The Philpotts Letters – 2

There’s two of us living it as one (The Charlatans) and It was always you and me, always (The Wannadies) I couldn’t decide, both great tracks.

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There’s two of us living it as one (The Charlatans) and It was always you and me, always (The Wannadies) I couldn’t decide, both great tracks.

Dear Philpottses

Whoa, holy shit, THERE ARE TWO OF YOU! How the fuck did that happen? Apologies for both the implication that I am unaware of the biological process required to create twins, and the inappropriate use of bad language, especially when directed at such young people, but HOLY FUCKING SHIT!

You guys really know how to keep things to yourselves, don’t you. It’s not on, you know. You shouldn’t be all secretive until you’re at least thirteen, then’s the time to hide in your room and go all uncommunicative. Oh, maybe you got confused. Yeah, thirteen years old, not thirteen bloody weeks for fuck’s sake.

So, thanks to you guys, me and your mum are going to seriously have to get our arses into gear and move out, maybe sooner than we were intending to.

Do you realise what you’ve done to me, in the last few weeks? A month ago, I was this fairly irresponsible fucking cripple who’d just managed to persuade your beautiful mother to move in with me. No other thoughts beyond what’s for dinner and who have Spurs got in the cup.

Now though … now. Now. Now is a Whole Other Matter. Now I’ve got to think about the future, pretty damn (see, I can still do it) hard, and start, oh fuck (but not all the time), growing up. I suppose, theoretically, I should have grown up a long time ago, being thirty-five and all, but I’ve never thought being an adult really suited me. Still, sometimes you have to wear that suit and tie or possibly, situation dependent, that tie-dye t-shirt, and you realise it’s not all that bad, because it’s necessary. Although I sincerely hope it is never necessary to wear a tie-dye t-shirt.

So the reason for these ramblings? Well of course, I’m bloody freaking out again, even though I kind of convinced your mum that I wasn’t, because she seriously was, and you just can’t have both parents freaking at the same time, one of you needs to retain a grip on their sanity. It so is not usually me, and the thought of your mum freaking just made me all bloody, I don’t know, sensible and chilled about it, at the time. But now, it’s freak o’clock – the middle of the bloody night when all the freak comes out to play, and your mum’s asleep, so you’re getting the benefit of this little sharing spree.

I fully intend to let you see this one day, because naturally, by the time you’re old enough, I will have calmed down a bit and become the cool, sorted dad you know and love, and not some panicky bastard who goes all ‘aaagh I’m having two babies at once’ at the slightest provocation (OK it’s a very specific provocation, but nonetheless).

I still can’t wait to meet you, I’m even more excited now there are two of you – it’s like instant family, no hanging around wondering when the right time is to have the next one, because if we get a dog then we’re there – 2.2 kids, although officially a dog isn’t a kid. Still needs feeding and having his shit cleaned up after him though, so same diff. You guys, you’ve given me the whole package, all in one go, and it’s fucking awesome. But it’s fucking shit-scary too, because what the fuck do I know about being a dad? I’ve been an uncle for ages, got that down to a fine art, all it involves is the nefarious use of sugar and fried food, the odd game of football or pretend tea-party, sneakily siding against the parents, and it’s done. But being a dad, well I hope neither of your uncles behaves like me, I’ll kick the shit out of them.

Ha, you’d think, having just realised how bloody annoying my uncling must have been all these years to Jay and Beth, that I’d maybe change my ways a bit. No way! Unca Matty is Unca Matty, and will remain ever so. But I don’t want to feed you with sugar and shit, I want you to eat your broccoli because I want you to be healthy; I’m probably going to battle you about too much TV because it’s not good for your brain; we’ll more than likely fight about staying up late because sleep helps you to be fit and strong. I don’t want to ‘dad’ you like I’d ‘uncle’ you; I want you to have the best, but maybe I won’t know what that is, and the thought of falling short as a dad is what really terrifies me. How will I know the right thing to do? Your mum will be so cool, she always knows the answer, it’s a bit bloody annoying sometimes to be honest. But I won’t be. I’ll freak at every opportunity. So if one day you look back, having read this, and go ‘oh, Dad wasn’t being weird and crazy, he was just freaking about being a dad’, then that would be cool, and if you could just maybe tell me you’ve noticed, so I know all this wasn’t a complete waste of time, then that would also be cool.

Your father the freaking freak king

Dad (whoa it feels like I’m about ninety, writing that. But also so, so cool) xxx

99. Ghost of days gone by

In which good news brings back bad memories, but good strategies prevail.

Laura

It was later, much later, we had been asleep for hours, having gone to bed early.

Both of us had to go back to work the next day, I wasn’t looking forward to waking up at seven seventeen again for the first time in over a week. Matt had a more leisurely reintroduction planned, as he wasn’t due in until the afternoon.

I was deeply asleep, and only stirred briefly when I heard the buzz of Matt’s silenced phone on the bedside table. It was dark, and I went straight back to sleep, but something must have woken me later. I turned over to find Matt’s side of the bed empty and cold. There was no light seeping through the gaps around the door, but I knew he was out there.

Sighing, I swung round, grabbed a cardy and got out of bed. I felt my way to the door, then opened it carefully and quietly, my eyes straining in the darkness to see Matt. I heard him before I saw him, a soft choked sob. He was crying. I felt for the switch and turned the lamps on; he was lying curled up on the sofa, facing away from me, and I saw his body stiffen as the lights went on, but he didn’t turn round.

Matt

With a flash that startled me, the lights went on. Lau. I felt her kneel by me, trying to pull me to face her. I slowly turned over, squinting against the light, and felt her smooth my hair. I reached for her hand and held on to it, tightly.

Laura

‘Matt?’

He closed his eyes and more tears leaked out. I looked around for a tissue, felt in the pocket of my cardy, and found one, possibly slightly used. I wiped his eyes. Matt wasn’t usually reluctant to show his emotions with me, although I knew he hated crying in front of anyone else, and I was worried about what had brought him out here, away from me, to lie on the sofa and cry to himself.

Matt

She sounded so worried. She must have heard me snivelling, and now she could see the evidence in the tears and snot on my face. I closed my eyes and more tears leaked out; I felt a tissue wiping my eyes. Lau always had a tissue.

‘What’s the matter?’

I opened my eyes, and was instantly aware of the concern on her face.

‘Sorry Lau.’

My voice sounded thick with all the crying.

‘I tried not to make any noise. Did yuh hear the phone?’

She nodded.

‘It was Dec.’

Lau’s face took on a look of horrified panic.

Laura

My heart gave a lurch – something must have happened with the baby.

‘No! What’s happened?’

Matt

I didn’t get what she was so worried about, then realised she thought I meant Dec had called to say something terrible had happened with the baby.

‘Oh, no, shit, Lau, no, they’ve had him, he’s fine, shit, sorry, no. Thomas Jack, er, nine pounds something enormous, takes after his bloody sister in arriving at inconvenient times of the night. They’re all fine.’

Lau slumped with relief, but looked confused.

Laura

I let out a breath of relief, my heart still pounding from imagining something awful.

‘What, then?’

Matt

I sat up, swung my legs off the sofa, and put my face in my hands. I’d barely been thinking coherently about it all, just feeling it, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to explain it to Lau. She sat next to me, snuggled up close and rested her head on my shoulder. I felt better just because she was there, and I put my arm round her and leaned my cheek against the top of her head.

‘I wana tell yuh Lau, I’m jus … jus not sure if you’ll be OK with ih. I’m jus feeling sad about something.’

‘Well, tell me. Knowing can’t be worse than imagining. I thought we could tell each other stuff.’

‘Yeah, we can, I do tell yuh stuff, fuck it Lau, I’ve told yuh stuff about me I’ve never told anyone. I jus don’t wana upset you.’

Laura

‘Too bad, buster, I’m upset that you’re sad. Spill it.’

He took a deep breath. Looked at me, nearly breaking my heart with the heavy sadness there in the winter greyness of his eyes.

Matt

I took a deep breath and looked at her, trying to find the words in her eyes that would say it the right way.

‘OK. Well, Dec an Amy having their baby, practically a year since they had Charlie, ih’s jus made me think about Jules.’

I paused so I could see how she was reacting. She didn’t give anything away, just nodded, holding my gaze. I’ve always thought it was unfair that Lau is so, so good at making people ‘fess up to shit, but doesn’t ever show how she’s feeling about what you’re saying. Anyone would think she had counselling qualifications or some such bollocks.

Laura

He paused so he could see the effect his words were having on me. I was surprised, but shouldn’t have been. I remembered, now, him telling me that Julia had left the day Charlie was born, when he told her he wanted children. Was that really only a year ago? I nodded, holding his gaze and trying to carefully arrange my features into a neutral expression. I was pretty skilled at that, having had plenty of people telling me things they thought would shock me, over the years. I felt very far from neutral, and little spikes of fear were poking at me, as I thought about what Julia had meant to Matt, and what his tears might mean.

‘Do you miss her?’

Matt

I looked at her in shock. Maybe Lau didn’t give much away on her face, but she’d just told me she was worried and insecure about how I was feeling. She was scared I was missing Jules.

‘What? No, I wasn’t even thinking tha … no, not any more, not since you. I wasn’t thinking about her like tha.’

‘So, you’re not going to tell me you still love her, or you’re regretting splitting up, or you’re leaving me or something?’

Oh no no no, see this is why I was trying to do this on my own, on the sofa.

Laura

Please say no, please say no. Oh honestly, how insecure are you, Laura Shoem – er, Scott.

Matt

‘Shit, Lau, no, oh fuck it, no.’

Laura

Oh thank God.

Matt

‘Don’t you remember me saying, way back, when I first saw yuh, tha was it for me. Whoever I’d been with, I would have finished it tuh be with you. That includes Jules. No, you daft gorgeous woman, I am not bloody leaving you or something.’

She looked relieved; more relieved than when she’d thought something had happened to Dec and Amy.

Laura

I couldn’t help a relieved breath escaping from me.

‘OK, then. In that case, you can tell me anything.’

Matt looked at me, trying to work out if it really was alright to say whatever it was that was on his mind. He breathed in.

Matt

I looked at her, trying to work out if I really could say what was on my mind. I just had to trust that Lau was serious when she said I could tell her anything. She’d always been cool, at least on the surface, with talking about Jules in the past, but I hadn’t done for a long time. I breathed in.

‘Alrighty then. But before tha, you have tuh know I love you, Lau, so so much, more than I’ve ever loved anyone or anything, even Spurs.’

I meant it; it took a lot to replace the mighty Tottenham Hotspur in my affections, and Lau knew that, even if she didn’t completely understand it. I smiled to let her know I knew my declaration didn’t mean as much to her as it did to me.

Laura

He had a smile on his face, and a look that he only gave to me, usually just before he tried to wind me up about something. I relaxed.

‘Wow, really, more than Spurs? You have got it bad.’

Matt

‘The baddest. You need tuh know that. You an Jules are so different. She was sad an a bit mixed up, really. You’re so happy, nearly always, yuh make me smile inside. I’m not having a crisis about us – yeah, I know I’ve wobbled a lot today, yesterday, whenever the fuck it was, but none of tha was about us, it was about me an my shit. OK, now I’ve built it up into some huge thing, I’m gona tell you an you’re gona go ‘oh, is that it, I thought it was something big’, aren’t you.’

At least, I bloody well hoped so, that was the whole point.

Laura

‘Matt, whatever it is, it’s made you cry, so it is big. Please just tell me and stop putting it off. I can cope. You love me more than Spurs. That’s all I need to know.’

Matt’s devotion to Spurs was complete, and for him to even say this in the heat of the moment, when he was trying to reassure me, was pretty huge.

Matt

It seemed like it was going to be OK to say it. So I did.

‘Right then. Well ih was really jus the phone call from Dec, brought it all back, that day. How I felt, wha a mess I was, how upset Jules was, wha a bastard I felt I was. I fucked her life up. I was jus thinking about her an wondering wha she’s doing now.’

‘You never really told me exactly what happened, I mean, I know she was angry about you telling her you wanted a family, and she got upset and walked out.’

It was true that I’d never gone through the details with Lau. When we first got together, it was still a bit raw, and as time went on it seemed less important, and I’d just never told her.

‘She was a bih more than upset. I sat here, on this sofa, an she threw stuff at me. Or rather, threw stuff that jus missed me. She practically trashed the place. It was fucking scary. An she had a right to be angry, I’d turned things upside down for her. She thought I was wih her, the same as her, we used tuh make fun of Dec an Amy and all the hoopla about the baby, we made lists of pros and cons of having children, with ‘sex’ on the pros an a million things on the cons. She thought I was jus like her. I thought I was jus like her, until I realised I wasn’t. She felt betrayed. We never said forever, we never even said fuh the next six months, but moving in was huge for her, she’d never trusted anyone that much before. I wiped all that out wih one sentence. I can usually forget, but when Dec called, I just remembered it all, an it was almost like I was there in that day again. I feel bad abou how it ended. I never spoke to her, apart from a couple of really short phone calls, after she left, an I don’t know if she’s OK or not. Jules was kind of my wake up call. When we first … got together, the way ih happened, I realised jus how out of control I was, wha a bastard I’d been, an for how long. She hated meh to start with, then she realised I was serious about wanting tuh change, an she let me in, trusted me. I should have taken better care of her. I was gona go an see Dec an Amy later, but I feel weird about it, it was such a major moment last time.’

It was a bit of an outpouring. There were some things I was never going to be able to tell Lau, mainly because I was ashamed of myself; one of them was what happened when Jules came back here that first time, when it all got out of control. But now I’d told her a lot of the other shit, and yet here she was, still holding my hand and stroking my hair.

Laura

Through all of this, I had been holding Matt’s hand and smoothing his hair. He hardly ever mentioned Julia now. At first, he would say things like ‘Oh, me an Jules went there for dinner’ or ‘Jules used to say …’ but he gradually stopped mentioning her, and I thought he might have got over their obviously painful break up. It was apparently still on his mind, brought to the forefront by an important event, which was often the way these things worked. I couldn’t help the tiny insecurities wriggling about in my mind, the ones that said ‘he loved her and she left him’, and ‘Julia was petite, beautiful and classy, and you’re a slightly overweight, scruffy wonk’, and asked ‘is he really over her?’ and ‘does he wish he was still with her?’, but I tried to ignore them so I could help Matt.

‘You told her the truth as soon as you knew what it was, you couldn’t have done any more.’

Matt

I’d told myself that a thousand times, too, but it didn’t make any difference.

‘I know. Ih still feels fucking awful.’

‘You’re a lovely man. You wouldn’t hurt someone you cared about on purpose.’

‘Noh.’

‘We’ll go and see Dec and Amy together, we can meet there at lunchtime, then you can go on to work. Do things differently, then you won’t be thinking ‘this is the same as last time’ or waiting for something momentous to happen. It’s about Dec and Amy, not about you. You haven’t got any major secrets lurking, have you? Ready to spill out and take us by surprise?’

Laura

Please don’t have any lurking secrets.

Matt

No, these days I was a lot more honest with myself, evaluated my feelings more. But you never knew, I suppose.

‘I bloody hope not. It’s not like I knew last time, not really. But yeah, great idea, Lau.’

Trust Lau to come up with a way to make it better, take the tension out of it.

Laura

‘Do you know where she is now?’

I had no idea, really, if Matt had kept tabs on Julia, or maybe even stayed in contact, so I wasn’t exactly asking just to help him talk about it. There may have been a ulterior motive.

‘Jules? No, not really. I know she went to Norfolk, where she was from, got a job in Norwich. No idea if she’s still there, she didn’t keep in touch with anyone from work.’

Oh, well, phew, again.

‘So you can’t contact her to find out if she’s OK?’

Matt

It was awesome that Lau was even suggesting it.

‘Noh, an I wouldn’t. I said I wouldn’t contact her. She’ll have put it all away, consigned us tuh history, moved on.’

As I said it, I realised it was more than likely true. Jules didn’t dwell on things that were done with, it was inefficient. She never even really seemed to grieve for her aunt who had brought her up from an early age, so I guess the indecisive bastard who she went out with for a few months would have been tons easier to put out of her mind.

‘Sounds like you think she probably is OK.’

‘As OK as she got. She was bloody shaken up, though, we both took time off work after, an there was one week, jus before she left, when we were in the office at the same time. She was like a ghost. She used to have this Ice Queen thing going on, could freeze a frivolous remark in its tracks, but she let it all slide tha last week, jus did her work, hardly looked at anyone, got up to date with her projects, slipped out an left. She locked stuff away in her head, worse than meh even, wouldn’t talk about it except tuh her best friend. I think what’s made me sad, is never knowing. I want tuh know she’s OK, because that’ll make me feel better, and I can’t, there’s no resolution. I’m just a selfish git.’

Laura

So although it seemed he was over Julia, he hadn’t had any of that fabled ‘closure’ that therapists like so much. Well I had a counselling qualification, I could wade in a bit now.

‘No you’re not, you’re a caring man who wants people he’s loved to feel OK. There aren’t many blokes I know who would get this upset about a woman who left them a year ago. Maybe it’s time to let her go, though? You’re never going to know, so that’s what you need to make peace with. Maybe write her a letter, like you did with Philpotts? You don’t have to send it, or show it to me, or anything, you can tear it up afterwards, or stick it in your sock drawer, delete it or save it if you do it on your laptop, whatever, but maybe that will give you your resolution?’

Matt looked at me like I’d just solved world hunger. It was gratifying, although the Level 2 Counselling Certificate should really have taken the credit.

Matt

‘Lau, you’re a sodding genius. An so cool. I can’t believe you’re giving meh advice about how tuh get over an ex. I love you. An you shouldn’t beh out of bed at this time of night, come on, let’s go back, it’ll be seven bloody seventeen before yuh know it.’

Lau always got up at seven seventeen on a work day. She said seven fifteen was too early, and seven twenty was too late. As long as she snogged me awake before she left, I didn’t much mind. I stood up and held my hand out to her, then wrapped her up in my arms as she stood up.

She made me feel so safe, like anything could happen and she would know what to do, like I could feel anything and she would make it alright, like I could do anything and she’d celebrate with me or help me pick up the pieces. I buried my face in her hair and murmured in her ear.

‘I don’t know wha I did tuh deserve you, Lau, but ih must have been something bloody brilliant. Ih would have to have been in some past life, I haven’t done anything nearly good enough in this one. Maybe when I was a squirrel, I shared my acorns wih another needy squirrel.’

Not that reincarnation was something I believed in, in any way, but it was just a metaphor type of thing.

Lau, imagining me as a grey furry woodland creature, looked up at me and laughed.

‘I can just see you as a squirrel, rampaging through the trees, snogging all the lady squirrels.’

‘An sharing acorns.’

‘Well, naturally, you’d be a generous squirrel. With such great nuts, it would be only fair.’

‘Yuh must have been a badger.’

Oh bollocks, why on earth did I say that? Badger, for fuck’s sake. Duh, Matt.

Laura

Oh come on. That needed an explanation, and it had better be a damn good one.

‘Really? A badger? Not, oh, I don’t know, a gazelle, or a leopard or something graceful and beautiful?’

Matt

Yeah, that would have been a better choice of past-life animal. But I did think of a way out.

‘Noh, tha’s what you are now.’

‘Ooh, nice save. But explain badger.’

‘Well, they’re noh nonsense, buh bloody ferocious when they defend their patch, an they never let go. Good arses too.’

‘Hmm. OK, I’m too tired to argue about that one, maybe we’ll come back to it another time. Are you coming back to bed? A cuddle would be lovely.’

‘Yeah, one squirrelly cuddle coming righ up. Mind my nuts though.’

‘I’ll try not to hold on too ferociously.’

‘Ouch, painful mental image.’

We flopped into bed and wrapped each other up, falling asleep quickly.

Laura

It only seemed like a minute later that my phone was bleeping annoyingly. For a while I thought I must have put the wrong time in, I felt so tired, but then I remembered getting up in the night, and sighed.

I turned over to Matt, who was lying on his front, his face turned towards me, mouth open, fast asleep. As I often did before I got up, I stroked his dishevelled hair and kissed the side of his face, then dragged myself out of bed, my whole being protesting.

It took a while to reintroduce myself to my morning routine, but eventually I was ready, on my way to work, negotiating the morning traffic, pulling up outside the office.

I had beaten everyone in, which made a change from normal and was surprising considering my reluctance and feet-dragging from earlier. I put chocolate Eiffel Towers on everyone’s desk, put the kettle on, turned my computer on and waited for them all to arrive.

Kate was first. She walked in, a huge smile on her face when she saw me.

‘Lau! How’s married life?’

‘Great. Really great.’

‘So, twins, eh? Better enjoy it while you can, you’re going to be too bloody knackered to think in a few months.’

‘I know. I can’t quite get my head round it.’

‘Know what, Lau, when you first announced, or rather didn’t announce but we found out, that you were seeing Matt bloody Scott, I thought you wanted your bloody head testing, but you really are so happy. Your wedding, Lau, it was the best wedding I’ve ever been to. I mean, only the registry office, but your vows were lovely, you looked bloody awesome, and Matt in a kilt, with his brother as well … if I did speechless, I would have nothing to say, but you know me better than that, and I have to congratulate you on the acquisition of the kit beneath the kilt, lady. Nice. Very nice.’

‘Thank you.’

‘And you know what, he’s bloody potty about you, girl. Absolutely out of his head, crazy in love. Sorry I was a bit, you know, doubty about it all to start with, and you kind of went really fast, going out, moving in, baby, wedding, before we could really get our heads round it, but –’

I laughed at the single-handed onslaught of Kate’s words. She never held back with her opinions, but she was also free with apologies; she’d let you know if she thought you were being an idiot, but she’d be as open when she thought she’d messed up too. It wasn’t always comfortable, but it was Kate, and sometimes a dose of honest opinion was what you needed.

‘Kate, take a breath. Thanks, flower, I’m glad you can see we’re happy. Eat your chocolate Eiffel Tower and have a cup of tea.’

I handed her a mug.

‘Where is everyone? I’m usually last in.’

‘Oh, it’s just me and you today. Patrick’s at a conference, An’s got a day off, and Rach, well, Rach has gone to Brighton for a long dirty weekend with the lovely but slightly intimidating Jed.’

‘He’s not intimidating, he seemed really nice.’

‘Yeah, he is nice, but all those tattoos, piercings and whatnot, at first viewing you find yourself holding on extra tight to your handbag, don’t you.’

‘Only if you’re a prejudiced cow, which of course you’re not, being willing to give people a chance and find out they’re usually alright in the end.’

I didn’t seem to be able to help myself coming on strong with Kate, she often pushed my buttons, but she didn’t take it too personally, and we were smiling as we were bickering and chatting. It set the tone for the day; we both had visits, but met up back in the office to write notes, and chatted as we typed.

‘You going to take much maternity leave, Lau?’

‘Er, hadn’t given it much thought. Might not get a choice, depends on how big the babies get, how big I get, my blood pressure, all the fun of being pregnant.’

I placed my hand protectively over my belly, an action I’d found myself doing many times over the last week or so.

‘You need to think about what you’re going to do. What if you decide not to come back? You have to pay back all your maternity pay and stuff.’

‘Yeah, I know, it’s just another thing to think about on top of everything. I think the first thing we’re going to have to do is find another place to live. Buying a house can take ages, we need to get started.’

‘You’ve got six months.’

‘Six months until they’re born, but I don’t want to be moving when I’m the size of a small elephant, and there’s the risk of them coming early before we’re ready and everything.’

‘Oh, I suppose so. Are you going to sell your house? Haven’t you just got tenants in?’

‘Yeah, I have. We’re going to see how we do with selling Matt’s, then use the rent to pay our mortgage on the new place. It’s a shame, I really love his flat. It just feels nice, great views, it feels like home. But it’s far, far too small.’

‘You’ll have to have us over before you move out, you’ve been on about this view for months, but have you invited us? No. Kept it all to yourself. I think a girls’ night is on the cards, chuck Matt out, let him loose with his mates, we can have a good nosey through his underwear, tut at the dust in the corners.’

‘You won’t find much of that, he’s pretty clean and tidy.’

‘Really? Never struck me as the type. Bloody hell, Lau, you really fell on your feet, didn’t you. Bloody good looking, great arse, didn’t piss off when he got you up the duff, and knows one end of a hoover from the other.’

I grinned.

‘I know, it’s the hoover that did it for me.’

‘Well it would be more than enough for most of us, you’re just a greedy cow, getting that and so much more. Should have left at least a little bit for the rest of us. What about his mates? I know that Declan Summers is taken, but I wouldn’t kick him out of bed on a cold morning –’

‘He’s just had a baby, this morning. Mitts off.’

‘Oh, bugger, what is it with all this baby shit. Isn’t there anyone else? Those rugby players are well ripped. That Nico Tiago, phewee.’

She fanned her face with her hand.

‘He called me a beautiful lady, but then he called everyone a beautiful lady, and his wife was laughing at us all going all unnecessary. Aren’t there any single guys at that bloody rugby club?’

‘I wouldn’t bother with a rugby player, Kate, from what I can tell you’re pretty much man-free every weekend, no late nights or parties in the season, unless it’s a week off, they’re knackered all the time –’

‘Yeah, but it’d be worth it, just for a feel of those muscles. They must get a bit of action, isn’t this Declan Summers’ second baby?’

‘Yeah. A girl and a boy now.’

‘Oh, I can just feel my biological clock ticking. You realise I’m the only one left, now? It used to be us three united, An the only boring old married bird, now with you and Rach copping off, I’m all alone.’

I gave Kate a rueful smile, then thought of Rachel.

‘I’m glad Rach came, though. I thought she might wimp out at the last minute.’

‘No way was I gonna let that happen. Besides, she wanted to show off Jed. I think it was a bit weird for her seeing you snogging Matt’s face off, at first, but she seems over it now.’

‘Good. Maybe we can finally put all that to bed now.’

Kate smiled and we tried to get on with some work.

Matt

I was roused from deep sleep, not by being snogged by Lau, the selfish cow had let me snooze on and gone to work, but by the alarm on my phone. I picked it up to turn it off, noticing it had been sounding for more than fifteen minutes. My early morning meltdown must have tired me out. I sat up, to avoid falling asleep again, rubbed my face, and started my day.

Dec

Dec: = Meet Thomas Jack Summers-Wright, a bloody enormous 9lb 8oz. That’s my boy! -pic-

Beth: =Thx 4 pic, he’s so lovely. Looking 4wd 2 lots more cuddles xxx

Jay: =Well done mate. Bit of a giant. Love and ouches to Amy.

Rose: =did you send a picture i couldnt open it

Matt: =Wot a bruiser. Future prop? Cu l8r x

Diane: =Thank you Declan, what a lovely picture.

Nico: =I think they are best friends already.

Lis: =He’s amazing, already looks as big as Basty. Luv 2 Amy xx

Lau: =Oh oh oh! Love him love him love him xxxxxx

Matt

I really missed Lau. I missed her and the babies. It seemed like my whole family had left me, and I was rattling around in my flat which seemed empty of its most vital components – Lau and the Philpottses. By the time I’d had breakfast and showered, and put laundry on, it was time to think about going to see Dec and Amy. I texted Lau.

Laura

As lunchtime approached, I got a text from Matt.

‘How’s work? Still OK 2 meet Tom?’

I had to think for a minute, wondering who Tom was, then remembered Matt telling me Dec and Amy’s new arrival was called Thomas Jack. I smiled, looking forward to it greatly.

‘Work OK. Lot of chatting. When u wanna go 2 hosp?’

‘Ready now. 15 mins?’

‘Cu there. Miss u loads. Xxxxxxx’

‘Me 2 ❤ xxx’

‘Oh you’re so cute with your texting. Lots of love and kisses?’

Kate had a teasing smile on her face.

‘Just lunch arrangements. We’re – actually we’re going to see Dec and Amy’s new baby. Look, he sent a picture.’

‘Ooh, get you with your ‘Dec’, I think you might be too good for us now, Lau, famous rugby mates and everything.’

‘You knew we were friends with them. You knew Matt’s brother is the coach at Raiders. They’re just people.’

‘Yeah, to you. To me they’re bloody famous people. People I see in the papers and on the news, and on that bloody great advertisement hoarding by the railway bridge. I know they’re nice and everything, they were lovely at your wedding, but shit, Lau, I was a bit in awe.’

‘You’re daft. Anyway, I’d better go. See you in a bit. If you go out to get a sandwich, could you get me something? Not sure I’ll have a chance to eat. Ooh, and some cheese and onion crisps.’

‘Certainly your majesty. Any other requests? Hang on, you hate cheese and onion.’

‘Yeah, craving. Thanks, flower.’

I saw Kate roll her eyes as I closed the door behind me.

Matt

We met in the car park at the maternity unit and I held Lau and kissed her like I hadn’t seen her for weeks.

‘How’ve yuh been? How are the Philpottses?’

‘We’ve all been great.’

‘I really missed yuh all. When you’re away, you all go. I feel lonely.’

‘You daft sod, it’s not like I never went to work before.’

‘Yeah, but today all three of yuh went. Didn’t know there were three of yuh leaving me behind before. Yuh take them with you, it’s not the same for you.’

‘I suppose not. You’ve got a picture, though, you can always look at that.’

‘Yuh know that’s not the same.’

‘I know it’s not, best I can do, though. Come on, let’s go and say hi to Tom.’

We walked into the building and along the corridor. I felt pretty familiar with this place by now, having visited Beth, Amy and Lis here. A little thrill went through me as I realised it would be our turn next. We’d be the ones in the room, with the babies, waiting for people to come and say hi.

Laura

I wondered to myself whereabouts I’d be in a few months when it was my turn – if I’d be in this building or somewhere else. I hadn’t given any thought to giving birth, had been shying away from that part of the whole process. Yet another of those things we were going to have to make decisions about in the not too distant future.

Matt

We reached the door of the room where Amy and Dec were, and I squashed my face up against the glass in the door as if I was eight years old. I did a lot of things as if I was eight years old, it kept me young.

Amy was sitting up in the bed, Dec was perched on the edge with a bundle of baby in his arms, wrapped in a blanket. The ever-present Rose sat in a chair with Charlie asleep over her shoulder. Dec stood up as we walked in, and handed the baby to Amy.

‘Hey, mate, thanks for coming.’

He walked over and gave me a brief hug – only a blokey, back-slappy one you understand – then kissed Lau on the cheek.

‘Hey Lau. Great to see you both, how was the honeymoon?’

‘Great, yuhr plastic Eiffel Tower is in the suitcase awaiting unpacking. Amy, how are you?’

She looked tired, and pale, but radiantly happy.

‘Wiped, as expected, thanks Matt. Here he is, though, it was completely worth it.’

She smiled proudly down at the baby in her arms and Lau and I went to look at him, kissing Amy and congratulating her.

‘Want a hold?’

‘Fuck yeah. Ooh, he’s bloody enormous. Ow, Amy.’

I pulled a sympathetic face at her.

‘Yeah, well, let’s not go there. Here you go.’

Laura

Amy handed Tom over to Matt, and we both bent over him, exclaiming about the usual things like tiny fingers and eyelashes. I had never seen Matt with such a young baby; he seemed very comfortable holding him and talking nonsense to him, and my heart swelled with something warm and fuzzy.

Matt

He was a big bundle compared to Charlie when she was born, but back then I’d had to maintain that ‘I don’t really care’ attitude, and now I could let rip with the ‘oh he’s so tiny’ comments, and I loved it. I even talked unintelligible bollocks to him; I think he appreciated it. Then I handed him over to Lau, who looked like she was busting for a go.

‘Here, Lau, your turn.’

Laura

I looked at Amy, for permission.

‘Go on, you need to get used to it. Hopefully both of yours won’t be this big.’

‘God no, I’ll burst!’

Matt passed Tom carefully over to me, and I held him in my arms, feeling his weight and wondering to myself what my own babies would feel like. From the contemplative look on Matt’s face, he was wondering the same thing.

‘Oh, hello young man. You’re rather lovely, aren’t you?’

Tom was looking straight at me. He had blue eyes, like his mum and dad, but I couldn’t see anything else that looked like Dec or Amy just yet.

Matt

‘Soh this name, all the mystery, like bloody last time. Tom’s really not that weird of a name, you know. All the suspense somewhat uncalled fuh.’

I was looking at Amy, but Dec answered.

‘Well we’d pretty much decided on two names, we just didn’t know which way round we were going to have them, we wanted to wait till he was here.’

‘And?’

‘Well, my dad was Tom, and Amy’s was Jack, so Thomas Jack is the two dads. When he arrived, he was more a Tom than a Jack, so that’s his name.’

‘Ohh. Awesome, guys.’

It was an amazing tribute, and similar to what they’d done with Charlie, who was Charlotte Lucy after Amy’s grandma and Dec’s mum, and Charlie after Dec’s name once upon a time. The sudden emotion took me by surprise.

‘Oh you bloody bastards, you did this last time, got meh all emotional.’

I wiped the salty bastards away with the back of my hand.

‘Tha is awesome, though.’

It made me think about what we might name our children. Maybe just choosing a name we liked wasn’t enough. There was plenty of time to consider it, but sometimes a name is more than just a name.

Laura

I jiggled Tom a bit, then reluctantly gave him back to Amy.

‘He’s gorgeous. Well done. He’s very cuddlable.’

‘Thanks, Lau, thanks for coming. Is this your lunch hour?’

‘Yeah, but first day back, I’m taking it easy.’

‘Good for you. So, twins, then. You’re completely full of surprises, you two.’

‘Yeah, weh don’t hang about once we get our arses moving. Lot of catching up to do, eh Lau. Hey, we should book a room here while we’re here, we should get some kind of bloody family frequent user discount or something.’

‘It’s hard to discount something that’s already free on the NHS.’

‘Oh yeh. Well, free bedpans then.’

‘I think you’ll find those are free too. Although not to take away, if that’s what you’re after.’

Matt

That’s my Lau, defending her beloved NHS to the death from predatory charlatans like me.

‘Fill our pockets, Lau.’

I laughed and kissed her on the forehead.

‘This is my fourth trip here in, what, four years, tho. Kind of feel like they should at least recognise me on the front desk.’

Dec nodded. ‘Yeah, I can’t believe it was only just over a year ago we were here with Charlie. Not sure I can remember much about it, apart from Charlie being born and us all being chucked out because we were being too raucous, and you staying with me, Matt, because – why did you again? Oh. Sorry.’

Dec looked embarrassed, as he remembered that I stayed with him on account of being a fucking loony after splitting up with Jules. Dec glanced quickly to Lau, wondering how much I’d told her about that day. Lau squeezed my hand, realising the same thing. I gave her a wink. I’d wondered if coming here would set things off for me, but it was fine, it was great, I was here with Lau and we were making new memories, not reliving old ones.

‘It’s OK, Lau knows all about Jules. She’s cool. Yeah, a loh’s happened in a year. Look at Rose, double granny. You’re very quiet there, Rose.’

Rose had been sitting in the chair, with Charlie asleep in her arms, just watching us all. You usually couldn’t shut her the fuck up, and it felt slightly weird to have her here but not chatting. Rose looked at me and spoke in a whisper.

‘Don’t want to wake this one up, love. She didn’t sleep well last night.’

‘Oh. Charlie usually sleeps through anything, doesn’t she?’

‘Yeah, but sometimes having her fall asleep on you feels special. Sorry, Rose, we’ll keep it down a bit.’

Trust Lau to get to the heart of it, understand why Rose wanted to hang on to this moment, here with her own family.

‘Oh, don’t worry, love. Don’t mind me, though, pretend I’m not here.’

Dec turned to her. ‘Bloody good job you are here, Rose, you’re a lifesaver, I can’t believe how fast you got to ours yesterday. Those driving lessons have really paid off.’

Rose smiled at Dec and touched Charlie’s forehead. Charlie stirred slightly but didn’t wake up. Despite Rose’s carefulness, she looked like nothing was going to disturb her for some time.

‘Sit down, Lau.’

I gestured to the other unoccupied chair.

‘No, I can’t stay, I’ve got to get back to work.’

‘I thought yuh were taking it easy, first day back an all?’

‘Yeah, and I’ve driven over here and I’ve got to drive back, and then I’ve got to go on visits this afternoon. You planning on pitching up at work any time soon?’

She raised her eyebrow.

‘I don’t have tuh be there till three, for a meeting, I’ll be home by five.’

This was my last week of really short hours. Next week I was working every day, although still only after lunch. Lau was making the most of teasing me about it.

‘You’ll probably beat me back, then. I’ve got a full afternoon.’

‘No rest for the wicked, Lau.’ Dec grinned at Lau, as Amy cuffed his arm.

‘Don’t be mean, hon. It’s horrible having to go back to work after a break, especially if you’ve got a busy day.’

‘How the fuck would you know? You haven’t even been back since before Charlie.’

‘Oh, let’s completely not get into whether being a mum is work right now.’

‘Ha ha, OK, because then we’d have to get into whether chucking a ball around a field is work, and then we’d have to fall out, and make up, and we all know where that gets us.’

Dec gestured at Tom and raised an eyebrow at Amy, who blushed.

‘Whoa, way too much info, guys. I think, now Rose is retired, Lau is the only one here who earns her living the conventional way. Off yuh go, Lau, go an graft for us scroungers.’

Lau rolled her eyes, but picked up her bag and jacket, then went over to kiss Amy goodbye.

‘Well done, flower, he’s lovely. Rest those stitches while you can. I’ll be round for a cuddle with him once you’re home.’

Amy smiled up at Lau.

‘Good. You can tell me all about Paris, including the bits you won’t tell Beth.’

She winked at Lau.

‘Oh, shit, weh were gona text Beth about going over tonight, Lau.’

‘Oh yeah.’

‘I’ll come out to the car with you, talk about it on the way. Back in a minute, Tom, don’t run off now.’

Lau left with a wave, and I followed her out.

‘What do you wana do? Are you gona be wiped?’

‘No, I’ll be fine. One of Beth’s meals, and not washing up, sounds great, actually. We didn’t give her or Cal their presents either.’

‘OK. Come home first, though, wana say hi properly.’

‘Well I’m not going to go round there in my uniform.’

‘Oh, so you’re gona come home an take ih off for me?’

Lau raised an eyebrow. ‘Wait and see how tired you are after work. And how tired I am. I’ve got an excuse to be knackered now, too.’

‘Ih’s only a sodding meeting.’

I had a momentary relapse into the mardy git who didn’t like being reminded that he was recovering from a flare-up of the bastard MS.

‘You have a short memory, Matthew Robert Scott. Last week, you had a one hour meeting and you came home and slept for two hours.’

‘Yeah, mum.’

Maybe the relapse was a little more than momentary.

‘Don’t you dare. I’m just reminding you, that’s all.’

‘I’d just found out I was gona beh a dad, an decided tuh get married. Pretty full on. Buh OK, Nurse Laura, I promise –’

I held up three fingers in the scout promise gesture.

‘– I will be sensible.’

Relapse over. Lau always made sense, and I nearly always did what she told me. In the end.

‘Glad to hear it.’

‘Fuck, it doesn’t pay to cross you when you’re at work, does ih? You’re seriously assertive.’

‘Have to be. Some of these problem patients just push their luck all the time.’

‘Loving your work, Lau. Looking forward to yuh being bossy in your uniform later.’

I wrapped her up in a hug and then bent my head down for a kiss, opening her mouth with my tongue and exploring deep inside her soft, warm mouth. Lau folded her arms round my neck and pulled me close, as I slipped my hands into her hair and gave it a good messing.

Laura

Then I remembered I was in a hospital car park in my uniform, and pulled away, smoothing down my tunic and running my fingers through my hair.

Matt

She was going to have to do a bit more than that to make herself presentable in the office; everyone was going to know she’d had a snog with her new husband. Result. I laughed at her, stroking her cheek.

Laura

Matt laughed; he had known exactly what he was doing.

‘Oh you! You’ve made me go all unnecessary, and now I’ve got to go back to work.’

‘Jus a little something to keep reminding you of meh through the day.’

He chuckled.

‘Yeah, like I don’t think about you all the time anyway.’

His face melted into a soppy smile.

Matt

‘Aw, really?’

Lau constantly surprised me with little titbits like this. She often seemed so practical on the outside, but inwardly she was as sentimental as the next person.

‘Really. Now, though, instead of tender images of you, I’m going to have pornographic ones while I try to listen to Mrs Giles rabbit on about her waterworks.’

Perfect. She was going to be thinking sex thoughts about me all afternoon, and then come back home in her hot nurse’s uniform where we could explore some of my own sex thoughts.

‘Ha ha. Good luck then. See you later.’

With a quick peck on the cheek, I turned and went back inside.

Dec and Amy were sitting close together on the bed, looking adoringly at Tom, when I got back. Rose had fallen asleep with Charlie in her arms. I was aware I was intruding on their family time, but I wasn’t going to stop long. I wanted to get to know this new member of the family, hulking great brute that he was, and also wanted to eradicate the memory of some of the shit that went on when I was here before, with Charlie. Meeting Charlie had been a life-changing experience, and I just wanted this to be normal, to hold Dec’s son without it having a profound effect on my immediate future.

‘Hey mate. Lau gone back to work?’

‘Yeh. I’m going in later, jus for a meeting.’

‘It’s going alright, though, being back?’

I hadn’t really thought about work for the last week, but now I considered it, yeah, it was going OK. I mean, I was tired, but not so tired I couldn’t do anything else, and ramping it up next week was going to be testing, but I was pretty sure it would be manageable.

‘Yeh, ih’s great, actually. Getting back in the swing has been hard, but I really missed everyone. An obviously they missed me. Place nearly fell apart while I was away.’

‘Yeah, I can imagine. No one to bring the coffee and doughnuts, however did they manage.’

‘Piss off. I am a vital cog. My boss told meh so.’

‘Don’t they have to say shit like that, motivation or whatever?’

‘Again wih the piss off. Soh, Amy, one of each, two under two, all that.’

I diverted my attention to Amy, who was shaking her head at the fucking about.

‘Yeah, it’s completely brilliant. I always wanted a boy and a girl.’

She looked down at Tom, love in her eyes.

‘I always wanted three boys and three girls.’

Dec grinned at Amy, who looked up at him, slightly horrified.

‘Well you can give birth to them, then, hon. I can’t even think about any more right now.’

‘Fair enough. This’ll do us. Oh, look, he’s awake.’

Tom had opened his eyes and was waving his hands about. I wondered if he was going to cry, but he just lay and made snuffling noises.

‘He’s awesome, guys. Well done. I assume Beth and Jay have been already?’

‘Yeah, Beth came first thing, and you just missed Jay. Iz was itching to have a hold, but she’s too young.’

‘Am I too young?’

I was also itching to have another hold, and wasn’t shy about showing my eagerness.

‘Oh of course, Matt. Here you go.’

Amy passed Tom to me, and I was again astounded by the trust they had in me, that they didn’t, at least outwardly, double check my arms were firing on all cylinders before letting me hold their newborn child. Nevertheless, I sat down in the other chair, just to be on the safe side. I hadn’t dropped anything for a while, but you never knew when the fucking bastard was going to make a bloody fool of you.

‘Hey Tom. Jus so you know, I’m your Unca Matty. Don’t listen tuh what they all say, I’m the coolest one. Me an you, we’re gona play Asteroids on the internet together, an I’ll teach yuh how to cheer the best football team, an when yuhr mum’s not looking, I’ll slip a quarter of sherbet lemons in your pocket. You’re gona love me.’

‘He is, Matt.’

I looked up at Amy. I’d been talking a load of bollocks, because he was looking right into my eyes, and I wanted to hold his attention, but she was being serious, and it was touching.

‘They all love you, Charlie, Iz and Cal.’

‘Thanks, Amy.’

I expected some fucking about to be forthcoming from the Summers corner, but he was just nodding. Maybe all night in the labour room and a new baby had dulled his senses.

I cuddled Tom for a bit longer, then had to go, so I could get to work on time. It had worked, doing things differently, not comparing experiences, being there with Lau; I had come out of my funk from this morning, managed to re-consign all the crap I’d been moping about earlier to the recycle bin in my head. I drove home feeling lighter, happier, and ready to start my working week. It was already Wednesday, and I wasn’t working tomorrow, so it was practically the weekend. The working week felt great.

98. I’ve got news for you

In which word gets around.

Matt

My phone pinged with a text, at the same time as Lau’s. They were both from Beth, the same question.

‘Any news from the scan? Waiting …’

‘She can wait. We’ll surprise her, jus go roun unannounced. Oh, unless … do you want tuh jus be somewhere quiet, take it all in, have a think?’

Lau

I smiled up at Matt. I loved that he was thinking about what I wanted, but I was as excited as he was, although maybe a little less eager to score points over the rest of the family. Oh who was I kidding, surprising Beth was major, and it didn’t happen very often, it was as good a reason as any.

‘No. I want to tell people, I think saying it, showing them the pictures, helps make it more real, stops the freaking. Come on, back in the car, Beth first, then our mums. Then Amy. I’m going to text the girls at work.’

Matt

‘I wana text Dec, I’m so gona love this, I beat him hands down. Twins, hah! Oh, but then he might text Beth, spoil it. Oh bollocks, though, if we wait until after we’ve seen Beth, she’ll text him and spoil it.’

Tying myself up in knots about who to text and what to say was way more fun than tangling myself in fight or flight running under a bus on the way to Brazil.

‘Ask him not to say anything?’

‘Huh, yeah right, tha’s asking for it, he won’t be able to resist.’

‘Say I’ve asked.’

‘Ooh, you’re an evil cow. Tha migh just work. On it.’

Dec may possibly do the opposite of what I asked, just for the hell of it, but he didn’t know Lau well enough yet for that. I sent a text.

‘Just had scan. Due Julyish. Oh, and it’s a they. Twins. Lau says pls don’t tell Beth until we do.’

‘Sent. Right, leh’s get round to Beth before Dec crumbles.’

Laura

We stood on the doorstep, arms round each other, giggling, the whole situation suddenly seeming very funny. Beth’s car on the drive told us she was in, and as an added bonus, Lis’s car was outside on the road. The door opened, revealing Iz and moments later, Beth.

‘Iz, sweetheart, what have I told you about not opening – oh! Matty, Laura, hello! Come in, how was Paris? Have you just had the scan? How are you both? Lis is here, come and tell us everything.’

Iz held her arms up to Matt, who scooped her up and planted a big kiss on her cheek. She solemnly wiped her face with the back of her hand.

‘Hey beautiful. Not so keen on the sloppy kisses?’

Iz shook her head.

‘Sorry, blondie. Come on, leh’s go an sit down. We’ve got some news for your mum.’

Beth turned and looked at us, talking as we walked into the living room and sat down.

‘Due date?’

Matt

I jumped in as I saw Lau open her mouth to reply; I knew how long I wanted to string Beth along, and Lau was shit at playing games of any sort. She was likely to blurt it within seconds.

‘End of Julyish.’

‘Oh, that’s not very exact.’

‘No, well, there were some complicating factors, eh Lau.’

Lau nodded, keeping schtum, just for me.

‘Well are you going to tell me, or shall we play twenty questions?’

Yeah, at least twenty, if at all possible.

‘Ha ha, Beth, I love ih when I irritate yuh. Guess if you wan.’

‘Can I have a go?’

Lis was always up for joining in the fun, although she wasn’t as entertaining, as she didn’t get annoyed with me.

‘Yeh, Lis, write your guess on a piece of paper an if you’re correct yuh get a prize. Basty provides it, a full stinky nappy, jus for you.’

‘Gee thanks, really makes it worth my while. I can get one of those free any time I like without any effort at all.’

Beth was losing patience.

‘Laura, you’re being very quiet, is everything alright, sweetheart?’

Beth had gone in for the kill. She knew as well as I did that Lau couldn’t avoid a direct question.

Laura

I nodded. ‘Matt wanted to have his fun. I’ll give you a clue.’

Matt

No Lau, don’t do it.

Laura

‘There –’

‘Oh! Twins?’

Matt

Unbelievable.

‘Holy shit, Beth, how the fuck do you do it?’

‘Matty! Honestly. You really are going to have to tone down your language. If you won’t do it for us, at least do it for your own.’

‘Sorry, Beth, buh Lau didn’t even say anything. I know she’s usually bloody useless at giving cryptic clues –’

‘Thanks.’

‘– but she didn’t have a chance to give anything away.’

‘She said ‘they’re’. As in they are, as in more than one.’

‘I said ‘there’ as in, er, ‘there might be …’, as in yes, you’re right, it’s twins.’

Lau caved, as I knew she would, and Beth looked triumphantly at me while Lis squealed, making Bastien jump and starting him off wailing. Iz ran in to see what the noise was about.

‘Basty crying.’

‘I know, sweetheart, he’s alright, he’ll go back to sleep in a minute.’

‘Or maybe not. Iz, it’s time for Basty’s lunch, come and help me feed him, yeah?’

Iz nodded, and followed Lis to the kitchen.

Beth looked at Lau, melting.

‘Two at once, sweetheart. Wow.’

‘I know. Talk about life-changing.’

‘You two don’t know the meaning of the words ‘taking it slowly’ do you?’

‘Ha ha, noh, we’re full-on hundred miles an hour people. Matt and Lau, don’t even know where the brake pedal is. Next item on the madness agenda, finding a fucking house big enough for a family of four.’

Beth frowned at the ‘fucking’, but as there were no small children within earshot, let it pass.

‘God, Matty, a family of four. You’ve caught up with me and James in one leap.’

And that was it in a nutshell. Not that it was a competition, because as I’m sure you will be aware, I am not competitive in the slightest. But, oh, to have achieved everything I wanted, had yearned for, in a way, over the last year, in the space of less than a fortnight, and that I could now consider myself equal to Jay in the family department, well, it meant a lot. And it was typical of Beth to know just how important it was, without me ever having said anything to her.

‘Have you told James yet?’

‘No, he’s at work, isn’t he? I texted Dec, but I guess he’s still training too.’

‘James will be back in a while, it was just a morning session today. How about Amy?’

‘Thought we’d pop roun an see them in a bit, after the mums, buh I think Lau texted her in the car?’

Lau nodded. ‘She hasn’t replied yet, though. I expect she’s got enough on her mind at the moment.’

‘Yes, you could be right. You heard about the panic over the weekend?’

‘Yeah, Dec said Braxton-Hicks or something.’

Beth smiled, and looked at me soppily.

‘Oh Matty, look at you, knowing all the technical terms like an old pro. I’m so pleased for you, sweetheart.’

She sat back and looked at us both.

‘You know, I’m so lucky. After Iz, that was it, no more for me,’

I was aware of some kind of gynaecological shit going down after Iz was born, but not the details. I guess Beth was happy with her family but might have liked more.

‘But the babies just keep coming, first Charlie, then Basty, now three more. Sometimes this family is a lot to cope with, eh Matty, but there’s never a dull moment, and the children keep us young. Or very, very old, one or the other.’

‘Yeah. You’re gona be Aunty Beth now.’

She already was, in a way, to Charlie, although what kind of random pseudo relation you’d actually call her – granny? If I was feeling particularly mean, then yeah. But this was bona fide Aunty territory, and she swelled up a bit with pride.

‘Oh Matty, I am, aren’t I. Well, I know I already am with my sister’s children, but I’ll be a very proud aunty of these two. A special privilege.’

Iz chose that moment to run back into the room breathlessly announcing,

‘Basty did a big sick. It in Lis’s hair, Mummy.’

‘Oh God. Coming, Lis.’

Beth got up and hurried to the kitchen, while Iz stood next to me, twirling a golden curl round a finger, looking at me from underneath her eyelashes. I put an arm round her and pulled her close.

‘Hey blondie. Know what? Me and Lau jus went all the way tuh France an we brought you something. It’s in Lau’s bag.’

Laura

I belatedly remembered the doll I had tucked in a pocket of my handbag. Iz looked at me shyly. She wasn’t usually shy, and had no qualms about asking for something she wanted; today she was playing the coy-but-cute card.

‘Yeah Iz, it’s in here somewhere. Come and help me find it.’

I pulled my bag onto my lap and Iz skipped over to begin digging into the different pockets. It was a game we played a lot, with my huge bag with it’s many flaps and zips. I knew exactly where the present was, and kept Iz away from it until the last minute. When her hand found the packet, she looked up at me, and I nodded.

‘You found it, flower, well done. Have a look inside.’

Iz unwrapped the bag and took out the doll, which was a small cloth man wearing a beret and striped Breton shirt, with a string of onions round his neck. He was a model cliché. Iz seemed less than impressed; she might have preferred pink and fairy wings, or maybe the bride and groom figures from the wedding cake that I’d promised her but forgotten to bring with me.

Matt

‘Do yuh like him, Iz? He’s Pierre.’

Iz nodded, not particularly convincingly, picked the doll up and sped out of the room while we laughed.

‘Well that could have gone down better.’

‘Ungrateful brat. See if weh bring her anything back next time we’re on holiday.’

We heard a key in the door, and a moment later, Jay walked in.

‘Hey Matty, thought I saw your car outside. Hey Laura –’

He bent down to kiss her cheek.

‘– how was Paris?’

‘Wonderful. Thanks Jay, it really was fantastic. We’ll bore you with the pictures later.’

‘Look forward to it. Hotel OK?’

Jay was fishing for thanks, and although I wasn’t disinclined to thank him, he wasn’t going to be allowed to bask.

‘Hotel was bloody awesome. View of the Eiffel Tower from the balcony, hundreds of Euros of room service racked up tuh your credit card, we hardly left the room.’

Jay went a bit pale.

‘Seriously? You didn’t go out at all?’

I knew the stingy git in him would baulk a bit at that.

‘Noh need, we had everything on tap, all our meals sent up, breakfast, drinks from the mini-bar, views when weh wanted. We were on our honeymoon, kind of expected ihnt it? Oh, did jus go out long enough tuh get you this – Lau?’

Lau rummaged in her bag and found a small, tacky, plastic Eiffel Tower. She handed it over with a grin. Well, he did ask for it, literally.

‘Wow, thanks mate, glad you brought back such a great present, sorry to make you go to all the trouble of actually going out into, oh I don’t know, France, for some actual bloody holidaying in romantic bloody Paris. Jesus, if I’d known you were going to stay in the whole time, I’d have got you a DVD of the bloody Eiffel Tower and booked you into the Travelodge down the road.’

Iz ran in with her newly bestowed doll in her hand.

‘Look Daddy.’

Jay crouched down to his daughter; it always surprised me, how focussed Jay could be on his children, how unselfconscious he was talking with Iz about My Little Pony and princesses.

‘Oh, wow, Iz, who’s this?’

‘Unca Matty an Lau bringed him. He’s spare.’

‘Spare?’

Jay looked confused, not that this was an uncommon occurrence.

‘Unca Matty say spare.’

Iz looked at me to back her up.

‘Oh, no Iz, he’s Pierre. It’s a French name.’

‘Peeyair.’

‘That’s right, blondie.’

Iz seemed a bit more enthusiastic about the doll now she had someone to show it off to, and possibly now she didn’t think he was some kind of leftover plaything.

‘Really? So, they must have gone out to get this as well – on the same trip to the same gift shop, I bet.’

Jay was being so outraged at us apparently having taken advantage of his generous gift that I was thoroughly enjoying myself, while Beth and Lis came back in, Lis with wet hair and a change of shirt.

‘Oh, hi Jay. Sorry, Basty just threw up all over me. Don’t you just love baby vomit, especially in your hair. Better get home. You two, I expect to hear all about Paris very soon – well, maybe not all, just the non X-rated highlights, yeah?’

‘Huh, don’t hold your breath, Lis, they stayed in their room and looked at the Eiffel Tower out of the window.’

‘No! Really, guys? Oh, that’s so romantic.’

Jay rolled his eyes, but Beth narrowed her gaze and looked sharply at me. I’d talked to her last night, and she knew it wasn’t true.

‘He’s winding you up, James. I’d have thought you’d be able to tell by now.’

‘Ha ha, gotcha. I love ih when you fall for it. Especially when ih’s because you’re being a tight-arse.’

‘Jesus, Matty, you bastard. Just wait –’

‘James, honestly.’

And I loved it when I got him in the shit with Beth, too.

‘Sorry, Beth. Blame Matty.’

‘Hey, I’m being good.’

Well, for the time-being, anyway.

Lis laughed at the usual Scott brothers shenanigans.

‘OK, people, I’m off before the family feuding starts in earnest. Bye Beth, thanks for cleaning me up. Bye Jay. Bye you two, congratulations on your news.’

As Lis left, I saw Jay looking confused. It didn’t take much in the usual run of things, but now he was trying to work out what the news was, as we had already done the baby and wedding bit. He turned to me as Beth left the room to see Lis to the front door.

‘News?’

‘Yeh.’

Great, more stringing it out.

‘About?’

‘Oh, baby stuff.’

Jay was so easy, it was hardly sport.

‘Oh, you had your scan, Laura.’

He turned to her, knowing he was more likely to get a sensible answer.

‘How did it go? Got a date?’

‘Yeah, end of July, give or take.’

‘So what was Lis talking about, congratulations? It’s not like you’re having another baby, is it.’

Oh he was handing it to me on a plate. I could hardly contain myself.

‘Well … kind of.’

‘What?’

I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

‘How does twins sound?’

‘What? Really? Fu … er … flipping heck.’

I nodded.

‘Jesus, Matty. You really know how to stack it up, don’t you, you pair. I can’t keep up. How are you, Laura?’

‘I’m fine, we’re still getting our heads round it.’

Beth came back in, smiling.

‘It’s lovely news, isn’t it. Have you got any pictures from the scan?’

‘Yeh, an a DVD too. Wana see?’

‘Oh yes, sweetheart. Iz, do you want to see Matty and Laura’s new babies on the TV?’

Iz looked at us assessingly.

‘Unca Matty hasn’t got a baby.’

‘No, not yet, sweetheart, the babies are in Laura’s tummy, like Dec and Amy’s baby. We won’t meet them until the summer, but a special camera has looked in Laura’s tummy. Oh, thanks, Laura. James, pop this in, would you?’

We watched the DVD, the first time we’d seen it, and had absolutely no objections when Beth wanted to play it over and over again. I was so proud of my boys (yeah, still on that track; no son of mine was going to be a girl) I just wanted to drink in every wriggle and squiggle.

Dec

‘Rose, it’s Declan. How soon can you get here? The baby’s on its way.’

:Oh, love, I’ll be there as soon as I can, about ten minutes? I’ve got my bag all packed. Everything tidy?

‘Yeah, all seems according to plan. Hurry, though. And no crying before you get here.’

:Alright love, I’ll control myself. See you soon.

Laura

I was just showing Beth the still photos, when Jay’s phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the screen.

‘Dec. Hey mate … oh bloody hell, what really this time? … oh, OK … well you can if you want, but they’re here, I can pass the message on … yeah, did you know? … oh, fair enough. I guess Rose is with Charlie? … Good luck, then, mate, yeah, see you soon. Let us know.’

He looked up.

‘Baby’s on its way. For definite this time. He was going to text you, Matty, but didn’t seem much point as you’re here. Rose is on her way over there, you can stand down red alert. He’ll let us know, hopefully not in the middle of the night, but he’s pretty fond of announcements in the early hours. Didn’t he text you when they found out?’

Matt shrugged. ‘Yeah, but I guess we’ve both done our fair share of waking each other up over the years. Important stuff, doesn’t really matter what time ih is.’

‘Huh, yeah, I’ll remind you of that next time I call you on a Saturday morning about match tickets.’

Matt grinned, nothing, not even Jay’s grumps, likely to get him down for now.

‘OK, Lau, weh should go an see the mums before word spreads. Don’t tell them, Beth, I know you love a good goss, but give us a chance tuh get there an back home before you call, righ?’

‘Alright, Matty, if you insist. Oh, come here, both of you, before you go, such lovely news.’

Matt

Jay and Iz got bored of the Squiggly Line repeat show after a while, and wandered off in search of their separate entertainments, but not before Jay got a call from Dec to say Amy was in labour, and I was not required as an emergency Charlie-sitter. Not that I’d ever thought I would be, with Rose waiting in the wings; it was just a little disappointing that they were overshadowing our baby news by actually having an actual baby on the same actual day, but I suppose they’d had the forethought to get in first, and I couldn’t begrudge them.

Finally Beth had seen the DVD enough times, and we thought we’d better go and spill the beans to Mum and April before Beth’s jungle telegraph did it for us.

Beth still wanted more, and while we were trying to make our escape, instructed us to ‘Come round tomorrow, dinner? Bring all your photos.’

‘We’ll text yuh. Bye.’

I pulled Lau down the drive, before doorstep chatting could commence, and we both sat in the car.

‘Shit, thought weh were never gona get away. Love Beth, but she’s bloody unstoppable sometimes. Right, your mum or mine? Ha ha, we must beh old, that should be your place or mine.’

‘Yeah, we’re an old married couple now, no more chat up lines or flirting.’

‘Fuck no, we’re far too sensible fuh that. What’s a nice girl like you doin in a dive like this?’

‘Ooh, looking for a man like you.’

‘Bloody hell, even our lines are ancient. There’s no hope, Lau.’

‘Apparently not. It was inevitable. Now you’re a dad, your hair’s going to fall out and you’ll have a beer gut by the end of the month. And I’ll start wearing sensible shoes and trying to hide my bingo wings with long sleeves.’

‘Ha ha. You’ll still be the sexiest mum at the school gate. Righ, let’s go an see some real mums, remind us how young we actually are. Mine first?’

‘OK.’

Laura

We drove the short distance to Carol’s house, texting her first to let her know we were on our way. She was at the door as we pulled up.

Carol rarely showed a lot of emotion; she often sat and quietly watched everything going on, adding the odd comment, seemingly enjoying being part of it all without needing to join in the competition for attention.

Matt and Carol had a very close relationship, although you’d never know it if you saw them together in a large group. When it was just the three of us, and I expect when it was just the two of them, Matt chatted away with her about her friends and neighbours, he did odd jobs for her, cooked meals for her and took good care of her. When there were more people about, he retreated behind his banter, albeit still watching out for her from the other side of his messing about.

Carol was more chatty when there were less people, and I sometimes smiled to myself to see them talking together like a couple of old folk about the terrible prices in the Co-op or the graffiti in the bus shelter.

And now we were walking up to her front door. Matt reached her and folded her up in a hug.

Matt

‘Heh Mum.’

‘Hello, dear. Hello Laura, dear.’

She hugged us both.

‘How are you? Did you have a nice time in Paris?’

‘Yeh, awesome. Got some pictures on the iPad if you wana see.’

‘Oh lovely, come through, I’ve got the kettle on.’

Well of course she had. She’d even had a few minutes’ notice, so there was nothing unusual about that.

We followed Mum into the kitchen, where the warning text had also given her time to put out cups and biscuits. I pinched a chocolate digestive off the plate, earning a bat on the arm.

‘You should offer one to Laura before feeding your face.’

Mum loved Lau. She always took her side over mine. Story of my life.

‘Lau’s more than capable of looking out fuh herself.’

‘Yes, dear, I know, but she’s too polite to grab a biscuit before it’s offered.’

‘Ha ha, polite? Yuh never tried to stop her getting her hands on a double choc chip. She’ll have your eye out.’

‘When you’ve both finished discussing me like I’m invisible, I think I’d like to sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit, thank you very much.’

‘See Mum? Bossy cow.’

‘Matthew, that’s no way to talk about your new bride.’

I treated that with the contempt it deserved. Wasn’t I the new groom? Didn’t I get some special consideration too? I picked up the tray and carried it into the small living room, where Mum was obviously eagerly anticipating some sort of holiday slide show.

‘So, where’s this iPad then, Matthew?’

‘Oh, in the car. Er, weh, er, got some other news first. Lau had her scan this morning.’

‘Oh! I completely forgot.’

Mum looked worried. I suppose it was easy to forget that a) I knew what the news was, so wasn’t worried, b) she was my mum, and so genetically predisposed to worry, and c) given recent times, it could have been anything we were about to land on her – joining a commune at the end of the month and moving to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean? Not as unlikely as it would have seemed, say, a year ago.

‘Is everything alright?’

I put my hand over hers.

‘Yeh, it’s all good.’

Mum’s face cleared. She knew I never bullshitted her like I bullshitted everyone else.

‘Have you got a date?’

‘Yeah, late July.’

Oh, just because I didn’t bullshit her doesn’t mean I didn’t play the odd mind game. I like to think she enjoyed it as much as me.

‘That’s not a date, dear, that’s a month. I thought they were usually quite precise these days.’

‘Yeah, well, it’s a bit hit an miss on account of Lau not knowing her dates, an also on account of it being twins.’

I sat back, job done, and watched Mum assimilate it. Her eyes widened.

‘Twins! Oh, Matthew. Laura, that’s wonderful, dear. Oh, but two babies, you’re going to have to get moving, aren’t you. You’ll never all fit in that flat of yours.’

Mum always managed to be positive but realistic about everything.

‘Noh, we thought we’d move in here.’

The look on her face was priceless, as, for once, she thought I was serious, for just a moment. She looked delighted at the thought of us living with her, which was humbling, then worried about where we’d all fit, and then really bloody worried about how she was going to say no. Hilarious.

‘He’s joking, Carol. We’ve got plenty of time to find somewhere. Don’t worry, you’ll be granny for visits and sleepovers only.’

‘Sorry, Mum, couldn’t resist.’

She tried to disguise the relief, but didn’t quite manage it.

‘Well, alright then, dear. You know I’d find room for you if you needed it.’

Yeah, it would have to be in the cupboard under the stairs, but I appreciated the sentiment.

‘I know, Mum. We’d never do that tuh you, we’d invade Jay and Beth, serve them righ for interfering all these years.’

‘Matthew, you know your brother only wants the best for you.’

‘I know. And you know I only want tuh annoy him in return.’

It was a conversation we had a lot. Mum thought I should try to curtail my gleeful Jay-winding-up sessions on account of ‘all he did for you’, but I maintained that Jay and I were happy as we were. She tutted and rolled her eyes, then sat back and looked at us.

‘Twins. Well, well. So you’ve caught up with Jameson in one go. No one can say you’re not fast workers, can they?’

‘Noh, they can’t. Caught up wih Dec and Amy too – oh, did yuh know Amy’s gone into labour? Dec called Jay while we were there.’

‘Yes, I did, Rose called me a while ago, she’s there with Charlie. She’s very excited.’

‘I bet. Charlie all tuh herself, an another one in the pipeline. All her grannying dreams come true.’

‘So am I going to see these pictures of Paris? I’ve got some of the wedding on my camera. Have you seen any yet?’

‘Yeh, some people have texted some an emailed, but we’d love tuh see yours too. I’ll jus go an fetch the iPad.’

Laura

As Matt jogged out to the car, Carol turned to me.

‘You’re quiet, Laura. Twins can be daunting.’

‘Yeah, I feel proper daunted. We’ve both had a bit of a morning, trying to get our heads round it. Not much we can do about it though, and it is great.’

This seemed like the best way to deal with it: just keep saying it, to myself and other people, and eventually it would stop being so new and freaky, and I would stop thinking ‘oh my God I’m having a baby’, quickly replaced by ‘oh my God not just one baby but two’, and would start feeling like a person who was just, you know, going to have a couple of babies in a few months, whatever, no big deal. It was going to take a while to get there, though.

‘Matthew seems happy about it, on the surface.’

‘Yeah, he’s trying.’

Carol knew Matt well, he hid less from her than anyone else. She knew what I meant – that Matt was happy, but also trying not to let anyone see how the suddenness of it was all affecting him.

‘Sometimes getting what you want is the scariest thing that can happen to you, dear. He’ll be alright.’

I smiled at her, and nodded, as Matt came back in with the iPad and we showed Carol our honeymoon. Well, all the bits that you were ever going to show your mum and mother-in-law.

Matt

Then we showed her the scan, and she cried. Then Lau cried. I maintain that I didn’t, but I can feel you raising your eyebrow at that one, Lau, so I will remain silent on the matter.

Then Mum picked up a brown paper parcel and handed it to me. I looked at her quizzically.

‘Wha’s this?’

‘It’s what you asked for, dear.’

Intrigued, I pulled the paper off, and staring up at me, out of an antique silver frame, was my wife, smiling widely, blue-green eyes sparkling. Mum had painted her picture while we were away.

‘Holy shit Mum, that’s awesome.’

I showed it to Lau, whose eyes went wide as her jaw dropped slightly.

‘Carol, did you do this?’

Mum nodded.

‘When? God, it’s like me, but … better. You’ve made me look … beautiful.’

‘Noh, Lau. She’s made yuh look like yuh always look. Which is beauhiful.’

‘I’m glad you both like it. I was a little worried. I don’t do much painting these days, I’m a little out of practice.’

‘Seriously? You need to keep it up, flower.’

‘Well thank you, dear.’

‘I said there was no rush, Mum.’

‘I know, dear, but I was looking at all the photographs from your wedding, and I was just inspired by them. You looked so lovely, Laura dear, I hope I’ve captured some of it.’

‘I can’t believe it, Carol. Thank you so much.’

‘Thahks, Mum.’

Then it was April’s turn, and I was a bit apprehensive about this one, because I’d said a lot of ‘fuck’, and shown a lot of my dick to a lot of people, in her presence, since I was last in her house, and I wondered whether maybe she’d rethought my position at number one in the Top Ten Most Suitable Men For Lau chart. She was waiting at the door as we walked up the path, and she was smiling. That was promising.

Laura

Again, we texted Mum to let her know we were coming, and to give her a chance to tidy up her already spotless house. She was looking out of the window as we pulled up. As we walked up the path, she opened the door, and opened her arms wide to hug us both on the doorstep.

‘Welcome back, both of you. Come in and tell me all about France.’

‘Well, April, weh can’t tell you all about France, having only seen a tiny bit of one city, but I’ve brought my iPad, and weh can bore you wih five hundred an twenty three different shots of the Eiffel Tower if you like.’

Matt

No point acting like I was going to be in the dog house. Might as well play it as normal, which meant sarky comments and the odd pleasantry.

‘Oh good. Maybe we don’t have to see all five hundred and twenty three.’

I put on a disappointed face.

‘Oh, buh I don’t know which ones I could possibly leave out, they’re all masterpieces.’

‘You daft boy.’

She almost sounded … fond. If I’d realised what a few bad words and indiscreet showings of my genitalia would achieve, I would have said ‘here you go, April, feast your eyes on my fucking todger’ the first time I saw her.

Laura

I loved it. My mum and my husband were teasing each other.

‘You daft boy. Come and sit down. Cup of tea? LauraLou?’

‘Yeah, thanks Mum.’

‘Not fuh me, thanks, April. Watching my weight. Lau should beh too, she’s put on a shocking amount the las couple of months.’

This was Matt’s way of reminding Mum that she should be asking about this morning’s appointment.

‘Oh, Laura, your scan! What did they say? Could they tell if it’s a boy or a girl?’

Mum couldn’t bring herself to say ‘sex’ even in the context of gender.

‘No, they couldn’t tell, it’s a bit early, and they were lying on top of each other, so all the important bits were hidden.’

Matt

I silently applauded Lau’s stringing along ability. Much as I’d been unable to stop her blurting to Beth, it seemed she had learned in the last couple of hours, and we both sat back and watched as the information filtered in and was processed through. April was silent for a few moments, frowning slightly, then her eyes widened, and she looked at Lau, then me. We were both smiling widely, and Lau nodded.

Laura

‘Oh Laura. Twins?’

I nodded again.

‘Oh, my love, that’s wonderful. Identical or – what’s the other one – fraternal?’

‘We don’t know yet. I’ve got another scan in a few weeks, they should be able to tell the sex and the identicalness or not then.’

‘How have you been?’

‘Oh, much the same. A bit tired, feeling a bit sick first thing in the morning, nothing too bad. Maybe some mood swings, Matt’d be the one to ask about that, I guess.’

Matt

Doing as she was told, April looked over at me, eyebrows raised. Well there was no way I was going to be telling tales on Lau, not that there were many to tell.

‘I think I’m the one wih the mood swings, Lau.’

‘Well, we’ve both been a bit up and down, especially today, it’s a lot to take in, but it’s exciting. We’ll need to move out of the flat before too long. I probably won’t be able to get up the stairs by the time they come, and – oh – things just keep occurring to me. Manhandling a double buggy up all those steps …’

Lau looked at me in dismay. I held on tightly to her hand. There would be lots of things we were going to suddenly think of, and we would just have to deal with them as they arose. Ha, look at me all sensible. When it was my turn to wake up in the middle of the night going ‘shit, isn’t there a law about car seats’, we’d see who was calm and collected.

‘We’ll sort ih, Lau. We’ve got six months. Tha’s bloody ages. Sorry, April, slipped out.’

I wasn’t sorry, I was testing out how much I could get away with, now she’d been subjected to the full Matt Scott experience.

‘Matt, I became well aware at your wedding how much you like a good swear, and how much you have been toning it down for my sake. Thank you, my love, I appreciate it, but please don’t apologise if the odd one slips out now and then.’

I think I sat with my mouth open for a second or two. Not only had I not been sent to hell for saying ‘bloody’, but she’d called me ‘my love’, which she only ever called Lau. Whoa, full on weird moment. Lau noticed, and pressed back as I squeezed her hand.

‘Hey April, have yuh got any photos of the wedding? Mum jus showed us hers on her camera, an we’ve had some in texts an emails, I thought I could collect them all, do something with them.’

An idea was forming, from the amount of photos people had sent us. We hadn’t had an official photographer, but pictures from cameras and phones had been dribbling to me via text and email since we got back, and I wanted to do something permanent with them, as well as the photos we’d already got. Kind of ‘Matt and Lau: The Early Days’. It sometimes came as a surprise to remember that it was early days for us, it felt like we’d been together forever.

‘Oh, yes, I took a few. I’ll go and get the camera.’

While April was rummaging upstairs, Lau turned to me.

‘You got a ‘my love’!’

‘I know! I nearly fell off my bloody seat. An I can say ‘bloody’ an not apologise. Wonder if I’ll get away wih a ‘fuck’?’

‘I wouldn’t push it. Strict Baptist forgiveness only goes so far. You’ve done something right, though.’

‘Making someone a granny obviously gohs a long way towards redemption.’

‘Ha ha. Let’s hope your eternal soul is safe, then.’

‘Bound tuh be. Twins equals double granny, tha’s enough for both of us.’

We watched the DVD with April, had more tea and cake, but even though I hinted like mad, April didn’t show me a painting she’d done of me while we were away, so that meant we could finally go home and chill before work tomorrow.

Laura

We spent a while with Mum, looking at various pictures of the wedding, Paris, watching the DVD of the scan, looking at the stills, basking in Mum’s approval. Considering the last time we were here she practically threw us out, I was relieved and surprised at the turnaround. Mum was very firm in her beliefs, and it meant a lot that she now seemed so accepting of Matt and me. Us being married had a lot to do with it, but we hadn’t done it for her, so whatever the reason, it was all good.

Matt

Cooking was so not on the cards for either of us, knackered and lazy as we were feeling, and I also wanted to ignore the food Beth had filled the cupboards with in a contrary fit of independence. So we ordered pizza. While we were waiting, I wandered to the fridge and got a beer out without thinking. Then I remembered my promise to Lau, thought about it, and put it back. She noticed.

‘Open it, flower.’

‘Noh, I don’t need ih.’

‘We don’t need pizza, but we’re having it. You’re not planning on getting wasted, are you?’

‘Noh.’

‘Have it, then, don’t make me feel bad.’

I sat next to her, taking her hand in mine. I wanted her to know how serious I was about this. It wasn’t going to make any difference to anything, but it was a promise and it was something I wanted to do for Lau. She was giving up a lot to have our baby, not just alcohol, but part of her body, comfort, rational hormones, all that shit, and I just wanted to do this to show her I was with her.

‘Lau, I don’t wana make yuh feel bad, you shouldn’t, this is something I decided, not something yuh made me do. Look, when yuh did tha for me, the ‘only do wha we can both do’ thing, it was fucking amazing, ih meant so much. An yuh stuck to it. I don’t need a beer righ now, maybe sometimes I will, hard day at the office or some such bollocks, an I’m not gona beat myself up about it, but I’m happy wih orange juice tonight. So we can do it, or not do it, together. Something else weh can do together.’

‘OK, then, flower, it sounds like an amazingly good deal. Who knows when I might need you to be sober in the next few months? ‘

It didn’t feel that amazing, to be honest, but if Lau said it, it must be right. And it earned me a big pash that continued until the pizza arrived, so everyone was a winner.

Dec called me in the middle of the night, to tell me that the new baby had arrived. I don’t know why I woke up when my phone buzzed; somehow I seemed to know when it was Dec. I nearly always stirred when the notes of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ floated out of my phone, and although it was on silent, I woke to the buzzing, unsurprised to pick up and see ‘Dec Calling’ and a photo of him wearing a pair of Australia underpants on his head. It was something he often did at parties; I suppose everyone needs a talent.

‘Heh.’

‘Hey mate. Sorry to wake you up.’

He so was not sorry, I could hear the enormous grin in his voice.

‘S’fine.’

I knew he’d be calling to tell me about the baby, but I was so full of sleep that the next couple of rounds of my side of the conversation were going to be monosyllabic.

‘We’ve got a son.’

‘Cool.’

I couldn’t help a yawn escaping.

‘Yeah, and to save you summoning the energy to fucking ask, he’s bloody enormous, over nine pounds, he’s called Tom. Thomas Jack, actually. He’s screaming his bloody head off, so I’m outside. Ames needed stitches, so she’s not too happy, but he’s awesome, mate, just awesome.’

Dec’s happiness was infectious, and I roused myself a little.

‘Well done, mate.’

‘Can you come in later? Bring Lau? You’ve got to see him, he’s bloody huge.’

But surely not the biggest baby ever born. Nine pounds wasn’t that unheard of, although I did have a twinge of sympathy for the slight-framed Amy.

‘Yeh, course. Can’t wait. Text yuh later, yeh?’

‘Yeah, no worries. Better get back to Ames. See you later, mate.’

‘Dec?’

The sleep was fast disappearing, and I was aware I’d sounded less than enthusiastic. Although I was sure Dec knew me well enough to understand that waking me up at four thirty wasn’t going to find me at my best, I wanted to tell him how pleased I was for him.

‘Yeah?’

‘Congratulations, mate. Whoa, you’ve got a son. Father of two. Holy shit. That’s nearly grown up!’

‘Ha ha, need a couple more before I’m ready to admit to that. Cheers Matt.’

As we disconnected, I thought back to when Dec had called me to tell me about Charlie. It was only a year later, and my life was so different. There was no Jules colluding with my well-woven pretence that I didn’t want a family. I’d been through another bout with the bastard MS. Above all, I had Lau and the babies on the way. Thinking about it all, though, and how I’d felt on that day, when it all crashed around me and Jules smashed the flat up, made me think about her, and what I did to her.

I didn’t think about Jules much these days, not really. It was something I couldn’t change, wouldn’t change even if I could, and so it was best to leave it in the depths. But now, it all flooded out, and I felt truly sad at the way things had ended, what a cock-up I’d made of the whole thing, how much I must have hurt her. Especially that, hurting her. I had no idea if she had been totally fucked up by it all, or whether, in her Jules way, she’d managed to put it behind her and get on with her life.

I felt emotions I’d shoved deep down starting to surface, and tears blurred my vision. I got out of bed and found my way onto the sofa, where I gave in to a bout of self-pity that I hadn’t felt for a long time.

I didn’t want to wake Lau up; hopefully she’d be asleep for a few more hours yet. I sniffed quietly to myself, knowing that eventually I’d stop, not knowing if I was going to be able to talk to Lau about it. I hated keeping shit from her, but I was unsure how she’d feel about me being sad about Jules. Lau was awesome, but this was a fairly recent ex we were talking about, and much as Lau encouraged talking and being up-front, I’d detected a hint of uncertainty whenever Jules’ name was mentioned. So I just curled up on the sofa and sniffed to myself.

97. Hold me now

In which a letter is read, and there is a big surprise.

Laura

When I’d finished, I looked up from the screen, into Matt’s eyes. He’d sat down beside me, putting a mug of ginger tea on the table, where it steamed unnoticed. I looked at Matt, and he looked back, wanting my approval.

‘That … is possibly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.’

Matt

‘Really? Was going for kind of matter of fact with a bih of humour.’

But a bit of beauty never went amiss, I suppose.

‘What are you going to do with it?’

‘Oh, nothing really, writing ih was the important thing. I’ll delete it later.’

‘No! Save it somewhere. One day, show it to Philpotts.’

‘Seriously? There’s swearing in there and everything.’

‘I don’t mean when he’s five. When he’s old enough.’

‘Oh, OK. Consider it saved. It … was kind of a letter to yuh, too, Lau.’

I hadn’t just wanted to write to a tiny person who wasn’t going to be able to read it for years, and yeah I know, I’d never intended to delete it really, just wanted Lau to tell me it was worth keeping; no, I’d wanted Lau to see it, so I could for once tell her how I was feeling in a coherent way, without her having to use her nurse techniques on me.

‘I got that. I loved it.’

‘I jus woke up, early hours, shit going round my head, freaking, needed tuh get up.’

‘What was going round your head?’

‘Oh, jus everything I said yesterday, still there. Then, when I’d had a bih of a word with myself, started the letter, it suddenly occurred to meh, what I was doing. I was expecting it all to go back, somehow, settle back down to how things were, before we knew, before we started this mad crazy fun ride.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Well, everything’s changed so quickly, ih’s taken my breath away, an I guess I was jus wanting it all to calm down so I could breathe. But ih’s not going to, ever, is it? Our lives are gona change, keep changing, every day, as Philpotts grows, in you or out of you, an I’m jus gona have to deal with it. Constant change. An so that’s what I’ve been doing, dealing, thinking about it, getting my head round it. Or starting to. Lau, if it was anyone else but you, I’d be gone. But with you, I know ih’s OK. I’ve always felt safe with you.’

And that was the honest truth. This level of uncertainty and lack of control over life events would have pushed me over the edge and away with anyone else, anyone who wasn’t Lau. How the fuck I’d recognised that the moment I saw her in the church hall, I’ll never know, but somehow I had, and maybe I was starting, just beginning, to become less of a fuck up because of it, because of Lau.

She put her arms round me, and there I was, in the safest place I knew. I don’t think my freak was completely over, maybe it would never be over, not totally, but if I was going to be freaking, this was where I wanted to do it.

Laura

I could see in his face he wasn’t quite finished freaking yet, but whatever process he’d been through in the night, it had helped him. We were going to have to help each other through the weeks and months to come. I felt a nursey moment coming on.

‘Fight or flight.’

A puzzled look crossed his face.

Matt

I wasn’t quite sure where that had come from.

‘Wha?’

‘It’s a primal response to threat, from when we were cavemen, or walking fish or whatever. Our brains automatically make us either fight the threat or run away from it, it’s a survival thing. Oh, and sometimes there’s ‘freeze’ too. So if we can’t fight it or run away from it, we might just stay frozen.’

Yeah, Lau, I wasn’t a total moron, I knew what it meant, thanks for the education, just wasn’t quite sure how it was applying to this situation. I gallantly spared her my sarcasm, though. Shit, I must have been head over heels in love.

‘OK … so what am I doin?’

‘Well, you haven’t run yet, but you feel like it.’

‘Mm hm.’

Yeah, yet again she’d got to the core of me. If this hadn’t been my flat, I might well have been off finding some ‘space’ or some such shit.

‘But you are feeling irritable and argumentative.’

‘Mm hm, so fight?’

‘Maybe a bit. But you’re feeling a bit stuck, not knowing how to react. So maybe freezing up, shutting down.’

‘Mm. Maybe. What’s the threat, tho?’

Ha ha Matt, like you didn’t know. This whole sodding situation threatened you, you bloody imbecile.

‘Change. You said it. It doesn’t have to be a sabre tooth tiger attack, just anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, or scared.’

‘Buh I don’t wana be scared of this, of us, of the future.’

‘I know, flower, but we can’t help what scares us. I think recognising it can help us to cope with it. We’re both scared, it would be strange if we weren’t. Today is both terrifying and thrilling, and we both probably want to run away and hide from it.’

She looked into my eyes, seeing she’d got it right. I looked down at my hands, nodded and took a deep breath.

‘I’m not gona, though, Lau.’

It felt like it was going to take a monumental effort not to escape it all, but I was going to resist.

‘I know, Matt. But it’s OK to feel like you want to, though.’

I guess that was all I wanted, for Lau to see it, and say it was OK to want it, to want to run away, as long as I didn’t actually head for the hills.

‘You’re so cool, Lau.’

‘Keep on writing to me and Philpotts if it helps.’

‘Ha, yeah, The Philpotts Diaries. Maybe I’ll get them published, fund his university career.’

‘Great idea. Saves me having to go back to work.’

And now I was going to be a grown up, for possibly the first time in my thirty five years.

‘OK, Lau, this is what we’re gona do. Serious face, now, I’m doing ‘fight’, right? Tomorrow, after we’ve got our heads aroun whatever we find out today, we’re gona, well, first we’re gona have tuh go back to work, but tomorrow evening we’re gona look at houses. We need tuh know where we’re gona live. So it’s laptop out an look at what’s around. I need a plan. Can’t believe I’m saying it, but tha’s what I need.’

In the past I’d had plans, lived by them almost, but that strategy had not served me well, and in recent times, my plans had gone no further than trying to avoid other people’s plans for me.

Lau nodded, excited.

‘You’re right, we need a plan. Houses. OK. And ante-natal classes. That’s my plan. As soon as we know how many weeks, I can get booked in. You too, if you want to come.’

It was what I needed, to start doing baby stuff so it would stop being theoretical and start being applied.

‘Fuck yeah, Lau, I wana be part of it all. Classes, appointments, all that shit.’

‘Great. Two plans, then.’

‘Three. I jus thought of a plan for this morning.’

Yeah, of course it was my usual plan: sex. Hey, it was an awesome plan, and something else which would be better applied than theoretical. I looked at Lau appraisingly, one eyebrow raised, and bent down to kiss her, insistently. She turned towards me and put her arm round my neck.

‘Would this plan involve one or more of us removing an item or two of clothing and maybe heading somewhere else, say, the bedroom?’

‘You’re a bloody mind reader, Lau. How do yuh do ih?’

‘I’m psychic. Get it from my granny. She talks to me all the time, tells me the future from the other side.’

I smiled at her as I thought of something unforeseeable.

‘Did your bloody granny predict this?’

I stood up and then crouched down, put one arm round her shoulders and one under her knees, then hoisted her into the air and carried her into the bedroom, squealing.

‘Stop bloody wriggling, I’m gona drop yuh.’

‘Put me down, I’m too heavy.’

‘Don’t be bloody daft, woman. We had this conversation. You’re ligh as a feather, it’s Philpotts who weighs a bluhdy ton. An I forgot tuh carry you over the threshold, so into the bedroom’s as close as it gets.’

Iz

I’m sure you can guess what’s coming, people, so skip ahead or read on, whatevs is appropriate.

Matt

I didn’t put her down gently, as I was close to dropping her, and the mattress bounced as she landed and I flopped next to her, pulling at her shirt and pushing my hands underneath to fondle and tease her.

‘Good job we’re still in our PJs, much less work fuh me.’

‘Oh good, I’d hate to make this an onerous task. I can tell you don’t enjoy it at all.’

‘Yeah, I hate all this sex. Can’t bloody bear doin this.’

I bent my head to her chest and sucked a nipple into my mouth, grinning when Lau groaned and arched her back against mouth. It never got old, how much I turned her on, and I was delighted to discover that I wasn’t as freaked as I had been yesterday by all the ‘boobs for food’ malarkey.

‘Or this.’

I pushed my fingers into her knickers.

‘No, I can tell, you’re so not interested. I’m sure if I did this, you’d just be so bored.’

She ran her hand down my side and I felt her fingers drift gently over the bulge of my hard on. One of her fingers flitted through a gap in the button fly of my pyjama bottoms and gave my cock a quick stroke. It sent a wave of tingling fizzes right along the shaft.

‘Fuck, yeah, Lau, stop doing tha right away, can’t be arsed. Talking of arses …’

I flipped her onto her front and pulled her knickers down, then bent my face down to her glorious arse and kissed it, nibbling my way round to even more glorious pastures. I suddenly thought about what I was doing, to my pregnant wife. I looked up at Lau, who was looking back at me, flushed and smiling.

‘Is Philpotts OK wih you on your front?’

‘Yeah, flower, he’s fine, as long as you’re gentle.’

‘Oh I’m gona be soh gentle you’ll fall asleep.’

‘Mm, very likely, so dull, not making me tingle all over at all … oh my God yes.’

I’d found her with my tongue, and followed up with my fingers, probing and thrusting, but just as she was on the edge of coming, I pulled out, and lay on my back. I wanted her to come with me inside her, both together if at all possible. I pulled my pyjama bottoms off quickly and patted my thighs.

‘Come on, then, Lau. We’re ready.’

‘We?’

Yeah, I know it’s cheesy when a bloke talks about his dick like it’s a separate person. Never stopped me before.

‘Less chat, more action. Ride ’em, cowgirl.’

Lau loved cowgirl, and she could ride with the best of them. Pretending she was finding it all a bit hackneyed, she rolled her eyes and straddled me, lifting herself up a bit so I could enter her, slowly, deliciously, fully. As she sat back down, I slid all the way in, filling her. We stayed, locked together, gazing into each other’s eyes for a moment, all pretence of boredom vanished. I could see the desire on her face as she started to rock, the motion and friction sending shock-waves through us both.

I started to thrust, gently but firmly, and Lau began to lift herself up and drop back down, clenching me inside. We moaned together, and our movements became faster, my thrusts harder. It felt astonishingly good, as if we were part of each other, and I clasped her fingers with mine as we rocked together. Lau dropped forwards, so we could kiss, and our tongues slipped over each other as I continued to thrust inside her.

Then, feeling stronger than I had in a long time, I flipped her over onto her back, and held her close, continuing to kiss her, as my thrusts sped up and our moans intensified. I felt Lau start to change and tighten inside, and knew she was close. She gasped, and I sped up more, moving with Lau as we reached fever pitch. With a shudder and a cry, I felt Lau still her movements as she began to pulse, throbbing against me, and I felt myself explode into her as I shouted her name and she gripped me and cried out ‘Oh my God, Matt, oh my love, my love’. I shuddered, quivered, again and again, slowing and shrinking as the wash of intense pleasure receded and left a warm glow. We rolled onto our sides and lay, entwined, faces next to each other, breathing hard, trembling, for several minutes. I pulled Lau into my arms.

‘I fucking love fucking you, Lau.’

I nearly always said it, as it made me laugh. Yeah, the world of comedy has missed out on a true genius.

‘Feeling’s mutual.’

‘You’re so gona say ih one day.’

‘Say what?’

She knew what I meant. It was as if we were the Yin and Yang of swearing. I didn’t really get why she didn’t say bad words more often, especially in the heat of sex. It’s not like she was uptight or straight-laced in any way, and I sometimes sensed she was holding back what she was saying. I didn’t need her to talk dirty, that’s not what it was about, I just wondered whether sometimes she’d enjoy herself more (I should say even more) if she let that bit go like she let everything else go. But it was up to her.

‘You’re jus gona let go one day an yell ‘fuck me Matt’. Yuh never know, could make it more enjoyable.’

‘Hm, not sure I could cope with it being much more enjoyable. You are pretty amazing.’

‘Yeh, I know.’

‘Big head.’

‘Yeh, I know.’

I tried a lecherous look but couldn’t hold it as she cuffed me on the arm.

‘Holy fuck, Lau, what a way tuh spend our last morning off. Much better than bloody work. We should skive off every morning. Well, I suppose I do mostly, but you should come here, pretend you’re on a visit, we should do this.’

‘I think it might get noticed, eventually. And the NHS doesn’t pay me to have sex with my husband.’

‘They bloody should, yuh know.’

‘Too right, someone should pay me for it, all that lying back and thinking of England, deserves a blooming medal at the very least.’

Things carried on in that vein, we were just Matt and Lau, kissing, touching, giggling, talking nonsense, until we fell asleep.

Laura

I woke up to the sound of my alarm. My scan appointment was at twelve, and I wanted to make sure I was completely ready, so I’d set my alarm for ten, not thinking for one minute I’d still be asleep.

I groggily reached for my phone and turned it off. Matt slept on, and I decided to let him while I pottered about, showering, grabbing some toast, dressing. At ten thirty, I thought I should start to wake Matt up. He always took ages to come round, and I’d need to start chivvying him now if he was going to be ready for half eleven, which was the latest we needed to leave.

‘Matt. Come on sleepy beach boy, wake up. It’s half ten.’

‘Mmph.’

‘I’ve put my alarm on, it’s going to go off in one minute. I’ve set it with Westlife as the tone.’

‘Mmp wha?’

‘You’ll see.’

I walked into the kitchen and put some coffee on. If the song didn’t propel him out of bed, the smell of coffee might do the trick. Maybe some toast as well. I got myself a large glass of water – I needed a full bladder for the scan, but needed to time it so I didn’t need to pee too seriously before I had it.

Matt

The next thing I knew, bloody Westlife was blaring out in my ear, from Lau’s phone. For some inexplicable reason, she’d decided not to snog me awake, and had decided to cheese me awake instead. It worked, I suppose, but was nowhere near as enjoyable.

‘You cow, Lau.’

‘You need to get moving.’

I looked at the time and realised that was true, but Lau still had to do more chivvying, making me feel like an utterly lazy bastard as I took my time showering, shaving, dressing, while she unpacked our suitcases and washed up the breakfast things. We even left on time, looking at each other with wide eyes.

Laura

We pulled up in the car park of the maternity unit, Matt turned off the engine, and we both sat, staring forwards. Matt’s hands were still gripping the steering wheel. I put my hand on top of his, and stroked his knuckles.

‘Come on, let’s go and meet Philpotts.’

He turned to me and grinned; I couldn’t see any trace of fear in his eyes.

Matt

I flashed her a smile, just to let her know I wasn’t freaking.

‘Yeah. Hey, Philpotts, smile for the camera.’

I stroked Lau’s belly, then leaned down and kissed it. She buried her hands in my hair, and held me to her, then released me, and smoothed the stray strands down. It must have looked well dodgy to anyone looking, but it felt like it was the three of us, not just the two of us, and it was awesome.

I sat back up, we looked at each other once more, then got out of the car. We held hands all the way to the waiting room, and sat close to each other on the plastic chairs, aware of each other, not talking, not reading the mother and baby magazines, just waiting. And waiting. For bloody ages, or at least it felt like it. Every time someone came out of a door, I thought they were going to say Lau’s name, but they’d walk on by, or call someone else.

Laura

It felt like an age before they called my name, and then suddenly we were there, me on an examination table with my belly out, Matt beside me stroking my hair. A quick blast of cold gel, the ultrasound sensor was placed on my stomach and we were directed to look at the screen.

Oh my God, she was really there, my baby was really there, with the most incredible, er, black and white, er, lumpy bits anyone had ever seen.

Matt

The radiographer woman looked hard and made ‘mm’ sounds, which was bloody annoying, because she could obviously tell what she was looking at, whereas to me it was just a black and white mess of lines and curves. I wondered if Lau would know more, having all her medical knowledge, but she looked at me and shrugged, as I squeezed her hand.

Laura

Sue, the radiographer, looked away from the screen and towards us.

‘Is this your first scan?’

‘Yes.’

‘Have you heard the heartbeat yet?’

I shook my head. ‘We’ve only known just over a week.’

‘Oh.’ Sue looked surprised. ‘So no midwife visits yet?’

‘No. I need to make an appointment.’

Matt

This was all new to me, I had no idea what kind of people Lau was going to need to see, or what appointments we were going to have to make.

‘Alright, then, here it is.’

The radiographer flicked a switch, and we heard it, for the first time, a fast, tumpity, swooshy rhythm. It seemed a bit stuttery, but what did I know? It was awesome. Philpotts lived! He had a beating heart! I looked at Lau, whose eyes were shining, and we grinned goofily at each other.

Laura

‘Er, usually I ask if people want to know the sex of the baby –’

‘Oh, we want to know, but I thought it might be a bit early.’

‘Well, it looks like you’re about twelve weeks, so technically yes, too early, I can’t tell anyway, there may be more news in your next scan. But, er, brace yourselves, there are two babies. You’re having twins.’

I stared at Sue, who was looking back at me, wondering whether she should smile or not. I looked at Matt, needing to see what was going on for him. He had gone pale.

Matt

Holy. Fuck.

We just stared at her, unable to take in what she’d just said. Two babies? How is that even possible? I mean, yeah, I know technically how it’s possible, I’m not a complete dufus when it comes to genetics and shit, but two babies? Two? At the same time? I say again – holy fuck.

I nearly bottled it, it was just one huge occurrence too much for me, one unexpected piece of life-changing news, one extra thing to get my head round, and Lau’s fight or flight thing was on the verge of being flight, me running for my life away from all this madness.

I was holding Lau’s hand, but if I hadn’t been, I would have fled, legs pumping, until I ran under a bus, or dropped dead with exhaustion, or got to Rio de Janeiro, despite all my talk about staying put earlier that morning. Lau was looking at me, and I knew she saw it all playing out on my face, but she didn’t say anything, and because she didn’t, because it was Lau, because I loved her, I chose fight, not flight. I stayed.

Laura

I saw it cross his mind, to walk out, run away, I felt the twitch from his hand as he nearly pulled out of my grip and went. No, Matt, don’t do it, be strong, I need you to be strong. And then I felt the effort he made to stay; to do fight, not flight. I went from desolate to proud and overjoyed in an instant.

Matt

I splashed the widest smile I could summon all over my face, and pushed the panic behind me, where I couldn’t see it.

‘Awesome, Lau – two Philpottses. Fuck. Holy fuckabyebaby.’

Lau gripped my hand, on the verge of tears. The radiographer was looking a bit po-faced at my choice of language. She probably knew Beth.

Laura

He pushed his fears behind him, for now, and turned on his stunning smile. I gripped his hand as my eyes filled with tears, unsure if I was crying because of the news, or Matt’s obvious effort, or both.

‘Sorry.’

Matt was talking to Sue, belatedly realising his language had been the wrong side of acceptable.

Matt

‘Sorry. Jus a bit shocked. Did you say twelve weeks?’

She nodded. ‘That’s what it looks like.’

I looked at Lau, frowning, doing some quick calculations based on the return to life of my fucked up downbelows. It had barely been three months since I was back in the saddle.

‘Buh we – I – shit, Lau, ih must have been that bloody first time.’

More po-facedness from the radiographer; oh fuck her, had she never heard people discuss the date of conception before? I decided to explain.

‘I’ve been ill. No, er, down below action until a few months ago.’

But if it was that first time, or even the second, or third … I turned back to Lau, smiling, ridiculously pleased with myself.

‘Woohoo, we’re so fertile!’

Lau still hadn’t said anything, and she was worrying me, because she didn’t look like she thought it was good news. She looked like she was having trouble thinking anything.

Laura

I was still struggling to speak, the implications of twins having caused a logjam in my brain. I tried a smile, but it was a pretty weak effort. Matt’s eyes clouded with concern, as he realised I hadn’t joined him in the self-congratulations.

‘Yuh OK, Lau?’

I nodded, swallowed.

‘Just having a bit of a freak.’

I breathed in deeply and closed my eyes, trying to imagine myself with two babies in my arms. One had been easy to imagine, one was in all the pictures, magazines, films, one was normal. Two was … overwhelming. Just over six months ago I was starting to resign myself to never having children. Now I was going to have two. Two! I felt Matt’s lips on my temple and his hand round my shoulder, pulling me towards him.

‘I can’t do it.’

I really was feeling panicky. How was I going to have two babies? Everything it meant started to crowd in on me. We were going to be exhausted. Matt was only just getting better, he still got tired, he wouldn’t cope with the sleepless nights, especially doubled, and the organisation they were going to need … I heard Matt chuckle and looked up at him.

Matt

She sounded really panicky, and I could hear the freak in her voice and feel it in the tenseness of her body against me. She really was on the verge of something huge, and it calmed me completely, made me realise that I didn’t matter, this wasn’t about me and how I was going to cope, it was about Lau, and helping her through this like she’d helped me so many times. I tried a chuckle and she looked up at me.

‘Lau you’re a bigger freaker than meh. Course you can do it. We can do it. We’ll do ih together.’

She shook her head, and looked miserable. I thought about what I’d just felt, and how her sensing me nearly running away must have affected her.

‘Lau, I nearly walked out jus now. You felt it, didn’t yuh?’

She nodded again.

‘I guess you wana walk too.’

Another nod.

I tried some reality, mixed with some optimistic reassurance.

‘Where you gona go? Wherever you go, you take the Philpottses with yuh, an you’re on your own. Stay here wih me, do it together. Freak together. Two babies is easy, piece of piss. Right?’

I looked at the radiographer woman, who was less po-faced now, but just gave a non-committal shrug. For fuck’s sake, woman, work with me here. I laughed.

‘Thanks fuh that.’

But now, it was time to get serious, find out if Lau was freaking enough to say ‘I really can’t do it’, or if she was just momentarily overwhelmed.

‘Lau, bottom line, if yuh really can’t do it there are options. But they’re bloody tough options. You know what I’m talking about don’t yuh.’

I felt it go through her, like a shudder, the thought of actually doing anything to harm those two babies nestled inside her. It was, I think, what she needed to hear. I knew she’d never do it, and only confidently offered it as an option because she’d never harm a hair on their unborn heads. It wasn’t something I would have ever actually let her do, right to choose or not.

Laura

I nodded, appalled. It brought me to my senses. I was having these babies, they were mine, no one was taking them away from me.

‘Sorry. No. Sorry.’

Matt

She looked up at me imploringly, as if I was going to, I don’t know, whisk her off to the abortion clinic or some such shit. I smiled down at her and kissed her forehead, and I tried my hand at being the calm one. It felt weird.

Laura

‘Here, Laura.’

The radiographer handed me a glass of water.

‘It can be a bit of a shock. Take your time. Do you want to see?’

She indicated the screen, where a grainy black and white picture was flickering. I nodded. I seemed to have spent a lot of my time in this room nodding silently. She picked up the sensor again and spread more gel on my belly. The picture changed and I caught a brief glimpse of something I thought I recognised. I gasped.

‘Is that a head?’

Matt

Radiographer woman nodded. Oh it so was not, I couldn’t see a bloody thing. It was like looking for a white cat in a blizzard, as far as I could see. You can’t tell me women have a special gene for seeing babies in bloody ultrasounds, where’s the natural selection in that?

‘Wha? Where?’

She pointed it out, and I could suddenly see it. There was one of the babies’ heads. It was real, a real baby, baby-shaped, with a head and everything.

‘Ohh holy shit. Tha is fucking amazing.’

And pretty overwhelming. My first glimpse of our child, one of our children. My whole family, here in this room. Although not the radiographer woman, obviously. My eyes misted with tears, and for once I wasn’t embarrassed about it.

I looked at Lau, and could see that all freaking had stopped for now, as we both looked at our babies, inside her. I gripped Lau’s hand tightly as radiographer woman spoke again, pointing at the screen.

‘This is one of them, he’s lying across the other one,’

‘He?’

Laura

‘He?’

We both spoke together.

‘Sorry, just easier than he, she or the horrible it.’

Matt

Oh you cow. That should be a sackable offence in the scanning room.

‘It’s too early to tell, and they’re face to face anyway, blocking my view. You’ll need another scan in a few weeks, we might see more if they’ve moved. Two strong heartbeats though.’

She pointed out the two tiny movements, more proof that our babies were alive and, well not quite kicking, not yet, but just being fucking amazing. These babies had the best beating hearts any human had ever had, it was obvious. They were going to be world champions at pumping blood round their bodies.

I tore my eyes away from the screen to peek at Lau, who was gazing, spellbound, at the image.

Laura

I looked, spellbound, my brief panic receding to a tiny shudder.
‘Matt, there he is, there’s Philpotts. Or she. And his brother. Or sister. I can’t believe it.’

‘I know. Fuck me, he’s beautiful. He’s got your eyes, Lau.’

I looked up at him.

‘You daft sod. She’s got your bum.’

Matt

‘Where’s her bum? You so can’t see her bum.’

Po-faced radiographer made a reappearance, obviously not appreciating our quick turnaround from fucking freaksters to blithe banterers.

‘If I could just point out some of the things we can see? We can make a video and collect a couple of stills if you like.’

‘Whoa, Lau, we can bore everyone rigid for bluhdy hours. Major payback Dec an Amy.’

Laura

I looked at him with an eyebrow raised at his gleeful smugness. He pretended to be repentant.

Matt

‘An of course a wonderful keepsake, not jus a way to score points, that’s what I meant to say.’

Now it felt like we’d just got over a major crisis, I was jubilant, and my mood sky-rocketed. We were shown a few features, re-visited the heartbeats, saw an arm, a leg, both heads, and a few minutes later we left, clutching a CD, several copies of a black and white image, and another appointment.

Lau needed a pee before we left, as she’d drunk a zillion gallons of water before the ultrasound, as instructed, so I waited for her in the car. When she got in, she breathed a huge sigh before turning to look at me. I was, I swear, literally grinning from ear to ear, and this time I wasn’t having to make an effort.

‘How am I freaking less than you, Lau?’

‘You’re all out of freak. I’ve still got a large supply. And you’re not going to be the one pushing two babies out of your wee hole in quick succession.’
I hadn’t thought about that aspect. I was never going to have to worry about how to squeeze one person out of my reproductive organs, let alone two.

‘Ouch. Shit, Lau, didn’t think. No wonder yuh freaked. Is that wha it was about?’

‘No, not really. I was just overwhelmed at the thought of two. Two, Matt. We’re going to have to be so organised, we’re going to be so tired, you need your sleep.’

Oh, she was trying to protect me again. I loved her for it, but it wasn’t necessary, not now I was well on my way back to not being a fucking cripple.

‘Now who’s being a daft sod? By the time they come, I’ll be back tuh normal. If I’m not, or if ih comes back again, we’ll cope. People wih worse problems cope wih babies, don’t they. We can make use of my interfering family, let them help for a change, shock them all.’

And you know what? I actually meant it. We could ask for help. I could even imagine it, calling Beth and saying ‘you couldn’t give us a hand with the twins, could you?’, or some such shit.

‘Get out a minute.’

‘What?’

‘Get out of the car. I want to hold yuh, but I don’t want the gear stick in my balls.’

Lau pretended I was exasperating her, but I think she wanted to be held as much as I wanted to hold her.

Laura

Rolling my eyes in mock exasperation, I got out of the car. Matt trotted round to where I was standing and folded me up in his arms, burying his face in my hair and pulling me close. I felt myself relax, feeling comforted by the physical closeness. I wasn’t going to have to do this alone, I wasn’t going to have to help Matt through it all, we were going to do it together. It would be alright. Better than alright, it would be wonderful.

Matt

I could feel her relax, could almost feel her gaining strength from me. It was about time I did that for her; Lau had been my strength all these months and now it was her turn.

‘Lau, we can do this. Tha was fucking amazing, seeing them, they’re bloody real.’

I moved one arm so my hand was stroking her belly, then wanted to talk to them, so knelt down and put my mouth next to my hand.

‘Hey, babies. You little tinkers, playing hide an seek. Found yuh! Philpotts, yuh should have told us there was another one.’

I looked up at Lau.

‘We need another name. Philpotts an …’

Lau shook her head.

‘No more names, not until we choose real ones. They can both be Philpotts.’

‘Hm. OK.’

I suppose I could see her point. I turned my mouth back to her belly.

‘Your mum has spoken. Yuh both get the cool name. No fighting in there.’

It really felt like they were real, now. We’d seen them, they were growing, stretching Lau’s abdomen, their hearts were beating. It was the most awesome feeling. I felt Lau’s hand in my hair, and I stood up to kiss her.

‘Shit, Lau, I don’t know what it is, but it’s stopped me freaking. I’m back to excited as fuck. Let’s go an tell everyone.’

Maybe the freaking would return, but for now I wanted to share this with everyone, wanted them all to be as excited as I was.

The Philpotts Letters – 1

Freak out, le freak c’est chic (Chic)

Iz

So included in the general ‘here are all the stories, try and make them all smush together, Iz’ package, there were several letters Matty wrote to his progeny. I thought about just adding them at the end, but I think it works better if I add them in at the time in the story when they were written. Matty introduced them like this:

Hey fruit of my loins (is that too embarrassing to think about? Are you going all ‘bleurgh, Daaaad, that’s like sooo groooosss’? Hope so!). These are just for you, I promised myself I’d give them to you one day, but it always seemed a bit, oh I don’t know, self-indulgent, and what if you hated them? But now I’m not going to know if you hated them or not, having left them to you posthumously and all, so I’m going to make you read them anyway. You’ve got to, last wishes are legally binding.

It all started when you were first on your way, just a handful of cells, and it set me off on my journey of freaking out about being a dad. It has been a looong and freeeeaky journey. Enjoy.

Oh, Philpotts is what we called you before you were born. Cool womb name, huh? Yeah, thought so. Tell your mother, she thought I was mad.

One more thing, then I’ll let you get on. I have given each letter a title based on song lyrics. You might not recognise them, as you are both cruelly disparaging of my sublime taste in music, but I assure you they are all bona fide lyrics, although not necessarily the title of the song. I implore you to find these fine songs on my iTunes and listen to them

And here’s the first one:

***

Freak out, le freak c’est chic (Chic)

Dear Philpotts – shit, that sounds very formal from a dad to a son. And I probably shouldn’t be saying ‘shit’ to you, being so young, but if I’m going to be your dad, you’d probably better get used to it. And to your mum telling me off about it.

Anyway, Philpotts, you’re not even here in the world yet, and you’ve changed my life forever. I’m a bit scared of you – well, I suppose not of you, you’re only a few centimetres tall so I could beat you in a fight no problem, but of what you represent; I’m scared because nothing’s ever going to be the same now, and I suspect, if you’re any good at your job, you’re going to go on changing my life. I thought I was good at surprises and being spontaneous, but I’ve found out I’m only good at spontaneity when I’m in control of it. You’ve come along so fast, I feel pretty damn out of control (I hope you and your mum noticed I said ‘damn’ and not ‘fucking’, which is what I wanted to say, but thought I’d better not).

Philpotts, you’ve been responsible for some radical changes the last couple of weeks. You won’t have ever known me as anyone other than your dad, who is married to your mum. But until recently I’ve been a very different person, someone who was never going to settle down and have a family, who would have, and often did, run for it pretty damn (see? Still not saying ‘fucking’) sharpish from anyone who even thought very quietly to themselves about ‘tying me down’. That’s not to say I wasn’t tied up a few times, but that’s neither here nor there, and maybe something I shouldn’t be discussing with you before you’re old enough. I’d like to think I’m going to be such a cool dad that we’ll be able to talk about it one day, though. I wouldn’t want all my experience to go to waste. But I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah, not settling down and all that shit.

But then I met your mum, and I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life with her. You know when you just know? Oh, right, you probably don’t yet, not being born and all, although you probably feel the same way about her – she is pretty great, and she is your mum after all. Anyway, as soon as I met her, I knew that sooner or later she was going to be tying me down, although we haven’t actually tried that yet and it’s on my ‘to do’ list, but let’s not go there right now. And so when, almost two weeks ago, she told me you were on your way, I didn’t freak, well not after the first few seconds, because I knew it would happen one day, it was what we both wanted so much. And why not that day, rather than any other day in the future?

I was so happy, I still am, and it seemed exactly the right thing for me and your mum to get married, so that we were your proper mum and dad before you arrived. I didn’t freak then, but I have been freaking a bit since, because I’ve had time to think about how different everything is going to be.

Things that will have to change: a) we’re going to have to move house, because this flat is too small for you and all your stuff; b) I’m not going to get much sleep, and I really need my sleep; c) things are going to be a lot more messy than I like; d) but most of all, you’ll be here.

I’ve just got used to your mum being here, and I love it, I love her. And I was worried you might mess all that up, and things would be different between me and her because of you, but I’ve been up half the night thinking about it, and I think, yeah, of course things will be different, how could they be the same, there will be three of us instead of two, but she’s still your mum, and I still fucking love her so fucking much (sorry, ‘damn’ just didn’t seem the right word), and I already love you, and I really can’t wait to see you. OK, I am strongly opposed to misuse of the word ‘literally’, but I literally can’t wait to see you. I want to fast forward to when you’re here, so I know what you look like, how you sound, how you feel in my arms. I’m so looking forward to holding you, looking at you, talking to you, playing with you, watching you sleep, even changing your nappy.

Ah, and then I freak a little bit again, because I’ve just gone too far, too big, and it all feels a bit much to think about. Get used to it, Philpotts, your dad’s a fuck-up. He freaks at the bloody stupidest of things. But always remember, he loves you, and he loves your mum, and he’s never, ever going to leave you, no matter how much he freaks.

So, just to recap, you’re on your way, hurrah, freak, love you. Oh, that looks like I’m calling you a freak. No. That would be me.

Your freaking dad

Matthew Robert Scott BSc Hons

96. Home again

In which it’s good to be home.

Laura

The next three days were wonderful. It felt like we’d got our various frustrations and stresses out of our systems, and relaxed into a good mix of sightseeing and staying in.

Our hotel was luxurious, with full spa facilities, and it was no hardship to spend lazy mornings there, but with all of Paris at hand, we made sure we spent time dining out, seeing things like the Louvre, and going to smaller, tucked away places to experience what Matt decided to call ‘le Paris de Scott’ – little cafés and patisseries we would always remember as special to us.

Matt

With limited time to explore, we made a hit list of things we wanted to do, and mixed this with some lounging around in the hotel’s outstanding spa.

We went to the Louvre, bypassed the huge queue for the Mona Lisa and stood for some time in front of Monet’s huge canvasses, whose colours and vibrancy were stunning. We wandered around the smaller streets finding small boutiques and patisseries, drinking the best coffee I’d ever tasted and eating wickedly delicious pastries. A couple of places we went to several times, and our favourite café was also a bistro, where we ate in the evening. Lau wasn’t man enough to try escargots. Ha, I wasn’t stupid enough. I’d tried them before, when we’d been on a huge family holiday, and was in no hurry to repeat the experience.

We could have spent our time rushing here, there and everywhere, trying to see everything and getting frustrated, but we decided that was stupid, and we’d be better off just doing what we felt like. The important thing was we were together; we could have been in Margate, and would have had an equally good time. Which I suppose brings me back to the shit that was at the back of my mind, but I was ignoring that, and so I just enjoyed myself.

Neither of us could quite believe it when Tuesday morning arrived and we were going home. I was even prepared to admit that I’d had an awesome time, and that I would like to thank those responsible for organising it. It must have been a life-changing experience.

Laura

All too soon, it was Tuesday morning and we had to catch our flight home. As the plane touched down in the city airport, and the doors opened, I smelt the air of home, and everything I had to look forward to here came rushing back. I gripped Matt’s hand and smiled up at him.

Matt

‘Wha?’

‘We’re home. Tomorrow, we find out when Philpotts is due, and we can start making plans.’

She seemed delighted to be back, and I suppose I’d missed home too. I was certainly looking forward to getting back to the flat, my cave, my bolthole. I just wanted the circus to stop, now. It had been a furiously hectic week or so, and I’d forgotten that Lau’s scan was booked for tomorrow, so although we’d be home, there was more excitement. It felt like it was never going to end. Finding out about the baby would be awesome, but a little bit of me groaned and put its head under the covers.

‘Oh yeah. Bloody hell, Philpotts is going tuh be a bit more real, isn’t he.’

Laura

We continued to refer to the baby as ‘he’, but although I hadn’t said anything to Matt, or anyone else, I just had a feeling the baby was a girl. I couldn’t have told you why, what it was that made me feel it, I was just certain. Maybe tomorrow we’d know more, although it was likely to be a bit early.

Matt

We got home and sank down on the sofa, both breathing big sighs. I automatically got my phone out of my pocket, ready to text everyone, but then realised what a commotion that would cause. Beth would call, I’d need to talk to Dec and Amy, people would want to see us. So I put the phone back in my pocket. Lau noticed and raised an eyebrow, it being unheard of for me to put my phone away if I didn’t need my hands for something else.

‘Don’t wana tell them we’re home yet, they’ll want us to go round, or come here, see pictures, tell them how great they are fuh thinking of it.’

‘Well, they are pretty great.’

‘Yeah, I know, buh just wana … catch my breath. It’s been mad, soh mad, the last couple of weeks.’

‘I know.’

I knew Lau was tuned in to how I was feeling, she always was. She also seemed to know when to push me to talk and when to leave it alone, and this time she left it. I’m not saying I always agreed with her judgements, just that she was usually, in hindsight, right. Bet you never thought you’d hear me say that, eh Lau?

Laura

I was sensing that undercurrent, the one that hadn’t really left since we argued in Paris, but we’d been too busy having a romantic honeymoon to examine. I really didn’t want to get into a deep and meaningful as soon as we got back, and highly doubted Matt would be up for it either, at least not without a bit of a run-up. So I let it go for now.

Matt

‘Cup of teh?’

I got up and went into the kitchen, filling the kettle and getting the mugs out. I saw a note on the counter.

‘Oh, yes please, Paris can do coffee, but I’m proper gagging for a cup of honest English tea. Oh, we haven’t got any milk though.’

‘Yeah, that’s what I thought. Look.’

I held up the note.

Hello Matty and Laura

Hope you’ve had a wonderfully romantic time in gay Paree. Just to save you having to go out again, I’ve brought a few things over. Milk, bread, just the essentials that might have gone off while you were away.

Call me as soon as you’re back!

Beth xxx

It was really thoughtful, and it pissed me right off.

‘I’m seriously gona get my keys back, ih’s out of order coming in here an –’

‘Doing something nice like make sure we’ve got milk. Yeah, bad form. It looks like she’s put more water in the flowers, and taken some of the dead ones out so they don’t smell, too. What a cow.’

‘Yeah, but you know wha I mean, there was all the business with packing our cases, I mean, the holiday was great, buh not sure ih’s OK for them to jus come in whenever they bluhdy feel like ih, do whatever they want. It’s a privacy thing. Who knows wha they migh have found in my bloody wardrobe.’

It was the principle, rather than the act itself, that was pissing me off. It made me feel like a child, that they a) needed to have a key, and b) thought they could just waltz in and do stuff without question. I could possibly see why it had been necessary when I was in the throes of the bastard MS, on my own, and thinking about ending it all. But I’d been better for months, and I had Lau now.

‘You’re right, it would have been terrible if they’d found that manky pair of gym shorts. Maybe you just need to have a chat with – who did you say had your keys? Jay and Dec? Make some rules.’

‘Yeah, maybe. Or jus get the keys back. Ih’s not like they need them any more, I’m OK now, an you’re here. I haven’t got Jay’s key, gave it back when I moved out.’

‘Dec’s still got one.’

Summers might be a law unto himself, but I had principles.

‘Tha’s up to him, or them, but I always ring the bell. I’d never jus barge in unless they knew I was coming.’

‘Fair enough. Let’s have a word next time we see them.’

Lau was being my grounded voice of reason again. I was trying my hardest to get her to be outraged too, but it wasn’t working.

‘Yeah, it’s your place too, you should have a say in who can come and go.’

I handed her a mug of tea.

‘OK – oh, thanks flower, just what I need. Beth didn’t leave any biscuits, did she?’

I rolled my eyes and went to look in the cupboard.

‘Yeah, chocolate digestives. I had a perfectly good stash of biccies, noh need for that. Here you go.’

I tossed her the packet.

‘Perfect. Now come here and rub my feet.’

‘OK, bossy cow.’

And devious cow, Lau, as if I didn’t know you were trying to take my mind off it, cool me down.

‘Come on, you know you love it.’

‘Yeah, I know. I know wha you’re doing, though, you’re trying tuh distract me from ranting.’

‘Oh, you saw through me.’

She put on an innocent expression, as if we didn’t know the little game we played with each other, where I knew she usually knew what I was thinking, but let her get away with talking me down from whatever it was, I don’t know, work rant, Beth rant, world news rant, general Matt’s-a-git rant. Sometimes I let her get away with it, sometimes I called her on it, but I always let her do it.

‘Yeh, I always know. Works though. Feet please.’

I sat on the sofa and Lau put her feet in my lap, leaning against the back of the seat, sipping her tea. I took her feet and gave them a good, firm rub, making her sigh with pleasure. While I was massaging and zoning out, it popped into my head how they’d done it, how they’d organised the trip to Paris – our cases, passports, everything we’d needed. Beth knew where everything was, because she’d fetched it all for me when I went to Egypt post-Jules. I shook my head at the bare-faced cheek of using my misfortunes against me, nearly got myself riled up again, but found myself too relaxed by rubbing Lau’s feet to do so. I made a mental note to be less predictable about where I stored important items in future, and moved past it to focus on the beautiful woman succumbing to my firm and manly touch.

‘How about head an shoulders?’

I loved massaging Lau, loved feeling the tension slide away from her, loved the little noises she made when I hit a good spot. But she shook her head.

‘Maybe later, sounds great, but I think you’re a bit tense. How about I do your shoulders?’

I nearly denied it, the tension, but there was never much hiding it from Lau, and maybe some unknotting was what I needed. I nodded.

‘How can yuh tell?’

Laura

‘Just the way you’re holding yourself.’

I sat behind him and started to massage his shoulders. I could feel big knots start to unravel, and after a while I felt more confident that Matt was relaxed enough for a gentle enquiry.

‘Want to tell me?’

Matt

And I thought I’d been so good at keeping it from her, that back of my mind shit all the time we’d been away, the little dissatisfied, grumbling voices that were just taking the edge off what should be the happiest time of my life. But she was Lau, and she got me, and so of course she’d noticed.

Laura

He didn’t talk straight away, just sighed and made appreciative noises. I hoped he might unravel his tongue, too, but didn’t hold my breath. Matt only ever talked when he was ready, and much as I wanted to get at the underlying strangeness, I knew better than to push him. He might not say anything now, but he knew I was there when he wanted to talk. After a while, sooner than I expected, I heard a deep breath, and felt him gather himself to speak.

Matt

I knew I would tell her, but I just sat leaning against her for a while, feeling safe with her, thinking about what was going on with me. Then, when I’d worked it out properly, I told her.

‘I’m freaking, aren’t I.’

Lau stopped massaging, and folded her arms round the front of me, laying her head against my shoulder, and nuzzling into my neck.

Laura

‘Are you? What about?’

I tried to keep my tone light and conversational, rather than probing.

Matt

She sounded vaguely interested, not inquisitional, and hit just the right note to make me want to carry on spilling.

‘Everything. Jus had a dose of realihy. Well, not jus. Back in Paris. When we rowed. Before then. I’m married. We’re married. Fucking married. Lau, this sounds terrible, but ih’s like everything I’ve been trying to escape the last few years, an now here I am, married, baby on the way. Shit. Sorry, sorry Lau, I don’t mean … I want it, I want it all, with yuh, but I feel out of control. It was soh quick, I hardly had time to think, I got caught up in it all an then …’

As the words were coming out, in a bit of a rush, I realised how it must sound to Lau, and I was scrambling to try to say it in a way that didn’t make it sound like –

Laura

‘Are you regretting it?’

I always found that asking a direct question got the best results with Matt. He turned to face me, and I moved from behind him to beside him, so I could look into his big grey eyes and see what he wasn’t telling me. He shook his head.

Matt

So that worked well. Lau always asked those sorts of questions so matter of factly, like it wouldn’t have upset her at all if I’d said ‘yeah I wish I hadn’t married you’ or some such shit. But that wasn’t what I’d been going to say, and despite the casual way she asked, I needed to reassure her.

I turned to face her, and as Lau moved from behind me to beside me, I looked into her eyes and shook my head, so she’d know I was sincere.

‘No, fuck no, Lau, I don’t regret any of it, it’s what I’ve wanted, and to do it with you is fucking amazing. You know wha I’m like, I don’t like people taking control, doing stuff for meh, helping meh. We’ve talked about it before, when I was ill, I didn’t realise how much I didn’t like it for other stuff too. With Beth doing all the wedding planner bit, it just got bigger than I could handle, and then when they changed the hotel, I was pissed off, but felt guilty for bein pissed off, then when you wanted to go out, in Paris, I was all ‘I’m doing this my way’ an I jus took it too far. I don’t feel like we sorted it. Yeah, we made up, had a great time, but bloody hell, Lau, I told yuh to fuck off. Tha’s not OK.’

Laura

‘No, I guess it isn’t, really, but we were both tired and emotional.’

I was surprised – I’d thought we had sorted it all out. I’d sensed something, some kind of thing that needed sorting, but hadn’t realised that there was more to our argument than both of us feeling the after-effects of a stressful week. I honestly hadn’t given a second thought, after Matt’s apology, to him telling me to fuck off.

Matt

I could have taken that, and let her accept some of the blame, but the more I’d thought about it, the more it felt like it was only really down to me, when it came to it.

‘Noh, I’m not gona let you let me off. We’re both stubborn, we’re gona bash heads again, I need to feel like I can control myself. This being married thing, I love ih, I love you, I’m just being an arse. I don’t wana fuck ih up.’

‘So what exactly are you freaking about?’

I was quiet for a moment as I tried to pinpoint exactly what it was that was simmering down there.

‘I think … I feel … not in control of things. We’re married. I can’t change it. I don’t wana, Lau, but if I did, I couldn’t, not without huge shit going on.’

Laura

‘Do you wish we’d waited a bit?’

He looked away from me, breathing in deeply, and I knew without him telling me what his reply was.

Matt

Whoa, how did she do it? She could just get right to the heart of what I was feeling before I even knew it myself.

‘Maybe a bit of me does. But no, Lau, I’ve loved it, most of me has loved this crazy week, baby, wedding, us, Paris, I’ve never had such a fucking mad amazing time in my life.’

Laura

He wasn’t being completely straight with me. He was telling me what he thought I wanted to hear, what he wanted to feel, so I tried some more honesty.

‘Part of me wishes we’d waited.’

Matt

‘Really?’

How did she manage it? Just say shit? Without having it dragged out of her by a team of enormous horses?

Laura

‘Yeah, just a part of me. I’ve loved it too, the madness, but a tiny bit wishes I’d had time to savour it, plan things myself, not be so reliant on other people being amazing.’

The relief washed over his face, as he realised it was alright to say it.

Matt

And there we had it, what it was all about, for me as well as Lau. Matt was feeling his life spinning out of his control, in the way life does, and he didn’t like it, and so instead of acknowledging it, he had to have a freak and make life bloody difficult for all and sundry.

‘Oh Lau, tha’s what I feel. I’m so happy, but it’s just a tiny bit tha’s saying ‘we could have waited an done it differently’, tha’s all.’

The more I thought about it and talked about it, the tinier it became. Having it sitting there festering at the back of my mind had been making it a bigger deal than it was, and now it was out there, it didn’t really seem worth the effort of freaking.

‘But we didn’t really have a choice, did we. We wanted to do it this way. Life’s not always about plans and arrangements, sometimes it’s about what happens to you and how you respond to it. I think we responded pretty well. Maybe it’s just catching up with us a bit. We need to give ourselves time to get used to it. Nothing should change, really, well, except we’re having a baby in … whenever. Oh Matt, that’s what I’m having trouble getting my head round. I almost keep forgetting. How can I forget?’

She looked stricken, and I stroked her cheek, and reminded myself that I wasn’t the only one for whom things were moving at breakneck speed.

‘Maybe getting married jus took up so much time the last week, there wasn’t time tuh think about it.’

Laura

And that was the truth of the matter. Wonderful and crazy as the last week had been, it hadn’t given us time to think about the baby who was coming to change our lives really, really soon. I was going to be a mother; Matt and I were going to have to look after a baby, keep her safe, be responsible.

‘Yeah, maybe. I want to think about it, though, this is something we have got time to plan for. I don’t want to get there, and suddenly there’s a baby and we haven’t got any stuff, or made any room for her, or –’

Matt

‘Wait, her? Philpotts is a boy, weh agreed.’

‘I know you think he’s a boy, Matt, but … I just feel she’s a girl.’

If the baby turned out to be a girl, I was going to have to do some major readjusting. For example, it was highly unlikely she was going to captain a victorious Spurs team to three successive Premier League titles. But I needed to focus on Lau.

‘I guess we might know tomorrow, but, anyway, my point is, I think, we got married really fast, and it was great, it is great, it was right. But I want us to have lots of time to think about Philpotts, get used to him or her, not freak when it happens. I think being married won’t make much difference to us, do you? We always said ‘holding hands forever’, we both said that in our vows, it’s just we’ve got a piece of paper saying it officially, and some photos of you wearing a kilt and showing your best bits to the world. Nothing should change between us. I just want to make sure we’ve thought about the baby.’

I looked at her, took her hand, kissed her fingers, trying to show how much I wanted to hold her, protect her, support her and love her. She’d got to the heart of my shit, and now I thought I might have got to the heart of hers, too. Sometimes I was as good at reading her as she was at reading me.

‘Are yuh telling me you’re freaking too?’

Lau laughed as she recognised the truth.

‘Yeah, I guess I am. Maybe about different things, but yeah, a fair amount of freaking going on.’

‘Ha ha, we’re a couple of freaks. Oh Lau, tha makes me feel better. We should freak together more often. Sorry, tho. I feel like I spoilt our honeymoon.’

‘You daft sod. You’re just looking for reassurance now. You know we had an amazing time. I’m glad we sorted this out, though. Matt, I know you’re not always comfortable talking about what’s on your mind, but please tell me, if you can, when something’s freaking you.’

Anyone else trying to cajole me into telling all when I was stressing would have been on a hiding to nothing, but this woman, my Lau, it was as if she was my security blanket, and everything I usually worried about when I was trying not to talk about shit just didn’t matter.

Laura

I could only keep reassuring him that it was always going to be alright to tell me how he was feeling. I don’t know where he got his ‘keep it all to myself’ ideas from, and I doubted I’d ever get him to be completely up front, but I was determined to tell him he was safe with me as much as I could.

Matt

‘I know, Lau, I know. I can talk to yuh better than anyone, even Dec, an he’s usually the one I bother at some ungodly hour, but I don’t always know what I’m thinking until I blow, then I feel guilty, then I think about why I blew, then I try to make it righ. I know it’s the wrong way round. I’ll try to realise when I’m freaking. Yuh can tell me too. We can have little freak parties, jus you an me.’

‘Partying might be just what we need. How about some non-alcoholic fruit juice, healthy snacks, and some womb music?’

‘Whoa, Lau, you’re jus goin wild. I can’t keep up.’

‘I know. Hold on to your hat, it’s going to be a crazy ride.’

‘Ha ha. I love you, Lau.’

‘I love you too.’

And so, finally, it was gone, that annoying niggle that had been underlying everything. If only I could say I learned from it, and that every time something bothered me from that day on, I just talked to Lau about it and life went smoothly. Ha fuckety ha.

Laura

And that sorted it. That thing that had been at the back of my mind since that first morning in Paris was gone. That didn’t mean everything was going to be perfect, far from it; in many ways Matt and I were still getting to know each other. Moving in together had shown us that we’d been pretty efficient at showing off our good sides to each other, and the coming months were going to be challenging as we stopped trying so hard. But if we managed to keep talking, and face what was bothering us, we stood a chance, more than a chance. Matt was complicated, and I wasn’t always easy to live with. The positives were that we loved each other and we made an effort to sort things out when they cropped up.

Matt

‘Oh bollocks.’

Something had just occurred to me.

‘What?’

‘I’m gona have to call Dec, see if Amy’s had Splodge yet.’

‘Surely they’d have told us?’

Possibly, but apart from replying to my ‘thank you’ texts, I hadn’t heard from any of them while we’d been away; some kind of Beth-imposed radio silence I assumed.

‘I suppose. Would they have, though? They might have thought we’d come back early.’

‘Would we have?’

That was a tricky one. There would have been no reason to rush back just because Amy was giving birth. She was more than capable of doing so without us.

‘Dunno. Maybe not. I was first there, tho, after Charlie was born. Set a precedent. Maybe I should just give them a quick ring? Text?’

Laura

Matt was worrying away at himself, wanting to call but not wanting to let any of his family know how much he wanted to talk to them.

‘Matt, it’s fine, if you want to call or whatever, just do it. You don’t have to justify it.’

Matt

And there she was again, calling me on shit.

‘I know. I’m being an arse. I jus spend half my life moaning abou them not leaving me alone, then as soon as I’m away I can’t wait tuh call. Needy or wha?’

‘You know what you are?’

‘A daft sod?’

It was Lau’s favourite thing to call me when I was being bloody ridiculous.

Laura

It was my favourite thing to call him. Just the right amount of almost-swearing to make it a fondly loving insult.

‘A daft sod. Just do what makes you happy, don’t tie yourself up in knots trying to work out why you’re doing it.’

He thought about it for a bit. I could see his inner struggle; it was always going to be there, his conflict between needing his family and not wanting to need them. This time, his need for them won. He picked up his phone and pressed a number, and I saw his whole body relax as Dec picked up.

Matt

It wasn’t just that I was looking for justification; I really was torn between calling them to find out what the news was, and having an evening of peace, here with Lau, letting the aftermath of the last week settle around us. But much as I would hate to admit it to anyone, it felt weird to not be in touch with them, to not know what was going on with all of them. In the end, I just needed to know, and I called Dec.

‘The honeymooner returns. Hey mate.’

‘Heh’

‘Are you back then?’

‘Yeah, been back for a bih.’

‘Did you have a good time – don’t give me any details.’

‘Yeah, had a fucking awesome time.’

‘Sounds about right. I did say no details though. How’s Lau?’

‘She’s great.’

‘Hasn’t she got the scan soon?’

I wondered if Beth had primed him with questions in case I called him instead of her, as Dec would not usually have been aware of things like dates for scans. Amy had had to programme all of her appointments and important dates into his phone so he didn’t miss them.

‘Yeah tomorrow.’

‘Shit, so you’ll know boy or girl, yeah? Maybe a date?’

It was weird talking about baby stuff with Dec. I always forgot he was more than ten years younger than me, but never thought of him as someone who had been through nearly two whole pregnancies with Amy, and knew a lot more about it than I did.

‘Yeah, I guess, haven’t had time tuh think about it.’

‘Well tomorrow should sort that. You’re going with Lau, aren’t you?’

‘Yeh. Yuhr obviously not in the labour ward.’

‘Oh, well, we were, Friday night, after the party, Ames was having full on bloody contractions, all the screaming and swearing started, we were all set, Rose came over, but when we got there they just sent us home.’

‘Oh, rehly? Fuck, is she OK?’

‘Yeah, they said it was Braxton Hicks, like fake contractions. It’s all quiet at the moment. Still waiting.’

It would take a lot to fluster Dec into panicking.

‘Oh, jus a false alarm then.’

‘Yeah, but Ames is bloody pissed off. She’s well fed up with waiting, she can hardly get up. Or sit down.’

‘Yeah, I bet, bloody hell.’

‘Matt, now you’re back, would you … I hope you don’t mind me asking, but if Rose can’t come over for some reason when it all happens, can we call you?’

I loved that he asked, that I was second in line, that he didn’t care that only a few months ago I was a fucking cripple who couldn’t be trusted not to drop his daughter.

‘Yeah, course, but no way is Rose gona miss it.’

There would have to be some kind of earthquake that opened up a ravine between Rose’s flat and Dec’s house for her not to be there.

‘You’ll do it? Might be middle of the night.’

‘Yeah, you know I will, second stand-by or whatever.’

‘Thanks mate. Are we going to get to see the happy couple anytime soon?’

I immediately wanted to go round there, open a few beers, see him and Amy and Charlie, but a larger part of me still wanted to relax here with Lau, just for tonight.

‘Sure, weh’ll call in tomorrow after Lau’s had the scan.’

I raised my eyebrows at Lau to check; she nodded.

‘Great. I’m training in the morning, but come and see Ames, she’d love it. Assuming there’s no other news.’

‘Yeh, let us know.’

‘I’ll wait till a reasonable hour.’

Of course you will Dec, like that ever happened.

‘No, don’t worry about tha, any time, jus call or text, we’d like tuh know.’

‘Will do, then mate.’

‘OK, see you tomorrow, hopefully. Cheers mate. Bye.’

As conversations go, it was pretty standard, but reconnecting with my family had made me feel kind of secure. While we were away, I’d felt somewhat adrift, and recognising that now felt weird, suddenly knowing how much they all meant to me. I turned to Lau.

‘Amy had some Braxton-Hicks thingies yesterday. Got all the way tuh the maternity unit, sent her home. Called Rose over for Charlie, everything. False alarm. Still waiting.’

Laura

I could see that the security that contact with his family gave him had returned. I hadn’t realised it had gone, while we were away, but seeing it back made me realise just how vital they all were to him. I doubted he even realised himself.

Matt

‘Is she OK?’

‘Yeah, jus fed up I think. Sure it’s OK tuh call round tomorrow?’

‘Yeah, that’d be good. We should go and see Jay and Beth too, maybe our mums. Do a bit of a tour?’

‘Shit, I suppose so. Not today, tho. Migh phone them all, but I jus wana be here with you. Come here, not had a proper welcome home yet.’

I shuffled over on the sofa, and folded Lau up in my arms, pulled her onto my lap, then leaned down to kiss her, softly, lips roaming over hers, slipping my tongue into her mouth and flickering it across hers. Before long, my hands had found their way under her shirt and undone her bra, because, well, when you’ve got a hot girl on your lap it’s rude not to, and I squeezed and stroked her breasts, feeling the changes in them.

‘Lau, I think you’re getting bigger every day. Are yuh sore?’

‘A bit. Don’t squeeze too hard.’

‘Sorry. Didn’t mean to hurt you. You’re jus so fucking sexy.’

Lau sighed and sat back against me, allowing me to touch and feel, but not seeming to have the energy to respond.

‘Alright, Lau?’

‘Yeah, that’s lovely, flower, but I’m wiped. Don’t stop.’

I didn’t need more than one invitation. I carried on touching, gently stroking her, then bent my head down, lifted up her shirt and put my mouth to her nipple, sucking gently. Lau sighed and stretched her arms above her head, looking content, and I looked up into her eyes. Then it suddenly felt weird. These were the breasts that our baby was going to be sucking on in a few months time, in the same way I was doing but for a very different reason. Shit. Weird. I pulled her shirt down and sat up.

‘Hey, you stopped.’

‘Yeah, jus had a weird thought, didn’t seem right.’

‘What weird thought?’

‘Well, Philpotts is going to be using these for food soon. Not sure ih’s right to be perving on them.’

‘You weren’t perving. They’re dual purpose. Business and pleasure. And until Philpotts is actually here, all pleasure. Definitely pleasure.’

I knew Lau was disappointed that I’d stopped, but I needed to sort out the weirdness.

‘Yeah. Think I need to get my head round ih a bit first. Sorry Lau. Normal service will be resumed when Matt stops being a fucking mad freak-out.’

I leaned forwards, dejected. Playing with Lau’s awesome boobs was one of life’s little pleasures, and for the time being I was putting them out of bounds. Lau leaned towards me and put her arm round my shoulder, pulling me towards her.

‘It’s OK, flower. All this is taking some getting used to. Everything’s changing really quickly, it’s a bit full-on.’

‘Sorry, Lau. I’m jus a fuck-up. Keep freaking on you.’

I couldn’t believe it, less than half an hour after the last one, here was another freak incident fucking with my head.

‘As long as you’re freaking on me and not going all quiet, I can handle it. It’s when you stop talking I don’t know what to do.’

I turned my head and looked at her. God I loved this woman so much. Whatever I threw at her, she coped with. She made me so happy. But what was happening to both of us was scary. In a few months, before we’d really got to know each other properly, we were going to be parents, and everything was going to have to change. Everything was going to have to change before then, really. It was never-ending. I was scared.

Laura

He turned his head and looked at me. I could see all sorts of emotions flickering through his big grey eyes – love was there, happiness too, but he was scared, maybe of the big things like being married, being a father, maybe of smaller things like the ways we were both going to have to change in a relatively short space of time. He may not even have known exactly what it was he was afraid of, and he wasn’t going to tell me about it just now.

‘Matt, I love you so much. Don’t forget, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I’m holding your hand. I’ll never stop.’

‘I know, Lau. Me too.’

He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face and then, inevitably, through his hair, making it all stick out.

Matt

‘Fuck, I need tuh do something, stop me bloody moping. What am I bloody well thinking? Here I am, world’s most gorgeous woman by my side, an I’m fucking freaking. Get a bloody grip, Matt Scott.’

‘Fancy going out? Get something for tea?’

It was awesomely right, spot on.

‘Going out sounds jus the thing. We haven’t been to the deli for ages – let’s get a coffee out and bring back some bits and pieces. Hahv a picnic at home?’

‘Great idea. Does the deli do cheese and onion crisps?’

‘Maybe bluhdy expensive poncey ones – aged mature cheddar an caramelised shallot or some such shit.’

‘No, has to be Walkers. I’ve had a hankering since Friday, fat chance of getting any in France.’

‘OK, stop off at the corner shop, then deli. Come on, woman, what are you hanging around for? There are crave crisps to be had.’

My mood lightened as suddenly as it had dipped, maybe Lau’s hormonal mood swings were osmosing into me. We grabbed our coats and went out.

Our first evening in our flat as married people went pretty much as you would have expected. We ate, we watched some TV, we called a few people, we went to bed. Actually, that wasn’t as expected, as Lau was wiped and we just slept. First time for weeks that had happened, but extenuating circumstances were present. There was always tomorrow morning, our last chance before going back to work.

I woke up really early, and resisted touching Lau. She was tired, and it was about time I stopped pestering her for sex – yeah, like it was always me doing the pestering, but she was fast asleep, and I’d woken up with shit on my mind, and bloody annoyingly couldn’t get back to sleep. So I got up and tried to deal with it.

I’d tried to go back to sleep, but had ended up thinking about the baby, about what it meant, how things were going to change, what it might mean for Lau and me. It all started whirling round in my head, until I suddenly thought of something Adam had suggested the last time I saw him, a few weeks ago.

I got up, much earlier than I was used to, but sure that this was a way to stop the whirling and try to make my peace with this huge coming event, the thing I’d wanted in a hypothetical way, but now it was real was doing a pretty good job of sending me crazy.

Laura

I woke up the next morning feeling sick and apprehensive. It was still early, dark outside, and I felt chilly. I turned over to pull Matt towards me, but he wasn’t there and I saw light filtering through the gaps around the door from the lounge. It was unusual for Matt to be up early; he slept a lot, still needing to recuperate, and on days off he was sometimes still in bed close to lunch time. I slipped out of bed and opened the door. He was sitting on the sofa, laptop open, typing. He looked up as I came into the room.

Matt

‘Hey Lau. Sorry, didn’t mean tuh wake you up. Jus been writing a letter.’

‘I don’t think you woke me up. I didn’t hear anything. Didn’t sleep very well, feeling a bit sick. It’s a bit early for you, isn’t it?’

‘Couldn’t sleep either. Big day, stuff on my mind. Fancy some ginger tea?’

While we were in France, we’d discovered that ginger tea was great for helping Lau’s sicky feeling.

‘Thanks, that would be great. Are you still freaking, then?’

‘I was, a bih, but I jus wrote a letter to Philpotts, an it really helped. Who’d have thought that bloody psychologists know what they’re bluhdy well talking about?’

‘Adam told you to write it?’

‘Yeah, kind of, last time I saw him, we talked about all kinds of shit, it was just a suggestion for when I’m trying to work stuff out, I didn’t know about Philpotts. Wana see?’

I gestured at the laptop. Lau looked like she was battling between having a nosy and thinking it was private.

Laura

I really wanted to have a look, but it felt like an intensely personal thing. I was touched he wanted to share it.

‘Are you sure? It feels a bit intimate.’

Matt

‘Come on, Lau, you can’t get much more intimate than you and me. Have a look.’

It was true. We’d never said ‘no secrets’ because we didn’t want to get all stressed about surprises and presents and shit, and hey, Lau, if we’d said that then none of this monstrously long story would have got done. I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Laura

‘OK then.’

I pulled the laptop towards me and read.

95. For the first time

In which a journey is commenced, a honeymoon embarked on, and bread products instigate a falling out.

Matt

The wind was still swirling, and Jay and I both had to hold onto our kilts to stop them revealing the full English. Which in our case would have been half Scottish.

‘I’ll go and geh a trolley for the bags.’

‘Can’t we just carry them?’

Ha, yeah right, Lau. Suitcase with wheels or not, my pregnant wife wasn’t going to be lifting more than a teaspoon for the foreseeable.

‘No, Lau, you’re not carrying anything. Jay’ll get the stuff out of the car, wait there till I geh back, won’t be long.’

I headed off in search of a trolley, regretting that I hadn’t put my boxers back on. The wind had really got up, and there was no way I was going to be able to push a trolley and hold the kilt down at the same time. Baring my arse to family and friends was one thing; to an airport full of strangers was another. And all the groping in the car had created an added dimension to my frontage, which meant that any exposure was likely to be seen as indecent at best.

Laura

Jay got the bags out of the boot, and we stood and looked at each other awkwardly for a few seconds.

‘Thanks for this, Jay. Sorry you ended up in a kilt all evening.’

He grinned. ‘I don’t really mind. Matty likes it if he thinks he’s pissed me off. Little brother thing. I hope you’ve had a good day.’

I smiled to myself at the dysfunctional way these two men communicated with each other, in jibes and digs and pretending not to care.

‘I’ve had the most amazing day. Thanks for all your hard work.’

‘Oh, I didn’t have much to do. Wear a skirt, remember a couple of rings, drive, do a speech. Pretty standard.’

‘We really appreciate it. Everyone’s been just incredible, at such short notice.’

‘It means a lot to Matty, although he’d never admit it, not to me, anyway. I’d do a lot to make him happy. Don’t tell him that.’

‘I won’t. Maybe you should.’

‘No, we’re fine as we are.’ He grinned again. ‘Men to the end, reveal feelings only when absolutely unavoidable.’

I tutted and rolled my eyes, but I knew Matt felt the same.

‘I know he thinks the world of you, Laura. A couple of years ago, I was starting to worry about him, thought he was heading for trouble the way he was going. He’s calmed down, had a few wake up calls, then when the MS came back I worried about him going the other way, but when he met you, he changed, you sparked something, he’s just so happy. I can’t believe he’s going to be a dad, though. He’s far too irresponsible. You’ll have to take complete charge, you know.’

‘He told me once he intended to be a great dad, no bedtime, no tellings off, completely cool.’

‘Ha ha, let’s see how long that lasts. He will be great, he’s great with Cal and Iz, he loves Charlie, I’m surprised it didn’t occur to him before that he wanted a family. I guess we all hide from inconvenient truths.’

I thought about how I’d hidden from my own inconvenient truth for several weeks, and nodded.

‘Oh, here he comes, fucking hell, he has no shame.’

Matt

Luckily, I didn’t meet anyone on the way, and I just took the bull by the horns, or rather the trolley by the handle, and kept my eyes to the front as I walked back to the car, the gusts blasting my kilt above my waist. My only strategy was to ignore it, pretend I didn’t give a shit, which I didn’t really. It was all part of today, when I didn’t really give a shit about anything, even Jay making me go to another country when I could have already been in bed with Lau.

As I got closer to the car, I saw Jay rolling his eyes at me.

‘Come on, then, load up, weh’ve got a honeymoon to start.’

Jay lifted the two suitcases onto the trolley.

‘Well, have a good time, you two, try to leave the hotel at least once while you’re there, bring us a plastic Eiffel Tower.’

‘You’ll beh lucky, me an Lau are gona beh closeted in our room making use of room service on your credit card till Tuesday. We’ll beh shagging each other’s brains out all day an night, too.’

‘Yeah, thanks for that mental image, Matty, I think it’s time you checked in. Have a great time, Laura. Try to make him behave himself.’

Jay hugged Lau, then me, which surprised me, and slapped me round the head, which didn’t. Then he got in the car and drove off as we headed to the terminal, both of us pushing the trolley so we could put our arms round each other. Although Lau’s arm slipped a bit so she could hold my kilt down with her free hand.

‘Lau, are you trying to feel my bum?’

‘Of course.’

‘Lovin your work.’

So we had an hour to kill in the small airport, along with the other passengers going to Paris for the weekend. First, I slipped into the gents and put a pair of boxers on, as I thought being arrested before we’d left the country might put a bit of a dampener on proceedings. Then, well I’d like to say we talked, perused the gifts in Duty Free, made plans for the next few days, but we just snogged our faces off. It may or may not have been apparent that we had just got married, didn’t really care, just wanted to kiss my wife for the foreseeable, and fuck off to all the people who gave us dirty looks and tutted and cleared their throats. Had they never been bat-shit crazy in love? Had they never been so happy with someone it was all they could do to keep their hands from wandering into arrestable-in-public areas? Apparently not.

Our flight was called, and we had to cease activities for the time being, as we boarded and took our seats. It would have been great to start again, but the seats were cramped, and the angles not really conducive without doing our backs in, and there was a really mardy looking woman sitting next to me who sighed loudly every time my elbow went a millimetre over her seat arm, so we contented ourselves with holding hands and looking deeply into each other’s eyes, talking about our day.

‘Whoa, Lau. Just … whoa. I can’t believe today. Ih’s been mental.’

‘But mental in a good way.’

‘Oh yeh, mental in a fucking awesome way. I can’t believe ih’s finished.’

‘Well it hasn’t finished yet.’

‘Noh, but I’m getting pretty knackered.’

I was, indeed, beginning to feel those bloody annoying tendrils of fatigue snaking around my consciousness. The tiredness didn’t creep up on me as quickly as it used to, but I wasn’t going to be up for much when we finally got to our hotel.

‘Me too, flower. I know that … this is really lame, but it’s been so exhausting – could we postpone, er, consummating our marriage, just for a few hours?’

I stroked her hair back from her face.

‘Course, Lau. Tuh be honest, I don’t know how much longer I’m gona be awake.’

‘And we both had late nights last night, well late for us.’

‘True. Hey, Lau, I never asked wha yuh did on yuhr hen night. Gang of male strippers? Naked karaoke? Any of ih on YouTube?’

‘Ha ha, if any of it got on YouTube it would have the lowest number of hits ever. We just had a meal, the girls had a lot of wine, they dressed me up in the standard gear – you know, L plate, tiara with veil – and gave us a lovely present.’

‘Year’s supply of chocolate knobs?’

This provoked a tut and a sigh from just beyond my right elbow, so, result.

‘Photo frame.’

‘Practical. Bit boring fuh hen night.’

‘Well I was a proper party pooper with not drinking and everything, I think I slightly spoiled their fun.’

‘I beh Kate was off her tits.’

‘Yeah, she still had a hangover this afternoon, I can’t see her making it to work on Monday.’

‘She’s a fucking animal. She scared the GreenScreen boys tuh death.’

‘Oh, is that why she was trying it on with Dec and Nico? Because your guys weren’t man enough for her?’

‘Fuck knows. I thought Lis was gona fight her at one point. Fuck, tha would have been hot … er, to the blokes who hadn’t just got married tuh the hottest girl on the planet, of course.’

I grimaced at her, and she gave me an outraged look and then laughed.

‘Your worky people seem nice, although that blonde woman – Lexi, is it? She’s a bit … er …’

‘Of a bitch. Yeh. Had tuh invite her, tho, or she tells Phil where yuh really are when yuh say yuhr meeting a client.’

‘It felt a bit like she was trying to … I don’t know … intimidate me a bit? By mentioning ‘the last one’, or whatever it was she said. I’m not sure I liked her doing that at my wedding.’

‘Noh. She’s a bitch, like I said. Sorry, Lau. Maybe I shouldn’t have invited her.’

I felt bad that I had been responsible for possibly the one thing that had spoiled Lau’s enjoyment of the day.

‘Oh don’t be daft. There’s always someone you’d rather not have had at your wedding, isn’t there. I’ll just think of her as a kind of mad aunty who no one wants to sit near on account of her whiskery kisses and smelly farts.’

‘Ha ha. Perfect. Tha’s the image I’ll always have when Lexi’s tryin tuh wind meh up. You’re awesome. Oh, I forgot tuh say. I lohv you.’

‘I love you. This has been the most incredible day. I still can’t get over how much work people must have done to get it all ready in time.’

‘I know.’

I’d been thinking, in between snogging Lau and gazing into her eyes, about all the people I needed to thank.

‘We should send flowers tuh Beth, an everyone, Mum, yuhr mum, Lis …’

‘There’s quite a list of thank yous isn’t there. Maybe not flowers for Jay.’

‘Can’t do ih till weh land, anyway. Jay can keep the kilt as a special present.’

‘Do you think he’ll want to see it ever again?’

‘Maybe, if Beth shows him how much she admires ih tonigh.’

‘Yeah, that could change his opinion. Iz was a bit confused by it, she kept asking me why you and Jay were wearing girls’ clothes. Surely she’s seen pictures of men in kilts?’

‘Obviously a serious lapse in education. I blahm the parents.’

Something completely unconnected with Jay or his kilt occurred to me.

‘Heh, Lau, if I sit in yuhr seat an yuh sit on my lap …’

It might be a bit awkward to arrange ourselves, and would seriously piss off the narky woman sitting next to me, which admittedly was a bit of a bonus, but I just wanted my arms round Lau.

We tried it, to a veritable volley of tutting from Ms Passive-Aggressive, and it worked, and I could feel Lau’s lips on mine again, until one of the flight attendants came and told us to sit properly in our seats and put our seat belts on as we were about to start the descent. Ms P-A could not have looked more triumphant, but it wasn’t a victory for her, as instead of snogging Lau, I just talked dirty in her ear, intentionally audibly, until we landed.

I spent the taxi journey to the hotel ordering flowers on my phone. Lau kept remembering people who should really be included in the growing list of ‘merci’, and I almost wished I hadn’t started it, but we could finally think of no more people to thank, and finished sending texts to everyone just as we pulled up outside the hotel.

We booked in, ignoring the looks we were getting on account of my attire. My schoolboy French just about got us through, and I graciously allowed the bus boy to take the cases up, because I wasn’t going to be able to manage both of them, and wanted to ensure Lau didn’t lug her suitcase any distance at all. I even tipped him.

It was with a huge sense of relief that we closed the door to our room behind us, and we were finally alone. There was more kissing, more holding, but nothing further. The tendrils of fatigue had grown into thick ropes of exhaustion, pulling me down, and I was fighting it, but not winning the battle.

After exploring the room and the balcony, complete with a view across the city to the Eiffel Tower, all lit up in the night, Lau opened her case to start putting things away, and laughed as handfuls of confetti fell out onto the carpet.

‘We’re going to be popular, this stuff is really hard to hoover up. Oh! Oh my, look at this.’

She held up a see-through black negligee, which pushed the tiredness down a way.

‘Fuck tha’s hot. When did yuh get ih?’

‘I didn’t. I’ve never seen it before in my life. Oh, there’s a note – ha, and a box of condoms. It’s from – well, everyone.’

‘Wha’s ih say?’

‘To lovely Laura. A little something to make your honeymoon go with a swing. You don’t need the condoms, obviously, but they are chocolate flavoured … Have a fabulously romantic time. Lots of love, Beth, Jay, Dec and Amy.’

‘Bloody hell. Are you gona try ih on?’

‘Are you?’

‘I don’t think ih’ll fit meh, or look quite soh fucking sexy.’

‘I meant one of these.’

She threw the box at me.

‘Oh.’

Fat chance there, no way was I going to be hard enough to put a condom on, or awake enough to appreciate the results. Lau saw the look on my face and capitulated.

‘You’re as wiped as me. We can wait, can’t we flower?’

I nodded, regretfully. The thought of Lau in the negligee had perked me up for a bit, but now I was struggling, and started yawning.

‘Sorry, Lau. Already failing in my husbandly duhties.’

‘I know, it’s terrible, here we are in the City of Love, and can I get my husband to actually love me? Apparently not. Oh – I wonder if they put anything in your case?’

She immediately started opening it.

‘Can weh leave ih for now?’

I was flagging more by the minute, and right now didn’t care if they’d filled the suitcase with cans of squirty cream and nothing else.

‘I’ve done it now – oh, ha ha. Here’s a posing pouch for you. Red satin, nice. Might be a bit big.’

‘Oi!’

‘And a Barry White CD. Tasteful. There’s a note for you too. Shall I read it?’

‘Yeh, then take yuhr clothes off an come to bed.’

I’d already taken my jacket off, and started to unbutton my shirt.

‘Did they put anything in tuh sleep in?’

Lau had a bit of a rummage.

‘Doesn’t look like it. We don’t need it, though, do we? Wedding night. Nakedness is expected.’

‘Fuck yeh. Good thinking. Come on, read the note an get yuhr arse over here.’

I took my shirt off, slipped out of my shoes and socks, undid the kilt, then climbed into bed as it fell to the floor. It felt like the best bed I’d ever been in; I was so tired, I was going to fall asleep very, very soon, but I really wanted to at least have a go at a traditional wedding night.

‘Dear Matty. We think red is your colour, hopefully Laura thinks the same. And everyone needs a little Barry to help their honeymooning along. Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do. Lots of love, Beth, Jay, Dec and Amy.’

Lau put the note back in the suitcase and reached behind her to unzip her dress.

‘Oh blast, I can’t reach.’

She walked over to the bed and sat on the edge.

‘Can you undo me?’

‘Always. I think undoing yuh is gona beh top of the husbandly duhties I perform every day.’

I pulled the zip down, sat up and kissed her between her shoulder blades, rallying briefly in the face of Lau’s awesome back view.

Lau stood up and slipped the dress off her shoulders; as it fell to the floor, it revealed creamy underwear, including stockings and suspenders. It was a measure of how tired I was that I could only stare in awe and curse my nether regions for being unable to respond in any respectful way to this vision of loveliness.

‘Fuck yuhr beautiful. Wish I could show yuh how gorgeous yuh are.’

‘There’s plenty of time, flower.’

She took the underwear off, fuck she was hot naked, and climbed into bed beside me, snuggling up close, under my arm. I bent down and kissed her, then lay down next to her and pulled her up against me, running my hands along the length of her body, trying to make my body respond to hers. She did the same, but it wasn’t going to happen tonight, we’d both had enough. Part of me silently cursed Jay for doing this to us, when if we’d stuck to my plan, we would have had a whole night of passion already, but that part was very small, and I overrode it in favour of savouring the lusciousness of Lau held against me.

‘Ih’s not gona happen, is it?’

‘I don’t think so, not right now. We both need to sleep. Just hold me, Matt. I’ve wanted to snuggle with you all day.’

So that’s what we did. I wrapped my arms round Lau, and before a couple of minutes had passed, I was asleep, my mind and body giving in to the tug of the black.

Laura

And so, finally, we were in bed, in a beautiful hotel, with a view of the Eiffel Tower lit up through the window. We’d texted everyone to say thank you, Matt had ordered flowers for Beth, Lis, Amy, our mums and Rose, and we were alone. We were both exhausted, and had a go at sex, but it was nearly two in the morning, and just had to give up. I got the snuggle I’d been waiting for all day, which was just as good, if not better, and we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

Matt

I thought I would sleep until late the next morning, but when I woke, it was still dark. The heavy fatigue had gone, and although I was still tired, I felt rested. That was encouraging. I wondered if Lau was awake too, and slipped my arm round her waist.

Laura

I woke up, with a start, in the dark, not knowing where I was, trying to focus on the lights through the window. An arm snaked round my waist, and I squealed. There was a chuckle.

Matt

I felt her startle, and heard her squeal, like she had the first few nights we’d spent together. I laughed as it took me back there, to that time.

‘Shit, Lau, it’s been a while since I made yuh jump.’

Laura

Matt. I was with Matt. In Paris. I smiled and turned towards him.

‘Sorry, I didn’t know where I was. What time is it?’

Matt

I reached out and checked my phone.

‘Five twenty. Bollocks. I’m still wiped. Come here, Mrs Scott, I want to kiss you. And things.’

‘What things?’

‘Well, a good Scottying is on the cards, maybe while it’s still kind of our wedding night, and not tomorrow yet. Ih’s not tomorrow until it’s light. We migh have half an hour if we’re lucky. Then we can have a lie-in. Save our strength.’

‘For?’

‘Well, block Philpotts’ ears, but I wana ravish yuh.’

With a start, I realised I’d almost forgotten about the baby, had hardly given him a thought since leaving the barn.

‘Hey, how is Philpotts? I never even thought to ask. Did he enjoy the flight?’

‘He didn’t seem to have any complaints.’

‘Good lad, Philpotts. Taking care of your mum.’

I rubbed Lau’s belly, to reacquaint myself with the swell of our child, then my hands moved upwards, cupping Lau’s breasts, looking into her eyes, checking it was alright, that she was awake enough and not too tired.

‘Hey, these are getting bigger, Lau.’

‘I know. So is my tummy. Either that, or it’s cake.’

‘Philpotts, are yuh making your mum fat? Shame on yuh.’

I carried on caressing and holding, also reacquainting myself with the changes that were happening to Lau on the outside. I was endlessly fascinated with it all, and continued to hold and fondle her breasts, testing out her responses, seeing if the same actions got the same reactions, or if she was more or less sensitive. Lau’s hands reached up and she pulled my mouth down to hers, so I hypothesised that we could err on the side of more sensitive.

‘Steady, Lau, I’m a married man – oh, I’m married tuh you. That’s OK then. Carry on.’

As I kissed her and stroked her, touching, nibbling, licking, I smiled as she moaned softly and started her own search for the places that would make me moan too. It didn’t take her long to find my hard-on, and she gave it an exploratory squeeze.

‘Oh, fuck yeah, Lau. I’ve wanted yuh to do tha all day. Tha’s why I wore a bloody skirt an no pants. But did yuh feel me up? Did yuh fuck.’

‘I’m not sure it would have met with much approval, particularly from my mum.’

‘She’d have been cool.’

Oh she so would not have, but it wouldn’t have stopped me if Lau had been up for it.

‘You’re lucky you got away with all the swearing. Sexual antics would have been a non-starter. Even though you’ve made an honest woman of me.’

‘Feel like being a bit dishonest? A bit … naughty?’

‘I thought that’s what we were doing.’

‘Yeah, well, carry on – oh yeah, keep doing that, Lau.’

‘Actually, I’m going to give you a good Scottying.’

‘Ha ha, Lau, you have a lot to live up tuh, but do yuhr worst’

‘I intend to. I’m going to give a whole new meaning to a good Scottying.’

She did as promised, and I responded in kind, and we finally managed to complete our wedding night in the expected manner, just before it got light.

‘Must beh time for breakfast.’

‘It’s far too early. Isn’t it booked, room service or something? I thought we said ten. We’ve got hours yet. Come and cuddle me.’

She moved closer into my arms and held on tight. I kissed her forehead and held her to me, and we went back to sleep.

Laura

So Paris was where we started our married life. It was also where we had our first major row. I suppose it was inevitable, after the build up, all the rushing about and stress of the last week. Over the past six months, things had been changing almost weekly, one way and another, and we had been getting to know each other, still loved up, willing to compromise and ignore the little things that annoyed us. We’d still been on our ‘best behaviour’ and trying hard not to argue.

Matt

And then I did it, caused our first row. I can hardly believe now that less than twenty-four hours after we’d got married, I’d told Lau to fuck off and she’d stormed out. It sends chills through me to think about it, and it was completely, utterly, totally and absolutely all my fault. Except maybe a bit of it was Lau, so almost completely, utterly, totally and absolutely all my fault. No, don’t go on about oxymorons, they were made for situations like this.

I suppose, if you’ve been paying attention, you will have noticed that I’m not the best at recognising how I’m feeling. I mean, yeah, if something irritates me, or pisses me off, or I feel hard done by or controlled, then yeah, I bloody well notice right away, but otherwise I just let things creep up on me, ignore it when I’m, oh I don’t know, tired, stressed, in love, want a child, that sort of thing.

The last week had been tiring, and emotional, and I’d just pushed through it all, and now I’d come to a rest place, and I wasn’t really letting myself be aware of how out of juice I was, physically and mentally. I also didn’t consider that Lau might be equally low on energy, and that hormones could also be affecting how she was feeling. Never let it be said I’m not a selfish git, alright?

So, just setting the scene. We woke up after our wedding night, a few hours after completing it, and spent a fairly lazy morning having breakfast, leaning on the balcony in hotel bathrobes looking at the view and texting pictures to everyone, going back to bed, chilling to all intents and purposes.

I suppose, romantic and awesome though it was, it was still rankling somewhere in my fucked up psyche that I hadn’t chosen this. But of course I wasn’t letting on, least of all to myself, that it was any kind of a problem.

I guess I was more than happy to fulfil my threat to Jay of staying in our room the whole time we were there. It would serve the dual purpose of costing him money and spending several days in bed with Lau with no interruptions or demands. But by mid-afternoon, Lau, who was nowhere near as lazy as me and liked to be up and doing, was restless and suggested going out.

Laura

Of all things, we fell out over a baguette. We spent the first morning in our room, having a lazy breakfast, a lazy cuddle and lazy sex. We stood on the balcony in our bathrobes, looking at the Eiffel Tower in the distance, taking pictures on our phones and sending them to everyone we could think of. When we got cold, we shut the windows and went back to bed, having made sure the ‘ne pas deranger’ sign was on the door. Ne pas deranger is apparently French for ‘do not disturb’, and not ‘do not pass, danger’, so Matt informed me. Who knew French was such a confusing language? However, with no likelihood of being interrupted, we dozed and kissed and didn’t do much of anything else, and by the middle of the afternoon I was feeling cooped up, and suggested going out.

Matt

I immediately sulked.

‘Oh, buh I want to stay here all day with you, jus doin this.’

I ran my finger down her breast and flicked the nipple, just how she liked it, expecting her to sigh lustily and roll towards me. But she didn’t; instead, she sat up and swung her legs out of the bed.

‘And very lovely that is, but I need some fresh air. And something to eat. France is famous for baguettes, isn’t it? I’d like a proper French baguette.’

I didn’t want to go out, didn’t feel hungry, just wanted to be closeted here with Lau for the duration, feeling safe and getting my head round everything. Not that I was acknowledging that my head was in any way not round things.

‘They’re no different from wha you get at the supermarket.’

I had been to Paris once, on a school trip, many years ago. I was not an expert in French patisserie. I had no reason to suspect that the baguettes wouldn’t be stupendous. I was being an arse.

‘I’d like to find out for myself.’

It was totally reasonable. France was famous for its bread and cheese, and if you were hungry, why wouldn’t you go in search of some? Yeah, I didn’t think that, though, not right then; I thought …

‘Are you choosing bread over meh?’

Lau stood up and faced me, pulling on her bathrobe as she did so.

Laura

‘Yeah, Matt, I’d much rather have a stick of French bread in me than your man-stick.’

I tried to sound amused, although I was more than a bit irritated.

Matt

She was calling me on a ridiculous statement, but being called on being ridiculous wasn’t always a good strategy when I was being an arse.

Laura

‘I just want to get out, so I can say I’ve been to Paris, rather than I’ve been in Paris. Everyone will ask what it’s like, and I’ll say oh, the walls were cream and the bed was comfy.’

Matt

‘Who fucking cares wha everyone says? You can make it up, say ‘oh it was so romantic, we walked along the Seine, we saw the Louvre, we did this, did that, don’t have to fucking do any of it.’

The stupid thing was, I knew I was being unreasonable, but I couldn’t help myself. I could feel the argument coming, as if it was thunder in the air or some such shit, and I just put my head down and ran into it.

Laura

‘But I’d like to do some of it.’

I could sense the argument coming. Matt was getting stubborn, and disputing everything I was saying. I was tired and grumpy, and cooped up, and I didn’t feel like backing down.

Matt

And I just couldn’t stop. I was feeling all the irritation and annoyance of being controlled, and I just wanted someone to do what I wanted for a change (yeah, I totally realise that people were always doing what I wanted, and I was always an arse about it, I know that, alright?).

‘We can do it tomorrow. Stay here wih me, Lau.’

I was trying my hardest to make her feel like she was deserting me, that if she went out, she was the worst type of person, the worst type of wife.

‘No, I think I’m going to go out –’

I tried pouting, and Lau tried persuading.

‘– come with me?’

‘No, I think I’m gona stay here.’

No way was I going to back down, and I sensed that Lau wasn’t either. We hadn’t really rowed before, not about anything, but I suppose we’d spent the first few months getting to know each other and being amazed by each other, then Lau had moved in and we’d been on our best behaviour while all that was settling down, and had accommodated each other’s foibles. We were both stubborn fuckers, though, beneath it all, and now it seemed that neither of us were going to give in.

Laura

Neither of us were going to back down, although naturally I felt Matt was being more unreasonable than me. I tried wheedling.

‘Please? I don’t want to wander around on my own. I can’t even say anything apart from please and thank you.’

Matt

This was true. I had limited French, but Lau had none. It should have made me feel guilty, but it pissed me off that she only wanted me to speak for her. Yeah, I know that wasn’t what she meant, but I was winding myself up into full-on disgruntled me me me mode.

‘So yuh only want me as your interpreter.’

‘No, of course not. Don’t you think it would be cool to walk around Paris, soaking up the atmosphere?’

‘I’d rather have our own atmosphere righ here.’

I just couldn’t let her win. Of course walking around the Parisian streets with Lau would be incredible, but I couldn’t even allow myself to see that, let alone capitulate and do what she was asking.

‘Matt, you’re being incredibly stubborn.’

‘I’m not.’

I could say this with a completely straight face because I wasn’t letting myself acknowledge it. Kind of ‘la la la la I’m not listening’ but with emotions.

Lau sighed and looked me in the eyes. She wasn’t going to leave it, either. She usually picked her battles, only really trying to change my mind about something when she was passionate about it, and her passion would shine through and win me over. But as previously mentioned, we’d both had a full-on week followed by a even fuller-on day and night, and I’m not surprised she wasn’t as willing to let things go as she usually was.

Laura

I sighed with impatience. I knew he was unlikely to give in, but that just made me all the more determined. If I had just left it, said nothing, he would have changed his mind in half an hour or so, and we could have gone out together, but whatever French demon had possessed us had full control, and I couldn’t leave it.

‘You are, and you know you are. There’s no reason for you not to come with me, apart from me wanting you to.’

I went to the window and walked out onto the balcony, leaning over to see down the street.

‘There’s a bakery down there, it’s only a couple of hundred yards, we’d be back in five minutes.’

Matt

I shrugged. That was easily swatted away.

‘Don’t need both of us tuh go, then. I’ll have fromage et salade in mine. That’s cheese and salad, Lau.’

I sounded so patronising, as if I was a fluent French speaker teaching a two year old. I would have punched myself in the face if I hadn’t been on such a git-trip.

‘No way, I’m eating out if I’m going on my own.’

Lau’s voice was beginning to rise, as she got more and more exasperated with me.

‘Fine. I’ll do room service. Probably beh quicker.’

I tried to keep my tone of voice level, as I knew it was possibly the most irritating thing I could do.

Laura

I had one last attempt, but if I’d been thinking straight, I would have realised it was already a lost cause.

‘Please, Matt, I’d really like you to come with me.’

‘Not now.’

‘So you’re just going to lie around until Tuesday, are you?’

He shrugged. I tutted and exhaled noisily in what I hoped was an exasperated way.

‘OK, I’m going then.’

And then, the clincher. I don’t know what made me say it, apart from possibly tiredness, probably pig-headedness, maybe hormones.

Matt

I really didn’t want her to go, not on her own, but rather than telling her this and asking her to wait a bit and we’d go out together, I just lay there feeling aggrieved that she wanted to do something, on our bloody honeymoon, that didn’t involve being in bed with me.

And then, as if she knew exactly what was going to push all the remaining buttons on the ‘launch Matt into orbit’ console, she hit the big one.

‘You could do with getting out as well. Lying around all day isn’t going to do you any good.’

Her tone of voice was so like Beth’s when she was sticking her nose into my business, that I boiled inside. It was the last straw, the thing that just shoved everything out there. I sat bolt upright, and mustered all my best aggrieved husbandness.

‘Fuck you. You don’t know wha’s good fuh me. Just because you’re a nurse duhnt mean you know everything. Fuck off for your fucking baguette then.’

Lau stared at me for a second or two, looking shocked. She might have been waiting for me to apologise, but I was breathing hard and clenching my fists under the bedclothes, and apologising was the last thing on my mind. At that moment, I thought it was for the best if she went out and left me to my own devices. I stared back at her, stubbornly.

Laura

I stared at him, shocked at his tone, waiting for him to apologise, but he stared back defiantly.

‘That wasn’t very nice.’

I grabbed my phone, pulled some clothes on, picked up my purse and, the room filling with silence, left. Matt sat on the bed, with his back to me, staring out of the window.

I slammed the door behind me, and stomped down the stairs and out of the hotel. I had got disoriented on my way out, and couldn’t work out where the bakery, or – what did they call them here – patisserie was. I stood at the entrance for some time, looking both ways up and down the street, feeling vulnerable and apprehensive. What were you thinking Laura Shoeman? Oh, no, Laura Scott. You can’t speak French. You can’t even ask anyone where the bakery is.

I had to go one way or the other, and surely, in Paris, I would come across a bread shop of some description, and even if I didn’t, there would be somewhere to get a cup of strong French coffee so I could sit and stew and think about how I was going to go back to the room without either losing face or making things worse. It did occur to me that if I was as stubborn as Matt, there was a chance we might never speak to each other again, but he had been very rude to me, and he wasn’t just going to get away with that. This was our honeymoon, and stressful week or not, there were some things you just didn’t say to your bride of less than twenty four hours. In my opinion, ‘fuck off’ was one of them.

Matt

Lau slammed the door behind her, and I heard her stomping down the corridor. She always was a bloody good stomper. And as I heard her walking away, I realised what a dick I’d been. Shit, I’d just let my pregnant wife walk out on me, on the first day of being married. What the fuck was I thinking? Just to prove a fucking point? What exact fucking point did I think I was proving? That I was the biggest fucking idiot in the history of fucking idiots for starters. I was immediately horrified at my self-obsessed behaviour. Wasn’t I supposed to have been cleaning up my act? Nice work, Matt. Very mature and respectful.

I jumped up and ran out of the room to try to catch up with her, but there were too many choices of corridors she could have gone down, and I couldn’t find her. I ran back to the room, hoping to see her walk down the street from the balcony. Fuck, what had I done? I’d just told Lau to fuck off. Lau. I never wanted Lau to fuck off, but I’d told her to and she had. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

I went to the balcony and leaned over, trying to see the hotel entrance. Finally, after an age, I spotted Lau walking determinedly along the pavement. I loved the way she was just doing this, even though she had no real idea where she was going or how she was going to ask for what she wanted, and even though her fucking idiot of a husband had just told her to fuck off. She should have been in floods, but that wasn’t her way, she’d just rolled her sleeves up and got on with it. Fuck, I loved her.

I’m glad in a way, in lots of ways, but especially in this way, that Lau didn’t cry when I told her to fuck off. That she didn’t showed outstanding moral fibre, and I admired that, but most importantly it meant that I didn’t have ammunition in the future, and that was good. If she’d cried, it would have been easy, every time she was getting close to making me change my mind, or accept I was wrong, to tell her to fuck off and she’d cry and it would halt things – oh yeah, I wasn’t above it, not that I thought about it in those calculated terms, but it worked with Beth when she was really riling me. However, Lau was made of sterner stuff and I was never going to tell her to fuck off again.

Oh alright, yeah, I probably was, as I couldn’t help myself, and I was always going ‘fuck off, you can’t be serious’ or ‘fuck off, no way is it my turn to do the washing up’, but paradoxically, because she hadn’t got all tearful, it would make it easier to stop myself using it in seriousness and meaning ‘get out of my face you bitch’.

OK, got that? More fascinating insights into the weird and wonderful world of Matt Scott, swearaholic? Good then, lets get back to Lau, who is wandering alone in the streets of Paris because some unfeeling bastard told her to fuck off.

Laura

I made a decision, and turned right along the street. I hadn’t gone far before I heard my name, coming from above me. I stopped and looked up. Matt was leaning over the railings of the balcony.

‘Lau, wait. I’m sorry. Just wait there.’

He turned and went in through the window. I waited, looking back towards the hotel entrance, not knowing what to think. Was he going to apologise? Was he feeling guilty about letting me walk out on my own? Would he still be mad at me? This was uncharted territory; we hadn’t rowed before, and I didn’t know how things were going to play out.

Matt

I hoped she wasn’t mad enough that she would continue her excellent stomping, and would wait for me to pull some clothes on and catch up with her. I belatedly remembered I hadn’t unpacked my suitcase, so had to wade through piles of confetti and pick the first pair of trousers and shirt that came to hand to avoid having to put the bloody kilt back on. Mercifully Beth had thought of everything, as she always did, and there were socks and trainers to hand too, although everything was covered in tiny bits of coloured paper and I was going to look like a twat. But that wasn’t important, I just needed to throw it all on and get outside to Lau.

I hurried down to the lobby and out of the door, running out of the hotel and down the street to where Lau was, yay, still waiting for me. All the way I was saying ‘idiot, idiot, idiot’ to myself.

Laura

I waited, with a mixture of nervousness and irritation, for what felt like a long time, and was beginning to wonder if he was just messing with me, but eventually I saw him run out, look both ways, trying to spot me, then, seeing me, run towards me.

Matt

As I reached her, I pulled her towards me and held on to her, panting, relieved and able, now, to see what an obstinate arse I’d been.

‘Shit, Lau, I’m soh sorry, I can’t believe I said that to you. I’m soh sorry. I love you, fuck, what a dick, why would I want yuh wandering around out here on your own? Sorry, Lau.’

She tilted her head up to look at me.

Laura

So it was guilt and apology. Well that was more like it, although the implication I couldn’t look after myself without him might have to be explored later. I looked up at him.

‘We’re both as bad as each other, sometimes, aren’t we.’

I was prepared to take some of the blame, looking back over the last few minutes and realising I’d been more than a bit wilful myself.

Matt

Yeah, we were, but this was almost completely, utterly, totally and absolutely all my fault and I couldn’t let her absolve me so easily.

‘I know ih’s an excuse, but I’m knackered, an part of me is annoyed that we’re here an not in the hotel I booked. I know I’m an ungrateful bastard, I know it’s an amazing present, but there yuh are. I’ve stopped sulking now, stopped as soon as yuh left. Fuck, Lau, I never wana make yuh walk out on me again. Especially when I’ve told yuh to fuck off.’

Laura

‘Well I expect it won’t be the last time we have an argument and say things in the heat of the moment. I’m sorry too. I was being just as stubborn. There wouldn’t have been anything wrong with staying put for a while longer. Yeah, I suppose you weren’t very nice to me. Maybe I deserved it, maybe I didn’t. Shall we go and get something to eat? Baguette with marge and salad?’

Matt

Oh my Lau. My bloody amazing, wonderful, forgiving Lau. I so, so did not, do not, deserve her bloody amazingly wonderful forgivingness.

‘Ha ha, good try Lau. Fromage et salade. Don’t try speaky the lingo, yeah? Leave ih to the ones who’ve got GCSE French grade C.’

‘Deal. Come on, then.’

I put my arm round her waist and we walked up the street together, like we should have done in the first place, when Lau asked, perfectly reasonably and before I made it into the huge deal it had become.

‘Shit, does this mean yuh win the first argument? Yuh got your way, you cow.’

She slid her arm round me and put her hand in my back pocket.

‘If getting my way means I have to wind you up enough to tell me to fuck off, I won’t be doing it very often.’

I stopped walking, and pulled her to me, squeezing her hard against me as I felt what she wasn’t telling me, how much I’d upset her. I wanted to show her I knew, and try out a promise. I wasn’t great at promises, but I’d done a shitload yesterday, and maybe I was getting the hang of it.

‘Lau, our first proper fight lasted less than five minutes. I know I’m a bloody stubborn fucker, an so are you, so it could have lasted bloody ages. I love you so much, I never want to fight wih you again, but I guess there migh be other times when we’re tired an stressed an just got married – oh, no maybe not tha – OK, when we’re tired an stressed an jus had a fucking baby or something, but I hope I always remember what it feels like when you walk out, so it stops me before you do it again. I’m bloody useless at apologising, hate ih, but I’ll say sorry until next week if it means things are OK wih us.’

Laura

It was a perfect apology. It almost felt good to have got the argument out of the way so we could see how we reacted to it, how we might be in the future, what we might be able to do to avoid it happening.

‘And I’ll remember what it feels like to walk out – pretty horrible, if you’re interested – but, yeah, we’ve got some hectic times ahead. As long as we try to remember, that’s all we can do. You don’t have to say sorry until next week. A kiss is acceptable.’

Matt

‘You’re on, never say I can’t compromise.’

I bent down to take her up on her offer, and gently brushed her lips with mine, and as the rekindled electricity fizzed between us, we wrapped our arms round each other and held each other close.

‘OK, Lau, let’s get this honeymoon started properly. Eating. Drinking. Then back here for some romance. We’re in bloody Paris, woman, why have weh been lazing around all bloody day?’

‘I have no idea. Eiffel Tower?’

‘Fuck no. Although Jay does deserve a plastic one, as requested, but we can geh one anywhere. Let’s go on the Metro, find somewhere small an cosy, have a coffee …’

And now I was excited about it, and thought about all the things we could do, as well as going for a baguette. There would be plenty of time to be in bed together, but we should find out more about this romantic city, take some memories home with us of the first days after we were married. I got it now. Yeah, it takes me a while, but now I had Lau she was making me see things differently. We linked fingers, walked down the street and started to explore Paris.

Laura

And that was it, first big row over. Something was still lingering at the back of my mind, just a feeling that things weren’t quite right, but we’d made up, and I didn’t explore it, didn’t really have time – I had a city to explore with my husband instead.

Matt

I won’t say that was it, over, because although our row was over, and everything was back to better than great with me and Lau, there was still a hangover at the back of my mind, a little niggling something, that I couldn’t quite define, but just kept prodding me, that said things like ‘this isn’t your honeymoon, this is Beth’s honeymoon’ and ‘holy crap, I’m married’. I pushed it all away as much as I could, because even I could see what an ungrateful sod I was being, but I couldn’t help feeling it, just a little, all the time we were there, some part of me that was not in control and wanted to be.

However, I’d say we made the most of the next three days, after I pushed the whatever the fuck it was to the furthest corner of my mind where it introduced itself to all the other shit I’d shoved there over the years, and got on with enjoying myself.