While I pondered the level and category of my deviousness in getting Beth to organise our wedding reception as if it was all her idea, I got a text from Nico. Beth’s information network had swung into action, and I probably wasn’t going to have to bother to tell anyone else in the world any of my business for the next week.
‘Matty this is great news for you and Laura. Lis and me we know you both will be very good mama y papa to this little one. Lis she is happy to buy more clothes for your wedding. Be careful of yourselves xx‘
I was touched by this, as Nico was the first person not to squawk about the speed of it all, and to say Lau and I had it in us to be good parents (if not particularly organised ones). No way was I going to respond in kind though.
‘Thanks Nico. Lau and I are of course only doing this so all and sundry have an excuse to go shopping. Expecting you to look your best on Friday now Lis is on the case!‘
I had a quick squealy conversation with Lis while Matt was still texting people, and then I really needed to tell the girls. How to go about it, though, was giving me a headache.
‘Matt, I’ve got a dilemma.’
I’d been thinking since we wrote our list of people to invite about how I was going to tell the girls. Anna and Kate would be easy, I could just call them, but Rachel was another matter. Our friendship hadn’t ever got back to how it was; we spoke to each other, but she didn’t ask about Matt and I would never tell her anything without her asking. We didn’t call or text each other.
I had told Anna and Kate about moving in with Matt while Rachel was in the office, but she hadn’t joined in with the excitement, and had eventually turned back to her work. I’d talked to Kate about it; Kate had supported Rachel through what she’d said was a dark time when Matt and I first got together. It hadn’t lasted long, and Rachel had apparently finally got over her one night stand, and had even been on a few dates since.
It wasn’t about Matt any more, it was about me and how I’d chosen him over her. I couldn’t deny that that was what I’d done, I couldn’t change it, and I wouldn’t even if I could. I wasn’t sure how to, firstly, tell her about the baby, and secondly invite her to the wedding.
‘I know you think it’s kind of water under the bridge, but I want to tell the girls at work, before tomorrow, but I’m not sure how to tell Rachel. Or how to invite her.’
He looked at me, a slight frown creasing his brow, the first one I’d seen there for a couple of days.
Oh fuck. Over the last few months I’d somehow managed to completely forget about Lau’s friend who’d slept with me and taken it badly when I left without cuddling. Lau talked about her, talked about them all as work colleagues and friends, but that particular subject never came up. I hoped this wasn’t going to cause more problems for Lau; it had seemed like things at work had settled down for her, after the initial discontent, and I supposed this new turn of events had the potential to disrupt it all again.
I wasn’t sure I could give her any advice, though, being the one who, in a way, was responsible for the awkwardness. I’d obviously met Anna, who was my bastard MS nurse, but not either of the other two women that Lau worked with, Lau having felt it was not quite the right time for me and some woman I’d Matt the Ladded to meet, so didn’t really feel equipped to comment.
‘Do wha you think, Lau. Can’t you jus text them?’
‘I could Anna and Kate, make a joke of it, they’d ring me, we’d squeal a bit, but I don’t think I can do that to Rach, it doesn’t seem right.’
I thought she was being a bit over-protective of her friend, but it wasn’t my situation, although it was of my making, however indirect it felt, and I didn’t want to say the wrong thing.
‘Call her then.’
That was about as far as my words of wisdom could stretch: which particular method to tell them with. Women and the ways they did things, with all the unspoken rules attached to them, were a bit of a mystery to me most of the time.
‘Maybe. Then I’ve got to call all of them, and who do I do first, so one doesn’t tell the other.’
‘Isn’t Kate her friend?’
See? I had been listening, just wasn’t sure I could be much help to Lau with picking her way gingerly through the minefield of how to approach things.
‘Well, we’re all kind of friends, but Kate’s been more of a shoulder the last few months I suppose.’
‘Tell Kate, then, an then ask her what to do. Sounds like she’ll know the best thing.’
Before Lau could tie me up in any more girl-chat knots, I kissed her quickly on the cheek, which made me hungry for more, so I turned back for a more lingering kiss, stroking her belly as I had done almost constantly since Friday night. There was a baby in there – my baby! I was his bloody dad!
Before I got too distracted and started talking to him again, which I’d done a fair bit too, I pulled away, picked up my phone and called up the contacts list.
‘I’m gona text Lexi, start the goss machine rolling. Then I’m gona call Phil, let him know my team need Friday off.’
I meant my former team, of course. I didn’t think I could invite everyone at the company, so had limited it to half a dozen people who were in my team before I went off sick, most of whom had stayed in touch to one degree or another. Oh, and Lexi, without whom there would be no bitchy recounting of what everyone was wearing and how we’d skimped on the champagne.
I thought about what Matt had said. He was right, Kate would know the best way to approach Rachel, and Anna wouldn’t mind if she was the last to know. I scrolled down to Kate’s name and pressed ‘call’.
‘Hi Kate. Have you got a minute?’
‘Course. Everything OK?’
‘Oh … a lot’s been happening. Er, I was hoping for some advice, but, er, well I’ll just come out with it. I’m pregnant, and Matt and I are getting married next Friday.’
There was a long silence.
‘Bloody hell, Lau. I don’t know what to say. I’m assuming this is good news?’
‘The best. A bit crazy, but, yeah, good news. I’m not sure how to tell Rach, or invite her to the wedding. Oh, you’re obviously invited too.’
‘Oh, well, that’s easy, Rach is with me – here, have a word now.’
And so I was plunged without warning into what I’d been trying to avoid – a conversation with Rachel for which I was totally unprepared. I’d had several versions of what I was going to say floating around my head, but hadn’t settled on any of them as satisfactory, and couldn’t now remember any of it anyway.
‘Hi Rach. Er …’
‘What’s up, Lau? Kate’s looking at me really funny.’
‘Oh Rachel, I was hoping to have a chance to say this properly. OK, maybe it’s best to just say it. Matt and I are getting married on Friday. We’re having a baby. We’d like you to come to the wedding, if you can or want to.’
Doing it quickly was the best way, but the long silences afterwards seemed to stretch into the distance forever, as this one was.
‘Can I bring someone?’
‘To your wedding. Can I bring someone?’
‘Er, yes, of course. Who? Sorry, nosy cow, just interested.’
‘Jed. I’ve been seeing him a few weeks.’
‘Oh. Great. Yeah, bring Jed. That’s great, Rach, I’m so pleased you’re coming.’
‘Yeah, well. Congratulations, Lau. For both things. Oh, Kate wants a word. See you tomorrow.’
The phone made swishing noises while it was being passed back to Kate.
‘Bloody hell, Lau. You have to be the fastest worker on the planet. How do you manage to bag the city’s biggest stud muffin, get knocked up and get married within, what, has it even been six months?’
‘Oh Lau. Are you OK?’
‘Yeah, I’m great. So are you coming?’
‘You bloody bet I am, wouldn’t miss this. I assume we’re all invited? Patrick’ll have to close the office down for the day or something. Is there an ‘afterwards’?’
‘There is, but it’s still being organised. Right, I’d better call Anna now, before you text her.’
‘Race ya. Bye.’
She disconnected, and I quickly brought up Anna’s name and pressed ‘call’.
‘Hi Lau – can you hang on a minute?’
I waited on the other end, some indistinct noises filtering through.
‘Lau – Kate’s just texted me – you’re getting married?’
‘Yeah. Did she tell you what else?’
‘No, it was a really short text. ‘Lau marrying M.’ That’s all.’
‘Oh Lau, that’s great news. It is, isn’t it? You said how much you both want children.’
I was going to have to get used to people double checking it was good news. I was still double checking it was good news. Good heavens, Laura Shoeman, you really know how to live at a hundred miles an hour – or at least you’ve learnt to in the last six months.
‘Yeah, it’s great. We’re both really happy.’
‘Oh, I don’t know, I lost count of the weeks. Been a bit careless.’
‘Yes, well that’s apparent, love, but I didn’t mean the baby, I meant the wedding. Kate didn’t say.’
‘Oh. Ha ha. Next Friday at three. My next call is to Patrick to ask if we can all have the day off. Do you think he’ll go for ‘team-building’ as an excuse?’
‘Friday? My God, Lau, you’re giving a new meaning to the phrase ‘whirlwind romance’. Well we’d better get the day off, or Patrick’ll have a mass walk out on his hands. Um, have you told Rach?’
‘I have. She asked if she could bring Jed.’
‘Oh, Lau, that’s great. She’s grown up a lot in the last few months. She’s potty about this Jed guy, he’s done her some good. Maybe you can put all this behind you now.’
‘Yeah, maybe. I hope so. See you tomorrow, An.’
‘Bye Lau. Congratulations.’
When I disconnected, Matt had finished talking to his boss, but was fielding several text messages.
While I was texting, and then talking to Phil, I was vaguely aware of Lau talking. There didn’t seem to be any screeching, so maybe things were going better than she’d anticipated. Phil was fine about Friday, and didn’t seem that surprised at the reason, although you never could tell with Phil. Sometimes he was chilled about things that got everyone else all worked up, and sometimes he’d go ape-shit about someone using the last staple. Today he was chilled, but I guess he was only losing his fucking cripple employee for the few hours he was going to be putting in a guest appearance for that day; it’s not like the whole place was going to fall apart without me.
Lau was still on her phone when I’d finished talking to Phil, so I texted Andrew.
‘Hey mate. This is v short notice. Can u come 2 my wedding on Friday?’
There wasn’t an immediate reply from Andrew, but my phone suddenly pinged and buzzed with texts from GreenScreen people, who had obviously been mass-texted by Lexi.
‘WTF? Matt Scott with a ball and chain?’
Yeah, people were so funny.
‘Congratulations Matt. When do we get to meet her?’
Er, at the wedding. It’s not like it’s going to be a long wait.
‘And a city goes into mourning. Saturdays at Roxy’s won’t b the same.’
I haven’t been to bloody Roxy’s for more than two years, keep up.
‘You dog! Thought u’d been off sick, obvs other things to do.’
Hilarious, don’t give up the day job.
‘Congrats mate. Who’s invited?’
You’re just fishing. So not you.
‘Wow, amazing news :)’
Oh alright, you’re on the list.
And so on and so forth. I’d dash off a reply and three more texts would take their place; it was in danger of becoming overwhelming. Lau finished her calls and I put my phone on silent while I talked to her.
‘Holy fuck, Lexi’s got the goss mill going quicker than I thought. I cahnt keep up wih all these. How did it go?’
‘Kate dropped me in it, Rach was there, she made me talk to her.’
‘Actually, no. She’s coming, with her new bloke.’
Well that was going to be interesting. I’d wondered if I’d even recognise her when I met her, and what we’d say to each other.
‘So I’m finally going to geh to meet her? Er … again … for the first time …’
‘Yeah. That’s what’s going to be really awkward. I’ve got to ring Patrick now, then shall we go over to Mum’s? Let’s get all the awkwardness out of the way in the same morning.’
‘Hi Patrick. I’m really sorry to ring you on a Sunday.’
‘That’s alright, Laura. Is everything alright?’
‘Well, that depends on what you call alright. I’m, er, hoping you’ll give me the day off on Friday. And maybe take the day off yourself.’
‘Er … what exactly are you asking me, Laura?’
‘I’m getting married on Friday. I’ve invited everyone in the team, including you, and Maryanne of course. I was hoping that would be OK.’
There was the obligatory long silence.
‘Goodness Laura. That’s … er … quite sudden.’
‘I know. I would have liked to have given you a bit more notice, but it has all happened a bit fast. I guess I should tell you I’m pregnant as well.’
There was another silence, not quite as long.
‘Well … I think under the circumstances, I’d better say we can all have Friday off – as long as there’s nothing urgent that needs doing.’
‘Oh, thank you Patrick. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
As Lau picked up her phone, I picked mine up too and tried to put an end to the text storm. Andrew had replied as well.
‘Awesome news, pleased 4u, u’ve had a shit time and deserve some happiness. Sorry, can’t make it, WTF kind of day is a Friday 2 get married, FFS? Call u soon 4 details assume ur marrying Laura ;)’
I’d kept in touch with Andrew, albeit patchily, over the last year. He was a fully fledged single parent now, his daughter having flown back to England in the summer after protracted negotiations with his ex-wife. I believe Karen remained in Africa. Andrew was still at Eyeti, and enjoying the work, but I knew he had started to feel the pressure of juggling a demanding job with the responsibility of a child, and he was on the lookout for anything that was more flexible. As soon as things calmed down my end, say the middle of next century, I was going to ring him for a bloody good gents’ gassing session.
While Lau was finishing talking to her boss, I got some last minute belly-stroking in. Apart from anything, it was an excuse to touch Lau’s soft skin, with the added thrill of knowing there was a tiny life beneath it. Lau stroked my hair in turn, and I felt blissed out, not really wanting to go out, but knowing we had to, there were things we needed to do, like it or not.
‘All done, gorgeous?’
‘Yeah, that’s the easy ones out of the way. Now for Mum.’
Yeah, that was one of the ‘not’s.
‘Wha will she say, do you think?’
Apart from ‘To Hades with you, foul spawn of Satan’ or some such jolly chit-chat.
‘It’s unlikely to be complimentary. Her two main evils to pray against in the world are sex before marriage and foul language. You’re toast, flower.’
‘Can I stand behind yuh?’
I was only half joking. The thought of Lau’s mum in a righteous rage made me very nervous, and I thought Lau might be able to shelter me from anything that was directed my way, which would likely be most of it.
‘What, using your pregnant fiancée as a human shield? And they say chivalry is dead …’
‘You’re right, Lau. No, not abouh the human shield, abouh the fiancée. I haven’t got yuh a ring or anything. I didn’t even think. We haven’t got long. Fuck. I thought weh were doing ih all properly. I’ve fucked ih up already.’
Wasn’t the bloody ring every girl’s dream? Didn’t they all have some kind of image in their head of some perfect diamondy sapphirey concoction of white gold, or yellow gold, or the opposite of whatever you chose? Our wedding was already going to fall well short of Lau’s probable little girl dreams of a white lacy meringuefest; now she was going to be missing out on this too.
‘You haven’t messed anything up, you daft sod. I don’t need a ring, I just need you. A brass curtain ring is enough for me.’
‘Duh they even make bluhdy brass curtain rings any more? Probably harder tuh come by than fucking diamonds. Yuh bloody demanding cow.’
Lau was so practical and down to earth, on most levels, although she could be a bit scatty sometimes (e.g. see aforementioned driving skills), and for this I loved her more. But a ring wasn’t something I was prepared to do without. I’d done the getting down on one knee, she was going to have the huge rock, OK downsize that to modest diamond ring within our price range, that the occasion demanded.
‘Seriously, though, Lau I want to sort it. Do yuh trust me to get something, or do yuh want to come with me tomorrow? Any chance yuh can get some time off?’ ‘Not tomorrow, flower. Honestly, I don’t need a ring. Just a wedding ring. It’d only be for a few days, it’s a bit of a waste.’
I was non-committal. If she wasn’t going to choose something, I was going to have to choose it myself, for better or for worse. Shit, I already sounded like a groom.
‘Come on, let’s go and get yelled at by my mum.’
And that took my mind off jewellery-related concerns for now, as the immediate danger of being sent directly to hell by April Shoeman loomed large in my future.
As we pulled up outside Mum’s house, I realised how much better Matt was now than the first time we came here together. He was driving again, his walking and speech were vastly improved, and he had put on a bit of weight. He didn’t get anywhere near as tired doing every day things, although work wore him out and I had to be pretty firm with him to stop him bringing home things to do after he’d finished his regular hours, which were extremely limited at the moment. Matt put the handbrake on and turned off the engine, then looked over at me with a weak smile.
I tried to unstick my tongue from the roof of my suddenly dry mouth. All moisture had fled as my anxiety peaked. I’d driven to April’s, having started driving again a couple of weeks ago, and had been getting lots of practice in on quieter days, with short trips. My palms were sweaty, but it was nothing to do with having just negotiated the ring road. I put the handbrake on and turned off the engine, then looked over at Lau with an attempt at a bright smile.
‘Fucking hell, Lau, I think I need to get all my swearing out now, or I won’t fucking last. Shitty bollocking bloody fucking fuck it. There, that’ll have tuh do for now.’
It wasn’t nearly enough, but it was going to have to be sufficient until I got back in this driving seat and could escape. Lau took hold of my hand and squeezed it tightly, and I was reminded of the first time we’d sat together outside this house, holding hands for all we were worth.
‘We’ll be fine. As long as we’ve got this –’
She held up our entwined fingers.
‘–we can do anything, together. Come on, putting it off will make it worse.’
Lau had been a bit devious when arranging when to call round. April went to church regularly on Sundays, at half past ten, and it was gone ten now. Even if we were talking rather than yelling, we wouldn’t be doing it for long.
We walked up the path and I noticed April looking out of the window, as she usually was when she was expecting us. I gripped Lau’s hand as tightly as I could, and tried to gain some calm reassurance from contact with her; Lau was as nervous as I was, though, so all we really achieved was clammy hands squishing against each other.
The door opened and we went inside. I decided on flattery as an opening gambit.
‘Heh April, you’re looking resplendent.’
It was true; you don’t often use the phrase ‘Sunday best’ and mean it, but April always pulled out all the stops for the morning service.
‘Thank you Matt. That’s a word you don’t hear very often. Come in, I’ve just made some tea. There’s time before I have to go.’
I winced as I heard the implied criticism of both the short amount of time we were going to be there for, and the scheduling of our visit so close to her other engagement.
We sat on the sofa in the living room while April busied herself with the teapot from her seat at the table.
‘Hi Mum. How have you been?’
I saw Lau do her customary scan of the room, checking for signs that all was well. I wondered if April noticed her doing it too. It was the sort of thing that would have bloody annoyed me, but then that was me. I briefly wondered how Lau did her checks on me, then remembered the feeling me all over before going to sleep, and smiled to myself.
‘Very well, my love. I walked to the supermarket yesterday, and did a week’s shopping. I came home on the bus.’
She sounded very pleased with herself, but Lau was horrified.
‘Why on earth did you do that? I could have taken you to the supermarket.’
‘I know, my love, but I wanted to go myself.’
‘However many bags did you haul back?’
‘Not many. There’s only me, and I’m fairly economical. I’m sure Matt appreciates the need to do things for yourself from time to time. Did I see you drove here, Matt?’
Oh nice move, April, deflect any potential fussing by employing the dogged independence of your daughter’s fucking cripple boyfriend as an example. Well played.
‘You did, well spotted. I’ve been doing the odd journey, jus to get my confidence back. Ih’s been a while.’
It was going well so far, lots of pleasant small talk, no one sent to the fiery pit just yet. But then, we hadn’t got to the nitty-gritty, had we.
‘Well as someone who’s never driven, I don’t know how any of you ever pluck up the courage to operate all those buttons and pedals, so good for you.’
Just to reiterate, April had never learned to drive. Tell me how that happens in this day and age. She wasn’t that old, younger than my mum by nearly ten years, and yeah, my mum didn’t drive either, not any more, but there it was.
I wasn’t about to get into that with her right now, though. There was news to be imparted and consequences to be endured. This was about as good as it was going to get, and I felt Lau take a deep breath and cling to me. This was it, we were going in.
‘Mum, we’ve got something to tell you.’
Mum looked at me assessingly. She didn’t say anything, but her body had become tightly poised, as if she was getting ready to run.
‘I don’t know which order to tell you in, it probably won’t make much difference either way, so OK, I’m pregnant –’
‘Oh … Laura …’
She looked sad, not angry, as I would have expected.
‘Don’t look like that, Mum, we’re really happy.’
‘I’m sorry, my love, I can’t help being … disappointed. You know my feelings about unmarried mothers and … relations outside marriage. It was bad enough when you gave up your house and moved in.’
She had, indeed, given us some mild grief about ‘shacking up’, not that she’d called it that, but she might as well have done. I bet it seemed pretty tame to her now.
‘But we will be. Married, I mean. That’s the next thing. We’re getting married on Friday.’
She looked at me for a long time, a number of emotions chasing each other across her face; a bit of relief, maybe a touch of excitement mixed with surprise, concern and returning finally to disappointment.
Lau and I had decided that this would soften the blow. Kind of like, yeah, there had been some evildoing, but we were going to make it right in double-quick time. It didn’t seem to be working like we’d hoped, though, as April continued to look downcast.
‘In a registry office I suppose.’
‘It was really short notice. We got a cancellation. Will you come?’
Another long look. I couldn’t interpret her expression. Then a sigh.
‘Of course I’ll come, Laura. I wouldn’t miss your wedding. I just wish you were doing it properly, the right way round, in the sight of God.’
And what entertaining fuckery I thought I was playing at next I have no idea. We’d agreed, Lau and I, that Lau would do all the talking, because I was likely to take the piss, or say something inappropriate, even though I’d always managed not to swear in front of April, but now I just opened my mouth and this came out.
‘I don’t think God probably cares wha way roun people do things, or where they get married, as long as they’re happy.’
I had no clue what the Almighty was likely to be thinking; I was just kind of trying to stick up for Lau. Neither of us gave a toss whether anyone else thought we were doing things the ‘right way round’, be they a parent or an omnipotent deity, and I didn’t want her to take that kind of put-down from anyone. Unsurprisingly, April did not appreciate my observation.
‘Thank you, young man, your insights into the cares of the Lord are inspiring. I think you might have done enough for now, though.’
I’d never heard her sound so cutting, and I nearly applauded her tone, although the content of her words was designed to cut me to the quick.
‘Mum! It took both of us. We’re trying to do the right thing. Please be happy for us, it means a lot to both of us.’
‘I’m trying, Laura. It’s a bit of a shock. I think … maybe you’d better go, I need to think and pray.’
‘I’ll call you later.’
There was no arguing with her, once she had decided. I got my stubborn streak from her.
And we were dismissed. No yelling, no burny burny hellfire, just a lot of disapproval and sad expressions. We stood up, Lau kissed her mum on the cheek as she sat stiffly at the table, tea cooling unpoured in the pot, I pointedly didn’t, and we left and got back in the car.
I felt deflated. I hadn’t expected Mum to be overjoyed, but her reaction had taken the sparkle out of everything for now. Matt looked over at me, taking my hand.
‘She’ll come round.’
‘I doubt it. She still hasn’t forgiven me for scrumping apples from Mrs Bailey’s orchard when I was eleven.’
‘Aren’t yuh a bit young to scrump apples? What century were you born in? They had telly and all sorts when yuh were a kid.’
‘I wasn’t allowed to watch telly. Still wouldn’t be if Mum had her way.’
‘But she’s got a telly, she watches bloody Who Wants to be a Millionaire ad infinitum.’
‘Yeah, well, the hypocrisy of parents.’
‘Come on, Lau. She’s a bit shocked. She’ll be OK, she said she’ll come, she can’t be tha mad. I thought weh got away pretty lightly.’
‘No thanks to you, what was all that God stuff?’
‘Sorry. Jus came out, as I was sayin it I was thinking ‘shut the fuck up, Matt’ but I just kept talking. I was expecting a bollocking.’
‘She wasn’t very nice.’
‘I can take a bih of sarcasm. Come on, gorgeous, let’s go. Straight to Jay’s or coffee somewhere? If we go now, Beth’ll make us help wih dinner, she makes out she likes having everyone in the kitchen, buh really it’s slave labour.’
‘Coffee sounds good. Thanks, flower.’
Matt smiled at me, stroking my face as he started the car.
We sat in the café, me trying not to feel glum and Matt trying to cheer me up by messing about, making origami shapes out of the napkins, playing football with the salt and pepper, and inventing the life stories of the other customers.
‘Tha bloke in the corner, sitting with the red-head, he’s a secret billionaire. He leaves enormous tips. If we beat the waitress to the table when they goh, we’ll beh rich. An that old lady by the door? She lost her husband when she was young, she never remarried. I don’t mean he died, I mean she literally lost him. Put him down somewhere, can’t remember where, never saw him again. Tried lost property an everything. Sad story.’
‘You are a daft sod.’
‘So yuh tell me. Yuh don’t know it’s not all true though.’
‘I suppose not. A bit unlikely though?’
‘Use your imagination, Lau. Your turn.’
‘Do I have to?’
He nodded, gesturing around the café, to suggest I choose an unsuspecting victim.
‘OK, couple in their thirties, sitting just about where we are, the guy’s tall, handsome, with sticky out hair and a great bum and the girl is shorter and a bit dumpy …’
‘Noh, don’t see them. Can see a beautiful woman wih great tits, wih a skinny bloke – oh, OK, sticky out hair an great bum. Got them. OK. Off you go.’
‘Well, I reckon they love each other so much, they can’t remember what it was like before they knew each other. And he’s spent the last half an hour being an idiot to try and cheer her up because she just made her mum sad. And she loves him even more because of it. He’s her beach boy.’
He took my hand.
‘An I think the bloke is looking at the woman an thinking ‘whoa, I’m the luckiest bloody beach boy in the whole world, I’ve got everything I want and I’ve got ih with the most gorgeous woman, with the best pair of tits, I’ve ever known, she’s got a nice arse too’ an he’s also wondering if there’s any chance of getting his end away any time soon.’
‘Yeah, but I reckon he’s always wondering that, and sometimes he will and sometimes he won’t.’
‘But I think he will tonight, or even this afternoon if he’s lucky an manages to persuade her to leave early.’
‘You could be right, I think it depends on how tired the woman gets, and how much the bloke gets distracted by chatting and beer and X-box.’
‘So now, I think the bloke’s thinking they should just goh, see everyone, hugs, kisses, have a great time, eat, drink, talk, all tha, beer, X-box, all good. Except the girl should stick tuh juice maybe –’
‘OK then. The girl’s thinking the bloke’s had a good stab at cheering her up, it’s pretty much worked, she’s ready for the next round.’
‘Oh look, they’re going.’
Matt stood up and put his jacket on, holding his hand out to me. I took it, stood up, and we left the café. When we got outside, he pulled me into a tight hug and kissed my forehead.
‘I love you so much, Lau. I want tuh protect you, I want tuh wrap you up in case you fall over or bang your elbow or get something in your eye. Tell me if I’m over the top, I feel like bloody carrying you everywhere so you don’t overdo it.’
I suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of anything bad happening to her, not just a physical injury, but someone being rude to her at work, or giving her an odd glance in the supermarket. It was going to be hard to be apart from her tomorrow, and it brought back the feelings I’d had when all this began, with the holding hands even when we’re apart.
‘Not over the top at all. You can start by giving me a piggy back to the car. Bend down.’
I bent down, ready for her to climb on if she thought she could handle it.
He bent down, calling my bluff like I was calling his.
‘Hop on, then.’
After several seconds, no hopping on was forthcoming.
‘Come on, wha are yuh waiting for?’
‘Er … me to lose a few pounds, and you to grow a few muscles?’
I stood up.
‘Cheeky cow. I can lift yuh no problem.’
And to prove it, I scooped her up into my arms, and yeah she was a bit heavier than I’d expected, but I wasn’t as strong as I had been a year ago, and I staggered a bit but I made it to the car as she squealed and kicked her legs, which really didn’t make it any easier not to drop her, but I didn’t drop her, and I set her on her feet while she laughed at me, all red in the face and sweaty.
‘I wouldn’t call that no problem, but I am impressed. You might just be able to make it over the threshold with me on Friday, if you’re lucky. Maybe I won’t make you carry me up the stairs first.’
‘Think I might have given myself a sodding hernia. Why dihnt you tell me you weigh, like, a zillion kilos?’
My back was feeling it a bit. Lau wasn’t big, not by any means, but I had, I confess, underestimated how much effort it would take to carry her.
‘I did try, although a zillion kilos is just a little insulting, thanks very much. And at least a few grammes of that is baby.’
‘Fair enough, you’re light as a feather. Ih was Philpotts that gave meh a slipped disc.’
The name just popped into my head and out of my mouth.
‘Weh can’t go on calling him ‘the baby’, he needs a womb name.’
It was a great idea; I loved it.
‘A womb name?’
‘Yeah, all the smart unborn kids have goh them. Dec and Amy called Charlie ‘The Bubster’, but tha was a bit boring, an this one is jus ‘Splodge’. ‘Philpotts’ is classy.’
‘For a girl?’
What was with this girl nonsense? I shook my head.
‘I’m having a boy.’
Lau put one hand on her hip.
‘You seem very sure.’
‘Stands tuh reason.’
I knew a bit about what made a boy or a girl more likely, and I had it sussed.
‘I’m sure you’re about to astound me with your logic.’
‘Ih is logical. Scientific. Proven fact, beefy blokes have girls. I’m a bit scrawny, so ih’s a boy. Plus, I’m sure. I jus know.’
‘That is pretty astounding. Where did you find this out? Could it have been the internet by any chance?’
‘Well, ih’s possible I may have Googled it. But just because ih’s on the internet doesn’t mean ih’s necessarily bollocks.’
Oh, actually it did, but that didn’t help me win my argument.
‘No, not necessarily. Almost one hundred per cent certain though.’
‘Buh not necessarily. So anyway, ih’s a boy, an I say we call him Philpotts.’
‘OK then, say we have a womb name, and say I agree to Philpotts, although that’s by no means granted, it is purely for the duration of womb time. It doesn’t linger once he or she is born.’
Ha, I loved that Lau didn’t just think I was totally mad, or rather, if she did, she at least played along for a bit.
‘Course. Otherwise ih then becomes a really weird actual name, an who calls their baby Philpotts, for fuck’s sake? Do yuh think I’m crazy or something?’
‘Well … it is starting to cross my mind.’
‘Ha ha, Lau, I lohv you. You join in wih my mad ramblings. Let’s go.’
Matt opened the door for me, got in, and we drove off to see his family.
We stood on the doorstep, having rung the bell, listening to the voices and sounds that had erupted. There was a squeal, running footsteps, Jay’s grumbling voice. The door opened and Beth pulled us both inside, putting her arms round both of us at the same time.
‘Oh Matty, Laura, I don’t know what to say, this is so lovely. Come in, James is just getting some drinks. Beer, Matty?’
Beth led us both by the hand into the living room, where there was a large banner made out of several sheets of paper stuck together, that looked like it might have been made by Cal, saying ‘Congratulations Matty and Lau’ stuck to the wall. Cal was sitting underneath it.
‘Whoa, Cal, did yuh make that?’
Cal beamed and nodded. He seemed to be in one of his less sulky pre-teenage moods, and continued to smile as Matt gave him a thumbs up.
‘Cal and Amy spent ages doing it.’
‘Oh, are Dec an Amy here?’
‘They’re peeling potatoes.’
On cue, Dec and Amy emerged from the kitchen, Amy looking every day of her eight and a half months pregnant, Dec carrying Charlie.
‘Ih takes all three of you to peel a bloody potato?’
‘No, one of us to peel the thousands of potatoes Beth kindly left for us, one to crawl about getting filthy and trying to eat potato peelings, and one to keep an eye on the one crawling about eating potato peelings. Simple maths, Matt, I thought you were the genius with numbers.’
‘Good of Charlie tuh watch you crawling around eating potato peelings.’
‘Ha ha you’re hilarious. Congratulations, by the way.’
He came over to us, put Charlie down and gave me a huge hug, and Lau a big hug and kiss. Amy waddled over and kissed us both, being too large to hug comfortably. Lots of grinning was done as I tried hard to play it cool, but failed spectacularly.
‘Congratulations, it’s completely awesome. Although your timing could have been a bit better. What if I give birth at the registry office? Oh, Dec, Charlie alert.’
Charlie had crawled over to the table, and was trying to pull herself onto her feet by grabbing the tablecloth, in imminent danger of sending knives, forks and glasses tumbling on top of her. Dec scooped her out of danger and carried her, smiling, back to the middle of the room.
‘You can’t take your eye off her for an instant, she’s bloody exhausting. Are you sure you want one? We can just share this one if you like, give us a break.’
All parents do that, don’t they, say ‘you can take this one off our hands’, but if you actually tried, there would be police and Crimewatch and everything.
We all sat down, Jay bringing beers over for Matt and Dec.
‘I assume juice is in order for the two expecting ladies?’
‘Thanks, Jay. I’m completely never having another baby, all this enforced no-wine business is just daft. I never even thought about it first time, Lau.’
‘No, it’s just occurred to me, no more G and Ts for the foreseeable future. Damn. Maybe I’ll make Matt have the baby instead.’
‘If only I could, Lau, but sadly Philpotts has to stay with you fuh the duration, so tough shi – er – luck.’
‘Did you say Philpotts? What the … er … dickens kind of name is that?’
It didn’t go unnoticed that both Matt and Dec were trying to curb their language. It remained to be seen how long it lasted.
Dec and I were trying our very best to outdo each other in the not swearing stakes. It would never last, especially after another couple of beers.
‘Ih’s a womb name. Everyone does it – ‘Peanut’, ‘Bubster’, ‘Blobby’, ‘Splodge’, we’ve gone more classy.’
‘Er, I didn’t think I actually agreed to it?’
Yeah you did, Lau, it was tacitly implied. Same thing. Might as well have signed a contract.
‘Oh, buh it’s a great name. An I’ve told everyone now. Philpotts ih is.’
I nodded firmly, took a swig from my beer bottle, winked at Lau and kissed her on the cheek so she couldn’t argue.
Matt was always a bit more over the top with his family, and today he was excited, and he and Dec had been noticeably trying not to swear, so I forgave him and let him have his fun, resolving to have a bit of my own in the shape of dress-shopping with Amy. She was totally up for it, despite the limitations of being on the point of giving birth, and Beth wanted in if she could find the time.
Beth wanted to know numbers, presumably for catering purposes, and I let Matt field that one.
‘Bloody hell, Beth, we only started telling people this morning. I guess we can count you and Jay, and Iz, and if you can get Cal off school, that’s four of you. Amy, are you and Dec coming with Charlie? We won’t count Splodge unless he’s actually arrived, is that OK Beth? So seven altogether so far. Oh, and Mum and Lau’s mum are coming.’
‘Oh – have you seen her? How did that go, sweetheart?’
‘Well she wasn’t over the moon, especially when Matt told her what God was likely to be thinking about it all, but she said she’d come.’
Amy leaned over and put her hand on my arm.
‘She might come round. My mum did, with Charlie. Her and Dad gave me a really hard time at first, but having a grandchild is a really big thing, she couldn’t resist it in the end. Charlie healed it all. It’ll be OK.’
I looked at her gratefully. Amy was so lovely, she always seemed to know the right thing to say.
I felt excited, now we’d got April out of the way. I knew what we were going to get here, and it was going to be happiness and anticipation.
I remembered when Dec and Amy were expecting Charlie, and how much baby chat there had been then. I also remembered how much Jules and I had hated it, made fun of it later, and it made me feel a bit guilty, as now I was loving it, being in the middle of it all, and I wondered, not for the first time, whether taking the piss so much back then had just been me diverting my own attention from what I was feeling.
Still, no point going over all that again. I did that enough with Adam – oh yeah, still seeing Adam, I know, slightly miraculous, and he was helping me sort some of my shit out. I didn’t think I’d ever get to the level of chilled that Dec had managed, but having said this to Adam, he helped me realise that we had different personalities as well as different life journeys, and it wasn’t useful to compare yourself with someone else in that way.
But back to the now, there was a lot of baby chat, and Beth gave us updates on the reception, although I didn’t actually want much information, preferring as much as possible of it to be a surprise.
There was a ring on the doorbell, and we heard a squeal of ‘Granneeee’ as Iz dashed to the door. Granny usually brought chocolate, and unlike Lau and Unca Matty, didn’t make Iz work for it. We heard the stash being distributed at the door, and then being confiscated by Beth, then the door opened and Carol and Rose walked in.
Mum was beside herself with excitement, although you’d never have known to look at her. She came straight over and gave me a big hug, and it just said, without words, how happy she was, how much she knew it meant to me. We both had tears in our eyes when we stepped back, me especially as she whispered, ‘At last, dear’ in my ear.
Carol understood Matt so well, and knew what having a family meant to him.
‘Well, dear, this is all a bit exciting, isn’t it. How are you, Laura, dear?’
I stood up and kissed Carol too, and she whispered in my ear,
‘You are taking care of yourself, aren’t you?’
I stepped back, nodding and smiling, touched by her sensitive concern. And of course I was taking care of myself, now I knew. No point worrying people by reminding them of being off my face on rum punch at Christmas, or all the brie and pate I’d eaten. That would get me nowhere but nagged and scolded.
Rose was, of course, nowhere near as tactful as she bustled from me to Lau, hugging and talking.
‘Oh love, there’s just no going slow with you and this one, is there? You haven’t given us a chance to catch our breath, it only seems like yesterday you were here for the first time, now we’ve got a wedding and a baby coming. Two babies if Amy and Declan manage to hold on until after Friday.’
Dec had an answer for her, as he usually did.
‘Not much we can do about it either way, Rose, but Ames is determined to buy a new dress, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.’
I stayed close to Lau, holding her hand, stroking her hair, rubbing her belly, which attracted comments from Dec and Jay, who were loving the ‘Matt Goes Gaga’ show. We answered all the questions several times, as the people who asked them the second time had been talking to someone else when they were asked the first time.
While Jay sorted everyone with a drink, I carried on chatting to Amy. I was loving talking about all of it, how I was actually having an actual baby. The more I talked, the less it felt like I was in a dream, and the more it seemed like reality. Amy said she’d felt the same, and as she was talking about how it had been for her, I did a sudden flip from ‘real’ to ‘overwhelmingly actually happening Oh My God I’m Having A Baby’, and I sat stock still, eyes wide, while Amy chattered on.
‘It’ll keep catching up with you, though, until you give birth. It doesn’t feel real until then, there’s only the two of you and this, kind of, imaginary person, and then, suddenly, there’s this little real person, and you’re completely responsible for them. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can prepare you. And there’s all the hormones as well.’
‘Yeah, bloody hormones. They have a lot to fucking answer for.’
Dec obviously remembered the hormones rather vividly.
‘Be prepared for a lot of crying. And then when Matt’s stopped, you might have a bit of a weep too.’
Thinking about it was now taking all of my concentration; it was one thing to theoretically really want a baby, and know that was a kind of life goal, but very much another thing to have that baby growing inside you, changing your life forever as it did so. Tears started to spill down my cheeks as I thought about it.
‘Oh Lau, sorry. Dec, go and get Matt.’
Dec stood up.
‘No, it’s OK, I’m fine, like you say, just hormones.’
But Dec had already left the room.
‘How about we look at dresses? I’ll get Jay to lend us his laptop.’