I saw how it was now, could just imagine how Matt the Lad would have sucked up the attention from a woman with ‘a thing’ for him, used her and dropped her. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how long it might have repercussions, but it was undeniable that Lau was now being affected by it. It couldn’t happen. I wasn’t going to let my selfish former life to fuck up Lau’s current life. I wasn’t going to allow it. I was going to have to stop, stop all of it, right now, stop thinking about myself, before I did her any more damage. You shouldn’t risk friendships for skanky blokes you’d only just met.
What had I just been thinking? How could I have been congratulating myself about being there for Lau, when all the time I’d fucked this up for her? I couldn’t do it any more, how much more shit was there to come out and mess with the people I cared about? I’d be better off out of it all, away from anyone I could hurt with my past, present or future. I didn’t quite know what that meant, I was still reeling with it, as if the realisation had drenched me with a bucket of ice water.
Lau turned to look at me.
I shook my head.
‘I can’t jus stop bein a bastahd can I. Ih carries on, all the shih. Pehpl still think I’m like tha, yuh must still think I’m like tha. Wha I did tuh her, an plenty of others, still fucking pehpl up, even tho I’m not like tha any more Serves meh righ. Prohbly deserve everything Ih’v goh now.’
I was instantly on my feet, then kneeling by him on the floor, needing to face him, show him it wasn’t true.
‘Nobody deserves to get ill. Nobody deserves to be unhappy, whatever they’ve done. And especially if they’ve tried to change. Matt, you’ve been around a few years, you know the reputation you’ve got, I expect you know what people say about you. Only you know what’s true and what’s not, and only you can show people that you’re different. You’ve showed me. You’ve showed me a caring, sensitive man who is facing up to a hell of a lot of stuff, and has been trying to do it on his own. You can’t change what you’ve done or been in the past, but you can know in your heart how you are now.’
I couldn’t meet her eyes. She didn’t know me, not really. She’d only seen my charming side, the side that was trying to get in her knickers. Shit, it was as if I hadn’t changed at all. It was a punch to the guts to realise what a selfish bastard I was being, deciding this was the woman for me, with no thought for whether it was what she wanted. She certainly didn’t need it, a lifetime of my past and my future ruining things for her.
I’d surfed along on a wave of dreams, only thinking of how much better my life would be with her, not how much worse hers would be with me. I’d spent the last two days justifying it to her and to myself, saying how much I’d changed. I had hardly found out a thing about her, except her favourite colour, her favourite chocolates and her favourite film, all the other talking had been me, taking.
‘I dunno Lau. Maybe I dohnt deserve yuh, this, us. Yuhr pretty fucking top notch. Yuh should have someone who ihnt a complete tosser an a fucking cripple intuh the bargain.’
She reached out, held my chin and turned my face towards her. I slowly lifted my eyes to hers, but could hardly bear to look into them.
I could sense a distance between us that hadn’t been there before.
‘You know what, I do actually deserve someone flipping top notch.’
I felt my lips twitch into an almost-smile at her paraphrase of my swear. God she was great. I so wished she wasn’t, this would be so much easier.
‘That person is you. I’ve only known you – what – two days. I hardly know you, but I completely know you. I’m sure there’ll be hiccups, but you tick every single one of my boxes. Please, Matt, please don’t talk about yourself like that.’
I shook my head again, and lowered my eyes. There was no other way to think about myself. I had to be real, to stop deluding myself that I had anything to offer her. I slowly sat up and leaned forwards, my hands covering my face.
‘I hahvnt changed as much as I thoht. I’m still doin ih. I’m doin it tuh yuh. Not one nigh stands, buh bein selfish, rushin in, takin. You dohnt need meh fucking up yuhr friends, yuhr job, yuhr life. Shih, Lau, I can’t believe I dihnt see ih.’
I stood up. I had to do it now, before it was too hard. It was already nearly too hard.
‘I’m gona go. I can’t do this tuh yuh.’
‘No! What do you mean? You haven’t done anything. I want this.’
Oh God, he’d stood up. He was going. What? What just happened? As he started to walk out of the room, I got up off the floor and followed him, holding onto his arm to stop him leaving.
I shrugged her off and walked up the stairs, feeling numb. In fact, I could hardly feel my feet as I made them take me away.
He carried on, out of the room, up the stairs, me behind him all the way trying to make him talk to me, trying to stop him, terrified he would get to the front door and go.
Lau was frantic, trying to make me talk to her, but her superpower had deserted her, and I shut my ears to her so I wouldn’t be persuaded. I needed to think of what I had to do, for her, not what I wanted to believe, for me, and Lau was saying all the things that would make leaving too hard to do.
When I got to the top of the stairs, I stopped and turned to face her. I couldn’t just walk out, say nothing. I had never felt so miserable.
There was so much sorrow on his face, it nearly made my knees buckle.
‘Lau, I just can’t do ih. I can’t fuck up yuhr life like I fucked up so many pehpl’s. I was jus sailin along in a little Matt world, enjoying yuh, not thinking abouh wha ih meant. Call yuhr friend. Tell her – oh fuck ih, I dohnt know, tell her I dumped yuh too, or make ih up, say wha yuh like. Dohn ruin ih wih her fuh meh. Dohn fuck yuh job up fuh meh. Ih’m not woth ih. Sohry Lau.’
I shut my eyes against the expression on her face, which was of anguish. She’d see, pretty soon, that she had no reason to be upset, that she was better off.
‘No, Matt, don’t go, please –’
He turned and opened the front door and walked out. I didn’t know what to do, couldn’t think. I called after him.
‘If you go, that’s what screws my life up. I can deal with the rest, I can’t deal with it without you. If you go, you’ve just done to me exactly what you did to Rachel.’
That nearly stopped me in my tracks. I hadn’t seen it like that, what a close parallel there was. But it didn’t change things. She’d get over it. There wasn’t really anything to get over, was there. I carried on walking until I was out of sight of her house.
I saw him break his stride as I shouted out, but he didn’t stop and he didn’t look back, just walked up the road.
My legs went from under me before I could think about whether to follow him, and I fell to my knees by the door, the tears beginning to flow down my face, as I started to sob. Hardly able to breathe, I buried my face in my hands and wept, the realisation that Matt had gone – just walked out of my life as quickly as he’d walked into it – hitting me hard.
I sat by the open front door, crying, for a long time, then my knees began to hurt, and I stood, closed the door and dragged myself to the bedroom where I lay on the bed, shuddering sobs shaking me every so often, tears continuing to course down my face, soaking the pillow.
I barely understood it. We had promised to hold hands – had we said forever? I wasn’t sure I could remember clearly, but it felt like it. I was still reeling from the stupendous orgasm. Then that text from Rachel changed everything, made him think he’d somehow ruined things for me. I wanted to make him see he’d done the opposite, but I didn’t know how. I doubted he would answer if I called him. He would still be on his way home. But the phone seemed like my best bet. I tried to dry my eyes, and went downstairs in search of my own phone.
I called up Matt’s name on the screen and pressed call. As I expected, it went to voicemail:
‘Yeh ih’s Matt. I’m suhr I’m stihl alihv, buh prohbly jus wana bih of peace an quieh. Lehv a mehsage an I’ll cahl yuh.’
I tried leaving a message, but wasn’t really sure what I was saying, and it felt incoherent and hysterical.
‘Matt, please listen to me. I don’t know why you think you’ve messed up my life. You’ve done the opposite. The last couple of days have been just the best. You’re the best. Tonight, this evening, with you was incredible. Please don’t do this, please don’t take it away from me. I want to hold your hand, I’m doing it now, across the city. Please call me, please. Please talk about this. Please.’
I ran out of words and hung up on his voicemail. I realised I sounded like a desperate dumped woman, but that was how I felt, and for good measure I sent several texts. I had never done this, begged a man to take me back, in my life, but I had no pride where Matt was concerned. He had walked off with a large chunk of my heart, and I couldn’t bear the thought of being without him.
‘Matt, please call me. Please don’t do this. You are incredible.’
‘I’m still holding your hand.’
‘Please come back, I miss you.’
‘Bruce has just realised he’s dead people. I know how he feels.’
The last one was admittedly melodramatic, but I was getting increasingly desperate. None of it brought any reply. I hadn’t expected it to, but I’d needed to try.
Once I was far enough away, and there was no sign of her coming after me, I sagged to the ground, leaning up against a wall. I heard my phone ringing, with Lau’s tone, but ignored it, and then it pinged with a text, from Lau, so I turned my phone off.
I felt like I had ripped my own insides out. Noble self-sacrifice or not, that was possibly the fucking hardest thing I had ever had to do, and it was coming close to destroying me. Over the last couple of days I’d built this little fantasy up in my head, of how it would be me and Lau, together forever, holding hands into the sunset, all that shit that I never went for. I had let myself be swept along with it, I had swept Lau along with it, and it had become my world, in that short space of time. Now, without it, I was alone again and it hurt, caused me physical pain somewhere in my gut.
I don’t know how long I sat there, staring at nothing, attracting strange looks from people walking past. Eventually my bum went numb, matching my heart, and I realised I was going to have to get home somehow. Calling any of my bloody interfering family was not going to happen, and the thought of another two hour bus journey was equally unthinkable. So I called a taxi firm and waited for what felt like hours before spending twenty quid getting across the city and back to my flat.
Feeling empty, I cleared up my plate of dinner from earlier and put Matt’s beer bottle in the recycling bin. I didn’t want to do anything else, so I turned off the TV and went upstairs to bed, taking my phone with me. As I lay down, another bout of crying swept over me, and I sobbed until I wore myself out with it, and drifted off into a broken sleep.
I went over it all, between the dozes: what I could have done differently, how I could have handled it better, what I could have learnt from where things had gone wrong before, but I couldn’t come up with anything from my past experiences that helped. To be honest, I had never felt like this before. I hadn’t had loads of boyfriends, just a handful of reasonably nice blokes who had been alright, but weren’t The One, especially Bryan the Smackhead, oh and Ferdi the Chauvinist Pig. No one who had made me feel like I did about Matt, like I would fight to my dying breath to be with him. This all tumbled around in my head between snatches of sleep and bouts of crying.
I hardly noticed time passing as I sat on my own in the flat, while the light slowly faded around me; all I could think of was what a complete mess I’d made of my whole life. I had no one to blame but myself, although I tried everyone on for size before I came to that conclusion.
First on the rap sheet was my dad. He’d bloody died before I knew him, and that must have fucked me up in all kinds of hidden ways. Then Mum, well, she always let me get away with murder, never told me I was being inappropriate, or that she was disappointed in me, although I knew she wasn’t a great fan of Matt the Lad. Beth, well, if Beth had just once kept her nose out and let me get on with things, I might not have felt the need to go it alone so much. And Jay, he was at the root of a lot of it, with his macho silences, his never talking about shit, his being older, better, more successful than me. Lastly, Dec. He’d been as fucked up as me when we met, but he’d sorted his shit out and rubbed my nose in his sortedness every opportunity he got.
And then I got real, and stopped blaming them all. My dad could take no blame. Mum always let me know, not necessarily in so many words, but with a look here and a sigh there, when she thought I’d gone too far. Beth was kind and good at heart, and she irritated me more because she was usually right than because she was inherently annoying. Jay couldn’t help being older than me, and he never said or acted like he thought he was better than me. And he had given up his job to come and look after me when I needed him. Dec was just about the best mate anyone could have, and was so far from rubbing my nose in anything. He always made time for me, even though he had his family and his rugby. Shit, I was a selfish tosser.
I sat and stared into the dark, and thought hard about just what I was going to do, then I lined up my options on the counter.
I was seriously fucked up, I knew that. Not just with the bastard MS, but psychologically. My life felt out of my control, I was falling, spinning, from a great height. Lau had stabilised me for a while, but I didn’t have her any more, and the spiralling just got worse. Maybe if I gave Adam another go. He had seemed like a good bloke, and had talked some sense. So, he was an option.
There was my family. There was always my family. I spent a lot of time moaning about them, but really, they were fucking awesome, and they would do anything for me. I loved them all, loved being a part of the huge sprawly mass of people that Jay and Beth had gathered to them. They were part of me and I was part of them, and I’d do as much for them as they would for me. And the kids – God I loved those kids. So, the next option was embrace the family, stop being an arse about it, let them love me.
And finally. It was hard to think about, because it would be the end, and it would be terrifying. But maybe the world was better off without me, and maybe I was better off without the world. I already knew how I would do it, I had told Lau. Painkillers and whisky, enough to finish it with a deep sleep. I knew how much would do it, just let me drift off, I had found out. I knew they were all terrified I would do it one day, somehow, some way. And maybe, just maybe … so that was a third option.
I lined them up on the counter: Adam’s business card. Family photos. All the painkillers I possessed, my bastard MS meds and a large bottle of Jack Daniels. Then I sat and looked at them, thinking, considering, wondering.
I had been staring into the darkness for – what? Hours? I don’t know. It was still dark, quiet, I still didn’t have any answers, only options. I was half asleep, possibly totally asleep, in some kind of trance, and I couldn’t sense the time passing. I had laid my head on my arms, sitting at the table, and I could easily have been asleep. I was drifting, in the dark, waiting for some kind of revelation. Waiting for the spinning to stop and the arrow to point the way.
It must have been about three in the morning when I suddenly opened my eyes into the dark and knew I had to go over there. To Matt’s flat. Now. It felt urgent, it felt right. Matt – Matt was The One. What was I doing lying here in bed without him? Whyever had I let him just walk out of here? I needed to be with him, sorting this out, right now. God, I was angry too. How dare he walk out on me, just go, not even listen to me? He was going to get a piece of my mind. No one did that to me, just trampled all over my feelings.
Full of purpose, I jumped out of bed, pulling my discarded jeans on and a sweatshirt over the top of my sleeping shirt, grabbed my keys, ran to my car and drove across the city to Avondale.
As I pulled up in the car park, I did stop and briefly wonder what on earth I was doing here, at this hour, or even at all. The certainty I’d felt twenty minutes ago had faded a little, and I was less sure. But I was here now. I got out and made my way over to the rank of doorbells outside the entrance. I leaned on MRS. There was no reply.
The night silence was shattered by the sound of my buzzer. Who the fuck was that? It had happened before, and it was kids, fucking about. I ignored it, but it went on and on, for seconds, then minutes, then it got into a rhythm and I just shut it out for a bit. It was bound to be annoying Mrs Bartlett upstairs enough that she’d come down and tell me off tomorrow. If I was still here tomorrow …
I stood back to see if any lights went on, on the second floor, but it remained in darkness. I leaned on the bell again, for longer. And then again, and again. I must have pressed the bell over and over again for ten minutes. Finally, when I was almost certain he was either not at home, or was wearing ear plugs, I got the result I wanted.
Eventually, I got pissed off with it, after a lot longer than it would normally have taken to piss me off. I got up and pressed the button.
‘Fuck off, whoever the fuck yuh are.
Shit. No. I couldn’t see her, she would make me change my mind. I was doing this for her. She wouldn’t understand, and she needed to stay out of it.
‘Lau – I can’t – goh away. Plehs.’
‘No. I’m going to ring your bell all night until you let me in. I might start ringing your neighbours’ bells as well.’
Oh bollocks, not at this time of night, she could give someone a heart attack.
‘Fuck ih. Wha do yuh wan?’
‘I want to see you.’
‘Because I miss you.’
No, I wasn’t having that. I didn’t want her here confusing me, making me go back on it, making me want her. I needed to send her away, tell her how it was.
‘Go away, Lau. Yuhr better off withouh meh.’
‘I’m not. I’m much, much worse off. You don’t get to say what I need, that’s up to me.’
‘I’m a stubborn fucking bastahd, you wohnt win this.’
‘It’s not a competition. And if you think you’re more stubborn than me, you’re in for a surprise. OK, I think Pinky, or is it Jeff, is going to be the first one I press …’
I was desperate enough to do it, too. I had a whole row of buzzers to press – someone would let me in, if only to shut me up, although I might get a bit of abuse from annoyed residents.
Oh for fuck’s sake. Pinky, or Jeff, or Mr Critchley as I knew him, was eighty seven and would struggle out of bed to answer his buzzer, even if Lau had moved on to someone else. And she’d call him Jeff, and he’d let her in, and who knew what havoc she’d wreak trying to get into my flat if I didn’t let her in. Once she was inside, she’d start banging on doors.
Well alright, I could let her in, I didn’t have to talk to her, did I? Surely I could do strong and silent. For the sake of Mr Critchley, then. I pressed the buzzer, opened my front door and sat back down, elbows on the table, head in my hands.
I heard the door click, and quickly pushed it open, amazed that I’d done it, I’d got in, and I headed up the stairs. At the top, Matt’s door was slightly ajar, but he wasn’t standing there waiting for me. I pushed it open, the light from the hallway the only thing illuminating the room, and saw him sitting at his small dining table, head in his hands.
I didn’t look up when she walked in, I didn’t look up when she put a lamp on, and I didn’t look up when she sat across the table from me. When she stroked my fingers, I took them away from my face and looked into her eyes, because I wanted her to believe me, to see it in my eyes that I wasn’t going to back down, because I was right. I hadn’t expected to see that much sadness in her eyes, though, and it nearly changed my mind. My strong and silent crumbled.
‘I dohnt wana talk abouh this, Lau. Yuh should jus go. We’ve only known each other a couple of days, it wohnt beh tha bad after a while, we’ll forgeh.’
This was a complete lie. I was never going to get over this, over letting Lau go. I would never forget her.
If his eyes hadn’t been saying the complete opposite, I might have been convinced. But I realised this was the reason I’d needed to be here. His eyes would tell me what I needed to know.
‘You told me you’d found something you didn’t know you’d lost, but had always needed. How can you walk away from that?’
I had told her that, it was still true, I would always need her, but I couldn’t have her, it would be wrong to do it.
‘I nehd tuh. I can’t hurt another person, I’ve spent the last fuck knows how lohng being a fucking bastahd, I cahnt duh it any mohr.’
‘So are you never going to have another relationship again?’
He looked at me and shrugged. He hadn’t thought about it. He was making a gesture without thinking about the implications. Alright, that gave me something to work with.
Who knows? I might not even be here tomorrow, then what would it matter?
‘Matt, we’ve found each other. It’s been intense and fast, and I’m on the one hand completely overwhelmed and on the other completely terrified and oh my God what are all those pills doing on your counter?’
I had just noticed them, a huge bottle of paracetamol, packets of ibuprofen, some solpadeine and a few boxes of prescription drugs. They were stacked next to a large bottle of Jack Daniels. Matt closed his eyes and tilted his head back.
She had just noticed them, and I heard a note of panic enter her voice. She looked at me, terrified. I closed my eyes, so I couldn’t see her fear.
‘Matt? Oh my God.’
I hadn’t definitely decided. It was an option.
I was frantically trying to remember my talking someone down from suicide training, not that we’d had any specific training in that, but it had come up numerous times in various courses we’d done. There was something about remaining calm; there wasn’t a lot about if it was someone you were personally involved with, someone who was about to make the most ridiculously stupid decision of his life.
‘Lau, I –’
‘Tell me you’re not seriously going to.’
He hung his head, shaking it, but I wasn’t sure if he was denying it, or was just finding it all too much.
I hung my head, shaking it, not knowing until that moment that I wasn’t going to. I almost felt the rush as my future popped back into existence.
He looked up, the pain in his eyes almost touchable.
I looked up, knowing that options one and two were, in some ways harder, now that I had discounted option three.
‘I suppohs not. If I’d meant tuh, Ih’d have done ih by now. Buh ih’s hard tuh live wih who I am, wha I am, wha I’ve done tuh pehpl. An ih’s hard tuh live wih fucking bastahd MS makin a mockery of everything I wan tuh beh.’
Everything I said from now on was top of my head, seat of my pants, no time to think, emergency response stuff.
‘Matt, seriously, I know you’ve been a bit of a player. There are people who aren’t that happy with how you’ve treated them. But it’s not like you’re a serial killer or something. Give yourself a break. You’ve had some fun, you’ve been trying to exorcise some demons, and from what you’ve told me, a lot of those demons have been duffed up and sent back to where they came from. You’ve changed. It can take time for these things to sort themselves out. You can’t tell me everyone you’ve dated, slept with, or snogged, had a dreadful time and is living a terrible life? Most of them will have had a good time, maybe even used you to have it.’
She was trying to let me off, and it was tempting.
‘Buh yuhr friend –’
‘Rachel needs to get a life and stop dwelling. We’ll work it out or we won’t, but that’s up to us, not you. You need to stop feeling responsible for how other people act and feel.’
‘Come on Matt. You feel guilty because of how much your family care about you. You feel guilty because of how much I care about you. You feel guilty because of what happened with you and Julia – do I need to go on?’
And there she was again, with the getting me, understanding me. How had she managed that in two days? I looked at her, shook my head.
‘Noh. I knoh I’m a fuck up.’
I sighed with exasperation, that wasn’t what I meant, and I needed to change tack, away from what he thought he’d done to me, and others, to get him to focus on something else. This wasn’t going to be easy to say, but I thought of something that might do the trick.
‘OK. I’m going to tell you something. It might help. It might make me cry. If it does, it’s not your fault, OK? It’s just because I’m sad. A few years ago, my dad died. He just keeled over, right in front of me. I couldn’t do anything, he was dead in minutes. We found out afterwards that he had an aneurysm, he’d probably had it for years, it was always going to happen. But it didn’t stop me blaming myself. I’m a nurse, I should have spotted something, should have been able to do more. That’s ridiculous, right? How can you control something it isn’t possible to have control over?’
I looked at Matt, who was nodding. He reached for my hand, to comfort me, and I nearly cheered because it meant he wasn’t thinking about just himself any more. Instead, I felt my eyes fill with tears. I tried to speak around the closing of my throat.
Of course, it wasn’t her fault at all, but now she was looking even more sad and I couldn’t bear it. I reached for her hand, as her eyes filled with tears. When she spoke, I heard her throat close up with emotion, but she carried on.
‘So anyway, all this time later I’ve realised the truth of that, but it took a lot of help, from friends, family, and, yes, a counsellor, to get me to acknowledge it here …’
I placed my hand over my heart.
‘… as well as here.’
I touched my head.
Tears were running down my face; I still missed my dad every day. Matt reached up and wiped a few of them away.
‘I’m sorry Lau.’
‘Thanks. But I don’t need you to be sorry, I need you to get the point. You can’t solve things with pills and whisky, whether you just get blind drunk or end up in A and E having your stomach pumped, or wind up dead. That doesn’t solve things this end, at best it takes the pain away for you, at worst it causes a whole lot of other pain for other people. And that is your fault. It’s the most selfish thing anyone can do.’
‘I knoh. Ih’m still hehr aren’t I? Look over there. Ih’s not jus pills.’
I looked beyond the terrifying pile of painkillers. There were photos of Cal, Iz and Charlie, and what looked like a business card. I looked back at Matt, willing him to explain, hoping the relief I felt when he said he wasn’t going to do it was real, that he meant it.
‘I nehded to remind mysehf wha the options are. One – end ih all. Always an option, righ? Two – fahmly. Bloody annoying option, but they’re fucking good at caring abouh meh. An I … love them, an I wana see them grow up. Threh – Adam.’
‘Psychologist. Saw him a few tihms after Jules. Made a bih tuh much bluhdy sense, stopped goin.’
OK, so for ‘a few times’ read ‘once’. I still wasn’t through with lying to myself just yet. Lau didn’t say anything, just squeezed my hand and held my gaze.
‘Yeh, I know, prohbly tihm tuh give him another try.’
I nodded, almost dizzy with gratitude that he seemed to have dismissed the pills and booze option. I decided to push my luck.
‘Dihnt geh tha far.’
‘Option four – Lau. It even rhymes, so you can remember it.’
But that was just it, she couldn’t be an option, because all of the options were instead of her, so that I stopped thinking of her as an option. I opened my mouth to reply, but she spoke first.
‘I’m always going to be an option. I’m always going to be holding your hand now, forever, you’re never going to get rid of me. Even if you never see me again, I’ll always be there, holding your hand, across the city, across the country, across the world. Wherever you are, I’ll be there too.’
‘Buh wha abouh in the loo?’
I just couldn’t help myself.
‘Even there. Although I might try not to think about it too much.’
He looked up and gave me the ghost of a smile. I gave him a full smile back. I wasn’t sure if it was crisis averted yet, but smiles and attempts at humour were a start.
I offered her a kind of smile. Yeah, what she’d just said made a difference. If she was going to hold my hand whatever the fuck I did, of course it made a bloody difference. She smiled back.
‘Fucking hell, Lau, yuhr as bad as bluhdy Dec. He told meh once we were connected by fahmly, as if there was a webcam in my head when I wiped my ahrs. Wha is ih wih yuh caring pehpl an bogs?’
She would have no idea what I was talking about, but I knew. I knew that somehow, in the same way that Dec would always have my back, Lau would always keep me safe, whether I wanted her to or not. And, oh, I wanted her to, I just still wasn’t sure it was the right thing to want.
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but he’d obviously made some connection between what I’d said and what someone else had said to him in the past. And now I needed to push it further, because I was done with being Nurse Laura, I needed to be Lusty Lau, who cared so much about this man in front of me that if I didn’t get him back I was going to make personal use of the pills and whisky that were lurking on the counter so menacingly.
‘Matt, I need you. We need each other. We belong with each other. I feel it between us.’
He looked up and as his eyes met mine, there was a jolt. I saw it hit him too.
I looked up and as her eyes met mine, there was that electric shock. She felt it too, it was like that time in Mean Bean when she touched my hand.
‘Tell me you don’t feel it fizzing between us, right now?’
He shook his head, but this time I knew it wasn’t to deny it.
I shook my head, in disbelief.
‘Yeh, I do. Lau, I never felt anything like I fehl when I’m wih yuh. Buh I’m trying tuh beh selfless fuh once in my fucking life.’
This was the heart of things, right now. I was done with being selfish, I wanted to show the world I could think about someone other than myself and my woes, or my jollies, for once.
‘What’s the point in being selfless about this? It’s not like anyone’s going to benefit. I’ve been breaking my heart since you left this evening, and you don’t look like you’ve been that happy either. Let’s end the sadness. We were made for each other, weren’t we?’
She was a fast talker; she was giving me hope. Hope that I could have what I wanted, and as well as being alright, it wasn’t wrong. Slowly, I nodded, then felt tears fill my eyes, fuck them the salty bastards. I brushed them away in exasperation.
He continued to look into my eyes, and I could see the hope there, hope that he could have what he wanted and it would be alright. Slowly, he nodded. I saw his eyes fill with tears, which he brushed away with an exasperated flick of his hand.
‘Well if we’re made for each other, it’s a bit of a waste not to be together. I hate waste, it really upsets me.’
‘Fuck, Lau, rehly dohn wana upset yuh any more tonigh.’
‘Well stop this bloody nonsense, then.’
‘Yuh swore! Only bluhdy, buh still.’
‘Desperate times …’
I saw him take a deep breath. He was stubborn, and as a stubborn person myself, I recognised him steeling himself to change his mind and accept a different way. And also as a stubborn person myself, I rejoiced a little at getting my own way, particularly as the end result was Matt looking at me a little sheepishly, trying out a smile on the face that had so recently looked like its world could easily come to an end.
It felt like it might be time to stop the bloody nonsense. I took a deep breath, sure that Lau had no idea how stubborn I usually was and how much willpower it took to change my mind, see things differently.
‘OK bluhdy cohm here an kiss meh before I change my bluhdy mind.’
We were both on our feet before I’d finished saying it, and I held her tightly against me, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, so I kissed her instead, then I tasted salt, and I pushed Lau away so I could look at her, and she was the one crying, streams of tears from the corners of her eyes.
I was in his arms and he was kissing me and holding me and his mouth was on mine and his arms round me felt so good, so right, it was like coming home, and it wasn’t until he stopped and pushed me away, and wiped my face with his fingers that I realised I was crying.
I wiped her eyes, the guilt welling up in me again.
‘Oh Lau, dohnt. Dohnt do tha. Not cos of meh.’
She rolled her eyes.
‘I’m happy, you bloody stupid man. Don’t you ever do anything like that to me again. Don’t you ever push me away and lock me out. I’m in here now.’
She placed her hand over my heart.
‘If you cut me out, you’re cutting out a piece of yourself.’
It was more than I deserved. I was going to try to deserve it, to deserve Lau, who wasn’t going to let me throw it all away, and who wanted me, and had changed my mind.
‘OK. I’ll try. Not guhd at all this. Wana try wih yuh tho, Lau, yuhr fucking wohth ih. Yuh never bluhdy give up, duh yuh?’
‘Not often. You’re fairly determined yourself, I have to say.’
Yeah, Lau, understatement much? She’d learn.
‘I’m pretty fucking stubborn. Prohbly beh some fireworks along the way.’
‘I’m OK with fireworks. Easier to deal with than silence and staring.’
Oh fuck, all of a sudden I couldn’t focus, could hardly stand upright. I hadn’t even noticed the tiredness creeping up on me, having been preoccupied with recent dramas. I found myself leaning on Lau; without her I would have fallen over. Ha, if that wasn’t a metaphor for my whole life since then, I don’t know what is.
Matt seemed to suddenly crumple. His face had gone ashen, and he sagged against me, like he had yesterday outside Mean Bean.
His voice was barely audible. He really was going to have to learn to pace himself, but until then, Nurse Laura would heed a blue light call.
‘OK, into bed.’
I put Matt’s arm round my shoulder and my arm round his waist, much as I had the other day when I’d hauled him down the street, and supported him into the bedroom.
‘Shruf … dohb … buhl …’
I was trying to apologise, but I knew it was all coming out garbled, and any second now I was going to be asleep.
He was trying to speak, but none of his words were making any sense, so I ignored him while I sat him on the edge of the bed and swung his legs onto the mattress, then laid him back on the pillow, before covering him with the duvet.
I made myself last until Lau sat me on the edge of the bed, so she didn’t have to try and lift me. I wasn’t a heavyweight, but I was too much for her to lift on her own. Of course, now I know that if I’d fallen over, she would have left me on the floor and fetched a blanket and a pillow, but that was before I knew about the sensible practicalities of NHS manual handling training. So, as soon as the objective was achieved, i.e. my arse on the mattress, it was lights out for me, and I knew no more until I stirred, some hours later.
I had no idea if I was invited, but as I was still in my sleeping shirt, I pulled off my sweatshirt and jeans and climbed in next to him. I lay awake for some time, listening to the tone and regularity of his breathing, my heart rate gradually slowing down to an acceptable speed. I’d done it, persuaded him, changed his mind, got him back. Matt was sleeping next to me, and I didn’t intend to ever let him get so far away from me again. I smiled for a long time before I eventually drifted off to sleep.