Finally, after what seemed like all night but when I checked the time had been less than an hour, I heard the car outside, as it pulled onto the drive. I heard the car door slam, and I assumed a nonchalant pose, as if I’d been watching football since she left, and not sending myself out of my mind wondering where she’d been and what she’d been doing, or applying for jobs in another country.
I didn’t look up as the front door opened and Lau walked in, but she came into the living room waving a loaf of bread at me. Part of me loved that she couldn’t lie to me, and so had made it true, and another part just wanted her to be straight with me.
‘They were giving away free gifts with every loaf. I got a brother-in-law with mine.’
What the fuck? I looked up then, and saw Jay hovering behind her, and I was instantly furious. After all I’d said, all the talking we’d done, she’d just gone and fetched him, against my express wishes.
‘Lau, I thought I told you I didn’t want –’
‘Yeah, I heard what you said. But know what, Matt, this isn’t just about you. It’s mostly about you, and Jay, but it affects us all. I’m not having you so unhappy that you want to stop seeing your family. We need them, and they need us. Jay’s here, he wants to talk to you. I think you should listen to what he has to say.’
I nearly told both of them to piss off, nearly said it in terms that would have made it difficult to mend anything with Jay and would have seriously fucked things up with me and Lau, but I stopped myself, with a huge effort. I glanced at Jay, saw how nervous he seemed, and it crossed my mind how much it might have cost him to come here. Shit, there’s no way I would have gone over there in a million years. Maybe he deserved a chance. I nodded.
‘OK, Lau. Get us a couple of beers?’
Lau shook her head. ‘I’ll put the kettle on. I think beer may have affected some judgements last time.’
I suppose she might have had a point.
‘OK, fair enough.’
I looked at Jay, although I still found it hard to look him in the eye without anger clouding my vision.
‘Come on then, sit the fuck down, stop making the place look untidy.’
Jay walked into the living room as Lau went to make a drink. He sat down, looking self-conscious, and held an envelope out to me.
I took it as if it was explosive.
I opened the envelope, and glanced at the contents. There was a piece of paper with the Raiders logo at the top.
‘For that job.’
What the fuck?
‘I talked to the Raiders IT guy, Sean, the guy Ed gave you the number for –’
‘Sounds like a great job. You should do it, you’d be good.’
I was taken completely by surprise. It sounded like Jay was almost apologising; he had at least executed a perfect U-turn, which I couldn’t recall ever happening in my life before.
‘Really? What about all my fucking about and embarrassing the shit out of you?’
Jay half smiled. ‘Are you planning to fuck about and embarrass the shit out of me?’
‘Then we’ll be OK, won’t we. I’ll probably, Jesus I don’t know, even be bloody proud of you or something.’
‘Fucking hell, can’t have that. World might bloody end.’
It was as if a plug had been pulled, and all the anger, all the fury, all the – yeah, I’m going to say it, as I’d got close to it over the last couple of days – hatred just drained away. Was I really so shallow that all I needed was a few supportive words from my brother and everything was OK? Well yeah, actually, it turns out I was.
‘It hasn’t been advertised yet. Sean said if you do the application asap, and they like it, you could have an interview by the end of the week. They need someone pretty soon.’
I felt my shoulders untense. There was still a way to go, but it had started well. I finished making the tea and got a book out to take with me while I sat with the twins.
I looked at Jay, wondering if there was going to be anything else, if this was the apology, or if we were going to actually address some of the huge shit that had underpinned this major Scott cataclysm.
Maybe I was going to have to do a bit of work of my own, in recognition of his gesture in coming over here with Lau. Oh, and I was so going to have to find out what she’d done to get him here.
‘What made you change your mind?’
He looked at me for a moment, then shook his head slightly, as if he couldn’t quite understand it himself.
‘You have got yourself one bloody determined woman there, Matty.’
‘What, you mean Lau made you do it?’
He rolled his eyes at the defensive note in my voice.
‘Not just Laura, and give me a bit of credit for being able to think for myself, but Dec had already convinced me when she shoved her way into my office and gave me a piece of her mind.’
Lau brought two mugs of tea in, looking at me hopefully. I gave her a half smile as the best reassurance I could manage, and then she shut the door and left us to it.
‘So what did Dec do then?’
I was starting to wind myself up again, thinking of all the interfering that had been going on, or maybe to put it another way, all the concerned efforts to perform some damage limitation and get me and Jay talking again. But I wasn’t quite there yet, at the point of being able to recognise just what people did on my behalf sometimes.
‘He just reminded me that not talking about things isn’t always the best way to deal with stuff, and made me think about that time when he stopped talking to us and it all got so out of hand. It brought me to my senses. Matty, I don’t want the same thing to happen with us. You’re ten thousand times more stubborn than Dec.’
Thank you, at last someone had acknowledged my prowess in all things intractable.
‘We don’t talk, do we, not really, and sometimes that’s OK, it’s just how we are, and sometimes it’s not, and shit like this happens.’
I waited, because surely the next thing that should follow was an apology. I didn’t feel like making it easy for him, because he’d hurt me, and I’d been angry and miserable the last couple of days because of him, and I wanted him to say he knew that and –
‘I’m sorry, Matty.’
Bloody hell. And now I wanted gold coins to fall into my lap from the sky … oh well, can’t have everything. I still wasn’t letting him off, not just yet.
‘You called me a flirt and a waster, in front of Lau, and you refused to help me. You might as well have accused me of worse. It felt like being slutshamed.’
I thought having it stated so bluntly might piss him off, but he just nodded.
‘I know. You know I don’t really think you’d fuck about to make me look bad, don’t you?’
‘Well, no, actually. It sounded like you meant it.’
‘Sorry. I was … I don’t know if I can explain it. Do you remember when you got married, we had that talk, I said about feeling guilty about not being a very good brother?’
‘Well since you ended up in hospital back in Stafford, it’s been kind of like my second chance, like I can look out for you now.’
I frowned, not quite sure what he was getting at.
‘Jesus, Matty, I know you’re a grown up, or at least making a stab at it, but sometimes I just want to protect you. I know you don’t want it, I know it pisses you off, but … shit, this is hard to say. Please don’t take it the wrong way. I promised Laura I’d tell you what I was thinking, or some of it.’
‘When did you talk to Lau?’
Paranoia was still on high alert; I was imagining clandestine phone calls or some such shit.
‘In the car on the way over.’
Oh. Stand down paranoia, nothing to see here.
‘I asked her about your MS, what makes it come back, if it could be stress. I think one of the things I was thinking when you started getting all excited about the Raiders job was ‘what if Matty’s MS comes back?’. I know where you work now make allowances, but I wasn’t sure if Raiders would, and I didn’t want you getting stressed and it coming back and all going wrong for you. I just wanted to protect you.’
‘Holy shit, Jay, I don’t need my bloody hand holding like that, you sound worse than Beth.’
‘I know, mate. I’m not saying I was right, I’m just trying to explain. But like I say, that was only one thing that made me act like an arse on Saturday.’
‘The other thing being?’
He sighed, shoulders slumped.
‘Jesus, this is fucking hard. OK, well, maybe you weren’t so far from the truth when you said I thought it would be embarrassing.’
My temper hadn’t retreated enough not to instantly flare at this.
‘No, hang on, what I mean is, the thought of you, working at Raiders, it just felt so weird. You know how different we are, I should think we’re even more different at work, I just imagined seeing you round the place, and it’s like I was imagining seeing an alien, someone from a different world. Do you get what I mean?’
I thought about it. Yeah, I could see what he meant. Jay had a work persona and a home persona, much as I did. I saw his work side when he gave interviews on TV, and he heard about my work side when I exaggerated some of the things that went on at GreenScreen for comedic effect. I could see how he might have trouble trying to make it all fit together, and now I was calming down a bit, I could see how having a few beers beforehand might have magnified the weirdness and affected both a) how he expressed it and b) how I received it. Fuck what a mess.
‘I suppose so. So are you saying you didn’t mean any of it?’
‘I guess I am. Well, I’m not saying it wouldn’t be weird at first, if you get the job and work at Raiders, but I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have you working there. You seem to know your stuff, that’s the main thing, and I think you should give it a go. I think you could be an asset to Raiders.’
It was magnanimous, and I recognised the generosity behind his words and his actions.
‘Thanks. So, this is the application form, then?’
I held up the sheet of paper, which was creased and smudged.
‘Sorry. I folded it a bit in the car. I can get you another one.’
‘Maybe I should ask them to email me one. You can’t apply for an IT job in handwriting, you wouldn’t even get shortlisted unless you had some kind of crazy font going on.’
‘I’m pretty sure you would, Matty, I had a chat with Sean earlier, told him how good you are, he nearly bit my hand off. They need someone pretty good, pretty quick, and they haven’t got anyone else interested at the moment. If you could do it soon, they might be able to sort it so you could start really quickly.’
It almost sounded like I was a shoe-in. I felt my hopes go sky high, and tried to tether them to the ground, with only partial success.
Jay nodded, then took a breath.
‘Are we OK now?’
I thought about it.
There was still that underlying old shit that hadn’t gone away, how I’d tapped into those younger days when Jay was mean to me. I didn’t know if I could bring it up now.
‘You don’t sound that sure.’
OK, I was going to say it.
‘I felt like a little boy again.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘What you said, how you said it, it was like when we were kids and you’d pull my hair for being a smart-arse. I hated it back then, and it made me feel like that again, like you were throwing your weight around.’
‘Jesus, Matty. I hardly ever think about when we were kids. I didn’t mean it like that.’
‘Well … maybe I think about it too much. I guess I know, really …’
Oh fuck it, I was never going to have such a golden opportunity to say what I’d never said to Jay.
‘… I guess I know you don’t feel like that now. Jay, I’ve never said this before, told you how much it meant, when you came up to Stafford when I was ill, disrupted your life, all the help you gave me, all the things you did for me. It was … I still find it … astonishing that you would do that. I’m an ungrateful bastard, and I can’t tell you how humble I feel that you did that for me.’
There was more, there were the things Jay had said on my wedding day, the constant presence he’d been, if I thought about it, over the last few years, but I wasn’t going to say it all, I’d said the main thing, and without any fucking about to take the emotion out of it, and, result, I’d made Jay’s eyes fill with the suspicion of a tear or two.
‘Jesus, Matty, it was nothing, you needed me, us. Jesus, you bastard, just landing that on me.’
‘Yeah, well. I just think that on Saturday, it all felt like we were kids again, you hating me for being clever at something you weren’t, or some such shit, punishing me for it, and the last few years, well, it was as if they hadn’t happened. I’m sorry, I think I might have overreacted. I … started, the last few days, to think about getting away, just starting over, I couldn’t deal with it, feeling like that.’
Jay stared at me, frowning and shaking his head slightly.
‘No way. Jesus, Matty. Laura said something, but I thought she was just trying to get me over here. Jesus. OK, if we’re doing honest and feelings and shit, I felt it too, that ‘when we were kids’ feeling on Saturday. It was just … I don’t know if I can even put it into words. Here you were, having a bloody dinner party, with your wife and your kids and your house, and it was like ‘fucking hell, Matty’s really all grown up’, and it felt weird. It felt as if, maybe, you didn’t need me any more, as if things were changing, and I … maybe I just wanted to feel things were the same, like they used to be. If you were the same immature knobhead –’
‘– you were before, then things weren’t really that different, and it felt better to me. I think that got all confused with the job thing. When Laura said you wanted out, I realised I’d gone too far.’
So that’s what had sent Lau scurrying off, the thought of me being serious about quitting the Scottapalooza.
‘What exactly did she do?’
Jay let out a sharp laugh.
‘Ha! I was in the middle having my ear seriously bent by Dec, he’d just turned up all ‘this isn’t happening’, I was just agreeing with him, having had Beth on at me for forty eight hours straight, when your Laura bursts into the office, all flustered and red-faced and just tells me to stop being a dick, that one of us was going to have to give in and it wasn’t going to be you, and you were saying you wanted out of the family. Ha ha, makes it sound like the Mafia.’
‘She called you a dick?’
I was seriously impressed.
‘No, not out loud, but I got the drift.’
Oh. Less impressive, then. But she’d stood up for me, done what I should have done, called Jay a dick in her mind. She was so bloody awesome.
‘I don’t think I stood a chance, she was like a hurricane. Before I knew it, I was in the car and on my way over here.’
‘So you’re really only here to shut Beth up and because you’re scared of Lau?’
I was grinning as I said it, I’d finally stopped being a dick myself, for the time being. Jay grinned back, looking relieved.
‘Yeah, our wives scare the shit out of me, both of them. We are in serious trouble here, Matty, this domination can’t continue.’
‘I know. Maybe we need to come up with a plan of attack.’
‘Ha ha, as if we could ever come up with anything that would work. They’ve got us totally sussed.’
I suspected this was true, much as I hated to admit it.
‘Shit, you could be right. Maybe we need some kind of family therapy?’
I looked at Jay, an eyebrow raised, and he looked back at me, and then we both started laughing, hard. Amongst the chuckling, we both imagined how that would work out.
‘Oh Matty, can you imagine all of us in one room trying to sort ourselves out? The poor shrink would never get a word in, and that’s just when Beth’s having her go. They’d have to get past Nico, and if she was a woman she’d be swooning too much to help us –’
‘And Mum would be all quiet and nodding, probably knitting her a jumper because she looked chilly –’
‘And I’d just sit there looking pissed off, and you’d be unable to say anything that didn’t begin with ‘fuck’ –’
‘And Dec would be leading it all because of his vast experience with the counselling profession, oh and Rose. She wouldn’t have any of it, she’d be all ‘don’t you take that tone of voice with me, love’ –’
We could hardly speak for laughing, not that any of it was particularly funny, but just because we’d talked, made up and it was OK now, and we were relieved and happy.
‘We should book a session anyway, just to see how quickly we got chucked out.’
‘Nah, it’d cost a bloody fortune. We should save our money, spend it on something more fun, holiday or … ooh, a holiday. Shit, Jay, we should all go on holiday at the end of the season, like we did before. That would be family therapy, better than therapy.’
Jay’s eyes lit up at the suggestion.
‘You might have something there, although we’d need somewhere even bigger than last time, there are more of us now. And a lot of us need pretty constant looking after.’
As I was thinking about it, an idea was forming. It was true that the family had expanded since we had all been away before, with five more children, another wife and another mother, but with three potential grannies, surely plenty of fun and relaxation could be had by all?
‘What are you thinking? You’re looking devious, Matty.’
‘Mum, Rose, April. All loving a cuddle with the grandkids, all loving being left to their own devices to spoil them without censure …’
Jay cottoned on.
‘Oh, you are a genius.’
I bowed, modestly.
‘Right, when I get home I’m getting Beth on it. Then we won’t have to do any work, she’ll just tell us when to turn up with our passports.’
‘Now you’re the genius. And if you make her think it’s her idea all along, she’ll be happy as a pig in shit.’
‘And so everybody’s happy – look at us being all manipulative. Who said we can’t dish it out?’
They were still talking a long time later. I needed to feed the twins, but had promised to take Jay home. I tapped on the door and went in.
‘Sorry to interrupt –’
Matt looked up, a big smile on his face. His grin burst over me like a warm shower.
‘Lau, we’ve just had this brilliant idea.’
She looked so relieved, like I’d just lifted a huge weight from her, and I felt bad that I was the one who had put the heavy there in the first place.
‘Yeah, family holiday, huge fuck-off cottage or villa somewhere by the sea, soon as the rugby season finishes and Raiders have won the league again. All of us. I haven’t had a holiday for bloody ages, not a proper going away one, what do you think? We’ll bring Rose and the mums, they can look after the kids while we swan about getting tans and staying out late and shit.’
She gave me one of her dazzling smiles, and looked at Jay, who was looking at her and nodding, not only agreeing with the brilliance of the plan, but kind of reassuring Lau that everything was OK now.
‘You’re right, that is a proper good idea. You might want to run the details past Rose and the mums first.’
‘Nah, they’ll love it.’
‘I take it things have gone well here?’
‘Yeah, all sorted. Jay’s brought an application form for the IT job at Raiders, although I might get him to email it to me – this one’s got a bit manky.’
‘Sorry. I was fiddling with it in the car. Sweaty hands.’
‘Talking of the car, Jay, I need to feed the twins, do you want to go back now, or can you wait?’
‘I’ll take him, Lau.’
And there we were, crisis averted. Everything seemed back to normal, and apart from needing to find out what they had talked about, if I could persuade Matt to tell me, I could get on with worrying about whether I was pregnant or not.
I drove Jay back, and Dec was still there, waiting for a blow-by-blow description of the fall-out from Mattgate. No descriptions were forthcoming from either Jay or me, we were both buzzing, and not inclined to go all serious for Dec’s or Beth’s benefit, although I could see Beth was dying to get into the nitty gritty. Jay wasn’t going to get much peace after I’d gone, although we did our best to distract her with our family holiday idea.
We watched TV and messed about, and I enjoyed being there, in the place that was the hub of everything. I’d come pretty close to ditching it, and who knows, maybe they’d all get on top of me again, another day, but for now I recognised what I had, and that I needed it, and I loved it, and I loved them. That was quite enough realisation and backtracking for one day.
I was asleep in bed by the time Matt got back. The car door banging outside the bedroom window woke me up, and I waited for Matt to come upstairs. I heard him moving around downstairs, then his footsteps, the door to the bathroom opening, the sound of teeth being brushed, and finally he slipped into bed next to me.
The house was quiet when I got back, and I pottered around downstairs for a bit, turning lights off, clearing things away, then went upstairs to Lau. She had her eyes closed as I slipped into bed beside her.
I whispered so I didn’t wake her up.
She opened her eyes a fraction.
‘Oh good, you’re awake. Sorry it’s late, Dec was still there, we were watching the basketball.’
‘You like basketball now?’
‘No, not really, but we were pissing about, having a laugh. Felt good. Sorry, I would have texted, but I didn’t realise how late it was, then it was too late to text in case I woke you up. Beth was feeding us all kinds of cake and biscuits and shit.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ve been fine, Ella and Josh have been pretty quiet, I’ve been asleep.’
‘Oh, did I wake you up, then?’
‘I heard the car. But I wanted to wake up anyway. I wanted to ask you what happened with Jay. You said he brought an application form?’
‘Yeah. Didn’t you know?’
‘No, he didn’t say what was in the envelope. He must have printed it after me and Dec left the office.’
‘Yeah, I heard you made a bit of an entrance.’
‘It felt like a dramatic gesture was needed. I think Dec was in the process of having it covered though. Do you mind?’
I put my arm round her and pulled her towards me as I tried to decide whether I minded or not.
‘Honestly? You know I hate it when people interfere. So, at the time, irritated as hell. But glad now. It feels so much better to have bloody sorted it all out.’
‘I was worried you were going to move us all to the depths of Norfolk to get away.’
‘Norfolk? Oh, that job. No, Lau, Norfolk is never an option, for so many reasons. But, yeah, I did feel like running away.’
I made a mental note to delete the application for the job in Aberdeen. Who the fuck wanted to work in bloody Aberdeen anyway?
‘You and Jay talked properly, though? You didn’t just sit there making holiday plans?’
‘Ha ha, no, we did talk. We’re both bloody shit at saying stuff. Jay usually gets all tongue tied, while I sit there making smart-arse comments, which winds him up, but he actually apologised. I don’t think I can ever remember him apologising before, not in so many words. It meant a lot. I apologised too, afterwards; I think I might have overreacted. He said … well there seems to have been a lot going through his mind, he was worried about how working for Raiders was going to be compatible with the bastard MS, and I think that made him feel all protective or some such bollocks.’
‘Yeah, he said something similar to me in the car.’
‘But as well as that, he said, this was quite deep really, for Jay, he said he thought it would be weird having me around at work, some kind of ‘never the twain’ paradox. Although he didn’t actually use the words never the twain or paradox, but I knew what he meant. Like, every time he saw me it would feel like seeing something alien, from another world almost. We’re so bloody different, I guess if Jay pitched up at GreenScreen and started making us all do press-ups it would be equally weird. I hadn’t thought about it like that. I don’t think he was really worried about me fucking about, but he felt weird and it made him say something to stop the weirdness. It just pushed my buttons.’
‘Your mum thinks it’s something from when you were both younger.’
‘Yeah, well, that’s how it made me feel. Being five years younger doesn’t mean much now, but when you’re little, it’s immense. When I was ten, he was fifteen, already playing rugby, bulking up. I was a scrawny little scrap of nothing, and to make it worse I was more interested in books and computers than I was in sport. He used to tease me, every opportunity he got, and I used to hate it. He’d call me ‘puny’ and wrestle me, to the point of hurting me, and if I showed him my brainy side, I’d pay for it. He was kind of my hero, and I tried my best with sport, but I’ve always been bloody rubbish at playing anything. I so wanted to be like him, even get him to notice me as something other than a minor irritation, but it never really happened, and it’s kind of always been there between us I guess.’
‘But you’re so close now.’
‘Yeah, since I nearly pegged it. Woke up from that one, Jay was just there, given up his job, found a house with a downstairs en-suite, moved me in with them. I would never have predicted it in a million years, although I think a certain situation with a certain Mr Summers may have had a bearing on some of it, if you want to talk about running away from your difficulties. But when all that happened, and then they moved back down here and still wanted me with them, well I think it was then that I realised what family really is. But maybe all that shit from younger days doesn’t go away, and the other night made me feel the same as I used to, like being brainy didn’t mean anything to Jay, and all that was important to him was himself and his bloody rugby club.’
‘So did you say all this to him?’
‘Yeah, kind of, in man short-hand, lots of grunting. He did say he thinks I’d be an asset to Raiders. That blew my mind quite a bit. Jay never compliments me. I mean, I don’t think he really knows what the job is, or what I do, or how I might go about doing the job, but still. Major event.’
‘I’m so pleased, flower. I hope you said nice things to him too.’
‘Yeah, of course, I said he’s the best assistant coach at Raiders.’
‘Isn’t he the only assistant coach?’
‘Oh yeah. Not much of a compliment then.’
‘You daft sod.’
I squeezed Lau tighter, to feel her in my arms, loving me despite my propensity for the dramatic.
‘Thanks Lau. It’s good to know you’ve got my back when I’m being a stubborn fucker.’
‘I hope you know I can be as, if not more, stubborn than you. Don’t you ever put it to the test.’
‘I’m a bit scared now.’
‘I should hope so. And while we’re on the subject, don’t you ever threaten to quit your family again. We can’t do without them.’
I sighed. ‘I know. I sometimes wish I didn’t need them as much as I do, but there it is. Come here, then, goodnight snog now all the chat’s out of the way.’
As Lau snuggled into me, I brushed her forehead with my lips. She turned her face up to me, and I kissed her mouth, falling into its warmth and wetness as we locked lips and tongues, and for a while we were just Matt and Lau, kissing each other passionately. Then, inevitably, there was a yelp from the monitor, and then another, then a blood-curdling squawk, and it was business as usual from thereonin …
… and the night carried on as normal, lovely, safe, familiar normal, where no one was fighting with anyone and no one was going to suggest running to somewhere far away to avoid their brother.
A few days later two things were sorted in one day, within half an hour of each other actually. Read on.
So, I’d emailed my application to Raiders, had it accepted, been put on a ‘shortlist’ and had a date for an interview. I was led to believe, by Jay, that it was a very short list indeed, but I still approached the interview as if there were hundreds of us going for it, and found out as much as I could about the inner technological workings of large rugby clubs in general and Raiders in particular. There was a lot of computery shit to know about – it was thrilling.
The interview itself, with the CEO, the head admin honcho and Sean, the outgoing IT wiz, seemed to go well. I got into a detailed techy conversation with the outgoing wiz, realised the other two were glazing over, and rescued it with a bit of Matt Scott special fucking about, which made them laugh, made them not feel like idiots for not knowing what the fuck we were on about, and was a bit self-deprecating.
I managed to chat to the outgoing wiz afterwards, just to make sure there wasn’t some nefarious reason he was leaving that would make me regret the job on day one, but he was an older bloke who had been with Raiders for donkeys, about twenty years, and was up front about feeling that he could no longer keep up with the IT demands of the job. He still knew his shit, though, and I hoped I’d be able to stay in touch with him, if I got the job, for some inside info.
I’d been in the impressive Raiders Stadium many times with Cal – on the terraces, in the stands, in the bars afterwards and occasionally into the changing rooms or offices to see Jay – but the tour I had of the whole place, top to toe, was mind-blowing. There were bits that no one would have imagined were there, and which all had some sort of tech need, like alarm systems, Wi-Fi links to the big screens in the gym showing player fitness stats, operating systems for the PCs in the offices, player GPS, you name it. Bloody hell, if someone connected with Raiders, be they player, grounds man, steward or supporter, did something, it required a bit of tech to help them do it. The thought of what would happen if it all went wrong at once blew my mind slightly, but this was the sort of challenge I was looking for, being able to fix stuff, being able to suggest better stuff, improving things, tweaking things, thinking on my feet instead of on my arse. I so, so, wanted this job, so, so much. I ached for it.
I finally tore myself away from it all, and went home to await their decision. I kept veering from ‘you must have fucked it all up’ to ‘you’re the only one they interviewed, you know your shit, it’s yours’, and my heart was beating a mile a minute.
They promised a decision by the end of the day, and I checked my phone about fifty times on the way home, keeping it in my hand as I got out of the car and opened the front door.
Lau was waiting for me.
‘So how did it go?’
I saw the naked want on his face.
‘Lau, it’s my job, it has to be. If they fucking give it to someone else, I … there’ll be a stiff letter to the Times, that’s what. And I’ll cancel my subscription to Rugby World.’
‘You don’t have a subscription to Rugby World.’
‘See? The very thought has made me mad enough to cancel it in advance of even getting it.’
‘You daft sod. Did you have a good nosey around?’
‘Yeah, looked everywhere, peeked into every cranny, well, every cranny where someone with an IT degree is likely to be looking, which seems to be just about bloody everywhere. Did you know the players wear GPS trackers in their shirts so the coaches can see what they’ve been up to on the pitch? How far they’ve run, to the millimetre, how fast, where they’ve been. It’s bloody mind-blowing.’
‘Actually, I did. Dec told me.’
This took the wind out of my sails for a second, but I rallied.
‘Well, sometimes they go wrong, and I can fix them. Or tell them to buy bloody new ones when they’re out of date. Or I can if I get the bloody job.’
I couldn’t keep still. I paced around the kitchen, feeling like I was buzzing. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it, and the more I wanted it, the more I kept trying to retain some perspective.
Matt seemed really excited, more animated than I’d seen him for a long time.
‘How did the interview go?’
‘Piece of piss. More like a chat, really, only a chat between really nerdy computer geeks who were talking in binary.’
‘Talking in what?’
‘Nerdy computer geek joke, Lau. Just laugh and say ‘that’s very funny, Matt’.’
‘Ha ha, that’s very funny Matt. You look nice in your suit, by the way, liking the rumpled look, wonky tie, untucked shirt. Making me go a bit unnecessary …’
The past week or so had seen a distinct rekindling of interest in the latest chapter in Matt and Lau: Getting Steamy. Lau leaned in and ran a finger down my tie, looking up at me with sexy mischief on her face.
‘Ooh, really? Noted.’
‘When will you know?’
‘They said they’d ring by the end of the day.’
‘Were they interviewing anyone else?’
‘Didn’t see anyone, but that doesn’t mean anything.’
‘Did you see Jay?’
‘Nope. Expect he was keeping out of my way. Caught sight of Dec, his back view disappearing down a corridor. I shouted out ‘Oi, Summers, get a sweat on’ as they were showing me round.’
‘You did not.’
I did, of course, not.
‘No, you’re right, I actually shouted ‘OMG it’s Declan Summers, I’m his greatest fan, oh please let me go and get a selfie’ and then I ran after him and ripped his shirt a bit in excitement.’
‘You did not.’
Again, actually, not.
‘Lau, I don’t know how you do it, you always see right through me.’
‘Hm, maybe it’s something to do with the outrageousness of your lies.’
I smiled at Lau and kissed the end of her nose.
‘Babies been behaving themselves?’
‘They’ve been angels. They’re still asleep, but I don’t expect it’ll last much longer.’
‘Long enough for you to take advantage of my rumpled look? I can be more rumpled if you –’
The phone rang in my hand and stopped my amorous train of thought. I looked at the screen. It was the Raiders number. I stared at Lau, slightly worried my heart might give out, so I put an arm round her to steady myself, and pulled her close, forcing myself to sound calm.
‘Hello Matt, it’s Malcolm Howard here.’
Oh bloody hell, the CEO himself. That was good, right? Didn’t they get underlings to deliver the bad news? Or maybe I was so shit he wants to give me a dressing down, maybe about talking gibberish with Sean, or fucking about afterwards. Breathe, Matt. Lau squeezed my hand.
I tried to inject some cool into my greeting, as if CEOs of places I really really REALLY wanted to work called me up to tell me the outcome of the most important interview in my life every five minutes or so.
‘How are you?’
Oh fuck off with the pleasantries and just tell me.
‘Yeah, good thanks.’
‘Good, good. Matt, thank you for coming in today. As you know, we’re keen to fill the post quickly.’
Just get on with it, then, and fill it with me.
‘And it’s a part time post, with flexible hours.’
Well aware of that, thanks, all fully discussed at my interview along with disclosing my bastard MS status, if it’s a no-go just fucking well tell me, please.
‘I have to say, you interviewed very well, you have a very comfortable manner that not all people in the computer trade can boast.’
But seriously, have I got the fucking job or not? I’m about to spontaneously combust here, and then you’ll have Lau to deal with, and you’ll wish you’d just spat it out when you had the chance.
‘We’d like to offer you the job.’
Holy fucking shit. Did he just say that he was offering me the job?
There was a hint of a smile in his voice, as if he knew he’d been stringing me along, and now he’d reaped the rewards of his fun. CEOs were bastards with their power games.
‘Whoa, thank you.’
I was on the point of gushing more thanks, but he hadn’t finished yet.
‘I think you’ll be a valuable addition to the Raiders team.’
He chuckled as if he’d made a joke. Oh – ‘team’, like as if I was one of the players. As jokes went, it was pretty feeble. Probably the only one he knew.
‘We’d like you to come in as soon as possible, to work out things like start dates, any training you need to get you up to speed, that kind of thing.
‘Yeah, yeah, of course.’
‘Do you have any idea when you could start?’
‘Well I’ll have to work some notice at GreenScreen, a month, I think.’
Although I was already trying to think of ways it could be sooner, maybe by being strict with GreenScreen about my part time hours and starting with Raiders in my off time.
‘We’ll have a contract drawn up, which you’ll need to sign.’
‘Yeah, great, just let me know, I can call in and sign whatever.’
I’d sign my life away now if you asked me, probably my children and my soul as well.
‘I look forward to working with you, Matt.’
‘We’re very glad to have you with us.’
‘Maybe you could have a look at my son’s laptop when you come in?’
I didn’t think he was serious, but I wasn’t quite sure. Maybe he knew two jokes. That’s how I played it.
‘Ha ha, yeah, great, see you then, then.’
The chuckle told me that, phew, yes he had been joking.
‘Have a good evening, Matt.
‘Yep, bye for now.’
We disconnected, and I looked down at Lau, who was trying to read my face to tell her what had happened. I felt full of beans – whole tins of the little orange fart-makers.
‘They only offered me the effing job.’
I was currently undergoing a renewed concerted effort not to swear out loud. In my head was my own domain, but what came out of my mouth was strictly monitored. Until I lapsed again.
In the meantime, unaware of my gargantuan attempt at verbal decency, Lau squealed, and I took her hands and swung her round crazily, then pulled her to me and folded her up in my arms, as it slowly drained away, all the stress, uncertainty and tension, to be replaced with a warm, fuzzy feeling. It was almost as good as after sex, although to be honest, having sex first is better.
‘You really wanted this, didn’t you.’
‘Like I never wanted anything before. Oh, except you, Lau. And the babies, of course. And a Tottenham season ticket. But all that aside, yeah, I really really wanted it. Holy chuff.’ [Notice the distinct lack of sweariness, readers.] ‘Well that’s going to be an interesting conversation with Phil tomorrow. We’ve just taken on a huge account, several months’ work, and now he’s going to need a new me. Tough shit, Philly boy.’ [Notice the distinct presence of overexcited sweariness, readers.]
Phil had had his money’s worth out of me the last few years, months off with a bastard neurological condition notwithstanding. I wasn’t going to have many regrets at leaving GreenScreen behind.
I leaned down to Lau’s highly desirable mouth and gave it a thorough snogging. As my tongue wandered over hers, my mind must have been wandering elsewhere too, and I suddenly remembered what she had been going to do today. I pulled away, frowning.
‘Shit, Lau, you were going to do the test. Did you get one?’
I nodded. ‘Yeah, that was awkward, I was at the counter in the supermarket, had just asked for a pregnancy test, when I saw Kate. There was no way I wanted her to know what I was buying, and she came over to say hi …
Lau launched into a long story about buying the test at the supermarket, but I’m ashamed to say my head was so full of job I wasn’t really listening. I drifted off into a delighted world of self-congratulation while I waited for her to get to the point.
‘… got a bit of a funny look from the girl.’
The story had finished, but I still needed to know the most important thing.
‘Have you done it yet?’
‘No, I wanted you to be here. It was horrible doing it on my own last time.’
And now it was my turn to be supportive and understanding, and hold her if she needed it, and be sensible and practical and, well, positive, if it was positive.
‘OK, then, up to the loo with you.’
And so, heart beating fast, I made my way upstairs with Matt, and peed on a stick. The couple of minutes it took for the result went so slowly, with Matt and I looking at each other, then looking back at the little window on the stick, then back at each other, then at his watch, and finally, when the time had passed and the window showed ‘Not pregnant’, looking at each other with strange expressions on our faces.
We looked at each other for a while, not sure what to say. I have to admit to a tiny, but perceptible, not to mention completely inappropriate, twinge of disappointment.
‘Whoa, phew then, Lau.’
She shook her head, but I wasn’t sure if she meant ‘not phew’ or something else.
I wasn’t sure. About the result, not about the ‘phew’. I was very sure about the ‘phew’.
‘I think I need to do the other one, there can be false results.’
‘But it’s the same piss, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah, but it’s still early on. Maybe we should wait a few more days and do another one.’
‘How long do we have to go on re-doing them? Surely we should just go with this, aren’t they really reliable these days?’
I could almost foresee week after week of pregnancy tests, never quite believing that ‘Not pregnant’ meant ‘Not pregnant’.
‘Yes, but hormones are weird. They can skew things.’
I got what she was saying about hormones, but sometimes you just had to trust the things you were asking to give you an expert opinion, didn’t you?
‘Well, whatever you need, Lau, but I think that’s said it for me. No more babies for the foreseeable.’
I felt my mouth do a funny little sad face. Shit, had not meant to show anything one way or the other. Lau, of course, noticed straight away.
He made a funny little sad mouth. What? What was that all about? No, there will be no funny little sad mouths, this was a good thing.
‘Wait, are you disappointed?’
‘No, or, maybe a tiny bit. In my head I was kind of living it slightly – not all the no-sleep, more-nappies, louder-screaming reality of it all, but being a Daddy again, getting to know another one. I loved it last time, apart from being pissed and scared shitless. Don’t worry, Lau, I know it’s so impractical, you could well expire from overwork, but it just feels a little bit like we’ve lost something. You know?’
With everything else that had happened in the last week, I hadn’t really had time to get my head round the potential of another baby, but while we were waiting for the result, I’d seen in my mind’s eye a ‘1-2 weeks pregnant’ notice coming up, and I’d been surprised to find myself OK with it, even looking forward to some of it.
‘Yeah, I know.’
And I did, I saw where he was coming from, but my overwhelming feeling was relief. It wasn’t like we’d lost something at all.
‘But we haven’t, it’s not something that was ever there. And I so, so do not want to have to do all that again right now.’
‘But not never, though.’
I wanted more children, some day, when the memory of all the baby shit and screaming had faded to a dull roar.
‘No, not never. One day, we’ll have more. Tons more, thousands more, but not just yet, it’s time for Matt and Lau’s thrill ride to slow down, don’t you think?’
She was so right. We’d been going at a ridiculous speed since we met, and another baby now would have just been absurd.
‘Agreed, for now. New job first, oust Jay as assistant coach by the end of the season, replace him with computer operated robots and the world is mine – mwah hah hah. Then more babies, defo.’
‘You daft sod. I’m still going to do this one in a few days.’
Lau held up the second test from the box.
‘But just to be sure, not because I think it will change.’
‘You sure you’re OK?’
‘Yeah, just obsessing.’
‘Freaking a little bit?’
She hardly ever freaked, and I liked to press home my advantage when it happened.
‘A little bit.’
‘Love it when you freak and I don’t.’
‘I aim to please.’
‘Ha ha. Come on, Lau, much as I love our bathroom, I can think of better rooms to congratulate me on my new job in.’
A piercing shriek came from the babies’ room. Ella was awake.
‘Oh bugger. They always know, bloody little killjoys. Fat chance of any action while they’re on the case.’