It was weeks later, after Christmas and well into January, that I first suspected. I ignored it at first, thinking it was indigestion, or the prolonged aftermath of a bad takeaway. It was impossible anyway, I had a coil fitted. And I was a nurse, things like that just didn’t happen to sensible medical people who knew better than to rely on a method of contraception that was only ninety eight per cent effective. And Matt had MS and related fertility issues. It was impossible.
So I ignored it for a while, convincing myself my period would start soon, it was always a bit hit and miss, then suddenly my next period was at least three weeks late too, I was still feeling tired and queasy, especially when anyone had a tuna sandwich, and finally I couldn’t ignore it any more I waited until my day off, when Matt was at work from lunchtime until later on, and bought a test.
Full of fear, I peed on the plastic stick and watched in horror as the little window showed two pink lines. Not willing to believe it, I peed on the other plastic stick, crossing fingers, toes and eyes that this time it would be a different result. The same pink lines appeared in the window, and my heart sank. And flipped at the same time. I so wanted this, but it was too soon, far, far too soon.
Matt and I had barely got used to living together. I’d got tenants for my house pretty quickly, and we’d moved all my stuff in just before Christmas, but it was still only January, we’d barely known each other six months. Matt was still recovering from his flare-up of MS, he had only recently started back at work, on extremely limited hours, and I just didn’t know what this news was going to do to him. He was due back from work in an hour or so, and I was going to have to tell him.
I tried to take my mind off it by cooking something nice for dinner, but I was too distracted, and I burnt the bottom of a saucepan before bursting into tears and throwing the whole lot across the kitchen where it crashed into the tiles, splattering blackened tomatoey mess everywhere. I sunk onto the floor and sobbed, barely hearing the key in the door.
I had just got home after a long day’s work – two whole hours that day. I’d had to get up at noon in order to be in for twelve thirty, and then the meeting I was in had overrun, so it was gone three o’clock by the time I got back. Scandalous, tantamount to slave labour.
I turned the key in the lock and opened the door, and there was Lau, on her knees in the kitchen, sobbing. Other sensations floated across my consciousness, but I didn’t stop to examine them fully – a smell of burning, something splattered on the kitchen wall – as the sight of Lau so upset scared the shit out of me. I thought she’d fallen, to start with, and sank to my knees beside her ready to scoop her up and run down the stairs with her to the car to drive her to hospital, but before I did that, I thought I ought to check.
‘Lau? Oh fuck, what is it?’
I put my arms round her, trying to get her to look at me, but her head remained down, and she carried on crying. It was beyond terrifying; I had never seen Lau this upset, even at Amy’s dad’s funeral, when I knew she was thinking about her own dad, and everyone else there was in floods, and she somehow dealt with it all in a way that released it without letting it overtake her. But this was something else, there was something uncontrolled about it, and I was on the edge of panic.
She tried to speak, but more sobs just erupted from her throat. I looked around to see if there were any clues, and the burning smell, coupled with the splattered red gloop across the wall, the cracked tile and the blackened, dented saucepan on the floor did nothing to assuage my alarm.
‘Hey, hey, fuck, Lau, what the fuck is it? Are you hurt?’
I checked what I could see of her body for burns, cuts or broken bits, but could see nothing obvious. She shook her head, but no explanation was forthcoming, so I tried a bit of humour, hoping that if I could make her smile, she might stop crying and tell me what the fuck was wrong.
‘You burnt my best saucepan? Well I’ll let you off this once, as long as –’
It wasn’t working, and I couldn’t bear it.
‘Oh Lau, don’t, please tell me.’
I felt the huge effort she made to pull herself together, and tried to hear what she was saying as she spoke indistinctly through the shudders.
‘… did a test … sorry … too soon … don’t know … what to do … sorry …’
It didn’t make things any clearer, as I had no idea what the words I could make out actually meant.
‘Lau, you’re not making any sense. Come on, get up, you can’t stay down here.’
I stood up and pulled on her arm, wanting to get her to the sofa where I would be able, I was sure, to at least get her to look at me. To my relief, she stood up, and I put my arm round her, as if she needed protecting, while we walked the few steps and sat down. I kept my arm there, across her shoulders, while she looked at her knees.
I was imagining – well, I’ll tell you some of the things I was imagining: a) Something terrible (by which I mean at least serious injury, horrible disease or possibly death) had happened to her mum, b) Something terrible (again, maiming, affliction or deceasement) had happened to my mum, or another member of my family, maybe one of the kids, c) Something terrible (also with the wounds, the contagion and the perishing) had happened to her, or d) Something terrible (see above) had happened that I couldn’t yet imagine, and so it was unimaginably terrible.
I was only imagining terrible somethings, and although none of it really seemed to fit with the saucepan and the red gloop, which I assumed and sincerely hoped was tomato and not a more sinister substance, there was nothing else I could think of that would have upset her this much.
‘Come on, Lau, you’re scaring the shit out of me. What’s wrong?’
The sobbing had diminished to a few quiet shivers; she took several deep breaths, opened her mouth to speak, closed her mouth again, and then spoke, almost in a whisper.
In the end it had to be said.
‘… I’m … pregnant.’
There was a long, long silence. Longer, surely, than any silence that meant good things were going to happen at the end of it. He didn’t remove his arm, but didn’t pull me closer either. I sat there, still looking at my knees, watching the teardrops fall onto my skirt and spread darkly across the fabric, waiting for Matt to freak and then run.
She had spoken quietly, but I had heard her, and there was no need to ask her to repeat it. I froze, for the longest time, as it sank in.
At first, it seemed a bit of an anti-climax, after all the awful injuries, illnesses and deaths I’d just imagined, and I wondered why she’d been crying so hard about something that wasn’t that bad. Then it caught up with me, and yeah, of course, I majorly freaked out, of course I did.
This was the one thing that I used to be terrified would somehow trap me. It was one of the reasons I deluded myself about what I really wanted for so long, and now it had happened, a woman was telling me she was pregnant, and it was mine, and for a moment it took me back there, to that time and place where it would have been the single most terrible thing that could have happened to me.
And it felt for a while like my brain had exploded in my skull, because wasn’t this the last thing I needed? I’d only just got back to something approaching a normal life, I didn’t need all the stress fucking it up again.
But it didn’t last long, because I’d just done all the imagining of terrible somethings, and in comparison, this was not only not that bad, it was actually good. It was a good thing. Better than that, it was a great thing. It was an incredible, wonderful, magnificently awesome thing. It was fucking mind-blowing
Lau was pregnant. I, me with my fucked-up downbelows, had managed to father a bloody child. This meant – oh holy fuck. This meant that I was going to get it, everything I’d wanted, everything this last fucking awful year had been about in a way, and I was going to get it with Lau. A family. And it wasn’t just about me, for fuck’s sake.
Yeah, I finally got there, and thankfully my thought processes hadn’t been available for general perusal by Lau. It was about us. It was always going to be about us, but especially now. I was going to be a fucking dad. Lau and me, we were going to be fucking parents. Lau, me and a baby, we were going to be a fucking family.
This all took me quite some time to process, all the thoughts whirling round my head, from shock, to panic, to acceptance, to excitement, while Lau sat with her head down, teardrops falling onto her skirt, soaking in, staining the fabric dark.
‘Holy, holy fuck. Holy fucking shit. Lau, if you ever, ever fucking scare meh like that again I’ll bloody well murder you.’
Matt’s arm tightened round my shoulders. It seemed like bad things might not be about to happen straight away, so I risked a look into his face, which was bent close to mine. I had never seen such a wide smile on his face, and he smiled quite a lot of the time. He took his arm away so he could hold my face in both hands and pulled my mouth towards his, kissing me tenderly.
I tightened my arm round her shoulders and pulled her towards me, bending my face close to hers. She still hadn’t looked at me, but slowly raised her eyes to mine. I was smiling, so widely, all thoughts of freaking out banished, at least for now, and I saw how scared she’d been of what I was going to say. I felt a pang of guilt that it had taken me so long to reassure her, to tell her how bloody fucking awesome this was, how happy I was.
I held her face in both hands and dropped a tender kiss on her mouth, to apologise, to say ‘woohoo’, just to kiss the mother of our child.
‘Oh Lau. That’s just fucking awesome. Fuck, fuck, fuck, I can’t fucking believe ih. Shit. I mean, it’s OK, isn’t it? It’s what you want, isn’t it? It’s OK?’
Yeah, bit late now, Matt, after going all celebratory, to double check.
I stared at him, unable to speak. Yes, it was OK, if Matt was OK, it was the best news, the thing I’d wanted for so long, and if Matt wanted it too, and wasn’t freaked out, and didn’t run away or … I just nodded, then tried a smile.
Get going on the celebratory, Matt.
I stood up and danced around the room going ‘woooohoooo’ like a bloody nutter, arms wide, as if I’d just scored in the Cup Final for Spurs. This actually might feel a bit better than scoring in the Cup Final for Spurs. I suppose I would never know, as I was possibly just outside the age range for beginning a career with a top flight football team. But as is the way of things, something floated across my mind, I think I was imagining telling everyone: Beth, Dec, Jay, Mum, Lau’s mum – I stopped dancing.
‘Oh fuck, you know what this means. Your bloody mum’s gona go ape. OK, leh’s do this prohply.’
I didn’t even think twice about it. I would never in my life have ever thought that ‘doing things properly’ would mean getting married before having a baby. But it was what we needed to do. I had no moral grounds on which to base this sudden conviction, just a feeling that, for Lau and me, if we were having a baby, we needed to be married. I went back to the sofa and got down on one knee in front of her, holding her hand in both of mine, looking into her eyes.
‘Lau, we have never, in our entire fucking mad donkey’s breakfast of a relationship, done things in the righ order. This time we’re going to. Laura Louise Shoeman, will yuh marry me?’
I held her gaze, hoping against hope that she would feel the same as me. I wanted to see her answer before she said it. And I did. I knew it was coming before her lips formed the word.
His eyes were shining. I had absolutely no doubt that he meant it, he was always going to mean it, and I had absolutely no doubt about my answer.
I smiled a huge smile, almost dizzy with the speed at which I had gone from breaking my heart to overjoyed.
An enormous smile spread across her mouth, as I took her face in my hands again, wiped away the last of her tears, then laughed as new, happy tears rolled out of her eyes. Then I held her to me, still kneeling on the floor, Lau still on the sofa, and kissed her properly, passionately, as the mother of your child and the woman who has just agreed to be your wife should be kissed.
Lau got down on the floor too, and we knelt together and kissed some more, hands in each other’s hair, lips and tongues telling each other how outrageously good this was. Then I had too many questions, too much to say, and we sat back and held hands.
‘Whoa, Lau, I’m gona be a fucking father. Whoa. A baby. How long have yuh known?’
‘Just today. If I’d paid more attention, I would have done the test earlier. There were plenty of signs.’
‘Why didn’t yuh say?’
‘Well … I suppose it was one of those things, I didn’t ever actually think to myself ‘I’m probably pregnant’, I just pretended it wasn’t happening. It wasn’t until I was so late I had to notice, then I bought the test this morning, still thinking I was just ruling it out. I did it twice, I didn’t want to believe it the first time.’
‘Buh why not? You’ve wanted this as much as meh.’
‘It just felt like really bad timing. We’ve only ever talked about it in general what we want terms, not about when or how. I felt stupid, too. We should have taken more precautions. I didn’t know what you were going to say, or do, either.’
‘But Lau, you must have known I was gona beh over the fucking moon.’
Although, yeah, it had been touch and go for a bit, so I could see why she might have demurred.
‘I kept veering between ‘it’s OK, it’s what we both want’ and ‘Matt’s going to freak’. I’m glad you haven’t.’
Ha, again, glad she couldn’t read my mind. Part of me, somewhere, was still freaking, maybe waiting for things to become a little calmer so that it could come out and play.
‘I still can’t believe ih. And why are weh both down here on the floor? Get on the sofa, woman, start looking after yourself a bit. I need tuh have a word with my offspring.’
I lifted her off the floor and onto the sofa, and pushed her down so she was lying on her back. Then I lifted her shirt and put my lips onto her belly. It was hard to believe there was anything in there; it didn’t look any different from usual to me. But it … he … shit, it could be a he … would be so small, it was hardly surprising there was nothing to see. I wanted to talk to him.
‘Hey, baby, yuh are one lucky tiny little thing. You’ve goh Lau as your mum, and me as your dad. You’d better look after your mum, no kicking her inside ouh, or making her sick – whoa Lau, it wasn’t that curry. It was this one.’
I rubbed her belly, unable to wipe the grin off my face. For a while, too long, thinking about it, Lau had struggled with indigestion and feeling queasy. A mild case of food poisoning and its after-effects Or, obviously, not.
‘I can’t stop smiling. Fuck.’
‘OK, Matt, now may not be the time, but maybe you need to think about toning your language down.’
‘Wha? He’s not even born yet, he won’t knoh what I’m saying.’
‘They can hear loads of things in there. Start practising now, by the time she’s born, you’ll be able to say whole sentences without any swear words at all.’
So now Lau was going to be able to get in on the ‘stop Matt’s fucking bad language’ campaign. Not too happy about that one, but not about to get into an argument about it just yet, I was too fucking happy. And I’d had an idea. It was a mad idea, but Lau and me seemed to be going at a hundred miles an hour, never stopping, so why not keep on?
‘Lau, I’m gona call the registry office, see when weh can get – am I really saying this – married. How soon?’
‘How soon for you?’
‘Tomohrow if they’ve got a slot.’
Yeah, Matt and see how much that freaks you out. But I didn’t care. If it was tomorrow, in a way, that would make it easier, less time for me to bottle it.
‘It’s Saturday tomorrow.’
‘Aren’t ahl weddings on fucking Saturdays?’
Already I was noticeably not toning my language down.
‘Lots are, but not all people are available, especially at short notice. I assume you want your family to come? Aren’t Raiders playing away? Dec, Jay and Nico will already be on the coach to – where is it – Birmingham or something.’
‘Fuck. OK, what about weh do ih on a weekday? It’s easier for people to get to, they’re less likely tuh have other things on. Oh, maybe apart from work.’
It occurred to me that we weren’t going to be able to get a date, especially in the near future, when everyone we wanted to be there was going to be able to make it.
‘Shit, we’re just gona have tuh decide who we most want there, or, no, know what I think?’
I hauled myself onto the sofa and lay down beside her, face to face, stroking her hair, as I realised what needed to happen.
‘I think that we should just do this for us. Just book the first available date an tell people. If they want tuh have a big party, or we want one later, we can do that, but we should jus do this. OK, phoning now.’
I pulled my phone out of my pocket, looked up a number, taking my time, giving Lau the chance to stop me, but she didn’t, and so I pressed call.
‘Registrar, can I help you?’
It felt so, so unreal, like it wasn’t my voice saying the words.
‘Hello. What’s the earliest slot you have for a wedding?’
‘Hold on one moment please, I’ll just have a look for you.’
I looked at Lau, who looked flushed and what I hoped was excited.
‘She’s jus looking.’
The woman came back on the line.
‘We’ve had a cancellation next Friday at three.’
Holy shit, a week’s time. I repeated the information to Lau, and she nodded. Holy shit.
‘OK, can I book ih?’
I was going to book my wedding. There were people who had taken substantial bets on this never happening.
‘Full names of the participants, please.’
‘Well, meh, I’m Matt Scott … Matthew Robert Scott …’
I waited for her to write it down, or type it or whatever she was doing
‘… an Laura Louise Shoeman …’
She wanted other details, addresses, dates of birth, other stuff, some of which I knew, some of which I had to ask Lau, then she gave me a list of things I needed to sort out, and I scribbled them on a piece of paper, disconnected and turned to look at Lau, feeling a bit dazed.
‘We’re getting fucking married next Friday. And we’re having a bloody baby in – when?’
‘I don’t know. I’ll have to make an appointment to see the doctor.’
‘Fuck, Lau, we’re gona have tuh fucking move, too, this place is far too small.’
Things just kept piling up: all the things that were going to change, and were going to have to change.
‘Surely not straight away, she can come in with us for the first few months.’
‘That’s wha Dec and Amy said, they were tripping over themselves within a week. Well we don’t have to think about it right now. Who are we going tuh tell?’
I remembered Dec’s middle of the night texts when both Charlie and the new one were on the way. I would love to repay him in kind. I remembered Beth and Jay announcing Iz’s imminent arrival at the Christmas dinner table. Something more formal like that would be good too.
My head was spinning with it all. I just wanted time to sit and think about it.
‘Matt, can we not tell anyone, just for a bit? I know we need to tell people soon so we can invite them, but can this just be us, just tonight, maybe tomorrow – you won’t be able to tell Jay, Dec or Nico until after the game, and by the time they get back, it’ll be too late. Sunday morning?’
I wasn’t sure I could wait a whole day, more than a day. Especially if one of them phoned me, I’d be bound to let it slip. I was going to have to turn my phone off or something equally drastic.
‘Bloody hell, Lau, yuh drive a hard bargain. Dec texted meh immediately, in the middle of the fucking night, both times. I was looking forward tuh repaying the favour.’
‘Please, Matt. It’s all happening so fast, I need to get my head round it.’
Lau was genuinely pleading with me, and yeah, it was a lot to take in, and sitting on it for a day might make it sink in.
‘Of course, gorgeous, Sunday ih is. Wha about your mum, though, we’re due to see her tomorrow.’
‘Dammit. I’ll put her off. We’ll go on Sunday instead, before lunch, if we’re still going to Beth and Jay’s?’
‘Why not? Well, maybe see how weh feel. Once Beth gets word, there’ll be noh stopping her. Oh, I’m going to enjoy stringing her along.’
It wasn’t often I got the chance to tell Beth something so huge. I was almost surprised she hadn’t worked it out before Lau.
‘I’m glad you’re using this as an opportunity to score points.’
‘Hey, I’m gona be centre of the universe –’
Oh yeah, this was about us.
‘We’re gona be centre of the universe for the next few months. Well, maybe till Dec and Amy have theirs, then they can have a bih of glory, then it’s back to us. It’s all about the timing.’
Lau rolled her eyes. She knew how much this meant to me. I loved being an uncle, but it was a lesser role, and everyone knew it. This felt proper, real part of the family stuff. I caught sight of the red gloop splashed up the walls.
‘OK, I’m gona clear up this mess – holy crap, Lau, there’s tomato sauce fucking everywhere. An you owe meh a saucepan. Tell you what, if you have my baby I’ll let yuh off.’
‘Oh you’re too easy. Yuh could have held out for being let off, and a good Scottying. You’ll just have tuh beg for that later.’
I surveyed the devastation that had been wrought on the kitchen wall and worktop.
‘Lau, what the fuck did you do here?’
Lau looked at me, not embarrassed or guilty, just looked at me. I suppose pregnant women can get away with a lot, and she was no exception.
‘I was trying to take my mind off everything by cooking tea, but it didn’t work, and I burnt the sauce, so I just chucked the lot.’
‘Yuh just chucked the lot. At the wall.’
She shrugged, as if didn’t everyone just chuck saucepans full of hot liquid when it all got a bit much.
‘Sorry, flower. Here, let me give you a hand.’
‘Noh, you stay right there, woman. Might have tuh up the price of your let off though.’
‘Scottying, cuddle afterwards, an sleep wih me all night.’
This always happened anyway, it’s not like it was a punishment. She nodded her agreement with an impish grin that nearly made me forget the cleaning.
But Scottying was off the table, or indeed any other handy surface, for now. I cleared up the burnt tomato sauce, binned the saucepan and ruefully regarded the broken tile that was going to be hard to replace. Lau must have been seriously stressed to cause this sort of mess; she was usually so cool-headed. I wished I’d been here when she was going through it all, but I guess she took the test on her day off precisely so I wasn’t around.
I looked over at her as I finished wiping up the last bits and started on some dinner. The look she gave me was one of trust and love, no hint of the earlier upset, and it sent a surge of calm through me. This was going to be OK. It was mad, just like everything we’d done so far was mad, but we were going to do it together, and that’s what would make it OK.
After dinner, we spent the evening cuddled up on the sofa together, some music playing. I couldn’t keep my hands off Lau’s belly, trying to picture the person who was in there, maybe a centimetre or two long. It was almost impossible to imagine, and every so often I’d say ‘fucking hell, Lau, I’m gona beh a dad’, because saying it made it feel like it was actually happening. And she’d look at me and nod, with wide eyes, and I’d wonder whether he’d have her eyes or mine, my nose or hers, and over the course of the evening, and into the next day, thinking all these things finally caught up with me, and it stopped feeling like we were in the middle of some weird story, and started feeling like this was part of our life, something we both wanted. Maybe just a bit sooner than we would have planned, but welcome to Matt and Lau World, where everything happens sooner than planned.
We spent the rest of the evening, and most of the next day, getting used to it all – we were having a baby, and we were getting married. I had to keep reminding myself.
I managed to put Mum off by vaguely saying we needed to ‘sort stuff’ and implying it was to do with the flat. We wrote a list of people we needed to tell and invite, and Matt spent a lot of time saying ‘fucking hell, Lau, I’m going to be a dad’. We both wandered around with slightly shell-shocked expressions. We talked about what sort of wedding we wanted and would be able to organise at such short notice, and had some ideas that basically meant it would be very simple, not that we had a tremendous amount of choice.
Matt Googled lots of things about babies and pregnancy, and asked me lots of questions I couldn’t answer about due dates and size, but by Sunday morning, it was beginning to feel a little bit more believable and a little less like a story someone had told me.
I’d turned my phone off, but turned it on briefly the next morning, just so people didn’t start breaking down my door. They were less likely to do that now Lau was here, but you just never knew. Predictably, there were several texts from Beth, as well as missed calls, and I could tell when she’d got Dec involved from the time on his texts. She hadn’t gone as far as Mum, though, so she can’t have been that worried.
‘Matty, been trying to call u. R U OK?’
‘Matty, where RU?’
‘Matty, can’t get hold of u or Laura. Pls call me.’
‘Hey mate. Beth’s trying to get hold of u abt lunch Sun, wants u 2 bring truffle oil?? Give her a call, get her off our backs? Cheers.’
Bloody truffle oil. That’s what you get for letting Beth rifle through the contents of your shopping bags.
Lau had her phone off too, for the same reason as me, and before I turned mine off again, I quickly winged a text to mollify Beth.
‘FFS Beth, can’t get a minute 2 ourselves. Will bring truffle oil. Call off the dogs.’
I hoped it would suggest we had been involved in nefarious activities that would not demand further explanation or contact, and we spent a strangely quiet Saturday, where there were no ringtones, textones or email bleeps from my phone, or Nokia default tones from Lau’s. I would like to say it was liberating and relaxing, but part of me felt like my hand had been cut off.
Still, we were having a baby, and that took the edge off my frustration somewhat. I wasn’t completely cutting myself off from technology, though, and I spent a fair bit of time on the internet, looking things up about babies and pregnancy, annoying Lau by asking her questions she couldn’t answer, like how big he was likely to be (you had to know how many weeks pregnant you were, and Lau was frustratingly clueless, considering she was a nurse), when he was likely to be born (same answer), whether she was going to puke early in the morning like Amy did (everyone’s different and although she hadn’t puked thus far, things might change) and whether she’d had any cravings (not that she was aware of, although now I thought about it she had eaten some weird combinations of things from time to time – ooh, smoked salmon croissant and pop tart at Christmas …).
By the time Sunday morning came, I was less startled at the thought of being a dad, and applauded Lau for her foresight in insisting on a day to get used to it. We’d discussed our wedding, quite a lot, and although I wouldn’t say I was as at ease with the thought of being a husband as I was being a dad, there was enough to do to take my mind off the enormity of it. Some would say that this wasn’t the right way to go about approaching one’s wedding, but I would counter that if I had actually stopped and thought about it, I would be so shit-scared I’d never do it, and I needed to do it, we needed to do it, it was right.
So we’d come up with a plan, which was to call my side of the family before going to lunch, where there would be a deal of fuss, but at least we wouldn’t be standing up and announcing it to everyone at once, but Lau’s mum we would do face to face. That wasn’t likely to be an enjoyable time; much as I liked April, she was staunchly Christian, and already didn’t approve of Lau moving in with me. She liked me well enough, but I didn’t think it would be sufficient to forgive me getting her daughter up the duff and forcing a shotgun wedding.
But anyway, back to the plan. After telling my lot, and before getting chewed up and spat out by Lau’s mum, I would text everyone at work, or maybe just Lexi, to save me a job, and Lau would tell everyone at her work, and then we’d tell whichever other friends we wanted to invite.
We weren’t quite sure what we were inviting them to just yet; I wondered if Beth would want to throw a party, as she loved doing a do, but it was short notice, so we decided that over the road from the Registry Office was the Pickled Pig, and that would do if all else failed. We weren’t going to have a honeymoon as such, as I had only just started back at work and taking time off felt a bit cheeky, but we might have a holiday before the baby came.
And that just left my own personal arrangements to make. Honeymoon – maybe not. But I wanted to book a night in the Ivy Leaf, in the honeymoon suite, which I had on good authority was the most luxurious suite in the city, even though there were, regrettably, no poster sized pictures of any of my family on the walls. I went online while Lau thought I was still Googling baby stuff, and to my amazement they had Friday night available, so I nabbed it.
There were other things I wanted to sort out – flowers for Lau, a suit, a few other surprises if I could manage it, but I hadn’t got my head round it all yet. Lau was writing lists like there was no tomorrow and she needed to get it all down on paper today, but I was trying to stay chilled and keep things in my head for now.
I called Mum first.
‘Hello, Matthew dear. Are you alright?’
I wasn’t sure why she’d think I wasn’t.
‘Oh, that’s good. I know Beth was worried yesterday.’
Oh what a surprise, Beth had been worrying all and sundry.
‘No, I’m good. Just wanted to let yuh know, er, ask if, shit, um …’
I was really ballsing this up. Mum was the hardest one to tell, because I had fucking about plans for everyone else, but Mum, well I just had to tell her straight. I took a deep breath.
‘Lau and me are getting married next Friday.’
There was a short silence.
‘Did you say married?’
I couldn’t tell from her voice if she was surprised, horrified, or pleased …
‘Well I’m very happy for you dear, but it’s a bit, er, sudden, isn’t it?’
‘Why so soon?’
I wondered if she had guessed. There are only a couple of reasons why you would be getting married with a week’s notice.
‘Lau’s, we’re, er, having a baby.’
Another silence, and then I could hear the smile in her voice.
‘Oh Matthew, a baby?’
She knew what it meant to me, and she was happy for me, sudden necessity for a hat notwithstanding.
I smiled, letting out a breath I hadn’t realised I was holding, waiting for Mum’s approval.
‘And that’s … it’s a good thing, isn’t it?’
She was checking that we both wanted it.
‘Yeah, ih’s awesome.’
‘You’re both happy?’
‘Oh that’s just lovely. When is it due?’
That was going to be asked and not answered a lot until Lau managed to get to get an appointment at the doctor’s.
‘Don’t know yet, only jus found out.’
‘Have you told your brother?’
I could trust Mum not to tell anyone, but she wanted to know who knew so she could talk about it.
‘No, just about to call him, but can yuh come on Friday?’
‘Of course, dear. I wouldn’t miss this. Rose is picking me up in a while, can I tell her?’
‘Yeah, tell Rose, I’ll see yuh later at Jay’s.’
‘Congratulations, Matthew. I’m so pleased for you.’
‘Give my love to Laura.’
I blew out my cheeks, relieved.
‘Tha went OK. She sends her lohv. First tick on the guest list.’
And now I couldn’t wait to call Jay, dialling his number immediately.
‘Matty, you’re alive.’
I ignored the obvious allusion to being incommunicado yesterday.
‘Yeh, I’m good. I’m just wondering if yuhr free next Friday afternoon.’
‘No, I’ve got a coaches’ planning meeting, for my sins.’
Bugger. I really wanted Jay to be there.
‘Oh, any way yuh can get out of ih?’
‘Depends what for. It’s going to be pretty dull, I could do with an excuse to miss it, to be honest. It’d have to be good, though.’
‘Well I was hoping yuh’d beh my best man.’
There was a silence. I was loving those silences, they were like applause.
‘What, you mean like best man … at a wedding?’
That was pretty quick on the uptake for Jay. I could almost hear the brain cells heating up as they went into overload.
‘Yeh, at my wedding.’
‘What the fuck, Matty? You’re not … you can’t tell me you’re … when did you say?’
He sounded really shocked, and I almost regretted stringing him along. Ha, no I didn’t.
‘Nex Friday afternoon.’
‘But that’s less than a week, you have to book things, arrange –’
He obviously thought I was a complete incompetent when it came to organising things, like he was. He would never have been able to sort this in a million years.
‘Ih’s all booked.’
Jay was still spluttering.
‘But what’s the big rush? Jesus, you’ve only just moved in together, is there really a need to get bloody married too?’
I expect he was panicking about whether he was going to have to dry-clean his suit.
‘Yeh, well, people tend tuh when they’re in lohv an having a baby.’
‘You’re what? Did you say having a baby?’
‘Jesus, Matty. Jesus. Really?’
I could picture him pacing around, running a hand through his hair as he did when he was flummoxed.
‘When’s it due?’
He finally found some unexploded brain cells, and realised that if he was going to tell Beth, he would need some details. Beth obviously wasn’t anywhere nearby, or she would have wrestled the phone from him by now.
‘Not sure yet. So, bes man, up for ih?’
‘Oh, of course, Matty. This is a lot to take in. Shit. I suppose I have to get all dressed up.’
I knew he’d been thinking about his suit. He hated dressing formally.
‘If yuh want.’
‘So there’s no dress code then.’
This amused me greatly, and gave me an idea, but I let him off the hook for now. I could always go back on it later.
‘No, wear wha the fuck yuh want – yuhr Tigger onesie for all I care.’
‘Piss off Matty, I have not got a onesie.’
‘Yeh yuh do, Iz told meh.’
‘Bloody kids, can’t trust either of them with a secret. Are we all invited, then?’
‘Well can yuh get Cal out of school?’
‘I expect so.’
‘So you haven’t told Beth yet?’
He sounded like he was going to enjoy surprising her, and I graciously bestowed this favour on him. Nothing at all to do with the fact that Beth would hate it if someone else told her stuff about me, when she tried so hard to get me to spill it herself.
‘No, yuh can tell her. I’ve got tons of people to call now. See ya later.’
I disconnected, grinning at Lau.
‘I’m going to have to call Dec now, before he does.’
I brought up Dec’s number and called.
‘Hey, Dec, er, I’ve goh a favour to ask.’
He sounded his usual chilled self, with just a note of caution in his voice; this was doubtless due to me asking for a favour, which was akin to asking for help, and obviously something I never did, so he probably had an ear out for the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
‘Well, Fridays are your day off, righ?’
‘Yeah. Well, theoretically, depends on which day the weekend match is on, whether we’re travelling to an away game, and we have to do Captains Run and all that. Why?’
Oh bollocks. Why couldn’t he just have a normal job with normal hours?
‘Well, are you aroun nex Friday afternoon?’
‘Er, should be, what do you need?’
‘Well … I wondered if you’d be able to make ih to the Registry Office for my wedding.’
And there it was, that silence. I thank you.
‘ … your what?‘
‘Sorry ih’s a bit short notice.’
I wasn’t sorry at all. I was becoming less and less sorry every time I said it, because the results were so outstandingly hilarious.
‘Fucking hell, Matt. I need a minute to take it in … you and Laura are getting married? What the fuck?’
And now the denouement.
‘Yeh, well, ih seemed a bit necessary, what wih the lohving each other an having a baby in a few months an everything.’
More stunned silence. Oh I was going to live off this for weeks to come.
‘ … what?‘
‘Sorry to spring ih on you. Ih’s taken us a bih by surprise too.’
‘You don’t sound very sorry, you sound like you’re grinning your fucking head off.’
Well, he was right there. I was grinning my fucking head off. I was feeling very pleased with myself, and likely deserved a good slap for being so smug, but oh I was having a good time.
‘I’ve jus had a very similar conversation wih Jay. Ih’s been extremely fucking entertaihing. I’ll leave you to break the news to Amy, if tha’s OK. I’m expecting a very long phone call wih Beth soon, wanting lohs of details that I will obviously be unwilling to give her until she prises them out of meh, and then she’ll wan to organise some kind of huge gathering tha I’ll naturally be unwilling to agree to until she beats me into submission. I’m looking forward to ih immensely.’
‘Matt, that’s just fucking awesome. Congratulations, mate. I would offer to help, but it seems like you’ve got us all manipulated exactly where you want us. Awesome. I’m a bit speechless. It’s just huge.’
Dec seemed, so far, to be the one who was handling the information the best. Maybe it was because he just sauntered through life dealing with what came his way and not stressing too much about anything. There was something I wanted him to know, though, and I needed to be serious for a minute.
‘Dec, if Jay wahn’t my brother, I’d want you to be my bes man, but …’
There was all that unsaid shit, Dec was like my brother, but Jay really was my brother, and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here now.
‘Don’t be so fucking daft, it never crossed my mind. It has to be Jay. I’d only lose the rings and fuck up the speech anyway. Jay’ll lose the rings and fuck up the speech too, but at least it won’t be my fault.’
It was good to have great mates like Dec, who just got you and didn’t worry about shit.
‘I’d better let Amy know, so she can get shopping for a dress. You’re not going to be popular, with the baby so close to popping.’
We disconnected, and I couldn’t conceal my glee from Lau, who had been watching proceedings with raised eyebrows.
‘I loved every bloody second of that.’
My phone rang, it was Beth, who must have been hitting redial until I finished talking to Dec. I looked at Lau, still grinning.
‘Beth. I’m not gona answer.’
Lau rolled her eyes, but smiled too, indulging me with a shake of her head. Then her phone rang. Lau didn’t have different tones for different people, but I was sure it would be Beth. She checked with me before she answered.
‘Can I get this?’
‘Up tuh you.’
‘Don’t you want to talk to her?’
‘If she begs.’
Lau shook her head again, and answered her phone.
‘Oh Laura, James has just told me your news. Oh sweetheart, how are you?’
‘I’m great. Really good, happy, scared, amazed, you name it.’
‘When did you find out?’
‘Day before yesterday. I’d been ignoring some pretty obvious signs, for quite a while.’
‘Grinning from ear to ear like a crazy person.’
‘So you’re both happy, then?’
‘Yeah, we’re both very happy. Can you make the wedding?’
‘Oh Laura, try to stop me. Are you having a reception or anything?’
‘We haven’t really had a chance to organise anything. We thought we’d just go to the pub afterwards.’
‘Oh you can’t do that. Let me do something for you. I love this sort of thing.’
‘Well … that does sound great – Matt, Beth wants to organise a do.’
Matt held his hand out for the phone. I could see he was going to give Beth a hard time before he caved and let her have her way, which was what he wanted anyway but meant he didn’t actually have to ask her.
I knew it. Score. I pumped a quick celebratory fist, then held my hand out for Lau’s phone.
‘Oh congratulations sweetheart.’
‘You both sound very happy.’
I supposed I was going to have to put up with everyone double checking it was a good thing for both of us.
‘Yeah, very happy thanks.’
‘Oh that’s so lovely. Matty, have you got any plans for a do, or a party, reception type thing?’
Yeah, my plan had been to get Beth to organise it, but only after I’d had my fun.
‘Well, we thought we’d just all pile over the road to the Pickled Pig afterwards.’
So here I was, lining it up.
‘Oh Matty, you can’t just go to the pub. You have to have a proper reception.’
‘Why do we ‘have’ tuh?’
Yep, let her explain to me exactly why I needed her to do this.
‘This is your special day, sweetheart, you’ll only have one chance to have a reception on the day. Don’t you want it to be special?’
And it would be really special once Beth had organised it.
‘You really hadn’t thought of anything else?’
Nope, that will be your job, Beth.
‘No, but we can get just as pissed in the pub as in a village hall somewhere.’
‘Oh Matty, you can’t drink too much, Laura won’t be.’
And step away from the advice, Beth.
‘Well, no, Lau probably won’t be drinking, but I fucking will beh.’
I wouldn’t, not on my wedding day, not when I was marrying the girl of my dreams, the love of my life, I wanted to remember every second, but I was intent on getting as much winding up out of Beth as I could manage.
‘Matty, I’m really good at organising things like this.’
Which is why you’re going to be organising our reception.
‘I know yuh are.’
‘And I love doing things like this.’
Which is why you’re going to be organising our reception.
‘I know yuh do.’
‘I know somewhere that would be ideal. I’ve got a friend with a heated barn.’
That sounded like just the thing. Now to reel her in.
‘It’s in Thursley, do you know the crossroads out that way?’
‘No, I don’t know it.’
Although I knew Thursley, and it was a lovely little village. Ideal for, say, a wedding reception.
‘Well it’s just off the crossroads, down a farm track. It wouldn’t be expensive to hire, I’m sure. It could be a wedding present.’
‘No, don’t spend your money, Beth.’
‘Not my money, James will pay.’
Oh this just got better. Not that I was wanting to avoid paying by any means, but Jay was so stingy that Beth splashing his cash around was the icing on the cake.
‘Oh, well, Jay’s money, tha’s a different matter.’
‘Don’t you think it would make a lovely wedding present, sweetheart?’
I pretended to weigh this up for a moment.
‘Yeah, I suppose it beats a toaster.’
‘I’ll call about the barn now.’
Now to inject just a hint of backing out.
‘Where did yuh say again?’
‘Thursley. It’s a big heated barn, we could set up a bar there, get a band, oh Matty it will be wonderful.’
‘Oh, tha does actually sound pretty cool.’
‘How many are you inviting? Do you have any idea yet?’
I could hear Beth’s organisational brain ticking over. She really was great at all that shit, had thrown some awesome parties for Dec and Amy on their respective twenty-first birthdays, and for Jay’s fortieth, and always did fantastic kids parties for Cal and Iz. Yeah, I know, it would have been a lot easier to have just asked her, but this way was so much more fun.
‘Yeah, we have got a sort of guest list.’
‘Not many, an it’s a Friday, not sure who’d beh able to come at short notice.’
‘I suppose you can only hope people will be able to get the time off.’
‘Yeah, family a few friends an work people … oh – Lau, where’s that list of people?’
She handed it over. I’d like to say she looked awed at my astute handling of Beth, but she looked more amused. I quickly totted up the names on the list.
‘Fifty max, tha’s if everyone can come an brings someone.’
‘Oh that sounds easy, Matty. It’s not like it’s hundreds. Shall we go for it, then?’
I tried to sound as reluctant as I could.
‘Yeh, OK, but I still think the pub would beh just as easy.’
‘No, Matty. I’m insisting.’
Ha, of course you are, Beth. Hook, line and sinker.
‘OK, if you’re sure.’
‘I’ll get Lis to help, she’s got some great contacts. And if I start tomorrow, I can get a lot of the food sorted. Carol and Rose can help as well, maybe a catering firm for some of it –’
‘Yeah, OK, con whoever you like into helping, as long as ih’s not me.’
‘No, sweetheart, you won’t have to do a thing.’
‘Oh it’s so lovely, Matty, after everything, I’m so pleased for you.’
‘To find all this, now, after the year you’ve had …’
And much as Beth went on, and I felt like she interfered and offered advice when it wasn’t wanted, she did actually care, she didn’t just want information so she could gossip, she wanted to help if she could. And she knew how much having a family meant to me, and it made her happy.
‘I know, it’s fucking amazing.’
‘Congratulations again, sweetheart.’
‘We’ll talk more over lunch.’
‘See yuh later.’
As I disconnected, Lau’s phone announced a text, and while she read it and replied, I basked in the success of my morning’s conversations:
Jay best man
Beth recruited .
It just remained to tell a few more people, which I could do by text, and that was me done. I’d text Lexi, she’d take care of everyone at work, then I’d text Andrew, and I’d have to call Phil because I’d need Friday off.
As he disconnected, a text pinged onto my phone from Amy.
‘Dec just told me your news! 🙂 Friday? Really?!! Got no clothes that fit – pls come shopping w me. Amy x’
‘I haven’t got a dress either. Wld ❤ a shopping buddy cu l8r. L x’
I looked up from my phone. Matt was looking at me like the cat that got the cream.
‘You got your own way, then?’
His grin broadened.
I believe there was more smug basking on my part.
‘Yeah. Beth’s gona ask Lis tuh help her, she’s got a friend who’s got a heated barn, she’s gona cook an ask Mum an Rose as well, an get a catering firm to do some of it. Reception sorted.’
‘Nice work. You’re sure she wants to?’
‘She feels even better now she thinks I dihn’t really want to, but she’s persuaded meh.’
When you thought about it, actually, I’d been doing her a favour, kind of like my gift to her. I was such a benefactor.
Or such a devious bastard. Maybe a beneficent devious bastard.