I pushed her away and stumbled backwards.
‘What the fuck are you doing?’
I so wished I had my glasses; the whole world felt out of focus, things were happening that I didn’t quite understand, and it was all making me feel a bit sick and dizzy, but she’d put them somewhere, and I couldn’t see to look for them. Cindy moved towards me again, until I put up my hands in a kind of fending off gesture.
‘Andrew’s my mate.’
She laughed again, compounding the confusion I was trying to fight my way through.
‘It’s OK, Matt. Drew and me have a … um … open relationship. We both see other people if we want to.’
First I’d heard of it, but then Andrew didn’t really confide in me much any more.
‘Yeah. It’d be OK.’
Her voice was low and breathy, and she was so damn close, and now she was touching my arm, running her fingers slowly down from my shoulder, and I thought I was going to explode. I was so conflicted. This was what I’d been thinking about for weeks, Cindy touching me, kissing me, me touching her, it had filled my alone time, given me some nicely sordid little fantasies for the shower, but it being real was different. I couldn’t quite get my head round it.
She was closer now. I’d backed up against the wall, and she was right in front of me, almost touching, so almost that it felt like there were little arcs of static between us. She reached up again and cupped my cheek.
‘You’re so cute. It’s really OK to have a bit of fun, Matt. Drew would be totally OK, I know it.’
Now she was closer, I could see her face, and look into her eyes, and I was lost. I was gone. Whatever ear-splitting alarm bells were going off in my head, this was Cindy, this was my daydream come true, offering ‘a bit of fun’, and saying her boyfriend, my best mate, would be OK with it. I stopped struggling with my conscience, and my hormones took over.
OK, so here’s the first taste of Matty love. Go Matty and all that, but this is what you have to look forward to.
Now, I may have lacked experience in the women department, but what I lacked in practical application I had more than made up for in theoretical learning. I had read books – no, not just porn, but real books, about what made women tick, what turned them on, where to touch, what to do, how to be. I’d watched DVDs – again, not just porn, but ‘how to’ stuff. I was pretty much a theory into practice kind of guy, and I had a head full of knowledge that was just aching to be tried on a real live woman. Here was real live Cindy, apparently desperate for it to be tried on her, putting all my well-researched theories into practice.
‘I’ve never –’
How could I have never? I was eighteen. Eighteen and a half if you want to split hairs. Practically middle-aged in the virginity stakes. But there it was, and I needed to get my excuses in first.
‘I know. Drew said. It was so cute, the two of you coming here all innocent.’
Oh great – did Andrew just blurt all my secrets?
‘It’ll be OK, Matt, you’ll be fine. I know you want to, I’ve seen you looking at me.’
Yeah, well, cat out of the bag, then, nothing to lose. Unable to stop another groan or moan or grunt escaping from my throat, I tentatively lifted my hand up to touch her hair, then the other hand, then cupped her face in my palms, with my fingers in her hair, and bent down to her mouth, which opened beneath my lips, and all the softness and slipperiness and tongueiness I had ever imagined opened with it.
And then things happened really quickly. I’d always, in my imagination, taken things really slowly the first time, so I could savour the moment and relish the experience. But I hadn’t factored in several years of teenage neediness, nearly two months of pining forlornly after Cindy, or the fact that she had her tongue down my throat, her hands up my shirt and her luscious body pressed hard against me. All of these elements made for an explosive cocktail, and before I knew it she’d pulled my shirt over my head, had divested herself of most of her clothes too, and was standing in front of me in her bra and pants. Then I definitely wasn’t able to go slow.
Every single one of my buttons had been well and truly pushed, and stopping now would cause cataclysmic, seismic chain reactions that would be felt in the depths of rural China. I pulled her towards me with my hands on her buttocks and kissed her deeply, grinding my crotch into hers. She kissed back, but started to pull me towards the bed. I willingly followed her lead, and lay down next to her, where we rolled around for a while, kissing and rubbing against each other until I wasn’t sure I could take it much longer.
This was so much more than my distant memories of pashing Lily Knight, this was real, this was grown up, this was sex, or at least it was going to be in the very near future. I felt Cindy reach for my belt, unbuckle it, and slide the zip down on my jeans, then her hand wriggled below the waistband of my boxers and I felt her fingers on my cock. I nearly let rip against her right then, but just managed to control myself.
‘You can touch me, Matt, I won’t break.’
She turned away from me and arched her back, and I could see her nipples peaking through the lacy fabric of her bra. They were irresistible, and with widened eyes I bent my head down to them. As I touched and tasted her breasts through her bra with my tongue and fingers, she wiggled my jeans and underpants down my thighs. When she had taken off the remainder of my clothes, she reached behind her and unclasped her bra, and I had my first ever view of a real live pair of breasts. I was awestruck.
I couldn’t help myself; I leaned down to her, cupped them both, kissed them both, sucked them both, unable to stop feasting on them.
I’ve always been a bit of a breast man – actually who isn’t? Some of us say it’s legs or arses or necks or even elbows, but really, when it comes down to the nasty, it’s those two soft orbs of womanliness that are the difference between us, those glorious spheres that quiver and tremble with every movement, that have nipples that harden under your touch, your breath, or even your gaze.
Nipples are so much more subtle than dicks; if you can see a woman’s nipples through her shirt, it might not be because she’s aroused, she could just be cold. Or she may just be excited about what she’s talking about. You can never assume, you have to delve, and I’ve always loved a good delve.
Breasts don’t have to be big, although big is beautiful. They can be small but perfectly formed; they can be the ideal medium-sized handful; they can be purely perky or delightfully droopy; they can be high fliers or low slung; they can be almost anything and they’ll attract my attention.
I have given a lot of thought to breasts over the years. Lau’s are perfect – not so big that they’re the only thing you notice when you meet her, although yeah, I noticed. Not so small that she has to wear padded push-up bras to get a cleavage; what you see is what you get – well that’s pretty much Lau all over. But more of Lau later. Patience, dear readers.
Anyway, so I’m a breast man. Could be something to do with all that time with my mum – ew, let’s not explore that little nugget too deeply – and Cindy was pushing me closer and closer to the edge with hers. I could easily have come just by looking at her, but I wanted to do it properly.
‘I’m on the pill.’
‘But we should still …’
‘Why? I’m clean and you’ve never done it before, so why do we need it?’
I ignored all the reasoned arguments about only ninety nine percent guarantees, and not knowing her that well so could I trust her, and I didn’t need any further persuasion, especially as I had no condoms, and didn’t fancy sprinting down to the vending machine in the Student Union while Cindy went off the whole idea back in my room.
‘You’re forgetting something.’
Cindy ran her thumb under the top of her pants, if you could call the tiny scrap of nothing much pants.
‘Can’t do anything with these on. Take them off.’
I was open to suggestions or, as it turns out, direct orders, at that point, and did as I was told, pulling the lacy thong down her thighs, over her feet and dropping it on the floor. I would have liked to have explored it a bit longer, having a bit of a thing for knickers, but events were urgently coming to a head.
‘Come on, Matt, what are you waiting for?’
I groaned as Cindy spread her legs, and the promised land awaited and I just knelt and stared at her naked body in awe. I felt a moment of panic, as I wondered if I really knew what to do, but it seemed like my brain was happy on autopilot as I knelt between her thighs, positioned myself and plunged forwards into her. I had never felt anything like it, in all my wildest wanking fantasies. To feel myself inside her, filling her, pulling out, thrusting back in, the friction, the movement, the sensation. I wanted it to last, but it wasn’t going to last, it was going to be over soon, I could feel it building and bubbling, filling my balls and setting my cock on fire, and Cindy seemed to be building and bubbling too, writhing beneath me, moaning, and here it came, here I came. It rushed through me, searing my body with hot electricity, pouring out of me in streams of throbbing … joy. I shouted, and Cindy shouted, and I collapsed on her, panting, unable to move or feel or speak, until she pushed me off her and I rolled onto my side, a grin on my face.
I was spent. I was in heaven, or somewhere very like it. Surely not my smelly room in halls, it must be some kind of divine antechamber. There was an angel lying next to me at any rate. I looked into Cindy’s eyes, smiled, and pulled her close, kissing her hair, stroking her soft skin.
She laughed and rolled away from me.
‘Good then. Bin bags.’
‘We’ve got to get to the charity shop before they close.’
‘What? No. I can’t move.’
‘Come on, get up, no time. They shut at one on a Wednesday. Here.’
She threw my jeans and t-shirt at me so they landed on my chest. I really didn’t want to get up. I wanted to hold her close and talk about what had just happened, how amazing it was, how much I loved her. Nothing in my books and DVDs said it would all be over within minutes of all the shouting.
‘Can’t we just … stay here for a bit? I dunno, hold each other and talk or something?’
‘Ha ha, no Matt. That was great, but cuddling is just for me and Drew.’
It was as if someone had plunged me into an ice bath. The glow I’d been feeling disappeared instantly, replaced by a sinking feeling.
‘What was all that about then?’
‘We were just having fun, weren’t we?’
Yeah, if your idea of fun is having your heart ripped out and stomped on fairly comprehensively. But obviously if you’ve been stupid enough to believe something different when it isn’t true, you’re not about to admit it.
‘Yeah, I suppose.’
‘Well then. Bin bags, for this lot. Come on.’
And for some reason, I did what she said. I put my clothes in bin bags, I meekly followed her to Oxfam and gave them away, and I bought what she told me to from the same shop. I did it all in a daze, unable to put coherent thoughts together, unable to speak much. I even let her lead me into an opticians, where a lucky cancellation meant a trial pair of contact lenses and an order for a new pair of glasses. Walking back without my glasses on, I felt naked, which further compounded the strangeness.
When I got back to my room, Cindy having gone to the Union bar in search of Andrew, I dumped the shopping bags on the floor and flopped onto my bed. Cindy seemed to have lost interest in the ‘big reveal’, and I still hadn’t looked at myself in the mirror. I was – well, heartbroken may be overstating it a little, I don’t think my heart was broken. For the few minutes we were – what were we doing? Fucking? Yeah, sounds right. For the few minutes we were fucking, Cindy was the love of my life. I’d wanted her since Andrew got her. I’d overlooked several annoying character flaws in favour of several distractingly attractive physical traits, but since she metaphorically poured cold water on me straight after the sex, I’d been in a stupor of regret and self-condemnation. I’d just slept with my best friend’s girlfriend. I’d just ignored all the carefully constructed fantasies of how I wanted my first time to be, of how respectful and careful and giving I was going to be, to have a frantic fuck with someone I shouldn’t have. Instead of lying here glowing, revelling in the fact that I had at last HAD SEX, I was lying here cold and miserable inside.
It felt like Cindy had used me. Whether she and Andrew really did have an open relationship or not, I had no idea, but she had wanted me at that moment, and she’d had me, and that was that.
I could have lain there all afternoon feeling sorry for myself, wondering whether to say something to Andrew, and what exactly that something would be, and I did spend some time doing that. But then I made a decision. I’d lost my virginity, not in the way I’d planned, and not with someone I would have chosen, not really.
My crush on Cindy was well and truly over, as any woman who would sleep with their boyfriend’s best mate wasn’t for me, even though the twisted logic of that and what it said about me had to be shoved far to the back of my mind. But I’d had sex. I’d done it. It had been incredible, and if only for that I could be thankful to Cindy. She’d cut my hair and changed my clothes, and I decided to have a good look at what she’d done.
I hauled myself off my bed and walked over to the mirror. I looked back at myself. Skinny, lanky, dorky, stupid Star Wars t-shirt. Cool haircut, though. And my eyesight was so poor that it had been a while since I’d studied myself without glasses – but contact lenses undoubtedly changed my ‘look’. Maybe the clothes would make a bit of a difference after all. Feeling ridiculous, I looked in the bags from the charity shop for a different shirt and trousers, and changed into them. Considered the results in the mirror, although as I turned this way and that, I felt like a preening princess. But even so, I had to admit to looking and feeling different. The bloke staring back at me was still a skinny lanky dork, but he had a bit of something about him. Maybe it was the hair, maybe it was the clothes, maybe it was the lack of specs. I quite liked it, and smiled stupidly at myself.
There was a knock at the door. I opened it to find Andrew, and immediately felt embarrassed at my newly makeovered state; he didn’t look too happy to see it either.
‘She did it, didn’t she.’
He put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me backwards into the room.
‘Cind. She cut your hair. Bought you clothes. Did she fuck you too?’
‘I’m not stupid, Matt. Where are your glasses? What’s all this?’
He pulled at the collar on my shirt.
This was so far removed from any conversation I’d ever had with Andrew that all sensible words fled my brain, but he must have seen something in my face.
‘Jesus Christ, you did, didn’t you. What did she tell you? That we had an open relationship?’
‘Jesus Christ. You fucking knob. She’s my – Christ, Matt, she’s the best thing that ever, ever happened to me and you’ve just fucking – ugh you knob.’
And with that he punched me. It came out of nowhere, and I suppose really it wasn’t that hard of a punch, him being a nerdy dork with no muscles, just like me, but it connected with my cheek and knocked me backwards so that I fell on my arse on the floor, and he jumped on top of me and we started wrestling as I tried to get up and he tried to stop me. He grabbed the collar of my shirt and pulled my head up, then let go and the back of my head bounced on the floor.
We stopped wrestling and looked at each other. Andrew had tears running down his face, and a strange mixture of emotions raced across him: sorrow, anger, shame, and finally laughter. He started to shake with it, seeming to come close to the edge of tears again. I lay pinned beneath him, trying to get my breath back, trying to work out what was going on.
Eventually Andrew stood up and held a hand out to me. I took it warily, and pulled myself to my feet, wondering what was coming next.
‘Shit, Matt, you bastard. You fucking bastard.’
I hung my head, barely able to look at him.
‘Sorry. She said you –’
‘I know exactly what she said. She said it all to me, that first night. She’s got a boyfriend, back home, some footballer bloke. Apparently they have an open relationship too, and she’s done the haircut and clothes thing with him as well. When she told me she’d made you over, I just started thinking, what if that’s what she does, how she does blokes? I think she collects virgins.’
That seemed to be my catchphrase at the moment; I had spent most of today in a haze of not understanding and getting things completely wrong.
‘This footballer bloke, she told me she was his first too, then me, now you. And I think – shit I hate to say this – I think she might have done the open relationship thing with someone else.’
‘What, here? On campus?’
Andrew nodded. I sat down on the bed, and he sat next to me.
‘Christ, what a mess, Matt.’
‘So you guys don’t have an open relationship?’
‘Well she obviously does, she just neglected to inform me. I thought we were pretty exclusive, apart from her back home boyfriend, who apparently ‘didn’t need to know about us’. Shit, I’m just as bad, aren’t I.’
‘Sorry. I just believed her. Still, I shouldn’t have done it.’
‘She’s hard to resist.’
‘You’re a fucking bastard bumhole for doing my girl.’
‘I should dump her.’
‘I might not, though.’
‘I don’t want you to fuck her again.’
And there we had it. Andrew spent the rest of his three years at University being tormented by Cindy. I lost count of the times he knocked on my door, needing to talk, needing reassurance that he was doing the right thing, or wanting permission to dump her, or just wanting to tell me he loved her but that he’d found out about yet another ‘makeover’.
He eventually dumped her for good just before Finals, which screwed both of them up so much they both failed – some would say justice was done.
Whereas I’d lost my virginity, but found something else, a new haircut, new clothes, a new face. I’d also found attractiveness, confidence, of a sort. And Cindy had been right – walking into the canteen that night had been a revelation.
Shallow as it made me, I couldn’t help being pleasantly surprised at the amount of girls who came and sat at my table, chattering to each other at first, but swinging covert glances my way, and holding eye contact. The new bruise deposited on my cheekbone by Andrew was also a bit of a talking point, and elicited sympathy and a few tender touches too. I was asked if I was ‘new’, and when I told them I’d been here since the beginning of term, and always sat in this spot for dinner, I smiled to myself at the ‘no, that other bloke sits here, kind of skinny, with … oh!’. I went back to my room that night a new man. I wondered if Andrew felt the same way.
And thus began the belated chapter in the life of Matt Scott: Ladies Man. The rest of that term, I chatted girls up, tentatively at first, worrying all the time they were going to laugh in my face, but gaining confidence as even if they didn’t fall at my feet, they at least talked back. I went on dates, I had lots more sex. University campuses seem to be the place for it; lots of girls and boys away from the constraints of home life for the first time, eager to test out their new found freedom. It worked for me. I took more interest in my appearance, not to the point of obsession, but there were to be no more haircuts from my mum, and I bought my own clothes now.
By the time I went home for Christmas, I was juggling two potential girlfriends and a couple of one night stands who wanted it to be more. It was a little overwhelming, and I relished the three week break back in Stafford, where I could get on with some course work in peace. I turned my mobile phone off and decided to take a breather from the whirl of girls.
When I got home, I was surprised to find Jay installed in the living room. We grunted a greeting, mine a more subdued grunt than usual, as he was an interloper these days, someone who treated the place like it was home, but was hardly ever there. A bit like me, now I was at Uni, I suppose.
‘How come you’re back?’
Jay was never around for the festive season, there was always a game on Boxing Day, or thereabouts, or there was training or travelling or some such shit.
‘Done my hamstring. Out for a few weeks.’
Not playing rugby was just about the worst thing that could happen to Jay. He was naturally taciturn, but not playing rugby made him sullen and self-pitying and a general pain in the arse to be around. I sighed inwardly at the thought of trying to be jolly for him for the next – how long?
‘So you’re back for, what, a week or two?’
‘Not sure. Might have to go back in a few days, start rehab.’
‘What, before Christmas?’
‘Mum’ll be disappointed.’
Jay shrugged, Mum’s disappointment being neither here nor there for him when compared to the thrill of doing lots of exercises so he could play again.
‘Your brother thinks he might be able to do some physio with the Old Rotarians down the road.’
Mum had come in, unheard by me, and I turned round and gave her a welcoming hug.
‘Hi Mum. Oh, well, that’ll be great if Jay can stay here a bit longer.’
I looked at him pointedly, but he was staring impassively at the TV.
‘Yes dear. It’s lovely to see you, Matthew, have you brought much washing?’
I grinned and fetched my bags.
‘Is that a new haircut, dear?’
‘Yeah. Andrew’s girlfriend did it.’
This stirred Jay.
‘What, Dipstick’s got a girl?’
Andrew’s surname was Distock, with predictable consequences.
‘Must have missed the headlines on the news. Class minger is she?’
‘Jameson, stop it now. Andrew’s a nice looking boy. So is Matthew. What have you done with your glasses, dear?’
‘I got contacts.’
‘You look very different. You can see your eyes. You haven’t got a girlfriend have you?’
She looked at me hopefully. I laughed and shook my head at her.
‘Not yet. Too young to get tied down.’
I wasn’t about to get into the tangled web of girlfriends, potential girlfriends and one nighters that had littered the last few breathtaking weeks.
‘Yeah, and the class minger’s taken.’
‘Fuck off, Jay.’
And I wasn’t about to take Jay’s shit anymore. He was sitting there like he owned the place, like the whole world revolved around him and his precious hamstring, and he needed a – well, maybe a slap would just get me in more trouble than it was worth, but give me a few years in a gym and I could do it. At least a slap. Anyway, I’d gone away to Uni a boy, but I felt like I’d come back a bit of a man, and I wanted him to know.
‘Sorry, Mum, but –’
‘Jameson’s come back to … recuperate from more than an injury. Just be nice to him.’
‘Just be nice.’
She looked at me, asking me with her eyes. I caved, and looked at Jay, who was still staring at the TV. Fascinating programme about sharks, apparently. I looked back at Mum, who mouthed ‘later’ at me and took my bag into the kitchen to start my laundry.
I have to say, in my defence, I usually did my own laundry, but Mum liked to do it, is what I told myself, and I’d had a hard term and I was knackered from the long forty minute bus and train journey home and deserved a bit of pampering.
I sat down on the sofa, slipped my shoes off – Timberland boots I’d found in a charity shop the week before – and lounged along the length of it, prepared to give sharks a go in the name of being nice to Jay. After a while I felt his eyes on me and looked up at him.
‘You. What’s with the new look?’
I shrugged. ‘Just fancied a change.’
‘Working for you is it?’
This was Jay and me communicating at the highest level. There were hardly any grunts at all. Sophisticated linguistic effort on both sides.
‘What’s she like, then?’
‘Don’t know why you’d care, you think she’s the bloody class minger.’
‘Sorry. Didn’t mean to be a git.’
What? Had Jay just apologised? I hadn’t heard the trumpets announcing the end of the world, so I had trouble believing it.
‘I was just interested. Feels weird you guys being all grown up. So what’s she like then?’
This felt strange, talking normally with Jay, but I bit the bullet.
‘Pretty, I guess. Bit of a bitch, though.’
‘And Dipstick puts up with it?’
We went back to watching sharks. Apparently, they don’t have any bones, and some of them can live up to a hundred and fifty years. Who knew.
Jay wasn’t finished yet though.
‘Seriously, Matty, what’s with the hair, and the contacts?’
‘Like I said, time for a change.’
‘And Dipstick’s bitch girlfriend was the one to change you?’
He’d hit a bit closer to the truth than I liked, and I made my reply deliberately offhand.
‘Seemed like a good idea at the time.’
Jay gave me a sharp look.
‘She didn’t fuck around … with you?’
I shrugged, trying to make it as small a deal as possible.
Jay’s eyebrows disappeared into his hairline.
‘Holy shit, Matty. You broke your duck.’
‘Fuck off. How do you know when I broke my duck? How do you know I had a duck to break?’
‘It’s written all over your Jack Wills jeans and your lack of nerd-specs. You got laid, little bro.’
‘So? Who hasn’t?’
I was really trying to hold my own with Jay. This was about the most adult conversation I’d ever had with him, not that there was a lot of previous experience to compare with, and I was determined it wasn’t going to dissolve into petulant insults and sneering, at least on my part.
‘Ha ha, nice try at nonchalance.’
Nonchalance? Since when did Jay know words like nonchalance?
‘You hadn’t, at least not to my knowledge, not before you went away to Uni. You didn’t seriously boff your mate’s girlfriend? Not your first time?’
Jay was looking at me with a mixture of disbelief and awe and … something else I couldn’t identify.
‘It wasn’t like that.’
I squirmed with embarrassment. I’d tried to erase the whole Cindy incident from my mind, had hardly seen her or Andrew since, had been comfortable with not exploring it in any way.
‘What was it then? Mistaken identity? They were on a break? They have one of these modern ‘we can see other people’ things going on? And by the way, good on Dipstick if he’s managed to wangle that one.’
‘Yeah, you’d think.’
‘What? Really? They see other people?’
‘Not they. Her.’
‘Oh. Oh Matty …’
I would almost describe the look that came over Jay’s face as sympathetic.
‘She told you they do other people, and you did her, and then you found out Dipstick wasn’t quite as open-minded as she was.’
‘Yeah, very perceptive.’
When the hell had Jay got perceptive?
‘He punched me, actually. And his name’s Andrew, not Dipstick.’
‘He punched you? Like, actually made contact? Did it hurt? Jesus. I’ve been away too long.’
‘Yeah, it hurt. But I deserved it.’
‘Yeah, I’ll say you did. But he didn’t dump her?’
‘No, like I said, besotted.’
‘Sounds like he deserves what he got as well then.’
‘Whatever. Can we talk about something else? Or find out more about sharks?’
We turned back to the TV, but it wasn’t long before Jay’s newly awakened curiosity surfaced again.
‘So was it just the once, or have there been more?’
‘What is it with the zillion questions?’
‘Just showing an interest. You’re my little bro, I worry about you.’
‘Since you went out into the big wide world away from mummy’s apron-strings and started fucking around with your best mate’s woman.’
‘Piss off. I’m not about to go into details to satisfy your prurient prying.’
‘Fine, have it your way. Just thought you might like to talk about it with someone other than Mum. But I’m sure she’ll be up for advice on premature ejaculation, or what to do when the condom splits, or how to leave in the morning when you’ve got no intention of seeing her again.’
I was silent for a moment, battling with myself. It would be good to have someone to talk to about it all, but Jay? I’d never talked to Jay about doing the washing up, let alone about doing a relationship. I wasn’t sure he was sincere, and prior experiences told me I was as likely to get the piss taken out of me as I was to find out anything useful. Still, he did seem to be showing signs of being vaguely human, against all the odds, and I made a snap decision to give him a chance. We could always go back to grunting like Neanderthals for the remainder of the holidays if being homo sapiens didn’t work out.
‘Well how do you, then?’
‘What, leave in the morning?’
‘Best not to.’
‘What? Not leave?’
‘Best not to wait until morning. Once you’ve stayed the night, they think it’s, like, a “relationship”, so if you’re not up for a “relationship” – ‘
Jay was busy air-quoting for my benefit.
‘– or for extricating yourself from one, make sure you bugger off as soon as possible afterwards, and never cuddle them or say you’ll call them unless you want weeks of needy emails or texts.’
‘But I always cuddle. Kind of says thanks.’
‘Ha ha, really? You’re so cute. But it’s making a rod for your own back, mate. Unless she’s The One. Or one of the ones.’
‘And how do you know if she is?’
‘Jesus, Matty, how the fuck would I know? You don’t need to know either, not when you’re still barely out of nappies. There’s plenty of time for you to find The One yet.’
‘But I thought you and …’ oh what was her name, Mum had told me, ‘… Sophia were …’
I tailed off as an incredibly miserable expression crossed over Jay’s face.
‘Don’t go there, mate, that’s all. You’re best off playing the field, not committing to anyone, that way you won’t be crushed when it all goes tits up. Just try not to fuck with someone else’s girl along the way.’
Jay really looked on the verge of tears, and I couldn’t handle it, had never seen him cry, even when we were kids. I backed off the deep and meaningful, and tried some lighthearted banter.
‘Yeah, well, me and commitment not exactly an item. Cuddling afterwards is the fullest extent, and maybe not that any more, if I take your advice.’
Jay gave me a weak smile and turned back to the TV, where the sharks had given way to World War Two, and we sank back into our more comfortable reticent state.
Later on, I was sitting up with Mum after Jay had gone to bed, and she told me the whole story. I had only half realised there even was a whole story; Jay’s life outside of rugby usually held little drama, it was on the pitch where the highs and lows seemed to happen. But nevertheless, there were off-field events apart from the hamstring that had caused my brother to come home for some recuperation.
The short version is that Jay’s girlfriend, Sophia, had been having some of her own open relationship action with Jay’s team mate and friend, and he’d been among the last on the team to know. They’d been together for about a year, and had moved in together a couple of months ago. It had affected Jay to the point of him considering leaving his team, Royals, and looking for another club, but he was under contract until the end of the season, and it was likely he was going to have to stay there for another few months at least.
I felt terrible. I’d done exactly the same to Andrew as Jay’s mate had done to him, and then asked Jay advice about it. I was probably lucky to have got away without another punch, which would have done a lot more damage than Andrew’s, and for Jay to be civilised about it was remarkable in the circumstances. Mum sensed my discomfort, but I couldn’t tell her the details of my newly non-virginal status without serious embarrassment, and much as I talked to her about a lot of things, this was one of those subjects I couldn’t broach.
‘Are you alright, dear?’
‘You’ve gone very quiet.’
‘Anything you want to talk about?’
‘No, not really. Just think I might have made things worse for Jay.’
‘How’s that, dear? You’ve not been fighting again, have you? Honestly, Matthew, you’ve only been home five minutes, I did say be nice to him.’
‘No Mum, nothing like that. I didn’t know about him and Sophia, and I just … told him about some stuff that I wouldn’t have done if I had known.’
I saw that she wanted to ask me, but that she knew I wasn’t really up for talking about it.
‘Just … be a bit sensitive, Matthew. I know your brother doesn’t really talk about things, but this has hit him hard.’
‘Yeah. I’ll try.’
My way of trying was to be my annoying little brother self. I didn’t think Jay would want to talk to me about his woman troubles, and the best I could do was not let him wallow by antagonising him as much as I could. I made a point of talking about computer code at dinner time, of watching re-runs of University Challenge and blatantly celebrating when I got the answers right, of reading books with titles like Moonwalking with Einstein, and Introduction to Algorithms, but none of it had the desired effect of making him annoyed with me. He didn’t even really seem to notice, and it was as if he’d finally given up being irritated by my brains, much as I’d given up being overawed by his brawn.
We rubbed along together for the Christmas holidays. Jay had found somewhere to get his physio, and had decided to stay for and beyond Christmas itself. I’d finished my assignments, and decided one morning to look at my phone, which I’d had on silent and in a trouser pocket since I got home, to avoid the girls who had been plaguing me before the end of term. (This was obviously before I became chairman of the board of phone addicts anonymous, as turning my phone off for even half an hour these days has me sweating.) As I turned the phone on, I saw all the texts and voicemails, and my heart quailed a little bit.
‘Finally caught up with you have they?’
Jay had just come in after a training session, and was leaning on the door frame in his gym gear.
‘Who’s caught up with me?’
‘Whoever it was you were just ‘holy shitting’ about.’
‘Oh. Yeah. You could say that.’
I glanced down at the phone’s screen again. Admittedly I hadn’t turned it on for more than two weeks, but surely this volume of phone usage was excessive? I wasn’t that big of a catch; I’d hoped that if I just went out of radio contact, they’d get bored and make my decisions for me.
‘Wanna tell me?’
I looked at Jay, who pushed himself away from the door and sat down in the armchair across from me.
‘I know I’m more the strong and silent type, but if I can help at all …’
Jay and I hadn’t had a recurrence of our touchy feely moment since Mum told me about Sophia; I’d wanted to stay clear of it all in case I brought up stuff that made either of us uncomfortable. Maybe … just maybe … it was time to stop acting like a ten year old, and talk to my brother like we were both grown ups. I sighed.
‘I just turned my phone on, it’s been off all holidays. I’ve had a few more messages than I was anticipating.’
‘A few girls.’
‘Ah. Maybe not my specialist subject just at the moment.’
‘Sorry, didn’t mean to remind you –’
‘Jesus, Matty, it’s not like I’ve forgotten. Come on then, shoot. More than one girl? Go Matty!’
‘Yeah, well, I was kind of hoping it would be down to one or less by the time I got back, but they all seem to be hanging in there. Sarah’s texted twelve times – I miss you. Where are you? Did you get my text? Happy Christmas kiss kiss kiss. Text me. Etcetera. Ruby’s left five voicemails, I dread to think what they say. Charlotte has texted and left voicemails, and Pia has sent me lots of happy and sad faces and kisses.’
‘Bloody hell, Matty. Four women on the go. I bow to you.’
‘I can’t do it, though, they’re doing my head in. Pia and Ruby were just one night, I never intended – I feel like such a bastard. Sarah and Charlotte are both hot, but they don’t know about each other, and I’m going seriously loopy trying to juggle it all.’
Jay had an amused look on his face.
‘A bit like buses, then.’
‘None for years then four come along at once.’
‘Oh. Ha ha. Funny. Not. What am I going to do? I was hoping if I ignored them it would all have resolved itself when I got back. Now I’m just going to be straight back into the middle of it all.’
‘OK. First rule of women. Never expect them to do your dirty work. You’re going to have to decide who you want, if you want any of them, and tell the others thanks but no thanks. Jesus, I can’t believe I’m actually giving you girl advice.’
‘Neither can I. Isn’t there an easier way?’
‘You could always leave Uni and stack shelves.’
‘Shit. But how am I going to choose?’
‘Well there’s no law to say you can’t have more than one girl on the go at one time, but believe me, it quickly becomes messy and complicated, even when everyone’s happy with it.’
‘Really? Have you done it?’
‘Not since I was at school. Remember Shona McKenna?’
‘And Rosie Phillips?’
I nodded again. ‘Oh. Both at the same time? Did they know?’
‘Well, yeah, kind of, but Shona was in a different year to me, and she and Rosie didn’t come across each other very often. But at the end of term it was the school dance, and I took Rosie, but asked Shona as well. Ever seen two girls trying to scratch each other’s eyes out? Hot as fuck, but seriously scary, especially as once they’d finished with each other they both joined forces and came after me. Believe me, Matty, you’re better off sticking with the one woman at a time, and ones who don’t have added complications like already having boyfriends.’
‘It does sound less stressful.’
‘Trust me. You need to call the one-nighters and let them down gently, and call whichever of the long-termers will cause you more lost sleep if you don’t have her than if you do, and pick her. And let the other one down gently. And Jesus, Matty, stop cuddling them afterwards. It seriously gives them the wrong idea.’
And after that, something changed between Jay and me. Something matured; things were different. I wouldn’t say we became pals, or even greatly altered the way we communicated with each other. We didn’t even see any more of each other than we had before, but Jay would occasionally call me and ask how I was doing, and I’d text him or email him if I’d seen his photo on the back page of a paper. Something like – Me: I c u muscled yr way onto the Guardian sports pages. Thumb wrestling or something? Jay: Don’t b jealous, u’ll nerd yr way onto the cover of Geek Weekly one day. He even sent me a pair of trainers he’d got free from a sponsor. Cindy would have been proud.
I finally worked out the girl thing, as much as anyone was ever going to, and had a few short-lived flings but nothing long term. I was more interested in my degree, to be honest, than I was in having a girlfriend, but I was very interested in sex, and was happy to see a woman for a few weeks while we stayed casual and exciting, but got used to ending it, quickly, when she showed signs of wanting more commitment. I used all the moves I’d learned from books and DVDs, and added a few of my own, and always made it a point to ensure we both had a good time.
I finished my degree, graduated with first class Honours, and was amazed and choked when Jay came with Mum to my graduation. The ceremony was in June, and he was spending some time in Stafford before joining his new club, Raiders, who were based down south. His presence caused a bit of a stir, which I would have resented a few years ago, but had grown comfortable and self-confident enough with to enjoy the reflected attention.
I had landed a one-year contract with an IT company in Holland, and Jay took Mum and me out to a posh restaurant to celebrate and say ‘bon voyage’. I left the next day, knowing Mum would miss me and worry about me, but needing to start living my own life.
I carried on my commitment-free life in Holland, stockpiling casual relationships while avoiding being tied down in any but the most erotic way. My book, DVD and now practical knowledge had stood me in good stead, and most women were impressed at how well I knew my way around their bodies. I got a reputation for being an excellent no-strings lay, and it suited me that way. Nobody was under any illusions and nobody got hurt.
I also got a reputation for being an excellent Information Systems technician, and once my contract was up, it was easy to find another job with the reference I was given from the Dutch company. I could conceivably have gone anywhere in the world, but I fancied a bit of familiarity and home comforts, and when I was offered the job in Stafford, I took it, fully intending to stay for a maximum of a year before jetting off somewhere exotic.
Funny how things turn out …