The outcome was predictable – both the immediate and eventual fall out. I told Jules, eventually, after a few halting attempts. I couldn’t get the words out, not the ones that were going to make it easier for her to take, and she got pissed off with me, so I just blurted it, ‘I want children’, three words that sliced what we had in two.
Jules got upset, as I expected her to, and then she completely lost it, to a degree that scared me. She started throwing things, while I sat and took it all, the volley of words and more solid missiles. I took the abuse, too shocked to do anything else, thinking that I deserved everything. I expected some of the china to hit me, but she wasn’t aiming at me, she was aiming at the wall, the floor, anywhere where things would smash. I flinched at every crash. I flinched when she called me a lying fucking arsehole, and I flinched when she told me she never wanted to see me again.
When Jules grabbed her bag and headed towards the door, I stood up, finally propelled into something beyond passive acceptance. I didn’t want her to leave, not like this. I thought, once she’d had her say, maybe we could talk, decide what to do next, but if she left, that was it, I knew she wouldn’t come back.
I moved towards Jules, but she hurled the keys that were in her hand towards me, and they hit me in the face. I was more shocked by that than by all of the destruction she had just inflicted. I staggered backwards, and while I was regaining my balance and checking my face for blood, she left, slamming the door behind her; I heard her footsteps running down the stairs, and she was gone.
Arriving at the maternity unit, I parked more carefully this time, and paid at the machine, to avoid another ticket. I raced down the corridor, so eager to see them again. Burst into the room. Amy was in one of the chairs, feeding Charlie, and Diane was in the other chair. Unexpected visitors were going to be one of the many things I was going to have to get used to.
)Hey you. Have you been running?
‘Yeah, just from the car, couldn’t wait to see you. Hi Diane.’
;Hello Declan. Thank you so much for the email, that little video clip was just beautiful. I’ve sent it on to my sister, I hope you don’t mind.
‘No, course not.’
I knelt down by the chair and kissed Amy, for longer than was decent in front of her Puritanical mother, especially with Amy’s delightful chest exposed for feeding purposes. Charlie was otherwise engaged with the delightful chest and not at all interested in anything I had to offer, so I contented myself with stroking her hair.
‘How’s it been? All showered and rested? You look a bit better, babe, have you had a sleep?’
)I had a bit of a doze. Charlie’s been awake most of the time. Don’t think I’m going to sleep properly again for twenty years or so.
‘You and me both, in it together though. Except for the breastfeeding, obviously.’
;Amy, I think I’ll go now. I’ve had a lovely time with you and Charlie this afternoon. I’ll give you a call tomorrow, if I may.
)Call anytime, Mum. Come and see us anytime. You don’t have to ask.
;Alright, thank you.
She stood up, kissed Amy, and left.
‘Wow, two visits in one day. Had she been here long?’
)About half an hour.
‘Did I scare her off?’
)I don’t think so, hon. Whatever you said to her earlier, it did the trick. Things feel better somehow. Thanks Dec. I know you don’t really get on with her, but I think she’s warming up to you.
‘It was Charlie that did it, I just pointed her in the right direction.’
)Well, thanks for pointing. She said she talked to Dad, told him she was coming and he wasn’t stopping her.
‘Wow. Big step. Is she OK?’
)I think so.
‘Think he’ll be in touch?’
)Who knows. Have to wait and see. What have you been up to? Did you go home?
‘Yeah, had a shower, got changed, picked you up some chocolate buttons, got Charlie some clothes.’
)Oh, what did you bring? The ones we packed were too big, she’s completely swamped.
I handed her the bag, and she rummaged in it, pulling out a babygro.
)Oh, well done you, I’d completely forgotten about this one – it’s perfect. Nico and Lis brought loads of lovely stuff, I opened it after you’d all gone, but it’s all a bit big too. They put that little pair of shoes in though, do you remember, when they Skyped? They just fit, they’re so cute. I’ll show you later. You said you had dinner at Jay’s?
‘Yeah, Beth thought I might be lonely. She was right, it was weird being at home without you both. So we made Sunday dinner, all together like we used to, had a bit of a laugh. Matt turned up as well, he wanted a talk – he’s having a bit of a hard time.’
)Oh no. How come?
‘Well … I can’t say too much, you know how he gets if he finds out you’ve talked about him. But I guess I can say it’s about Julia. Might be all about to go belly up. Have to wait and see.’
)Poor Matt. He doesn’t do himself any favours.
‘No. Hopefully he’ll let me know later how things are.’
)Oh, well done, Charlie, is that all finished? Let’s have a huge burp from you then, lady.
‘It must be about the only time girls are actively encouraged to belch. Want me to do it? Good excuse for a cuddle, it’s been hours.’
)Okay, then, here’s a muslin for your shoulder.
)It’s to soak up the sick.
‘There’s going to be sick?’
)Not guaranteed, but likely.
‘How much sick can there be, she’s only tiny.’
)You’d be surprised, hon. Still want to do it?
‘Of course, I want to do it all. Charlie, you and I need some stern words, though. No vomming on my shoulder. End of.’
)Here you go then. Ready for Daddy, gorgeous? Oh, what, Dec, what is it?
I had filled up with tears, as it caught me unawares.
‘I’m her Daddy, aren’t I?’
I hadn’t had a daddy of my own for a long time, but now I was someone’s Daddy, it felt like a broken bit of me just got fixed.
)Yes, you are. Her one and only. Oh Dec, you are completely adorable. Come on, hon, get ready to burp.
I quickly wiped my eyes and held Charlie over my shoulder, jiggling, patting and rubbing as I was instructed. Eventually it had the desired effect, and I moved her down into my arms, where she fell asleep, amazing blue eyes moving beneath tiny eyelids as she dreamed huge dreams. Amy moved her chair close to mine, and cuddled up as close as she could.
)There’s something about a tiny baby in the arms of a muscly man, makes me go weak at the knees.
‘I’d better carry on cuddling then.’
)You better had.
I got into my car and started to drive, but quickly realised that not only could I not really see where I was going, I was not in any fit state to be driving anywhere. I pulled over and abandoned my car in a side street, then started walking. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, but suddenly, with a lurch of recognition, found myself outside the gates to the church, the one with the hidden outdoor room in the graveyard. I stumbled across the cemetery and found my way into the hideaway, where John and Roberta Chartham were crumbled into dust beneath the cold slabs. I curled up on the stone bench, ignoring its hardness and grime, and sobbed.
How could it all be so right one minute and so wrong the next? I tried to think back – had there been any signs, any at all, that Matt thought differently to how I believed he did? I couldn’t think of a single one. How could someone not know something so fundamental about themselves? All that talk, all the times we’d laughed about the fuss they were all making, the things we’d said to each other, our little club of two: united against babies and children – it made a fool of me.
Eventually my tears subsided, and I lay still on the bench, hearing the muted noises around me of the traffic on the High Street, a few birds chirping, planes overhead, wind rustling leaves. I was numb, but I needed to act. I must have grabbed my bag when I left my car, and I found my phone in it. There were a number of missed calls and texts from Matt, but I ignored them and dialled Evie.
‘… Ev …’
I could hardly speak, and my throat closed up as I said her name. She knew instantly something was wrong.
‘What is it? Where are you?’
‘… Matt … he’s … he …’
‘What’s he done? That bastard, are you there? I’ll come over and –’
‘No! I’m not at home.’
‘Where are you then?’
‘It’s difficult to explain.’
‘Tell me Jules. What’s he done?’
‘N … nothing. Not like you think. Oh God Ev, I’ve been such an idiot.’
‘I’m coming to get you. Where are you?’
She was never going to find the hideaway, but I gave her the location of the church, and she said she was coming straight over. I had a little while to compose myself, so I found a tissue and wiped my face, then tried to run my fingers through my hair. It was cold and I didn’t have a jacket with me, but there wasn’t much I could do about that. I made my way to the gate of the cemetery and a few minutes later, Evie’s car pulled up outside. I got in and put my seatbelt on, then I started crying again, before I could say a word to her. She patted my arm, then drove off.
I stood where I was for a long time, staring at the door as if she was going to come back and help me clear up or something, as if she’d just dropped a plate. My head was spinning with it all, and a drop of blood trickled down my face from where the keys had hit me.
I slowly surveyed the mess: coffee splattered up the wall, gouges in the plaster, broken glass and crockery everywhere. All of it screaming ‘I hate you’ at me. Jules hadn’t said that, but she hadn’t needed to. I thought about her driving away in the state she was in, and tried to call her, but her phone went to voicemail.
I couldn’t stay there, in my newly trashed flat, in my newly trashed state. I wasn’t thinking clearly, and I was worried about Jules, so I picked up my car keys and went out. I think, to start with, I was looking for her, maybe worrying that I’d find her in a pile of twisted metal, but my brain stopped working after a while, and I drove around aimlessly, not paying attention to road signs or traffic lights. How I managed not to crash the car, I don’t know.
I drove to a supermarket and sat staring at the almost empty car park, everything whirling around in my head. Most of it was formless thoughts, splashes of self-loathing, wrenches of regret. I had no plan, and it was dark, and I started to get cold.
We passed a large part of the rest of the afternoon looking at Charlie, watching everything she did as if no baby had ever fed, burped, opened or shut her eyes or waved a tiny hand before.
I replied to texts and messages from friends and team mates, took a ton more pictures, sent some from my phone to Beth, Lis and Rose, avoiding Matt. Wondered how he was doing, and if he’d plucked up the courage to talk to Julia.
Beth and Rose texted back, gushing about the pictures, asking when they could come for another visit. After consulting with Amy, we agreed to try to stagger them; Amy had found the morning’s gathering a bit overwhelming, and we thought a couple of people at a time might be more manageable, especially as some of Amy’s friends were coming as well.
I was still crying when I sat down on Evie’s old, comfortable, smelly leather sofa and she pushed a glass of wine into my hand. I looked up at her, trying to wipe my eyes and pull myself together as she sat down and put an arm round my shoulders.
‘It’s alright, Jules, have a good weep, get it out of your system. Then tell me.’
Eventually I sniffed to a halt, and I blew my nose noisily on a tissue. I hadn’t cried for a long time, and it was making me feel sick.
‘It’s alright, I think I can speak now.’
‘Well take your time, my lovely. What’s the bastard done? It’s only five minutes ago you were telling me how perfect he is.’
‘I know. I think … maybe that’s made it worse. He hasn’t done anything, nothing like you might have expected from him. He told me … when I got home, he was waiting to talk to me, he looked awful, like he was ill or something. I thought his MS was back … oh shit … I shouldn’t have …’
‘Jules, slow down, my lovely, deep breaths. You’re not making any sense. Matt’s got MS?’
‘No one knows. I shouldn’t have said anything. You can’t tell anyone.’
‘Who am I going to tell? OK, I’m not sure he deserves any loyalty but I suppose people’s medical information is their own. Is that what he wanted to tell you?’
‘No. I thought he was going to tell me it had come back. But that wasn’t it. He rambled on for a bit, trying to say it, then just came out with it. He wants children.’
‘A family, the whole thing. His friend’s just had a baby, he went to see them this morning, and came back needing parenthood. I just don’t get it. We’ve talked about it so much, laughed about people and their babies, made jokes about his family and their obsession with children and large get-togethers. How can he change so much in so little time?’
‘Oh Jules. It’s a bit of a no-no for you, isn’t it.’
‘I can’t do it. I won’t do it. He knows that. I think he knew it would be the end, he must have just wanted it more than he wants us.’
As I realised this, I started to cry again.
‘Oh Jules. He’s broken your heart. I know you said you don’t love him, but –’
‘I don’t. He doesn’t love me, it’s not how either of us do things.’
‘But honestly, I don’t think you’d be this upset if you didn’t. You’re so practical, you’ve walked away before when things were turning out differently than you wanted, and hardly batted an eyelid. I think he might have slipped in under your radar.’
‘I don’t believe in love.’
Evie smiled to herself, trying to hide it.
‘Oh my lovely, just because you don’t believe in it doesn’t mean it isn’t going to sneak up on you when you’re not looking. You moved in with him. You changed him. You’re breaking your heart over him. He’s not worth it, but I think you need to be honest with yourself about it.’
I stayed silent. I wasn’t going to argue with Evie, who was a lost cause when it came to romance. Love was something invented by people, to give them a reason to do ridiculous things. I really, really liked Matt. In a way he was a best friend, someone I’d thought I was so compatible with.
‘OK then Jules, I can see we’re not going to have this particular discussion, and I think you need more wine rather than more talk.’
She got up and poured a glass as she was talking.
‘You’re staying here tonight, then we can think about what you need to do, when you’re feeling more up to it.’
‘I haven’t got any of my stuff, no clothes, no toothbrush.’
‘Do you want me to go and fetch something?’
I thought about it. I couldn’t bear to think about Evie going to the apartment and confronting Matt. I shook my head.
‘OK, my clothes might be a bit big, but you can just borrow my stuff until we’ve thought about what to do.’
My phone rang again, Matt’s ringtone. I ignored it, and turned the phone to silent, so I wouldn’t have to know every time he tried to call me.
‘Jules, can I just ask you one thing? It’s a tricky one, you don’t have to answer me, but maybe just think about it. Are you absolutely one hundred per cent sure that you couldn’t do what Matt wants and have a family with him? Hold on –’
Evie had seen the look on my face.
‘– I’m only asking because you need to be sure, so you don’t regret it later. I know you know your own mind, more so than anyone else, but just please, be so, so sure before you do anything final.’
I understood what she was saying, but I was sure, I had always been sure, I would always be sure. To me, a baby would completely ruin my life. I knew it with the same certainty that some women knew a baby would make their life complete. If that was what Matt wanted, we were heading in different directions, and regardless of whether we ended it now or limped along for another few months or years trying to ignore it, we would eventually go our separate ways. This resolved itself in my mind with a clarity that was almost painful as I considered Evie’s words.
‘Ev, I understand what you’re saying, but I’m sure. It’s over. It can’t ever work, and it’s better to end it now. It just hurts because I invested so much in it, I got carried away, I was enjoying myself. I don’t know why I let him get to me.’
And so I started to rebuild my icy fortress around me, shoring up my defences to make sure nobody ever got in again and hurt me the way Matt had. Evie noticed the change in me.
‘Oh Jules, don’t go there, let yourself be sad before you lock it all away.’
‘I don’t need to be sad, I need to be sorted. I’ve got to go to work tomorrow, I’ll have to face him, I need to think about what I’m going to do now. I haven’t got anywhere to live for a start.’
‘Stay here as long as you need, my lovely, but Jules, I really don’t think you should go to work. You need some time to get over this, even a day or two just to recover.’
‘No, I need to get back to normal. Thanks, though, I would appreciate your spare room for a few days.’
‘Consider it done. Wine and chat on tap for as long as you need.’
I smiled at her and took a deep, shuddering breath.
‘How about trashy TV, dinner, a bath and an early night?’
‘Thanks, Ev, it sounds perfect.’
She turned her television on, and I sat blankly in front of banality while my head whirred away. I hardly noticed when she put a plate of food in front of me, and didn’t eat much of it.
I started the car up and drove, out of the city and onto the motorway, putting my foot down and turning the music up, trying to shake myself out of the trance I seemed to be in, but it didn’t work, and I soon realised I wasn’t safe driving at speed on a busy road, so I turned round and headed back. But not home, I couldn’t face being there, and after a while, I was just driving in circles, unable to find somewhere else to go.
Visiting time finished at eight in the evening, and I was going to have to go home then too, although I would be coming back first thing to take them both home, something I couldn’t wait for – my family all together in our home.
I wasn’t really looking forward to spending the night in our empty flat, but was starting to feel the effects of my all-nighter, and suspected I’d sleep pretty much straight through. The same could not be said for Amy – Charlie had been so good in the morning, passed from person to person without a murmur, but she’d been a bit fretful this afternoon; who knew if it would continue. We were both going to have to get used to snatching sleep when we could and I guiltily anticipated my last peaceful night for some time.
The afternoon and evening wore on in a haze of Charlie. Beth and Rose and Amy’s friends came, cooed, went. Amy ate and fed. We both dozed a bit. I sat and adored both of them when I was awake.
I don’t remember where I went, but I kept passing the hospital, and a few hours and half a tank of diesel later, I pulled into the car park to the maternity unit. Dec and Amy would be there with Charlie, and they had something I wanted. I just … oh I don’t know. If I’d had a brain cell left I wouldn’t have gone there, not on that day, when they should just be getting on with being happy, but the part of me that had responded to Charlie that morning was the part of me that dragged me in there, no clear thought about it. As soon as I got there, I realised I shouldn’t have gone, but it was too late, Dec had seen the state I was in, and there I was, intruding on their time.
I was just beginning to think about getting ready to start to prepare to consider saying goodbye for the night, when the door opened. It was Matt. He looked terrible – pale and haggard. His eyes were red and watery, as if he had been crying. He had a cut and a bruise on his cheek.
‘Shit, Matt. What the fuck’s happened? Come in, sit down.’
}No, I don’t want to intrude. I just … fuck it, I’m sorry, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing here.
He turned round and walked out, but I ran after him. Grabbed his arm, turned him round, started to walk back towards the room, where I could take care of him.
‘Matt, come back, sit down. You look fucking awful. Shit, you’re shaking.’
Looking dazed, Matt let me lead him back to the room, where Amy was sitting in one of the chairs, holding Charlie. I sat Matt down in the other chair and perched on the edge of the bed, facing him. As he leaned forwards and put his face in his hands, a few sobs escaped from him. He rubbed his face with his hands and looked up.
}Amy, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come. I’ve just been driving round and round, for hours, ended up here. Sorry.
}Well I guess Dec’s told you about our heart to heart this afternoon?
)He didn’t tell me much, just said he thought something was up with you and Julia.
Matt looked at me, more tears in his eyes.
}You are the soul of discretion. Did you say anything to Jay or Beth?
‘Not a lot. Think you should tell them, though. They know something’s wrong and they’re worried.’
Matt shook his head, although it was at himself, not at what I had said.
}Don’t deserve you, mate.
‘Stop that now. I take it things didn’t go well with Julia?’
}You could say that. She’s gone, goes without saying really. Called me all the names under the sun, and I know a fair few. Don’t blame her at all, I’d have done the same in her position. Fuck, what a mess. I’m a mess, a complete fuck up.
Amy was looking confused, concerned, upset. She raised her eyebrows at me, put a hand on Matt’s arm.
}Sorry, Amy, you’re probably wondering what the fuck I’m rambling on about, if Dec hasn’t told you anything. I … Jules and me just … when I …
More tears rolled down his face. He looked completely miserable, and couldn’t find the words to explain what had happened.
‘Matt, visiting hours are nearly over. Why don’t you come home with me, tell me about it properly?’
Matt looked up, grateful. He nodded. Wiped his eyes.
}Thanks, Dec. That’d be great. You sure? Is there a bathroom round here? Need to wash my face. Fill Amy in, mate.
I sent him down the corridor to the bathroom. Amy looked at me wide-eyed.
)I’ve never seen him like that. Is he going to be OK?
‘I hope so. He does have his dark times. Hope this doesn’t set him off.’
)I’m really worried about him. What’s happened?
I knew I didn’t have long before Matt got back from the bathroom, so I was going to have to be quick if I was going to give Amy enough information to stop her worrying.
‘OK, headlines. Matt had some kind of light bulb moment seeing Charlie this morning – realised he wants a family. Him and Julia just moved in together, without telling any of us.
)Really? A bit more than sleepovers then.
‘Apparently they were more serious than we thought. But Julia very definitely does not want children, and he’s just told her he does. Didn’t go well by the looks of it.’
)Matt wants children?
‘So he says.’
)What do you think happened to his face? You don’t think Julia did it?
‘I can’t imagine it, but maybe. I’ll try to get him to tell me later.’
)Oh poor Matt. No wonder he’s in bits.
‘Yeah, it’s tough on him. I’ll take him back to our place, get him to eat something, get him to talk. Might get him to stay the night. Oh babe, don’t look so worried. He’ll sort it out.’
My phone rang. I fished it out of my pocket. Jay.
łDec, do you know where Matty is? We can’t reach him, he’s not answering his home phone or his mobile.
‘He’s here, with me and Amy.’
Jay breathed out, relieved.
łJesus, we were really worried. Is he OK?
‘Not really, not at the moment.’
łTell me what’s going on. Beth said you wouldn’t tell her anything when she was there.
‘I’ll get him to ring you. He’s coming back to ours in a bit. I’ll get him to ring, I promise.’
łWhy won’t you say? Is it something bad?
‘It’s something that should come from him, not me. You know that, Jay. He’ll go mad if I tell you his shit, he’ll go off on one and then I won’t be able to get him to talk to me about it. I’ll get him to ring you. I’m with him. He’ll be OK. Trust me.’
I hated this feeling of being in the middle of Jay and Matt. A long time ago I’d promised Jay I’d always talk to him, and I’d stuck to that for me – it had become my way of life. But the same wasn’t true of Matt, who hated people knowing things about him that he hadn’t told them, and this wasn’t mine to tell. It created a tension that pulled me from both sides.
łJesus, I’d forgotten what a stubborn fucking bastard you can be.
‘You know I’d tell you if there was something you needed to know, right?’
łOh I suppose so. I’ll just have to wait then. Make sure he rings.
łAre you sure you’re OK to do this today?
‘It’s fine, no worries.’
As I disconnected, Matt came back into the room. I handed him my car keys.
‘Go and wait in the car, it’s right by the door. You can pick yours up tomorrow, I don’t think you should be driving. I’ll be there in a minute.’
}OK. Thanks. Amy, sorry again to barge in. Can I just have a quick look at Charlie?
)Here, have a cuddle, looks like you need it.
Amy passed Charlie over to Matt. He held my daughter close and looked into her eyes, while I looked at my girlfriend and silently thanked her for being so amazing with my fuck-up of a best friend.
}Hey, beautiful. It’s your old Uncle Matty here. You have no idea how much trouble you’ve caused me so far in your short life. Keep it up, girl, keep me on my toes.
Charlie stretched out a hand, and Matt put his finger inside the curl of her palm. She clasped his finger; he gasped. Eyes filled again.
}You are one seriously hot babe, Charlotte Lucy Summers-Wright.
He kissed her forehead, started to hand her back to Amy.
‘Hold on, the old man needs to say goodnight.’
I took Charlie from Matt.
}I’ll be in the car, then. Bye Amy. Sorry.
)Don’t be daft, Matt. See you soon.
He walked from the room as I looked at Amy.
‘Thanks for being so great, I’m sure that’s the last thing you needed.’
)Dec, don’t be silly. He never asks for help. When he does, we have to be there for him.
‘Thanks, babe, you’re amazing. Hey, Charlie, have a good sleep for Mummy, won’t you. She likes breakfasts in beds, so if you could just sort that as well, you’d make her very happy.’
)You silly sod. Give her here, give me a big kiss, and go home. Don’t leave Matt in the car. Come and get me tomorrow. Don’t forget.
I did as I was told, lingering as long as I could over kisses and cuddles. It wasn’t quite as hard to leave this time, but it was close. I blew kisses from the door, then jogged down the corridor to the main entrance and the car. Matt was in the passenger seat, hunched over, looking sad. I got in, started the car and drove us home.
It still felt weird being at home without them. Like everything was on hold, waiting.
I installed Matt on the sofa, opened him a beer and made myself a strong coffee. I hadn’t had any proper sleep since yesterday morning, and I was starting to flag, although luckily there was no training tomorrow, just match reviews, and the individual ones would be first, for players involved in the game. I could go in later for the team review and get up to speed with Saturday’s game, then spend the rest of the day with Amy and Charlie.
Matt sat staring at the floor, holding the bottle of beer but not drinking it. I needed to get him talking, before he clammed up.
‘Do you want to talk about it, or do you want me to leave you alone?’
He looked up.
}Fuck me, Dec, your technique’s changed. I didn’t used to get a choice.
‘I didn’t mean I was going to sod off and leave you to it, you don’t get off that lightly. I meant, I suppose, take your time. Maybe I should have said, do you want to talk about it now or in a bit? That’s your choice.’
}What’s the point in waiting? It’s not going to get any better, is it. I’d rather just ignore it all and go to bed for a few months, but I don’t suppose that would be permitted by all and sundry. Saint bloody Declan fucking Summers would be there nagging me every time I closed my fucking eyes.
‘You said it. You know this shit doesn’t work, Matt. You’re not scaring me off, or pissing me off, or offending me, none of that will work, so just give up and tell me about it.’
}Sorry. Old habits. Shit, I’m such a fucking idiot, how did I get myself in this mess? I should have known it would end up completely fucked up. I should just stay away from people, everything I touch turns to shit.
‘Blah blah everyone’s too good to me, blah blah I don’t deserve it, blah blah why doesn’t everyone do me a favour and leave me to it blah blah blah.’
Matt looked at me, eyes narrowed. This was a well-trodden path between us, and he needed to know that he could count on the familiarity of it all, but I didn’t have the time or the energy to do it the long way. I was going to be asleep before too long, even though Matt could usually go all night.
‘Just saving you some time, you were winding yourself up to it. OK, we both know the routine, you feel sorry for yourself, you talk a load of bollocks, I tell you it’s a load of bollocks, I persuade you you’re actually a good bloke and we all love you. Can we just agree that’s how it was going to go, and skip to the end, where you actually tell me all about it? I’m too tired to fuck about.’
Matt continued to look at me, a slightly stunned look on his face.
}Fair enough. Bloody hell, Dec, what is this, speed counselling?
‘I’m not your counsellor, I’m your mate. You’re having a shit time and I’m trying to help you. Drink your beer, it’ll help you relax and talk to me.’
He took several gulps, possibly shocked into doing what he was told without arguing about it for one of the first times in his life.
}So when you said do you want to talk about it now or in a bit, you really meant now or … now?
‘I guess I did. Sorry I wasn’t more specific.’
}Where do you want me to start?
‘That’s up to you, it’s your shit.’
}Oh, I have some choice left then.
I was trying to make him fight me. If Matt got quiet and maudlin, I’d never get anything out of him. If I kept his attention by mixing things up a bit, and kept him talking, eventually he’d say whatever it was he needed to say.
‘As long as you talk. Tell me what happened with Julia?’
I thought I’d miscalculated for a minute, jumped in too soon. His face closed up, and he was silent for a while. Then he took a deep breath and started talking.
So I told him the sorry tale, what I could recall with any clarity. Dec listened without speaking, nodding, sipping his water, as I recounted how I’d waited, talked myself in and out of facing Jules, what had happened when she got home and I blurted it all out, how she trashed the place like I’d trashed her life, and how I’d driven around in some kind of fugue state until I’d rocked up to the Summers-Wright birthing suite to spoil their evening. As I talked I felt detached from it all, as if I had to maintain some distance from the content of the words I was saying to avoid the emotion they held, but the enormity of it all eventually forced its way through.
‘I feel like I’m going mad. I keep thinking about it, my head feels like it’s twice its normal size with all the weird shit that’s inside. I’ve really fucked up, haven’t I?
‘Matt, you told her the truth. Really fucking up would have been to carry on pretending, not saying anything. It took a lot of guts to tell her.’
}But she’s right, I’ve lied to her, ruined a year of her life –
‘Whoa, hold, on, what was ruined about it? You’ve both enjoyed being together, it doesn’t sound to me like she was on some search for the guy of her dreams to settle down with. She’s bound to say something like that, she’s hurt and she wants to hurt you back. You could just look at it like, we had a good time, it didn’t work out, it’s time to move on. Maybe the timing wasn’t perfect. And you haven’t really lied to her, you said yourself you’ve only just worked it out. You told her practically straight away.’
}But what’s to stop me from doing it again with someone else? I’ve been a right bastard over the years, haven’t I? Shit, I’ve just done to her what I’ve been terrified of some woman doing to me all this time. I have no clue what’s going on in my head. That shit with Carrie must have fucked with me even more than I thought.
It was the second time today that Matt had mentioned Carrie, his ex-girlfriend from Stafford who had left him when he got MS, lied to his friends about it and stolen all his possessions. He never talked about her. Ever. It felt like she was spilling into his life; I didn’t know her, had never talked to Matt about her, and didn’t know how to begin helping him with this. But I knew someone who did.
‘You know what, when the past starts interfering with the present, it might be time to get some proper help.’
Matt was silent for a moment, frowning.
}What, you mean Adam type proper help?
‘That’s what I mean. Someone who can help you sort through it all, work out why you keep doing stuff, how to stop yourself. I can’t do it, Jay can’t do it, we can only be here to pick you up afterwards. And we will, as often as you need it. But it won’t stop until you really sort it out.’
Matt shook his head.
}Don’t think I could, all that telling some stranger my deep dark secrets. It’s alright for you, you’re OK now, I can hardly remember what a fucking nutter you were back when I used to call you a fucking nutter and almost mean it.
‘I still see Adam.’
Matt looked up in surprise.
}Really? But you’re so … sorted.
‘Every few months. I need it. Some stuff doesn’t go away, and especially after that time on the beach, I need to make sure I keep myself OK. It really isn’t like you think. You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to, but you end up wanting to. And it’s not all raking up the past. A lot of it, especially now, for me, is about the present and the future.
}I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s for me. I can’t really do all the getting emotional stuff. Crying and shit. I mean, yeah, says the arse who’s been a gibbering wreck all evening, but that’s with you, you’re my mate and my family, you’ve pretty much been there, seen it all, done it all, you know me, you get it. But not someone I don’t know.
‘It doesn’t have to be like that. It’s just talking. Yeah, things can get emotional, but it all stays in the room. Instead of wandering around feeling out of control, worrying you’re going to lose it any second, you find ways to deal with it.’
}I don’t know, Dec. I don’t think so.
‘Up to you. Just a thought. Do you want a sandwich? I’m starving.’
}Wow, way to change the subject, mate. Actually, a sandwich sounds bloody marvellous. I have no clue what the time is, I haven’t eaten since Jay’s.
‘Talking of which, Jay has been trying to call you. I said you’d ring him, let him know what’s going on. They’re really worried about you.’
}Oh shit, I’d better call him before he goes all big brother on me. I turned my phone off.
I went into the kitchen to make some sandwiches, as well as to give Matt a bit of space. I could hear him talking to Jay, explaining briefly what had happened. He left a lot out, but probably said enough to stop Jay and Beth worrying all night. Then I heard him make another call.
A while later, Evie ran me a bath, handed me a spare towel and pointed out the guest toiletries, then closed the door behind her as she left me to it. Soaking in the hot bubbles, I found myself wondering what Matt was doing, then felt my rising hurt and anger as I imagined a Scott family gathering, Matt holding the new baby, tears of happiness in his eyes. I realised I was being melodramatic, and quickly reined in my thoughts, trying to relax instead. It was nearly impossible; everything I thought about brought me back to Matt, what we’d had, what we suddenly no longer had, things he’d said, things we’d done together, things we’d laughed about, places we’d been to. It all played over in my head and gave me no peace, mocking me. I lay in the bath for as long as I could, trying to collect my thoughts, but eventually I needed to act. I got out, dried myself and dressed, and rejoined Evie in the lounge.
‘Yes thank you. Very cleansing.’
‘How are you feeling?’
‘Purposeful. I need to do something, I’m just not sure what.’
‘Don’t do anything hasty.’
To try to focus my mind, I took my phone out of my bag, to look up flats for rent on the internet. The screen was silently announcing another call from Matt. I pressed the button. Maybe I could just talk to him and tell him to stop.
‘Hey Jules, it’s me.’
Hearing his voice nearly undid all the careful shoring of defences I’d been constructing over the last few hours. I needed to be strong.
‘I don’t want to talk to you.’
‘Yeah, I know, no please wait, just … I just wanted to check you’re OK.’
‘You’ve just turned my life upside down, you don’t really think I’d be OK, do you?’
‘No, I don’t … I was worried about you driving off like that.’
‘You no longer have the right to worry about me.’
‘No, fuck, I know I don’t … where are you?’
‘Or the right to know where I am.’
‘OK, no, fair enough … I’m so sorry, Jules, I –’
‘Just fuck off, Matt.’
I disconnected as he started to apologise, unable to face hearing either an apology or an explanation. If I listened to his voice for too much longer I would remember how it felt when he whispered in my ear, and then I would remember how it felt when he kissed my neck, and then I would remember how it was to be in his arms, to be in his bed, to be in his life, and then I would remember that it was all gone. So I disconnected before that happened and made myself think about what I had to do next.
He started crying. I went back into the living room, put the sandwiches and another beer on the table.
‘Is she OK?’
Matt nodded, sniffed, wiped his eyes.
}Well, OK as in didn’t crash her car. She told me to fuck off. She wouldn’t tell me where she was, hung up on me. Don’t know what else I expected. Fuck, it’s hard, when you know someone so well, and one day you’re with them and the next you’ve fucked it all up and you’re not. I can’t get my head round it. I can’t just bloody stop caring about her.
‘Give yourself time to sort it all out in your head. It’s been a shit day for you. You need time to get it all straight. It doesn’t hurt to think about stuff, just as long as you keep some perspective and don’t blame yourself for everything. Eat your sandwich, it took me bloody ages to make that.’
}Yeah, I can see how pulling some ham out of a plastic packet and bunging it between two slices of bread would stretch your culinary skills. Haven’t you got any mustard, or pickle, or anything?
I gestured to the kitchen; I had known that a slice of ham in some bread would stimulate Matt’s need to create a sandwich masterpiece.
‘Be my guest. You know I’m useless at all that. I can do ham and bread. Might chuck in a bit of buttery spread if you’re lucky. That’s your lot.’
Matt wandered into the kitchen, taking the sandwiches with him. I heard him opening cupboards, getting things out of the fridge. My phone pinged in my pocket, and I fished it out smiling to myself as I saw it was a text from Amy, with a picture of Charlie looking straight at the camera.
Amy: =Hi Daddy n Unca Matty. I can’t wait 2 come home. I hope the sofa doesn’t smell of Unca Matty’s socks. Love Charlie xx
Me: =Hi Charlie, I’m impressed with yr txt skills. Can’t promise abt the sofa, u know Unca Matty. Look fwd 2 showing u yr home 2moro. I ❤ u n Mummy so much, lovely girl. Daddy xx
I took the phone into the kitchen to show Matt the text. He seemed to have taken every jar and bottle we possessed out of the cupboards and fridge, and was piling their contents precariously between two slices of bread.
‘Holy shit, Matt, are you making a sandwich or a bloody work of art?’
}I think I might have got carried away. You’ve got some good stuff in your cupboards, shame most of it hasn’t seen the light of day for several centuries. All this stuff is months out of date. And it’s all been opened and hardly used.
He gestured to several bottles and jars.
‘Not my province, Amy organises the shopping and the cooking. Yell at her.’
}I think you might be getting a little bit more involved in the domestic arrangements from now on, mate.
‘You could be right. Hey, we’ve had a text.’
I showed Matt the picture.
}Ha ha, bloody cheeky brat, how does Charlie know about my socks?
‘Mate, everyone knows about your socks. Day old babies, creatures a hundred miles under the sea, aliens from planets twenty million light years away. They all know about your socks. They show up on intergalactic hazard warnings.’
}Do you want to eat this sandwich, or would you like it shoved up your arse?
‘Evie, do you know anyone with a van?’
‘Er … I think Julian’s brother might have a van. What are you thinking?’
‘I want to go and get my things tomorrow, move it all out of there and into the storage unit.’
‘Oh Jules, that’s a big thing, take some time.’
‘No. I want to get it over with, have it all done, finished. Can you call him?’
So Evie called Julian’s brother, who had a van and who was willing to help me move all my things out of Matt’s flat and into storage. He could do it tomorrow morning. I called Phil and told him I needed to take some personal time tomorrow, but should be in by lunchtime. He made some comment about ‘trouble in paradise’ that made me wonder if Matt had already contacted him, but I didn’t want to discuss it, so left it. As I disconnected from Phil, I remembered that I no longer had the keys to the apartment, as I had thrown them at Matt. I was going to have to call him. I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath and called.
He sounded hopeful and wary.
‘I want to come and get my things tomorrow morning.’
There was a long silence.
‘I’ve arranged for a van to be there before work tomorrow.’
‘Yeah, that’s fine.’
He sounded like he was trying to be distant and indifferent, but it wasn’t really working, as his voice was trembling.
‘I can’t get in, I haven’t got my keys.’
‘No, I remember …’
There was another pause.
‘… I’m not working tomorrow, I can let you in.’
‘I’d rather you weren’t there while I am.’
There was a sigh.
‘No, that’s fine, I won’t hang around.’
‘I’ll leave a cheque for the rent I owe.’
Another sigh, while he tried to decide whether to argue about it or not.
‘OK, if that’s what you want. Jules, are you OK?’
I disconnected. I didn’t want to talk to him about how I was feeling, I didn’t want him to care about me. He had just ripped my life apart and I wanted to hate him. Wanted to, but couldn’t. I finished a glass of wine with Evie, then went to bed where I stared at the darkness all night until it was time to get up.