Not long after we got in the fun bus and started the drive down the hill and back to the Land of Signal, I heard Jay’s ringtone on my phone.
‘Hey. Any news?’
‘Hi Matty. Yeah, we’ve got a daughter.’
There was clapping and cheering from everyone on the bus, as they knew I was waiting for news, and I’d given them a thumbs up.
‘Is evhryone OK?’
‘Yeah, mate, everyone’s perfect. Any chance you can get over here? Dec’s bringing Cal.’
‘Yeh, on my way home now. Wha’s she called?’
‘Great. Look forward tuh meeting her. Well done, mate.’
‘See you soon, Matty.’
The fun bus driver agreed to drop me off at the hospital rather than at home, and I met up with Dec, Amy and Cal in the car park.
And then I finally had my baby sister. I had been looking forward to it for ages, because I didn’t know she was going to be a sister, she still might be a brother, and even if the baby was a sister, Mum had said that girls sometimes like football, and so I thought she might go in goal for me. She could be a bit little, but I would score more goals that way. I was still hoping for a brother, but a sister wouldn’t be too bad.
So when Mum told me Dec and Amy were coming to our house because she and Dad were going to hospital to have a baby, I was pleased that at last I could stop waiting, and I would be a big brother, which was very important. It was a very long day of waiting, because Mum and Dad went away in the morning, and me and Dec and Amy did lots of things all day, like going to the beach, and flying my kite, and eating sandwiches, and playing football, and eating chocolate, before Dec said that Mum had had the baby, and it was a sister, and we were going to go and see her in the hospital.
We bundled Cal into the car and set off. At the hospital entrance, we met Matt, who had just been dropped off by his friends.
\uncle Matty, I’ve got a sister.
}I know, Cal, I’m coming to meet her, like you.
\dec forgot to ask her name.
}Oh, good job one of us has got half a brain then. Her name’s Isobel Flora Scott.
\will she be able to play football with me?
}Maybe in a few years, but at the moment she’s really tiny. Leh’s go and see her.
Dec didn’t know what my sister’s name was, because he forgot to ask, but he said we would find out when we got there, because Dad couldn’t use his phone in the hospital. When we got there, Uncle Matty was in the car park too, because he’d been walking on a hill, and his friends had brought him in a minibus to see my sister. Uncle Matty knew my sister’s name, which was Isobel Flora, but he said it would be years before she would play football with me. Years! No one had said anything about it being years. I thought it might be a few weeks, maybe, until she got big enough to stand up, but I didn’t think I could wait years for someone to go in goal.
We all walked together along the corridor.
‘How was the hike?’
}Loved it. I’m bloody knackered now, but it was just what I needed. I’ve really missed getting out like that. I just took it slow, like everyone else, and enjoyed the views. Have you been up the top there? You can see righ over the river to the sea. There are deer and birds and everything.
‘Sounds like a great day, did you some good.’
}Yeah, thanks for talking me into sticking with it.
‘Pleasure. We had a good day on the beach, didn’t we Cal?’
\i flew my kite and Dec kissed Amy.
‘Cal, we didn’t kiss all day long, we did loads of cool things at the beach.’
}Probably quite a loh of kissing though, eh Cal?
\dec said he will sleep under my bed tonight and make dream noises.
}Did he? What have you done to deserve that?
‘Apparently my mad night noises are much sought after. Amy and Cal were fighting over them earlier.’
}Takes all sorts I suppose. Having experienced your utter insanity when you’re dreaming, I would say they’re bloody welcome to it. Are you still doing tha, then?
‘Apparently so. Worth reporting to Adam I guess.’
}Always worth – oh, here we are.
We checked where Beth and Jay were, and found the room. Beth was sitting up in bed, looking sweaty, tired and lovely, holding the tiniest person I had ever seen. Amy and I hovered by the door as Cal and Matt went in, unsure how many of us were allowed in at a time. Matt kissed Beth and hugged Jay, then sat in one of the chairs by the bed.
We got to the room where Mum and Dad were with my sister, and Mum was in a bed, holding a lot of blankets. I wondered where my sister was, and then the blankets moved and I saw a little tiny finger, and then Mum tilted the blankets and there was a face in there, and it didn’t look like a girl or a boy, just like a little face.
‘Hey, Cal, hop up on my lap and have a look at your sister.’
Uncle Matty was sitting in a chair next to the bed, and he was holding his arms out to me, so I climbed onto his lap to have a closer look. The face in the blankets still didn’t look anything like I had thought it would – girls have long hair and sometimes hair grips, and boys have short hair but I couldn’t see any hair because it was covered by the blanket. I needed to be doubly sure.
‘Is she my sister?’
‘Yes, sweetheart, she is. She loves her big brother. Do you want to give her a kiss?’
The little face suddenly moved, and I could see her hair, which was blonde like mine, and she screwed her face up and opened her mouth and wriggled her hands, and suddenly I saw that she was a really, really, little girl, and I was her big brother, and I was going to have to look after her like big brothers do, so I would tell Archie Shepherd off if he was mean to her, and I might share my sweets if I had enough and she had run out, and I’d let her play cars with me as long as she didn’t mind having the second best ones. I did want to give her a kiss, because that’s what Mums and Dads and big brothers did to little sisters.
I nodded to Mum and she smiled again.
‘Climb up here then, gently now.’
I got on the bed and kissed her, and her cheek was all soft, and her eyes were open and she looked at me, then I climbed off and stood next to Mum, looking at my sister.
Jay put his arm round Cal’s shoulder.
}She is just beautiful.
Beth stroked the baby’s hair and looked at Matt.
_Would you like a cuddle?
}Well I’d have thought you’d be a bit tired, giving birth and all, but if you’re sure you’re up to it …
}I’d love to.
Matt stood up and took the tiny baby from Beth. He jiggled her and made cooing noises, and she opened her eyes and looked into his. His own eyes filled with tears. He kissed her on the cheek and gave her back to Beth, wiping his eyes.
}Fuck, didn’t see tha coming. Anyone got a tissue?
_Matty, did that really have to be your first word to her?
}Sorry, Beth. I guess she’ll just have to get used to cool Uncle Matty. It’s not like she can understand me yet.
_Start as you mean to go on.
}I think I did.
}Well when someone’s getting told off for saying ‘fuck’, it’s usually your fault.
łWhy are you both loitering by the door? You’re making the place look untidy. Come in.
Amy and I moved further into the room. I was a bit in awe of the tiny bundle in Beth’s arms. I had no close up experience of babies, and this was all very new and quite scary.
_Want a hold, Dec?
‘Oh, er, she’s really small …’
łAbout the size of a rugby ball, you can carry one of those well enough.
_Er, excuse me, there is nothing about my daughter that remotely resembles a rugby ball. You won’t try to score a try with her will you, Dec? Amy, why don’t you show him how to do it?
)Oh can I? She’s completely gorgeous.
Amy took Isobel from Beth, and sat in one of the chairs, rocking her and talking nonsense. I looked on in wonder. Amy’s eyes were shining, and she looked over at me, making my heart melt. She looked beautiful. Jay was grinning at me.
łWatch out, Dec, I think Amy’s getting ideas.
Amy gave him a look. Perhaps I should have felt panicked or trapped or something, but I just felt awestruck.
)Maybe one day.
She looked at me. I nodded, smiling, wondering for the first time what it would be like to have a family of my own, and liking the idea of it. Way in the future, obviously.
)Come on Dec, have a cuddle, she’s so amazing. Look, sit here and I’ll pass her over. You won’t drop her. Just remember to support her head. Yeah, that’s it. Hey, there she is.
I sat with Isobel in my arms. She was as light as air, but she was the weightiest thing I had ever carried. Her features were miniaturised, and the smallest hand I had ever seen poked out of the blanket she was wrapped in. I was filled with an emotion I couldn’t identify, which was mixed up with family and tenderness and love. She was the closest I was ever going to get to having a sister; I felt very protective.
‘God, she’s so tiny.’
I felt tears spill out of my eyes. I risked a look at Matt, who laughed and shrugged.
}Blub club till we die, I guess.
Amy put her hand on the back of my neck and stroked my hair.
Uncle Matty and Amy and Dec all cuddled my sister, and Uncle Matty even did a swear, although Mum told him off. Then I remembered that there had been a shop on the way in, and that shops in hospitals had sweets and drinks and other interesting things.
‘Mummy is there a shop here?’
I knew there was, but it was a way of talking about it first.
‘I don’t know, sweetheart.’
Mum usually knew things like where the shops were, so now I was going to have to be less sneaky, or she wouldn’t know what I wanted.
‘I would like a slushie and a dinosaur magazine.’
‘I think I saw a shop on the way in, do you want to come with me, Cal? Let’s see what we can find.’
I turned and looked at Amy. This was good, because Mum didn’t look like she was going to get out of bed to come to the shop with me, even though it was the middle of the day.
Amy took Cal’s hand and they went off together. Beth looked at me with a raised eyebrow.
_She’s very good with children.
łShe has a lot of practice with Dec. Things are obviously going very well with you two.
‘Yeah. She is just … amazing.’
}According to Cal they spent all day at the beach sucking each other’s faces.
‘On come on, you know Cal’s exaggerating. One or two kisses. Maybe three. And we were watching him the whole time. The whole time. Eyes open and everything.’
_Well I think it’s lovely. After all the months of wondering if you were ever going to sort it out, I’m really pleased. She’s lovely. She’s good for you. It’s lovely to see you so happy, sweetheart.
Isobel chose that moment to wake up and start bawling at the top of her voice. I was still holding her, and the noise and wriggling panicked me a bit. I looked at Beth, wondering what to do.
_It’s alright Dec, she’s hungry. Jay, can you pass her over? Er, you two can leave if you like I’m about to feed her. Or stay, it’s up to you.
As Beth started to unbutton her shirt, it dawned on me what she meant. I blushed, stood up and left the room, closely followed by Matt. We found a row of chairs in the corridor.
‘Bloody hell, this is all new territory.’
}I kind of remember when Cal was born. I dihnt see him for a while, couldn’t get away from work; he wasn’t so small and delicate by the time I saw him. I remember needing to leave the room on many occasions on account of feeding, though. Got very familiar with the kitchen. Did a loh of washing up.
}Fuck, no. They’ll be a while in there, it can take bloody ages. I should go home, have a shower, fall asleep in my dinner. How long are you staying here?
‘We could go too, not sure if we should take Cal or leave him here, don’t want to tire Beth out. Not sure I can go in and ask at the moment though.’
}We’ll send Amy in when she gets back with Cal.
‘Good plan. So, you had a good hike – think you’ll go again?’
‘With the same group?’
}Yeah, it’s all local people with the bastard MS, they take it nice and easy, and everyone understands what everyone needs. If I get a bih fitter, who knows I might move on to something else, but this suits me at the moment. They’re a really good bunch, we had a laugh. I thought they’d all be older, but there were a few around my age –
‘What, just mildly ancient?’
}Fuck off, you half-grown knob-cheeser. Anyway, we’ve arranged to go out for a drink next week. I need to meet some people down here, get out more, this is a really good start.
‘Excellent. More recruits to Cripples Corner?’
}Oh no, that’s just a Scott family tradition. Me, you and Mum. Fuck the rest.
I laughed, as Cal’s voice sounded along the corridor.
So I went to the shop with Amy, and she let me choose a slushie and, best of all, a Transformer magazine, which had a poster of Optimus Prime in it for my bedroom wall. I asked Amy a lot of things that I thought of while we were walking there and back; some of them I already knew the answers to because Mum had told me, like how my sister had got out of Mum’s tummy, but I wanted to see if Amy knew, and she didn’t know as well as Mum because she kept saying ‘er’ and mixing her words up; and some were things I wanted to know the answer to, like how long it would be before she could play football, and Amy didn’t really know that either, because baby horses could walk right away, so why couldn’t baby sisters?
\but why don’t her legs work?
)Well, when babies are born, not all their muscles work yet. They have to spend a long time doing baby exercises like standing and crawling to get themselves strong enough to walk.
\but when baby horses are born their legs work straight away.
)Well, yes, that’s right … it’s just different for people and horses.
Matt and I grinned at Amy, while she looked pleadingly at us.
‘Need some help?’
)Cal has so many questions. I can’t answer them all. He wanted to know when Isobel would be playing football with him.
}Diversionary tactics are required. Cal, wha’s in your magazine?
\there wasn’t a dinosaur one, so I got a Transformer one. Look, Optimus Prime is on the front.
Matt raised his eyebrows at a grateful Amy, as Cal opened the magazine and started showing him pictures.
‘Ames, Beth is feeding Isobel at the moment, we were wondering if you could go in and ask whether she wants us to take Cal home for some tea, or whether he’s staying here with her and Jay?’
)Why couldn’t you ask?
‘Well, Beth’s feeding, I’m not sure I’d know where to look.’
)Oh for God’s sake, it’s only boobs. It’s not like you’ve never seen any before.
‘Yeah, but it’s Beth, it feels weird … please?’
Amy rolled her eyes, but went into the room, taking Cal with her.
}Only boobs? She is aware you’re male, right?
‘Yes, well aware, thanks. I just don’t get girls sometimes … most of the time … ever, in fact.’
}Well that’s something we have in common – with the rest of the men in the world. Let’s just agree that girls aren’t actually human, but a different species. Makes ih easier to stomach, somehow.
A familiar voice floated towards us. Nico. Lis was with him.
>Ha, is Declan and Matty. Why you sit outside?
‘Beth’s feeding the baby.’
>Huh, so why you sit outside?
‘Well it feels … kind of wrong to be there.’
>No, is natural, is beautiful. We go in, Lis?
~Of course. I want to see Isobel.
They went into the room, and Nico’s loud voice and laugh drifted back out to us through the door.
‘Are we the biggest sexist pigs going, or is he just being Nico?’
}I’m on your side, mate, no one’s getting me in there till it’s all over. Beth’s like my sister. Only she’s not. Ew. Too weird. Besides, with Nico in there it’s like ten extra people have turned up, there wohnt be room for any more egos.
When I got back to Mum, she was feeding Isobel. She wasn’t giving her ice cream or chips, though. She was letting my sister suck her booby. She told me there was special Mummies milk in there, just how little sisters like it, and that she was too young for chips at the moment. I felt quite pleased that I was going to be able to eat chips and not have to suck Mum’s booby for my dinner.
Nico and Lis were in the room too, and they had brought me a present, which was a book about tractors, because I really liked tractors. I liked getting presents for having a little sister, and some of the things I got later, from people like Granny and Aunty Lou, were Woody from Toy Story and a T-shirt with ‘World’s Best Big Brother’ on it.
Amy came out, Cal in tow.
)OK, the decision is that, apart from you two being complete wimps, Cal is coming back with us for some tea and then bath and bed.
Predictably, Cal was reluctant to leave.
\but I want to stay with Nico.
)I know sweetie, but your mum’s tired and she needs to go to sleep in a bit.
\but Nico and Lis are still there
)They’re not staying long, and Daddy will be home soon too. Mummy’s staying here tonight, then Daddy will fetch her and Isobel home tomorrow so she can live with you all. How about we make a welcome home banner for her when we get back?
Cal considered the offer. He liked spending time with Amy almost as much as I did, but obviously for very different reasons.
\can I put dinosaurs on it?
)Of course, I bet Isobel will love dinosaurs.
With Cal placated, we got back to Jay and Beth’s house. Amy and Cal made a banner, I cobbled together an extremely unhealthy dinner of chicken nuggets, beans and oven chips while Matt had a shower, then Matt grumbled about the dinner and made some pasta which met his higher-than-mine taste standards. Then we all collapsed in front of the TV. Being a Sunday, there wasn’t much on, so Cal persuaded us all to start watching one of his DVDs.
‘Just the first bit, then it’s time for a bath.’
\oh, but the best bit is after the first bit.
I hid a smile at his delaying tactics; Cal hadn’t got any keener on going to bed, and I steeled myself to be firm with him.
‘Then you can watch the rest tomorrow when you get up.’
\oh, but I don’t want a bath.
‘I know, mate, you never do, but you like it once you get there. Have you still got your submarine? We could have a water battle.’
Bribery always went a long way towards persuading Cal, and now he was torn with indecision between battling bath time and battling me with water and submarines and various other toys. I won.
\kay. How long can I watch for?
‘Thirty minutes. We’re all watching the timer on the DVD.’
)Actually, Dec, if we’ve got half an hour, would you mind taking me home?
‘Sure, is that OK with you Matt?’
‘Cal, are you sure you still want me to stay tonight?’
\yes I want you to sleep underneath.
‘OK, I’ll have to go and pick up my PJs then. I’ll try to be back before thirty minutes, OK, then we’ll have our water battle … er … bath.’
As I drove Amy back to her parents’ house, we passed the spot where I had crashed my car last summer. I drove past it nearly every day, but it still made my stomach churn and my heart beat faster. Amy noticed me looking, and she put her hand on my arm.
)Remember what Adam said – every time it gets a tiny bit easier. You only notice after lots of tiny bits.
‘I know. It’s true, looking back it’s easier now than the first time. Still makes me feel weird, though.’
She stretched in the seat, yawning.
)Well, today turned out a bit different to what we were expecting.
‘Thanks for helping out with Cal. He loves you.’
)He’s great. I really like being with him.
‘You were amazing with Isobel.’
)Oh, she’s completely adorable. Have you ever held a baby before?
‘No, my first time. How did I do?’
)Not bad, but I think you need lots more practice.
‘We’ll just have to volunteer for lots of babysitting then.’
)That’s what I was hoping you’d say.
I pulled up outside the house. It was hard to say goodbye, even overnight; Amy had been virtually living with me for the past few weeks. We’d spent some time early on at Amy’s house, but several calculated appearances at Amy’s bedroom door by her mum, interrupting various stages of undress, meant we spent most of our time at mine. Amy had a delightful chest, and I liked uncovering it and looking at it a lot, and Amy’s parents made it quite clear that this, and other related activities they had walked in on, were frowned on ‘under my roof’, so we moved it all to under my roof, where it definitely was not frowned on, and in fact was actively encouraged by both of us. Other than going to work, we’d been together the whole time; this would be our first night apart for a quite a while. We kissed long and lingeringly in the car.
)I’ll phone you later.
‘I’ll text you when I’ve finished Cal’s bath.’
)I love you.
‘I love you too, babe.’
)I’d better get out, you’ll be late back for Cal.
‘Go on then.’
)Yeah, in a minute …
More kissing. And then a bit more.
‘I just saw your dad look out of the window.’
)I’d better go then, see you tomorrow.
)Love you too.
‘Fuck, you’re gorgeous. Come here.’
It was worse than the ‘you hang up’ ‘no you hang up’ game, as the kissing and close bodily contact were a big deterrent to moving. I hadn’t realised how long we’d lingered until my phone rang in my pocket. I fished it out. Matt.
}Where the fuck are you? This DVD has nearly finished, and it’s way past time for Cal’s bath. Do you want me to do it? Cal won’t go up until you geh back.
Amy opened the car door, stroked my cheek and got out. I looked longingly after her as she walked up the path to the front door, where she turned, waved and blew me a kiss before rearranging her dishevelled hair and disappearing inside.
‘Sorry, I got held up. I’ll be back in a few minutes.’
}Stop licking her tonsils and feeling her up for two seconds, deliver her back to the bosom of her family and get your overexcited arse back here. This is several levels of taking the pissery.
‘Sorry, be right with you. Starting the car now.’
I pulled my seatbelt on and drove off. As I pulled up outside the house, I realised I’d forgotten to fetch any washing stuff or clothes to sleep in; I’d just have to make do with what I could find. I opened the front door to the sounds of splashing and squeals from upstairs; Matt had obviously managed to persuade Cal into the bath and started the water battle. I ran up, rolled up my sleeves and joined in, and by the time we’d finished, the bathroom was dripping. I fetched a mop and bucket, and tried to pass it to Matt.
}Fuck off, you’re the one who was late back, you get to clear it up. I get to dry off, dry Cal’s hair, read him a story, nice and quiet and relaxed, in the dark, while you make sure all the water disappears before Jay gehs back.
}Bloody horny nutter.
‘Jealous old cripple.’
Jay arrived back home as I was tipping the bucket down the sink. He looked tired, but also elated, proud and very pleased with himself.
łHey, Dec, didn’t expect you to still be here. Jesus, you’re soaking – what the hell have you been doing?
‘Er, just a bit of playtime to encourage Cal into the bath. He wants me to stay the night in the bottom bunk.’
łWell aren’t you a glutton for punishment. Thanks for helping out today, we really appreciate it. Where is Cal?
‘In bed. Matt’s reading him a story.’
łI’ll just go up and say goodnight.
I towelled my hair dry, took one of Jay’s t-shirts from the laundry cupboard and sat on a towel on the sofa in my damp boxers, having put my jeans in the tumble dryer. I texted Amy, then flicked through the TV channels, listening to Jay, Matt and Cal’s voices upstairs. Matt came down a few minutes later, giving my boxers a sideways glance.
}Ugh. For fuck’s sake put ih away, Summers. Where are your trousers?
‘They got soaked. I put them in the dryer.’
}Well borrow some of mine, or Jay’s. I don’t really want to stare at that all night. Thinking about Amy by any chance?
He left the room, then came back and threw a pair of baggy sweatpants in my direction.
}Here, have Jay’s decorating sweaties. Haven’t seen active service for some years, and lots of handy splodges already, so one or two more won’t show if you really can’t control yourself.
I pulled them on and rearranged myself to be a little less obvious.
}That’s better. Bit of modesty goes a long way. Can’t you even manage one night without her?
I was actually missing Amy more than I’d thought I would; I couldn’t stop thinking about her, and whether her mum and dad would be giving her a hard time.
‘Piss off, I’m here, aren’t I? Is Cal settled yet?
}All sorted, although he’s currently putting in a request for a story from you as well, in a vain attempt to put off going to sleep even longer.
‘He’s the master.’
}He certainly is. Jay’s just about goh it covered. He’s telling him about his baby sister, good as any story.
‘She is pretty amazing.’
}Never thought you’d be that appreciative of babies.
‘Neither did I, but it feels different when it’s family.’
}Amy looked pretty taken with her.
‘Yeah, didn’t she.’
}Hasn’t scared you off then?
‘Ha ha, no. You did hear her say ‘maybe one day’, not ‘I need to make a baby with you, right here, right now’?’
}I suppose so. Tha could have been awkward. You’re being very chilled about the whole thing.
‘I just know, after all the effort of me and Amy getting together, nothing’s going to fuck it up. It took us long enough to get here, I’m happy to enjoy the ride, wherever it goes.’
}Fuck, yes, the longest will they, won’t they saga in the history of mankind.
‘You weren’t even down here then.’
}I goh the headlines, even if you yourself were strikingly reticent on the matter. Dec loves Amy, Amy loves Dec, what will it take to get them to say it? Worse than some bloody soap. I have to claim some credit, I must say, for my forthright words at the barbecue.
‘Piss off, I was going to say something anyway.’
}Yeah, like fuck you were. ‘Oh she’s just a mate’ you told me, as you pined away pathetically in a dark corner of the garden.
‘OK, maybe I did need a little nudge.’
‘We would have got there eventually.’
}Bollocks would you, you’d still be pissing about now. Instead of hours of snogging and groping in the car jus now, you’d have been chastely dropping her off at home, promising to text her, staring miserably after her as she disappeared inside the forbidden fortress. And you’d have been back in time to give Cal his bath. I’ve given you all these extra weeks of bliss, as well as severely inconveniencing myself and getting half drowned into the bargain. I accept your grateful thahks.
I rolled my eyes. Decided to shift the focus of the conversation.
‘What about you, anyone worth looking twice at in the hiking group?’
Matt paused, and that was my in.
‘Come on, spill, details.’
}Well, there is this one girl, she’s a bit younger than me.
‘So not exactly a girl, but not in her sixties yet?’
}Fuck off you impudent urchin. We chatted quite a lot today. Seems really nice. Good arse. We got on pretty well. A few of us are going for a drink next week, she’ll be there. You can wipe that look off your face. I’m not looking for anything serious, I’m only jus getting better. I don’t know if getting involved with someone else with the bastard MS is the best idea. Actually, not sure ‘getting involved’ with someone is what I want at all. I just need to get my own bit of normal, start having some fun again.
łDid I hear someone mention fun? What’s the story?
‘Matt’s looking for lurve.’
}Piss off, Dec. No, just going out for a drink with some people next week. Goh to start somewhere.
łDrink sounds good – shall we have a practice now? I’ve got beers in. A toast to … oh, I don’t know, fatherhood? Family? Something less corny?
łI said less corny, Dec. We all know you’re loved up, pretty hard to miss. Especially right this minute – Jesus, are they my sweatpants? Fuck, I may never be able to wear them again.
He went to get the beers. Came back looking thoughtful.
łYou know what, I am going to make a toast to love. Not just the full on snoggy type that Dec’s so fond of, but all of it. I feel pretty loved up myself today. I’ve got this fantastic daughter, courtesy of my incredible wife, I’ve spent time with my brilliant family and amazing friends and just watched my awesome son go to sleep. And you two are here helping me celebrate. Life just doesn’t get any better. To love.
We clinked our bottles together.
A few hours and many beers later I stumbled up the stairs, undressed quickly in the bathroom and climbed under the duvet in Cal’s bottom bunk as quietly as I could. I was asleep almost before I was lying down.
Dreaming. I am flying. High above the world. I can see it all, the people and patterns that make up my life. It is beautiful. It is amazing. It is awesome. It is love.
I woke up in the dark, disoriented. Someone was breathing on my face. I tried to sit up. Banged my head.
A giggle. Cal. I was in Cal’s room.
\you said a big swear. Can I come in with you?
‘Come on then.’
I pulled the duvet back and he jumped in, immediately filling the available space while I shuffled back against the wall. Eventually I slept.
Dreaming. Flying all night long.
Having a sister wasn’t that great, really, although everyone kept saying ‘Do you love your little sister?’ to me, and I had to say yes, because I didn’t think I would be allowed to say no. But she cried a lot, and woke me up at night sometimes, and Mum was busy feeding her and changing her nappies, although she sometimes let me help with the nappies so I could look at the poo. So I was quite glad when it was the start of school, and time to surprise Jake.
Not long after Isobel was born, everyone started calling her Iz. It was a lot easier to say, and it was like a nickname, so I liked it.
I couldn’t remember much about when Cal was born; I really wasn’t into babies back then, and I suppose you could say I wasn’t now, but having lived with Jay and Beth throughout the whole deal with cravings, hormonal rants, swelling belly, ooh feel it kicking no thanks I’d rather not, I felt a lot closer to this one.
When Cal had arrived, I didn’t rush down to see the new-born first born, and contented myself with emailed and texted pictures, which looked much like any other Churchill-a-like baby I’d ever seen. I visited with Mum several weeks later (it was her third visit) and dutifully held him and jiggled him a bit, but the amount of time I spent in a different room while Beth breastfed him hardly seemed worth the hassle. Not that Beth sent me out, you understand, but … well … you know, the whole boob thing. Yeah, I know, really not PC of me, really bad form, but that’s how it was. Didn’t want to see Beth’s boobs, really didn’t want to be thinking about them in any way either, so spent a lot of time in the kitchen honing my cooking skills and consequently getting brownie points from the new parents.
But this one was different. I felt like I knew this one a bit before it arrived. They didn’t want to know if it was a boy or a girl, they wanted it to be a surprise. I never understood why people did that, it’s not like it’s Secret Santa or something, it’s a baby, a tiny person, and surely if you can get to know it in any small way before it comes, that’s better than knowing jack-shit about it until it pops out. But hey, it wasn’t my baby, and it was up to them, so until Jay rang me I didn’t know if I had a niece or another nephew. And I’d been expecting to be a bit uninterested, like I had with Cal at first, until I’d got to know the little tyke in the last year or so, but as soon as I clapped eyes on Isobel Flora Scott, as soon as I held her, I was won. She had my heart. I mean, yeah, she looked as much like Winston as her brother had, but when I held her I actually cried, bloody huge tears and everything, she was so small and fragile, and I just wanted to protect her. Dec cried as well, we were still pretty much competing for the play-off position in the blub club league tables, but we both scarpered as soon as Beth started unbuttoning her top, and in the corridor we stayed until we managed to persuade Amy to go and get Cal so we could go home.
So Isobel, who pretty soon got shortened to Iz, would need a bedroom before too long. She was going in with Jay and Beth for a few months, and although there was talk of rejigging things and maybe using Jay’s office, I knew my days were numbered. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy with the end of my stay chez Scott being nigh, because it meant I was getting better, and by the end of September, I’d got a reference from Eyeti, a pretty bloody good one, too, and had hawked my wares around a few different IT companies in the city.
I’d upped my game in other ways too. Remember Imogen, from the hiking group? Yeah, well, she helped me prove I still had it. Now, I’m not proud of this, not now, but at the time it was pretty major for me. Imogen and I got on well, the hiking group went out a couple of times and then I saw Imogen just the two of us once or twice. OK, twice. And she definitely had that look in her eye, and things were definitely happening for me that said ‘Thunderbirds are go’. And she was a bit of a safety net, because if things didn’t go quite right, she had the bastard MS too, and she’d understand. But things did go right, very right indeed, and it was a great relief to know that everything worked, and I think we both had a good time, I mean I know I did, and she seemed to, but there was no way I was getting into anything, not with the huge hole in my chest where Carrie had ripped my heart out, so it was with regret that I finished things with Imogen before they could develop, and she was upset, and so then I couldn’t go hiking with them anymore.
But that was OK too, because I joined a normal person’s hiking group, got lucky there too, with Alice and Maya, although not together, you understand, then left that group as well, then just went for a walk when I felt like it, on my own, without feeling the need to surround myself with people. So you can see how my career as an excellent no-strings lay was resurrected in this city. It didn’t take me long to begin it, and it was fun, and it was reassuring, and it laid down a wafer thin veneer over my fractured life, a veneer that got thicker with every woman, with every ego-boosting response to my moves.
Yeah, I used a lot of people to make me feel better, I was an arrogant bastard, and I regret it, now. But at the time I was hurting, I was angry and I needed reassurance that I could still do it, and that was my justification for a long time – not in those exact words of course; if I thought about it at all, I’d say I was looking for some fun after a shit year, and that seemed like vindication enough.
That’s not to say it was all plain sailing. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t as good at fooling myself as I’d like to think; a couple of times it all came crashing down on me, and the pit opened up invitingly beneath me as the cracks in the veneer opened a little and the pain seeped through. When Iz was tiny, I felt in the way and useless, and looking back maybe I was just being an attention-seeking git, but I succumbed to the dark once or twice. It was really unfair of me, but I just went to bed and lay there with the curtains closed until somebody noticed. Which didn’t take long, because new mother or not, Beth Scott never missed anything. She didn’t have the time or energy to devote to my misguided angst-ins, but Dec did, and he extricated his tongue from Amy’s mouth long enough to come round and sit with me, annoying me until I gave in. He even held my hand, which was above and beyond, and has never been mentioned by either of us until now. It wasn’t just support and being there that he offered, he was pretty forthright about how selfish I was being with a new baby in the house, and I came to my senses, such as they were, and shoved my self-pity as far down as it would go, which was pretty far, and filled the pit up with as much blonde tits action as I could muster.
I tore up the plans. No more plans for Matt, they’d got me precisely nowhere. Whereas I’d got into the way of having a plan a, b and c, now my only plan was plan d. D for debauchery.