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What’s it all about?

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

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92. Nothing can stop us

In which pre-nuptial entertainment is undertaken, written promises are considered, and the day of reckoning dawns.

Matt

I was tired the next day, but that’s what all the short day shit was about, so that I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn and struggle through a whole day of concentrating.

I ordered some flowers from the local florist, which I was going to pick up on Friday morning, and I had a text from Beth to say that she had talked Jay into the kilt. I bet she had, I bet she hadn’t stopped bloody talking him into it since yesterday, and I expect he gave in just to shut her the fuck up. I loved it when it wasn’t me on the end of a Beth nag session; didn’t happen often, and I suspect Jay had been getting an easier life than usual with me being a fucking cripple again, so I didn’t feel bad about it in the slightest. I’d been confident she would do the business, and had forged ahead with the kilts without her say so.

Laura

The next week passed in a rush. I worked on Monday and Tuesday, but took the rest of the week off, and went shopping with Amy on Wednesday. Beth was originally going to come, but was too busy, so Amy and I spent the day looking at the dresses we’d picked out online, and sitting in cafés so Amy could rest her swollen ankles. I got a perfect dress, made even better by it being half price in the sale, which saved me enough for the perfect pair of shoes, so everything matched.

Amy insisted I let her buy a wrap to go with it, as a wedding present, and she found a dress for herself which was comfortable, stylish and would be wearable after she’d had the baby. We were both tired by the end of the day, but we’d had a real laugh. By the time I dropped Amy home, we were both dead on our feet, and I was glad I was going home to Matt and a cooked tea, rather than a one-year old who needed lots of attention from her Mummy and Daddy, neither of whom were likely to be eating until after she was in bed.

I was determined I would make the most of the few months I had remaining of not being a mum, but most of me was so looking forward to having a child that I couldn’t wait. I’d made an appointment with my GP for Thursday, and was due to have lunch afterwards with Beth, Lis and Amy. It was likely to be a long lunch, with lots of laughter, chatter, cake and coffee.

Matt

And so that just left two days to keep myself busy enough that I didn’t dwell on how mad this whole thing was, how absolutely off the planet bat-shit crazy my life had become in the last few days, how unprepared I was, how little I knew about a) being married, b) having a baby and c) both of those together. It really was best not to think about it, because it was so far from the way I usually liked to do things, with having all the information at my disposal, having researched it thoroughly and thought all the pros and cons to death.

Yeah I could do spontaneous, but not with the big stuff. I could go and fetch Cal on a whim and take him surfing, or I could drive Lau a hundred miles to watch a meteor shower, or whoa, steady on, change my brand of shampoo, without blinking an eye. But big life events, like buying a car, going on holiday, having a baby with the woman you want to marry, well all of those things would normally have required a lot of mental to-ing and fro-ing, Googling, lists and lengthy weighing up of the pros and cons before any decisions were finalised.

However, now here I was, in the middle of a rather big life event, and I had hardly given myself time to think. I couldn’t, because there was no option to change my mind, back out, be fucking terrified. And if I thought, terrified is what I would be.

So I just did stuff, organised stuff, went to work, brought work home so I’d be busy, and generally conserved my energy for my stag-night. I was going to have to be awake on Thursday until at least midnight, and if I didn’t get some good rests in beforehand, I was going to be collapsing in an inappropriately fucking cripple way.

And through all of it, I didn’t think, not properly, about any of it.

That sounds like I thought it was a mistake. Oh, no, getting married to Lau, having a baby, they were the best things ever. I just knew that if I thought about it, all the shit that had propelled me into being Matt the Lad would surface and I’d start to question myself. I didn’t want to give myself that opportunity, didn’t have time, and the end result would be the same, I’d just be freaking more.

So for those two days, I sorted my outfit and accessories, I delivered Jay’s outfit and accessories to him and laughed at the indignant look on his face when he realised I actually was serious, I went and helped Mum with the cooking, and I … oh, I sorted some of the entertainment.

Beth was arranging everything, and that was fine, but it niggled me just a little bit that she had complete control. Even though that was what I’d wanted and what I’d given her. Hey, never said I wasn’t a fuck-up, alright?

I was walking down the High Street on the Wednesday evening, on my way back from a trip to the corner shop for shoe polish, when I heard a song floating out of a hall. It was one of Lau’s favourites, some sentimental boy-band shit, and I wouldn’t have normally paid any attention to it except she’d been singing along to it in the car a few days before and I’d been teasing her, so when I heard it, it pinged into my consciousness. And it sounded surprisingly good, mainly because it wasn’t the boy-band who were singing it, but a choir, without accompaniment.

I turned towards the music, opened the door to the hall and wandered inside, to stand, captivated, as the choir sang another couple of songs. There was a bit of stopping and starting, as they were obviously learning the songs, but they sounded awesome, and seemed to have a fairly varied repertoire. The man at the front who was waving his arms around, conducting I assumed, called a break, so I wandered up to talk to him.

‘Yuh sound awesome.’

‘Thank you. Are you interested in singing?’

‘Fuck noh, buh I lohv wha I’ve heard. Yuh don’t do weddings by any chance?’

‘It has been known. What did you have in mind?’

‘I’m getting married on Friday afternohn.’

I saw the ‘fuck off’ on the tip of his tongue, then he swallowed it and looked thoughtful.

‘Well it might be a bit short notice for the choir, and if I can’t get enough people to do it, it would have to be a ‘no’. But how about I ask after the break, see who could come, I could give you an answer then?’

‘Awesome.’

‘Feel free to have a chat while you’re waiting, we’ll be about ten minutes. I’m Al, by the way.’

‘Matt.’

‘Have your band let you down?’

‘Wha?’

‘For your wedding.’

‘Oh, noh, ih’s all a bih last minute. Only popped the question on Friday. Still making arrangements.’

Al’s eyebrows jumped up into his hairline.

‘Hell’s teeth, you live on the edge, don’t you.’

I nodded, ruefully. ‘Ih’s felt like ih the last few days.’

‘I’ll bet. I’ll see what I can do, then, put my best persuading voice on.’

He left me, to sort out some music, and I quickly texted Beth.

‘Might need to factor a choir into reception plans.’

‘What are u up 2 Matty?’

‘Stand by.’

Al had sent a couple of people over to talk to me while everyone was having a break, presumably to rest their vocal cords although everyone was talking nineteen to the dozen. I had a pleasant chat with Sylvia and Gerry, who apparently sang alto and tenor, whatever the fuck that meant.

Looking around the hall, most of the choir members were older people, although there were a few people who could be my age or younger (maybe they would still count as older in some circles).

After a few more minutes of chatting, during which I learned that Sylvia looked after her elderly mum, but had carers in on Wednesdays so she could come to choir, and Gerry was a financial advisor looking forward to retirement, and they learned that I was a tone-deaf IT consultant with a penchant for impetuous decisions, Al called everyone back together.

‘OK, everyone.’

He beckoned me over to him.

‘This is Matt. Matt’s getting married on Friday, to … er …’

‘Laura.’

‘He only proposed to Laura last Friday –’

There were a few ‘aahs’ and a few more gasps,

‘– and is still sorting his wedding out. He just heard us before the break, and thinks we sound awesome, which of course we do, and he wondered if we could sing at his reception, which is on Friday afternoon. I haven’t said yes, because it’s very short notice, but I’m going to ask for a show of hands, and if we have enough people who would be prepared to do it, we can say yes, and discuss our fee!’

‘Noh pressure.’

‘Absolutely not. Only put your hand up if you are one hundred per cent able to do it. Go.’

At a rough count, about twenty-five people put their hands up, out of the possibly fifty who were there. Someone asked what time, and put their hand up when I told them, along with a couple more. I was incredibly moved, that a bunch of complete strangers would be prepared to put themselves out for me at a moment’s notice. People weren’t so bad after all.

‘OK, looks like we’ve got ourselves a gig. You won’t have to be too fussy what we sing.’

‘Seriously? Yuh’ll do ih?’

Al nodded.

‘Whoa, awesome. Thank yuh all. Made my day. Sing anything. Tha one yuh were doin when I came in – boy-band shit – tha’s Lau’s favourite.’

‘It’s on the list. Matt, I will need to contact you about the finer details.’

‘Oh, yuh need to talk to my sister-in-law, she’s doin all the organising. I’ll give yuh her number.’

We exchanged details, and I walked home with a spring in my step, after texting Beth to warn her to expect a call from Al and to make room in whatever she had planned, for the choir.

Something must have shown on my face when I got in; Lau could always tell when I was hiding something, whether it was a surprise for her, or some kind of bastard MS type thing I was trying to ignore.

‘What have you been up to? You’ve been gone ages.’

‘Jus getting polish, I tol yuh.’

‘Had to go to Scotland to get it, did you?’

‘Hey, I’m a fucking cripple. Tahks meh ages to walk places. Did yuh offer tuh go for meh? Noh. Selfish cow.’

Lau got that look on her face, the one she always got when I called myself a fucking cripple, then I saw her realise it was a diversion – she was learning fast – and her expression changed to penetrating inquirer.

‘You hardly even limp these days. It does not take you an hour to walk down to the corner shop and back.’

‘How do yuh know I went tuh the corner shop? They migh not have had polish, next nearest shop, miles away.’

Not exactly fibbing. More like supposing.

‘Didn’t they, then?’

‘Wha?’

‘Have any polish at the corner shop?’

Jeremy Paxman had nothing on Lau. And I couldn’t lie to her, the cow. And she knew it, the cow. Half-truths necessary.

‘I got side-tracked. All will behcome clear. Noh further questions will beh answered at this tihm.’

Lau tried wheedling.

‘Are we going to start our married life keeping secrets from each other?’

‘Fuck yeh. An we’re not married yet. Yuh can’t use tha for another two days. Beh patient.’

‘So were you doing something to do with Friday, then?’

‘Noh more questions.’

‘You were.’

‘I plehd the fifth.’

‘The baby would like to know.’

‘Ha ha, Lau, Philpotts dohnt give a toss as long as he’s warm and inside yuh – he takes after meh.’

Which gave me a better idea for a distraction, and Lau was amenable, and that was the end of that discussion.

Laura

Anna, Kate and Rachel wanted to take me out for a hen night on Thursday evening, and Matt was having a stag do the same night. I had no idea what he had planned; there was likely to be a lot of drinking involved for Matt, and I hoped he would be in a fit state for Friday afternoon. Mine was going to have to be a sedate affair, at least as far as my personal alcohol consumption was concerned, with just the work girls and a few other friends, and we chose Mean Bean as our starting venue.

Sometime soon I was going to have to write my wedding vows. I liked how vague that sounded, as if I shouldn’t have already damn well finished it. We’d gone for that option, writing our own rather than any particularly religious or formal service, as everything else had been done so quickly; we wanted this part of the day to be something we had put some thought into, but now I was proper panicking, and I just hoped I was going to have enough time to put my feelings down coherently. Or even in a hasty muddly emotional splurge.

I got up early to start writing some of the thoughts I’d had about my vows. Matt slept in, feeling a need to conserve his energy for his stag night, so for a while I had the place to myself, and sat with a blank piece of paper in front of me, trying to think of a way to write it, what I felt, what Matt meant to me. Eventually, before I’d written a single word, apart from a few rather juvenile attempts at writing my signature with the name ‘Scott’ at the end instead of ‘Shoeman’, and ‘Matt’ in a heart at the top of the page like I was a teenager, it was time to go to my GP appointment. I screwed up the paper and put it in the bin. I still had time later, between lunch and going out with the girls, and then when I got back.

Matt

The next day, the day before my wedding, shall I say it again, the day before my sodding, fucking, bloody huge deal of a wedding, I was trying to get as much rest as possible. All the Scottish kit was going to be delivered, along with Jay, by Beth on Friday morning, to make sure both arrived unimpaired and without mishap to either. My father’s wedding ring had been altered, and Beth was collecting that for me later as well.

One of the last things I had to do was think about my vows. Lau and I wanted to say our own vows, rather than just repeat something out of a book. It seemed like there was going to be little enough of us in the short ceremony, so we wanted to put something in there that said what we meant to each other, but now I needed to think about what I was going to say. I was used to doing presentations and speaking to people off the cuff at work, and I didn’t usually stick to a script, but this time I thought I should at least have a vague plan of things I wanted to say.

It wasn’t just for Lau, although she was the main one it was for; enough people had implied it was very quick, very sudden, did I really know what I was doing, that I wanted to tell everyone, yes, this woman is the other half of my soul, the one person who makes my life worth living, and fuck you if you can’t see that or believe it.

So in-between the long lie-in and all the power naps of Thursday afternoon, I made a mental list of everything I wanted to say. That was kind of how I always did things. I never needed to write things down, I had some pretty good memory strategies, and after a bit of thought, it was all in there, waiting for tomorrow. Now I just had to not get so pissed on my stag that I forgot it all.

Oh, and Lau had an appointment with her doctor, and we were hoping we were going to get a due date so we could stop all the ‘when’s it due’ ‘don’t know’ ‘how can you not know’ ‘well we’ve had a lot of sex and could be any time in the last three months really’ type conversations.

Laura

It was never going to be as simple as that. Much as I expected, my GP needed to use the date of my last period to estimate my due date. I couldn’t remember when that was, only that I had missed two. A digital test would only be able to tell me how many weeks up to three or more; I already knew I was more than three weeks. So although I’d been hoping for more information, I was none the wiser.

My GP booked a scan for me, based on the assumption that I was at least eight weeks, probably more, and they would be able to tell more then. She booked it for next week.

Matt

Lau called me half way through the morning.

‘Heh gorgeous.’

‘Hi flower. I feel like a complete idiot.’

My heart did a little flip-flop as I thought she meant she wasn’t pregnant after all, and disappointment followed a weird combo of relief and irritation. The relief was only because it would slow things down a bit, and the irritation was because things were now unstoppable.

‘Why? They handin ouh IQ tests at the surgery now?’

‘Ha ha. No, but I still haven’t got a date. I need to know the date of my last period, and I can’t remember. I’ve got to have a scan, I’m booked in for next week.’

This time it was definitely relief I felt. If there hadn’t been a baby, it would have been like something real had been taken away, there would have been mourning and sorrow. And I would have felt like a complete dick for talking into Lau’s belly for a whole week.

‘Oh, cool, scans are cool.’

This was the geeky tech nerd in me, who was fascinated by all the machines. ‘Buh why do yuh feel like an idiot?’

‘I should know all that, shouldn’t I? The doctor implied as much.’

‘Blame ih on baby brain?’

‘Ha ha, yeah, good plan. I’m going to lunch with Beth, bit of a girls thing, might last all afternoon. I’ll see you later, before we go out.’

‘See yuh. Have a good time.’

‘Love you.’

‘Lohv yuh.’

It was becoming a bit unsettling, not knowing when the baby was due. Until we had a date, he continued to feel a bit nebulous, less real, and although I talked to him all the time, I really wanted to be able to think of him as he was, how big, what features would have developed, and at the moment he could be anything from tadpole to baby shaped, tiny or just quite small. I needed something to pin my imaginings on. But we were both going to have to wait a bit, and it wasn’t like we didn’t have anything else to occupy our thoughts, so I shrugged and put it to one side.

Laura

Then it was time for lunch, before I’d had time to even think about my vows, and I drove to Lis’s house. Amy and Beth were there, as well as Carol, Rose and my mum. It was a riotous occasion, wine was flowing, although not for me or Amy, and we all laughed and talked, even Mum, who wasn’t a great drinker and didn’t really approve of drunkenness in any form. She was really trying hard not to judge, and it was great to see her laughing and chatting with my friends and family.

Matt

Lau got home later, full of the afternoon she’d had with Beth, Mum, Rose, Lis, Amy and her mum. I gathered there had been wine, although not for Lau or Amy, and much shrieking and saying bad things about the menfolk had taken place, but Lau still wanted to marry me, so I let them off.

Lau had managed to take the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off that week, but I’d hardly seen her during the day, as she’d been dress shopping with Amy yesterday, and had a full day today, and was now going to desert me again to go on her hen night with her work friends, although I would be out later too.

I’d made a salad for tea, something quick and light so it didn’t slow either of us down for the evening, although Lau was eating out too, later, and then we cuddled up on the sofa, reconnecting after a day apart. I loved this time of day, when we just relaxed into each other, chatting or not, touching, kissing. Since we’d found out about Philpotts, it meant even more, and I’d spend a lot of time with my hand on Lau’s belly, or my head bent close, talking nonsense.

Eventually, though, she had to get ready. Lau was going out before me, as she was going to Mean Bean to eat, and then on somewhere else when it closed. So she went to get changed while I cleared the dinner things away. As I put things in the bin, I caught sight of my name on a piece of screwed up paper, and retrieved it. The paper had tea stains on it, and was a bit wrinkled, but in Lau’s handwriting was

Matt

and

Laura Louise Scott

Laura Scott

Mrs L L Scott

Mrs Laura Scott

I smoothed the paper out, smiling to myself, and as Lau came out of the bedroom, I held it up.

‘Been practising yuhr signature?’

Laura

I tried a shrug. I knew he was trying to embarrass me – Matt found it fascinating that I didn’t blush or get flustered about much, at least not outwardly, and he never stopped trying to bring a glow of awkwardness to my face. It still wasn’t working.

‘I need all the practice I can get, I haven’t had a lot of time. I’m going to have to get new bank cards and everything.’

Matt wasn’t fooled by my fib.

Matt

She was trying hard not be embarrassed, and doing a pretty good job, so of course I had to try and push it. Lau was proud of the fact that she didn’t fluster easily, and I still hadn’t made her blush, so it was one of my life’s missions, of course, to see those creamy cheeks go red with something other than physical exertion.

‘No one has tuh sign things any more, ih’s all pin numbers an shit.’

‘I don’t want to get caught out.’

Yeah right, Lau, and what were you really doing?

‘Thanks fuh putting me in a little heart. Bored were yuh?’

Laura

I gave in, being nowhere near as good at telling porkies as Matt was.

‘No. I was trying to write my vows. I didn’t get very far.’

Matt

We hadn’t talked about our vows, except to decide that we would write our own. I didn’t want to find out what she’d said, or for us to have any influence over each other. I was surprised to hear she might not have done hers; Lau usually liked to get things out of the way early so she didn’t have to worry about them.

‘Yuh have done them, though?’

‘Er, it’s a work in progress.’

‘Tick, tock, Lau.’

I didn’t want to stress her out before her big night, but we really didn’t have long. I smiled to let her know it didn’t matter. I’d be happy if she just said ‘I promise to snog you every day’. More than happy. In fact, I almost suggested it.

‘OK, don’t remind me. When are you off out?’

‘An hour or so. Don’t wait up.’

Although I knew I wasn’t going to be late.

‘Don’t be loud when you get back. See you later, beach boy.’

She walked over to give me a ‘see you later’ kiss, and I pulled her to me and folded her up in my arms. She looked and felt and smelled awesome, and I just wanted to carry on holding her.

‘God, Lau, yuh look gorgeous. Leh’s not go out, leh’s stay in an jus, oh, I don’t know, take this off …’

I pushed the strap of her dress down and kissed the side of her neck.

‘… an see what happens.’

I could feel her melting into me, but stopping herself and pulling away slightly.

Laura

A very large part of me would have liked nothing more than to stay at home with Matt, rather than the evening the girls had in store for me.

‘Nice try, flower. But the girls would kill me, literally kill me, if I don’t go out tonight. They’ve got all sorts of things planned that they don’t think I know about, and they’ll come gunning for you if they don’t get to do them.’

Matt

‘Wha things?’

I hadn’t considered that Lau’s hen night might have an equal risk of untoward goings on. They wouldn’t have a stripper, would they? Surely Lau wouldn’t go along with that … oh what was I thinking. Lau would do whatever she wanted to, and if it involved some bloke getting his kit off, and it made her happy, then I suppose I could just about cope with it as long as I didn’t hear too many details.

‘Oh, a big ‘L’ plate for the back of my dress, a large purple tiara, they’re going to tie cans to the back of my car, they’ve got some special songs for Bridget to play. It will be hilarious.’

She air-quoted the last word, smiling.

No stripper then, at least that they’d told her about. Just ridiculous cheesy shenanigans. Relieved much Matt? I was still great at deluding myself.

‘How do yuh know?’

‘They told Patrick. Patrick told his wife. His wife knows someone in Mum’s gardening club, who told Mum, who couldn’t keep a secret if her life depended on it.’

‘Really? I’d think yuhr mum would be pretty reliable.’

‘No chance. Don’t ever tell her your deepest and darkest, it’ll be all over the Herald before you’ve got half way up the road.’

‘Noted. Enjoy being dressed up, then. Hope I don’t get tied tuh a lamp post or something.’

Laura

I was pretty sure I was going to be alright, the worst that would happen to me would be getting arrested by the good taste police, but I wasn’t so sure about some of Matt’s work colleagues, who seemed a bit OTT sometimes.

‘Oh they won’t do anything daft, will they?’

Matt

They weren’t going to get the chance. I was going to be the soberest one of all of them, which should help me to keep one step ahead.

‘Hope not. Maybe yuh’d better wait up after all. If I’m not home by midnight, I migh have turned into a pumpkin. Or be asleep in a police cell.’

‘I’m nervous now.’

‘Lau, I’ve been nervous all week, but not about what’s going to happen tonight. It’s tomorrow that’s scaring the living shit of meh, but as long as we’re there together, I know it’s all gona be fine.’

‘I know. I love you, Matt. Have a great time tonight. See you – well, probably tomorrow.’

Once I was sure she’d gone, I got my iPad out and called up Cal on FaceTime.

‘Heh Cal.’

‘Hi.’

‘I need a favohr mate.’

‘Kay.’

Cal had turned monosyllabic a while ago, but I always just chuntered on at him as if we were having the merriest of chats.

‘You know meh an Lau are getting married on Friday?’

‘Yeah.’

Oh, also, eye rolling a speciality, just to let you know how stupid you were, without the bother of actually saying ‘dur’.

‘Great, glad tuh see you’re paying attention. I need someone tuh beh in charge of the CD player. There’ll beh a secret signal and everything.’

There was a tiny flicker of interest.

‘Kay.’

‘I’ll get your dad to collect the player so you can take ih with you, and we can cue ih up when we get there tomorrow. Wha’s a good signal?’

Cal shrugged. ‘Dunno.’

‘How abou I point at you an say ‘now’?’

‘Not very secret.’

‘Oh. Good point.’

I’d got him interested now, and could see him thinking.

‘You could wink with both eyes.’

‘Er, isn’t tha called blinking? Might get a bit confusing with all the other blinking I’ll be doing.’

‘Not both at the same time.’

He still didn’t say ‘dur’, but it was in the air between us.

‘One eye then the other. Maybe twice to make sure.’

‘Genius! You’ll have to watch out for ih though, I’m not sure when I’ll be doing the signal. Cheers Cal, couldn’t do it without you. Quick practice?’

‘Kay.’

‘Here we go then.’

I winked twice with each eye.

‘Got tha?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Great. Thanks Cal.’

‘Bye Matty.’

There was the ghost of a smile on his face as we disconnected.

And so it was my turn to tart myself up a bit, although not a lot, and set off for the pub we were meeting in. The measure of how much I’d changed in the last couple of years was that I really would prefer be home with Lau, doing anything and nothing, just being together, rather than spending a night on the booze, being rowdy, talking about tits and football and anticipating the naked girl.

I loved that the guys wanted to take me out, but I so wasn’t the man they wanted to take out. I’d changed, and I really was going to be spending a large part of the evening pretending – pretending to enjoy myself, pretending to be drunk, pretending to be dreading tomorrow.

I can’t say I had a crap time, because I did have a bit to drink, and it made me merry, and we had a laugh. Dec, Jay and Nico joined us early on, but wimped out after a couple of pubs. There was a Raiders game on Saturday, and boozy late nights were not permitted. Things got more raucous as the evening progressed, I stuck to one beer in each location, but managed to make it seem like I’d had more, and I slipped out just after the stripper arrived. I got a taxi home, texting a couple of people to thank them and say goodnight; there were going to be some sore heads tomorrow, but mine wasn’t going to be one of them.

Laura

The hen night with the girls would have been a bit more hilarious from my point of view if I’d had as much to drink as they did, or even if I’d had anything. I loved a messy girls’ night, but no drinkies for me really sucked, and although I did appreciate their attempts to give me a ‘normal’ hen do, I was really just playing along so as not to disappoint them. This involved being dressed up in all sorts of ‘hen night’ kit: a tiara complete with veil, a sash announcing ‘Bride to Be’, a big ‘L’, a wand, a feather boa and a huge bra they’d decorated with all sorts of sequins and ribbons that they insisted I wore over the top of my dress. Oh, and lots of penis shaped things. Chocolates, balloons, shot glasses, the whole tasteless and hilarious-when-drunk carnival. They’d bought me a surprisingly tasteful wedding present, too, which was really great, considering the short notice, and the fact that Matt and I had specifically told people that presents weren’t expected. They made me open it there at the table, and I was really moved to unwrap a picture of Matt and me in a silver frame. The picture was one of my favourites, in fact I used it as the wallpaper on my phone.

‘How on earth did you get this photo?’

‘Kate knows the code to your phone. She sent it to her email when you were in the loo. You nearly caught her.’

‘Kate! I’m changing my code now. You could have read my private texts and everything.’

‘I did. You saucy cow. I sent them to my email as well. Don’t make your code your birthday next time.’

And then, finally, the noise of the tin cans on the back of the car ringing in my ears, the comedy veil, ‘L’ plate, tiara and ‘Bride to Be’ banner draped over the sofa, an array of penis paraphernalia lined up on the kitchen counter, I was home, in the quiet, a blank piece of paper on the table in front of me, back to where I’d started this morning. I decided to approach it from a different angle.

Rather than worrying about saying things a certain way, I should just use it like a conversation. Think what I would say first, then what Matt would say, then what I would reply, and go on from there. It helped, and before long, although it wasn’t particularly inspiring yet, I had made a pretty decent attempt at putting down everything I wanted to say, not only to Matt, but to everyone who was coming. I sat back and re-read it. There was something missing, it just looked like something I could have downloaded from ‘WeddingVows.com’, and I wanted to say more to everyone who would be there tomorrow.

Tomorrow. I was getting married tomorrow. This time last week, I didn’t even know I was pregnant. It sparked off a train of thought, and I picked up the pen, and started scribbling furiously.

A while later, I’d finished. I had switched to the laptop when I realised it was going to be easier than a pen, and quicker, and I would get a nice neat print out at the end.

With a satisfied sigh I printed the sheet off and sat back, looking at the time. It was nearly midnight. I hadn’t heard from Matt, but hadn’t expected to, and didn’t really think he would be back before the early hours. He hadn’t been sure where he was going, but suspected it included pubs and clubs, and maybe some revisiting of old haunts. I was apprehensive about what he might be being encouraged to get up to, but I put it to the back of my mind. I trusted him.

Matt

Lau’s car was in the car park when I got back, and I was amused to see cans tied to it – surely she hadn’t driven back with them attached? She would have woken up the entire neighbourhood. I looked up at our window, but it was dark. She must have been home long enough to have gone to bed.

Laura

I had just flopped into bed, mind whirling, wondering if I was going to get any sleep at all tonight, when I heard the key in the door.

‘Matt?’

‘Hey Lau. You beat meh home. Disappointing.’

‘You’re early.’

He wandered into the bedroom, appearing remarkably sober, holding a tiny chocolate penis, which he popped into his mouth while raising his eyebrow.

Matt

I wandered into the bedroom, where she was lying in bed, having put the lamp on. My Lau, old faded sleeping shirt with a puppy on it, her face scrubbed clean of make up, hair rumpled from lying on it. She was so fucking hot.

‘You’re not drunk.’

She almost sounded disappointed.

‘Ha ha, aren’t you supposed to accuse me of the opposite?’

‘Didn’t you have anything to drink?’

‘Couple of beers, early on.’

‘Really, that’s all?’

Now she sounded impressed.

‘Yeah. Wanted tuh have a clear head tomorrow. Wana remember every second of marrying you, Lau.’

I sat down on the edge of the bed, reached over and stroked her cheek.

Laura

I was astounded. Matt loved his beer, and hadn’t had a night out with his mates for a long time. That, and it being his stag night, should have ensured a high level of intoxication and a huge hangover, but he hadn’t got drunk, and he hadn’t done it for me, for us.

‘You must have iron willpower. I thought they had all sorts planned for you.’

‘I’m pretty good at playing drunker than I am. They didn’t guess. Slipped out while they were all cheering the stripper.’

‘There was a stripper?’

Matt

She tried to look outraged, but failed.

‘Course, ih was my stag night, couldn’t deprive them. Didn’t stay for ih myself though. Got my own hot girl righ here.’

I pulled the duvet back and lay down next to Lau, nuzzling her neck.

‘I love you, Lau. Will yuh marry me?’

I know, it was what Dec did all the time with Amy, ask her even though she’d already said yes. I guess I got it now. It wasn’t just cute, it was a need for confirmation.

‘Well, as you asked so nicely, I suppose so. I can only do it tomorrow, though. Offer expires at three o’clock.’

‘Better get my skates on, then.’

I kissed her tenderly, then deeply, then wrapped her up in my arms and pulled her tightly against me.

‘Oh God, I want you so much. Don’t suppose we should, the nigh before.’

Wasn’t there some kind of pre-wedding ‘no hanky-panky’ edict? Not that I was particularly keen on edicts of any sort, but I didn’t know Lau’s feelings on the matter.

‘Why ever not?’

Oh, well, cool. Obviously not a pre-wedding edict fan either.

‘Really? I fucking love yuh, Laura Shoeman. Hey, that’s nearly the last time I can call yuh that. Yuh’ll be Mrs Scott tomorrow. Shit, that sounds so old.’

As I was speaking, my hands were roaming under Lau’s puppy t-shirt, and I gave her a lingering kiss. This was our last night as single people, and I wanted it to be memorable. As I was on my way down to Lau’s pleasure zone, I got distracted by the soft swell of her belly, and held my mouth close to speak to the tiny person inside.

‘Hey Philpotts, how yuh doing in there? I hope you don’t mind if me an your mum have a bit of a … well, maybe yuh should avert your eyes for a bih. Ih’s our last fling as single people, yuh’ll understand one day. Night, son. Behave yuhself.’

‘You are going to be so disappointed when she’s a girl.’

‘No I’m not, because he isn’t. And if by some accidental oversight he is, tha will be just absolutely bloody fine and awesome.’

I grinned up at Lau, who tilted her head and made a shooing motion with her hand.

‘Er, weren’t you in the middle of something?’

‘Oh yeh, where was I?’

‘Just about here.’

Lau took my hand and guided it to where I’d left off, and things went swimmingly thereafter.

Laura

Then we wrapped each other up in our last sleepy embrace as unmarried people and fell asleep.

Matt

I had set my alarm for pretty early the next morning, with no expectation that it would actually wake me up, but I thought if the tone annoyed Lau enough she might turn it off and then try her own tactics, which were preferable but not programmable. However, I was awake before my phone sounded, almost as if there was something important happening today, and I gave myself a mental pat on the back for not having got completely rat-arsed the previous day, and having lots of rests.

I felt … lots of things. There were several thousand butterflies turning my insides into a fluttering wreck; I looked at Lau and felt overwhelmingly happy that today was the day we promised to be together for the foreseeable; I felt the urgency of things I needed to sort, check, double check; I felt no fatigue; everything seemed to be in working order.

I had things to do, mostly on the phone, but I couldn’t do them with Lau around, so I headed out, not before making her breakfast and leaving a note, explaining my absence, and then talking myself out of waking her up and ravishing her.

Laura

The click of the front door woke me up the next day. Matt wasn’t there, but he had made me breakfast, and left it on a tray by the bed. There were croissants, orange juice and a vase of flowers, with a note.

Hey Lau, got a few things to sort, had to pop out. See you later.

Love you so much, soon-to-be-Mrs Scott (you old bag, you!)

M x

I smiled and stretched, then sat up and ate my breakfast. I found myself stroking my belly and thinking about the baby that was there, only a few centimetres long at the moment. Today was going to be busy and mad and tiring, but at the end of it Matt and I would have joined together to be mum and dad to this little one.

In some ways it was the most natural and normal thing in the world, and in others it was the most terrifying adventure anyone had ever undertaken. Laura Shoeman, you’re going to be married. To Matt Scott. It didn’t seem as unbelievable as it used to that Matt and I were going to be together forever; it never stopped being amazing, but it stopped being something I had to keep reminding myself of. We were right together. This would have happened, sooner or later, and why wait? Ha ha, Laura, nice try at convincing yourself this isn’t complete madness.

Matt

I took my phone and went to have breakfast in a coffee shop along the High Street. First call was Beth.

‘Matty, you’re up early. Nervous?’

‘Yeh.’

Today, I was letting Beth off all the smart mouth replies, at least until later, or until she really annoyed me, whichever happened first. She had been so focussed on planning the party that she hadn’t had the time, energy or seemingly the inclination to bother me endlessly about anything, and I was feeling charitable. I’m just an old softy, really, aren’t I.

‘How’s Laura?’

‘Still aslehp. I’m having a latte in Cafe 369 so I dohnt disturb her. Jus checking Jay hasn’t torched the kilts overnigh.’

‘Ha ha, no, I managed to keep him away from the scissors, too. He thinks I’m bringing a change of clothes for him to the reception.’

‘Aren’t yuh?’

‘No. I think he looks lovely in the kilt, I want him to stay in it.’

Well wasn’t that just devious as fuck. I loved it.

‘Hope yuh know wha yuhr doin.’

‘James is no match for me.’

‘Truh.’

‘See you later, Matty. I’ll walk James up the stairs to make sure he doesn’t escape.’

‘Ha ha. See yuh.’

Next on the list was the Ivy Leaf, to add a few extras I’d thought of to our hotel booking.

‘Ivy Leaf.’

‘Ih’s Matt Scott. I’ve booked the honeymoon suite fuh tonight.’

A pause, possibly tapping on a computer.

‘Yes sir, how can I help.’

‘I’d like tuh order a bottle of champagne an a bottle of sparkling elderflower fuh when we arrive.’

Another pause, while they typed it somewhere. I could hear voices as well.

‘Certainly, sir.’

‘An a spa trehtment tomorrow morning, massage an facial, whaever.’

‘Certainly sir. The price list will be available when you arrive, and you can choose then.’

‘Dohnt I have tuh book ih now?’

‘That won’t be necessary.’

‘Awesome. See yuh later then.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

I disconnected, surprised. I’d been told about the spa treatments, but been warned they got really busy at weekends, and I’d have to book. Maybe they kept slots especially for the suite. Whatever.

A text to Lau.

Laura

My phone pinged with a text from Matt.

‘Make sure u pack an overnite bag.’

‘Why?’

‘Just do it :)’

‘What stuff?’

‘Nothing fancy, wash bag, jeans, top. Crotchless knickers, obvs.’

‘What have u done?’

‘;) xx’

Matt

It was a lot easier to be sneaky when she wasn’t looking me in the eye, although I would be surprised if she hadn’t guessed some of it. We hadn’t even talked about staying away for the night, and I’d steered away from the subject whenever it had been brought up. Beth knew, because she needed to know how long the festivities could go on for, but she knew it was a surprise for Lau. Time would tell how good the Shoeman radar was.

As I sat drinking my coffee, my phone began to ping with texts from all sorts of people. Several people from work were starting to arrive at the office and felt the need to humorously double check ‘it’s still on‘; Dec wanted to wish me ‘luck 4 yr fucking enormous big day, no pressure‘; Jay wanted to check what time he was due, although why he couldn’t just ask Beth I had no idea. And I had a call from Andrew. I’d missed a couple of calls during the week, and he’d texted a couple of times as well, so I was pleased when I saw his name pop up on my phone’s screen.

‘Heh mate.’

‘Matt, I was beginning to wonder if you’d decided to elope.’

‘Ha, I was seriously considering ih earlier in the week. Ih’s been fucking mad. Thanks fuh ringing again.’

‘So, what’s this all about, then, shotgun wedding or something?’

He was joking. I hadn’t had a chance to fill him in on all the details.

‘Yeh, actually.’

There was a stunned silence.

‘What? You’re fucking kidding me.’

‘Nope. Well, maybe a bih. No shotguns involved, but Lau is having a baby. Weh are. Weh’re having a fucking baby.’

‘Jesus Christ, Matt. I mean, that’s awesome, it’s what you wanted, isn’t it, but Christ, no one has to get married these days. Oh – are her parents a bit … you know?’

‘Noh, noh, nothing like tha, Lau’s mum’s great’

OK, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but I felt kindly towards April.

‘Ih’s jus the right thing to do. We would have got married one day anyway, so why wait?’

‘Ha ha, well I suppose. Hard work doing it all in a few days, though.’

‘Beth’s done most of ih.’

‘Oh, Jay’s wife?’

‘Yeh. She’s been great. Sorry you can’t make ih down, I know ih’s really short notice.’

‘I’m kind of getting used to you giving me a five minute warning before a major event – come on holiday with me, come to my wedding, it’ll be come to my world domination launch party next.’

‘Ha ha, fuck noh, I’ve had tuh put world domination on hold until next year, bloody kids ruin everything.’

‘Tell me about it. I’d be Tottenham’s top goal scorer if it wasn’t for Rebecca.’

I heard the grin in his voice, and suspected Rebecca was nearby, listening.

‘How’s ih all going? Are yuh still at your parents?’

‘No, we just moved last week. We got this two bedroom house near the school, just about to paint Bec’s bedroom the obligatory pink.’

‘Sounds great, mate. All working out for yuh, then?’

‘Yeah, we’re getting there. Anyway, I won’t keep you, mate, you’ve got a bit of a busy day ahead.’

‘Meh? Nah. Lazy brekkie, flowers fuh the missis, don a kilt –’

‘What? You are fucking kidding me this time.’

‘Nope, still not kidding. I’ve made Jay wehr one too.’

‘Now I’m really sorry I’m missing it. Send me some pictures, yeah?’

‘Do my best. I’ll ring fuh a proper chat soon, mate.’

We disconnected and I quickly rang Mum.

‘Hello Matthew. How are you this morning?’

‘Great, thanks. Are yuh all set?’

‘Yes, dear. Beth’s dropping Isobel off to me on her way to you, and Rose is coming over in a while too, and we’re going to fetch Calum from school later.’

Mum always called everyone she knew by their full name. She was the only person I knew who called Iz Isobel or Cal Calum or, for that matter, me Matthew.

‘Got yuhr hat out?’

‘You’ll have to wait and see, dear. I’m not giving anything away until you see me. You’re not the only one who can keep their outfit a secret.’

Only Mum and Beth knew about the kilts, although I suspected Beth would spill a few beans to one or two select co-conspirators.

‘Fair enough. See yuh soon, then.’

‘Have a good morning, Matthew.’

And so, texts and calls fielded for now, the next item to tick off was the florist. I’d ordered a bouquet for Lau, and needed to pick it up. I didn’t buy her flowers very often, but then I didn’t marry her very often, either, and this seemed like an appropriate occasion. I drained my coffee cup and set off for the flower shop.

The bouquet was bloody enormous. I could hardly see round it. I knew Lau loved gerberas, and bright colours, and this was a mixture of both of those things, with enough foliage to start my own garden in the Chelsea Flower Show. I staggered a little as I carried it along the High Street, into Avondale and up the stairs.

Laura

As I eventually finished the last crumbs of breakfast and decided to get up and have a shower, I heard the key in the front door, which opened to reveal a walking bouquet of flowers.

‘Matt, is that you?’

‘Either me, or the most brazen flower delivery boy in the city. These are fuh you.’

He brought the flowers into the bedroom and put them down by the bed.

‘Oh! They’re gorgeous. Is that why you went out?’

‘Among other things. Are yuh still in bed, you lazy cow? We’re getting married in,’ he checked his watch, ‘five hours time, don’t you need to be trowelling on the make-up or something?’

‘Cheeky sod, it won’t take that long.’

‘Oh, well, if you’ve got time, then I can think of things tuh do while you’re lying there.’

He leaned over for a kiss, and ran his hands across my breasts, making me peak against his fingers.

Matt

She pretended not to be interested, but her nips were telling tales on her.

‘I was just going to go and have a shower.’

‘Even better. Clean an dirty at the same time. Come on.’

She gave in, laughing, as I pulled her out of bed and pushed her into the bathroom where we made the most of the pulsating shower head and the general wetness and soapiness to make sure we were both thoroughly, er, clean. All over.

Once Lau had packed her overnight bag, as instructed, we said goodbye. It felt bloody weird, like we were going to be apart for a long time. I suppose, in a way, we were never going to see each other again like this, two single people who merely co-habited. I didn’t dwell on that one, as it might make me freak out and begin to wonder if we were doing the right thing; I had been so pleased with myself for not consciously freaking, and being certain we were doing the right thing, that I didn’t want to start now, with only hours to go. Instead, I held Lau tightly, kissed her deeply and looked into her sea eyes for a long time. She clung on to me, as well.

Neither of us had said ‘I’m scared’ or ‘what the fuck are we doing’, but we’d both thought it to ourselves I suppose, and now it was washing like a tide between us. I tried to send her strong and manly ‘it’ll be OK’ vibes, and holding her made me calmer, as it always did. Lau was my safe place; whatever happened, if I was with her I would be OK. I hoped I could make her feel even a small part as safe, although I doubted it, fuck-up that I was.

‘I love yuh, Laura Louise Shoeman.’

‘I love you, Matthew Robert Scott.’

‘Let’s elope, forget all this palaver.’

I wasn’t serious, but Andrew had put the idea in my head, and if Lau had said ‘yes, let’s’, then I would have grabbed her by the hand and we’d have been gone.

Laura

I would have, too, if there was just us to think about. Damn my annoying conscience.

‘Fine by me.’

Matt

Oh you’re bloody kidding me, seriously?

Laura

‘Bagsy you call Beth and tell her.’

Matt

Oh there was always some bloody reason, wasn’t there?

‘Oh fuck, yeah, she would hunt me down and kill meh.’

‘Yeah, she would, and then there would be a queue behind her of people who would be stabbing you extra hard just to make sure. My mum and your mum would be joint second.’

Bloody families, always wanting you to do shit for them, shit you’d dropped on them at short notice and made them run about all week helping you with, selfish bastards.

‘I know ih’s what we wanted, buh it does all seem a bit mad an unnecessary.’

This was the closest I’d come to backing out. I wasn’t backing out, but shit had just got real for Matthew Robert Scott – it was going to happen in just a few hours, and despite the fact that I wanted to be with Lau forever, I was actually going to my own wedding. My own fucking wedding.

‘It’s very necessary. We need to be married. Not for any legal or religious reason, I just feel it, in my heart, we need it. And Philpotts needs it.’

That brought me back to the nitty-gritty with some suddenness. The whole reason we were doing this now, rather than waiting a sensible amount of time and giving people more than a few days’ notice or some such shit: there was another person to consider. He might not be born yet, but he was a-coming, and he was already changing our lives.

‘You never called him Philpotts before.’

‘I’ve given in. Make the most of it, doesn’t happen very often.’

And that was very true. Lau never gave in about anything she believed in. I’d thought I was the stubbornest fucker I knew, but Lau could stand her ground with the best of them when she believed she was right. I dug my heels in for the sake of it, and that was the difference between us. Lau stood up for what she believed, and I stood up for making a stand. I knew that if Lau believed it was right, not just calling Philpotts Philpotts, but this whole mad scheme of a day, then we were going to do it, and it was going to be alright. It calmed some of my freaking.

‘You’re right, tho. We all need it. It is right, isn’t it. Thanks, Lau, tha makes meh feel better. I was getting a bih, like, ‘everyone’s taking over’, but that doesn’t matter, it’s what we’ve got at the end of it tha’s important. An I’m looking forward to what Beth’s organised in this barn thing. Have you got any idea?’

‘Not a single one. Not even Cal’s given anything away.’

‘Bloody hell, they must have threatened him wih death. He usually spills in seconds.’

Lau nodded, smiling, as aware of Cal’s inability to keep a secret as I was. Then she looked regretful and pulled out of my embrace.

‘I’ve got to go, Amy and Beth are waiting to make me look beautiful.’

‘Not possible tuh look more beautiful.’

‘You are a charmer.’

‘Jus sayin the truth. Yuh could say ‘oh Matt, you’re so handsome too an I love your bum’, buh no, can’t bring yourself to. Evil cow.’

‘Let me show you how much I love your bum, before I go.’

Oh she was a divine temptress. She pulled me close and slid her hands all the way down my back to my arse, where she gripped tightly and pulled me towards her. I kissed her and wrapped my arms round her, pulling her in tighter to me, not wanting to let her go. Finally, we both had to acknowledge that we had things to do, and we were trying to put off the inevitable. We released each other, stood back, one last gentle kiss.

Laura

Then I picked up my bags and hangers and walked away, for the last time as a single girl.

91. Diamond ring

In which there is a ring and a journey and a delivering.

Matt

Cal had asked me to play on the X-box, and after checking with Lau, I went up to flex my gaming muscles (i.e. my thumbs), but I hadn’t been up there long before Dec came to get me.

‘Lau’s a bit tearful, mate.’

‘What? Shit. What’s happened?’

I got to my feet, handing my controller apologetically to Cal, and rushed down the stairs.

Lau was wiping her eyes and looking sheepish when I reached the living room.

‘Lau?’

I sat next to her and took her hand, worried about what had upset her.

‘I’m OK, just having a funny five minutes. Bit overcome with everything.’

‘Sorry, Matt, my fault, I was completely going on about how much everything changes. I forgot you’ve only had a couple of days to get used to it. I was the same with Charlie. Should have thought.’

Yeah, you should have Amy. Oh, but you’re pregnant too, so maybe I can be understanding and forgiving. Just don’t ever make Lau cry again, you bloody cow.

I wiped a few stray tears away with my fingertips and looked into Lau’s eyes, trying to work out if she really was OK now. I knew about hormones, of course I did, I even had a few myself, but I was going to have to get used to their vagaries at close quarters, and as first run-ins went, I thought I’d done OK.

‘We were going to get Jay’s laptop and do some window shopping.’

Amy was trying to distract Lau, and it was as good a diversion as any.

‘I’ll get ih. Where is Jay?’

‘I think … no, that can’t be right, I was going to say he’s helping Beth with dinner.’

Amy shook her head at herself for thinking something so ridiculous.

‘Ha ha, you’re such a comedian.’

I went into the kitchen, and Jay was in there, but he wasn’t noticeably helping with dinner.

‘Heh, Jay, sorry tuh interrupt yuhr busy cooking schedule, buh Amy an Lau want yuhr laptop.’

‘Hey, I have offered my assistance, but it has been refused.’

He looked to Beth to back him up.

‘Oh, is that what you meant when you said ‘I’ll be here reading the papers’ as if we couldn’t see you. I’ll remember next time that that’s an offer of help.’

Jay recognised defeat when it hit him squarely between the eyes, and he stood up and followed me back in to the living room.

‘Right location, Amy, but Mum and Rose are helping with dinner, Jay was sitting at the table reading the paper and drinking beer, anti-social bastard.’

‘He was probably reading the match reports from yesterday, claiming it’s work.’

‘Hey, reading the opinions of ill-educated morons who have never played a game of rugby in their lives is a vital part of my work.’

Jay handed Amy the laptop.

‘And it means I can sit in relative peace with a beer, and fall asleep leaning on my hand for a few seconds at a time and no one really notices. But now I’ve been sussed, I’ll stay here and be sociable, Matty.’

So while Lau and Amy surfed for dresses, the blokes talked more about baby clothes, and baby car seats, and cars in general, and I loved being involved in a direct way, like my opinion counted because it was happening to me. No one had ever made me feel that my opinion didn’t count except me, but today I really felt properly part of the family. I hadn’t realised before, not really, that I had felt on the fringes, that I had in some way put myself there, because having my own child was what it took to make me feel like I belonged.

Laura

Dinner was the regular mixture of great food, talk, drink, teasing and comings and goings. As usual, I’d hardly seen Beth before we ate. She was always in the kitchen, managing everything, and unless I was commandeered into helping, I wouldn’t get a chance to talk to her. But once it was all over, and I’d helped with the dishes and general clearing up, she sat down with us all.

We all sat on the sofas, intending to play a game or two, but somehow never started as we were all talking too much. Cal started out with us, but got bored waiting for the game, and disappeared upstairs to his room after a while. Iz sat on Matt’s lap and chattered to him about her guinea pig, until she eventually fell asleep. I knew Matt loved it when she did this, and I looked at him fondly as he held her protectively against him.

‘He’s a natural, isn’t he, love?’

Rose was sitting next to me.

‘Yes, I think he is. He loves Iz.’

‘I’ve always thought he’d make a good dad, even when he was how he was before, you know, not settled down or anything. He always had so much time for the little ones.’

‘It’s not hard to have time for them, they’re great kids. But I know what you mean.’

‘I’m glad he’s going to have his own. And with you. You suit each other, love.’

‘Thanks, Rose. It’s been a bit mad, the last few months or so.’

‘Well, you haven’t hung about, that’s for sure, but sometimes something’s right, and it just happens.’

Rose gave a definite nod of her head. I loved Rose and her forthright opinions, which she always gave regardless of who might be put out by them. She was so comfortable in the midst of this rag-tag family made up of various strays, that she helped me to feel a sense of belonging too. If Rose could feel a part of it, when her link could be seen by outsiders as tenuous at best, then I should have no trouble.

‘Are you coming on Friday?’

‘Of course, love. I’m on standby in case anything happens with Amy, but even if it does, I’ll be there with Charlie. I might not have anything fancy to wear.’

‘Oh, don’t worry about that, it’s only the registry office. I don’t think Matt’s wearing a suit or anything.’

‘Hey!’

Matt had heard us from across the room.

Matt

‘Yuh don’t know what I’m gona wear. Could be a bloody kilt for all yuh know.’

This was, in fact one of the possibilities I was toying with, and I was a bit annoyed with myself for announcing it without thinking.

‘Oh, yeah?’

Dec couldn’t resist this one.

‘Which clan are you representing, Matt, the McEnglish?’

‘I can wear tartan, the Scotts are an auld clan, aren’t they Mum?’

‘Yes, dear. Matthew and Jameson are half Scottish, Declan.’

‘Fuck me, I never knew that.’

I bloody loved it when people didn’t know shit about me, even obscure shit like I was half Scottish, shit that I forgot most of the time.

‘Dec. Language.’

And I also bloody loved it when it wasn’t me getting told off for bloody swearing.

‘Sorry Beth. How could I not know that? Are you Scottish, Carol?’

‘No, dear, although I did live in Scotland for a long time. Their dad was Scottish. I’ve got an old kilt of his somewhere.’

Oh, well, that was interesting. If I did a kilt for the wedding, I’d do the full regalia, see if I could make Jay wear it too, but if Mum had my father’s kilt, and it wasn’t full of holes, then that was even better. I’d have to ask her later, maybe wait until tomorrow when Lau was at work.

I saw Lau looking at me, as if she had read my mind, but I wanted it to be a surprise and so I shook my head as if I might have considered it but realised it was a shit idea, then blanked my face and talked about something else.

Laura

I saw an interested look float across Matt’s face, and then he shook his head and it disappeared as he dismissed it.

‘So do we nehd to sort out cars an lifts an shizzle for Friday?’

‘Matty, please, I know she’s asleep, but honestly.’

‘Wha? Tha’s not a swear.’

‘Not technically, I suppose, but I still have to explain to the children why they can’t say a word that isn’t a swear but sounds funny when they say it.’

‘Buh not a swear.’

Matt wasn’t going to back down, fond as he was of pushing Beth’s buttons as often as he was able to. She rolled her eyes at him and changed the subject back to the matter in hand.

‘Honestly. But no, you and Laura don’t need to worry about anything, Lis and I have got it all covered, or we will have by tomorrow afternoon. She’s coming over in the morning, we’re going to get it all sorted. The wedding’s at three, isn’t it?’

‘Yeah.’

‘And I presume you won’t be taking your car, Matty, as you’re planning on having maybe a beer or several thousand?’

‘I can drive us.’

‘Laura, you are not driving yourself to your own wedding. Don’t you worry, Lis and I will sort it all, work out who’s taking who where and how we’re all getting back. You just worry about getting yourself a beautiful dress, that’s your only job. And maybe making sure Matty gets up in time – oh, actually, maybe one of you should stay here, so you don’t see each other beforehand.’

‘Oh for fu … Pete’s sake, no, tha’s ridiculous superstition. Lau and me have seen plenty of each other already, we’ll be sleeping in our bed in our flat the night before, not arsing about wih packing bags an staying over anywhere. Er, won’t we, Lau?’

I laughed at his belated checking.

‘Of course. But maybe one of us had better be elsewhere when I’m getting ready, er, Beth, do you think you’d be able to help me with my hair, and Amy, would you be able to do something with my face?’

They both agreed delightedly, and it was decided that I would go Amy’s before lunch for some primping and preening, leaving Matt to his own preparations. The more plans that were made, the more I believed it. My fairytale was coming true.

‘Will you let Rose and I know what you want us to make, dear?’

Carol spoke to Beth.

‘And how much, when you know? I’d like to make a start.’

‘We’ll call you tomorrow afternoon. Have you two got any requests?’

I shook my head, but Matt naturally had a list of things, mostly made up on the spot, that he wanted to tease Beth with.

‘Well, no wedding of mine is going ahead withouh roasted swan on the menu, some wafer thin fennel crisps, a lightly spiced pea an ham risotto an thirty year old scotch. Really, Beth, we were happy wih going to the Pickled Pig, we’re not that fussy. Lau likes her chocolate, though.’

‘Me and Iz both. But like Matt says, please don’t go to a lot of trouble, we’re really grateful. To you, and Rose and Carol. Thank you so much.’

‘It’s not every day your son gets married, dear, it’s important to do it right.’

‘Yes, love, and when it’s a bit short notice, it’s easy to say ‘oh let’s not bother’ and then wish you had afterwards, so we’re making sure you don’t have to do that.’

Matt

As we talked on, and Iz slept on, golden curls fanned out around her making her look like the cherub I knew she bloody well wasn’t, I heard my phone ping with a text. I got it out of my pocket as carefully as I could, to avoid disturbing the sleeping blondie, and was taken aback to see ‘Lau’s mum’ on the screen. What the fuck? I wondered if I was in for a text bollocking, even though that didn’t seem like April’s style.

‘Dear Matt’

Lau’s mum was a very formal texter, from the few that Lau had shown me. She didn’t do it often, and she always wrote it like a letter.

‘I wondered if you would call round later, without Laura? There is something I want to ask you. Regards, April Shoeman.’

Well that was intriguing and bloody terrifying at the same time. Was she going to offer to pay me off so I’d leave the country and not marry her daughter? Did she just want to tear me off a strip without Lau as a witness? Did she want to double check the baby was mine? These and more bizarre possibilities floated through my mind, but again I felt Lau’s eyes on me and I winked at her and put my phone away. I texted later, just to say I could go over after I’d dropped Lau home.

Laura

‘Right then, Matty, another beer is in order, and I think I’m going to wake my daughter up, otherwise we’ll have the night from hell with the sleepless child, and I’ll be calling you at three o’clock to come and take over.’

‘Beer sounds great. Lau, are you alright tuh drive home?’

I nodded.

‘Come on sleepyhead, time to wake up.’

Matt stroked Iz’s cheek gently and pulled her blonde ringlets away from her face, which crumpled a little as she started to wake. He held her tight through a few tears, then smiled into her face as she looked up at him and sat up.

‘Hey, beautiful, I need you tuh show me where Daddy keeps his special beer. Do you know?’

Iz nodded, mute with sleep.

‘Come on then.’

He lifted her off his knee and onto the floor, and she held his hand to lead him into the kitchen. I watched them go, thinking to myself how lucky I was.

Not long after that, we came home. Sunday afternoons post Beth and Jay were always lazy affairs, both of us still full from dinner and not really wanting to do much. But once we’d sat for a while, drifting in front of an old film on TV, Matt decided that he needed to go out again, and was reluctant to tell me where.

‘Just, er, need tuh get some diesel. Might go for a bit of a drive.’

‘I’ll come too.’

‘No, yuh look tired. Have a snooze, or at least stretch out on the sofa and slob out. I won’t beh long.’

I didn’t understand it. He was obviously being evasive about where he was going, but I didn’t want to push it and cause an argument. We’d been so happy this weekend, I hoped nothing was happening that threatened it. Remembering the text he got earlier, and feeling apprehensive, I kissed him when he leaned down and pulled him down for a tight hug.

‘Hey, I’m only going tuh the garage. Anything you want while I’m out?’

‘Ooh, know what, all afternoon, I’ve been thinking ‘cheese and onion crisps’.’

‘But yuh hate cheese and onion crisps.’

‘Yeah, and I don’t think I could eat another thing right now, but I can’t get it out of my mind.’

‘Lau, you’re having a craving! Shall I geh some strawberry ice cream to go with them? Some coal, maybe?’

‘Ha ha, no, just the crisps. Thanks, flower.’

‘OK.’ He rubbed my belly. ‘Philpotts, look after your mum now, you’re the man of the house while I’m away. An stop making her want cheese and onion crisps, they’re not good fuh her.’

He left the flat with a wave and I turned to the TV, hoping to distract myself from my vague disquiet with an old film. Before long, the lack of anything decent on TV coupled with digesting the large lunch sent me to sleep.

Matt

Once we were home, I had to make up an excuse to go out again, although there was a bit of a wait while beer exited my system. It wasn’t a lie, exactly, when I said I needed some diesel, which I did – cars always need fuel, don’t they – but Lau said she’d come, and I had to work hard to persuade her she’d be better off having a lie down. There must have been hormones or tiredness or something at work, because she didn’t even ask me why we hadn’t stopped for fuel on the way home, but that made it easier for me, so I didn’t worry too much, and to add some realism I told her I was going for a bit of a drive afterwards.

This was true, in itself, as I was going for a bit of a drive to her mum’s house, but I implied it was more practice for me, which was maybe a bit untruthful. I was catching Lau’s penchant for not liking lying. I thought I’d got away with it until I bent down to kiss her, just before leaving, and she clung on like she wasn’t going to see me for a month. I should have known better than to try to get anything past Lau; her radar was better even than Beth’s. I deliberately made light of it, and made sure she knew I was coming back and wouldn’t be long. I don’t know where she thought I was going, but she was a bit worried, and I hated that I’d done that to her.

So here I was, feeling nervous outside April’s house, for the second time that day. I’d rung the bell and was waiting for the door to open, and the butterflies in my stomach felt worse than this morning. I heard the locks turn and the chain drawn back, and the door opened.

‘Hello Matt.’

She was smiling. Bloody hell. Watch your language Matt, you haven’t got Lau here to give you a kick if she thinks you’re getting close.

‘Hi April.’

She led me into the living room, and it was the first time I’d ever been round there when the table wasn’t set out for tea, with cakes and a teapot and all that shit. April even sat on the sofa – that was my spot! She gestured to one of the chairs at the table and I sat down, getting weirded out by the mixed vibes. I felt awkward, and there was a bit of a silence, but I waited for April to say what she wanted to say.

‘Thank you for coming over, I hope you don’t mind me asking you?’

Well that seemed friendly enough, and I couldn’t see a twelve bore hidden behind the sofa cushions.

‘Noh, course not. I’m a bih curious, though.’

More like shitting bricks, so get on with it for fuck’s sake. Don’t swear, don’t swear, don’t swear.

‘Well, firstly, I want to apologise for the way I spoke to you this morning.’

Holy shit. Oh bollocks, I didn’t say that out loud, did I? No. Good. Because even if April was going to forgive me for saying ‘shit’, she wasn’t going to be so keen on me assigning it the adjective ‘holy’.

‘Oh. Er, well, seriously, April, weh did rather spring ih on yuh, it’s not surprising yuh were a bit shocked.’

‘Yes, well, it was a bit of a shock, but I’ve been thinking about it all day, and I wasn’t very supportive. The two of you look very happy, Laura’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her, since she met you, and that should be what’s important, shouldn’t it. I’m sure it hasn’t been easy for either of you getting used to the idea.’

‘Noh, I suppose ih took us a while too. April, I lohv Lau. I never lohved anyone like I lohv her.’

I leaned forwards to try and convey the depth and sincerity of my feelings.

‘I know, I can see that, and I can see that she feels the same. I suppose that’s what matters, really, isn’t it. And I have to say, you seem better for her than some of her previous choices.’

It seemed like April had had a change of heart since we’d been gone, but it didn’t feel right that I was the one getting to hear about it. I decided that, as there seemed to be a bit more entente cordiale around than there was this morning, I’d push it a bit.

‘Maybe, though, April, yuh should beh sayin this tuh Lau?’

‘Oh, yes, I will, I intend to. It’s just…’

She looked, of all things, coy. What in fucktation was going on now?

‘I had this idea. And please say if it’s not what you want, or you don’t think it’s what Laura would want, or you’ve already got something, but – here.’

She took a small velvet ring box out of her pocket and handed it to me.

‘It belonged to Laura’s grandmother.’

With some trepidation, wondering what I was going to find, I opened the box, and nestled inside was The Ring. Oh, ha, not the One Ring to Rule Them All and In The Darkness Bind Them. No, there were far fewer magical sigils embedded in it; it was The Ring I would have chosen if I’d seen it in a shop, although it probably would have been out of my price range. It was made of rose gold, the band was studded with diamonds, and there was a diamond on the top, surrounded by delicate petals of rose gold. It was a flower, which was what Lau called the people she loved. It was perfect. I looked at April, my mouth slightly open.

‘Wow. This is stunnin.’

‘Do you think … I mean, if you’ve already got something, it was just a thought …’

‘April, ih’s perfect, ih’s what I’d get her, an I think ih’s what she’d choose. She’ll lohv ih. Thank you.’

‘There’s a wedding ring as well, the same colour gold.’

‘Really? Awesome. Were they yuhr mum’s?’

April nodded, and that sadness crossed her face briefly, the sadness that everyone gets, however old they are, if they are reminded that their parents are dead.

‘Mum would have loved Laura to have them. She hardly wore them, because her fingers weren’t too good, and when she died I kind of forgot about them, because they’d already been in a drawer for years, but this afternoon, I was thinking about the two of you, and I wanted to do something, help out in some way, maybe say sorry for being a bit harsh, and I thought of this. Do you really think Laura will like it?’

‘If she doesn’t, I’ll bloody wear ih, ih’s gorgeous.’

Shit, a ‘bloody’ had slipped through the filter. But April just laughed as I handed the box back to her as if ‘bloody’ was nothing. Bloody hell. Lau needed to know about this right now, so she could stop feeling sad about the way she left things with her mum this morning.

‘April, will yuh come back wih meh? Now? I know Lau will want tuh see this, I’d lohv ih if you’d come.’

‘Oh Matt, that would be lovely. Just give me a minute, I’ll get my coat, turn the lights off.’

So there followed a surreal journey across the city, which I would never have imagined a few hours ago, with no burning in hell, but equally no swearing, and I expect we both felt as weird as each other about both of those occurrences. I chattered manically, as I’d never been on my own with April before, and I didn’t want an awkward silence, so I told her about the plans, such as they were so far, for the wedding, and the reception, and she tried so hard to sound enthusiastic that I found a renewed respect for her. April may not have been happy about the way we were doing things, but she was putting her feelings to one side for Lau, and if that didn’t deserve respect, I don’t know what did.

I parked the car outside the flats, and we headed up the stairs. I opened the door and called out to Lau, then saw her lying on the sofa. The TV was on, but her eyes were closed.

Laura

I woke to the sound of Matt’s key in the door.

‘Lau? Oh, she’s asleep.’

‘No, I’m not, I’m – Mum!’

As I turned round to see Matt, I saw her behind him. She had never been to the flat, disapproving as she did of Matt and me living together, and it felt very strange to see her walk in with him.

‘Hello, my love.’

Matt

April hovered nervously by me, but Lau stood up and walked over to her, to be folded up in a huge hug. Lau’s hugs always put people at ease, and I saw April untense.

‘What on earth are you doing here? Come and sit down.’

Lau glanced at me questioningly, but I was giving nothing away apart from a smile, and she could have one of those anytime.

Laura

‘Well, after you’d gone, I sat and thought for a long time, I didn’t go to church, I just thought about you, and how much I love you, and what a lovely girl you are, and how good you’ve been to me since your father passed away, and I realised I was being mean and selfish, and making you feel bad about your exciting news.’

‘Oh Mum, it’s OK, I knew you wouldn’t really approve.’

Although I’d been a little upset by Mum’s reaction that morning, I had totally expected it. Mum had never approved of any of my previous relationships, once they progressed beyond holding hands and brief kisses on the lips, mouths closed. She liked Matt, but that didn’t stop her disapproving of us having ‘physical relations outside of marriage’, and I didn’t expect her to change. It seemed, though, that I may have misjudged her.

‘Well, maybe, but I learned a long time ago that you’re going to live your own life regardless of what I think about it, and that I can either be happy about it and happy in myself, or unhappy about it and a bitter old lady. On the whole, you make me proud, LauraLou. You have a wonderful job, dedicating yourself to helping people, and you’ve found yourself a good man, and you’re making me a grandma. There may be other things in there I’d wish were a bit different, but I don’t really have any right to complain, do I, I’m sure you wish I was a bit different too at times.’

Matt

It was the long version of what she’d said to me, and Lau melted, tears starting to run down her face. Hormones, happiness, general overwhelming emotion, whatever, it was all good.

Laura

‘Oh Mum.’

‘Oh, now then, my love, I didn’t come here to make you cry.’

She hugged me again, and produced a tissue from her pocket. In all my life, my mum has never been without a tissue when one was needed. Matt was leaning against the kitchen counter, watching, looking like he was waiting for something.

Matt

April had never been to the flat, being all disapprovy on our arses before, and I could see Lau wondering just what had wrought this surprising change of heart, and what exactly I’d had to do with it.

Laura

‘Why did you?’

‘What, my love?’

‘Why did you come here? It’s great to see you, just a bit of a surprise.’

‘Oh, well, I just had a thought this afternoon, one of the many I’ve had since you left, and I texted Matt to ask if it would be alright, and he seemed to think it would, so when he offered to bring me over, it seemed like a good idea.’

Light dawned as I remembered Matt getting the text. I looked up at him, to see him grinning. There had obviously been some kind of scheming going on, and it cheered my heart to see these two people I loved so much talking to each other without having me there as a buffer.

Matt

Lau looked like she’d just realised what I’d been up to with the texts and the diesel story. I grinned over at her as she looked from me to April.

‘What exactly have you two been cooking up?’

‘Well, I don’t know what you’re doing about an engagement ring –’

Now Lau had that look, the one she got when I was trying to pay for dinner and she was being all grrl power. I think she thought her mum was going to offer us money.

Laura

I thought Mum was going to offer to pay for one, and jumped in quickly.

‘Oh, no, Mum, we’ve already said we won’t bother, not just for a few days.’

Matt

Well actually, Lau, you said that. I kept quiet and had my own schemes. But this was better.

Laura

‘Well, alright, then, say if you don’t want it, but I’ve had your Nanny Bea’s engagement ring since she died. I don’t know if you’ll like it, or if you could use the stones for a different ring, if you wanted to, but here it is, have a look and decide. You don’t have to say now. Matt likes it, don’t you?’

Matt

‘I love ih, Lau, but ih’s up to you.’

I knew she’d want it, though.

Laura

Mum opened her handbag and took out a velvet covered ring box. I couldn’t remember ever seeing Nanny Bea’s ring, and certainly hadn’t known that Mum had it. She handed me the box, and I opened it, slightly nervously, to see the most perfectly delicate rose gold ring with rose gold petals forming a flower, and at the centre a brightly sparkling diamond. Small diamonds were set into the band all the way round. I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect ring.

Matt

I studied Lau’s face for signs of being polite, but all I saw was awe. She liked it as much as I did. I knew it.

Laura

‘It’s gorgeous, Mum. I love it. Why have I never seen it before?’

‘Well, when Nanny Bea’s arthritis got bad, she had to stop wearing it; she kept it in its box for years. It is lovely, isn’t it? I always meant you to have it.’

‘Oh Mum. It’s perfect. It’ll feel like Nanny Bea is there, in a way. Is that OK with you, Matt? You were talking about buying one.’

‘I lohv ih, Lau, an if yuh like it, ih’s perfect. Does it fit?’

I slipped it on the ring finger of my left hand, the finger I never wore a ring on in the hope that one day I’d be wearing one I’d never take off. I couldn’t believe it – it fitted perfectly. I was close to tears again. Hormones, surprises, fabulous jewellery – there was just no predicting what was going to set me off these days.

Matt

So now I had something to do. I’d said we were doing it properly, but so far I’d only done half the job.

‘OK, take ih off again.’

Laura

‘What? No way, buster.’

I was a bit slow to realise what Matt wanted to do, and at that second I couldn’t think of a single thing that would make me take this stupendous piece of sparkle off my finger.

‘Give ih here.’

‘What?’

Although now I looked at Matt’s exasperated expression and the penny dropped. Laura Shoeman, not the brightest button in the box today, but I had excellent excuses in the ‘severely hormonal’ and ‘currently quite surprised’ categories. I slipped the ring off and gave it to Matt, belatedly guessing what was coming. He knelt on the floor in front of me, like he had two days ago, and asked me again.

Matt

‘Laura Louise Shoeman, will you marry me?’

‘Yes, Matthew Robert Scott, I will marry you. Now give me that gorgeous ring back.’

She held her finger out, and I pushed it on, then kissed her, more passionately than I should have with April looking on, but I didn’t care. I was going to kiss this woman in front of people for the rest of my life, and I didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought about it. Anyway, April looked like she was going to cry any second, so I can’t have scandalised her that much. Unless she was going to cry because I’d scandalised her way way much, in which case see above for how many actual fucks I gave.

Laura

‘I’ve, er, there’s also Nanny Bea’s wedding ring. I know you won’t have had time to buy one, and it’s OK if you don’t want it, but –’

‘Oh Mum, thanks so much, it’s just perfect. Now we’ve just got to sort your ring, Matt. If you’re going to wear one, of course.’

Matt

Oh I knew what I was going to do about that.

‘Don’t worry about meh, I’ve got plenty of time to sort something. Thanks, April, this is … ih means a lot to Lau and meh.’

‘Well, good, I’m sorry I was a bit down on you this morning. It’s taken me a while to get used to it.’

As I shrugged to accept her apology and indicate it was forgotten, they started to chatter, comparing notes like mums and daughters should, about feeling sick, and cravings, and showing, and a whole load of other womanly shit, and it was mended between them, better than mended. April stayed for supper, and we got on really well, and I didn’t say ‘fuck’, even once.

Laura

‘Oh, Laura, I’m going to be a grandma. Do you know when the baby’s due?’

‘No, not yet. I only took a test on Friday, I haven’t been to the doctor’s yet or anything. I’ve missed two periods, though, so I’m probably a couple of months. Could be summer.’

‘How have you been feeling?’

‘OK, well, a bit tired and sick, that’s what made me do the test really, but not hugely so. I’ve also just had a craving for cheese and onion crisps – Matt, did you manage to …?’

He grinned, walked over to the kitchen counter and held up a huge family size bag. My mouth watered, and it was all I could do to stop myself cramming a handful in my face right then. With an effort, I controlled myself, really so that Mum wasn’t subjected to the sight of her daughter scoffing crisps as if she had been starved for the last week, instead of fed up to the eyeballs only a couple of hours ago.

‘Oh that’s so strange, I had cravings, not for crisps, but for cheese, and onions. Together. And later, it was frozen banana. No other type, just frozen. Oh my love, it’s so exciting. Matt was telling me on the way over about your friend’s plans for your reception.’

‘Yeah, Beth and Lis are doing some plotting tomorrow, but they’ve told us to keep our noses out and not stress about it.’

‘I’d like to help, if there’s anything I can do.’

‘I’m sure there’ll be something. Do you want Beth’s number?’

‘Yes please, my love. I’ll ring her later. Is she your friend, Matt, or family?’

‘She’s my sister-in-law. Jay’s wife.’

‘Oh, of course, I’m putting it all together now. It’ll be lovely to meet them all, I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get round to it. That’s another thing that’s good about all this.’

I really appreciated the effort Mum was making to see the positives. I could feel that underneath she still didn’t really approve or understand, but was determined not to let that stop her from enjoying what she could or showing she loved me. It was incredibly touching.

‘Will you stay for some supper, Mum? We were just going to have something light, Beth cooked enough to feed an army, and we ate most of it. Matt’s a really good cook.’

‘I’d love to, thank you. This is a lovely flat, Matt. I imagine your view is quite something when it’s not dark.’

‘Thanks, April, yeh, the view is awesome, you can see up tuh the moors on a clear day. We won’t be able tuh stay here, though, there’s only one bedroom. Still, we’ll get the wedding out of the way first, then we’ll worry about everything else. We’re going tuh have tuh get a bit organised, Lau, maybe get Beth tuh write us some lists of things tuh do.’

Mum stayed for a couple of hours, and it was the most relaxed time I’d spent with both her and Matt together. He drove her back home later, and came back looking pleased with himself.

Matt

I had single-handedly got Lau and her mum talking again, (or, to put it another way, had responded to a text and a reasonable request which had been all April’s idea) and had managed a whole evening with her without single-handedly fucking it all up again. I had to blow my own trumpet a bit.

‘Your mum is one cool lady. She just told meh I was the best one of any of your boyfriends.’

‘What? She did not.’

‘Well, not in soh many words.’

But that was how I’d chosen to take it. I’m sure it’s what she meant to say, but she was probably just embarrassed.

‘She said she was pleased you’d found someone at last who looked after you an appreciated you. She also said I had the best arse.’

‘Now I know you’re lying.’

Alright, maybe that was a downright untruth.

‘Well she has seen my arse.’

‘What?’

‘She was looking when I went up the stepladder that time, must have had a good view, I beh tha influenced her opinion.’

‘It was a bit scrawny back then. It’s filled out nicely since.’

It was true that I had at last started putting on weight again.

‘Fancy giving ih a feel?’

‘Always.’

And so began the maddest week of my life so far. I suppose, traditionally, weddings are supposed to be easy on the bloke. It’s the woman who spends months having dress fittings and looking at colour schemes and talking endlessly about sugared almonds or some such shit, while the bloke just sits on his backside, his one traditional job being to not be so shit-faced on his stag night that he can’t make the church on time.

In typical Matt and Lau fashion, that all got turned on its head, with Lau taking to heart being told by Beth that everything was being taken care of, so all she did was go shopping with Amy and have a lame hen night with her work girlies.

I, on the other hand, had a shitload of things I wanted to sort out. Maybe I could have sat back and let Beth handle everything, but this wasn’t Beth’s wedding. I was only going to have one, and I was going to be in the thick of as much of it as I could, oh, apart from feeling the need to look at any sodding colour schemes or even think about bloody sugared almonds.

So as soon as I was awake on Monday morning, I drove over to Mum’s to have a word about some stuff.

‘Matthew! I wasn’t expecting you, dear. How lovely to see you.’

‘Heh, Mum. Yuh OK for tea an a chat?’

‘Of course, dear, the kettle’s on.’

It was. I could hear it boiling from the front door, and I suspected that Mum always switched it on as soon as the doorbell went, whoever may have arrived.

We went into the kitchen, and I leaned against the worktop while she made the tea. It was a well practised ritual for Mum; she always used loose-leaf tea and a strainer, left the leaves to stew, milk in first, stir the pot, pour, ask about sugar. I always took sugar, but hardly anyone else did, and Mum knew who did and who didn’t, and how much, but always asked.

‘Sugar, dear?’

See?

‘Two, thanks.’

She had me well trained. I no longer gave her any lip at all, as she’d been asking me for years. I think it’s called burnout. Sarcasm burnout is a terrible thing.

Mum deposited the white granules into the mug and stirred, then handed me a mug of perfectly concocted tea. A mug was her one concession; she would rather everyone drank out of proper tea cups, but knew that in these modern times a tea cup wasn’t big enough, and the little handles were fiddly, and I’d complained often enough that, for us uncultured ne’er-do-wells, she made this one allowance.

I took Mum’s cup and carried it and my mug into her small living room. A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have trusted myself to carry two vessels of hot liquid from one room to another, but I was regaining my confidence as I was regaining my strength and coordination, and Mum had been newly promoted to top of the Scott League of Fucking Cripples.

‘I expect you’ve got a busy week ahead of you.’

‘Yeh, you could say tha. I’ve got work every day, buh tha’s only a few hours, and I’ve got stuff tuh arrange.’

‘I’m going to have to start cooking this afternoon. Beth’s given me a list of things she wants me to do.’

I hoped Beth hadn’t made Mum’s task too onerous.

‘Do yuh need anything? I can go tuh the shop.’

‘No, it’s alright, dear. Beth has ordered things on the computer, and they’re going to be delivered this morning.’

‘Whoa, Mum. Online shohping?’

‘So it would seem.’

Mum wrinkled her nose in distaste, not being a great fan of computers, or indeed anything that made life easier. I was sometimes surprised she didn’t have a washboard and mangle instead of her washer-dryer.

As I sat down with my mug, I noticed that Mum’s drawing stuff was laid out on the table, and there were a couple of half-completed drawings. I was delighted; Mum rarely got her pencils out these days, except to draw cartoons for the kids, and I couldn’t resist a nosy. I stood up and gestured to the pictures.

‘Can I hahv a look?’

‘Of course dear. I’ve just been fiddling.’

‘Hahvnt seen yuh draw prohply fuh ages.’

‘No. I just had this on my mind.’

I picked up one of the pages. It was me, but when I was very young. The other one was Jay. I didn’t see any photographs anywhere that she might have been copying.

‘Did yuh do this from mehmry?’

‘Yes, dear. Your news just made me think about you both when you were little. It’s just nonsense really.’

‘Thehr great, Mum. Yuh should get back into ih.’

‘I have been thinking about it. There’s an art class in the church hall on Wednesdays.’

My mum never ceased to amaze me. She never sat still and allowed age and infirmity to swallow her; she was always looking out for things to keep her busy and stimulated. I looked at the pictures again. She really was very good at capturing likenesses.

‘Would yuh draw Lau?’

‘Well … I could try, dear. I don’t know her as well as I know you and your brother.’

‘Wedding present? Fuh me, not her.’

I saw a slight look of panic cross her face. Oh, she thought I meant before the wedding, and even if she was confident about it, she wouldn’t have time now, especially with all the cooking she would be doing.

‘No rush fuh ih.’

Her face cleared.

‘I’ll do my best, Matthew. If you can be patient.’

‘Thahks. Oh, yuh know yuh said yesterday abouh having Dad’s kilt?’

She raised an eyebrow at me and my sudden change of topic. ‘Yes.’

‘Can I wear ih on Friday?’

Now both eyebrows were raised. ‘For your wedding?’

She was surprised, but also pleased.

I nodded. ‘Yeh. An I didn’t know if yuh’ve got his wedding ring? Or if it would beh OK if I had ih?’

‘Oh Matthew, yes. What a lovely idea. They might both need altering, though. Your father was a little more, shall we say, rotund than you, and his fingers were larger. The kilt’s in the loft, do you think you can get up there? I don’t think I’ll be able to.’

So, a dusty half an hour later, there I was in possession of a white, green and red kilt and a plain gold band, and a need to go into the city centre to get both of them altered in record time. I was also going to have to get Jay measured up and kitted out in something similar. It required delicate handling. I called him.

‘Hey Matty.’

‘Hey. Yuh know I said wear wha yuh want on Friday?’

‘Yees.’

His suspicion came across loud and clear, and was justified.

‘Scratch tha. We’re wearing kilts.’

There was a silence. Then an expletive. I think it was ‘shit’.

You might be, Matty. There is no way on this earth I am wearing a fucking skirt.’

‘Ih’s not a skirt, ih’s a kilt. I’ve got Dad’s. Ih’s really cool. I need tuh know yuhr waist size.’

‘Fuck off.’

Delicate handling going well so far, I’m sure you can tell.

‘Where’s yuhr sense of adventure?’

‘I am not, repeat, not wearing a fucking skirt. Anything else, Matty, you know that.’

‘Anything?’

‘Jesus, no, I didn’t mean that.’

Oh way way too late, brother mine. Got you now.

‘So, maybe weh could do ih drag queen?’

‘Matty …’

‘Or … oh, I know, panto horse, yuh at the back, obviously … or –’

‘Stop it.’

As he spoke, I heard Beth’s voice in the background. I’d assumed Jay would be at work, but apparently not.

‘No, it’s Matty, just, er, discussing arrangements for Friday.’

I heard the words ‘quick chat’, and Beth came on the line.

‘Hello Matty. How are you?’

‘Since yuh saw me yesterday I’ve grown another arm.’

‘Very amusing. What have you said to James? He’s all hot and bothered.’

‘Jus discussing wedding attire. I wan us tuh wear Scott tartan kilts.’

‘Oh Matty, wouldn’t that be lovely.’

Aha. If Beth was on board, Jay had no chance.

‘Jay duhnt agree.’

‘Leave him to me, sweetheart. Oh, you’ll look so good. Full gear?’

‘Yeh. Frilly shirt, sporran, sword if I cahn.’

‘Laura’s going to be stunned.’

‘I know. Soh yuh’ll talk him round?’

‘Consider it done.’

‘Thanks, Beth.’

I disconnected, hopeful that one part of my plan was slotting into place, and got Googling places in the city that might be able to a) alter a kilt to fit me and b) source a matching one for Jay. A phone call later, and part two was underway. I’d forgotten to ask Beth for Jay’s measurements, which would have been the easiest way of getting the information, as I doubted Jay knew his own waist size. So I’d had to take a stab, as time was short, and hoped there was enough wiggle room for a bit too big or a bit too small.

My hopes of a sword had been dashed, it being illegal to sell offensive weapons, but the frilly shirts and sporrans were forthcoming, along with dark green velvet jackets, and I was going to take the kilt in after work to get it altered. I did think about letting Jay have Dad’s kilt, as it was probably the right size, but I wanted to wear it, and so sentiment overrode practicality.

I went into GreenScreen after lunch, but I didn’t get much work done, as I was centre of attention for the few hours I was there. A stag do was arranged for Thursday, complete with pub crawl and stripper, lots of drunken, naked shenanigans, and, for all I know, me tied to a lamp post with a balloon covering my privates. I let them make the plans, went along with it all, knowing I was going to leave well before any stripper or me being tied to anything, and that I was good enough at making a show of being rat-arsed to not actually have to get rat-arsed. It was Matt the Lad’s Last Stand, I suppose. Aren’t stag dos mostly for the benefit of the blokes who aren’t getting married? Well this one certainly was.

So, having not noticeably got any work done, I slipped out early (I know, outrageous, when I only worked a few hours a day, but it was necessary. And I took a file home, alright?) and drove into the city centre to sort kilts and get the ring altered.

I had a bit of a scare when the jewellers I chose told me it was going to take two weeks, but a quick sob story of a sudden wedding, with implied illness (although I have to shamefacedly admit the implication may have been that it was the bride who was possibly on her last legs), got the job done and a promise of Thursday afternoon.

I still got home before Lau, managed to cook dinner, and then sit down looking relaxed, and not like I’d been rushing around like a blue-arsed fly all day. I didn’t even feel that tired, although I suppose I did go to bed at nine thirty. Yeah, of course Lau came with me, and of course we did it. No details, you’ve had more than enough already.

Iz

Ain’t that the truth.

90. Marry your daughter

In which there is a sudden wedding to arrange and announce. Not necessarily in that order.

Matt

While I pondered the level and category of my deviousness in getting Beth to organise our wedding reception as if it was all her idea, I got a text from Nico. Beth’s information network had swung into action, and I probably wasn’t going to have to bother to tell anyone else in the world any of my business for the next week.

Matty this is great news for you and Laura. Lis and me we know you both will be very good mama y papa to this little one. Lis she is happy to buy more clothes for your wedding. Be careful of yourselves xx

I was touched by this, as Nico was the first person not to squawk about the speed of it all, and to say Lau and I had it in us to be good parents (if not particularly organised ones). No way was I going to respond in kind though.

Thanks Nico. Lau and I are of course only doing this so all and sundry have an excuse to go shopping. Expecting you to look your best on Friday now Lis is on the case!

Laura

I had a quick squealy conversation with Lis while Matt was still texting people, and then I really needed to tell the girls. How to go about it, though, was giving me a headache.

‘Matt, I’ve got a dilemma.’

I’d been thinking since we wrote our list of people to invite about how I was going to tell the girls. Anna and Kate would be easy, I could just call them, but Rachel was another matter. Our friendship hadn’t ever got back to how it was; we spoke to each other, but she didn’t ask about Matt and I would never tell her anything without her asking. We didn’t call or text each other.

I had told Anna and Kate about moving in with Matt while Rachel was in the office, but she hadn’t joined in with the excitement, and had eventually turned back to her work. I’d talked to Kate about it; Kate had supported Rachel through what she’d said was a dark time when Matt and I first got together. It hadn’t lasted long, and Rachel had apparently finally got over her one night stand, and had even been on a few dates since.

It wasn’t about Matt any more, it was about me and how I’d chosen him over her. I couldn’t deny that that was what I’d done, I couldn’t change it, and I wouldn’t even if I could. I wasn’t sure how to, firstly, tell her about the baby, and secondly invite her to the wedding.

‘I know you think it’s kind of water under the bridge, but I want to tell the girls at work, before tomorrow, but I’m not sure how to tell Rachel. Or how to invite her.’

He looked at me, a slight frown creasing his brow, the first one I’d seen there for a couple of days.

Matt

Oh fuck. Over the last few months I’d somehow managed to completely forget about Lau’s friend who’d slept with me and taken it badly when I left without cuddling. Lau talked about her, talked about them all as work colleagues and friends, but that particular subject never came up. I hoped this wasn’t going to cause more problems for Lau; it had seemed like things at work had settled down for her, after the initial discontent, and I supposed this new turn of events had the potential to disrupt it all again.

I wasn’t sure I could give her any advice, though, being the one who, in a way, was responsible for the awkwardness. I’d obviously met Anna, who was my bastard MS nurse, but not either of the other two women that Lau worked with, Lau having felt it was not quite the right time for me and some woman I’d Matt the Ladded to meet, so didn’t really feel equipped to comment.

‘Do wha you think, Lau. Can’t you jus text them?’

‘I could Anna and Kate, make a joke of it, they’d ring me, we’d squeal a bit, but I don’t think I can do that to Rach, it doesn’t seem right.’

I thought she was being a bit over-protective of her friend, but it wasn’t my situation, although it was of my making, however indirect it felt, and I didn’t want to say the wrong thing.

‘Call her then.’

That was about as far as my words of wisdom could stretch: which particular method to tell them with. Women and the ways they did things, with all the unspoken rules attached to them, were a bit of a mystery to me most of the time.

‘Maybe. Then I’ve got to call all of them, and who do I do first, so one doesn’t tell the other.’

‘Isn’t Kate her friend?’

See? I had been listening, just wasn’t sure I could be much help to Lau with picking her way gingerly through the minefield of how to approach things.

‘Well, we’re all kind of friends, but Kate’s been more of a shoulder the last few months I suppose.’

‘Tell Kate, then, an then ask her what to do. Sounds like she’ll know the best thing.’

Before Lau could tie me up in any more girl-chat knots, I kissed her quickly on the cheek, which made me hungry for more, so I turned back for a more lingering kiss, stroking her belly as I had done almost constantly since Friday night. There was a baby in there – my baby! I was his bloody dad!

Before I got too distracted and started talking to him again, which I’d done a fair bit too, I pulled away, picked up my phone and called up the contacts list.

‘I’m gona text Lexi, start the goss machine rolling. Then I’m gona call Phil, let him know my team need Friday off.’

I meant my former team, of course. I didn’t think I could invite everyone at the company, so had limited it to half a dozen people who were in my team before I went off sick, most of whom had stayed in touch to one degree or another. Oh, and Lexi, without whom there would be no bitchy recounting of what everyone was wearing and how we’d skimped on the champagne.

Laura

I thought about what Matt had said. He was right, Kate would know the best way to approach Rachel, and Anna wouldn’t mind if she was the last to know. I scrolled down to Kate’s name and pressed ‘call’.

‘Hi Lau.’

‘Hi Kate. Have you got a minute?’

‘Course. Everything OK?’

‘Oh … a lot’s been happening. Er, I was hoping for some advice, but, er, well I’ll just come out with it. I’m pregnant, and Matt and I are getting married next Friday.’

There was a long silence.

‘Bloody hell, Lau. I don’t know what to say. I’m assuming this is good news?’

‘The best. A bit crazy, but, yeah, good news. I’m not sure how to tell Rach, or invite her to the wedding. Oh, you’re obviously invited too.’

‘Oh, well, that’s easy, Rach is with me – here, have a word now.’

And so I was plunged without warning into what I’d been trying to avoid – a conversation with Rachel for which I was totally unprepared. I’d had several versions of what I was going to say floating around my head, but hadn’t settled on any of them as satisfactory, and couldn’t now remember any of it anyway.

‘Hello.’

‘Hi Rach. Er …’

‘What’s up, Lau? Kate’s looking at me really funny.’

‘Oh Rachel, I was hoping to have a chance to say this properly. OK, maybe it’s best to just say it. Matt and I are getting married on Friday. We’re having a baby. We’d like you to come to the wedding, if you can or want to.’

Doing it quickly was the best way, but the long silences afterwards seemed to stretch into the distance forever, as this one was.

‘Can I bring someone?’

‘What?’

‘To your wedding. Can I bring someone?’

‘Er, yes, of course. Who? Sorry, nosy cow, just interested.’

‘Jed. I’ve been seeing him a few weeks.’

‘Oh. Great. Yeah, bring Jed. That’s great, Rach, I’m so pleased you’re coming.’

‘Yeah, well. Congratulations, Lau. For both things. Oh, Kate wants a word. See you tomorrow.’

The phone made swishing noises while it was being passed back to Kate.

‘Bloody hell, Lau. You have to be the fastest worker on the planet. How do you manage to bag the city’s biggest stud muffin, get knocked up and get married within, what, has it even been six months?’

‘Just about.’

‘Oh Lau. Are you OK?’

‘Yeah, I’m great. So are you coming?’

‘You bloody bet I am, wouldn’t miss this. I assume we’re all invited? Patrick’ll have to close the office down for the day or something. Is there an ‘afterwards’?’

‘There is, but it’s still being organised. Right, I’d better call Anna now, before you text her.’

‘Race ya. Bye.’

She disconnected, and I quickly brought up Anna’s name and pressed ‘call’.

‘Hi Lau – can you hang on a minute?’

I waited on the other end, some indistinct noises filtering through.

‘Lau – Kate’s just texted me – you’re getting married?’

‘Yeah. Did she tell you what else?’

‘No, it was a really short text. ‘Lau marrying M.’ That’s all.’

‘I’m pregnant.’

‘Oh Lau, that’s great news. It is, isn’t it? You said how much you both want children.’

I was going to have to get used to people double checking it was good news. I was still double checking it was good news. Good heavens, Laura Shoeman, you really know how to live at a hundred miles an hour – or at least you’ve learnt to in the last six months.

‘Yeah, it’s great. We’re both really happy.’

‘When?’

‘Oh, I don’t know, I lost count of the weeks. Been a bit careless.’

‘Yes, well that’s apparent, love, but I didn’t mean the baby, I meant the wedding. Kate didn’t say.’

‘Oh. Ha ha. Next Friday at three. My next call is to Patrick to ask if we can all have the day off. Do you think he’ll go for ‘team-building’ as an excuse?’

Friday? My God, Lau, you’re giving a new meaning to the phrase ‘whirlwind romance’. Well we’d better get the day off, or Patrick’ll have a mass walk out on his hands. Um, have you told Rach?’

‘I have. She asked if she could bring Jed.’

‘Oh, Lau, that’s great. She’s grown up a lot in the last few months. She’s potty about this Jed guy, he’s done her some good. Maybe you can put all this behind you now.’

‘Yeah, maybe. I hope so. See you tomorrow, An.’

‘Bye Lau. Congratulations.’

When I disconnected, Matt had finished talking to his boss, but was fielding several text messages.

Matt

While I was texting, and then talking to Phil, I was vaguely aware of Lau talking. There didn’t seem to be any screeching, so maybe things were going better than she’d anticipated. Phil was fine about Friday, and didn’t seem that surprised at the reason, although you never could tell with Phil. Sometimes he was chilled about things that got everyone else all worked up, and sometimes he’d go ape-shit about someone using the last staple. Today he was chilled, but I guess he was only losing his fucking cripple employee for the few hours he was going to be putting in a guest appearance for that day; it’s not like the whole place was going to fall apart without me.

Lau was still on her phone when I’d finished talking to Phil, so I texted Andrew.

‘Hey mate. This is v short notice. Can u come 2 my wedding on Friday?’

There wasn’t an immediate reply from Andrew, but my phone suddenly pinged and buzzed with texts from GreenScreen people, who had obviously been mass-texted by Lexi.

‘WTF? Matt Scott with a ball and chain?’

Yeah, people were so funny.

‘Congratulations Matt. When do we get to meet her?’

Er, at the wedding. It’s not like it’s going to be a long wait.

‘And a city goes into mourning. Saturdays at Roxy’s won’t b the same.’

I haven’t been to bloody Roxy’s for more than two years, keep up.

‘You dog! Thought u’d been off sick, obvs other things to do.’

Hilarious, don’t give up the day job.

‘Congrats mate. Who’s invited?’

You’re just fishing. So not you.

‘Wow, amazing news :)’

Oh alright, you’re on the list.

And so on and so forth. I’d dash off a reply and three more texts would take their place; it was in danger of becoming overwhelming. Lau finished her calls and I put my phone on silent while I talked to her.

‘Holy fuck, Lexi’s got the goss mill going quicker than I thought. I cahnt keep up wih all these. How did it go?’

‘Kate dropped me in it, Rach was there, she made me talk to her.’

‘Shit. Awkward?’

‘Actually, no. She’s coming, with her new bloke.’

Well that was going to be interesting. I’d wondered if I’d even recognise her when I met her, and what we’d say to each other.

‘So I’m finally going to geh to meet her? Er … again … for the first time …’

‘Yeah. That’s what’s going to be really awkward. I’ve got to ring Patrick now, then shall we go over to Mum’s? Let’s get all the awkwardness out of the way in the same morning.’

Laura

‘Hi Patrick. I’m really sorry to ring you on a Sunday.’

‘That’s alright, Laura. Is everything alright?’

‘Well, that depends on what you call alright. I’m, er, hoping you’ll give me the day off on Friday. And maybe take the day off yourself.’

‘Er … what exactly are you asking me, Laura?’

‘I’m getting married on Friday. I’ve invited everyone in the team, including you, and Maryanne of course. I was hoping that would be OK.’

There was the obligatory long silence.

‘Goodness Laura. That’s … er … quite sudden.’

‘I know. I would have liked to have given you a bit more notice, but it has all happened a bit fast. I guess I should tell you I’m pregnant as well.’

There was another silence, not quite as long.

‘Well … I think under the circumstances, I’d better say we can all have Friday off – as long as there’s nothing urgent that needs doing.’

‘Oh, thank you Patrick. I’ll see you tomorrow.’

Matt

As Lau picked up her phone, I picked mine up too and tried to put an end to the text storm. Andrew had replied as well.

‘Awesome news, pleased 4u, u’ve had a shit time and deserve some happiness. Sorry, can’t make it, WTF kind of day is a Friday 2 get married, FFS? Call u soon 4 details assume ur marrying Laura ;)’

I’d kept in touch with Andrew, albeit patchily, over the last year. He was a fully fledged single parent now, his daughter having flown back to England in the summer after protracted negotiations with his ex-wife. I believe Karen remained in Africa. Andrew was still at Eyeti, and enjoying the work, but I knew he had started to feel the pressure of juggling a demanding job with the responsibility of a child, and he was on the lookout for anything that was more flexible. As soon as things calmed down my end, say the middle of next century, I was going to ring him for a bloody good gents’ gassing session.

While Lau was finishing talking to her boss, I got some last minute belly-stroking in. Apart from anything, it was an excuse to touch Lau’s soft skin, with the added thrill of knowing there was a tiny life beneath it. Lau stroked my hair in turn, and I felt blissed out, not really wanting to go out, but knowing we had to, there were things we needed to do, like it or not.

‘All done, gorgeous?’

‘Yeah, that’s the easy ones out of the way. Now for Mum.’

Yeah, that was one of the ‘not’s.

‘Wha will she say, do you think?’

Apart from ‘To Hades with you, foul spawn of Satan’ or some such jolly chit-chat.

‘It’s unlikely to be complimentary. Her two main evils to pray against in the world are sex before marriage and foul language. You’re toast, flower.’

‘Can I stand behind yuh?’

I was only half joking. The thought of Lau’s mum in a righteous rage made me very nervous, and I thought Lau might be able to shelter me from anything that was directed my way, which would likely be most of it.

‘What, using your pregnant fiancée as a human shield? And they say chivalry is dead …’

‘You’re right, Lau. No, not abouh the human shield, abouh the fiancée. I haven’t got yuh a ring or anything. I didn’t even think. We haven’t got long. Fuck. I thought weh were doing ih all properly. I’ve fucked ih up already.’

Wasn’t the bloody ring every girl’s dream? Didn’t they all have some kind of image in their head of some perfect diamondy sapphirey concoction of white gold, or yellow gold, or the opposite of whatever you chose? Our wedding was already going to fall well short of Lau’s probable little girl dreams of a white lacy meringuefest; now she was going to be missing out on this too.

‘You haven’t messed anything up, you daft sod. I don’t need a ring, I just need you. A brass curtain ring is enough for me.’

‘Duh they even make bluhdy brass curtain rings any more? Probably harder tuh come by than fucking diamonds. Yuh bloody demanding cow.’

Lau was so practical and down to earth, on most levels, although she could be a bit scatty sometimes (e.g. see aforementioned driving skills), and for this I loved her more. But a ring wasn’t something I was prepared to do without. I’d done the getting down on one knee, she was going to have the huge rock, OK downsize that to modest diamond ring within our price range, that the occasion demanded.

‘Seriously, though, Lau I want to sort it. Do yuh trust me to get something, or do yuh want to come with me tomorrow? Any chance yuh can get some time off?’ ‘Not tomorrow, flower. Honestly, I don’t need a ring. Just a wedding ring. It’d only be for a few days, it’s a bit of a waste.’

‘Mm.’

I was non-committal. If she wasn’t going to choose something, I was going to have to choose it myself, for better or for worse. Shit, I already sounded like a groom.

‘Come on, let’s go and get yelled at by my mum.’

And that took my mind off jewellery-related concerns for now, as the immediate danger of being sent directly to hell by April Shoeman loomed large in my future.

Laura

As we pulled up outside Mum’s house, I realised how much better Matt was now than the first time we came here together. He was driving again, his walking and speech were vastly improved, and he had put on a bit of weight. He didn’t get anywhere near as tired doing every day things, although work wore him out and I had to be pretty firm with him to stop him bringing home things to do after he’d finished his regular hours, which were extremely limited at the moment. Matt put the handbrake on and turned off the engine, then looked over at me with a weak smile.

Matt

I tried to unstick my tongue from the roof of my suddenly dry mouth. All moisture had fled as my anxiety peaked. I’d driven to April’s, having started driving again a couple of weeks ago, and had been getting lots of practice in on quieter days, with short trips. My palms were sweaty, but it was nothing to do with having just negotiated the ring road. I put the handbrake on and turned off the engine, then looked over at Lau with an attempt at a bright smile.

‘Fucking hell, Lau, I think I need to get all my swearing out now, or I won’t fucking last. Shitty bollocking bloody fucking fuck it. There, that’ll have tuh do for now.’

It wasn’t nearly enough, but it was going to have to be sufficient until I got back in this driving seat and could escape. Lau took hold of my hand and squeezed it tightly, and I was reminded of the first time we’d sat together outside this house, holding hands for all we were worth.

‘We’ll be fine. As long as we’ve got this –’

She held up our entwined fingers.

‘–we can do anything, together. Come on, putting it off will make it worse.’

Lau had been a bit devious when arranging when to call round. April went to church regularly on Sundays, at half past ten, and it was gone ten now. Even if we were talking rather than yelling, we wouldn’t be doing it for long.

We walked up the path and I noticed April looking out of the window, as she usually was when she was expecting us. I gripped Lau’s hand as tightly as I could, and tried to gain some calm reassurance from contact with her; Lau was as nervous as I was, though, so all we really achieved was clammy hands squishing against each other.

The door opened and we went inside. I decided on flattery as an opening gambit.

‘Heh April, you’re looking resplendent.’

It was true; you don’t often use the phrase ‘Sunday best’ and mean it, but April always pulled out all the stops for the morning service.

‘Thank you Matt. That’s a word you don’t hear very often. Come in, I’ve just made some tea. There’s time before I have to go.’

I winced as I heard the implied criticism of both the short amount of time we were going to be there for, and the scheduling of our visit so close to her other engagement.

We sat on the sofa in the living room while April busied herself with the teapot from her seat at the table.

‘Hi Mum. How have you been?’

I saw Lau do her customary scan of the room, checking for signs that all was well. I wondered if April noticed her doing it too. It was the sort of thing that would have bloody annoyed me, but then that was me. I briefly wondered how Lau did her checks on me, then remembered the feeling me all over before going to sleep, and smiled to myself.

‘Very well, my love. I walked to the supermarket yesterday, and did a week’s shopping. I came home on the bus.’

She sounded very pleased with herself, but Lau was horrified.

‘Why on earth did you do that? I could have taken you to the supermarket.’

‘I know, my love, but I wanted to go myself.’

‘However many bags did you haul back?’

‘Not many. There’s only me, and I’m fairly economical. I’m sure Matt appreciates the need to do things for yourself from time to time. Did I see you drove here, Matt?’

Oh nice move, April, deflect any potential fussing by employing the dogged independence of your daughter’s fucking cripple boyfriend as an example. Well played.

‘You did, well spotted. I’ve been doing the odd journey, jus to get my confidence back. Ih’s been a while.’

It was going well so far, lots of pleasant small talk, no one sent to the fiery pit just yet. But then, we hadn’t got to the nitty-gritty, had we.

‘Well as someone who’s never driven, I don’t know how any of you ever pluck up the courage to operate all those buttons and pedals, so good for you.’

Just to reiterate, April had never learned to drive. Tell me how that happens in this day and age. She wasn’t that old, younger than my mum by nearly ten years, and yeah, my mum didn’t drive either, not any more, but there it was.

I wasn’t about to get into that with her right now, though. There was news to be imparted and consequences to be endured. This was about as good as it was going to get, and I felt Lau take a deep breath and cling to me. This was it, we were going in.

Laura

‘Mum, we’ve got something to tell you.’

Mum looked at me assessingly. She didn’t say anything, but her body had become tightly poised, as if she was getting ready to run.

‘I don’t know which order to tell you in, it probably won’t make much difference either way, so OK, I’m pregnant –’

‘Oh … Laura …’

She looked sad, not angry, as I would have expected.

‘Don’t look like that, Mum, we’re really happy.’

‘I’m sorry, my love, I can’t help being … disappointed. You know my feelings about unmarried mothers and … relations outside marriage. It was bad enough when you gave up your house and moved in.’

Matt

She had, indeed, given us some mild grief about ‘shacking up’, not that she’d called it that, but she might as well have done. I bet it seemed pretty tame to her now.

Laura

‘But we will be. Married, I mean. That’s the next thing. We’re getting married on Friday.’

She looked at me for a long time, a number of emotions chasing each other across her face; a bit of relief, maybe a touch of excitement mixed with surprise, concern and returning finally to disappointment.

Matt

Lau and I had decided that this would soften the blow. Kind of like, yeah, there had been some evildoing, but we were going to make it right in double-quick time. It didn’t seem to be working like we’d hoped, though, as April continued to look downcast.

Laura

‘In a registry office I suppose.’

‘It was really short notice. We got a cancellation. Will you come?’

Another long look. I couldn’t interpret her expression. Then a sigh.

‘Of course I’ll come, Laura. I wouldn’t miss your wedding. I just wish you were doing it properly, the right way round, in the sight of God.’

Matt

And what entertaining fuckery I thought I was playing at next I have no idea. We’d agreed, Lau and I, that Lau would do all the talking, because I was likely to take the piss, or say something inappropriate, even though I’d always managed not to swear in front of April, but now I just opened my mouth and this came out.

‘I don’t think God probably cares wha way roun people do things, or where they get married, as long as they’re happy.’

I had no clue what the Almighty was likely to be thinking; I was just kind of trying to stick up for Lau. Neither of us gave a toss whether anyone else thought we were doing things the ‘right way round’, be they a parent or an omnipotent deity, and I didn’t want her to take that kind of put-down from anyone. Unsurprisingly, April did not appreciate my observation.

‘Thank you, young man, your insights into the cares of the Lord are inspiring. I think you might have done enough for now, though.’

I’d never heard her sound so cutting, and I nearly applauded her tone, although the content of her words was designed to cut me to the quick.

Laura

‘Mum! It took both of us. We’re trying to do the right thing. Please be happy for us, it means a lot to both of us.’

‘I’m trying, Laura. It’s a bit of a shock. I think … maybe you’d better go, I need to think and pray.’

‘Mum …’

‘I’ll call you later.’

There was no arguing with her, once she had decided. I got my stubborn streak from her.

Matt

And we were dismissed. No yelling, no burny burny hellfire, just a lot of disapproval and sad expressions. We stood up, Lau kissed her mum on the cheek as she sat stiffly at the table, tea cooling unpoured in the pot, I pointedly didn’t, and we left and got back in the car.

Laura

I felt deflated. I hadn’t expected Mum to be overjoyed, but her reaction had taken the sparkle out of everything for now. Matt looked over at me, taking my hand.

‘She’ll come round.’

‘I doubt it. She still hasn’t forgiven me for scrumping apples from Mrs Bailey’s orchard when I was eleven.’

‘Aren’t yuh a bit young to scrump apples? What century were you born in? They had telly and all sorts when yuh were a kid.’

‘I wasn’t allowed to watch telly. Still wouldn’t be if Mum had her way.’

‘But she’s got a telly, she watches bloody Who Wants to be a Millionaire ad infinitum.’

‘Yeah, well, the hypocrisy of parents.’

‘Come on, Lau. She’s a bit shocked. She’ll be OK, she said she’ll come, she can’t be tha mad. I thought weh got away pretty lightly.’

‘No thanks to you, what was all that God stuff?’

‘Sorry. Jus came out, as I was sayin it I was thinking ‘shut the fuck up, Matt’ but I just kept talking. I was expecting a bollocking.’

‘She wasn’t very nice.’

‘I can take a bih of sarcasm. Come on, gorgeous, let’s go. Straight to Jay’s or coffee somewhere? If we go now, Beth’ll make us help wih dinner, she makes out she likes having everyone in the kitchen, buh really it’s slave labour.’

‘Coffee sounds good. Thanks, flower.’

Matt smiled at me, stroking my face as he started the car.

We sat in the café, me trying not to feel glum and Matt trying to cheer me up by messing about, making origami shapes out of the napkins, playing football with the salt and pepper, and inventing the life stories of the other customers.

‘Tha bloke in the corner, sitting with the red-head, he’s a secret billionaire. He leaves enormous tips. If we beat the waitress to the table when they goh, we’ll beh rich. An that old lady by the door? She lost her husband when she was young, she never remarried. I don’t mean he died, I mean she literally lost him. Put him down somewhere, can’t remember where, never saw him again. Tried lost property an everything. Sad story.’

‘You are a daft sod.’

‘So yuh tell me. Yuh don’t know it’s not all true though.’

‘I suppose not. A bit unlikely though?’

‘Use your imagination, Lau. Your turn.’

‘Do I have to?’

He nodded, gesturing around the café, to suggest I choose an unsuspecting victim.

‘OK, couple in their thirties, sitting just about where we are, the guy’s tall, handsome, with sticky out hair and a great bum and the girl is shorter and a bit dumpy …’

‘Noh, don’t see them. Can see a beautiful woman wih great tits, wih a skinny bloke – oh, OK, sticky out hair an great bum. Got them. OK. Off you go.’

‘Well, I reckon they love each other so much, they can’t remember what it was like before they knew each other. And he’s spent the last half an hour being an idiot to try and cheer her up because she just made her mum sad. And she loves him even more because of it. He’s her beach boy.’

He took my hand.

‘An I think the bloke is looking at the woman an thinking ‘whoa, I’m the luckiest bloody beach boy in the whole world, I’ve got everything I want and I’ve got ih with the most gorgeous woman, with the best pair of tits, I’ve ever known, she’s got a nice arse too’ an he’s also wondering if there’s any chance of getting his end away any time soon.’

‘Yeah, but I reckon he’s always wondering that, and sometimes he will and sometimes he won’t.’

‘But I think he will tonight, or even this afternoon if he’s lucky an manages to persuade her to leave early.’

‘You could be right, I think it depends on how tired the woman gets, and how much the bloke gets distracted by chatting and beer and X-box.’

‘So now, I think the bloke’s thinking they should just goh, see everyone, hugs, kisses, have a great time, eat, drink, talk, all tha, beer, X-box, all good. Except the girl should stick tuh juice maybe –’

‘OK then. The girl’s thinking the bloke’s had a good stab at cheering her up, it’s pretty much worked, she’s ready for the next round.’

‘Oh look, they’re going.’

Matt stood up and put his jacket on, holding his hand out to me. I took it, stood up, and we left the café. When we got outside, he pulled me into a tight hug and kissed my forehead.

Matt

‘I love you so much, Lau. I want tuh protect you, I want tuh wrap you up in case you fall over or bang your elbow or get something in your eye. Tell me if I’m over the top, I feel like bloody carrying you everywhere so you don’t overdo it.’

I suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of anything bad happening to her, not just a physical injury, but someone being rude to her at work, or giving her an odd glance in the supermarket. It was going to be hard to be apart from her tomorrow, and it brought back the feelings I’d had when all this began, with the holding hands even when we’re apart.

‘Not over the top at all. You can start by giving me a piggy back to the car. Bend down.’

I bent down, ready for her to climb on if she thought she could handle it.

Laura

He bent down, calling my bluff like I was calling his.

‘Hop on, then.’

Matt

After several seconds, no hopping on was forthcoming.

‘Come on, wha are yuh waiting for?’

‘Er … me to lose a few pounds, and you to grow a few muscles?’

I stood up.

‘Cheeky cow. I can lift yuh no problem.’

And to prove it, I scooped her up into my arms, and yeah she was a bit heavier than I’d expected, but I wasn’t as strong as I had been a year ago, and I staggered a bit but I made it to the car as she squealed and kicked her legs, which really didn’t make it any easier not to drop her, but I didn’t drop her, and I set her on her feet while she laughed at me, all red in the face and sweaty.

‘I wouldn’t call that no problem, but I am impressed. You might just be able to make it over the threshold with me on Friday, if you’re lucky. Maybe I won’t make you carry me up the stairs first.’

‘Think I might have given myself a sodding hernia. Why dihnt you tell me you weigh, like, a zillion kilos?’

My back was feeling it a bit. Lau wasn’t big, not by any means, but I had, I confess, underestimated how much effort it would take to carry her.

‘I did try, although a zillion kilos is just a little insulting, thanks very much. And at least a few grammes of that is baby.’

‘Fair enough, you’re light as a feather. Ih was Philpotts that gave meh a slipped disc.’

The name just popped into my head and out of my mouth.

‘Philpotts?’

‘Weh can’t go on calling him ‘the baby’, he needs a womb name.’

It was a great idea; I loved it.

‘A womb name?’

‘Yeah, all the smart unborn kids have goh them. Dec and Amy called Charlie ‘The Bubster’, but tha was a bit boring, an this one is jus ‘Splodge’. ‘Philpotts’ is classy.’

‘For a girl?’

What was with this girl nonsense? I shook my head.

‘I’m having a boy.’

Lau put one hand on her hip.

‘You seem very sure.’

‘Stands tuh reason.’

I knew a bit about what made a boy or a girl more likely, and I had it sussed.

‘I’m sure you’re about to astound me with your logic.’

‘Ih is logical. Scientific. Proven fact, beefy blokes have girls. I’m a bit scrawny, so ih’s a boy. Plus, I’m sure. I jus know.’

‘That is pretty astounding. Where did you find this out? Could it have been the internet by any chance?’

‘Well, ih’s possible I may have Googled it. But just because ih’s on the internet doesn’t mean ih’s necessarily bollocks.’

Oh, actually it did, but that didn’t help me win my argument.

‘No, not necessarily. Almost one hundred per cent certain though.’

‘Buh not necessarily. So anyway, ih’s a boy, an I say we call him Philpotts.’

‘OK then, say we have a womb name, and say I agree to Philpotts, although that’s by no means granted, it is purely for the duration of womb time. It doesn’t linger once he or she is born.’

Ha, I loved that Lau didn’t just think I was totally mad, or rather, if she did, she at least played along for a bit.

‘Course. Otherwise ih then becomes a really weird actual name, an who calls their baby Philpotts, for fuck’s sake? Do yuh think I’m crazy or something?’

‘Well … it is starting to cross my mind.’

‘Ha ha, Lau, I lohv you. You join in wih my mad ramblings. Let’s go.’

Laura

Matt opened the door for me, got in, and we drove off to see his family.

We stood on the doorstep, having rung the bell, listening to the voices and sounds that had erupted. There was a squeal, running footsteps, Jay’s grumbling voice. The door opened and Beth pulled us both inside, putting her arms round both of us at the same time.

‘Oh Matty, Laura, I don’t know what to say, this is so lovely. Come in, James is just getting some drinks. Beer, Matty?’

‘Yeah, great.’

Beth led us both by the hand into the living room, where there was a large banner made out of several sheets of paper stuck together, that looked like it might have been made by Cal, saying ‘Congratulations Matty and Lau’ stuck to the wall. Cal was sitting underneath it.

‘Whoa, Cal, did yuh make that?’

Cal beamed and nodded. He seemed to be in one of his less sulky pre-teenage moods, and continued to smile as Matt gave him a thumbs up.

‘Cal and Amy spent ages doing it.’

‘Oh, are Dec an Amy here?’

‘They’re peeling potatoes.’

On cue, Dec and Amy emerged from the kitchen, Amy looking every day of her eight and a half months pregnant, Dec carrying Charlie.

‘Ih takes all three of you to peel a bloody potato?’

Dec grinned.

‘No, one of us to peel the thousands of potatoes Beth kindly left for us, one to crawl about getting filthy and trying to eat potato peelings, and one to keep an eye on the one crawling about eating potato peelings. Simple maths, Matt, I thought you were the genius with numbers.’

‘Good of Charlie tuh watch you crawling around eating potato peelings.’

‘Ha ha you’re hilarious. Congratulations, by the way.’

Matt

He came over to us, put Charlie down and gave me a huge hug, and Lau a big hug and kiss. Amy waddled over and kissed us both, being too large to hug comfortably. Lots of grinning was done as I tried hard to play it cool, but failed spectacularly.

‘Congratulations, it’s completely awesome. Although your timing could have been a bit better. What if I give birth at the registry office? Oh, Dec, Charlie alert.’

Charlie had crawled over to the table, and was trying to pull herself onto her feet by grabbing the tablecloth, in imminent danger of sending knives, forks and glasses tumbling on top of her. Dec scooped her out of danger and carried her, smiling, back to the middle of the room.

‘You can’t take your eye off her for an instant, she’s bloody exhausting. Are you sure you want one? We can just share this one if you like, give us a break.’

All parents do that, don’t they, say ‘you can take this one off our hands’, but if you actually tried, there would be police and Crimewatch and everything.

Laura

We all sat down, Jay bringing beers over for Matt and Dec.

‘I assume juice is in order for the two expecting ladies?’

‘Thanks, Jay. I’m completely never having another baby, all this enforced no-wine business is just daft. I never even thought about it first time, Lau.’

‘No, it’s just occurred to me, no more G and Ts for the foreseeable future. Damn. Maybe I’ll make Matt have the baby instead.’

‘If only I could, Lau, but sadly Philpotts has to stay with you fuh the duration, so tough shi – er – luck.’

‘Did you say Philpotts? What the … er … dickens kind of name is that?’

It didn’t go unnoticed that both Matt and Dec were trying to curb their language. It remained to be seen how long it lasted.

Matt

Dec and I were trying our very best to outdo each other in the not swearing stakes. It would never last, especially after another couple of beers.

‘Ih’s a womb name. Everyone does it – ‘Peanut’, ‘Bubster’, ‘Blobby’, ‘Splodge’, we’ve gone more classy.’

‘Er, I didn’t think I actually agreed to it?’

Yeah you did, Lau, it was tacitly implied. Same thing. Might as well have signed a contract.

‘Oh, buh it’s a great name. An I’ve told everyone now. Philpotts ih is.’

I nodded firmly, took a swig from my beer bottle, winked at Lau and kissed her on the cheek so she couldn’t argue.

Laura

Matt was always a bit more over the top with his family, and today he was excited, and he and Dec had been noticeably trying not to swear, so I forgave him and let him have his fun, resolving to have a bit of my own in the shape of dress-shopping with Amy. She was totally up for it, despite the limitations of being on the point of giving birth, and Beth wanted in if she could find the time.

Beth wanted to know numbers, presumably for catering purposes, and I let Matt field that one.

‘Bloody hell, Beth, we only started telling people this morning. I guess we can count you and Jay, and Iz, and if you can get Cal off school, that’s four of you. Amy, are you and Dec coming with Charlie? We won’t count Splodge unless he’s actually arrived, is that OK Beth? So seven altogether so far. Oh, and Mum and Lau’s mum are coming.’

‘Oh – have you seen her? How did that go, sweetheart?’

‘Well she wasn’t over the moon, especially when Matt told her what God was likely to be thinking about it all, but she said she’d come.’

Amy leaned over and put her hand on my arm.

‘She might come round. My mum did, with Charlie. Her and Dad gave me a really hard time at first, but having a grandchild is a really big thing, she couldn’t resist it in the end. Charlie healed it all. It’ll be OK.’

I looked at her gratefully. Amy was so lovely, she always seemed to know the right thing to say.

‘Thanks, Amy.’

Matt

I felt excited, now we’d got April out of the way. I knew what we were going to get here, and it was going to be happiness and anticipation.

I remembered when Dec and Amy were expecting Charlie, and how much baby chat there had been then. I also remembered how much Jules and I had hated it, made fun of it later, and it made me feel a bit guilty, as now I was loving it, being in the middle of it all, and I wondered, not for the first time, whether taking the piss so much back then had just been me diverting my own attention from what I was feeling.

Still, no point going over all that again. I did that enough with Adam – oh yeah, still seeing Adam, I know, slightly miraculous, and he was helping me sort some of my shit out. I didn’t think I’d ever get to the level of chilled that Dec had managed, but having said this to Adam, he helped me realise that we had different personalities as well as different life journeys, and it wasn’t useful to compare yourself with someone else in that way.

But back to the now, there was a lot of baby chat, and Beth gave us updates on the reception, although I didn’t actually want much information, preferring as much as possible of it to be a surprise.

Laura

There was a ring on the doorbell, and we heard a squeal of ‘Granneeee’ as Iz dashed to the door. Granny usually brought chocolate, and unlike Lau and Unca Matty, didn’t make Iz work for it. We heard the stash being distributed at the door, and then being confiscated by Beth, then the door opened and Carol and Rose walked in.

Matt

Mum was beside herself with excitement, although you’d never have known to look at her. She came straight over and gave me a big hug, and it just said, without words, how happy she was, how much she knew it meant to me. We both had tears in our eyes when we stepped back, me especially as she whispered, ‘At last, dear’ in my ear.

Laura

Carol understood Matt so well, and knew what having a family meant to him.

‘Well, dear, this is all a bit exciting, isn’t it. How are you, Laura, dear?’

I stood up and kissed Carol too, and she whispered in my ear,

‘You are taking care of yourself, aren’t you?’

I stepped back, nodding and smiling, touched by her sensitive concern. And of course I was taking care of myself, now I knew. No point worrying people by reminding them of being off my face on rum punch at Christmas, or all the brie and pate I’d eaten. That would get me nowhere but nagged and scolded.

Matt

Rose was, of course, nowhere near as tactful as she bustled from me to Lau, hugging and talking.

‘Oh love, there’s just no going slow with you and this one, is there? You haven’t given us a chance to catch our breath, it only seems like yesterday you were here for the first time, now we’ve got a wedding and a baby coming. Two babies if Amy and Declan manage to hold on until after Friday.’

Dec had an answer for her, as he usually did.

‘Not much we can do about it either way, Rose, but Ames is determined to buy a new dress, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.’

I stayed close to Lau, holding her hand, stroking her hair, rubbing her belly, which attracted comments from Dec and Jay, who were loving the ‘Matt Goes Gaga’ show. We answered all the questions several times, as the people who asked them the second time had been talking to someone else when they were asked the first time.

Laura

While Jay sorted everyone with a drink, I carried on chatting to Amy. I was loving talking about all of it, how I was actually having an actual baby. The more I talked, the less it felt like I was in a dream, and the more it seemed like reality. Amy said she’d felt the same, and as she was talking about how it had been for her, I did a sudden flip from ‘real’ to ‘overwhelmingly actually happening Oh My God I’m Having A Baby’, and I sat stock still, eyes wide, while Amy chattered on.

‘It’ll keep catching up with you, though, until you give birth. It doesn’t feel real until then, there’s only the two of you and this, kind of, imaginary person, and then, suddenly, there’s this little real person, and you’re completely responsible for them. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can prepare you. And there’s all the hormones as well.’

‘Yeah, bloody hormones. They have a lot to fucking answer for.’

Dec obviously remembered the hormones rather vividly.

‘Be prepared for a lot of crying. And then when Matt’s stopped, you might have a bit of a weep too.’

Thinking about it was now taking all of my concentration; it was one thing to theoretically really want a baby, and know that was a kind of life goal, but very much another thing to have that baby growing inside you, changing your life forever as it did so. Tears started to spill down my cheeks as I thought about it.

‘Oh Lau, sorry. Dec, go and get Matt.’

Dec stood up.

‘No, it’s OK, I’m fine, like you say, just hormones.’

But Dec had already left the room.

‘How about we look at dresses? I’ll get Jay to lend us his laptop.’

89. Late

In which a whole lot of life is crammed into a short space of time, and wishes appear to have been granted.

Laura

It was weeks later, after Christmas and well into January, that I first suspected. I ignored it at first, thinking it was indigestion, or the prolonged aftermath of a bad takeaway. It was impossible anyway, I had a coil fitted. And I was a nurse, things like that just didn’t happen to sensible medical people who knew better than to rely on a method of contraception that was only ninety eight per cent effective. And Matt had MS and related fertility issues. It was impossible.

So I ignored it for a while, convincing myself my period would start soon, it was always a bit hit and miss, then suddenly my next period was at least three weeks late too, I was still feeling tired and queasy, especially when anyone had a tuna sandwich, and finally I couldn’t ignore it any more I waited until my day off, when Matt was at work from lunchtime until later on, and bought a test.

Full of fear, I peed on the plastic stick and watched in horror as the little window showed two pink lines. Not willing to believe it, I peed on the other plastic stick, crossing fingers, toes and eyes that this time it would be a different result. The same pink lines appeared in the window, and my heart sank. And flipped at the same time. I so wanted this, but it was too soon, far, far too soon.

Matt and I had barely got used to living together. I’d got tenants for my house pretty quickly, and we’d moved all my stuff in just before Christmas, but it was still only January, we’d barely known each other six months. Matt was still recovering from his flare-up of MS, he had only recently started back at work, on extremely limited hours, and I just didn’t know what this news was going to do to him. He was due back from work in an hour or so, and I was going to have to tell him.

I tried to take my mind off it by cooking something nice for dinner, but I was too distracted, and I burnt the bottom of a saucepan before bursting into tears and throwing the whole lot across the kitchen where it crashed into the tiles, splattering blackened tomatoey mess everywhere. I sunk onto the floor and sobbed, barely hearing the key in the door.

Matt

I had just got home after a long day’s work – two whole hours that day. I’d had to get up at noon in order to be in for twelve thirty, and then the meeting I was in had overrun, so it was gone three o’clock by the time I got back. Scandalous, tantamount to slave labour.

I turned the key in the lock and opened the door, and there was Lau, on her knees in the kitchen, sobbing. Other sensations floated across my consciousness, but I didn’t stop to examine them fully – a smell of burning, something splattered on the kitchen wall – as the sight of Lau so upset scared the shit out of me. I thought she’d fallen, to start with, and sank to my knees beside her ready to scoop her up and run down the stairs with her to the car to drive her to hospital, but before I did that, I thought I ought to check.

‘Lau? Oh fuck, what is it?’

I put my arms round her, trying to get her to look at me, but her head remained down, and she carried on crying. It was beyond terrifying; I had never seen Lau this upset, even at Amy’s dad’s funeral, when I knew she was thinking about her own dad, and everyone else there was in floods, and she somehow dealt with it all in a way that released it without letting it overtake her. But this was something else, there was something uncontrolled about it, and I was on the edge of panic.

‘Lau?’

She tried to speak, but more sobs just erupted from her throat. I looked around to see if there were any clues, and the burning smell, coupled with the splattered red gloop across the wall, the cracked tile and the blackened, dented saucepan on the floor did nothing to assuage my alarm.

‘Hey, hey, fuck, Lau, what the fuck is it? Are you hurt?’

I checked what I could see of her body for burns, cuts or broken bits, but could see nothing obvious. She shook her head, but no explanation was forthcoming, so I tried a bit of humour, hoping that if I could make her smile, she might stop crying and tell me what the fuck was wrong.

‘You burnt my best saucepan? Well I’ll let you off this once, as long as –’

It wasn’t working, and I couldn’t bear it.

‘Oh Lau, don’t, please tell me.’

I felt the huge effort she made to pull herself together, and tried to hear what she was saying as she spoke indistinctly through the shudders.

‘… did a test … sorry … too soon … don’t know … what to do … sorry …’

It didn’t make things any clearer, as I had no idea what the words I could make out actually meant.

‘Lau, you’re not making any sense. Come on, get up, you can’t stay down here.’

I stood up and pulled on her arm, wanting to get her to the sofa where I would be able, I was sure, to at least get her to look at me. To my relief, she stood up, and I put my arm round her, as if she needed protecting, while we walked the few steps and sat down. I kept my arm there, across her shoulders, while she looked at her knees.

I was imagining – well, I’ll tell you some of the things I was imagining: a) Something terrible (by which I mean at least serious injury, horrible disease or possibly death) had happened to her mum, b) Something terrible (again, maiming, affliction or deceasement) had happened to my mum, or another member of my family, maybe one of the kids, c) Something terrible (also with the wounds, the contagion and the perishing) had happened to her, or d) Something terrible (see above) had happened that I couldn’t yet imagine, and so it was unimaginably terrible.

I was only imagining terrible somethings, and although none of it really seemed to fit with the saucepan and the red gloop, which I assumed and sincerely hoped was tomato and not a more sinister substance, there was nothing else I could think of that would have upset her this much.

‘Come on, Lau, you’re scaring the shit out of me. What’s wrong?’

The sobbing had diminished to a few quiet shivers; she took several deep breaths, opened her mouth to speak, closed her mouth again, and then spoke, almost in a whisper.

Laura

In the end it had to be said.

‘… I’m … pregnant.’

There was a long, long silence. Longer, surely, than any silence that meant good things were going to happen at the end of it. He didn’t remove his arm, but didn’t pull me closer either. I sat there, still looking at my knees, watching the teardrops fall onto my skirt and spread darkly across the fabric, waiting for Matt to freak and then run.

Matt

She had spoken quietly, but I had heard her, and there was no need to ask her to repeat it. I froze, for the longest time, as it sank in.

At first, it seemed a bit of an anti-climax, after all the awful injuries, illnesses and deaths I’d just imagined, and I wondered why she’d been crying so hard about something that wasn’t that bad. Then it caught up with me, and yeah, of course, I majorly freaked out, of course I did.

This was the one thing that I used to be terrified would somehow trap me. It was one of the reasons I deluded myself about what I really wanted for so long, and now it had happened, a woman was telling me she was pregnant, and it was mine, and for a moment it took me back there, to that time and place where it would have been the single most terrible thing that could have happened to me.

And it felt for a while like my brain had exploded in my skull, because wasn’t this the last thing I needed? I’d only just got back to something approaching a normal life, I didn’t need all the stress fucking it up again.

But it didn’t last long, because I’d just done all the imagining of terrible somethings, and in comparison, this was not only not that bad, it was actually good. It was a good thing. Better than that, it was a great thing. It was an incredible, wonderful, magnificently awesome thing. It was fucking mind-blowing

Lau was pregnant. I, me with my fucked-up downbelows, had managed to father a bloody child. This meant – oh holy fuck. This meant that I was going to get it, everything I’d wanted, everything this last fucking awful year had been about in a way, and I was going to get it with Lau. A family. And it wasn’t just about me, for fuck’s sake.

Yeah, I finally got there, and thankfully my thought processes hadn’t been available for general perusal by Lau. It was about us. It was always going to be about us, but especially now. I was going to be a fucking dad. Lau and me, we were going to be fucking parents. Lau, me and a baby, we were going to be a fucking family.

This all took me quite some time to process, all the thoughts whirling round my head, from shock, to panic, to acceptance, to excitement, while Lau sat with her head down, teardrops falling onto her skirt, soaking in, staining the fabric dark.

‘Holy, holy fuck. Holy fucking shit. Lau, if you ever, ever fucking scare meh like that again I’ll bloody well murder you.’

Laura

Matt’s arm tightened round my shoulders. It seemed like bad things might not be about to happen straight away, so I risked a look into his face, which was bent close to mine. I had never seen such a wide smile on his face, and he smiled quite a lot of the time. He took his arm away so he could hold my face in both hands and pulled my mouth towards his, kissing me tenderly.

Matt

I tightened my arm round her shoulders and pulled her towards me, bending my face close to hers. She still hadn’t looked at me, but slowly raised her eyes to mine. I was smiling, so widely, all thoughts of freaking out banished, at least for now, and I saw how scared she’d been of what I was going to say. I felt a pang of guilt that it had taken me so long to reassure her, to tell her how bloody fucking awesome this was, how happy I was.

I held her face in both hands and dropped a tender kiss on her mouth, to apologise, to say ‘woohoo’, just to kiss the mother of our child.

‘Seriously? Pregnant?’

She nodded.

‘Oh Lau. That’s just fucking awesome. Fuck, fuck, fuck, I can’t fucking believe ih. Shit. I mean, it’s OK, isn’t it? It’s what you want, isn’t it? It’s OK?’

Yeah, bit late now, Matt, after going all celebratory, to double check.

Laura

I stared at him, unable to speak. Yes, it was OK, if Matt was OK, it was the best news, the thing I’d wanted for so long, and if Matt wanted it too, and wasn’t freaked out, and didn’t run away or … I just nodded, then tried a smile.

Matt

Get going on the celebratory, Matt.

I stood up and danced around the room going ‘woooohoooo’ like a bloody nutter, arms wide, as if I’d just scored in the Cup Final for Spurs. This actually might feel a bit better than scoring in the Cup Final for Spurs. I suppose I would never know, as I was possibly just outside the age range for beginning a career with a top flight football team. But as is the way of things, something floated across my mind, I think I was imagining telling everyone: Beth, Dec, Jay, Mum, Lau’s mum – I stopped dancing.

‘Oh fuck, you know what this means. Your bloody mum’s gona go ape. OK, leh’s do this prohply.’

I didn’t even think twice about it. I would never in my life have ever thought that ‘doing things properly’ would mean getting married before having a baby. But it was what we needed to do. I had no moral grounds on which to base this sudden conviction, just a feeling that, for Lau and me, if we were having a baby, we needed to be married. I went back to the sofa and got down on one knee in front of her, holding her hand in both of mine, looking into her eyes.

‘Lau, we have never, in our entire fucking mad donkey’s breakfast of a relationship, done things in the righ order. This time we’re going to. Laura Louise Shoeman, will yuh marry me?’

I held her gaze, hoping against hope that she would feel the same as me. I wanted to see her answer before she said it. And I did. I knew it was coming before her lips formed the word.

Laura

His eyes were shining. I had absolutely no doubt that he meant it, he was always going to mean it, and I had absolutely no doubt about my answer.

‘Yes.’

I smiled a huge smile, almost dizzy with the speed at which I had gone from breaking my heart to overjoyed.

Matt

An enormous smile spread across her mouth, as I took her face in my hands again, wiped away the last of her tears, then laughed as new, happy tears rolled out of her eyes. Then I held her to me, still kneeling on the floor, Lau still on the sofa, and kissed her properly, passionately, as the mother of your child and the woman who has just agreed to be your wife should be kissed.

Lau got down on the floor too, and we knelt together and kissed some more, hands in each other’s hair, lips and tongues telling each other how outrageously good this was. Then I had too many questions, too much to say, and we sat back and held hands.

‘Whoa, Lau, I’m gona be a fucking father. Whoa. A baby. How long have yuh known?’

‘Just today. If I’d paid more attention, I would have done the test earlier. There were plenty of signs.’

‘Why didn’t yuh say?’

‘Well … I suppose it was one of those things, I didn’t ever actually think to myself ‘I’m probably pregnant’, I just pretended it wasn’t happening. It wasn’t until I was so late I had to notice, then I bought the test this morning, still thinking I was just ruling it out. I did it twice, I didn’t want to believe it the first time.’

‘Buh why not? You’ve wanted this as much as meh.’

‘It just felt like really bad timing. We’ve only ever talked about it in general what we want terms, not about when or how. I felt stupid, too. We should have taken more precautions. I didn’t know what you were going to say, or do, either.’

‘But Lau, you must have known I was gona beh over the fucking moon.’

Although, yeah, it had been touch and go for a bit, so I could see why she might have demurred.

‘I kept veering between ‘it’s OK, it’s what we both want’ and ‘Matt’s going to freak’. I’m glad you haven’t.’

Ha, again, glad she couldn’t read my mind. Part of me, somewhere, was still freaking, maybe waiting for things to become a little calmer so that it could come out and play.

‘I still can’t believe ih. And why are weh both down here on the floor? Get on the sofa, woman, start looking after yourself a bit. I need tuh have a word with my offspring.’

I lifted her off the floor and onto the sofa, and pushed her down so she was lying on her back. Then I lifted her shirt and put my lips onto her belly. It was hard to believe there was anything in there; it didn’t look any different from usual to me. But it … he … shit, it could be a he … would be so small, it was hardly surprising there was nothing to see. I wanted to talk to him.

‘Hey, baby, yuh are one lucky tiny little thing. You’ve goh Lau as your mum, and me as your dad. You’d better look after your mum, no kicking her inside ouh, or making her sick – whoa Lau, it wasn’t that curry. It was this one.’

I rubbed her belly, unable to wipe the grin off my face. For a while, too long, thinking about it, Lau had struggled with indigestion and feeling queasy. A mild case of food poisoning and its after-effects Or, obviously, not.

‘I can’t stop smiling. Fuck.’

‘OK, Matt, now may not be the time, but maybe you need to think about toning your language down.’

‘Wha? He’s not even born yet, he won’t knoh what I’m saying.’

‘They can hear loads of things in there. Start practising now, by the time she’s born, you’ll be able to say whole sentences without any swear words at all.’

‘Mm.’

So now Lau was going to be able to get in on the ‘stop Matt’s fucking bad language’ campaign. Not too happy about that one, but not about to get into an argument about it just yet, I was too fucking happy. And I’d had an idea. It was a mad idea, but Lau and me seemed to be going at a hundred miles an hour, never stopping, so why not keep on?

‘Lau, I’m gona call the registry office, see when weh can get – am I really saying this – married. How soon?’

‘How soon for you?’

‘Tomohrow if they’ve got a slot.’

Yeah, Matt and see how much that freaks you out. But I didn’t care. If it was tomorrow, in a way, that would make it easier, less time for me to bottle it.

‘It’s Saturday tomorrow.’

‘Aren’t ahl weddings on fucking Saturdays?’

Already I was noticeably not toning my language down.

‘Lots are, but not all people are available, especially at short notice. I assume you want your family to come? Aren’t Raiders playing away? Dec, Jay and Nico will already be on the coach to – where is it – Birmingham or something.’

‘Fuck. OK, what about weh do ih on a weekday? It’s easier for people to get to, they’re less likely tuh have other things on. Oh, maybe apart from work.’

It occurred to me that we weren’t going to be able to get a date, especially in the near future, when everyone we wanted to be there was going to be able to make it.

‘Shit, we’re just gona have tuh decide who we most want there, or, no, know what I think?’

I hauled myself onto the sofa and lay down beside her, face to face, stroking her hair, as I realised what needed to happen.

‘I think that we should just do this for us. Just book the first available date an tell people. If they want tuh have a big party, or we want one later, we can do that, but we should jus do this. OK, phoning now.’

I pulled my phone out of my pocket, looked up a number, taking my time, giving Lau the chance to stop me, but she didn’t, and so I pressed call.

‘Registrar, can I help you?’

It felt so, so unreal, like it wasn’t my voice saying the words.

‘Hello. What’s the earliest slot you have for a wedding?’

‘Hold on one moment please, I’ll just have a look for you.’

‘OK.’

I looked at Lau, who looked flushed and what I hoped was excited.

‘She’s jus looking.’

The woman came back on the line.

‘We’ve had a cancellation next Friday at three.’

Holy shit, a week’s time. I repeated the information to Lau, and she nodded. Holy shit.

‘OK, can I book ih?’

I was going to book my wedding. There were people who had taken substantial bets on this never happening.

‘Full names of the participants, please.’

‘Well, meh, I’m Matt Scott … Matthew Robert Scott …’

I waited for her to write it down, or type it or whatever she was doing

‘… an Laura Louise Shoeman …’

She wanted other details, addresses, dates of birth, other stuff, some of which I knew, some of which I had to ask Lau, then she gave me a list of things I needed to sort out, and I scribbled them on a piece of paper, disconnected and turned to look at Lau, feeling a bit dazed.

‘We’re getting fucking married next Friday. And we’re having a bloody baby in – when?’

‘I don’t know. I’ll have to make an appointment to see the doctor.’

‘Fuck, Lau, we’re gona have tuh fucking move, too, this place is far too small.’

Things just kept piling up: all the things that were going to change, and were going to have to change.

‘Surely not straight away, she can come in with us for the first few months.’

‘That’s wha Dec and Amy said, they were tripping over themselves within a week. Well we don’t have to think about it right now. Who are we going tuh tell?’

I remembered Dec’s middle of the night texts when both Charlie and the new one were on the way. I would love to repay him in kind. I remembered Beth and Jay announcing Iz’s imminent arrival at the Christmas dinner table. Something more formal like that would be good too.

Laura

My head was spinning with it all. I just wanted time to sit and think about it.

‘Matt, can we not tell anyone, just for a bit? I know we need to tell people soon so we can invite them, but can this just be us, just tonight, maybe tomorrow – you won’t be able to tell Jay, Dec or Nico until after the game, and by the time they get back, it’ll be too late. Sunday morning?’

Matt

I wasn’t sure I could wait a whole day, more than a day. Especially if one of them phoned me, I’d be bound to let it slip. I was going to have to turn my phone off or something equally drastic.

‘Bloody hell, Lau, yuh drive a hard bargain. Dec texted meh immediately, in the middle of the fucking night, both times. I was looking forward tuh repaying the favour.’

‘Please, Matt. It’s all happening so fast, I need to get my head round it.’

Lau was genuinely pleading with me, and yeah, it was a lot to take in, and sitting on it for a day might make it sink in.

‘Of course, gorgeous, Sunday ih is. Wha about your mum, though, we’re due to see her tomorrow.’

‘Dammit. I’ll put her off. We’ll go on Sunday instead, before lunch, if we’re still going to Beth and Jay’s?’

‘Why not? Well, maybe see how weh feel. Once Beth gets word, there’ll be noh stopping her. Oh, I’m going to enjoy stringing her along.’

It wasn’t often I got the chance to tell Beth something so huge. I was almost surprised she hadn’t worked it out before Lau.

‘I’m glad you’re using this as an opportunity to score points.’

‘Hey, I’m gona be centre of the universe –’

‘Ahem.’

Oh yeah, this was about us.

We’re gona be centre of the universe for the next few months. Well, maybe till Dec and Amy have theirs, then they can have a bih of glory, then it’s back to us. It’s all about the timing.’

Lau rolled her eyes. She knew how much this meant to me. I loved being an uncle, but it was a lesser role, and everyone knew it. This felt proper, real part of the family stuff. I caught sight of the red gloop splashed up the walls.

‘OK, I’m gona clear up this mess – holy crap, Lau, there’s tomato sauce fucking everywhere. An you owe meh a saucepan. Tell you what, if you have my baby I’ll let yuh off.’

‘Deal.’

‘Oh you’re too easy. Yuh could have held out for being let off, and a good Scottying. You’ll just have tuh beg for that later.’

I surveyed the devastation that had been wrought on the kitchen wall and worktop.

‘Lau, what the fuck did you do here?’

Lau looked at me, not embarrassed or guilty, just looked at me. I suppose pregnant women can get away with a lot, and she was no exception.

‘I was trying to take my mind off everything by cooking tea, but it didn’t work, and I burnt the sauce, so I just chucked the lot.’

‘Yuh just chucked the lot. At the wall.’

She shrugged, as if didn’t everyone just chuck saucepans full of hot liquid when it all got a bit much.

‘Sorry, flower. Here, let me give you a hand.’

‘Noh, you stay right there, woman. Might have tuh up the price of your let off though.’

‘To what?’

‘Scottying, cuddle afterwards, an sleep wih me all night.’

This always happened anyway, it’s not like it was a punishment. She nodded her agreement with an impish grin that nearly made me forget the cleaning.

But Scottying was off the table, or indeed any other handy surface, for now. I cleared up the burnt tomato sauce, binned the saucepan and ruefully regarded the broken tile that was going to be hard to replace. Lau must have been seriously stressed to cause this sort of mess; she was usually so cool-headed. I wished I’d been here when she was going through it all, but I guess she took the test on her day off precisely so I wasn’t around.

I looked over at her as I finished wiping up the last bits and started on some dinner. The look she gave me was one of trust and love, no hint of the earlier upset, and it sent a surge of calm through me. This was going to be OK. It was mad, just like everything we’d done so far was mad, but we were going to do it together, and that’s what would make it OK.

After dinner, we spent the evening cuddled up on the sofa together, some music playing. I couldn’t keep my hands off Lau’s belly, trying to picture the person who was in there, maybe a centimetre or two long. It was almost impossible to imagine, and every so often I’d say ‘fucking hell, Lau, I’m gona beh a dad’, because saying it made it feel like it was actually happening. And she’d look at me and nod, with wide eyes, and I’d wonder whether he’d have her eyes or mine, my nose or hers, and over the course of the evening, and into the next day, thinking all these things finally caught up with me, and it stopped feeling like we were in the middle of some weird story, and started feeling like this was part of our life, something we both wanted. Maybe just a bit sooner than we would have planned, but welcome to Matt and Lau World, where everything happens sooner than planned.

Laura

We spent the rest of the evening, and most of the next day, getting used to it all – we were having a baby, and we were getting married. I had to keep reminding myself.

I managed to put Mum off by vaguely saying we needed to ‘sort stuff’ and implying it was to do with the flat. We wrote a list of people we needed to tell and invite, and Matt spent a lot of time saying ‘fucking hell, Lau, I’m going to be a dad’. We both wandered around with slightly shell-shocked expressions. We talked about what sort of wedding we wanted and would be able to organise at such short notice, and had some ideas that basically meant it would be very simple, not that we had a tremendous amount of choice.

Matt Googled lots of things about babies and pregnancy, and asked me lots of questions I couldn’t answer about due dates and size, but by Sunday morning, it was beginning to feel a little bit more believable and a little less like a story someone had told me.

Matt

I’d turned my phone off, but turned it on briefly the next morning, just so people didn’t start breaking down my door. They were less likely to do that now Lau was here, but you just never knew. Predictably, there were several texts from Beth, as well as missed calls, and I could tell when she’d got Dec involved from the time on his texts. She hadn’t gone as far as Mum, though, so she can’t have been that worried.

‘Matty, been trying to call u. R U OK?’

‘Matty, where RU?’

‘Matty, can’t get hold of u or Laura. Pls call me.’

‘Hey mate. Beth’s trying to get hold of u abt lunch Sun, wants u 2 bring truffle oil?? Give her a call, get her off our backs? Cheers.’

Bloody truffle oil. That’s what you get for letting Beth rifle through the contents of your shopping bags.

Lau had her phone off too, for the same reason as me, and before I turned mine off again, I quickly winged a text to mollify Beth.

‘FFS Beth, can’t get a minute 2 ourselves. Will bring truffle oil. Call off the dogs.’

I hoped it would suggest we had been involved in nefarious activities that would not demand further explanation or contact, and we spent a strangely quiet Saturday, where there were no ringtones, textones or email bleeps from my phone, or Nokia default tones from Lau’s. I would like to say it was liberating and relaxing, but part of me felt like my hand had been cut off.

Still, we were having a baby, and that took the edge off my frustration somewhat. I wasn’t completely cutting myself off from technology, though, and I spent a fair bit of time on the internet, looking things up about babies and pregnancy, annoying Lau by asking her questions she couldn’t answer, like how big he was likely to be (you had to know how many weeks pregnant you were, and Lau was frustratingly clueless, considering she was a nurse), when he was likely to be born (same answer), whether she was going to puke early in the morning like Amy did (everyone’s different and although she hadn’t puked thus far, things might change) and whether she’d had any cravings (not that she was aware of, although now I thought about it she had eaten some weird combinations of things from time to time – ooh, smoked salmon croissant and pop tart at Christmas …).

By the time Sunday morning came, I was less startled at the thought of being a dad, and applauded Lau for her foresight in insisting on a day to get used to it. We’d discussed our wedding, quite a lot, and although I wouldn’t say I was as at ease with the thought of being a husband as I was being a dad, there was enough to do to take my mind off the enormity of it. Some would say that this wasn’t the right way to go about approaching one’s wedding, but I would counter that if I had actually stopped and thought about it, I would be so shit-scared I’d never do it, and I needed to do it, we needed to do it, it was right.

So we’d come up with a plan, which was to call my side of the family before going to lunch, where there would be a deal of fuss, but at least we wouldn’t be standing up and announcing it to everyone at once, but Lau’s mum we would do face to face. That wasn’t likely to be an enjoyable time; much as I liked April, she was staunchly Christian, and already didn’t approve of Lau moving in with me. She liked me well enough, but I didn’t think it would be sufficient to forgive me getting her daughter up the duff and forcing a shotgun wedding.

But anyway, back to the plan. After telling my lot, and before getting chewed up and spat out by Lau’s mum, I would text everyone at work, or maybe just Lexi, to save me a job, and Lau would tell everyone at her work, and then we’d tell whichever other friends we wanted to invite.

We weren’t quite sure what we were inviting them to just yet; I wondered if Beth would want to throw a party, as she loved doing a do, but it was short notice, so we decided that over the road from the Registry Office was the Pickled Pig, and that would do if all else failed. We weren’t going to have a honeymoon as such, as I had only just started back at work and taking time off felt a bit cheeky, but we might have a holiday before the baby came.

And that just left my own personal arrangements to make. Honeymoon – maybe not. But I wanted to book a night in the Ivy Leaf, in the honeymoon suite, which I had on good authority was the most luxurious suite in the city, even though there were, regrettably, no poster sized pictures of any of my family on the walls. I went online while Lau thought I was still Googling baby stuff, and to my amazement they had Friday night available, so I nabbed it.

There were other things I wanted to sort out – flowers for Lau, a suit, a few other surprises if I could manage it, but I hadn’t got my head round it all yet. Lau was writing lists like there was no tomorrow and she needed to get it all down on paper today, but I was trying to stay chilled and keep things in my head for now.

I called Mum first.

‘Hey Mum.’

‘Hello, Matthew dear. Are you alright?’

I wasn’t sure why she’d think I wasn’t.

‘Yeah.’

‘Oh, that’s good. I know Beth was worried yesterday.’

Oh what a surprise, Beth had been worrying all and sundry.

‘No, I’m good. Just wanted to let yuh know, er, ask if, shit, um …’

I was really ballsing this up. Mum was the hardest one to tell, because I had fucking about plans for everyone else, but Mum, well I just had to tell her straight. I took a deep breath.

‘Lau and me are getting married next Friday.’

There was a short silence.

‘Did you say married?’

I couldn’t tell from her voice if she was surprised, horrified, or pleased …

‘Yeah.’

‘Well I’m very happy for you dear, but it’s a bit, er, sudden, isn’t it?’

‘I know.’

‘Why so soon?’

I wondered if she had guessed. There are only a couple of reasons why you would be getting married with a week’s notice.

‘Lau’s, we’re, er, having a baby.’

Another silence, and then I could hear the smile in her voice.

‘Oh Matthew, a baby?’

She knew what it meant to me, and she was happy for me, sudden necessity for a hat notwithstanding.

‘Yeah.’

I smiled, letting out a breath I hadn’t realised I was holding, waiting for Mum’s approval.

‘And that’s … it’s a good thing, isn’t it?’

She was checking that we both wanted it.

‘Yeah, ih’s awesome.’

‘You’re both happy?’

‘Yeah, happy.’

‘Oh that’s just lovely. When is it due?’

That was going to be asked and not answered a lot until Lau managed to get to get an appointment at the doctor’s.

‘Don’t know yet, only jus found out.’

‘Have you told your brother?’

I could trust Mum not to tell anyone, but she wanted to know who knew so she could talk about it.

‘No, just about to call him, but can yuh come on Friday?’

‘Of course, dear. I wouldn’t miss this. Rose is picking me up in a while, can I tell her?’

‘Yeah, tell Rose, I’ll see yuh later at Jay’s.’

‘Congratulations, Matthew. I’m so pleased for you.’

‘Thanks Mum.’

‘Give my love to Laura.’

‘Yeh.’

‘Bye dear.’

‘Bye.’

I blew out my cheeks, relieved.

‘Tha went OK. She sends her lohv. First tick on the guest list.’

And now I couldn’t wait to call Jay, dialling his number immediately.

‘Heh mate.’

‘Matty, you’re alive.’

I ignored the obvious allusion to being incommunicado yesterday.

‘Yeh, I’m good. I’m just wondering if yuhr free next Friday afternoon.’

‘No, I’ve got a coaches’ planning meeting, for my sins.’

Bugger. I really wanted Jay to be there.

‘Oh, any way yuh can get out of ih?’

‘Depends what for. It’s going to be pretty dull, I could do with an excuse to miss it, to be honest. It’d have to be good, though.’

‘Well I was hoping yuh’d beh my best man.’

There was a silence. I was loving those silences, they were like applause.

‘What, you mean like best man … at a wedding?’

That was pretty quick on the uptake for Jay. I could almost hear the brain cells heating up as they went into overload.

‘Yeh, at my wedding.’

‘What the fuck, Matty? You’re not … you can’t tell me you’re … when did you say?’

He sounded really shocked, and I almost regretted stringing him along. Ha, no I didn’t.

‘Nex Friday afternoon.’

‘But that’s less than a week, you have to book things, arrange –’

He obviously thought I was a complete incompetent when it came to organising things, like he was. He would never have been able to sort this in a million years.

‘Ih’s all booked.’

Jay was still spluttering.

‘But what’s the big rush? Jesus, you’ve only just moved in together, is there really a need to get bloody married too?’

I expect he was panicking about whether he was going to have to dry-clean his suit.

‘Yeh, well, people tend tuh when they’re in lohv an having a baby.’

‘You’re what? Did you say having a baby?’

‘Yeh.’

‘Jesus, Matty. Jesus. Really?’

I could picture him pacing around, running a hand through his hair as he did when he was flummoxed.

‘Yeah.’

‘When’s it due?’

He finally found some unexploded brain cells, and realised that if he was going to tell Beth, he would need some details. Beth obviously wasn’t anywhere nearby, or she would have wrestled the phone from him by now.

‘Not sure yet. So, bes man, up for ih?’

‘Oh, of course, Matty. This is a lot to take in. Shit. I suppose I have to get all dressed up.’

I knew he’d been thinking about his suit. He hated dressing formally.

‘If yuh want.’

‘So there’s no dress code then.’

This amused me greatly, and gave me an idea, but I let him off the hook for now. I could always go back on it later.

‘No, wear wha the fuck yuh want – yuhr Tigger onesie for all I care.’

‘Piss off Matty, I have not got a onesie.’

‘Yeh yuh do, Iz told meh.’

‘Bloody kids, can’t trust either of them with a secret. Are we all invited, then?’

‘Well can yuh get Cal out of school?’

‘I expect so.’

‘Cool.’

‘So you haven’t told Beth yet?’

He sounded like he was going to enjoy surprising her, and I graciously bestowed this favour on him. Nothing at all to do with the fact that Beth would hate it if someone else told her stuff about me, when she tried so hard to get me to spill it herself.

‘No, yuh can tell her. I’ve got tons of people to call now. See ya later.’

I disconnected, grinning at Lau.

‘I’m going to have to call Dec now, before he does.’

I brought up Dec’s number and called.

‘Hey, Dec, er, I’ve goh a favour to ask.’

‘OK.’

He sounded his usual chilled self, with just a note of caution in his voice; this was doubtless due to me asking for a favour, which was akin to asking for help, and obviously something I never did, so he probably had an ear out for the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

‘Well, Fridays are your day off, righ?’

‘Yeah. Well, theoretically, depends on which day the weekend match is on, whether we’re travelling to an away game, and we have to do Captains Run and all that. Why?’

Oh bollocks. Why couldn’t he just have a normal job with normal hours?

‘Well, are you aroun nex Friday afternoon?’

‘Er, should be, what do you need?’

‘Well … I wondered if you’d be able to make ih to the Registry Office for my wedding.’

And there it was, that silence. I thank you.

‘ … your what?

‘Sorry ih’s a bit short notice.’

I wasn’t sorry at all. I was becoming less and less sorry every time I said it, because the results were so outstandingly hilarious.

‘Fucking hell, Matt. I need a minute to take it in … you and Laura are getting married? What the fuck?’

And now the denouement.

‘Yeh, well, ih seemed a bit necessary, what wih the lohving each other an having a baby in a few months an everything.’

More stunned silence. Oh I was going to live off this for weeks to come.

‘ … what?

‘Sorry to spring ih on you. Ih’s taken us a bih by surprise too.’

‘You don’t sound very sorry, you sound like you’re grinning your fucking head off.’

Well, he was right there. I was grinning my fucking head off. I was feeling very pleased with myself, and likely deserved a good slap for being so smug, but oh I was having a good time.

‘I’ve jus had a very similar conversation wih Jay. Ih’s been extremely fucking entertaihing. I’ll leave you to break the news to Amy, if tha’s OK. I’m expecting a very long phone call wih Beth soon, wanting lohs of details that I will obviously be unwilling to give her until she prises them out of meh, and then she’ll wan to organise some kind of huge gathering tha I’ll naturally be unwilling to agree to until she beats me into submission. I’m looking forward to ih immensely.’

‘Matt, that’s just fucking awesome. Congratulations, mate. I would offer to help, but it seems like you’ve got us all manipulated exactly where you want us. Awesome. I’m a bit speechless. It’s just huge.’

Dec seemed, so far, to be the one who was handling the information the best. Maybe it was because he just sauntered through life dealing with what came his way and not stressing too much about anything. There was something I wanted him to know, though, and I needed to be serious for a minute.

‘Dec, if Jay wahn’t my brother, I’d want you to be my bes man, but …’

There was all that unsaid shit, Dec was like my brother, but Jay really was my brother, and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here now.

‘Don’t be so fucking daft, it never crossed my mind. It has to be Jay. I’d only lose the rings and fuck up the speech anyway. Jay’ll lose the rings and fuck up the speech too, but at least it won’t be my fault.’

It was good to have great mates like Dec, who just got you and didn’t worry about shit.

‘I’d better let Amy know, so she can get shopping for a dress. You’re not going to be popular, with the baby so close to popping.’

We disconnected, and I couldn’t conceal my glee from Lau, who had been watching proceedings with raised eyebrows.

‘I loved every bloody second of that.’

My phone rang, it was Beth, who must have been hitting redial until I finished talking to Dec. I looked at Lau, still grinning.

‘Beth. I’m not gona answer.’

Lau rolled her eyes, but smiled too, indulging me with a shake of her head. Then her phone rang. Lau didn’t have different tones for different people, but I was sure it would be Beth. She checked with me before she answered.

‘Can I get this?’

‘Up tuh you.’

‘Don’t you want to talk to her?’

‘If she begs.’

Lau shook her head again, and answered her phone.

Laura

‘Hi Beth.’

‘Oh Laura, James has just told me your news. Oh sweetheart, how are you?’

‘I’m great. Really good, happy, scared, amazed, you name it.’

‘When did you find out?’

‘Day before yesterday. I’d been ignoring some pretty obvious signs, for quite a while.’

‘How’s Matty?’

‘Grinning from ear to ear like a crazy person.’

‘So you’re both happy, then?’

‘Yeah, we’re both very happy. Can you make the wedding?’

‘Oh Laura, try to stop me. Are you having a reception or anything?’

‘We haven’t really had a chance to organise anything. We thought we’d just go to the pub afterwards.’

‘Oh you can’t do that. Let me do something for you. I love this sort of thing.’

‘Well … that does sound great – Matt, Beth wants to organise a do.’

Matt held his hand out for the phone. I could see he was going to give Beth a hard time before he caved and let her have her way, which was what he wanted anyway but meant he didn’t actually have to ask her.

Matt

I knew it. Score. I pumped a quick celebratory fist, then held my hand out for Lau’s phone.

‘Hey Beth.’

‘Oh congratulations sweetheart.’

‘Thank you.’

‘You both sound very happy.’

I supposed I was going to have to put up with everyone double checking it was a good thing for both of us.

‘Yeah, very happy thanks.’

‘Oh that’s so lovely. Matty, have you got any plans for a do, or a party, reception type thing?’

Yeah, my plan had been to get Beth to organise it, but only after I’d had my fun.

‘Well, we thought we’d just all pile over the road to the Pickled Pig afterwards.’

So here I was, lining it up.

‘Oh Matty, you can’t just go to the pub. You have to have a proper reception.’

‘Why do we ‘have’ tuh?’

Yep, let her explain to me exactly why I needed her to do this.

‘This is your special day, sweetheart, you’ll only have one chance to have a reception on the day. Don’t you want it to be special?’

‘Yeah, course.’

And it would be really special once Beth had organised it.

‘You really hadn’t thought of anything else?’

Nope, that will be your job, Beth.

‘No, but we can get just as pissed in the pub as in a village hall somewhere.’

‘Oh Matty, you can’t drink too much, Laura won’t be.’

And step away from the advice, Beth.

‘Well, no, Lau probably won’t be drinking, but I fucking will beh.’

I wouldn’t, not on my wedding day, not when I was marrying the girl of my dreams, the love of my life, I wanted to remember every second, but I was intent on getting as much winding up out of Beth as I could manage.

‘Matty, I’m really good at organising things like this.’

Which is why you’re going to be organising our reception.

‘I know yuh are.’

‘And I love doing things like this.’

Which is why you’re going to be organising our reception.

‘I know yuh do.’

‘I know somewhere that would be ideal. I’ve got a friend with a heated barn.’

That sounded like just the thing. Now to reel her in.

‘Oh really?’

‘It’s in Thursley, do you know the crossroads out that way?’

‘No, I don’t know it.’

Although I knew Thursley, and it was a lovely little village. Ideal for, say, a wedding reception.

‘Well it’s just off the crossroads, down a farm track. It wouldn’t be expensive to hire, I’m sure. It could be a wedding present.’

‘No, don’t spend your money, Beth.’

‘Not my money, James will pay.’

Oh this just got better. Not that I was wanting to avoid paying by any means, but Jay was so stingy that Beth splashing his cash around was the icing on the cake.

‘Oh, well, Jay’s money, tha’s a different matter.’

‘Don’t you think it would make a lovely wedding present, sweetheart?’

I pretended to weigh this up for a moment.

‘Yeah, I suppose it beats a toaster.’

‘I’ll call about the barn now.’

Now to inject just a hint of backing out.

‘Where did yuh say again?’

‘Thursley. It’s a big heated barn, we could set up a bar there, get a band, oh Matty it will be wonderful.’

‘Oh, tha does actually sound pretty cool.’

‘How many are you inviting? Do you have any idea yet?’

I could hear Beth’s organisational brain ticking over. She really was great at all that shit, had thrown some awesome parties for Dec and Amy on their respective twenty-first birthdays, and for Jay’s fortieth, and always did fantastic kids parties for Cal and Iz. Yeah, I know, it would have been a lot easier to have just asked her, but this way was so much more fun.

‘Yeah, we have got a sort of guest list.’

‘Rough numbers?’

‘Not many, an it’s a Friday, not sure who’d beh able to come at short notice.’

‘I suppose you can only hope people will be able to get the time off.’

‘Yeah, family a few friends an work people … oh – Lau, where’s that list of people?’

She handed it over. I’d like to say she looked awed at my astute handling of Beth, but she looked more amused. I quickly totted up the names on the list.

‘Fifty max, tha’s if everyone can come an brings someone.’

‘Oh that sounds easy, Matty. It’s not like it’s hundreds. Shall we go for it, then?’

I tried to sound as reluctant as I could.

‘Yeh, OK, but I still think the pub would beh just as easy.’

‘No, Matty. I’m insisting.’

Ha, of course you are, Beth. Hook, line and sinker.

‘OK, if you’re sure.’

‘I’ll get Lis to help, she’s got some great contacts. And if I start tomorrow, I can get a lot of the food sorted. Carol and Rose can help as well, maybe a catering firm for some of it –’

‘Yeah, OK, con whoever you like into helping, as long as ih’s not me.’

‘No, sweetheart, you won’t have to do a thing.’

Result.

‘Cool.’

‘Oh it’s so lovely, Matty, after everything, I’m so pleased for you.’

‘Yeah, thanks.’

‘To find all this, now, after the year you’ve had …’

And much as Beth went on, and I felt like she interfered and offered advice when it wasn’t wanted, she did actually care, she didn’t just want information so she could gossip, she wanted to help if she could. And she knew how much having a family meant to me, and it made her happy.

‘I know, it’s fucking amazing.’

‘Congratulations again, sweetheart.’

‘Thanks.’

‘We’ll talk more over lunch.’

‘See yuh later.’

As I disconnected, Lau’s phone announced a text, and while she read it and replied, I basked in the success of my morning’s conversations:

Mum informed

Dec repaid

Jay best man

Beth recruited .

It just remained to tell a few more people, which I could do by text, and that was me done. I’d text Lexi, she’d take care of everyone at work, then I’d text Andrew, and I’d have to call Phil because I’d need Friday off.

Laura

As he disconnected, a text pinged onto my phone from Amy.

‘Dec just told me your news! 🙂 Friday? Really?!! Got no clothes that fit – pls come shopping w me. Amy x’

‘I haven’t got a dress either. Wld ❤ a shopping buddy cu l8r. L x’

I looked up from my phone. Matt was looking at me like the cat that got the cream.

‘You got your own way, then?’

His grin broadened.

Matt

I believe there was more smug basking on my part.

‘Yeah. Beth’s gona ask Lis tuh help her, she’s got a friend who’s got a heated barn, she’s gona cook an ask Mum an Rose as well, an get a catering firm to do some of it. Reception sorted.’

‘Nice work. You’re sure she wants to?’

‘She feels even better now she thinks I dihn’t really want to, but she’s persuaded meh.’

When you thought about it, actually, I’d been doing her a favour, kind of like my gift to her. I was such a benefactor.

‘Devious.’

Or such a devious bastard. Maybe a beneficent devious bastard.

88. The nurse who loved me

In which things are looking up … then down … then up again … then …

Matt

So I’d just asked Lau to move in with me and she’d said yes, and I didn’t freak, not even a tiny bit, not even in that part of me reserved for freaking when everything is perfectly fine.

‘Woohoo. Move all your girly crap in here, cushions, woolly post-modern bog roll concealers, the lot. Or whatever. I’ll bring my sofa tuh yours and cram my clothes in your bloody tiny wardrobe. Or we can spend every weekend from now till the end of the world looking round other people’s houses an talking about mortgages.’

‘I’ll move in here. I can rent my house out, leave most of the big stuff there.’

‘Really?’

It sounded suspiciously like she’d given it some serious thought.

‘Really. I’ve thought about it. It makes sense. I love your flat, you love your flat, we’re never at mine. You’re so close to the High Street here, and you’re close to work when you go back.’

I have to confess I was relieved. I did like Lau’s house, but only because Lau lived there. I loved my flat, with its views and the large living space and the awesome shower, and although I would have done anything for Lau, I would rather stay here.

‘Thank fuck for tha. I mean, I’d live anywhere with yuh, Lau – in a tent near the landfill if yuh asked me – you’re not gona ask me, are yuh?’

‘No.’

‘But I love ih here too. And if you’re here, ih’s going to be the perfect place. I migh never go back to work, I’ll just sit here all day thinking ‘Lau’s here now, this is perfect’ and sighing happily. I migh even sing tuh myself.’

She batted me on the arm.

‘You’re daft. Do you realise what we’ve just done, though?’

‘Yeah.’

I was perfectly aware of what a non-Matt-type undertaking I had just made.

‘We’ve done the commitment thing. Well that can’t happen. Bye Lau, see ya, don’t slam the door on your way out.’

I pretended to try to push her out of bed but she just rolled over and lay on top of me, face close to mine, looking into my eyes.

‘I love you, Matthew Robert Scott.’

‘I love you, Laura Louise Shoeman.’

Laura

As the start of our sex life, that first time was a lot to live up to, but things just got better from there. Matt was so attentive. He’d kneel beside me, stroking me and kissing me, he’d pull me up and down the bed, he’d sigh and gaze at me. He knew when to go fast and when I needed slow, although that’s not to say there weren’t times when we both raced for the finish line and he held his arms aloft as if he’d scored for Spurs.

I once started to say ‘if you paid as much attention to …’ and then couldn’t think of anything he didn’t pay as much attention to – cooking, washing up, he was big on the details, lots of instinct, very thorough. Lucky me.

I never lost the thrill of waking up to him cupping my breasts and whispering ‘Lau, I declare you’re breathing faster and bits of you just got more lumpy’, or me snuggling up to him and finding he already had a meaty erection.

Part of it always remained a juvenile ‘Matt Scott fancies me’ thing, but most of it was due to the deep physical attraction we’d both felt almost instantly, and that never waned.

Matt

The next morning I was woken by a tongue in my mouth and a hand on my balls. It’s the sort of thing that tends to focus the mind and wrench you from sleep pretty damn smart, and I opened my eyes as I put my arms round Lau and snogged back with all my might. But she pulled away, and I gave a frustrated groan.

‘Wha yuh doin? C’mere.’

‘Uh uh. You need to get up, about half an hour ago. We’ve got to meet Dec in twenty minutes.’

‘Wha? Why did yuh start all tha, then?’

‘I’ve been trying to wake you up since nine o’clock. You are a ridiculously heavy sleeper when you want to be.’

Well I suppose that was true, it took a lot to actually make me wake up before my brain decided it was time these days. I was bloody frustrated that we weren’t going to continue the tonguing and groping though.

‘So yuh decided tuh employ foul means, then?’

‘It was a last resort. It was a hard job, but it needed to be done.’

‘Think yuhself lucky I’m feeling forgiving an don’t spank yuh.’

‘Hm. Maybe later, then, beach boy?’

Oh she was such a tease, as she walked out of the room, tossing her hair. I just wanted to grab her and finish what she started, but we really did have to get going if we were going to meet Dec at ten.

Any other time, for any other reason, and I would have felt confident to be at least an hour late, but I knew Dec wanted to get on with sorting things at Amy’s parents’ house, and he wouldn’t have slept well last night, so it was likely he’d be there on time. I didn’t want to keep him waiting there, so I subdued my desire for Lau, showered and dressed quickly, and we turned up outside the house at the same time as Dec.

I’d never actually been inside, and only knew where it was because I’d dropped both Dec and Amy off there before, in the early days of their relationship when Dec wasn’t driving and Amy’s car was being repaired. It was weird actually going through the front door, a little bit like being a voyeur. I couldn’t help looking around at all their things, making judgements about them based on their pictures, their furnishings, their colour scheme, and had to remind myself that Amy’s dad was dead and that was why I was even here at all.

Then we reached the kitchen, and all thoughts of judgement went out of my head.

‘Holy fuck.’ (That was me.)

‘Shit.’ (Dec.)

‘Oh my God.’ (Lau.)

Dec stood frozen in the doorway, staring at the chaos. The table, which presumably should have been in the middle of the room, was pushed to one side, against the cupboards, and on the floor was a mess of torn packets of what I assumed had contained syringes, and other medical paraphernalia such as a couple of latex gloves; there was a broken wooden chair; there was a lot of blood; and to one side, upside down, was a shoe. Just a shoe. The blood was mainly in a pool on the floor, and it had dried, but there were smears on the cupboards and some footprints leading up to the back door.

I looked at Dec, whose face had gone the colour of ashes, and I put my hand on his shoulder. He tensed and let out a whimper, as if he’d forgotten there was anyone with him, and I’d made him jump.

Lau looked up at his face as she heard the sound he made.

‘Come with me, Dec. Matt will make a start in here, we’ll go and get the things Diane wanted.’

She raised her eyebrows at me to check it was OK, and took Dec’s elbow, tugging him with her away from the scene and up the stairs. I heard her voice as she chattered overhead, and Dec’s monosyllabic replies. Oh she was good. I guess she’d had a bit of practice at dealing with shock, and knew what to do, but seeing her in action was an education.

Before I did as instructed and started clearing up, I found some coffee and some cups and boiled the kettle. I filled mugs for us all and put them in the living room, then found the cleaning stuff under the sink. I couldn’t find a bucket in the kitchen, but a quick reccy in the hall found a cupboard under the stairs complete with bucket, mop and Marigolds, which I donned before starting anything else. I picked up all the litter and put it in the bin, then took the bin bag out and tied it. As I filled the bucket with hot water and surface cleaner, I heard Dec and Lau come down the stairs.

‘… sooner the better. Matt and I can handle this, Dec. Honestly.’

‘I can’t leave you guys to clear up all that shit.’

‘Matt, I was just saying, we’ll do this. Dec should be with Amy.’

Lau looked at me for support.

‘Yeh, course. I’ve done coffee if anyone wants it?’

Dec looked gratefully at me, as he was still pale, and he headed into the living room, following my gesture, unable to prevent his gaze sliding beyond the kitchen door as he passed, but quickly averting his eyes.

We sat down and sipped coffee, not saying anything as there didn’t seem to be anything worth saying that wasn’t trite or clichéd.

It felt weird, sitting there in someone else’s house, someone I didn’t know, had only met once and had been quite rude to, and was now in the midst of clearing up the evidence of their last journey through this world.

I’d made the coffee strong, and put sugar in it, as my knowledge of the treatment of shock only extended to hospital dramas and the internet, but it seemed to bring some of the colour back to Dec’s face, and he roused himself as he drained the last from his mug.

‘Right, better get on with it, then. What needs doing?’

‘No, Dec. I meant it.’

Lau had her determined look on, the one that always made me stop and listen to her. Dec didn’t stand a chance.

‘You go home, Matt and I will finish up here. You’ve done most of it, anyway, haven’t you Matt?’

She had no way of knowing how much I’d done, but I wasn’t going to argue with her.

‘Yeh, nearly finished. We’ll drop the keys round in a bih. Seriously, mate, go home. Did you geh everything you needed?’

‘Yeah, it was only clothes and washing stuff and shit.’

I sensed Dec struggling with himself, wanting to go but feeling he should stay.

‘Are you guys sure?’

We both nodded.

‘You are both fucking awesome. Thanks.’

He stood up, picking up the bag of Amy’s mum’s stuff he’d collected, and we stood too, hugs all round, and shooed him out of the door.

Then we turned and surveyed the damage. Now most of the detritus had been cleared away, it was just the mopping and wiping to do, and there was a full, foamy bucket just waiting for us – and then I turned and looked at Lau, and she had tears on her face and memories in her eyes.

‘Oh Lau, noh noh noh, come here.’

I pulled her to me and held her tight. She sniffled a bit, then lifted her chin.

‘Your dad?’

She nodded. ‘Yeah. It’s just taken me back there, all this. Sorry, flower, I thought I’d be OK. I am OK, just a wobble.’

‘Well yuhr not doin any of this, Lau.’

I tried a copy of her determined look; it must have worked, because she nodded again and looked up at me, trying, I suppose to gauge if I was going to be OK doing it on my own.

‘I’ll beh fine. Go an sit down, won’t take meh long.’

‘Thanks, flower. Actually, I might go and wait in the car, it’s just a bit weird being here, if you’re going to be OK on your own.’

‘Yeh, fine. Migh spur me on to finish quickly.’

It certainly did that. Not that I believed in ghosts, but it was one of the weirdest things I’ve done, clearing up a dead man’s blood in a kitchen I’d never visited; wiping bloody fingerprints from cupboards I’d never opened; bagging up a broken chair and hunting for the wheely bin to dispose of it all; moving the table and chairs back into the middle of the room, even though I didn’t know exactly where they should go; having a final look to make sure there wasn’t anything left, no little reminders to upset a woman I hardly knew and didn’t much care for; locking the door of a house I didn’t own and was unlikely ever to return to; driving away with a strangely sorrowful feeling.

o0o

‘Yuh OK, Lau?’

It was later that afternoon, and Lau had been quiet since we got back.

‘Yeah. Just thinking. You know, I might go and see Mum.’

‘Didn’t yuh goh yesterd – oh, everything happened, didn’t ih.’

‘Yeah, I had to call her. But I think I just want to be there, it might stop me feeling so weird.’

‘Wan meh tuh come?’

‘No, flower, thanks though.’

I was relieved, as I was feeling a bit weird too, and some time on my own might help me stop dwelling on things I couldn’t change and shouldn’t really be so bothered about. Clearing up a dead man’s blood had affected me more than I was willing to admit.

Lau disappeared off to April’s, and I put the TV on, entertaining myself with one of the better written sit-coms, enjoying a laugh, which helped to restore my mood. I decided to text Dec, and see how it was all going there.

‘Hey. How’s everyone?’

‘As u’d expect. It’s all a bit gloomy. Got anything happy to tell me?’

He probably didn’t expect me to have anything, or maybe wanted a bit of Matt’s special brand of fucking about to relieve the mournfulness, but I chose to spill the beans on the newest chapter in Matt and Lau: The Need for Speed.

‘Lau’s moving in :)’

‘WHOA! That is happy. :):) Cheered me up. Can I tell Ames? Will make her smile.’

‘Tell NE1 u like.’

‘Really? Bloody hell. Who r u & what have u done with Matt Scott?’

‘Ha bloody ha.’

‘Is gr8 news tho. U don’t know the meaning of slow do u?’

‘What is this ‘slow’ of which u speak?’

‘LOL. Thx 4 2day.’

‘:)’

It occurred to me that if Dec had been on the receiving end of a text like this from me, he would have called me. I liked the idea of turning the tables for once, so I called him up.

‘Hey mate.’

‘Heh, I knoh this is what everyone always says, buh if there’s anything I can do …’

‘No, we’re fine, thanks though. You’ve done enough. Today was awesome.’

‘Can’t have been easy fuh yuh, though.’

There was a pause. I’d learned from my sessions with Adam that sometimes pauses were there for people to gather their thoughts, rather than to be filled with chatter, so I let this one go on for a short while, before I said anything else.

‘I knoh yuh never forget about them, Dec, but things like this, ih must be like living ih again.’

‘Yeah.’

Dec’s voice sounded choked, and the one-word answer showed me he didn’t trust himself to speak. He was holding himself together for Amy and her mum, and although I didn’t want to make him blart, I did want him to know that he ‘didn’t have to be alone when he was feeling this shit’. Dec and Amy supported each other, but he would feel the need to be strong for her, and I wanted to lend a shoulder if required.

‘Mate, I know yuh don’t want to say anything with Amy there, but if yuh want to come round, or go out for a drink, in the next day or soh, talk about ih, yuh knoh where I am.’

There was a big shuddery breath.

‘Thanks, mate.’

‘Any time. Heh, ih might be yuhr turn tuh text me ridiculously early this morning.’

‘Yeah. Fat chance of you bloody answering though.’

‘Ha ha, yeah, yuh could be right. Any time, though, I mean ih.’

‘Thanks.’

That felt better. It was usually me being called to ‘talk about it’, although I was usually a more reluctant participant than Dec had just proven to be. I’d call him again tomorrow, and try to set my brain to be alert to any texts I might get in the middle of the night. Maybe if I turned the volume up on the phone – oh but then it would wake Lau up – ah but then she might have to wake me up using her freshly patented snogging method. It was all good.

I was still feeling a bit weird about the earlier cleaning-up-blood event, but I sorted my head out while Lau was gone, and when she got back, she’d sorted her head out too. She and her mum had had a good old reminisce about her dad, and rather than feeling sad, she was feeling full of nostalgia, and talked to me about things she remembered for a long time.

I often say that Dec is the most sorted person I know, but really it’s Lau. She always knows what she needs to feel sane, and doesn’t hide from either going to get it, or asking for it. If I’d ever followed her example, I would be a much less fucked up person than I am, but sadly I have stayed fucked up for the entirety, and am likely to remain so for the foreseeable. Sorry Lau.

And so, because I’d learned my lesson from Jules, we told everyone else our plans as soon as possible, and everyone had comments and advice, although most people managed to keep their ‘isn’t it a bit soon’ thoughts to themselves except Beth (‘exactly how long have you known each other, sweetheart?’), but most of all we had help with the moving of stuff, Lau’s stuff.

She left a lot of it in her house, because she was renting it out, but she did fill my flat with a lot of crap – er, of her personal possessions. My toilet cistern now sported a crocheted toilet roll cover. Her name was Ann, surname Drakes, and she caused much hilarity and comment whenever we had people over. My wardrobes were crammed to bursting, and we had to buy another one fairly soon after Lau moved in, although I did manage to persuade her that we both needed a clothing cull before we were smothered by all the fabric.

And maybe with anyone else, the filled spaces, the knick-knacks on the shelves, the overflowing drawers would have grated on me and made me feel resentful, but what I actually felt was that the flat was full of Lau. She had just flowed into the spaces and now everywhere I looked, there was a bit of her and a bit of me nestled side by side, and I loved it; in fact, I couldn’t imagine, now she was living there, how it would feel to live on my own, without her. Or rather, I could, but it wasn’t somewhere I ever wanted to go again.

Laura

Matt’s remission continued. As he improved, regained his mobility, his energy and most of the other faculties he’d lost in his flare-up, I started to really get to know him. I realised why he’d found being immobile so frustrating – he always wanted to be doing something, although sometimes what he wanted to do was a lot of sex, as we didn’t seem to be able to stop once he’d got his function back. Matt was pretty good at it, and I don’t think I’m too shabby if feedback is anything to go by, so life was busy and hectic and full of action.

Even before Matt started to get better, I would forget that he had MS. I never saw him as a project or an object of pity, and although I made allowances for the things he struggled with, they were just part of us, part of how we were with each other, as if helping him up the stairs sometimes was the same as him popping to the shop to buy me tampons when I needed them.

Matt

We’d got the move sorted just before Christmas, and would have loved to have had our first Christmas all to ourselves, but that was never going to happen, so we managed the morning together before we had to cross the city for Beth’s traditional festive extravaganza. She had invited approximately two million people this year, so it wasn’t just family, but it was always a happy time, lots of kids, lots of laughing, games, food, presents, and it was something to look forward to, after our quiet morning at home.

Lau and I had agreed no presents, and I had made her promise faithfully that it actually meant ‘no presents’, and not ‘but I’ll get you something anyway, and you’d better get me something or I’ll be upset’, but she assured me it meant no presents, not that we’d do it every year, just this year, and if we really wanted, we could give each other a kiss. Well that was a no-brainer, and I would have given her that anyway, but it made for a good start to the day, giving and receiving Christmas kisses, then Christmas touches, and, oh go on then, Christmas lovin’.

I made us breakfast, Lau’s favourite (Pop Tarts, I know, but they were her favourite) and mine (croissants with smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers, I know, I’m apparently a food snob), and she pinched some off my plate because really she liked good food and not processed crap, and I pinched some off her plate, because really I liked a bit of tasteless sugary shit as much as the next person. And then I gave her another Christmas present, and another and another, and it really was the best idea for a Christmas present either of us could have come up with, and then I gave her her real Christmas present, no, I hadn’t gone back on our deal, but I’d decided something and sorted it out in the last few days, and I’d saved it until today, because I thought she’d be pleased.

‘Lau, I’ve got something tuh tell yuh.’

‘Mm hmm.’

Her mouth was still full of, I’m embarrassed to recount, a bite of Pop Tart mixed with a bite of smoked salmon croissant. She chewed, swallowed, and looked at me expectantly, wrinkling her nose slightly at what I assumed was the odd mixture of flavours disappearing down her throat.

‘Yuh know we were gona have tha long weekend in York?’

She looked at me, frowning, hearing the ‘it’s not going to happen’ in my words.

‘Yeeees.’

‘We’re gona have tuh do ih another time.’

‘Oh. OK. Well, never mind. It’s not like York is going anywhere, is it?’

She looked disappointed, though, and was possibly wondering why I was telling her this on Christmas morning. I admired her self-restraint at not immediately asking why we couldn’t go, although it didn’t last long.

‘It’s not like we’ve booked it or anything.’

I saw her brows knit together slightly as she tried to work out what was preventing us from going.

‘Oh, is it the same weekend as the semi-final?’

Good guess, Lau, but incorrect. And I will now put you out of your misery.

‘Noh. Ih’s because I’m goin back tuh work on the Monday.’

‘What? Oh Matt, that’s awesome.’

The frown disappeared from her face, which lit up with pleasure for me.

‘When did you decide that?’

‘Only a couple of days ago. Wanted tuh tell you today. Jus a few hours a week tuh start wih, see how wiped I geh, buh ih’s the Monday after tha weekend, so …’

‘Oh of course, flower. We can go any time. A long weekend away isn’t what you need just before going back. Have you heard from anyone?’

She meant from work. She knew I’d missed being part of all the socialising and social networking that went on, having been in self-imposed exile from it all.

‘Noh, not yet, gona text a few people in a couple of days.’

‘Oh Matt, I’m so pleased for you. You’re nearly there, aren’t you, nearly back to where you were.’

I nodded. It was another thing ticked off that made me feel like I was getting my life back, and I was grateful to … well the universe, I suppose, for giving me this most excellent woman to have my life back with.

‘We’ll go tuh York another time, yeh?’

‘You bet. Now you’ll be earning an honest wage, you’ll be able to treat me in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed.’

‘Fuck off, weh goh Dutch or not at all.’

‘Skinflint.’

‘Gold digger.’

‘Love you.’

‘Love yuh.’

As it happened, we didn’t go to York, because as things progressed Lau didn’t want to be too far away from home, but we did have a long weekend in Bath for my birthday, a few weeks before it all kicked off, and bloody hell, considering Lau was the size of a three-bedroomed semi-detached house, we had some of the most outstanding sex so far. It was as if her hormones were going crazy, and although we did wander around the city a bit, we mostly stayed in our hotel and shagged each other senseless. I will always think fondly of Bath. But spoiler alert and all that. Pretend I didn’t mention it, yeah?

And so Christmas was had, and Beth’s praises were sung for days, and she basked in it while complaining about the amount of work she’d had to do, but oh, it was so lovely, we’ll have to do it all again next year. And then I had to get myself psyched up to go back to work.

I did this mainly by hitting the texts, and social media, letting everyone know I was back in circulation, finding it easier to answer all the bloody nosy questions via a keyboard, rather than having awkward conversations face to face on my first day back. Some of the questions were about why I’d been off, and although it was really none of anyone’s damn business, I answered them honestly, so they’d understand why I was only coming back for a couple of meetings a week and maybe an hour here or there to start with. There were a few questions about what Jules was doing now, which I couldn’t answer, and some about Lau, who Lexi had filled everyone in on after meeting her in the High Street a while ago.

I had no qualms about telling everyone how great Lau was, as a) it was true and b) it would help to lay Matt the Lad to rest once and for all. I didn’t want to see him ever again, I didn’t want to hide behind him, I wanted to be Matt Scott. People would have to do some adjusting when I got back, as I wasn’t going to be the all-out fun guy I’d been before. There would still be doughnuts and coffee, and chatting and banter, but I was going to be me, not some arsehole who didn’t respect people. And being in touch with everyone before I returned helped me to do the groundwork for that before I got there.

I hardly slept the night before my first day. It was ridiculous; I was only going in for one meeting, just a general staff meeting, I wasn’t going to have to say anything unless I wanted to and I knew nearly everyone who was going to be there. But I still tossed and turned, thinking about everything that might be said, how people might be, how it was all going to work. I was keeping Lau awake as well, moving about so much, sighing, tutting, and eventually she just pulled me to her and did this thing where she just felt me all over.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, no, it wasn’t in any way sexual. She was just doing a check, with me, making sure I was OK everywhere, showing me I was OK everywhere. She went from my toes up to my hair, just stroking, feeling, touching, reassuring, and that’s where it started, this thing that she did. It calmed me down, and I slept afterwards, and she’s done it nearly every night of our lives after that, just letting me know that she’s there for all of me, forever, whatever. The few times she hasn’t done it, that’s when I know something’s up, that I’ve fucked up in some way, or things aren’t right, and I need to do some uncharacteristic talking to get back on track.

So I went back to work, getting on for a year after I had last been in. There were a few new faces, including the bloke who had replaced Jules, and I was kind of grateful for that, because at least there were some people who didn’t know what I was like before.

It was weird, going in for the first time, seeing Lexi sitting at reception, chatting with her kind of like I’d just been on a long holiday, then seeing everyone from my old team, but it being different because Phil had shuffled things about and I didn’t really have a team any more, not yet, then going and talking to Phil and the constant stream of interruptions from people who ‘just wanted to check’ various things, but really wanted a good gawp at the fucking cripple who had returned to the fold. Then we all filed into the big meeting room and we were off, work had begun again for me.

Shit, I was so unbelievably wiped that night. I had lost concentration in the meeting after about ten minutes; the sheer amount of information I was trying to squeeze into my brain just overloaded me. For the last several months, my big event of the day might have been taking Iz to the park, or doing an online shop, or maybe, if I was really stretching myself, both on the same day. But now I had to catch up with how things had changed, the pace of everything, the new priorities, new technology. It was daunting, tiring, terrifying. When I got home, I felt like giving up, finding a job in a supermarket or something.

‘I don’t think I can do ih, Lau.’

‘It’s your first day, Matt. Give yourself a chance.’

‘Too much has changed, I’m lef behind.’

‘You’ll get there. You need to work up to it.’

‘I’m bluhdy knackered. I’m gona beh asleep soon.’

‘Not before I’ve cooked your tea, I hope?’

‘Oh would yuh? Yuhr awesome.’

Much as I loved cooking for Lau, I just didn’t have the energy to cook in the first few weeks after returning to work, and she took over culinary duties. I loved her meals, even though I teased her about some of the recipes and ingredients she used, which were usually plain and simple. She did a quiche to die for, I could never do it the same as her, even though she told me all her secrets, which included using pre-rolled pastry.

But after a few weeks, I got used to being back in the workforce, as Lau had assured me I would; I was less tired, I could think more clearly, I settled in, I got used to everyone, and everyone got used to me. I still rolled up late, carrying a tray of doughnuts from time to time, and so maybe things weren’t that different after all.

And then it happened, the thing that changed it all, forever. I suppose you know what’s coming, don’t you, but I had no idea. Lau had no idea. We were clueless innocents, about to have our world turned upside down.

87. Sticky drama

In which there is a sad event, there is a happy event, and then there is a proposition.

Iz

Here’s another post-watershed viewing alert for all you sensitive folk. Don’t leave this page unattended in the presence of minors. Just saying. And I know there has been naughtiness that I haven’t warned you about, but Matty and Lau are always at it in some form or another, so it’s just the major bits. You’re on your own for the minor indiscretions.

Matt

It was a few weeks later, a Saturday morning, early, the sun barely up, when I woke to a familiar sensation. The significance escaped me at first, lost in the fog of waking up, but with a gasp I realised what it was. I had a hard-on. One hundred per cent completely and fully hard. It felt bloody awesome, and I needed to tell someone. Oh, someone in particular, not just throw open the window and shout to the first person unfortunate enough to be walking by; that’s the sort of behaviour that precedes a visit from the local constabulary. No, I mean Lau, as I am sure you will have surmised.

You had to be careful waking Lau up, because if you did anything too suddenly, you jolted her into instant attack mode, so you had to be gentle and slow. I didn’t feel like being gentle and slow, but I made myself slip my arm softly round her waist, concentrating on the softness of the skin I could feel beneath the bottom of her sleep shirt. Then I started with some soft kisses just where her neck met her shoulder. She liked that, it made her go ‘mm’, and her ‘mm’ was so fucking sexy.

I could feel her begin to wake up and push back against me, saying ‘hi’ with her body, and I started to feel for her breasts, pushing my hips into her. I so wanted to do something productive with this hard-on, but I was worried that if Lau didn’t get going soon, it would go away, like all the preceding tingles and semis had. I was sure Lau would be able to feel it, I was pushing myself right up against her.

Laura

I was woken from a deep sleep by an arm round my waist and kisses at the crease of my neck. This wasn’t unusual, and I’d got used enough to it that it no longer startled me into full wakefulness, but it felt early for Matt. It also felt more urgent than usual, his hands feeling for my breasts and his hips pushing into me – and there was a little bit extra.

‘Good morning.’

‘Heh Lau. I got a hard-on. Woohoo.’

I smiled to myself, incredibly pleased, but knowing I needed to be nursey. I turned over and faced him.

Matt

I immediately kissed her hard, my tongue pushing its way into her mouth, holding her face against mine, pushing myself against her belly. I was hard – did I mention that? – and I could feel her along me, and it was so, so fucking awesome.

Laura

Matt had been experiencing more and more tingles over the past weeks, often accompanied by movement, and I was hopeful it meant a return of function that may mean a diminishing of his MS symptoms. His mobility and speech had certainly improved slightly, but neither of us had mentioned it. I knew what this meant to him, but also knew I was going to have to be the one who was sensible. I didn’t feel like being sensible, I wanted this almost as much as he did. But sensible I was going to have to be.

‘Remember what we talked about?.’

I ran my hand down his body, and felt him tremble. He could hardly think, he wanted it so much.

Matt

Lau ran her hand down my body, and it made me quiver. I was strung so tight I could hardly think, and I certainly wasn’t going to be remembering anything we had talked about that might be about to deny me what I so wanted to do.

‘I want yuh, Lau. Fuck what we said. I’m rehdy.’

I looked at her imploringly, hoping she could see how much I needed it, and it would change her mind.

Laura

I’d known this would be difficult.

‘We’re going to take it slowly. Only what we can both do, remember?’

Matt

She was infuriating. I felt like I was going to burst all over us both, and I didn’t want to do that, I wanted … well, I wanted to be in her, I wanted all of her, all of it, everything I hadn’t had, hadn’t been able to do up until now.

‘Lau, I’ve goh a hard-on the size of Apollo thirteen. I can do fucking anythihg.’

‘Well, let’s start slowly.’

So that didn’t mean no, did it, it meant let’s start slowly and then do it. We’d get there. Oh but I was so impatient, it could disappear at any second. And I suppose that was the point. God I hated it when Lau was right.

Lau ran her hand over my arse and carried on down my thigh. I sighed, it felt so good, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I kissed her again, tongue thrusting deep into her mouth, trying to show her what I wanted to do, what I knew I could do. She pushed me over onto my back, kissing me back, moving her hands down my chest and – oh, she was actually going there.

I felt her hands on my swollen dick through the fabric of my boxers, and it felt so good. She ran her hand along my erection and I moaned into her, as I thrust against her hand and ohh, just that little movement caused a deluge of fizzing sparks to pour along me from the tip of my cock, down into my balls, where they bubbled, waiting.

Lau moved her hands away, and I let a disappointed sound escape from me, but it was only so she could pull my boxers down and look at me, in all my glory. And it was glorious. I’m not being immodest, I’m not commenting on size, or girth, or any of that, but just the fact of it, lying there, hard and, OK, I’m going to use the word throbbing because that’s how it felt, well that made it glorious.

Laura

We both stared down at his erection, Matt looking almost impossibly proud of himself.

‘Impressive, flower.’

Matt

Oh, you just never get tired of hearing your girl say that, do you.

‘Bluhdy awesome. Never thought I was going tuh feel tha again.’

‘I think it deserves something special.’

Lau stroked a finger along its length, as I closed my eyes and groaned.

‘Oh yeh, Lau. Dohnt stop.’

Everything was heightened; even the slightest touch was driving me wild, and Lau was giving it her all. She kissed me quickly on the lips, then started kissing down my throat, stopping at my nipples to suck and tease, then continuing her journey downwards, and I could finally see where this was going.

Oh, Lau, you are just the best.

She carried on, past my navel and finally got to the head of my dick, where she licked and kissed it gently, taking just the head into her mouth, holding the base with her fingers. She was not a novice, and I held my breath as her tongue and lips ignited even more of the sparking desire.

‘Oh my fucking God, Lau, you’ve dohn this before.’

‘Mmm.’

The vibration of her voice as she held me in her mouth sent a shock wave through me and I couldn’t help thrusting upwards, which made her gag. She pulled away briefly, coughing a bit.

‘Oh fuck, sohry Lau. That was bluhdy ace.’

Lau didn’t say anything, but repositioned herself and licked me from base to tip, looking me in the eye the whole time, then took me in her mouth again, tongue working over the surface, sucking, licking and teasing.

Then, to my extreme disappointment, I felt it all start to ebb, the sparks and fizzing subsided and flowed away, and I went soft. I groaned again, but this time in frustration. Lau didn’t stop, though, and I loved her for showing me that a hard-on wasn’t the be all and end all for her, that she could give me pleasure without it. But eventually I just wanted to hold her, and I put my fingers in her hair and tugged gently to bring her back up into my arms. Lau had been spot on; I wouldn’t have lasted long enough for what I wanted to do.

‘Yuh are bluhdy annoyingly righ most of the time, Lau. How did yuh knoh?’

‘State secret. Only me and MI5 are allowed to know.’

‘Really? I bet ih’d be easier to get ih out of Stella Rimington than you. Oh, buh Lau, I had a hard-on. A real live hard-on. You were sucking me off an everything. Whoa.’

I pulled her to me, and then felt the emotion welling up in me. I was safe with Lau, I could be myself, show her how I was feeling, and I felt like crying. Having a hard-on was huge (emotionally, I’m still not giving details about the physical), and I needed to let it out.

Laura

He pulled me into a tight hug. I felt his body convulse, as he started to cry, and I held him tightly, stroking his hair, kissing the bits I could reach, shushing him. This sounds cheesy, but I really did feel so privileged that he felt he could cry with me, that I was his safe place. After a while, it subsided, and he relaxed his hold on me, pulling his head back and looking into my eyes.

Matt

‘Sohry, Lau. I thought tha was never gona happen again. I’m so relieved. You know … I feel like … I’ve been a bit better the last couple of weeks. Have yuh noticed?’

I hadn’t mentioned it before; had been scared to, in case it was nothing, or I was misreading things. But she nodded.

‘I didn’t want to say anything. Have you talked to Anna about it?’

So it wasn’t just my imagination; I could dare to dream this nightmare might be coming to an end.

‘No, seeing her Monday, though. Migh tell her about my hard-on.’

It was a significant enough event to tell Anna, but even though there was this pact of silence between them all, it wasn’t information I was going to risk being discussed at Lau’s work. And really, I was just trying to wind Lau up.

‘If you feel you must.’

‘Ih’s very important.’

‘Obviously.’

‘Will I hahv any more any time soon?’

‘Who knows? Does it feel likely?’

‘Oh, I hate ih when yuh do tha reflecting back shit. OK, I’ll play ih your way. Ih feels to me like I’ve been getting more tingles and more movement, and now, finally, I’ve got the big one. Ih didn’t last long, buh, yeh, ih feels likely.’

‘Good.’

‘An now, Laura Louise Shoeman, ih’s time tuh fulfil my side of the bargain.’

‘What side of which bargain?’

‘The bargain tha says you only geh what I geh. An I just got one hell of a blow-job. On yuhr back.’

I had been waiting for weeks for a chance to do this again, but Lau had stuck to her ‘above the waist for both of us’ guns, in the main. Now, however, it seemed that she had been waiting as eagerly as I had, as she rolled onto her back and spread her legs.

‘Whoa, you’re ready, aren’t yuh.’

‘Like you wouldn’t believe. I remember the last one. This one had better be as awesome.’

And I guess that was the start of it, the big recovery. It took longer than before, and the bastard MS had lasted longer than before, even though I hadn’t had a life-threatening complication to create mischief with my ability to be a normal person. But once I started to get better, once it all began to piss off from whence it came, it was like it just rolled away, and every week I could do more. I could go a whole day without falling asleep, I could talk without people surreptitiously smelling my breath for hints of beer, I could get up the stairs to my flat without having to hold on to the rail for dear life and above all, the best thing, I could make love to Lau.

I don’t usually call it ‘making love’, it seems like a poncey metaphor for sex. But with Lau, although my increasingly frequent hard-ons hadn’t yet made it to shaggable timescales, we could do enough with each other that it really did feel like we were getting closer, showing each other how much we loved each other.

Oh, I know I seem like I’m completely obsessed with sex, as if I was, oh I don’t know, an unstoppable shag monster or something. I guess I did, do, think about it a lot, but at that time it was my marker for how much of a fucking cripple I was, and when I started getting it back, I felt like I was getting me back.

Lau had warned me that things might change between her and me, the balance of things might shift, when I started getting better, but she was so considerate, so thoughtful, so bloody stubborn, that it didn’t happen.

It wasn’t as if when we met she decided I needed taking care of; if she had, we wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. She did, and does, take care of me, but I like to think I’ve done my share of taking care of her over the years, OK, maybe not equally, she is Lau, and she is remarkably fucking amazing, after all. But there was never an imbalance, at the start, that had to be redressed when I started needing less help, and so, to go back to my original point, when we were in bed together, or on the sofa, or the floor, or against the wall, it really felt like we were making love, like this thing between us was growing even deeper, even more incredible.

It wasn’t just having a working dick that improved. Being able to stay awake and functional for longer periods meant that I could start to do things I did before, and had been missing a lot.

I took Cal to see Raiders, which he was delighted about as it meant he no longer had to sit with the juniors, but could lord it over his mates by sitting in the family seats.

I started to feel like I might be able to handle work again, and contacted Phil to talk about the next step there.

I got out and about, not driving yet, not trusting my wayward nervous system; nearly running that bloke over on the zebra crossing had really put the wind up me, and I thought it might be a long time before I was willing to risk it. However, I tried a bit of non-strenuous hiking with Lau, which nearly killed her and proved to me that as unfit as I thought I had become with my enforced immobility, she really was at the nadir of fitness, despite being a healthy woman without a fucking bastard neurological disease. It cheered me up no end to see her red-faced and sweating after climbing a fairly moderate hill, and I decided we could embrace our fitness levels together. Lau wasn’t keen but agreed, only if I went with her to see Michael Buble.

It was a close thing, I nearly refused, but it was a one off and I made her promise no one would find out or it was deal off. She kept the promise until the day after, when she posted photos all over Facebook, and my shame was known. That meant several steeper hills for Lau, but she was unrepentant.

Lau and Mum were like co-conspirators. Lau would often come with me when I went to see Mum and not only because I needed her to drive me there; I was more than capable of getting the bus. She even went round without me, to do odd bits and pieces that she knew Mum couldn’t do so well herself but wouldn’t ask anyone, like some of the ironing that she noticed had got a bit out of hand, or taking a few bits of shopping that Mum had mentioned she hadn’t been able to get. They must have talked about me when I wasn’t there, because I would often be on the receiving end of the odd comment from Lau.

‘So tell me about your Star Wars collection, then.’

‘I don’t have a Star Wars collection.’

‘No, not now, but apparently you had an extensive one when you were younger, and used to polish the boxes once a week.’

This was said with an impish smile and a tilt of the head.

‘I did not pohlish the boxes.’

‘Really?’

‘Noh. I dusted the boxes.’

‘Ah. Huge difference. What happened to them all, though?’

Martin kicked them into tiny pieces, that’s what happened to them. I had stopped mourning them a long time ago.

‘Why, would yuh like me tuh rekindle my interest?’

‘Well of course that’s up to you. But I always wanted to know why you guys keep things in boxes. Aren’t they easier to play with out of the box?’

‘Lau, Lau, Lau. Yuh don’t know anything, do yuh? Yuh don’t play with Star Wars collectables. Yuh just … collect them.’

‘Why?’

‘Same way yuh collect shoes.’

‘I wear my shoes.’

‘Noh yuh don’t, not all of them. I’ve seen shoes in boxes in yuhr wardrobe you’ve never worn.’

This was a complete guess but, from the outraged look on her face, an accurate one.

‘You’ve been rifling through my wardrobe?’

‘Ha ha, noh Lau, but yuh jus told meh it’s true.’

‘Oh you.’

I got a cuff on the arm, and was starting to build up quite a collection of those, too. Lau was deliciously easy to tease; she always believed me when I said something the first time, and sometimes I could lead her down the garden path for quite a while before she cottoned on. The further I led her, the harder the cuff, and rightly so.

Although the rugby season was well underway, there was still the occasional full-on Sunday lunch at Jay and Beth’s when circumstances prevailed, and Lau and I were regulars whatever the guest list. When I was with Jules, I hadn’t always gone, and when I had, I’d often gone on my own, to a barrage of questions. I loved going with Lau, who got on with everyone, who everyone liked and, more importantly, now trusted.

To start with there had been a bit of an unspoken kind of trial period, where people were wondering if she was up to something untoward, or if I was being foolishly impetuous, but Lau won them over, and once she’d met everyone a few times, I think they could see that although it had been quick, it was real; that although we were still getting to know each other, there was something deep there.

It really felt like, although we had jumped into this mad thing that was Lau and Matt with both feet, declared deep feelings inconceivably early, and then got to know each other properly, that whatever we’d found out, whatever had been revealed, it wouldn’t have mattered.

That’s the thing with soulmates, it’s the recognition. And although I didn’t change my stance on supernatural, paranormal or religious experiences, I did notice my opinions towards things like ‘karma’ changing, and I was less likely to take the piss out of people who stated that ‘the universe’ knew what it was doing. Maybe I was starting to believe that; not that there was a supreme being with a plan for us all, I didn’t believe that, but that somehow, maybe it was Jung’s collective unconscious, things happened for a reason, that there is a person shaped hole inside all of us, and sometimes, if we’re very lucky, we meet the person who fits it.

That’s how it felt with Lau. She fitted the space inside me, and I fitted her space, and getting to know each other after that was just the icing on the cake, rather than the list of pros and cons that led to a decision. The decision had already been made, and we were just filling it out with details.

We were certainly very different, in outlook, personality and tastes. It didn’t cause arguments, although it caused teasing, because it just felt like more to explore about each other. If we’d been the same, we would have had less to talk about, but as it was, we hardly seemed to stop talking.

Laura

As the weeks went on, things steadily improved for Matt. His mobility and speech continued to get better, and his energy levels increased. He began to have more erections, which were more sustained, and although he was hard to hold back, he seemed to accept going slowly. He was better at saying when he was getting tired, too, and the aftermath of Sunday lunch was less of an ordeal. He started to talk about going back to work, and had an appointment with his firm’s occupational health advisers. I understood that his contract had always been flexible to take into account possible health fluctuations; he was really lucky, he would be able to slot back in as and when he was able to.

Matt and Mum got on like a house on fire. She even let the odd swear word pass without comment, especially if Matt was apologetic enough afterwards and made out he hardly ever used bad language. Mum wasn’t an idiot, and had would have had enough conversations with Carol by now to know what was what, but seemed to appreciate an effort was being made.

I loved being part of Matt’s family. The Sunday gatherings weren’t usually as full-on as that first one had been, and we didn’t always go, but I was beginning to feel like I belonged. Matt and I had also looked after all of the children together, at various times, and I loved being with them all. Bastien was tiny and cute, Charlie was just developing her own wilful personality, Iz was a bundle of energy demanding constant attention and entertainment, and Cal was a teenager-in-waiting, one minute whining and complaining, and the next playing silly games with us. We had been out several times with Dec and Amy. They were younger than Matt and me, but they were very easy company, and Amy and I had struck up a friendship.

Work had settled down a bit after the falling out with Rachel. We still didn’t really talk much, but she didn’t completely ignore me, and the team balance had righted itself. It was hard not to ask Anna what was going on with Matt. I knew he told me most of it, but also knew he needed to keep some things to himself, to have a part of him that was just his. I never pressed either of them for information, and knew that Matt would tell me the important stuff, and Anna wouldn’t tell me anything. Occasionally I’d come into the office and the conversation would stop dead, and I’d know that they’d been talking about Matt, either professionally or having a good gossip. It made me feel a bit outside of things, but it was a small price to pay.

Matt and I started to talk in very general terms about moving in together. I spent most of my evenings and nights at his flat, and hardly spent any time in my house, except to grab clothes every now and then. It seemed a bit of a waste, but part of me was reluctant to give up my house. It was the first house that was mine – or partly mine, mostly the bank’s – and I was attached to it; I had put down a deposit with money my dad left me after he died. But Matt and I were starting to feel permanent, and it was going to have to go eventually. His flat was much nicer, and it made sense. We hadn’t made any decisions, just floated the idea, and as neither of us had freaked out, it seemed like it was going to happen one day.

Matt

It wasn’t long before it became apparent that it would be more sensible to live together. We didn’t even talk about it, as in one of us bringing the subject up in some kind of momentous way, and I can’t remember which one of us dropped it into the conversation first, but it would go something like this:

‘I’m just popping home to get that CD.’

‘Bollocks, weh forgot. Sorry, meant tuh remind yuh.’

‘I need to pick up my post anyway.’

‘Don’t forget yuhr jumper.’

‘Oh yeah. God, it’ll be so much easier when we’re both in one place.’

Me: So not freaking out.

Or

‘I rehly like yuhr house, why don’t we come here more often?’

‘Because it’s easier for me to just flop at yours after work than drive back over here and worry about you getting home the next day. Your place is nicer, too.’

‘Buh you’re paying bills fuh shit you’re not using.’

‘Yeah, but it’s only the fridge-freezer really.’

‘Wha abouh water, an council tax, and mortgage? Be easier if we jus shared everything, all in one place.’

‘I know, flower. We should think about it, shouldn’t we.’

Me: Still not freaking out, and I’d been the one to bring it up.

But we didn’t get round to it, not for a while, and in the meantime, I recovered a lot, started walking and talking almost like a normal person, picked up babies without being worried I was going to drop them on their heads, and started staying up late. Sometimes it was ten thirty before I went to bed, and I could still give Lau a bloody good feel up before I went to sleep. I was a human miracle.

So summer became autumn, and I was well and truly on my feet. Still bloody knackered if I overdid it, but was getting better at judging it, and didn’t crash like I used to, just got weary and needed to sleep it off.

I’d been to talk to work’s Occupational Health woman, and we’d wondered about me going back after Christmas, a few hours a week only, to see how it went. It was a major boost to my confidence, as I’d been off work for eight months already, and needed to be earning my keep and paying my way.

I’d been to watch Raiders with Cal a few times, which was another thing that increased my self-esteem. Cal could be a pretty grouchy kid at times, but the look on his face when I offered to take him for the first time in months, how pleased he was, well it meant a lot to me.

One Saturday in November, I’d left Lau at my flat for the afternoon, as she had declined to come with us, being a complete sporting duffer; I caught the bus over to Jay’s place to collect Cal. I knew he liked it better when we parked in the official Raiders car park, where the players parked, where Jay could get us a pass to park, but until I was up to driving, it was the bus for us.

I quite liked going by bus, as we travelled with other supporters, and walked into the ground with other supporters, and had conversations with them without them knowing who we were, as if we were normal fans rather than family of Jay Scott, and I kind of wanted Cal to get that too, that although he enjoyed the privileged position of being son of the coach, there was a lot to be said for just enjoying watching as a civilian.

We’d been to the club shop to get a car sticker, bought pasties and chips once we got through the turnstiles, taken our seats, read the programme, watched the players warm up and joined in the cheering contest when I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket.

Laura

Matt had taken Cal to the rugby and I was at Matt’s flat, thinking about making something for dinner, when my phone rang. It was Amy.

‘Hi flower.’

‘Lau, sorry, I’ve tried to get hold of Beth but her phone’s off. Is there any way you could have Charlie for a bit?’

She sounded upset.

‘Of course. What’s happened?’

‘My … dad’s … they’ve just …’ her words turned to sobs.

‘Oh Amy. I’ll be right there.’

I grabbed my bag and ran down to my car, driving across the city as fast as I could. I knew Amy had an uneasy relationship with her dad; he hadn’t approved of her and Dec not being married when they had Charlie, and had been less than impressed when they announced they were expecting another baby soon after she was born.

When I arrived outside Dec and Amy’s house, she was waiting at the door, coat on, car keys in hand. Her face was puffy and her eyes were red.

‘Oh Amy, what’s happened?’

‘Dad’s in hospital, he’s collapsed, they don’t think …’ she started to cry again.

‘Oh flower, you can’t drive like this. Let me take you. Is the car seat in your car?’

She nodded. I took the keys from her and got the seat out of the car, then quickly put it in mine while she got Charlie. Ten minutes or so later we were outside the hospital.

‘You go in, I’ll take Charlie to Matt’s. We’ve got some of her things there. Has she had her lunch?’

‘Yeah, she’s fed and changed. Lau, can you make sure Dec knows? He’ll come and pick her up later, after the game. Oh, and Beth, if you can get hold of her.’

‘Of course. Will you be OK on your own?’

She nodded, more tears rolling down her face.

‘Mum’s there, we’ll be OK. Thanks Lau.’

I took her hand briefly, then she got out and I drove away.

When I got to Matt’s flat with Charlie, I texted Dec, although I knew his phone would be off this close to the start of a game. I called Matt, unsure if he would hear the ringer.

Matt

I took my phone out, expecting to hit ‘decline’, but it was Lau. She wouldn’t be calling unless it was important, and a tiny shiver of worry went through me.

‘Heh, Lau. Changed your mind? Bet you wish you were here now.’

‘No. Matt, Amy’s dad’s in hospital. I’ve brought Charlie here.’

‘Shit. Is he OK?’

‘Well, no, he’s in hospital. Amy didn’t know much. She wanted me to tell Dec, and I’ve sent a text, but can you find him after the game? Charlie’s fine here, isn’t she, we’ve got loads of her stuff, nappies and things, from before.’

‘Yeh, you know where ih is, don’t you?’

‘Yeah, I’ve found it all.’

‘Do you want me to come back?’

I knew she’d be perfectly alright on her own with Charlie, they always had a great time together, but it would be a few hours before I was home if I stayed until the end of the game, and she was going to be with someone else’s baby in someone else’s home.

Laura

Truthfully, I would have liked Matt to come back, but he loved taking Cal to watch the rugby, and I knew Cal would be upset to miss it, especially as they were already there.

‘No, I’ll be fine, Charlie’s no trouble. Don’t disappoint Cal, it’s the first time you’ve taken him for ages. I’ll ring Beth.’

Matt

I was relieved, as Cal really would not have enjoyed having to leave before kick-off, but it was going to be hard to concentrate on the game while I was worrying about Amy.

‘Thanks Lau. Let me know if yuh hear anything.’

‘OK. See you later.’

I disconnected and turned the ringer up to full volume. Cal was looking at me, scowling.

‘Why have we got to go?’

‘Weh haven’t mate, but I’m keeping an ear out for my phone. Amy’s dad’s not well an Lau’s got tuh look after Charlie.’

Cal’s face took on the appeased expression of someone who had been about to have a major strop but had heard good news at the last minute. He didn’t know Amy’s dad, and he was only just about to turn eleven, so he didn’t really care about the status of some stranger’s health.

‘So we’re staying here.’

He needed to double check I wasn’t going to whisk him away. I was fairly sure I wouldn’t have to.

‘Yeh, Cal. Lau wants us to find Dec after the game so weh can tell him. His phone’s off.’

That cheered Cal up. Usually I made him wait for the players to come up to the supporters’ bar, like everyone else had to, but if we were going to have to look for Dec straight after the game, it meant going past the stewards and the kudos that entailed.

Laura

I called Beth.

‘Hello Laura. How are you?’

‘Hi Beth. I don’t know if you’ve picked up Amy’s messages?’

‘No, I’ve only just turned my phone on, it’s been charging.’

‘She was trying to get hold of you. Her dad’s been taken into hospital. I’m looking after Charlie here at Matt’s. She just wanted you to know.’

‘Oh no, poor Amy. Is she OK?’

‘No, she was in a bit of a state. But her mum was there already, they can look after each other.’

‘What happened to her dad?’

‘She didn’t really know much, but he collapsed at home and she thought it didn’t sound good.’

‘Ohh.’ There was a silence. It wasn’t that long since Beth’s dad had died, and although she seemed fine in her own brisk Beth way, it would be natural if situations like this brought up strong emotions. I heard Beth take a breath and imagined her straightening herself up and shaking away whatever thoughts had momentarily frozen her. ‘I don’t suppose she’s been able to get hold of Dec.’

‘I’ve asked Matt to find him after the game.’

‘I’ll leave a message for James and get him to call me later. Bloody rugby – the whole world stops while it goes on. Thank you, sweetheart. Do you need any help with Charlie?’

I noticed the ‘bloody’ which was unusual for Beth and told me how upset she was, and the ‘sweetheart’, which was reserved for family, and felt a secret flush of pleasure.

‘No, I’m fine, we’ve got everything we need here. It’s only for a few hours.’

Matt

The game was exciting, as Raiders games usually were, but even more exciting was feeling my jeans fill with a swelling hard-on half way through the first half. I mean, inconvenient or what, but it felt awesome. I covered it up with the match programme and tried to think Anne Widecombe thoughts, but it didn’t go away until nearly the end of half time. It was the best one yet, and I was convinced that the next one would be the one that would kick-start Matt Scott Superstud into his new one-woman-only phase. Eventually it subsided and I could stop feeling so conspicuous, but I looked forward to being with Lau that evening so we could try to coax it back.

What with that and thinking about having to find Dec afterwards to impart some unhappy tidings, I wasn’t really concentrating on the match, but it went on without my full attention anyway.

The game ended, with a Raiders win by one point, and we headed off as soon as the final whistle went to find Dec, who would still be in the changing room having the team de-briefing. We made our way past several stewards and security people, most of them recognising Cal as Jay’s son, some of them recognising me as Jay’s brother, and were escorted to the door of the changing room by Bill, the Head Steward, who greeted Cal like a mate.

‘Cal! Haven’t seen you for ages. Still playing on the wing for the juniors?’

‘Yep.’

‘Scored any tries recently?’

‘I got one in training last week.’

‘Good lad. Right, I’ll just give them a knock, might take a while to answer, Mr Barker usually likes to have a bit of a chat after the game.’

He tapped on the door, and we waited.

‘I only knock once. They know I’m here, but you can’t interrupt Mr Barker. They’ll answer in good time.’

From what I knew of Don Barker, who I’d met a few times, the worst you’d get would be a raised eyebrow if you did interrupt, but sometimes that kind of low-key approach earned you more respect than a bollocking. It wasn’t long before the door was opened by one of the conditioning coaches.

‘Alright, Bill?’

‘These two gentlemen need to speak to Mr Summers.’

The coach looked at me blankly, then at Cal, and recognised him.

‘Oh, hey Cal. Shall I get your dad?’

I spoke before he could shut the door.

‘Actually, could yuh get Dec, please? Amy’s been trying to get hold of him, ih’s pretty urgent.’

I became more important to him as he realised I knew Dec, and Bill the security guard and Cal gave me added authority.

‘Oh, OK mate, I’ll get him.

The door closed, and Cal and I stood looking at Bill for a few moments before it opened again, to reveal Dec. He was already changed, was carrying his kit bag and was putting his phone in his pocket. He looked pale.

‘Hey Matt. Alright, Cal?’

‘Dec, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Amy’s been trying to get hold of yuh.’

‘Yeah, I know, Beth left messages, and I’ve just called. I’m going there now.’

‘How are things?’

‘Not sure. Better go, mate.’

I patted him on the shoulder and he started to walk off, then turned round and spoke as he walked backwards down the corridor.

‘Oh, Ames said Lau’s got Charlie at your place?’

I nodded.

‘I’ll come and get her later.’

‘OK. We can have her all nigh if you need ih.’

He nodded.

‘OK. Here’s the key in case you need any of her stuff.’

Dec pulled a key off his key ring and tossed it to me, and I was impressed with myself when I caught it.

‘Cheers mate. Appreciated.’

He turned and jogged away down the corridor.

The door opened again, and Jay stood there.

‘Hey Matty.’

Jay put his hand on Cal’s head and ruffled his hair.

‘Sorry tuh interrupt your debrief, buh I was supposed to tell Dec about Amy’s dad.’

‘Yeah, sorry, Beth left me about twenty messages on my phone, and also contacted everyone she could think of at the club. I’m surprised she didn’t get it announced over the tannoy – ‘Would Mr Declan Summers please report to the ticket office where he has an urgent message’, just as he was about to score or something.’

‘Yeh, we jus saw him. He looked a bit shocked.’

‘Thanks anyway, Matty. Cal, do you want to come home with me?’

He did, of course, because that meant spending time with the players that his mates didn’t. He was probably going to be allowed in the changing room now.

‘S’pose.’

But there was no way he was going to appear enthusiastic about it.

‘If you want to hang around, I’ll drop you home too, Matty.’

‘No, tha’s OK, I’ll get the bus. Lau’s looking after Charlie, I should make sure she’s alright.’

‘Thanks for bringing Cal today. What do you say, Cal?’

Cal rolled his eyes, hating to be reminded of his manners like a small child.

‘Thanks Matty.’

He mumbled as incoherently as he could get away with and didn’t look me in the eyes. Luckily I was a similarly ungrateful bastard in my turn, so knew that he appreciated it really.

‘Noh problem Cal. Chips an pasty on you nex time?’

He grinned, and his whole face changed, in that mercurial way that kids have from the age of ten to about, oh, thirty-five in my case.

I caught a bus from the stadium, frustrated by the length of the queue I had to wait in, and finally got home about six, having texted Lau to say I was on my way. It would be so much easier if I drove, things like emergencies would be a lot more manageable and I wouldn’t have to rely on the quirky bus routes that ran through the city. Maybe I should just do it; I hadn’t had a spasm for ages.

I opened the door to the flat and peered into the living room. Lau was sitting on the sofa, with Charlie asleep next to her.

‘Hey Lau. How’s ih been?’

‘Fine, she’s been asleep for the last hour or so. Any word from Amy?’

‘No. I managed to find Dec, but Beth had already called Jay and got him tuh pass the message on. He went straight there, he said he’ll come and geh Charlie as soon as he can. I said we can have her for the nigh if we need to. I’ve got their key, we can go and pick stuff up.’

‘Of course.’

‘Hey, beautiful, how’s the sleepy girl? Have you behaved fuh Lau?’

I bent over her, all tucked up on the sofa, and softly kissed her forehead. She stirred and moved her arms, but didn’t wake up. I looked at Lau and smiled.

‘She’s soh cute when she’s asleep.’

‘I know. Shame they have to wake up sometimes.’

It was what people always said, but I knew Lau loved kids and could entertain them endlessly.

‘You don’t mean tha.’

I wagged a finger at her, our mutual desire for children one of the unspoken constant connections between us.

‘No, I don’t.’

She grinned mischievously.

‘Do you want some dinner? Or did you have pasty and chips again?’

‘I had pasty an chips, kind of a ritual, buh how about dinner now? I’m starving.’

And I loved cooking for Lau, especially when she’d done something awesome for my mate.

‘OK, but I haven’t made anything.’

‘I’ll do some pasta. Chicken, tomatoes, mushrooms?’

As I suggested it, I started getting things together, ingredients from the fridge and the cupboards, pans, spoons.

‘Mm, sounds yummy. Oh, did they win?’

‘Wha?’

I’d nearly forgotten where I’d been.

‘Oh, Raiders, yeah. Dec scored a try, so Cal was pleased. He likes showing off tuh his mates. I was thinking about yuh all game.’

‘Yeah, right, and not thinking about thirty hefty blokes beating each other to pieces at all.’

I grinned at her.

‘No, jus you. Got another boner. Had to let ih go, though. Match programme not big enough to hide it.’

‘You’re on top form this week, flower.’

She was right. If we’d been counting, that would have been six. Not that we were counting. Maybe I was. Lau might have been. We didn’t have a chart or anything, though. That would just have been sad. Perhaps there was a kind of a chart in my head. Just a little one.

‘I know. Yuh never know, might come back later. Next time, Lau –’

I pointed at her, using the knife I was holding, but only in a gesticulating way, and not intended to threaten,

‘– I’m having my own way. No more of this waiting bollocks. Yuhr having a good Scottying, like ih or not.’

Lau raised her eyebrows at me, but didn’t say anything. I wondered if she thought it was time, too. To be honest, I wasn’t taking no for an answer any more. I’d been patient and sensible, listened to my body rather than just my libido, and I knew I was ready. Really ready, rather than just eager. Bloody eager, though. Bloody, bloody eager.

Laura

Being honest with myself, I wasn’t sure I could wait any longer either. There was only so long I could be sensible and nursey before Lusty Lau took over.

Matt

Dinner didn’t take long to make, and just as we finished loading the dishwasher, Charlie woke up. Immediately after she started crying, the door buzzer went, and it was Dec, still looking pale, with added stressed and unhappy on top.

‘Hey mate. How’s it going?’

‘Ames’ dad died.’

He looked haunted, and I could only imagine the memories it was bringing back for him.

‘Oh no. Shit. Sorry. How is she?’

‘Broken. Just in bits. I hate seeing her like that. Hey Lau.’

He looked at Lau, and then at Charlie, who Lau was holding and trying to shush.

‘Hey lovely girl.’

Charlie’s tears stopped when Dec spoke to her, and she held out her arms to him. Dec took her and held her close, looking near to tears himself.

‘Poor Amy. Where is she now?’

‘I took her home, Diane’s going to stay with us for a bit.’

‘Bad luck, mate.’

I knew Dec didn’t think much of Amy’s mum, but they got on better than they used to.

‘Yeah, well, she’s a bit hard going sometimes, but she can’t go home at the moment. I might have to go over and clear up. Apparently he keeled over in the kitchen, hit his head, made a bit of a mess.’

‘We’ll help. Leh us know. Lau’s good with blood.’

It felt good to be able to offer to help someone out for a change.

‘Actually, mate, that’d be great. Wasn’t looking forward to being there on my own. I was going to go over tomorrow morning, get some things for Diane. Thanks. Oh fuck.’

I saw Dec’s face crumple, and he sat down suddenly as tears rolled down his face.

‘Sorry, I don’t know why it’s upset me so much. I should be over all this by now, it just brings it all back. I didn’t even like Jack, he was a wanker who made Ames’ life a misery. She’s so cut up though. Sorry, Charlie-girl, shouldn’t talk about your grampa like that.’

He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. Things like this were always going to affect Dec, I imagined. Losing both your parents when you’re thirteen isn’t something you are ever likely to forget, or get over, or recover from, even though Dec was just about as sorted a bloke as you could hope to meet. There were always going to be times like this when it felt so close to what happened to him that it tore at him again. And when something hurts the woman you love, it hurts you too. I sat next to Dec and put an arm round his shoulders.

‘Ah mate, ih’s always gona be there for you. Shit like this will always bring stuff back. Look at us – four people, only one dad between us. Life’s a bitch. Make the mos of him, beautiful.’

I unhooked my arm from around Dec and stroked Charlie’s forehead. Dec straightened, nodded and took a deep breath.

‘Got to pull myself together, can’t do this in front of Ames. Thanks mate. Are you sure you’re both OK for tomorrow morning?’

Lau and I both nodded.

‘Probably the earlier the better. Ten OK?’

‘Fine. We’ll meet you there.’

It would be a miracle if Dec managed to get out of the house before eleven, let alone across the city by ten, but I suppose this could be deemed to be an exceptional circumstance. Dec stood up, hoisting Charlie onto his shoulder and wiping his eyes.

‘Come on then lovely girl, let’s go and cheer Mummy up. Bye Matt, bye Lau.’

I saw him to the door, closed it behind him and turned to Lau, noticing as I did so how sad she looked, and I remembered her dad with a mental kick to myself. Possibly the last thing she needed to be doing was clearing up after Jack Wright, especially considering everything I had just been thinking about past events never really leaving you.

‘Oh, Lau. I didn’t think about your dad. Are yuh OK?’

She nodded, and I saw that she was upset, but she’d managed to put it away in that place she had where she could put shit like this. It was something to do with her work; she had to detach herself from everyone’s sadness so she could do her job without breaking down every five minutes, and she got good support at work to help her deal with it. She was pretty up front about confronting her own shit, and I knew if she felt she needed to talk about it she would do, either with me or someone else she could confide in.

Laura

I was obviously upset for Amy, and seeing Dec lose it a bit was emotional, but I dealt with difficult emotions every day at work, and had learned how to portion parts of me off so it didn’t affect me too much.

‘It is very similar to what happened with Dad, but I’m OK.’

Matt joined me on the sofa, putting an arm over my shoulder and pulling me close.

Matt

‘Will you be alright tuh go tomorrow morning? I can go on my own if you want.’

‘No, it’ll be fine. I think Dec will need people there, if only so we can strong arm him out of the room if it gets too much for him.’

‘Ha ha, I’d like to see tha. I think it’d take more than me an you tuh beat Dec in a fight. You haven’t seen him on a rugby pitch, have you. He’s an animal.’

‘You haven’t seen me in a fight, either. It could be a close thing.’

Thinking about it, I wasn’t sure who I would back in a fight between Dec and Lau. It would depend how much chocolate was at stake, and what the rules were about high tackles.

‘Now I’m scared. Don’t you an Dec gang up on meh, now. I’m just a fucking cripple.’

‘Matt …’

Lau sounded exasperated. I couldn’t get her to see why I called myself a fucking cripple, because I couldn’t explain it properly to myself. It was something to do with calling it as I saw it, something to do with getting my retaliation in first, something to do with wanting people to correct me, something to do with me and Dec all those years ago when he was a bloody nutter too, and maybe lots of other somethings I couldn’t define. Lau constantly tried to stop me doing it, especially now I was getting better. She thought it stopped me thinking of myself as normal, but it was just something I did, and until I felt ‘better’, whatever that felt like, I wasn’t going to stop.

Laura

I couldn’t stop him referring to himself as a cripple, even though he was getting better. He’d told me it was a kind of self-deprecating nickname he and Dec had come up with the first time he was ill, with Dec being labelled a nutter on account of emotional difficulties he was having, but I thought it just carried on the thought that he wasn’t ‘normal’, whether it was a joke or not.

Matt

‘OK, OK, I’m jus a skinny streak of nothing. Better?’

Although sometimes I was going to compromise.

‘Better, and truer. But a skinny streak of nothing with a lovely bum.’

‘Ooh, Lau. Know wha, for that, you can have a feel.’

I stood up and waggled said lovely bum in her face. Before I knew it, she grabbed me and bit me on the arse, through my trousers. I gasped as I felt my dick swell.

‘Lau – you did ih.’

I turned round and proudly showed her the bulge in my jeans.

‘It’s Scotty time. Come on.’

Iz

Just a quick warning. You know the score by now.

Matt

There was to be no hanging around, this needed doing, and it needed doing now. I grabbed Lau’s hand and pulled her to her feet, pausing only to guide her hand to the bulge, just so she could feel how hard it was. Yeah, I was pretty pleased with it.

‘Tha’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.’

‘It’d better not.’

Whoa, so she was as up for it as I was, which just made me harder. I pulled her with me to the bedroom and started pulling her clothes off, hardly pausing to kiss her, heading straight for her breasts with my mouth. I really only had one goal, but I didn’t want to appear impolite. Lau pulled my shirt off and undid my belt, letting my trousers drop to the floor. My dick was tenting the front of my boxers, and I pushed it urgently against her.

‘I’m not gona last long, Lau. I mean, yeah, I am, but not before I pop.’

I was going to come as soon as a very low threshold was reached, and I wanted to be inside her when I did. Lau pulled my mouth onto hers with one hand and pushed my boxers down with the other, then cupped my arse cheeks in both hands, using them to pull me against her. I pushed her knickers down her thighs and turned her to the bed, pushing her onto her back, possibly none too gently. Lau reached up and pulled me down on top of her, kissing any part of my body that passed her mouth. My hands were everywhere, grabbing, stroking, gripping, but I had only one destination.

I pulled her knickers off completely and pushed her legs apart, kneeling between them, gripping my dick in one hand and guiding it into her. Ohh how easily I glided in, how agonisingly, excruciatingly, exquisitely she slid against me, fuck how I wanted this woman, wanted to claim her, wanted to be the best she’d ever had. Lau moaned, a sound that seemed borne of almost as much longing as I felt in me.

‘Fuck me, you’re so wet, Lau.’

‘I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Ohh that’s amazing.’

I couldn’t wait any longer, and started to thrust, feeling the slippery friction as I pushed all the way into her, hard and fast, the velvet smooth of her setting fire to the hard planes of me as if I were doused in petrol; there was to be no going slowly, this was destined to be a short, fast journey.

I was grunting with the effort, and groaning with need and longing, and I could feel the finish line approaching fast as my balls started to fizz. Lau clenched me from inside, and it felt like my cock doubled in size, too, and I shouted out again, even as I felt her wrap her legs round my back, pulling me further and deeper into her. I sped up, until my world was a blur of my dick moving against the inside of Lau, the sliding, the quivering, the slap of me against her, the rise and fall of us, the in and out, and I was shouting but I didn’t know what I was saying.

‘Fuck, Lau, yeah, tha, unh, yeah, yeah, ohh, fuck, fuck, cuh, I’m, ple – oh Lau, angel!’

And then suddenly I was there. It all exploded from my balls up through the base of my cock to the very end, and I thrust up into Lau as far as I could, and stayed there while paradise erupted around me. I remained motionless, pushed up on my hands, eyes closed, a roar in my ears which could have been the blood in my veins, the shout from my throat or the universe coming back into alignment, while I emptied myself into her, each shudder causing shock-waves through my world.

Then I opened my eyes, and looked down at Lau in wonder at this woman who had given it back to me, and in the most spectacular way. I had had orgasms before, many times, but nothing and no one on this earth had made me feel like that, like I was connected to a power supply.

A smile started to creep across my face, my arms gave way, and I collapsed on top of her, heart beating wildly, trying to catch my breath, and then kissed her from neck to mouth, then rolled onto my side as I slipped out of her, still twitching a bit, pulling Lau with me so we were face to face.

While I got my breath back, I stroked her hair and looked into her eyes, trying to tell her silently how fucking amazing that had been. I couldn’t think of any words that would even begin to do justice to it, but eventually I stopped panting and spoke.

‘Lau, that was better than I ever imagined. Oh my fucking God, it’s been so fucking long. Ohh … yuh are awesome. Fucking awesome. Thank you, thank you, thank you.’

I resumed my frantic kissing of any part of Lau that was close enough, then pulled her tightly to me, overcome with the emotion of it all. My head was buried in her neck, and my tears trickled down my face and across her throat. Lau pushed me gently away from her and wiped my eyes with her fingers.

‘Hey, Matt, it’s OK. This is good, isn’t it?’

I nodded. ‘I know. I just can’t believe ih, there was a time I thought ih wasn’t gona fucking happen. I can’t even think how long ih’s been.’

‘Well, it must be getting on for a year. That’s a long time, especially for someone as … er … experienced as you.’

As straight talking as Lau was, she never really knew how to refer to my Matt the Lad days. She meant, I suppose, that considering how much sex I’d had, it must have felt like a long wait, and yeah, readers, you will know how true that is. However, I wanted her to know that it wasn’t just the having of the sex that was so hugely important, it was who I was having it with.

‘Noh, Lau, you know what, for the last couple of months it’s been about you. I mean, yeah, getting ih up’s important to me, I’m a bloody bloke aren’t I, but I’ve so wanted to do that with you. So fucking much.’

And then it occurred to me, how focussed I’d been just on me and what I needed, no change there then.

‘Oh fuck, and it’s gone again, and I didn’t even wait for you, I just went in all guns blazing, Matt has to get his end away and –’

‘Stop it, Matt. It was fine, it was great, there’s going to be plenty of time to do it all again and take it slower. Feeling you inside me, how much of you I could feel, it was – I’ve never – just wow. I’ve waited a long time for that too. It was worth it.’

If I’d believed in angels, I would have outed Lau as one in disguise. I wondered if she had any idea how much better she made me feel.

‘Really?’

‘Really. God, do you know how much I love you?’

‘I bloody hope ih’s as much as I love you.’

‘At least as much. Might be a bit more.’

‘Doubt ih’s more, not possible. Not gona leh you beat me.’

‘Too bad. I believe I win.’

‘How d’you work that out?’

‘I am the ref. You said the ref is always right.’

‘Tha’s in rugby. Sometimes football. Who made yuh the bloody love ref?’

‘Self-appointed. I’ve taken all the exams, passed all the tests. The certificate’s on its way.’

‘Can’t we call ih a draw? I don’t wana think I migh be lacking in the love department.’

‘Well … alright. Ref judges a draw is achieved. Love all.’

‘Ha ha. Good score. Know wha, Lau, just because my hard-on’s gone dohnt mean you miss out.’

I stroked a nipple, which rather pleasingly immediately stood to attention.

‘See, there’s plenty more ways of getting a good Scottying.’

‘I do see that. Care to show me more?’

I showed her more with my tongue, lips and fingers, for some time, until it all reached a very satisfactory conclusion.

Laura

Afterwards, lying in the gentle glow of heat and love, in his arms, kissing softly and touching gently, Matt suddenly propped himself up on one elbow and looked down at me.

‘Lau, move in with me. Or I’ll move in with yuh. Or we’ll get somewhere together. It’s bloody stupid having two places. You belong with me. Let’s do ih.’

I smiled up at him. Yes, it was time.

‘OK. Let’s.’

86. Family affair

In which the family is met, and a new addition seeks acceptance.

Laura

After a lazy Sunday morning – I was enjoying the enforced taking-it-easy that Matt’s energy levels were dictating – I drove us, under Matt’s directions, to Jay and Beth’s house, across the other side of the city, not far from Raiders’ enormous stadium. Matt had told me that Jay and Beth had lived in this house for ages, that he had lived with them for a short time when he first moved to the city, recovering from his first brush with MS and an almost fatal bout of pneumonia, and that Dec had also lived here for three years as a teenager. So it really was a family home.

I already knew Beth, and knew Jay Scott and Declan Summers by their faces and reputations, but Matt’s mum was going to be there, as well as someone called Rose, whose relationship to everyone I hadn’t quite sorted out in my head, and another couple called Nico and Lis – Nico Tiago was another rugby player. Their lives seemed bound up with each other, and with all the famous sports people and their wives and children swelling the numbers, I was feeling a little intimidated. But I put on my best friendly face and was determined to enjoy myself and make a good impression.

Matt

After a lazy Sunday morning – my Sunday mornings were always lazy, and I was dragging Lau down with me, but breakfast in bed with Lau for two hours was just too delicious – Lau drove us across the other side of the city to Jay’s house.

As we pulled up outside, Lau put on her best smile, but I saw worry at the corners of her eyes. I hadn’t helped make it any less intimidating with my constant grumbling about them all, and felt guilty.

‘Rehdy?’

‘Mm hm.’

‘Jus ‘mehmber, Beth’s roast potatoes are tuh die foh, an she loves it if yuh tell her in front of Rose. Then yuhr in.’

This was true. Beth and Rose constantly tried to outdo each other in the kitchen.

‘But probably not with Rose.’

‘Yuh’ll beh fine wih Rose, yuhr wih meh. She’ll have us married off befohr yuhv sat down. She’s had lohs of disappointments as far as I’m concerned. Come on, embrace the madness.’

‘I’m embracing.’

We got out of the car and walked up the path, hand in hand, me squeezing Lau’s fingers like she had mine the day before. I rang the bell, and the door opened almost instantly to reveal Iz and Beth. They must have seen us arrive and been waiting. Iz held her arms up to me and I scooped her up as we walked in, making sure I held on tight and paid attention to any signs of the dropsy.

‘Heh, beauhiful. Yuh behn helping Daddy cook the dinner?’

Iz shook her head. ‘Mummy cook.’

‘Oh yeh, wha was I thinkin? Iz, this is Lau.’

Iz regarded the competition with suspicion for a second, then buried her face in my shoulder. Iz was a complete tart, always wanting to be picked up and cuddled, but only if you were of the male persuasion.

‘Oh, a touch of the shys. Iz, Lau’s goh Smarties in her bag.’

I’d told Lau the best way to get Iz to talk to her was chocolate, and we’d stopped off on the way and bought some of the good stuff. As I knew it would, this piqued Iz’s interest. She lifted her head up and gave Lau another look. Lau nodded to confirm the bribe, but sensibly didn’t try for anything else. She was a rival, after all, and needed to prove her worth first.

Laura

It was true. I wasn’t above bribing small children to get them to like me. Iz lifted her head from Matt’s shoulder and looked at me again. I nodded and smiled at her, but didn’t push it. She would get used to me in her own time.

Matt

Beth was hovering, desperate to get in on the action – not the being cuddled by me action, no don’t be daft. The Lau action.

‘Hi Laura, it’s lovely to see you again.’

Beth kissed Lau on the cheek.

‘Come and meet everyone. Sorry, it’s a bit of a madhouse, standard practice for a Sunday I’m afraid.’

She was being all bright and cheery, as if she hadn’t spent the past few days gossiping about me and the suitability of my romantic choices. But I knew.

Well of course Lau wowed them all, being friendly and chatty, finding just the right thing to say to everyone. I sat back and watched as she talked pregnancy with Amy:

Laura

‘How old is Charlie?’

‘Six months. There’s another one on the way, too.’

‘Oh, Matt did say. That’s very close together.’

‘Well I suppose we wouldn’t have necessarily planned it that way, but it’s a happy accident I guess.’

‘That’s great. I bet you’re tired though.’

‘Completely wiped. I didn’t know it was possible to be so thoroughly exhausted all the time. We moved house not long after I had Charlie, too, just to put the icing on the cake.’

‘Sounds pretty full-on.’

‘We don’t seem to do anything by halves.’

Matt

She got flirted at by Nico:

Laura

‘Hello Laura. They all tease me because I sometimes tell womens they are beautiful. Please sit down, you are safe. Huh, you are very beautiful though.’

He spoke with a Spanish-sounding accent, and I sat down, a little overwhelmed.

Matt

Made Iz like her with a combination of chocolate and conspiracy:

Laura

‘What’s this? I’ve found a tube of Smarties in my bag. I wonder if anyone would like one?’

Iz looked at me hopefully.

‘How about you, Iz, have you got a favourite colour Smartie?’

She nodded, still reluctant to speak to me.

‘Tell me, whisper in my ear.’

She stood up and I bent forward, her breath tickling my ear lobe.

‘Purple.’

‘Oh, mine too. Here, I bet we can find a purple one, can’t we?’

She nodded.

Matt

Got Rose on her side, which wasn’t hard as Rose was on the side of anyone who looked like they might be remotely romantically interested in me:

Laura

Rose leaned around Amy.

‘Hello, love, I’m looking forward to having a chat. I’ve heard a lot about you.’

‘Rose, yuh bluhdy well have not. Or if yuh have, ih’s not from meh. I know yuh all gossip abouh meh, my life’s so bluhdy interesting, buh honestly Lau, I haven’t told them anything.’

Rose just smiled to herself and sat back in her seat, as if she was well used to Matt going on, and let it roll over her.

Matt

Revealed some previously undisclosed plotting with my brother, of all people:

Laura

‘Nice to meet you, Laura, my offer still stands, I can get some of the lads to come and remove this lump any time he’s annoying you.’

Jay was very different to Matt, even down to the way they spoke. Matt had a noticeable northern accent, although he’d already corrected me on that and said it wasn’t north, it was West Midlands. It sounded northern to me. But anyway, Matt’s brother didn’t have a trace of anything slightly northern in his accent, although I noticed that the twinkle in his eye was the same as when Matt was teasing me. I was intrigued to see how these two unlikely brothers got along.

Matt

‘Wha?’

I had no idea what Jay was talking about; it sounded like he was just trying one of his usual half-arsed attempts at humour.

‘Well I wasn’t sure if you make a habit of falling asleep in inconvenient places. When Laura called Beth the other week to tell us where you were, I offered some of the lads to come and move you.’

Jay had a bloody annoying smirk on his face, as he realised that I didn’t know about this.

‘Yuh fu – bluhdy well did not. Lau?’

I caught my ‘fuck’ just in time, and looked over at Lau. It did sound like the sort of thing Jay would do, but surely Lau would have told me. She was looking apologetic, though. Bugger.

‘Sorry, it’s true. I forgot.’

Dec, of course, thought this was bloody hilarious.

‘Who exactly were you planning to con into that little scheme, Jay? I know you’ve had us doing some bloody weird things, but moving Matt would have been about the riskiest. I can just see his face now when he wakes up in the arms of the Academy boys. ‘Stay still a minute, mate, we’ve just got to get you in the back of the kit van.’ Ha ha.’

Well, obviously, I started out really pissed off, but Lau was looking at me all worried, and I quickly reviewed my reactions, and as it hadn’t actually happened, and had just been Jay having a really bad idea, I gave in and laughed too.

Mum was looking at me intently, trying to communicate something through sheer willpower; I suddenly realised that she wanted to talk to Lau. Of course, dur, Mum wanted to suss Lau out for herself.

‘Heh, Mum, Lau’s mum knohs yuh.’

‘Really, dear? What’s your mother’s name, Laura?’

‘April Shoeman.’

‘Oh yes! We go to the same gardening club. She’s a very nice lady.’

‘Apparently yuh tol her all abouh meh.’

I was going to have to have words with Mum about what she spread around the gardening club. Anyone could turn out to be the parent of the girl of my dreams, and all sorts of inappropriate information could have been passed on.

‘Well not on purpose, dear, it was just general chatter about our children. I didn’t know she knew you, or I might not have told her everything about you. I didn’t make the connection between your Laura and April’s daughter, although she told me what your job is, dear. I suspect there may have been other things she told me about Laura that she might not otherwise have, too.’

‘Rehly? Wha things?’

Now I was definitely going to have to have a word. Tough stance on parental gossiping or not, I would love to know what Mum knew about Lau.

‘Oh, just general things, I can’t really remember.’

She tried the ‘I’m a bit of a vague old woman’ trick, but I was unconvinced. So was Amy, who laughed.

‘Diplomatic, Carol. How completely amazing that you know each other though.’

‘I’ll certainly have some catching up to do next time I see her. You’ve met her, then, dear?’

‘Yeh, Lau took meh roun yesterday. We had teh an cake, the full works. Posh china, everything. I puh up a bird box.’

‘She trusted you with a hammer, Matt?’

Amy looked mildly incredulous, not surprisingly. The last time I had attempted any DIY, the results had been somewhat catastrophic.

‘She dihnt know abouh the las time.’

Laura

Well now I just had to butt in.

‘Last time?’

Matt looked sheepish, and Amy answered for him.

Matt

Lau looked from one to the other of us, wanting some answers. I looked guiltily at Amy, who was the one to spill the beans.

‘Matt was staying with us a few weeks ago. He thought he’d be helpful and put together a flat-pack coffee table. He … er …’

Amy stopped and looked at me, seeming unsure what she was allowed to say. I shrugged at Lau and took over the tale.

‘Had a fucking spasm, in the mihdle of hammering. Smashed the top of the table.’

Lau did a kind of cartoony gulp.

‘Oh. I’m glad you didn’t tell me that before you went up a stepladder with a drill.’

I was possibly going to be made to talk about this again, perhaps later when there weren’t witnesses.

‘Heh, I was tryin tuh impress yuhr mum. Wha yuh gona duh tuh impress mine?’

Diversionary tactics and attack mode required.

Laura

‘I think I’ll go and have a nice chat with her. A lot less risky.’

I stood up and went to the other sofa, where a space had opened up next to Cal, who was playing a card game with Jay. I had just remembered a conversation I’d had with my mum a few weeks ago about the son of a friend who had MS, and what advice I might have about ways to get him to accept help. I had to stop myself laughing as I recalled what I’d told her: ‘Just get him to call the MS service, give him one of our cards’. I could imagine how well that would have been received.

‘Hello.’

‘Hello, dear. What a coincidence, you being April’s daughter. How’s she getting on? I haven’t seen her since she broke her ankle.’

‘She’s doing pretty well, still hobbling a bit, but on the mend. I’m sure she’ll be back at gardening club soon.’

‘I hope so. She keeps us all in line.’

‘I bet she does. Have you got a big garden?’

‘It’s not huge, dear, but it’s big enough for me … ‘

I was beginning to really like Matt’s mum. She was quiet, but not shy, and seemed to know Matt pretty well. I’d seen her watching everyone, and suspected she didn’t miss much that went on. Matt thought the world of her, and they seemed to get on really well.

Matt

Lau was chatting to Mum as if she’d known her for years. I watched, impressed, until Mum started telling Lau untruths about me.

‘… the boys are very good, and come over and help me out. Declan cuts my grass, Jameson lifts the heavy things and Matthew sits with a beer and tells everyone what they’re doing wrong.’

‘Heh! Fucking scandalous lies. No wonder yuhr mum thoht I was a rugby player, Lau. I beh yuh tell pehpl all sorts of shih, Mum.’

‘And sometimes he makes it all the way through a sentence without swearing.’

‘Although not very often, I bet.’

Uh oh, Mum and Lau already had some kind of mother-girlfriend diss the boyfriend pact going on. I was toast.

‘He was very well behaved with Mum. Only one ‘bloody’ slipped out. I must have put the wind up him.’

‘That is impressive, dear. He must have been trying hard for you.’

Yeah, I had been, I had been trying bloody hard. Glad someone noticed.

And of course there were all the kids – Cal, Iz, Charlie and Bastien, who Lau seemed to love and want to talk about and cuddle (except Cal, who was throwing off some very uncuddly vibes but agreed to play Uno with Lau and Jay), and then there was dinner, and Lau had made such a hit with Iz that they sat next to each other and whispered about ponies and pink glitter.

I had glanced at Lau from time to time, who was joining in as if she’d been coming here for years and loved it. It brought a smile to my face to see it, how relaxed she was, and how well she got on with everyone.

Laura

Coming from a very small family, I had always wanted lots of brothers and sisters. This family didn’t seem to fit any traditional mould, but that made it easier to feel like I could belong, and I loved being in the middle of it all, taking part when I could or observing the happy chatter when there were jokes I didn’t understand or just to have a bit of a breather. I had quickly got over being starstruck by all the famous rugby players, and saw what a close family they all were. A very well muscled close family. Lots of biceps on show. Not that I noticed, obviously, having eyes only for Matt.

We all sat round the huge table to eat, and Matt had his hand on my thigh under the tablecloth. Half way through the main course, he leaned over and whispered in my ear.

‘Yuh OK?’

I nodded, smiling as I felt his lips tickle my earlobe.

‘I fucking love yuh, Lau.’

I smiled and looked at him as he kissed me firmly on the lips. It didn’t go unnoticed, and Dec, Jay and Nico felt the need to comment.

‘Watch out, Cal, snog alert, avert your eyes.’

‘Ugh, Matty, save it for later.’

‘Matty this is good, we never see this before so soon. I think maybe Laura she is special?’

Matt

‘Yeh yeh, never seen anyone kiss anyone befohr? Weh all used tuh geh bluhdy eye-strain averting our eyes from Dec an Amy snogging every second. Tha wahnt even a snog. Jus a reassuring peck. Yuh loh are bluhdy raucous, ih was necessary.’

I was glad they’d seen it, though, and that they knew Lau was different, someone I didn’t mind showing my feelings with, someone I was happy to be happy with. I was also glad it was out there now. It had been disastrous before with Jules; I’d thought I was being so clever, hiding moving in from everyone, but it had done me no favours in the end. So now I was going to show everyone how I was feeling from the start, so they could see it, even if I wasn’t going to talk about it endlessly.

Laura

And so it went on, chatter, teasing, eating, being together. I loved it. They were all great. I managed to talk to Rose across the table. She talked a lot, but was a lovely woman, and I managed to piece together her relationship to everyone. She wasn’t actually related to anyone, but she and Dec seemed to have a kind of ‘mum and son’ thing going on. She had helped him out when he was a teenager, with advice, a listening ear and a place to stay when he’d needed it, when there had been some kind of rift between Dec, and Jay and Beth. She’d filled the space left by the death of his parents, and he filled a space left by having no children of her own, and they both still seemed to need it. She told me she was thinking about retiring from her job in a local opticians, and wanted to work as a volunteer for a children’s charity.

‘I so love being with the little ones, and I’m dead lucky having this lot, so I want to do something for the ones who don’t have everything they deserve.’

‘Oh, that’s lovely. Will you miss work?’

‘Some of it, I suppose, I like meeting different people, but there’s always the bits you don’t enjoy, aren’t there, love. They’ve just changed the computer system where I work and I don’t get it at all, I don’t. I’ve never been that handy with computers, but it’s not just that, I want a change, do something I feel good at. If I can do something like this volunteering thing, it’ll make a nice change.’

Rose chatted away, hardly leaving any pauses, and before I knew it, lunch was over. As the meal came to an end, I felt a tug on my sleeve. Iz was looking up at me.

‘Smarties?’

She said it so quietly, no one else would have heard, and had the cutest pleading expression on her face, but she had just finished a huge bowl of ice cream and I thought I wouldn’t make myself very popular if I made her throw it all up. So I decided to make a deal. I bent down to her.

‘I think I need to help clear the table and wash up, Iz, but afterwards, when we’ve had a sit down and maybe a game of something, we can find some more Smarties. OK?’

She nodded. As Beth stood up and started to move plates together, there was a mass exodus from the table. I started to pick up bowls and put cutlery in a heap.

Matt

And then dinner was over, and everyone was full, and the table needed clearing, so Jay, Dec, Cal and Nico scarpered as Beth stood up and started to move plates together. It happened every time, and I was embarrassed for men everywhere, when this was the role model acted out by three relatively famous blokes who should know better. Maybe I should out them in GQ or something. I was slightly ashamed of them all, but proud of Lau, who started helping without offering or being asked. I was so proud that it’s possible I may have forgotten to offer to help myself.

Laura

‘Oh, you don’t need to do that, Laura.’

‘It’s fine, I’d like to help. Thanks, Beth, that was yummy. I’m so full now, though.’

‘Thank you. It’s a bit of a Sunday ritual. There aren’t always so many of us, but there was a fair amount of nosiness about you, I have to say – oh, thank you sweetheart.’

This was addressed to Amy, who had handed Beth a pile of plates.

‘Why don’t you go and sit down? Laura and I have got it covered.’

Beth raised her eyebrows at me to check, and I nodded. I suspected I was about to get the grilling Matt had warned me about. As we took a pile each of dessert bowls into the kitchen I decided to take the initiative.

‘Matt said you were worried about me being an MS nurse, with him having MS and everything.’

She looked at me appraisingly as we stacked plates into the dishwasher.

‘Well, I have to admit, I was wondering how appropriate it is.’

‘I did give it a lot of thought. And I talked it over with my boss. It’s all above board, legal, all that. But I suspect that’s not what you’re really worried about.’

‘Matty’s really vulnerable. He’s had a hard time over the last few years, with one thing and another, and I suppose I’m worried about why he’s latched on to you, now. And what you might be getting out of it all. It seems to have happened very fast.’

‘It has been fast. Breathtakingly fast. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t thought about it and talked about it. I’ve been very clear with Matt that I can’t be his MS nurse, and I don’t discuss the specifics of it with him in that way. I’m pretty clear in my own mind what’s professional and what’s personal. And to be honest, most of the time, I forget he’s got MS. We love being together, we just get on with it.’

‘He’s complicated, he’s been through a lot.’

‘Tell me about it. He’s told me about being ill before, and about Carrie and Julia,’

Beth raised her eyebrows in surprise at this.

‘But everyone’s got their baggage, we’re still learning about each other. All we know at the moment is we want to be together.’

‘Well, all I can do is wish you good luck, then. Sorry to come on a bit strong, Laura, but we all worry about him. I know he hates it; if he’s told you everything else, he’s doubtless told you about his annoying family who never give him a moment’s peace.’

I shrugged. ‘I understand why you do it. I worry about him too. I try to get him to see it from your side. I told him to reply to texts a bit more often so you know he’s OK.’

‘Oh! I thought he was being a bit more communicative recently. Oh, well done. Let’s hope it lasts. Right, let’s get this lot in the dishwasher then we can go and have a sit down. With any luck the boys will all be asleep and we can have a bit of peace and quiet.’

It seemed my interrogation was over, for now. I breathed out slowly, knowing that Beth was the person I needed to convince, in order for everyone else to accept me. I didn’t know if I’d managed it yet. I thought about it from the family’s point of view; it must seem very sudden, and I could see why they would worry. I would think the same in their shoes.

Matt

With Lau being given the third degree by Beth, I sat next to Mum, just to make sure her pointed looks were only ‘make sure I get to talk to her’ looks, and didn’t have a meaning I hadn’t yet fathomed.

‘Heh Muhm. Hoh yuh doin?’

‘I’m very full, now. I should have declined those extra potatoes.’

‘Beth is bluhdy bohsy wih her potatoes. Dohnt want any lef over.’

‘No. I noticed you let yourself be persuaded to thirds as well as seconds.’

‘Wha can I say? I lohv a spud.’

Mum had had enough of potato talk for now, and changed the subject.

‘Laura seems lovely, dear.’

‘Yeh. She is. I lohv her.’

Mum raised her eyebrows slightly, as if she hadn’t heard this from several different sources.

‘An she lohvs meh.’

I knew I sounded defiant, like I was trying to convince her.

‘I’m sure you know exactly how you feel, Matthew. All I said was ‘she seems lovely’. I’m glad you’re happy.’

‘Oh Muhm, I’m soh happy. We’ll cohm roun an see yuh prohply in the week.’

‘That would be lovely, dear.’

‘Yuh’ll lohv her too. Yuh’ll forget yuh haven’t known her long. She mahks yuh forget.’

I was so desperate for Mum to like her, I was being a bit pushy. No one likes being told who they’re going to like, do they, so I backed off a bit.

‘Anyway, I’ll call yuh. Cal, wana geh beat at BattleStations?’

I spent the next hour fighting for my life against Cal, who had obviously been practising his alien robot warmonger techniques since I was last there, and ran me pretty close. I could have blamed it on the fucking bastard, but to be honest, my gaming hand-eye coordination was the one thing that didn’t seem to have deserted me, so maybe I had to blame my lack of practice on being otherwise occupied for the last week or so. Oh, Dec was playing as well, but as he was woeful and was just there to provide Cal and me with backup, and as cannon fodder for the enemy, it goes without saying that both of us beat him hands down. Hands up, even.

Laura

The living room was man-free, sleeping or otherwise. Amy and Lisa sat together, holding Charlie and Bastien, and Carol and Rose were chatting together. Beth flopped onto one sofa and I sat on the adjoining corner of the other one. Rose looked up.

‘Well done, love. Anything else needs doing in there?’

‘No, it’s all sorted, Rose. We can put our feet up. Unless anyone wants coffee?’

Everyone shook their heads, being crammed full of food and unable to move.

‘So Laura, how’s life in the NHS these days? I’m a bit out of touch.’

‘Oh, I don’t suppose it’s changed that much. A bit less money around, a few less people, more patients, more paperwork. The job is still the same. Do you miss it?’

‘Sometimes. I’ve loved being at home with the children, but Cal’s older now, and Iz will be going to school soon, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself.’

‘Me and Dec reckon you should be a party planner.’

Amy looked up from her game of peekaboo with Charlie.

‘You’d be completely brilliant.’

‘Yes, I’ve got a great CV of precisely two parties.’

‘You’d come highly recommended. Laura, Beth planned a surprise party for my twenty-first the year before last. It was completely amazing, we had a marquee on the beach, a sleepover, there was music, food, it was so, so awesome.’

‘I didn’t plan it on my own.’

‘Oh no, Dec helped as well didn’t he. What did he do, now, oh yeah, he made a playlist. I don’t know what you’d have done without him.’

‘He did more than that, sweetheart …’

‘He confessed all. He told me how you even had to bully him into thinking about it more than five minutes before. You’re so organised, you’ve just got that brain for thinking about lots of different things at the same time and not forgetting anything vital.’

‘She’s right, Beth.’

Lisa looked up from Bastien, who was having a feed.

‘You are super-efficient. Maybe it’s years of having to be doubly organised to make up for Jay. How he runs a team of rugby players I’ll never know. Matt seems a bit more organised, Laura. His flat is always so tidy.’

‘I know. I am quite impressed. He’s a great cook, too. Very domesticated. He tells me he learned it all from his mum.’

I smiled over at Matt’s mum, who’s name I still hadn’t managed to catch.

‘Ooh, Carol, there’s a compliment if ever I heard one.’

Carol. I felt better now Lisa had said her name, I was almost avoiding talking to her so I didn’t have to say ‘Mrs Scott’ or ‘um’.

‘Well he could be right, he was always much keener on following me around the house and joining in than Jameson was when they were little. I hope I’m not responsible for everything though.’

‘Don’t worry, Carol, we won’t blame it all on you. Matty has to take responsibility for a lot of his, er, attributes. Laura, can’t you have a word about his swearing? He does tone it down when the children are within earshot, sometimes, but I dread the day Iz comes out with ‘fuck’. I know it will come. I’ve already heard it from Cal.’

‘I’m not sure I have much control. I don’t think he even knows he’s doing it half the time. He did do really well with my mum. Maybe he just needs the right motivation.’

‘It sounds like you could be his motivation. Where are they all, anyway?’

‘Dec and Matt went to play X-box with Cal, Jay and Nico went to look at something important in Jay’s office. I think they’re actually watching rugby on the computer.’

‘Where’s Iz?’

‘She went up with Dec and Matt, but I don’t know if she’s still up there.’

Matt

I briefly checked on Lau, who seemed to be having a fine old time talking to everyone and playing with the babies, as well as dishing out Smarties to Iz, then I went back up for round two with Dec and Cal. Nico and Lis had been on the point of leaving, lightweights, but I carried on playing for a while longer, before I felt the tendrils of tiredness snaking into my head.

Laura

The afternoon meandered on, people coming and going, cups of tea and coffee made, laughter, teasing, talking, a few tears from the babies. Iz had been in to collect more Smarties, but had vanished again, probably in search of male company. I found myself feeling very comfortable. Matt had come downstairs having beaten Cal and Dec at X-box. He was flexing his fingers and looking pleased with himself.

‘I still goh ih.’

He plonked himself next to me and put his arm round my shoulders.

‘Glad to hear it. What exactly have you still got?’

‘Master of the X-box universe.’

‘So, a bit of hand-eye coordination and you can push some buttons really fast?’

It was actually quite impressive for someone whose coordination had been affected as badly as Matt’s, but he didn’t want patronising praise, he wanted to feel normal.

‘Dohn knock ih till yuh’ve tried ih, Lau.’

Nico and Lisa had taken their leave, and Rose and Carol were just about to go too. I stood up to say goodbye. Carol hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, and I hugged her back.

‘It’s lovely to meet you, dear. I look forward to seeing you again.’

‘I hope so. Nice to meet you Rose.’

‘You too, love. Look after him, won’t you.’

‘We look after each other. But yes, of course.’

Dec and Amy were still there, Dec and Matt having been cajoled into another round of X-box. Amy looked tired, and eventually handed Charlie to Beth, then went upstairs in search of her man.

‘Oh, you’re a sleepy girl, aren’t you.’

‘She’s very like Amy, with that dark hair and big blue eyes.’

‘I know, everyone says so. Dec’s hoping for a boy this time, and that it looks a bit more like him. I think his features will come out in Charlie later on. Noses and things take time to develop. I can’t believe Dec’s a father, let alone going to have two soon. I still find myself thinking of him as that lad who rolled up on our doorstep with a major attitude and swore his way into our lives. Mind you, the swearing hasn’t got noticeably better. I think it developed more fully while he was in care, kind of a defence. He doesn’t need it now, but sometimes these things stick, don’t they. I don’t know what Matty’s excuse is.’

‘Pig-headedness?’

‘Ha ha, yes, probably. Telling Matty not to do something is the quickest way to get him to do it. Shame it doesn’t work with the washing up. Laura, I feel a bit bad about what I said earlier. Matty seems really happy, happier than I’ve seen him for a long time, and if he’s talking to you about things, well that’s really good. I hope it carries on for both of you.’

It was a major peace-offering, and I was pleased to see that Beth could admit it when she’d got something wrong. The way Matt talked about her, I’d begun to wonder if she really was just an interfering, overbearing sister-in-law, albeit one he regarded affectionately, but I could see that she truly cared about Matt, and just didn’t want him to get hurt.

‘Thank you. I do too.’

‘Well, I’m sure we’ll see you again soon. Next time Iz needs some Smarties, I know who to call.’

I looked at her guiltily.

‘Sorry, I know bribing with chocolate is fairly evil. I know how much Matt loves her, I just wanted her to like me.’

Beth laughed. ‘Well mission accomplished. Friend for life, I think. Matty thinks I don’t know, but I am aware he uses all sorts of foul methods when he’s babysitting. He doesn’t hide the evidence very well. Any means necessary, I suppose. And it’s OK when you’re an uncle. Or an honorary auntie.’

She smiled at me, and I smiled back, aware of the shift in opinion, the title she had just given me, and what that meant about her view of me. It was good to reconnect with Beth. We hadn’t known each other all that well when we worked together all those years ago, but I remembered her as kind, sensible and fair minded, and I was happy to find she was still all those things.

Matt

When was I ever going to learn to pace myself, so that I stopped before it got to this point? Now I was starting to feel tired, it was going to catch up with me really quickly. It happened every time I came here on a Sunday – I’d be in the middle of something, talking, playing, whatever it was, and before I knew it I was fighting to retain my coordination, to say anything that was even vaguely understandable, and all without letting any of them know.

Oh, you thought when I said I was going to be open about my feelings from now on, or whatever the fuck I said, that I meant everything? No, no, no. Only about Lau. Everything else was going to be a closed book, as per.

So I carried on playing with Cal for a bit, and then, to my relief, Amy came to get Dec, who as usual was oblivious to the time, or the fact that he’d left his girlfriend on her own with their demanding baby for two hours while he played computer games. What? I’d just done the same to Lau? Scandalous lies.

Laura

Matt and Dec came back downstairs, followed by Amy. She picked Charlie up from Beth’s lap and started to put her in her car seat, where she naturally woke up and started bawling.

‘Oh, that’s completely unfair. She’s been asleep all afternoon, now she’s grouchy. Sh sh, lovely girl, we’ll be home soon.’

Matt sat next to me and gave me a sloppy kiss on the cheek.

‘Sorry tuh desert yuh. Monsters tuh kill. Impohtant.’

‘Obviously. A monster invasion would have totally spoilt the afternoon.’

‘Shall weh goh too?’

There was a hint of tiredness around his eyes; it was time to make a move.

Matt

Lau had seemed to sense I was flagging, and we got ready to go, along with Dec, Amy and Charlie.

Laura

‘Oh, are you all going now? It’s going to be really quiet. Cal’s upstairs, Iz is playing in the conservatory, James – where is James? Oh. I bet he’s ‘working’ in his office.’

‘On ih.’

Matt left the room, and through the door I saw him cross the hall and hammer loudly on another door. The door opened slowly, a bleary eyed Jay looking questioningly at his brother.

‘Jesus, Matty, what the hell was that for?’

‘Wehr all goin now. Wake up an wave us ohf.’

‘I wasn’t, er, asleep.’

‘Like fuck. Yuhr hair’s all sticking up. Trying ouh new hair gel in there wehr yuh?’

‘Piss off. You’re going now, you say? Good. Come back in a few years, when we’ve moved.’

‘Ha ha, yuhr such a grouch when yuhv been woken up. See yuh soon.’

Jay rubbed a hand through his hair, in a gesture I’d seen Matt use many times. He wiped his hand over his face and breathed deeply. Then came out of the office.

‘Sorry, Beth, I was working and my eyes just drooped.’

‘Yes, James, I know. Every Sunday. Everyone’s going, say goodbye.’

‘Goodbye everyone.’

He managed a kiss for Amy, Charlie and me, batted Dec on the shoulder and slapped Matt round the back of the head. Beth kissed everyone, and they both stood at the door as we walked down the path to our cars. Charlie was still crying in her car seat, but it was snivels rather than yells, and it sounded like she might go back to sleep on the journey home.

‘So, Matt, maybe a double date is on the cards?’

Dec was grinning impishly.

‘Oh, hon, that’s a great idea.’

‘Yeh, except yuhr babysitter would beh on the date, and not sitting on the baby.’

‘We can ask Rose. How about it Laura?’

I quickly looked at Matt to check. He shrugged, leaving it up to me.

‘Sounds great, but bring Charlie. We can do something early.’

I thought this might suit Matt as well, but meant I didn’t have to say it directly.

‘Oh that would be completely awesome. I’m completely useless at staying up late at the moment anyway. How about Mean Bean? We can just have coffee, or eat if we want.’

‘An then yuh can have a nose in Lau’s house if yuh hint hard enough.’

‘There is that, Matt.’

‘She migh have hoovered the dust from under her sofa if yuh give her enough notice.’

‘Oi.’ I batted his arm. ‘That’s confidential dust.’

‘Sohry. Tuh late. Heh, Lau, yuh should have Amy’s number. Meh an Dec will only forget or fuck up arrangements.’

‘Oh, of course Laura.’

Matt

Dec wanted to chat about a double date, which very nearly finished me, as all I could think about was getting in the car and going home. But I forced myself to get through the conversation, Lau and Amy exchanged mobile numbers, and at very long last, I was sitting in the car and we were driving away.

I waited until we were out of sight of the house, and Dec’s car had pulled away, and then I let myself go, crumpling into the seat. I could feel my vision closing in, blackening at the edges, and I closed my eyes.

‘Fucking hell.’

‘OK?’

‘They wear meh ouh.’

‘You should have said something before.’

Yeah, I know I should. But then they’d go on, there would be a lot of making arrangements, and people telling me what to do.

‘Dohn wan them fuhsing.’

‘You really are the most stubborn man.’

Yeah, I know.

‘Yeh. Noh behn … flr …’

I just didn’t have any more juice left, and I was out.

Laura

Matt tipped his head back against the headrest, eyes closed, and didn’t say another word for the rest of the short journey across the city. When I had parked the car outside Matt’s flat, I stroked his cheek to wake him up. This didn’t produce anything besides a few mumbles. I lightly pinched the back of his hand, which made him open his eyes, although they were slightly unfocussed.

Matt

Lau must have driven home, presumably she found her way back without too much trouble, although knowing Lau it was a circuitous route, with maybe a doubling back or two, or a trip to a part of the city that wasn’t strictly in the realms of ‘on the way’. But I wasn’t conscious enough to notice, and the next thing I knew, I could hear her voice, coming as if from a long way away.

‘Matt. Wake up. Just for a minute, flower.’

I felt a hand clasp my chin and turn it to the left.

‘You need to get out of the car.’

I opened my eyes, with a huge effort, and her face came into focus. Shit, we were back here, and I was going to have to get up the twenty thousand steps to my flat. Why the fuck had I bought a flat on the bloody second floor? Why the fuck hadn’t I at least got a flat where there was a lift? I should have got a bloody bungalow. You can get nice views from bungalows, nice views of all the stairs there aren’t. But, anyway, I hadn’t, and now I was here with Lau, who was little, instead of with Dec, who was big, and I really needed to just hold myself together so she didn’t have to carry me up the stairs.

Laura

I saw the focus return to his eyes, and could feel the mental effort he made to rouse himself enough to get up the stairs to his flat. It occurred to me that I should have gone to my house, where there weren’t steps. Too late now. I opened the car door for him, and he gripped my arm to help pull himself out of the front seat.

‘Come on, arm round me.’

Matt

‘Noh, Ih’m –’

I didn’t want to hurt her by leaning on her too heavily.

‘Arm round me. If you fall over, I’m not picking you up, I’m calling an ambulance.’

I mumbled ‘bossy cow’ under my breath, but didn’t argue further because a) I needed all the energy I possessed to get up the stairs, b) she was right, as usual, I needed to lean on her and c) she bloody would call an ambulance, too, and that just was not an option.

Laura

He mumbled something that sounded like ‘bossy cow’, but his arm went round my shoulder, and my arm went round his waist. Together, we shuffled towards the lobby. Matt unlocked the door, and we manoeuvred our way through it, then slowly began the stairs. Matt slowed down even more as we reached the top, and by the time we got to his door, it was a struggle to get him to take another step.

Matt

The last coordinated action I managed was unlocking the door to the stairs, and then I sleepwalked up them. It would have taken ages, although I’m a bit vague on the details; when I got this tired, I had trouble lifting my feet up high enough to put them on the next step.

Lau must have dragged me all the way up, then unlocked the door to the flat with my keys. Her voice had been encouraging me all the way, but I couldn’t focus on specific words, only the sound of it. It just about held me up, kept me going.

In a brief moment of lucidity, I realised I was inside and the sofa was literally feet away. I could barely see, there were black spots dancing in front of my eyes, and I was breathing heavily.

Laura

‘Come on, Matt, just a few more steps and you can lie down.’

With a final effort, he dragged his feet with me to the sofa, where he flopped down, eyes closed, and was asleep in seconds. I rearranged his limbs into a position he wouldn’t wake up stiff from, and fetched a blanket to put over him.

Matt

It was like the last mile of a marathon, or what I imagine it would be like had I ever been foolish enough to participate in one. Lau and I stumbled together to the sofa, and I was gone before I even knew whether I’d sat down on it or not.

Laura

I wondered how often Matt had held himself together on a Sunday afternoon until he’d got back from the family meal, and then lost the rest of the day recovering. I sat by his head, stroking the hair away from his forehead, worrying about him. I knew he’d be OK after a sleep, but if he was always pushing himself beyond his limits he could be hampering his recovery, if he was going to recover. Officially it was more of a nursey thing, but I reasoned with myself that anyone could have noticed it, and I would try to address it with him without annoying him. I sat next to him for a while, grabbing a book, looking down at his sleeping face every so often.

Matt

I woke later, wanting to be pulled back down, I could have gone so easily, but I needed to wake up so I could sleep, in that perverse way of it.

I opened my eyes to find Lau sitting close to me, looking down at me, trying to discern how I was. She bent down and kissed me, and I realised she had put a throw over me. It was so sweet, and I so loved having someone here to look out for me.

I hadn’t realised how lonely an existence I’d made for myself, shutting everyone out who dared to care about me. I really was an arse. And now I’d made Lau haul me up the stairs, and I felt bad.

‘Heh, Lau. Sohry.’

‘How are you feeling?’

‘Fucking knackered.’

‘Sleep a bit longer, then.’

‘Noh.’

I sat up.

‘Wohn sleep tonigh. Yuh dihnt carry meh did yuh?’

Laura

‘Not quite. Matt, do you do this every Sunday? Hold it together till they bring you back, then crash?’

The look on his face told me that he did, but he only shrugged.

‘Why?’

I thought I knew the Matt Scott ‘don’t let them see you need anything’ answer, but wanted him to acknowledge it himself.

‘Jus wana beh normal Matt, Matty, Unca Matty, withouh them looking at meh all the time wondering if I’m gona keel over. They make meh fehl normal.’

‘You are normal. They all love you. If you didn’t stay as long, you could still enjoy it, and have some energy left when you get home. Or don’t go every week, or have a nap while you’re there, something. Surely having a snooze with one of the babies is normal. Even Jay was asleep. You can’t keep doing this.’

‘Mm.’

That was as far as I was going to get. ‘Mm’ meant conversation over, but I knew he often thought about what I said, and although he’d never actually say ‘Lau, I thought about it and you’re right‘, he’d sometimes just change the way he did things without comment.

Matt

As usual, what she said made complete sense, but I was a stubborn fucker, and admitting someone else knew better than me about my shit was never going to be easy, however much I loved them.

Oh, did I mention that I loved Lau? I did? Oh. It was loving her that was going to change me. I didn’t want her hauling me up any more stairs, or along any more streets, or anywhere, ever again. I knew I was going to have to start doing things differently; that didn’t mean I was necessarily going to just admit she was right and change there and then. Stubborn fucker, see?

‘Anyway, cup of tea?’

She even knew when to back off and do something awesome like make a cup of tea.

‘Lifesaver. I love yuh, Lau.’

‘I love you too.’

She stood up to go and put the kettle on, but I grabbed her hand and pulled her back down, onto my knee. She put her arms round my neck, gave me a quick kiss, then got up again.

‘Restorative tea. Then snogging.’

‘Yuhr soh wise. An make a bluhdy guhd cup of teh.’

And so that was the beginning of it all. Oh, I haven’t finished with the minutiae yet, there’s plenty more to tell, but that’s how it began, how I met her, and chased her, and caught her, and nearly lost her, and she came back after me, and we loved each other, and she got me and I got her and it was all fucking amazing.

I know now that the bastard MS comes and goes as it chooses, that it’s not people that bring it or send it on its way, but just then it really felt like Lau had begun chasing it off. I started to feel better, I wasn’t as tired all the time, my coordination improved, my speech improved, and, yes, my dick tingled like billy-ho, there was definite movement in the right direction (i.e. upwards haha), but the whole nine yards had not yet been reached. Yeah, boasting. I’m a bloke.

As I started to feel better, I was able to do more, stay awake longer, go out for picnics, we even went to the beach and swam in the sea. I really enjoyed the outdoors, which was something I hadn’t done much of late, as I couldn’t drive, and couldn’t go for many jaunts on the coat tails of other people because I didn’t know how long they’d want to be out and didn’t want to curtail their fun on my behalf. Having Lau willing to ferry me about here and there was great, and I made the most of it.

I missed hiking, and although I wasn’t up to that just yet, Lau and I decided we would get out and about more, and that was the springboard for even more improvement, almost as if being able to breathe sea air or the mist of the moors was as curative as the Victorians used to think it was.