I picked Iz up and carried her downstairs, into the living room. Beth was laying out what looked like a banquet on the table, ably assisted by Amy, Rose and Carol. Jay was still grappling with the laptop.
łNo, I can’t get the damn thing to work, it won’t accept the password. Do you really not have any idea what to do? Aren’t you supposed to be young?
‘Not a bloody clue. I’ve never Skyped before. Technology is a foreign country to me. Plus, I’ve got my hands full.’
On cue, Iz wriggled to get down and ran over to Jay to show him Optimus Prime.
łWow, Iz, I like him. Does he turn into a robot by any chance?
/make a bot. Dec do it.
She held the truck out to me. I took it and fiddled with the plastic bits, some of which were missing, and turned it back into Optimus Prime in almost all his glory.
łI’m impressed you can still remember how to do that. Shame your skills don’t stretch to useful things like working bloody computers.
/make a lorry.
‘At least it’s keeping me occupied – I see I could be here for some time.’
I dismantled and reassembled Optimus Prime several times for Iz while Jay continued to get frustrated with the computer and the table continued to fill up with food. We heard a car pull up outside. Jay stood up and went to the door, muttering.
łAbout time, Matty.
Sensing some fresh male attention to be had, Iz ran off to wait by the door with Jay. I took the opportunity to wander over to Amy and kiss her.
)Hey, hon. Good game with Cal?
‘He was busy doing something else. I’ll play him after dinner. Good chat with the girls?’
)Lovely chat. Proper girly time. Just what I needed.
The front door opened, and a man I recognised as Jay stood in the doorway looking grumpy.
‘Where’ve you been? I’m having trouble with Skype and Nico’s calling soon. ‘
‘Hello Matty how lovely to see you, I notice you’ve brought a beautiful woman with you, come in and have a beer’
‘Yeah all that. Hi Julia, good to see you again’.
He leaned down and kissed my cheek, then moved out of the way so that we could go in. His small blonde daughter was waiting behind him.
She lifted her arms up to Matt and he hoisted her up, while she looked triumphantly at us all.
‘Hello beautiful. I like your dress. Very, er, sparkly. Oh, wings too. You must be a … goblin.’
She turned her serious gaze on Matt
‘Are you sure? I thought fairies were green with huge ears and warts and horns.’
‘Fairies got wings.’
‘Oh, my mistake.’
‘Matty, I really need some help with this computer.’
Jay was almost hopping from foot to foot with impatience, and I could see Matt purposely slowing down. He walked through the door to the lounge carrying Iz, Jay following closely behind and me bringing up the rear. Across the large room I saw the man and woman I recognised as Dec and Amy. Iz pointed at Dec.
/unca Matty, Dec make lorry.
}Yeah, blondie, and that’s not all he’s made recently from what I’ve heard.
/dec make bot.
}Sounds more like it Iz. Hold on a minute, beautiful, let me just put you down, there’s someone I need to kiss.
He walked over to where Amy and I were standing, took my face in his hands and planted a wet kiss on my mouth. There was a hint of tongue and an evil glint in his eyes.
Matt set Iz down and walked over to where Amy and Dec were standing. I expected him to go to Amy, but he stopped in front of Dec, held his face still and planted a wet kiss on Dec’s mouth. It looked like he might have slipped his tongue inside from the startled look on Dec’s face.
‘Ugh, no, wrong one. Far too hairy. Come here, Amy, I meant you.’
He kissed her quickly and more sensibly on the lips and briefly hugged her. It seemed like Matt the Lad existed in some form outside of work as well.
‘Well done, you. At least you’ve had plenty of practice with Dec. Should be a breeze.’
He addressed this to Amy, and she smiled but Dec answered.
‘Yeah, you’re as hilarious as Jay.’
Matt turned to the rest of the people in the room. There was Jay, who was standing by a laptop, Matt’s mother, and a small round lady with short blonde hair who I didn’t recognise.
‘Everyone knows Julia, don’t they? Oh, maybe not Rose.’
Matt indicated the small blonde woman.
‘Rose, this is Julia; Julia, Rose. Rose is – oh bollocks, know what, I’ve given up trying to explain who’s who in this bloody family. Rose is great. That’s all you need to know.’
Rose stood up and beckoned me over to the table.
‘Thanks very much, love. Julia, here’s a plate, look. Let’s go and grab something before the boys eat it all.’
She had a strong Welsh accent and a forthright manner that brooked no argument. I followed her over to the table.
‘So you’re related to Matt?’
‘Oh no love, I’m kind of an accidental family member. I came with Declan, and now they can’t get rid of me.’
‘Oh, you’re Dec’s … er …’
I didn’t want to offend her by aiming too high or too low in the age range. She could as easily be his mother or his grandmother or anything in-between.
‘Well I’m not actually related at all, but he needed a mam a few years ago and I fitted the bill I suppose. Have some of these, love, Beth made them, she’s a great cook. No, me and Declan go back a few years, since all that trouble at his rugby club.’
I looked at her blankly.
‘You know, with the passport and getting beaten senseless?’
I shook my head.
‘Oh. Well he’ll be pleased there’s someone doesn’t know about it I suppose. It was a terrible time but we got through it together and now here he is about to become a dad. I can’t think of anything better, love, can you?’
I could think of several million things better than becoming a parent, but Rose didn’t seem like the sort of person who would understand my point of view, so I just smiled. Rose changed tack.
‘So you and Matt, then? How long have you been going out?’
‘Oh, er …’
I hadn’t ever thought of Matt and me in terms of ‘going out’ but decided not to go into a long explanation,
‘A few weeks, a month maybe.’
‘He’s a bit of a handful I’d imagine.’
‘He has his moments.’
‘You seem like a sensible girl. Might be just what he needs, not like some of the …’
She ground to a halt, belatedly realising that being uncomplimentary about women Matt might have previously brought to meet the family might not be particularly diplomatic.
I had no doubt that before ten minutes had passed, Rose would know Julia’s life history and be making plans to marry her off to Matt. She’d tried with all of the long string of women Matt had toyed with over the last couple of years – they had all lasted just long enough for Rose to get her hopes up, before they disappeared when Matt declared them ‘too clingy’ or ‘not his type’ or ‘getting a bit serious’.
Matt’s MS was still in remission. He still had days when he got tired if he overdid it, and he still had dark days. A couple of times he’d needed us to hold him through the night, literally and metaphorically, as he gave in to the shadows behind his bravado. Mostly, he covered it all up with messing about and sarcastic comments, and anyone from outside who wanted to get close was kept at arms length. People loved him because he was fun, had an easy smile and a wicked glint in his eye, breathed life and soul into any party, but he couldn’t handle being loved; to him, trusting someone was too risky. So he broke their hearts and moved on to the next one.
Matt had moved into his own place a few months after Iz was born; it was important to him to be independent of Jay and Beth as soon as possible. He got a job with an IT consultancy firm, part time and flexible to take into account any fluctuations in his health in the future, and was currently making his way through the female portion of the payroll. Julia was the latest. They’d been seeing each other for almost a month, and I didn’t hold out much hope of it lasting another month before Julia went the way of all the other women he’d brought round. Not that Matt had told us about Julia – we only knew about her because Amy and I had met them in a shop, and Jay and Beth had met her when they’d turned up unannounced at Matt’s flat, and Matt had been cooking Julia dinner.
Matt was one of my closest friends. We understood each other. We didn’t talk about anything particularly deep, except on those rare occasions when either of us instinctively recognised it was necessary. We’d both been to dark places, helped each other out in times of need and had a shared understanding of what it was like to feel out of control of your own life. There was a lot we didn’t need to say to each other. I stood next to him and we watched Rose bombarding Julia with questions.
‘Poor Julia, she’s being Rosed.’
}Yeah, straight in the deep end.
‘She seems to be holding her own, even got a tiny word in edgeways just then.’
‘Oh, she’s got a nickname – keeper?’
The slightest hesitation.
}Nah. Jay, what kind of fuckery are you inflicting on that poor laptop?
Matt wandered over to help Jay and left me pondering his distraction techniques.
I decided to grab a plate and fill it with some of Beth’s delicious cooking. Cal had been called down and was standing grouchily by the table eating crisps from a bowl.
‘Hey, Cal. Did you win?’
\no, Mum made me come down before I’d finished.
‘Didn’t you pause it?’
He rolled his eyes.
\dur, you can’t pause boss fights.
‘Oh. Bad luck then, try again after dinner.’
\s’pose. When’s Nico coming on Skype?
‘When your dad manages to sort out the computer. I think he’s had to ask Matt to help him. Are you coming to the game on Saturday?’
\don’t know. Are you playing?
\dad says I’ve got to sit with the under elevens.
‘Well, you are under eleven. It’ll be good to sit with all your mates from training, won’t it?’
\i want to sit in the family bit, but there’s no one to take me. Iz is going to a birthday party, so Mum can’t come.
‘Why don’t you ask Matt?’
\he doesn’t go to rugby.
‘He might if you asked him, as a favour. He might like to be asked.’
Cal considered it, didn’t dismiss it, ate another handful of crisps. Made a decision.
My work there done, I finished loading my plate and sat down next to Carol.
Matt tapped a few keys on the laptop, and Jay suddenly smiled broadly and clapped him on the back. Matt wandered over to me and sat down, shaking his head.
‘Is it so hard to remember not to put caps lock on? You don’t have to be an IT consultant. Every bloody time someone presses the wrong button, it’s ‘Matty I’ve broken my computer, can you mend it?’ and I have to drive all the way over and press caps lock.’
‘It’s nice to be useful.’
Matt reached over and stole a piece of quiche from my plate.
‘Hey! Get your own plateful.’
‘Tastes better off someone else’s. Law of life.’
‘Still get your own plateful.’
Matt pouted, but was just about to get up when his nephew said his name.
‘Hey Cal, bring us some of those potato things and bacony whatsits, yeah?’
Cal scowled and went back to the table, returning shortly with Matt’s order.
‘Thanks, mate. What’s up?’
‘Can you take me to the rugby on Saturday?’
‘Yeah. I want to sit in the family bit, but Mum’s taking Iz to a birthday party, so Dad wants me to sit with the under elevens.’
‘Whoa. Rugby eh? Yeah, cool mate, I’m not sure I understand it all though. Isn’t it just like football but you can pick the ball up?’
‘No! It’s really different from football. Spurs wouldn’t stand a chance against Raiders.’
‘Oh, my mistake. Definitely need you to explain it then. Will your dad get us some tickets?’
‘Yeah, he’s done it before for me and Mum, and with Lis sometimes.’
‘OK, then, sorted.’
Request granted, Cal wandered back to his bowl of crisps at the table. Matt looked at me, a proud expression on his face.
‘He’s never asked me before. I’m a bit chuffed. Oh sod it, we were talking about a hike weren’t we – can we do it on Sunday instead?’
Carol had finally decided to move down after Iz was born, the draw of being close to another grandchild proving too much to resist. She was a quiet, reserved woman, and often just sat watching the chaos of family life going on around her, but she had endless time for her family, giving generously whether it was listening to Cal talk non-stop about the latest computer game, cooking a fantastic dessert, or cuddling Iz until she fell asleep. She and Rose had found a lot of common ground, and Carol’s quietness complemented Rose’s need to talk. They had become really good friends.
‘Hi Carol, how’s it going?’
#It’s going well, thank you Declan. Congratulations on your news, dear.
#Amy looks very well.
‘She looks amazing. She always does, though.’
#And you’d not be a little biased?
‘No, definitely not. Me? Not biased at all. How’s the garden?’
#Oh, there’s always something needs doing, now it’s getting a bit warmer. All the weeds have started poking up, and the grass will need cutting before too long.
‘I’ll come and do your grass for you. Remind me, when it needs it.’
#Thank you dear, it’s very kind of you. Are you sure?
‘Positive. Mm, these potato things are bloody lovely. Did you make them?’
#I did, how did you know?
‘Didn’t you make them before, for Amy’s twenty first? I never forget a good potato thing. Don’t tell Beth, but they might even be better than her roasties.’
#You’re too kind, dear. I won’t breathe a word.
Iz wandered over and handed me Optimus Prime.
/make lorry pease.
I scooped her up onto my lap and reorganised Optimus, handed him back.
‘Do you want me to show you how, Iz? You might be able to do it yourself.’
/dec do it.
She shuffled off my lap and brrmed the truck along the floor.
#You’ve got yourself a full-time job there.
‘Don’t I know it. She’s getting so big, where does the time go?’
#You’ll need to get used to saying that a lot before too long.
‘I guess so.’
#I’m very pleased for you, Declan. You and Amy will be wonderful parents.
‘Thanks, Carol, that really means a lot.’
Over on the other side of the room, Jay and Matt seemed to have sorted the laptop out.
łOK, everyone needs to squash up on the sofa so we can get the web-cam angle sorted. Come on, Dec, grab Amy and pile on. Cal, you can sit on the floor with Iz and your mum and me. Mum, you go next to Rose. Matty and Julia do what the hell you like as long as you’re in the shot.
We all shoved up, and Jay adjusted the angle of the laptop to make sure everyone was in the frame.
Then it was time for other people to arrive, only via Skype. Jay made everyone sit on the one sofa, with him and his wife and children on the floor in front. Matt sat next to me on the arm of the sofa, with his arm across my shoulders. I noticed various people looking at us at different times, and felt conspicuous.
I was feeling a little overwhelmed with the strangeness of the situation. Matt’s family were very welcoming, but they were nothing like my own family, and it made me see Matt in another light, highlighting some of the differences between us. He came from a family where everyone cared about each other, the opposite of my own family where people seemed to care only about themselves. Squashed on the sofa next to Rose, I felt hugely out of place, but Matt’s arm round me helped me to feel part of him, at least.
_What time did Nico say he was going to try?
łIn about five minutes.
‘He’ll be late, we could be sat here on each other’s laps for hours.’
łHe won’t be late, he knows we’re all waiting for him.
‘He’ll be bloody late. He’s always late. At least half an hour.’
łYeah, but he’s got Lis on his case, and I think they’re going out. They haven’t got very long. He won’t be late.
Five minutes later, contrary to my expectations, the alert sounded, and Nico and Lis appeared on the screen. We all cheered.
>Hey, is all of you! Cal, you look older, you grow more while I am away.
Cal straightened with pride. I reached forward to ruffle his hair, but he ducked away from my hand. I noticed he was wearing his Raiders shirt with a big number eleven and ‘TIAGO’ on the back.
>I also see a beautiful lady I don’t know.
}Nico, meet Julia. Jules, beware of this man, he will flirt with a house brick, even when his wife is right next to him. Especially when his wife is right next to him. I’m quite glad he’s thousands of miles away.
I noticed Matt had a proprietorial arm round Julia, and when he thought no one was looking, he kissed the top of her head.
¤Hi Nico, good to meet you.
~I’m Lisa, Julia.
¤Good to meet you too.
>Where is Declan and Amy? Ah, here you are, we are very pleased to see you. Felicidades both. We go shopping for you.
Lis held up a brightly coloured bag.
~Want to see what’s in it?
We all shouted ‘yes’. Lis reached in and took out a very small pair of shoes.
)Oh they’re so tiny and adorable. Thanks guys.
Amy sniffed and wiped her eyes.
>Amy, you don’t cry.
)What, not even a bit? Just with happiness. And a few hormones.
>Ha, with happiness is OK. Declan, you take care of Amy, you be nice to her, lots of breakfasts in beds.
‘Ames, have you primed him or something?’
)No, he just knows what a woman needs.
>Ha, yes is true. I know what womens needs.
~Is that so, Nico? Why don’t I get breakfasts in beds then?
>You don’t have baby. If you have baby, maybe you get breakfasts in beds.
~Hm, something I might need to work on then, yeah?
She winked theatrically at us.
_Are you two enjoying Buenos Aires?
~Oh Beth, it’s great, such a beautiful city, I’m loving seeing where Nico grew up. Come and see us.
_Love to, if it’s at all possible.
łHave you started playing yet, mate?
>Yes, I play last weekend. I score amazing try.
łWhat a surprise. Do you ever score any other type?
>No, they are all amazing. Is that lovely Rose sitting in the corner? Why so quiet Rose? Is not like you. I worry.
:I’m waiting for you to stop yapping so I can get a word in, love. I hope you’re remembering how to make proper Welsh tea.
>Ha! Yes, we have your special tea bags, it don’t taste the same, I don’t know what we do. I miss your tea.
:I miss you drinking it, love. Glad to see you’re enjoying yourselves.
~Enough talking about tea, I want to talk about babies. Amy, for the love of God, tell me you have a due date. Or at least an ETA.
)Well nothing new since this morning, Lis. I’ve made an appointment with the doctor, all I can tell you is about nine months from now. We literally only found out early this morning.
~Oh, I forgot. We’ve been to sleep and had a whole day since then. Oh well, better than nothing. You’ll have to text me or ring me when you know. I want all the details as they happen. How are you feeling?
)I’m feeling great. Being sick in the mornings, but otherwise fine.
~Is Dec looking after you?
)Yeah, he’s been completely amazing, but he always is.
Amy looked up at me and I bent down to kiss her.
}Oh please, guys, I think I’m going to start being sick right now, let alone in the mornings. Lis, you’ll have to get your baby fix another time, this is just too girly for words. I need to talk about, I dunno, motorbike engines and beards and football for a bit.
>How about rugby? Is man enough?
}Well, tempted as I am to say no, I really don’t want to be sat on by Dec, he might enjoy it too much. Cal and I are actually going to the game on Saturday.
Beth and Jay both looked at Matt in surprise.
>Ha, is good. Cal, you tell Matty the rules, maybe show him my amazing tries on YouTube before you go, and hope he stop following his terrible Tottenham football team.
Cal smiled but didn’t answer.
~Beth, Iz looks like she’s grown since we last saw her. I can’t believe we’re missing it all. We really miss all you guys.
_We miss you too. This is lovely, though. I’m glad we managed to sort the computer in time.
~It’s so great to see you all. Carol, you’ve been sat there very quiet. How are you doing?
#Oh fine, dear, it’s lovely to see you again.
~You too. Well, I’m afraid we’ve got to go, we’re off out to a charity function at the club, and if we don’t go now we’ll be late. And that would never do for Nico.
łOh is that why you’re all dressed up, I thought it was for us.
>Ha! Is for you too, Jaime. I know you like me in a suit. We go now, baby?
~Yeah, we better had. Oh, I can hardly bear to say goodbye, I’ve loved seeing you all, but it’s been too short. We’ll do it again soon, yeah?
}As soon as Jay works out how to input a password correctly, yes.
~Soon, soon, soon, then. Bye guys.
>Goodbye, chau, besos, suerte. Love you.
Lis leaned forwards, waved and cut the connection. There was a silence, and a sense of anti-climax. Cal got up and went upstairs, no longer smiling.
/eeco go. Where he go, Mummy?
Iz got up and looked behind the laptop, then looked back at Beth with a comically puzzled look on her face.
_He’s still in Argentina, sweetheart, he was just on the screen, like a TV programme. He’s gone now, but we’ll see him again soon.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of it, as Beth decided it was time for toasts and speeches. I came to learn that this family did a lot of toasting and speeching, but for now, this was my first.
I got up from the sofa and followed Cal. Knocked on his door.
‘It’s Dec. Can I come in?’
I opened the door and sat on the bed next to Cal.
\i’m still trying to beat this boss, though.
‘No worries. I’m glad you asked Matt about the game, he seems really pleased to be taking you.’
‘Nico seemed happy to see you just now.’
‘Seeing him again, made me realise how much I miss him. He feels a long way away, doesn’t he?’
‘Cal, you know you can talk to me about stuff, if you feel sad or anything?’
A roll of the eyes.
‘Or … if you need to, I don’t know, say ‘fuck’ without getting grief?’
A slight smile at the corner of his mouth.
\yeah. Can I finish this now?
I reached over to ruffle his hair, stopped myself, patted him on the shoulder instead and stood up.
‘Still want to play something later?’
I went back downstairs, where Beth was organising glasses of sparkling wine for everyone and fizzy apple for Amy. I took a glass and sat on the floor by Amy’s feet. She played with my hair, making the back of my neck tingle, and part of me wished we were curled up alone at home. I twisted round to face her and she bent over and kissed me.
‘You OK, babe?’
)I’m great. Apart from the apple juice. Forgot about the no wine thing. Nine months without wine! Longer with breastfeeding.
‘Didn’t really think it through, did you?’
)Can’t have done.
‘I could always drink it for you, you know, tell you what it tastes like, get a bit pissed on your behalf, help out a bit?’
)Hm, I’ll let you know.
‘Well, anything I can do …’
)Just the breakfasts in beds to start with.
Beth had finished pouring all the drinks, and everyone had a glass.
_OK everyone, I just wanted to do a little toast to Amy and Dec, and wish them well, and say how thrilled I am for them, and send them off on the start of this wonderful journey, and –
}Beth, pick one. A toast is just one thing, so we can all say it after you.
_Sorry, Matty, I got a bit carried away.
}As did Dec and Amy some weeks ago.
‘Way to lower the tone, mate.’
}My sincerest apologies.
_Anyway … alright, if I have to pick one thing to wish you both, it’s love. And family. Oh, that’s two. I can’t choose. Love and family.
She raised her glass. Everyone dutifully repeated. I looked round at Amy, she was smiling and her eyes were filling up.
:Can I do a toast, love?
_Oh, Rose, of course.
Rose stood up and cleared her throat.
:I think I might do a little speech, if that’s alright?
łGo for it Rose.
:Alright. Well, here it is then. I hope I remember everything I was going to say.
‘Did you have this planned, Rose?’
:Well, I thought I might get an opportunity, love. Sometimes you just want to say things and it’s never the right time, so I’ve had a bit of a think, and here’s what I thought.
‘Should I be worried?’
:No, love, never worry about what I’m going to say about you, it’s all good.
}Sounds great, Rose, as long as afterwards we can relive some of Dec’s most embarrassing moments. I can think of plenty of those.
_Matty, stop your chat for one minute and let Rose say what she wants to say.
:Thanks, love. Right. When I first met Declan, he was in a bit of a state. I won’t say any more, I think you all know enough about it by now. Well, something about him kicked off my maternal instincts and I couldn’t help interfering in his life, giving him advice when he didn’t want it, bothering him when he asked to be left alone, making a bit of a nuisance of myself. Declan and me made a deal back then, he lets me look after him, mother him a bit, I’ll be there for him when he needs it, whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, a square meal or a kick up the pants. Well, he turned things round for himself, and it’s been a long time since I needed to provide a shoulder, a meal or a boot up the backside, and I just wanted to say how proud I am of him and his Amy, and how happy and honoured I am that I’m part of his life. This news of yours, love, is the best I can imagine, it’s made my day, and I just know you’re going to be the best Mam and Dad there ever was. I think that’s all I wanted to say. Oh, a toast. Nothing fancy. Declan and Amy.
She held her glass up and sat down. Predictably, Amy and I had tears in our eyes. Iz toddled over to me and looked at me with concern.
/mummy Dec cry.
She looked at Beth with big serious eyes. I gave her a big smile, wiped my eyes, pulled her into a cuddle on my lap.
‘It’s just happy crying, sweetie. I’m OK.’
}Glad to see blub club is still alive and kicking. We haven’t met in earnest for some time.
I glanced up at Matt and caught him wiping the corner of his eye with his hand.
I wondered if it was a little premature to be wetting the head of a baby who had yet to have its first scan, let alone be born, but everyone seemed to be happy and emotional. Even Matt surreptitiously wiped his eyes once, only to be spotted by Dec, who turned round to me.
‘Julia, you must think we’re all bonkers.’
‘You’re the only nutter, Dec.’
Matt’s rejoinder was instant, and it felt like an automatic response. Dec seemed about to reply, but was stopped by a look from Beth. I got the sense there was a lot of history between these two men, whose relationship to each other I had yet to work out; they seemed bound together in some way that was expressed with in-jokes and messing about, and felt brotherly inasmuch as I had any understanding of the relationship.
I opened my mouth to say the next line, heard the intake of breath from Beth, looked at her, shut my mouth again.
}Ha ha, under the thumb.
)Thanks, Rose, that was completely amazing.
‘Yeah, means a lot. Thanks, Rose. I’ve never stopped needing you.’
:Oh, love …
łOK, then, I think I’ve got something to say too.
I put my head in my hands.
‘Oh God, Jay, what now?’
łWell, after Rose’s go, I don’t think I can be as eloquent or as heartfelt, and as we all know, I don’t really do this emotional shit. But here it is. Dec, you rang me at half past bloody three this morning and told me you’re going to be a dad. There’s a part of me that still thinks of you as this gawky, spotty teenager with a fuck-off attitude, and I was a bit surprised to find out this morning that you’re actually completely a grown up. I was, I have to admit, bloody grumpy at half past bloody three this morning, but having been thinking about it all day, I am actually rather honoured to be one of the first people you think of to call when something important happens. I’m proud of you, mate; you and Amy are going to be great parents. If you’re even half as good with your own as you are with mine, you’re going to walk it. Jesus, I still can’t get my head round it. Stop making me feel so bloody old. And maybe now you’ll make an honest woman of Amy.
He raised his glass.
Iz looked up at me from my lap, catching me wiping my eyes again. She flung her arms round my neck.
‘Thanks, Iz. That’s much better. No more, please guys, I’m losing serious man points here. Thanks, Jay. Pretty good for someone who doesn’t do emotional shit.’
‘I was only repeating what Jay said.’
_Yes, but I’ve given up with him.
)I think Dec’s a bit of a lost cause as well. Actually, while we’re all giving speeches and getting emotional, I’d just like to say thanks to you all. None of you are actually related to me, but at this moment in time you feel more like my real family than, well, my real family. I know you and Dec all have a lot of history, but I couldn’t feel more welcome or more wanted, and the way you’ve handled our news has been completely brilliant. If I was going to make an apple juice toast, it would be to unconditional love.
_Lovely. Unconditional love it is.
}Your turn, Dec.
‘No, I don’t do speeches. Everyone here knows how I feel about them. I love you all. Jay and Beth, you’ve been my family for so long, I can’t imagine my life without you. Rose, you might as well be my mum. Carol, you hold us all together. Matt, you’re like best mate and brother rolled into one old codger. Amy … Ames, if I loved you any more than I do now, I would burst. Julia – well, I hardly know you, but you’ve sat and listened to us all being mad and still haven’t made a run for it. Either you’re as crazy as us or Matt’s picked –.
}OK, stop, everyone. This wine’s making us slushy, we haven’t drunk nearly enough of it yet. Sorry about the apple juice, Amy, but I need another glass or two of sparkly to get this party started.
Matt stood up and grabbed the bottle from the table, breaking the mood, which was what he had planned. I’d seen the way he looked at Julia when he thought nobody was watching, and I was reassessing my ‘less than a month’ prediction, although it still remained to be seen whether he would scare himself off before he gave it a chance.
Space available on the sofa again, I moved Iz off my lap and plonked myself next to Amy.
‘Nice words, babe.’
)You too, hon, considering you don’t do speeches.
Beth sat next to me and took my arm, snuggling up close.
_This has been lovely, Dec. I love it when we all get together. Shame Cal’s been sulking all evening.
‘He’s OK. I had a chat earlier.’
‘Well, more a kind of one-sided gruntathon over the top of the X-box. He’s missing Nico.’
_I did wonder. They’re so far away. If he’d gone to another club in England, we could have gone to see them, but Argentina …
‘It was great to see them earlier though, technology is so amazing. Maybe if Cal could do that more often it might help.’
_It’s worth a go. And I’d love to stay in touch with Lis more. She was getting broody before they left, looks like she still is, and you two haven’t helped! That’d be hard, though, foreign country, no family around. She doesn’t even speak the language yet.
‘Lis is tough, if she wants it she’ll make it happen.’
_You’re right there. Anything to get breakfast in bed, although I wouldn’t hold my breath with Nico. Amy, I meant to say, I’ve got loads of Iz’s old clothes and things. I know you don’t know boy or girl yet, but some of it would be OK whichever, babygros and stuff. Some of them aren’t even pink! Let me know and you can have it. Or we could have a sort through over a coffee.
)Thanks, Beth, that’d be great. God, just talking about clothes and stuff, makes it feel more real. Don’t you think, hon, it’s all been a bit floaty and dreamy and not quite real today?
I nodded; I’d pretty much floated through today too.
)I think I might come down with a bit of a bump soon.
‘Well you’ll definitely have a bit of a bump soon, babe. Better start letting out all your waistbands.’
)Or, just for that, maybe you’ll have to take me shopping for new clothes?
‘Nooo … surely we haven’t got room for a new baby as well as new clothes? Ames, you’ll have to choose. One or the other.’
_Will you stay in the flat, do you think?
)We don’t know. It is small. We don’t know what the future holds at the moment, do we, hon.
‘No, not yet.’
This felt uncomfortable; I was currently having contract negotiations through my agent, looking at a new deal to stay at Raiders. I had also been approached by a couple of other clubs, one a big London club, who had offered a lot of money for me to move there, although the likelihood was that I wouldn’t be guaranteed a place in the first team, and would therefore get less game time.
I couldn’t discuss it in Jay’s home. Much as I wanted to talk to him and Beth and ask his advice as Jay, he was still Scotty, and it had to be kept at the club. Beth knew this. She looked sad, and I could hardly bear to think about it right now.
_I know you can’t talk about it, sweetheart. We’d miss you.
‘Don’t, Beth, please.’
She squeezed my arm, then stood up and started clearing away the plates and glasses. Amy stroked my face, then got up and helped her. Nothing stopping the two of them having a good chat about it.
After a few more people had had their say, the toasting seemed to be over. Matt took my hand and pulled me up from the sofa.
‘Come and see the garden.’
I went with him.
We went out into the garden via a conservatory. It was cool and quiet out there, and just what I needed. Matt put his arms round me and squeezed me tightly.
‘How are you doing? Sorry it’s a bit full on. Maybe this wasn’t the best occasion for you to meet everyone.’
‘It’s fine. Everyone’s very nice. I’m not really a baby person, but you all seem very excited, so it’s all good. I’m just kind of watching it all.’
‘We can go soon if you want.’
‘No, it’s fine. This is nice, though.’
I looked up at him and caught a crinkly smile.
‘This is always bloody nice. I love holding you.’
He bent down and kissed me, a lingering, tender, tingly kiss, his tongue dancing over my lips and into my mouth.
‘I fucking love kissing you too. Maybe we shouldn’t leave it too late to go back to mine.’
‘Maybe. Stay as long as you want, though.’
‘I might go and have a quick game of X-box with Cal. He was looking a bit mopey earlier, might need cheering up the way only a thrashing from your favourite uncle can do. Would you be OK if I did?’
‘I’ll be fine. I can help clear up, chat, even talk about babies if I have to.’
‘That’s on the cards.’
‘Matt, I’ve been trying to work out exactly how Dec and Amy are related to you.’
‘Oh. Yeah, it’s bloody complicated. I suppose they’re not, actually, not technically. Dec was … his parents died when he was young, he got signed by Raiders when he was about sixteen, and he came to live with Jay and Beth. He’s been part of the family since then.’
‘Did they adopt him?’
‘Fuck no! Oh, bloody long story a few years ago, about the time I was ill, I’ll tell you sometime, maybe not tonight, but long and short, there was a big bust up, then a big make up and Jay made it official Scott history that Dec’s part of the family.’
‘Oh, Rose! I bloody love Rose, but she can talk for bloody England. Or Wales, should I say. Yeah, about the same time, Dec, well he was pretty fucked up just before the big make up. Rose just got involved, played a big part in de-fucking him. He’s sorted now, but they come as a pair. She’s a bit like his mum. But not officially related.’
‘Your family is very accepting.’
Matt looked at me, head on one side.
‘I guess they are, never really thought about it like that; I just kind of roll with it. There’s always something going on, people here and there. Jay and Beth are bloody brilliant. When I was ill, Jay gave up his job to come and look after me. I don’t know where I’d be now if he hadn’t done that.’
I thought about what my sisters would give up for me. Probably not a lot.
‘I am. Do I get to meet your family anytime soon?’
‘Not unless you’re planning to jet off around the world trying to catch up with my parents or want to swan off to France or Switzerland to take a chance on catching one of my sisters at home.’
‘Are you the only one in this country?’
‘I am now Nons is gone.’
‘You must miss her.’
I nodded again.
‘Sorry, Matt, I still can’t talk about it. Shall we go in? It’s getting cold.’