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.
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.
In which word gets around.
My phone pinged with a text, at the same time as Lau’s. They were both from Beth, the same question.
‘Any news from the scan? Waiting …’
‘She can wait. We’ll surprise her, jus go roun unannounced. Oh, unless … do you want tuh jus be somewhere quiet, take it all in, have a think?’
I smiled up at Matt. I loved that he was thinking about what I wanted, but I was as excited as he was, although maybe a little less eager to score points over the rest of the family. Oh who was I kidding, surprising Beth was major, and it didn’t happen very often, it was as good a reason as any.
‘No. I want to tell people, I think saying it, showing them the pictures, helps make it more real, stops the freaking. Come on, back in the car, Beth first, then our mums. Then Amy. I’m going to text the girls at work.’
‘I wana text Dec, I’m so gona love this, I beat him hands down. Twins, hah! Oh, but then he might text Beth, spoil it. Oh bollocks, though, if we wait until after we’ve seen Beth, she’ll text him and spoil it.’
Tying myself up in knots about who to text and what to say was way more fun than tangling myself in fight or flight running under a bus on the way to Brazil.
‘Ask him not to say anything?’
‘Huh, yeah right, tha’s asking for it, he won’t be able to resist.’
‘Say I’ve asked.’
‘Ooh, you’re an evil cow. Tha migh just work. On it.’
Dec may possibly do the opposite of what I asked, just for the hell of it, but he didn’t know Lau well enough yet for that. I sent a text.
‘Just had scan. Due Julyish. Oh, and it’s a they. Twins. Lau says pls don’t tell Beth until we do.’
‘Sent. Right, leh’s get round to Beth before Dec crumbles.’
We stood on the doorstep, arms round each other, giggling, the whole situation suddenly seeming very funny. Beth’s car on the drive told us she was in, and as an added bonus, Lis’s car was outside on the road. The door opened, revealing Iz and moments later, Beth.
‘Iz, sweetheart, what have I told you about not opening – oh! Matty, Laura, hello! Come in, how was Paris? Have you just had the scan? How are you both? Lis is here, come and tell us everything.’
Iz held her arms up to Matt, who scooped her up and planted a big kiss on her cheek. She solemnly wiped her face with the back of her hand.
‘Hey beautiful. Not so keen on the sloppy kisses?’
Iz shook her head.
‘Sorry, blondie. Come on, leh’s go an sit down. We’ve got some news for your mum.’
Beth turned and looked at us, talking as we walked into the living room and sat down.
I jumped in as I saw Lau open her mouth to reply; I knew how long I wanted to string Beth along, and Lau was shit at playing games of any sort. She was likely to blurt it within seconds.
‘End of Julyish.’
‘Oh, that’s not very exact.’
‘No, well, there were some complicating factors, eh Lau.’
Lau nodded, keeping schtum, just for me.
‘Well are you going to tell me, or shall we play twenty questions?’
Yeah, at least twenty, if at all possible.
‘Ha ha, Beth, I love ih when I irritate yuh. Guess if you wan.’
‘Can I have a go?’
Lis was always up for joining in the fun, although she wasn’t as entertaining, as she didn’t get annoyed with me.
‘Yeh, Lis, write your guess on a piece of paper an if you’re correct yuh get a prize. Basty provides it, a full stinky nappy, jus for you.’
‘Gee thanks, really makes it worth my while. I can get one of those free any time I like without any effort at all.’
Beth was losing patience.
‘Laura, you’re being very quiet, is everything alright, sweetheart?’
Beth had gone in for the kill. She knew as well as I did that Lau couldn’t avoid a direct question.
I nodded. ‘Matt wanted to have his fun. I’ll give you a clue.’
No Lau, don’t do it.
‘Holy shit, Beth, how the fuck do you do it?’
‘Matty! Honestly. You really are going to have to tone down your language. If you won’t do it for us, at least do it for your own.’
‘Sorry, Beth, buh Lau didn’t even say anything. I know she’s usually bloody useless at giving cryptic clues –’
‘– but she didn’t have a chance to give anything away.’
‘She said ‘they’re’. As in they are, as in more than one.’
‘I said ‘there’ as in, er, ‘there might be …’, as in yes, you’re right, it’s twins.’
Lau caved, as I knew she would, and Beth looked triumphantly at me while Lis squealed, making Bastien jump and starting him off wailing. Iz ran in to see what the noise was about.
‘I know, sweetheart, he’s alright, he’ll go back to sleep in a minute.’
‘Or maybe not. Iz, it’s time for Basty’s lunch, come and help me feed him, yeah?’
Iz nodded, and followed Lis to the kitchen.
Beth looked at Lau, melting.
‘Two at once, sweetheart. Wow.’
‘I know. Talk about life-changing.’
‘You two don’t know the meaning of the words ‘taking it slowly’ do you?’
‘Ha ha, noh, we’re full-on hundred miles an hour people. Matt and Lau, don’t even know where the brake pedal is. Next item on the madness agenda, finding a fucking house big enough for a family of four.’
Beth frowned at the ‘fucking’, but as there were no small children within earshot, let it pass.
‘God, Matty, a family of four. You’ve caught up with me and James in one leap.’
And that was it in a nutshell. Not that it was a competition, because as I’m sure you will be aware, I am not competitive in the slightest. But, oh, to have achieved everything I wanted, had yearned for, in a way, over the last year, in the space of less than a fortnight, and that I could now consider myself equal to Jay in the family department, well, it meant a lot. And it was typical of Beth to know just how important it was, without me ever having said anything to her.
‘Have you told James yet?’
‘No, he’s at work, isn’t he? I texted Dec, but I guess he’s still training too.’
‘James will be back in a while, it was just a morning session today. How about Amy?’
‘Thought we’d pop roun an see them in a bit, after the mums, buh I think Lau texted her in the car?’
Lau nodded. ‘She hasn’t replied yet, though. I expect she’s got enough on her mind at the moment.’
‘Yes, you could be right. You heard about the panic over the weekend?’
‘Yeah, Dec said Braxton-Hicks or something.’
Beth smiled, and looked at me soppily.
‘Oh Matty, look at you, knowing all the technical terms like an old pro. I’m so pleased for you, sweetheart.’
She sat back and looked at us both.
‘You know, I’m so lucky. After Iz, that was it, no more for me,’
I was aware of some kind of gynaecological shit going down after Iz was born, but not the details. I guess Beth was happy with her family but might have liked more.
‘But the babies just keep coming, first Charlie, then Basty, now three more. Sometimes this family is a lot to cope with, eh Matty, but there’s never a dull moment, and the children keep us young. Or very, very old, one or the other.’
‘Yeah. You’re gona be Aunty Beth now.’
She already was, in a way, to Charlie, although what kind of random pseudo relation you’d actually call her – granny? If I was feeling particularly mean, then yeah. But this was bona fide Aunty territory, and she swelled up a bit with pride.
‘Oh Matty, I am, aren’t I. Well, I know I already am with my sister’s children, but I’ll be a very proud aunty of these two. A special privilege.’
Iz chose that moment to run back into the room breathlessly announcing,
‘Basty did a big sick. It in Lis’s hair, Mummy.’
‘Oh God. Coming, Lis.’
Beth got up and hurried to the kitchen, while Iz stood next to me, twirling a golden curl round a finger, looking at me from underneath her eyelashes. I put an arm round her and pulled her close.
‘Hey blondie. Know what? Me and Lau jus went all the way tuh France an we brought you something. It’s in Lau’s bag.’
I belatedly remembered the doll I had tucked in a pocket of my handbag. Iz looked at me shyly. She wasn’t usually shy, and had no qualms about asking for something she wanted; today she was playing the coy-but-cute card.
‘Yeah Iz, it’s in here somewhere. Come and help me find it.’
I pulled my bag onto my lap and Iz skipped over to begin digging into the different pockets. It was a game we played a lot, with my huge bag with it’s many flaps and zips. I knew exactly where the present was, and kept Iz away from it until the last minute. When her hand found the packet, she looked up at me, and I nodded.
‘You found it, flower, well done. Have a look inside.’
Iz unwrapped the bag and took out the doll, which was a small cloth man wearing a beret and striped Breton shirt, with a string of onions round his neck. He was a model cliché. Iz seemed less than impressed; she might have preferred pink and fairy wings, or maybe the bride and groom figures from the wedding cake that I’d promised her but forgotten to bring with me.
‘Do yuh like him, Iz? He’s Pierre.’
Iz nodded, not particularly convincingly, picked the doll up and sped out of the room while we laughed.
‘Well that could have gone down better.’
‘Ungrateful brat. See if weh bring her anything back next time we’re on holiday.’
We heard a key in the door, and a moment later, Jay walked in.
‘Hey Matty, thought I saw your car outside. Hey Laura –’
He bent down to kiss her cheek.
‘– how was Paris?’
‘Wonderful. Thanks Jay, it really was fantastic. We’ll bore you with the pictures later.’
‘Look forward to it. Hotel OK?’
Jay was fishing for thanks, and although I wasn’t disinclined to thank him, he wasn’t going to be allowed to bask.
‘Hotel was bloody awesome. View of the Eiffel Tower from the balcony, hundreds of Euros of room service racked up tuh your credit card, we hardly left the room.’
Jay went a bit pale.
‘Seriously? You didn’t go out at all?’
I knew the stingy git in him would baulk a bit at that.
‘Noh need, we had everything on tap, all our meals sent up, breakfast, drinks from the mini-bar, views when weh wanted. We were on our honeymoon, kind of expected ihnt it? Oh, did jus go out long enough tuh get you this – Lau?’
Lau rummaged in her bag and found a small, tacky, plastic Eiffel Tower. She handed it over with a grin. Well, he did ask for it, literally.
‘Wow, thanks mate, glad you brought back such a great present, sorry to make you go to all the trouble of actually going out into, oh I don’t know, France, for some actual bloody holidaying in romantic bloody Paris. Jesus, if I’d known you were going to stay in the whole time, I’d have got you a DVD of the bloody Eiffel Tower and booked you into the Travelodge down the road.’
Iz ran in with her newly bestowed doll in her hand.
Jay crouched down to his daughter; it always surprised me, how focussed Jay could be on his children, how unselfconscious he was talking with Iz about My Little Pony and princesses.
‘Oh, wow, Iz, who’s this?’
‘Unca Matty an Lau bringed him. He’s spare.’
Jay looked confused, not that this was an uncommon occurrence.
‘Unca Matty say spare.’
Iz looked at me to back her up.
‘Oh, no Iz, he’s Pierre. It’s a French name.’
‘That’s right, blondie.’
Iz seemed a bit more enthusiastic about the doll now she had someone to show it off to, and possibly now she didn’t think he was some kind of leftover plaything.
‘Really? So, they must have gone out to get this as well – on the same trip to the same gift shop, I bet.’
Jay was being so outraged at us apparently having taken advantage of his generous gift that I was thoroughly enjoying myself, while Beth and Lis came back in, Lis with wet hair and a change of shirt.
‘Oh, hi Jay. Sorry, Basty just threw up all over me. Don’t you just love baby vomit, especially in your hair. Better get home. You two, I expect to hear all about Paris very soon – well, maybe not all, just the non X-rated highlights, yeah?’
‘Huh, don’t hold your breath, Lis, they stayed in their room and looked at the Eiffel Tower out of the window.’
‘No! Really, guys? Oh, that’s so romantic.’
Jay rolled his eyes, but Beth narrowed her gaze and looked sharply at me. I’d talked to her last night, and she knew it wasn’t true.
‘He’s winding you up, James. I’d have thought you’d be able to tell by now.’
‘Ha ha, gotcha. I love ih when you fall for it. Especially when ih’s because you’re being a tight-arse.’
‘Jesus, Matty, you bastard. Just wait –’
And I loved it when I got him in the shit with Beth, too.
‘Sorry, Beth. Blame Matty.’
‘Hey, I’m being good.’
Well, for the time-being, anyway.
Lis laughed at the usual Scott brothers shenanigans.
‘OK, people, I’m off before the family feuding starts in earnest. Bye Beth, thanks for cleaning me up. Bye Jay. Bye you two, congratulations on your news.’
As Lis left, I saw Jay looking confused. It didn’t take much in the usual run of things, but now he was trying to work out what the news was, as we had already done the baby and wedding bit. He turned to me as Beth left the room to see Lis to the front door.
Great, more stringing it out.
‘Oh, baby stuff.’
Jay was so easy, it was hardly sport.
‘Oh, you had your scan, Laura.’
He turned to her, knowing he was more likely to get a sensible answer.
‘How did it go? Got a date?’
‘Yeah, end of July, give or take.’
‘So what was Lis talking about, congratulations? It’s not like you’re having another baby, is it.’
Oh he was handing it to me on a plate. I could hardly contain myself.
‘Well … kind of.’
I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
‘How does twins sound?’
‘What? Really? Fu … er … flipping heck.’
‘Jesus, Matty. You really know how to stack it up, don’t you, you pair. I can’t keep up. How are you, Laura?’
‘I’m fine, we’re still getting our heads round it.’
Beth came back in, smiling.
‘It’s lovely news, isn’t it. Have you got any pictures from the scan?’
‘Yeh, an a DVD too. Wana see?’
‘Oh yes, sweetheart. Iz, do you want to see Matty and Laura’s new babies on the TV?’
Iz looked at us assessingly.
‘Unca Matty hasn’t got a baby.’
‘No, not yet, sweetheart, the babies are in Laura’s tummy, like Dec and Amy’s baby. We won’t meet them until the summer, but a special camera has looked in Laura’s tummy. Oh, thanks, Laura. James, pop this in, would you?’
We watched the DVD, the first time we’d seen it, and had absolutely no objections when Beth wanted to play it over and over again. I was so proud of my boys (yeah, still on that track; no son of mine was going to be a girl) I just wanted to drink in every wriggle and squiggle.
‘Rose, it’s Declan. How soon can you get here? The baby’s on its way.’
:Oh, love, I’ll be there as soon as I can, about ten minutes? I’ve got my bag all packed. Everything tidy?
‘Yeah, all seems according to plan. Hurry, though. And no crying before you get here.’
:Alright love, I’ll control myself. See you soon.
I was just showing Beth the still photos, when Jay’s phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the screen.
‘Dec. Hey mate … oh bloody hell, what really this time? … oh, OK … well you can if you want, but they’re here, I can pass the message on … yeah, did you know? … oh, fair enough. I guess Rose is with Charlie? … Good luck, then, mate, yeah, see you soon. Let us know.’
He looked up.
‘Baby’s on its way. For definite this time. He was going to text you, Matty, but didn’t seem much point as you’re here. Rose is on her way over there, you can stand down red alert. He’ll let us know, hopefully not in the middle of the night, but he’s pretty fond of announcements in the early hours. Didn’t he text you when they found out?’
Matt shrugged. ‘Yeah, but I guess we’ve both done our fair share of waking each other up over the years. Important stuff, doesn’t really matter what time ih is.’
‘Huh, yeah, I’ll remind you of that next time I call you on a Saturday morning about match tickets.’
Matt grinned, nothing, not even Jay’s grumps, likely to get him down for now.
‘OK, Lau, weh should go an see the mums before word spreads. Don’t tell them, Beth, I know you love a good goss, but give us a chance tuh get there an back home before you call, righ?’
‘Alright, Matty, if you insist. Oh, come here, both of you, before you go, such lovely news.’
Jay and Iz got bored of the Squiggly Line repeat show after a while, and wandered off in search of their separate entertainments, but not before Jay got a call from Dec to say Amy was in labour, and I was not required as an emergency Charlie-sitter. Not that I’d ever thought I would be, with Rose waiting in the wings; it was just a little disappointing that they were overshadowing our baby news by actually having an actual baby on the same actual day, but I suppose they’d had the forethought to get in first, and I couldn’t begrudge them.
Finally Beth had seen the DVD enough times, and we thought we’d better go and spill the beans to Mum and April before Beth’s jungle telegraph did it for us.
Beth still wanted more, and while we were trying to make our escape, instructed us to ‘Come round tomorrow, dinner? Bring all your photos.’
‘We’ll text yuh. Bye.’
I pulled Lau down the drive, before doorstep chatting could commence, and we both sat in the car.
‘Shit, thought weh were never gona get away. Love Beth, but she’s bloody unstoppable sometimes. Right, your mum or mine? Ha ha, we must beh old, that should be your place or mine.’
‘Yeah, we’re an old married couple now, no more chat up lines or flirting.’
‘Fuck no, we’re far too sensible fuh that. What’s a nice girl like you doin in a dive like this?’
‘Ooh, looking for a man like you.’
‘Bloody hell, even our lines are ancient. There’s no hope, Lau.’
‘Apparently not. It was inevitable. Now you’re a dad, your hair’s going to fall out and you’ll have a beer gut by the end of the month. And I’ll start wearing sensible shoes and trying to hide my bingo wings with long sleeves.’
‘Ha ha. You’ll still be the sexiest mum at the school gate. Righ, let’s go an see some real mums, remind us how young we actually are. Mine first?’
We drove the short distance to Carol’s house, texting her first to let her know we were on our way. She was at the door as we pulled up.
Carol rarely showed a lot of emotion; she often sat and quietly watched everything going on, adding the odd comment, seemingly enjoying being part of it all without needing to join in the competition for attention.
Matt and Carol had a very close relationship, although you’d never know it if you saw them together in a large group. When it was just the three of us, and I expect when it was just the two of them, Matt chatted away with her about her friends and neighbours, he did odd jobs for her, cooked meals for her and took good care of her. When there were more people about, he retreated behind his banter, albeit still watching out for her from the other side of his messing about.
Carol was more chatty when there were less people, and I sometimes smiled to myself to see them talking together like a couple of old folk about the terrible prices in the Co-op or the graffiti in the bus shelter.
And now we were walking up to her front door. Matt reached her and folded her up in a hug.
‘Hello, dear. Hello Laura, dear.’
She hugged us both.
‘How are you? Did you have a nice time in Paris?’
‘Yeh, awesome. Got some pictures on the iPad if you wana see.’
‘Oh lovely, come through, I’ve got the kettle on.’
Well of course she had. She’d even had a few minutes’ notice, so there was nothing unusual about that.
We followed Mum into the kitchen, where the warning text had also given her time to put out cups and biscuits. I pinched a chocolate digestive off the plate, earning a bat on the arm.
‘You should offer one to Laura before feeding your face.’
Mum loved Lau. She always took her side over mine. Story of my life.
‘Lau’s more than capable of looking out fuh herself.’
‘Yes, dear, I know, but she’s too polite to grab a biscuit before it’s offered.’
‘Ha ha, polite? Yuh never tried to stop her getting her hands on a double choc chip. She’ll have your eye out.’
‘When you’ve both finished discussing me like I’m invisible, I think I’d like to sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit, thank you very much.’
‘See Mum? Bossy cow.’
‘Matthew, that’s no way to talk about your new bride.’
I treated that with the contempt it deserved. Wasn’t I the new groom? Didn’t I get some special consideration too? I picked up the tray and carried it into the small living room, where Mum was obviously eagerly anticipating some sort of holiday slide show.
‘So, where’s this iPad then, Matthew?’
‘Oh, in the car. Er, weh, er, got some other news first. Lau had her scan this morning.’
‘Oh! I completely forgot.’
Mum looked worried. I suppose it was easy to forget that a) I knew what the news was, so wasn’t worried, b) she was my mum, and so genetically predisposed to worry, and c) given recent times, it could have been anything we were about to land on her – joining a commune at the end of the month and moving to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean? Not as unlikely as it would have seemed, say, a year ago.
‘Is everything alright?’
I put my hand over hers.
‘Yeh, it’s all good.’
Mum’s face cleared. She knew I never bullshitted her like I bullshitted everyone else.
‘Have you got a date?’
‘Yeah, late July.’
Oh, just because I didn’t bullshit her doesn’t mean I didn’t play the odd mind game. I like to think she enjoyed it as much as me.
‘That’s not a date, dear, that’s a month. I thought they were usually quite precise these days.’
‘Yeah, well, it’s a bit hit an miss on account of Lau not knowing her dates, an also on account of it being twins.’
I sat back, job done, and watched Mum assimilate it. Her eyes widened.
‘Twins! Oh, Matthew. Laura, that’s wonderful, dear. Oh, but two babies, you’re going to have to get moving, aren’t you. You’ll never all fit in that flat of yours.’
Mum always managed to be positive but realistic about everything.
‘Noh, we thought we’d move in here.’
The look on her face was priceless, as, for once, she thought I was serious, for just a moment. She looked delighted at the thought of us living with her, which was humbling, then worried about where we’d all fit, and then really bloody worried about how she was going to say no. Hilarious.
‘He’s joking, Carol. We’ve got plenty of time to find somewhere. Don’t worry, you’ll be granny for visits and sleepovers only.’
‘Sorry, Mum, couldn’t resist.’
She tried to disguise the relief, but didn’t quite manage it.
‘Well, alright then, dear. You know I’d find room for you if you needed it.’
Yeah, it would have to be in the cupboard under the stairs, but I appreciated the sentiment.
‘I know, Mum. We’d never do that tuh you, we’d invade Jay and Beth, serve them righ for interfering all these years.’
‘Matthew, you know your brother only wants the best for you.’
‘I know. And you know I only want tuh annoy him in return.’
It was a conversation we had a lot. Mum thought I should try to curtail my gleeful Jay-winding-up sessions on account of ‘all he did for you’, but I maintained that Jay and I were happy as we were. She tutted and rolled her eyes, then sat back and looked at us.
‘Twins. Well, well. So you’ve caught up with Jameson in one go. No one can say you’re not fast workers, can they?’
‘Noh, they can’t. Caught up wih Dec and Amy too – oh, did yuh know Amy’s gone into labour? Dec called Jay while we were there.’
‘Yes, I did, Rose called me a while ago, she’s there with Charlie. She’s very excited.’
‘I bet. Charlie all tuh herself, an another one in the pipeline. All her grannying dreams come true.’
‘So am I going to see these pictures of Paris? I’ve got some of the wedding on my camera. Have you seen any yet?’
‘Yeh, some people have texted some an emailed, but we’d love tuh see yours too. I’ll jus go an fetch the iPad.’
As Matt jogged out to the car, Carol turned to me.
‘You’re quiet, Laura. Twins can be daunting.’
‘Yeah, I feel proper daunted. We’ve both had a bit of a morning, trying to get our heads round it. Not much we can do about it though, and it is great.’
This seemed like the best way to deal with it: just keep saying it, to myself and other people, and eventually it would stop being so new and freaky, and I would stop thinking ‘oh my God I’m having a baby’, quickly replaced by ‘oh my God not just one baby but two’, and would start feeling like a person who was just, you know, going to have a couple of babies in a few months, whatever, no big deal. It was going to take a while to get there, though.
‘Matthew seems happy about it, on the surface.’
‘Yeah, he’s trying.’
Carol knew Matt well, he hid less from her than anyone else. She knew what I meant – that Matt was happy, but also trying not to let anyone see how the suddenness of it was all affecting him.
‘Sometimes getting what you want is the scariest thing that can happen to you, dear. He’ll be alright.’
I smiled at her, and nodded, as Matt came back in with the iPad and we showed Carol our honeymoon. Well, all the bits that you were ever going to show your mum and mother-in-law.
Then we showed her the scan, and she cried. Then Lau cried. I maintain that I didn’t, but I can feel you raising your eyebrow at that one, Lau, so I will remain silent on the matter.
Then Mum picked up a brown paper parcel and handed it to me. I looked at her quizzically.
‘It’s what you asked for, dear.’
Intrigued, I pulled the paper off, and staring up at me, out of an antique silver frame, was my wife, smiling widely, blue-green eyes sparkling. Mum had painted her picture while we were away.
‘Holy shit Mum, that’s awesome.’
I showed it to Lau, whose eyes went wide as her jaw dropped slightly.
‘Carol, did you do this?’
‘When? God, it’s like me, but … better. You’ve made me look … beautiful.’
‘Noh, Lau. She’s made yuh look like yuh always look. Which is beauhiful.’
‘I’m glad you both like it. I was a little worried. I don’t do much painting these days, I’m a little out of practice.’
‘Seriously? You need to keep it up, flower.’
‘Well thank you, dear.’
‘I said there was no rush, Mum.’
‘I know, dear, but I was looking at all the photographs from your wedding, and I was just inspired by them. You looked so lovely, Laura dear, I hope I’ve captured some of it.’
‘I can’t believe it, Carol. Thank you so much.’
Then it was April’s turn, and I was a bit apprehensive about this one, because I’d said a lot of ‘fuck’, and shown a lot of my dick to a lot of people, in her presence, since I was last in her house, and I wondered whether maybe she’d rethought my position at number one in the Top Ten Most Suitable Men For Lau chart. She was waiting at the door as we walked up the path, and she was smiling. That was promising.
Again, we texted Mum to let her know we were coming, and to give her a chance to tidy up her already spotless house. She was looking out of the window as we pulled up. As we walked up the path, she opened the door, and opened her arms wide to hug us both on the doorstep.
‘Welcome back, both of you. Come in and tell me all about France.’
‘Well, April, weh can’t tell you all about France, having only seen a tiny bit of one city, but I’ve brought my iPad, and weh can bore you wih five hundred an twenty three different shots of the Eiffel Tower if you like.’
No point acting like I was going to be in the dog house. Might as well play it as normal, which meant sarky comments and the odd pleasantry.
‘Oh good. Maybe we don’t have to see all five hundred and twenty three.’
I put on a disappointed face.
‘Oh, buh I don’t know which ones I could possibly leave out, they’re all masterpieces.’
‘You daft boy.’
She almost sounded … fond. If I’d realised what a few bad words and indiscreet showings of my genitalia would achieve, I would have said ‘here you go, April, feast your eyes on my fucking todger’ the first time I saw her.
I loved it. My mum and my husband were teasing each other.
‘You daft boy. Come and sit down. Cup of tea? LauraLou?’
‘Yeah, thanks Mum.’
‘Not fuh me, thanks, April. Watching my weight. Lau should beh too, she’s put on a shocking amount the las couple of months.’
This was Matt’s way of reminding Mum that she should be asking about this morning’s appointment.
‘Oh, Laura, your scan! What did they say? Could they tell if it’s a boy or a girl?’
Mum couldn’t bring herself to say ‘sex’ even in the context of gender.
‘No, they couldn’t tell, it’s a bit early, and they were lying on top of each other, so all the important bits were hidden.’
I silently applauded Lau’s stringing along ability. Much as I’d been unable to stop her blurting to Beth, it seemed she had learned in the last couple of hours, and we both sat back and watched as the information filtered in and was processed through. April was silent for a few moments, frowning slightly, then her eyes widened, and she looked at Lau, then me. We were both smiling widely, and Lau nodded.
‘Oh Laura. Twins?’
I nodded again.
‘Oh, my love, that’s wonderful. Identical or – what’s the other one – fraternal?’
‘We don’t know yet. I’ve got another scan in a few weeks, they should be able to tell the sex and the identicalness or not then.’
‘How have you been?’
‘Oh, much the same. A bit tired, feeling a bit sick first thing in the morning, nothing too bad. Maybe some mood swings, Matt’d be the one to ask about that, I guess.’
Doing as she was told, April looked over at me, eyebrows raised. Well there was no way I was going to be telling tales on Lau, not that there were many to tell.
‘I think I’m the one wih the mood swings, Lau.’
‘Well, we’ve both been a bit up and down, especially today, it’s a lot to take in, but it’s exciting. We’ll need to move out of the flat before too long. I probably won’t be able to get up the stairs by the time they come, and – oh – things just keep occurring to me. Manhandling a double buggy up all those steps …’
Lau looked at me in dismay. I held on tightly to her hand. There would be lots of things we were going to suddenly think of, and we would just have to deal with them as they arose. Ha, look at me all sensible. When it was my turn to wake up in the middle of the night going ‘shit, isn’t there a law about car seats’, we’d see who was calm and collected.
‘We’ll sort ih, Lau. We’ve got six months. Tha’s bloody ages. Sorry, April, slipped out.’
I wasn’t sorry, I was testing out how much I could get away with, now she’d been subjected to the full Matt Scott experience.
‘Matt, I became well aware at your wedding how much you like a good swear, and how much you have been toning it down for my sake. Thank you, my love, I appreciate it, but please don’t apologise if the odd one slips out now and then.’
I think I sat with my mouth open for a second or two. Not only had I not been sent to hell for saying ‘bloody’, but she’d called me ‘my love’, which she only ever called Lau. Whoa, full on weird moment. Lau noticed, and pressed back as I squeezed her hand.
‘Hey April, have yuh got any photos of the wedding? Mum jus showed us hers on her camera, an we’ve had some in texts an emails, I thought I could collect them all, do something with them.’
An idea was forming, from the amount of photos people had sent us. We hadn’t had an official photographer, but pictures from cameras and phones had been dribbling to me via text and email since we got back, and I wanted to do something permanent with them, as well as the photos we’d already got. Kind of ‘Matt and Lau: The Early Days’. It sometimes came as a surprise to remember that it was early days for us, it felt like we’d been together forever.
‘Oh, yes, I took a few. I’ll go and get the camera.’
While April was rummaging upstairs, Lau turned to me.
‘You got a ‘my love’!’
‘I know! I nearly fell off my bloody seat. An I can say ‘bloody’ an not apologise. Wonder if I’ll get away wih a ‘fuck’?’
‘I wouldn’t push it. Strict Baptist forgiveness only goes so far. You’ve done something right, though.’
‘Making someone a granny obviously gohs a long way towards redemption.’
‘Ha ha. Let’s hope your eternal soul is safe, then.’
‘Bound tuh be. Twins equals double granny, tha’s enough for both of us.’
We watched the DVD with April, had more tea and cake, but even though I hinted like mad, April didn’t show me a painting she’d done of me while we were away, so that meant we could finally go home and chill before work tomorrow.
We spent a while with Mum, looking at various pictures of the wedding, Paris, watching the DVD of the scan, looking at the stills, basking in Mum’s approval. Considering the last time we were here she practically threw us out, I was relieved and surprised at the turnaround. Mum was very firm in her beliefs, and it meant a lot that she now seemed so accepting of Matt and me. Us being married had a lot to do with it, but we hadn’t done it for her, so whatever the reason, it was all good.
Cooking was so not on the cards for either of us, knackered and lazy as we were feeling, and I also wanted to ignore the food Beth had filled the cupboards with in a contrary fit of independence. So we ordered pizza. While we were waiting, I wandered to the fridge and got a beer out without thinking. Then I remembered my promise to Lau, thought about it, and put it back. She noticed.
‘Open it, flower.’
‘Noh, I don’t need ih.’
‘We don’t need pizza, but we’re having it. You’re not planning on getting wasted, are you?’
‘Have it, then, don’t make me feel bad.’
I sat next to her, taking her hand in mine. I wanted her to know how serious I was about this. It wasn’t going to make any difference to anything, but it was a promise and it was something I wanted to do for Lau. She was giving up a lot to have our baby, not just alcohol, but part of her body, comfort, rational hormones, all that shit, and I just wanted to do this to show her I was with her.
‘Lau, I don’t wana make yuh feel bad, you shouldn’t, this is something I decided, not something yuh made me do. Look, when yuh did tha for me, the ‘only do wha we can both do’ thing, it was fucking amazing, ih meant so much. An yuh stuck to it. I don’t need a beer righ now, maybe sometimes I will, hard day at the office or some such bollocks, an I’m not gona beat myself up about it, but I’m happy wih orange juice tonight. So we can do it, or not do it, together. Something else weh can do together.’
‘OK, then, flower, it sounds like an amazingly good deal. Who knows when I might need you to be sober in the next few months? ‘
It didn’t feel that amazing, to be honest, but if Lau said it, it must be right. And it earned me a big pash that continued until the pizza arrived, so everyone was a winner.
Dec called me in the middle of the night, to tell me that the new baby had arrived. I don’t know why I woke up when my phone buzzed; somehow I seemed to know when it was Dec. I nearly always stirred when the notes of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ floated out of my phone, and although it was on silent, I woke to the buzzing, unsurprised to pick up and see ‘Dec Calling’ and a photo of him wearing a pair of Australia underpants on his head. It was something he often did at parties; I suppose everyone needs a talent.
‘Hey mate. Sorry to wake you up.’
He so was not sorry, I could hear the enormous grin in his voice.
I knew he’d be calling to tell me about the baby, but I was so full of sleep that the next couple of rounds of my side of the conversation were going to be monosyllabic.
‘We’ve got a son.’
I couldn’t help a yawn escaping.
‘Yeah, and to save you summoning the energy to fucking ask, he’s bloody enormous, over nine pounds, he’s called Tom. Thomas Jack, actually. He’s screaming his bloody head off, so I’m outside. Ames needed stitches, so she’s not too happy, but he’s awesome, mate, just awesome.’
Dec’s happiness was infectious, and I roused myself a little.
‘Well done, mate.’
‘Can you come in later? Bring Lau? You’ve got to see him, he’s bloody huge.’
But surely not the biggest baby ever born. Nine pounds wasn’t that unheard of, although I did have a twinge of sympathy for the slight-framed Amy.
‘Yeh, course. Can’t wait. Text yuh later, yeh?’
‘Yeah, no worries. Better get back to Ames. See you later, mate.’
The sleep was fast disappearing, and I was aware I’d sounded less than enthusiastic. Although I was sure Dec knew me well enough to understand that waking me up at four thirty wasn’t going to find me at my best, I wanted to tell him how pleased I was for him.
‘Congratulations, mate. Whoa, you’ve got a son. Father of two. Holy shit. That’s nearly grown up!’
‘Ha ha, need a couple more before I’m ready to admit to that. Cheers Matt.’
As we disconnected, I thought back to when Dec had called me to tell me about Charlie. It was only a year later, and my life was so different. There was no Jules colluding with my well-woven pretence that I didn’t want a family. I’d been through another bout with the bastard MS. Above all, I had Lau and the babies on the way. Thinking about it all, though, and how I’d felt on that day, when it all crashed around me and Jules smashed the flat up, made me think about her, and what I did to her.
I didn’t think about Jules much these days, not really. It was something I couldn’t change, wouldn’t change even if I could, and so it was best to leave it in the depths. But now, it all flooded out, and I felt truly sad at the way things had ended, what a cock-up I’d made of the whole thing, how much I must have hurt her. Especially that, hurting her. I had no idea if she had been totally fucked up by it all, or whether, in her Jules way, she’d managed to put it behind her and get on with her life.
I felt emotions I’d shoved deep down starting to surface, and tears blurred my vision. I got out of bed and found my way onto the sofa, where I gave in to a bout of self-pity that I hadn’t felt for a long time.
I didn’t want to wake Lau up; hopefully she’d be asleep for a few more hours yet. I sniffed quietly to myself, knowing that eventually I’d stop, not knowing if I was going to be able to talk to Lau about it. I hated keeping shit from her, but I was unsure how she’d feel about me being sad about Jules. Lau was awesome, but this was a fairly recent ex we were talking about, and much as Lau encouraged talking and being up-front, I’d detected a hint of uncertainty whenever Jules’ name was mentioned. So I just curled up on the sofa and sniffed to myself.
In which a letter is read, and there is a big surprise.
When I’d finished, I looked up from the screen, into Matt’s eyes. He’d sat down beside me, putting a mug of ginger tea on the table, where it steamed unnoticed. I looked at Matt, and he looked back, wanting my approval.
‘That … is possibly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.’
‘Really? Was going for kind of matter of fact with a bih of humour.’
But a bit of beauty never went amiss, I suppose.
‘What are you going to do with it?’
‘Oh, nothing really, writing ih was the important thing. I’ll delete it later.’
‘No! Save it somewhere. One day, show it to Philpotts.’
‘Seriously? There’s swearing in there and everything.’
‘I don’t mean when he’s five. When he’s old enough.’
‘Oh, OK. Consider it saved. It … was kind of a letter to yuh, too, Lau.’
I hadn’t just wanted to write to a tiny person who wasn’t going to be able to read it for years, and yeah I know, I’d never intended to delete it really, just wanted Lau to tell me it was worth keeping; no, I’d wanted Lau to see it, so I could for once tell her how I was feeling in a coherent way, without her having to use her nurse techniques on me.
‘I got that. I loved it.’
‘I jus woke up, early hours, shit going round my head, freaking, needed tuh get up.’
‘What was going round your head?’
‘Oh, jus everything I said yesterday, still there. Then, when I’d had a bih of a word with myself, started the letter, it suddenly occurred to meh, what I was doing. I was expecting it all to go back, somehow, settle back down to how things were, before we knew, before we started this mad crazy fun ride.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, everything’s changed so quickly, ih’s taken my breath away, an I guess I was jus wanting it all to calm down so I could breathe. But ih’s not going to, ever, is it? Our lives are gona change, keep changing, every day, as Philpotts grows, in you or out of you, an I’m jus gona have to deal with it. Constant change. An so that’s what I’ve been doing, dealing, thinking about it, getting my head round it. Or starting to. Lau, if it was anyone else but you, I’d be gone. But with you, I know ih’s OK. I’ve always felt safe with you.’
And that was the honest truth. This level of uncertainty and lack of control over life events would have pushed me over the edge and away with anyone else, anyone who wasn’t Lau. How the fuck I’d recognised that the moment I saw her in the church hall, I’ll never know, but somehow I had, and maybe I was starting, just beginning, to become less of a fuck up because of it, because of Lau.
She put her arms round me, and there I was, in the safest place I knew. I don’t think my freak was completely over, maybe it would never be over, not totally, but if I was going to be freaking, this was where I wanted to do it.
I could see in his face he wasn’t quite finished freaking yet, but whatever process he’d been through in the night, it had helped him. We were going to have to help each other through the weeks and months to come. I felt a nursey moment coming on.
‘Fight or flight.’
A puzzled look crossed his face.
I wasn’t quite sure where that had come from.
‘It’s a primal response to threat, from when we were cavemen, or walking fish or whatever. Our brains automatically make us either fight the threat or run away from it, it’s a survival thing. Oh, and sometimes there’s ‘freeze’ too. So if we can’t fight it or run away from it, we might just stay frozen.’
Yeah, Lau, I wasn’t a total moron, I knew what it meant, thanks for the education, just wasn’t quite sure how it was applying to this situation. I gallantly spared her my sarcasm, though. Shit, I must have been head over heels in love.
‘OK … so what am I doin?’
‘Well, you haven’t run yet, but you feel like it.’
Yeah, yet again she’d got to the core of me. If this hadn’t been my flat, I might well have been off finding some ‘space’ or some such shit.
‘But you are feeling irritable and argumentative.’
‘Mm hm, so fight?’
‘Maybe a bit. But you’re feeling a bit stuck, not knowing how to react. So maybe freezing up, shutting down.’
‘Mm. Maybe. What’s the threat, tho?’
Ha ha Matt, like you didn’t know. This whole sodding situation threatened you, you bloody imbecile.
‘Change. You said it. It doesn’t have to be a sabre tooth tiger attack, just anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, or scared.’
‘Buh I don’t wana be scared of this, of us, of the future.’
‘I know, flower, but we can’t help what scares us. I think recognising it can help us to cope with it. We’re both scared, it would be strange if we weren’t. Today is both terrifying and thrilling, and we both probably want to run away and hide from it.’
She looked into my eyes, seeing she’d got it right. I looked down at my hands, nodded and took a deep breath.
‘I’m not gona, though, Lau.’
It felt like it was going to take a monumental effort not to escape it all, but I was going to resist.
‘I know, Matt. But it’s OK to feel like you want to, though.’
I guess that was all I wanted, for Lau to see it, and say it was OK to want it, to want to run away, as long as I didn’t actually head for the hills.
‘You’re so cool, Lau.’
‘Keep on writing to me and Philpotts if it helps.’
‘Ha, yeah, The Philpotts Diaries. Maybe I’ll get them published, fund his university career.’
‘Great idea. Saves me having to go back to work.’
And now I was going to be a grown up, for possibly the first time in my thirty five years.
‘OK, Lau, this is what we’re gona do. Serious face, now, I’m doing ‘fight’, right? Tomorrow, after we’ve got our heads aroun whatever we find out today, we’re gona, well, first we’re gona have tuh go back to work, but tomorrow evening we’re gona look at houses. We need tuh know where we’re gona live. So it’s laptop out an look at what’s around. I need a plan. Can’t believe I’m saying it, but tha’s what I need.’
In the past I’d had plans, lived by them almost, but that strategy had not served me well, and in recent times, my plans had gone no further than trying to avoid other people’s plans for me.
Lau nodded, excited.
‘You’re right, we need a plan. Houses. OK. And ante-natal classes. That’s my plan. As soon as we know how many weeks, I can get booked in. You too, if you want to come.’
It was what I needed, to start doing baby stuff so it would stop being theoretical and start being applied.
‘Fuck yeah, Lau, I wana be part of it all. Classes, appointments, all that shit.’
‘Great. Two plans, then.’
‘Three. I jus thought of a plan for this morning.’
Yeah, of course it was my usual plan: sex. Hey, it was an awesome plan, and something else which would be better applied than theoretical. I looked at Lau appraisingly, one eyebrow raised, and bent down to kiss her, insistently. She turned towards me and put her arm round my neck.
‘Would this plan involve one or more of us removing an item or two of clothing and maybe heading somewhere else, say, the bedroom?’
‘You’re a bloody mind reader, Lau. How do yuh do ih?’
‘I’m psychic. Get it from my granny. She talks to me all the time, tells me the future from the other side.’
I smiled at her as I thought of something unforeseeable.
‘Did your bloody granny predict this?’
I stood up and then crouched down, put one arm round her shoulders and one under her knees, then hoisted her into the air and carried her into the bedroom, squealing.
‘Stop bloody wriggling, I’m gona drop yuh.’
‘Put me down, I’m too heavy.’
‘Don’t be bloody daft, woman. We had this conversation. You’re ligh as a feather, it’s Philpotts who weighs a bluhdy ton. An I forgot tuh carry you over the threshold, so into the bedroom’s as close as it gets.’
I’m sure you can guess what’s coming, people, so skip ahead or read on, whatevs is appropriate.
I didn’t put her down gently, as I was close to dropping her, and the mattress bounced as she landed and I flopped next to her, pulling at her shirt and pushing my hands underneath to fondle and tease her.
‘Good job we’re still in our PJs, much less work fuh me.’
‘Oh good, I’d hate to make this an onerous task. I can tell you don’t enjoy it at all.’
‘Yeah, I hate all this sex. Can’t bloody bear doin this.’
I bent my head to her chest and sucked a nipple into my mouth, grinning when Lau groaned and arched her back against mouth. It never got old, how much I turned her on, and I was delighted to discover that I wasn’t as freaked as I had been yesterday by all the ‘boobs for food’ malarkey.
I pushed my fingers into her knickers.
‘No, I can tell, you’re so not interested. I’m sure if I did this, you’d just be so bored.’
She ran her hand down my side and I felt her fingers drift gently over the bulge of my hard on. One of her fingers flitted through a gap in the button fly of my pyjama bottoms and gave my cock a quick stroke. It sent a wave of tingling fizzes right along the shaft.
‘Fuck, yeah, Lau, stop doing tha right away, can’t be arsed. Talking of arses …’
I flipped her onto her front and pulled her knickers down, then bent my face down to her glorious arse and kissed it, nibbling my way round to even more glorious pastures. I suddenly thought about what I was doing, to my pregnant wife. I looked up at Lau, who was looking back at me, flushed and smiling.
‘Is Philpotts OK wih you on your front?’
‘Yeah, flower, he’s fine, as long as you’re gentle.’
‘Oh I’m gona be soh gentle you’ll fall asleep.’
‘Mm, very likely, so dull, not making me tingle all over at all … oh my God yes.’
I’d found her with my tongue, and followed up with my fingers, probing and thrusting, but just as she was on the edge of coming, I pulled out, and lay on my back. I wanted her to come with me inside her, both together if at all possible. I pulled my pyjama bottoms off quickly and patted my thighs.
‘Come on, then, Lau. We’re ready.’
Yeah, I know it’s cheesy when a bloke talks about his dick like it’s a separate person. Never stopped me before.
‘Less chat, more action. Ride ’em, cowgirl.’
Lau loved cowgirl, and she could ride with the best of them. Pretending she was finding it all a bit hackneyed, she rolled her eyes and straddled me, lifting herself up a bit so I could enter her, slowly, deliciously, fully. As she sat back down, I slid all the way in, filling her. We stayed, locked together, gazing into each other’s eyes for a moment, all pretence of boredom vanished. I could see the desire on her face as she started to rock, the motion and friction sending shock-waves through us both.
I started to thrust, gently but firmly, and Lau began to lift herself up and drop back down, clenching me inside. We moaned together, and our movements became faster, my thrusts harder. It felt astonishingly good, as if we were part of each other, and I clasped her fingers with mine as we rocked together. Lau dropped forwards, so we could kiss, and our tongues slipped over each other as I continued to thrust inside her.
Then, feeling stronger than I had in a long time, I flipped her over onto her back, and held her close, continuing to kiss her, as my thrusts sped up and our moans intensified. I felt Lau start to change and tighten inside, and knew she was close. She gasped, and I sped up more, moving with Lau as we reached fever pitch. With a shudder and a cry, I felt Lau still her movements as she began to pulse, throbbing against me, and I felt myself explode into her as I shouted her name and she gripped me and cried out ‘Oh my God, Matt, oh my love, my love’. I shuddered, quivered, again and again, slowing and shrinking as the wash of intense pleasure receded and left a warm glow. We rolled onto our sides and lay, entwined, faces next to each other, breathing hard, trembling, for several minutes. I pulled Lau into my arms.
‘I fucking love fucking you, Lau.’
I nearly always said it, as it made me laugh. Yeah, the world of comedy has missed out on a true genius.
‘You’re so gona say ih one day.’
She knew what I meant. It was as if we were the Yin and Yang of swearing. I didn’t really get why she didn’t say bad words more often, especially in the heat of sex. It’s not like she was uptight or straight-laced in any way, and I sometimes sensed she was holding back what she was saying. I didn’t need her to talk dirty, that’s not what it was about, I just wondered whether sometimes she’d enjoy herself more (I should say even more) if she let that bit go like she let everything else go. But it was up to her.
‘You’re jus gona let go one day an yell ‘fuck me Matt’. Yuh never know, could make it more enjoyable.’
‘Hm, not sure I could cope with it being much more enjoyable. You are pretty amazing.’
‘Yeh, I know.’
‘Yeh, I know.’
I tried a lecherous look but couldn’t hold it as she cuffed me on the arm.
‘Holy fuck, Lau, what a way tuh spend our last morning off. Much better than bloody work. We should skive off every morning. Well, I suppose I do mostly, but you should come here, pretend you’re on a visit, we should do this.’
‘I think it might get noticed, eventually. And the NHS doesn’t pay me to have sex with my husband.’
‘They bloody should, yuh know.’
‘Too right, someone should pay me for it, all that lying back and thinking of England, deserves a blooming medal at the very least.’
Things carried on in that vein, we were just Matt and Lau, kissing, touching, giggling, talking nonsense, until we fell asleep.
I woke up to the sound of my alarm. My scan appointment was at twelve, and I wanted to make sure I was completely ready, so I’d set my alarm for ten, not thinking for one minute I’d still be asleep.
I groggily reached for my phone and turned it off. Matt slept on, and I decided to let him while I pottered about, showering, grabbing some toast, dressing. At ten thirty, I thought I should start to wake Matt up. He always took ages to come round, and I’d need to start chivvying him now if he was going to be ready for half eleven, which was the latest we needed to leave.
‘Matt. Come on sleepy beach boy, wake up. It’s half ten.’
‘I’ve put my alarm on, it’s going to go off in one minute. I’ve set it with Westlife as the tone.’
I walked into the kitchen and put some coffee on. If the song didn’t propel him out of bed, the smell of coffee might do the trick. Maybe some toast as well. I got myself a large glass of water – I needed a full bladder for the scan, but needed to time it so I didn’t need to pee too seriously before I had it.
The next thing I knew, bloody Westlife was blaring out in my ear, from Lau’s phone. For some inexplicable reason, she’d decided not to snog me awake, and had decided to cheese me awake instead. It worked, I suppose, but was nowhere near as enjoyable.
‘You cow, Lau.’
‘You need to get moving.’
I looked at the time and realised that was true, but Lau still had to do more chivvying, making me feel like an utterly lazy bastard as I took my time showering, shaving, dressing, while she unpacked our suitcases and washed up the breakfast things. We even left on time, looking at each other with wide eyes.
We pulled up in the car park of the maternity unit, Matt turned off the engine, and we both sat, staring forwards. Matt’s hands were still gripping the steering wheel. I put my hand on top of his, and stroked his knuckles.
‘Come on, let’s go and meet Philpotts.’
He turned to me and grinned; I couldn’t see any trace of fear in his eyes.
I flashed her a smile, just to let her know I wasn’t freaking.
‘Yeah. Hey, Philpotts, smile for the camera.’
I stroked Lau’s belly, then leaned down and kissed it. She buried her hands in my hair, and held me to her, then released me, and smoothed the stray strands down. It must have looked well dodgy to anyone looking, but it felt like it was the three of us, not just the two of us, and it was awesome.
I sat back up, we looked at each other once more, then got out of the car. We held hands all the way to the waiting room, and sat close to each other on the plastic chairs, aware of each other, not talking, not reading the mother and baby magazines, just waiting. And waiting. For bloody ages, or at least it felt like it. Every time someone came out of a door, I thought they were going to say Lau’s name, but they’d walk on by, or call someone else.
It felt like an age before they called my name, and then suddenly we were there, me on an examination table with my belly out, Matt beside me stroking my hair. A quick blast of cold gel, the ultrasound sensor was placed on my stomach and we were directed to look at the screen.
Oh my God, she was really there, my baby was really there, with the most incredible, er, black and white, er, lumpy bits anyone had ever seen.
The radiographer woman looked hard and made ‘mm’ sounds, which was bloody annoying, because she could obviously tell what she was looking at, whereas to me it was just a black and white mess of lines and curves. I wondered if Lau would know more, having all her medical knowledge, but she looked at me and shrugged, as I squeezed her hand.
Sue, the radiographer, looked away from the screen and towards us.
‘Is this your first scan?’
‘Have you heard the heartbeat yet?’
I shook my head. ‘We’ve only known just over a week.’
‘Oh.’ Sue looked surprised. ‘So no midwife visits yet?’
‘No. I need to make an appointment.’
This was all new to me, I had no idea what kind of people Lau was going to need to see, or what appointments we were going to have to make.
‘Alright, then, here it is.’
The radiographer flicked a switch, and we heard it, for the first time, a fast, tumpity, swooshy rhythm. It seemed a bit stuttery, but what did I know? It was awesome. Philpotts lived! He had a beating heart! I looked at Lau, whose eyes were shining, and we grinned goofily at each other.
‘Er, usually I ask if people want to know the sex of the baby –’
‘Oh, we want to know, but I thought it might be a bit early.’
‘Well, it looks like you’re about twelve weeks, so technically yes, too early, I can’t tell anyway, there may be more news in your next scan. But, er, brace yourselves, there are two babies. You’re having twins.’
I stared at Sue, who was looking back at me, wondering whether she should smile or not. I looked at Matt, needing to see what was going on for him. He had gone pale.
We just stared at her, unable to take in what she’d just said. Two babies? How is that even possible? I mean, yeah, I know technically how it’s possible, I’m not a complete dufus when it comes to genetics and shit, but two babies? Two? At the same time? I say again – holy fuck.
I nearly bottled it, it was just one huge occurrence too much for me, one unexpected piece of life-changing news, one extra thing to get my head round, and Lau’s fight or flight thing was on the verge of being flight, me running for my life away from all this madness.
I was holding Lau’s hand, but if I hadn’t been, I would have fled, legs pumping, until I ran under a bus, or dropped dead with exhaustion, or got to Rio de Janeiro, despite all my talk about staying put earlier that morning. Lau was looking at me, and I knew she saw it all playing out on my face, but she didn’t say anything, and because she didn’t, because it was Lau, because I loved her, I chose fight, not flight. I stayed.
I saw it cross his mind, to walk out, run away, I felt the twitch from his hand as he nearly pulled out of my grip and went. No, Matt, don’t do it, be strong, I need you to be strong. And then I felt the effort he made to stay; to do fight, not flight. I went from desolate to proud and overjoyed in an instant.
I splashed the widest smile I could summon all over my face, and pushed the panic behind me, where I couldn’t see it.
‘Awesome, Lau – two Philpottses. Fuck. Holy fuckabyebaby.’
Lau gripped my hand, on the verge of tears. The radiographer was looking a bit po-faced at my choice of language. She probably knew Beth.
He pushed his fears behind him, for now, and turned on his stunning smile. I gripped his hand as my eyes filled with tears, unsure if I was crying because of the news, or Matt’s obvious effort, or both.
Matt was talking to Sue, belatedly realising his language had been the wrong side of acceptable.
‘Sorry. Jus a bit shocked. Did you say twelve weeks?’
She nodded. ‘That’s what it looks like.’
I looked at Lau, frowning, doing some quick calculations based on the return to life of my fucked up downbelows. It had barely been three months since I was back in the saddle.
‘Buh we – I – shit, Lau, ih must have been that bloody first time.’
More po-facedness from the radiographer; oh fuck her, had she never heard people discuss the date of conception before? I decided to explain.
‘I’ve been ill. No, er, down below action until a few months ago.’
But if it was that first time, or even the second, or third … I turned back to Lau, smiling, ridiculously pleased with myself.
‘Woohoo, we’re so fertile!’
Lau still hadn’t said anything, and she was worrying me, because she didn’t look like she thought it was good news. She looked like she was having trouble thinking anything.
I was still struggling to speak, the implications of twins having caused a logjam in my brain. I tried a smile, but it was a pretty weak effort. Matt’s eyes clouded with concern, as he realised I hadn’t joined him in the self-congratulations.
‘Yuh OK, Lau?’
I nodded, swallowed.
‘Just having a bit of a freak.’
I breathed in deeply and closed my eyes, trying to imagine myself with two babies in my arms. One had been easy to imagine, one was in all the pictures, magazines, films, one was normal. Two was … overwhelming. Just over six months ago I was starting to resign myself to never having children. Now I was going to have two. Two! I felt Matt’s lips on my temple and his hand round my shoulder, pulling me towards him.
‘I can’t do it.’
I really was feeling panicky. How was I going to have two babies? Everything it meant started to crowd in on me. We were going to be exhausted. Matt was only just getting better, he still got tired, he wouldn’t cope with the sleepless nights, especially doubled, and the organisation they were going to need … I heard Matt chuckle and looked up at him.
She sounded really panicky, and I could hear the freak in her voice and feel it in the tenseness of her body against me. She really was on the verge of something huge, and it calmed me completely, made me realise that I didn’t matter, this wasn’t about me and how I was going to cope, it was about Lau, and helping her through this like she’d helped me so many times. I tried a chuckle and she looked up at me.
‘Lau you’re a bigger freaker than meh. Course you can do it. We can do it. We’ll do ih together.’
She shook her head, and looked miserable. I thought about what I’d just felt, and how her sensing me nearly running away must have affected her.
‘Lau, I nearly walked out jus now. You felt it, didn’t yuh?’
She nodded again.
‘I guess you wana walk too.’
I tried some reality, mixed with some optimistic reassurance.
‘Where you gona go? Wherever you go, you take the Philpottses with yuh, an you’re on your own. Stay here wih me, do it together. Freak together. Two babies is easy, piece of piss. Right?’
I looked at the radiographer woman, who was less po-faced now, but just gave a non-committal shrug. For fuck’s sake, woman, work with me here. I laughed.
‘Thanks fuh that.’
But now, it was time to get serious, find out if Lau was freaking enough to say ‘I really can’t do it’, or if she was just momentarily overwhelmed.
‘Lau, bottom line, if yuh really can’t do it there are options. But they’re bloody tough options. You know what I’m talking about don’t yuh.’
I felt it go through her, like a shudder, the thought of actually doing anything to harm those two babies nestled inside her. It was, I think, what she needed to hear. I knew she’d never do it, and only confidently offered it as an option because she’d never harm a hair on their unborn heads. It wasn’t something I would have ever actually let her do, right to choose or not.
I nodded, appalled. It brought me to my senses. I was having these babies, they were mine, no one was taking them away from me.
‘Sorry. No. Sorry.’
She looked up at me imploringly, as if I was going to, I don’t know, whisk her off to the abortion clinic or some such shit. I smiled down at her and kissed her forehead, and I tried my hand at being the calm one. It felt weird.
The radiographer handed me a glass of water.
‘It can be a bit of a shock. Take your time. Do you want to see?’
She indicated the screen, where a grainy black and white picture was flickering. I nodded. I seemed to have spent a lot of my time in this room nodding silently. She picked up the sensor again and spread more gel on my belly. The picture changed and I caught a brief glimpse of something I thought I recognised. I gasped.
‘Is that a head?’
Radiographer woman nodded. Oh it so was not, I couldn’t see a bloody thing. It was like looking for a white cat in a blizzard, as far as I could see. You can’t tell me women have a special gene for seeing babies in bloody ultrasounds, where’s the natural selection in that?
She pointed it out, and I could suddenly see it. There was one of the babies’ heads. It was real, a real baby, baby-shaped, with a head and everything.
‘Ohh holy shit. Tha is fucking amazing.’
And pretty overwhelming. My first glimpse of our child, one of our children. My whole family, here in this room. Although not the radiographer woman, obviously. My eyes misted with tears, and for once I wasn’t embarrassed about it.
I looked at Lau, and could see that all freaking had stopped for now, as we both looked at our babies, inside her. I gripped Lau’s hand tightly as radiographer woman spoke again, pointing at the screen.
‘This is one of them, he’s lying across the other one,’
We both spoke together.
‘Sorry, just easier than he, she or the horrible it.’
Oh you cow. That should be a sackable offence in the scanning room.
‘It’s too early to tell, and they’re face to face anyway, blocking my view. You’ll need another scan in a few weeks, we might see more if they’ve moved. Two strong heartbeats though.’
She pointed out the two tiny movements, more proof that our babies were alive and, well not quite kicking, not yet, but just being fucking amazing. These babies had the best beating hearts any human had ever had, it was obvious. They were going to be world champions at pumping blood round their bodies.
I tore my eyes away from the screen to peek at Lau, who was gazing, spellbound, at the image.
I looked, spellbound, my brief panic receding to a tiny shudder.
‘Matt, there he is, there’s Philpotts. Or she. And his brother. Or sister. I can’t believe it.’
‘I know. Fuck me, he’s beautiful. He’s got your eyes, Lau.’
I looked up at him.
‘You daft sod. She’s got your bum.’
‘Where’s her bum? You so can’t see her bum.’
Po-faced radiographer made a reappearance, obviously not appreciating our quick turnaround from fucking freaksters to blithe banterers.
‘If I could just point out some of the things we can see? We can make a video and collect a couple of stills if you like.’
‘Whoa, Lau, we can bore everyone rigid for bluhdy hours. Major payback Dec an Amy.’
I looked at him with an eyebrow raised at his gleeful smugness. He pretended to be repentant.
‘An of course a wonderful keepsake, not jus a way to score points, that’s what I meant to say.’
Now it felt like we’d just got over a major crisis, I was jubilant, and my mood sky-rocketed. We were shown a few features, re-visited the heartbeats, saw an arm, a leg, both heads, and a few minutes later we left, clutching a CD, several copies of a black and white image, and another appointment.
Lau needed a pee before we left, as she’d drunk a zillion gallons of water before the ultrasound, as instructed, so I waited for her in the car. When she got in, she breathed a huge sigh before turning to look at me. I was, I swear, literally grinning from ear to ear, and this time I wasn’t having to make an effort.
‘How am I freaking less than you, Lau?’
‘You’re all out of freak. I’ve still got a large supply. And you’re not going to be the one pushing two babies out of your wee hole in quick succession.’
I hadn’t thought about that aspect. I was never going to have to worry about how to squeeze one person out of my reproductive organs, let alone two.
‘Ouch. Shit, Lau, didn’t think. No wonder yuh freaked. Is that wha it was about?’
‘No, not really. I was just overwhelmed at the thought of two. Two, Matt. We’re going to have to be so organised, we’re going to be so tired, you need your sleep.’
Oh, she was trying to protect me again. I loved her for it, but it wasn’t necessary, not now I was well on my way back to not being a fucking cripple.
‘Now who’s being a daft sod? By the time they come, I’ll be back tuh normal. If I’m not, or if ih comes back again, we’ll cope. People wih worse problems cope wih babies, don’t they. We can make use of my interfering family, let them help for a change, shock them all.’
And you know what? I actually meant it. We could ask for help. I could even imagine it, calling Beth and saying ‘you couldn’t give us a hand with the twins, could you?’, or some such shit.
‘Get out a minute.’
‘Get out of the car. I want to hold yuh, but I don’t want the gear stick in my balls.’
Lau pretended I was exasperating her, but I think she wanted to be held as much as I wanted to hold her.
Rolling my eyes in mock exasperation, I got out of the car. Matt trotted round to where I was standing and folded me up in his arms, burying his face in my hair and pulling me close. I felt myself relax, feeling comforted by the physical closeness. I wasn’t going to have to do this alone, I wasn’t going to have to help Matt through it all, we were going to do it together. It would be alright. Better than alright, it would be wonderful.
I could feel her relax, could almost feel her gaining strength from me. It was about time I did that for her; Lau had been my strength all these months and now it was her turn.
‘Lau, we can do this. Tha was fucking amazing, seeing them, they’re bloody real.’
I moved one arm so my hand was stroking her belly, then wanted to talk to them, so knelt down and put my mouth next to my hand.
‘Hey, babies. You little tinkers, playing hide an seek. Found yuh! Philpotts, yuh should have told us there was another one.’
I looked up at Lau.
‘We need another name. Philpotts an …’
Lau shook her head.
‘No more names, not until we choose real ones. They can both be Philpotts.’
I suppose I could see her point. I turned my mouth back to her belly.
‘Your mum has spoken. Yuh both get the cool name. No fighting in there.’
It really felt like they were real, now. We’d seen them, they were growing, stretching Lau’s abdomen, their hearts were beating. It was the most awesome feeling. I felt Lau’s hand in my hair, and I stood up to kiss her.
‘Shit, Lau, I don’t know what it is, but it’s stopped me freaking. I’m back to excited as fuck. Let’s go an tell everyone.’
Maybe the freaking would return, but for now I wanted to share this with everyone, wanted them all to be as excited as I was.
Freak out, le freak c’est chic (Chic)
So included in the general ‘here are all the stories, try and make them all smush together, Iz’ package, there were several letters Matty wrote to his progeny. I thought about just adding them at the end, but I think it works better if I add them in at the time in the story when they were written. Matty introduced them like this:
Hey fruit of my loins (is that too embarrassing to think about? Are you going all ‘bleurgh, Daaaad, that’s like sooo groooosss’? Hope so!). These are just for you, I promised myself I’d give them to you one day, but it always seemed a bit, oh I don’t know, self-indulgent, and what if you hated them? But now I’m not going to know if you hated them or not, having left them to you posthumously and all, so I’m going to make you read them anyway. You’ve got to, last wishes are legally binding.
It all started when you were first on your way, just a handful of cells, and it set me off on my journey of freaking out about being a dad. It has been a looong and freeeeaky journey. Enjoy.
Oh, Philpotts is what we called you before you were born. Cool womb name, huh? Yeah, thought so. Tell your mother, she thought I was mad.
One more thing, then I’ll let you get on. I have given each letter a title based on song lyrics. You might not recognise them, as you are both cruelly disparaging of my sublime taste in music, but I assure you they are all bona fide lyrics, although not necessarily the title of the song. I implore you to find these fine songs on my iTunes and listen to them
And here’s the first one:
Freak out, le freak c’est chic (Chic)
Dear Philpotts – shit, that sounds very formal from a dad to a son. And I probably shouldn’t be saying ‘shit’ to you, being so young, but if I’m going to be your dad, you’d probably better get used to it. And to your mum telling me off about it.
Anyway, Philpotts, you’re not even here in the world yet, and you’ve changed my life forever. I’m a bit scared of you – well, I suppose not of you, you’re only a few centimetres tall so I could beat you in a fight no problem, but of what you represent; I’m scared because nothing’s ever going to be the same now, and I suspect, if you’re any good at your job, you’re going to go on changing my life. I thought I was good at surprises and being spontaneous, but I’ve found out I’m only good at spontaneity when I’m in control of it. You’ve come along so fast, I feel pretty damn out of control (I hope you and your mum noticed I said ‘damn’ and not ‘fucking’, which is what I wanted to say, but thought I’d better not).
Philpotts, you’ve been responsible for some radical changes the last couple of weeks. You won’t have ever known me as anyone other than your dad, who is married to your mum. But until recently I’ve been a very different person, someone who was never going to settle down and have a family, who would have, and often did, run for it pretty damn (see? Still not saying ‘fucking’) sharpish from anyone who even thought very quietly to themselves about ‘tying me down’. That’s not to say I wasn’t tied up a few times, but that’s neither here nor there, and maybe something I shouldn’t be discussing with you before you’re old enough. I’d like to think I’m going to be such a cool dad that we’ll be able to talk about it one day, though. I wouldn’t want all my experience to go to waste. But I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah, not settling down and all that shit.
But then I met your mum, and I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life with her. You know when you just know? Oh, right, you probably don’t yet, not being born and all, although you probably feel the same way about her – she is pretty great, and she is your mum after all. Anyway, as soon as I met her, I knew that sooner or later she was going to be tying me down, although we haven’t actually tried that yet and it’s on my ‘to do’ list, but let’s not go there right now. And so when, almost two weeks ago, she told me you were on your way, I didn’t freak, well not after the first few seconds, because I knew it would happen one day, it was what we both wanted so much. And why not that day, rather than any other day in the future?
I was so happy, I still am, and it seemed exactly the right thing for me and your mum to get married, so that we were your proper mum and dad before you arrived. I didn’t freak then, but I have been freaking a bit since, because I’ve had time to think about how different everything is going to be.
Things that will have to change: a) we’re going to have to move house, because this flat is too small for you and all your stuff; b) I’m not going to get much sleep, and I really need my sleep; c) things are going to be a lot more messy than I like; d) but most of all, you’ll be here.
I’ve just got used to your mum being here, and I love it, I love her. And I was worried you might mess all that up, and things would be different between me and her because of you, but I’ve been up half the night thinking about it, and I think, yeah, of course things will be different, how could they be the same, there will be three of us instead of two, but she’s still your mum, and I still fucking love her so fucking much (sorry, ‘damn’ just didn’t seem the right word), and I already love you, and I really can’t wait to see you. OK, I am strongly opposed to misuse of the word ‘literally’, but I literally can’t wait to see you. I want to fast forward to when you’re here, so I know what you look like, how you sound, how you feel in my arms. I’m so looking forward to holding you, looking at you, talking to you, playing with you, watching you sleep, even changing your nappy.
Ah, and then I freak a little bit again, because I’ve just gone too far, too big, and it all feels a bit much to think about. Get used to it, Philpotts, your dad’s a fuck-up. He freaks at the bloody stupidest of things. But always remember, he loves you, and he loves your mum, and he’s never, ever going to leave you, no matter how much he freaks.
So, just to recap, you’re on your way, hurrah, freak, love you. Oh, that looks like I’m calling you a freak. No. That would be me.
Your freaking dad
Matthew Robert Scott BSc Hons
In which it’s good to be home.
The next three days were wonderful. It felt like we’d got our various frustrations and stresses out of our systems, and relaxed into a good mix of sightseeing and staying in.
Our hotel was luxurious, with full spa facilities, and it was no hardship to spend lazy mornings there, but with all of Paris at hand, we made sure we spent time dining out, seeing things like the Louvre, and going to smaller, tucked away places to experience what Matt decided to call ‘le Paris de Scott’ – little cafés and patisseries we would always remember as special to us.
With limited time to explore, we made a hit list of things we wanted to do, and mixed this with some lounging around in the hotel’s outstanding spa.
We went to the Louvre, bypassed the huge queue for the Mona Lisa and stood for some time in front of Monet’s huge canvasses, whose colours and vibrancy were stunning. We wandered around the smaller streets finding small boutiques and patisseries, drinking the best coffee I’d ever tasted and eating wickedly delicious pastries. A couple of places we went to several times, and our favourite café was also a bistro, where we ate in the evening. Lau wasn’t man enough to try escargots. Ha, I wasn’t stupid enough. I’d tried them before, when we’d been on a huge family holiday, and was in no hurry to repeat the experience.
We could have spent our time rushing here, there and everywhere, trying to see everything and getting frustrated, but we decided that was stupid, and we’d be better off just doing what we felt like. The important thing was we were together; we could have been in Margate, and would have had an equally good time. Which I suppose brings me back to the shit that was at the back of my mind, but I was ignoring that, and so I just enjoyed myself.
Neither of us could quite believe it when Tuesday morning arrived and we were going home. I was even prepared to admit that I’d had an awesome time, and that I would like to thank those responsible for organising it. It must have been a life-changing experience.
All too soon, it was Tuesday morning and we had to catch our flight home. As the plane touched down in the city airport, and the doors opened, I smelt the air of home, and everything I had to look forward to here came rushing back. I gripped Matt’s hand and smiled up at him.
‘We’re home. Tomorrow, we find out when Philpotts is due, and we can start making plans.’
She seemed delighted to be back, and I suppose I’d missed home too. I was certainly looking forward to getting back to the flat, my cave, my bolthole. I just wanted the circus to stop, now. It had been a furiously hectic week or so, and I’d forgotten that Lau’s scan was booked for tomorrow, so although we’d be home, there was more excitement. It felt like it was never going to end. Finding out about the baby would be awesome, but a little bit of me groaned and put its head under the covers.
‘Oh yeah. Bloody hell, Philpotts is going tuh be a bit more real, isn’t he.’
We continued to refer to the baby as ‘he’, but although I hadn’t said anything to Matt, or anyone else, I just had a feeling the baby was a girl. I couldn’t have told you why, what it was that made me feel it, I was just certain. Maybe tomorrow we’d know more, although it was likely to be a bit early.
We got home and sank down on the sofa, both breathing big sighs. I automatically got my phone out of my pocket, ready to text everyone, but then realised what a commotion that would cause. Beth would call, I’d need to talk to Dec and Amy, people would want to see us. So I put the phone back in my pocket. Lau noticed and raised an eyebrow, it being unheard of for me to put my phone away if I didn’t need my hands for something else.
‘Don’t wana tell them we’re home yet, they’ll want us to go round, or come here, see pictures, tell them how great they are fuh thinking of it.’
‘Well, they are pretty great.’
‘Yeah, I know, buh just wana … catch my breath. It’s been mad, soh mad, the last couple of weeks.’
I knew Lau was tuned in to how I was feeling, she always was. She also seemed to know when to push me to talk and when to leave it alone, and this time she left it. I’m not saying I always agreed with her judgements, just that she was usually, in hindsight, right. Bet you never thought you’d hear me say that, eh Lau?
I was sensing that undercurrent, the one that hadn’t really left since we argued in Paris, but we’d been too busy having a romantic honeymoon to examine. I really didn’t want to get into a deep and meaningful as soon as we got back, and highly doubted Matt would be up for it either, at least not without a bit of a run-up. So I let it go for now.
‘Cup of teh?’
I got up and went into the kitchen, filling the kettle and getting the mugs out. I saw a note on the counter.
‘Oh, yes please, Paris can do coffee, but I’m proper gagging for a cup of honest English tea. Oh, we haven’t got any milk though.’
‘Yeah, that’s what I thought. Look.’
I held up the note.
Hello Matty and Laura
Hope you’ve had a wonderfully romantic time in gay Paree. Just to save you having to go out again, I’ve brought a few things over. Milk, bread, just the essentials that might have gone off while you were away.
Call me as soon as you’re back!
It was really thoughtful, and it pissed me right off.
‘I’m seriously gona get my keys back, ih’s out of order coming in here an –’
‘Doing something nice like make sure we’ve got milk. Yeah, bad form. It looks like she’s put more water in the flowers, and taken some of the dead ones out so they don’t smell, too. What a cow.’
‘Yeah, but you know wha I mean, there was all the business with packing our cases, I mean, the holiday was great, buh not sure ih’s OK for them to jus come in whenever they bluhdy feel like ih, do whatever they want. It’s a privacy thing. Who knows wha they migh have found in my bloody wardrobe.’
It was the principle, rather than the act itself, that was pissing me off. It made me feel like a child, that they a) needed to have a key, and b) thought they could just waltz in and do stuff without question. I could possibly see why it had been necessary when I was in the throes of the bastard MS, on my own, and thinking about ending it all. But I’d been better for months, and I had Lau now.
‘You’re right, it would have been terrible if they’d found that manky pair of gym shorts. Maybe you just need to have a chat with – who did you say had your keys? Jay and Dec? Make some rules.’
‘Yeah, maybe. Or jus get the keys back. Ih’s not like they need them any more, I’m OK now, an you’re here. I haven’t got Jay’s key, gave it back when I moved out.’
‘Dec’s still got one.’
Summers might be a law unto himself, but I had principles.
‘Tha’s up to him, or them, but I always ring the bell. I’d never jus barge in unless they knew I was coming.’
‘Fair enough. Let’s have a word next time we see them.’
Lau was being my grounded voice of reason again. I was trying my hardest to get her to be outraged too, but it wasn’t working.
‘Yeah, it’s your place too, you should have a say in who can come and go.’
I handed her a mug of tea.
‘OK – oh, thanks flower, just what I need. Beth didn’t leave any biscuits, did she?’
I rolled my eyes and went to look in the cupboard.
‘Yeah, chocolate digestives. I had a perfectly good stash of biccies, noh need for that. Here you go.’
I tossed her the packet.
‘Perfect. Now come here and rub my feet.’
‘OK, bossy cow.’
And devious cow, Lau, as if I didn’t know you were trying to take my mind off it, cool me down.
‘Come on, you know you love it.’
‘Yeah, I know. I know wha you’re doing, though, you’re trying tuh distract me from ranting.’
‘Oh, you saw through me.’
She put on an innocent expression, as if we didn’t know the little game we played with each other, where I knew she usually knew what I was thinking, but let her get away with talking me down from whatever it was, I don’t know, work rant, Beth rant, world news rant, general Matt’s-a-git rant. Sometimes I let her get away with it, sometimes I called her on it, but I always let her do it.
‘Yeh, I always know. Works though. Feet please.’
I sat on the sofa and Lau put her feet in my lap, leaning against the back of the seat, sipping her tea. I took her feet and gave them a good, firm rub, making her sigh with pleasure. While I was massaging and zoning out, it popped into my head how they’d done it, how they’d organised the trip to Paris – our cases, passports, everything we’d needed. Beth knew where everything was, because she’d fetched it all for me when I went to Egypt post-Jules. I shook my head at the bare-faced cheek of using my misfortunes against me, nearly got myself riled up again, but found myself too relaxed by rubbing Lau’s feet to do so. I made a mental note to be less predictable about where I stored important items in future, and moved past it to focus on the beautiful woman succumbing to my firm and manly touch.
‘How about head an shoulders?’
I loved massaging Lau, loved feeling the tension slide away from her, loved the little noises she made when I hit a good spot. But she shook her head.
‘Maybe later, sounds great, but I think you’re a bit tense. How about I do your shoulders?’
I nearly denied it, the tension, but there was never much hiding it from Lau, and maybe some unknotting was what I needed. I nodded.
‘How can yuh tell?’
‘Just the way you’re holding yourself.’
I sat behind him and started to massage his shoulders. I could feel big knots start to unravel, and after a while I felt more confident that Matt was relaxed enough for a gentle enquiry.
‘Want to tell me?’
And I thought I’d been so good at keeping it from her, that back of my mind shit all the time we’d been away, the little dissatisfied, grumbling voices that were just taking the edge off what should be the happiest time of my life. But she was Lau, and she got me, and so of course she’d noticed.
He didn’t talk straight away, just sighed and made appreciative noises. I hoped he might unravel his tongue, too, but didn’t hold my breath. Matt only ever talked when he was ready, and much as I wanted to get at the underlying strangeness, I knew better than to push him. He might not say anything now, but he knew I was there when he wanted to talk. After a while, sooner than I expected, I heard a deep breath, and felt him gather himself to speak.
I knew I would tell her, but I just sat leaning against her for a while, feeling safe with her, thinking about what was going on with me. Then, when I’d worked it out properly, I told her.
‘I’m freaking, aren’t I.’
Lau stopped massaging, and folded her arms round the front of me, laying her head against my shoulder, and nuzzling into my neck.
‘Are you? What about?’
I tried to keep my tone light and conversational, rather than probing.
She sounded vaguely interested, not inquisitional, and hit just the right note to make me want to carry on spilling.
‘Everything. Jus had a dose of realihy. Well, not jus. Back in Paris. When we rowed. Before then. I’m married. We’re married. Fucking married. Lau, this sounds terrible, but ih’s like everything I’ve been trying to escape the last few years, an now here I am, married, baby on the way. Shit. Sorry, sorry Lau, I don’t mean … I want it, I want it all, with yuh, but I feel out of control. It was soh quick, I hardly had time to think, I got caught up in it all an then …’
As the words were coming out, in a bit of a rush, I realised how it must sound to Lau, and I was scrambling to try to say it in a way that didn’t make it sound like –
‘Are you regretting it?’
I always found that asking a direct question got the best results with Matt. He turned to face me, and I moved from behind him to beside him, so I could look into his big grey eyes and see what he wasn’t telling me. He shook his head.
So that worked well. Lau always asked those sorts of questions so matter of factly, like it wouldn’t have upset her at all if I’d said ‘yeah I wish I hadn’t married you’ or some such shit. But that wasn’t what I’d been going to say, and despite the casual way she asked, I needed to reassure her.
I turned to face her, and as Lau moved from behind me to beside me, I looked into her eyes and shook my head, so she’d know I was sincere.
‘No, fuck no, Lau, I don’t regret any of it, it’s what I’ve wanted, and to do it with you is fucking amazing. You know wha I’m like, I don’t like people taking control, doing stuff for meh, helping meh. We’ve talked about it before, when I was ill, I didn’t realise how much I didn’t like it for other stuff too. With Beth doing all the wedding planner bit, it just got bigger than I could handle, and then when they changed the hotel, I was pissed off, but felt guilty for bein pissed off, then when you wanted to go out, in Paris, I was all ‘I’m doing this my way’ an I jus took it too far. I don’t feel like we sorted it. Yeah, we made up, had a great time, but bloody hell, Lau, I told yuh to fuck off. Tha’s not OK.’
‘No, I guess it isn’t, really, but we were both tired and emotional.’
I was surprised – I’d thought we had sorted it all out. I’d sensed something, some kind of thing that needed sorting, but hadn’t realised that there was more to our argument than both of us feeling the after-effects of a stressful week. I honestly hadn’t given a second thought, after Matt’s apology, to him telling me to fuck off.
I could have taken that, and let her accept some of the blame, but the more I’d thought about it, the more it felt like it was only really down to me, when it came to it.
‘Noh, I’m not gona let you let me off. We’re both stubborn, we’re gona bash heads again, I need to feel like I can control myself. This being married thing, I love ih, I love you, I’m just being an arse. I don’t wana fuck ih up.’
‘So what exactly are you freaking about?’
I was quiet for a moment as I tried to pinpoint exactly what it was that was simmering down there.
‘I think … I feel … not in control of things. We’re married. I can’t change it. I don’t wana, Lau, but if I did, I couldn’t, not without huge shit going on.’
‘Do you wish we’d waited a bit?’
He looked away from me, breathing in deeply, and I knew without him telling me what his reply was.
Whoa, how did she do it? She could just get right to the heart of what I was feeling before I even knew it myself.
‘Maybe a bit of me does. But no, Lau, I’ve loved it, most of me has loved this crazy week, baby, wedding, us, Paris, I’ve never had such a fucking mad amazing time in my life.’
He wasn’t being completely straight with me. He was telling me what he thought I wanted to hear, what he wanted to feel, so I tried some more honesty.
‘Part of me wishes we’d waited.’
How did she manage it? Just say shit? Without having it dragged out of her by a team of enormous horses?
‘Yeah, just a part of me. I’ve loved it too, the madness, but a tiny bit wishes I’d had time to savour it, plan things myself, not be so reliant on other people being amazing.’
The relief washed over his face, as he realised it was alright to say it.
And there we had it, what it was all about, for me as well as Lau. Matt was feeling his life spinning out of his control, in the way life does, and he didn’t like it, and so instead of acknowledging it, he had to have a freak and make life bloody difficult for all and sundry.
‘Oh Lau, tha’s what I feel. I’m so happy, but it’s just a tiny bit tha’s saying ‘we could have waited an done it differently’, tha’s all.’
The more I thought about it and talked about it, the tinier it became. Having it sitting there festering at the back of my mind had been making it a bigger deal than it was, and now it was out there, it didn’t really seem worth the effort of freaking.
‘But we didn’t really have a choice, did we. We wanted to do it this way. Life’s not always about plans and arrangements, sometimes it’s about what happens to you and how you respond to it. I think we responded pretty well. Maybe it’s just catching up with us a bit. We need to give ourselves time to get used to it. Nothing should change, really, well, except we’re having a baby in … whenever. Oh Matt, that’s what I’m having trouble getting my head round. I almost keep forgetting. How can I forget?’
She looked stricken, and I stroked her cheek, and reminded myself that I wasn’t the only one for whom things were moving at breakneck speed.
‘Maybe getting married jus took up so much time the last week, there wasn’t time tuh think about it.’
And that was the truth of the matter. Wonderful and crazy as the last week had been, it hadn’t given us time to think about the baby who was coming to change our lives really, really soon. I was going to be a mother; Matt and I were going to have to look after a baby, keep her safe, be responsible.
‘Yeah, maybe. I want to think about it, though, this is something we have got time to plan for. I don’t want to get there, and suddenly there’s a baby and we haven’t got any stuff, or made any room for her, or –’
‘Wait, her? Philpotts is a boy, weh agreed.’
‘I know you think he’s a boy, Matt, but … I just feel she’s a girl.’
If the baby turned out to be a girl, I was going to have to do some major readjusting. For example, it was highly unlikely she was going to captain a victorious Spurs team to three successive Premier League titles. But I needed to focus on Lau.
‘I guess we might know tomorrow, but, anyway, my point is, I think, we got married really fast, and it was great, it is great, it was right. But I want us to have lots of time to think about Philpotts, get used to him or her, not freak when it happens. I think being married won’t make much difference to us, do you? We always said ‘holding hands forever’, we both said that in our vows, it’s just we’ve got a piece of paper saying it officially, and some photos of you wearing a kilt and showing your best bits to the world. Nothing should change between us. I just want to make sure we’ve thought about the baby.’
I looked at her, took her hand, kissed her fingers, trying to show how much I wanted to hold her, protect her, support her and love her. She’d got to the heart of my shit, and now I thought I might have got to the heart of hers, too. Sometimes I was as good at reading her as she was at reading me.
‘Are yuh telling me you’re freaking too?’
Lau laughed as she recognised the truth.
‘Yeah, I guess I am. Maybe about different things, but yeah, a fair amount of freaking going on.’
‘Ha ha, we’re a couple of freaks. Oh Lau, tha makes me feel better. We should freak together more often. Sorry, tho. I feel like I spoilt our honeymoon.’
‘You daft sod. You’re just looking for reassurance now. You know we had an amazing time. I’m glad we sorted this out, though. Matt, I know you’re not always comfortable talking about what’s on your mind, but please tell me, if you can, when something’s freaking you.’
Anyone else trying to cajole me into telling all when I was stressing would have been on a hiding to nothing, but this woman, my Lau, it was as if she was my security blanket, and everything I usually worried about when I was trying not to talk about shit just didn’t matter.
I could only keep reassuring him that it was always going to be alright to tell me how he was feeling. I don’t know where he got his ‘keep it all to myself’ ideas from, and I doubted I’d ever get him to be completely up front, but I was determined to tell him he was safe with me as much as I could.
‘I know, Lau, I know. I can talk to yuh better than anyone, even Dec, an he’s usually the one I bother at some ungodly hour, but I don’t always know what I’m thinking until I blow, then I feel guilty, then I think about why I blew, then I try to make it righ. I know it’s the wrong way round. I’ll try to realise when I’m freaking. Yuh can tell me too. We can have little freak parties, jus you an me.’
‘Partying might be just what we need. How about some non-alcoholic fruit juice, healthy snacks, and some womb music?’
‘Whoa, Lau, you’re jus goin wild. I can’t keep up.’
‘I know. Hold on to your hat, it’s going to be a crazy ride.’
‘Ha ha. I love you, Lau.’
‘I love you too.’
And so, finally, it was gone, that annoying niggle that had been underlying everything. If only I could say I learned from it, and that every time something bothered me from that day on, I just talked to Lau about it and life went smoothly. Ha fuckety ha.
And that sorted it. That thing that had been at the back of my mind since that first morning in Paris was gone. That didn’t mean everything was going to be perfect, far from it; in many ways Matt and I were still getting to know each other. Moving in together had shown us that we’d been pretty efficient at showing off our good sides to each other, and the coming months were going to be challenging as we stopped trying so hard. But if we managed to keep talking, and face what was bothering us, we stood a chance, more than a chance. Matt was complicated, and I wasn’t always easy to live with. The positives were that we loved each other and we made an effort to sort things out when they cropped up.
Something had just occurred to me.
‘I’m gona have to call Dec, see if Amy’s had Splodge yet.’
‘Surely they’d have told us?’
Possibly, but apart from replying to my ‘thank you’ texts, I hadn’t heard from any of them while we’d been away; some kind of Beth-imposed radio silence I assumed.
‘I suppose. Would they have, though? They might have thought we’d come back early.’
‘Would we have?’
That was a tricky one. There would have been no reason to rush back just because Amy was giving birth. She was more than capable of doing so without us.
‘Dunno. Maybe not. I was first there, tho, after Charlie was born. Set a precedent. Maybe I should just give them a quick ring? Text?’
Matt was worrying away at himself, wanting to call but not wanting to let any of his family know how much he wanted to talk to them.
‘Matt, it’s fine, if you want to call or whatever, just do it. You don’t have to justify it.’
And there she was again, calling me on shit.
‘I know. I’m being an arse. I jus spend half my life moaning abou them not leaving me alone, then as soon as I’m away I can’t wait tuh call. Needy or wha?’
‘You know what you are?’
‘A daft sod?’
It was Lau’s favourite thing to call me when I was being bloody ridiculous.
It was my favourite thing to call him. Just the right amount of almost-swearing to make it a fondly loving insult.
‘A daft sod. Just do what makes you happy, don’t tie yourself up in knots trying to work out why you’re doing it.’
He thought about it for a bit. I could see his inner struggle; it was always going to be there, his conflict between needing his family and not wanting to need them. This time, his need for them won. He picked up his phone and pressed a number, and I saw his whole body relax as Dec picked up.
It wasn’t just that I was looking for justification; I really was torn between calling them to find out what the news was, and having an evening of peace, here with Lau, letting the aftermath of the last week settle around us. But much as I would hate to admit it to anyone, it felt weird to not be in touch with them, to not know what was going on with all of them. In the end, I just needed to know, and I called Dec.
‘The honeymooner returns. Hey mate.’
‘Are you back then?’
‘Yeah, been back for a bih.’
‘Did you have a good time – don’t give me any details.’
‘Yeah, had a fucking awesome time.’
‘Sounds about right. I did say no details though. How’s Lau?’
‘Hasn’t she got the scan soon?’
I wondered if Beth had primed him with questions in case I called him instead of her, as Dec would not usually have been aware of things like dates for scans. Amy had had to programme all of her appointments and important dates into his phone so he didn’t miss them.
‘Shit, so you’ll know boy or girl, yeah? Maybe a date?’
It was weird talking about baby stuff with Dec. I always forgot he was more than ten years younger than me, but never thought of him as someone who had been through nearly two whole pregnancies with Amy, and knew a lot more about it than I did.
‘Yeah, I guess, haven’t had time tuh think about it.’
‘Well tomorrow should sort that. You’re going with Lau, aren’t you?’
‘Yeh. Yuhr obviously not in the labour ward.’
‘Oh, well, we were, Friday night, after the party, Ames was having full on bloody contractions, all the screaming and swearing started, we were all set, Rose came over, but when we got there they just sent us home.’
‘Oh, rehly? Fuck, is she OK?’
‘Yeah, they said it was Braxton Hicks, like fake contractions. It’s all quiet at the moment. Still waiting.’
It would take a lot to fluster Dec into panicking.
‘Oh, jus a false alarm then.’
‘Yeah, but Ames is bloody pissed off. She’s well fed up with waiting, she can hardly get up. Or sit down.’
‘Yeah, I bet, bloody hell.’
‘Matt, now you’re back, would you … I hope you don’t mind me asking, but if Rose can’t come over for some reason when it all happens, can we call you?’
I loved that he asked, that I was second in line, that he didn’t care that only a few months ago I was a fucking cripple who couldn’t be trusted not to drop his daughter.
‘Yeah, course, but no way is Rose gona miss it.’
There would have to be some kind of earthquake that opened up a ravine between Rose’s flat and Dec’s house for her not to be there.
‘You’ll do it? Might be middle of the night.’
‘Yeah, you know I will, second stand-by or whatever.’
‘Thanks mate. Are we going to get to see the happy couple anytime soon?’
I immediately wanted to go round there, open a few beers, see him and Amy and Charlie, but a larger part of me still wanted to relax here with Lau, just for tonight.
‘Sure, weh’ll call in tomorrow after Lau’s had the scan.’
I raised my eyebrows at Lau to check; she nodded.
‘Great. I’m training in the morning, but come and see Ames, she’d love it. Assuming there’s no other news.’
‘Yeh, let us know.’
‘I’ll wait till a reasonable hour.’
Of course you will Dec, like that ever happened.
‘No, don’t worry about tha, any time, jus call or text, we’d like tuh know.’
‘Will do, then mate.’
‘OK, see you tomorrow, hopefully. Cheers mate. Bye.’
As conversations go, it was pretty standard, but reconnecting with my family had made me feel kind of secure. While we were away, I’d felt somewhat adrift, and recognising that now felt weird, suddenly knowing how much they all meant to me. I turned to Lau.
‘Amy had some Braxton-Hicks thingies yesterday. Got all the way tuh the maternity unit, sent her home. Called Rose over for Charlie, everything. False alarm. Still waiting.’
I could see that the security that contact with his family gave him had returned. I hadn’t realised it had gone, while we were away, but seeing it back made me realise just how vital they all were to him. I doubted he even realised himself.
‘Is she OK?’
‘Yeah, jus fed up I think. Sure it’s OK tuh call round tomorrow?’
‘Yeah, that’d be good. We should go and see Jay and Beth too, maybe our mums. Do a bit of a tour?’
‘Shit, I suppose so. Not today, tho. Migh phone them all, but I jus wana be here with you. Come here, not had a proper welcome home yet.’
I shuffled over on the sofa, and folded Lau up in my arms, pulled her onto my lap, then leaned down to kiss her, softly, lips roaming over hers, slipping my tongue into her mouth and flickering it across hers. Before long, my hands had found their way under her shirt and undone her bra, because, well, when you’ve got a hot girl on your lap it’s rude not to, and I squeezed and stroked her breasts, feeling the changes in them.
‘Lau, I think you’re getting bigger every day. Are yuh sore?’
‘A bit. Don’t squeeze too hard.’
‘Sorry. Didn’t mean to hurt you. You’re jus so fucking sexy.’
Lau sighed and sat back against me, allowing me to touch and feel, but not seeming to have the energy to respond.
‘Yeah, that’s lovely, flower, but I’m wiped. Don’t stop.’
I didn’t need more than one invitation. I carried on touching, gently stroking her, then bent my head down, lifted up her shirt and put my mouth to her nipple, sucking gently. Lau sighed and stretched her arms above her head, looking content, and I looked up into her eyes. Then it suddenly felt weird. These were the breasts that our baby was going to be sucking on in a few months time, in the same way I was doing but for a very different reason. Shit. Weird. I pulled her shirt down and sat up.
‘Hey, you stopped.’
‘Yeah, jus had a weird thought, didn’t seem right.’
‘What weird thought?’
‘Well, Philpotts is going to be using these for food soon. Not sure ih’s right to be perving on them.’
‘You weren’t perving. They’re dual purpose. Business and pleasure. And until Philpotts is actually here, all pleasure. Definitely pleasure.’
I knew Lau was disappointed that I’d stopped, but I needed to sort out the weirdness.
‘Yeah. Think I need to get my head round ih a bit first. Sorry Lau. Normal service will be resumed when Matt stops being a fucking mad freak-out.’
I leaned forwards, dejected. Playing with Lau’s awesome boobs was one of life’s little pleasures, and for the time being I was putting them out of bounds. Lau leaned towards me and put her arm round my shoulder, pulling me towards her.
‘It’s OK, flower. All this is taking some getting used to. Everything’s changing really quickly, it’s a bit full-on.’
‘Sorry, Lau. I’m jus a fuck-up. Keep freaking on you.’
I couldn’t believe it, less than half an hour after the last one, here was another freak incident fucking with my head.
‘As long as you’re freaking on me and not going all quiet, I can handle it. It’s when you stop talking I don’t know what to do.’
I turned my head and looked at her. God I loved this woman so much. Whatever I threw at her, she coped with. She made me so happy. But what was happening to both of us was scary. In a few months, before we’d really got to know each other properly, we were going to be parents, and everything was going to have to change. Everything was going to have to change before then, really. It was never-ending. I was scared.
He turned his head and looked at me. I could see all sorts of emotions flickering through his big grey eyes – love was there, happiness too, but he was scared, maybe of the big things like being married, being a father, maybe of smaller things like the ways we were both going to have to change in a relatively short space of time. He may not even have known exactly what it was he was afraid of, and he wasn’t going to tell me about it just now.
‘Matt, I love you so much. Don’t forget, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I’m holding your hand. I’ll never stop.’
‘I know, Lau. Me too.’
He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face and then, inevitably, through his hair, making it all stick out.
‘Fuck, I need tuh do something, stop me bloody moping. What am I bloody well thinking? Here I am, world’s most gorgeous woman by my side, an I’m fucking freaking. Get a bloody grip, Matt Scott.’
‘Fancy going out? Get something for tea?’
It was awesomely right, spot on.
‘Going out sounds jus the thing. We haven’t been to the deli for ages – let’s get a coffee out and bring back some bits and pieces. Hahv a picnic at home?’
‘Great idea. Does the deli do cheese and onion crisps?’
‘Maybe bluhdy expensive poncey ones – aged mature cheddar an caramelised shallot or some such shit.’
‘No, has to be Walkers. I’ve had a hankering since Friday, fat chance of getting any in France.’
‘OK, stop off at the corner shop, then deli. Come on, woman, what are you hanging around for? There are crave crisps to be had.’
My mood lightened as suddenly as it had dipped, maybe Lau’s hormonal mood swings were osmosing into me. We grabbed our coats and went out.
Our first evening in our flat as married people went pretty much as you would have expected. We ate, we watched some TV, we called a few people, we went to bed. Actually, that wasn’t as expected, as Lau was wiped and we just slept. First time for weeks that had happened, but extenuating circumstances were present. There was always tomorrow morning, our last chance before going back to work.
I woke up really early, and resisted touching Lau. She was tired, and it was about time I stopped pestering her for sex – yeah, like it was always me doing the pestering, but she was fast asleep, and I’d woken up with shit on my mind, and bloody annoyingly couldn’t get back to sleep. So I got up and tried to deal with it.
I’d tried to go back to sleep, but had ended up thinking about the baby, about what it meant, how things were going to change, what it might mean for Lau and me. It all started whirling round in my head, until I suddenly thought of something Adam had suggested the last time I saw him, a few weeks ago.
I got up, much earlier than I was used to, but sure that this was a way to stop the whirling and try to make my peace with this huge coming event, the thing I’d wanted in a hypothetical way, but now it was real was doing a pretty good job of sending me crazy.
I woke up the next morning feeling sick and apprehensive. It was still early, dark outside, and I felt chilly. I turned over to pull Matt towards me, but he wasn’t there and I saw light filtering through the gaps around the door from the lounge. It was unusual for Matt to be up early; he slept a lot, still needing to recuperate, and on days off he was sometimes still in bed close to lunch time. I slipped out of bed and opened the door. He was sitting on the sofa, laptop open, typing. He looked up as I came into the room.
‘Hey Lau. Sorry, didn’t mean tuh wake you up. Jus been writing a letter.’
‘I don’t think you woke me up. I didn’t hear anything. Didn’t sleep very well, feeling a bit sick. It’s a bit early for you, isn’t it?’
‘Couldn’t sleep either. Big day, stuff on my mind. Fancy some ginger tea?’
While we were in France, we’d discovered that ginger tea was great for helping Lau’s sicky feeling.
‘Thanks, that would be great. Are you still freaking, then?’
‘I was, a bih, but I jus wrote a letter to Philpotts, an it really helped. Who’d have thought that bloody psychologists know what they’re bluhdy well talking about?’
‘Adam told you to write it?’
‘Yeah, kind of, last time I saw him, we talked about all kinds of shit, it was just a suggestion for when I’m trying to work stuff out, I didn’t know about Philpotts. Wana see?’
I gestured at the laptop. Lau looked like she was battling between having a nosy and thinking it was private.
I really wanted to have a look, but it felt like an intensely personal thing. I was touched he wanted to share it.
‘Are you sure? It feels a bit intimate.’
‘Come on, Lau, you can’t get much more intimate than you and me. Have a look.’
It was true. We’d never said ‘no secrets’ because we didn’t want to get all stressed about surprises and presents and shit, and hey, Lau, if we’d said that then none of this monstrously long story would have got done. I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
I pulled the laptop towards me and read.
In which a journey is commenced, a honeymoon embarked on, and bread products instigate a falling out.
The wind was still swirling, and Jay and I both had to hold onto our kilts to stop them revealing the full English. Which in our case would have been half Scottish.
‘I’ll go and geh a trolley for the bags.’
‘Can’t we just carry them?’
Ha, yeah right, Lau. Suitcase with wheels or not, my pregnant wife wasn’t going to be lifting more than a teaspoon for the foreseeable.
‘No, Lau, you’re not carrying anything. Jay’ll get the stuff out of the car, wait there till I geh back, won’t be long.’
I headed off in search of a trolley, regretting that I hadn’t put my boxers back on. The wind had really got up, and there was no way I was going to be able to push a trolley and hold the kilt down at the same time. Baring my arse to family and friends was one thing; to an airport full of strangers was another. And all the groping in the car had created an added dimension to my frontage, which meant that any exposure was likely to be seen as indecent at best.
Jay got the bags out of the boot, and we stood and looked at each other awkwardly for a few seconds.
‘Thanks for this, Jay. Sorry you ended up in a kilt all evening.’
He grinned. ‘I don’t really mind. Matty likes it if he thinks he’s pissed me off. Little brother thing. I hope you’ve had a good day.’
I smiled to myself at the dysfunctional way these two men communicated with each other, in jibes and digs and pretending not to care.
‘I’ve had the most amazing day. Thanks for all your hard work.’
‘Oh, I didn’t have much to do. Wear a skirt, remember a couple of rings, drive, do a speech. Pretty standard.’
‘We really appreciate it. Everyone’s been just incredible, at such short notice.’
‘It means a lot to Matty, although he’d never admit it, not to me, anyway. I’d do a lot to make him happy. Don’t tell him that.’
‘I won’t. Maybe you should.’
‘No, we’re fine as we are.’ He grinned again. ‘Men to the end, reveal feelings only when absolutely unavoidable.’
I tutted and rolled my eyes, but I knew Matt felt the same.
‘I know he thinks the world of you, Laura. A couple of years ago, I was starting to worry about him, thought he was heading for trouble the way he was going. He’s calmed down, had a few wake up calls, then when the MS came back I worried about him going the other way, but when he met you, he changed, you sparked something, he’s just so happy. I can’t believe he’s going to be a dad, though. He’s far too irresponsible. You’ll have to take complete charge, you know.’
‘He told me once he intended to be a great dad, no bedtime, no tellings off, completely cool.’
‘Ha ha, let’s see how long that lasts. He will be great, he’s great with Cal and Iz, he loves Charlie, I’m surprised it didn’t occur to him before that he wanted a family. I guess we all hide from inconvenient truths.’
I thought about how I’d hidden from my own inconvenient truth for several weeks, and nodded.
‘Oh, here he comes, fucking hell, he has no shame.’
Luckily, I didn’t meet anyone on the way, and I just took the bull by the horns, or rather the trolley by the handle, and kept my eyes to the front as I walked back to the car, the gusts blasting my kilt above my waist. My only strategy was to ignore it, pretend I didn’t give a shit, which I didn’t really. It was all part of today, when I didn’t really give a shit about anything, even Jay making me go to another country when I could have already been in bed with Lau.
As I got closer to the car, I saw Jay rolling his eyes at me.
‘Come on, then, load up, weh’ve got a honeymoon to start.’
Jay lifted the two suitcases onto the trolley.
‘Well, have a good time, you two, try to leave the hotel at least once while you’re there, bring us a plastic Eiffel Tower.’
‘You’ll beh lucky, me an Lau are gona beh closeted in our room making use of room service on your credit card till Tuesday. We’ll beh shagging each other’s brains out all day an night, too.’
‘Yeah, thanks for that mental image, Matty, I think it’s time you checked in. Have a great time, Laura. Try to make him behave himself.’
Jay hugged Lau, then me, which surprised me, and slapped me round the head, which didn’t. Then he got in the car and drove off as we headed to the terminal, both of us pushing the trolley so we could put our arms round each other. Although Lau’s arm slipped a bit so she could hold my kilt down with her free hand.
‘Lau, are you trying to feel my bum?’
‘Lovin your work.’
So we had an hour to kill in the small airport, along with the other passengers going to Paris for the weekend. First, I slipped into the gents and put a pair of boxers on, as I thought being arrested before we’d left the country might put a bit of a dampener on proceedings. Then, well I’d like to say we talked, perused the gifts in Duty Free, made plans for the next few days, but we just snogged our faces off. It may or may not have been apparent that we had just got married, didn’t really care, just wanted to kiss my wife for the foreseeable, and fuck off to all the people who gave us dirty looks and tutted and cleared their throats. Had they never been bat-shit crazy in love? Had they never been so happy with someone it was all they could do to keep their hands from wandering into arrestable-in-public areas? Apparently not.
Our flight was called, and we had to cease activities for the time being, as we boarded and took our seats. It would have been great to start again, but the seats were cramped, and the angles not really conducive without doing our backs in, and there was a really mardy looking woman sitting next to me who sighed loudly every time my elbow went a millimetre over her seat arm, so we contented ourselves with holding hands and looking deeply into each other’s eyes, talking about our day.
‘Whoa, Lau. Just … whoa. I can’t believe today. Ih’s been mental.’
‘But mental in a good way.’
‘Oh yeh, mental in a fucking awesome way. I can’t believe ih’s finished.’
‘Well it hasn’t finished yet.’
‘Noh, but I’m getting pretty knackered.’
I was, indeed, beginning to feel those bloody annoying tendrils of fatigue snaking around my consciousness. The tiredness didn’t creep up on me as quickly as it used to, but I wasn’t going to be up for much when we finally got to our hotel.
‘Me too, flower. I know that … this is really lame, but it’s been so exhausting – could we postpone, er, consummating our marriage, just for a few hours?’
I stroked her hair back from her face.
‘Course, Lau. Tuh be honest, I don’t know how much longer I’m gona be awake.’
‘And we both had late nights last night, well late for us.’
‘True. Hey, Lau, I never asked wha yuh did on yuhr hen night. Gang of male strippers? Naked karaoke? Any of ih on YouTube?’
‘Ha ha, if any of it got on YouTube it would have the lowest number of hits ever. We just had a meal, the girls had a lot of wine, they dressed me up in the standard gear – you know, L plate, tiara with veil – and gave us a lovely present.’
‘Year’s supply of chocolate knobs?’
This provoked a tut and a sigh from just beyond my right elbow, so, result.
‘Practical. Bit boring fuh hen night.’
‘Well I was a proper party pooper with not drinking and everything, I think I slightly spoiled their fun.’
‘I beh Kate was off her tits.’
‘Yeah, she still had a hangover this afternoon, I can’t see her making it to work on Monday.’
‘She’s a fucking animal. She scared the GreenScreen boys tuh death.’
‘Oh, is that why she was trying it on with Dec and Nico? Because your guys weren’t man enough for her?’
‘Fuck knows. I thought Lis was gona fight her at one point. Fuck, tha would have been hot … er, to the blokes who hadn’t just got married tuh the hottest girl on the planet, of course.’
I grimaced at her, and she gave me an outraged look and then laughed.
‘Your worky people seem nice, although that blonde woman – Lexi, is it? She’s a bit … er …’
‘Of a bitch. Yeh. Had tuh invite her, tho, or she tells Phil where yuh really are when yuh say yuhr meeting a client.’
‘It felt a bit like she was trying to … I don’t know … intimidate me a bit? By mentioning ‘the last one’, or whatever it was she said. I’m not sure I liked her doing that at my wedding.’
‘Noh. She’s a bitch, like I said. Sorry, Lau. Maybe I shouldn’t have invited her.’
I felt bad that I had been responsible for possibly the one thing that had spoiled Lau’s enjoyment of the day.
‘Oh don’t be daft. There’s always someone you’d rather not have had at your wedding, isn’t there. I’ll just think of her as a kind of mad aunty who no one wants to sit near on account of her whiskery kisses and smelly farts.’
‘Ha ha. Perfect. Tha’s the image I’ll always have when Lexi’s tryin tuh wind meh up. You’re awesome. Oh, I forgot tuh say. I lohv you.’
‘I love you. This has been the most incredible day. I still can’t get over how much work people must have done to get it all ready in time.’
I’d been thinking, in between snogging Lau and gazing into her eyes, about all the people I needed to thank.
‘We should send flowers tuh Beth, an everyone, Mum, yuhr mum, Lis …’
‘There’s quite a list of thank yous isn’t there. Maybe not flowers for Jay.’
‘Can’t do ih till weh land, anyway. Jay can keep the kilt as a special present.’
‘Do you think he’ll want to see it ever again?’
‘Maybe, if Beth shows him how much she admires ih tonigh.’
‘Yeah, that could change his opinion. Iz was a bit confused by it, she kept asking me why you and Jay were wearing girls’ clothes. Surely she’s seen pictures of men in kilts?’
‘Obviously a serious lapse in education. I blahm the parents.’
Something completely unconnected with Jay or his kilt occurred to me.
‘Heh, Lau, if I sit in yuhr seat an yuh sit on my lap …’
It might be a bit awkward to arrange ourselves, and would seriously piss off the narky woman sitting next to me, which admittedly was a bit of a bonus, but I just wanted my arms round Lau.
We tried it, to a veritable volley of tutting from Ms Passive-Aggressive, and it worked, and I could feel Lau’s lips on mine again, until one of the flight attendants came and told us to sit properly in our seats and put our seat belts on as we were about to start the descent. Ms P-A could not have looked more triumphant, but it wasn’t a victory for her, as instead of snogging Lau, I just talked dirty in her ear, intentionally audibly, until we landed.
I spent the taxi journey to the hotel ordering flowers on my phone. Lau kept remembering people who should really be included in the growing list of ‘merci’, and I almost wished I hadn’t started it, but we could finally think of no more people to thank, and finished sending texts to everyone just as we pulled up outside the hotel.
We booked in, ignoring the looks we were getting on account of my attire. My schoolboy French just about got us through, and I graciously allowed the bus boy to take the cases up, because I wasn’t going to be able to manage both of them, and wanted to ensure Lau didn’t lug her suitcase any distance at all. I even tipped him.
It was with a huge sense of relief that we closed the door to our room behind us, and we were finally alone. There was more kissing, more holding, but nothing further. The tendrils of fatigue had grown into thick ropes of exhaustion, pulling me down, and I was fighting it, but not winning the battle.
After exploring the room and the balcony, complete with a view across the city to the Eiffel Tower, all lit up in the night, Lau opened her case to start putting things away, and laughed as handfuls of confetti fell out onto the carpet.
‘We’re going to be popular, this stuff is really hard to hoover up. Oh! Oh my, look at this.’
She held up a see-through black negligee, which pushed the tiredness down a way.
‘Fuck tha’s hot. When did yuh get ih?’
‘I didn’t. I’ve never seen it before in my life. Oh, there’s a note – ha, and a box of condoms. It’s from – well, everyone.’
‘Wha’s ih say?’
‘To lovely Laura. A little something to make your honeymoon go with a swing. You don’t need the condoms, obviously, but they are chocolate flavoured … Have a fabulously romantic time. Lots of love, Beth, Jay, Dec and Amy.’
‘Bloody hell. Are you gona try ih on?’
‘I don’t think ih’ll fit meh, or look quite soh fucking sexy.’
‘I meant one of these.’
She threw the box at me.
Fat chance there, no way was I going to be hard enough to put a condom on, or awake enough to appreciate the results. Lau saw the look on my face and capitulated.
‘You’re as wiped as me. We can wait, can’t we flower?’
I nodded, regretfully. The thought of Lau in the negligee had perked me up for a bit, but now I was struggling, and started yawning.
‘Sorry, Lau. Already failing in my husbandly duhties.’
‘I know, it’s terrible, here we are in the City of Love, and can I get my husband to actually love me? Apparently not. Oh – I wonder if they put anything in your case?’
She immediately started opening it.
‘Can weh leave ih for now?’
I was flagging more by the minute, and right now didn’t care if they’d filled the suitcase with cans of squirty cream and nothing else.
‘I’ve done it now – oh, ha ha. Here’s a posing pouch for you. Red satin, nice. Might be a bit big.’
‘And a Barry White CD. Tasteful. There’s a note for you too. Shall I read it?’
‘Yeh, then take yuhr clothes off an come to bed.’
I’d already taken my jacket off, and started to unbutton my shirt.
‘Did they put anything in tuh sleep in?’
Lau had a bit of a rummage.
‘Doesn’t look like it. We don’t need it, though, do we? Wedding night. Nakedness is expected.’
‘Fuck yeh. Good thinking. Come on, read the note an get yuhr arse over here.’
I took my shirt off, slipped out of my shoes and socks, undid the kilt, then climbed into bed as it fell to the floor. It felt like the best bed I’d ever been in; I was so tired, I was going to fall asleep very, very soon, but I really wanted to at least have a go at a traditional wedding night.
‘Dear Matty. We think red is your colour, hopefully Laura thinks the same. And everyone needs a little Barry to help their honeymooning along. Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do. Lots of love, Beth, Jay, Dec and Amy.’
Lau put the note back in the suitcase and reached behind her to unzip her dress.
‘Oh blast, I can’t reach.’
She walked over to the bed and sat on the edge.
‘Can you undo me?’
‘Always. I think undoing yuh is gona beh top of the husbandly duhties I perform every day.’
I pulled the zip down, sat up and kissed her between her shoulder blades, rallying briefly in the face of Lau’s awesome back view.
Lau stood up and slipped the dress off her shoulders; as it fell to the floor, it revealed creamy underwear, including stockings and suspenders. It was a measure of how tired I was that I could only stare in awe and curse my nether regions for being unable to respond in any respectful way to this vision of loveliness.
‘Fuck yuhr beautiful. Wish I could show yuh how gorgeous yuh are.’
‘There’s plenty of time, flower.’
She took the underwear off, fuck she was hot naked, and climbed into bed beside me, snuggling up close, under my arm. I bent down and kissed her, then lay down next to her and pulled her up against me, running my hands along the length of her body, trying to make my body respond to hers. She did the same, but it wasn’t going to happen tonight, we’d both had enough. Part of me silently cursed Jay for doing this to us, when if we’d stuck to my plan, we would have had a whole night of passion already, but that part was very small, and I overrode it in favour of savouring the lusciousness of Lau held against me.
‘Ih’s not gona happen, is it?’
‘I don’t think so, not right now. We both need to sleep. Just hold me, Matt. I’ve wanted to snuggle with you all day.’
So that’s what we did. I wrapped my arms round Lau, and before a couple of minutes had passed, I was asleep, my mind and body giving in to the tug of the black.
And so, finally, we were in bed, in a beautiful hotel, with a view of the Eiffel Tower lit up through the window. We’d texted everyone to say thank you, Matt had ordered flowers for Beth, Lis, Amy, our mums and Rose, and we were alone. We were both exhausted, and had a go at sex, but it was nearly two in the morning, and just had to give up. I got the snuggle I’d been waiting for all day, which was just as good, if not better, and we fell asleep in each other’s arms.
I thought I would sleep until late the next morning, but when I woke, it was still dark. The heavy fatigue had gone, and although I was still tired, I felt rested. That was encouraging. I wondered if Lau was awake too, and slipped my arm round her waist.
I woke up, with a start, in the dark, not knowing where I was, trying to focus on the lights through the window. An arm snaked round my waist, and I squealed. There was a chuckle.
I felt her startle, and heard her squeal, like she had the first few nights we’d spent together. I laughed as it took me back there, to that time.
‘Shit, Lau, it’s been a while since I made yuh jump.’
Matt. I was with Matt. In Paris. I smiled and turned towards him.
‘Sorry, I didn’t know where I was. What time is it?’
I reached out and checked my phone.
‘Five twenty. Bollocks. I’m still wiped. Come here, Mrs Scott, I want to kiss you. And things.’
‘Well, a good Scottying is on the cards, maybe while it’s still kind of our wedding night, and not tomorrow yet. Ih’s not tomorrow until it’s light. We migh have half an hour if we’re lucky. Then we can have a lie-in. Save our strength.’
‘Well, block Philpotts’ ears, but I wana ravish yuh.’
With a start, I realised I’d almost forgotten about the baby, had hardly given him a thought since leaving the barn.
‘Hey, how is Philpotts? I never even thought to ask. Did he enjoy the flight?’
‘He didn’t seem to have any complaints.’
‘Good lad, Philpotts. Taking care of your mum.’
I rubbed Lau’s belly, to reacquaint myself with the swell of our child, then my hands moved upwards, cupping Lau’s breasts, looking into her eyes, checking it was alright, that she was awake enough and not too tired.
‘Hey, these are getting bigger, Lau.’
‘I know. So is my tummy. Either that, or it’s cake.’
‘Philpotts, are yuh making your mum fat? Shame on yuh.’
I carried on caressing and holding, also reacquainting myself with the changes that were happening to Lau on the outside. I was endlessly fascinated with it all, and continued to hold and fondle her breasts, testing out her responses, seeing if the same actions got the same reactions, or if she was more or less sensitive. Lau’s hands reached up and she pulled my mouth down to hers, so I hypothesised that we could err on the side of more sensitive.
‘Steady, Lau, I’m a married man – oh, I’m married tuh you. That’s OK then. Carry on.’
As I kissed her and stroked her, touching, nibbling, licking, I smiled as she moaned softly and started her own search for the places that would make me moan too. It didn’t take her long to find my hard-on, and she gave it an exploratory squeeze.
‘Oh, fuck yeah, Lau. I’ve wanted yuh to do tha all day. Tha’s why I wore a bloody skirt an no pants. But did yuh feel me up? Did yuh fuck.’
‘I’m not sure it would have met with much approval, particularly from my mum.’
‘She’d have been cool.’
Oh she so would not have, but it wouldn’t have stopped me if Lau had been up for it.
‘You’re lucky you got away with all the swearing. Sexual antics would have been a non-starter. Even though you’ve made an honest woman of me.’
‘Feel like being a bit dishonest? A bit … naughty?’
‘I thought that’s what we were doing.’
‘Yeah, well, carry on – oh yeah, keep doing that, Lau.’
‘Actually, I’m going to give you a good Scottying.’
‘Ha ha, Lau, you have a lot to live up tuh, but do yuhr worst’
‘I intend to. I’m going to give a whole new meaning to a good Scottying.’
She did as promised, and I responded in kind, and we finally managed to complete our wedding night in the expected manner, just before it got light.
‘Must beh time for breakfast.’
‘It’s far too early. Isn’t it booked, room service or something? I thought we said ten. We’ve got hours yet. Come and cuddle me.’
She moved closer into my arms and held on tight. I kissed her forehead and held her to me, and we went back to sleep.
So Paris was where we started our married life. It was also where we had our first major row. I suppose it was inevitable, after the build up, all the rushing about and stress of the last week. Over the past six months, things had been changing almost weekly, one way and another, and we had been getting to know each other, still loved up, willing to compromise and ignore the little things that annoyed us. We’d still been on our ‘best behaviour’ and trying hard not to argue.
And then I did it, caused our first row. I can hardly believe now that less than twenty-four hours after we’d got married, I’d told Lau to fuck off and she’d stormed out. It sends chills through me to think about it, and it was completely, utterly, totally and absolutely all my fault. Except maybe a bit of it was Lau, so almost completely, utterly, totally and absolutely all my fault. No, don’t go on about oxymorons, they were made for situations like this.
I suppose, if you’ve been paying attention, you will have noticed that I’m not the best at recognising how I’m feeling. I mean, yeah, if something irritates me, or pisses me off, or I feel hard done by or controlled, then yeah, I bloody well notice right away, but otherwise I just let things creep up on me, ignore it when I’m, oh I don’t know, tired, stressed, in love, want a child, that sort of thing.
The last week had been tiring, and emotional, and I’d just pushed through it all, and now I’d come to a rest place, and I wasn’t really letting myself be aware of how out of juice I was, physically and mentally. I also didn’t consider that Lau might be equally low on energy, and that hormones could also be affecting how she was feeling. Never let it be said I’m not a selfish git, alright?
So, just setting the scene. We woke up after our wedding night, a few hours after completing it, and spent a fairly lazy morning having breakfast, leaning on the balcony in hotel bathrobes looking at the view and texting pictures to everyone, going back to bed, chilling to all intents and purposes.
I suppose, romantic and awesome though it was, it was still rankling somewhere in my fucked up psyche that I hadn’t chosen this. But of course I wasn’t letting on, least of all to myself, that it was any kind of a problem.
I guess I was more than happy to fulfil my threat to Jay of staying in our room the whole time we were there. It would serve the dual purpose of costing him money and spending several days in bed with Lau with no interruptions or demands. But by mid-afternoon, Lau, who was nowhere near as lazy as me and liked to be up and doing, was restless and suggested going out.
Of all things, we fell out over a baguette. We spent the first morning in our room, having a lazy breakfast, a lazy cuddle and lazy sex. We stood on the balcony in our bathrobes, looking at the Eiffel Tower in the distance, taking pictures on our phones and sending them to everyone we could think of. When we got cold, we shut the windows and went back to bed, having made sure the ‘ne pas deranger’ sign was on the door. Ne pas deranger is apparently French for ‘do not disturb’, and not ‘do not pass, danger’, so Matt informed me. Who knew French was such a confusing language? However, with no likelihood of being interrupted, we dozed and kissed and didn’t do much of anything else, and by the middle of the afternoon I was feeling cooped up, and suggested going out.
I immediately sulked.
‘Oh, buh I want to stay here all day with you, jus doin this.’
I ran my finger down her breast and flicked the nipple, just how she liked it, expecting her to sigh lustily and roll towards me. But she didn’t; instead, she sat up and swung her legs out of the bed.
‘And very lovely that is, but I need some fresh air. And something to eat. France is famous for baguettes, isn’t it? I’d like a proper French baguette.’
I didn’t want to go out, didn’t feel hungry, just wanted to be closeted here with Lau for the duration, feeling safe and getting my head round everything. Not that I was acknowledging that my head was in any way not round things.
‘They’re no different from wha you get at the supermarket.’
I had been to Paris once, on a school trip, many years ago. I was not an expert in French patisserie. I had no reason to suspect that the baguettes wouldn’t be stupendous. I was being an arse.
‘I’d like to find out for myself.’
It was totally reasonable. France was famous for its bread and cheese, and if you were hungry, why wouldn’t you go in search of some? Yeah, I didn’t think that, though, not right then; I thought …
‘Are you choosing bread over meh?’
Lau stood up and faced me, pulling on her bathrobe as she did so.
‘Yeah, Matt, I’d much rather have a stick of French bread in me than your man-stick.’
I tried to sound amused, although I was more than a bit irritated.
She was calling me on a ridiculous statement, but being called on being ridiculous wasn’t always a good strategy when I was being an arse.
‘I just want to get out, so I can say I’ve been to Paris, rather than I’ve been in Paris. Everyone will ask what it’s like, and I’ll say oh, the walls were cream and the bed was comfy.’
‘Who fucking cares wha everyone says? You can make it up, say ‘oh it was so romantic, we walked along the Seine, we saw the Louvre, we did this, did that, don’t have to fucking do any of it.’
The stupid thing was, I knew I was being unreasonable, but I couldn’t help myself. I could feel the argument coming, as if it was thunder in the air or some such shit, and I just put my head down and ran into it.
‘But I’d like to do some of it.’
I could sense the argument coming. Matt was getting stubborn, and disputing everything I was saying. I was tired and grumpy, and cooped up, and I didn’t feel like backing down.
And I just couldn’t stop. I was feeling all the irritation and annoyance of being controlled, and I just wanted someone to do what I wanted for a change (yeah, I totally realise that people were always doing what I wanted, and I was always an arse about it, I know that, alright?).
‘We can do it tomorrow. Stay here wih me, Lau.’
I was trying my hardest to make her feel like she was deserting me, that if she went out, she was the worst type of person, the worst type of wife.
‘No, I think I’m going to go out –’
I tried pouting, and Lau tried persuading.
‘– come with me?’
‘No, I think I’m gona stay here.’
No way was I going to back down, and I sensed that Lau wasn’t either. We hadn’t really rowed before, not about anything, but I suppose we’d spent the first few months getting to know each other and being amazed by each other, then Lau had moved in and we’d been on our best behaviour while all that was settling down, and had accommodated each other’s foibles. We were both stubborn fuckers, though, beneath it all, and now it seemed that neither of us were going to give in.
Neither of us were going to back down, although naturally I felt Matt was being more unreasonable than me. I tried wheedling.
‘Please? I don’t want to wander around on my own. I can’t even say anything apart from please and thank you.’
This was true. I had limited French, but Lau had none. It should have made me feel guilty, but it pissed me off that she only wanted me to speak for her. Yeah, I know that wasn’t what she meant, but I was winding myself up into full-on disgruntled me me me mode.
‘So yuh only want me as your interpreter.’
‘No, of course not. Don’t you think it would be cool to walk around Paris, soaking up the atmosphere?’
‘I’d rather have our own atmosphere righ here.’
I just couldn’t let her win. Of course walking around the Parisian streets with Lau would be incredible, but I couldn’t even allow myself to see that, let alone capitulate and do what she was asking.
‘Matt, you’re being incredibly stubborn.’
I could say this with a completely straight face because I wasn’t letting myself acknowledge it. Kind of ‘la la la la I’m not listening’ but with emotions.
Lau sighed and looked me in the eyes. She wasn’t going to leave it, either. She usually picked her battles, only really trying to change my mind about something when she was passionate about it, and her passion would shine through and win me over. But as previously mentioned, we’d both had a full-on week followed by a even fuller-on day and night, and I’m not surprised she wasn’t as willing to let things go as she usually was.
I sighed with impatience. I knew he was unlikely to give in, but that just made me all the more determined. If I had just left it, said nothing, he would have changed his mind in half an hour or so, and we could have gone out together, but whatever French demon had possessed us had full control, and I couldn’t leave it.
‘You are, and you know you are. There’s no reason for you not to come with me, apart from me wanting you to.’
I went to the window and walked out onto the balcony, leaning over to see down the street.
‘There’s a bakery down there, it’s only a couple of hundred yards, we’d be back in five minutes.’
I shrugged. That was easily swatted away.
‘Don’t need both of us tuh go, then. I’ll have fromage et salade in mine. That’s cheese and salad, Lau.’
I sounded so patronising, as if I was a fluent French speaker teaching a two year old. I would have punched myself in the face if I hadn’t been on such a git-trip.
‘No way, I’m eating out if I’m going on my own.’
Lau’s voice was beginning to rise, as she got more and more exasperated with me.
‘Fine. I’ll do room service. Probably beh quicker.’
I tried to keep my tone of voice level, as I knew it was possibly the most irritating thing I could do.
I had one last attempt, but if I’d been thinking straight, I would have realised it was already a lost cause.
‘Please, Matt, I’d really like you to come with me.’
‘So you’re just going to lie around until Tuesday, are you?’
He shrugged. I tutted and exhaled noisily in what I hoped was an exasperated way.
‘OK, I’m going then.’
And then, the clincher. I don’t know what made me say it, apart from possibly tiredness, probably pig-headedness, maybe hormones.
I really didn’t want her to go, not on her own, but rather than telling her this and asking her to wait a bit and we’d go out together, I just lay there feeling aggrieved that she wanted to do something, on our bloody honeymoon, that didn’t involve being in bed with me.
And then, as if she knew exactly what was going to push all the remaining buttons on the ‘launch Matt into orbit’ console, she hit the big one.
‘You could do with getting out as well. Lying around all day isn’t going to do you any good.’
Her tone of voice was so like Beth’s when she was sticking her nose into my business, that I boiled inside. It was the last straw, the thing that just shoved everything out there. I sat bolt upright, and mustered all my best aggrieved husbandness.
‘Fuck you. You don’t know wha’s good fuh me. Just because you’re a nurse duhnt mean you know everything. Fuck off for your fucking baguette then.’
Lau stared at me for a second or two, looking shocked. She might have been waiting for me to apologise, but I was breathing hard and clenching my fists under the bedclothes, and apologising was the last thing on my mind. At that moment, I thought it was for the best if she went out and left me to my own devices. I stared back at her, stubbornly.
I stared at him, shocked at his tone, waiting for him to apologise, but he stared back defiantly.
‘That wasn’t very nice.’
I grabbed my phone, pulled some clothes on, picked up my purse and, the room filling with silence, left. Matt sat on the bed, with his back to me, staring out of the window.
I slammed the door behind me, and stomped down the stairs and out of the hotel. I had got disoriented on my way out, and couldn’t work out where the bakery, or – what did they call them here – patisserie was. I stood at the entrance for some time, looking both ways up and down the street, feeling vulnerable and apprehensive. What were you thinking Laura Shoeman? Oh, no, Laura Scott. You can’t speak French. You can’t even ask anyone where the bakery is.
I had to go one way or the other, and surely, in Paris, I would come across a bread shop of some description, and even if I didn’t, there would be somewhere to get a cup of strong French coffee so I could sit and stew and think about how I was going to go back to the room without either losing face or making things worse. It did occur to me that if I was as stubborn as Matt, there was a chance we might never speak to each other again, but he had been very rude to me, and he wasn’t just going to get away with that. This was our honeymoon, and stressful week or not, there were some things you just didn’t say to your bride of less than twenty four hours. In my opinion, ‘fuck off’ was one of them.
Lau slammed the door behind her, and I heard her stomping down the corridor. She always was a bloody good stomper. And as I heard her walking away, I realised what a dick I’d been. Shit, I’d just let my pregnant wife walk out on me, on the first day of being married. What the fuck was I thinking? Just to prove a fucking point? What exact fucking point did I think I was proving? That I was the biggest fucking idiot in the history of fucking idiots for starters. I was immediately horrified at my self-obsessed behaviour. Wasn’t I supposed to have been cleaning up my act? Nice work, Matt. Very mature and respectful.
I jumped up and ran out of the room to try to catch up with her, but there were too many choices of corridors she could have gone down, and I couldn’t find her. I ran back to the room, hoping to see her walk down the street from the balcony. Fuck, what had I done? I’d just told Lau to fuck off. Lau. I never wanted Lau to fuck off, but I’d told her to and she had. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I went to the balcony and leaned over, trying to see the hotel entrance. Finally, after an age, I spotted Lau walking determinedly along the pavement. I loved the way she was just doing this, even though she had no real idea where she was going or how she was going to ask for what she wanted, and even though her fucking idiot of a husband had just told her to fuck off. She should have been in floods, but that wasn’t her way, she’d just rolled her sleeves up and got on with it. Fuck, I loved her.
I’m glad in a way, in lots of ways, but especially in this way, that Lau didn’t cry when I told her to fuck off. That she didn’t showed outstanding moral fibre, and I admired that, but most importantly it meant that I didn’t have ammunition in the future, and that was good. If she’d cried, it would have been easy, every time she was getting close to making me change my mind, or accept I was wrong, to tell her to fuck off and she’d cry and it would halt things – oh yeah, I wasn’t above it, not that I thought about it in those calculated terms, but it worked with Beth when she was really riling me. However, Lau was made of sterner stuff and I was never going to tell her to fuck off again.
Oh alright, yeah, I probably was, as I couldn’t help myself, and I was always going ‘fuck off, you can’t be serious’ or ‘fuck off, no way is it my turn to do the washing up’, but paradoxically, because she hadn’t got all tearful, it would make it easier to stop myself using it in seriousness and meaning ‘get out of my face you bitch’.
OK, got that? More fascinating insights into the weird and wonderful world of Matt Scott, swearaholic? Good then, lets get back to Lau, who is wandering alone in the streets of Paris because some unfeeling bastard told her to fuck off.
I made a decision, and turned right along the street. I hadn’t gone far before I heard my name, coming from above me. I stopped and looked up. Matt was leaning over the railings of the balcony.
‘Lau, wait. I’m sorry. Just wait there.’
He turned and went in through the window. I waited, looking back towards the hotel entrance, not knowing what to think. Was he going to apologise? Was he feeling guilty about letting me walk out on my own? Would he still be mad at me? This was uncharted territory; we hadn’t rowed before, and I didn’t know how things were going to play out.
I hoped she wasn’t mad enough that she would continue her excellent stomping, and would wait for me to pull some clothes on and catch up with her. I belatedly remembered I hadn’t unpacked my suitcase, so had to wade through piles of confetti and pick the first pair of trousers and shirt that came to hand to avoid having to put the bloody kilt back on. Mercifully Beth had thought of everything, as she always did, and there were socks and trainers to hand too, although everything was covered in tiny bits of coloured paper and I was going to look like a twat. But that wasn’t important, I just needed to throw it all on and get outside to Lau.
I hurried down to the lobby and out of the door, running out of the hotel and down the street to where Lau was, yay, still waiting for me. All the way I was saying ‘idiot, idiot, idiot’ to myself.
I waited, with a mixture of nervousness and irritation, for what felt like a long time, and was beginning to wonder if he was just messing with me, but eventually I saw him run out, look both ways, trying to spot me, then, seeing me, run towards me.
As I reached her, I pulled her towards me and held on to her, panting, relieved and able, now, to see what an obstinate arse I’d been.
‘Shit, Lau, I’m soh sorry, I can’t believe I said that to you. I’m soh sorry. I love you, fuck, what a dick, why would I want yuh wandering around out here on your own? Sorry, Lau.’
She tilted her head up to look at me.
So it was guilt and apology. Well that was more like it, although the implication I couldn’t look after myself without him might have to be explored later. I looked up at him.
‘We’re both as bad as each other, sometimes, aren’t we.’
I was prepared to take some of the blame, looking back over the last few minutes and realising I’d been more than a bit wilful myself.
Yeah, we were, but this was almost completely, utterly, totally and absolutely all my fault and I couldn’t let her absolve me so easily.
‘I know ih’s an excuse, but I’m knackered, an part of me is annoyed that we’re here an not in the hotel I booked. I know I’m an ungrateful bastard, I know it’s an amazing present, but there yuh are. I’ve stopped sulking now, stopped as soon as yuh left. Fuck, Lau, I never wana make yuh walk out on me again. Especially when I’ve told yuh to fuck off.’
‘Well I expect it won’t be the last time we have an argument and say things in the heat of the moment. I’m sorry too. I was being just as stubborn. There wouldn’t have been anything wrong with staying put for a while longer. Yeah, I suppose you weren’t very nice to me. Maybe I deserved it, maybe I didn’t. Shall we go and get something to eat? Baguette with marge and salad?’
Oh my Lau. My bloody amazing, wonderful, forgiving Lau. I so, so did not, do not, deserve her bloody amazingly wonderful forgivingness.
‘Ha ha, good try Lau. Fromage et salade. Don’t try speaky the lingo, yeah? Leave ih to the ones who’ve got GCSE French grade C.’
‘Deal. Come on, then.’
I put my arm round her waist and we walked up the street together, like we should have done in the first place, when Lau asked, perfectly reasonably and before I made it into the huge deal it had become.
‘Shit, does this mean yuh win the first argument? Yuh got your way, you cow.’
She slid her arm round me and put her hand in my back pocket.
‘If getting my way means I have to wind you up enough to tell me to fuck off, I won’t be doing it very often.’
I stopped walking, and pulled her to me, squeezing her hard against me as I felt what she wasn’t telling me, how much I’d upset her. I wanted to show her I knew, and try out a promise. I wasn’t great at promises, but I’d done a shitload yesterday, and maybe I was getting the hang of it.
‘Lau, our first proper fight lasted less than five minutes. I know I’m a bloody stubborn fucker, an so are you, so it could have lasted bloody ages. I love you so much, I never want to fight wih you again, but I guess there migh be other times when we’re tired an stressed an just got married – oh, no maybe not tha – OK, when we’re tired an stressed an jus had a fucking baby or something, but I hope I always remember what it feels like when you walk out, so it stops me before you do it again. I’m bloody useless at apologising, hate ih, but I’ll say sorry until next week if it means things are OK wih us.’
It was a perfect apology. It almost felt good to have got the argument out of the way so we could see how we reacted to it, how we might be in the future, what we might be able to do to avoid it happening.
‘And I’ll remember what it feels like to walk out – pretty horrible, if you’re interested – but, yeah, we’ve got some hectic times ahead. As long as we try to remember, that’s all we can do. You don’t have to say sorry until next week. A kiss is acceptable.’
‘You’re on, never say I can’t compromise.’
I bent down to take her up on her offer, and gently brushed her lips with mine, and as the rekindled electricity fizzed between us, we wrapped our arms round each other and held each other close.
‘OK, Lau, let’s get this honeymoon started properly. Eating. Drinking. Then back here for some romance. We’re in bloody Paris, woman, why have weh been lazing around all bloody day?’
‘I have no idea. Eiffel Tower?’
‘Fuck no. Although Jay does deserve a plastic one, as requested, but we can geh one anywhere. Let’s go on the Metro, find somewhere small an cosy, have a coffee …’
And now I was excited about it, and thought about all the things we could do, as well as going for a baguette. There would be plenty of time to be in bed together, but we should find out more about this romantic city, take some memories home with us of the first days after we were married. I got it now. Yeah, it takes me a while, but now I had Lau she was making me see things differently. We linked fingers, walked down the street and started to explore Paris.
And that was it, first big row over. Something was still lingering at the back of my mind, just a feeling that things weren’t quite right, but we’d made up, and I didn’t explore it, didn’t really have time – I had a city to explore with my husband instead.
I won’t say that was it, over, because although our row was over, and everything was back to better than great with me and Lau, there was still a hangover at the back of my mind, a little niggling something, that I couldn’t quite define, but just kept prodding me, that said things like ‘this isn’t your honeymoon, this is Beth’s honeymoon’ and ‘holy crap, I’m married’. I pushed it all away as much as I could, because even I could see what an ungrateful sod I was being, but I couldn’t help feeling it, just a little, all the time we were there, some part of me that was not in control and wanted to be.
However, I’d say we made the most of the next three days, after I pushed the whatever the fuck it was to the furthest corner of my mind where it introduced itself to all the other shit I’d shoved there over the years, and got on with enjoying myself.
In which there is a big party, and a surprise trip is announced.
It was a really big interior, and it was decorated in colours that matched my dress. There were two long trestle tables, beautifully set with plates and cutlery, and vases of flowers. Another trestle table was laden with food, and a large chocolate fountain, and a smaller table held an enormous double tier cake, which on closer inspection turned out to be made from cupcakes. It was beautiful, and I couldn’t believe they’d done it all for us. I looked at Matt, whose mouth was open, and who was staring at it all.
I know I go on about Beth, and how she has to stick her beak into everything, and it might sound like she pisses me off so much that I don’t like her, but that’s not the case. Admittedly, at times, I could willingly strangle her with my bare hands, but she’s a good person, and I know, I suppose, that if she didn’t care she wouldn’t be so bloody annoying. We can have a laugh, and she keeps Jay in line, and she holds the family together with an iron will. Fuck knows where we’d all be without her. But anyway, what I’m getting at is, whatever resentment, annoyance, irritation or exasperation I may have felt towards her just melted away as I saw what she’d done to the barn.
The place was huge, and it was completely and tastefully draped in flowers, ribbons, balloons and swathes of fabric. The colours matched Lau’s dress, although this must surely have been a lucky guess, as Lau only bought it two days before. There were tables, perfectly decorated and loaded with food, a chocolate fountain and wedding cake.
It was awe-inspiring, and I stood with my mouth open, looking at it all, unable to take in everything. This must have needed such a lot of organising, fuck knows who Beth had had to browbeat into helping.
‘Whoa. Holy shitcakes. This is awesome, jus fucking awesome. Where’s Beth?’
I looked around, and saw her, watching my reaction, a big smile on her face. I took Lau’s hand and pulled her towards where Beth was standing, then let go of Lau and wrapped Beth up in a hug, with Lau following suit. Lau hadn’t spoken since we’d come in, and she looked pretty choked.
‘Beth, yuh are a genius. This is superb. How did yuh get ih all done?’
Beth beamed at us.
‘I’ve had a crack team on it all week. Practically everyone here has had something to do. Never let it be said we don’t rise to a challenge, Matty.’
‘I am fucking speechless.’
Yeah, that would be the day, but I couldn’t find many words to express either my awe or my thanks.
‘Apparently not. But you’re welcome, sweetheart. The bar’s over there. James has paid for drinks, so it’s all free.’
‘Yeah, I might withdraw my funds. Beth, what did you do with my trousers?’
‘Oh, was I supposed to bring your trousers?’
‘Jesus, Beth, I’m not staying in this all bloody night.’
‘Sorry, it’s too late to do anything now.’
I glanced at Beth, and there was the hint of a wink.
‘I might go home and change.’
‘I think your car’s blocked in. Maybe later when people have gone?’
She was a bloody wily woman. Someone must have driven in behind him after we arrived. The look on Jay’s face, or rather the mix of emotions that played across it, was priceless. He scowled, he pouted, he looked angry, then resigned, then his shoulders slumped and he accepted defeat. Jay really was no match for me and Beth together. As he walked off, I high-fived Beth and kissed her on the cheek.
‘It’s not just for your benefit, Matty. James in a kilt is … let’s just say, it might not stay on him long after we get home.’
‘Beth! I never knew yuh went for men in skirts.’
‘Live and learn, Matty.’
First order of the day was the meal. Fuelled by Jay’s bar tab, there was lots of chatter and laughter, as people got to know each other over platefuls of top notch food and glassfuls of the good stuff (i.e. free). Lau and I were officially sitting at the head of the table, but after we’d filled our plates from the buffet, we had a wander round to talk to everyone.
It was weird seeing people together who had never met, like Dec and Amy sitting next to Lau’s work colleagues, Rose holding court with the guys from my team at GreenScreen, Nico charming the pants off – well, every woman there actually. And I loved introducing Lau properly to the people from work. I saw them looking her up and down, wondering if she was like Jules.
‘Hey, Laura, congratulations on catching the elusive Matt Scott.’
‘Not sure I caught him. We kind of – how would you describe it, flower? Crashed into each other?’
‘Ha, yeh, best accident of my life.’
A pause for a kiss, just to show the insensitive bastard who still thought I was a git that this was for real. Lexi looked on, eyebrow raised, and couldn’t help herself.
‘Well you’re an improvement on the last one, got a bit of a sense of humour at least.’
I’d always had a feeling that part of Lexi’s constant sourpuss attitude with me was due to being passed over in my earlier days, when she was pretty much virtually married to her long-term boyfriend. I wouldn’t say I’d never messed with attached people, but Lexi had seemed like more trouble than she would have been worth, and she hadn’t liked it at the time, when all the available temps and juniors had been subjected to the Scott charm offensive, such as it was. Lau seemed to have got the measure of Lexi, though.
‘You need a sense of humour to live with this one. It’s what keeps you going, through the endless documentaries about woodlice.’
‘Hey, tha was one documentary. Ih was interesting.’
‘Yeah, flower. Fascinating.’
Lau pretended to fall asleep on my shoulder and everyone laughed, including Lexi, who gave her an appraising look and didn’t say anything else.
We sat down beside Mum, who was cuddling Bastien while Lis fended off the single women who thought Nico was seriously flirting when he told them they were beautiful.
‘Heh Mum. Been lumbered?’
‘No, dear, he’s a little darling, isn’t he. I can’t believe he’s sleeping through all this noise.’
‘You look lovely, Carol.’
Lau had found a compliment for everybody. She was so awesome.
‘Thank you Laura. I managed to get out with Rose to find something special, I wasn’t sure I was going to manage it, but I wanted to dress up for your wedding.’
‘Aw, thanks, Mum. Yuh dihnt have tuh.’
‘I know, dear, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to match you, but I don’t think anyone could have equalled you, Laura. You look heavenly.’
‘Thank you Carol. I had a lot of help.’
Lau indicated her face and hair with a vague wave of her hand.
‘Yuh look heavenly without all the help.’
‘Aw, thanks. You’re my beach boy.’
‘Yuhr fucking gorgeous.’
Another passionate kiss was forthcoming, until we remembered my mum was watching, unsure if she should be averting her gaze or not. We looked at her apologetically, and moved on.
Next up was April, who was talking animatedly to Dec and Amy.
‘… Waterman’s Beach. I used to snorkel there.’
‘Yeah, me too. My mum and dad used to take me. Oh, hey mate. April was just telling us she lived in Perth for a bit. It’s fucking awesome to meet a fellow Perthie.’
I wondered if I should warn Dec about not swearing in front of April, but I had no idea how long they’d been talking, and it was already way too late. Besides, swearing was as natural to Dec as it was to me, and he would have been as able to stop himself saying ‘fuck’ as he would have been able to stop himself breathing.
‘I’d forgotten that, Mum. You wouldn’t have been there at the same time, would you?’
‘No, my love, it was when I was a teenager. Nanny Bea and Gramps went out there for a couple of years. Young Declan wouldn’t have even been a twinkle. We know some of the same places, though.’
‘I expect it’s changed a bit since either of us were last there, April. I keep thinking we should all go out, have a family holiday, in the off season.’
‘Oh that’s a completely awesome idea, hon. We should get Beth to organise it.’
‘She does seem to be good at organising things. This –’
April gestured around at the barn
‘– is all wonderful.’
‘Beth’s prehty amazing.’
I was feeling charitable.
‘She’s certainly been good at organising me and your mother, Matt. I’ve never had as many texts as I’ve got this week.’
‘Welcome tuh my world.’
We gradually went round to everyone, until it was only Lau’s work girls who were left. I don’t know if we’d left them until last on purpose – I was becoming aware of a measure of apprehension creeping up on me as I thought about being introduced to Rachel. I’d taken a few peeks at the two women with Anna – I thought I recognised one of them as the one who was with Lau in the church hall on the day we met, which meant she was Kate, and so the other one was Rachel, although her face didn’t ring any bells. Eventually it could be put off no longer, and Lau squeezed my hand and pulled me over to where they were sitting, talking to Nico and Lis.
Anna and the other two stood up and squealed, hugging Lau together as an older man who I recognised from the day in the church hall looked on. I remembered he was Patrick, the doctor. When the squealing and hugging had finished, Lau turned to me.
‘Matt, this is everyone from work. Well, you know An.’
‘Hi. Weird tuh see yuh like this.’
‘I know. Good do, though.’
‘Ih’s awesome. Thanks fuh coming.’
‘This is Kate.’
‘Hi Kate. Thanks fuh coming.’
‘You don’t think I’m going to miss Lau’s wedding, do you? Especially if it means the afternoon off work and a chance to meet all the hot single men you apparently don’t know.’
‘I dohnt know abou hot, but there’s plenty of single blokes here from GreenScreen.’
An eyebrow was raised.
‘And you’ve delayed introducing me to them because …?’
‘Give meh a minute.’
‘Blimey, Kate, get a grip. You’re sure you want an IT nerd?’
‘Works for you, Lau.’
‘True. Matt, this is Rachel, and Jed.’
‘Hi, thanks fuh coming.’
I made eye contact with both of them, kissed her on the cheek like I had the others, and was aware of eyes on me as I did so. Rachel’s face rang no bells in my mind, shame on me, but she was the sort of blonde skinny girl I would have gone for back then. There was nothing in her expression besides a polite greeting, however, although she was holding onto her boyfriend’s hand like he was pulling her out of a ravine. They both smiled and nodded, though, and Lau introduced me to her boss and his wife, and that moment was over.
The introductions between Matt and Rachel were diplomatically brief. To her credit, Rachel acted as if she had never met Matt before, and Matt treated her as he did all of them, kissing them on the cheek and thanking them for coming. I felt some tension leave me as the introductions passed without incident – I had been trying to get back to normal with Rachel, and this meeting had the potential to take us back several steps. However, it had gone alright, although Kate was watching Matt like a hawk and he was pretending not to notice, and I felt optimistic about the future for Rach and me.
I dragged Kate over to the GreenScreen guys and embarrassed her and them by telling them all she was looking for a hot single bloke, and if they came across one they should point him out.
We didn’t get to eat a lot, we were too busy catching up with everyone, telling the story of the baby over and over again, exclaiming how mad it all was, but how right it all felt, grabbing a canapé here and a breadstick there, but what I tasted was awesome. It was a joint effort between Beth – who had seemingly not slept since Sunday – Mum, Carol, Rose and April. Beth had hired a catering company to do the laying out, the waitering and the filling of glasses and the clearing away of it all afterwards.
The food was divine. I never did get to the bottom of who had made what, and what exactly the catering company had done besides clearing up the plates, but it was all, without exception, mouthwateringly good. Everyone sat and ate and drank for a long time, getting to know each other, talking and laughing, helped along by Matt’s easy laugh and ability to spot someone who was less a part of it all, and introducing them to someone who would put them at their ease. He spent a lot of time with various children in his arms; Iz was never far from his side, and Charlie found her way onto his shoulder a lot.
Amy hadn’t given birth yet, and was getting very fed up with being so large and immobile, but looked gorgeous in her new dress.
Dec and Nico looked every inch the burly rugby players, and got lots of attention from Kate, who was still single and not above flirting outrageously with attached men.
Rachel’s chap Jed seemed to suit her. He had close cropped bleach-blond hair and a few piercings, but was very attentive to her, and her eyes wandered to him a lot. It was good to see, for a lot of reasons.
My mum chatted non-stop to Rose and Carol, and another set of friendships seemed to have been formed.
Beth and Lis flitted about organising things, making sure everything was running smoothly, using Cal as a runner to fetch things and tell people things.
As the food was eaten, and people started to look around, wondering what to do next, Jay banged a fork on a glass. I could see how he was able to command the respect of a bunch of rugby players on the training ground, although I don’t expect he usually did it so politely.
Everyone sat and ate and drank for a long time, getting to know each other, talking and laughing, Lau and I made sure everyone knew everyone else, and then we could just coast. Iz was at our side nearly the whole time, wanting to be in the limelight, wanting to be on my lap or asking me about something. I held Charlie a lot, as Amy was looking tired and Dec was fending off unwanted advances from a slightly pissed Kate. I didn’t see much of Cal, who was being kept busy by Beth and Lis, running here and there fetching stuff and relaying messages.
As the food was eaten, and people started to look around, wondering what to do next, Jay banged a fork on a glass and raised his voice. He was in rugby coach mode, and commanded respect by his tone of voice. I often forgot this part of who my brother was, and I sat back in my seat to watch the rarely witnessed spectacle of Jay stringing more than seven words together for a cause that wasn’t anything to do with Raiders.
‘OK you lot, bit of quiet for a minute if you’d be so kind.’
The buzz of conversation stilled and I marvelled anew at Jay’s ability to do this – command a room full of people with his tone of voice. I hardly ever saw him do it, at home he had no hope of commanding any of us, but he had it in him when he wanted to, and I was reminded of the sides of him I often forgot about.
‘I was hoping to be out of the bloody girl’s clothes by now, but my dear brother has seen fit to hide my trousers and block my car in, so you’ll have to put up with me in this get up. Luckily for you, I am clothed underneath, unlike Matty. Anyway, before the next part of the evening gets underway, and I sincerely hope Matty has at least brought some spare boxers with him or he is going to be seriously embarrassed, I think a speech and a toast is in order.’
I really wished people would stop alluding to my lack of underwear, unless they were going to enlighten me as to why it could be a problem. I had no beef with having no briefs, but just wanted to be prepared. I saw Jay smirk to himself at the thought of whatever the fuck it was that had been planned.
‘Matty and Laura didn’t want to do traditional speeches, and that’s fair enough, but it’s not every day your little brother gets married, and there are a few things I want to say to you all.’
He paused to fish a card out of the top pocket of his jacket.
‘Sorry, getting old, memory not what it was. OK, here goes then. Matty, you constantly surprise me. We’ve always been so different, I thought for a long time we wanted different things out of life, and that was fine, you know I’ve always supported you whatever you’ve wanted to do.’
I wasn’t sure I’d always known that, but I suppose it was more or less true, in Jay’s laid back ‘don’t rock the boat’ kind of way.
‘It wasn’t until you got ill, though, and we nearly lost you, that I realised how much I care about you –’
There was a catch in Jay’s voice, and I noticed his jaw tighten. Jay and I never talked about back then, about what nearly happened and what actually did happen, and it elicited a sympathetic tightening of my own throat.
‘– and in a way, it was one of the best things that happened to us, because I really got to know you, rather than both of us going in different directions and gradually drifting apart.’
As Jay was talking, Matt held my hand more and more tightly. I risked a quick look at him, and saw him struggling not to cry. I don’t think anyone else would have noticed – his wide smile was all over his face – but I could see the tautness in his throat, and he was swallowing hard.
‘I know we frustrate each other sometimes – you think I fuss over you too much, and I think you push me away when you could do with a hand – but I don’t think we’d know each other in the same way if all that hadn’t happened all those years ago.’
Bloody hell, he was going to have to tone down the emotional statements, or I was going to embarrass myself by blarting like a girl. Jay looked like he wasn’t far off tears either, but I saw him swallow and bring himself under control.
‘And it turns out we want similar things after all. It’s taken you longer to settle down than me, and I’m not sure you’re settled now, exactly, but seeing you with Laura, and seeing how excited you are at becoming a father, well, at the grand age of thirty-five, you’ve finally grown up. A little bit, at any rate. It’s always been great to see you with Cal and Iz, you’ve got a naturally easy way with kids that will stand you in good stead. Laura, if you can just stop him saying ‘fuck’ every two seconds, he’ll make a great dad.’
Ooh that was sneaky, Jay. Saying ‘fuck’, but whilst telling me off for saying it, thus legitimising the use of the word. Kudos.
‘Actually, Laura, while we’re at it, you have been so bloody good for Matty. I don’t know what it is, what you do, or what you’ve got, but I’ve never known him as happy as when he’s with you. He’s a different person. You’ve managed to calm him down and excite him at the same time.’
He’d somehow pegged it perfectly. That was just what Lau did. I wondered how much help Jay had got with writing his speech. Maybe I was doing him a disservice, but Jay hardly ever seemed to notice huge things, let alone the subtle inner workings of his emotionally uptight brother.
‘When he’s with you, and when he talks about you, he lights up from inside. Matty’s had his ups and downs, haven’t we all, but you are his world, we can all see that.’
Now it was my turn to fill up. Jay and I didn’t talk that much; Jay didn’t talk much to anyone, being more than happy to sit watching TV when people were there. If I’d had to say what he thought of me, I’d have said he thought I was OK, no more or less than that, but here he was, saying nice things about me. Matt leaned over and kissed my cheek, while I stared forwards, blinking furiously.
‘You’re part of our family, sorry about that, but no one ever said Matty came without baggage, and we’re delighted to have you. Our family is ever expanding, we’re always welcoming new members, and you’re a particularly precious new addition. Make that two new additions.’
I looked over at Lau, and she was smiling widely at Jay’s compliments, trying not to blart at the same time.
‘Matty and Laura, congratulations on your wedding day. It’s happened really fast, but it’s already been special. I hope the rest of the evening can be as special – what?’
Jay had picked up his glass to start a toast, but Beth had tugged his arm and he put the glass down as he bent down to hear what she was saying.
‘Oh, thanks Beth. My wife has reminded me that there is a surprise for both of you. Matty, you thought you’d booked a night in the swanky hotel near the cathedral. Well, you did book it, but I unbooked it.’
What the fuck was this, now?
‘You and Laura are going away to Paris for a few days. We’ve got it all sorted, passports, luggage, tickets, hotel, time off from work. You would not believe how devious we’ve all been. I think the Secret Service could have a new load of recruits on their hands.’
Jay sounded so pleased with himself, but I had to clench my jaw to keep from swearing loudly.
‘Your flight leaves at ten, so we’ve got time to party here for a bit.’
It was the one moment in the whole day when it all darkened, when I felt a surge of the thing I felt when Beth was trying to badger me into something, or when I was trying to do something and my fucking bastard arms or legs betrayed me, when I just felt like my life was out of my control, but in someone or something else’s power. I had been looking forward so much to going to the Ivy Leaf with Lau, to relaxing, getting out of our things, chilling, holding her, lying down with her, making love with her, and Jay had sodding well unbooked it.
I suddenly realised why my conversation with them this morning had seemed so weird. They’d been told to play along if I contacted them. Fuck, everyone was bloody in on it. I felt stupid, and then I nearly lost it. So nearly. I clenched my fists and took some deep breaths, and just about managed to put a lid on it so I could count to some number way higher than ten and not go marching up to Jay to demand he tell me what the fuck he thought he was doing.
1 2 3 …
I had just enough unangered brain cells to realise that it was obvious what the fuck he thought he was doing. He thought he was doing something nice, giving me and Lau a present, a proper honeymoon in a romantic city, and as usual I was being an ungrateful bastard who wanted things my own way.
17 18 19 …
I looked at Lau’s face, and she was delighted, but she hadn’t known about the Ivy Leaf. I forced myself to smile, made myself be pleased about it, overcame my resentment and for once didn’t make a scene about somebody doing something for me.
28 29 30 …
Paris would be awesome, I’d never been as an adult, unless you count a quick stop at Euro Disney with the family several years ago, and neither had Lau, and it was the city of love.
52 53 54 …
It would have taken a lot of organising, and it was a great present.
77 78 79 …
With an effort, I convinced myself, and stopped frowning, as Lau was looking at me with concern.
98 99 100 … aaaaand relax.
I flashed a smile at her instead, kissed her hard and held her tight, unable to stop a shudder of emotion running through me.
As Jay went on to tell everyone how devious they’d all been, by booking us a short break in Paris, and everyone cheered and clapped, I had an awful feeling Matt was going to lose it. His hand was crushing mine, and the smile disappeared from his face, as Jay told everyone how he’d un-arranged all of Matt’s arrangements.
Matt hated people doing things for him, particularly if they hadn’t asked first; I nearly leaned over to him and said something to take the tension away, to make a joke of it, but in a second or two, Matt untensed, the smile reappeared, and it seemed he got his annoyance under control. I turned back to Jay.
‘Talking of which … could everyone please give us a hand with the tables and chairs, we’ve got to make room for dancing.’
As Jay spoke, everyone clapped his speech, then got up and started moving things, while from a door I hadn’t noticed, people emerged carrying guitars, fiddles, drums and amps. Matt suddenly turned to me, a bright smile on his face, and kissed me hard, wrapping his arms tightly around me. I felt and heard the shudder go through him as he locked it all away, and thought it would come out later, when we were finally alone.
Jay’s speech had nearly made me cry, it was just the last bit that had got me all riled up, and I needed to hold Lau while I got myself together, stopped all the touchy-feelies crashing about inside me. All around us, people clapped Jay’s speech, then moved tables and chairs to one side, and a band came out of a door to the side of the barn carrying guitars, fiddles, drums and amps. I took a deep breath, let go of Lau with another kiss, and looked up.
It was all a bit overwhelming. I looked around at all the people who were there for us, who had taken a day off from whatever they would normally have been doing to see us promise each other things and wish us well. My heart swelled.
A microphone was set up, and one of the band members addressed us all.
‘Hello everyone. Jay has just remembered he was supposed to make a toast. Jay?’
‘Hi again, sorry everyone. Just to say, Matty and Laura, we all wish you every happiness. To Matty and Laura.’
People raised their glasses, or whatever they had in their hands – in some cases a half-eaten sausage roll – and repeated Jay’s words.
‘And now, thanks to Lis’s friend Joe and his band, Jiggers, who are going to give us a ceilidh. I think the first dance is reserved for Matty and Laura, and this, Matty, is where you are going to wish you were wearing pants.’
Jay handed the microphone back to Joe, a sardonic smile on his face. Finally, I was going to find out what all the fuss was about. A bloke holding a fiddle stepped up to the mic and looked at me; I looked back, waiting.
‘Yes, I think your brother could be right. The first dance at a wedding is traditionally slow, but we’re not a traditional band. This is a reel, and it starts off with two people, and everyone gradually joins in. It’s fast, there’s a lot of twirling. I hope he was joking about the pants. Just listen to the calls, I’ll tell you what to do.’
Oh fuck, twirling. My bare arse was one thing, my bare dick was another, although it had always been a risk. I felt Lau’s hand on my bum cheeks, as if trying already to keep things in place. I looked down at her and shrugged.
‘Not my fault no one told meh. The sporran should hold most of ih down, the rest is a treat for the ladies.’
No way was the sporran going to be able to counteract centrifugal force, but I didn’t really have a choice, did I? In for a penny, in for an eyeful.
I took Lau’s hand and led her into the middle of the floor, where we danced and twirled, and yeah, I managed to display my junk several times, before we finally sat down, exhausted, and Beth handed me a pair of pants. I was incredulous, there were children here and everything, and I’d done my best, but twirling kilts just can’t be stopped.
‘Holy crap, Beth, you could have given them to meh before.’
Beth laughed. ‘Yes, I could, couldn’t I. Iz and Charlie were well occupied with Rose, but they’re going to join in the dancing now, so I think some modesty is required. Thanks for the exhibition, and dispelling the myth of what a Scott wears under his kilt.’
She winked at Lau and left me to fumble the pants on at the table. Fuck she was good. I thought it was just Jay she was doing a number on, but I’d been well and truly done over myself.
The band were awesome. The ceilidh fitted in really well with the semi-Scottish theme, and the band were so enthusiastic that, even though it was early in partying terms, everyone was up and jigging at some point. Just as I was beginning to wonder if the choir thing had been a bust, the band called an interval, and the side door opened again, to spill out thirty or forty people, led by Al. I recognised Gerry, and just behind him was Sylvia, who gave me a wave, and who I was surprised to see as I’d have thought she’d have been with her mum.
They started with the song I’d heard them singing from outside, one of Lau’s favourites, and although it wasn’t really a dancing session, Lau came onto the dance floor with me and we smooched along to it. After that, there was a widely eclectic mix of ballads, fun songs, swing numbers, soul, you name it really; there seemed to be something for everyone.
As we sat and listened, Lau leaned over.
‘Did you really only sort this on Wednesday?’
‘Yeh. When I got the polish.’
‘Ohh. You are so sneaky. You’ve been really busy doing stuff behind my back. I might have to look into getting you watched so I know what you’re up to.’
‘Hope I never stop surprising yuh.’
‘So do I.’
I’d hardly had a chance to catch my breath since I’d left home at lunchtime, and I decided to sit out the first few dances of the regrouped ceilidh.
‘Yuh OK, Lau?’
I know, I know, pregnant isn’t ill, but surely people, and when I say people I mean women, obviously, need to take it a bit easy when they’re carrying a small human in their insides? Oh what the fuck did I know. From observing Beth and Amy, they’d pretty much carried on as normal apart from the wine, and it hadn’t done them or their children any harm.
‘Yeah, just want to sit and watch for a bit. You carry on, I think Kate was looking for a partner just now –’
I wondered if the fear showed in my face. Kate was by now completely pissed, and not fussy who she hit on. She’d been going after Dec and Nico pretty determinedly until Lis got shirty with her. I didn’t think even my newly espoused status would keep me safe.
‘No, tha’s OK, I’ll sit with you. She’s a bit full on, your mate. She does know I’m a married man, righ?’
‘Doesn’t usually stop her. Thanks for the choir. They were brilliant.’
‘I know. I couldn’t believe ih when I heard them, an then they were available tonigh. Can’t wait to beh alone with you tho.’
I stroked Lau’s thigh, then leaned in for a kiss, as I’d been doing pretty much constantly since we arrived; I couldn’t leave Lau alone, couldn’t wait to be on my own with her, just us. This day had been full, and happy, and busy, and necessary, but I was beginning to want it to be over.
‘I know. It might be quite late, though. Did you know about Paris?’
The briefest flicker of remaining irritation flashed across his face. It was momentary, but it was there.
I shook my head, reminding myself not to sulk.
‘Not a clue. Almost wish they hadn’t done it, I booked the honeymoon suite at The Ivy Leaf, I was looking fohward tuh being pampered.’
‘Ohh, is that why I had to bring my bag?’
‘Aw, that’s so lovely, flower.’
‘Well, ih would have been. Getting my head round waking up in another country tomorrow is a bih much.’
I really really was trying not to sulk, but I couldn’t help letting a little note of whining creep in.
‘Have you ever been to Paris?’
‘School trip, but noh not properly. It is romantic, buh weh don’t have to go if you don’t want to.’
Maybe Lau would want to back out, she’d never been a great traveller, I didn’t even know if her passport was up to date …
He sounded like he would be more than happy for me to say I didn’t want to go, but Paris sounded incredible. I hadn’t been abroad much at all, a few girls weekends to Ibiza and Torremelinos, does Dublin count? I knew Matt was disappointed not to be getting me all to himself in the Ivy Leaf, but there would be time enough for that after we got back.
‘Oh, no, I want to go. Once Philpotts arrives, we’re not going to have as many chances to do things like that, are we.’
Bugger. No ally there, then. And of course, if Beth had anything to do with it, the passport would have been sorted.
‘It’ll be lovely, we can have a pampered time in France instead of here, I bet the food’s better.’
That was my Lau. She always went for things, never turned anything down because she was scared or unsure. Just went for it. She was infectious, and I’d caught her, and I shoved the ungrateful indignation right to the back of my mind.
‘Ha ha, you could beh right. Oh Lau, yuh always see the positive. You’re right, it’ll be great. But we’ll do The Ivy Leaf soon, have some home-grown swankiness.’
And then there would be no family interference. End of.
‘It’s a deal – oh, Iz, flower, you’re covered in chocolate, did you dip your hands in the chocolate fountain?’
The blonde mischief-maker was approaching, licking her fingers, brown goop running up her arms.
‘No, don’t touch your dress, oh too late. Matt, can you grab some serviettes or something? Thanks, flower. Here, Iz, let me clean you up a bit before you touch something vital.’
I cleaned Iz up as best I could, and then plopped her on my knee, where she picked up the plastic bride and groom that had been on top of the wedding cupcake pile.
‘Are they your dollies?’
‘Well, I suppose they are, flower. I don’t know who made the cake, but these are supposed to look like Uncle Matty and me.’
She looked from the figures to me.
‘But you haven’t got yellow hair like this lady. And the man hasn’t got a skirt like Uncle Matty.’
‘You’re right, Iz, well spotted. I suppose nobody knew what we were going to be wearing, so they just guessed.’
‘Are they dollies?’
‘Sort of, I guess.’
I started to see where this was heading. Iz had an impressive collection of dolls and was always on the lookout for further additions.
‘I haven’t got a wedding doll.’
‘Haven’t you? Ooh, I bet these would look good on the shelf in your bedroom, wouldn’t they?’
‘Well, I’ll keep them safe in my bag for now, and next time I come to your house you can have them. OK?’
Then, mission accomplished, she slid off my knee and ran back to the dance floor, where Jay scooped her up and swung her round.
I sat back and watched as Lau cleaned Iz up, and then picked her up and onto her knee, not caring about any chocolatey remains getting on her dress. Iz proceeded to wheedle the plastic bride and groom from the top of the cake out of Lau, and I was impressed, both with Iz’s indirect approach, and Lau’s handling, whereby she let Iz feel like she’d won a prize, which she would have had anyway. My wife was fucking awesome, she was going to be a fucking awesome mum, I was so fucking lucky.
Apparently it wasn’t allowable for Lau and me to sit and not dance, and we were both eventually claimed by different people. Jay grabbed Lau, and Beth grabbed me, and then I lost track of who Lau was dancing with, but I must have passed through the hands of most of the women there, that being the nature of ceilidhs (and of my past life if we’re getting metaphorical). I was actually disappointed when Joe announced the last dance; I’d requested a smoocher from him in the interval, unsure if ceilidh bands did such things, but he promised me a slow dance, and now it had arrived and this crazy day was coming to an end.
I searched for Lau across the room and held my hand out to her. We met in the middle of the dance floor, and put our arms tightly around each other as the band played a slow, soulful tune.
They could have been playing death metal for all the notice we took of it. Matt whispered in my ear.
‘Nearly time to be alone, even tho ih’s gona be at the airport.’
‘It’s not the place that matters. I can’t wait to be snuggled up with you.’
‘Oh, I wasn’t planning on much snuggling.’
‘What, not even a bit?’
Lau actually looked disappointed, and I relented. In my eagerness to get to the main event, I sometimes forgot that Lau relished the closeness of a cuddle as much, if not more, than the hot sex. It was fine by me; the one usually led to the other in the long run anyway, just by a more circuitous route.
‘Well, OK, maybe a bit of snuggling, later. I bloody hope Beth, or whoever packed my bloody suitcase, packed some suitably sexy underwear for yuhr delectation. Or rather, mine.’
‘Who did pack our cases? And how did they get in?’
‘Well, Dec an Jay have both got a key, soh could have been anytime we were at work. How I didn’t miss my clothes, though …’
If I let myself think about it, I was going to feel irritated again, and I was trying very hard for that not to happen.
‘There has been a lot of deviousness. You’ve been out and about a fair bit, too, sorting certain clothing options, no doubt.’
Lau looked pointedly at my attire.
‘Ha, yeh, had to get the kilt out of mothballs and get it altered, it was too big, then find one the same for Jay, an he wouldn’t go to the alterers, soh had tuh guess, an then I had to get the ring altered too. Seriously tempted tuh just forget the whole thing by Thursday, but was so worth it. Your face was bloody priceless as you came roun the corner.’
‘Never stop surprising me, flower.’
As she said it, I realised she liked it, that being spontaneous was good for her. She didn’t need to be in control every second, unlike some, and maybe it was helping her cope with the surprises that had been showered on us in the last week; maybe it would help her with the possibly not so pleasant surprises that being married to Matthew Robert Scott might shower on her in the future, but that was for another day. Today, I was going to kiss her. We stopped dancing for a while, as I pulled her close, and Lau twined her arms round my neck, and we lost ourselves. After a few universes had collided, I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up. It was Beth.
‘Sorry to break this up, you two, but we need to get you to the airport to check in.’
I hadn’t even noticed the music had stopped.
‘OK – oh, the band’s packing up. I should thank everyone –’
Beth shook her head, laughing.
‘You haven’t got time, sweetheart. Come on, James has got the car started.’
‘Ih’s unblocked now, is it?’
‘Yes, it seems to be drivable now, somehow. Come on.’
‘Oh, before I go, I haven’t thrown my bouquet.’
‘Big oversight. I can think of a few single ladies who will want to be on the receiving end of that. Do it from the car, Laura, everyone will come out to wave you off.’
I grabbed Matt’s hand, then fetched the bouquet from the table and carried it outside, stopping by Jay’s car, with the door open.
Lau turned her back on everyone and threw the flowers over her shoulder, as I watched the eager, hopeful faces of the deluded women who believed that if they caught them, they’d be the next bride.
The bouquet sailed over the heads of the waiting women, to be caught by possibly the safest pair of hands, if not the most appropriate. There were squeals and laughter, and a few glares, notably from Lexi and Kate, when Dec held up the bouquet, looking embarrassed.
‘Sorry, everyone, it’s my job to catch stuff, couldn’t help myself.’
‘Well, Aunty Dec, looks like yuhr next.’
I laughed and got in the car, pulling Lau after me. She shut the door, and we both waved at everyone through the window.
‘Drive on, chauffeur. Hey, Jay, one last hurrah.’
As Jay looked in his rear view mirror, I lifted my kilt again, to the cheers of everyone outside, except possibly Beth and the two mums.
‘Oh for fuck’s sake put it away, Matty. We’ve all seen more than enough of your dick tonight. I thought you’d put some underwear on?’
Yeah, I had, but it was now surplus to requirements. I was officially on my honeymoon, where no underwear was ever required.
‘Don’t need ih now. Only me and Lau to worry about it. You’re not worried, are you Lau?’
‘You’ll be the one arrested for indecent exposure.’
I suppose it was as good an affirmation as I was likely to get.
‘For fuck’s sake. How much have you had to drink?’
Nice try, Jay, but I wasn’t pissed, nowhere near.
‘Yeah, and …?’
‘Tha’s it. Oh, glass of champers.’
Lau looked like she was counting how many drinks I’d had, and looked puzzled.
It was true, Matt wasn’t drunk, and thinking about it, I had hardly seen a drink in his hand all night.
‘Well, it’s all part of wha you said, Lau, long time ago, we only do what we can both do. ‘Member?’
I nodded, thinking back to how we’d started our sex life.
‘You can’t drink, so I’m … well I won’t say I won’t, because none is hard, an I couldn’t promise tha, buh, I’m not gona get pissed. In it together. If I could feel sick for yuh an get piles for yuh an varicose veins, I’d do ih, but cutting back on a few beers – small price. Very small.’
‘Ohh. That’s so lovely.’
She reached up and stroked my face. Jay wasn’t having any of it, though.
‘Yeah, noble, Matty. But there’s no excuse now for showing your tackle at the airport. Keep it – well I was going to say keep it in your trousers, but under the circumstances … oh, talk to yourself, Jay.’
I chose to ignore Jay and his attempt to bully me from the driver’s seat, in favour of kissing Lau deeply, passionately, tonguingly; Lau was as focussed as I was, and we occupied ourselves for the rest of the journey without comment from Jay. Eventually, the car stopped, but we didn’t. Lau’s hands were roaming in some thrillingly wanton places, and stopping was the furthest thing from my mind.
‘Come on, you two, you need to get checked in … Matty. Laura. Stop snogging. Oh, for fuck’s sake.’
The door opened, and Jay took Lau’s arm, pulling her gently away from me and out of the door; for a second it was like a part of me had been removed. Jay held on to Lau, who wobbled a bit, having gone weak at the knees with passion I assume, and they both looked at me as I reluctantly followed Lau out of the car. It had felt like our haven for a short while, and leaving it meant arrangements and passports and flying and checking in and taxis, before I could have Lau in my arms again.
In which the deed is done.
I sat down, feeling suddenly alone, as if Lau had disappeared, and wasn’t a ten minute drive away, or on the other end of her phone if I needed to talk to her. All this not seeing the bride before the wedding bollocks seemed ridiculous to me, but I guess I could appreciate Lau wanting to be made a fuss of and pampered by the other women without a sarcastic bastard hanging around making witty/infantile comments every other minute.
And it would have been hard to keep the kilt as a surprise if she’d seen me change into it. Plus, Jay certainly wouldn’t have agreed to getting changed in the presence of anyone else, which is why he was being delivered here by Beth before too long, so she could head off to Amy’s and join in the girls’ session.
Part of me wished I’d had the kilts here, so I could lay them out where Jay would see them as he came in. I would have loved to have seen the look on his face; I didn’t often ask my brother to do anything for me, although I knew, deep down, there was a lot he would do if I asked him, but this was more than just asking him to wear something weird at my wedding. I was asking him to acknowledge our dad too.
Maybe it was a big ask, and while part of me recognised this, another part wanted to revel in the discomfort he was going to feel for the rest of the day, like the annoying little brother I was always, but always, going to be.
Not long after Lau left, the door buzzer went.
‘Matty, it’s us.’
I pressed the button to open the door, and waited in the doorway as they came up the stairs. As I could have predicted, Jay looked pretty mardy about the whole thing, and Beth was carrying most of the hangers and bags. I took everything from her and put it over the back of the sofa. She gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and I graciously allowed her to twitter over me.
‘Oh Matty, this is so lovely, it’s such a lovely day for it, everything’s going to be so lovely.’
Jay, however, showed a not unexpected level of anti-twittering.
‘Yeah, Beth, bloody lovely, except I get to wear a bloody girl’s costume.’
‘Stop it, James. It’s not going to be for long. You look –’
‘Yeah, lovely, I know. Don’t forget my trousers.’
Beth flicked me the briefest of glances and I knew that the trousers were duly forgotten.
‘Don’t be silly. Have a good time, boys, see you at the ceremony. Don’t be late.’
‘Fat bloody chance. We’ve got hours yet.’
‘Oh just cheer up, James. This is one day. Your brother’s wedding. It’s only going to happen once, just be nice.’
Jay and Beth were always having little bickers. They didn’t mean anything, just highlighted the differences between the highly organised, constantly positive Beth and the eternally mardy, lazy sod that was my brother. I couldn’t have lived with either of them (although, yeah, I had, of course, but I’d been a fucking cripple, and obviously not in my right mind), but then I didn’t have to now, and I suppose they complemented each other in a way. It seemed to work for them, and they never had serious arguments. I guess Beth’s need to run people’s lives was fulfilled by being married to someone whose need to be organised was equally great.
Jay walked past Beth and sat on the sofa, ran his hands through his hair, then looked up at me.
‘I don’t suppose there’s anything, anything at all, that will talk you out of all this?’
He gestured to the hangers and bags containing our outfits. I shook my head.
‘Oh well, it was worth a try.’
He put on his best hangdog expression, the one he used when he was trying to get Beth to feel sorry for him and let him off whatever it was she’d told him to do. It hardly ever worked on her; not a chance in hell it was going to work on me. I ignored it all and talked to Beth.
‘Thanks fuh all this. Say hi tuh Lau.’
‘Hasn’t she only just gone?’
‘Yeh. I miss her.’
‘Oh Matty, you are so sweet.’
Jay muttered something under his breath that could have been ‘big girls blouse’, but I chose not to explore it with him, and Beth left to get back to the pamper party that was going on at Amy’s.
When I got to Amy’s, Lis was already there, and Beth arrived soon after, having dropped Jay at the flat to get ready with Matt. Everyone was in a state of high excitement. They were being very secretive about what was going on after the wedding, but were proudly displaying, in the middle of the dining room table, a beautiful bouquet of wild flowers.
‘My friend Saffy made it, she’s so good at things like that. Do you like it?’
‘Oh Lis, I love it, it’s perfect. It goes with my dress, look.’
I unwrapped the dress, and Beth, Lis and Amy exclaimed at how perfectly the colours toned, although as Amy was with me when I bought the dress, I suspected some details may have been leaked to Lis’s friend.
We had some lunch, then Amy did my make-up and Beth did my hair, and we all got dressed together.
‘Lau, you’re really starting to show. Have you got your scan booked?’
I put my hand on the bump of my tummy as Amy mentioned it. It hadn’t grown much in the last seven days, but it was a definite bump, and I wondered again how I hadn’t noticed. And how no one else had noticed, most of all Beth, who noticed everything before anyone else.
‘Yeah, next week. Matt’s coming too. I’ll be glad to put a date on it, it all feels a bit unreal at the moment.’
‘Oh, Laura, I gave James your grandmother’s wedding ring just before I dropped him off today. The later I left it, the less chance of anything going wrong. I don’t know what Matty’s doing, is he having a ring?’
‘He wouldn’t say. There’s a lot he hasn’t told me, I don’t mind surprises, but I’ve been getting a bit nervous.’
‘Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about. And most of the surprises you’ll love.’
‘All, I meant all.’
As we dressed, Beth and Lis told me the transport arrangements. Matt and Jay were going together, and this caused some hilarity and comments about windy conditions that I didn’t understand. There was some complicated to-ing and fro-ing that I didn’t completely get, where Beth was going to fetch my mum, bring her to Amy’s, then take Lis and Amy in Jay’s car, then Nico was coming to fetch Mum and me. It all seemed a bit unnecessary, but it wasn’t my plan, so I let them get on with it.
‘It’s a bit of a risk putting Nico in charge of getting the bride to the wedding on time, he’s always late, but he is on pain of death to be on time, if not early. And just in case, I told him twenty minutes earlier than he needs to be.’
‘What about getting to the barn afterwards?’
‘Don’t worry about that, Lau, just do as you’re told and you’ll be fine.’
So I did. I relaxed into it, let them do everything, tell me what to do, sat where I was told to, moved when I was told to, and remembered the three things I needed to remember, which were my bouquet and the sheet of paper my vows were written on, and to give Beth my overnight bag.
‘Thanks so much, you guys, I don’t know what to say. You’ve put so much work into this, with so little notice.’
This caused a competition to see who could most modestly deny any real part in planning what was likely to be a major event.
‘It was mostly Beth and Lis, I just sat with them drinking water and going ‘yum’ at the food.’
‘It was mostly Beth. I just did a car schedule and provided some handy friends.’
‘Oh come on, you two, don’t leave it all on my shoulders. You both helped loads.’
‘Well, whoever did what, it’s just great. Thank you.’
‘Well, you do look gorgeous, Lau. Good job us.’
So that just left Jay and me. We hardly ever spent time together, just the two of us. Beth was nearly always there, a buffer, and now it was just me and Jay, there was no Beth to fill the silence or get conversations started, and there was a big ‘thing’ going on. It felt slightly awkward. Jay looked at the clothes again as if they were going to bite him.
‘We don’t have to put it all on yet, though, do we?’
‘Noh. I though weh could have a beer. An I just put a pizza in the oven.’
‘Cool. Can I put your telly on?’
He reached for the remote and turned it on without waiting for me to answer.
‘Did yuh remember the rings?’
‘Yeah. Beth practically sewed them into my pocket so I didn’t lose them.’
‘Did yuh look at it?’
‘What? No. It’s yours.’
‘Ih’s Dad’s. Not mine till later, like the kilt. Jus wondered if you remember ih, or saw ih before or anything.’
I don’t know why I suddenly felt the need to share memories of my father, when Jay and I had never talked about him before, not in any detail.
‘No, I don’t remember.’
Jay was staring hard at the TV, determined not to get sucked into the conversation.
‘Do yuh mind meh having ih?’
‘What, the ring?’
He looked up, then, surprised.
‘No, course not.’
‘Cos, yuh know, maybe ih should have been yours.’
‘Don’t be daft, Matty, I never even thought about it when I got married.’
His puzzled frown told me he was being up front.
‘Wha, not even the kilt?’
‘Especially not the fucking kilt. You know he never even wore the bloody thing, right?’
‘Yeh, I know. Mum said. Sohm family thing he never went to.’
As I was talking, I was getting the pizza out of the oven and opening bottles of beer, so we didn’t have to look at each other. It might make it easier to talk, and I really wanted to talk about my dad, who I never knew, because it was my wedding day, and I missed him. Or not him, but the idea of him, of having someone I could lean on, who could lend me cufflinks, who could give me advice about married life, who could buy me a drink, who could just be my dad. I thought I’d done pretty well in life so far without a father figure – Mum had filled many gaps in her own way, she even taught me to shave – but there are some things that only your father can do, can be.
‘Jay, wha do yuh remember abou him?’
Jay blew his cheeks out and ran his hand through his hair again.
‘Jesus, Matty. I was only seven. Not much. He was big and had a bushy red beard and a booming voice, and we used to go to the park and throw rugby balls about when you were born, because you were always bloody crying and we needed a bit of peace.’
‘I miss him.’
‘How can you miss him? You don’t even remember him.’
‘Tha’s wha I miss. He’s like a ghost, I haven’t even got any memories, I haven’t got a pictuhr in my head, jus some old pictuhrs in Mum’s photo albuhms. All I’ve got is wha other people have told meh, you an Mum, an it jus all sehms fuzzy an ouh of focus an a long tihm ago. Today, I miss my dad.’
Jay just looked at his hands. I didn’t expect anything else, he didn’t really do sharing. Fuck it, I didn’t really do sharing. So I put the pizza on plates and carried it over with the beer and put it on the coffee table.
‘Taxi’s ordered fuh half two.’
‘He loved you.’
Jay picked up a slice of pizza and took a large bite.
I waited as he chewed.
‘Dad. He called you ‘my little matey Matty’, and he’d lift you up and throw you and catch you, and you’d laugh, and I’d sulk because I was too big for him to do that with me.’
This sudden gush of information took me by surprise, and I didn’t quite know what to say.
‘Yeah. Then he’d put you down and he’d grab me and turn me upside down, holding me by my ankles, and we’d all just laugh like … I’d forgotten. I guess I don’t think about him much.’
Jay looked up at me, guiltily.
‘Meh neither, not till recently.’
‘I’m sorry, Matty.’
‘Wha the fuck foh?’
‘For not being a very good replacement.’
Whoa, the things that went on in people’s heads, unbeknownst to all.
‘Wha the fuck? You didn’t have tuh replace him. We jus had tuh get on with ih, the threh of us.’
‘But Mum always used to say I had to look after you, now you didn’t have a daddy, and I used to get so mad, thinking ‘I haven’t got a daddy either, but who’s going to look after me?’, and maybe I could have been … a better brother.’
This was getting weird. It was almost like something had flicked a switch, and now Jay had started talking, he didn’t know how to stop. I know I was the one who had wanted to talk, but I wasn’t sure I could cope with it, all the information, all the emotion that was going to be pouring out if we weren’t careful, and I needed to put a stop to it, which was a shame because Jay and I never really talked, and on another day, it would have been great. But on another day, I guess it wouldn’t have happened. Still, before I got to my wedding a blarting wreck, some fucking about was in order.
‘Well maybe ih’s time tuh mahk amends. I’m going commando. Join meh.’
I had not intended to eschew undergarments, before this very minute. But now it seemed an appropriate thing to do. Or rather, not do.
‘What? You’re … no. Matty, you are not wearing a kilt without underwear. Have you looked out of the window today? It’s blowing a bloody gale.’
I shrugged. ‘Going commando. I’ve got the balls. Have yuh?’
‘Nope. No fucking way on this earth. I’ve got a sturdy pair of boxers that will do me nicely. I suggest you do the same, or you’ll get arrested for indecent exposure before you even get to the car.’
I laughed at his wide eyes and indignant expression, and we ate pizza and drank beer, watching nothing on the TV and talking about nothing, until it was at last time to get into the clothes that meant I was going to leave this flat for the last time as a single man. And that sobered me, not that I was drunk, I’d only had one beer, but it was a big thing, getting married, and today it just kept on hitting me, just how big it was. A week isn’t really that long to get used to the idea, and I’d managed to stave off the ‘ohshitohshitohshit’ until now, when it could be staved no longer.
Jay, possibly still in the midst of a sensitive moment after his childhood memories sharing event earlier, was perceptive enough to notice that I’d gone quiet, and that the fucking about department had put up a ‘back in five mins’ sign. He put his hand on my shoulder.
‘Feels a bit huge, doesn’t it.’
I nodded, casting aside several innuendoes that sprang to mind.
‘I remember when I got married, I didn’t really think about it, Beth did all the arranging, even ordered my suit, and laid it all out for me before she went off to get ready, I hadn’t had to do anything for the whole event, apart from nod and agree with everything – yes, Beth, the flowers look lovely, yes, Beth, that’s the cake we should have, yes, Beth, the bridesmaid dresses will go with the décor in the venue, you know what she’s like. And what I’m like, I suppose. But anyway, she went off, and it was just me and Darren, and all of a sudden, that year when it had been coming but I’d not really had to do anything, it all crashed on top of me and I suddenly realised, Jesus, I was going to have to stand up there and say shit and remember words and smile and talk to people, all bloody day, and then, afterwards, I was going to be bloody married. And it felt like the most fucking enormous thing anyone had ever done. I was half expecting a film crew to turn up so it could go on the news, it felt so big. I nearly bottled it, Darren had to make me drink a lot of scotch before I could even put my suit on.’
This was a big speech for Jay, and I just looked at him, blinking, when he’d finished, absorbing the information.
‘So what I’m saying is, yeah it feels huge, but just enjoy it. I love being married, love the kids, love Beth. Best thing I ever did.’
‘Better than playing fuh England?’
Jay winced. ‘Ooh, it’s close, but yeah, better than that.’
‘Well I’m gona have a blast, then. Nearest I got was county chess competition, ih’s got to beh better than that.’
‘I dunno, Matty, I heard those county chess types were party animals. Hand me that kilt, I’m feeling the need to wear a fucking skirt to my little brother’s wedding.’
And so, bedecked in Scottish garb, the Scott boys caught a taxi to the registry office where the youngest Scott boy was getting married and the oldest Scott boy was going to be his best man.
I’d meant to say something to Jay about what he’d done for me all those years ago when I nearly died, and how much it meant to me. I’d never really said it, I’d always meant to, but it had never seemed like the right time, and I hadn’t. Maybe I’d get an opportunity later. I rather doubted it, though. If I didn’t do it when I was on my own with him, I wasn’t going to be doing it in a roomful of people where anyone could overhear me being serious and heartfelt. But, weird sharing moments of today aside, he really was my best man. I wouldn’t be here without him, whether literally or metaphorically. He’d given up a lot to come and rescue me, and he’d brought me down here with him afterwards, and he and Beth had made a place for me with them that, yeah, I often railed and fought against, but it had underpinned me since I got ill the first time. Maybe Jay and I would just go on as we were, that was pretty likely, but maybe one day I’d just say it, ‘thanks for saving me’.
Beth went to fetch Mum, they all kissed and hugged me as they left, and Mum came in, looking a little bewildered to start with, but when she saw me, her eyes widened and filled with tears.
‘Oh LauraLou, you look beautiful. I thought you’d be – oh I don’t know – in jeans or something.’
‘Just because it’s quick and in a registry office doesn’t mean it’s not important.’
‘No, my love, I see that. What a lovely dress. And – is that your bouquet? It matches so well.’
‘I know. I’ve been so lucky with what everyone’s done for me. You look great, too. Is that new?’
‘Yes, I managed to get into town with Margaret yesterday, I wasn’t sure if I’d find anything, but this just jumped out at me. I couldn’t find a hat, though.’
‘Who needs a hat? They just flatten your hair down.’
‘You’re right, who needs it?’
This was Mum being carefree – she always had a hat for a wedding.
‘Did you have your appointment at the doctor’s?’
‘Yeah, no more news, I’ve got a scan booked for next week, they’ll be able to tell me how many weeks then. So a bit longer to wait.’
‘It must be very frustrating for you, not knowing.’
‘I wish I did know, it would give me something to imagine. I know the baby’s only a blob at the moment, but I’d like to know what shape and size it is. Did I tell you Matt’s given it – him, according to Matt – a name? Philpotts.’
‘Really? We did that with you. We called you Taters, because you made me look like I’d been eating a few too many spuds. Your father was quite keen to have it as your middle name.’
‘I think I prefer Louise.’
‘I wish he was here to see you today, LauraLou. He’d be so proud of you.’
I’d been thinking about my dad a lot over the last few days. It was one thing that would have made today perfect, and I knew that even though Matt didn’t remember his dad, he felt the same. There was such a family feel about this day, even though it was hastily thrown together, that it just felt slightly incomplete without our dads.
‘I know. I miss him. I thought about asking someone else to give me away, but it’s not really that sort of thing, and there isn’t anyone else I’d want to ask, anyway. I’m glad you’re here, Mum.’
‘I wouldn’t be anywhere else, my love.’
She took my hand, and fished a tissue out of a pocket to wipe my eyes without spoiling my make-up.
‘Your hair looks lovely. Who did it?’
‘Beth. She’s very clever. She’s organised everything for today, in, like, days, and as well as my hair, she did her own, and Amy’s and Lis’s. I think she cuts Jay’s and Dec’s hair all the time, and Cal and Iz’s. I’m not sure if she’s ever done Matt’s, he’d think she was fussing or something.’
‘He doesn’t like being taken care of, really, does he.’
‘You have to be careful how you do it. If he thinks you think he’s too weak to do something, he hates it, but if he thinks you’ve just suggested something, but don’t push it, and then maybe just mention it later, he’ll be fine.’
‘It sounds like you’ve got to know him pretty well.’
‘You know what, Mum, I feel like I’ve known him all my life. I can hardly remember not knowing him. It’s like we were always going to be together forever, we just hadn’t met each other yet. I love him so much.’
‘I’m glad for you. That’s what it was like with me and your Dad. Forty years, and I still woke up every morning and thought how lucky I was. I hope you feel the same in forty years.’
‘Thanks, Mum. I do too.’
Before long, Nico knocked at the door, and we were on our way to the registry office, to my wedding with Matthew Robert Scott.
And there we were, outside the registry office. We were a bit early, the traffic hadn’t been too bad, but there were a few people waiting outside who I recognised as we pulled up.
None of Lau’s preparation contingent seemed to have arrived yet, but there were one or two people from work, and I recognised Anna from Lau’s work, and as I opened the door to get out, Mum and Rose walked up the street with Iz and Cal to join the gathering throng.
Jay started grumbling immediately, both at the amount of people watching us get out of the taxi, and at the strong wind that made its presence known through the open door of the cab.
‘Jesus, Matty, we’re not going to get inside with our dignity intact.’
‘Who gives a fuck? Let people know wha a Scott keeps under his kilt. Here weh goh.’
The taxi had stopped right outside the door, and it was only a short hop to get inside. The wind dropped just as we got out, and the secret remained hidden for a while longer, although Jay ran inside with a hand clamped to the fore and to the rear, to prevent anyone seeing his boring black undies.
I sauntered after him, saying hi to people, trying to appear more relaxed and nonchalant that I was feeling. We had got there with about ten minutes to spare, and the people who had gathered outside followed us up the stairs to the waiting room, where there were more people and a lot of chatter.
Jay and I got cheers and cat-calls when we appeared, and, I like to think, some appreciative looks from the ladies. Dec was already there, with Charlie, and he laughed when he saw us. Beth had seemingly managed to keep the costume choice a secret, and Jay was hardly likely to have to have told anyone. Dec came over to us, grinning.
‘Fucking hell, Matt, now I’m doubly glad you didn’t ask me to be best man. Where would I have kept my speech?’
‘Tha’s wha the sporran’s for.’
‘Yours in there is it?’
I unclipped the pouch and showed him the miniature bottle of scotch.
‘Ah, Dutch courage.’
‘Ha ha. You won’t need it, mate.’
He patted my shoulder, and I realised just how long it had been since I’d needed him to talk me down from some freak-out or another.
‘Hope not. Heh, beautiful. Come an give yuhr Unca Matty a good luck cuddle.’
I took Charlie from Dec and heard a few people go ‘aw’, but ignored them as I gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. She clung on to my neck and babbled at me.
‘I know, beautiful. Yuh look gorgeous today. Did Daddy dress yuh?’
‘Cool. He did a surprisingly good job, dihnt he. All the buttons done up righ an everything. Shoes on the righ feet. Bloody miracle.’
‘How abou ‘Matty’?’
‘Dada ih is then. Yuh wana go back tuh him?’
I handed her back to Dec as Beth, Lis and Amy came up the stairs. They stopped and looked at me and Jay, Lis whistling, Beth’s eyes filling with tears and Amy with her hand over her mouth. They knew about the kilts, but only Beth had had a preview, of Jay’s.
‘Oh Matty, it’s just perfect.’
Beth came over and hugged me.
‘Gently, Beth, I’m not wehring pants.’
Her eyes widened. ‘Is James?’
‘Yeh, bloody wimp.’
She looked relieved. ‘You might regret it later.’
I shrugged, having no idea what she had planned, but willing to go with the flow.
While more people were arriving, and the waiting room was filling with our nearest and dearest, chattering and laughing, I went through the CD plan with Cal, double checking our signal and his actions. Then I spoke to a few people, but mainly hung around with Jay, both of us quiet, while I got steadily more nervous. Mum came over with Iz, who stared openly at what her dad and I were wearing.
‘Matty, you’re wearing a skirt. So is Daddy.’
‘Yeh, well spotted, Iz. Actually, ih’s not a skirt, ih’s a kilt. Ih’s like trousers fuh men who live in Scotland.’
‘But we’re not in Scotland.’
‘Noh, buh ih’s a special occasion, an I wanted to wear something special, so me an yuhr dad thought weh’d do this.’
‘It’s not trousers. It’s a girl’s skirt.’
‘Fair enough. I like ih. Maybe weh can get one fuh Cal?’
I winked conspiratorially at her, and she giggled at the thought of her brother in Scottish men’s trousers.
‘I have to say, dear, you and Jameson look very nice.’
‘Thanks, Mum. Jay ihnt so sure.’
‘Feel like a bloody prize pillock, actually, Matty. I can’t wait till this is all over and I can put my trousers on.’
‘Oh that would be a shame, Jameson. You look so handsome. Your father would have been proud.’
‘It’s not like he ever wore it, did he. Jesus, how do women wear this shit all the time? I’ve got a constant draught round my –’ he stopped as he remembered Iz ‘– undercarriage.’
‘Ha ha. Not as draughty as meh.’
Mum looked puzzled.
‘Really, Matthew? That will be interesting later on.’
Another hint. I wondered just what we were going to be doing, but was interrupted in my ponderings by Nico’s voice floating up the stairs. Nico was bringing Lau and her mum, and it meant she was here, and this was going to happen. Game on.
Pulling up in the car park, in the space reserved for ‘Bride’, my heart was beating so fast that I wasn’t sure I was capable of walking. I sat for a while, trying to get up the courage to move. Mum took my hand and gave it a squeeze.
‘Of getting married?’
I shook my head.
‘Of looking like an idiot, forgetting something, stumbling over my words, crying stupidly, you name it, everything that can go wrong.’
‘LauraLou, remember why you’re doing this. You love this man, he loves you, and you’re having a child together. That’s all that matters. You can’t possibly look like an idiot, someone as beautiful as you, in that dress, with that hairdo, you could fall over in a puddle and you’d look just as beautiful. But you won’t, it will all go fine. Come on, my love, people are waiting.’
I wouldn’t say Mum’s words calmed me down, but they reassured me.
Nico opened the door for me, and I took his hand and got out. The swirling wind threatened to blow me about, but Beth had emptied several cans of hairspray onto me, and my hair held firm.
‘Laura, I say this before, but you are beautiful. Today, for Matty, you are more beautiful. He is beautiful too, wait and see.’
Before I could ask him what he meant, he turned and led the way up the path to the door, holding it open for me and Mum. Then he trotted past and ran up the stairs in front of us, announcing our arrival. I heard a babble of chatter, which stilled as Nico shouted out, then music. Bagpipes. Dear Lord.
As Nico announced ‘Laura she is here’, I double winked at Cal, who had been watching me like a hawk, and he pressed play on the CD player he’d brought. Skirling bagpipes filled the room as Lau came up the stairs, but I hardly heard them. Fuck, she looked, well, beautiful is the only word I can access to describe her, but she was beyond beautiful, so so far beyond it, that I was transfixed.
Clutching my bouquet and checking for the fiftieth or fifty-first time that I had my little bag over my arm with my vows in it, I walked slowly up the stairs, which twisted round a corner, so it wasn’t until the last minute that I could see into the waiting room where everyone was, well, waiting.
I quickly scanned the faces there, a mixture of people Matt and I loved, and suddenly caught sight of two men – no, not just any two men, Matt and Jay – in kilts. Actually, in full Scottish get-up, sporrans, frilly shirts, dark jackets, the lot. Jay looked a bit embarrassed, but Matt had the biggest smile on his face, looked totally relaxed, as if he wore such a thing every day, and when he saw me, his expression melted tenderly, and he walked over and kissed me.
She was wearing a strappy velvety dress that hugged her figure and dropped to the floor, with a matching wrap, and carrying a bouquet of wild flowers that looked like they had been spun from the same fabric, but all of that was just accessories to her face, her smile, her eyes, which wandered over the people there until they lit on me, and then her smile widened and it was just me and her, just me and Lau, everyone else could have disappeared, as I walked over, kissed her, and whispered in her ear.
‘Lau, you look … soh fucking amazing.’
‘You’ve upstaged me, I think.’
Never, Lau. No one was looking at me any more, they were all looking at you and thinking what a lucky bastard I was.
I gave her a wink.
‘I’ve gone commando.’
I was loving the effect that piece of information was having on people. Lau’s eyes went wide.
It was so unusual for Lau to swear, I realised how surprised and maybe nervous she was.
‘Lau! Think of Philpotts.’
Then I hugged her tightly, needing to feel her in my arms, but had to let go before I got carried away. Instead, I took her hand, and we waited nervously for the registrar to call us in. The bagpipe music stopped and we both looked round at everyone, feeling conspicuous. There was an awkward silence, then Phil shouted out.
‘Give us a Highland Fling then, Matt.’
‘Maybe later, Phil, don’t want to risk giving away the secret of wha’s under my skirt before then.’
People laughed, and chatter broke out as I spoke into Lau’s ear again.
‘This is liberating. Might never wear trousers again.’
‘Really? Outside, in winter? Good luck with that.’
‘True. You look awesome, Lau. Beth and Amy did a great job. Buh they had good materials to work with. Are yuh OK?’
She nodded, but looked apprehensive, much as I expect I did.
‘If I was wearing pants I’d be shitting them, buh luckily I’m not.’
‘Good strategy. Oh – here we go!’
The registrar came out and announced ‘Laura Shoeman and Matthew Scott’ and we went through the door, squeezing each other’s hands tightly. Music started up – Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, the Muse cover. We both loved it, had smooched and rocked out to it many times, and I’d managed to sort the going in and coming out music with the clerk earlier in the week. As the chorus faded away, a hush fell over the room, and we faced each other.
I was suddenly calm. This should have been the bit where my heart was beating itself out of my chest, but something just switched off the nerves. It was as if, here I was, doing what this last crazy week had been all about, and nothing was going to stop it now. There was no more thinking, there was no more worrying, it was happening and it was just cool.
The first part of the ceremony was the legal bit, the ‘no lawful impediment’ and the ‘I take you’ bit. Then we exchanged rings. The registrar told everyone that my ring was my grandmother’s and Matt’s was his fathers. I hadn’t known that, and looked up at him, to see his eyes sparkling with what could be tears. He’d often told me that as he’d been two when his dad died, he didn’t remember him and wasn’t affected by it, but his face now told a different story.
I felt tears prickle at the corners of my eyes. It was like he was here, in a way, and I was glad I’d thought of wearing his ring. My dad could be here even in that small way, and it mattered, I felt validated.
I hadn’t told anyone, but there was an inscription inside the plain gold band, and they’d asked me if I wanted to keep it, and I did. It was perfect. I hadn’t said anything to Mum yet; I didn’t know if she’d remembered, or how she would react when I reminded her. It said ‘Forever yours’ and there was the date of their wedding, and I’d had the date of ours added. I bent down to Lau’s ear.
‘The kilt’s his as well.’
She nodded and I could see she knew what it meant to me.
And now it was time for the vows. Me first. I got my piece of paper out and started to read.
‘Matt. Matthew Robert Scott. I love you. This time thirty odd years ago, I was planning a fairytale princess wedding. There was going to be a castle, a slain dragon, lots of pink, and a handsome prince. In my teens, I was going to marry Johnny Depp in a huge Hollywood extravaganza. I’d downsized my ambitions by the time I reached my twenties, and saw myself having a classy yet enormous event in some stately home somewhere. Maybe still Johnny if he behaved himself. Then reality and my thirties hit, and I stopped dreaming about my wedding, because it felt like it might never happen. This time last year, I didn’t even know you. then – tada – just six months ago, I met you, and I fell in love with you, madly and badly. This time three months ago, we’d just moved in together. This time – well – a few weeks later, we were parents, although we didn’t know it. This time last week I’d just found out I was going to be a mother and a wife. And now here we are, and it’s back to the fairytale. No castle or dragon, or, thankfully, acres of pink, and although it looks like Johnny’s stood me up, the handsome prince and the happily ever after are sorted. Time’s a bit weird, things can seem like they last forever and pass in a flash all at once. I feel like I’ve known you and loved you all my life, and at the same time I feel like it’s all happened so quickly, sometimes my head literally spins with it.’
I opened my mouth to complain about the misuse of ‘literally’, but Lau pre-empted me.
‘And don’t say ‘it doesn’t literally spin, Lau, otherwise your head would fall off’. I know what I mean. This is the bit where I promise you something. When we first met, six months or a lifetime ago, depending on how time is passing when I think about it, we agreed to hold hands, wherever we were, however far apart we were, and see how it went. Well I don’t ever want to let go. I promise that through anything, everything, sickness and health, richer or poorer, all that, I will be holding your hand, loving and supporting you, connected to you.’
I just couldn’t help myself. ‘Even –’
She rolled her eyes, but she’d left a tiny pause, as if she knew I was going to say it.
‘Yes, even there. Matt, you are my world. I don’t know how it happened, I just know I never want it to end. I love you. Forever.’
I put my paper down and looked into his eyes, which were sparkling with tears again, above a wide smile.
She put her paper down and looked into my eyes, which were swimming wetly again, although I was smiling too. Fuck, it was just about the most perfect thing she could have said, and it echoed what I was going to say. It was what today had been about, sod the clothes, the party, the other people. Today was about me and Lau promising shit to each other, and what she had just promised me was fucking mind-blowing
‘Lau, I soh want to kiss you.’ I turned to the Registrar. ‘Can I kiss her yet?’
The Registrar looked surprised at the question.
‘Well, technically, I can’t actually stop you. It’s not the usual place though, people usually wait until after both sets of vows.’
No, I wasn’t going to wait.
‘Oh fuck it, we’ve never done anything the righ way round, or how people usually do it. Come here.’
I pulled Lau into my arms and we kissed, deeply, tongues and everything, forgetting for a second or two that people were watching. We pulled apart, caught our breath and looked at each other.
The Registrar made a ‘carry on’ movement with her hands.
‘Oh, shit, my bih. Sorry. I will be kissing you again, righ after, Lau. Get ready. You’re virtually irresistible in that dress. OK, here’s my vows, promises, whatever.’
I took a breath, did a quick mental review of what I was going to say, and began.
‘Lau, Laura Louise Shoeman, on the first day I saw you, I knew. It was like I recognised you from somewhere. It might have been your bloody hot nurse’s uniform addling my brain, buh I just thought to myself ‘fucking hell, that’s her‘.’
From behind me I heard a tut and a sotto voce ‘honestly Matty’. I had obviously just breached Beth Scott’s personal swear threshold, and I didn’t give a shit.
‘Oh, sorry Beth, buh this is my wedding, an I’m saying things my way. Fingers in ears, kids.’
Matt wasn’t even reading his words, he’d either memorised them, or he was making it up as he went along. Either was possible, and it was probably a bit of both.
‘Anyway, I nearly fucked ih up, firstly collapsing on you, an then having a bloody hissy fit when yuh looked after meh. But somehow I ended up spending the night with you – don’t worry folks, it was all above board, tha night anyway – an even more incredibly you’re still here. I still wake up wih you next to meh an think I’m dreaming. I’ve found you, an you’re soh, soh amazing Lau, an I’m never letting you go. So this is my promise. I don’t need tuh say for better or for worse, because with you it’ll always beh better. I don’t need to say in sickness and in health, because with you I feel great whatever’s wrong with meh. I don’t need tuh say richer or poorer, because I’m richer wih you and poorer without you, who gives a fuck about money. I don’t need to say till death duh us part, because I’m gona be holding your hand forever, whatever happens to either of us. I love you, Lau. You complete me, you’re what I’ve been waiting and fucking about for all my life. Thank God I found yuh. Sorry I fall short in the loaded movie star department, I’ll make it up tuh yuh with a chocolate lava cake.’
‘Lau, I’m forever yours.’
I turned to the Registrar, wanting to give her fair warning.
‘I’m gona kiss her again now.’
‘Oh, er, you may kiss the – oh, too late.’
Matt caught me up in a passionate kiss, hands in my hair, pulling out pins and undoing carefully sprayed curls. His mouth was on mine, lips and tongues tangling, bodies pressed against each other.
We were just us, until everyone started clapping and whistling, and we pulled apart and turned to them, smiling the widest smiles of our lives.
The Registrar attracted our attention again, to ask us to sign the register, which we did with our mums as witnesses. Then the music started once more, this time Stevie Wonder sang ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ as we clung to each other again, and then everyone gathered round and talked to us, and I suppose I answered, but all I could think was ‘I’m married to Lau’ and only her hand holding mine stopped me floating up into the clouds.
I hugged Matt, and then everyone gathered round and said things to me and hugged me, and I couldn’t take any of it in, only the fact that I was holding Matt’s hand and I was never going to let it go.
People say ‘it was the happiest day of my life’, and now I knew what they meant. Jay was right; this had been, without a doubt or a second thought, the best thing I had ever, ever done.
And that was it. I was married. If I’d let myself think about this moment at all, I would have imagined myself having some sense of foreboding, of being tied, trapped, or some such shit. But I was married to Lau. We’d just promised to be together forever, we were never going to let each other go. Instead of imprisoning me, it liberated me. Matt the Lad was well and truly gone.
I felt hands in my hair; Beth had picked up the stray pins and was rearranging me. She whispered in my ear,
‘Oh that was so lovely, Laura. I can’t believe it’s all done so quickly.’
I turned and looked at her.
‘Thank you for everything.’
‘It’s not over yet, sweetheart …’
I was vaguely aware of Beth re-pinning Lau’s hair, and talking to her, and then she came round to me.
‘Matty, that was so lovely. I never knew you had it in you.’
‘Wha? Being a sentimental old bastard?’
‘Being totally real for once, no messing about.’
I shrugged, about to give her some of the fucking about she was obviously missing, then there was a big shout as Jay raised his voice above the chatter.
‘Alright everyone, I hope you’ve all got the message about the reception. Cal is handing out cards with the address in case you haven’t. If any of you need a lift, please talk to Lis – Lis give us a wave – but otherwise, stick to the plan, and see you there in a few minutes. There’s plenty of parking.’
Jay lowered his voice and spoke to me and Lau.
‘Matty and Laura, you’re with me. I’m your official driver for the rest of the day. Jesus, I need a beer and to get out of this bloody skirt.’
‘Noh, noh, noh, you’re wearing the kilt for the rest of the evening.’
Whether he liked it or not.
‘I’m bloody not, Matty. I feel like a prize knob.’
‘Oh Jay, you look great, it was such a surprise seeing you and Matt when I came up the stairs.’
Lau thought she was helping, trying to persuade him. She had no idea that Beth had been plotting.
‘I bet it was. You can keep yours on if you want, Matty, but mine’s coming off when we get there. Beth’s got my trousers.’
I shrugged, he’d find out soon enough, and then it would be too late. As Jay turned away to lead us down the stairs, I whispered to Lau.
‘I think he’ll find she hasn’t.’
And then I kissed her as she started laughing, both to stop her giving the game away, and because, well, I just wanted to kiss her. A lot. For the rest of the day and night, if at all possible.
We followed Jay to the car, the last to leave the building, and ran into a snowdrift of confetti as we walked into the car park, where everybody had waited for us. Out of all the things I’d ever wanted for my wedding, this was the one thing that was in all my daydreams: confetti. Little pastel hearts, horseshoes and bells floating down on me and my new husband, tiny signs blown about after we’d gone – ‘Lau and Matt: just married’. It was perfect, although it stuck in our hair, got in our mouths and up our noses, and a fair amount of it attached itself to Jay as well, much to his annoyance.
‘It’s going to take me bloody ages to get this lot out of my car.’
‘Nice little Sunday morning job for yuh then.’
‘Yeah, thanks. Here, Laura, let me help you in.’
Lau and I sat on the back seat of Jay’s four wheel drive and kissed all the way to the barn. Neither of us paid any attention to where we were going, we were totally wrapped up in each other, much to Jay’s amusement.
‘Jesus, Matty, get a room or something.’
‘Stop watchin if we’re offending yuh, yuh should be looking where you’re bloody well goin anyway.’
I stopped long enough to berate him, then dived back in for some more lip action. Lau tasted so good, it was as if being married to her had changed her saliva or something.
‘We’re nearly there. Stop it now, make yourself presentable before you get out. You’ve got lipstick all over your bloody face.’
‘Don’t give a fuck. If I can’t kiss my wife … fucking hell, Lau. Yuhr my bloody wife. I’m your bloody husband. Shit. We’re Mr and Mrs bloody domesticated.’
I looked at her, mouth gaping, as using the words sent a whole new flood of real through me.
Matt looked as if he’d truly only just realised, and could possibly be on the verge of freaking about it.
‘Is that Bloody-Domesticated with a hyphen, flower?’
It made him laugh, and his face cleared.
Trust Lau to not let me dwell. I touched my mouth, and saw red lipstick on my fingers.
‘Have yuh got a tissue? Probably should wipe this off my face.’
‘Haven’t you got one in your sporran?’
‘Noh. Got a tot of whisky. No room for anything else.’
‘Here you are then, but I warn you, in being the tissue dispenser, I am turning into my mother before your eyes.’
‘Noh chance, your scones aren’t nearly good enough.’
‘Well, that’s it. You criticise my cooking, you constantly demand tissues, I want a divorce.’
I knew she was kidding, but it pierced my soul, and instantly sobered me.
‘Fuck, Lau, sorry, I can’t even joke about tha. Not gona happen, ever.’
‘No, I agree. Sorry, shouldn’t have said it.’
She looked guilty, and I shouldn’t have made her feel guilty, not today, so I gave her an alternative, as I wiped my mouth with the tissue.
‘Hey, make meh feel better, have an explore under my kilt.’
‘Oh for fuck’s sake, Matty, I’m right here. At least wait until you’re on your own before you start your honeymoon. We’re here now, please keep your hands to yourself, Laura, and both of you remember there are children present.’
We had indeed pulled up outside a barn, where there were loads of other cars haphazardly parked. While Jay got out of the car, I leaned in for another kiss, but it was just a quick one, as he opened the door for Lau, who quickly wiped her smudged lipstick, and I scooted out after her. As I got out, the wind caught us, threatening to mess Lau’s hair up, and catching the back of my kilt with an icy blast that nearly froze my bollocks off.
As we got out, a gust of wind caught us, dislodging a few of Beth’s carefully reinstated curls, and whipping the back of both kilts up above waist height briefly, revealing Matt’s perfectly naked buttocks, and Jay’s sensible, sturdy pair of shorts. There were whoops and shouts while I tried to catch the back of the kilt and cover Matt’s modesty. He didn’t seem to care, Jay was the one glowering and swearing and beating a hasty retreat to the barn, locking his car over his shoulder as he ran.
Everyone was waiting outside, so they all saw my arse, and Jay’s underwear, and there was a fair amount of hollering from the gathered throng. I suppose it was good to get it out of the way, and at least it was only the back view; the sporran was heavy enough to hold the front down through a fairly hefty breeze.
Lau whispered in my ear as we followed Jay to the barn. She meant mine, not Jay’s, and she gave it a squeeze as we walked through the door, and then let go, as she needed both hands to cover her mouth in surprise and awe at the inside of the barn.