At this point, it is worth mentioning that I realise Christmas is being related in a lot of detail. The thing is that all three versions of that Christmas – Dec’s, Matty’s and Cal’s – give pretty much chapter and verse of what happened over those few days, and it’s because that Christmas was so important. Cal says he can remember so much of it, even though he was only six, and Dec goes all misty eyed when you mention it. I expect if you quizzed them really hard, neither of them would actually admit to being able to remember the specific conversations, and Lau is pretty sure Matty used a fair amount of artistic license in his retelling. But Cal and Dec both say they can remember how it felt, how it was the sense of everything coming back together that made it special, and maybe beyond that, of our family becoming something more than the sum of its parts. So please bear with this retelling.
Cal went back into Matt’s room and played with some of his toys in there, while I sat and watched from the chair next to the bed. Matt was still asleep. My disturbed night and early morning started to catch up with me, and I found myself dozing too.
Dreaming. I am running, trying to fly but can’t get off the ground. The man in brown boots is chasing me, and I keep looking behind me, trying to see his face, but I can’t quite make it out. He is gaining on me. Just as I manage to launch myself upwards into the air, he catches my ankle and sends me spinning to the ground. Blows from fists and feet hit me, and I lie helplessly as his brown boot moves in slow motion towards my face …
So, all the presents were opened, and Mum and Granny were making dinner, Dad was watching TV and drinking beer, and Dec and I were in Uncle Matty’s room. I was playing on the floor, and Dec had started off watching me from the chair, but then had fallen asleep. Suddenly, he made a noise.
The next thing I know I’m pulled out of my comfy darkness.
‘Mm … ungh … no … no …’
I opened my eyes to see Dec sitting in the chair, apparently asleep but looking like it wasn’t a pleasant experience. He was twitching and murmuring. Cal had looked up from his toys, and wandered over to stand next to me, looking interestedly at Dec. He glanced at me.
‘Dec does mms and nos when he’s asleep. Sometimes he does a big swear.’
I wasn’t sure what to do. Wasn’t there something bad about waking people up from nightmares? Maybe Cal shouldn’t be in here. I was caught in indecision as Dec’s murmurings got louder, and he kicked out with a foot.
‘No … no … wana … ungh … aah … no … NO!’
And with that, my dilemma was solved, as Dec’s eyes opened. He looked dazedly at us for a moment, then collected himself, gripped the arms of the chair, levered himself upright.
I went to stand in front of Dec, interested to see what he looked like when he was having a bad dream. When he did it in the night, it was dark, and I couldn’t see his face. Dec’s eyes opened, and he looked like he thought he was somewhere else, then looked at me and Uncle Matty. I didn’t know if he knew if he’d been talking. I was disappointed he didn’t do any swears.
‘Yuh ohkay? Mahking noises.’
Dec rubbed his face with his hands.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to doze off. I was dreaming.’
‘What’s going on in here?’
Dad must have heard Dec shout. I hadn’t said anything about Dec’s bad dreams, because once it was the daytime, I’d forgotten about them.
‘Dec was dreaming. He makes noises.’
‘Yeah, I’ve had some weird dreams. Not sure it’s good for Cal, I’ve woken him up a couple of times’
‘Dreams about what?’
Dec looked at me, and I knew I wasn’t going to get to hear what the bad dreams were about.
‘– people chasing me, flashbacks to … recent events.’
‘Jesus. How long for?’
‘Pretty much since it happened, it’s been worse since the op. Don’t know if the anaesthetic messed me up a bit. First time it’s happened during the day, though. Sorry, Matt, did I wake you up?’
I made as light of it as I could, just in case Jay felt like using the fact I’d had a somniloquist to contend with against my ability to eat dinner at the table with the normal people.
‘Noh, was entertaihing. Meh and Cal enjohyed the shoh.’
It had certainly been true of Cal, who had watched with unconcealed captivation.
Uncle Matty didn’t seem to mind; he seemed as interested as I was.
‘Maybe I should sleep on the sofa tonight.’
‘I don’t think that’ll be necessary. Let’s see how it goes. Cal, were you scared when Dec shouted?’
I wouldn’t have said yes, even if I had been, because I didn’t want Dec to sleep on the sofa instead of underneath me.
‘No, he makes lots of noises. I waked him up, he said I could.’
‘There you go, then, mate. Seems OK for the time being. Bloody head-case. OK, guys, I think lunch is nearly ready. Matty, are you still up for joining us?’
Uncle Matty was going to sit at the table with us for Christmas dinner. It would be the first time he had been out of bed to anywhere else in the house apart from his room, and I could tell he was excited about it. He was smiling, and his eyes were wide and sparkly.
As we crossed the hall, the smell of dinner wafted out of the kitchen, and I remembered Beth had asked me to set the table.
‘I’ll be right there, Cal, just need to talk to Mummy.’
I popped my head round the kitchen door. The table was already set. Beth and Jay’s mum were busy with steaming pans and pouring things and sizzling things.
‘Sorry, Beth, I fell asleep. This all smells amazing.’
_Don’t worry, sweetheart, it’s all done now.
‘Anything I can do?’
_Has James checked with Matty about dinner?
‘Yeah, they’re getting sorted now.’
_Oh good. See, Carol? James wouldn’t let him if he didn’t think he was up to it. We’ll keep an eye on him. OK, Dec, no I don’t think there’s anything. Maybe keep Cal occupied while we’re waiting?
Cal and I played for a while. The clattering continued in the kitchen, and then the door opened and Beth called out
‘Come on, Cal, let’s go and get some Christmas dinner.
\can I take Optimus Prime?
‘I guess so.’
\and my stegosaurus book?
‘I think just one thing.’
He chose the Transformer and we went into the kitchen. The table was magnificent, a huge turkey in the middle and bowls of hot vegetables and roast potatoes, jugs of gravy, stuff I didn’t recognise, all around it.
‘Wow. Good work, Beth, Mrs Scott.’
#Thank you Declan. You know, why don’t you call me Carol?
I looked at her, surprised, and she gave me half a smile. Cal climbed into his seat and plonked Optimus Prime onto the table. He had a sideways glance at Beth to check it was OK. She raised her eyebrows at him, but didn’t say anything.
\dec can you sit next to me?
I looked at Beth.
‘Don’t know, mate, we’d better see what your mum wants to do.’
_Well there’s a space for Matty here, everywhere else is up for grabs.
\next to me, next to me. Granny, can you sit the other side? You can play with Optimus Prime.
#Thank you, Calum. I’m honoured.
As we both sat down in our appointed places, the door opened and Matt and Jay came in. Matt was in a wheelchair, which Jay pushed up to the space at the table. Matt was smiling broadly.
_Glad you could join us, sweetheart. James, sit next to Matty so you can help him.
}Noh, gihv a try mysehf.
Beth bent down and kissed his cheek. Carol was looking at him, close to tears. Jay was opening a bottle of wine.
łAnyone for a drop of red?
}Yeh. Lahge glahs.
łNo booze with your meds, mate.
}Ohn glahs? It’s Chrihsmus.
Jay looked at Beth.
She considered it.
_Maybe one, but a small one, and with dinner, don’t slurp it all at once.
}Cohm on, gahging! Lahge glahs eahsier tuh hohd.
Beth rolled her eyes.
_OK, large glass with a small amount in it. On a full stomach only, and a glass of water for your raging thirst. That’s the rule.
łAnyone else? Mum?
#Lovely, dear, yes please.
Although I thought I might have to take it slowly, after my reaction to the beer last night.
\daddy! I don’t have wine. I’ve got juice, look.
łSorry, my mistake. Jay? Yes please, big glass, don’t mind if I do. Merry Christmas everyone. Here’s to family.
He raised his glass.
}Behth? Yuh fuhgot hehr.
_Oh, no, it’s OK, Matty, I’ll just have water for now. Family.
She raised her glass and we all did the same. Magical moment for me. Laid to rest a lot of ghosts. Beyond my self-absorbed happiness, I became aware of glances going on round the table.
}Spihl, Behth. Wahter foh Chrihsmus dinner? Buhlshih. Oops, sohry.
_Honestly, Matty, I’m going to ban Dec from your room.
‘Why am I getting the blame?’
_Well it’s only since you arrived that the swear count has increased. Last night I had it loud and clear over the monitor thank you very much.
Matt and I exchanged a look, part guilt, part amusement.
}Behside the poihn. Wahter?
Beth rolled her eyes, looked at Jay and took his hand. Carol had a sharp intake of breath and put her hand over her mouth, eyes shining.
}Say ih, befohr Mum blohs a gahsket.
_OK, well, as you seem to have guessed, we’re having another baby. Early days, long way to go, not due until the summer. But yes, that’s why I’m drinking water.
Jay put his arm round her and kissed her on the forehead, then smiled back at us all.
#Oh Beth, I’m so pleased for you.
Suddenly realised I had to pretend I didn’t already know.
_We were going to tell you today anyway. Cal found out, and he’s not good with secrets, so sooner rather than later seemed best.
#You must be thrilled, after all this time.
_Pretty thrilled, yeah. Tired though.
#Oh, and you’ve just done all this.
She gestured to the table.
#I wish I’d known.
_Carol, I’m fine, just tired. You know what it’s like. Dec’s been a great help, spending so much time with Cal. Thanks for my lie-in this morning, sweetheart, it was a life-saver.
‘Glad to help.’
}Ahny chahce of eahting behfor next Chrihsmus?
_Sorry, Matty, let’s get stuck in. But it was you who wanted to stop and chat about why I’m drinking water.
The meal was amazing. Everyone was in high spirits. Jay and Carol were fuelled by wine, Cal was fuelled by Christmas, Beth was fuelled by some kind of inner fire, Matt and I were fuelled, for different reasons, just by being there. We all sat for a long time afterwards, telling awful cracker jokes, wearing silly hats, talking. Cal got bored with the grown-up chat, and had disappeared to play some more.
łOK, another toast. Fill your glasses.
Matt pushed his forwards.
łYou’ve had your quota. Water or juice now, mate.
#Matthew. Really. I’m beginning to think Beth was right.
}Sohry Muhm. Dec’s rehlehsed my ihner swehrer.
#I don’t think it needed much releasing, dear.
‘No more for me, I’ll be asleep.’
łHere you go then, Mum, finish it up. Anyway. Now I’m a bit pissed, there’s something I want to say, just so it’s said and everyone knows and there are no more misunderstandings. We had a toast to family before. I just want you all to know that my family includes Declan Summers. And all who sail in her. Forever. Whatever he gets up to, whether I like it or not. Just so it’s official. Right, Dec? Oh bloody hell, pass him the bloody tissues, he’s bloody off again.
I looked at Beth through my tears, and she smiled back at me. This felt very close to the ‘real parents’ thing I’d wanted when I was much younger. When I was in foster care I’d had ridiculous dreams about a ‘forever family’, but Jay had just given me that, almost ceremonially, despite the large quantity of wine he’d drunk, and my heart was bursting.
Matt reached across the table and clasped my hand.
}Wehcom bro, or cuz, or auhnty, or whaever.
Carol didn’t quite know what to do with the information, and just patted me on the shoulder.
}Jay, sohry, thihnk Ih behter go back to bed. Toh much good nehws. Noht enough wihn.
łOK, mate, let’s go.
Jay wheeled Matt out of the kitchen.
And so I’d made it to Christmas dinner and beyond. In my wheelchair, admittedly, in case Jay needed to whisk me back for some emergency fussing in the middle of pouring the brandy butter, but I was there. I got to see parts of the house I had only previously visited in my wildest dreams, starting with a trek across the hallway, taking in a glimpse of the living room on the way, and then the whole huge family kitchen complete with fuck-off ebloodynormous table laden with enough festive fare to feed a moderately sized army. I even fed myself, although I had to insist on that. I lasted for all of it and more, to the crap cracker jokes, the paper hats slipping forgotten to the floor, the slightly drunken laughter (although that was really just Jay and Mum).
I had been ‘allowed’ one small glass of wine, despite my loud protests and well-reasoned arguments. Dec didn’t seem to be drinking much, and Beth – well Beth was on the water on account of being pregnant.
Whoa. Hadn’t seen that one coming. I’d known they’d wanted another kid from hints dropped by Mum, but Cal was six, and it seemed to be taking long enough that who knew if it was going to happen. Mum nearly burst with happiness, right there at the table. Not only was she going to be a granny again, but her little boy had made it to dinner. I’d like to think it was the latter that made her happiest, but who am I kidding, grandchildren win hands down every time. I could have single-handedly flown to Mars and come back with proof of life up there, and Jay and Beth would still have trumped me with the ‘having a baby’ card. Not bitter. Not really. Just how it was.
Oh, and apparently, as if a baby wasn’t enough, we had another new member of the Scott family to welcome. Jay had made a pissed toast, after Cal had left the table to play with more toys, saying that Dec was now officially part of his family, forever, and although Jay kind of looked defiantly at me and Mum while he said it as if he expected us to argue with him, really it wasn’t a problem. I don’t know why they hadn’t just adopted him when he was young enough, to be honest, but this seemed like the same kind of thing, although less official, and I was cool with it, not that I had any say. I looked at Mum, who had been less than happy at having to share Christmas with ‘that boy’, as she’d called him, just to me, but she was patting his shoulder and smiling, so it looked like he’d won her over as well.
And that was kind of it for Christmas. Dec stayed a couple more days, then he went back to Devon and that was that. What? Oh, you don’t really want to know about all that shit with the ‘leave me alone’ and the bonding do you? Oh for fuck’s sake, alright, if it will shut you up.
So Mum and Dad told everyone the secret, and it wasn’t that Dec was going to be my brother. They were going to get a baby, but not until the summer, which was ages away, and they didn’t know if it would be a brother or a sister. But everyone was happy and drank wine, and pulled crackers and wore the hats and gave me all the toys out of the crackers, then told each other the jokes from the crackers, and there were some really funny ones, like ‘What’s brown and sticky? A stick.’ That’s funny because you think the answer is going to be something like Marmite, or poo, which are brown and sticky. But it means something that is stick-y, which is what a stick is. It was my favourite joke for ages. My second favourite joke was ‘Why are pirates called pirates? Because they aargh.’ That’s funny because aargh is what pirates say, but it sounds like you’ve said ‘because they are’ only in a pirate way.
I got bored after a while, because everyone was talking about boring things like how to make gravy, and I was allowed to get down to play, although Mum said I couldn’t eat any chocolate until later.
I heard them all still talking and laughing in the kitchen, and I felt happy inside. When Uncle Matty was in hospital and we came to live with Granny, there was a lot of talking but not much laughing, and the talking was all serious and I couldn’t join in. Then Uncle Matty woke up, and Dad smiled like he hadn’t done for ages, and things got brighter, and then Uncle Matty came out of hospital, and there were still serious talks, but it seemed better, apart from not being able to talk about Dec.
Now, things seemed better than back to normal. Dec was here, and Uncle Matty was here, and everyone in the house was happy. It felt like a long time since everyone in the house was happy.
#Well, what a lovely meal, dear. It all went very well, I think. I’m so pleased Matthew stayed for so long and did so much for himself. He’ll be tired now, I should think.
I had managed to wipe my eyes.
‘Best. Roasties. Ever.’
_Don’t let Rose hear you say that.
‘Oh, she knows!’
_Have you spoken to her today?
‘No, I was going to try my phone out, haven’t had a chance.’
_Don’t leave it too long.
‘I’ll do it this afternoon.’
#Beth, dear, why don’t you go and have a sit down? Declan and I will clear the table and make a start on the washing up, won’t we Declan?
‘Yeah, no worries. Go and put your feet up.’
_Oh you angels, thank you.
And then it was just me and Carol. I didn’t know her that well; although she had visited Jay and Beth plenty of times when I had lived with them, I had tended to keep out of the way, be polite if we came across each other (gaping boxers incident aside) and do my own thing. She stood up and started collecting plates into a pile. I noticed that she struggled to lift more than a couple at a time, and remembered Jay saying she had arthritis.
‘Here, let me do that.’
I piled all the plates on top of each other, then realised that I was going to find it a bit hard to lift them too, with a bruised hand and healing arm. I looked at her.
‘Bitten off more than I can chew, I think. Sorry, trying to be chivalrous.’
#It’s very sweet of you, dear. We’re a couple of old crocks, really, aren’t we. Maybe you should initiate me into your Cripples Corner.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise.
‘I’m not sure you’d appreciate the bad language, it’s a bit of a rule.’
#I don’t really mind the language, dear, I’ve got used to it over the years with Jameson and Matthew. You need to be careful with young Calum though, he idolises his dad and his uncle – and you. He’ll do what you do.
‘I know, I’m trying. Matt and Jay are wicked though.’
#Tell me something I don’t know, dear. Right, how are we going to do this? One plate at a time?
It was slow progress, but we managed to cram most of it into the dishwasher. There were a few pans we optimistically decided to leave for Jay, as I didn’t want to get my dressings wet in the washing up bowl, and Carol thought they’d be too heavy for her. And we thought he deserved it. She may have been disinhibited by quite a large amount of wine, but Carol was OK.
#I think that’s enough for now. I’m going to put my feet up with Beth.
‘Fancy some coffee?’
#That sounds lovely, dear. I’ll leave that with you.
I boiled the kettle, found a cafetière and some fresh coffee and made a pot. Put it all on a tray with cream and sugar and even put some mince pies on a plate. Felt very pleased with myself. I took the tray into the living room, where Beth and Carol were both asleep in front of the TV. I moved on to Matt’s room, where Cal was building a road for his cars out of Lego blocks. Matt was asleep in bed, and Jay was asleep in the chair. Christmas afternoons everywhere always seemed to turn out the same – only the kids awake. A bit deflated, I took the tray back into the living room, poured myself a cup of coffee and took it back into Matt’s room.
‘Need any help, Cal?’
\no, I don’t need help, but you can play with my cars.
‘That’d be great. Which ones can I have?’
I knelt down and engrossed myself in the tiny world Cal had created. He had a huge imagination and was fully absorbed in his game. The room grew dark, and I put the lamp on so we could see what we were doing. Jay woke with a groan and a stretch.
łWhat time is it? Jesus, it’s dark already. How long have I been asleep?
‘Several weeks have passed.’
łHa ha. Have I missed the washing up?
‘You know you have, you planned it that way.’
łVery true, just checking I don’t need to doze off again. Where is everyone?
‘Well four of us are in here. Your mum and Beth were asleep in the living room last time I checked.’
łBetter go and see if there’s anything I need to be doing.
He ran his hands through his hair.
łDamn, I was going to get us out for a walk this afternoon. Bit dark now.
‘We can do it tomorrow. How about a game of football – is there a park?’
łGreat idea. How about it Cal? You and me versus Dec and Granny?
\i don’t think Dec will win if Granny’s on his side.
łI don’t think Granny will win if Dec’s on her side. Especially if she leaves the free kicks to him. I’d better go and see what Beth is up to with Mum, could have all sorts of plans involving me doing stuff I’d rather not do, if I’m not careful.
‘There’s some pans soaking in the kitchen could do with washing up.’
Jay shot me a look and padded out of the room, shaking his head.
I carried on playing with Cal and his cars for a while. I became aware of a ringing sound, quite faint.
‘Is that a phone? Can you hear it Cal?’
\it’s from there.
He pointed to the corner of the room where I’d been sitting that morning. There was the box with my new phone in it. It was ringing. I leapt over to the box and tried to open it, unearthing packaging, small plastic bags, earphones, and a charger before the phone finally tumbled into my hand. It had stopped ringing. I looked at the screen: Missed Call. Rose. Fuck. I’d forgotten about calling her.
‘Cal, I need to phone Rose. Back in a minute.’
I went into the kitchen, which seemed to be the only downstairs room not full of sleeping people. I looked at the phone, trying to work out how to dial a number or access the address book. It was different from my last phone and a much more recent model. While I was in the middle of pushing buttons and scrolling through menus, the screen flashed up with Rose’s name, and an option to answer or decline. I pressed answer.
‘Hi Rose! Sorry, I didn’t get to the phone in time just now. Happy Christmas. How are you?’
:Hello, love, oh it’s grand to talk to you. I’m grand. Just thought I’d ring on your new phone. Was it a nice surprise?
‘Yeah. A bit overwhelmed, to tell you the truth.’
:Well, Happy Christmas, love. Have you had a good day?
‘I’ve had the best day. It’s been amazing. Started a bit early, with Cal waking up before three, but it’s been pretty special. Thanks for the present, by the way, it’ll be great in a few days when I get these dressings off.’
:Oh, you’re welcome love, and thank you for the smellies, dead posh they are. I think you might have had a bit of help choosing?
‘Yeah, Lisa did it all really. Otherwise you’d have had an old potato, wrapped in a bit of cling film. I might have washed the potato first – you deserve the best.’
:Oh love, you sound really happy. I don’t think I’ve heard you happy before, not properly. It’s doing you good being there.
‘It really is, I can’t quite believe it still. I feel a bit all over the place. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.’
:When’s that love?
‘Not sure, Jay’s going to bring me back, don’t know when yet. I’ll let you know.’
:Alright, love. See you soon then. Love to Jay and Beth and little Calum.
‘Cheers Rose, bye.’
I pressed ‘end call’ and put the phone in my pocket as Cal wandered into the kitchen.
\can you help me make a Dalek?
‘I’ll have a go. Have you got instructions, or is this just kind of free-hand?
\it’s in the box.
‘OK, bring it in, we can do it on the table here.
Cal skipped off to get the box as the phone in my pocket pinged. I pulled it out. Text.
Nico: =I just check you still alive. Happy Christmas 🙂 from Nico & Lis x
Me: =Just abt 2 build Dalek. Very much alive. Thanks v much 4 laptop 🙂 talk ltr. Dec.
I did feel back in the land of the living, amazing what a difference a phone made. I had felt completely out of touch for the last couple of weeks. Cal returned with a large box full of complicated small pieces and a very detailed several-page booklet of instructions. We emptied the pieces onto the table and sorted them into piles, then started making the model. Cal lost focus easily, but I needed him to manage the fiddly bits, my fingers still tripping over themselves at times.
‘Why don’t you go and get a book or something so you’ve got something to do while I’m working out what goes where?’
\i want to help you.
‘OK, it’s up to you, but this might take a long time. There might be some boring bits for you.’
Some time later we had finally finished. Cal just about kept his concentration, although he was fidgeting a lot by the time we put the finishing touches to the model. The rest of the house was still quiet, and I could feel myself drooping a bit too.
‘Why don’t we go and show your dad?’
\kay. Then what can we do?
I looked at the clock in the kitchen. Well past time for people to be awake and helping me entertain Cal.
‘Let’s go and see if Daddy wants to play a game with you.’
I followed Cal into the living room, where Carol, Jay and Beth were all asleep on the sofas. I mean, seriously? I know we’d all been up early, I knew that better than any of them, but this was verging on the ridiculous. I looked on as Cal launched himself onto Jay’s lap.
\daddy, what can I do now? We made a Dalek, look. Can we play my football game?
Jay’s eyes had snapped open as soon as Cal kneed him in the balls, and he tried hard to focus on the model Cal was holding in front of his face.
łAh, Jesus. Sorry, Cal, agh, what? Uh. Great, er, Dalek. Jesus, mind what you’re doing there. Jesus.
Beth stirred beside him.
_Was I asleep? What time is it?
She looked at the clock.
_God, it’s really late. I should get some tea or something.
She got up and headed for the kitchen.
\daddy, what can I do?
Jay was still trying to get his breath back. He caught my eye.
łI don’t suppose ..?
Nope, wasn’t having that, however grateful I was to be part of the family.
‘I’ve been the only one awake with Cal all afternoon.’
łFair enough. OK, Cal, let’s see what we can do. Fancy helping Mummy get some tea?
\no, I want to play a game.
‘Suck it up, Daddy. No getting out of it.’
Jay glanced over at Carol, who was still asleep. No assistance there, either.
łI guess all that wine is taking its toll. OK, Cal, let’s have a look then …
I left the room to avoid being sucked into Cal’s game. Much as I had enjoyed being with him, he was a tiring bundle of energy, I’d got out of the habit of being with him, and I felt drained. I went into the kitchen, where Beth was starting to wash up the pans Carol and I had left.
‘Oh, we left those for Jay.’
_You’d have been waiting a long time, then! It’s OK, there’s not much. Thanks for doing the rest, great help.
‘No worries. Anything else I can do?’
_No, sweetheart, I’m just going to finish this and put some tea on the table, people can help themselves. Won’t take a minute. Thanks for being with Cal this afternoon. You must be exhausted.
‘Yeah, a bit. He kept me busy. Loved it, though.’
_You’ve always been so good with him, the two of you with your heads together, cooking up some mischief or other. He’s missed you. We all have.
‘Same here. Don’t start me off again.’
_Thanks for coming up, Dec, it’s been like old times. Well, not that old I suppose. Feels like a long time ago though. You’ve grown up a lot – I keep forgetting how young you are.
I felt slightly miffed at being considered young. I was in my last few weeks of being a teenager.
‘Twenty next month.’
_Sorry, sweetheart, twenty sounds really young to me! You’ve had a lot to cope with in the past few months, when you add it all up. James told me a lot of what you told him last night. I’m sorry we weren’t there for you.
‘Fuck, Beth, you’ve got nothing to apologise for. You and Jay had your own shit going on. I did some appallingly stupid things and made some bloody mind-blowing decisions, I just made it harder for you. Looking back, I can’t quite understand myself. I made myself a really deep hole, and I’d still be in it if it hadn’t been for Rose. And Nico.’
_Rose is so lovely. She really cares about you.
_Nico and Lis care about you too. I’m glad you’ve got them all.
‘Yeah, me too.’
_I’m glad you’ve got us as well.
‘Thanks, Beth. I feel very lucky.’
_You’re not the only one. We were all pretty close to losing each other, weren’t we? Come here.
She held her arms open, and hugged me. Predictably, tears were shed on both sides. She patted my back and let go.
_Well I’ve got my hormones as an excuse. What’s yours?
‘Bloody head case, according to Jay.’
_You’re seeing someone though, aren’t you, sweetheart?
‘Got an appointment in the New Year.’
_I think it might help, don’t you? Just sorting through stuff in general, let alone all the recent stuff. You’ve had quite a tough start in life.
‘I’ll give it a go. Don’s orders anyway, so not much choice.’
_He usually knows what he’s doing.
‘Yeah. Anyway, I might go and check on Matt.’
_Is that code for taking a nap? It’s nice and quiet in there, I can keep Cal in the living room.
I grinned at her.
‘I’ll see how it goes.’
Matt’s room was completely dark. I switched on the Christmas tree lights, and looked over at Matt. His eyes were closed and his breathing regular. I sat in the chair by his bed and took the phone out of my pocket, thinking I would try to get to grips with it. The first thing I pressed caused a loud trilling. Matt stirred and opened his eyes.
‘Shit, sorry, mate, didn’t mean to wake you up.’
‘Happens at night.’
‘About six thirty.’
}Bolluhks. Haht bluhdy slehping soh much.
‘No different from everyone else today. Me and Cal have been holding the fort since after lunch, everyone else crashed. Came in here for a bit of peace and quiet. So stop your bloody chatter.’
}Pihs off. How’s yuh phone?
‘I’m just trying it out. It’s different from my old one, trying to work out where everything is.’
}Hahv a lohk?
I handed it to him.
}Had ohn lihk this. Prehty easy. Hehr’s yuh contahts, yuh cahl or text from hehr. This foh intehnet. Sehtings foh Wi-Fi – uhs Jay’s while yuhr hehr, I’ll lohg yuh on. Thehr yuh goh. Easy.
He handed it back.
‘Well I know where to come for a quick tutorial. Thanks.’
}Hahv my uhses.
‘Everyone’s good at something.’
Carol appeared in the doorway.
#I think Beth’s put some tea on the table. Do either of you want anything?
}Noh Ihm stuhfed. Cup of teh tho?
#Right you are, dear. Declan?
‘Cup of tea sounds great. No food just yet, though, thanks. I’m stuffed too.’
Carol left to fill our order.
}Muhm’s wahmed up tuh yuh a bih.
‘Yeah, seems to have. I can understand why she was a bit off to start with, me walking in looking like a I’d lost a cage fight, having caused Jay and Beth no end of grief.’
}Yuh must hahv chahmed her.
‘I think several large glasses of wine helped, then we bonded over the dishwasher.’
‘She’s alright, your mum.’
}I knoh. Juhs jeluhs couhnt hehp wash uhp.
}Fuck noh. Only rehson Ihm in behd, tuh avoid the dishes.
‘Ha ha, seems to be working. Keep it up.’
Carol came back in with two mugs of tea, one in Matt’s spouted cup.
#Are you alright with this dear? Do you want me or Declan to help you?
}Yuh, Muhm. Sohry Dec, mahn poihts.
‘Understood. I’ll leave you to it.’
I stood up.
‘Oh, by the way, your mum’s the newest member of Cripple’s Corner. She’s up for the dirty songs and the swearing.’
Matt spluttered into his tea as I left the room.
The rest of the evening passed in a lazy, dozy haze. Cal, who had effectively been awake since three o’clock that morning, went to bed at seven with hardly any protest. I read him a really short story and Beth tucked him in, still wearing his Arsenal shirt, which he refused to take off. He apparently fell asleep while Beth was still talking to him.
The TV was on, taking away the need for conversation, and my mind drifted contentedly. Carol was still sitting in with Matt, Jay and Beth were cosied up on one sofa, I was stretched out on the other. The phone rang, shattering the peace. Jay had a brief conversation with Beth’s mum, then handed the phone over to Beth, mouthing ‘tell her’. Beth rolled her eyes and nodded, taking the phone into the kitchen.
Jay picked up the TV remote and managed to find a repeat of a rugby international on a sports channel. We watched it for a while, occasionally commenting on some aspect of the play, or a refereeing decision. Jay suddenly sat up and looked at me.
łI’ve just had a bloody brilliant idea.
łAren’t Raiders at home on Sunday?
I thought about it, a bit surprised that Raiders had been so far from my mind. If these people were my family, then Raiders were my home, and I’d just recently been granted access back there too. Before my mind could go wandering down too many guilty paths, I answered Jay.
‘Yeah. Against Warriors.’
łWhy don’t we go? I can take you home – we could bring Cal, that’d give Beth a break, he’d love it. Three birds with one stone.
I hadn’t thought about going back. I had settled back into life with Jay and Beth so quickly that, for the moment, it hadn’t occurred to me it wasn’t going to last. I felt like someone had poured cold water on me.
‘Isn’t it a sell out?’
łI reckon I could swing some tickets. I’ll talk to Don, I need to ring him anyway. What do you think?
He looked so excited by his plan that I joined in, even though I felt rather churned up about it.
łI’ll talk to Beth once she’s off the phone. I can get Matty up in the morning, she should be alright for a day, I can come back after so I’m not away overnight. I’ll ring Don first thing.
‘It’s Boxing Day.’
łIt’s the Friday before a Sunday game, they’ll be training. It’s only ex-players like me and injured nancies like you that get Boxing Day off.
łAre you OK? You’re a bit quiet. Is it a bad idea?
‘No, it’s a great idea. I’d love to watch Raiders with you and Cal. Just hadn’t given going home much thought. Been in a bit of a bubble since I got here, and I think it just popped.’
łJesus, sorry, mate. Maybe it was a bit insensitive of me. We can leave it if you want. Stay a bit longer?
I thought about it, but in the end, whether I went back in a few days or a few weeks, it was going to feel the same.
‘No, it sounds good if you can swing it. I haven’t seen a home game for a long time. Should get back to Rose, I guess, or even go back to my flat.’
I wasn’t relishing that one, but it would have to happen eventually – I couldn’t impose on Rose for much longer, now I was getting fitter.
łOK, if you’re sure. You know you can stay as long as you like, come back whenever you like, don’t you?
Jay settled back down to watch the game, a satisfied look on his face, although I could no longer concentrate on the TV now as thoughts from pre-Christmas crept in.
I wondered if I would see DivDav or Big at the game. Needed to think about how I would handle that. I had no idea if the police had approached either of them about my allegations. Fuck, fuck, fuck, all the complications I had managed to forget over the last forty-eight hours came crashing back and I started to feel really gloomy.
The game finished and Beth came back in to say she was going to bed.
łIs your Mum excited?
_You bet. I talked to both my sisters too. Rachel’s already planning what to knit. Lou wants to visit for New Year. I tried to put her off, don’t know if it worked.
łBugger. Oh well, can’t be helped. You’d like to see her, wouldn’t you.
łI’ll manage then. If I get pissed enough she might not annoy me at all. I’ll be up after I’ve sorted Matty – me and Dec have had an idea about Sunday …
They waved goodnight, then I heard Beth go upstairs while Jay went in to Matt to check he was alright for the night. I stayed on the sofa, still feeling sorry for myself. The sports channel was now showing football, previewing the Boxing Day games. I turned the sound down and let it drift over me.
I tried to be positive. I’d had a great couple of days, and I was here for another two. Jay, Beth and Cal had welcomed me back into their family with open arms, permanently and unreservedly. Despite everything I’d done, the mess I’d made of everything over the last few months, I hadn’t lost them. It was more than I deserved. And yet, it wasn’t ever going to be the same as it had been. It was going to be visits and weekends, and once I was playing again, I would hardly see them during the season.
This seemed like another loss on top of everything. It welled up in me, starting somewhere below my ribs and then spreading up into my throat. I curled on the sofa and cried, trying to be as quiet as possible. I didn’t want anyone to hear me, but couldn’t stop the tears, giving myself over to a good dose of self-pity.