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.’
To Matt and Laura Scott
Twins, Ella and Josh
with all our love from
Jay, Beth, Cal and Iz,
Dec, Amy, Charlie and Tom,
Nico, Lis and Bastien
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
‘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?’
‘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.
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.’
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.
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?’
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.
Tiring little tykes though they were, they were so awesome, and they were my world. I realised Lau was looking at me.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?’
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.
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.
‘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.’
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.’
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.
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?’
Again the mild inquiry that hid a stopped heart.
‘Oh, I told them I wasn’t interested –’
I breathed what I hoped was a subtle sigh of huge relief,
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.’
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.
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 –’
‘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 –
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.
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?’
‘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.’
‘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?
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.’
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.’
‘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.
‘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.
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?’
‘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.
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 …
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.’
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.
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. 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.
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.
I nudged him with my elbow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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?’
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.