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.
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.
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.
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.
My voice sounded thick with all the crying.
‘I tried not to make any noise. Did yuh hear the phone?’
‘It was Dec.’
Lau’s face took on a look of horrified panic.
My heart gave a lurch – something must have happened with the baby.
‘No! What’s happened?’
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.
I let out a breath of relief, my heart still pounding from imagining something awful.
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.’
‘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.
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.
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?’
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.
Please say no, please say no. Oh honestly, how insecure are you, Laura Shoem – er, Scott.
‘Shit, Lau, no, oh fuck it, no.’
Oh thank God.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.’
‘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.
‘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.
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.
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.’
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.’
‘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?’
Please don’t have any lurking secrets.
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.
‘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?’
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.’
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.
‘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.
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?’
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.
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.’
‘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 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.
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: = 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.’
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.
‘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.’
‘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.
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.’
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.’
‘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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.’
‘Yeah, like I don’t think about you all the time anyway.’
His face melted into a soppy smile.
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.’
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.