104. Take the long way home

In which living the dream has its drawbacks, and an offer has lingering effects.

Advertisements

Julia

I kept in touch with Evie, and one day she sent me a text with a picture of a clipping from the local paper.

‘Saw this. Didn’t know whether to send. Am sending. Hope OK. Call me.’

Birth Announcement

To Matt and Laura Scott

Twins, Ella and Josh

with all our love from

The Mums

Jay, Beth, Cal and Iz,

Dec, Amy, Charlie and Tom,

Rose

Nico, Lis and Bastien

xxx

It was a while since I had thought about Matt. It was nearly two years since I’d left the city, and it had been hard at first, but the physical distance had helped, as had my new job. I read the notice a couple of times, taking in all the information contained there. For a while it took me back and I felt a pang of regret that there were people’s lives I was no longer involved in. But I was surprised to find I didn’t hold any ill-will towards Matt, and felt happy for him, that he’d seemingly found what he was looking for. There would always be a small part of me that would – I now admitted to myself in the dark quiet of night – always love him, but in the end it was still true that we wanted different things, and it was better that we weren’t together to tear each other apart. One day I might meet someone who felt as perfect for me as Matt had, and maybe then I might learn from my mistakes and admit how I really feel. Until then I could only silently wish Matt well and carry on.

Laura

A couple of months later, our lives completely taken over by a routine of feeding, changing nappies and grabbing sleep when there was a quiet five seconds, we were both a bit more practical and a little less sentimental.

That’s not to say that we loved them or our life together any less, just that the lack of sleep, energy and time to ourselves occasionally made us both grumpy. Alright, more often than occasionally. Well, OK, far more often if I’m honest. In fact there were some days when we may not have said a civil word to each other. But it was just tiredness, all new parents went through this, surely.

Matt had taken a couple of weeks of paternity leave, and I was still on maternity leave. I had taken six months off, but the way things were going, I didn’t think I was going to be able to consider going back. Matt was back at work, and had negotiated increasing his original hours, which wasn’t full time, but meant he had to go in every day, and had deadlines to meet and people to manage. He couldn’t always guarantee he would be home at a specific time to help me with Josh and Ella, and to start with our extended family came in very useful.

Matt, never a great one for accepting help, was a bit resentful of the amount of unsolicited help that came our way in the form of suspiciously well-timed drop-in visits, coordinated food parcels, offers to get shopping ‘because I’m in the shop and I might as well if you need anything’. But when he came home one day and found me in tears having been trying to get to the supermarket all day and failing, he agreed that he would try to be less outwardly irritated by people helping out.

Mum and Carol called round a lot, to start with, and with Rose often four doors down with Charlie and Tom, there was a lot of sharing cuddles, comparing and polite bragging that went on.

After a while the concerted family effort waned a little. I sensed that Matt’s sustained grumpiness at having to accept assistance made it a little less enjoyable to help out, and although we still saw everybody a lot, Matt got his wish and we tried to do things ourselves.

Matt

It was a good thing I was so well at that time; I would never have coped with it all a few months earlier, when the slightest tiring occurrence or late night wiped me for days. But I felt great, and the fucking bastard seemed to be leaving me alone, the odd unintelligible bollocky word or trip over nothing notwithstanding. Sometimes when I was really tired, those perfidious twists of fatigue wound their way into my head, and I recognised them, and responded to them, by making myself stop if I could. But I was pretty lucky, in that, yeah, I’d had two run-ins with a serious neurological condition, but I was still on my feet and still had my faculties, and for now I could ignore it and get on with my, to be honest, fucking amazing life.

So of course the magic didn’t last, and before a few weeks had passed, we seemed steeped in a routine of nappies, feeds, waking, screaming, shit and puke, and the house was a veritable landfill site of baby paraphernalia. Neither of us had time to clear up properly, and I knew it didn’t really matter, but I just hated the mess and muddle, had never lived in such disorganisation in my life.

I’d had a couple of weeks paternity leave, and that had been great, but it had just perpetuated the myth that two babies wasn’t bloody hard going. Once I went back, I realised how hard looking after the babies had been, because work seemed like a breeze compared to the constant noise, endless nappy and clothing changes and general chaos. Never-ending tiredness notwithstanding, I felt guiltily glad that it was Lau who was looking after them in the day and not me. I don’t know how she did it. She was up before me every morning, having also been up in the night several times, and she had to see to them all day, as well as do the mounds of laundry and try to have some kind of a normal life.

I guess it’s the little things that add up, looking back, isn’t it. Accumulations of insignificances that amount to something, not one big thing in itself. There were a lot of insignificances accumulating: my bloody family wouldn’t leave us the fuck alone. Now we had children, it was as if some universal permission slip had been signed, and they all thought they could a) call round unannounced whenever the fuck they wanted, b) offer unsolicited advice whenever the fuck they wanted and c) do shit for us we hadn’t asked for whenever the fuck they wanted.

Yeah, I was an ungrateful bastard, and I know if it wasn’t for them Lau might have gone under, but it pissed me right off that they didn’t think we could do it on our own, and much as Lau liked it, needed the help, I just wanted, once, to come home and it to be just us, no other fucker sitting at the kitchen table. So anyway, that was insignificance number one.

Number two was sex. The not having any. I wasn’t expecting to, I wasn’t a total knobhead, and I never made any demands on Lau, but I missed it, not just the having of it, but the intimacy of it, the Matt and Lau of it. We’d made a go of it right up to the day before Lau gave birth, it was fun to try, but now it wasn’t even in Lau’s mind, as far as I could tell.

Number three was work. It was busy, and I’d taken time off with the babies, and now there was catching up to be done. I’d upped my normal hours, still officially part time, but I ended up doing more than I was contracted for just to keep up. Sometimes, although I feel terrible admitting this, I liked staying late because it meant longer in the grown up world and less time talking about nappy rash and weaning. I loved talking about nappy rash and weaning, I did, but sometimes it got a bit monotonous.

So all these things, mixed up with zero sleep and two demanding babies, were bubbling away, when I got a phone call at work, out of the blue, offering me a job in Norwich.

I was never going to take it, I knew Lau was a Devon maid, it would take something a damn sight more exciting than Norwich for me ask her to move away, but I found out as much as I could about it, just interested in what it was they were offering.

The job sounded awesome, so different from what I was doing at GreenScreen, something that would stretch me in a new direction, something I knew I could do. Regretfully, I turned them down, but put them on to someone I knew who fitted their bill.

The weird thing was, it was the company Jules went to work for who had called me. I didn’t talk to her or anything, didn’t even know if she still worked for them, but it was just a little side-note of weirdness.

Anyhow, the phone call got me thinking, and I couldn’t stop the ‘what ifs’ crowding in – the different jobs I could have been doing if only I’d a) not stayed in Stafford after that first year back, b) not had the bastard MS when I was offered that job in Hong Kong or Singapore or wherever the fuck it had been, or c) not just become a family man with responsibilities and, obviously, an awesome family.

I started to wonder, for the first time, if I was going to be stuck at GreenScreen for the remainder of my working days. I couldn’t move on at the moment, didn’t have the energy to look, but it was no longer what I really enjoyed. I was a manager now; I told other people how to do their jobs, rather than doing the fun bit myself.

I spent all afternoon stewing about it, on and off, and then went home, where, predictably one of Lau’s friends was drinking tea at the kitchen table. I said a perfunctory ‘hi’ and kissed Ella and Josh, but then went straight upstairs to lie down. I knew I was being an arse, but chatting about nothing with someone I just wanted to piss off home wasn’t on my to do list just then.

Laura

Matt came home from work one day, looking tired and thoughtful. Kate was there, having an after work cup of tea and a cuddle with Ella and Josh, and I couldn’t immediately ask what was up. He said hello to Kate and kissed the babies but didn’t stay in the kitchen, and disappeared upstairs. Kate raised an eyebrow.

‘What?’

‘Someone’s not happy.’

‘Oh, he’s OK, he still gets tired, needs to chill after work. Doesn’t always get the opportunity.’

Kate gave me a direct look.

‘Really, Lau?’

‘Yeah. Oh alright, he does look a bit miserable, but he’s not going to talk about it while you’re here, so you might as well stop fishing. Something’s probably happened at work.’

‘OK, you know best. Your Daddy is a bit of a moody old bastard, isn’t he Joshy?’

‘Kate! I spend hours trying to get Matt not to swear when they’re around.’

‘Sorry, Lau. I only said ‘bastard’, that’s not that bad is it?’

‘Kate …’

‘Alright, sorry.’

‘And Matt’s not moody, not normally.’

‘OK, OK, sorry I spoke. I’ll just sit here and adore your gorgeous children, shall I? They’ve got your nose, you know.’

‘Poor them. They’ve both got Matt’s eyes, though.’

‘Yeah, they have got amazing eyes. Talking of which, seeing as you haven’t asked, you selfish cow, I’ve found my own pair of amazing eyes, or rather muscly biceps.’

‘Really? Tell me more.’

Kate smiled and looked excited.

‘He’s called Chris. I met him at the gym –’

‘Wait, since when do you go to the gym?’

‘Since I realised that if I want a hunky guy, I’m going to need to hang out where they hang out. It’s worked too. You should see some of the ripped abs.’

‘So you’re just there to perv, not to actually, oh I don’t know, do some exercise or anything radical?’

‘Hey, I’ve been working out too, and some of the machines are bloody complicated, it’s really easy to just go ‘ooh, I’m such a ditz, I can’t work this cross-trainer’ and they all queue up to show you how manly and clever they are.’

‘Kate, you really are something else. So, Chris.’

‘Yeah, he runs and cycles, so he’s lean and hard, and he’s asked me for coffee next time I’m there, which will be later this evening. About bloody time I got some action, there’s you all Mrs Domestic Bliss, Rach and Jed sickeningly loved up, and An happily married to Mr Right for, like, three hundred years. I was starting to feel left out. Took matters into my own hands. Worked.’

‘Well good for you. Although I wouldn’t exactly say I’m Mrs Domestic Bliss. I’m so tired most of the time, I can hardly string two words together, let alone appreciate the finer points of the male physique.’

‘Don’t let all that buffness go to waste, Lau. Matt’s a babe.’

I grinned at her.

‘I know. I just need about forty years of sleep, and I’ll be able to see it again.’

Kate looked at me sympathetically, then wrinkled her nose at Josh, who was wriggling in her arms.

‘Ew, this little charmer’s just done one. Time for me to make a sharp exit, I think. Don’t want to smell of baby shit for Chris.’

She handed Josh to me, then grabbed her bag, gave me a quick hug and left with a wave. Her departure set Josh off, as he did indeed need a nappy change, and this in turn started Ella, who had been happily gurgling in her baby seat, but now screamed in unison with her brother.

Matt

I could hear them talking, then the kitchen door opened and closed and Lau’s visitor left, which was swiftly followed by Josh’s squawk and then Ella’s responding cry. Before long they were wailing in harmony. Sighing, I got off the bed and went downstairs to give Lau a hand.

‘What’s caused World War ninety seven?’

‘Kate. Josh needs changing, she decided to leave it to me. Fair enough, she didn’t want baby poo all over her designer gym wear.’

‘Kate’s going to the gym?’

‘On a mission to pick up a buff guy, apparently.’

I rolled my eyes at Kate’s eternal search for the non-existent perfect man, and picked up Josh, sniffing his bum and pulling a face.

‘Ew, son, that really is gross. What’s your mum been feeding you? Same old crap, I bet.’

‘Hey, he loves his food. Can’t get enough.’

‘I remember when I couldn’t get enough of them, either. Slightly different reason though.’

Laura

I looked at Matt sharply. Since the twins were born, we hadn’t had sex. I hadn’t really given it much thought, I’d been so tired and preoccupied. I knew it was important to Matt, but he was tired too, and hadn’t tried anything, or mentioned it. I tucked it away to talk about later, when we didn’t have two pooey nappies to sort out.

Matt

I mentally kicked myself as I saw the look on Lau’s face. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, I knew getting back to any kind of a sex life was going to take time, and Lau needed not to feel under pressure. She didn’t address it, though, instead looking down and sighing to herself.

‘So, one each?’

Laura

Matt sighed and picked up Josh, kissing him on the forehead as he did so. It always made my heart flip to see him so loving towards them, and I stood looking at him for a few seconds.

Matt

Tiring little tykes though they were, they were so awesome, and they were my world. I realised Lau was looking at me.

‘What?’

‘Nothing, just love you.’

And that made me feel even worse, for having put that look on her face a few seconds ago.

‘That’s not nothing, Lau. Love you too.’

I flashed her a grin, the one that usually got me forgiven, and made an effort to wipe my concerns from my mind for now.

Laura

He grinned at me, and for a second I could believe there wasn’t something bothering him, but it was still there, behind the slight wrinkling of his brow, and the way he was standing.

Matt

I thought I’d managed it, that Lau’s ability to read me had been dulled by baby, that she wouldn’t have spotted my vague disquiet. Ha, fat chance.

We changed them, one each as agreed, and as we did so, Josh smiled his first proper smile, soon followed by his precocious sister, who had managed her own toothless grin a few days before.

‘Now that’s what I call family life, all four of us smiling, no frowns or tears, all with clean underwear. Who could ask for more?’

I’d really tried to school my features into happiness, but it just lightly touched that ‘I could ask for more’ nerve, and I felt it briefly wander onto my face, then saw Lau notice it before I could hide it. Fuck.

Laura

As he said it, I saw something flicker across his face. He saw me notice. I didn’t need to say anything.

‘Later, Lau. Nothing to worry about.’

So now I was worried. I worried as we cobbled together a hasty tea, I worried as we bathed the babies, I worried as we dried them, I worried as we put them to bed, I worried as we collapsed exhausted on the sofa in front of the TV. The longer it went without him saying anything about it, the more I worried.

Matt

She smiled and nodded, but I knew she wasn’t convinced. Maybe she would just let me get on with it, if I was lucky; I didn’t think I had the energy right now to go over it all.

We got on with the evening, getting tea, bathing babies, putting babies to bed, collapsing on the sofa in front of some crap on the TV.

I thought, as I started to make my ‘I’m going to bed’ moves, I’d got away with it, and I was going to be able to parcel it away to think about another time, but Lau had other ideas. She’d been waiting for me to say something, probably as I’d said ‘later’. Note to self, when you mean never, say never. Avoids misunderstandings. Oh well.

Laura

When Matt started doing his ‘going to bed’ routine – glass of water, pick up iPad, stand in middle of room with hand on hip looking like he’s forgotten something – I decided I wasn’t going to worry all night while he slept like the dead.

‘You’re not going to bed just yet?’

Matt

Maybe if I tried a hint of the fucking cripple thing?

‘I’m shattered, Lau. Huge day at work, and you lot wear me out.’

‘I know, I’m tired too, but I thought … you could tell me what’s bothering you?’

Oh, I’d forgotten that ‘mother of twins’ trumped ‘hint of fucking cripple’ every time. I closed my eyes for an instant, wondering if I could really do it, tell her, make it into a big deal, when all I’d really done was turn down a job and had a wonder about things, but Lau knew there was something, and it wasn’t fair on her to just leave her worrying.

Laura

Matt closed his eyes for an instant, and I saw how much he really didn’t want to talk. I realised, however, that if we left it, and I knew there was something, and he knew I knew there was something, it would just be there, all the time, getting bigger. He sighed, and sat down next to me, putting his arm round me.

Matt

‘One of these days, you’re going to have to tell me how you do it, how you know. It’s a good job I haven’t got any deep dark secrets, they wouldn’t have lasted a day. Remind me not to rob any banks.’

‘Sorry if my intuition is irritating.’

‘No, Lau. It saves a lot of time in the long run, I guess. Sometimes I wish you didn’t love me quite so much though.’

‘What?’

I thought about what I’d just said, and how it might have sounded.

‘Oh, no, I just mean if you didn’t, you wouldn’t care and you wouldn’t notice, and I wouldn’t have to tell you. Don’t stop loving me, please.’

I was so tired, I was close to spouting nonsense.

‘Wasn’t planning on it.’

‘You sure you want to do this? You look wiped. It can wait.’

My last ditch attempt to avoid the inevitable.

‘It can’t wait, I’m worried.’

‘I did say it was nothing to worry about.’

It was worth a try, to try to push it back on her. Never really a goer.

‘Yeah, because that usually stops people worrying.’

She was right. I sighed and kissed her temple.

‘OK, better out than in, as they say. I got a phone call at work today, a firm in Norwich, wanting me to go and work for them.’

‘Oh?’

If Lau was good at reading me, I’d got pretty good at reading her too. She was trying to look and sound all ‘oh that’s interesting’, but inside she was going ‘no, no, no’. She thought I was going to suggest moving away.

Laura

My heart contracted, and all I could think was ‘no, no, no’. I had only ever lived here, in this city, I didn’t want to live anywhere else, couldn’t even think about moving away from my mum, my friends, my family.

‘What did you say?’

Matt

Again the mild inquiry that hid a stopped heart.

‘Oh, I told them I wasn’t interested –’

Laura

I breathed what I hoped was a subtle sigh of huge relief,

Matt

I noted the sigh of relief, but didn’t draw attention to it.

‘– but, well, there are two things. One is, I thought the company that asked was the one Jules went to work for. I asked Phil, and he said it was. It felt weird. I wondered if she knew they’d asked, or if she suggested me, or how else they would have known about me. I suppose I won’t ever know, I’m not about to ask them, or try to contact Jules.’

Laura

I breathed another relieved breath. I’d always been worried that Julia was somehow going to walk back into Matt’s life, and no amount of reassurance could stop me worrying about it every time he mentioned her.

Matt

I noticed another exhalation. She was never going to hear me talk about Jules without wondering if I thought I’d made a mistake; I wished I hadn’t told her, all those months ago, that part of me would always love Jules.

‘But I couldn’t quite get my head round it. I’m not obsessing, it’s just a weird thing.’

‘What’s the other thing? You said there were two.’

‘Yeah, well I guess they’re kind of connected, came from the same place sort of thing. My brain just started doing this ‘what if’ thing, you know, what if I hadn’t split up with Jules, where would I be now, just in a kind of wondering way –’

Laura

‘You were wondering what it would be like if you were with her instead of me?’

Full-on panic mode had started again. It was completely unreasonable, I knew that. Matt loved me, he wanted to be with me and only me, he’d told me enough times. Laura Scott, stop being such a ninny. It was just … if he was still with Julia, he wouldn’t have children. Maybe he was regretting having children, maybe he was regretting it all –

Matt

I really wasn’t thinking clearly, I knew how Lau thought, and she didn’t need to be worrying about whether I was going to run off back to Jules. I didn’t want to get sidetracked into long-winded proclamations, but I needed to clear it up before Lau imagined the worst.

‘No! Not seriously, Lau, just pondering, just for a few seconds, while I was having my lunch. Look, this is one of the reasons I didn’t say anything, I’m too tired to say it right. OK, before I make any more ill-considered statements, I don’t regret splitting with Jules, and I don’t regret my life now. It’s the best thing. I’m so happy. Being a miserable git aside, that is.’

So now I could tell she believed me, but she was wondering what the big deal was if I’d turned down the job and wasn’t leaving her.

Laura

I believed him, and relaxed again, my confidence restored for now, but was confused about what the big deal was. It had seemed to me earlier that there was a big deal lurking somewhere, and if it wasn’t Julia, I wasn’t sure what he was telling me.

‘So … what else?’

Matt

‘Well, as I said, I was kind of on this track of ‘what ifs’, and this job offer, there’s no way I want us to fuck off to bloody Norwich, it’s the middle of bloody nowhere, but the job itself, it sounded really interesting. I did get a few offers a few years ago, when I was still recovering the first time. Some pretty interesting jobs – I could have gone to Hong Kong, Singapore, could have had a very different life. But I wasn’t well enough, and I needed everyone I had helping me then – yeah, I know, Matt admits he needed people, hold the front page – so this just started me thinking, really. GreenScreen is great, but it’s not much of a challenge any more. I do more people management than stuff with computers. I’ve been there too long, doing something different was appealing.’

Laura

‘Do you want to go to Hong Kong or Singapore?’

Now I was feeling very afraid, scared that my life was going to be uprooted, as if I had no say in it. I’d never lived anywhere other than here, near my mum, near everything I knew and loved. I loved living here, I didn’t want go anywhere else. I didn’t think Matt did either. What was he saying?

Matt

Oh, and now I’d terrified her even more, about moving abroad, as if the thought of moving to Norfolk wasn’t scary enough. She was feeling scared and out of control, and I needed to put some serious reassurance in.

‘No! Especially now I’ve had another go with the bastard MS. It’s the same as it was then, I need everyone close by, need Dec and Beth bloody nagging me, Jay picking up my beer bottles when I knock them over and giving me a look, Cal and Iz, and Charlie and Tom, to make me feel normal, Mum asking me to reach something on a shelf and then going ‘hmm’ when I can’t get it. It might come back again, someday, I know that, so I need to stay. I love it here, with you, I don’t want to move away, I’m just feeling restless. I don’t want to be at GreenScreen until I retire, that’s all. But they pay me well, and they’re sympathetic to the vagaries of neurological diseases, so I guess that’s me for now.’

Laura

I hadn’t really given much thought to Matt’s job before now. He’d looked forward to going back once he was well enough, and apart from a slight limp and the occasional slurred word, he was back to where he said he was before his last flare up, and was even doing more than his old hours. He seemed to enjoy his job; he socialised with his colleagues, talked about them and their lives animatedly, told me office gossip, told me about things that happened, good and bad. Why hadn’t I picked up on this underlying dissatisfaction?

‘You’ve never said anything before.’

Matt

‘I don’t think I really thought about it before. It was just this call, made me realise there are other things out there, and people might want me to do them, and I might be good at them. But you can’t have it all, can you. I’ve got most of it, you, Ella and Josh, this place, amazing family, no complaints. Oh, you know, sometimes things just get churned up, it doesn’t mean anything, it’ll settle back down, I’ll be fine. Come on, Lau, let’s go to bed and have a damn good cuddle before one of them wakes up.’

And I really hoped that was that, and I could just put all the selfish shit to the back of my mind and get on with enjoying what I had.

Laura

‘Really, just a cuddle?’

I held his look, as he reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, returning my gaze longingly. I knew he missed us being close, and suddenly, I missed it too. I wanted him to touch me, to feel his hands on me, his mouth on me. The desire flared deep inside me.

Matt

Lau held my look, and I hardly dared to hope it meant what it seemed to mean, as I reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, trying not to look too desperate.

‘Aren’t you knackered?’

I didn’t want to put her off, but equally I didn’t want her to offer something she wasn’t really up for.

‘Yeah. But that’s not going to change any time in the next few years, so I think, maybe, we should get to know each other again. In the biblical sense.’

I loved how circumspect Lau was sometimes. Usually she called a spade a spade and a shag a shag, but sometimes she was delightfully coy.

‘Ha ha, what, by causing a huge flood, or turning water into wine?’

‘You know what I mean.’

I stopped smiling, realising she was, indeed, serious. I felt my dick grow hard, couldn’t stop it.

‘Yeah, Lau, I know what you mean. Are you sure?’

She nodded.

‘It would be awesome. I’ve really missed you. In the biblical sense.’

I bent down and kissed her, letting myself go more than I’d done for a while, not having wanted to pressure Lau. She reached up and pulled my face to hers, as I pushed my tongue into her mouth and slipped my hands under her t-shirt to her breasts and pressed myself against her, so she could feel how aroused she made me. Lau’s hands ran down my back to my arse, where she squeezed, making me moan with longing.

Laura

I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed this, this want, this abandon. Matt pushed my t-shirt up and undid my bra, making me gasp …

Matt

Lau gasped, and yelled – oh, shit, no, that would be the babies yelling. Bloody bastards. Lau’s nipples started leaking immediately in sympathy, and I knew nothing more was going to happen. Not tonight, although I remained resolutely optimistic, but by the time Lau had fed them, she was just going to want to go to sleep. I slumped against her in defeat.

‘Oh crap. They choose their moments. Come on, joint effort, maybe we can start again when they’ve gone back to sleep.’

Laura

He stood up, pulled me off the sofa, and we climbed the stairs to the twins’ room.

Ella and Josh slept in the same room, their cots next to each other, the doors to their room and our room always open. We’d tried different combinations – the cots wouldn’t both fit in our room, and we couldn’t have one in with us without the other, but we’d tried them in separate rooms and on their own, and they just wouldn’t settle when they were apart. They had literally grown up together, and didn’t seem to want to be separated; they cried to be fed at the same time, they wanted a fresh nappy at the same time, they fell asleep at the same time. It was convenient and exhausting all at once.

When we reached their room, they were both lying on their backs yelling their heads off, the smiles from earlier disappeared. We’d put a small sofa in the room so I could feed them at night, and I picked Ella up and sat down with her, positioning her on the feeding pillow while Matt fetched Josh.

Matt

Lau sat on the sofa in the twins’ room, pulled her t-shirt and conveniently already undone bra up and looked apologetically up at me as the babies started feeding. I tried not to resent them taking my place. Managed it, too, them being babies, and needing food and all. I just needed sex, wasn’t going to die from not having that, although it might feel like it sometimes.

‘Sorry, flower. They must have known.’

‘Yeah, they’re grounded for a month, little tykes. And no TV for a week.’

I sat down next to Lau, smiling, and watched. It was the next best thing.

‘Lau, this is just … so awesome. You’re so – oh, know what, I’m gona say it – fucking gorgeous. I don’t really care that we got interrupted. Or rather, honestly, I do care a bit, but it’s almost worth it just to see this.’

I yawned, realising I was pretty exhausted.

‘Why don’t you go to bed? You look wiped.’

‘Don’t you want me here?’

‘Don’t be silly, I always want you here, but you were just getting ready for bed, downstairs. I could be some time.’

‘No, it’s OK, I’ll stay, help you burp them after.’

Josh always burped well for me, and a team effort meant less time in the long run. Maybe we’d even get a quick grope in before sleep claimed us.

‘Sure?’

‘Sure. Love you, Lau.’

‘Love you too.’

We sat and watched them together, listening to their snuffles and mouth noises, entranced by them. I didn’t think it would ever get boring, monotony of the daily routine notwithstanding.

Laura

I looked up some time later and Matt was asleep, head back on the sofa, mouth open. I felt bad that I was going to have to wake him up, but if I left him, he would sleep all night on the sofa, and then he’d be stiff and grumpy the next day.

Finally, the babies finished and needed winding.

‘Matt.’

I nudged him with my elbow.

‘Wake up.’

Matt was always difficult to rouse, and I was going to have to do it without upsetting Josh, who was resting on the arm I was nudging Matt with. If he’d been in bed, I’d have had no chance, but the sofa wasn’t as comfortable, and Matt hadn’t been asleep for long.

‘Mmnff.’

Matt shifted position slightly, but didn’t open his eyes. I changed the focus of my attack and kicked his ankle, gently at first, and then harder and more insistently.

‘Matt. Wake up.’

I repeated myself four more times before his eyes finally opened and he stared at me uncomprehendingly for a few seconds until awareness returned.

Matt

Then I was being kicked on the ankle and Lau was telling me to wake up and I couldn’t understand it, I was awake … but feeling like maybe I’d been asleep.

‘Sorry, Lau, I was staying awake, I was there, I don’t even remember closing my eyes. Have they done?’

She nodded, and I picked up Josh and placed him on my shoulder, rubbing his back and jiggling him slightly until he produced the goods. Once Ella had belched for Lau, we put them down again, and headed off to bed. I put my arm round her and pulled her close, feeling like letting her off the hook.

‘Hope you don’t mind, Lau, I’m too wiped to start where we left off downstairs.’

It wasn’t true, but I knew she needed to hear it.

‘Oh thank God. You’d have been doing me in my sleep, I think.’

‘It was great though, perked me up a bit. I’d been getting a bit ‘are we ever gona do it again’. You were bloody up for it.’

‘Yeah, I was. I can’t believe I forgot how good it is. Next time we’ve got five minutes to ourselves, we’ll have to give it another go.’

‘Yeah, the minute we pack them off to university, you’d better have your knickers round your ankles and your arse in the air.’

‘Ha ha, it’s a deal.’

‘Love you, Lau.’

‘Love you too.’

I suppose I should say things got better after that, and I guess that having aired it, that particular insignificance (number three – work) was dropped, at least from discussions at home, but I kept revisiting it at the office, talking to people about their ambitions, realising that nobody at GreenScreen actually planned to stay there for the rest of their working life. I didn’t either, but I didn’t have an escape plan, and that was what I needed. Not one that was going to be acted on immediately, but a safety valve, just in case.

And to top it all, I caught a cold that was going round at work, felt like shit for over a week, even took a day off, but had to go back to oversee an important project (they were all important, it’s not like Phil ever said ‘oh just arse about on this one, no one really cares’).

I’d managed to spread my germs to Lau and the babies, and they were all as ill as me, but it wiped me out, and for days on end I had no energy for anything other than stumbling to work, dragging myself through the day, then coming home. I’d go straight to bed when I got home, unable to stop to help Lau out, unable to ask how they were, unable to be a caring human being of any sort, until I’d slept for an hour. I know it was unfair, and I left Lau to carry on when she was feeling dreadful, and the babies were feeling dreadful and hardly slept, and none of them were getting any rest.

Part of me was terrified that I’d wake up feeling like I did when I had pneumonia, and I was desperate to make sure that didn’t happen, so when I started to feel better, I was relieved, and Lau was feeling less lousy by then as well, so it felt like we’d turned a corner, and we’d done it without any help from the family, who seemed to have reined in their meddling for the time being.

Laura

The next few weeks didn’t noticeably improve our sex life, although I think us both being aware that we wanted to get it back eventually definitely helped us not to stress about it too much.

Having twins was exhausting and required the organisational skills of a military campaign; I couldn’t afford to let anything slip, as it put me so far behind. The washing machine was on constantly, I seemed to only get a few minutes into doing anything before one of them would cry and need feeding or changing; sometimes I didn’t even have time to get dressed before lunchtime.

I was beginning to feel dowdy, slobbish and housebound, much as I loved being a mum. I hadn’t managed to lose much of my pregnancy weight, and although I was always busy, I was eating the wrong sort of diet to shed the pounds. Matt had always prided himself on his cooking, but we didn’t have time any more for the painstaking meals he used to prepare, and had resorted to shoving stuff in the microwave when we were really pushed.

Going out was difficult, especially on my own, as it took so long to get both of the babies ready, and sometimes I’d just finished getting the second one dressed when the first one would need changing and the cycle would start again.

Matt hadn’t mentioned being unhappy at work any more, but it was unlikely to have gone away. He still chattered about his colleagues, and told stories about some of the things they got up to. I got the impression, both from what Matt told me and from having met some of the members of his team, that they were a close knit gang who supported each other and had fun together, and I knew Matt loved that side of his work. When I had a spare minute I was going to have to ask him how he was feeling.

Spare minutes were few and far between for a while. Matt got a bad cold that was going round at work, and before long we all had it. We couldn’t stop, though, there was still everything to do, we just had less energy to do it.

Everything reduced to our little bubble, doing a lot of things automatically, all of us feeling below par and Matt and I being irritable with each other. I didn’t think he’d taken enough time off work, but he was stressed about a project that needed completing, and it was so grim at home it was hardly surprising he escaped as soon as he could.

For more than a week, Matt came home every night and went straight to bed, coming down later to help out. This frustrated me immensely, having been unable to get any rest during the day, and then feeling left to struggle on when I was feeling crappy too. I’m not sure why I didn’t address it with Matt – my self-esteem was pretty low just then, I felt fat and frumpy and my life was consumed with looking after Ella and Josh. Not that I thought that was unimportant, but I sometimes I longed to feel exhausted because I’d done something ‘worthwhile’, like running a support group or taking a blood sample, rather than just ensuring my children made it through another day unscathed.

Matt

Once I was feeling better, I started having full-on thoughts about what I was doing as a job. I found myself being bored doing things that used to excite me; having the same conversations I remembered having years ago about things that hadn’t changed; seeing people leave for new things that I felt envious of; just wanting to do something different. I was restless at GreenScreen, and it was apparent to the people I worked with.

I found myself talking about the opportunities that were ‘out there’ with more than a hint of wistfulness, and when Joe announced he was leaving for a programmer job, I talked to him a lot about the new company he was going to help start up, and what could be possible for someone in my position (i.e. getting a bit older, lots of experience, not wanting to be a manager but needing to pay the mortgage and keep the family in food). In fact, I bent his ear most of the day, sounding him out, maybe semi-seriously, about the possibility of something coming up once his company was established and needed new recruits.

I’d said nothing more to Lau about it. Lau hadn’t seemed herself the last few days, longer maybe, and I was starting to get a bit worried about her. I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was; it was more what it wasn’t: she didn’t smile as much, she didn’t chatter, I couldn’t remember her laughing for ages, and she’d stopped humming. The house didn’t seem right without little snatches of some tune floating out from wherever Lau was.

I knew I should talk to her about it, but we’d got into this rut of just wiping baby arses, shovelling more food down their necks, getting them to belch, putting them to bed, then collapsing ourselves. I wouldn’t say we hardly spoke to each other, but sometimes it felt like all we talked about was the babies. Lau no longer seem interested in what had been going on with me at work, and what she’d been doing was more of the same as when I was at home, except on her own, so she didn’t have anything new to tell me. If I’d stopped and thought a bit more about it, maybe I would have realised what was going on, but I was feeling disgruntled at work, exhausted at home, and couldn’t see further than my own self-absorbed shit, as usual.

I did talk to Beth about it, in a kind of ‘don’t stick your nose in, just asking’ kind of way. She’d called me at work, checking times and other details for a dinner party Lau and I were having at ours. Well, I say dinner party, it was Beth and Jay, and Dec and Amy, a quiet night in. So just dinner, not much partying. I’d suggested it, as I was getting fed up with ready meals and wanted to get my teeth stuck into some proper cooking, and Lau had agreed as long as I did all the cooking and she didn’t have to do any of the washing up. I was looking forward to the challenge and it felt wildly different from the last month or so. Anyway, Beth needed it all planned down to the last teaspoon, even when it wasn’t at her house, and she called to check several things.

‘Are you sure you only want me to bring dessert?’

‘Yes, Beth. I’m only letting you do that because you’ve banged on about it so much. I’ll take it away if you don’t stop, I’m more than capable of making a quick crumble or something.’

‘Oh no you don’t. You’re having my profiteroles, there’s no way you can do three courses after you get home from work.’

‘That’s all you know. Five courses including yours, and I’ve already done half of it.’

Ha, in your face interfering sister-in-law. Although ‘half’ was stretching it a bit. I’d rummaged in the cupboards for ingredients and ground some coriander seeds with the pestle and mortar, though. Nearly the same thing.

‘Impressive. I hope you’re not making Laura stress about it too much.’

‘Lau’s not doing anything, I’ve got it all under control.’

Inasmuch as I was fiddling with sauces when she was feeding the twins.

‘Well make sure you don’t make her feel like she’s not needed.’

Oh there was just no pleasing Beth. You couldn’t get it right for getting it wrong.

‘She knows she can join in with whatever, but she doesn’t really feel up to much at the moment. Beth …’

I took a mental deep breath and dived into the relatively uncharted waters of asking advice.

‘… is it normal to be, I don’t know, a bit down after having babies?’

I felt Beth switch gear and narrow the focus of her fussing.

‘Down how?’

‘Well, Lau just seems – I can’t say depressed, but not her normal self. She hasn’t got her spark.’

‘Oh sweetheart. I did wonder. Yes, it happens sometimes, hormones dip, all sorts of things can get out of kilter. Do you want me to talk to her?’

‘Fuck no!’

The last thing that would help would be Beth going all ‘Beth’ on Lau’s arse.

‘I don’t think it’s serious, just something I’ve noticed. I’m hoping having you all over on Friday will perk her up a bit.’

‘Maybe it’s what she needs. Life can get a bit baby-focussed after a while, you forget what it’s like to talk to people who can answer you, and don’t need carrying everywhere. Don’t let it go on too long, Matty.’

‘No. Thanks. So, anyway, see you Friday.’

I finished the phone call and looked at the clock. It was nearly time to go home, but for once I just couldn’t face it, the next round of nappies and screaming. I make it sound awful; it wasn’t awful, I loved it, most of the time, but sometimes when I was in the middle of it, I had to remind myself sternly that it was what I’d wanted above everything.

I looked at Joe, who had been a listening ear all day while I went on about my dissatisfaction at GreenScreen, and answered questions about his new venture. I decided to put off going home, just for a bit, and asked if he wanted a drink after work. Contrary to popular expectation, Joe’s married status had resulted in much more freedom than previously allowed, and he readily agreed. It was the first time since the babies were born that I hadn’t gone straight back, and I knew Lau wouldn’t be happy, but I took the coward’s way out and texted her instead of calling, presenting it as a fait accompli once I was already there.

The Philpotts Letters – 3

The first time ever I saw your face, I thought the sun rose in your eyes (Roberta Flack, The Stereophonics – I personally prefer the gravelly Welsh Valleys version)

The first time ever I saw your face, I thought the sun rose in your eyes (Roberta Flack, The Stereophonics – I personally prefer the gravelly Welsh Valleys version)

Dear Philpottses

You’re here! You’re bloody well here! And you are bloody awesome, oh my fucking God how awesome are you! Both of you, so different, but so amazing, so tiny, but taking up so much space in me there’s hardly room for me to think about anything else.

OK, so you’re a few hours old, actually bloody hell you’re nearly a whole day old, I’ve had to leave you with your mum in the maternity unit overnight, I’ve had a few beers with Dec and I’m knackered and more than a bit pissed, but I can’t stop thinking about you. It’s too late to text your mum again, so you have the benefit of another fatherly outpouring.

You’re so completely different from what I imagined. I had this image of, you know, just babies, they all look the same really, don’t they, but no. You guys are Josh and Ella – hey, cool names, right? – and it’s at the same time as if, yeah, of course that’s what you’d be like, and whoa who are these tiny people, you don’t look like just any old babies you look like … my children. Holy fuck. I’ve got children. I’ve been trying to catch my breath all day, although, yeah, your arrival was a bit of an event in itself.

I was out at a stag do, and what do you two decide to do? Make your entrance, three whole bloody weeks early. When I’m too shit-faced to a) get home or b) drive your mum to the hospital. Thank God for Declan Summers, without whom etc etc as per, and who surely deserves a mention in the annual sainthood awards. But I’m so going to have words with you about it when you can understand language. Don’t do it again, alright? Being born early, I don’t know. Kids are supposed to make you late for everything, don’t you know anything? Oh, right, you’re a day old, you literally don’t know anything. Maybe I should take advantage of it while I can, because I’m pretty sure that before long I won’t be the one who knows the most.

Did I say how beautiful you are? Ella, I’m always going to be able to say that about you, but Josh, I give it a couple of years tops before I’m reminded that you can’t call boys beautiful, really, and expect them to like it, but you are, and you always will be, both of you are. You are the most incredible babies the world has ever seen, and I’m not just saying that because you’re mine, it happens to be an indisputable scientifically proven fact. My babies rule.

Have you noticed the lack of freaking? Give it time, but for now, this is your pissed, elated, joyous father signing off.

Dad xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

103. Child of mine

In which a dream becomes reality.

Laura

It was a few hours later, we had been in the room with the babies, exhausted, elated, alternating between just staring at them and each other with wild-eyed expressions, and dozing briefly. We’d had one or other of them in our arms the whole time. They had been asleep, then awake, they were wearing tiny nappies and nothing else, as I hadn’t brought any of their clothes with me. I’d fed them again, feeling so, so proud of them, and myself, and glowing in the sense of deep love that I felt for them. Every time they opened their eyes and looked at me, I melted. Matt just kept saying, ‘I can’t believe it’ over and over again, with a ridiculous grin on his face. But now we needed to start telling people, and there were things we needed to think about.

‘Matt, what are their names?’

He looked up at me, tearing his eyes away from our son, sleeping in his arms.

Matt

Well if she was asking my opinion, I was going to take advantage of the first dibs I felt I was being offered.

‘Well, I still like my Tottenham heroes idea.’

It wasn’t ever a goer, but part of me would have loved it.

‘No.’

‘Oh come on, Lau. Glenn – could be boy or girl. Ginola – also boy or girl. We could have middle names like Ardiles, Klinsmann, Greaves, Chivers. You can’t tell me that Glenn Klinsmann Chivers Scott isn’t an awesome name.’

In my younger days, I had given a lot of thought to a football team of names, and I wasn’t letting go without a fight.

Laura

‘No.’

I had to be firm, because with Matt, although it was a joke, he was semi-serious if given any leeway at all. He could tie me up in knots with arguments, and before I knew it, I’d agreed to something ridiculous like, for example, Philpotts.

Matt

‘Oh. Fair enough.’

Choosing your battles was always a sound strategy.

‘So, our shortlist was …?’

‘Boy – Jacob, Harry, Joshua. Girl – Beatrice, Ella, Emily. I think Josh suits him.’

I looked down at the dozing bundle in my arms. He was definitely a Josh.

‘Yeah, me too. I, er, was wondering about a second name.’

It was something I’d been thinking about for the last month or so, on and off. I’d hit on a bit of an idea, and not really had time to talk to Lau about it, as it had been a rather unformed thought, and I hadn’t sounded her out. No time like the present, I suppose.

Laura

I was surprised. We’d discussed names a lot, and I was sure we’d decided that second names were useless except as something for other people to tease you about when you got older. I didn’t mind mine, and Matt didn’t mind his, but he did hate his initials.

‘Oh, I thought we said not?’

Matt

‘Yeah, but sometimes it can be like a present to someone, can’t it?’

I was trying to work up to it slowly, wishing I’d talked to Lau about it before, but we needed to do this, name them, now, and I couldn’t be as circumspect as I might have been.

Laura

Matt was looking at me shyly, as if asking permission, which he hardly ever did. I wondered how long whatever it was had been on his mind; usually I could tell when he was pondering something, but this had got past me. Possibly I had an excuse.

‘What are you thinking?’

Matt

‘Well, you know, kind of someone from the family. Jay and Beth have been pretty amazing to me over the years, and I know it’s not from your side of the family, but I was just thinking, could we have James as a second name? Jay isn’t James, but it’s, like, a nod in the direction. Cal’s second name is James, for the same reason. I’m not very good at saying thanks, this might do it a bit.’

I had still never, really, acknowledged how deeply affected I had been by Jay dropping everything and moving his family up to Stafford all those years ago. It felt like about time I did, and it seemed like a good way to approach the subject without actually having to say it.

Laura

I thought about how Matt expressed himself with his brother, how he hid behind messing about and refusing help, and realised it was really important to him. So, second names – not completely useless when you’re trying to say something you’d find it hard to actually, well, say.

‘Joshua James Scott. Actually, I really like it. Hey, Josh, what do you think of your name?’

Matt

He wriggled, a tiny hand waving in the air.

‘Whoa Lau, I think he likes it too, he’s giving it a thumbs up. Right then, next, let’s name your sister, mate.’

Lau looked down at her, considering.

‘Well, let’s see now, tiny lady. I don’t think you’re a Beatrice. So Emily or Ella.’

Beatrice had been Lau’s granny, April’s Mum. Ella was a granny of some sort. Emily was just a name we liked. Lau was right, though – much as she would have liked to name her after Granny Bea, our daughter wasn’t a Beatrice.

‘Didn’t we say Ella because that was your granny or something?’

‘My great granny, yeah. I didn’t know her, though.’

‘Well, fair’s fair, one name from my side of the family, one from yours.’

‘OK, then. And, well, now we’re doing second names, what about Elizabeth? You did say Jay and Beth.’

I looked at Lau for a long moment, so in awe of Lau’s sensitivity, understanding and equanimity. I’d thought about asking, but it seemed like a bit of a liberty. Much as I went on about Beth, got pissed off with her, wished that sometimes she was less involved in my life, I recognised that without her, I wouldn’t be where I was. When I really thought about Beth and stopped being an obstinate bastard for two seconds, I realised I thought of her and loved her as a sister.

‘Really?’

It came out as a whisper.

Lau nodded. ‘I know they both mean a lot to you.’

‘I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.’

Laura

‘Then it’s the least we can do, isn’t it, flower. Ella Elizabeth Scott. Oh yes, I like it very much. Hey, Ella. Welcome to your name. Ella and Josh. Our children. Oh my God …’

I was suddenly overcome with emotion too, visualising Ella and Josh through the years, learning to walk, playing on swings, going to school, playing with friends, being with family. Tears leaked down my face.

Matt

I saw the tears spring into Lau’s eyes as she said Ella’s name. It wasn’t the first time, and certainly wasn’t going to be the last, for either of us.

‘Lau?’

She shook her head, smiling.

‘It all just keeps hitting me. Here they are. It’s just a bit much.’

I let go of Josh with one hand and stroked her cheek, as I tried to tell her just how awesome she was.

‘So are you. You have been so bloody amazing, carrying these two for all that time, taking care of them. I’m glad I can help now. Hey, know what, it’s time we started waking people up and telling them, now we’ve got names.’

I pulled my phone out and turned it on.

‘What time is it?’

‘Actually, later than I thought. It’s nearly seven. I’m surprised Beth hasn’t been down here banging on the door.’

‘Did you even let her know we were here?’

There hadn’t been time, beforehand, to let anyone know, but the Scott family network never let anything noteworthy escape its clutches.

‘No, but I’m pretty sure Dec would have done. They don’t let much slip past the jungle telegraph.’

‘Ring her, flower. Oh, put it on speaker.’

I pressed Beth’s name and waited. The phone rang a few times, then –

‘Hi Matty, it’s early for you, everything alright, sweetheart?’

We looked at each other. Beth obviously didn’t know where we’d been all night, and I was absolutely delighted. An extra bonus for me; Beth was unaware of the events of the last twelve hours.

‘Yeah, everything’s fine. Are you going to come and see us today?’

There was a brief pause while Beth wondered why I was calling so early to ask this.

‘Um, yes, I can do, any particular reason?’

‘Well, don’t come to the house, we’re not there.’

‘Oh. Where are you, then?’

She sounded confused, and like she was about to get arsey about me playing silly buggers this early in the morning.

‘Maternity unit.’

A pause.

‘What?’

‘Maternity unit, you know, kind of hospital, where babies are born?’

‘What? You mean, you’ve had – Laura’s had – when? How are they? How’s Laura? James. JAMES. Really, Matty?’

And now it was full on chaos, as I imagined her not knowing what to do with herself while she absorbed the information.

‘Yeah, really. Lau went into labour last night, while I was out, bit of a panic, Dec helped us out, they arrived shortly after we got here, er one thirty-five and one fifty-three.’

‘Dec knew?’

Oh, and I’d managed to drop Dec in the shit too, for not saying anything. Perfect.

‘Yeah, I’m surprised he didn’t tell you. Maybe he just went home and went to bed. He’ll still be asleep.’

And the deeper I could drop him, the better.

‘Wait till I see him, how could he keep this to himself? Oh sweetheart. Is everything OK? How’s Laura?’

‘Lau?’

I looked at her, so she could add her feedback.

‘I’m great, Beth. It feels weird them being out instead of in, but amazing. Come and see us. We’re here all day, I’ll be in overnight.’

‘Oh Laura! How big are they? Have they got names? JAMES!’

‘They were both just under six pounds. No wonder I was so enormous. But they’re both just perfect. They’re called Joshua James and Ella Elizabeth.’

This time, the pause was longer, as she registered the names. She was going to get it, it was just a matter of how long it was going to take, and how much crying there was going to be.

After a second or two, and with her voice hardly a whisper, she spoke.

‘Oh my God. Thanks, you two. That’s incredible. JAMES!’

The yell, after the quiet response, startled me.

‘Get down here now!’

We both heard Jay’s voice grumbling in the background.

‘It’s Matty. They’ve had the babies. Here, talk to him.’

‘Matty? What? You’ve had them? When?’

Jay sounded his usual mardy self, as if we’d had the babies early just to irk him.

‘Las night, or maybe very early this morning.’

‘Jesus. You could have given us some bloody warning.’

Jay didn’t really like surprises, which meant I tried to surprise him as often as possible. It seemed like I had really succeeded this time.

‘We thought Dec might let you know. He had to bring us here, on account of me being shit-faced.’

‘What? You were drunk?’

And now big brother mode was operational, as he chastised me for doing something unforeseeably unwise. A few years ago, me being slaughtered wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, but I was a different person now, and I ignored his tone.

‘Stag do. Special dispensation from Lau. Think she regretted ih about the time the first contraction hit while she was stuck upstairs.’

‘Jesus. Are you all OK? Fuck me, Matty, you’re a bloody dad. Jesus. Yeah, alright, Beth, but I think this is special circumstances.’

‘Yeah, we’re all great.’

We heard Beth’s voice.

‘Ask about the names.’

Jay would never remember to ask about all the necessary baby details without prompting from Beth. He would immediately forget a lot of the important details too.

‘Oh yeah. Names?’

‘Joshua James and Ella Elizabeth.’

There was a short silence and I imagined Beth looking at him, eyebrow raised, tapping her foot impatiently while she waited for him to work it out. I swear I heard the clatter of an actual penny dropping.

‘Oh my – Jesus, Matty. You bloody bastard – here, Beth.’

Jay’s voice was quivering; I don’t think I had ever made him cry before, almost dying notwithstanding. Score to me.

‘Sorry, sweetheart, James seems to be overcome with something suspiciously like emotion. I think he meant to say ‘thank you, what an honour’. We’ll be there soon. Visiting’s after nine, isn’t it?’

‘Yeah. We’ll be waiting.’

They disconnected, and we looked at each other, as I tried hard not to look like I had enjoyed every second of that conversation.

‘I bloody loved that. You don’t get one over on Beth very often. Jay, yeah, he’s easy, but Beth, she’s usually got some bloody sixth sense. Like your imaginary dead psychic granny.’

My phone pinged, Dec’s tone.

‘Oh shit, Dec. I should have called hours ago. I’m gona be in trouble now.’

Not that there was a particular order I had to do things, but Dec had helped out immeasurably last night, and he had deserved at least an update. Not much I could do about it now, except call him. I put it on speaker.

‘Hey Matt, just wondering how much longer we’re going to have to wait for you give us some sodding info.’

‘Yeah, mate, sorry, meant to call you. They’ve arrived. Got here, oh, before two. Everything’s perfect.’

‘What? You missed the opportunity to wake us up in the middle of the night? Ames, we got up early for nothing, they’ve been here for bloody hours. So, spill, names, weights.’

‘Joshua James, oh fuck, I can’t remember bloody weights. What was it Lau?’

Maybe Jay wasn’t the only one who forgot important baby information almost as soon as he’d been told it.

‘Five pounds ten.’

‘Got that? And Ella Elizabeth, er … Lau?’

‘Five pounds eleven.’

‘Sorry, Lau. Shit, that’s nearly twelve pounds of baby. OK Dec? All the information you need?’

‘Hold on a minute – what’s that, Ames? Oh, fuck, yeah, you’re right, babe. Love the names, mate. Have you spoken to Jay and Beth?’

‘Yeah, just now.’

It seemed Amy and Dec were pretty quick on the uptake too.

‘What did they think?’

‘Beth gushed, Jay, well I’m not sure, I think he needed a moment to himself, bloody cry baby.’

‘Ha ha. Listen, Ames is going to come over this morning some time, I’ll be over after training, with your car, unless you need it before. Lau, are you staying overnight?’

‘Yeah, they just want to keep an eye on my blood pressure, and because they’re both a bit on the small side. Although if you add it together, it’s quite a lot of baby.’

‘Yeah, fucking hell Lau, no wonder you were so bloody huge – er, sorry, I mean obviously in a pregnant lady way and not reflecting at all on anything – what, babe? Oh. Ames says I should shut up.’

‘Yeah, wise move, mate, Lau’s looking feisty.’

‘Great news, though, mate, I’m really looking forward to meeting them later.’

‘Cheers, Dec, see you.’

I pressed the button to disconnect, but ended up jiggling Josh and waking him up. He started to cry, which woke Ella up and started her off too.

‘Oh bugger. This is going to happen all the time, isn’t it. We’re going to have to creep around forever, or risk them both waking up and yelling at the same time.’

‘They might be hungry. We should give it a go, at least.’

‘Yeah, Lau, get your tits out. I know you said you were going to strip for me, but I wasn’t going to hold you to it.’

Alright, I know breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, but I am a bloke, one of the blokiest, and I will never be able to see breastfeeding without seeing tits. Sorry, but there it is.

‘Put your tongue away, Matt, these are for Josh and Ella’s benefit for the foreseeable future, not yours. You should ring your mum. And work.’

‘Oh shit, you’re right.’

‘And I need to ring my mum. And while I’m nagging you, and turning into your worst nightmare in front of your eyes, mind your language in front of these two.’

‘Sorry, Lau, you’re right.’

Oh, she was so right. I renewed my determination to avoid bad words within earshot of my children. They were so tiny, so perfect, so innocent, that nothing bad should happen in their vicinity, wouldn’t as long as I was able to prevent it. This should, in all fairness, include the use of profanity.

I moved the still squawking Josh into Lau’s arms, a pillow under him to support him, and he suctioned on to Lau’s nipple and sucked with all his might. Ella joined him on the other side.

‘You’ll never be my worst nightmare, though. You’re my dream come true.’

I stroked Lau’s sweaty hair out of her eyes and kissed her forehead. I didn’t usually come out with sentimental tosh like that, or like calling her baby and angel, but this woman, this amazing woman, who had given me my family, who was the most awesome person you could think of knowing, deserved it. Oh, no, she didn’t deserve sentimental tosh and loose bandying about of pet names; she deserved me to bloody well mean it, which I did. I felt incredibly tender towards her, more than just the usual everyday overwhelming love I felt. And I wanted her to know I meant it, and wasn’t just fucking about, and as I looked into her eyes, I knew she did.

We were still gazing soppily at each other when Beth and Jay arrived, just after eight o’clock. They weren’t supposed to let anyone in before nine, but Beth knew the woman on the front desk and had blagged her way in. As the door opened, and Beth peered round, I found myself holding Ella (we’d swapped) closely to me, not wanting to give her up, but knowing handing her over was going to happen.

Beth’s face crumpled into a puddle of maternal instinct as she looked at the twins. Even Jay looked respectably happy, but took a back seat to Beth.

‘Ohh, you two, look at you, proud parents. Oh Matty, Laura, they’re gorgeous. I don’t know which one to cuddle first. Who’ve you got Matty?’

‘This is Ella. Say hi to your old Aunty Beth, Ella.’

I held Ella’s arm and waved a tiny hand at Beth, hoping it would be enough. Ha, fat chance.

‘Ohh, Ella. Come here and say hello properly, then, my little namesake.’

I gave in and handed Ella carefully to Beth. I now understood all the fuss about ‘mind the head’. Beth was a nurse, and was also well used to cuddling babies, but I almost warned her about minding the head. I managed not to though, and the look on Beth’s face was almost worth handing my daughter over for; she looked proud, adoring, and of course, tears were spilling down her face, although she was still managing to speak through them.

‘Well aren’t you just the most beautiful thing. You’re so tiny. After Tom, these two seem like they’re miniature. How much did you say she weighs, Laura?’

We hadn’t specified weights, I was sure. Beth always wanted to know the details, wanted to feel in command of the information.

‘Five pounds eleven. Josh is five ten.’

‘Jesus, Laura, that’s some load.’

‘Yeah, bigger than Tom was, when they’re added together. Do you want to give Josh a cuddle, Jay?’

I was surprised to see Jay looking eager, as Lau handed him over. Lau and I looked at each other, both acknowledging that it felt weird not to be holding them, even though they were in good hands.

‘Hey, Josh, mate. You’re not quite such a bruiser as your cousin.’

Jay meant Tom. We had decided a while ago that rather than work it out or invent new names, or tie ourselves up in knots with ‘friends or family’, all the kids would be cousins, whether there were actual aunties and uncles attached to them or not. It seemed to work.

‘Maybe you’ll make a scrum half, or a winger.’

Lau went a bit pale.

‘Oh my God, Jay, there’s no way I want to even think about him playing rugby. I don’t know how you do it with Cal, seeing them batter each other week after week.’

‘Sorry, Laura. He’s a cute little fella though. Tiny.’

Beth was standing close to Jay, trying to look at both of them at the same time.

‘They’re very different, aren’t they. Look at all this dark hair on Josh, but Ella is so fair.’

‘Yeah, it’s the only way I can tell them apart with their nappies on.’

‘Oh Matty, but they’re so completely different, look, their noses – oh. You’re teasing me.’

Of course I was. It was the most fertile time for it, when Beth was overcome with motheringness and wasn’t on the look out for Matty’s special brand of up-winding. She shot me an admonishing look that rolled straight off me, then her look softened.

‘Oh, but Matty, look at you, you look about to burst with pride. I’m so happy for you, sweetheart, so, so happy. I think I need to cuddle Josh before we go.’

‘You only just got here, Beth.’

‘Yes, but we’re not staying, you’ll both be exhausted enough as it is without people outstaying their welcome.’

Beth and Jay expertly swapped babies, as if they’d been doing it all their lives. I still nearly blurted out ‘mind the heads’, but still stopped myself.

‘I think they’ve changed the rules here since I had Iz, certainly since all of us were here for Charlie. Do you remember us all getting kicked out, Matty?’

‘No, I’d gone before that, but it was a bit of roomful.’

‘I think they’re more strict about two visitors at a time, and no children, unless they’re siblings.’

‘Really? That’s harsh.’

I saw Lau’s face crease with a frown.

‘But Amy’s coming in later, what’s she going to do with Charlie and Tom?’

‘I’ll text her, I can always keep them occupied for a bit. Oh, Josh, you are just the most perfect little man. James, wasn’t there something you wanted to say?’

Beth looked at Jay, who rolled his eyes at the ceiling.

‘Yeah, I don’t need reminding to do every sodding little thing, Beth.’

I couldn’t resist it.

‘Language, Jay.’

‘That’s rich, coming from you, Matty. Anyway, what Beth thinks I’m going to forget, or bottle, or something, is we’re both so chuffed about the names. It really means a lot. Thanks.’

Beth obviously didn’t think this was enough, and took over.

‘We can’t believe it, it’s so lovely of you.’

This was the moment when I could have said it, how much they meant, how grateful I was. But, of course, the whole point was that I didn’t have to say it. I saw Lau looking at me, willing me to just grip myself by the balls and do it, for once, but I didn’t. So she kind of did it for me.

‘Yeah, well, you’re both pretty special, we hope our children will live up to their names.’

I looked at Lau gratefully and nodded my agreement and my thanks.

‘Oh Laura.’

Beth was blarting again. Jay gave Ella to Lau and put his arm round her. He caught my eye and nodded, and I nodded back. It was as close to me saying ‘thanks for everything’ and him saying ‘you’re welcome’ as we’d ever got. Close enough for rock and roll.

Next on the guest list was Mum. I’d called her after I’d finished talking to Dec, and she’d been pleased as punch, in her not outwardly that fussed way. However, the fact that she was there on the dot of nine, having bussed it across the city in the rush hour, told me how keen she was to see her new grandchildren. She peered round the door, looking to see, I think, who else was there.

‘Hello, dears. Am I first?’

‘Hey, Mum. No, Jay and Beth have been and gone, but you’re second.’

I saw a slight hint of triumph flicker across her face as she realised she’d beaten April, then it was replaced by a look I’d learned to recognise as the province of the grandmother. It was part hunger, part longing, part pure joy, and today it was shared equally between Ella and Josh.

‘Oh Matthew. Laura, dear. Aren’t they just perfect?’

She came closer, and stood, torn between the two. I knew she was nervous about holding them, as the arthritis in her hands was pretty bad these days, so I stood up and gestured to the chair I had just vacated. I understood the fear of dropping other people’s precious children, and also knew how it felt to be trusted with them despite your crippledness quotient. I wanted Mum to feel comfortable and safe while she held her grandchildren.

‘Here, Mum, sit down. Meet Josh. Josh this is your granny. I’m sure she’ll tell you what she’d like you to call her.’

Mum sat down in the chair and arranged herself so I could pass Josh over to her without incident. Once she had him in her arms, I gave her a kiss on the cheek, and sat on the edge of the bed, watching her.

Mum just gazed down at him, not speaking for a while. I looked at Lau and smiled. Ella gave a little snuffle in Lau’s arms, and Lau was instantly focussed on her, until she quieted. I was way, way down the pecking order, and likely to be for some time to come. I looked back at Mum, who was still gazing at Josh.

‘He’s so like you, Matthew. You had the same shock of black hair, it got lighter later but no less thick. It’s like looking at you at that age. He’s beautiful.’

Josh was doing his gran the honour of appearing to stare straight back at her, although he wouldn’t be able to see beyond his own nose to all intents and purposes.

‘Oh, bad luck, son, you’re gona look like your dad. Have a look at Ella, Mum. Here –’

I picked up Josh and swapped him for Ella.

‘Oh, she’s gorgeous. Look at your little elfin face, and all your blonde hair. Laura, dear, your babies are beautiful. How are you?’

‘I’m great, Carol, walking on air at the moment, although I expect the happy hormones will wear off soon and I’ll need a good sleep. Not that I’ll get one for a few years yet, I suppose.’

Josh chose that moment to wake up properly with a squawk, and then feeding was needed, and Mum stayed and grannied with the best of them. She decided on Granny, which was what Cal and Iz called her, to avoid confusion.

Once Mum had gone, there was a bit of a lull, when Lau managed to doze, although I was so tired I had come through it and was buzzing out the other side. I carried Josh and Ella, one at a time, to the window for their first peek at the outside, showed them the car park and the sky, walked round the room, jiggled them, trying to keep them quiet so Lau could sleep on. I realised for the first time how much work they were going to be, just keeping up with their needs, let alone giving them happiness and a good quality of life. Neither of us were going to get a decent sleep until we were about ninety, and even then we were going to worry about them.

April came and cooed, Amy came and cooed while Beth looked after Charlie and Tom in the children’s area, and Dec came to coo in the afternoon. I had actually put both babies down, having a feed with Lau, as I was seriously flagging, and was worrying about my bastard arms having a sudden fit of the dropsy, so I’d sat in the chair and closed my eyes. Just for a second. The next thing I knew, I was being shaken, and Dec’s face, complete with off-kilter long-since-broken nose, was about an inch from mine.

‘Oh you’re awake, then, mate. Lau tells me a good snog is often the way to get your attention when you’re snoozing; I was just about to give it a try.’

‘Wha?’

Yeah, never at my best when I’d just woken up, but especially after more than twenty-four hours awake at a stretch, and now nursing the hangover I’d managed to delay by not sleeping. My head hurt like a bitch, and everything seemed too bright, including Dec’s face, which was still inexplicably nose to nose with mine.

He stepped back, mercifully, grinning. He was holding a baby.

‘Oh you look so appealing, with dribble down your chin. Maybe I’ll leave the snogging for now.’

Thoughts were trickling into my head. Maternity unit … screaming … babies … Lau … other people … and then I was all caught up and back with it. Head still hurt like a bitch though, and I wiped my mouth, just in case the dribble jibe was actually true. It wasn’t.

I squinted up at Dec, then looked at my watch. I’d been asleep about an hour. Bollocks, I really hadn’t wanted to leave Lau on her own holding both of them. She didn’t seem too bothered, though. But apologising to her was more important than immediately responding to the cheeky brat Summers.

‘Sorry Lau, I just closed my eyes for a second.’

‘Don’t worry, flower, you must have needed it. Dec’s been here a while, we’ve been taking turns.’

‘Bloody hell, Summers, can you feed babies with those oversized pecs, then?’

‘Ha ha, no. But your babies are fucking awesome, couldn’t decide which one to hold, so kept swapping.’

Lau and I glanced at each other. Well I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him off for saying ‘fuck’, and I doubted very much he would take any notice of Lau. Dec was pretty much a law unto himself when it came to swearing; it was as if it was part of his natural language. He didn’t notice he was doing it unless someone pointed it out, and when they did, he didn’t see what all the fuss was about. So we let it slide.

‘They are pretty awesome.’

I was not even going to pretend to be modest about it. My babies were the best, most awesomest babies ever ever ever.

‘I think Josh is my favourite.’

‘You can’t have a favourite!’

Lau was aghast.

‘Well Josh is mine. And Ella. Ella’s my favourite too.’

Ha Lau, you fell for it. If you’d just looked for the signs, you’d have seen the slight twitch at the corner of his mouth, it always gave the game away.

‘Aren’t you Ella? Don’t you think she looks like Tom?’

‘How can she possibly look like Tom?’

Yeah, the twitch was there again, but I ignored it, as a gift to him.

‘Well everybody looks like someone, don’t they.’

‘Yeah, mother, father, great uncle, cousin fifteen times removed.’

‘Hey, we’re family, mate. Counts for something.’

Dec loved this kind of non-winnable argument. He could hold out for hours, defending the most ridiculous of premises with the most illogical reasoning and most off-the-wall statements. I suppose it was endearing, and it kept us entertained in the evenings when everyone else had gone to bed.

‘You do my head in, Summers. OK, so she looks like Tom, and Josh looks like Carmen Miranda on account of I like bananas.’

‘Now you’re just being bloody daft.’

‘You’re both being bloody daft, if you don’t mind me saying so.’

Lau hadn’t sworn since giving birth, and she was probably missing it a bit. Dec looked suitably chastised.

‘Sorry, Lau. Just fucking about.’

Dec always deferred to Lau, maybe it was the tone of voice she used, maybe something else. He had told me once that she reminded him of his mum, but not in what way, so perhaps that was it.

Ella decided to give a loud yell, jerking in Dec’s arms, eyes flung wide, protesting vehemently against the unfairness of a world in which she was hungry. Her cries woke up Josh, who echoed his sister’s sentiments with even louder yells. It was incredible that such tiny people could fill a room with so much noise. They were unignorable.

Dec looked at Lau, who was lifting her shirt to start feeding Josh, and I could see the panic in his eyes. We were still those two wimpy guys who couldn’t stay in the room if someone other than their wife or life-partner was breastfeeding. I took Ella from him, laughing, and positioned her with Lau, while Dec averted his gaze.

‘I’ll be off, then, seems like time I went. Oh, Matt, here are your keys. Hope you don’t mind, I gave some of the lads a lift back from training. There might be a bit of mud on the seats.’

I nearly rose to it, but there was that twitch.

‘No problem, it’s due a valet, I’ll send the bill to Raiders, shall I?’

‘Yeah whatever.’

He was so eager to dash off before the sight of Lau’s tits blinded him, that he forgot to reply in kind, and almost ran out of the door, shouting ‘Bye Lau’ over his shoulder. I hurried after him.

‘Dec, wait.’

He stopped.

‘Seriously, mate, thanks for last night, you’re a lifesaver.’

‘No worries. It was worth it, all the hassle, they’re fucking awesome. I’m stoked for you, mate.’

Dec’s speech often had little clues to his Australian heritage. ‘No worries’ was standard Dec, but he sometimes sounded like he was auditioning for a part in Neighbours, especially when he was talking about his childhood or his parents. Usually I called him on it, but I was trying to be serious for once.

‘Thanks, mate. We’re not doing christenings or any of that shit, but if we were, you’d be godfather.’

‘Awesome. Cheers, mate. Means a lot. I’ll always look out for them, if that’s the same.’

‘Better.’

I grinned at him, and he grinned back, we had a brief man-hug which we had to immediately pretend hadn’t happened, and then he left.

Later on, after more visitors, Lau had had enough, and we asked the front desk to turn anyone else away. It was getting close to the time when I was going to have to leave, too. I nearly made a case for sleeping on the floor, but Lau was wiped, and I knew she was looking forward to some time on her own, even though she wouldn’t say it to me.

It was hard, though, making out I was OK with leaving them all, being sensible, hugging and kissing Lau without yelling ‘don’t make me go’, kissing Ella and then Josh goodbye, telling them I’d see them tomorrow morning to fetch them home, without cracking up. I spent longer than I should have on the farewells as it was, and before I found it impossible to leave, I fished my car keys out of my pocket and walked through the door, not even allowing myself a last glimpse through the glass in the door.

I admit to a tear or two on the way to the car, and to having to sit in the driver’s seat gripping the steering wheel tightly and breathing deeply before I drove off. Once my vision was unimpaired by extraneous salt water, I saw a note sellotaped to the steering wheel, in Dec’s big loopy capitals.

MATT – LEAVING THEM THE FIRST TIME IS HARD. CALL ME LATER, WE CAN GET WASTED – ER, I MEAN WET THE BABIES’ HEADS

D

I laughed. It was perfect. Not that I had any intention of getting wasted; my head was still pounding from yesterday. But moping on my own wasn’t how I’d envisaged spending my first evening as a father, and being jollied out of it in the excellent company of Declan Summers was just the ticket.

Ah, the best laid plans. We ended up getting wasted, watching some terrible Vince Vaughn film. We decided it was clinically impossible to watch a terrible Vince Vaughn film without beer to dull the pain, and as the fridge was stocked, we made our way through several bottles. Although actually, thinking about it, I got wasted but Dec may only have had a bottle or two. He is a professional athlete don’t you know.

I felt a slight twinge of guilt as I thought of Lau, stoically staying off the G and Ts until breastfeeding days were over, but there was nothing to be gained from watching the film sober except misery, and in the end, it just had to be done.

I texted Lau a few times during the evening, saying soppy things, asking for pictures of the babies. I’d taken a few myself, but wanted updates. Dec laughed at me, but he knew what it was like; he’d inundated us endlessly with pictures of Charlie, and then Tom, and I knew Mum and Beth had their phones primed with boasting pictures to show all their friends, so I felt vindicated in my need. Lau didn’t reply straight away every time – it seemed she had been able to get a little sleep, although requests for feeds seemed to be frequent.

The film finally finished, and although Dec stayed for a while and we played on the X-box, I started to droop and called a halt.

‘You lightweight, Matt. This is your last night of freedom, before X-box is banned and beer is locked away. You should be making the most of it.’

‘I fully intend to, but in the ‘having a night of unbroken sleep’ way that will elude me for years to come. Bugger off now, I’ve thrashed you enough times tonight, don’t be a glutton for punishment, it’s sad.’

‘You’ll be the sad one in a few years when Josh can beat you at BattleStations with one hand behind his back and a blindfold.’

‘Yeah, well, that’s as may be. For now, I am going to sleep off all these beers and be ready to wake fresh and peppy tomorrow so I can bring my family home.’

‘Oh well, you can’t say I didn’t try to make a man of you one last time.’

‘Piss off home, Summers. Come back and talk to me about being a man when you can last more than ten seconds in the Battledome.’

Dec stood up, still bantering, but at least making moves in the right direction, i.e. towards the door.

‘I agree that if the Battledome was all it took, you would be manliest of men, but sadly in the real world the bollocks of the dog are not you.’

My beer-fuddled brain took a while to sort that one out.

‘Learn speaky the English, Declan my pseudo-Australian friend, then try to play wordage with me.’

I herded him into the hall and undid the door.

‘Hey, there’s nothing Sudoku about my Australian, mate. All my numbers add up.’

‘Ha ha, that’s almost funny. See you soon, mate.’

‘I’ll be back when you’ve made me laugh.’

‘I’ll leave the hall light on, then. Dec …’

I was suddenly overcome with a need to be serious.

‘Yeah?’

‘Thanks. I needed this.’

‘I know, mate. Don’t go all girl-shaped on me now. You know where I am, any time.’

He patted my arm and walked away, waving over his shoulder.

I shut the door, and went back to the living room, where my phone had just pinged with a text from Lau. It was late, but I guess time was going to be taking on a different meaning from now on. She had sent me a picture of Josh and Ella, side by side in their hospital cots, both fast asleep.

‘Blissed out. Mum too. Miss u xxx’

I knew she was awake, so I called her up.

‘Hey, flower. I hoped you’d call.’

‘You could have called me.’

‘I didn’t want to interrupt your boys’ night.’

‘It was only Dec. He’s just gone home.’

‘Good beer session?’

How did she do it? I hadn’t mentioned beer, just that Dec was coming over and we were watching crap films on Netflix.

‘Bloody hell, Lau, I can’t believe you’re calling me on beer from across the city.’

‘Sorry, flower, I’m not judging, just asking. I can hear it in your voice.’

‘We were watching a Vince Vaughn film.’

‘Oh, well, it’s understandable then. I don’t think it’s actually possible to watch a Vince Vaughn film without some kind of alcoholic buffer.’

See, this is what I love about Lau. She just gets it.

‘Sorry to break my promise, two days in a row, though.’

‘Ha ha, you daft sod. Are you OK?’

‘Yeah. Miss you, though. Miss Ella and Josh like crazy. How can I miss them so much?’

‘Because you love them, flower. They’ve got inside your heart.’

‘Yeah, they bloody have. I’d do bloody anything for them. I’d kill for them. I’d die for them.’

There was a short pause, and I could hear Lau breathing, then sniffing. Oh fuck it, I’d made her cry.

‘Lau?’

‘I’m OK. Just hormones. I feel exactly the same. They’re lucky to have you as a dad, you’re going to be awesome.’

‘Not as lucky as they are to have you as their mum.’

‘I think we’re going to be a pretty awesome family, all told. Maybe top of the league.’

‘Ha, yeah, not that I am at all competitive, Lau, but I think we will occupy that number one spot for some time. World Champs.’

I heard a sharp cry in the background.

‘Who was that?’

‘Ella. She seems to be the one who wakes up first and takes Josh with her into full-on screaming mode, but if I feed her first, Josh has been happy to wait, on the whole.’

‘Whoa, Lau, you’re getting a handle on them already. Watch out babies, there’s gona be no hiding from your mum.’

The crying intensified.

‘I’d better go, flower. Sleep well, see you tomorrow.’

‘Bye Lau. Text me if you want, any time, if you’re up at odd times. I might even wake up.’

‘I won’t hold my breath. Love you.’

‘Love you.’

We disconnected, and that was the last time I could talk to my family for several hours. I drank a pint of water before going to bed, hoping to assuage the gods of hangovers (or as Terry Pratchett puts it, the ‘oh-gods’ of hangovers), then went to bed and knew no more until I woke up, full bladder causing havoc with my ability to sleep like the dead, at seven the next morning.

Normally, a sleepy stumble to the loo and I’d be back in snooze mode almost before I could register I was awake, but this morning I was excited as fuck; I was going to fetch my family, if they were ready. I texted Lau.

‘Guess who’s awake?’

‘Really? U? Yr not sleep txting?’

‘Nope. Fully functional. Raring 2 go, even.’

‘When r u coming 2 get us?’

‘When can I?’

‘Whenever yr ready. We’re all having brekkie atm.’

‘Quick shower, toast, and I’m there. This is it, Lau. Two babies, all on our own. Last chance 2 back out.’

‘Oh, so not even tempted. See you soon xxxxxxxx’

And so I fetched them home, my family, and we showed them their room and we showed them their house, and their garden, and everyone came round to say hi (I almost literally mean everyone, it bloody felt like the stream of visitors would never end), and that was kind of it, how it all started, my family with Lau, Ella and Josh.

Maybe I should end the tale there, while it was all magical and we were both loved up with each other and them, and all the hormones were raging and making us adore them and bond with them, but real life’s not like that, is it, and although I wouldn’t say any of the magic faded completely, in a few weeks the lack of sleep and the demands of two babies to feed, clean and clothe took its toll on the constant grins as reality made itself glaringly obvious.

102. All about tonight

In which there is drink, and there are consequences.

Matt

Work the next day was buzzing with plans for the evening, which were getting more grandiose as the day went on. It had graduated from a pub crawl to a club crawl, incorporating lap dancers and a strip joint. Joe looked as if he couldn’t decide whether to rejoice that he’d been let off the leash or run howling back to his fiancée in fear and trembling. He plumped for the former, which meant it was all very much ‘on’, and so after I made a quick trip home for a shower, a piece of toast (to line my stomach) and a kiss and a cuddle with Lau (to line my heart), I set off for the first venue, a pub which was fortuitously down the road and within walking distance.

There were a couple of guys who were happy to be designated drivers, the foolish bastards, so taxis were not required. I had told Lau I would have my phone on at all times, on vibrate as well, in case it was noisy wherever we were and that if she needed anything that Dec couldn’t provide, she should call me and I’d come back. Maybe a little the worse for beer, possibly singing, but I’d be there.

I felt a little thrill as I walked to the Queen’s Head. I hadn’t let my hair down like this for – well I could count it in years. The last time I’d been on a boys’ night was in the early days of Jules, when I’d felt it was important to assert my individuality. It was all I could do to stop myself rubbing my hands together in anticipation.

Laura

I’d had a huge wee, which in hindsight was my waters breaking, then I’d hauled myself upstairs to bed, thinking I had a bit of indigestion, hoping that lying down would stop the babies from jumping around on my digestive tract for a bit. The discomfort had continued, though, until it had suddenly spiked in a cramping pain that rippled across my abdomen and took my breath away. My heart rate increased as my fear rose.

I tried to talk myself out of it, telling myself it could be Braxton-Hicks. I left it too long, trying to convince myself, and eventually had to admit to myself that I was in labour, and that it wasn’t going to be too long before something needed to be done about it. I reached over to the bedside table for my phone, just as another clenching spasm shook me. My fingers made contact with the phone, but sent it flying from the table and onto the floor.

‘Shit.’

I was starting to panic. I slowly positioned myself so I could swing my feet over the edge of the bed, but although I could see the phone, it was a little way away. My stomach was so large, I wasn’t going to be able to bend over and pick it up, so I tried to hook it towards me with my toes, hoping I would be able to get it close enough. I pulled it towards me, until it was right underneath me, but I couldn’t bend down to reach it.

Eventually, after another huge contraction, I hit on the idea of using my feet to dial, thanking the day I chose to ignore Matt’s advice to use a passcode, but cursing the day I ignored his advice to get a cool phone with voice recognition features. It was a painstaking, clumsy process, and took me ages, but eventually I had my contacts list up and managed to scroll down to Matt’s name. I dialled a couple of wrong numbers, including the Madras curry house and MatesRates builders, before finally pressing Matt’s name successfully with my big toe. His phone rang, for quite a time, and then went infuriatingly to voicemail. He must be somewhere really noisy and unable to hear the ringtone, although he’d promised me he’d have it on vibrate as well so he could feel if I called. I went back to the contacts list, and scrolled slowly up with my toe to ‘Dec and Amy (home)’. I pressed call, and heard the ringing tone start, noting with relief and a small amount of pride in my newly discovered toe-dialling abilities, that I hadn’t called the Devon Ramblers Association.

‘Hey Lau.’

‘Dec, thank God.’

‘Everything alright?’

‘No, the bloody babies are coming. Matt’s out.’

‘Oh shit. Holy fuck. I’ll be right there.’

Somehow the amount of swearing made me more aware of Matt not being there, and brought tears to my eyes. Dec disconnected and I sat on the edge of the bed feeling foolish, emotional and afraid. Then I realised Dec was going to be no use at all, as he didn’t have a key and wouldn’t be able to get in.

Matt

Several pubs and the first club of the night later, and at least two sheets to the wind, if not three or maybe four, I checked my phone. I’d been checking it on and off all night, and nothing to worry about had appeared on the screen, but just after eleven o’clock, there was a missed call from Lau. Bugger. She hadn’t left a message, so maybe it wasn’t that urgent, probably just wanted to say goodnight or some such shit. I called her anyway. It took a little while for her to answer, and I couldn’t hear that well over the music in the club. I hoped she wasn’t going to tell me she’d got stuck on the loo and was too embarrassed to call Dec. I mean, I’d told her she could, and I would come home, and I would have, but honestly, I was just starting to enjoy myself. Yeah, she just wanted to say goodnight, that’d be it.

Laura

I started to try and pull myself up, thinking that maybe I would have to go on all fours and crawl down the stairs to open the door, when the phone rang. Matt. I placed my toe over ‘Accept Call’ and pressed.

‘Lau?’

I shouted as loud as I could, so my voice from the bed reached the phone on the floor.

‘The babies are coming. Can you come home?’

Matt

It took a few seconds for this to filter through the music and the beer, but when Lau’s words finally made it to the thinking part of my brain, I nearly stopped breathing. In all the scenarios I’d imagined, why oh the fuck why had I not imagined her going into labour? It was only three weeks away. It was twins. How fucking stupid was I?

‘Oh shit. Yeah, fuck, Lau, I’ll be right there. Oh fuck it, I’ve had too much to bloody drink, I won’t be able to drive you.’

I might have chanced it on a pint or two, but I’d lost count. It was more than four. A lot more, especially if you count the shots. I was astounded I was even coherent, considering that was nearly as much as I’d had per month for the last five or six months.

Laura

‘Dec’s on his way, but he can’t get in, he hasn’t got a key. I’m not sure I can get down the st – aaah. Ohhh. Shiiit.’

Another disabling spasm shook me.

Matt

As Lau gasped and swore, I felt panic gripping me. Oh you stupid, stupid arse, Matt Scott. You make all these safety back-up plans for the Summers kid to be around to help if necessary, then your stupid, stupid-arse need for privacy makes you withhold the one thing the Summers kid will need to get into your house to actually be able to help. Aaaaagh. I had to get home, and fast. I needed to sober up, just needed to be there with Lau. Lau just swore. Lau never swore, it must have really bloody hurt, she must be so scared. All of our carefully formulated birth plans, which relied on me not being too pissed to drive, were out of the window, and I was going to have to wing it, while I was too pissed to think straight.

‘Bollocks, fuck, fuck, OK Lau, don’t panic –’

Yeah, Lau, let me do all the panicking, turns out I’m really good at it.

‘– I’ll get one of the guys to drive me. Mike isn’t drinking. I’ll be, like, minutes. Promise. Fucking, fucking, fucking bollocks. I’ll be there as soon as I can.’

I held the phone to my ear as I looked for Mike. The club was fairly busy, but I finally spotted him sitting near the bar, looking like he was rethinking the advisability of being a designated driver.

Laura

From downstairs I heard a knock on the front door. I didn’t know what to do, and it panicked me more.

‘Don’t hang up, Matt, please keep talking to me.’

Matt

Lau was close to losing it, I could hear it in her voice, and that was truly scary. Lau never lost it, always had a complete handle on any situation.

‘OK, just hang on a minute Lau …’

I needed to sort out getting home. I approached Mike.

Laura

I could hear music and voices, and Matt talking to someone, although I couldn’t hear what he was saying, then he came back on the line.

Matt

‘Hey Mike, I’m really sorry to ask, you couldn’t take me home, could you? Lau’s gone into labour.’

Mike perked up, and looked like it might be just the sort of excitement a designated driver deserved for his sacrifice.

‘Oh, right, yeah, course. Do you want to go now?’

No, you goon, let’s leave it a few hours so it’s all over by the time I get home.

‘Yeah, that would be great.’

I had learned over the years that people respond better to bitingly sarcastic responses when you don’t say them out loud.

‘Where are you parked?’

‘Just outside.’

‘Lead on, then. Er, quite fast if you can.’

I broke into a run, looking over my shoulder to check he was keeping up. I had no idea where Mike’s car was, but we needed to hurry. Once Mike started running too, I let him overtake me, then I turned my attention back to Lau.

‘OK, Lau, Mike’s bringing me, we’re on our way, we’re legging … it … to the car park … can’t talk … listen to me … panting for a bit …’

I wanted to be reassuring and gentle, but I couldn’t do that and run to the car too. I let Lau have the benefit of my heavy breathing, just so she’d know I was still there. I thought I heard her say something, but missed it under the sound of my gasping. I was also having to concentrate on not falling over due to being wasted. It wasn’t easy to do all of these things at the same time as trying not to scare Lau more than she already was, but we made it to the car without incident and Mike drove us away.

Laura

Matt stopped talking, but true to his word, I could hear him breathing heavily. From downstairs, there was more banging on the front door, then I heard Dec shouting through the letterbox.

‘Lau? Are you OK?’

I shouted back as loudly as I could.

‘I can’t get down the stairs. Matt’s on his way.’

‘What?’

Wait for Matt.’

‘OK, not going anywhere.’

From my phone, the heavy breathing had lessened, and I heard Matt’s voice.

‘OK, Lau, we’re in the car, just setting off now. OK?’

‘Hurry.’

Matt

The fear in Lau’s voice had ramped up a notch. It was the strangest sensation, to know I’d had so much to drink I should be verging on incapacitation, and yet feel so sobered by the need to help Lau. Some sort of cognitive dissonance, I expect.

‘Yeah, on it, Mike’s only got a bloody Micra, though – sorry, Mike.’

Mike muttered something that could have been ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ or could have been ‘bugger off you loser’. Either way, I ignored him as Lau was talking again.

‘Dec’s here, but he can’t get in.’

Lau sounded totally freaked. She was stuck upstairs, about to give birth all on her own. I wondered briefly if I should call an ambulance, have them break the door down, but we’d be there before long, way before any ambulance would, and I could get in, it would be OK. It had to be OK.

‘Yeah, I know, baby, I’ll be there really, really soon. It’ll be fine.’

I was pulling out all the stops, trying to calm her down. I even called her ‘baby’. I never called her anything but ‘Lau’ or ‘gorgeous’, but it seemed like there may be extenuating circumstances, which were a) I needed to do everything in my power to make Lau feel OK, and b) I was pissed out of my skull, and who knew what was likely to come out of my mouth.

Laura

I heard the endearment. He hardly ever used them, and it told me how worried he was about me that he had called me ‘baby’. From downstairs, another shout.

‘How’s it going, Lau? I’ve tried ringing, your phone’s busy.’

‘Talking to Matt.’

‘OK, no worries.’

Matt

I was confused. Was she going loopy with pain?

‘What?’

‘I was talking to Dec. Through the letterbox.’

Oh. Well at least he was there and doing his best. Come on, Mike, hurry the fuck up, no don’t stop at the bloody red light – oh for fuck’s sake. Then it filtered through what she’d said. Dec would have been trying to call me and couldn’t because I was talking to Lau.

‘Oh. Lau, if we hang up, I can ring him and talk to him.’

I knew she wasn’t going to like it, but I wanted to talk to him, see if there was any way he could get in before I got there.

Laura

I swallowed a lump of panic at the thought of being disconnected from Matt.

Matt

‘I’ll call right back, promise, but we’re nearly there, aren’t we Mike?’

‘Yep, not far now.’

Whether this was true or not, I had no idea, not having been paying attention to where we were, and Mike took the sensible option of not further rattling the freaked out, pissed, expectant father by either not knowing our ETA, or suggesting it was going to be a long journey. Sensible move.

‘OK.’

Lau was trying, she really was, to be brave, and I loved her for it, but I was terrified, so I can only imagine how much more afraid she was than me.

‘I’ll talk to you in a minute. Don’t go anywhere.’

Hilarious much? Meh, best I could do. Pissed and freaked: affects the humour receptors in the brain. Well known scientific phenomenon.

Laura

There was a click and the screen on the phone announced ‘call ended’. Downstairs I heard the faint sound of music, which was Dec’s phone, and his voice. I stopped listening as another contraction swept over me, knocking me backwards onto the bed. I might have screamed, it bloody well hurt enough.

Matt

I pressed Dec’s name and he answered quickly.

‘Matt, where the fuck are you?’

‘On my way. Sorry mate. Just wondered if there’s any way you can get in? Are any of the windows open or anything?’

‘Not sure. Let’s have a quick recce.’

I heard the sound of footsteps scrunching on the gravel.

‘Nope, nothing I could squeeze through. The downstairs loo’s open, but it’s too small.’

‘Bollocks.’

‘Bet you wish you’d let me have a key, now, don’t you.’

This so was not the time for gloating. I would present him with a thousand golden keys in a civic ceremony performed by the King of Uzbekistan if he could think of a way of getting in before I got there, to make sure Lau was OK. I ignored it as irrelevant for now, it so wasn’t the time for scoring points. I looked around me to get my bearings and make an estimate of how far away we were.

‘Dec, can you tell Lau we’ll only be a few minutes? We’re nearly there, can you stay, help me get her to hospital?’

‘No worries, mate, I’m not going anywhere.’

Laura

Dec’s voice came through the letterbox again.

‘Lau, Matt’s a few minutes away, he’ll let me in, we’ll get you downstairs and take you straight to the hospital.’

Matt

I heard him shout the information to Lau, presumably through the letter box. I disconnected from Dec and called Lau back, to fulfil my promise of not being away from her for too long. But the phone rang and rang, and then went to voicemail. So I tried again, and again, voicemail every time. And now I was really scared. Not just scared in a general ‘we’re having a baby’ panicky kind of way, but in an ‘oh holy shit why isn’t she answering something terrible’s happened’ kind of way, and it nearly stopped my heart and froze me, but I called Dec.

Laura

I couldn’t answer him, my breath had gone. I heard my phone ring from the floor, but couldn’t sit back up to answer it. My feet were now dangling from the edge of the bed, nowhere near the phone, and I couldn’t see the screen in any case.

‘Lau?’

The phone stopped ringing, and went to voicemail. It started ringing again. Matt was going to be panicking; he didn’t know the phone was unreachable. The ringing stopped and started again several times, as I lay panting on the bed looking at the ceiling, feeling helpless and stupid. There was a pause in the ringing, and I heard Dec’s phone go again, then his voice.

‘Lau? Are you OK? Can you hear me?’

I tried to shout as loudly as I could, but lying on my back wasn’t the ideal position to get much volume on my voice.

Matt

‘Dec, Lau’s not answering her phone.’

‘No, she’s not answering me, either.’

Oh fuck, she must have passed out, or … all the ‘or’ situations piled up in my imagination and my head felt like it was about to explode.

‘Can you shout her again?’

I heard him call out to her.

‘Can’t hear anything, mate.’

‘Fuck. We’re almost there.’

Laura

‘Lau? Hang in there. Matt’s nearly – oh, this must be –’

Matt

I heard Dec shout again as Mike pulled the car up outside the house. I jumped out before he had even come to a complete stop, and ran up the path without thanking him or saying goodbye, or even thinking about him again. I pushed past Dec, grabbed my keys out of my pocket, fumbling them into the lock, my hands shaking, opened the front door and ran up the stairs, shouting Lau’s name, more scared than I had ever been in my life. I don’t make deals with non-existent deities, but I would have traded my soul not to be greeted with any of the grim things I was imagining.

Laura

I heard a car engine outside, a door slam, footsteps, a key, I breathed a sigh of relief and a silent ‘thank you’ as I heard Matt running up the stairs.

Matt

‘Lau? Lau?

Laura

There was terror in his voice, and I would have answered to reassure him if another contraction hadn’t taken my breath away. Instead of answering, I screamed.

Matt

Shit, I have never heard a worse sound in my life. It simultaneously stopped my blood in my veins and propelled me up the last few stairs and into the bedroom.

‘Lau!’

She was lying on her back on the bed, abdomen thrust upwards. Her eyes were open, she was panting and red-faced; sweat had dampened her hair and trickled down her face. She looked at me. She was alive. There was no blood or other gruesomeness. Oh thank you non-existent deities, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I threw myself on to the bed next to her so I could check her over, everywhere. I couldn’t speak, all I could do was whimper and look at Lau; all thoughts had fled as I tried to calm myself down and think straight. Lau spoke first.

Laura

Matt burst into the room and launched himself onto the bed next to me. I could smell the beer on him, but he didn’t seem drunk. He checked me over, as I got my breath back. Dec had followed him up and was standing in the doorway. Eventually I could speak.

‘I’m OK. Help me up.’

Matt

‘You didn’t answer your phone.’

I sounded like I was complaining, although I was trying for explaining, why I’d been so scared, why I was still shaking from the pounding heartbeats that wouldn’t stop.

Laura

‘It’s on the floor. Help me up.’

Matt

‘You screamed.’

Still trying to explain. I felt like I needed to tell her. I’d thought I was going to find her in a pool of blood, unconscious or … worse. Couldn’t name the worse that I’d thought she might be. Finding her merely pissed off, while a great relief, was taking a bit of getting my head round.

Laura

‘I was having a contraction. It bloody, fucking hurt. Help me up.’

Matt

‘Matt, I think you need to help her up …’

Dec was standing in the doorway, and now too many people were talking. I needed to take it in; maybe the beer was meddling with my thinking, maybe the fear was interfering with my lucidity. Lau was alive. She was OK. The adrenaline tsunami receded, but only slightly.

Laura

A look of relief was filtering into Matt’s expression as he realised I wasn’t dead. He didn’t seem to be realising much else, though.

Matt

‘Shit, Lau, when you didn’t answer, I thought … and then Dec couldn’t hear you any more … and I thought … I was terrified …’

Laura

‘Matt, if you don’t fucking well help me up I’m going to have these fucking babies right fucking here on the fucking designer duvet cover.’

God, swearing felt good. I should do it more often, I could really see the appeal. Matt just gaped at me, though, and made no move to do anything at all.

Matt

I stared at her with my mouth open in surprise. I’d been trying to explain, and Lau had just sworn at me. She’d said ‘fuck’ four times in one sentence. She never said ‘fuck’. I’d only been trying to explain.

Suddenly, Dec was behind Lau, kneeling behind her and pushing her up by her shoulders.

‘Grab her arms, Matt.’

Laura

At last, someone was listening to me. Matt continued to look at me as if I’d grown two heads, but pulled on my arms as Dec pushed me from behind. Between them, they pushed and tugged me into a sitting position.

Matt

I continued to stare at Lau, this woman I hardly seemed to know, who had said ‘fuck’ four times in one sentence and who I seemed to be in the shit with somehow, but I did as instructed by Dec and pulled Lau by the arms as Dec pushed from behind. Between us, we pushed and tugged her into a sitting position. As I stepped backwards, there was a loud crack from under my feet. I looked down and saw Lau’s phone, the screen shattered.

‘Oh fuck.

Now she had a reason to be pissed off.

Laura

He bent down and picked up my phone, which now sported a shattered screen. It was the least of my worries, but it seemed like the last straw for Matt, who had a stricken look on his face.

Matt

I picked it up and showed Lau, expecting a bollocking, but she hardly seemed to notice.

‘Lau, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see it, fuck, I’m such a –’

I thought the bollocking was on its way as Lau drew in a breath, but what came out was another inhuman scream. I backed away, taken aback by the intensity of it. Was this normal? Were people supposed to make noises like that when they weren’t being cut in half with a chainsaw?

‘Matt, we need to get going, these are really close together.’

Declan Summers, baby delivering expert, was going all ‘I know this shit’ on me, and I was surprised to find it was helping. He was staying calm, and thinking rationally.

‘Lau, can you stand, or is it an ambulance job?’

‘I can stand, if you help me.’

So Dec took charge, the only one of us who wasn’t either a) suffering from a temporary stress-and-alcohol-related depletion of functioning brain cells or b) about to give birth.

‘OK, then, Matt, you go one side, I’ll go the other, we’ll go as quickly as we can, let us know if you need to stop, to, you know, have a baby, or something.’

He laughed nervously, and took up his position by Lau’s right side. I stood on her left, and we took her arms and helped her to stand, as I hurriedly put the broken phone on the bedside table. Maybe now she’d let me buy her a new one like I’d been trying to do for ages. Maybe that would make her less pissed off with me. Maybe she’d be less pissed off with me if I, oh I don’t know, focus on the matter in hand, Matt. We walked together to the top of the stairs, but we weren’t all going to fit side by side on the way down. I looked at Dec, the newly appointed CEO of Common Sense Incorporated, to tell me what to do.

‘Here, Matt, let me. You go in front, walk down backwards, take her hands.’

I did as I was told, grateful for not having to think.

‘If you see anything that looks like a baby, catch it.’

I quickly glanced down, as if I expected to see a tiny person about to tumble to the floor, then looked back at Dec to see him grinning – the bastard was taking advantage of my inebriation and panic. I shot him an evil look, but he just laughed as he put his arm round Lau’s waist, and clamped her to his side

We made it half way down the stairs before the next contraction hit. As the pain convulsed through Lau, she nearly fell on top of me, and I saw why Dec had positioned us as he had; I’d never have held onto Lau, but his strong arms held her up. All I could do was squeeze Lau’s hands and offer her mental strength as she tried to breathe her way through it.

Laura

I almost couldn’t bear the worry and fear in Matt’s eyes, I already had enough for all of us, but we made it down the stairs together and out to the car before the next contraction nearly knocked me off my feet.

Matt

Again, Dec held Lau up, and once it had passed, he helped her into my car. Then he held his hand out to me. I wondered, briefly if he wanted to shake hands, and couldn’t work it out. I just looked at him, waiting for him to tell me what he wanted.

‘Er, keys?’

Of all the things that made it through the jumbled panic, it was this:

‘You’re not insured.’

In my defence, I loved my car, and Dec wasn’t the most careful of drivers. I know, not much of a defence.

‘Yeah, right, that matters. You’ve had how many pints? We’re really going to argue about this now? I’m not going to crash your bloody car, but you’re not going to bloody drive it. Keys, please.’

In the face of more firm decisiveness, I gave in and handed Dec the keys, getting into the back seat as Dec got into the driver’s seat. I leaned over and put my hand on Lau’s shoulder as she breathed heavily. She turned towards me and gave me a weak smile.

‘You’ll be OK Lau, just a quick trip now, angel.’

She was my angel, although I’d never called her that before. Just seemed like the right time to start with the pet names. Lau held my hand on her shoulder and laid her head against it as Dec started the car and reversed off the drive.

Laura

I held the hand on my shoulder and laid my head against it. Matt gripped my shoulder throughout the journey, although whether it was to reassure me, or as a reaction to Dec’s crunching gear changes and jerky braking, I wasn’t sure.

Matt

I may have gripped a little tighter every time Dec mangled the gears, which I’m sure he did more than was strictly necessary. We’d timed the route to the hospital, and at this time of night, it should only take twelve minutes. It felt more like twelve hours. Lau had more contractions on the way, and I could see her trying hard not to scream, so she didn’t make Dec crash the car, but failing spectacularly every time. Oh, not that Dec crashed the car, but shit, she was loud. Dec gritted his teeth and manfully didn’t drive into any lamp posts. In a lull, I called the maternity unit to let them know we were on our way.

‘They didn’t sound too bothered.’

‘They don’t do panic, mate, you’ll have to be there bloody hours before anyone looks even slightly interested.’

Dec’s laid back attitude, his aura of calm, his knowledge and experience, produced that same slightly disorienting sensation of flipping about, and him being the older of us, that I often encountered. It definitely helped having someone there who wasn’t wrapped in panic, was offering useful advice, and knew what he was talking about, built on having experienced this before. However, Lau was still in the middle of having our babies, and I wasn’t going to relax now until they had arrived safely, and all heads, fingers and toes were present and correct.

Laura

It was only twelve minutes to the hospital, we’d timed it; it was a weekday night, so there wasn’t much traffic around, and we made it in good time.

Matt

It felt like several decades passed before we finally arrived at the hospital. Dec stopped the car in the ambulance bay while I jumped out to find a wheelchair. Lau started to say she could walk, but as she patently couldn’t, or at least not without help from a crane, she shut up about it pretty quickly when I flung her a ‘don’t give me that shit’ look, modelled on the same one she usually tossed my way when I was being a particularly stubborn bastard.

Laura

I waited with Dec, panting, worrying, contracting. He looked at me and patted my hand.

‘We made it. Fucking hell, I thought we were going to be DIYing it for a minute there, Lau.’

‘Thanks, Dec. You’ve been brilliant.’

‘No worries. You’ll let us know, you know, what happens, won’t you?’

‘Yeah, course.’

Matt

I ran into the building, which seemed devoid of all life and all wheelchairs. Aren’t there usually piles of the bloody things cluttering up corners and getting in the way, but when you need one, can you find one? Can you find anyone to ask? Can you fuck. I dashed about in a manner similar to decapitated poultry, until I spotted someone who looked vaguely medical. I ran up to him.

‘Need a wheelchair.’

I was gasping for breath, sweaty, red-faced and smelt like a brewery, but to his credit, he stopped and looked at me. I don’t know who he was, could have been a porter, or a brain surgeon. Whatever, he had the answer I needed.

‘Just down the corridor, there’s an alcove on the left … see it?’

I looked. ‘No.’

‘It’s got a curtain in front of it.’

I ran off in the direction of the curtain, chucking a ‘cheers’ over my shoulder as I did so. What a bloody stupid place to put wheelchairs, where no one can see them. They were much better when they got in everyone’s way, all piled up; at least you could bloody well see where they were.

I opened the wheelchair up and ran, pushing it, back to the car, where Dec had opened the door and helped Lau to swing her legs out. I reached the car door just as another contraction hit. There was screaming, and we waited for it to subside, because by now there had been so much bloody screaming that it was just a mild inconvenience rather than a reason to rush about like a maniac, then Dec and I helped Lau out of the car, while having a discussion about what to do with said car.

Much as I didn’t really want Dec driving it on his own, if he didn’t take it back, he was going to have to call a taxi. So I reluctantly let him take it home, and we agreed to be in touch tomorrow about it. Shit, tomorrow, when I was going to be a bloody father. Shit.

Lau must have remembered the overnight bag we’d stashed in the boot, only the other day, laughing at ourselves at how ridiculously over-prepared we were being. She held the bag on her lap as I started to push the wheelchair along the corridor; it seemed like an anchor of sense and organisation in the middle of this chaos.

I was suddenly overcome with guilt about not being there when Lau needed me, about being the sole cause of all the panic. If only I hadn’t been such a selfish dick, I’d have been there, we would have been here by now, it would all have happened much more sedately. I stopped the chair and knelt down beside Lau, pushing her sweaty hair back from her forehead, looking into her beautiful eyes.

‘Sorry I was out, Lau. Shit, I was so fucking scared.’

‘Me too.’ She took my hand. ‘Thanks for coming back.’

Oh I so didn’t deserve thanks.

‘I should think so too, you made me miss the stripper.’

‘I’ll strip for you later, if you like, to make up for it.’

I smiled at her.

‘Fuck yeah, Lau, can’t wait. You daft bat. Whoa, this is it, isn’t it.’

‘Yeah, flower, this is it. No going back. Tomorrow, or maybe later today, we’ll be parents.’

‘Holy shit. Sorry, just need to get a few swears out of my system before they come.’

‘Well maybe you’d – oh fucking ow!’

And I wasn’t the only one getting swears out of my system. Lau squeezed my hand so hard I seriously thought she might break a bone, but there was no way I was letting go, as another contraction gripped her. I stroked her hair and kissed her as she breathed through the pain, then we needed to get cracking and find the front desk, to get booked in.

All the bad words coming out of Lau’s mouth were making me feel a bit strange.

‘I can’t get used to you saying ‘fuck’, Lau. I mean, obviously, do what you need to, I’m sure ih’s bloody agony, but it’s just weird.’

‘Get used to it, it feels like there’s plenty more where that came from before the night is over. I suspect I’ll direct some of them at you.’

Plenty of people, Dec included, had warned me that the mildest-mannered women turned into potty-mouthed harridans in the face of the pain of labour and birth.

‘OK. Noted. But for the record, you said ih four times in one sentence back at home. I will be charging it to your account, and using it in my defence for years to come.’

We reached the desk, where I got shirty with the nurse there on account of all the bloody forms we had to fill in. I was trying to keep a lid on it, but I just wanted to scream ‘my wife’s having contractions, like, thirty seconds apart, don’t ask me my fucking religion, I’d believe in green flying teddy bears who live in caves at the bottom of the ocean now if it would make you help Lau‘. But I restrained myself, having learned in my time that in certain situations – one of them being when faced with a nurse who holds the metaphorical key to the figurative door behind which your babies lie – going off on one tends to delay things rather than speed them up.

Laura

We reached the desk, where there was the obligatory paperwork to complete, but as another contraction swept over me, and Matt explained how quickly they had been coming, I was whisked down to a delivery room, where I was examined almost immediately and declared nine centimetres dilated. It was always hard to be precise, but it wasn’t going to take much longer, from what I could tell.

Matt

Eventually, Lau had another contraction, the nurse started taking us seriously, and she was quickly whisked off to a delivery room, with me in tow and taking fifth or sixth place in the pecking order behind Lau, a couple of doctors, a midwife and some nurses. Actually, I put Lau top of that list, but I think at least the doctors were ahead of her.

The long and short of it seemed to be that they were a bit worried about Lau’s history of high blood pressure, and were thinking about a caesarian, but the babies seemed to be well positioned for a natural birth and they were going to go with that.

Laura

I had decided, well before I was in the grip of the excruciating pain that came with giving birth, that unless it was medically necessary, I wasn’t going to have any medication, no epidural, I wanted to experience everything. In light of the excruciating pain, I was rapidly rethinking this, but had left it too late. They gave me gas and air, which helped, and left us alone for a while.

Matt

I sat beside her, holding her hand, sweating, worrying, listening to her scream and swear more often than I ever want to again. I talked nonsense, told her I loved her, put my hand on her swollen belly and told the Philpottses I loved them, stroked her hair, fetched ice and wiped her forehead, feeling like none of it was doing any good, and feeling helpless.

Laura

I could see Matt felt really guilty for leaving me alone so he could go out, and then having had too much to drink to help me himself. I tried to reassure him, in-between yelling obscenities at him.

‘Don’t beat yourself up, flower, we’re here, it’s all OK.’

‘Why did I have to go out? I should have known.’

‘How could you know? I didn’t have a clue. I thought I had indigestion.’

‘Ha ha, really? You’re supposed to be a bloody nurse.’

‘See? You couldn’t have – oh holy mother of fuck! What have you fucking done to me you bastard?’

Matt

The contractions were coming in increasingly more rapid waves, now. After another examination, Lau was told to push. They were still keeping an eye on Lau’s blood pressure, ready to whisk her off to theatre if some arbitrary number was reached, but suddenly, a huge push, and an enormous scream from Lau, ending in, ‘aaaaaaah fuck, oh fuck, oh you fucking, arsing aaaaiiiiiieeeeaaah’ seemed to be getting things seriously moving along.

Laura

In the end, Philpotts One made his own mind up. The contractions seemed to join together in a huge assault on my abdomen, overtaking me in one gigantic urge to push down, push out. Matt held my hand and breathed with me; I have no recollection of what I shouted, but it was probably fairly profane. I had never felt pain like it. I had let Beth and Amy fool me with their ‘oh it doesn’t hurt that much’. It actually felt like two people were fighting to rip their way out of my insides. I’d had bad period pains, and everyone – everyone – told me it wouldn’t be much worse. This was worse. MUCH WORSE.

Three more large shouts later, and the nurse announced that head and shoulders were visible. She asked Matt if he wanted to watch, but he shook his head.

Matt

We had decided, in the spirit of ‘only do what we can both do’, that as Lau wouldn’t have the same viewing angle, we’d both stay upstairs, as it were. I was feeling decidedly weird, everything seemed to be catching up with me, I was sweating, going hot and cold, and totally freaking out, worried to death that something terrible was going to happen at the last minute and I would be helpless to do anything to prevent it.

Laura

It was the right decision; he already looked pale and clammy, and I wasn’t sure how well he was coping, although he was supporting me incredibly well.

Two more huge pushes, a surge of emotion that took me by surprise, and I felt the first baby slip out of me. He was picked up, the cord was cut, he cried, which made me want to hold him forever, they cleaned him up, wrapped him up and gave him to me, as I looked at him through my tears. Oh yeah, he was a boy. Our son. Blimey.

Matt

And then suddenly, there he was. My son. He just seemed to slip out, and he was … there. He cried, which made Lau whimper and reach for him, they wiped some of the baby goop off him, wrapped him in a blanket and gave him to Lau, who had tears rolling down her face as she looked at him.

God, he was – I’m supposed to say beautiful, right? To be honest, he was covered in baby crap and was all red and wrinkled, so aesthetically, not the most beautiful sight I have ever witnessed, but he was my son, God, he was my son, and for that he was the most beautiful sight I have ever witnessed.

‘Fuuucking hell, Lau. Here he is. Oh, damn, I mean, fliiipping heck.’

I was genuinely annoyed with myself for swearing, but Lau didn’t seem to notice. She probably felt like such an old hand now, that she was going to let all sorts of language pass unremarked upon.

Laura

He looked genuinely annoyed with himself for swearing. I’d hardly noticed, the air in my immediate vicinity having been bright blue for some time. The nurse coughed apologetically, then spoke.

‘Sorry, Laura, but we need to get going on the next one, love.’

Oh, yes, I was going to have to do this all over again. I suddenly felt exhausted. I wanted to curl up with this tiny bundle and just love him, but now I had to go through all that pain and sweating and shouting once more.

Matt

Just for a second, Lau looked like she didn’t think she could do it all again. She was exhausted, but I saw her look at our boy and remember that we still needed our girl.

‘Do you want Dad to hold him, or do you want us to pop him in the incubator for a bit?’

It sounded a bit like they could put him on defrost, and he’d be just fine. No way was he going in some plastic box when he could be in my arms. Lau looked at me, and I couldn’t read what was going on inside her – some kind of battle. Maybe she didn’t want to let go of him.

Laura

I looked at Matt. I really wanted Matt to hold my hand, but I didn’t want the baby to be put in a plastic box when he had his dad to cuddle him.

‘Can you hold him, Matt?’

He nodded, tearing up again, and took him from me as I got ready to scream again, feeling the wave of cramping start from within me, as my daughter got ready to be born.

Matt

This was the single most important moment of my life so far. I was going to hold my son. I took him from Lau as she revved up the fuckometer and got ready for round two, although I hardly noticed what Lau was up to for several minutes as I gazed down at this new tiny person who was made of bits of me and bits of Lau, all stuck together in the shape of a tiny bundle of perfection.

The next one took about another fifteen minutes to arrive, and then there we were, a baby each in our arms. A son and a daughter. It felt huge, impossibly enormous, that these tiny beings were ours, our children.

We grinned at each other like loonies, until the girl started crying, and set her brother off, and although we hadn’t finally decided on names, making them stop crying seemed more important right now, so Lau fed them, both at the same time, and again I felt a tiny twinge of jealousy, as I would never know what it felt like to feed your child from your own body, but seeing Lau do it was awesome, and I just felt such love, for these three people, the most important people I would ever have in my life.

Laura

We hadn’t decided on names, we’d talked about it, but come to the conclusion that until we met them, we wouldn’t know who they were, and so they were just ‘he’ and ‘she’ for now. This was unsatisfactory, and felt wrong, and we needed to choose names as soon as possible, but when she started crying, it seemed like making her feel better was more important than giving her a name, and then her brother cried too, and the nurse suggested I try giving them a feed, and as they both suckled, held in my arms, I felt such an overwhelming surge of love for them that, at that moment, and for all the remaining moments of my life, I would have walked through fire, climbed a mountain, braved a torrent, fought an army, laid down my life for them. I had never known love like it. I would protect these tiny lives with my own and beyond. I looked at Matt, and saw that he felt it too.

Matt

Lau looked down at them as if she wanted to imprint their faces directly into her eyes, as if she wasn’t going to see them every day of her life for the foreseeable. At that moment, there was nothing on this earth I wouldn’t have done to make them all feel safe and loved; I’d protect them with my life, and give them whatever they needed. I looked at Lau, and knew that she felt it too, and we have never stopped feeling that way about these two remarkable tiny people.

Not long afterwards, Lau was wheeled into a private room. It was, I think, the same room where I’d met Charlie for the first time, and it seemed appropriate that the place where it had all started was the place where, after a madcap couple of years, it had kind of finished. Here I was, having fulfilled my desire, the thing that had stopped me in my tracks, that I thought at one stage I would never have. A family. Me, Lau, and our children. The four of us.

We cuddled one each, Lau lying in bed, dozing, me just grinning like a crazy person. I couldn’t take my eyes off any of them; the babies were tiny and perfect, and once they’d been fed, they slept, breathing quickly and softly, moving a bit, snuffling. Everything they did was fascinating to me, and I said ‘I can’t believe it’ quite a lot.

It was true, I couldn’t believe it, that these two perfect beings were mine, that it was down to Lau and me to protect them forever, that the universe had given them to us – yeah, I know, my non-belief status was taking a bit of a battering. It just all seemed so … meant to be. No getting away from it. I wasn’t going to examine that in any way, just let it all kind of mooch around in my head until I had the time or the inclination to consider it.

In the meantime, there were a couple of babies who we couldn’t just keep on calling ‘him’ and ‘her’, and Lau and I started giving it some serious consideration.

101. Movin’ on up

In which a move is made, and a need for beer and irresponsibility is felt.

Laura

By the time it came to moving day for us all, I was six months pregnant, and starting to feel the effect of carrying twins. My blood pressure had risen, I was off work, and I was banned from having any physical part in moving. I was advised to stay away altogether, but the thought of sitting with Mum drinking tea while other people sorted out my stuff was more stressful than being there.

The whole Scott clan turned out to help, before, during and after, despite Matt’s weak protests that he could handle it. There was a cleaning deputation, much to Matt’s disgust, who came armed with buckets, mops and Flash, and got going on the flat.

Matt

‘Why the fuck can’t we jus leave it? I keep it bloody clean.’

‘Yes, Matt, but it’ll give me peace of mind if I know it’s done, and I can’t do it myself.’

‘Oh bollocks to your bloody blood pressure. You’re killing meh, Lau.’

It did nearly kill me to let Beth fuss about and take over, but it was for Lau, not for me, and Lau didn’t seem to mind, not really, so I allowed it.

Laura

He didn’t really mean it, but it never came easy to Matt to accept help.

On the day, Dec, Jay and Nico helped the movers shift stuff into the right rooms, Beth, Lis, Amy, Mum, Carol and Rose made tea, unpacked stuff under my directions, while I looked after Iz, Charlie, Tom and Bastien, with help from various people at various times, and made the odd where-should-this-go decision.

By now, Matt was almost resigned to having loads of people around helping, getting in his way, offering unwelcome suggestions about where to put things and how to do things, but I knew he was inwardly pretty chuffed about how many members of his extended family had come along to help us.

Matt

Dec, Jay, Nico and I helped the movers shift stuff into the right rooms, it being a non-training day for them. I tried my hardest to help lift the same heavy things that they did, but really I was pretty feeble in comparison. Beth, Lis, Amy, Mum, April and Rose made tea and unpacked stuff under Lau’s directions, while Lau looked after Iz, Charlie, Tom and Bastien and made the odd crockery related decision.

I was almost resigned to having loads of people around helping, getting in my way while I was trying to organise the kitchen to my liking (Rose), offering unwelcome suggestions about where to put things (Mum) and how to do things (Beth), but I suppose having the whole family there to help was awesome.

We had a large delivery of pizza for tea, and copious amounts of beer, wine and tea were drunk, and then it was nearly midnight, and that was enough. The house would still be there tomorrow, and we could finish it then. I was beat, Lau looked wiped, and everyone who was left needed to go the fuck home.

I’d started shipping people off earlier, once Amy, Beth and Lis had disappeared with the kids. I sent Mum, April and Rose away first, then allowed myself ‘one final beer’ with Nico, although it was actually only my second of the day, and packed him off with Jay. Finally we were left with Dec, whose own home was only a ten second walk away.

‘So, time for bed, Lau?’

I looked wearily at Lau, not wanting to kick Dec out, but just wanting him to go home. There would be time for late night mates sessions aplenty in the future.

‘Yeah, I’m wiped. I put the bed linen on and everything, we just need to go up and collapse. Are you ready?’

‘Yeah.’

Dec finally got the message, last to pick up on non-verbal cues as always.

‘Oh, shit, sorry guys, I’m keeping you up. I was just getting ready for the long journey home.’

He grinned and stood up, draining his beer bottle.

‘Thanks for helping, Dec.’

‘No worries. It’s awesome you guys living so close. We’ll never need to buy milk again.’

‘Think again, mate, if yuh’re planning on raiding our fridge when yuh’re too lazy to walk to the shop. Bugger off now, me an Lau need some sleep.’

I had lost patience, and awesome as Dec’s all-day assistance had been, I was starting to feel those treacherous tendrils of fatigue snake their way into my head.

‘And welcome to the street to you too. Bye, Lau, see you, oh I don’t know, tomorrow or something if I lean far enough out of the bedroom window.’

He gave Lau a kiss and a hug, slapped me on the back, and left us to it. Lau looked at me, and fell into my arms, exhausted.

‘Your family are amazing.’

‘Our family, Lau.’

I still had to remind her, sometimes, that she was part of it, not just an invited guest.

‘Yeah, they bloody are, but yuh have to be so bloody firm with them, they jus take the piss. Nobody’s getting a key, right? We’d never get rid of them. Come on, missis, up the stairs. I’m even too tired tuh suggest anything untoward. Maybe tomorrow. How’s your blood pressure?’

‘Feels OK, I’ve been sitting down cuddling children most of the day, it’s been most relaxing.’

We started to walk up the stairs, Lau in front, me holding onto her waist, helping her up.

‘How’re the Philpottses?’

I’d hardly had time to check on her, except for asking where things should go. I hadn’t even talked to them today.

‘They’ve been pretty active, I think they could hear the excitement. I’ll show them their rooms properly tomorrow, when we’ve decided.’

‘Yeah, I still think together, for a while, they’ll beh lonely if we put them separately.’

Part of me couldn’t bear the thought of our two children ever being apart from us, let alone each other.

‘Maybe. But won’t it be harder if we do it later?’

‘Fuck knows. Too tired tuh think about it now.’

I looked at her, and she was so fucking beautiful.

‘Lau, you’re bloody gorgeous. If I wasn’t shagged, I’d give you a bloody good seeing to.’

‘If I wasn’t actually asleep, I might let you.’

I got into the bed and lay on my back, one arm outstretched to put round her. As the cool sheets warmed my skin, I needed this woman in my arms to thank her for making the bed and for being the woman of my dreams.

‘Come here.’

Lau lay down next to me and turned into my body, putting her arm round my chest.

‘What a day. Here we are, Lau, our own house. Ih’s gona be miles too big till the Philpottses arrive.’

‘I don’t think we’ll have much trouble filling it with our stuff. The challenge will be making room for them after we’ve been here a few months. It will be weird having the kitchen and lounge in separate rooms, we’re going to have to walk miles to get a cup of tea.’

‘I know, we didn’t think tha one through, did we. We might have to make up a flask so we don’t tire ourselves out getting a coffee.’

‘I love it here.’

‘Me too.’

It should have felt weird, our first night in this place, which wasn’t the flat, where we’d always been and now belonged to someone else. But it felt like home. It was home; it felt like it had always been home.

‘I feel like I’ve got a beach house with my beach boy.’

‘Ha ha. Does tha mean you’ll be walking around in your bikini all the time?’

‘In your dreams. I’m going to love having a family here with you.’

‘Me too. You know wha? I was thinking earlier, you know I said I was gona be a cool dad, no bedtimes, no telling off, all tha bollocks – oh fuck it – damn –’

I was really trying, but my excuse, for now, was that I was too tired to block the bad words.

‘– well I think I won’t, I think I’m gona be a complete fascist an never let them do anything. I can’t bear the thought of them getting hurt, or crying, an I migh jus never let them get out of bed.’

‘Ha ha, that would make for an interesting visit from Social Services. You’ll be a great dad. There’s no point worrying about it right now, you’ll just be yourself when they’re here, and you’ll love them, and want the best for them, which will include letting them out of your sight occasionally before they’re twenty seven.’

She had such a sensible head. She should have been matronly and boring, but she was fun and hot as fuck.

‘Lau, you’re so grounded. I feel like I’m never gona know what to do, but you, it feels like you’ll always know. I’ve dicked about for so long, I’m worried I won’t be responsible enough.’

‘Stop stressing, Matt. They’re not even here yet. When they are, it will feel OK, and you’ll know what to do. Well, as much as any parent ever does. I don’t know it all, I don’t know even half, we’re going to have to work it out together.’

‘I wish I was as sensible as you.’

‘I wish I was as brainy as you. You know a lot of stuff, too.’

‘Oh, yeah, like about websites an computer systems an shit.’

‘No, you know about things I’ve never even thought about, you’re always nattering to the kids about things like why the moon goes different shapes, and how deep the sea is, and that cats and lions and things can either purr or roar but not both. I’ll never be as brainy as you.’

‘Bullshit, Lau. You’re the cleverest person I know.’

‘Well, maybe we both use our brains differently. The Philpottses are going to learn tons of stuff from both of us, just as well it’s not all sensible stuff like ‘don’t fall off your bike, it hurts’, or all brainy stuff like ‘the square of the hippopotamus’.

‘Hypotenuse.’

I loved it when she got things so completely wrong. How does anyone go through life thinking it’s the square of the hippopotamus? She’s got Maths GCSE and everything.

Laura

I loved it when Matt thought I got things like that wrong by mistake. As if anyone thought it was the square of the hippopotamus! But he thought it was cute, and so I let him think it.

‘Oh. Well, whatever. They’re going to be well-rounded babies.’

Matt

‘They’re certainly making you well-rounded.’

I put my hand on the large swell of her belly.

‘They certainly are. I might have to sleep downstairs in a few weeks, I’m going to be too wide to get up here.’

‘I’ll sleep with you, if you do.’

‘Thanks, but I don’t think it will come to that. I love you.’

‘I love yuh, Lau.’

We lay together for a while, I kissed the top of Lau’s head a couple of times as she snuggled closer, and then I was asleep.

Laura

After a few days of leave, I went back to work for a week, before being signed off for the rest of the pregnancy with high blood pressure. It was infuriating in a way; I’d wanted to remain as active as possible, and now the advice was to relax, mentally and physically, and concentrate on being healthy. I was glad Matt was so well, as he worried about me, and had more to do, with getting the house straight, than he would have if I’d been fit.

Matt

Lau took a couple of weeks leave to ‘nest’, then her blood pressure got so high she was signed off work for the duration. She struggled with relaxing, she’s always been a doer. In the beginning of our relationship, we were forced to take it easy in a way, the fucking bastard ensuring I needed lots of long lie-ins and not much physical exertion, but as I got better, I wanted to be out and about more, and we both got fitter, went for walks (although Lau was no hiker, and always found hills a challenge). She hated having to sit still, and I dread to think about what she got up to while I was at work, although the threat of hurting the babies was a good deterrent from doing too much.

I loved getting the house straight, Lau sitting in a chair ordering me about: ‘paint the skirting board’, ‘hang those curtains’, ‘put that picture up there, no a bit higher, no a bit lower’. Drove me mad, and I loved every second.

Laura

It was a godsend having Amy so close. She called in regularly with Charlie and Tom, and we became really good friends. Other members of the family were never far away either, and Matt would often come home from work rolling his eyes at the amount of people round the kitchen table or lounging on the sofas in the living room. He was getting much better at both accepting and asking for help, having, seemingly, finally realised that people didn’t offer help to annoy him, but genuinely wanted to make life easier for us. I loved his family, and the way they embraced me, and my own mum, as part of it. Much as Matt liked to complain about them never leaving us alone, it was comforting to me to know that so many people so close-by were on hand for advice, help, suggestions and emergencies, and Matt put up with more than he would have liked to because of me.

Matt

Lau and Amy got to know each other really well, and Amy introduced Lau to the Raiders players’ wives and girlfriends, a lot of whom also had young families. I was always a bit sniffy about socialising with the ‘rugger buggers’, but only because I liked to keep my life separate from Jay’s. Lau got on well with them all, she always got on with everyone anyway, but having new people to ask round for coffee went some way to helping her through what she felt was confinement.

In fact, the whole bloody crowd of family and friends, old and new, could hardly leave us alone, and it was often the case that I’d get home from work, just wanting to sit down in the quiet, only to find a whole gaggle of women, kids, babies, sometimes a dog or two, occupying the kitchen and the living room. I tried my best not to be irritated, recognising that Lau needed people around her more than I did, but it tried my patience on more than one occasion, and we tended to have the same almost-row after she’d had the gang round.

‘Thank fuck they’ve gone.’

‘It’s quiet without everyone.’

‘Yeah, peace at bloody last.’

‘Don’t be such a misery. Come and tell me about your day.’

‘Oh now you’re interested in my day. Just now all you were interested in was placentas. Sorry, haven’t got one of those to enthrall you with.’

‘You daft sod. Come here and hold me while you can still get your arms round me.’

And there it would end, as Lau could never be cajoled into taking my grumps seriously, and I could never resist putting my arms round her and feeling the babies pressing into me as I held her.

Laura

As the babies and I grew together, and I became less mobile, Matt and I became even closer. I still occasionally saw him freaking out inside when he thought about how fast things had happened for us, how quickly our lives had changed over the last year, but had learned how to help him through it by acknowledging it, allowing him to freak and retreat into himself, showing him I loved him. He was still seeing Adam as well, although he hadn’t told anyone apart from me about it, and this gave him another way of releasing pressure and finding coping strategies. Matt hadn’t stopped being a complicated man, he had just found ways to deal with a lot of his complexities. I loved him so much, and couldn’t wait for our children to arrive so we could be the family we both wanted.

Matt

I’d like to say my freaking days were over, but to be honest, as the day of their arrival rapidly approached, it still felt quick, sometimes too quick, and it would all start dancing about in my head: How the fuck was I going to be a dad? How the fuck were we ever going to manage two? How the fuck was I ever going to have any time to myself? Why the fuck hadn’t we waited, taken things more slowly? Why the fuck was I such an arse?

I tried my best to control it all, it really was just irrational freaking, and Lau, as ever, steadied me. She’d acknowledge my freak state with a word, a look, or a touch, she’d let it happen, not try to talk me out of it or reason with me, let me go all incommunicado for a bit, and then I’d come out of it on my own. Adam was also helping, with coping strategies, listening, all the shit that psychologists are supposed to offer, and he was bloody good at it. No one apart from Lau knew I’d started seeing him again; in fact, no one else apart from Dec knew I’d ever seen him in the first place, the Summers kid having somewhat miraculously managed not to splurge the goss to all and sundry, or rather Beth, which amounts to the same thing. It was better that way. It was a part of my life that was just for me.

o0o

There was a bloke at work who was getting married, the conventional way, it having been over a year in the planning. He seemed to have had his whole life mapped out for him by his fiancée, the poor bastard, down to when they were going to have their three children (two boys and a girl, apparently), and what they were going to do with his retirement fund. He was twenty-eight.

On balance, I preferred my way of doing things – act without thinking, do it all in a mad rush, less to worry about over a shorter period of time, job done, but poor Joe had had his ear bent every night since he proposed, and was looking forward to it all stopping once the big day had arrived. I didn’t have the heart to tell him what I suspected, that it was never going to stop.

But anyway, Joe had unexpectedly been allowed to have a stag night. Previously, it wasn’t going to be permitted, on account of the bride-to-be not trusting either him or his mates not to do something foolish, but at the last minute the best-man-to-be had a serious word with her and told her he was going to ‘lose’ the ring if she didn’t capitulate, and she backed down. I think there were provisos, about amount of alcohol consumed, type, gender and nakedness of entertainment, that sort of shit. The best-man-to-be readily agreed, with his fingers firmly crossed behind his back, and an impromptu stag was organised.

I was touched to be asked, along with several other work colleagues, but didn’t give an instant answer because of Lau. Not that she had me under the thumb or anything, but it was only a few weeks before the babies were due, she was the size of a house, and it felt a bit risky. Also, you can’t go on a stag without drinking. If I went, I wanted to get rat-arsed, as I hadn’t done at my own stag. That poked several holes in my ‘only do what Lau can do’ in the drinking department. I didn’t know how to broach the subject, and part of me thought I might just not broach it, and not go, which would make me feel less of a selfish git for really wanting to go.

However, I had missed nights like this – arsing about, being lads – and since I’d been back at work, things had been a bit weird, on account of me having been a fucking cripple, and not really being Matt the Lad any more So having a piss up with them all would make me feel more normal. But I didn’t need a piss up to feel normal, I had Lau, and things were different now, and I should just be satisfied. And so the arguments kept whirling around, unresolved.

Laura

A few weeks before the Philpottses were due to arrive, Matt came home from work, and I recognised the look on his face as the one he had when he wanted to do something he either thought he shouldn’t, or I wouldn’t approve of. I let him stew over dinner, then asked him.

Matt

Lau, I’ll never know how you know, but you knew. You always knew. Just as I was loading the dishwasher, she came up behind me and touched my back, lightly.

‘What is it?’

‘What’s what?’

‘What do you want to do that you think I’ll be mad about?’

I looked at her silently for a moment.

‘Bloody hell, Lau, this had better not be your dead granny whispering in your ear again. How the hell …’

She shrugged.

‘The Philpottses know you pretty well. They told me.’

‘Oh fuck, you’re all going to be against me, aren’t you.’

‘Well, no, it’s not about sides, flower. Although they did tell me they’d really rather you watched your language a bit.’

She’d got a bit of chastisement in, slipped in beside the knowing I needed to say something. Well played.

‘Ha ha, not fair, using the babies to tell me off. True, though, I have been slipping recently. It’s living so close to Dec.’

‘It’s about time you stopped blaming Dec, how long has he been copping grief for your swearing?’

‘As long as he’s been responsible. He’s tons worse than me. I used to have it under control, until he came barging up to Stafford that time, effing this and that, and he didn’t worry about it, so I thought why should I, and it annoyed Beth, so I just carried on. It’s all his fault in the first place.’

‘Not really the point, flower.’

‘No, OK, you win. All three of you. Bloody ganging up on me.’

I really was bottling it, and this way, if I changed the subject and made it about something else, she might forget she’d noticed I was a bit off. No such luck.

‘So, nice diversion, but what’s bothering you?’

I’d followed her into the living room and we flopped onto the sofa.

‘Oh, well, OK, you dragged it out of me. It’s Joe Billington’s stag do tomorrow, and he’s asked me, but there’s going to be a lot of beer …’

‘Oh, you’re not worried about your no drinking pact are you? Stag dos are exempt. I thought that was an unwritten rule.’

And so what the fuck had I been worried about? Lau was cool. Lau was always cool.

‘Seriously, Lau? You are fu – er – bloody awesome. I feel bad, though, I feel like I promised you and now it’s only, like, weeks to go and I’m caving.’

‘Well, firstly, ‘bloody’ is still swearing. Secondly, it might only be weeks to go until they’re born, but the ‘no G and Ts for me’ will last until I finish breastfeeding, so months more,’

Bollocks, I’d forgotten that. It put things in perspective a bit.

‘And thirdly, it’s not caving if it was an unwritten rule. If I had a stag do to go to, I’d be on the beers too, enormous bump or no enormous bump.’

‘Ha ha, maybe you should come, Lau, you’d enjoy the stripper.’

‘Er …’

Lau looked at me like she was feeling a little bit less cool about it.

‘Yeah, I’m joking.’

Laura

Matt’s eyes sparkled as he realised he had almost got me. He was much less successful at teasing me these days, as I’d got to read him pretty well and knew when he was bold-faced lying to get a reaction from me. This one had slipped past me, and I let him have his moment of triumph.

Matt

‘There probably will be a stripper, but I won’t be there for it, I’ll be home by midnight. You’re sure you’re OK? You’ve got everyone’s number, Dec and Amy are at home, I think, at least one of them will be.’

‘It’s fine, Matt, you should go and enjoy yourself before the babies ruin all that for the next twenty-odd years.’

‘You’re right. Actually, I won’t be back until the end of the decade, cheers for the permission, Lau.’

I grinned at her and patted her enormous, taut bump. It almost felt like something was trying to push it’s way out, it was stretched so tight.

‘Bloody hell, you feel like you’re ready to bloody explode, Lau.’

‘I know. Look, you can see feet.’

She pulled her shirt up and exposed her distended belly, pointing out the tiny feet. I had no idea if they both belonged to the same Philpotts, or if they were one of each, but it brought a lump to my throat, the same lump that cropped up every time something made them seem even more real – real feet! These babies had toes and everything. I ran my hands over the bumpy bits, and tried to grip one of them between my finger and thumb.

‘Holy f –, Lau, that’s just awesome. Hey, Philpottses, I can’t wait to meet you – oh, whoa, did you see that?’

The tiny feet had just repositioned themselves. Lau nodded, but looked uncomfortable. They’d probably both just dived on her bladder together.

‘Thanks for that, Philpottses. Sorry, Matt, need the loo now. Help me up?’

I gave her my hand, worried. She needed someone to help her up most of the time at the moment, unless she was sitting on a dining chair. Someone was usually around in the day while I was at work, but she’d be on her own tomorrow evening. As I pulled her to her feet, I changed my mind about going. Disappointing, but there would be other stags.

‘I won’t go tomorrow. If you can’t even get to the loo, you need someone here all the bloody time.’

‘No I don’t. Dec and Amy are seconds away; if I really need a good hoist, they’ll be right over. Honestly, go and enjoy yourself, please, I’ll be absolutely fine.’

I trusted Lau to know a) her own mind and b) her own body. She wasn’t like me, obstinately refusing to admit there was ever anything I needed help with, and she did seem genuinely sure it would be OK. I wanted to go so much, maybe I let myself be swayed by the conviction in her voice. Just to put in some added security, and put my mind at rest, I texted Dec and double-checked he was going to be around tomorrow evening in the event of Lau needed hauling up from her seat or dragging from one room to another. He was fine about it, and I felt easier knowing Lau wasn’t going to be relying on the willing but decidedly less muscly Amy.

Laura

And that was how I managed to find myself, at eleven o’clock the next evening, on my own upstairs, having contractions.

100. Brick house

In which there is architectural love at first sight, and backtracking on long-held beliefs occurs.

Laura

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.

Matt

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.’

‘Hey!’

‘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.

Laura

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.

Matt

I looked at her; she had clasped her belly with both hands.

‘Wha?’

Could have been anything from minor indigestion to major panic, but it didn’t sound like a major panic type of gasp.

Laura

‘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.’

Matt

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.’

‘What of?’

‘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.’

‘Like?’

‘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.

Laura

‘You really should.’

I was incredibly pleased Matt had come to this conclusion without me having to nag him about it.

Matt

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 mate.’

‘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?’

‘Er …’

I could almost hear Dec counting to himself. His mouth would be moving as he did so.

‘Forty seven.’

‘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.’

‘Really? Awesome.’

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.’

‘Cool.’

‘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?’

I nodded.

‘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.

Laura

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.

Matt

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.’

Laura

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.

Matt

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.

Laura

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.

Matt

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.

‘Oh, hey’

‘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.’

Laura

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.

Matt

‘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.’

Laura

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.

Matt

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.’

‘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.’

‘Lau OK?’

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.’

‘Great.’

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.’

‘Thanks, Jay.’

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.’

Laura

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.

Matt

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.’

Laura

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.

Matt

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.

Laura

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.’

Matt

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.

Laura

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.

Matt

‘Wha?’

‘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.

Laura

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.

Matt

‘Matt Scott.’

‘Hi Matt, it’s Carl from Browning’s. How are you?’

‘Good thanks.’

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.

‘Oh, OK.’

‘Yes, the buyer is pretty keen on your property.’

‘Oh.’

Yeah, and?

‘They’re offering the asking price.’

Remember the not believing in ‘meant to be’? Getting harder not to believe.

‘Really?’

‘Yes, they’re pretty keen to complete as soon as possible, assuming you accept.’

‘Whoa.’

‘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.’

‘Yeah, great.’

‘Congratulations, Matt. You’ve got a lovely property there.’

‘Yeah, thanks.’

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.

Laura

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.

Matt

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.

Laura

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.

Matt

‘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.’

‘Who?’

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.’

Laura

‘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.

Matt

Part of me thought she might have got the name wrong on purpose.

‘Glenn Hoddle.’

‘Or him.’

‘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.’

Laura

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?’

Matt

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.’

Laura

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.

Matt

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.

The Philpotts Letters – 2

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

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

Dear Philpottses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your father the freaking freak king

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