My phone pinged with a text, at the same time as Lau’s. They were both from Beth, the same question.
‘Any news from the scan? Waiting …’
‘She can wait. We’ll surprise her, jus go roun unannounced. Oh, unless … do you want tuh jus be somewhere quiet, take it all in, have a think?’
I smiled up at Matt. I loved that he was thinking about what I wanted, but I was as excited as he was, although maybe a little less eager to score points over the rest of the family. Oh who was I kidding, surprising Beth was major, and it didn’t happen very often, it was as good a reason as any.
‘No. I want to tell people, I think saying it, showing them the pictures, helps make it more real, stops the freaking. Come on, back in the car, Beth first, then our mums. Then Amy. I’m going to text the girls at work.’
‘I wana text Dec, I’m so gona love this, I beat him hands down. Twins, hah! Oh, but then he might text Beth, spoil it. Oh bollocks, though, if we wait until after we’ve seen Beth, she’ll text him and spoil it.’
Tying myself up in knots about who to text and what to say was way more fun than tangling myself in fight or flight running under a bus on the way to Brazil.
‘Ask him not to say anything?’
‘Huh, yeah right, tha’s asking for it, he won’t be able to resist.’
‘Say I’ve asked.’
‘Ooh, you’re an evil cow. Tha migh just work. On it.’
Dec may possibly do the opposite of what I asked, just for the hell of it, but he didn’t know Lau well enough yet for that. I sent a text.
‘Just had scan. Due Julyish. Oh, and it’s a they. Twins. Lau says pls don’t tell Beth until we do.’
‘Sent. Right, leh’s get round to Beth before Dec crumbles.’
We stood on the doorstep, arms round each other, giggling, the whole situation suddenly seeming very funny. Beth’s car on the drive told us she was in, and as an added bonus, Lis’s car was outside on the road. The door opened, revealing Iz and moments later, Beth.
‘Iz, sweetheart, what have I told you about not opening – oh! Matty, Laura, hello! Come in, how was Paris? Have you just had the scan? How are you both? Lis is here, come and tell us everything.’
Iz held her arms up to Matt, who scooped her up and planted a big kiss on her cheek. She solemnly wiped her face with the back of her hand.
‘Hey beautiful. Not so keen on the sloppy kisses?’
Iz shook her head.
‘Sorry, blondie. Come on, leh’s go an sit down. We’ve got some news for your mum.’
Beth turned and looked at us, talking as we walked into the living room and sat down.
I jumped in as I saw Lau open her mouth to reply; I knew how long I wanted to string Beth along, and Lau was shit at playing games of any sort. She was likely to blurt it within seconds.
‘End of Julyish.’
‘Oh, that’s not very exact.’
‘No, well, there were some complicating factors, eh Lau.’
Lau nodded, keeping schtum, just for me.
‘Well are you going to tell me, or shall we play twenty questions?’
Yeah, at least twenty, if at all possible.
‘Ha ha, Beth, I love ih when I irritate yuh. Guess if you wan.’
‘Can I have a go?’
Lis was always up for joining in the fun, although she wasn’t as entertaining, as she didn’t get annoyed with me.
‘Yeh, Lis, write your guess on a piece of paper an if you’re correct yuh get a prize. Basty provides it, a full stinky nappy, jus for you.’
‘Gee thanks, really makes it worth my while. I can get one of those free any time I like without any effort at all.’
Beth was losing patience.
‘Laura, you’re being very quiet, is everything alright, sweetheart?’
Beth had gone in for the kill. She knew as well as I did that Lau couldn’t avoid a direct question.
I nodded. ‘Matt wanted to have his fun. I’ll give you a clue.’
No Lau, don’t do it.
‘Holy shit, Beth, how the fuck do you do it?’
‘Matty! Honestly. You really are going to have to tone down your language. If you won’t do it for us, at least do it for your own.’
‘Sorry, Beth, buh Lau didn’t even say anything. I know she’s usually bloody useless at giving cryptic clues –’
‘– but she didn’t have a chance to give anything away.’
‘She said ‘they’re’. As in they are, as in more than one.’
‘I said ‘there’ as in, er, ‘there might be …’, as in yes, you’re right, it’s twins.’
Lau caved, as I knew she would, and Beth looked triumphantly at me while Lis squealed, making Bastien jump and starting him off wailing. Iz ran in to see what the noise was about.
‘I know, sweetheart, he’s alright, he’ll go back to sleep in a minute.’
‘Or maybe not. Iz, it’s time for Basty’s lunch, come and help me feed him, yeah?’
Iz nodded, and followed Lis to the kitchen.
Beth looked at Lau, melting.
‘Two at once, sweetheart. Wow.’
‘I know. Talk about life-changing.’
‘You two don’t know the meaning of the words ‘taking it slowly’ do you?’
‘Ha ha, noh, we’re full-on hundred miles an hour people. Matt and Lau, don’t even know where the brake pedal is. Next item on the madness agenda, finding a fucking house big enough for a family of four.’
Beth frowned at the ‘fucking’, but as there were no small children within earshot, let it pass.
‘God, Matty, a family of four. You’ve caught up with me and James in one leap.’
And that was it in a nutshell. Not that it was a competition, because as I’m sure you will be aware, I am not competitive in the slightest. But, oh, to have achieved everything I wanted, had yearned for, in a way, over the last year, in the space of less than a fortnight, and that I could now consider myself equal to Jay in the family department, well, it meant a lot. And it was typical of Beth to know just how important it was, without me ever having said anything to her.
‘Have you told James yet?’
‘No, he’s at work, isn’t he? I texted Dec, but I guess he’s still training too.’
‘James will be back in a while, it was just a morning session today. How about Amy?’
‘Thought we’d pop roun an see them in a bit, after the mums, buh I think Lau texted her in the car?’
Lau nodded. ‘She hasn’t replied yet, though. I expect she’s got enough on her mind at the moment.’
‘Yes, you could be right. You heard about the panic over the weekend?’
‘Yeah, Dec said Braxton-Hicks or something.’
Beth smiled, and looked at me soppily.
‘Oh Matty, look at you, knowing all the technical terms like an old pro. I’m so pleased for you, sweetheart.’
She sat back and looked at us both.
‘You know, I’m so lucky. After Iz, that was it, no more for me,’
I was aware of some kind of gynaecological shit going down after Iz was born, but not the details. I guess Beth was happy with her family but might have liked more.
‘But the babies just keep coming, first Charlie, then Basty, now three more. Sometimes this family is a lot to cope with, eh Matty, but there’s never a dull moment, and the children keep us young. Or very, very old, one or the other.’
‘Yeah. You’re gona be Aunty Beth now.’
She already was, in a way, to Charlie, although what kind of random pseudo relation you’d actually call her – granny? If I was feeling particularly mean, then yeah. But this was bona fide Aunty territory, and she swelled up a bit with pride.
‘Oh Matty, I am, aren’t I. Well, I know I already am with my sister’s children, but I’ll be a very proud aunty of these two. A special privilege.’
Iz chose that moment to run back into the room breathlessly announcing,
‘Basty did a big sick. It in Lis’s hair, Mummy.’
‘Oh God. Coming, Lis.’
Beth got up and hurried to the kitchen, while Iz stood next to me, twirling a golden curl round a finger, looking at me from underneath her eyelashes. I put an arm round her and pulled her close.
‘Hey blondie. Know what? Me and Lau jus went all the way tuh France an we brought you something. It’s in Lau’s bag.’
I belatedly remembered the doll I had tucked in a pocket of my handbag. Iz looked at me shyly. She wasn’t usually shy, and had no qualms about asking for something she wanted; today she was playing the coy-but-cute card.
‘Yeah Iz, it’s in here somewhere. Come and help me find it.’
I pulled my bag onto my lap and Iz skipped over to begin digging into the different pockets. It was a game we played a lot, with my huge bag with it’s many flaps and zips. I knew exactly where the present was, and kept Iz away from it until the last minute. When her hand found the packet, she looked up at me, and I nodded.
‘You found it, flower, well done. Have a look inside.’
Iz unwrapped the bag and took out the doll, which was a small cloth man wearing a beret and striped Breton shirt, with a string of onions round his neck. He was a model cliché. Iz seemed less than impressed; she might have preferred pink and fairy wings, or maybe the bride and groom figures from the wedding cake that I’d promised her but forgotten to bring with me.
‘Do yuh like him, Iz? He’s Pierre.’
Iz nodded, not particularly convincingly, picked the doll up and sped out of the room while we laughed.
‘Well that could have gone down better.’
‘Ungrateful brat. See if weh bring her anything back next time we’re on holiday.’
We heard a key in the door, and a moment later, Jay walked in.
‘Hey Matty, thought I saw your car outside. Hey Laura –’
He bent down to kiss her cheek.
‘– how was Paris?’
‘Wonderful. Thanks Jay, it really was fantastic. We’ll bore you with the pictures later.’
‘Look forward to it. Hotel OK?’
Jay was fishing for thanks, and although I wasn’t disinclined to thank him, he wasn’t going to be allowed to bask.
‘Hotel was bloody awesome. View of the Eiffel Tower from the balcony, hundreds of Euros of room service racked up tuh your credit card, we hardly left the room.’
Jay went a bit pale.
‘Seriously? You didn’t go out at all?’
I knew the stingy git in him would baulk a bit at that.
‘Noh need, we had everything on tap, all our meals sent up, breakfast, drinks from the mini-bar, views when weh wanted. We were on our honeymoon, kind of expected ihnt it? Oh, did jus go out long enough tuh get you this – Lau?’
Lau rummaged in her bag and found a small, tacky, plastic Eiffel Tower. She handed it over with a grin. Well, he did ask for it, literally.
‘Wow, thanks mate, glad you brought back such a great present, sorry to make you go to all the trouble of actually going out into, oh I don’t know, France, for some actual bloody holidaying in romantic bloody Paris. Jesus, if I’d known you were going to stay in the whole time, I’d have got you a DVD of the bloody Eiffel Tower and booked you into the Travelodge down the road.’
Iz ran in with her newly bestowed doll in her hand.
Jay crouched down to his daughter; it always surprised me, how focussed Jay could be on his children, how unselfconscious he was talking with Iz about My Little Pony and princesses.
‘Oh, wow, Iz, who’s this?’
‘Unca Matty an Lau bringed him. He’s spare.’
Jay looked confused, not that this was an uncommon occurrence.
‘Unca Matty say spare.’
Iz looked at me to back her up.
‘Oh, no Iz, he’s Pierre. It’s a French name.’
‘That’s right, blondie.’
Iz seemed a bit more enthusiastic about the doll now she had someone to show it off to, and possibly now she didn’t think he was some kind of leftover plaything.
‘Really? So, they must have gone out to get this as well – on the same trip to the same gift shop, I bet.’
Jay was being so outraged at us apparently having taken advantage of his generous gift that I was thoroughly enjoying myself, while Beth and Lis came back in, Lis with wet hair and a change of shirt.
‘Oh, hi Jay. Sorry, Basty just threw up all over me. Don’t you just love baby vomit, especially in your hair. Better get home. You two, I expect to hear all about Paris very soon – well, maybe not all, just the non X-rated highlights, yeah?’
‘Huh, don’t hold your breath, Lis, they stayed in their room and looked at the Eiffel Tower out of the window.’
‘No! Really, guys? Oh, that’s so romantic.’
Jay rolled his eyes, but Beth narrowed her gaze and looked sharply at me. I’d talked to her last night, and she knew it wasn’t true.
‘He’s winding you up, James. I’d have thought you’d be able to tell by now.’
‘Ha ha, gotcha. I love ih when you fall for it. Especially when ih’s because you’re being a tight-arse.’
‘Jesus, Matty, you bastard. Just wait –’
And I loved it when I got him in the shit with Beth, too.
‘Sorry, Beth. Blame Matty.’
‘Hey, I’m being good.’
Well, for the time-being, anyway.
Lis laughed at the usual Scott brothers shenanigans.
‘OK, people, I’m off before the family feuding starts in earnest. Bye Beth, thanks for cleaning me up. Bye Jay. Bye you two, congratulations on your news.’
As Lis left, I saw Jay looking confused. It didn’t take much in the usual run of things, but now he was trying to work out what the news was, as we had already done the baby and wedding bit. He turned to me as Beth left the room to see Lis to the front door.
Great, more stringing it out.
‘Oh, baby stuff.’
Jay was so easy, it was hardly sport.
‘Oh, you had your scan, Laura.’
He turned to her, knowing he was more likely to get a sensible answer.
‘How did it go? Got a date?’
‘Yeah, end of July, give or take.’
‘So what was Lis talking about, congratulations? It’s not like you’re having another baby, is it.’
Oh he was handing it to me on a plate. I could hardly contain myself.
‘Well … kind of.’
I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
‘How does twins sound?’
‘What? Really? Fu … er … flipping heck.’
‘Jesus, Matty. You really know how to stack it up, don’t you, you pair. I can’t keep up. How are you, Laura?’
‘I’m fine, we’re still getting our heads round it.’
Beth came back in, smiling.
‘It’s lovely news, isn’t it. Have you got any pictures from the scan?’
‘Yeh, an a DVD too. Wana see?’
‘Oh yes, sweetheart. Iz, do you want to see Matty and Laura’s new babies on the TV?’
Iz looked at us assessingly.
‘Unca Matty hasn’t got a baby.’
‘No, not yet, sweetheart, the babies are in Laura’s tummy, like Dec and Amy’s baby. We won’t meet them until the summer, but a special camera has looked in Laura’s tummy. Oh, thanks, Laura. James, pop this in, would you?’
We watched the DVD, the first time we’d seen it, and had absolutely no objections when Beth wanted to play it over and over again. I was so proud of my boys (yeah, still on that track; no son of mine was going to be a girl) I just wanted to drink in every wriggle and squiggle.
‘Rose, it’s Declan. How soon can you get here? The baby’s on its way.’
:Oh, love, I’ll be there as soon as I can, about ten minutes? I’ve got my bag all packed. Everything tidy?
‘Yeah, all seems according to plan. Hurry, though. And no crying before you get here.’
:Alright love, I’ll control myself. See you soon.
I was just showing Beth the still photos, when Jay’s phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the screen.
‘Dec. Hey mate … oh bloody hell, what really this time? … oh, OK … well you can if you want, but they’re here, I can pass the message on … yeah, did you know? … oh, fair enough. I guess Rose is with Charlie? … Good luck, then, mate, yeah, see you soon. Let us know.’
He looked up.
‘Baby’s on its way. For definite this time. He was going to text you, Matty, but didn’t seem much point as you’re here. Rose is on her way over there, you can stand down red alert. He’ll let us know, hopefully not in the middle of the night, but he’s pretty fond of announcements in the early hours. Didn’t he text you when they found out?’
Matt shrugged. ‘Yeah, but I guess we’ve both done our fair share of waking each other up over the years. Important stuff, doesn’t really matter what time ih is.’
‘Huh, yeah, I’ll remind you of that next time I call you on a Saturday morning about match tickets.’
Matt grinned, nothing, not even Jay’s grumps, likely to get him down for now.
‘OK, Lau, weh should go an see the mums before word spreads. Don’t tell them, Beth, I know you love a good goss, but give us a chance tuh get there an back home before you call, righ?’
‘Alright, Matty, if you insist. Oh, come here, both of you, before you go, such lovely news.’
Jay and Iz got bored of the Squiggly Line repeat show after a while, and wandered off in search of their separate entertainments, but not before Jay got a call from Dec to say Amy was in labour, and I was not required as an emergency Charlie-sitter. Not that I’d ever thought I would be, with Rose waiting in the wings; it was just a little disappointing that they were overshadowing our baby news by actually having an actual baby on the same actual day, but I suppose they’d had the forethought to get in first, and I couldn’t begrudge them.
Finally Beth had seen the DVD enough times, and we thought we’d better go and spill the beans to Mum and April before Beth’s jungle telegraph did it for us.
Beth still wanted more, and while we were trying to make our escape, instructed us to ‘Come round tomorrow, dinner? Bring all your photos.’
‘We’ll text yuh. Bye.’
I pulled Lau down the drive, before doorstep chatting could commence, and we both sat in the car.
‘Shit, thought weh were never gona get away. Love Beth, but she’s bloody unstoppable sometimes. Right, your mum or mine? Ha ha, we must beh old, that should be your place or mine.’
‘Yeah, we’re an old married couple now, no more chat up lines or flirting.’
‘Fuck no, we’re far too sensible fuh that. What’s a nice girl like you doin in a dive like this?’
‘Ooh, looking for a man like you.’
‘Bloody hell, even our lines are ancient. There’s no hope, Lau.’
‘Apparently not. It was inevitable. Now you’re a dad, your hair’s going to fall out and you’ll have a beer gut by the end of the month. And I’ll start wearing sensible shoes and trying to hide my bingo wings with long sleeves.’
‘Ha ha. You’ll still be the sexiest mum at the school gate. Righ, let’s go an see some real mums, remind us how young we actually are. Mine first?’
We drove the short distance to Carol’s house, texting her first to let her know we were on our way. She was at the door as we pulled up.
Carol rarely showed a lot of emotion; she often sat and quietly watched everything going on, adding the odd comment, seemingly enjoying being part of it all without needing to join in the competition for attention.
Matt and Carol had a very close relationship, although you’d never know it if you saw them together in a large group. When it was just the three of us, and I expect when it was just the two of them, Matt chatted away with her about her friends and neighbours, he did odd jobs for her, cooked meals for her and took good care of her. When there were more people about, he retreated behind his banter, albeit still watching out for her from the other side of his messing about.
Carol was more chatty when there were less people, and I sometimes smiled to myself to see them talking together like a couple of old folk about the terrible prices in the Co-op or the graffiti in the bus shelter.
And now we were walking up to her front door. Matt reached her and folded her up in a hug.
‘Hello, dear. Hello Laura, dear.’
She hugged us both.
‘How are you? Did you have a nice time in Paris?’
‘Yeh, awesome. Got some pictures on the iPad if you wana see.’
‘Oh lovely, come through, I’ve got the kettle on.’
Well of course she had. She’d even had a few minutes’ notice, so there was nothing unusual about that.
We followed Mum into the kitchen, where the warning text had also given her time to put out cups and biscuits. I pinched a chocolate digestive off the plate, earning a bat on the arm.
‘You should offer one to Laura before feeding your face.’
Mum loved Lau. She always took her side over mine. Story of my life.
‘Lau’s more than capable of looking out fuh herself.’
‘Yes, dear, I know, but she’s too polite to grab a biscuit before it’s offered.’
‘Ha ha, polite? Yuh never tried to stop her getting her hands on a double choc chip. She’ll have your eye out.’
‘When you’ve both finished discussing me like I’m invisible, I think I’d like to sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit, thank you very much.’
‘See Mum? Bossy cow.’
‘Matthew, that’s no way to talk about your new bride.’
I treated that with the contempt it deserved. Wasn’t I the new groom? Didn’t I get some special consideration too? I picked up the tray and carried it into the small living room, where Mum was obviously eagerly anticipating some sort of holiday slide show.
‘So, where’s this iPad then, Matthew?’
‘Oh, in the car. Er, weh, er, got some other news first. Lau had her scan this morning.’
‘Oh! I completely forgot.’
Mum looked worried. I suppose it was easy to forget that a) I knew what the news was, so wasn’t worried, b) she was my mum, and so genetically predisposed to worry, and c) given recent times, it could have been anything we were about to land on her – joining a commune at the end of the month and moving to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean? Not as unlikely as it would have seemed, say, a year ago.
‘Is everything alright?’
I put my hand over hers.
‘Yeh, it’s all good.’
Mum’s face cleared. She knew I never bullshitted her like I bullshitted everyone else.
‘Have you got a date?’
‘Yeah, late July.’
Oh, just because I didn’t bullshit her doesn’t mean I didn’t play the odd mind game. I like to think she enjoyed it as much as me.
‘That’s not a date, dear, that’s a month. I thought they were usually quite precise these days.’
‘Yeah, well, it’s a bit hit an miss on account of Lau not knowing her dates, an also on account of it being twins.’
I sat back, job done, and watched Mum assimilate it. Her eyes widened.
‘Twins! Oh, Matthew. Laura, that’s wonderful, dear. Oh, but two babies, you’re going to have to get moving, aren’t you. You’ll never all fit in that flat of yours.’
Mum always managed to be positive but realistic about everything.
‘Noh, we thought we’d move in here.’
The look on her face was priceless, as, for once, she thought I was serious, for just a moment. She looked delighted at the thought of us living with her, which was humbling, then worried about where we’d all fit, and then really bloody worried about how she was going to say no. Hilarious.
‘He’s joking, Carol. We’ve got plenty of time to find somewhere. Don’t worry, you’ll be granny for visits and sleepovers only.’
‘Sorry, Mum, couldn’t resist.’
She tried to disguise the relief, but didn’t quite manage it.
‘Well, alright then, dear. You know I’d find room for you if you needed it.’
Yeah, it would have to be in the cupboard under the stairs, but I appreciated the sentiment.
‘I know, Mum. We’d never do that tuh you, we’d invade Jay and Beth, serve them righ for interfering all these years.’
‘Matthew, you know your brother only wants the best for you.’
‘I know. And you know I only want tuh annoy him in return.’
It was a conversation we had a lot. Mum thought I should try to curtail my gleeful Jay-winding-up sessions on account of ‘all he did for you’, but I maintained that Jay and I were happy as we were. She tutted and rolled her eyes, then sat back and looked at us.
‘Twins. Well, well. So you’ve caught up with Jameson in one go. No one can say you’re not fast workers, can they?’
‘Noh, they can’t. Caught up wih Dec and Amy too – oh, did yuh know Amy’s gone into labour? Dec called Jay while we were there.’
‘Yes, I did, Rose called me a while ago, she’s there with Charlie. She’s very excited.’
‘I bet. Charlie all tuh herself, an another one in the pipeline. All her grannying dreams come true.’
‘So am I going to see these pictures of Paris? I’ve got some of the wedding on my camera. Have you seen any yet?’
‘Yeh, some people have texted some an emailed, but we’d love tuh see yours too. I’ll jus go an fetch the iPad.’
As Matt jogged out to the car, Carol turned to me.
‘You’re quiet, Laura. Twins can be daunting.’
‘Yeah, I feel proper daunted. We’ve both had a bit of a morning, trying to get our heads round it. Not much we can do about it though, and it is great.’
This seemed like the best way to deal with it: just keep saying it, to myself and other people, and eventually it would stop being so new and freaky, and I would stop thinking ‘oh my God I’m having a baby’, quickly replaced by ‘oh my God not just one baby but two’, and would start feeling like a person who was just, you know, going to have a couple of babies in a few months, whatever, no big deal. It was going to take a while to get there, though.
‘Matthew seems happy about it, on the surface.’
‘Yeah, he’s trying.’
Carol knew Matt well, he hid less from her than anyone else. She knew what I meant – that Matt was happy, but also trying not to let anyone see how the suddenness of it was all affecting him.
‘Sometimes getting what you want is the scariest thing that can happen to you, dear. He’ll be alright.’
I smiled at her, and nodded, as Matt came back in with the iPad and we showed Carol our honeymoon. Well, all the bits that you were ever going to show your mum and mother-in-law.
Then we showed her the scan, and she cried. Then Lau cried. I maintain that I didn’t, but I can feel you raising your eyebrow at that one, Lau, so I will remain silent on the matter.
Then Mum picked up a brown paper parcel and handed it to me. I looked at her quizzically.
‘It’s what you asked for, dear.’
Intrigued, I pulled the paper off, and staring up at me, out of an antique silver frame, was my wife, smiling widely, blue-green eyes sparkling. Mum had painted her picture while we were away.
‘Holy shit Mum, that’s awesome.’
I showed it to Lau, whose eyes went wide as her jaw dropped slightly.
‘Carol, did you do this?’
‘When? God, it’s like me, but … better. You’ve made me look … beautiful.’
‘Noh, Lau. She’s made yuh look like yuh always look. Which is beauhiful.’
‘I’m glad you both like it. I was a little worried. I don’t do much painting these days, I’m a little out of practice.’
‘Seriously? You need to keep it up, flower.’
‘Well thank you, dear.’
‘I said there was no rush, Mum.’
‘I know, dear, but I was looking at all the photographs from your wedding, and I was just inspired by them. You looked so lovely, Laura dear, I hope I’ve captured some of it.’
‘I can’t believe it, Carol. Thank you so much.’
Then it was April’s turn, and I was a bit apprehensive about this one, because I’d said a lot of ‘fuck’, and shown a lot of my dick to a lot of people, in her presence, since I was last in her house, and I wondered whether maybe she’d rethought my position at number one in the Top Ten Most Suitable Men For Lau chart. She was waiting at the door as we walked up the path, and she was smiling. That was promising.
Again, we texted Mum to let her know we were coming, and to give her a chance to tidy up her already spotless house. She was looking out of the window as we pulled up. As we walked up the path, she opened the door, and opened her arms wide to hug us both on the doorstep.
‘Welcome back, both of you. Come in and tell me all about France.’
‘Well, April, weh can’t tell you all about France, having only seen a tiny bit of one city, but I’ve brought my iPad, and weh can bore you wih five hundred an twenty three different shots of the Eiffel Tower if you like.’
No point acting like I was going to be in the dog house. Might as well play it as normal, which meant sarky comments and the odd pleasantry.
‘Oh good. Maybe we don’t have to see all five hundred and twenty three.’
I put on a disappointed face.
‘Oh, buh I don’t know which ones I could possibly leave out, they’re all masterpieces.’
‘You daft boy.’
She almost sounded … fond. If I’d realised what a few bad words and indiscreet showings of my genitalia would achieve, I would have said ‘here you go, April, feast your eyes on my fucking todger’ the first time I saw her.
I loved it. My mum and my husband were teasing each other.
‘You daft boy. Come and sit down. Cup of tea? LauraLou?’
‘Yeah, thanks Mum.’
‘Not fuh me, thanks, April. Watching my weight. Lau should beh too, she’s put on a shocking amount the las couple of months.’
This was Matt’s way of reminding Mum that she should be asking about this morning’s appointment.
‘Oh, Laura, your scan! What did they say? Could they tell if it’s a boy or a girl?’
Mum couldn’t bring herself to say ‘sex’ even in the context of gender.
‘No, they couldn’t tell, it’s a bit early, and they were lying on top of each other, so all the important bits were hidden.’
I silently applauded Lau’s stringing along ability. Much as I’d been unable to stop her blurting to Beth, it seemed she had learned in the last couple of hours, and we both sat back and watched as the information filtered in and was processed through. April was silent for a few moments, frowning slightly, then her eyes widened, and she looked at Lau, then me. We were both smiling widely, and Lau nodded.
‘Oh Laura. Twins?’
I nodded again.
‘Oh, my love, that’s wonderful. Identical or – what’s the other one – fraternal?’
‘We don’t know yet. I’ve got another scan in a few weeks, they should be able to tell the sex and the identicalness or not then.’
‘How have you been?’
‘Oh, much the same. A bit tired, feeling a bit sick first thing in the morning, nothing too bad. Maybe some mood swings, Matt’d be the one to ask about that, I guess.’
Doing as she was told, April looked over at me, eyebrows raised. Well there was no way I was going to be telling tales on Lau, not that there were many to tell.
‘I think I’m the one wih the mood swings, Lau.’
‘Well, we’ve both been a bit up and down, especially today, it’s a lot to take in, but it’s exciting. We’ll need to move out of the flat before too long. I probably won’t be able to get up the stairs by the time they come, and – oh – things just keep occurring to me. Manhandling a double buggy up all those steps …’
Lau looked at me in dismay. I held on tightly to her hand. There would be lots of things we were going to suddenly think of, and we would just have to deal with them as they arose. Ha, look at me all sensible. When it was my turn to wake up in the middle of the night going ‘shit, isn’t there a law about car seats’, we’d see who was calm and collected.
‘We’ll sort ih, Lau. We’ve got six months. Tha’s bloody ages. Sorry, April, slipped out.’
I wasn’t sorry, I was testing out how much I could get away with, now she’d been subjected to the full Matt Scott experience.
‘Matt, I became well aware at your wedding how much you like a good swear, and how much you have been toning it down for my sake. Thank you, my love, I appreciate it, but please don’t apologise if the odd one slips out now and then.’
I think I sat with my mouth open for a second or two. Not only had I not been sent to hell for saying ‘bloody’, but she’d called me ‘my love’, which she only ever called Lau. Whoa, full on weird moment. Lau noticed, and pressed back as I squeezed her hand.
‘Hey April, have yuh got any photos of the wedding? Mum jus showed us hers on her camera, an we’ve had some in texts an emails, I thought I could collect them all, do something with them.’
An idea was forming, from the amount of photos people had sent us. We hadn’t had an official photographer, but pictures from cameras and phones had been dribbling to me via text and email since we got back, and I wanted to do something permanent with them, as well as the photos we’d already got. Kind of ‘Matt and Lau: The Early Days’. It sometimes came as a surprise to remember that it was early days for us, it felt like we’d been together forever.
‘Oh, yes, I took a few. I’ll go and get the camera.’
While April was rummaging upstairs, Lau turned to me.
‘You got a ‘my love’!’
‘I know! I nearly fell off my bloody seat. An I can say ‘bloody’ an not apologise. Wonder if I’ll get away wih a ‘fuck’?’
‘I wouldn’t push it. Strict Baptist forgiveness only goes so far. You’ve done something right, though.’
‘Making someone a granny obviously gohs a long way towards redemption.’
‘Ha ha. Let’s hope your eternal soul is safe, then.’
‘Bound tuh be. Twins equals double granny, tha’s enough for both of us.’
We watched the DVD with April, had more tea and cake, but even though I hinted like mad, April didn’t show me a painting she’d done of me while we were away, so that meant we could finally go home and chill before work tomorrow.
We spent a while with Mum, looking at various pictures of the wedding, Paris, watching the DVD of the scan, looking at the stills, basking in Mum’s approval. Considering the last time we were here she practically threw us out, I was relieved and surprised at the turnaround. Mum was very firm in her beliefs, and it meant a lot that she now seemed so accepting of Matt and me. Us being married had a lot to do with it, but we hadn’t done it for her, so whatever the reason, it was all good.
Cooking was so not on the cards for either of us, knackered and lazy as we were feeling, and I also wanted to ignore the food Beth had filled the cupboards with in a contrary fit of independence. So we ordered pizza. While we were waiting, I wandered to the fridge and got a beer out without thinking. Then I remembered my promise to Lau, thought about it, and put it back. She noticed.
‘Open it, flower.’
‘Noh, I don’t need ih.’
‘We don’t need pizza, but we’re having it. You’re not planning on getting wasted, are you?’
‘Have it, then, don’t make me feel bad.’
I sat next to her, taking her hand in mine. I wanted her to know how serious I was about this. It wasn’t going to make any difference to anything, but it was a promise and it was something I wanted to do for Lau. She was giving up a lot to have our baby, not just alcohol, but part of her body, comfort, rational hormones, all that shit, and I just wanted to do this to show her I was with her.
‘Lau, I don’t wana make yuh feel bad, you shouldn’t, this is something I decided, not something yuh made me do. Look, when yuh did tha for me, the ‘only do wha we can both do’ thing, it was fucking amazing, ih meant so much. An yuh stuck to it. I don’t need a beer righ now, maybe sometimes I will, hard day at the office or some such bollocks, an I’m not gona beat myself up about it, but I’m happy wih orange juice tonight. So we can do it, or not do it, together. Something else weh can do together.’
‘OK, then, flower, it sounds like an amazingly good deal. Who knows when I might need you to be sober in the next few months? ‘
It didn’t feel that amazing, to be honest, but if Lau said it, it must be right. And it earned me a big pash that continued until the pizza arrived, so everyone was a winner.
Dec called me in the middle of the night, to tell me that the new baby had arrived. I don’t know why I woke up when my phone buzzed; somehow I seemed to know when it was Dec. I nearly always stirred when the notes of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ floated out of my phone, and although it was on silent, I woke to the buzzing, unsurprised to pick up and see ‘Dec Calling’ and a photo of him wearing a pair of Australia underpants on his head. It was something he often did at parties; I suppose everyone needs a talent.
‘Hey mate. Sorry to wake you up.’
He so was not sorry, I could hear the enormous grin in his voice.
I knew he’d be calling to tell me about the baby, but I was so full of sleep that the next couple of rounds of my side of the conversation were going to be monosyllabic.
‘We’ve got a son.’
I couldn’t help a yawn escaping.
‘Yeah, and to save you summoning the energy to fucking ask, he’s bloody enormous, over nine pounds, he’s called Tom. Thomas Jack, actually. He’s screaming his bloody head off, so I’m outside. Ames needed stitches, so she’s not too happy, but he’s awesome, mate, just awesome.’
Dec’s happiness was infectious, and I roused myself a little.
‘Well done, mate.’
‘Can you come in later? Bring Lau? You’ve got to see him, he’s bloody huge.’
But surely not the biggest baby ever born. Nine pounds wasn’t that unheard of, although I did have a twinge of sympathy for the slight-framed Amy.
‘Yeh, course. Can’t wait. Text yuh later, yeh?’
‘Yeah, no worries. Better get back to Ames. See you later, mate.’
The sleep was fast disappearing, and I was aware I’d sounded less than enthusiastic. Although I was sure Dec knew me well enough to understand that waking me up at four thirty wasn’t going to find me at my best, I wanted to tell him how pleased I was for him.
‘Congratulations, mate. Whoa, you’ve got a son. Father of two. Holy shit. That’s nearly grown up!’
‘Ha ha, need a couple more before I’m ready to admit to that. Cheers Matt.’
As we disconnected, I thought back to when Dec had called me to tell me about Charlie. It was only a year later, and my life was so different. There was no Jules colluding with my well-woven pretence that I didn’t want a family. I’d been through another bout with the bastard MS. Above all, I had Lau and the babies on the way. Thinking about it all, though, and how I’d felt on that day, when it all crashed around me and Jules smashed the flat up, made me think about her, and what I did to her.
I didn’t think about Jules much these days, not really. It was something I couldn’t change, wouldn’t change even if I could, and so it was best to leave it in the depths. But now, it all flooded out, and I felt truly sad at the way things had ended, what a cock-up I’d made of the whole thing, how much I must have hurt her. Especially that, hurting her. I had no idea if she had been totally fucked up by it all, or whether, in her Jules way, she’d managed to put it behind her and get on with her life.
I felt emotions I’d shoved deep down starting to surface, and tears blurred my vision. I got out of bed and found my way onto the sofa, where I gave in to a bout of self-pity that I hadn’t felt for a long time.
I didn’t want to wake Lau up; hopefully she’d be asleep for a few more hours yet. I sniffed quietly to myself, knowing that eventually I’d stop, not knowing if I was going to be able to talk to Lau about it. I hated keeping shit from her, but I was unsure how she’d feel about me being sad about Jules. Lau was awesome, but this was a fairly recent ex we were talking about, and much as Lau encouraged talking and being up-front, I’d detected a hint of uncertainty whenever Jules’ name was mentioned. So I just curled up on the sofa and sniffed to myself.