Rose and Carol had got their coats and were saying their goodbyes.
:Declan, I expect you to let me know every single little thing that happens with this baby, now. Appointments, scans, names, dates, the whole lot. Right, love?
#Goodbye Declan, I’ll let you know about my lawn, then.
‘You know where I am, Carol.’
:Stand up, love, just need another hug.
I did as I was told, as I always did where Rose was concerned, and gave her a big squeeze back.
‘See you soon. Oh, Bonksy says hi.’
‘How is he, love?’
‘Same old Bonksy.’
‘Found himself a nice girl yet?’
‘No, he’s still crashing around breaking hearts left and right.’
‘He needs taking in hand, that lad. Maybe I’ll call round with a cake.’
‘I’m sure he’d appreciate the cake.’
:He doesn’t get cake without a bit of friendly advice. Bye love.
We went back into the house, and Matt chatted to Dec while I offered to help Beth and Amy clear the table. Rose and Carol had gone; I realised I hadn’t spoken to Matt’s mother and felt a little bit guilty.
Matt wandered over.
}You’re looking pensive. That’s never a good sign. Too much thinking is bad for the soul. Look, I’ve raided Jay’s beer store.
He handed a bottle over.
‘Ah, just what the doctor ordered. Sparkling wine is all very well for toasting and speeching and stuff, but beer hits the spot like nothing else.’
}That’s better, mate, all this love shit was making me worry I’d lost you to the dark side. Know what we need? A bloody good piss up. Boys night. Curry. Pub crawl, even. I might consider some karaoke if we can get rat-arsed enough.
‘Sounds good. You organising?’
}Well you’re apparently the grown up, it sounds like something you should do.
‘No way, I’m far too busy being responsible. Tell you what, I’ll send a text, see who’s around, you see who you can get, we’ll take it from there.’
}Think you’ll be allowed out?
‘Yes, Matt, I will be allowed out. Will you?’
}Piss off, I do what I want.
I had touched a nerve, and he knew it and was annoyed with himself for showing it.
‘Well in that case you’re the best one to sort it all, aren’t you. Oh, hey Cal, have you beaten the boss yet?’
\yeah, I just did it. Are you going to come and play with me now?
‘Yeah, sure. What are we going to play?’
}Have you got ‘My Little Pony for Beginners’, Cal? I think Dec might stand a chance of getting to level two in that one. Possibly.
‘Is that a challenge?’
}I’m not challenging you to anything like My Little Pony. Might lower myself to trouncing you and Cal at something a bit more meaty. Have you got three controllers, Cal?
\yeah. One of them’s a bit rubbish.
}Oh, Dec can have that one, no point wasting a decent one on him.
‘Hey, I’m right here.’
}How about a race? You’ve got GrandTour5, right? Even Dec can’t do too much wrong racing a car. He might finish last every time, but someone’s got to.
‘Still right here.’
}Let’s go, then.
‘Are you just going to leave Julia down here?’
}She’s gossiping in the kitchen with Beth and Amy, she’ll be fine. She’s quite self-sufficient.
Beth and Amy were in full flow talking about Dec’s plans for the future; there seemed to be some contract negotiations surrounding his job which could involve a move away from the city. They were both worried he was going to choose a move and financial security over staying in the city with his close network of friends and family.
‘Sorry, Julia, this must be very dull for you. Thank you for helping, it’s lovely you could come. I haven’t had a chance to talk to you all night, you must think I’m very rude.’
‘Not at all, you’ve been really busy organising all this.’
‘I love a family get-together. I do it as often as possible, but there are so many of us, it’s difficult to get everyone here at the same time. Although now Nico and Lis are in Argentina, that’s two less to think about I suppose. Are your family local?’
‘No, they all live abroad.’
‘That must be hard. My parents live in the States now, so I don’t see them very often, and I miss them a lot. It’s great having Carol so close though, it’s lovely for the children to have at least one grandparent they can see regularly. I’m really glad Matty persuaded you to come tonight; I was saying to Amy, we’ve all managed to meet you, but not get to know you. Matty said you work together?’
‘Yes, we’re both at GreenScreen.’
‘What’s he like to work with?’
Amy sounded genuinely interested.
‘Infuriating. And brilliant. But don’t let him know I said brilliant.’
‘Ha ha. No. Matt already knows he’s brilliant. He doesn’t need to be any more big headed.’
‘He thinks his family’s pretty brilliant, though. He used that exact word earlier.’
Beth shot me a surprised look.
‘Really? Matty’s not usually that gushing. You’re sure he wasn’t being sarcastic?’
‘No, he was telling me Jay gave up his job to look after him when he was ill.’
‘He told you about being ill?’
Beth and Amy exchanged a glance in which both sets of eyebrows were raised.
‘Sorry Julia. It’s just Matty never talks about it, even with us. We’re just a bit surprised, but it’s great. You’re obviously getting on well.’
‘Yes I suppose we are.’
To divert attention away from further discussion of my relationship with Matt, I asked Beth for the recipe for one of the dishes she’d made. She gave me a verbal run down which led to a discussion about foods it is unwise to eat during pregnancy, and Beth and Amy were off again in a different world to me. They tried to include me but I had no interest and therefore no opinions. Shrugging and smiling seemed the most diplomatic option.
We sat down with a cup of tea after the clearing up was finished. Iz sat on Beth’s lap and fell asleep while Beth stroked her head. I felt compelled to comment.
‘She has beautiful hair.’
Beth smiled widely at me, proud as only a mother can be of something she had no control over.
‘I know. I don’t know where it came from. Cal’s is the same, he was so cute when he was little but he hates it now. I have to keep it short so the curls don’t show.’
‘Didn’t he make you delete all the photos of him from France, when it was all growing back?’
Amy was yawning as she spoke.
‘Sorry, I’m flagging a bit.’
‘Oh sweetheart you should go home. Go and shake that man of yours, he’ll be up there all night otherwise. What’s his favourite saying?’
They said it together.
‘Sorry babe, I lost track of time.’
Amy laughed and yawned again.
‘He’s much better than he used to be. Maybe I will go and dig him out though. Matt’s up there too, isn’t he? Could go on all night. Do you want me to poke him too, Julia?’
I smiled, thinking of Matt’s motivation for getting home and to bed in good time.
‘No, he’ll be ready to go in a while, I think.’
Amy obviously didn’t understand what I meant, being unaware that I was spending the night at Matt’s apartment. I was pretty sure Matt wouldn’t be waiting too long before heading home.
As Matt predicted, I came last in every race, and he and Cal ribbed me mercilessly; it was good to see Cal smiling again. We lost track of time, until there was a tap on the door.
Amy popped her head round the door.
)It’s getting a bit late, can we go soon? If I’m going to work tomorrow, I need to get some decent sleep.
‘No worries, sorry, didn’t realise the time. OK Cal, you’ll have to do without me I guess.’
}Oh Cal, how will we cope without Dec’s vital contribution to the worst driver league tables?
‘Thanks for the game, guys. See you Saturday, Cal, shout extra loud if I’m playing. Show Matt what a real sport is all about.’
}Real sport? You don’t even have nets in your goals. You only play for eighty minutes. Real fucking sport my arse. Oops, sorry Cal.
I caught Cal’s eye and winked.
‘Come on then, babe. Bye Cal, see you Matt.’
Matt stood up.
}Dec, just wanted to say, I’m really happy for you. Both of you.
‘Cheers, mate. I know.’
We nodded at each other. Grinned. Brief man-hug.
}Fuck, Dec. It is immense. Piss off now before you get me started. OK Cal, where were we, top of the leader board …
After Amy and Dec had said goodbye, Beth apologetically stood up with Iz over her shoulder.
‘Sorry Julia, I need to put her to bed. Are you OK on your own for a bit? I won’t be long. I’ll give Matty a nudge while I’m up there, Cal should be going to bed soon anyway. Get yourself another drink if you like.”
‘I’ll be fine, thanks.’
I sat finishing off my tea, looking around the large lounge-dining room. It was full of the paraphernalia of family life: toys, children’s paintings on the wall, framed photographs dotted everywhere, shoes tucked behind the sofa. There was also a corner devoted to rugby, with a framed shirt covered with signatures, hung with medals and surrounded by photographs of rugby players, including a much younger-looking Jay.
It occurred to me how different Matt’s version of family life was to mine, what expectations he may have that could differ wildly to mine. This family seemed alright, they were welcoming and friendly, and obviously looked after each other, but I didn’t want to become part of it. I doubted I would ever feel completely comfortable in such a large family group. My ruminations were halted by Matt, who I heard jogging down the stairs and then he came into the lounge and sat next to me.
‘Sorry to desert you, Jules, I got carried away. Cal was beating me, couldn’t let that happen. Rematch on Saturday after the rugby. Whoa, I can’t believe I’m going to the rugby.’
‘Surely you’ve been before.’
‘Not since I was at school. I’ve seen Jay play a few times, years ago, with Mum. But I never really got it, possibly a tinge of jealousy about my big brother being in the limelight, and I’ve stood firm ever since. It’ll be the first time I’ve seen Dec play, too.’
‘It sounds like you’re looking forward to it.’
‘Know what, I bloody well am. Who’d have thought? Anyway, hot stuff, are you ready to go home and get laid?’
‘Yeah. Not doing it for you as a pet name?’
‘No. Neither is the thought of ‘getting laid’.’
‘Sorry. Too much time with Dec. He’s always babe this and babe that, and he brings out my laddish side.’
‘Your laddish side doesn’t need much bringing out.’
‘True. Shall we go?’
‘We should say goodbye.’
‘Beth’s putting Iz to bed. Where’s Jay?’
‘I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since we started clearing up.’
‘Oh OK. I know where he’ll be then.’
He stood up, held his hand out and pulled me up, putting his finger to his lips. We walked quietly out of the lounge and across the hall to a closed door. Matt put his ear to the door and nodded to himself, then slowly opened the door to reveal an office, complete with desk, computer and chair. The chair contained Jay who was asleep, head flung back, snoring softly. Matt let go of my hand and crept up to Jay then bent down and kissed him hard on the lips. Jay woke immediately. I couldn’t see his face but saw his body jerk and heard his exclamation:
‘Jesus! What the … oh. Matty. Jesus you scared the living shit out of me. What the fuck are you playing at?’
Matt had stood back, laughing uproariously.
‘Too good to resist. Julia and I are going. Needed to wake you up to say goodbye.’
Jay ran a hand through his hair in a gesture very similar to the one Matt often used. He took a deep breath and shook his head.
‘Sorry Julia, Matty took me by surprise. I was in here trying –’
‘To avoid clearing up. You’re so bloody obvious Jay.’
‘Piss off Matty. You’ve made your point. Going now are you?’
‘Yeah. Say goodbye to Beth for us. I’ll see you Saturday.’
‘Cal. Rugby. You’re apparently getting tickets for the family seats?’
‘Oh yeah. OK.’
‘I won’t. Ring Beth though, she can tell you what time. You’re sure you want to take him?’
‘Yeah, whatever. Cal can look after me, show me the ropes.’
Matt seemed to be downplaying his enthusiasm.
‘Don’t drink too much beer. You’re in charge of him.’
Matt put his hand over his heart and assumed a hurt expression.
‘I never drink when I’m looking after your children.’
‘No, maybe not, but there’s a lot of temptation with all the bars at the stadium.’
‘Give me some credit Jay.’
‘Right then, we’re going before I get accused of more as-yet-uncommitted misdemeanours. Thank Beth for the spread.’
‘Will do. Bye Julia.’
Jay stood up with a grunt, patted Matt on the shoulder and kissed me on the cheek before leading us to the front door.
Amy was nearly asleep on the way home, and I felt very guilty about how late it was. She went straight to bed when we got in, hardly pausing to change into her night clothes. I sat in the living room for a while. It had been an awesome day. I should have been as tired as Amy, considering the tiny amount of sleep I’d had the night before, and the full-on emotional roller coaster of the day’s events, but my mind was whirring and I couldn’t wind down.
I put the TV on quietly, hoping it would distract me. As I was absently half-watching a repeat of a nature programme, the phone rang. Our land-line hardly ever rang. It was either a particularly desperate late-night double glazing salesperson, or it was one of Amy’s parents – they were the only ones who used our home number. I thought about ignoring it, but didn’t want Amy to be woken up. Picked it up.
;Oh you’re home now. It’s Diane Wright.
I knew she didn’t want to talk to me, she never did, but I wasn’t going to wake Amy up for her, and I wasn’t going to make anything easy for her either, after the horrible time she’d given Amy this afternoon. I tried to make my ‘oh’ sound as unfriendly as I possibly could, and there was a short silence while Amy’s mother tried to decide how to tackle me.
;I’d like to speak to my daughter.
‘She’s gone to bed. You can talk to me.’
I felt feisty. Amy’s parents didn’t intimidate me, and after today I had issues with them I was happy to address.
;No, it’s Amy I wanted.
‘That’s not what she thought this afternoon.’
;I beg your pardon?
‘What did you want to say to Amy? Were you going to apologise?’
;I most certainly was not. I have never been spoken to like that in my life, we were both very shocked. She has never used such language to us.
‘Well, I think it was about time she did. Diane –’
I was very aware this was the first time I had ever used her first name.
‘– Amy is an adult. She has been for some time. She no longer answers to you, she only answers to herself. If you’ve rung here looking for an apology or an argument, you’re wasting your time, but if you want to try and mend things with Amy, that might be a bit more useful. Life’s too short to hold grudges. Look, I know you don’t think much of me, I can’t help that, fuck knows I’ve tried my best. But if you think anything of Amy at all, please try and look beyond what you feel about how she lives her life, and see what she’s feeling. If she’s happy, be happy for her. If she’s not, support her and make things better for her. That’s what families should do, not judge, disapprove and condemn.’
There was a long silence. For a moment, I wondered if she’d hung up while I was talking, then I heard a sharp breath.
;It happened to me.
;What’s happened to Amy. I fell pregnant before I was married. My parents were very angry, they made me marry Jack. Then I lost the baby. We had Amy a lot later.
Shit, this was not the late-night conversation I would have imagined having earlier today. It was so unexpected, I didn’t know what to say. Had a go, although I was completely out of my depth.
‘I’m really sorry to hear that, it sounds grim. But we’re not you, and you don’t have to be your parents. Surely you can understand even more how Amy felt this afternoon? She’s so happy, she just wanted you to be happy for her. It didn’t seem like much to ask.’
; … Maybe. Declan, I’d like to speak to Amy tomorrow. Would you tell her I called? You can tell her what I said if you want to, it’s up to you.
‘I’ll tell her.’
I hung up. Sat on the sofa thinking for a long time about families, commitments, responsibilities, sacrifices. Finally started to feel tired, and went to bed. Amy stirred as I got under the duvet.
‘Sorry, babe, didn’t mean to wake you up. Go back to sleep.’
)Were you talking to someone?
‘Tell you tomorrow. Go to sleep.’
Closed my eyes and drifted off, feeling Amy put her arm round me and pull herself in close. It wasn’t long before I woke up to the sound of retching. Stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom for hair-holding duty.
‘Hey babe, here we are again. We should do this every night, it’s fun.’
Amy shot me a filthy look and carried on puking. I held her hair, rubbed her back, kissed her shoulders. Eventually she stood up.
)I think I’ve finished for now. I’ll just clean my teeth, then I’ll be back. Go and warm my spot up for me, hon.
When she clambered back into bed, I held her close.
‘Ames, can I tell you something? I think I’ve decided.’
‘About staying or going.’
I felt her tense in my arms.
)OK. You know I’ll go with whatever you want.
‘Well that’s just it, it’s not just me, is it. I’ll tell you what I’ve decided, then you can tell me if you agree and we can battle it out. Yeah?’
)Do we have to battle tonight? I’m exhausted.
‘OK babe, no battles tonight, I just wanted to say this. I’ve been sitting thinking for ages. These offers from Warriors and TomCats, they are huge amounts of money, and the clubs are awesome. We’d be able to afford a really nice house, really nice stuff. If you think we should do it, I’ll do it. But I think I want to stay here. I’ve only ever known Raiders, it’s like my home, almost like another family, and they’ve been great to me, I owe them a lot. Jay says I should try other things, but there’s more than just the rugby. I talked to Cal tonight, he’s really missing Nico. If I go too … well, I don’t think I can do that to him. And then there’s Rose, in fact my whole family is here. And so is yours. When Beth was saying about Lis being broody and having a baby in a foreign country, I thought about where we could be in nine months, and I think I want us to be here, with them all. I don’t want us to do it alone, even if they don’t talk a foreign language in London. When it all happens, it’s going to be scary and weird, and I need people I know and love around me. I want Beth and Rose here, to mop me up, and Matt to take the piss out of me, and Jay to be Jay and not know whether to mop me up or take the piss.
)You foresee a lot of mopping and piss-taking in your future, then.
‘Fuck yes, I’m going to be an emotional wreck. In a good way.’
)Do I get a say?
‘Of course, babe, I just wanted to say what I was feeling. You tell me if it’s not what you want. Whenever. No rush.’
)Well, I’m actually completely relieved. I want all that too. I didn’t want to leave here anyway, but I know we might have to move on sometime. I don’t care about the money, we’re alright, aren’t we? Having people we love around us is much more important, I think I saw that tonight more than ever. I know we never know what’s around the corner, Jay and Beth may not stay forever, but for now it’s all stable, and I think I need that at the moment. Oh Dec, yes please, let’s stay. Please, please.
She put her arms round me and kissed me.
‘Well, when you put it like that, how can I refuse?’
)So, we don’t have to battle tomorrow?
‘Not about that. Maybe about who gets in the bathroom first.’
)I’ll be in there puking anyway.
‘You win then. No battling at all. You know what, I feel another late night phone call coming on.’
‘I do believe Jay said what an honour it was to be called by me with important information, at any time of the day or night.’
)Hm, not sure he put it quite like that.
‘Let’s put it to the test.’
I picked up my phone from the bedside table and dialled their number. It rang a few times. Jay’s tired voice answered.
‘Jay, it’s Dec.’
łYou are taking the piss.
‘No, I have important information. But I need to talk to Beth.’
‘She’ll want to know this.’
łOh for fuck’s sake. You’d better be on time for training tomorrow.
There was a short muffled conversation, then Beth came on the line, her voice blurred with sleep.
_Dec? Is everything OK?
‘Yeah. I just wanted to let you know, I’m staying.’
_Oh, Dec … thank you, sweetheart.
‘You can tell Jay, but make sure he doesn’t tell Scotty.’
_I’ll do my best. Thank you. Thank you.
I put the phone on the bedside table, turned to face Amy.
‘Will you marry me?’
I wrapped myself up in her, closed my eyes and slept.
Dreaming. I am flying. Amy and I are flying, high in the sky, carrying the stars. We fling them up into the dark, where they stay, twinkling, lighting up the universe.
‘What is it with you and snogging blokes?’
‘Ha ha. Gets a reaction.’
‘You do it to your family too, don’t you?’
I was lying in Matt’s arms, a mutually satisfying bout of sex having just finished.
‘Matt the Lad. You hide behind him.’
He was silent for a moment looking at me.
‘I suppose I do. I don’t want them to know everything about me. When I was ill I had no privacy, everyone knew fucking everything, literally couldn’t even wipe my own arse. Now I’ve got it back I hold on to it. Fannying about is a good way of deflecting unwanted fussing. They’ve all tried, look after your health Matt, don’t drink so much Matt, find yourself a nice girl Matt. I can’t be doing with it. I know they worry, I understand why, but it’s just too much a lot of the time. Me and Dec can talk about shit sometimes, he knows when to back off and when to push it. But yeah, Matt the Lad is always available for a good put down or shock value snog.’
‘Your family is very different from mine.’
‘Aren’t all families different? That’s why it feels so weird being in someone else’s.’
‘I suppose so.’
‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to drag you along every time there’s one of Beth’s gatherings.’
‘I think the baby talk is going to be a bit much for the next few months. Rose has gone into overdrive, and Beth is so mumsy. Maybe manly rugby with Cal is just what I need.’
‘The baby talk is certainly a lot to cope with.’
‘Not the maternal type?’
I shook my head.
‘Never have been. I knew from fairly early on I don’t want children. Other women always try to persuade me. Apparently I’ll change my mind when I’m older. Well here I am, older, mind still unchanged.’
‘Shit, Julia, tonight must have been the last thing you wanted to do. Why didn’t you say?’
‘Well apart from not feeling the need to announce my intention to remain child free, to you or anyone else, as an excuse not to go, I wanted to spend the evening with you. And I was curious about your family.’
‘And now, curiosity satisfied, you realise we’re a bunch of weirdoes and you never want to see them again.’
‘I didn’t say that. I might not come with you every time there’s a celebration. And I might leave you and Cal to enjoy rugby on your own. But they seem nice – if I avoid them it won’t be because I don’t like them. I don’t think you and I are at the stage where we have to spend every minute in each other’s company are we? Maybe we never will be. I need my space and I know you do.’
‘Well I could happily spend every minute of the rest of my life doing what we just did. But yeah, I need to do my own thing. Aren’t we just fucking perfect for each other?’
‘I bloody love you.’
‘No you don’t.’
‘No, I don’t.’
He smiled and folded me up against him and pulled me tightly to him, kissing the top of my head.
I thought, after that, that we’d see more of my family, but Jules was never that keen, and although I did still see them on my own, as Jules and I spent more time together, I went round to Jay’s less, spent fewer evenings watching crap on TV and drinking beer with Dec, popped in to see Mum less. I didn’t really think about it.
It was around this time I was deceiving myself about a couple of pretty major things. Everything was going so well with Jules, we got on so well, and we’d worked out a way of being together that suited us. We did our own thing a lot, never felt the need to be with each other all the time, and it left me free to do things like watch football, socialise, play computer games, all the blokey things that seem to annoy the shit out of women, but as Jules did her own thing too, there was just this understanding. We did what we wanted to do, no pressure from either of us to do things together just for the sake of it. It felt ideal; it felt like I had the best of both worlds.
We spent plenty of time together, in bed and out of it. I really enjoyed being with Jules, talking to her, verbally sparring with her, almost as much as I liked holding her and making her moan. We were very good together; she was surprisingly adventurous in bed, and we both complemented and challenged each other.
Oh, but I was talking about deceiving myself. Yeah, about that. Jules told me fairly early on that she didn’t believe in love, that it didn’t exist for her. Maybe that was true for her, maybe she had her own little lies that she told herself, but it was convenient for me, at the time, to say the same. I was already a little freaked out by what I was trying hard to convince myself I wasn’t feeling for Jules, and so joining in with her ‘down with love’ stance suited me.
Looking back now, I can see I was scared. Scared of getting flattened like I had before. I never wanted to be in that place again, where I’d given everything to someone and instead of cherishing it, they destroyed it. So I convinced myself I was never going there again, I told her about Carrie, we laughed about being perfect for each other because neither of us believed in or wanted perfection. But inside, somewhere, I had fallen for Jules. I even told her, regularly, that I didn’t love her, to make her laugh, to continue the fantasy, but as time went on, I’d feel bad for an instant when I said it. Then I’d cover it all up by reminding myself what a good deal I had. But make no mistake, I loved Jules. I loved her for a long time, and if I’d told her, truthfully, just once, things might have been different. Oh, they probably wouldn’t have, because there was the other thing I was deceiving myself about.
Away from that chaotic family evening and stress of the day at work when everyone knew about us, I was seeing more and more that Matt and I were very similar, with similar outlooks on what we wanted from life. There was never a conflict about spending time together or apart; if one of us had other plans, including being alone, the other shrugged and found something else to do. We met up at least once or twice a week, often more, and our sex life was full, varied and exciting.
I sighed with contentment. Even being here, in Matt’s apartment, intending to stay the night, didn’t fill me with the horror it had with previous partners. I knew he didn’t want me to live there, he just wanted me to stay with him for that night, for some prolonged closeness and the chance of more sex later if the mood took us. Which it probably would. I snuggled in closely and enjoyed feeling safe, wrapped up in Matt.
The following weeks brought more sense of calm to my life. Despite my fears, things at GreenScreen didn’t change dramatically once people knew about Matt and me. Once the surprise of our relationship had worn off, people stopped being interested in us. We stuck to our rules, didn’t give them anything further to gossip about, were professional and did our jobs, and it worked. I began to relax about it; I was still The Ice Queen, and I was happy to feel once more like I knew exactly where I stood.
Away from work, Matt came with me to Norfolk for a weekend to help me sort out some of Nons’ things. I wasn’t going to sell the house yet, I couldn’t bear to part with it, but there were documents that needed dealing with, and I wanted to see how William was doing.
Matt and William got on like a house on fire. They talked about football virtually non-stop, and shared a love of beer that saw me spend a lonely Saturday evening going through Nons’ paperwork while they got pissed in front of a live football match on TV. Matt was apologetic later, but I didn’t really mind; William still wouldn’t come into the house, and I hoped that Matt had helped take his mind of things for a few hours.
We managed to go for a walk along one of the north Norfolk beaches. Matt hadn’t realised how beautiful that part of the country was, and enthused about the landscape, wanting to come back more often.
‘We can share the driving, it’ll be great.’
‘Yes, but sometimes I want to be up here on my own.’
‘Sure, but when you feel like company. I like seeing where you grew up.’
‘Does that mean we’ll get to see the delights of Stafford sometime then?’
‘Fuck no, there’s nothing there. Not now I’ve left, anyway.’
And he grinned immodestly and kissed me, and the subject was changed.
Yeah, so the other thing I was kidding myself about. Well, it was Dec’s fault. I like to blame Dec for as much as I can get away with blaming him for. He’s pretty easy going, and he’s got broad shoulders, he can take it. I mentioned that around the time Jules and I got together, Amy got pregnant. It made me feel weird, and I couldn’t explain it, so I didn’t explore it, it is the Matt Scott code: ‘Never Explore Uncomfortable or Inconvenient Feelings’. Maybe it just compounded my sense of being immature; I still thought of Dec as a teenager sometimes, but he was twenty-three by now, and well old enough to be a parent.
It was just that he sometimes seemed so much more grown up than me – I was approaching my mid-thirties, with not so much as a sniff of wanting to settle down and become a family man, and here was my much younger friend with the fiancée and the foetus, making me feel too old and too young at the same time.
If I’d analysed any of it back then, which was so, so never gonna happen, I would have realised I was envious of what he had. But I was so far from having any insight into my thoughts and actions, that it was easy to carry on letting everyone, myself included, believe that a family was the last thing I wanted. I guess it also served my purposes with Jules, united us against the onslaught. She sometimes came with me to Jay and Beth’s, usually on a Sunday, and we’d escape as soon as we could and laugh at the rampant mothering and grannying that had been going on.
‘Ugh, when they started talking about different things you could use afterbirth for. What the fuck? Don’t bloody well do that when I’m eating crème brulee thanks very much.’
‘I know, and even your brother was talking about the different colours of baby shit.’
‘Yeah, like Jay ever saw a full nappy. He was always conveniently busy when they needed changing. I reckon I’ve changed more of his kids’ nappies than he has.’
And then we’d count down the months, weeks and days until it was all over, and the speculation could end. But there was a part of me that was looking forward to meeting this new person, and part of me that would have loved to have someone call me Daddy. I just never went there, it was so far from everything I believed I was, everything I let other people believe I was, everything Jules and I believed we were.
Looking back now, with an analytical and maybe more objective mind, it’s interesting that Jules and I lasted almost exactly as long as Amy’s pregnancy. Oh, I don’t mean that I think there was some sort of cosmic force at work, just that maybe things run their course, not that they have a predetermined length of time or some such shit, but that eventually things come to light that bring things to an end, or make it impossible to continue, which is the same thing really. Maybe I’m trying to say I was reborn? Ha ha, no, that’s not how it felt at all, although my life changed irrevocably. It was just an observation.
So, there I was, all that time, in love with Jules, who never wanted kids, while I wanted to be a dad. And if you’d asked me to say, honestly, how I felt, and if I decided that, yep, OK, I’ll be honest, I would have said, no, of course I don’t love Jules, we’re just seeing how it goes, one day at a time, having fun, and don’t be so bloody ridiculous, no one’s going to tie me down with parenthood. Funny how things go.
Oh, and in the middle of it all, I nearly made Dec have a nervous breakdown. That was possibly the closest I ever came to examining all my shit – ha, given the box-of-shit analogy that Dec came up with that’s quite apposite – but even then I just decided to shove it all down. Maybe some of that is worth telling, it was a pretty major day.