62. Beautiful surprise

In which Matt’s mind is blown, Dec is featured in a magazine and a surprise gift is not a spider.

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Julia

I had been asleep for a while when my phone bleeped with a text. It was Matt’s tone, and I was instantly awake, reaching for the phone on the bedside table. I glanced at the time; it was after two. It was a while since Matt had texted me at odd hours of the night, having presumably not seen the need to mess about quite so much now he had more ready access to me and could do it face to face.

‘Hi Jules. Sorry for being an arse. And sorry for being an arse by waking you up to apologise for being an arse. M x’

‘Both apologies accepted. Are you alright?’

‘Wasn’t. Bit better now. 2 complicated 2 txt. Feel like a FaceTime? Haven’t had one 4 ages.’

‘OK.’

I waited for my phone to announce Matt’s FaceTime request, pressed the button as it did so, and Matt’s face appeared.

‘Hey you.’

‘Hello.’

‘I forgot how gorgeous you look when you’re all tousled in my phone.’

‘More gorgeous than tousled right next to you?’

‘Differently gorgeous. I’m sorry.’

‘No need.’

‘Yes need. I was bloody rude to you earlier. I just forgot you were going to be there when I got home. It’s been a bit of a day to be honest, and I thought I was going to be on my own. You probably got that.’

‘There was a bit of a vibe, I have to admit.’

‘Yeah, well, I’m an ignorant bastard. Sorry.’

‘Alright, no more apologising. Do you want to tell me about it?’

‘Well … I guess I don’t really, but I’ve just got off the phone with Dec, and fuck, that boy talks a lot of sense for a bloody teenager –’

‘He’s a teenager?’

‘No! Silly lady. I was alluding to the fact that he’s loads younger than me. Thank you for making me point that out.’

‘Sorry.’

‘Anyway, with the wisdom of the young, he suggested that maybe I should talk things over with you when I’m bothered, instead of keeping them to myself. Or rather that you might be one of the people I could talk to. So if you’re up for it, I’d like to unburden. Otherwise I can try Jay, but he’s a lot less hot in an old tshit than you.’

‘What’s bothering you?’

‘Dec had a major … I don’t know what you’d call it. Breakdown? On the beach, after all the serious stuff. He’d done his speech and everyone had done theirs, and we were just watching his letter in a bottle go floating out to sea, and I had to go and light the blue touch paper by pointing something out to him that just … shit, Jules, he just fucking lost it. Fell over like he’d been shot, crying, shouting, chucking sand all over the place, screaming, trying to pull his hair out, it went on and on, as if there was something, some kind of grief or whatever, just pouring out of him. I thought he might stop breathing or have a heart attack or something, it was terrifying.’

‘It sounds awful. What did you do?’

‘Well I didn’t know what the fuck to do, but Rose knows Dec and has seen him a bit like it before, and she just told us to hold him, so we all put our arms round him, I was feeling like a right dick, but I suppose that doesn’t matter, and eventually he calmed down, stopped making the godawful noise he’d been making, and just knelt on the sand, trying to get his breath back. We all kind of breathed a sigh of relief, but I started thinking, it was such a little thing I said to start it all off, I … well I can’t really remember exactly what it was, something about him looking in the wrong place for his mum and dad when they were in his heart all the time. Don’t know what the fuck I was thinking, sounds a bit bloody sentimental for me, but anyway, it was just a comment, and it opened the floodgates. And I started thinking, what if I’ve got similar amounts of shit inside me somewhere, and one day someone makes an equally innocent comment, trying to be helpful, and I end up a gibbering wreck like that? I couldn’t cope with that. I don’t do emotion, not in public.’

‘Is Dec alright now?’

‘Yeah, I’ve just been talking to him, he’s back to normal, or as normal as he gets.’

‘You’re not the same as Dec, though.’

‘Well, sometimes I think there is a lot the same about us. When I was ill and he was fucked up, we’d both been through a lot in different ways, lost a lot, one way and another, both hated needing help and we’d both go all ‘leave me the fuck alone’ if people tried. He’s worked really hard at getting sorted, and I’ve just got on with pretending it never happened.’

‘But however similar your general experiences are, you’re different people. Just because he reacts in one way doesn’t mean you will too.’

‘I know it might not mean that, but what if it does?’

‘Then you’ll have to deal with it if it happens. You’ll send yourself mad just thinking about the possibilities otherwise.’

‘But some of the possibilities are terrifying. Like … what if the bastard MS comes back?’

It was the first time Matt had mentioned MS since he told me he had it all those months ago. I had waited for him to mention it again, but when he hadn’t, I had realised that it was something he didn’t want to discuss. I had thought about it, though, read about it, knew it was a possibility, knew what I could offer.

Matt

I’d just mentioned my fears about the bastard MS coming back; it must have been late, and I must have had one too many beers, because I hadn’t mentioned it since that first night, and had never intended to.

‘I mean, I can’t go back to living with Jay and Beth, having my arse wiped.’

‘You really know how to catastrophise, don’t you. If your MS comes back, we do it together. You won’t have to live with Jay and Beth. You’ll have me.’

‘What?’

I was sure I hadn’t heard right. Jules was strictly unsentimental, I wouldn’t say she didn’t care about people, but she didn’t help out for the sake of it.

‘I think you heard me.’

I was silent, looking at her in my iPad for a long time, searching her face. She looked back at me, seeming for all the world like she really meant it. I felt tears fill my eyes, and found it hard to breathe. This was way, way beyond anything I would have ever asked or expected from anyone. I wouldn’t even expect my family to go through all that again for me.

Julia

He looked at me for a long time without speaking, a frown creasing his forehead. I saw his eyes fill with tears, but didn’t comment.

‘Fucking hell, Jules –’

It was almost a whisper.

‘– you can’t mean it.’

Matt

It felt like too huge a thing to hear, like it might break if I spoke loudly.

‘I mean it.’

‘Fucking hell.’

I felt a tear spill out of my eye and run down my cheek. It seemed I still had trouble controlling the salty bastards in times of high emotion. I sniffed and wiped my eyes. No, she must have just said it on the spur of the moment, it was late, she was tired.

‘You don’t know what you’re saying.’

‘I do know. I’ve found out. All the possibilities, likelihoods, options. Full risk analysis.’

Well, yeah, that did sound like Jules, thinking everything through.

‘Fucking hell.’

‘And anyway, it hasn’t come back, has it? You’re fit and healthy and there’s no reason to believe you’re not going to stay that way.’

‘Fucking hell, Jules, I don’t deserve you.’

‘So true, but I’m stuck with you at the moment, as half my clothes are in your wardrobe. I was going to ask you – do you mind me having so much of my stuff at your place?’

As a change of subject, it took the pressure off nicely. I had noticed that a lot of her stuff was at mine, but it made me feel like she was here when she wasn’t, and I didn’t mind in the slightest.

‘No, I like it. I can sniff your knickers when you’re not here, stops me missing you.’

‘You’re a perv.’

‘Never said I wasn’t.’

Julia

I had given Matt an out from the intensity of the conversation, and he took it. I knew he didn’t like talking about big emotional stuff, and would think about what we’d said in his own time and come to his own conclusions. It sounded like he may have had a similarly intense talk with Dec, so he would have a lot to mull over.

‘How are you feeling now.’

Matt

‘Bit fragile.’

Or more like I was about to break into a million pieces, ready to be scooped up by her and held in her hands.

‘Thanks, Jules. You’re so fucking great.’

‘Do you want me to come over?’

Oh my God, more than she would ever know. No one had ever said anything to me that meant more to me, and I wanted to touch her, hold her, say thank you thank you thank you.

‘Want? Fuck, yeah. But no, don’t, it’s too late, and you were shit-faced earlier.’

‘I was not shit-faced, I’d had too much to safely drive. I’m fine now, I could be there in fifteen minutes. I’d be wearing my old tshit and random pants.’

You know about the tshit and random pants, right? Oh go and read Jules’ version, it’s all in there, hilarious drunken text. Oh no, you misunderstand. It’s not my drunken text.

‘Ohh fuuck. Now look what you’ve done. Instant hard-on. I’m never going to get to sleep now.’

‘I might as well come over then. See you in a bit.’

And she disconnected. I knew it would take her a while to drive over to me, but I stood waiting by the door, full of emotion, feeling humbled. I hadn’t felt like this since I found out Jay had given up his job to come and look after me when I was ill before, but this was different.

Jules wasn’t my family, we’d only known each other a few months. Looking back, that was the moment I loved her. And I would like to suggest that she loved me; you don’t tell someone you’re going to face some fucking bastard disease with them if you don’t love them. Caught you out, Jules. Sorry it was too late.

Julia

Without giving him the chance to respond, I disconnected, pulled on some pants and jogging bottoms, grabbed my overnight bag and drove over to Matt’s.

Matt

I waited by the door for her, and when she opened it I pulled her to me, needing to show her what it meant, what she’d said. I kissed her with fierceness and passion, my hands finding their way under her t-shirt before the door had closed behind her. This was my way of showing her what she meant to me.

‘God you’re fucking amazing. I want you so much.’

I will leave the rest to your imagination … maybe it was me being so ardent, maybe it was because we’d made up after being a bit off with each other, maybe it was just late at night and felt right, but we were both so up for it, we were naked and noisy on the sofa before you could say ‘pants off’. It was loud and primal and urgent, but afterwards I looked down at her and something in me melted.

I picked her up and carried her to the bedroom – ha, I make it sound like it was nothing, I did stagger a bit, but Jules was small and slight, and it felt like nothing, although I was glad the bedroom wasn’t far away. I put her on the bed and covered her up with the duvet, then went to fetch her night clothes, which had been abandoned on the floor of the living room.

‘Aren’t you getting in too?’

‘Yeah, just a minute, won’t be long.’

I came back in and handed her the t-shirt, putting her jogging bottoms in a drawer.

‘What about my random pants?’

‘You wear no fuking pants in your bed.’

For an explanation, see aforementioned hilarious drunken text.

‘But this isn’t –’

‘Yeah, it is. For as long as you want it, this bed is your bed. No fuking pants from now on.’

It wasn’t much, but it was the best I could do to say how much what she’d said meant to me. And, naturally, it meant that I got to curl up next to her when she wasn’t wearing knickers. Everyone’s a winner.

She smiled at me as I climbed under the duvet, then I gathered her up in my arms, and we fell asleep tangled together, neither of us having a clue how much we loved each other. Or rather, being disinclined to pay any attention to said clues.

Julia

As the months went by, we saw each other more and more. We went to Matt’s after work more often than not as it was close, but we still had our own interests and our own friends, and I had my own flat I could retreat to when I needed to. Matt also had no compunction about kicking me out when he needed time to himself, either, and it felt very easy between us.

Dec

PSYCHOLOGIES

Issue No. 23.

Continuing our series of articles looking into the psychology of sport, this month we look at Rugby Union.

What the Ruck?

Declan Summers plays at inside centre for Premiership outfit Raiders, who are currently in the hunt for a treble of Premiership, European Cup and Domestic Cup. Declan’s career has taken off in the last couple of years, seeing him become a regular starter in the Raiders team, and tipped for international honours in the near future. But it could all have been very different. Sara Aston delves into the psyche of the young rugby player.

I meet Declan Summers in a plush hospitality suite at Raiders Stadium. He is a tall, muscular, softly spoken young man with a level gaze and serious expression, who considers my words and weighs his responses before answering – not guarded, exactly, but deliberate. I get the sense that he is thinking carefully about what information I can have access to. His conversation is peppered with the expletives you might expect from a rugby player, or indeed a man of his age; he says ‘fuck’ almost as often as he takes a breath. It is not intended to offend, it is just something that seems to occur naturally in his speech.

As we talk, the view from the suite is of the pitch at Raiders’ impressive stadium. A player out on the grass is kicking a rugby ball over the posts, again and again. I ask how long Declan has been with Raiders. He appears to consider this, as if he can’t quite remember.

‘I came here when I was sixteen, so seven years ago. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here all my life. This place gets inside you, becomes part of you in a way.’

Sixteen sounds young to leave home and begin a rugby career, but it is well known that Declan’s parents died when he was thirteen, leaving him without family and in foster care, on the other side of the world from his childhood home in Australia. When he was signed from school by Raiders on a scholarship, he was taken in by Jay Scott [who is currently assistant coach at Raiders, and was then backs coach] and his family. I wonder how the death of his parents affected him at such a young age.

‘I had to change completely. I was this normal thirteen year old, doing normal thirteen year old stuff, parents to tell me right and wrong, help me out when I needed it, show me how to grow up. Suddenly I had to do it all on my own, fight my own battles. I changed the people I hung out with, changed the way I responded to things, just to survive. It was harsh. I was pretty wild, none of my foster families could cope with me, I had a major attitude, wouldn’t do what I was told. I had five placements in three years. None of them could wait for me to leave.’

So what changed when he was fostered by Jay Scott?

‘They didn’t foster me! They gave me a room for a few weeks when I first came here, and I liked it so I stayed. They turned me round; Jay and his wife, Beth, just accepted me with all my shit, made me part of their family. There was never anything official. What changed for me was they didn’t judge me, they told me the rules and expected me to stick to them, and they wanted me there. That was the most important thing. Nobody had wanted me for a long time.’

Declan still has close ties to Jay Scott’s family, but it is not something he will be drawn on, stating that he values his family’s privacy. People have misconstrued their relationship and accused Scott of favouritism, a charge Declan fervently denies.

‘If anything I have to work harder to prove myself here. He gives me no special favours, I certainly don’t get a place in the side because of it. We keep the rugby strictly professional, it doesn’t get discussed between us outside of the club, except in the same way as with any other player. Everyone here knows the score, anyone has a problem they can talk to me about it, and they would, but no one has, not for a long time.’

There is a challenge in his tone, and I reflect on his playing style – he is aggressive in tackles, defends recklessly and attacks with abandon. Is he overcompensating for something? He laughs – it doesn’t happen often, and it changes him, chases the shadows from his face.

‘Well, I put it all out there, I suppose, I’ve never done it any other way. You can’t play rugby half-heartedly. I never really thought about whether I use it as a release, or compensating or whatever. Maybe, yeah. I’d rather leave it on the pitch than take it home and fuck up the people I love.’

Could it be that there is something – maybe anger or aggression – that drew him to rugby as an activity where such emotions are acceptable, even encouraged?

‘I suppose it could be that, but it’s not a conscious motive. I loved rugby from an early age, loved watching it and playing it. I grew up in Australia, where it’s a more mainstream sport than it is here, and I played at school from when I was really young. I never really wanted to do anything else, it was my dream. I guess you could say that has driven me, if you’re looking for motivation, rather than a need to find an arena to be aggressive.’

It is well documented that Summers’ career at Raiders nearly ended a few years ago when it came to light that he had provided the club with an invalid passport when he arrived. He was suspended for almost the entire season, and admits that there were times when he feared he would eventually be dismissed.

‘To be honest, I couldn’t have complained if they’d terminated my contract; I wasn’t even a first team player at the time, and I cost them a place in the play-offs. The club were extremely generous in their support and guidance. I made several very bad choices, they all added up and I was having a really hard time.’

One of the things that must have made it harder was Jay Scott’s seemingly related decision to resign as Raiders’ backs coach and relocate to the Midlands with his family. Was this difficult for Declan at a time when, by his own admission, he was finding life pretty tough and needed a lot of support?

‘It was an added factor. There was a lot of stuff going on for me that most people don’t know about. I was in a dark place. I got some incredible help from some unexpected people. Plus, the club put me in touch with a psychologist, Adam, who has helped me see things differently. There was stuff I hadn’t dealt with around my parents, it had built up over time, and I was having some kind of post-traumatic reaction. With Adam’s help I’ve managed to sort out why I was being the way I was and tried to change things, react differently, accept help, be less stubborn about things. When I started seeing him, I was also recovering from the physical effects of some fairly major injuries. Being able to recover mentally from that, and work out how I got to that point in the first place, has helped me get back the inner strength I need to carry on playing, as much as the physical recovery process has.’

I realise my question has been expertly sidestepped and ask again, more directly, about the reported rift at that time between Summers and Scott.

‘It’s not something I talk about. It was a shit chapter in a bad story. End of.’

I ask about a new chapter in the Declan Summers story – he is to become a father in a few months time. He becomes animated as he talks about this obviously happily anticipated event.

‘I can’t wait, it’s so exciting. I’m just so into everything, I’ve read the books, been to the classes with Amy, she gets a bit fed up with me being so geeky about it. I just want to be part of it all.’

It is apparent that Declan is looking forward to parenthood. Is it, perhaps, an opportunity to put right some of the things he missed out on from his own childhood?

‘No, I don’t see it that way at all. You can’t let the past influence you like that, it puts too much pressure on you. You have to deal with what’s in front of you now.’

But doesn’t he feel he deserves some happy times after all the hard times?

‘It’s taken me a long while to realise that life’s not about deserving or not deserving it. You can seriously fuck yourself up thinking that way. Shit just happens to you. What’s important is how you react to it, that’s what makes the difference. I’ve reacted badly in the past. I really believe that you’re made of how you respond to what life throws at you – if it’s shit you fetch a shovel, if it’s sugar you fetch a spoon.’

I wonder if that’s something Declan has learned through therapy.

‘Yeah, that’s part of it, but most of the things I’ve learnt have come from the people around me. Therapy has helped me to listen to the lessons, not teach me new ones necessarily. I know some awesome people, who talk a lot of sense, and I hope I’ve learnt to react better now, talk to people, ask for help, be a bit less self-absorbed.’

Is introspection something he considers a character flaw?

‘It certainly didn’t help me. If you over analyse everything, go into yourself, don’t talk about it, it all just sits there in your head and never gets sorted. I think I’m better now at being more open, saying how I feel, admitting if I’ve fucked up or if I need help with something, talking about what’s making me sad, or happy. I’m sure not everyone appreciates it, but I hope people know where they are with me, and I know where I am with myself.’

Declan’s words display an emotional maturity that belies his youth, and I find I am frequently having to remind myself that he is only twenty-three years old. Could this be another consequence of having to become self-sufficient in his early teens?

‘Well I definitely had to fend for myself, teach myself what I needed to know. I guess I had to grow up fast in some ways, but I got stuck in others. I think it wasn’t until I started therapy that I began to untangle all that, and work out how it was all affecting me.’

It sounds like therapy was the turning point?

‘It was definitely a turning point. There have been lots of those, lots of second chances. Therapy has helped me to make sense of everything, but without the generosity and love of people around me, it would have been much harder. I can’t point to one thing and say ‘with or without this, it would have all been different’, because there are so many of those things – they could be events, or people, or something random like something someone says to you. I can look back now and see how things kind of weave together and affect each other, but there’s not usually just one thing. I guess every day you come across lots of turning points, you could go one way or the other. You don’t see it until later.’

Was there a particular event, something that influenced how things wove together at that time, one way or another? He is silent, looking out of the window. I get the impression he is trying to decide whether to reveal something or not.

‘I crashed my car, a few years ago. A man died. It set off the whole chain of events that led to me being suspended. It also set off something in my head, some kind of mental trauma. It was like –’ he pauses, and for the first time, his composure slips and I see the pain on his face ‘– like I’d done to someone else what someone did to me when my parents died. It triggered everything that happened. I can trace everything that went on at that time to that event, in some way. I suppose another thing was being attacked and beaten up. It started things turning the other way, started mending things.’

Can he explain? He smiles enigmatically.

‘Not really. Just, sometimes the most surprising things turn out for the best.’

Like being beaten up?

‘Exactly.’

He refuses to elaborate.

The sun shines through the window of the executive suite and illuminates the faint linear scars running down each side of Declan’s face. It is a physical reminder of that attack shortly after Raiders were deducted ten points from their Premiership total following the previously mentioned passport misdemeanour. The perpetrators of the assault were a team mate and an ex-coach, who both served time in prison for the ferocious attack that left Declan unconscious, with deep lacerations and several broken bones. That must have been difficult to come to terms with. Declan is quiet for a moment, considering.

‘The hardest part of that whole thing was thinking someone is your mate, and finding out they hate you and want to hurt you. It made me re-evaluate my friendships, I questioned people’s motives for a while, found it hard to let people in. You can’t function in a team sport like rugby if you don’t trust the people you’re with every day, and I had to let go of that mistrust. The guys at Raiders are a really close knit group. We all help each other, support each other, yeah, take the piss out of each other, but at the end of the day we’re a unit. There’s no room for someone who’s holding back from that. So that’s something I had to really work on. The squad here is amazing, everyone’s fighting for a place on the team, but we’re all rooting for each other at the same time. It’s an awesome place to work.’

It strikes me that what he is describing is another kind of family. ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. We put our bodies on the line for each other every week, no questions. We know each other inside out.’ Declan seems to have surrounded himself with families. Is this a way of replacing something he’s missed out on at a crucial stage in his early life? There is another long, considering pause.

‘It’s not something I’ve done consciously, but family is very important to me. Not necessarily the traditional mum, dad, kids, although I’m made up that I’ll have that soon, too. What’s important to me is to be surrounded by people who love you enough to tell you when you’re being a dick, as well as when you’re being fucking amazing. I guess you can call it family; I can’t think of another name for it. When it works, it’s fucking awesome.’

From the window of the executive suite, we can see the sun beginning to set over the huge grandstand. The kicker has long since gone, a few seagulls drift in the sky, the empty seats await the next home game. I get the feeling Declan Summers, supported by his various families, will be a force to be reckoned with, both in rugby and in his personal life, for some time to come.

o0o

The Independent Sport.

Rugby Shorts

Previously uncapped Raiders centre Declan Summers has been called up to the Wallabies’ Autumn International squad to ease their back line injury woes. With Davison, Hendricks, Smythe and Marsh all injured, Summers is likely to be on the bench for Saturday’s match with Scotland.

o0o

The Raiding Party‘ unofficial supporters forum.

TOPIC: Summers in Wallabies squad

RadarRaider: Great news for Summers, he’s been on fire this season. Bit of a bu***r he won’t be playing against TomCats, could do with his intensity against Peterson.

CityRaider: Well done, Declan. Hope it’s the first of many. Can’t quite understand why he’s not been targetted by England under residency, but this is great news for him, he’s having a fantastic season so far.

Raiderette: Yay for Summs, boo for us, he’s my first pick on the team sheet at the moment.

WestStandRaider: I heard he was offered England but turned it down. Not quite sure how he qualifies for Aus, I’m pretty sure he was born in England, but looks like it was what he wanted. Congratulations, Declan.

RadarRaider: WSR, he’s got an Australian passport. You MUST remember all that grief a few seasons ago when he cost us top four with the points deduction. Isn’t he adopted or something? Australian parents?

RudolphtherednosedRaider: Reckon we should all stay out of his business. Pleased for the lad, it’s not easy to get in the Wallabies when you don’t play in Oz. Hope he’s picked, he could do some damage against the Scots. He’ll learn a lot from international rugby, come back to Raiders stronger and better.

BillX: Hopefully it’ll give Sam Wallis a bit of a run, I really rate him. He’s been great off the bench on several occasions this season.

o0o

The Independent Sport

Rugby International

Scotland 6 v 20 Australia

Tries:

Robinson

Summers

Cons:

Byron (2)

Pens:

McIntosh (2) Byron (2)

o0o

Matt followed me out into the kitchen, pulled open a drawer and handed me a packet wrapped in brown paper.

‘What’s this?’

}Just something I found, thought you might like it. I didn’t want to give it to you in front of everyone, for the sake of your dignity, but I wanted to make sure Rose was on hand just in case.

‘In case of what?’

}Oh just bloody well open it, Summers. It’s Christmas, it’s a present. Just don’t go all bat-shit if you can possibly help it.

‘You’re worrying me now. What is it?’

}For the sake of fuck. If you don’t bloody well tear the paper off, I’ll take it back and –

Matt made to grab the parcel, but I held it away from him.

‘Alright, I’ll open it. Trying not to go bat-shit. But if it’s a spider, so help me I will kill you. With my bare hands.’

}It’s not a fucking spider. How many flat rectangular spiders do you know?

‘I try to know as little as possible about any spiders. OK, here goes then.’

I turned the package over and started to peel the tape off, going slowly because Matt was making me nervous. I was worried about what the present was going to be, and how I might react to it – it didn’t seem like something I was going to be overjoyed to get. Matt was jiggling with frustration, and I could see his fingers twitching as if he was having to stop himself from tearing the wrapping off himself.

I unfolded the paper to reveal the back of a wooden photo frame, and before I turned it over, I briefly wondered if it was a picture of me scoring my try for Australia. That would be OK, maybe a bit emotional, but it wasn’t like I didn’t have tons of photos of it from every conceivable angle on my computer. I didn’t do the big rugby shrine thing that Jay had going on in his living room, but then I hadn’t had such a star-studded career as him, not yet anyway.

I turned the frame over, and had to look at the two people smiling up at me for a few seconds before I truly recognised them. I hadn’t seen their faces for over ten years, had started to forget what they really looked like. But this was my mum and dad. Mum and Dad, who I’d lost and thought I’d never see again. I was speechless, motionless, breathless, as I stared and stared at the photo, while memories and feelings flooded into me.

}Say something, mate. Do I need to call the men in white coats?

I looked up at Matt, tearing my eyes away from my parents. I couldn’t speak, could only shake my head.

}It is them isn’t it?

I nodded.

}Thank fuck for that. I’d hate to have given you a framed picture of two random people for Christmas. Nothing says ‘you don’t know me at all’ like the wrong – whoa steady on there, man points at stake.

I had put the frame down on the counter and pulled Matt to me in a fierce hug. This was overwhelming. I had done a fair amount of searching for pictures on the internet in the years since my parents died, but had never come up with anything. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask Matt, computer genius, to help, and now he’d found a picture, a good one too, without me even asking.

‘You’re fucking amazing, Matt. Fucking amazing. How the fuck did you find it?’

I let him go, and picked up the picture, hungry to see it again. I ran my finger over their faces, feeling the frustration of not being able to actually touch the two people under the glass, but overjoyed at being able to look at them. They looked younger than I remembered, though more dated, and subtly different from the pictures I had in my memory. Time had begun eroding the clarity of their faces in my mind, and this reminder could not have been more welcome.

}I did a bit of detective work. I went online, found an old newspaper report, no pictures, but it said where your dad worked, I contacted the company, and there were a few people who were still there from back then. Sent a letter asking if anyone had any photos of Tom and Lucy Collier. People were great, so helpful – I’ve got loads more, mate, you can have them all, but this was the best one.

‘You’ve got more?’

}Yeah, I put them all on a flash-drive – here.

Matt held out a small plastic drive. I took it like it was a precious jewel, which it was in a way.

‘Thanks. You don’t know how much …’

My voice tailed away as my throat closed up with emotion.

}Yeah I do. You don’t have to say anything, I just wanted you to have a picture of them. It’s not much, I know, but you should at least have that.

‘It’s everything. Oh you bloody bastard, I haven’t done this for ages.’

Tears were streaming down my face and Matt tore off a bit of kitchen roll, handing it to me with a smirk.

}I love turning you into a fucking loony. Makes my Christmas that bit more special.

‘Happy to oblige, then.’

I wiped my eyes, and looked down at Mum and Dad again.

‘Can I show Amy?’

}It’s yours to do with as you wish. I was personally hoping for pride of place on the mantelpiece.

‘Your arse won’t fit on the mantelpiece, you’ll have to make do with hogging the sofa like usual.’

}Oh the wit of Summers knows no beginning.

‘Thanks mate.’

}Pleasure.

I walked into the living room, where everyone was watching ‘Elf’.

‘Ames, there are some people I’d like you to meet.’

Julia

I saw more of Matt’s family and got to really like them, finally understanding the circumstances and emotions that bound them all together. That said, I often didn’t go to their big sprawling gatherings with Matt, but sometimes we both went and would come back laughing about how much more we had learned than we ever wanted to about oestrogen, cervixes and the different colours of baby shit. There was a big focus on Dec and Amy’s impending arrival, and it was another reason I limited my involvement with them. Matt and I had lain in bed making a pros and cons list of parenthood. On the ‘cons’ side, which was long, was included loss of sleep, hormonal surges, crying, pooping and vomiting. The ‘pros’ side consisted only of ‘must have sex to conceive’. Matt loved Cal and Iz, but seemed to share my horror of having children of my own.

‘I’m always totally relieved to give them back, especially when Cal’s being a grouchy complaining little git or Iz is screaming her head off because she’s tired’ seemed to be his philosophy.

And so we became closer and saw more of each other, and one Sunday morning, we were sitting in bed eating croissants after very enjoyable wake-up sex, when I heard an intake of breath from Matt. I looked up at him.

Author: 00dreams00

Human of several decades experience. Full time employment, part-time enjoyment. Searching for the fountain of youth in the sure knowledge that it will be full of beer cans and dog piss. Plan B is the fountain of age, which will be found next to a comfy chair with the TV remote in easy reach.

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