Life settled into, on the one hand, normality, with work and the daily routine, and on the other hand a whirl of change and excitement. I was increasingly conscious of the changes to my body, my swelling belly, my increasingly sore breasts, and often found myself with my hand stroking my abdomen. I spent a lot of time wondering about the two tiny lives growing inside me, and had quite a few dreams about them, where I couldn’t quite make out their faces. My hormones were rampaging, and I was often irritable one minute, crying the next, laughing uncontrollably the one after.
Matt seemed to take it all in his stride. He claimed he’d been reading up on the internet, and was prepared for me to be, in his words, a ‘fucking loony’ for the next few months.
We’d looked for houses, had put the flat on the market and had a bit of interest but no firm offers, but hadn’t seen anything that we liked. I was a little bit worried that we were going to get desperate and have to settle for something we didn’t love, but we weren’t at that stage yet.
I guess the next thing on the Matt and Lau event horizon was finding a house. As Lau and the babies continued to grow, there was an ever-increasing sense of urgency about where we were going to live. The flat was on the market, and there had been viewings and interest but no offers, and despite trawling the estate agent websites every day, and going to see a few places, there was nothing that screamed ‘LIVE HERE’ at us. It was starting to feel like we were going to have to take something we didn’t really want just so we had enough space. So the search continued, a little frantically, and still nothing came up that we loved.
Lau seemed to change every day. I loved seeing her, belly poking out of her t-shirt, boobs spilling out of her bra, as she sat there, often with her hand resting on her bump. It made me feel protective and manly, and now the bastard MS had receded, I was loving life.
It seemed like everything had been served up on a plate, and life was a heady mix of the mundane and the mysterious; Lau’s hormones rampaged from one extreme to the other, and she would often burst into tears at the slightest event (someone lost their purse in EastEnders), laugh uncontrollably at unfunny things (me falling over trying to put my socks on – OK, maybe it was just me who didn’t think it was funny), or rage unstoppably with the smallest of provocations (not being able to find her car keys, even though they were in my pocket all the time).
Although a lot of these ups and downs were out of character for Lau generally, I was prepared for her to be a fucking loony until the babies were born, and I took it, mostly, in my stride. I like to think. It was a small price to pay, I enjoyed being the strong one for a change, and used the rages and tears as opportunities to hold my Lau until she’d calmed down.
Lau had another scan, a few weeks after the first, and this time the babies were going to be big enough to tell what sex they were. We had both got used to the fact that there were two, but there was still that vaguely unsatisfying sense of incompleteness, of being unable to think of them as proper people, until we knew if they were boy and boy, boy and girl, or girl and girl. I maintained they were both boys, while Lau had a ‘girl’ feeling, and neither of us really had any evidence for our assertions. We argued about it quite a lot, loving having the endless discussions with no basis in any type of fact, but just liking talking about it. Oh, anyway, the scan.
It was a different radiographer, younger, bit more of a sense of humour. Lau and I were much less weirded out this time, and I even managed to whisper scary shit in Lau’s ear (‘they’re gona tell us there are three this time’) and both of us laughed, rather than thinking it could possibly be true. I honestly think that, even if that had been the case, we would have just got on with it. Two, three, what’s the diff? I would never say that to a parent of triplets.
So there we were, assuming the position, Lau on her back with gel all over her belly, me by her side, holding her hand and stroking her hair, watching the screen avidly. This time, maybe because the babies were bigger, we could see their shapes much more easily. We listened to the heartbeats, that thrilling squawshsquawshsquawsh that told us they were really there, really living and growing. The radiographer changed the angle, and then held it in position, looking at us.
‘Do you want to know the sexes?’
‘Yes. Can you tell?’
She nodded. ‘You’ve got a boy and a girl. It’s not always as clear as this, but they’re being very helpful. Or complete show-offs.’
‘Must take after you, then, flower.’
‘Oh Matt, a boy and a girl.’
Lau tore her eyes away from the screen long enough to look at me. Her whole face was shining.
‘Yeh. I knew there was a boy.’
‘Well I knew there was a girl. I was right.’
‘So was I.’
We laughed, smiled, kissed, then watched our babies’ hearts beating until we had to stop.
After that, the search for a house took on a new intensity. Now that they weren’t just a swell in Lau’s awesome curves, but were small people, we felt even more of a need to find somewhere bigger to live. We were already filling the flat up with baby paraphernalia – a buggy, new clothes for Lau, toys we’d seen and couldn’t resist – and it was becoming more apparent each day that it would be impossible to live there with two babies.
Wow, we were going to have a son and a daughter. Barely a year after we’d met, we were going to be a family of four.
One evening, dinner eaten, we were stretched out on the sofa watching a documentary about computers – or rather, Matt was watching it, and I was texting and Facebooking on Matt’s iPad – when I felt a flutter, stronger than a flutter, in my belly. I gasped.
I looked at her; she had clasped her belly with both hands.
Could have been anything from minor indigestion to major panic, but it didn’t sound like a major panic type of gasp.
‘I think … I just had a kick.’
Matt sat straight up, and put his hands over mine, desperate to feel it too.
‘Is he doing it now?’
‘No. And it might be her doing it.’
Yeah, still bickering about the him or her. It passed the time.
‘Don’t be bloody silly, it’ll be him, thinking about Spurs.’
‘It might be her trying to kick him for going on about football all the time.’
‘Or him trying to shut her up because all she bloody talks about is Downton Abbey.’
‘Or her trying – oh!’
As she was talking, I felt a kind of fluttering against my fingers. It was faint, but holy shit.
‘Did you feel that?’
My smile almost split my face.
‘Yeah, fuucking hell. Tha was amazing, like a little twitch. Wha’s it feel like inside?’
‘Kind of as if someone is flicking me or tickling me. Wow, Matt, they’re really there.’
I knelt beside her and put my mouth onto Lau’s bump to speak to the babies.
‘Hey, you guys, it’s your father speaking. Mr Philpotts, good work on the moving around, I’ve got you booked in for a trial at White Hart Lane. Ms Philpotts, in case yuh missed the last episode of Downton, the butler’s shagging the housekeeper an the posh people are goin for a picnic or some such shit – oh, whoa!’
As I was speaking, my lips on Lau’s skin, I felt the fluttering against me.
‘I felt that on my mouth. Holy fuck.’
It was as if they were talking back to me, and I kissed the spot where I’d felt the twitches.
‘Cheers guys, love you too.’
I sat back on the sofa and put my arm round Lau, pulling her close. It was weird how we could share this moment, but in such different ways.
‘I’m a bih jealous, Lau.’
‘You can feel it all, from inside, I jus get to put my hand on it when yuh tell meh.’
‘There are things you can do that I can’t.’
‘Talk to them, right up close, feel them on your mouth. I wish I could do that. And before too long I’m going to wish I could escape the pressure on my bladder and be able to bend at the waist. It’s not all exciting and magical.’
I knew that, knew that being the woman in this scenario was bloody uncomfortable and irritating, and reined in my envy while I contemplated piles and waddling and, oh, let’s not forget actually giving birth.
‘Ha ha, you’re right. Tha was amazing, though. Know wha? I really should stop saying ‘fuck’ to them, shouldn’t I.’
I was being told this all the time, mostly by Beth, occasionally by Mum, never by Lau, but I knew she wished I wouldn’t. Suddenly, with them moving and responding to my voice, I realised how I would feel if they started coming out with some of the, well, shit I came out with, at an early age.
‘You really should.’
I was incredibly pleased Matt had come to this conclusion without me having to nag him about it.
Because she never said it, it meant more, and I was more inclined to listen.
‘It’s like, now they’re moving about, they’re really babies. You jus don’t say ‘fuck’ to a baby. OK, I’ll try really hard. Don’t know how well I’ll do.’
‘Just trying is the important thing, flower.’
‘Lau, you’re soh cool. I know it bothers you, but you never say anything. Beth nags Jay all the time, an it doesn’t make a blind bih of difference, he jus forgets. Dec says whatever the fuck he wants – oops, tha didn’t last long, did it – Beth tells him off but Amy’s given up, maybe when Charlie gets bigger and says ih back to him, he’ll realise. I know I’m a bugger, I do it because ih annoys Beth, hadn’t really thought about the consequences.’
As I sat back up on the sofa, my phone rang, the jaunty strains of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ floating out of my pocket. I gave Lau a quick kiss and answered, mouthing ‘Dec’ at her, because she never quite got the hang of different ringtones for different people.
‘Hey. How’s things?’
‘Yeah, all good, jus been chatting with the Philpottses, they had a bit of a kick jus now.’
‘Whoa, awesome, mate. Is that the first kick?’
‘Yeah, first time, pretty special.’
I winked at Lau and rubbed her bump, keeping my hand there in case there was any more movement. Lau laced her fingers into mine.
‘Listen, mate, there’s a house going on the market on our road.’
This was exciting news. Lau and I loved the street where Dec and Amy lived, but there had been nothing for sale there since we’d begun looking.
‘Oh, really? Which number?’
I could almost hear Dec counting to himself. His mouth would be moving as he did so.
‘So, like, four doors down.’
‘Yeah, the one with the purple garage.’
I could see it in my mind’s eye. It had a small garden to the front, off-road parking, a bay window, horrible purple garage …
‘Whoa, cool, which estate agent?’
‘Well, that’s the thing. You’ll like this, mate. They want to sell without estate agents if they can, and they want a quick sale, so you could save yourself some time and some money.’
It sounded a bit mad, a bit off-road, but it was fast becoming the norm for Lau and me to do things unconventionally.
‘I’ve got their phone number, said you’d call if you were interested.’
‘Yeah, great, hang on, need a pen.’
I made frantic scribbling signals to Lau, as I couldn’t see a pen, and she reached to the grab writing implements from the table. I wrote down a name and a number.
‘Cheers, mate, I’ll give them a bell now.’
‘I don’t know if you’re interested in it or not, but I thought I’d let you know.’
‘Yeah, sounds awesome. How’s everyone?’
‘We’re all good.’
‘Charlie pulled the curtains down in the living room this morning.’
‘Ha ha, the perils of toddlers.’
‘They will soon be your perils.’
‘Yeah, not for a year or so yet tho.’
‘It’ll go in a flash, and you’ll be on your own hunt for a new curtain pole. Anyway, give Jon a call if you’re interested.’
‘OK, see yuh soon.’
I disconnected and turned to Lau, excited.
‘There’s a house, four doors down from Dec an Amy, jus about tuh go on the market. They’d rather not use estate agents, he reckons if we’re quick, we could do a deal, save ourselves some commission.’
‘Four doors down which way?’
‘Towards the park. One of those ones wih the bay windows.’
‘Oh! One like Dec and Amy’s? I really like them. Did he give you a number?’
‘Living near Dec and Amy would be great.’
I was glad Lau thought so. They were my family, and I loved them all, and I knew Lau got on well with Dec, and Amy was her friend, but you could never be sure that living so close to your partner’s family was what your partner really wanted.
‘I know. Instant crèche, for later, instant pre-baby advice from the experienced Amy Wright for now. Easy borrow of their lawn mower. Shall I ring?’
Lau nodded enthusiastically. I called the number and had a brief conversation with the man who lived there with his wife and two children. They were expecting another baby, and wanted more room. He agreed that we could go round and see it that evening, so we got ourselves ready and headed over.
We pulled up outside the house, and sat and looked at it for a while. From the outside, it was very similar to Dec and Amy’s house; yellow brick, grey slate roof, space for two cars to park off the road, a garage with a bright purple door, an archway of some climbing plant framing a small metal gate at the entrance, a paved path leading up the front door in-between two windows, one of which was a big bay.
I was utterly smitten. In my imaginings, in the dark days when I knew I wanted a family, but had just split up with Jules and been re-initiated into the bastard MS club, which made having a family just an impossible dream, this was what I’d longed for. Yeah, the obvious – wife or girlfriend and two point two children – but also this kind of house, large enough for us to spread out.
I suppose, subconsciously, I’d modelled my desires on what Dec had. But whatever the reason, this just felt like ours. I think that even if we’d discovered a coal mine under the foundations, rising damp up to the guttering and woodworm throughout the joists, I would still have fought to buy it.
From the outside, it was very similar to Dec and Amy’s house; yellow brick, grey slate, two off-road parking spaces in front of a distressingly brightly painted garage door, a clematis archway over the front gate, a paved path leading up the front door, and a big bay window.
We looked at each other and I sensed Lau trying not to get too excited. It was too late for me. We had seen lots of houses, both online and in reality, and nothing had ticked all our boxes, but we knew what the internal layout was likely to be in this one; it would be very similar to Dec and Amy’s. We liked the area, and we liked the outside.
‘Sensible heads on, flower.’
I couldn’t tell Lau I already wanted it. She was making such a big effort to be practical.
‘I know. I’m trying hard not tuh love ih.’
I wasn’t, I wasn’t trying at all. I had already given it a very large down-payment from my soul.
‘Let’s see it first. They might have done something terrible to it, there might be a huge block of flats overlooking the back garden, it might have raging damp or termites, or anything. If we do this without an estate agent, it’s more work for us.’
She was right, she always was, but my heart was already lost.
‘I know. It looks bloody awesome, tho.’
I sighed, realising Matt’s heart was already lost, and mine wasn’t far behind. It was unlikely either of us were going to be even slightly sensible. I was already seeing us waving at Dec and Amy from the front door, our children playing together in the garden, maybe some daisies painted on the garage door … I suspected Matt was also imagining similar versions of the future, although maybe his would have fewer daisies on the garage door and more barbecues in the back garden.
‘Come on then, let’s go and see.’
We unclipped our seatbelts and got out, walked together up the path and rang the bell.
The smell of baking bread wafted out as the door opened, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a freshly brewed pot of coffee in the kitchen, but clichés aside, the spacious, tidy three-bedroomed detached house, with a large kitchen, large lounge, dining room, three large bedrooms, planning permission for a loft conversion, a fairly big, neat garden, easy to maintain, not majorly overlooked by neighbours, was pretty much everything we’d been looking for. I mean, yeah, even had it been painted in psychedelic patterns rather than neutrally decorated, and full of mould and spiders’ webs, instead of clean and organised, I would have loved it, but it was our house. It could only ever be our house.
The whole house had that indefinable ‘feeling’, it was like home, I could see what we could do with it, how we would live here, how the twins would grow up, go to school, have friends over – I was as lost as Matt, looking at his face. We tried really hard to remain outwardly ambivalent, but I could see the want on Matt’s face, and it was probably written all over mine as well. This wasn’t an ideal starting point for negotiating, but we chatted briefly about a price, and agreed that we would talk the next day about an offer, pending doing some frantic researching about just what we needed to do to make sure we were protected by not doing things the traditional way.
Lau says it had ‘that feeling’. I don’t know about that, all I knew was I fell for it in the same way I fell for Lau, instantly and wholly, and nothing was going to stop me having it. I saw us, me and Lau, living there, and I saw our children there, playing in the garden, having sleepovers, arguing, doing homework.
I wasn’t going to tell the current owners that, of course. There was negotiating to be done, offers to be made and all sorts of to and fro shenanigans before it would be ours. We were both trying hard not to let it show, but I could see how much Lau wanted it; I could only hope I had managed to disguise it on my face.
We chatted briefly about a price, and agreed that we would talk the next day about an offer. That meant an evening of frantic researching about just what we needed to do to make sure we were protected by not going through the conventional channels.
We stayed for a coffee and a chat, Lau and Annie comparing baby notes, wanting them to like us so things would go more smoothly, then we walked out to the car. We had just opened the doors when my phone trilled. It was Dec.
‘Are you up the road? Amy just saw your car.’
‘Yeah, yuh caught us.’
We hadn’t even thought of going to see Amy and Dec; I think we both wanted to get home and try to start things moving if we could.
‘Have you been to Jon and Annie’s?’
‘Yeah, jus been for a look.’
‘What did you think?’
I caved. This would be part of what would be great about living here, that Dec and Amy were so close.
‘Shall we come an tell yuh all abouh it?’
‘Sure, no worries.’
‘OK, be there in – oh it’s a bugger we’re so far away, might take us ten seconds.’
I put the phone back in my pocket and bent down into the car, where Lau was already sitting in the passenger seat.
‘Quick visit to the Summers-Wrights?’
She smiled, nodded and got back out of the car and we walked the extremely short distance to Dec and Amy’s very similar detached house, slightly less tidy frontage, with a porch stuffed with coats, shoes, boots and a double buggy.
While we were waiting, my thoughts drifted to what colour I would paint the garage door. I was thinking something tasteful like olive green, or maybe a soft grey.
‘You know my favourite thing? The purple garage door.’
Oh you are kidding me. A whole house of awesomeness and Lau’s most beloved feature is the heliotrope monstrosity on the front in full view of the neighbourhood.
‘Mm. Maybe weh could tone ih down a bit?’
‘Really? You don’t like it?’
‘I’m not a purple person.’
‘No, but –’
Dec came to the door as we were talking, and the discussion ended. For now.
‘So, what did you think?’
‘The garage door is offensive and they cut their grass more often than yuh.’
Dec was always round at Mum’s mowing her lawn, but somehow couldn’t ever be arsed to do his own.
‘Ha ha, most people do. Did you like it, though?’
Dec led us through into the living room, where Amy was sitting holding Tom.
‘What did you think, guys? Isn’t their fireplace amazing?’
It was indeed amazing, just one of the many amazing things, none of which included the purple garage door.
‘It’s all lovely. Just what we want, isn’t it, flower.’
‘Yeah, love ih. Got a lot of surfing tuh do tonight to get it sorted, gona put in an offer tomorrow, see if we can sort it.’
‘Oh, that’s completely amazing. You could be living so close! Dec, put the kettle on, hon.’
‘Sure, babe, tea everyone?’
Lau looked at me, giving me a ‘don’t stay too long fucking about’ look.
‘Er, no, better not, need tuh get back and get going on it. Do you know them?’
‘Only to say hi to. That’s how I found out, saw him as I was getting back from training, he was at the game on Saturday, stopped to say good result, got chatting –’
‘There’s a surprise, Dec got chatting to someone, I bet you lost track of time, hon.’
It was one of Dec and Amy’s few bicker points, that Dec was always being delayed and waylaid by conversations with random people.
‘Ha ha. Good job I did, though, otherwise I wouldn’t have found out about the bloody house, would I. Sure you won’t stop for a cuppa, guys? You only just got here. Tom could use a cuddle from his favourite uncle and aunty.’
Well that was just plain evil, offering Tom as bait to get us to stay. Lau could never resist him, the chubby little tyke, and I found it hard not to scoop him up and give him a squeeze myself. He was developing the most arresting blue eyes, and had thick blond hair. He looked very like Dec, but his eyes had a hint of Amy about them.
‘Oh you bastard, tha’s emotional blackmail. Come on, then, Amy, hand him over. I assume he’s got a clean nappy, this isn’t let’s all have a laugh an get Unca Matty to cover himself in shit, is it?’
‘Oh that’s completely not fair. Tom loves his Unca Matty and Aunty Lau. And yes, he’s just had a change, so you’re quite safe. You’d better get used to it, though, Matt. Feel free to do a practice nappy any time.’
‘Think I need tuh save myself. Come here, then, big man.’
Amy handed Tom to Matt, and he cradled him gently in his arms. My heart squeezed, as it always did when I saw Matt holding a child.
‘Hey, there, you’re getting bloody enormous. I swear he puts on several pounds every time I see him.’
‘He’s building up my arm muscles.’
‘Yeah, me too, I don’t have to go to the fucking gym any more, I just lift Tom out of his cot and that’s it, instant biceps.’
‘Maybe yuh shouldn’t have a hold, Lau, heavy lifting an all tha.’
‘Get lost, I need a cuddle. Come on, hand him over.’
Lau practically snatched him from me in her eagerness as I laughed.
‘Hello Tom. Aren’t you just the most adorable. I love his tiny jeans, Amy.’
‘I know, they’re so cute. Beth bought them. It’s such a shame he’ll have grown out of them in a few weeks, the way he’s going. Dec said you felt some kicks earlier.’
I watched Lau’s face take on a soft look of intense pleasure.
‘Yeah, it was amazing, just tiny little flickers. Matt was talking to them, and they kicked him in the mouth.’
‘Ha ha, that’s one way of shutting you the fuck up, mate. Have to give that one a try myself when you start bloody rambling on.’
We carried on chatting and cuddling Tom for longer than we’d meant to, and time was getting on when we finally got home. Matt got his laptop out and started to look up do-it-yourself house purchases. The amount of times he ran his hands through his hair told me it wasn’t the easiest of processes, but I decided to wait until he had taken in all the facts, knowing he preferred to weigh things up once he’d found out all about it, rather than try to form an opinion when he only knew some of the information.
It was a lot to get my head around, but I needed to know the pros and cons, find out as much information as I could, see what other people thought, think about the pitfalls and the advantages, then I could talk it through with Lau. I was still trying to get to grips with it when my phone rang. The ironic tones of ‘When Will I Be Famous’ (by Bros, keep up) told me it was Jay.
‘Hey Matty. How’s things?’
It was a measure of how far I’d come that that question no longer irked me, and I was able to take it as the bland enquiry it was meant to be.
‘Yeah, I’m good.’
In fact, people asked more about Lau than they did about me these days, now I was no longer a complete fucking cripple.
‘She’s great. We’ve jus been to look at a house.’
‘Yeah? Any good?’
‘Actually, in the same road as Dec an Amy.’
‘Really? They don’t come up there very often, so I’m told.’
I was getting the feeling that this was possibly a Beth-inspired call, as Jay was showing knowledge beyond his usual attention span. Dec would have been on the phone to Beth before we’d left the house.
‘Yeah, I know, Dec was talking tuh the bloke, ih’s not on the market yet, might be able to get it cheaper if we do it ourselves.’
‘Whoa, Matty, without estate agents? Isn’t that really complicated?’
Like Jay would know. He’d owned the same house for aeons, and I highly doubt he had anything to do with its purchase in any case, other than to sign the cheques when told to.
‘Yeah, I know, it looks a fucking nightmare.’
I’d momentarily forgotten my no-fuck policy, and looked up at Lau apologetically.
‘I’ve … I don’t know if you’re interested, but there’s this bloke at work, one of the Raiders legal guys, he bought privately himself. He might be able to help you out. He’s helped out some of the players.’
So either Jay paid more attention than I gave him credit for, or Beth had put him up to this. I knew which one I was plumping for.
‘Oh, really? Oh, that would be bloody awesome.’
Well I might as well be able to get something out of my famous brother’s celebrity status for a change. It had been years since he gave me free trainers.
‘I’m going to call him in a minute, about something else.’
‘Oh, are yuh?’
Yeah, definitely Beth’s hand in all this. I could almost hear her, ‘You call him, James, he won’t take it from me.’ She would have been right, too.
‘Yeah, I can mention it, if you like.’
Jay sounded surprised at my lack of resistance. It was the sort of thing I usually went all Mr Independent about.
‘I didn’t know if you’d think I was interfering.’
Yeah, I know, rod for my own back. Those wise words from the Summers kid all those years ago, when he told me if I kept on pushing people away, they’d stay pushed one day, biting me on the arse somewhat.
‘No, not at all.’
‘Great then, I’ll call him now.’
I could even say thank you, like a civilised person. What was the world coming to?
‘Pleasure. I’ll give him your home and mobile numbers – are you around now?’
‘Yeah, in all evening now, not at work till tomorrow afternoon.’
‘Another full day of hard work for you then.’
‘Yeah, you’re bloody hilarious.’
‘Oh, while I remember, Mum asked if we could go round and do a few things for her.’
At least Mum was capable of asking for help when she needed it.
‘Yeah, I talked tuh her yesterday, she was asking if we could take some stuff to the tip at the weekend.’
‘She knows I can’t Saturday, right?’
‘Yeah, she knows there’s a game Saturday, Sunday will be fine.’
‘Let me know when, then.’
‘OK, talk later. Cheers, Jay.’
I looked at Lau, as she waited for me to tell her what all that had been about. I took a deep breath, feeling like everything was moving at a breakneck pace again.
‘Jay says one of the guys at the club bought privately, no estate agent. One of the club solicitors. He reckons he could help us out, gona give him my number see if he’ll call me.’
‘Oh that would be great. It does seem a bit scary to do it all ourselves.’
‘Lau, we’re doing ih again, aren’t we, rushing in. Should weh jus wait an do it properly?’
‘This will be properly. I really want that house, now. I can see us all there, Sunday lunch round Matt and Lau’s, slobbing out watching TV after work, putting the babies to bed, picking apples in the garden.’
‘Oh sod it, Lau, I hoped yuh were gona be the voice of reason. I’m as bloody gone as you.’
We looked at each other hopelessly.
‘Wha a bloody pair we are. At this rate, our kids are gona be at university by the time they’re six an we’ll be grandparents before we’re forty. We really should start taking things slow sometime.’
‘I agree, but we need to do this quickly, so there’s somewhere for our miraculously fast-working babies to sleep.’
My phone rang. I looked at Lau.
‘It’s Jay’s mate. Here we go, hang on tuh your hat.’
Matt talked for ages to Jay’s solicitor friend, whose name was Ed. At the end of the call, Ed had agreed to act for us on the legal side of things, and to give us step-by-step assistance with all of the other aspects, based on his experiences. Matt asked Ed and his wife, Claire, over for dinner on Saturday so we could carry on discussing it.
By the time I’d finished talking, I knew enough to be sure. We could make an offer. Although we’d agreed to call Jon and Annie tomorrow, neither of us could wait, despite how it looked on the ‘playing it cool’ scale. We called and told them our price. They accepted. Job done. Holy shit.
Later, as we got into bed, I was filled with something like wistfulness. My time in this flat was coming to an end. There was a lot of history here, and although it was right to move on, I loved my flat, and I would miss it. I folded Lau up in my arms and held her tight.
‘What is it?’
I had no idea how she knew when things weren’t quite right with me, how she could tell the difference between holding her because I was feeling wobbly, holding her because I was feeling horny and holding her because I loved her so much, but she always did. Always.
‘Shit, Lau, how do yuh always know?’
‘I told you about my psychic granny, didn’t I?’
‘She’d bloody better not be here now. Get lost, Lau’s granny, there’s some things imaginary dead rellies shouldn’t beh privy tuh.’
‘Ha ha. But still, spill.’
I was so used to it, I no longer even tried to pretend everything was OK. It saved time in the long run.
‘Oh … jus thinking, I’ve lived here for bloody years, I love this place. Jus feeling a bit … not sad, I’m soh excited about moving wih yuh an the Philpottses, but I’m gona miss here. I’m gona miss being here wih you, jus us. The Philpottses won’t ever be here, it’s like a part of them they won’t ever know. Jus feeling a bit … like I need tuh hold you, tuh hang on tuh jus us for a bit.’
‘I’ll miss here too. It’s where we started as us, really, isn’t it. Where the babies started. Lots of memories. I’m looking forward to starting something new together, though.’
Lau took my face in her hands and gently kissed my mouth, sending reassurance and love through her lips.
‘Yeah, ih’s gona be weird thinking of someone else living here, sleeping in our bedroom, cooking in our kitchen, getting annoyed wih our bloody shower knob.’
‘I’m not going to miss the shower knob. It took me five minutes to turn it to hot this morning, why did you turn it down?’
‘I got hot an sweaty walking back from work, wanted a cool shower.’
‘Maybe we should fix it before we go?’
‘No, you have tuh leave some things behind yuh, your own quirks.’
‘Fair enough. I guess we might have a few quirks left behind for us, if we get this house. We still haven’t had an offer here.’
It was the thing I was trying not to think about, the thing that could put a halt to it all, or make things excruciatingly expensive and problematic.
‘I know. Ed said it’s not strictly necessary, but a bit of a risk tuh move without.’
So far I’d let Matt think about the money side of moving, but as I thought about buying one house before we’d sold the other, it seemed like a very scary thing. What was it my dad used to say? Something about never spending your money before you had it.
‘I don’t think we need any more stress right now, Matt.’
‘No, maybe, too late though, made the offer now. Oh, come here, Lau, I need the biggest cuddle, I need yuh to make me feel safe, like yuh always do.’
He wasn’t the only one who needed to feel safe. I had to try really hard not to fuss about it. Maybe in a few days, when things were clearer, might be the time to go over it all and get my head round it. We wrapped each other up, holding each other tightly, kissing and touching tenderly, until we both fell asleep.
I didn’t, don’t, believe in things being ‘meant to be’. If I did, I’d have to believe in some kind of person or being who did the meaning it, and consequently that not just coincidences and good happenings were meant to be, like when people’s days go really well and everything they wanted to happen happens, and they shrug and say ‘well, it was meant to be’; no, then I’d have to believe that everything that had happened to me was planned by some force outside of me, something or someone that was just toying with me, and when things went well I was in his or its good books, and when things went badly, I’d done something to piss it or him off. And that way madness lay. So, the long and short of it is, I don’t believe in ‘meant to be’, as in ‘destined’. However. What a wonderful word that is, holding as it does a plethora of caveats. However, two occurrences in my life have happened with such felicitous outcomes that I found myself thinking they were fated to happen. The first was finding Lau. Well documented thus far, I shall not dwell on it. And …
The second was this house. This bloody house, which just seemed to have our names written above the door from the day it became available. The potential for disaster, fuck ups, delays, hitches and disappointment was vast, but everything slotted into place. Right from the very next morning. The one thing that was left on my ‘I’m really not a hundred per cent comfortable with this’ list was selling the flat. Buying a house without having a buyer here gave me the heeby jeebies, despite Ed’s reassurances.
It was my day off the next day, and as Matt was still working only afternoons, neither of us had set our alarms. So the ringing phone disoriented me a little, and it took a while to wake up, work out where I was, and realise Matt’s phone was ringing beside him on the bedside table.
Matt was deeply asleep, lying on his front, head turned towards me, mouth open. I resisted the urge to smooth his wayward hair, and poked him hard in the ribs before reaching over him and grabbing his phone. The rib-poke didn’t quite wake him up, so I tried it again while answering the phone. There was a number, but no name. Matt’s eyes were at least open, but were unfocussed.
‘Hello, Matt Scott’s phone.’
I tried another dig in the ribs, which elicited a sleepy ‘fuck off, Jay’.
‘Oh, hello, is Mr Scott available?’
‘I’ll see if I can find him. Who’s calling?’
‘It’s Carl from Browning’s estate agents.’
‘OK, hold on a minute.’
I was having a dream where Jay was punching me in the ribs, and needless to say I wasn’t enjoying it that much, so I was telling him to fuck off. With that sudden disorienting sensation where you realise it’s not a dream but can’t quite let go of what’s been in your head, it filtered through that it wasn’t Jay punching me, but I was in bed, and it was Lau, prodding me pretty hard and enthusiastically, trying her hardest to wake me up. I wondered why she hadn’t gone the snogging route, but then I realised she was holding my phone, as if someone was on the other end. My brain was fog, I really didn’t want to talk to anyone.
I muted the phone and shoved at Matt with all my might. It was only just gone nine, and I knew it would take a huge effort to wake him up enough to take a call, but after a few seconds of sustained pushing and poking, it filtered through that I wasn’t just being annoying, and his attention may be required.
‘Estate agents for you.’
‘Fuck. Wha time is it?’
‘Just after nine.’
Shit, the fucking crack of bloody dawn. Somewhere in the world, including my bed. Did estate agents have no respect? Oh, right, they’re estate agents.
Matt rolled onto his back and rubbed his hands over his face, then took the phone from me. He sounded impressively together as he spoke.
‘Hi Matt, it’s Carl from Browning’s. How are you?’
Apart from still asleep on account of the ridiculously early hour.
‘I’m just ringing to say we’ve had an offer on your flat.’
Holy shit, no fucking way, this was starting to feel like it was … meant to be.
‘Yes, the buyer is pretty keen on your property.’
‘They’re offering the asking price.’
Remember the not believing in ‘meant to be’? Getting harder not to believe.
‘Yes, they’re pretty keen to complete as soon as possible, assuming you accept.’
‘So I take it you’re accepting then?’
More like biting their bloody hand off, but I played it cool.
‘Well, I don’t think we can refuse, really.’
‘Excellent. We’ll have to get moving on the paperwork and everything, I’ll be in touch later, I’ll e-mail you some documentation now.’
‘Congratulations, Matt. You’ve got a lovely property there.’
And you, Carl from Brownings, have just made a nice little percentage on it.
I disconnected, and looked at Lau, still sleepy, but feeling excited.
‘Someone’s made an offer on this place. Asking price. Holy fuck. Oh shit, I wasn’t gona say ‘fuck’ near the Philpottses. Or ‘shit’. Sorry.’
Things not going so well in the remembering not to say ‘fuck’ department. Maybe not everything was meant to be.
‘Asking price? I think that we can let one or two go for that. Doesn’t that mean it’s easier to go ahead with the DIY house?’
‘Yeah. Whoa, Lau, I think we migh be bloody well gona do this.’
I turned over and slung an arm across Lau, pulling her towards me and planting a wet, sloppy kiss on her mouth. We smiled into each other’s eyes.
This was the best news; all the apprehension from last night drained away, and my insides flipped with excitement – no, it was more than excitement.
‘Oh! The Philpottses like it! Here.’
I grabbed Matt’s hand and placed it over my bump, which was twitching and fluttering like mad. He looked down at my tummy.
‘Whoa. Hey, down there, I know you’re excited, buh don’t kick your mum too hard.’
Matt looked up at me.
‘Lau, do you ever think you’re dreaming? The last – what is it? Six, eight, months? – have just gone so fast, everything we wanted is jus here, in our laps. I can hardly believe ih’s real.’
‘I know what you mean, things have happened really quickly, but no, I don’t feel like it’s a dream. I feel a bit overwhelmed sometimes, but I know, without a doubt, it’s real. If it was a dream, I wouldn’t be really lying here with you, belly getting bigger by the day, being kicked inside out by my own children, looking into your lovely eyes. It’s real.’
‘I know. I know it is. I guess sometimes, if ih’s all a bih much, it feels like a dream, an I can hide from it a bit. I don’t wan to, not often, buh jus sometimes.’
‘You do what you need to, flower, it’ll all be real soon enough.’
‘Love you, Lau.’
‘I love you too.’
‘Shit, know wha, we need to call the bloody bank, get going on the mortgage. Wha are yuh doing lazing around in bed, we’ve got work tuh do, Lau.’
And in one of his mad turnarounds, Matt was full of energy, bouncing out of bed and pulling me out too, pausing only to kiss my belly and squeeze my bum.
Despite the early start (only early for me, I know other people who might have been up for at least half an hour by nine o’clock, but that just seems crazy to me), I was full of energy, and I pulled Lau out of bed, pausing to kiss her belly and squeeze her fine arse.
‘Yeah, more of tha before I goh to work, if we have time, no, fuck it – oh, sorry, Philpottses – before I goh to work full stop. Sod the bloody meeting. So bored of bloody meetings.’
I hurried into the living room and switched on my laptop while Lau went to have a shower. While she was in the bathroom, I contacted the bank to confirm our mortgage, and then called Ed, to talk about the next steps. I did a lot of talking to a lot of people, but shit got, well, if not exactly sorted, then at least started down the path to sorted.
When I finished my shower, he was still on the phone, but to someone different. After a quick listen, I guessed it was Ed. They were talking about surveys and contracts, and I let it drift over me, hoping that Matt would tell me if there was anything he wanted me to do, but also hoping he would be excited enough to do a lot of it himself. I remembered it being hard work when I bought my house, nearly three years ago now, and I’d had to write loads of lists to help me remember where I was in all the different processes. I was happy to be keeper of the lists, but equally happy to let Matt do all the talking and arranging, which he seemed quite happy with too. Matt disconnected from Ed, and turned to me with a smile.
‘He’s a good bloke. He’s giving us a discount, as if we worked at Raiders. He’s gona sort the contract, we need tuh get a survey, he’s told me a bloke he knows who’ll give us Raiders discount. Never thought I’d be glad my brother’s a bloody rugby star, but I’ll take ih if ih’s on offer.’
‘That’s amazing. Do I need to do anything?’
‘Noh, it’s under control, Lau.’
Then I realised I’d been taking over, not asking her about it all, and maybe she was feeling a bit left out.
‘Oh, do you want to?’
‘No, I’m quite happy if you’re happy doing all the sorting, you’re better at that than I am, but I was just thinking, when I bought my house, I am pretty good at lists. We’ll need lots of lists, I think – people to call, things to do, bits of Matt’s stuff I want to throw away without him noticing – oh, did I say that out loud?’
She grinned mischievously at me.
‘Ha ha. We’re gona have room for all my stuff, we can get the loft converted into a Tottenham shrine, wih a special corner jus for my life-size cardboard cut-out of Glenn Hoddle.’
Lau, you always were so bloody hopelessly clueless about the important things in life. I tried so hard to teach you the ways of Tottenham, but you always resisted. It has been my one sadness.
‘Oh, Lau, you have soh much still to learn about me.’
‘Maybe, but you’re not having a Tottenham shrine, with or without a cardboard cut-out of Gary Waddle.’
It’s possible I may have got the name wrong on purpose.
Part of me thought she might have got the name wrong on purpose.
‘You jus smashed my dreams, Lau. All my life tha’s all I’ve ever wanted, all I’ve ever asked for, my life would beh complete. Do you care? Do you fu – er – heck.’
My hastily redirected swear earned me a ‘Well done.’
‘OK, Lau, yuh crushed my dreams, at least let me give you a good Scottying before breakfast.’
I pulled a face. Not that I wasn’t as up for a good Scottying as the good Scottyer was, but first things first.
‘After breakfast? I’m starving. Need to keep up my blood sugar.’
‘Deal. What do you fancy? Pancakes? Cereal? My world famous scrambled eggs?’
‘Ooh, pancakes. And have we got any cheese and onion crisps?’
I rolled my eyes; crisps really weren’t acceptable as a breakfast accompaniment, but I could just about let her get away with it. I went to the cupboard and threw her a packet.
‘I don’t think they’re babies in there, I think they’re potatoes. All tha bloody kicking is jus wind. I’ve been talking to your farts all this time.’
‘Dammit, you found me out, this whole thing has just been a cover up for crisp-related weight gain.’
‘Thought as much. So you’re saying no tuh the Tottenham shrine so yuh can store seven hundred boxes of Walkers up there?’
‘Got me again. Where are these pancakes? I thought you’d be a bit keener, bearing in mind your reward after they’re eaten.’
The next few days were a whirl of phone calls, signing things, paying people to do things, negotiating about things, visits to the house to measure things, people visiting the flat to measure things. It was going so fast, my lists were hard put to keep up with it, but I diligently ticked things off and added things as necessary, although Matt hardly seemed to glance at them.
Before the end of the week, most things had been sorted from a legal and financial point of view, and it was only down to Jon and Annie to find somewhere themselves, and our buyers to finalise a mortgage. Our buyers were currently renting, and once they’d sorted their own finances they were good to go. As house purchases went, it was unbelievably simple and outrageously fast, and I just about kept on top of putting things on the right list – ‘to do’, ‘to call’, or ‘to think about’.
Things went quiet for a few weeks, while we were waiting for Jon and Annie to find their own dream home. Even that went without a hitch, and they found an empty property, sorted their finances and it was all systems go.
And so there, rather incredibly, we had it. Wife – married. Children – on the way. Flat – sold. House – bought. I should really stop there, because that was kind of the end of the beginning, where everything had fallen into place and all that remained was for Lau and me to live out our lives in the place that had been created for us (there I go again with the creating and the fate shit).
To be honest, I am starting to find this all a bit much now, going over everything in such detail. It’s been hard to recall all of it – Lau, I hope you forgive me if I remember things differently from you. But I so wanted to record all of those heady, mad first days, weeks, months.
As it turns out, though, I can’t stop. There’s too much still to tell, too many happenings. Some of them might not seem much to you, to anyone, but to me they were my defining moments. Some are big, some are little in the grand scheme (but whose grand scheme?) of things. I wish I had time to tell it all, go over the finer points, but I don’t think I will, so from now on I’m just going to recount those things that were important to me. Suffice it to say, Lau, through it all, I have loved you and have held your hand wherever we were.