It was a few hours later, we had been in the room with the babies, exhausted, elated, alternating between just staring at them and each other with wild-eyed expressions, and dozing briefly. We’d had one or other of them in our arms the whole time. They had been asleep, then awake, they were wearing tiny nappies and nothing else, as I hadn’t brought any of their clothes with me. I’d fed them again, feeling so, so proud of them, and myself, and glowing in the sense of deep love that I felt for them. Every time they opened their eyes and looked at me, I melted. Matt just kept saying, ‘I can’t believe it’ over and over again, with a ridiculous grin on his face. But now we needed to start telling people, and there were things we needed to think about.
‘Matt, what are their names?’
He looked up at me, tearing his eyes away from our son, sleeping in his arms.
Well if she was asking my opinion, I was going to take advantage of the first dibs I felt I was being offered.
‘Well, I still like my Tottenham heroes idea.’
It wasn’t ever a goer, but part of me would have loved it.
‘Oh come on, Lau. Glenn – could be boy or girl. Ginola – also boy or girl. We could have middle names like Ardiles, Klinsmann, Greaves, Chivers. You can’t tell me that Glenn Klinsmann Chivers Scott isn’t an awesome name.’
In my younger days, I had given a lot of thought to a football team of names, and I wasn’t letting go without a fight.
I had to be firm, because with Matt, although it was a joke, he was semi-serious if given any leeway at all. He could tie me up in knots with arguments, and before I knew it, I’d agreed to something ridiculous like, for example, Philpotts.
‘Oh. Fair enough.’
Choosing your battles was always a sound strategy.
‘So, our shortlist was …?’
‘Boy – Jacob, Harry, Joshua. Girl – Beatrice, Ella, Emily. I think Josh suits him.’
I looked down at the dozing bundle in my arms. He was definitely a Josh.
‘Yeah, me too. I, er, was wondering about a second name.’
It was something I’d been thinking about for the last month or so, on and off. I’d hit on a bit of an idea, and not really had time to talk to Lau about it, as it had been a rather unformed thought, and I hadn’t sounded her out. No time like the present, I suppose.
I was surprised. We’d discussed names a lot, and I was sure we’d decided that second names were useless except as something for other people to tease you about when you got older. I didn’t mind mine, and Matt didn’t mind his, but he did hate his initials.
‘Oh, I thought we said not?’
‘Yeah, but sometimes it can be like a present to someone, can’t it?’
I was trying to work up to it slowly, wishing I’d talked to Lau about it before, but we needed to do this, name them, now, and I couldn’t be as circumspect as I might have been.
Matt was looking at me shyly, as if asking permission, which he hardly ever did. I wondered how long whatever it was had been on his mind; usually I could tell when he was pondering something, but this had got past me. Possibly I had an excuse.
‘What are you thinking?’
‘Well, you know, kind of someone from the family. Jay and Beth have been pretty amazing to me over the years, and I know it’s not from your side of the family, but I was just thinking, could we have James as a second name? Jay isn’t James, but it’s, like, a nod in the direction. Cal’s second name is James, for the same reason. I’m not very good at saying thanks, this might do it a bit.’
I had still never, really, acknowledged how deeply affected I had been by Jay dropping everything and moving his family up to Stafford all those years ago. It felt like about time I did, and it seemed like a good way to approach the subject without actually having to say it.
I thought about how Matt expressed himself with his brother, how he hid behind messing about and refusing help, and realised it was really important to him. So, second names – not completely useless when you’re trying to say something you’d find it hard to actually, well, say.
‘Joshua James Scott. Actually, I really like it. Hey, Josh, what do you think of your name?’
He wriggled, a tiny hand waving in the air.
‘Whoa Lau, I think he likes it too, he’s giving it a thumbs up. Right then, next, let’s name your sister, mate.’
Lau looked down at her, considering.
‘Well, let’s see now, tiny lady. I don’t think you’re a Beatrice. So Emily or Ella.’
Beatrice had been Lau’s granny, April’s Mum. Ella was a granny of some sort. Emily was just a name we liked. Lau was right, though – much as she would have liked to name her after Granny Bea, our daughter wasn’t a Beatrice.
‘Didn’t we say Ella because that was your granny or something?’
‘My great granny, yeah. I didn’t know her, though.’
‘Well, fair’s fair, one name from my side of the family, one from yours.’
‘OK, then. And, well, now we’re doing second names, what about Elizabeth? You did say Jay and Beth.’
I looked at Lau for a long moment, so in awe of Lau’s sensitivity, understanding and equanimity. I’d thought about asking, but it seemed like a bit of a liberty. Much as I went on about Beth, got pissed off with her, wished that sometimes she was less involved in my life, I recognised that without her, I wouldn’t be where I was. When I really thought about Beth and stopped being an obstinate bastard for two seconds, I realised I thought of her and loved her as a sister.
It came out as a whisper.
Lau nodded. ‘I know they both mean a lot to you.’
‘I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.’
‘Then it’s the least we can do, isn’t it, flower. Ella Elizabeth Scott. Oh yes, I like it very much. Hey, Ella. Welcome to your name. Ella and Josh. Our children. Oh my God …’
I was suddenly overcome with emotion too, visualising Ella and Josh through the years, learning to walk, playing on swings, going to school, playing with friends, being with family. Tears leaked down my face.
I saw the tears spring into Lau’s eyes as she said Ella’s name. It wasn’t the first time, and certainly wasn’t going to be the last, for either of us.
She shook her head, smiling.
‘It all just keeps hitting me. Here they are. It’s just a bit much.’
I let go of Josh with one hand and stroked her cheek, as I tried to tell her just how awesome she was.
‘So are you. You have been so bloody amazing, carrying these two for all that time, taking care of them. I’m glad I can help now. Hey, know what, it’s time we started waking people up and telling them, now we’ve got names.’
I pulled my phone out and turned it on.
‘What time is it?’
‘Actually, later than I thought. It’s nearly seven. I’m surprised Beth hasn’t been down here banging on the door.’
‘Did you even let her know we were here?’
There hadn’t been time, beforehand, to let anyone know, but the Scott family network never let anything noteworthy escape its clutches.
‘No, but I’m pretty sure Dec would have done. They don’t let much slip past the jungle telegraph.’
‘Ring her, flower. Oh, put it on speaker.’
I pressed Beth’s name and waited. The phone rang a few times, then –
‘Hi Matty, it’s early for you, everything alright, sweetheart?’
We looked at each other. Beth obviously didn’t know where we’d been all night, and I was absolutely delighted. An extra bonus for me; Beth was unaware of the events of the last twelve hours.
‘Yeah, everything’s fine. Are you going to come and see us today?’
There was a brief pause while Beth wondered why I was calling so early to ask this.
‘Um, yes, I can do, any particular reason?’
‘Well, don’t come to the house, we’re not there.’
‘Oh. Where are you, then?’
She sounded confused, and like she was about to get arsey about me playing silly buggers this early in the morning.
‘Maternity unit, you know, kind of hospital, where babies are born?’
‘What? You mean, you’ve had – Laura’s had – when? How are they? How’s Laura? James. JAMES. Really, Matty?’
And now it was full on chaos, as I imagined her not knowing what to do with herself while she absorbed the information.
‘Yeah, really. Lau went into labour last night, while I was out, bit of a panic, Dec helped us out, they arrived shortly after we got here, er one thirty-five and one fifty-three.’
Oh, and I’d managed to drop Dec in the shit too, for not saying anything. Perfect.
‘Yeah, I’m surprised he didn’t tell you. Maybe he just went home and went to bed. He’ll still be asleep.’
And the deeper I could drop him, the better.
‘Wait till I see him, how could he keep this to himself? Oh sweetheart. Is everything OK? How’s Laura?’
I looked at her, so she could add her feedback.
‘I’m great, Beth. It feels weird them being out instead of in, but amazing. Come and see us. We’re here all day, I’ll be in overnight.’
‘Oh Laura! How big are they? Have they got names? JAMES!’
‘They were both just under six pounds. No wonder I was so enormous. But they’re both just perfect. They’re called Joshua James and Ella Elizabeth.’
This time, the pause was longer, as she registered the names. She was going to get it, it was just a matter of how long it was going to take, and how much crying there was going to be.
After a second or two, and with her voice hardly a whisper, she spoke.
‘Oh my God. Thanks, you two. That’s incredible. JAMES!’
The yell, after the quiet response, startled me.
‘Get down here now!’
We both heard Jay’s voice grumbling in the background.
‘It’s Matty. They’ve had the babies. Here, talk to him.’
‘Matty? What? You’ve had them? When?’
Jay sounded his usual mardy self, as if we’d had the babies early just to irk him.
‘Las night, or maybe very early this morning.’
‘Jesus. You could have given us some bloody warning.’
Jay didn’t really like surprises, which meant I tried to surprise him as often as possible. It seemed like I had really succeeded this time.
‘We thought Dec might let you know. He had to bring us here, on account of me being shit-faced.’
‘What? You were drunk?’
And now big brother mode was operational, as he chastised me for doing something unforeseeably unwise. A few years ago, me being slaughtered wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, but I was a different person now, and I ignored his tone.
‘Stag do. Special dispensation from Lau. Think she regretted ih about the time the first contraction hit while she was stuck upstairs.’
‘Jesus. Are you all OK? Fuck me, Matty, you’re a bloody dad. Jesus. Yeah, alright, Beth, but I think this is special circumstances.’
‘Yeah, we’re all great.’
We heard Beth’s voice.
‘Ask about the names.’
Jay would never remember to ask about all the necessary baby details without prompting from Beth. He would immediately forget a lot of the important details too.
‘Oh yeah. Names?’
‘Joshua James and Ella Elizabeth.’
There was a short silence and I imagined Beth looking at him, eyebrow raised, tapping her foot impatiently while she waited for him to work it out. I swear I heard the clatter of an actual penny dropping.
‘Oh my – Jesus, Matty. You bloody bastard – here, Beth.’
Jay’s voice was quivering; I don’t think I had ever made him cry before, almost dying notwithstanding. Score to me.
‘Sorry, sweetheart, James seems to be overcome with something suspiciously like emotion. I think he meant to say ‘thank you, what an honour’. We’ll be there soon. Visiting’s after nine, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah. We’ll be waiting.’
They disconnected, and we looked at each other, as I tried hard not to look like I had enjoyed every second of that conversation.
‘I bloody loved that. You don’t get one over on Beth very often. Jay, yeah, he’s easy, but Beth, she’s usually got some bloody sixth sense. Like your imaginary dead psychic granny.’
My phone pinged, Dec’s tone.
‘Oh shit, Dec. I should have called hours ago. I’m gona be in trouble now.’
Not that there was a particular order I had to do things, but Dec had helped out immeasurably last night, and he had deserved at least an update. Not much I could do about it now, except call him. I put it on speaker.
‘Hey Matt, just wondering how much longer we’re going to have to wait for you give us some sodding info.’
‘Yeah, mate, sorry, meant to call you. They’ve arrived. Got here, oh, before two. Everything’s perfect.’
‘What? You missed the opportunity to wake us up in the middle of the night? Ames, we got up early for nothing, they’ve been here for bloody hours. So, spill, names, weights.’
‘Joshua James, oh fuck, I can’t remember bloody weights. What was it Lau?’
Maybe Jay wasn’t the only one who forgot important baby information almost as soon as he’d been told it.
‘Five pounds ten.’
‘Got that? And Ella Elizabeth, er … Lau?’
‘Five pounds eleven.’
‘Sorry, Lau. Shit, that’s nearly twelve pounds of baby. OK Dec? All the information you need?’
‘Hold on a minute – what’s that, Ames? Oh, fuck, yeah, you’re right, babe. Love the names, mate. Have you spoken to Jay and Beth?’
‘Yeah, just now.’
It seemed Amy and Dec were pretty quick on the uptake too.
‘What did they think?’
‘Beth gushed, Jay, well I’m not sure, I think he needed a moment to himself, bloody cry baby.’
‘Ha ha. Listen, Ames is going to come over this morning some time, I’ll be over after training, with your car, unless you need it before. Lau, are you staying overnight?’
‘Yeah, they just want to keep an eye on my blood pressure, and because they’re both a bit on the small side. Although if you add it together, it’s quite a lot of baby.’
‘Yeah, fucking hell Lau, no wonder you were so bloody huge – er, sorry, I mean obviously in a pregnant lady way and not reflecting at all on anything – what, babe? Oh. Ames says I should shut up.’
‘Yeah, wise move, mate, Lau’s looking feisty.’
‘Great news, though, mate, I’m really looking forward to meeting them later.’
‘Cheers, Dec, see you.’
I pressed the button to disconnect, but ended up jiggling Josh and waking him up. He started to cry, which woke Ella up and started her off too.
‘Oh bugger. This is going to happen all the time, isn’t it. We’re going to have to creep around forever, or risk them both waking up and yelling at the same time.’
‘They might be hungry. We should give it a go, at least.’
‘Yeah, Lau, get your tits out. I know you said you were going to strip for me, but I wasn’t going to hold you to it.’
Alright, I know breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, but I am a bloke, one of the blokiest, and I will never be able to see breastfeeding without seeing tits. Sorry, but there it is.
‘Put your tongue away, Matt, these are for Josh and Ella’s benefit for the foreseeable future, not yours. You should ring your mum. And work.’
‘Oh shit, you’re right.’
‘And I need to ring my mum. And while I’m nagging you, and turning into your worst nightmare in front of your eyes, mind your language in front of these two.’
‘Sorry, Lau, you’re right.’
Oh, she was so right. I renewed my determination to avoid bad words within earshot of my children. They were so tiny, so perfect, so innocent, that nothing bad should happen in their vicinity, wouldn’t as long as I was able to prevent it. This should, in all fairness, include the use of profanity.
I moved the still squawking Josh into Lau’s arms, a pillow under him to support him, and he suctioned on to Lau’s nipple and sucked with all his might. Ella joined him on the other side.
‘You’ll never be my worst nightmare, though. You’re my dream come true.’
I stroked Lau’s sweaty hair out of her eyes and kissed her forehead. I didn’t usually come out with sentimental tosh like that, or like calling her baby and angel, but this woman, this amazing woman, who had given me my family, who was the most awesome person you could think of knowing, deserved it. Oh, no, she didn’t deserve sentimental tosh and loose bandying about of pet names; she deserved me to bloody well mean it, which I did. I felt incredibly tender towards her, more than just the usual everyday overwhelming love I felt. And I wanted her to know I meant it, and wasn’t just fucking about, and as I looked into her eyes, I knew she did.
We were still gazing soppily at each other when Beth and Jay arrived, just after eight o’clock. They weren’t supposed to let anyone in before nine, but Beth knew the woman on the front desk and had blagged her way in. As the door opened, and Beth peered round, I found myself holding Ella (we’d swapped) closely to me, not wanting to give her up, but knowing handing her over was going to happen.
Beth’s face crumpled into a puddle of maternal instinct as she looked at the twins. Even Jay looked respectably happy, but took a back seat to Beth.
‘Ohh, you two, look at you, proud parents. Oh Matty, Laura, they’re gorgeous. I don’t know which one to cuddle first. Who’ve you got Matty?’
‘This is Ella. Say hi to your old Aunty Beth, Ella.’
I held Ella’s arm and waved a tiny hand at Beth, hoping it would be enough. Ha, fat chance.
‘Ohh, Ella. Come here and say hello properly, then, my little namesake.’
I gave in and handed Ella carefully to Beth. I now understood all the fuss about ‘mind the head’. Beth was a nurse, and was also well used to cuddling babies, but I almost warned her about minding the head. I managed not to though, and the look on Beth’s face was almost worth handing my daughter over for; she looked proud, adoring, and of course, tears were spilling down her face, although she was still managing to speak through them.
‘Well aren’t you just the most beautiful thing. You’re so tiny. After Tom, these two seem like they’re miniature. How much did you say she weighs, Laura?’
We hadn’t specified weights, I was sure. Beth always wanted to know the details, wanted to feel in command of the information.
‘Five pounds eleven. Josh is five ten.’
‘Jesus, Laura, that’s some load.’
‘Yeah, bigger than Tom was, when they’re added together. Do you want to give Josh a cuddle, Jay?’
I was surprised to see Jay looking eager, as Lau handed him over. Lau and I looked at each other, both acknowledging that it felt weird not to be holding them, even though they were in good hands.
‘Hey, Josh, mate. You’re not quite such a bruiser as your cousin.’
Jay meant Tom. We had decided a while ago that rather than work it out or invent new names, or tie ourselves up in knots with ‘friends or family’, all the kids would be cousins, whether there were actual aunties and uncles attached to them or not. It seemed to work.
‘Maybe you’ll make a scrum half, or a winger.’
Lau went a bit pale.
‘Oh my God, Jay, there’s no way I want to even think about him playing rugby. I don’t know how you do it with Cal, seeing them batter each other week after week.’
‘Sorry, Laura. He’s a cute little fella though. Tiny.’
Beth was standing close to Jay, trying to look at both of them at the same time.
‘They’re very different, aren’t they. Look at all this dark hair on Josh, but Ella is so fair.’
‘Yeah, it’s the only way I can tell them apart with their nappies on.’
‘Oh Matty, but they’re so completely different, look, their noses – oh. You’re teasing me.’
Of course I was. It was the most fertile time for it, when Beth was overcome with motheringness and wasn’t on the look out for Matty’s special brand of up-winding. She shot me an admonishing look that rolled straight off me, then her look softened.
‘Oh, but Matty, look at you, you look about to burst with pride. I’m so happy for you, sweetheart, so, so happy. I think I need to cuddle Josh before we go.’
‘You only just got here, Beth.’
‘Yes, but we’re not staying, you’ll both be exhausted enough as it is without people outstaying their welcome.’
Beth and Jay expertly swapped babies, as if they’d been doing it all their lives. I still nearly blurted out ‘mind the heads’, but still stopped myself.
‘I think they’ve changed the rules here since I had Iz, certainly since all of us were here for Charlie. Do you remember us all getting kicked out, Matty?’
‘No, I’d gone before that, but it was a bit of roomful.’
‘I think they’re more strict about two visitors at a time, and no children, unless they’re siblings.’
‘Really? That’s harsh.’
I saw Lau’s face crease with a frown.
‘But Amy’s coming in later, what’s she going to do with Charlie and Tom?’
‘I’ll text her, I can always keep them occupied for a bit. Oh, Josh, you are just the most perfect little man. James, wasn’t there something you wanted to say?’
Beth looked at Jay, who rolled his eyes at the ceiling.
‘Yeah, I don’t need reminding to do every sodding little thing, Beth.’
I couldn’t resist it.
‘That’s rich, coming from you, Matty. Anyway, what Beth thinks I’m going to forget, or bottle, or something, is we’re both so chuffed about the names. It really means a lot. Thanks.’
Beth obviously didn’t think this was enough, and took over.
‘We can’t believe it, it’s so lovely of you.’
This was the moment when I could have said it, how much they meant, how grateful I was. But, of course, the whole point was that I didn’t have to say it. I saw Lau looking at me, willing me to just grip myself by the balls and do it, for once, but I didn’t. So she kind of did it for me.
‘Yeah, well, you’re both pretty special, we hope our children will live up to their names.’
I looked at Lau gratefully and nodded my agreement and my thanks.
Beth was blarting again. Jay gave Ella to Lau and put his arm round her. He caught my eye and nodded, and I nodded back. It was as close to me saying ‘thanks for everything’ and him saying ‘you’re welcome’ as we’d ever got. Close enough for rock and roll.
Next on the guest list was Mum. I’d called her after I’d finished talking to Dec, and she’d been pleased as punch, in her not outwardly that fussed way. However, the fact that she was there on the dot of nine, having bussed it across the city in the rush hour, told me how keen she was to see her new grandchildren. She peered round the door, looking to see, I think, who else was there.
‘Hello, dears. Am I first?’
‘Hey, Mum. No, Jay and Beth have been and gone, but you’re second.’
I saw a slight hint of triumph flicker across her face as she realised she’d beaten April, then it was replaced by a look I’d learned to recognise as the province of the grandmother. It was part hunger, part longing, part pure joy, and today it was shared equally between Ella and Josh.
‘Oh Matthew. Laura, dear. Aren’t they just perfect?’
She came closer, and stood, torn between the two. I knew she was nervous about holding them, as the arthritis in her hands was pretty bad these days, so I stood up and gestured to the chair I had just vacated. I understood the fear of dropping other people’s precious children, and also knew how it felt to be trusted with them despite your crippledness quotient. I wanted Mum to feel comfortable and safe while she held her grandchildren.
‘Here, Mum, sit down. Meet Josh. Josh this is your granny. I’m sure she’ll tell you what she’d like you to call her.’
Mum sat down in the chair and arranged herself so I could pass Josh over to her without incident. Once she had him in her arms, I gave her a kiss on the cheek, and sat on the edge of the bed, watching her.
Mum just gazed down at him, not speaking for a while. I looked at Lau and smiled. Ella gave a little snuffle in Lau’s arms, and Lau was instantly focussed on her, until she quieted. I was way, way down the pecking order, and likely to be for some time to come. I looked back at Mum, who was still gazing at Josh.
‘He’s so like you, Matthew. You had the same shock of black hair, it got lighter later but no less thick. It’s like looking at you at that age. He’s beautiful.’
Josh was doing his gran the honour of appearing to stare straight back at her, although he wouldn’t be able to see beyond his own nose to all intents and purposes.
‘Oh, bad luck, son, you’re gona look like your dad. Have a look at Ella, Mum. Here –’
I picked up Josh and swapped him for Ella.
‘Oh, she’s gorgeous. Look at your little elfin face, and all your blonde hair. Laura, dear, your babies are beautiful. How are you?’
‘I’m great, Carol, walking on air at the moment, although I expect the happy hormones will wear off soon and I’ll need a good sleep. Not that I’ll get one for a few years yet, I suppose.’
Josh chose that moment to wake up properly with a squawk, and then feeding was needed, and Mum stayed and grannied with the best of them. She decided on Granny, which was what Cal and Iz called her, to avoid confusion.
Once Mum had gone, there was a bit of a lull, when Lau managed to doze, although I was so tired I had come through it and was buzzing out the other side. I carried Josh and Ella, one at a time, to the window for their first peek at the outside, showed them the car park and the sky, walked round the room, jiggled them, trying to keep them quiet so Lau could sleep on. I realised for the first time how much work they were going to be, just keeping up with their needs, let alone giving them happiness and a good quality of life. Neither of us were going to get a decent sleep until we were about ninety, and even then we were going to worry about them.
April came and cooed, Amy came and cooed while Beth looked after Charlie and Tom in the children’s area, and Dec came to coo in the afternoon. I had actually put both babies down, having a feed with Lau, as I was seriously flagging, and was worrying about my bastard arms having a sudden fit of the dropsy, so I’d sat in the chair and closed my eyes. Just for a second. The next thing I knew, I was being shaken, and Dec’s face, complete with off-kilter long-since-broken nose, was about an inch from mine.
‘Oh you’re awake, then, mate. Lau tells me a good snog is often the way to get your attention when you’re snoozing; I was just about to give it a try.’
Yeah, never at my best when I’d just woken up, but especially after more than twenty-four hours awake at a stretch, and now nursing the hangover I’d managed to delay by not sleeping. My head hurt like a bitch, and everything seemed too bright, including Dec’s face, which was still inexplicably nose to nose with mine.
He stepped back, mercifully, grinning. He was holding a baby.
‘Oh you look so appealing, with dribble down your chin. Maybe I’ll leave the snogging for now.’
Thoughts were trickling into my head. Maternity unit … screaming … babies … Lau … other people … and then I was all caught up and back with it. Head still hurt like a bitch though, and I wiped my mouth, just in case the dribble jibe was actually true. It wasn’t.
I squinted up at Dec, then looked at my watch. I’d been asleep about an hour. Bollocks, I really hadn’t wanted to leave Lau on her own holding both of them. She didn’t seem too bothered, though. But apologising to her was more important than immediately responding to the cheeky brat Summers.
‘Sorry Lau, I just closed my eyes for a second.’
‘Don’t worry, flower, you must have needed it. Dec’s been here a while, we’ve been taking turns.’
‘Bloody hell, Summers, can you feed babies with those oversized pecs, then?’
‘Ha ha, no. But your babies are fucking awesome, couldn’t decide which one to hold, so kept swapping.’
Lau and I glanced at each other. Well I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him off for saying ‘fuck’, and I doubted very much he would take any notice of Lau. Dec was pretty much a law unto himself when it came to swearing; it was as if it was part of his natural language. He didn’t notice he was doing it unless someone pointed it out, and when they did, he didn’t see what all the fuss was about. So we let it slide.
‘They are pretty awesome.’
I was not even going to pretend to be modest about it. My babies were the best, most awesomest babies ever ever ever.
‘I think Josh is my favourite.’
‘You can’t have a favourite!’
Lau was aghast.
‘Well Josh is mine. And Ella. Ella’s my favourite too.’
Ha Lau, you fell for it. If you’d just looked for the signs, you’d have seen the slight twitch at the corner of his mouth, it always gave the game away.
‘Aren’t you Ella? Don’t you think she looks like Tom?’
‘How can she possibly look like Tom?’
Yeah, the twitch was there again, but I ignored it, as a gift to him.
‘Well everybody looks like someone, don’t they.’
‘Yeah, mother, father, great uncle, cousin fifteen times removed.’
‘Hey, we’re family, mate. Counts for something.’
Dec loved this kind of non-winnable argument. He could hold out for hours, defending the most ridiculous of premises with the most illogical reasoning and most off-the-wall statements. I suppose it was endearing, and it kept us entertained in the evenings when everyone else had gone to bed.
‘You do my head in, Summers. OK, so she looks like Tom, and Josh looks like Carmen Miranda on account of I like bananas.’
‘Now you’re just being bloody daft.’
‘You’re both being bloody daft, if you don’t mind me saying so.’
Lau hadn’t sworn since giving birth, and she was probably missing it a bit. Dec looked suitably chastised.
‘Sorry, Lau. Just fucking about.’
Dec always deferred to Lau, maybe it was the tone of voice she used, maybe something else. He had told me once that she reminded him of his mum, but not in what way, so perhaps that was it.
Ella decided to give a loud yell, jerking in Dec’s arms, eyes flung wide, protesting vehemently against the unfairness of a world in which she was hungry. Her cries woke up Josh, who echoed his sister’s sentiments with even louder yells. It was incredible that such tiny people could fill a room with so much noise. They were unignorable.
Dec looked at Lau, who was lifting her shirt to start feeding Josh, and I could see the panic in his eyes. We were still those two wimpy guys who couldn’t stay in the room if someone other than their wife or life-partner was breastfeeding. I took Ella from him, laughing, and positioned her with Lau, while Dec averted his gaze.
‘I’ll be off, then, seems like time I went. Oh, Matt, here are your keys. Hope you don’t mind, I gave some of the lads a lift back from training. There might be a bit of mud on the seats.’
I nearly rose to it, but there was that twitch.
‘No problem, it’s due a valet, I’ll send the bill to Raiders, shall I?’
He was so eager to dash off before the sight of Lau’s tits blinded him, that he forgot to reply in kind, and almost ran out of the door, shouting ‘Bye Lau’ over his shoulder. I hurried after him.
‘Seriously, mate, thanks for last night, you’re a lifesaver.’
‘No worries. It was worth it, all the hassle, they’re fucking awesome. I’m stoked for you, mate.’
Dec’s speech often had little clues to his Australian heritage. ‘No worries’ was standard Dec, but he sometimes sounded like he was auditioning for a part in Neighbours, especially when he was talking about his childhood or his parents. Usually I called him on it, but I was trying to be serious for once.
‘Thanks, mate. We’re not doing christenings or any of that shit, but if we were, you’d be godfather.’
‘Awesome. Cheers, mate. Means a lot. I’ll always look out for them, if that’s the same.’
I grinned at him, and he grinned back, we had a brief man-hug which we had to immediately pretend hadn’t happened, and then he left.
Later on, after more visitors, Lau had had enough, and we asked the front desk to turn anyone else away. It was getting close to the time when I was going to have to leave, too. I nearly made a case for sleeping on the floor, but Lau was wiped, and I knew she was looking forward to some time on her own, even though she wouldn’t say it to me.
It was hard, though, making out I was OK with leaving them all, being sensible, hugging and kissing Lau without yelling ‘don’t make me go’, kissing Ella and then Josh goodbye, telling them I’d see them tomorrow morning to fetch them home, without cracking up. I spent longer than I should have on the farewells as it was, and before I found it impossible to leave, I fished my car keys out of my pocket and walked through the door, not even allowing myself a last glimpse through the glass in the door.
I admit to a tear or two on the way to the car, and to having to sit in the driver’s seat gripping the steering wheel tightly and breathing deeply before I drove off. Once my vision was unimpaired by extraneous salt water, I saw a note sellotaped to the steering wheel, in Dec’s big loopy capitals.
MATT – LEAVING THEM THE FIRST TIME IS HARD. CALL ME LATER, WE CAN GET WASTED – ER, I MEAN WET THE BABIES’ HEADS
I laughed. It was perfect. Not that I had any intention of getting wasted; my head was still pounding from yesterday. But moping on my own wasn’t how I’d envisaged spending my first evening as a father, and being jollied out of it in the excellent company of Declan Summers was just the ticket.
Ah, the best laid plans. We ended up getting wasted, watching some terrible Vince Vaughn film. We decided it was clinically impossible to watch a terrible Vince Vaughn film without beer to dull the pain, and as the fridge was stocked, we made our way through several bottles. Although actually, thinking about it, I got wasted but Dec may only have had a bottle or two. He is a professional athlete don’t you know.
I felt a slight twinge of guilt as I thought of Lau, stoically staying off the G and Ts until breastfeeding days were over, but there was nothing to be gained from watching the film sober except misery, and in the end, it just had to be done.
I texted Lau a few times during the evening, saying soppy things, asking for pictures of the babies. I’d taken a few myself, but wanted updates. Dec laughed at me, but he knew what it was like; he’d inundated us endlessly with pictures of Charlie, and then Tom, and I knew Mum and Beth had their phones primed with boasting pictures to show all their friends, so I felt vindicated in my need. Lau didn’t reply straight away every time – it seemed she had been able to get a little sleep, although requests for feeds seemed to be frequent.
The film finally finished, and although Dec stayed for a while and we played on the X-box, I started to droop and called a halt.
‘You lightweight, Matt. This is your last night of freedom, before X-box is banned and beer is locked away. You should be making the most of it.’
‘I fully intend to, but in the ‘having a night of unbroken sleep’ way that will elude me for years to come. Bugger off now, I’ve thrashed you enough times tonight, don’t be a glutton for punishment, it’s sad.’
‘You’ll be the sad one in a few years when Josh can beat you at BattleStations with one hand behind his back and a blindfold.’
‘Yeah, well, that’s as may be. For now, I am going to sleep off all these beers and be ready to wake fresh and peppy tomorrow so I can bring my family home.’
‘Oh well, you can’t say I didn’t try to make a man of you one last time.’
‘Piss off home, Summers. Come back and talk to me about being a man when you can last more than ten seconds in the Battledome.’
Dec stood up, still bantering, but at least making moves in the right direction, i.e. towards the door.
‘I agree that if the Battledome was all it took, you would be manliest of men, but sadly in the real world the bollocks of the dog are not you.’
My beer-fuddled brain took a while to sort that one out.
‘Learn speaky the English, Declan my pseudo-Australian friend, then try to play wordage with me.’
I herded him into the hall and undid the door.
‘Hey, there’s nothing Sudoku about my Australian, mate. All my numbers add up.’
‘Ha ha, that’s almost funny. See you soon, mate.’
‘I’ll be back when you’ve made me laugh.’
‘I’ll leave the hall light on, then. Dec …’
I was suddenly overcome with a need to be serious.
‘Thanks. I needed this.’
‘I know, mate. Don’t go all girl-shaped on me now. You know where I am, any time.’
He patted my arm and walked away, waving over his shoulder.
I shut the door, and went back to the living room, where my phone had just pinged with a text from Lau. It was late, but I guess time was going to be taking on a different meaning from now on. She had sent me a picture of Josh and Ella, side by side in their hospital cots, both fast asleep.
‘Blissed out. Mum too. Miss u xxx’
I knew she was awake, so I called her up.
‘Hey, flower. I hoped you’d call.’
‘You could have called me.’
‘I didn’t want to interrupt your boys’ night.’
‘It was only Dec. He’s just gone home.’
‘Good beer session?’
How did she do it? I hadn’t mentioned beer, just that Dec was coming over and we were watching crap films on Netflix.
‘Bloody hell, Lau, I can’t believe you’re calling me on beer from across the city.’
‘Sorry, flower, I’m not judging, just asking. I can hear it in your voice.’
‘We were watching a Vince Vaughn film.’
‘Oh, well, it’s understandable then. I don’t think it’s actually possible to watch a Vince Vaughn film without some kind of alcoholic buffer.’
See, this is what I love about Lau. She just gets it.
‘Sorry to break my promise, two days in a row, though.’
‘Ha ha, you daft sod. Are you OK?’
‘Yeah. Miss you, though. Miss Ella and Josh like crazy. How can I miss them so much?’
‘Because you love them, flower. They’ve got inside your heart.’
‘Yeah, they bloody have. I’d do bloody anything for them. I’d kill for them. I’d die for them.’
There was a short pause, and I could hear Lau breathing, then sniffing. Oh fuck it, I’d made her cry.
‘I’m OK. Just hormones. I feel exactly the same. They’re lucky to have you as a dad, you’re going to be awesome.’
‘Not as lucky as they are to have you as their mum.’
‘I think we’re going to be a pretty awesome family, all told. Maybe top of the league.’
‘Ha, yeah, not that I am at all competitive, Lau, but I think we will occupy that number one spot for some time. World Champs.’
I heard a sharp cry in the background.
‘Who was that?’
‘Ella. She seems to be the one who wakes up first and takes Josh with her into full-on screaming mode, but if I feed her first, Josh has been happy to wait, on the whole.’
‘Whoa, Lau, you’re getting a handle on them already. Watch out babies, there’s gona be no hiding from your mum.’
The crying intensified.
‘I’d better go, flower. Sleep well, see you tomorrow.’
‘Bye Lau. Text me if you want, any time, if you’re up at odd times. I might even wake up.’
‘I won’t hold my breath. Love you.’
We disconnected, and that was the last time I could talk to my family for several hours. I drank a pint of water before going to bed, hoping to assuage the gods of hangovers (or as Terry Pratchett puts it, the ‘oh-gods’ of hangovers), then went to bed and knew no more until I woke up, full bladder causing havoc with my ability to sleep like the dead, at seven the next morning.
Normally, a sleepy stumble to the loo and I’d be back in snooze mode almost before I could register I was awake, but this morning I was excited as fuck; I was going to fetch my family, if they were ready. I texted Lau.
‘Guess who’s awake?’
‘Really? U? Yr not sleep txting?’
‘Nope. Fully functional. Raring 2 go, even.’
‘When r u coming 2 get us?’
‘When can I?’
‘Whenever yr ready. We’re all having brekkie atm.’
‘Quick shower, toast, and I’m there. This is it, Lau. Two babies, all on our own. Last chance 2 back out.’
‘Oh, so not even tempted. See you soon xxxxxxxx’
And so I fetched them home, my family, and we showed them their room and we showed them their house, and their garden, and everyone came round to say hi (I almost literally mean everyone, it bloody felt like the stream of visitors would never end), and that was kind of it, how it all started, my family with Lau, Ella and Josh.
Maybe I should end the tale there, while it was all magical and we were both loved up with each other and them, and all the hormones were raging and making us adore them and bond with them, but real life’s not like that, is it, and although I wouldn’t say any of the magic faded completely, in a few weeks the lack of sleep and the demands of two babies to feed, clean and clothe took its toll on the constant grins as reality made itself glaringly obvious.