Over dinner we talked a bit, although looking back it was mostly me talking about me, needing to let her know things about me, how and why I’d been Matt the Lad, seeing Adam and why I hadn’t gone back. I wanted to talk to her all night, but I didn’t think I’d last that long, and she said she had to go back home. I was really disappointed that she wasn’t staying, I’d looked forward to another night like last night, with lots of holding and touching and getting to know each other.
‘It’s Friday tomorrow. We can do it then.’
‘Yeh, a date. We should go ouh first, like all the young dudes. Or sit an watch rubbish on the telly, like all the old dudes.’
I knew which I was more likely to be capable of, but I was happy to show willing.
‘How about a compromise and staying in to watch a DVD with some beers and G and Ts, like all the thirty-something dudes?’
I laughed, relieved that I wasn’t going to have to a) think of an excuse not to go out or stay out late or b) try to stay conscious while going out or staying out late.
‘I like ih. Behr, good. DVD, good. Lau, good. Wha’s not tuh like? Hahvnt yuh got Nehflix tho?’
‘No, I haven’t quite got into the techy TV stuff. Why have you?’
‘Yeh, cohrse, tech is my johb.’
‘Oh yeah. Well you’ll have to settle for my very untechy lifestyle for now, buster. Happy with that?’
It was all fitting in with my plan, too, which was developing more form as the evening progressed, and the electric connection between us got stronger.
When we’d finished eating, Lau helped me clear up, and I could feel my energy draining away. I held on extra tight to the wine glasses, feeling like I was about to drop something or trip over or some such shit.
We finished up the curry, and I helped Matt clear the plates and load the dishwasher. To me, he looked a bit tired, and was seeming less coordinated than he had been earlier.
‘How about going to bed?’
My offer was purely noble, wondering if he could do with a lie-down, and I wasn’t thinking of him fondling my bum in any way. He raised an eyebrow.
I looked at Lau and raised an eyebrow, wondering exactly what she was proposing. Anything more than, well, nothing, just was not, sadly, going to happen tonight.
‘Well you did mention it earlier, you said you wanted to cuddle up and talk.’
Oh my God, this woman was just the knees of the fucking bees. She seemed to know what I was thinking.
‘Yeh. Sounds like the kind of greht idea I migh have had.’
I wanted her to be absolutely clear, though, about what I was and wasn’t able to offer.
‘Lau, yuh know I can’t … we can’t … fuck ih, yuh did the talk on sex, yuh know wha I mean.’
I’d heard what he’d said the previous night, and I knew he was anxious about what my expectations were. There was no way I was going to try to rush him into anything that he wasn’t ready for. I was scarcely ready myself, although I wouldn’t have said no to anything that had been offered. The fact was, Matt was having difficulty with his sexual functioning, and I knew, probably better than most, how low-key my responses needed to be.
‘Matt, we’re taking this slowly. Cuddle up and talk means cuddle up and talk. There’s no pressure to do anything else, ever. It’s enough for me. Talking means more to me, actually; I really want to get to know you. We’re so doing things a weird way round. Shall we?’
She stood up and held her hand out to me, and I took it and stood with her, thanking the gods of perfect women as I did so.
‘Thanks Lau. Yuhr fucking awesome.’
We undressed and got into bed, with minimum fuss, two people who had only known each other for just over twenty four hours but who were already comfortable enough with each other that they could just hop into bed for a chat and a cuddle. Lau was just wearing her underwear, and I was just wearing my boxers and t-shirt, and it was so fucking sexy but so fucking … friendly.
I turned onto my side and Matt turned to face me. We kissed first, softly and gently, causing little fizzing sparks to travel from my lips down to my fingertips and well beyond. It was delicious, knowing that it wasn’t going to go any further; it was almost better, just allowing myself to be filled up with fizzing desire. Almost. Then we lay and looked at each other, not really knowing where to start.
‘OK, so getting to know each other. Favourite colour?’
‘Navy an white.’
‘Don’t do football really.’
‘No, just the colour.’
‘Noh, Heart of Midlothian, footy tehm, play in purple.’
‘Oh. Maybe we can accept that I don’t really know or care much about football. Sorry, it seems to mean a lot to you, but that’s just how it is.’
‘Cahnt blame a blohk fuh trying. One day I’ll hahv a decent chat wih a woman abouh footy.’
‘Ha ha, yeh. Childhood crush?’
‘George Smallwood. You?’
‘Lily Knight. Snog him?’
‘No, he was way older than me, never knew I existed, I was, like, ten and he was, I don’t know, eighteen or something. He lived a few doors up from me. You and Lily?’
‘Yeh, we pashed a bih. Roun the back of the portakabin at break. Then she wen off wih Harry Thomas one lunch and tha was tha.’
‘Oh, she broke your heart.’
‘Noh, snogged Lucy Carpenter two minutes later.’
‘I see your early sexual exploits may have set a pattern. Favourite film?’
‘Tha yuh’d have heard of? Amelie.’
Well that was a bit of an assumption.
‘What do you mean, that I’ve have heard of? I’m pretty cultured, me.’
‘OK then, MicMacs.’
Hm, correct assumption as it turned out.
‘Oh, OK, Amelie it is then. Good film. Mine’s The Sixth Sense. Saw it three times at the cinema, and have it on DVD.’
‘Stihl surprised at the ending?’
‘No, but you watch it differently. It’s kind of a ghostly love story. I thought Amelie had a bit of a twist, myself, I kept expecting her to get knocked off her bike at the end.’
‘Noh, never gona happen. Fihrst kiss?
‘Ooh, quick ahnswer. Mehmorable thehn.’
‘For it’s sloppy grossness, yes. Surely you remember your first kiss?’
‘What, you kissed your first crush? Lucky you.’
Matt shrugged modestly.
‘Did you lose your virginity to her too?’
‘Ha ha, noh Lau, weh wehr only ten. Buh Damiahn …’
‘God no. Steven Rasmussen. First boyfriend. Sixteen. My parents’ bed, while they were at a wedding.’
Matt was quiet for a moment, and it almost felt like he was finding the thought of me having sex with someone else difficult to process.
‘How about you?’
‘Bes maht’s girfriehd.’
Although I could well believe it, having heard some of the stories about Matt.
‘What, when you were at school or something?’
It took a second or two to work it out.
‘What, you didn’t have sex until you were – what – eighteen?’
‘Blimey. I’m surprised.’
‘Hihden depths, Lau.’
Well that was becoming apparent. There was a lot more to find out about this man, and I was looking forward to doing a bit of digging. Matt had his next question ready, however.
I did, of course, know exactly what he meant.
I knew that.
‘I’m not sure. It depends on lots of things.’
‘Cohm on Lau, everyone’s goh a favourite. Good Baptist girl like yuh, I beh ih’s missionary.’
‘Holy fuck. Whoo. Yuh duh like tuh beh in charge.’
‘You’d better believe it. Yours?’
‘Wish I could show yuh.’
He looked so sad, I immediately needed to make him feel better.
‘Oh Matt, there’s all the time in the world. Actually, I’m going to change mine. At the moment, my favourite sexual position is face to face, having a chat. You’re giving me everything I need right now.’
Matt’s eyes had filled with tears.
‘It’s really important to you, isn’t it, flower.’
He nodded, unable to speak.
‘You’ll get there, just don’t put pressure on yourself. Enjoy the other bits as well.’
He nodded again.
‘Ih’s jus such a big part of meh, wha I’ve been the last few yehrs. Now ih’s gone, ih’s … I can’t explain.’
Enough people had told me what it was like, that I had the words.
‘It’s like you’ve lost an arm, or the ability to walk. It affects every part of your life, all the time, sometimes you can’t think about anything else except not being able to have sex.’
He looked at me with something approaching awe.
‘Not really. I know the words, what people have told me, what I’ve read. I can’t possibly really understand, it hasn’t happened to me.’
We started off slow, with colours, interests, all that shit, and worked up to more intimate comparisons.
Favourite colours: Matt – navy and white – Spurs, keep up.
Lau – purple (not football related).
Football: Matt – yes, very much so.
Lau – not so much.
Films: Matt – arty French nonsense.
Lau – sentimental tosh not that I was judging her taste in films in any way.
Childhood crushes: Matt – Lily.
Lau – some git called George.
First kisses: Matt – Lily.
Lau – Damian the Dick (not her nickname, it was applied by me).
Virginity lost: Matt – Cindy.
Lau – Steven something German and too much information it made me feel weird.
Favourite Positions: Matt – didn’t get to answer.
Lau – cowgirl! Fuck, she was a goer. As soon I was back in working order, we were going to have some bloody fun!
And then I got a bit maudlin about not being able to show her my favourite position, and she changed her mind, and said her favourite was face to face, having a chat, and it made me cry because it was so bloody thoughtful, the cow.
And then she blew my mind by telling me exactly how it felt, this fucking bastard MS and what it had done to my sex drive – as if I’d lost an arm or the ability to walk, and that sometimes it was all I could think about, not being able to do it – and I knew, if I hadn’t before, that she was always going to get me. Not just because I had the bastard MS and she knew a lot about the bastard MS, but because on some deep level, although we were so different in the things we liked and didn’t like, we were the same where it mattered, in understanding how we worked, what made us tick.
‘Will ih … will I geh ih back?’
I had to ask. I’d stopped myself from talking to Lau like she was a nurse, an expert in the thing I had, but this was so big for me that I couldn’t help myself. I needed to know.
It was what everyone asked, whether it was their sexual function or their ability to walk in a straight line, and it was what I could never answer. The truth was that it would probably come and go, and then it would take longer to come back after it had gone, and then one day it might not come back at all. But I wasn’t going to be saying that right at this moment.
‘No one can promise that. With most people, yes, it comes back. There’s a big psychological element too. Wanting it too much can play as big a part as the physical side of it. And that is the end of Laura Shoeman’s sexual counselling session. That will be one hundred pounds, please, I take personal cheques and cash. Further appointments should be booked through my personal assistant.’
I needed to stop being Nurse Laura. I was here with this gorgeous man, who I kept forgetting had the very disease I spent my working life dealing with, and I wanted to get to know him. I knew there was so much more to him than MS, and I wanted to stop him fixating on it, and tell me about his life.
She had managed to tell me to step away from the medical questions and make me laugh, at the same time.
‘Ha ha. Lau, yuhr greht, even if yuhr prices ahr a bih stehp. I wan yuh tuh know abouh meh.’
‘OK, get spilling then.’
I said this with a smile, but inside I was a little worried – was he going to tell me everything? We could be here some time.
‘Well, OK, buh first, I wan tuh tell yuh abouh yuh. I wan yuh tuh know tha when I first saw yuh, yesterday, the second I saw yuh, I was like, whoa. Ih was profound. I jus knew it was yuh. I wahnt gona stay, Beth talked meh into goin, buh I only agreed tuh put my head roun the door, then I was gona goh, buh I saw yuh an couldn’t stay away. I made ih up abouh wanting tuh talk.’
Lau pretended to be astounded.
‘Then when we were at Meahn Beahn, yuh touched my hand an, whoa, like electric shock. Ih’s like I’ve been looking foh yuh all my life. Whatever I’d behn doing, whoever I’d behn with, I’d have had to stop it to beh wih yuh.’
I was still finding it hard to believe, but it was true. If I’d been with Carrie, or Jules, or if I’d been on my way to the other side of the world, it would all have stopped so I could be here with Lau.
He looked like he could hardly believe what he was saying, but I believed it, because I felt it. It hadn’t been as instant for me, but it felt like it was now as deep. I felt like I could reach out and touch it, this thing that was binding us together.
‘You know what, that’s what it’s like for me too. Not exactly when I first saw you, all I was thinking was ‘blimey, isn’t that Matt Scott?’, but then I couldn’t stop looking at you, and yeah, I felt the same in Mean Bean, it was like a jolt when we touched. I’m still getting it. I can’t quite take it in, but I love it.’
Every time she said it, said that she’d felt the same things, I got a bit closer to believing that it was going to happen, was happening right now, but there was still shit she needed to know. It was all very well me thinking that nothing would stop me being with her, that she could tell me anything and it wouldn’t make any difference, but she didn’t necessarily have the same point of view.
‘OK, tha’s greht, I’m glad we fehl the same. I wan tuh tell yuh abouh Jules. I keep almost saying stuff, then goin ‘yuh can’t say tha, Lau wouldn’t understand’ but I think maybe yuh would. We were together foh abouh nine months. I ruined her lihf. She’s the reason I’m like I am now, I mehn trying tuh beh honest an shih.’
I had been dying to know about Julia, but now he was talking about her, I felt a bit shy about it. Their relationship, or its ending, had obviously affected Matt a lot, and part of me felt ridiculously threatened by what they must have had. I put on what I hoped was an interested and not at all a jealous cow expression.
‘What was she like?’
‘Bih like meh.’
I’d answered before I really thought about it, but it was partly true.
Lau frowned, as if she knew different, and again I wondered how much she knew from other people.
Not from what I’d heard, but I didn’t know her.
‘Only tha she hid herself too. I hide behind Matt the Lad, she hid behind being The Ice Queen. She was warm an funny, but scared and insecure. Weh ended up being too dihferent, we wanted dihferent things, or rather jus the one dihferent thing, buh because I was tuh busy hiding, I hid wha I wanted from myself. I wan a fahmly, rehly wan ih, member I said yesterday?’
I nodded, feeling again the thrill of being invited to join Matt in the journey that led to children. Was that what he’d said? It felt like it. But we’d only known each other a day. God, this was completely insane.
‘She dihnt want children. At all. Ever. Noh compromise. I told her I did a week after weh moved in together.’
I could only imagine how devastating that had been for both of them. I knew how much I wanted children, and if the opposite had happened to me, if someone I was committed to had told me it was never going to happen, it would have been the end.
She looked so sad, it was as if she felt it, how much it had hurt both of us.
‘I dihnt know. Ih was when Chahlie was born, I saw them all together, goh this surge of … lohs of things – jehlousy, recognition, felt ahl protehtive, I jus wanted ih, wha they had. I knew that day ih was gona end wih me an Jules, ih would either go on fuh a while, both pretending ih was OK, then ripping us apart, or ih could rip us apart there an then. Tha’s wha happened. She smashed the place up, picked up her stuff, I never saw her again, apart from one of the mos fucking awful wehks at work Ih’v ever had. The worst thing was, she had this thing, she said she dihnt believe in love, said ih was made up by pehpl. So I’d tell her I dihnt love her, like ih was gona make her fehl better. Buh I did, I so did, I even pretended tha. I told her in the end, wrote a letter, buh way tuh late. So tha’s why now, if I feel ih, I say ih. I try tuh be honest abouh wha I want, wha I’m feeling, first tuh myself and then tuh other pehpl. I’m getting there, buh still a bluhdy mardy git sometimes. Cahnt always dehl wih pehpl caring.’
‘Do you still love her?’
I needed to know, not that I thought it would make any difference to me, but you need to know these things rather than wondering. Matt’s story was so sad, he obviously still felt very guilty about what had happened, and I wanted to know how he felt now. He’d said, incredibly, unbelievably, that when he saw me – me – only yesterday, he would have finished it anyway. That took a lot of getting my head round, and I just wanted to know how things stood with him and Julia.
Well that was a bloody awkward question. I knew Lau had seen Jules’ photo, and would have seen me flicking past her pictures on my phone. I could have just said no, but I wanted to start as I intended to go on, and that meant being as honest as I could. I took a deep breath and sighed it out.
‘I think part of meh will always love her. Part of meh still loves Carrie, or how she was tuh staht wih. Buh foh meh ih’s abouh putting ih away, moving on.’
It was a truly honest reply. He wasn’t trying to soften anything for me; he was just telling me his truth. I reached up and stroked his hair. He put his hand over mine, then pulled it to his mouth and gently kissed my knuckles, looking into my eyes as he did so.
She seemed OK with this big splurge of information, and I wanted her to know I was grateful.
‘Soh, wha tha means is I tell yuh wha I’m feeling when I feel ih. Try noh tuh hide or be scared of ih. Migh not always manage ih. Migh beh a bih intense foh yuh.’
I really wanted to start this that way, facing up to everything as it happened, not letting my need to keep things to myself, or to do things on my own, or for bloody man points, stop me from being open about shit. I really wanted it. I was at least going to try.
‘Honesty is the best way. I’m pretty up front, usually. It can be uncomfortable sometimes, but everyone knows where they are.’
‘OK, then, leh’s start now. Ih’m amazed an fucking terrified. I feel like I’ve found something I dihnt know I was looking foh, buh always needed. I dihnt think I believed in love at first sigh.’
Oh shit, what the fuck was I saying? I said I was being open, not bloody blurting out ridiculousness. Extreme backtracking was in order.
‘Not sayin I love yuh, migh be a bih soon, buh dohnt know how tuh describe wha I’m fehlin.’
I wondered if I’d got away with it. Lau didn’t seem fazed, she was just looking at me the same way she had been all evening, her direct gaze seeming to find a connecting link with my soul. However, this was the closest I had come for a long time to telling someone I loved them. It would, in a way, have been easy to say, as I was feeling such strong emotions for Lau, but saying it now would have been foolhardy, and I wasn’t sure, not yet.
My heart was pounding. Despite his backtracking, Matt had practically said he loved me. It was mad, crazy, absolutely the most bonkers thing, but so thrilling and so fast. How can you feel like that for someone you’ve just met, who you barely know? But it was true, mad as it was; I felt exactly the same. Sensible Nurse Laura decided to talk for me, though.
‘There’s no rush to say anything we can’t take back later. Let’s just see how it goes. The ‘L’ word is huge. The other ‘L’ word is a bit less scary.’
I waited for her to tell me which other ‘L’ word she had chosen. I could think of a few I could try – lick, lap, lips …
‘Oh. Yeh. And lust. Lohs of lust foh yuh, Lau. I like lusting after Lau a loh. Yuhr turn: Matt makes me …’
I tried to reduce the intensity a bit, to back us both away from what I had nearly declared so rashly, and I waggled my eyebrows, indicating she should finish the sentence.
‘Oh. OK … Matt makes me mad with … er … magnetism …’
‘Magnetism? Tha’s best yuh can come up wih?’
‘I thought it was a fair shot for being put totally on the spot.’
‘How abouh manly masculinity?’
‘If you like.’
‘Manly Matt likes Lusty Lau a loh.’
‘And Lusty Lau … er … must have Manly Matt.’
‘Yuhr rubbish at this.’
‘Oi! My name is much easier to rhyme with.’
‘Not rhyming, alliterating.’
‘OK, clever clogs. You just had some lucky words.’
‘Leh’s call ih a draw. Lau …’
I looked into her eyes. She looked back. I loved messing about with her, batting words to and fro, but it wasn’t all I wanted to do. There was a plan to be following.
‘I rehly wana kiss yuh.’
‘OK. What’s stopping you?’
‘Not much. Buh not often behn in bed wih a woman, an snogged an tha’s ih.’
‘We managed OK yesterday, didn’t we?’
‘Yeh, buh yuh wanted more, an I frehked.’
This, us, being together but not being able to be properly together, was going to get weird – or should that be weirder – if we didn’t talk about it.
‘I didn’t notice you freaking, I noticed you asking me to stop and me stopping. Isn’t that what everyone does? Matt, I’ll say it as often as you need me to, we’re taking it slowly here. Maybe some things are going way way fast, but that’s fine because other things can go way way slow. Slow is fine, slow is good, slow is damn good, we can get to know each other, talk about things, work stuff out before we worry about sex. We’re doing everything else the wrong way round, why not that too?’
God, she was awesome. She was just so calm and down to earth about it all, like it was completely normal for her to spend two nights in a row in bed with a fucking cripple with fucked-up downbelows, kissing and feeling each other up and nothing more, no more fucking anything for the foreseeable.
He carried on looking into my eyes. If he didn’t kiss me soon, I was going to take matters into my own hands.
‘Lau, yuhr fucking amazing.’
I shrugged modestly, relishing the compliment.
‘Knoh wha, though, I’m bluhdy knackered.’
‘Cahnt believe I’m saying tha, wha’s time? Shih, not even eigh yet. Quick snog then sleep foh me, yuh gona stay?’
‘I can’t stay the night, I haven’t brought anything with me.’
‘Stay foh bih? Jus cuddle.’
I was still pushing, trying to get her to stay. I wondered whether, if she fell asleep, she’d end up staying the night anyway. I didn’t care if she slept in her undies – was extremely unambivalent to the idea actually – and I could rustle up a spare toothbrush if necessary.
From the living room, Beth’s text tone sounded. I sighed. I’d managed to forget, for a couple of hours, that I was the personal property of Beth Scott due to being short-sighted enough to have awarded her health coordinator status. I was bloody irritated that she’d reminded me.
‘Wha now? They’ve made ih since this afternoon withouh checking up on meh.’
‘Just answer them, Matt.’
I sighed again, closed my eyes, almost too tired to bother, then opened them, gave Lau a quick kiss on the lips and tottered into the living room to retrieve my phone.
I watched him walk unsteadily to the living room, retrieve his phone, and come back to bed.
‘You’re really tired, aren’t you.’
He looked at me ruefully and nodded.
‘Even if I was fuhly functional, wouldn’t hahv the energy tonigh. Iz does foh meh, an had a long day yesterday. Wih lohs of excitement.’
He winked at me, then bent his head to his phone to read his text.
‘Oh, ha ha, apparently Iz told Beth she was going tuh live wih me so she can hahv pizza and ice crehm foh lunch every day.’
Excellent. My afternoon’s work was yielding fruit. That would teach Beth. Oh, no, that’s right, it wouldn’t, but that didn’t stop me gloating about my small and extremely time-limited victory.
‘So she’s not checking up on you, then, just checking in.’
Oh alright, you win, Lau. You always did.
‘OK, yuhr righ, I did hear wha yuh said yesterday, Ih’v been texting back more today. Maybe ih’s worked.’
‘Bossy Nurse Laura strikes again.’
She raised a brow at me, impishly
‘Yeh. Cohm here before yuhr head gehs too big tuh snog.’
We moved towards each other and our lips met with the increasingly familiar jolt of electricity. We held each other tightly and moved slowly and lingeringly in each other’s mouths, hands roaming over each other’s bodies. I felt Matt’s hands slide down my back and settle on my bum, where he stroked me over the top of my knickers. I followed suit and moved my hands along his side, unable to resist slipping my hand under the waistband of his boxers, where it came to rest on his bum cheek. It was very firm and was crying out for a squeeze, so I squeezed.
‘Holy fuck, Lau, yuhr killing me.’
‘Sorry, shall I stop?’
‘Fuck noh. Loving ih. Yuhv goh greht hands.’
We held each other, touching, kissing, looking deep into each other’s eyes, until I was unable to stop the blackness of sleep claiming me. It drifted in from the corners of my vision and took me away while I was stroking Lau’s soft hair and feeling her lips tasting mine.
I hope you’ve noticed. I hope you’ve been paying attention to what I have been doing and what I haven’t been doing. There has been a lot of groping and feeling up that Matt and Lau have been doing, and I expect you assume that all parts have been fair game, but if you think about it, no, not all parts. I have been saving myself. We have been going faster than a speeding bullet the last couple of days, but I kind of knew that there were some places I needed to save until later to explore.
Part of it was my plan, and part of it was it just felt right. No cupping was had, by either of us, just stroking of arses, deep kisses. We could have knocked ourselves out, gone everywhere, but it was as if we were balancing the insane speed we were going at emotionally with going slow slow slow in the physical reconnaissance mission. Without Lau telling me, or me having to ask, I knew it was too soon to be touching the bits enclosed in her sensible black bra and pants. Maybe the simple nature of her underwear was sending a message in itself. I didn’t know when she’d be ready, but I knew I’d know. I had never been so in tune with anyone in my life.
We snuggled together for a while longer, touching, kissing a bit – and oh, his kisses were just as thrilling and tantalising and delicious as they had been the first time – until I felt Matt’s movements slow and stop, his body relax. I spent a long time looking at his face – his eyes were shut, his mouth slightly open, and I heard his breathing deepen. I waited a while, until he’d had the chance to fall properly asleep, then disentangled myself gently and climbed out of bed, grabbing my dress and uniform as I crept out of the room, pulling the door shut behind me. I dressed quickly, then, on a whim, found a bit of paper and wrote a note.
I left it on my pillow, then I let myself quietly out of the flat and drove home, smiling to myself the whole way.
I went to bed early myself. I’d had a tiring twenty four hours or so, and some solid sleep felt like a really good idea. Matt had other ideas, though.
I woke up and I was alone. It felt wrong, more wrong than sleeping alone had ever felt before. It was the dead of night, and Lau was gone and I missed her. Then I saw the note she’d left, sitting on her pillow, where her head had rested, facing me, just a few hours ago.
Hope you slept well, you look so cute when you’re asleep.
Thanks for a lovely evening,
looking forward to tomorrow’s 30-something DVD night.
Lusty Lau xx
Something that had been blinking at the edge of my consciousness came into view as I read the note. I had no idea how old Lau was. I hadn’t even thought about it. She’d written ’30-something DVD night’, so I assumed she was in her thirties, and yeah I guess I knew she wasn’t like eighteen or some such shit. She certainly wasn’t older than me, but she had a kind of, oh I don’t know, can I call it an ‘ageless quality’ and not sound like a complete arse? Probably not. I guess I mean it didn’t matter. She could have been eighteen or twenty eight or thirty eight or forty eight or more maybe (OK I’m being generous to myself, perhaps), and she would still have been Lau, still the one I’d been looking for. It wasn’t important, but it was … relevant. To the whole having a family thing. I hoped it would become clearer without me having any awkward conversations, and I dismissed it from my mind for now.
So anyway, I was missing Lau, like crazy. I reached for my phone. She’d said text her, although she probably didn’t mean text her in the middle of the night, but you couldn’t be too careful, wouldn’t want to piss her off by mistake.
A ping from my phone woke me up in the middle of the night. I reached for it blearily, in my disoriented state thinking it was the alarm. The time said three twenty. There was a text.
‘Yr not here 😦 miss u. Thx 4 note.’
There was a bit of a pause, and I nearly drifted back to sleep. Then she answered.
‘U shld b asleep. Need ur strength 4 2moro = film nite.’
‘U said txt u.’
‘Didn’t mean immediately.’
‘Oh. Shld b more specific w yr bossiness ;)’
‘Will remember 🙂 Go 2 sleep now. Specific enough?’
‘Yeh. Night Lau x’
‘Don’t let bedbugs etc.’
‘Go 2 sleep.’
‘Can’t. Miss u.’
‘Me 2 but need sleep. Night. Still holding hands, if it helps.’
‘Yeh. Helps 🙂 xx’
And so I floated back to sleep, holding her hand in my thoughts.
I dreamed that night. I hardly ever dream, or if I do I don’t remember them, but that night I dreamed I was riding a horse along a beach, looking for something. Just as I found it, I woke up. I felt more awake and alert than I had for a long time, and I checked the time. I was amazed to find that it was only just gone quarter past seven.
Lau. My next thought was Lau. She would be getting ready for her day. I grabbed my phone and started texting, thinking that she wouldn’t have much opportunity once she got to work.
And so another day dawned, at seven seventeen, with the insistent alarm tone of my phone pulling me out of a dream in which I was following a horse along a beach. There was more to it than that, but it skittered away as dreams do and I’d forgotten it before I’d swung my legs out of bed. As I pulled my dressing gown on, my phone pinged. Text from Matt.
‘Hey Lau, u up?’
‘We didn’t have dessert.’
‘Oh yeah. Never mind. Bring 2nite?’
‘Cool. Wot time?’
‘I’ll b home after five. NE time after then :)’
‘Bring one? One each. If we last that long. DVD nite can b 2 nites. Or 3.’
‘gr8. Cu l8r. M xx’
And so, happily set up for the day, I showered, dressed, had breakfast and left for work. Anna was back, her cold on the mend, and when I got in Kate was filling her in on developments with her patients while she’d been off.
‘Hi Lau, thanks for doing the LMS day, I owe you one.’
‘No problem, An, it was a good day.’
With a sudden shiver, I realised that if Anna hadn’t been off sick, I wouldn’t have met Matt. I wouldn’t be in the middle of this thrilling swirl of excitement and emotion. The things that hinge on the common cold virus.
‘Hey, yeah, An, you’ll never guess who came along as a newbie.’
Still not wanting to discuss it, I scowled at Kate, who deliberately didn’t look at me.
‘What, Rach’s Matt?’
‘Well, Rach’s and half the bloody women in the city’s Matt, yeah.’
‘He’s been diagnosed?’
Kate turned to me, questioning eyebrows raised.
‘Don’t look at me, I just had a quick chat with him afterwards.’
This earned an exasperated snort from Kate.
‘How’s Rach taken it?’
‘Pretty bloody philosophically, actually. She said yesterday he wasn’t a superhero and it was time to move on.’
‘Wow. Might be the best thing that’s ever happened to her, well since ‘that night’.’
So that was my evening sorted, and the plan was taking shape nicely. Now for the rest of the day. I was feeling great, and getting up early would enable me to organise things so I wasn’t dashing about. I lay in bed for a while, enjoying feeling clear-headed. I sent Lau another text and then I fell asleep, and woke up near lunchtime, feeling muzzy.
I busied myself boiling the kettle and putting teabags in mugs, trying not to get involved in the conversation. I heard my phone ping in my bag. Another text from Matt.
‘Holding hands xx’
Kate noticed me texting.
‘Your mum up and about early, is she?’
It was a sad reflection of my recent lack of romantic success that the person who was most likely to be texting me this early in the morning was my mother, but I smiled ambiguously and let her think what she wanted to.
‘Have a chilled evening yesterday?’
‘Yeah, great, had a takeaway, wine, went to bed early.’
It was all true; leaving stuff out like where and who with, and not mentioning the odd head massage and going to bed with a handsome man again wasn’t like really lying.
‘Sounds like just what you needed, Lau, you weren’t really here yesterday afternoon.’
‘Yeah, I think it was. Oh, hi Rach. Tea?’
The morning went on, all of us either on visits or catching up with writing notes on the computer. Lunchtime came and went with the usual sandwich run, and then we had a referral meeting to set up our schedule for the next week. There was always a steady flow of new referrals to the service, and we each had responsibility for a fairly large caseload.
I picked up my phone and saw several texts from various people.
Lau: ‘:) xx’
Dec: ‘Alright, m8? Hope u still on 4 Charlie sitting/sleepover Sat :)’
Beth: ‘How r u 2day?’
‘Hi Matty. There’s an all-ability walking group in Telton. Interested?’
‘Emailed u article abt MS and diet.’
‘Don’t forget Amy’s birthday.’
Mum had called but not left a message, as she never did, and Beth must have recruited Jay into the ‘let’s all bug Matty, I’m obviously not annoying him enough on my own’ campaign, as there was a voicemail from him.
‘Hi Matty, er, just, er, wondered if you could, er – oh alright, Beth, just let me do it. Give Beth a call, or something, mate, she’s giving me a ton of bloody grief, you’ll save my ears. Wha –’
I tried not to be exasperated. They all knew I slept hard and never heard my phone if I was really gone. Lau’s words kept coming back to me, and I pinged off a few texts:
‘Hey. Yep, looking 4ward 2 keeping Charlie up l8 on Sat ;)’
‘Beth. I am alive. Was there something u needed? No 2 cripples walking gp, thx tho. Diet? Donuts n beer do it 4 me. CU Sun.’
‘Hey Jay. Tell Beth hv already got Amy’s present. Hope u hv 2.’
Then I called Mum back. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t have allowed herself to be drafted into Beth’s circle of bothering, as she was usually pretty good unless it was a real emergency, so there was something specific she wanted to talk to me about.
‘Matthew, dear. I tried to call you earlier.’
‘Yeh, I knoh. Ahr yuh OK?’
‘Yes, dear, but I was wondering if you could help me out with something?’
Mum, bless her heart, always tried her hardest to think of ways to make me feel useful. She knew I was pretty fucked in the limbs department, and my usual handyman abilities were out the window at the moment, so it was often something like a cryptic crossword clue, or she was writing a letter to someone and wanted another word for ‘nice’. She didn’t think I knew what she was doing, or maybe she did and we just played the game of not letting on that I knew she knew I knew, because it was out of kindness, and it worked, in a weird kind of way. It’s always good to be needed, even if it’s only for the answer to seven across.
‘Wha yuh nehd?’
‘Well I was talking to someone at the gardening club the other day, and we were discussing sauces.’
This time it was cooking. Well, I was pretty into cooking, so fair enough.
‘Well, we were having a slight disagreement about the ingredients of béarnaise sauce. I said that béarnaise had shallots and tarragon, but someone else said that was hollandaise. I was sure you’d know.’
‘Top of the clahs, Muhm. The sauhce is the sahm, buh diffrehnt grehdy yuhms.’
‘Different what, dear?’
I laughed. ‘Iz’s new wohd. Ingrehdiehts. I lihk hers behter.’
‘Ha ha, me too. So what’s in hollandaise? I just want to make sure I get it right next week.’
‘Lehmon juhs an cahenne. Goh geh ’em.’
‘I will. Thank you, dear. How are you?’
Mum was allowed to ask because a) she always talked about something else first and b) she was my mum. I didn’t always tell her the truth, because you don’t always tell your mum everything, but today I was taking advice from a particularly lovely expert in my specific fucking bastard neurological disorder, and I told her the truth. Oh, not about the lovely expert, I wasn’t spilling everything just yet, come on, do you know me at all?
‘Bih wihped. Hahd busy cohple of days. Ohnly jus wohk up.’
‘Oh, you had that day at the church hall, didn’t you. Beth said you stayed for the whole thing.’
Bloody Beth, see, this was why I was so reluctant to do things, go anywhere, talk about anything, because it got endlessly discussed with everyone whether you wanted it or not. I felt like I was public property, and it really pissed me off, and then I stopped talking to anyone about anything. Like with Mum, now. I expect she’d been part of the whole ‘where’s Matty, let’s all panic until we know he’s tucked up in his own bed’ malarkey, even though she hadn’t texted or called herself, but I wasn’t going there right now, and I just closed off.
Mum sensed my withdrawal, as she changed the subject.
‘So are you going to Sunday lunch?’
‘Yeh. Staying at Dec an Amy’s Satuhday nigh, lohking after Chahlie while thehr ouh fuh Amy’s birthday. Goin wih them Suhnday mohning.’
I wondered about taking Lau along with me, but I wanted her to myself for a bit longer before I subjected her to the madness of a full-on Scott interrogation. Maybe another time.
Mum, sensing that I’d been annoyed by Beth talking about me to all and sundry, wrapped things up before I could take any further umbrage.
‘Alright, well I’ll see you on Sunday, then. Rose is bringing me.’
‘OK, Muhm, seh yuh thehn.’
I pottered about, getting myself some lunch, changing my bed, doing laundry, all things that should have been so mundane, but all things that sapped my strength, and I had to do slowly and efficiently to conserve my energy. Half way through the afternoon, I sent Lau a text.
‘Can’t wait 2 cu l8r. Amelie n cheesecake. Mm. Xx.‘
There wasn’t an immediate reply, and I got on with something else, then I heard the ping and picked up my phone.
Half way through the afternoon, it was my turn to make the tea. I heard my phone ping on my desk, but didn’t think much of it until I heard Rachel’s voice.
‘Lau … you’ve got a text from Matt?‘
She was holding my phone up, with the screen clearly showing his name. I never blushed, but I felt my face begin to heat up.
‘Why’s Matt texting you? Is it Matt Matt, as in newly diagnosed with MS and while we’re at it serial woman dumper Matt?’
She looked at the screen. Anna and Kate looked on wide-eyed.
‘Oh my God! You’re seeing him later? What the fuck Lau? He’s texted you kisses.’
I couldn’t make my mouth say any words. I stood there, kettle in my hand, trying to find a single thing to say that would explain it without lying my head off. I could have lied my head off, I might even have made it sound convincing, but eventually Rachel was going to know. And I never lied, but I felt like I had spent the last couple of days at work half-lying. Maybe it was better for all of us that she knew now, when it was new, and I hadn’t been deceiving everyone for ages. My face went hot – it wasn’t embarrassment, it was shame, my half-truths and deceit catching up with me. Trying to ignore my reddened cheeks, I had a stab at it.
‘I’m sorry, Rach, maybe I should have said something, but it’s early days –’
This was Kate.
‘You’re not serious, you’re seeing Matt bloody Scott? Oh that is just wrong on so many levels.’
Rachel had turned as red as me, and I saw her expression darken.
‘Well I think I’ll just reply, shall I?’
She started to tap on my phone. I dropped the kettle back onto the table in my haste to get the phone back from Rachel, but she gave it a final triumphant tap and threw it on my desk before picking up her bag and marching out of the office. Kate and Anna continued to look at me, open mouthed.
‘What? It’s not like it’s illegal.’
I lifted my chin defiantly.
‘Bloody hell, Lau, no wonder you didn’t want us all asking about him. What are you thinking? Apart from all the grief he’s given Rach, who is your friend in case you need reminding, he’s a wanker of the first order and, just to top it all, he’s got bloody MS. Could you be seeing a more inappropriate person?’
I held her gaze, determined not to be ashamed. What Matt and I were starting to have wasn’t shameful, I’d checked it out with Patrick, it was just that things were awkward while Rachel was getting used to it.
Then I had a bit of a reality check. I’d known how upset Rachel was going to be, and I’d gone ahead anyway, not really caring. Now things were going to be really tricky here, I had lost a good friend, and, yes, Kate was right, it was a pretty inappropriate relationship. As I was thinking all this, my phone rang. I walked over to where Rachel had thrown it. The screen announced that Matt was calling. I answered, then walked outside.
I was more than a bit surprised by Lau’s response.
‘Get lost you cocking ballache.’
What? Something had gone badly wrong. Either I had done something to upset her, although what the fuck it could have been I had no clue, or someone had told her something about me, or maybe someone had taken her phone, maybe she’d been mugged, or – I needed to stop catastrophising and call her. I frantically hit call and waited for what seemed like a million rings before it was answered.
So she hadn’t lost her phone. It must have been directed at me, then. She didn’t sound that pleased to hear from me. Fuck, what had I done?
‘Lau? Wha’s wrong?’
Wow, it was as if he was psychic. How could he have possibly known what had just happened? He couldn’t. What did he mean, then?
She sounded hesitant and a bit confused.
‘Why did yuh call me a cocking ballache?’
Oh great. Rach had really landed me in it.
‘I didn’t. That was Rachel. Sorry, a whole lot of something smelly just hit the fan here. She saw your text, wasn’t happy, sent you a reply.’
Oh, the friend. Well that explained things a bit, but sounded bad from Lau’s point of view.
‘Oh fuck. Are yuh OK?’
Matt seemed to be taking it well. At least he didn’t think it was me who’d sent him an insulting message.
‘Been better. It was bound to happen eventually. I’d have liked a bit more time to prepare, but whatever. Better out than in, as they say.’
I tried to put a smile in my voice, but felt close to tears and took a deep shuddering breath.
She sounded like she was putting on a brave face and I so wished I could see her, hold her, make it alright.
‘Are yuh nearly finished foh the day?’
‘Hour or so more.’
Oh bloody hell, I needed to get going, if I was going to get all the buses I needed to cross the city to Lau’s house. I tried to sound as reassuring as I knew how to, before I disconnected and set off.
‘Hang in there. Hohding hands till I see yuh.’
‘Thanks. Need it. Better go.’
I sent her some virtual strength through our still mentally clasped hands, not that it was likely to make any difference, but was the best I could manage.