I’d set the alarm on my phone to chime quietly, so I woke up slowly, not at first recognising the room, but gradually, with a smile, remembering I was in Matt’s bedroom. I turned over gently, to see Matt still asleep, facing me, on his side, mouth slightly open. I got out of bed as quietly as I could and went into the bathroom to shower. Matt’s shower was impressive, with several different pulse settings, and I luxuriated in the hot water.
Maybe it was the vast amount of catch-up sleep I’d managed to get the previous day, but I actually woke up at about seven thirty the next morning. I could hear the shower going, and for a split second I thought I must have left it running last night, and then I remembered what had actually happened last night, and that I’d fallen asleep with Lau in my arms, so it must be her in the shower. And that, quite probably, meant that she was naked, and I so had to see that.
I sat up, swung my legs out of bed, tested their ability to not crumple under me, which seemed pleasingly robust today, took my clothes off and went in search of naked Lau.
I stood in the doorway of the bathroom, not caring about the steam leaking out into the living room, and watched her for a few minutes. My shower was pretty good; it had a pulsing head, really strong stream, and I had a range of deluxe shower foams arranged along a glass shelf. Lau was making full use of it all, and had her eyes shut to stop the shampoo from getting in her eyes.
Oh, I could see her because it was a wet room, hence no shower cubicle. All the better to see you with my dear. I made my way over to her and stood behind her, having a brief debate with myself about what I planned to do next. I knew she freaked at the slightest unexpected touch, but she was irresistible, and I didn’t argue it for long. It went something like ‘I want to touch her’ ‘you’ll scare her’ ‘yeah but that’ll be funny’. Argument won.
I was just rinsing my hair, eyes closed against the shampoo and water, when a hand snaked around my waist. I screamed and span round. Matt stood there, hands in the air. He had absolutely no clothes on. None at all.
‘Sohry Lau. Couldn’t bear the thought of yuh in here on yuhr own. Dihnt mean tuh make yuh jump. Bluhdy hilarious tho.’
I spat water and soap bubbles out of my mouth, then sagged against the wall of the shower, as I tried to surreptitiously glance at the fully revealed glory of Matt Scott. And oh boy was it glorious. I mean he. Was he glorious.
Lau sagged against the wall of the shower. Then she noticed I was as naked as her, and yeah, she couldn’t resist a downwards glance at my tackle, or a little grin to herself at what she saw.
‘You scared me to death. Have you not got by now that I startle easily?’
I really wasn’t sorry at all, and neither of us were thinking about me making her jump any more, but it’s the thought that counts, at least that’s what my mum always says. She probably didn’t mean it to apply to this specific situation; maybe I’ll ask her one day.
He didn’t really look very sorry, but he was completely naked, and so was I. It was the first time I’d seen him with no clothes on, and he didn’t disappoint; his body was slender but not skinny, his legs well muscled, and all other bits and pieces looked pretty damn good to me. In fact, I had to have a stern word with myself about my ‘only what we can both do’ promise to stop myself doing something completely shameless. Although he’d made me squeal and swallow shampoo, it seemed like a bit of a waste to be cross with him, and I hated waste, so I peeled myself off the wall and pulled him into the stream, where the water fell down on us as we kissed good morning.
His body felt so good wet; he was lean and hard, and his bum was particularly squeezable as I pulled him towards me. His hands found my breasts, and he pinched my nipples as I ran my hands up and down his back. As he moved his mouth down to my breasts – something he seemed to really like doing, and no, I’m not complaining – I arched my back and pressed them against his lips, moving my hands down without thinking, below his waist and then lower, stroking my way down to his balls.
I felt her hands move downwards, below my waist, along my cock, and was just about to regretfully remind her of the ‘both together’ clause, when she cupped my balls and a flood of fizzing surged under her fingers, then my dick twitched and I gasped as I froze.
‘Lau, yuh made ih twitch! An ih goh a bih bigger!’
We both looked down, to where it was indeed a little bit larger, and standing out from my body a bit.
‘Just ignore it.’
Ignore my first attempt at a hard-on for months?
‘Wha? Cahnt ignore my dick.’
‘Don’t focus on it, let what happens happen, we’ll just carry on. It’s not important.’
‘Ih fucking well is impohtant. Tha’s more movement than I’ve had foh months.’
I knew what she was trying to say, but it was too much of a significant event for me to just pretend it wasn’t happening.
‘And if you try to force it, you’ll chase it away. Just do what you were doing before, and I’ll do what I was doing before, and we’ll see. You can’t rush it, you’ll make it worse.’
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, nodded, and bent down to Lau’s breasts again, but all I could feel, all I could think about was Lau’s hands on me, cupping my balls, stroking my dick, as the sensation dribbled away. She took her hand away after a while, gently pushed me away from her chest, and kissed me, tenderly.
‘I’ve got to get ready for work. Sorry flower.’
‘S’okay. S’all gone now anyway.’
‘Seriously, Matt, if it comes back it will be a bit at a time, not all at once. Be patient.’
I nodded, disappointed; I really wasn’t very good at being sensible and patient, and although I knew she was right, everything she said was right, I just wanted it all back, right now, none of this farting around with a bit here and a bit there. I wanted a great big hard-on so I could … well, Lau had better watch out once I had a great big hard-on, that’s all I was saying. Lau turned the water off, and I pulled her to me for a hug.
‘I love seeing yuh naked. Yuhr fucking awesome.’
‘So are you. Nice, very nice, bum. Turn round a minute.’
He turned round, and I leaned down and kissed each bum cheek. I was getting to be very very fond of his bum, with it’s two perfect round buttocks which were just the right size for grabbing as I pulled him towards me.
I was getting that she liked my arse, and it was flattering, me being a skinny git who didn’t really have much at all in the way of muscular attributes. I turned round, and Lau leaned down and kissed each bum cheek. I loved that she always seemed to do exactly what she wanted to with me, and it was often something that took me by surprise.
‘Lau, yuhr a bih wanton ahrnt yuh?’
‘Just a little something for me to take to work with me.’
She wrapped herself in a towel and wound another one round her head, and I started to dry myself too.
I’d been thinking about some of the things Lau had said, in the time we’d been apart yesterday. I knew she couldn’t be my personal nurse, and I was getting that I maybe needed some proper answers to some of the questions I’d asked her. Beth would have been astounded at my next question; it was something she’d been trying to get me to do for months. But Beth wasn’t The One, so she’d missed a trick. I tried to make it sound casual, and not like I was breaking the habit of a lifetime.
‘Soh, if I was goin tuh, say, call some kind of service fuh some hehp, or some such shih, wha would I duh?’
If Lau realised how much of a break from tradition this was for me, she didn’t show it.
I tried not to show my delight and relief; Matt would benefit so much from some input from the team I worked for.
‘Have you still got the card I gave you last week at the church hall?’
To be honest, I couldn’t remember her giving me a card, but if she had, it would still be in my trousers from Wednesday. Oh bollocks, laundry.
‘Er … think I migh have washed ih.’
‘OK, well in case you did I’ll write the number down before I go. You need to call and – hm, you’ll have to give your name. It might be best if you ask for Anna. If Rachel answers, she might not be very nice. She should be professional, but there’s not always any telling with her. So ask for Anna – I’ll write that down too – and tell her you want to refer yourself, she’ll take details and there you’ll be, fully signed up for the city’s finest MS service.’
‘Yuhr sure I cahnt have yuh?’
She’d been pretty clear, but there seemed no harm in double checking, just in case there had been some major change in the rules she’d neglected to inform me about.
‘Yeah, I’m sure. I’m not going to be able to talk to them about you at all, even if they want to use my sex expertise.’
‘Shih, Lau, ih’s all a bit of a minefield, ihnt ih. Anyway, haven’t definitely decided tuh call, ih’s jus in case.’
No, I didn’t want to pin myself down to definitely calling, because there would be all sorts of questions if I didn’t, so best to just make it like I might do, I might not, depends.
I kissed him on the cheek – the one on his face this time – and left him to dry himself in the bathroom, as I went in search of a plug for my hairdryer.
While I was drying my hair and dressing for work, I thought about what might actually happen if Matt called the service. It would cause a fair amount of comment, and although I would try to stay out of it as much as possible, all the conjecture and questions would be uncomfortable.
Then I remembered with a start and a groan that I’d forgotten to call Patrick as I’d planned to, to tell him what had gone on with Rachel on Friday. I picked my phone up from the bedside table and put it in my bag. I’d have to call from my car; it would be too awkward to have that conversation about Matt in Matt’s home.
I wrapped a towel round my waist and wandered in to watch her. I was still watching when she’d finished drying her hair.
‘Yuhr fucking gorgeous, Ih’m lovin yuh in yuhr uniform. Reminds meh of the first time I saw yuh.’
‘The first time you saw me, I was giving a very useful talk on sex, which you apparently enjoyed very much, and shouldn’t have been noticing my uniform.’
‘Ha ha. I only came to talk tuh yuh because I fancied yuh. Hardly listened tuh a word of yuhr talk, too busy watching yuhr tits jiggling in yuhr tunic.’
This was mostly true. I hadn’t really been concentrating on the content of Lau’s talk, more on the content of the woman giving the talk. Call me shallow, you won’t be the first.
‘They were not jiggling.’
‘They bluhdy were. Every time yuh pressed yuhr button tuh change the slide, jiggle jiggle. Drove meh wild. An all the other blokes there, I ‘spect.’
‘Really. Well I’ll have to remember to wear more supportive underwear next time then. Can I grab some toast?’
Then I remembered my manners.
‘Duh yuh wan meh tuh make scrambled eggs? Or bacon?’
‘No, you go back to bed, it’s early for you. I’ll bring you something in – cup of tea?’
‘Hey, I geh breakfast in bed. Life of Riley. Thanks, Lau.’
Oh this was so cool. I hadn’t had breakfast made for me since – oh, yesterday, when Dec made me a cup of tea and some toast, but it wasn’t quite the same, especially as it had gone cold by the time I woke up. I lay down on the duvet, and just closed my eyes while I listened to Lau rummaging in my cupboards, clinking spoons against mugs and humming to herself. It felt so homely, so natural. I shut my eyes for a minute …
When I got back to the bedroom, Matt was asleep on his side, on top of the duvet. I folded the rest of the duvet over the top of him, kissed him gently on the cheek, left the tea and toast on the bedside table and ate mine in the living room before quickly scribbling the MS service number and Anna’s name on a piece of paper, then quietly leaving, pulling the door gently shut behind me.
In my car, I got my phone out and pressed Patrick’s name. He might already be at work, could be on his way, or may not have left yet. I should have called him before now, to avoid him being confronted with a situation when he arrived.
‘Hello Laura. Everything alright?’
‘Hi Patrick. Er, not sure. I meant to call you over the weekend, but things were a bit hectic. I’m not sure if Rachel’s called you …’
‘No. Is Rachel alright?’
‘Well, do you remember in supervision I was talking about a hypothetical situation?’
Patrick sounded concerned, and was probably wondering what I was about to tell him.
‘Well, the hypothetical person I was asking about is actually real, I know, big surprise. He’s someone Rachel knows from the past who upset her quite badly, and she found out on Friday that I’ve been seeing him, and I think, well I won’t really know until I get in this morning, but I don’t think she’s speaking to me. It’s upset things, she’ll want people to take sides, it will make things awkward for us all. I’m sorry. I just wanted you to know.’
I heard Patrick take a deep breath.
‘OK, Laura, well, it does sound a bit complicated. You girls have had your fallings out before though, haven’t you, you always seem to work it out.’
‘Yeah, but this feels a bit more serious. And, just to make things more complicated, Matt might be going to call the service to register with us. Obviously I can’t be his named worker, and Rachel wouldn’t be the ideal candidate, so that’s going to be tricky too.’
‘Hmm. Alright. Well, thanks for letting me know, Laura. I’m just about to set off for the office. I think we need to have a talk when I get in, just so we can be clear about the rules, the law and the guidelines, so we all know where we stand.’
‘Thanks Patrick. Sorry.’
‘OK, Laura, see you in a little while.’
We disconnected and I started the car.
Pulling up in the car park outside the office, I saw Kate, Anna and Patrick were already in, but Rachel’s car wasn’t there yet. A bit relieved, I walked up to the door and into the office. Kate and Anna looked up, Anna smiling, Kate raising her eyebrows.
‘Hello Lau. Thanks for the on-call on Saturday. Lifesaver.’
‘No problem. How did the dinner with the girlfriend go?’
‘Oh, I was just telling Kate, she’s a lovely girl, but took a bit of getting used to. Piercings, tattoos, pink and green hair, a bit intimidating, but we ended up talking about knitting, of all things.’
‘Good weekend, Lau?’
I tried to leave it at that, but Kate was having none of it.
‘What, no gory details? You haven’t had gory details to spill for ages, out with it.’
‘I think maybe this isn’t the time or place.’
‘Rach isn’t coming in today, if that’s what you’re worried about.’
I actually felt my shoulders lift as if a weight had been taken off them.
‘No, she’s called in sick. Well it is a kind of sick I suppose.’
‘Did you talk to her much over the weekend?’
‘Yeah, a fair bit. Went through the whole range of mad as hell, sad as hell, resigned as hell, then back to mad, she’s just in a bit of a state. I think she’s possibly coming round to the idea, but couldn’t face it this morning. I’ll go and see her after work. A few glasses of wine might help.’
‘I’m sorry, Kate, you’ve been landed with her. Is there anything I can do?’
‘Apart from dumping Matt Scott back in the bloody swamp he emerged from? No, Lau. I think your reduced contact policy is the best one really, let her cool off.’
‘Do you think she will cool off?’
‘Who knows, it’s Rach, she’s never been predictable. Does Matt even remember her? Have you even talked about her?’
‘We’ve talked about her, I don’t think he remembers her.’
‘Nice. You’re sure he’s the one for you, Lau?’
‘Yes. He’s changed.’
‘Yeah, he bloody well has. He’s got MS now. Bloody tosser.’
‘Steady on, Kate, you’re talking about Lau’s boyfriend.’
‘It’s OK, Anna. Kate’s entitled to her opinion.’
So much for not getting embroiled, I’d been here three minutes, and I was already in the middle of an uncomfortable conversation, and Rachel wasn’t even here.
‘Is Patrick in his office?’
‘Yes, he was here before us.’
‘I’ll take him a cup of tea. Anyone else want one?’
I wasted a bit of time fiddling with the kettle and teabags, and then couldn’t put it off any longer. I picked up Patrick’s mug and tapped on his door.
‘Come in – oh hello Laura. Is that for me? Thank you. Have a seat.’
I sat down, holding my own mug with both hands, nervously tapping my thumb on the handle.
‘I’m sorry Patrick. It’s already causing difficulties.’
‘Alright, Laura, I think we need to establish a few things, before we get into what’s causing difficulties. Firstly, this man – what’s his name? I can’t keep referring to him as ‘this man’.’
‘Oh – oh!’
I saw light dawn on Patrick’s face, as he realised exactly who we were talking about. He didn’t get that involved in our gossip sessions, but had been around long enough that he had been unable to escape a few Rachellings in his time.
‘Ah, I’m beginning to see things a bit more clearly. Alright, it doesn’t really change things that much though. When you first met Matt, you knew he had MS, but he wasn’t officially registered with the service, and wasn’t seeing any of you – I mean therapeutically.’
He gestured out towards the office, encompassing me, Kate, Anna and Rachel.
‘Well, I guess so. I’ve known who he was for ages, seen him around, but I’d never spoken to him before last Wednesday, and I didn’t know he had MS until then either, and no, he’s not registered with us or seeing any of us professionally yet, although he may call to refer himself. We talked about it this morning.’
‘So you haven’t begun a relationship with someone you knew was a patient. So, officially, according to law, you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s almost the same as if you were in a relationship with someone who subsequently developed MS. There’s only the one service in the city, he doesn’t have any choice if he wants help, so all we need to do is make sure that we give him, should he require it, as professional a service as we would give anyone else. You can’t be his named worker, and it sounds like Rachel wouldn’t be a good idea either, so Anna or Kate will have to fight for the honours. You can’t be involved in any clinical meetings or discussions about him, or look at his notes, or talk to him as a member of the service. Obviously any conversations you have with him in your private time are your own, but they can’t be official advice.’
‘I understand that. I’ve told him all that.’
‘Good. It sounds like you’ve got a good understanding of it. The other side of it, the possible upset that it may have caused between you and Rachel, will just have to be resolved between you and Rachel, as if it was any other person without MS who you were in dispute about. I hope it doesn’t affect the smooth running of the service, I expect you both to be mature and professional enough to sort out your differences. If anything else crops up, we’ll just have to deal with it at the time.’
I was incredibly grateful. I hadn’t given it much time or thought over the weekend, but had been worrying all the way over in the car about the implications for me and my job. I hoped that things now might be a bit smoother, if I kept a low profile and kept out of Rachel’s way.
The rest of the morning was filled with visits and preparations for a support group meeting in the afternoon, and Matt wasn’t mentioned again.
… and then Lau was naked, running towards me across a field, and I was just staring at her, and my eyes felt like they could swallow her whole, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up, Lau had gone, and my breakfast was cold next to me. I looked at my watch; it was nearly ten o’clock.
I resisted the urge to turn over and go back to sleep; I was sleeping my life away at the moment, and I needed to take control of it. Thinking that made me think of what I needed to do to take that control, who I might need to talk to, and I remembered Lau saying she was going to write down a number for me. I picked up the cold tea and toast and took it into the kitchen while looking to see if she’d left me a note. There it was, on the table:
Hey Beach Boy
Here is a number you might find useful – 555222. If you decide to call, ask for Anna Lovell.
Thanks for dinner last night and the shower this morning. You are multi-talented, and I’m hoping to find more skills to explore in the days to come.
Holding your hand until I see you later. I’ll come by after work, hope that’s OK.
See you soon
I read and re-read it, smiling to myself about being multi-talented. I hadn’t even felt singly-talented for a long time, and it was a boost to my confidence.
I still hadn’t decided about phoning the bastard MS service, and to postpone making a decision, I did some online shopping. I never went to the supermarket, even when I wasn’t a fucking cripple, and once my energy and mobility deserted me, I realised what a sensible lifestyle choice that was. I could sit in front of my computer, at my leisure, drinking a cup of coffee, adding things as they occurred to me, not getting side-tracked by lots of shit I didn’t need, not getting irritated by the length of the queues or other people’s screaming kids, not being frustrated by the absence of the one thing I really wanted to get, not getting half way home and remembering three more things I’d meant to put on the list. The only down side I could think of was sometimes having ‘out of stock’ items replaced, but the way I saw it, that just gave an added frisson of the unexpected to the whole procedure, Russian roulette with yogurt, so to speak. I didn’t know why everyone didn’t do it, especially as someone else lugged the whole lot of it up two flights of stairs for me. I even got a delivery slot for that afternoon, which meant I would have fully stocked cupboards for the rest of the week.
I took my time selecting my shopping and getting myself together. Beth texted while I was using my laptop; she texted every morning, give or take, and following Lau’s advice I’d been answering her instead of ignoring her. Her texts had become less insistent and more chatty, and much as I hated to admit it, it seemed there was an element of concern and worry behind it, rather than a need to boss people about. Or rather than solely a need to boss people about.
‘Hi Matty. Hope yr having a gd morning. We had flood in utility room waiting 4 plumber. Massive clean up going on and no water for tea :(‘
‘Oh no. Can I help?’
‘No thx, sweetheart. All under control. J was mopping b4 work tho ha ha.’
‘If u need cuppa tho, Avondale awaits.’
‘Ooh, actually, thx. Choc milk 4 Iz?’
‘Always got choc milk 4 blondie.’
‘Be there once plumber arrives :)’
I rarely invited Beth over, although she invited herself on many occasions and for many reasons. I was feeling benevolent, but realised I was going to have to stop grinning from ear to ear and be at least a bit grumpy, or she would guess something was up and I would get no peace. At least Iz would be a buffer, and the fact they were invited should stave off most of the nosy questions.
Beth arrived about twelve, and I provided lunch as well as tea. While we ate our sandwiches, the shopping arrived, and Beth couldn’t resist commenting.
‘That’s a lot of groceries, Matty.’
Shit, I’d forgotten that I’d ordered tons as I’d planned on cooking lots of fancy meals for Lau.
‘Yeh, I wahs ruhning low on ehverything. Fahncied sohm dihferent stuff too.’
Oh bloody hell, she was even having a rummage in the bags.
‘Heh, kehp yuhr nose ouh.’
‘Why do you need three different sorts of oil? Gosh, isn’t this truffle oil really expensive?’
‘Wehl, dihferent dishes nehd dihferent flavohrs, buh mihnd yuhr own. Yuh’ll fihnd the condohms if yuh dig any dehper.’
That stopped her. It was probably the thought of Iz asking ‘what’s comdoms Mummy’ rather than actually coming across any, but it was an effective deterrent, and I moved the bags into the kitchen for later disembowelling and redistribution. I’d inadvertently moved the subject onto somewhere else I didn’t really want to go, though.
Beth was looking at me with sympathy. Bugger, what had I said now?
‘You didn’t really buy condoms, did you Matty?’
Oh shit no. It was like talking about sex with your sister.
‘Noh, Beth, I wahs tryin tuh stop yuh prihcing up ahl my shopping.’
I gave her my best ‘back off or you’ll regret it’ stare, but she was unstoppable.
‘Has anything … come back … down there?’
She kept her eyes fixed on my face, but her meaning encompassed anything from the waist down. She only knew about my lack of action because it had happened last time, and because I was in the same house, and Jay had to wash me for a while, and, well, I suppose you can’t stop a man telling his wife shit.
When the fucking bastard returned this time, Beth had asked about it, as if it was an acceptable topic of conversation, and I had told her in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t going to discuss it with her, but she kept on and I ended up getting emotional and yelling, ‘Fuh fuck’s sahk, no, my dick migh as wehl hahv fucking wehl drohped off fuh all I can tehl ih’s thehr. Satisfihd? I nehver wan tuh tahk abouh this again.’ and with Iz and Cal in the next room, I guess she must have been satisfied, because she hadn’t asked after that. Until now. I wondered if she even remembered me yelling before, because I was getting near the point when I was going to be yelling again, Iz in close proximity or not, if she didn’t back off.
However, we were saved by the bell. Beth’s phone rang, it was the plumber needing a decision that required Beth’s immediate physical presence, and she beat a hasty retreat, promising, or was it threatening, to call me tomorrow.
I sank down on the sofa and considered why Beth pushed so many of my buttons. Maybe I should have been grateful that she was prepared to talk to me about things no one else would. It’s not like the world is full of places you can go for advice about sexual dysfunction because of a fucking bastard disease – your mates down the pub would look embarrassed and change the subject to the footy; your work colleagues would look at you like you’d grown two heads and you’d be reported for sexual harassment; your brother – well, your brother didn’t do deep and meaningfuls, left that to his interfering wife, and your kind of brother or mate or whatever, well he would have had a go, but was currently in the midst of fathering a brood of mini-mes, and would have been clueless. So if I’d wanted to talk to anyone, Beth would have been my best bet.
Maybe it was because she never gave up, maybe I felt it was like a competition – the more she pushed, the more I dug my heels in, and so when I finally told her something, it felt like I’d lost and she’d won, rather than just a sharing of information, or communication between two family members. So maybe it was more to do with me than with her; she certainly didn’t do it out of anything other than concern and caring, and no one else seemed to have the same issues with her that I did.
Does this sound like I’m beginning to cut her some slack, understand her, be more sharing? Ha, fuck off. No way. But thinking about it did make me realise that I needed to talk to someone. Lau wouldn’t do it, not in a detached nursey way, and I wondered if that was what I needed; someone who understood, but wasn’t emotionally involved. If only there was some kind of, oh I don’t know, specialist service for people with fucking bastard diseases, where you could go for a chat with someone who knew their shit – oh, hang on, what’s this note in Lau’s handwriting, with a number and a name …
Before I could talk myself out of it, I had dialled the number.
Close to lunchtime the phone rang. Kate was nearest to the phone, so she picked it up.
‘MS Service, Kate Fuller’
I nearly bottled it, nearly hung up, but I took a deep breath and ploughed on regardless.
‘Cahn I spehk tuh, er, Anna Lovell, plehs?’
My heart was pounding. I wondered if Lau was anywhere nearby.
Kate shot a quick look at Anna.
‘… can I say who’s calling?’
She sounded surprised. Well, I guess they all knew about me, though I wasn’t sure how many people worked with Lau, or who exactly she had told.
‘Can I say what it’s about?’
‘Wan tuh refehr mysehf.’
Is that what you did? Referred yourself? No idea.
‘Well I can do that.’
Oh, no, Lau said this Anna woman.
‘Er, behn told tuh ask fuh Anna.’
The voice on the other end sounded a bit pissed off.
‘OK, fine, I’ll see if she’s free.’
The phone went to ‘on hold’ bleeps for a short time, and I nearly bottled it again, but now they knew who I was, and hanging up would be embarrassing, especially for Lau.
Kate put the phone on hold.
‘An, some wanker called Matt Scott wants to refer himself. Apparently I’m not good enough and only you will do.’
I kept my eyes glued to my computer screen, trying not to listen, but it was impossible not to.
‘Alright, Kate, I’ll take it. Is there a referral form there?’
Anna passed by my chair on the way to the phone and rested her hand briefly on my shoulder.
Just as I had convinced myself that a few moments of embarrassment for Lau would be better than torturing myself by going through my life history with a stranger, another voice came on the line.
‘This is Anna, I understand you want to refer yourself.’
And we were off. I had to give details, but not as many as I was fearing, just basics like date of birth, GP, full name. We agreed an appointment, she would come here to meet me, we didn’t mention Lau, and it was all over, I was officially a fucking cripple with my name on a computer and everything. It might make it worthwhile if there was a badge and a certificate too.
Neither Kate nor I did any work while Anna was talking to Matt, but neither did we look at each other. She asked all the questions we always asked, but was giving no clue about the replies she was getting, being as non-committal and professional as any of us would have been with anyone else. I was dying to know what he was saying, but I wouldn’t ever know unless he told me. When Anna had finished, and made an appointment to see him, Kate immediately jumped in.
‘So? What did he say?’
Anna looked at me, aware of what she may or may not be allowed to reveal.
‘An can’t discuss Matt with me in the room.’
‘What? But you must know it all already, Lau. That’s bloody ridiculous.’
‘Kate, Lau can’t be party to any professional discussions about Matt without his express permission.’
‘I wasn’t asking for a professional discussion, just a bloody good gossip.’
‘It’s alright, I’ll go and get the sandwiches. Talk all you want while I’m gone.’
I was relieved to be away from the office. It would hopefully get better as we all got used to it, but I could see me doing the sandwich run regularly for the foreseeable future, and volunteering for lots of visits and other tasks that would take me out and about. My phone pinged as I was getting into the car.
We disconnected, and I felt both elated and terrified. Lau would be pleased, I was sure. Beth would be ecstatic, but I wasn’t necessarily going to tell her, maybe just slip it in the conversation sometime – ‘oh yeah, my MS nurse said …’, maybe with a few more fuckings and bastards, and see how she reacted.
I texted Lau, to see if she had been there, and to see if the news had flown around the office. OK, maybe I was enjoying a tiny bit of celebrity status.
‘I did it. Were you there? Am I causing a stir?’
‘Yes I was there. Yes u r centre of attention. Good sleep?’
‘Awesome. Dreamed of u naked. Yum ;)’
‘What u up 2 2day?’
‘Online shopping, then wait 4 delivery, I lead an exciting life.’
‘Can I come over after work?’
‘Do u need 2 ask? Fuck yeah!’
‘Gr8. Just off to get sarnies. Talk l8r. Lau xx’
‘Check yr bag. Put sarnies in 4 u.’
‘Made them last night, put in this morning.’
‘Oh u! Got to get everyone else’s tho. Or did u make them for us all? =)’
‘Oh bollox. No, just u. Hope u like it anyway.’
‘Thanks my beach boy xx’
I got out of the car and checked the bag in the boot. I found an oblong parcel, wrapped in tin foil, with an ice pack attached to it with an elastic band, tucked at the bottom below yesterday’s clothes. There was a note tucked under the elastic band:
Hey Lau, hope you like chicken salad. Happy munching. M x
I smiled fondly to myself, reading the note several times, liking Matt’s curly writing, then got back in the driver’s seat and went to the supermarket.
So now I’d done it, I was on a roll. I phoned my GP and made an appointment to see her later in the week, and while I was at it, I called Adam. I know, right?
‘Heh. I dohnt knoh if yuh remehmber meh, buh –’
‘Hi Matt, yes of course.’
Was he bloody psychic or something?
‘Sorry, your name came up on caller ID.’
Oh. Dur, Matt.
‘What can I do for you?’
‘Cahn I mahk an appoihtmeht tuh see yuh?’
I wasn’t going to go into details, but he’d be able to hear from my unintelligible bollocks that I wasn’t the same as I’d been last time I’d seen him.
‘Of course. When were you thinking?’
He didn’t mention it, though, just gave me a list of dates, as if people he’d had one session with months ago rang him up all the time, speaking like they’d been on the Jägerbombs, and asking to see him again. Maybe they did, for all I know, but it helped me to not feel conspicuously mad.
So that was three things I’d done today that I felt self-righteous about, and I thought I deserved a beer. I didn’t usually drink in the middle of the day, in fact I didn’t drink much alcohol at all at that time, because it just increased my fatigue, and I was already sleeping more than I’d ever slept before, but a beer, cold and hoppy, sliding down my throat, after all that talking to people on the phone had made me hoarse – aah, that hit the spot.
Returning with sandwiches for Anna, Kate and Patrick, it seemed a change was in the air. Kate appeared less confrontational, and although we didn’t specifically mention Matt or Rachel or any of the issues that had got between us in the morning, she didn’t jump on every opportunity to have a go at me. She went out for a breath of fresh air after eating her sandwich, and Anna turned to me.
‘How’re you doing, Lau? All this must be a bit hard for you, love.’
‘I suppose it is, kind of, but I have to say, An, I’m having such a great time with Matt, it seems worth it.’
‘Well that’s great. Has he really changed? I’ve heard some wild things about him.’
‘I think he has. I don’t think it’s just the MS calming him down, he seems really – what’s the word – repentant about some of the things he’s done, not that they were really, like, evil or anything, but I guess he has been pretty inconsiderate and thoughtless. I think he was trying to change, even before he had his relapse, from what he says. Oh An, I really care about him, it’s happened so fast.’
‘I can see that, love. There’s no point telling you to be careful, you’re way beyond that, you’re as bad as Harry with Poppy, he’s smitten too.’
‘Poppy? Oh, the girlfriend. Knitting, eh?’
‘Yes, she apparently does bombs or something.’
‘Oh I can’t remember what it’s called, where people cover things with wool and knitted things overnight – buses and lamp posts and things.’
‘Oh, yarn-bombing. They had some in the city centre the other week – I wonder if that was her?’
‘Well, it seems a bit daft, but more harmless than some of the things she could get up to I suppose. She does flash mobs as well.’
‘Ooh get you, An, with your ‘down wiv der kids’ lingo and knowing about yarn-bombing and flash mobs and stuff.’
‘Well, it’s kids keep you young, I suppose.’
‘Yeah. She didn’t persuade you to get a tattoo or a piercing, though?’
‘Ha ha, no, but I think I might have talked her into knitting Harry a jumper for Christmas. Yarn bomb him, rather than a tree, seems more useful.’
My phone pinged with a text. I glanced at the phone, which was lying face up on the desk next to me.
‘Just made appt w my GP. How many brownie pts do I get?’
I smiled to myself. I suspected Matt didn’t usually respond well to being advised what to do, and was feeling a bit self-satisfied with his fairly quick response to my prodding. Anna noticed my smile.
I nodded. ‘He made me a sandwich and put it in my bag, with an ice pack attached to it and a note.’
‘Oh that’s sweet.’
‘I know. I would never have thought Matt Scott would be sweet. It’s almost like he’s a different person to the git I used to get annoyed with at parties and in clubs. He’s a good, no, a great cook, he’s tidier than me, he’s thoughtful, sensitive and kind of vulnerable. He’s just so different than I thought he was.’
‘You haven’t known him long, though, have you. And he’s ill at the moment. OK, mum moment, I can’t help myself. You will be careful, won’t you.’
I nodded, but it didn’t mean anything. I was so far beyond careful, my heart was so fully given to Matt, if he chose to, he could stop my pulse. Anna rolled her eyes at me and shook her head.
‘OK, back to work. Do you want to share a lift to the support group? I think Gloria’s making her fruit cake.’
‘No, I’ll take my car, I’m going straight off afterwards.’
I shrugged and smiled.
My phone pinged on the way to the support group, and when I arrived I checked the screen.
‘So none? 549?’
‘Brownie points. U didn’t reply.’
‘I was busy. Can’t always reply straight away. Be patient! 2. Minus 1 for impatience :)’
‘Soz, didn’t think. Thinking like a foul mouthed layabout not a Baptist working girl xx’
‘:) Going 2b busy, phone on silent. Don’t expect replies. Cu l8r. Lau xx’
I had got complacent about being off work, and used to having people I could reach for chat and contact when I wanted it. None of my family had what you would call conventional jobs – Beth: Housewife and mother. Full time and more, but always available on the end of the phone. Jay: Rugby coach. Full time, lots of weird hours, but often lazing around at home in the afternoons. Mum: Retired. Nothing better to do than make cakes and drink tea, obvs. Dec: Rugby player. Lots of running around and early morning training sessions, but, like Jay, a lot of lazing around at home in the afternoons. It was called ‘recovery’ or some such shit. Amy: Housewife and mother. Charlie was more than a full-time job, and she had another one on the way, but again, always there for tea and gossip if necessary. Nico and Lis: Always there for a square meal, a laugh, a chat. My work colleagues, who I wasn’t in touch with as much as I used to be, were always texting, tweeting, Instagramming, Facebooking, Snapchatting, WhatsApping; we worked in IT, it would have been a disciplinary offence not to.
So it was weird to know someone who couldn’t do that, whose job involved doing things where the phone had to be turned off. I mean, yeah, at the start Jules had been all ‘I don’t do texting’, but I soon won her over, and although she never texted from work, we were pretty much in contact the whole time whenever we were apart. I wanted that with Lau, I missed her, but was going to have to get used to the fact that she did a grown up job where ringtones and text pings weren’t acceptable. I was even more reliant on our ‘holding hands’ pact.
When Lau came home (I was already thinking of my home as her home, and I was constantly reminding myself that we’d been together less than a week) that evening, I greeted her as if I hadn’t seen her for months. It nearly felt like it.
‘Ooh, hello, miss me did you?’ she managed between breathtaking kisses.
‘Yuh hahv noh idea.’
‘I think you might have just given me one. How tired are you?’
I liked her thinking.
‘Not tihred at ahl. Wana wear meh ouh?’
‘Maybe. What’s for tea?’
‘Sohted. Cohtage pie in the ohven.’
I was nothing if not a forward planner when it came to getting Lau into bed, or whatever venue she chose for the execution of her idea.
‘Oh I like that. So we could, potentially, do a lot more of, say, this –’
She reached behind me and pulled me to her using my arse as leverage, and gave me a cheeky kiss, licking my nose on the way out.
‘– maybe somewhere more comfortable …’
‘Wha, lihk the behdrohm?’
‘Genius! How long till dinner?’
‘Ih’ll turn ih down a bih, kehp ih warm, couhd beh hours.’
And so a delicious time was had, discovering more about each other, how we kissed, how we touched, what made her sigh, what blew my mind. In-between, we were talking, getting to know each other. It was weird that it wasn’t weird, being so close physically to someone you hardly knew. It was just as if I’d always known her, and the things I found out about her didn’t feel new, just kind of confirmation of how it had always been.
If you’d asked me six months ago what I thought about the idea of soulmates, I’d have spouted off some condescending shit about how there isn’t some kind of grand plan for the universe, that destiny and fate are just bullshit, but now, with Lau, I couldn’t deny that I felt that we were designed for each other, that we fitted, that we were ‘meant to be’. Even though she really liked Boyzone.
‘Seriohsly, Lau? Ronan Kehting?’
‘He is a genius, writing songs for those other boys to sing, all those harmonies, don’t you think?’
‘Noh. Gihv meh a prohper songwriter, who writes prohper muhsic and cahn play an instruhment.’
‘Anyohn who ihnt five prehty boys sat on stools. Muse. Sparklehorse. Bears Den.’
‘You’re a music snob. Oh, just like you’re a food snob.’
‘Wha? I am not.’
‘Yep, you are. You look down on boy bands because they’re popular, not because they don’t write their own stuff, because some of them do. And Ronan Keating plays the piano, I’ll have you know. And you look down on fast food, like burgers and pizza, because lots of people like them, not because it’s not tasty.’
‘Oh Lau, Lau, Lau. Places lihk Pizza Plahce serve shih tuh the mahses. Ih’s tohtal crap, I haht ih cos ih’s evil, not cos ih’s popular.’
‘Hm. Well, alright, then, maybe fast food and music not the same, but you are still a snob.’
‘Not abouh everything.’
‘Lihk my girhls in unifohm.’
‘True. You are a bit of a chav in that respect. Hey, Matt Scott the chav, who’d have thought?’
And so it went on, between kisses and touches, the teasing, the exploring, the getting-to-know-youing. We had time for dinner, even though the cottage pie had dried out a little by the time we got to it, and we cleared up together afterwards as if we’d always done that, loading the dishwasher, wiping the table, as if we were dancing it.
Ha ha, that just shows how soppy I was feeling, that clearing away the dinner things felt like a dance, and a sexy one at that. But soon after, it was back to bed, for more getting-to-know-youing, where I found out that Lau had always lived here, in this city, had done her nurse training here, had learned to drive here, had hardly ever left the county, let alone the country, and had only been abroad on holiday a handful of times, and that was counting a couple of hen weekends in Marbella and Ibiza that she couldn’t really remember.
Most of what we talked about that night was the little things – the bands, the films, the TV, the books, the minutiae. There was bigger shit to get off our chests; I’d told her about Jules and Carrie, briefly, but they were large contributors to what made me tick, and I wanted her to know about them, even felt like I could tell her about Carrie, all about her, like I’d never told anyone.
And I knew nothing about Lau’s past. I wanted to know about her men, to see how I measured up – oh, of course, it terrified me. Comparing myself to Martin had been a constant thing when I was with Carrie, and Jules had had a whole string of posh rich blokes who had wanted to marry her, and who were still her friends, and now I was a fucking cripple, so I wasn’t sure I was going to come out with that many man points in any battle of the exes, but in the same way that Jules and Carrie were a big part of who I was, so I wanted to know Lau’s defining moments, who had loved her and who had hurt her. Hopefully I wouldn’t be familiar with any of them, so I wouldn’t be tempted to go and beat the shit out of them for a) touching her and b) being stupid enough to let her go.
But exes and all that bollocks felt like it was for another day, and tonight was for more touching, more kissing, more holding. I had to check with her that it was OK; I was having the time of my life, malfunctioning man-parts notwithstanding, and I still couldn’t quite believe that she felt the same for me as I did for her.
‘Lau, ahr yuh suhr?’
‘Sure about what?’
‘Abouh this. I’m soh intuh yuh, jus cahnt quite beliehv ih’s truh.’
‘Do you think I just randomly go to bed with men I’m not completely and utterly into?’
Well, I suppose she had a point, maybe it was a bit like calling her a floozy.
‘Noh, buh –’
‘No. Exactly. I don’t understand it either, but yeah, I’m totally into you.’
‘Soh Ih’m not sohm random mahn?’
‘You’re so far from random. You feel very … specific. Is that the opposite of random?’
‘Yeh, spohs soh. Yuh dohnt jus fehl sohry fuh meh then?’
She tutted and rolled her eyes. I knew how needy I was being, but couldn’t help it.
‘Do you think I just randomly go to bed with men I feel sorry for then?’
‘Give me some credit, Matt. OK, maybe someone’s needing an ego boost. Here’s what I’m thinking, just so you’re sure, just so you know, and you can ask as many times as you like, the answer will be the same. You know, I feel like you’ve changed my life. You are so, so gorgeous, I’ve never known eyes like yours, you’re funny, gentle, kind, and have the cutest bum I’ve ever seen. Maybe your taste in music needs some work, but otherwise, ten out of ten, big tick, see me after class for some extra homework.’
I laughed at the last bit, feeling a bit guilty that I’d needed to hear her say what preceded it.
‘Wha kind of hohmwork? Science? I lihk science.’
‘I suppose you could consider it science. Biology, definitely. Biology’s a bit of a specialism of mine.’
‘Yuhr a nuhrse.’
‘Yeah, but not that kind of biology. More like … certain areas of anatomy, for example. Physiological reactions, maybe. Here, let me demonstrate.’
And with that, she dived into my boxers and, with a flourish, produced another hefty tingle.
‘Whoa, Lau! Holy fuck, if yuh kehp doin tha, Ih’ll beh back tuh nohmal in noh tihm.’
I followed her hands with mine, trying to coax the tingle into something more, but it remained elusive.
We carried on chasing tingles, mine and hers, for some time. I had a few more, and I know Lau had several too. Ultimately, though, sleep claimed me, and Lau got another early night. Or did to my knowledge. For all I know, she got up again as soon as I hit the black, and belly danced around the living room until midnight. Although I hope she would have woken me up to see that.