I was lying on my front, as I usually was when I woke up, and after a few of the obligatory seconds of disorientation, I realised I wasn’t alone; there was a beautiful woman asleep beside me, her body turned away from me, her form vaguely outlined by the duvet and highlighted by the morning sun filtering in through the curtains.
I smiled to myself, stretched, needed to touch the beautiful woman, so I slipped my arm under the duvet and around her waist. As I did so, her whole body flinched, and she let out a little squeal. I remembered her being similarly startled that first night; it was possible she woke up even worse than I did.
I woke with a start as someone put their arm round my waist. I let out a scream and pulled away, only to have the arm tighten around me and pull me backwards towards them. I was in a strange room, light filtering through the curtains. As my head unravelled itself from sleep, a voice whispered in my ear, making me jump again.
‘Morning Lau. Yuhr bluhdy jumpy in bed, aren’t yuh?’
I felt her relax against me, then she turned over and I forgot about teasing her as she directed her blue/green/grey gaze at me. I reminded myself, as if I needed to, how lucky I was that Lau was who she was, and that she wanted to be here with me.
‘Yeah. Sorry. It always takes me a while to wake up, even at home. I didn’t know where I was. Or who you were.’
‘Still the same bluhdy fucked up cripple I was last nigh.’
It was important that I didn’t just pretend it hadn’t all happened. What Lau had done, said, for me last night was incredible. I needed to acknowledge it.
‘Let’s not start that again.’
She pulled me close.
‘I nehd tuh. I nehd tuh say this, ask this. Then noh more, prohmis.’
She sighed. Then nodded.
‘Lau, yuh know abouh this, bastahd MS, more than anyone I know. I’m pretty bad at the moment, buh I know ih could geh better, or worse, much worse. I can’t duh tha tuh yuh.’
‘Too bad. It’s done. I’m here now. We haven’t said forever, we haven’t even made plans for today. Let’s enjoy what we’ve got, what we are now. I’m not going anywhere, Matt, whether you want me to or not. Look, I’m going to be a bit nursey now, and then I’ll be back to me. Relationships are tricky for people with MS, but usually because of how things change when one person gets it; it changes the balance of things, the dynamics have to be sorted out, reorganised. When one person already has it and meets someone – well I’m guessing it’s already there, part of the whatever it is that has attracted them to each other. OK, Nurse Laura over and out. It might get tricky for us when you start to get better. But either way, you’re stuck with me. Holding hands, whatever. Besides, who better to have with you than a self-declared MS sexpert? You’d better get used to it, buster.’
Matt was silent for a while, holding my gaze. I gazed back, lost in the winter sea colour of his grey eyes.
It was a lot to take in. When Jules had told me she was going to take care of me if I got ill again, it blew my mind. This did the same, possibly more, because however much reading Jules had done about it, she couldn’t possibly have really known what she was letting herself in for. Lau knew, with certainty, all the permutations, all the possibilities. She also knew, now, from personal experience, what I was like. And she was still here, she was still going to do it. God. I had no words to respond. No, she was right, neither of us had said we were going to be together forever, but it felt like it. It felt like it didn’t need saying, especially after last night and all the drama.
So I picked up on something she’d just said, used it to distract myself, before I started getting all bloody emotional again.
‘Plans fuh today, then?’
Lau grinned, looking like she thought she’d won an argument. Maybe she had.
‘Well, I thought maybe you could make me some of your yummy scrambled egg, and then we could stay here for a long lazy morning, and then I’ve got to go and see my mum. I usually go and see her on Saturday afternoons. You can come if you like, see how much she loves how sweary you are.’
Oh God, no, not yet, not today. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck, and needed more sleep before I went over to Dec and Amy’s later.
‘Not suhr I’m up fuh meeting the mother jus yet. Will duh soon tho. I like a challenge.’
‘It will be epic. What about the rest, though? Breakfast in bed? Other stuff in bed?’
‘Yeh, ih’s a plan. Lau … thanks. Yuhr fucking A.’
‘A? What does that mean.’
‘Oh, er, Austrahlian abbrehviation fuh, er, awesome.’
‘You don’t sound too sure. You wouldn’t be making it up would you?’
‘Noh, I never bullshih.’
‘Hmm, we’ll see.’
I smiled as I felt as far from my despair of the previous night as it was possible to feel. Things were opening up in front of me, I could almost feel my life beginning to change, and it was all because of Lau.
‘How about you stop telling porkies and get going on my breakfast.’
He grinned, quickly kissed me on the lips and got out of bed. I watched him walk out of the bedroom, checking how steady he was on his feet; it seemed to have improved from last night, and his back view, with his small, tight buttocks wrapped in his sleeping shorts, made me hug myself with pleasure.
The clatter of pans and the smell of cooking and toast stopped me from going back to sleep, and a short while later I was rewarded with a tray complete with a plate of scrambled eggs, some buttered toast cut into triangles and a cafetière of coffee. I sat up, and Matt placed the tray across my legs.
‘Wow. This is the best breakfast I’ve had since …’
‘No, better than yesterday, it’s in bed. Always a winner. And proper coffee trumps teabags any day. Not that I’m complaining about yesterday, that was mighty fine too. Where’s yours?’
‘Jus coming, couldn’t fit ih all on the tray.’
He left the room and returned with his own tray, handing it to me while he got back into bed.
‘Very civilised. Oh my God, and delicious. What on earth do you put in your scrambled eggs?’
‘Family secret. I’ll take it to my grave.’
‘Oh. That’s disappointing.’
‘Blimey, you gave that up quickly. You’d be useless under torture.’
‘I would if yuh were torturing meh. Yuhd only have to say yuh were disappointed, I’d spill the country’s secrets.’
‘That’s information worth knowing. Oh my God, this coffee’s incredible too. Is there anything you’re not amazing at?’
‘Well not tha I’m gona admit. You’ll have tuh find out foh yuhself.’
As we finished our breakfast, Matt’s phone started ringing. While he reached for it, I looked for mine, which wasn’t there, wasn’t anywhere, as I hadn’t brought it with me last night.
I didn’t know what the time was, so as Matt started talking I went in search of a clock. Eventually I found one on the DVD player. It said ten o’clock. Surely it was wrong. DVD clocks were notoriously always wrong, re-setting themselves, not being reset after power cuts – or maybe that was just me. Admittedly, Matt seemed like the sort of bloke who would have a permanently correct clock on his DVD player, but it couldn’t be ten. If it was ten, I was late calling my mum, and she’d be worried. I heard Matt finish his call in the bedroom and went back in.
‘Is it really ten o’clock?’
‘Yeh. Time fuh our other stuff in bed.’
He pulled the duvet aside and waggled his eyebrows suggestively. I hopped in and sat up next to him, as it occurred to me that most of the time we had spent together so far had been in bed, but not doing the activities you might have expected.
‘Can I ring my mum first? I usually call her before ten on a Saturday, but I’ve left my phone at home.’
He handed over his phone. I had to think for a minute about what her number was, it was so long since I’d actually dialled it. For good measure, I saved it onto Matt’s phone, as ‘Lau’s Mum’, noting with satisfaction that it nestled nicely underneath ‘Lau’ in his address book.
‘I thoht yuh were calling her, not putting yuhr entire bluhdy family on my phone.’
‘You never know when you might need to ring her, to explain why I haven’t called her, maybe because I was in bed with you for example.’
‘Oh, OK, shall I duh tha now? Give ih here.’
He snatched the phone from me and pressed call. I tried to get the phone back from him, but he held it away from me and I could hear it ringing. After the customary three rings, I heard her answer, and redoubled my efforts to get the phone back. I could hear her saying ‘Hello? Hello?’ and then ‘LauraLou, is that you?’
‘LauraLou? Ha ha!’
He finally handed the phone over, laughing.
‘Hi Mum, sorry, had a bit of a problem with the line, sorry I’m late calling, I stayed with a friend last night, and I left my phone at home.’
‘Oh, is that why I didn’t recognise the number? I was getting worried when you didn’t ring. I haven’t heard from you for a few days. Are you coming this afternoon?’
‘Yeah, I’ll be there. Anything you want me to bring?’
‘No, my love, I’ve been pretty good, I got to the shop yesterday, got a few things I needed. I’ve got another appointment at the fracture clinic, in a couple of weeks, I think they’ll give me the all clear.’
‘Oh that’s great. Let me know the date, I’ll come with you.’
‘No, no, Laura, I’ll go on my own. Don’t take a day off just for me.’
‘Well we’ll talk about it nearer the time, shall we?’
‘Alright my love. When did you say you’d be over? Only Margaret was asking if I wanted to go over for a cuppa later. We said about four.’
‘I’ll be there before then. See you later.’
‘Bye my love.’
I disconnected and handed the phone back to Matt.
‘Thanks. And thanks for freaking my elderly disabled mum out.’
He looked stricken.
‘Sorry, Lau, I didn’t think.’
‘I’m teasing. She’s only just sixty, and she’s only got a broken ankle. She fell off a stepladder a couple of months ago trying to put up a bird box in her garden.’
‘Oh, she likes birds? I can see a way in alrehdy. Big on birds, meh.’
‘Yeah, so I’ve heard.’
‘Especially ones wih interesting brehsts. Like, er, robins an suchlike.’
I raised an eyebrow.
‘Yeh, ‘specially like interesting brehsts.’
He looked pointedly at my chest, then laughingly back up at my face.
‘Actually, I duh goh birding sometimes. If yuh look ouh the window when I draw the curtains, there’s a bird feeder. I’ve got binoculars an shih, books on the shelf, yuh can check. Buh definitely like a good brehst.’
I made breakfast, went back to bed, Lau called her mum on my phone, then programmed her mum’s number in, and I would usually have got all arsey about that and felt trapped or violated or some such shit, but instead I felt pleased that Lau was starting to link her life to mine, even in small ways. And, of course, having Lau here, in my bed, was too good an opportunity to waste, now I was properly awake, and so I angled my body towards her, stroked her cheek and then ran my hand down her body, until I cupped her breast.
‘This one fehls like a rehly good one. Worth exploring.’
To my delight, her nipples were growing hard under her sleeping shirt. I hoped she was up for more of what we’d done last night, on her sofa.
My body was responding to his touch, nothing I could do about that, but I already had a strategy.
‘Be my guest.’
She lay on her back and stretched her arms over her head, enticingly.
‘Rehly? Whoa, Lau.’
I held her breast in my hand for a moment, then ran my thumb lightly over the fabric of her shirt, feeling her nipple peak even more, but I wanted to touch her skin to skin; so I slid my hand under her t-shirt, then pulled it all the way up so I could see her too, and lowered my head to take her in my mouth and suck, running my tongue over the nubbly mouthful. Lau arched her back and moaned. I licked my way across to her other breast, felt my way around it with my mouth, kissing, sucking, nibbling, teasing. Between us, we pulled her t-shirt completely off, and I marvelled again at her awesome body, so full, so inviting.
Lau was arching her back, giving me the best view, and I slid my hand downwards, down her side, across her waist, onto her belly, down further – then she put her hand on mine and stopped me. I pulled back and looked up into her face, wondering what I’d done. She was smiling, but shook her head.
‘Wha? Why not? Dohnt yuh like ih?’
‘Matt, I love it, no one’s ever made me feel like you do. But we’re doing this together. Last night, when you did what you did for me, was sensational. No one’s ever made me feel like that. But until I can do the same for you, or we can do something together, we’re only doing what we can both do.’
I’d come up with this last night, while I was lying next to Matt. I had had an awesome time, and Matt taking care of me the way he had was unbelievable, but it felt important that we started this off fairly, and this was the best way I could think of.
‘Buh I love ih, I loved yesterday, making yuh come, ih was soh fucking sexy.’
I didn’t get it; why didn’t she want it? I knew she’d enjoyed it – she’d virtually just said it was the best she’d ever had.
‘I know, me too, but it makes things lopsided, starts things off on an uneven footing. I’m not backing down on this, Matt. Equal, the same, or not at all.’
Oh my fucking God. When was this woman going to stop getting more bloody awesome? I stared at her, unable to comprehend how, what, why she would do that for me. It made total sense, although it was with some regret that I actually saw the sense it made and decided not to battle with her about it. She took the hand she’d stopped just below her belly button, and placed it back on her breast.
‘So, up here, fine, I can do that for you too, we can have a good play, get to know each other’s likes and dislikes, but no pressure on either of us. Just tingly and nice and oh my God, yes, that too.’
So she wasn’t saying nothing at all, was she, she was just saying no downbelows until my fucked-up downbelows stopped being fucked up, then both sets of downbelows were fair game. It was encouraging, even, like she was saying it would come back given time.
In the interim, I had pinched her nipple and started to suck the other one, but looked up to speak.
‘I cahnt believe how incredible yuh are, Lau. I soh, soh dohnt deserve yuh.’
‘Yeah, well, not many do. Anyway, buster, flip over, there’s some nipple action of my own I’d like to try.’
He sat up, but didn’t lie on his back as instructed.
‘Hold on, Lau. Tha’s twice yuh called meh buster. Is tha my new endearment? Yuh said yuh were gona think of one, buh I thoght ih was beahch boy.’
I thought about it. I tended to throw pet names about willy-nilly, but Matt seemed to want to know what I was going to call him.
‘Well … it could be ‘buster’, if you like it, but it’s more of a ‘don’t mess with me’ kind of name, isn’t it? If you don’t like ‘beach boy’, and you really don’t go for ‘flower’, well, could be baby – ‘
‘Noh, Nico calls Lis tha all the time, grates.’
‘– or darling –’
‘Fuck noh, not behn married fifty threh yehrs.’
‘Hmm, has a ring, buh weh dohn live in California, soh noh.’
‘Noh, noh, noh, Beth calls everyone tha, if she thinks yuhr fahmly.’
I was running out of options.
‘Dec calls Amy babe all the bluhdy time. You wehr gona give meh a manly name tha made yuh grow bollocks.’
‘OK, er, mate?’
‘Ha ha, bluhdy hell, Lau, yuh sound lihk a builder.’
‘Well, beach boy, I think your family seem to have first dibs on all the best names. We might have to invent a new one.’
I suddenly wondered why I was pissing around. She’d already said it, the name I wanted to hear her call me.
‘Noh, tha’s it. Yuh jus said ih.’
‘Beach boy. I like ih behter than all the rehst. Lihked ih wehn yuh said ih the other day.’
‘Really? I thought it wasn’t manly enough.’
‘Noh, buh ih’s diffrehnt from anything ehlse. Yuh made ih up. Ih’s jus ours. An ih mahks meh sound lihk a surfer dude, tha’s cool.’
‘If that explains it to you, then let’s go with that. I’ll try not to overuse it, and I expect the odd ‘flower’ might slip through every now and then. OK, beach boy, let’s get this show on the road. On your back, please.’
I’ve never got tired of hearing it, her special name. She doesn’t use it that often, I get called ‘flower’ more often than I care to admit, and she uses her mum’s ‘my love’ quite a lot too, but ‘beach boy’ is just for me.
With a delighted smile, Matt lay on his back, put his hands behind his head and waited as I knelt beside him, bent my head down and started to kiss his chest, trailing my lips up his sternum and then to one side, flicking my tongue over his nipples then taking one into my mouth, sucking it hard while at the same time running my fingers over the other one and flicking it with my finger.
I felt his hands in my hair, stroking, massaging, touching my ears, running his finger down my jawline and back up my neck and down my shoulder and arm, as I teased his nipples into hardened little buds on his chest, and heard him moan softly. Then he suddenly gasped and grabbed my hair so tightly it hurt.
She did it, she made me moan, and then suddenly, it all headed south, and a shot of heat hit my dick, and I gasped, my legs lifting off the bed with a jerk.
Lau stopped and looked up, looking worried. I’d gripped her hair pretty tightly, and I loosened my hold. We locked eyes as I explained.
‘Tingly dick, tingly dick!’
Lau dropped her head forwards, relieved.
‘I thought I’d hurt you.’
‘Noh, yuh tingled meh. Still tingly. Mind if I have a fehl?’
It had already lasted longer than the tingle I’d felt last night, and I wondered if I could encourage it to stay, or even to grow into something else.
‘Feel free. I’ll just carry on shall I?’
I lowered my mouth to his nipple again, flattening my tongue on it and licking in broad strokes from one to the other, as I felt Matt’s hand travel to his boxers. I put my hand over the top of his, and felt him rub himself slowly, then stop. I pushed my fingers underneath his and laid my hand on the soft shape of his penis underneath the fabric of his boxers. I slowly stroked him, to and fro, a few times, then looked up at him. He shrugged.
The tingles died away as I felt Lau push her fingers under mine and touch my dick through the fabric of my shorts. She stroked a couple of times, but nothing happened, and I shrugged as she looked up at me. It seemed the rule about the downbelows was flexible.
‘Tingles hahv gone. Thanks, tho Lau. Yuhr so fucking hot, yuhr so gona mahk meh better. Cohm hehr.’
I gestured her back up to the pillow, so I could hold her, and we lay close together, as Lau stretched her face up, lips pursed, wanting a kiss. Well I was always going to be happy to oblige the dick-tingler with requests like that. After a good while of kissing, though, something kept occurring to me, and I had to ask.
‘Lau, can I ask yuh something?’
‘Not if it’s something hard, like algebra.’
‘Algebra’s easy, buh OK, noh equations befohr lunch. Something nuhrsy.’
‘Oh, OK. Go on then.’
‘If I’ve goh a tingly dick, does tha mean things are getting better?’
I couldn’t keep the hope out of my voice. The fucking bastard had been with me for too fucking bastard long, and I just wanted a sign that it might be fucking off some time soon. Yeah, maybe it wasn’t ever going to, but I so wanted it to. I knew I was ‘lucky’ in some respects, if you can even begin to call it that, but I mean in comparison to someone who’s got, oh I don’t know, terminal cancer or something, where it’s pretty much a downhill path. At least for me there was a chance, having got better before, that I might get some of the way back up there again. I just wanted a bit of hope.
I looked up at him, and saw the hope in his face.
‘Oh God, Matt, that’s a huge question. I can’t answer it. It might do, it might not do. OK, nursey response to a nursey question. You should get yourself signed up with the MS service, get yourself a worker who can help you answer your questions, or go to your GP. Or both.’
‘Wha duh yuh think ih is?’
‘I really, really can’t say. I’m sorry, flower. I can’t tell you something that gives you hope or dashes your hopes, and then be wrong. It’s not fair.’
I was disappointed. I wanted Lau to make things better, to say I was on the mend, and she was giving me what sounded like bullshit.
‘I’m only asking yuhr opinion. If yuh wanted hehp wih yuhr computer I’d give yuh my opinion.’
‘Maybe, but my computer hasn’t been staring at a pile of pills and a bottle of whisky half the night. OK, I won’t give an opinion. All I’ll say is let’s hope so. And go and get yourself checked out. And ring the MS service first thing on Monday and get signed up. Seriously, Matt, I think I’d rather have had algebra.’
It had dropped the mood a little bit. I should have been impressed that Lau wasn’t willing to give me false hope, but it felt like she had inside knowledge she wasn’t willing to share. I know, unfair of me. Still a git, eh?
Matt’s expression had clouded a little. I knew from experience how much hope people took from small events like tingles and twitches and good days, and how much the bad days when nothing worked properly knocked them back. I had learned to be non-committal until something was confirmed either way, and that needed a doctor as well as someone neutral to help with the fall-out.
It was hard to be that way with Matt; he wasn’t a patient, and I had a lot invested in his recovery or otherwise too. I had a vision of all the fine lines I was going to be walking if this thing with us was going to work out.
‘If I call the service, can I have yuh as my nuhrs?’
That might be a way round it. Cosy nursing sessions under the duvet would work very well.
‘No. Remember I talked about this with my boss? I can’t treat you. I can’t be involved with you professionally. I wouldn’t be able to attend any meetings or discussions about you. It would be Anna or Kate. Although Kate’s an OT.’
As Rachel would also be a non-starter. The cloud deepened in Matt’s expression.
Fuck it, I’d forgotten about all that. I began to see that if I wanted answers, I was going to have to go looking for them, and that what I’d just asked of Lau wasn’t on, wasn’t even approaching fair on her. Didn’t make me like it, though.
‘I hate talking to pehpl I dohnt know abouh this. Bad enough having tuh goh back tuh Adam.’
‘I know, flower, but you’ll get to know them really quickly, and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them. Everyone says it about all of us, we’re all absolutely brilliant.’
‘An soh modest.’
I sighed as I made the concession.
‘OK Lau, I see yuhr point. I’d give yuh computer advice, buh if yuh nehded a major overhaul of yuhr computer system at work, I’d give yuh GreenScreen’s number. Fair enough.’
‘And if you ever need bandaging, or de-fibrillating, don’t hesitate to ask.’
‘An if I can hehp wih a good de-fragging jus leh meh know.’
Matt Scott, IT innuendo a speciality.
‘I know what de-fragging is.’
‘I bet yuh duh.’
The kidding about was making me feel better, so much better about everything.
‘Lau, this fehls soh good, being here wih yuh, after las nigh, yuh make meh soh hahpy. Thanks foh coming over and bullying meh.’
I folded her up in my arms, needing to feel her as close to me as possible, and we lay together for a while, just holding each other. It was like we’d got back on our mad journey, having made a stop at a crappy service station, but now having refuelled we were back on the bus for the mystery tour. Or some such metaphorical shit.
We lay snuggled together for a while, just holding each other. I realised I’d been holding on to some of the tension from the previous night, waiting to see if Matt still felt any of the anguish he’d shown, but it seemed like it might be OK to relax, and just start enjoying this again.
‘OK, only my mum calls me that. It’s not even a tease option.’
Matt looked delighted, and I suspected I was going to regret telling him not to tease me.
Oh brilliant! I loved being told not to do things, it gave me loads of tease options. She seemed to know she’d made an elementary error, and tried to look stern, but she couldn’t manage it.
‘Anyway, you know a couple of days ago, we said just holding hands for now, nothing more, just see how it goes.’
‘And I remember you saying you want to say how you feel when you feel it, or something, and I know this might freak both of us out, and I did just say we haven’t said forever, but this feels like a bit more than holding hands and seeing where it’s going.’
There was silence from Matt’s end. I daren’t look at him, scared of what I might see flitting across his face. Eventually there was an intake of breath.
I was silent. Yeah, it did feel like more, I’d been thinking that since I met her, but then I’d had my meltdown and it had scared me, and I’d wondered if I ought to back off a bit, decrease the intensity. Hearing Lau say she wanted more made it all feel real again; I’d never, really, thought long term with a woman.
Mercy was never a keeper, and I’d cheated on her as soon as she gave off ‘settling down’ vibes, great bloke that I was. With Carrie, it was pretty much ‘well things are OK, let’s keep it how it is’; with Jules we were still ‘seeing how things went’ when I fucked it all up. But now, with Lau, I was suddenly starting to think huge words like ‘forever’, and, yeah, of course, I was freaked out.
‘I know. Yuhr righ, ih fucking frehks meh righ ouh, buh ih’s OK. I dohn even knoh wha I’m doin tomorrow, I’m such a fucking mess at the moment, buh I knoh I’m gona beh doin ih wih yuh. Cahnt imagine not hohding yuhr hand, rehly or in my mind. An yuh said las nigh yuh’d beh hohding my hand fuhever.’
It was true. Freaking or not, I needed to be with Lau. I couldn’t imagine, now, ever letting go of her hand.
Lau looked at me, stretched up and pulled my head down for a kiss. I wanted to stay there, doing that, all morning and beyond, but she pulled away, looking regretful.
I risked a look up at him. He was smiling, eyes sparkling, crinkling at the corners, along with his mouth. I stretched up and kissed him. He put his hands to my face and held my mouth against his, but I pulled away.
‘Sorry, I’ve got to get going, I’ve got to go to Mum’s this afternoon.’
‘Stay a bih. Goh from hehr.’
‘I can’t. I haven’t got any clothes with me. I think I’d have a hard time explaining why I turned up to hers in my manky sleeping shirt in the middle of the afternoon. I need a shower and stuff. I can come back later.’
‘She’s going out at four, so after then I guess.’
Oh fuck it, Dec was coming to fetch me at four; it had seemed like a great idea at the time, I could help out with Charlie while they got ready. Now it meant I wasn’t going to see Lau until tomorrow afternoon. I looked at Lau, frowning.
‘I’m going tuh Dec’s, they asked meh tuh look after Chahlie. I’m gona stay the nigh. Fuck. Wanted tuh beh wih yuh.’
‘Do you spend all your life looking after other people’s children?’
I laughed. It was true that I was a convenient babysitter, but never a reluctant one. If I didn’t look after Cal, Iz and Charlie so much, I’d be visiting them anyway, so I might as well make myself useful.
‘Sometimes. I love ih tho. Getting in practice foh one day. An they all love their Unca Matty, he’s a bih bad. Sweeties an stayin up laht, an over eighteen X-box. Not fuh Iz or Chahlie wih the X-box.’
I tried my best to corrupt them all, in various ways. No point being an uncle if you can’t misbehave.
I had a wicked uncle once – wicked in the disreputable, bit of a bad role model sense, rather than, well, you know, mwahahah evil. He was who I based my uncling on. He was my dad’s older brother, and I guess he was my best shot at a father figure, although I didn’t see him very often.
Uncle Jock. His name wasn’t really Jock, it was Robert – my middle name was for him – but he was Scottish, and us English do things like that to foreigners, to put them in their place. He used to visit a couple of times a year, with his wife, Auntie Pam (she wasn’t Scottish, so no xenophobic nickname for her, just her own English name, which was punishment enough in itself). I don’t remember much about Auntie Pam, but I do remember Uncle Jock, who was a large man with a bushy red beard – oh, this could be where some of my ‘memories’ of my dad come from. I know they looked fairly similar from photos.
Anyway, getting side-tracked in the middle of getting side-tracked. So, Uncle Jock always brought us a mountain of chocolate, some of which he would let Mum see and confiscate for later distribution, and some of which he would give us when she wasn’t looking, so we could hide it in our rooms and eat it all in one go and feel sick.
Uncle Jock would spend his time with us punching Jay on the arm and congratulating him on being big and strong, but also firing hard questions at me and congratulating me on being brainy. When he was visiting, it was the only time Jay and I ever played together. Jock would make us all go out in the garden to kick a football about and he’d use his own size to bully Jay off the ball, and pass to me so I could score. Jay didn’t really like playing football, but I think he was a bit intimidated, and couldn’t refuse, at least when he was younger.
Uncle Jock would also cajole Mum into letting me stay up late to watch usually forbidden TV.
‘Let the boy experience some life, Carol, you can’t keep him wrapped up forever.’
And I’d sit, delighted, eyes wide as comedies with swear words and, if I was really lucky, the occasional topless lady, corrupted me.
And when Mum was otherwise engaged, often cooking with Auntie Pam, he’d slip me a tenner and tell me to buy something useless. He had lots of ideas for useless purchases, all things Mum frowned on – comics, X-ray specs (not real ones, they would have cost more than a tenner and wouldn’t have been available in the joke shop section of Woolworths), football stickers, Mars bars; there was a long list.
He was pretty clear on his opinions of green vegetables as well, and I always got let off eating cabbage when Uncle Jock was at the dinner table.
‘For God’s sake, Carol, the boy eats well enough, don’t be forcing him to eat shit he doesn’t like.’
Oh, and he swore. Uncle Jock was ace.
So, all in all, my role model for fatherhood came from a man who used to visit a couple of times a year until I was about ten. It wasn’t until I was a real dad that it all became clear, the difference between being a dad and being an uncle.
Then Uncle Jock stopped coming, and in the way of a child I didn’t really think about it, until years later when I asked Mum, and she looked sad and said he had dementia and had to go into a care home because Auntie Pam couldn’t look after him any more. He died when I was at Uni, and because I was in the middle of exams, I couldn’t go to his funeral. I wish he’d known what a big influence he had on my life.
But anyway, back to Lau, who has just learned that Unca Matty is a bit bad.
‘Why am I not surprised. You’re going to be a terrible father.’
No I wasn’t, I knew exactly how I was going to be.
‘Ih’ll beh a cool dad. Mohr like a mate, never tell them off, noh bedtime, noh eatin broccoli.’
I was still imagining operating the Uncle Jock model of parenting. Lau looked dubious, but let me hang on to my fantasy. I bet you’re laughing your head off now, Lau.
‘Good luck with that. Anyway, I need to get going. I’ll see you tomorrow, then?’
I frowned again; it seemed like a long time to wait, and I hoped I would last until the aftermath of Sunday lunch, which usually wiped me out.
‘I hope soh. Ih’s roast dinner at Jay an Beth’s. I dohnt geh up till laht, or I geh tuh tired, and Ih’ll be at Dec’s so we’ll goh from there. Can I call yuh?’
‘Course you can. I’ll be holding your hand until then.’
I swung my legs out of bed, and gathered up my jeans, pulling them on as Matt got up and stood behind me, putting his arms round me and kissing my neck. I stood up and leaned into him, resting my head back against his shoulder, then turned into his arms, folding mine round his neck and planting a large wet kiss on his mouth.
Before he could delay me with more kissing, touching and other villainous activities, I stepped back and out of the bedroom, trying to find my car keys. I had no idea where I’d left them last night, and tried to remember where I’d gone first. The table. There they were, still on top of the tablecloth. I picked them up, noticing as I did so that the pills and whisky from the night before had been cleared away, and then I made my way to the door. Matt leaned on the door frame of the bedroom and watched me go, a sad smile on his face. I blew him a kiss.
‘See yuh Lau. I’ll call yuh, or text or something. Prohbly both. Say hi tuh yuhr mum from meh.’
‘I will. I’ll tell her exactly what we’ve been up to this morning, she’ll be very interested, and have all sorts of advice.’
‘No! Remember the strict Baptist? That was Mum. Her advice would involve quite a lot of burning in hell. I might mention you in passing, not make a big deal, get her used to the idea. Anyway, enjoy corrupting Charlie tonight, don’t keep her up too late.’
‘I’ll miss yuh.’
‘I’ll miss you too. Like you wouldn’t believe.’
‘No. I’m going. You’re a bad man, I’d never get away.’
‘Fuck ih, yuh saw through my plan.’
‘I’m going now, before you tempt me any more.’
‘Yuh keep saying tha, yuhr not gone yet.’
I was finding it incredibly hard to open the door and actually leave. It was only when Matt started to move towards me that I realised I had to go now or not at all, and I opened the door, waved, and shut it behind me, hurrying down the stairs and out into the car park.
This time when I looked up, I saw Matt standing at one of the windows. He raised a hand to me and I waved back, before getting in my car and driving away.
It took me a while to drift off to sleep once I’d gone to bed; my body felt rested, even after the travails of last night, and I kept thinking about Lau – her smile, her voice, her body, the way she pulled her mouth to one side when she was thinking, the way she just knew what to say, the way our bodies fitted together, the way she was Lau.
I was going to find it hard not to mention her to Dec, but I didn’t want to go public just yet. There would be questions and ‘oh Matt, don’t you think …’ and ‘isn’t it a bit …’ and ‘but what about …’ and I didn’t want to have to examine all of it right now. I wanted to enjoy it, this little haven, this little oasis, of something good in the middle of all the crapola that had gone on since Jules left.
I was going to tell all of them, and soon; I’d learned my lesson from moving in with Jules that it never helped matters to deliberately keep big shit from them all. But just a few days, that’s what I promised myself, to hug it to me and savour it, before everyone started questioning whether it was the right thing for me, like I had no say, like it wasn’t, er, actually my life, thanks.