking a lot recently, about things in general and you in particular, and about kids and parents and what’s right and what’s wrong. And it’s a cliché but nonetheless true that you shouldn’t outlive your kids. So I’m sorry for bringing that wrongness to your doorstep. Just think of it as Matthew’s way of bucking the trend, two fingers up to convention as per.

Mum, I don’t think I’ve ever said this to your face, but I love you. I hope you know that. You’ve saved me from myself more times than I care to remember, and although there are quite a few people who know me pretty well, no one knows me like you.

Sometimes I can tell what you’re thinking without even having to look at you, can feel your look as I’m arsing about, taking things too far, and then I’ll glance up, and there it is, that expression, and I’ll know.

You’ve always given me everything I needed, whether it was a cuddle when I fell over and banged my knee, the last portion of shepherd’s pie when Jay wanted it, a kick up the arse when I was being a pain, whatever it was. It was always delivered with gentleness and compassion.

You are a clever lady; you hide it well, don’t want to blow your own trumpet, but I bet if you took an IQ test you’d be up there with the top lot. But you’re not only intellectually smart, you’re savvy too. You know when to make a fuss and when to leave things, and it draws people to you rather than pushing them away. I’m glad I could give you Josh and Ella, they adore you, and I think they’ll help you when you need it.

Oh alright, then. Jay. Bloody hell, have I got to think of some nice things to say about you, you bastard? Hope I don’t get struck by a thunderbolt for talking out of my arse, or some such shit. OK, here goes then. I bloody hated you when we were kids. There, that’s nice enough, isn’t it? Oh, I should perhaps add that I bloody loved you too, even though I’d really rather not. See, the thing is brother mine, it’s hard to have a superstar for an older brother, it’s a lot to live up to. You have this kind of conflict going on, wanting so much to be like him, but wanting to be completely different and your own person at the same time. It’s a bloody good job I don’t have a sporting bone in my body, as I seriously could not have stood the competition. But that was then, and I guess now, well now I can look at your pot belly and compare it to my much slenderer frame; I can be a bit smug, because I know which one of us is the finer figure of a man.

I never got a chance to speechify to you like you did to me at my wedding, but if I had, I would have arsed around and made light of the things you’ve done for me, and what we’ve become to each other. Oh, I just got a bit serious – did that take you by surprise? It did me. Oh well, now I’m on this track, I guess I should add that although we maybe didn’t start out as the best of brothers, and went our own ways for quite a while, I’m glad that for whatever reason (I’m not going to wax lyrical about your noble sacrifice, I’ve said it before, you know how I feel) we are where we are, comfortable with our differences and in each other’s company. I love you, Jay.

Beth. What can I say to you, Beth? I’ve made your life a bloody misery at times, I’m quite sure, often on purpose, but you never bloody well give up. You have superhuman levels of persistence in the face of overwhelming odds of lack of success, and I salute you. I won’t say I have always, or even often, appreciated your – oh how many ways have I categorised it? Interfering, fussing, do-goodering, mithering, wittering, get the thesaurus out, they’ll all be in there. But I do appreciate that behind it is genuine caring. You didn’t have to take on Jay’s recalcitrant younger sibling and try to make him do things differently, you could have left me to it and thought ‘sod him, why do I bother?’. You bothered, because you’re kind and good and I know, in my heart, you only want what you think is best for people. We’ve had our differences, but we’ve also had our sames, and the bottom line is that you’ve always been there when I’ve needed you, even though I would not have blamed you in the slightest for giving up on my ungrateful arse. Sorry I’ve said ‘fuck’ so much. I don’t think you actually mind it that much, it just gives you something to bang on about. Beth, I like you a lot, although I don’t often show it, and I love you.

Declan Charles Summers. Oh my fucking God, if ever a man had love for another man who wasn’t related to him and who he wasn’t even a teensy bit romantically attached to, then it would be mine for you. I sometimes wish you were my brother, just so I could say this is Dec, he’s my brother, rather than he’s my mate. But the truth is, you are my brother, and my mate, and I thank the universe on a fairly regular basis for the circumstances that brought you up to Stafford that Christmas when we realised we were the same. I guess we’re not really the same any more, you’ve sorted a lot of your crap out, while I’ve gone on having lots of crap and never really sorted it, but your nineteeny self and my thirty onety self were pretty fucking similar.

I would say I’ve watched you grow up, but you were fairly growed already back then, telling me a few home truths and showing me how it was going to be. I like to think I’ve never grown up, a bit like Peter Pan, or Michael J Fox, but you were always streets ahead of me in the maturity stakes.

Mate, I have so enjoyed working with you. That day we had the idea for our business, I can’t tell you how excited I was. When I got the job at Raiders, that was Level 10 excited. When I realised we could work together, and how it might all pan out … Level 692, at least. It has been a blast, the last few years, making a go of it, seeing it work, knowing Tom will be there when I’m not.

You have been the most awesome dude, almost Beth-like scary in knowing what I’m thinking, but not as bloody pushy about it. I love you, mate. I love your bloody awesome family. I’m privileged to have shared so much of my life with yours.

Amy, I love you. Ha, I just wanted to put it there to make Dec look twice. It’s true, though. Remember the first time we met, and you told me to fuck off? Awesome. I’ve hardly heard you curse since, but I knew Dec had found a keeper. You were so young then, and, I don’t know, demure and contained. On the outside, at least. You were a right little goer according to Dec. Yeah, I’m just trying to embarrass you; you’re cute when you blush. I bet you’re blushing now, aren’t you? Knew it. Dec loves it when you go red, does all sorts of man-things to him, so consider this my gift to you both.

Amy, you have been so, so fucking awesome. I’m sure having me just up the road, constantly on the look out for an opportunity to arse about with your husband, has been sorely trying at times, but you’ve always made me feel like nothing is too much trouble, like whatever I get up to, you just accept it. I know when you ask if I’m alright, I’d better bloody well behave myself, because you just don’t do that fussing thing that every other bugger in the family seems to.

I think you kind of keep the rest of us sane – you let us get on with the insanity, the idiocy, the bickering, the posturing, and then you just go ‘but don’t you think that …’ and say the one thing that makes us all look at each other, embarrassed at what we were just doing, and stop to remember that we love each other. Look after him, Amy, he’ll need you.

Spawn of Summers – I have already sung your praises elsewhere, you’re not getting a second go, but suffice it to say the whole bleeding lot of you are more trouble than you’re worth, a bunch of noisy ne’er-do-wells who should learn to pipe down and have a bit of respect for your ageing crippled uncle. I love the whole bloody annoying rabble of you, alright?

Nico, Lis and Bastien. Sorry, I’ve lumped you all together as the South American branch of Scott Global Incorporated. We miss you guys, you really should come over more often.

Basty – are you ever going to make an honest woman out of Ella? (Ha, I bet neither of you thought I knew, but I know everything. There’s not much for a fucking cripple to do all day in bed except listen, cogitate, ruminate and hypothesise. I’m right, aren’t I?)

Nico – Argentina isn’t that great. Come and live in England again. The country is suffering from a shortage of flirting, and you could save the day.

Lis – I understand Linebreak is recruiting to a senior sales position, if you’re interested. A day off a week solely for networking in Costa purposes, and a personal Jimmy Choo budget.

Tiago Tribe, I love you all.

April, April, April. God I was so fucking scared of you. You may notice that I have both sworn and blasphemed in the same sentence, which I usually avoid when communicating with you, but now I’m no longer around, I feel like not giving a shit, and I hope you won’t either.

Thanks for Lau. I know she wouldn’t be who she was without you; she has your steely determination, your compassion and your eyes, and I’m nearly as scared of her. Actually, I’m not scared of you any more, I know you’re not as much of a dragon as you liked to make out early on, in an attempt to scare off any of Lau’s boyfriends who weren’t that serious about her. You’re a warm-hearted person, and I know Ella and Josh love you to bits. I love you too.

Andrew fucking Distock, you old bastard. You are the person who has known me the longest, apart from my mum and Jay. You knew me when we were nerdy science geeks together, and all these years later, here we are, still throwing bits of code and random physics facts at each other and loving the Mighty Spurs with all our hearts. You’re one of those rare people who I can have a chat with after months, or years, and it feels like it’s only been a few days (that time when you fucked off to Africa with Jesus notwithstanding); you’ve been a rock, someone outside of the madness of being here, being me, who I can cling to and call up when I need it. I hope you’ve felt the same about me, but you never know, maybe you’ve been trying to get rid of me all these years. Andrew, you have been a great mate, and I love you.