104. Take the long way home

In which living the dream has its drawbacks, and an offer has lingering effects.

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Julia

I kept in touch with Evie, and one day she sent me a text with a picture of a clipping from the local paper.

‘Saw this. Didn’t know whether to send. Am sending. Hope OK. Call me.’

Birth Announcement

To Matt and Laura Scott

Twins, Ella and Josh

with all our love from

The Mums

Jay, Beth, Cal and Iz,

Dec, Amy, Charlie and Tom,

Rose

Nico, Lis and Bastien

xxx

It was a while since I had thought about Matt. It was nearly two years since I’d left the city, and it had been hard at first, but the physical distance had helped, as had my new job. I read the notice a couple of times, taking in all the information contained there. For a while it took me back and I felt a pang of regret that there were people’s lives I was no longer involved in. But I was surprised to find I didn’t hold any ill-will towards Matt, and felt happy for him, that he’d seemingly found what he was looking for. There would always be a small part of me that would – I now admitted to myself in the dark quiet of night – always love him, but in the end it was still true that we wanted different things, and it was better that we weren’t together to tear each other apart. One day I might meet someone who felt as perfect for me as Matt had, and maybe then I might learn from my mistakes and admit how I really feel. Until then I could only silently wish Matt well and carry on.

Laura

A couple of months later, our lives completely taken over by a routine of feeding, changing nappies and grabbing sleep when there was a quiet five seconds, we were both a bit more practical and a little less sentimental.

That’s not to say that we loved them or our life together any less, just that the lack of sleep, energy and time to ourselves occasionally made us both grumpy. Alright, more often than occasionally. Well, OK, far more often if I’m honest. In fact there were some days when we may not have said a civil word to each other. But it was just tiredness, all new parents went through this, surely.

Matt had taken a couple of weeks of paternity leave, and I was still on maternity leave. I had taken six months off, but the way things were going, I didn’t think I was going to be able to consider going back. Matt was back at work, and had negotiated increasing his original hours, which wasn’t full time, but meant he had to go in every day, and had deadlines to meet and people to manage. He couldn’t always guarantee he would be home at a specific time to help me with Josh and Ella, and to start with our extended family came in very useful.

Matt, never a great one for accepting help, was a bit resentful of the amount of unsolicited help that came our way in the form of suspiciously well-timed drop-in visits, coordinated food parcels, offers to get shopping ‘because I’m in the shop and I might as well if you need anything’. But when he came home one day and found me in tears having been trying to get to the supermarket all day and failing, he agreed that he would try to be less outwardly irritated by people helping out.

Mum and Carol called round a lot, to start with, and with Rose often four doors down with Charlie and Tom, there was a lot of sharing cuddles, comparing and polite bragging that went on.

After a while the concerted family effort waned a little. I sensed that Matt’s sustained grumpiness at having to accept assistance made it a little less enjoyable to help out, and although we still saw everybody a lot, Matt got his wish and we tried to do things ourselves.

Matt

It was a good thing I was so well at that time; I would never have coped with it all a few months earlier, when the slightest tiring occurrence or late night wiped me for days. But I felt great, and the fucking bastard seemed to be leaving me alone, the odd unintelligible bollocky word or trip over nothing notwithstanding. Sometimes when I was really tired, those perfidious twists of fatigue wound their way into my head, and I recognised them, and responded to them, by making myself stop if I could. But I was pretty lucky, in that, yeah, I’d had two run-ins with a serious neurological condition, but I was still on my feet and still had my faculties, and for now I could ignore it and get on with my, to be honest, fucking amazing life.

So of course the magic didn’t last, and before a few weeks had passed, we seemed steeped in a routine of nappies, feeds, waking, screaming, shit and puke, and the house was a veritable landfill site of baby paraphernalia. Neither of us had time to clear up properly, and I knew it didn’t really matter, but I just hated the mess and muddle, had never lived in such disorganisation in my life.

I’d had a couple of weeks paternity leave, and that had been great, but it had just perpetuated the myth that two babies wasn’t bloody hard going. Once I went back, I realised how hard looking after the babies had been, because work seemed like a breeze compared to the constant noise, endless nappy and clothing changes and general chaos. Never-ending tiredness notwithstanding, I felt guiltily glad that it was Lau who was looking after them in the day and not me. I don’t know how she did it. She was up before me every morning, having also been up in the night several times, and she had to see to them all day, as well as do the mounds of laundry and try to have some kind of a normal life.

I guess it’s the little things that add up, looking back, isn’t it. Accumulations of insignificances that amount to something, not one big thing in itself. There were a lot of insignificances accumulating: my bloody family wouldn’t leave us the fuck alone. Now we had children, it was as if some universal permission slip had been signed, and they all thought they could a) call round unannounced whenever the fuck they wanted, b) offer unsolicited advice whenever the fuck they wanted and c) do shit for us we hadn’t asked for whenever the fuck they wanted.

Yeah, I was an ungrateful bastard, and I know if it wasn’t for them Lau might have gone under, but it pissed me right off that they didn’t think we could do it on our own, and much as Lau liked it, needed the help, I just wanted, once, to come home and it to be just us, no other fucker sitting at the kitchen table. So anyway, that was insignificance number one.

Number two was sex. The not having any. I wasn’t expecting to, I wasn’t a total knobhead, and I never made any demands on Lau, but I missed it, not just the having of it, but the intimacy of it, the Matt and Lau of it. We’d made a go of it right up to the day before Lau gave birth, it was fun to try, but now it wasn’t even in Lau’s mind, as far as I could tell.

Number three was work. It was busy, and I’d taken time off with the babies, and now there was catching up to be done. I’d upped my normal hours, still officially part time, but I ended up doing more than I was contracted for just to keep up. Sometimes, although I feel terrible admitting this, I liked staying late because it meant longer in the grown up world and less time talking about nappy rash and weaning. I loved talking about nappy rash and weaning, I did, but sometimes it got a bit monotonous.

So all these things, mixed up with zero sleep and two demanding babies, were bubbling away, when I got a phone call at work, out of the blue, offering me a job in Norwich.

I was never going to take it, I knew Lau was a Devon maid, it would take something a damn sight more exciting than Norwich for me ask her to move away, but I found out as much as I could about it, just interested in what it was they were offering.

The job sounded awesome, so different from what I was doing at GreenScreen, something that would stretch me in a new direction, something I knew I could do. Regretfully, I turned them down, but put them on to someone I knew who fitted their bill.

The weird thing was, it was the company Jules went to work for who had called me. I didn’t talk to her or anything, didn’t even know if she still worked for them, but it was just a little side-note of weirdness.

Anyhow, the phone call got me thinking, and I couldn’t stop the ‘what ifs’ crowding in – the different jobs I could have been doing if only I’d a) not stayed in Stafford after that first year back, b) not had the bastard MS when I was offered that job in Hong Kong or Singapore or wherever the fuck it had been, or c) not just become a family man with responsibilities and, obviously, an awesome family.

I started to wonder, for the first time, if I was going to be stuck at GreenScreen for the remainder of my working days. I couldn’t move on at the moment, didn’t have the energy to look, but it was no longer what I really enjoyed. I was a manager now; I told other people how to do their jobs, rather than doing the fun bit myself.

I spent all afternoon stewing about it, on and off, and then went home, where, predictably one of Lau’s friends was drinking tea at the kitchen table. I said a perfunctory ‘hi’ and kissed Ella and Josh, but then went straight upstairs to lie down. I knew I was being an arse, but chatting about nothing with someone I just wanted to piss off home wasn’t on my to do list just then.

Laura

Matt came home from work one day, looking tired and thoughtful. Kate was there, having an after work cup of tea and a cuddle with Ella and Josh, and I couldn’t immediately ask what was up. He said hello to Kate and kissed the babies but didn’t stay in the kitchen, and disappeared upstairs. Kate raised an eyebrow.

‘What?’

‘Someone’s not happy.’

‘Oh, he’s OK, he still gets tired, needs to chill after work. Doesn’t always get the opportunity.’

Kate gave me a direct look.

‘Really, Lau?’

‘Yeah. Oh alright, he does look a bit miserable, but he’s not going to talk about it while you’re here, so you might as well stop fishing. Something’s probably happened at work.’

‘OK, you know best. Your Daddy is a bit of a moody old bastard, isn’t he Joshy?’

‘Kate! I spend hours trying to get Matt not to swear when they’re around.’

‘Sorry, Lau. I only said ‘bastard’, that’s not that bad is it?’

‘Kate …’

‘Alright, sorry.’

‘And Matt’s not moody, not normally.’

‘OK, OK, sorry I spoke. I’ll just sit here and adore your gorgeous children, shall I? They’ve got your nose, you know.’

‘Poor them. They’ve both got Matt’s eyes, though.’

‘Yeah, they have got amazing eyes. Talking of which, seeing as you haven’t asked, you selfish cow, I’ve found my own pair of amazing eyes, or rather muscly biceps.’

‘Really? Tell me more.’

Kate smiled and looked excited.

‘He’s called Chris. I met him at the gym –’

‘Wait, since when do you go to the gym?’

‘Since I realised that if I want a hunky guy, I’m going to need to hang out where they hang out. It’s worked too. You should see some of the ripped abs.’

‘So you’re just there to perv, not to actually, oh I don’t know, do some exercise or anything radical?’

‘Hey, I’ve been working out too, and some of the machines are bloody complicated, it’s really easy to just go ‘ooh, I’m such a ditz, I can’t work this cross-trainer’ and they all queue up to show you how manly and clever they are.’

‘Kate, you really are something else. So, Chris.’

‘Yeah, he runs and cycles, so he’s lean and hard, and he’s asked me for coffee next time I’m there, which will be later this evening. About bloody time I got some action, there’s you all Mrs Domestic Bliss, Rach and Jed sickeningly loved up, and An happily married to Mr Right for, like, three hundred years. I was starting to feel left out. Took matters into my own hands. Worked.’

‘Well good for you. Although I wouldn’t exactly say I’m Mrs Domestic Bliss. I’m so tired most of the time, I can hardly string two words together, let alone appreciate the finer points of the male physique.’

‘Don’t let all that buffness go to waste, Lau. Matt’s a babe.’

I grinned at her.

‘I know. I just need about forty years of sleep, and I’ll be able to see it again.’

Kate looked at me sympathetically, then wrinkled her nose at Josh, who was wriggling in her arms.

‘Ew, this little charmer’s just done one. Time for me to make a sharp exit, I think. Don’t want to smell of baby shit for Chris.’

She handed Josh to me, then grabbed her bag, gave me a quick hug and left with a wave. Her departure set Josh off, as he did indeed need a nappy change, and this in turn started Ella, who had been happily gurgling in her baby seat, but now screamed in unison with her brother.

Matt

I could hear them talking, then the kitchen door opened and closed and Lau’s visitor left, which was swiftly followed by Josh’s squawk and then Ella’s responding cry. Before long they were wailing in harmony. Sighing, I got off the bed and went downstairs to give Lau a hand.

‘What’s caused World War ninety seven?’

‘Kate. Josh needs changing, she decided to leave it to me. Fair enough, she didn’t want baby poo all over her designer gym wear.’

‘Kate’s going to the gym?’

‘On a mission to pick up a buff guy, apparently.’

I rolled my eyes at Kate’s eternal search for the non-existent perfect man, and picked up Josh, sniffing his bum and pulling a face.

‘Ew, son, that really is gross. What’s your mum been feeding you? Same old crap, I bet.’

‘Hey, he loves his food. Can’t get enough.’

‘I remember when I couldn’t get enough of them, either. Slightly different reason though.’

Laura

I looked at Matt sharply. Since the twins were born, we hadn’t had sex. I hadn’t really given it much thought, I’d been so tired and preoccupied. I knew it was important to Matt, but he was tired too, and hadn’t tried anything, or mentioned it. I tucked it away to talk about later, when we didn’t have two pooey nappies to sort out.

Matt

I mentally kicked myself as I saw the look on Lau’s face. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, I knew getting back to any kind of a sex life was going to take time, and Lau needed not to feel under pressure. She didn’t address it, though, instead looking down and sighing to herself.

‘So, one each?’

Laura

Matt sighed and picked up Josh, kissing him on the forehead as he did so. It always made my heart flip to see him so loving towards them, and I stood looking at him for a few seconds.

Matt

Tiring little tykes though they were, they were so awesome, and they were my world. I realised Lau was looking at me.

‘What?’

‘Nothing, just love you.’

And that made me feel even worse, for having put that look on her face a few seconds ago.

‘That’s not nothing, Lau. Love you too.’

I flashed her a grin, the one that usually got me forgiven, and made an effort to wipe my concerns from my mind for now.

Laura

He grinned at me, and for a second I could believe there wasn’t something bothering him, but it was still there, behind the slight wrinkling of his brow, and the way he was standing.

Matt

I thought I’d managed it, that Lau’s ability to read me had been dulled by baby, that she wouldn’t have spotted my vague disquiet. Ha, fat chance.

We changed them, one each as agreed, and as we did so, Josh smiled his first proper smile, soon followed by his precocious sister, who had managed her own toothless grin a few days before.

‘Now that’s what I call family life, all four of us smiling, no frowns or tears, all with clean underwear. Who could ask for more?’

I’d really tried to school my features into happiness, but it just lightly touched that ‘I could ask for more’ nerve, and I felt it briefly wander onto my face, then saw Lau notice it before I could hide it. Fuck.

Laura

As he said it, I saw something flicker across his face. He saw me notice. I didn’t need to say anything.

‘Later, Lau. Nothing to worry about.’

So now I was worried. I worried as we cobbled together a hasty tea, I worried as we bathed the babies, I worried as we dried them, I worried as we put them to bed, I worried as we collapsed exhausted on the sofa in front of the TV. The longer it went without him saying anything about it, the more I worried.

Matt

She smiled and nodded, but I knew she wasn’t convinced. Maybe she would just let me get on with it, if I was lucky; I didn’t think I had the energy right now to go over it all.

We got on with the evening, getting tea, bathing babies, putting babies to bed, collapsing on the sofa in front of some crap on the TV.

I thought, as I started to make my ‘I’m going to bed’ moves, I’d got away with it, and I was going to be able to parcel it away to think about another time, but Lau had other ideas. She’d been waiting for me to say something, probably as I’d said ‘later’. Note to self, when you mean never, say never. Avoids misunderstandings. Oh well.

Laura

When Matt started doing his ‘going to bed’ routine – glass of water, pick up iPad, stand in middle of room with hand on hip looking like he’s forgotten something – I decided I wasn’t going to worry all night while he slept like the dead.

‘You’re not going to bed just yet?’

Matt

Maybe if I tried a hint of the fucking cripple thing?

‘I’m shattered, Lau. Huge day at work, and you lot wear me out.’

‘I know, I’m tired too, but I thought … you could tell me what’s bothering you?’

Oh, I’d forgotten that ‘mother of twins’ trumped ‘hint of fucking cripple’ every time. I closed my eyes for an instant, wondering if I could really do it, tell her, make it into a big deal, when all I’d really done was turn down a job and had a wonder about things, but Lau knew there was something, and it wasn’t fair on her to just leave her worrying.

Laura

Matt closed his eyes for an instant, and I saw how much he really didn’t want to talk. I realised, however, that if we left it, and I knew there was something, and he knew I knew there was something, it would just be there, all the time, getting bigger. He sighed, and sat down next to me, putting his arm round me.

Matt

‘One of these days, you’re going to have to tell me how you do it, how you know. It’s a good job I haven’t got any deep dark secrets, they wouldn’t have lasted a day. Remind me not to rob any banks.’

‘Sorry if my intuition is irritating.’

‘No, Lau. It saves a lot of time in the long run, I guess. Sometimes I wish you didn’t love me quite so much though.’

‘What?’

I thought about what I’d just said, and how it might have sounded.

‘Oh, no, I just mean if you didn’t, you wouldn’t care and you wouldn’t notice, and I wouldn’t have to tell you. Don’t stop loving me, please.’

I was so tired, I was close to spouting nonsense.

‘Wasn’t planning on it.’

‘You sure you want to do this? You look wiped. It can wait.’

My last ditch attempt to avoid the inevitable.

‘It can’t wait, I’m worried.’

‘I did say it was nothing to worry about.’

It was worth a try, to try to push it back on her. Never really a goer.

‘Yeah, because that usually stops people worrying.’

She was right. I sighed and kissed her temple.

‘OK, better out than in, as they say. I got a phone call at work today, a firm in Norwich, wanting me to go and work for them.’

‘Oh?’

If Lau was good at reading me, I’d got pretty good at reading her too. She was trying to look and sound all ‘oh that’s interesting’, but inside she was going ‘no, no, no’. She thought I was going to suggest moving away.

Laura

My heart contracted, and all I could think was ‘no, no, no’. I had only ever lived here, in this city, I didn’t want to live anywhere else, couldn’t even think about moving away from my mum, my friends, my family.

‘What did you say?’

Matt

Again the mild inquiry that hid a stopped heart.

‘Oh, I told them I wasn’t interested –’

Laura

I breathed what I hoped was a subtle sigh of huge relief,

Matt

I noted the sigh of relief, but didn’t draw attention to it.

‘– but, well, there are two things. One is, I thought the company that asked was the one Jules went to work for. I asked Phil, and he said it was. It felt weird. I wondered if she knew they’d asked, or if she suggested me, or how else they would have known about me. I suppose I won’t ever know, I’m not about to ask them, or try to contact Jules.’

Laura

I breathed another relieved breath. I’d always been worried that Julia was somehow going to walk back into Matt’s life, and no amount of reassurance could stop me worrying about it every time he mentioned her.

Matt

I noticed another exhalation. She was never going to hear me talk about Jules without wondering if I thought I’d made a mistake; I wished I hadn’t told her, all those months ago, that part of me would always love Jules.

‘But I couldn’t quite get my head round it. I’m not obsessing, it’s just a weird thing.’

‘What’s the other thing? You said there were two.’

‘Yeah, well I guess they’re kind of connected, came from the same place sort of thing. My brain just started doing this ‘what if’ thing, you know, what if I hadn’t split up with Jules, where would I be now, just in a kind of wondering way –’

Laura

‘You were wondering what it would be like if you were with her instead of me?’

Full-on panic mode had started again. It was completely unreasonable, I knew that. Matt loved me, he wanted to be with me and only me, he’d told me enough times. Laura Scott, stop being such a ninny. It was just … if he was still with Julia, he wouldn’t have children. Maybe he was regretting having children, maybe he was regretting it all –

Matt

I really wasn’t thinking clearly, I knew how Lau thought, and she didn’t need to be worrying about whether I was going to run off back to Jules. I didn’t want to get sidetracked into long-winded proclamations, but I needed to clear it up before Lau imagined the worst.

‘No! Not seriously, Lau, just pondering, just for a few seconds, while I was having my lunch. Look, this is one of the reasons I didn’t say anything, I’m too tired to say it right. OK, before I make any more ill-considered statements, I don’t regret splitting with Jules, and I don’t regret my life now. It’s the best thing. I’m so happy. Being a miserable git aside, that is.’

So now I could tell she believed me, but she was wondering what the big deal was if I’d turned down the job and wasn’t leaving her.

Laura

I believed him, and relaxed again, my confidence restored for now, but was confused about what the big deal was. It had seemed to me earlier that there was a big deal lurking somewhere, and if it wasn’t Julia, I wasn’t sure what he was telling me.

‘So … what else?’

Matt

‘Well, as I said, I was kind of on this track of ‘what ifs’, and this job offer, there’s no way I want us to fuck off to bloody Norwich, it’s the middle of bloody nowhere, but the job itself, it sounded really interesting. I did get a few offers a few years ago, when I was still recovering the first time. Some pretty interesting jobs – I could have gone to Hong Kong, Singapore, could have had a very different life. But I wasn’t well enough, and I needed everyone I had helping me then – yeah, I know, Matt admits he needed people, hold the front page – so this just started me thinking, really. GreenScreen is great, but it’s not much of a challenge any more. I do more people management than stuff with computers. I’ve been there too long, doing something different was appealing.’

Laura

‘Do you want to go to Hong Kong or Singapore?’

Now I was feeling very afraid, scared that my life was going to be uprooted, as if I had no say in it. I’d never lived anywhere other than here, near my mum, near everything I knew and loved. I loved living here, I didn’t want go anywhere else. I didn’t think Matt did either. What was he saying?

Matt

Oh, and now I’d terrified her even more, about moving abroad, as if the thought of moving to Norfolk wasn’t scary enough. She was feeling scared and out of control, and I needed to put some serious reassurance in.

‘No! Especially now I’ve had another go with the bastard MS. It’s the same as it was then, I need everyone close by, need Dec and Beth bloody nagging me, Jay picking up my beer bottles when I knock them over and giving me a look, Cal and Iz, and Charlie and Tom, to make me feel normal, Mum asking me to reach something on a shelf and then going ‘hmm’ when I can’t get it. It might come back again, someday, I know that, so I need to stay. I love it here, with you, I don’t want to move away, I’m just feeling restless. I don’t want to be at GreenScreen until I retire, that’s all. But they pay me well, and they’re sympathetic to the vagaries of neurological diseases, so I guess that’s me for now.’

Laura

I hadn’t really given much thought to Matt’s job before now. He’d looked forward to going back once he was well enough, and apart from a slight limp and the occasional slurred word, he was back to where he said he was before his last flare up, and was even doing more than his old hours. He seemed to enjoy his job; he socialised with his colleagues, talked about them and their lives animatedly, told me office gossip, told me about things that happened, good and bad. Why hadn’t I picked up on this underlying dissatisfaction?

‘You’ve never said anything before.’

Matt

‘I don’t think I really thought about it before. It was just this call, made me realise there are other things out there, and people might want me to do them, and I might be good at them. But you can’t have it all, can you. I’ve got most of it, you, Ella and Josh, this place, amazing family, no complaints. Oh, you know, sometimes things just get churned up, it doesn’t mean anything, it’ll settle back down, I’ll be fine. Come on, Lau, let’s go to bed and have a damn good cuddle before one of them wakes up.’

And I really hoped that was that, and I could just put all the selfish shit to the back of my mind and get on with enjoying what I had.

Laura

‘Really, just a cuddle?’

I held his look, as he reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, returning my gaze longingly. I knew he missed us being close, and suddenly, I missed it too. I wanted him to touch me, to feel his hands on me, his mouth on me. The desire flared deep inside me.

Matt

Lau held my look, and I hardly dared to hope it meant what it seemed to mean, as I reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, trying not to look too desperate.

‘Aren’t you knackered?’

I didn’t want to put her off, but equally I didn’t want her to offer something she wasn’t really up for.

‘Yeah. But that’s not going to change any time in the next few years, so I think, maybe, we should get to know each other again. In the biblical sense.’

I loved how circumspect Lau was sometimes. Usually she called a spade a spade and a shag a shag, but sometimes she was delightfully coy.

‘Ha ha, what, by causing a huge flood, or turning water into wine?’

‘You know what I mean.’

I stopped smiling, realising she was, indeed, serious. I felt my dick grow hard, couldn’t stop it.

‘Yeah, Lau, I know what you mean. Are you sure?’

She nodded.

‘It would be awesome. I’ve really missed you. In the biblical sense.’

I bent down and kissed her, letting myself go more than I’d done for a while, not having wanted to pressure Lau. She reached up and pulled my face to hers, as I pushed my tongue into her mouth and slipped my hands under her t-shirt to her breasts and pressed myself against her, so she could feel how aroused she made me. Lau’s hands ran down my back to my arse, where she squeezed, making me moan with longing.

Laura

I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed this, this want, this abandon. Matt pushed my t-shirt up and undid my bra, making me gasp …

Matt

Lau gasped, and yelled – oh, shit, no, that would be the babies yelling. Bloody bastards. Lau’s nipples started leaking immediately in sympathy, and I knew nothing more was going to happen. Not tonight, although I remained resolutely optimistic, but by the time Lau had fed them, she was just going to want to go to sleep. I slumped against her in defeat.

‘Oh crap. They choose their moments. Come on, joint effort, maybe we can start again when they’ve gone back to sleep.’

Laura

He stood up, pulled me off the sofa, and we climbed the stairs to the twins’ room.

Ella and Josh slept in the same room, their cots next to each other, the doors to their room and our room always open. We’d tried different combinations – the cots wouldn’t both fit in our room, and we couldn’t have one in with us without the other, but we’d tried them in separate rooms and on their own, and they just wouldn’t settle when they were apart. They had literally grown up together, and didn’t seem to want to be separated; they cried to be fed at the same time, they wanted a fresh nappy at the same time, they fell asleep at the same time. It was convenient and exhausting all at once.

When we reached their room, they were both lying on their backs yelling their heads off, the smiles from earlier disappeared. We’d put a small sofa in the room so I could feed them at night, and I picked Ella up and sat down with her, positioning her on the feeding pillow while Matt fetched Josh.

Matt

Lau sat on the sofa in the twins’ room, pulled her t-shirt and conveniently already undone bra up and looked apologetically up at me as the babies started feeding. I tried not to resent them taking my place. Managed it, too, them being babies, and needing food and all. I just needed sex, wasn’t going to die from not having that, although it might feel like it sometimes.

‘Sorry, flower. They must have known.’

‘Yeah, they’re grounded for a month, little tykes. And no TV for a week.’

I sat down next to Lau, smiling, and watched. It was the next best thing.

‘Lau, this is just … so awesome. You’re so – oh, know what, I’m gona say it – fucking gorgeous. I don’t really care that we got interrupted. Or rather, honestly, I do care a bit, but it’s almost worth it just to see this.’

I yawned, realising I was pretty exhausted.

‘Why don’t you go to bed? You look wiped.’

‘Don’t you want me here?’

‘Don’t be silly, I always want you here, but you were just getting ready for bed, downstairs. I could be some time.’

‘No, it’s OK, I’ll stay, help you burp them after.’

Josh always burped well for me, and a team effort meant less time in the long run. Maybe we’d even get a quick grope in before sleep claimed us.

‘Sure?’

‘Sure. Love you, Lau.’

‘Love you too.’

We sat and watched them together, listening to their snuffles and mouth noises, entranced by them. I didn’t think it would ever get boring, monotony of the daily routine notwithstanding.

Laura

I looked up some time later and Matt was asleep, head back on the sofa, mouth open. I felt bad that I was going to have to wake him up, but if I left him, he would sleep all night on the sofa, and then he’d be stiff and grumpy the next day.

Finally, the babies finished and needed winding.

‘Matt.’

I nudged him with my elbow.

‘Wake up.’

Matt was always difficult to rouse, and I was going to have to do it without upsetting Josh, who was resting on the arm I was nudging Matt with. If he’d been in bed, I’d have had no chance, but the sofa wasn’t as comfortable, and Matt hadn’t been asleep for long.

‘Mmnff.’

Matt shifted position slightly, but didn’t open his eyes. I changed the focus of my attack and kicked his ankle, gently at first, and then harder and more insistently.

‘Matt. Wake up.’

I repeated myself four more times before his eyes finally opened and he stared at me uncomprehendingly for a few seconds until awareness returned.

Matt

Then I was being kicked on the ankle and Lau was telling me to wake up and I couldn’t understand it, I was awake … but feeling like maybe I’d been asleep.

‘Sorry, Lau, I was staying awake, I was there, I don’t even remember closing my eyes. Have they done?’

She nodded, and I picked up Josh and placed him on my shoulder, rubbing his back and jiggling him slightly until he produced the goods. Once Ella had belched for Lau, we put them down again, and headed off to bed. I put my arm round her and pulled her close, feeling like letting her off the hook.

‘Hope you don’t mind, Lau, I’m too wiped to start where we left off downstairs.’

It wasn’t true, but I knew she needed to hear it.

‘Oh thank God. You’d have been doing me in my sleep, I think.’

‘It was great though, perked me up a bit. I’d been getting a bit ‘are we ever gona do it again’. You were bloody up for it.’

‘Yeah, I was. I can’t believe I forgot how good it is. Next time we’ve got five minutes to ourselves, we’ll have to give it another go.’

‘Yeah, the minute we pack them off to university, you’d better have your knickers round your ankles and your arse in the air.’

‘Ha ha, it’s a deal.’

‘Love you, Lau.’

‘Love you too.’

I suppose I should say things got better after that, and I guess that having aired it, that particular insignificance (number three – work) was dropped, at least from discussions at home, but I kept revisiting it at the office, talking to people about their ambitions, realising that nobody at GreenScreen actually planned to stay there for the rest of their working life. I didn’t either, but I didn’t have an escape plan, and that was what I needed. Not one that was going to be acted on immediately, but a safety valve, just in case.

And to top it all, I caught a cold that was going round at work, felt like shit for over a week, even took a day off, but had to go back to oversee an important project (they were all important, it’s not like Phil ever said ‘oh just arse about on this one, no one really cares’).

I’d managed to spread my germs to Lau and the babies, and they were all as ill as me, but it wiped me out, and for days on end I had no energy for anything other than stumbling to work, dragging myself through the day, then coming home. I’d go straight to bed when I got home, unable to stop to help Lau out, unable to ask how they were, unable to be a caring human being of any sort, until I’d slept for an hour. I know it was unfair, and I left Lau to carry on when she was feeling dreadful, and the babies were feeling dreadful and hardly slept, and none of them were getting any rest.

Part of me was terrified that I’d wake up feeling like I did when I had pneumonia, and I was desperate to make sure that didn’t happen, so when I started to feel better, I was relieved, and Lau was feeling less lousy by then as well, so it felt like we’d turned a corner, and we’d done it without any help from the family, who seemed to have reined in their meddling for the time being.

Laura

The next few weeks didn’t noticeably improve our sex life, although I think us both being aware that we wanted to get it back eventually definitely helped us not to stress about it too much.

Having twins was exhausting and required the organisational skills of a military campaign; I couldn’t afford to let anything slip, as it put me so far behind. The washing machine was on constantly, I seemed to only get a few minutes into doing anything before one of them would cry and need feeding or changing; sometimes I didn’t even have time to get dressed before lunchtime.

I was beginning to feel dowdy, slobbish and housebound, much as I loved being a mum. I hadn’t managed to lose much of my pregnancy weight, and although I was always busy, I was eating the wrong sort of diet to shed the pounds. Matt had always prided himself on his cooking, but we didn’t have time any more for the painstaking meals he used to prepare, and had resorted to shoving stuff in the microwave when we were really pushed.

Going out was difficult, especially on my own, as it took so long to get both of the babies ready, and sometimes I’d just finished getting the second one dressed when the first one would need changing and the cycle would start again.

Matt hadn’t mentioned being unhappy at work any more, but it was unlikely to have gone away. He still chattered about his colleagues, and told stories about some of the things they got up to. I got the impression, both from what Matt told me and from having met some of the members of his team, that they were a close knit gang who supported each other and had fun together, and I knew Matt loved that side of his work. When I had a spare minute I was going to have to ask him how he was feeling.

Spare minutes were few and far between for a while. Matt got a bad cold that was going round at work, and before long we all had it. We couldn’t stop, though, there was still everything to do, we just had less energy to do it.

Everything reduced to our little bubble, doing a lot of things automatically, all of us feeling below par and Matt and I being irritable with each other. I didn’t think he’d taken enough time off work, but he was stressed about a project that needed completing, and it was so grim at home it was hardly surprising he escaped as soon as he could.

For more than a week, Matt came home every night and went straight to bed, coming down later to help out. This frustrated me immensely, having been unable to get any rest during the day, and then feeling left to struggle on when I was feeling crappy too. I’m not sure why I didn’t address it with Matt – my self-esteem was pretty low just then, I felt fat and frumpy and my life was consumed with looking after Ella and Josh. Not that I thought that was unimportant, but I sometimes I longed to feel exhausted because I’d done something ‘worthwhile’, like running a support group or taking a blood sample, rather than just ensuring my children made it through another day unscathed.

Matt

Once I was feeling better, I started having full-on thoughts about what I was doing as a job. I found myself being bored doing things that used to excite me; having the same conversations I remembered having years ago about things that hadn’t changed; seeing people leave for new things that I felt envious of; just wanting to do something different. I was restless at GreenScreen, and it was apparent to the people I worked with.

I found myself talking about the opportunities that were ‘out there’ with more than a hint of wistfulness, and when Joe announced he was leaving for a programmer job, I talked to him a lot about the new company he was going to help start up, and what could be possible for someone in my position (i.e. getting a bit older, lots of experience, not wanting to be a manager but needing to pay the mortgage and keep the family in food). In fact, I bent his ear most of the day, sounding him out, maybe semi-seriously, about the possibility of something coming up once his company was established and needed new recruits.

I’d said nothing more to Lau about it. Lau hadn’t seemed herself the last few days, longer maybe, and I was starting to get a bit worried about her. I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was; it was more what it wasn’t: she didn’t smile as much, she didn’t chatter, I couldn’t remember her laughing for ages, and she’d stopped humming. The house didn’t seem right without little snatches of some tune floating out from wherever Lau was.

I knew I should talk to her about it, but we’d got into this rut of just wiping baby arses, shovelling more food down their necks, getting them to belch, putting them to bed, then collapsing ourselves. I wouldn’t say we hardly spoke to each other, but sometimes it felt like all we talked about was the babies. Lau no longer seem interested in what had been going on with me at work, and what she’d been doing was more of the same as when I was at home, except on her own, so she didn’t have anything new to tell me. If I’d stopped and thought a bit more about it, maybe I would have realised what was going on, but I was feeling disgruntled at work, exhausted at home, and couldn’t see further than my own self-absorbed shit, as usual.

I did talk to Beth about it, in a kind of ‘don’t stick your nose in, just asking’ kind of way. She’d called me at work, checking times and other details for a dinner party Lau and I were having at ours. Well, I say dinner party, it was Beth and Jay, and Dec and Amy, a quiet night in. So just dinner, not much partying. I’d suggested it, as I was getting fed up with ready meals and wanted to get my teeth stuck into some proper cooking, and Lau had agreed as long as I did all the cooking and she didn’t have to do any of the washing up. I was looking forward to the challenge and it felt wildly different from the last month or so. Anyway, Beth needed it all planned down to the last teaspoon, even when it wasn’t at her house, and she called to check several things.

‘Are you sure you only want me to bring dessert?’

‘Yes, Beth. I’m only letting you do that because you’ve banged on about it so much. I’ll take it away if you don’t stop, I’m more than capable of making a quick crumble or something.’

‘Oh no you don’t. You’re having my profiteroles, there’s no way you can do three courses after you get home from work.’

‘That’s all you know. Five courses including yours, and I’ve already done half of it.’

Ha, in your face interfering sister-in-law. Although ‘half’ was stretching it a bit. I’d rummaged in the cupboards for ingredients and ground some coriander seeds with the pestle and mortar, though. Nearly the same thing.

‘Impressive. I hope you’re not making Laura stress about it too much.’

‘Lau’s not doing anything, I’ve got it all under control.’

Inasmuch as I was fiddling with sauces when she was feeding the twins.

‘Well make sure you don’t make her feel like she’s not needed.’

Oh there was just no pleasing Beth. You couldn’t get it right for getting it wrong.

‘She knows she can join in with whatever, but she doesn’t really feel up to much at the moment. Beth …’

I took a mental deep breath and dived into the relatively uncharted waters of asking advice.

‘… is it normal to be, I don’t know, a bit down after having babies?’

I felt Beth switch gear and narrow the focus of her fussing.

‘Down how?’

‘Well, Lau just seems – I can’t say depressed, but not her normal self. She hasn’t got her spark.’

‘Oh sweetheart. I did wonder. Yes, it happens sometimes, hormones dip, all sorts of things can get out of kilter. Do you want me to talk to her?’

‘Fuck no!’

The last thing that would help would be Beth going all ‘Beth’ on Lau’s arse.

‘I don’t think it’s serious, just something I’ve noticed. I’m hoping having you all over on Friday will perk her up a bit.’

‘Maybe it’s what she needs. Life can get a bit baby-focussed after a while, you forget what it’s like to talk to people who can answer you, and don’t need carrying everywhere. Don’t let it go on too long, Matty.’

‘No. Thanks. So, anyway, see you Friday.’

I finished the phone call and looked at the clock. It was nearly time to go home, but for once I just couldn’t face it, the next round of nappies and screaming. I make it sound awful; it wasn’t awful, I loved it, most of the time, but sometimes when I was in the middle of it, I had to remind myself sternly that it was what I’d wanted above everything.

I looked at Joe, who had been a listening ear all day while I went on about my dissatisfaction at GreenScreen, and answered questions about his new venture. I decided to put off going home, just for a bit, and asked if he wanted a drink after work. Contrary to popular expectation, Joe’s married status had resulted in much more freedom than previously allowed, and he readily agreed. It was the first time since the babies were born that I hadn’t gone straight back, and I knew Lau wouldn’t be happy, but I took the coward’s way out and texted her instead of calling, presenting it as a fait accompli once I was already there.

103. Child of mine

In which a dream becomes reality.

Laura

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.

Matt

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.

‘No.’

‘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.

Laura

‘No.’

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.

Matt

‘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.

Laura

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?’

Matt

‘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.

Laura

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?’

Matt

‘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.

Laura

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?’

Matt

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.

‘Really?’

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.’

Laura

‘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.

Matt

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.

‘Lau?’

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.’

A pause.

‘What?’

‘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.’

‘Dec knew?’

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?’

‘Lau?’

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.

‘Language, Jay.’

‘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.

‘Oh Laura.’

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.’

‘Wha?’

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?’

‘Yeah whatever.’

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.

‘Dec, wait.’

He stopped.

‘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.’

‘Better.’

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

D

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.

‘Yeah?’

‘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.

‘Lau?’

‘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.’

‘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.

101. Movin’ on up

In which a move is made, and a need for beer and irresponsibility is felt.

Laura

By the time it came to moving day for us all, I was six months pregnant, and starting to feel the effect of carrying twins. My blood pressure had risen, I was off work, and I was banned from having any physical part in moving. I was advised to stay away altogether, but the thought of sitting with Mum drinking tea while other people sorted out my stuff was more stressful than being there.

The whole Scott clan turned out to help, before, during and after, despite Matt’s weak protests that he could handle it. There was a cleaning deputation, much to Matt’s disgust, who came armed with buckets, mops and Flash, and got going on the flat.

Matt

‘Why the fuck can’t we jus leave it? I keep it bloody clean.’

‘Yes, Matt, but it’ll give me peace of mind if I know it’s done, and I can’t do it myself.’

‘Oh bollocks to your bloody blood pressure. You’re killing meh, Lau.’

It did nearly kill me to let Beth fuss about and take over, but it was for Lau, not for me, and Lau didn’t seem to mind, not really, so I allowed it.

Laura

He didn’t really mean it, but it never came easy to Matt to accept help.

On the day, Dec, Jay and Nico helped the movers shift stuff into the right rooms, Beth, Lis, Amy, Mum, Carol and Rose made tea, unpacked stuff under my directions, while I looked after Iz, Charlie, Tom and Bastien, with help from various people at various times, and made the odd where-should-this-go decision.

By now, Matt was almost resigned to having loads of people around helping, getting in his way, offering unwelcome suggestions about where to put things and how to do things, but I knew he was inwardly pretty chuffed about how many members of his extended family had come along to help us.

Matt

Dec, Jay, Nico and I helped the movers shift stuff into the right rooms, it being a non-training day for them. I tried my hardest to help lift the same heavy things that they did, but really I was pretty feeble in comparison. Beth, Lis, Amy, Mum, April and Rose made tea and unpacked stuff under Lau’s directions, while Lau looked after Iz, Charlie, Tom and Bastien and made the odd crockery related decision.

I was almost resigned to having loads of people around helping, getting in my way while I was trying to organise the kitchen to my liking (Rose), offering unwelcome suggestions about where to put things (Mum) and how to do things (Beth), but I suppose having the whole family there to help was awesome.

We had a large delivery of pizza for tea, and copious amounts of beer, wine and tea were drunk, and then it was nearly midnight, and that was enough. The house would still be there tomorrow, and we could finish it then. I was beat, Lau looked wiped, and everyone who was left needed to go the fuck home.

I’d started shipping people off earlier, once Amy, Beth and Lis had disappeared with the kids. I sent Mum, April and Rose away first, then allowed myself ‘one final beer’ with Nico, although it was actually only my second of the day, and packed him off with Jay. Finally we were left with Dec, whose own home was only a ten second walk away.

‘So, time for bed, Lau?’

I looked wearily at Lau, not wanting to kick Dec out, but just wanting him to go home. There would be time for late night mates sessions aplenty in the future.

‘Yeah, I’m wiped. I put the bed linen on and everything, we just need to go up and collapse. Are you ready?’

‘Yeah.’

Dec finally got the message, last to pick up on non-verbal cues as always.

‘Oh, shit, sorry guys, I’m keeping you up. I was just getting ready for the long journey home.’

He grinned and stood up, draining his beer bottle.

‘Thanks for helping, Dec.’

‘No worries. It’s awesome you guys living so close. We’ll never need to buy milk again.’

‘Think again, mate, if yuh’re planning on raiding our fridge when yuh’re too lazy to walk to the shop. Bugger off now, me an Lau need some sleep.’

I had lost patience, and awesome as Dec’s all-day assistance had been, I was starting to feel those treacherous tendrils of fatigue snake their way into my head.

‘And welcome to the street to you too. Bye, Lau, see you, oh I don’t know, tomorrow or something if I lean far enough out of the bedroom window.’

He gave Lau a kiss and a hug, slapped me on the back, and left us to it. Lau looked at me, and fell into my arms, exhausted.

‘Your family are amazing.’

‘Our family, Lau.’

I still had to remind her, sometimes, that she was part of it, not just an invited guest.

‘Yeah, they bloody are, but yuh have to be so bloody firm with them, they jus take the piss. Nobody’s getting a key, right? We’d never get rid of them. Come on, missis, up the stairs. I’m even too tired tuh suggest anything untoward. Maybe tomorrow. How’s your blood pressure?’

‘Feels OK, I’ve been sitting down cuddling children most of the day, it’s been most relaxing.’

We started to walk up the stairs, Lau in front, me holding onto her waist, helping her up.

‘How’re the Philpottses?’

I’d hardly had time to check on her, except for asking where things should go. I hadn’t even talked to them today.

‘They’ve been pretty active, I think they could hear the excitement. I’ll show them their rooms properly tomorrow, when we’ve decided.’

‘Yeah, I still think together, for a while, they’ll beh lonely if we put them separately.’

Part of me couldn’t bear the thought of our two children ever being apart from us, let alone each other.

‘Maybe. But won’t it be harder if we do it later?’

‘Fuck knows. Too tired tuh think about it now.’

I looked at her, and she was so fucking beautiful.

‘Lau, you’re bloody gorgeous. If I wasn’t shagged, I’d give you a bloody good seeing to.’

‘If I wasn’t actually asleep, I might let you.’

I got into the bed and lay on my back, one arm outstretched to put round her. As the cool sheets warmed my skin, I needed this woman in my arms to thank her for making the bed and for being the woman of my dreams.

‘Come here.’

Lau lay down next to me and turned into my body, putting her arm round my chest.

‘What a day. Here we are, Lau, our own house. Ih’s gona be miles too big till the Philpottses arrive.’

‘I don’t think we’ll have much trouble filling it with our stuff. The challenge will be making room for them after we’ve been here a few months. It will be weird having the kitchen and lounge in separate rooms, we’re going to have to walk miles to get a cup of tea.’

‘I know, we didn’t think tha one through, did we. We might have to make up a flask so we don’t tire ourselves out getting a coffee.’

‘I love it here.’

‘Me too.’

It should have felt weird, our first night in this place, which wasn’t the flat, where we’d always been and now belonged to someone else. But it felt like home. It was home; it felt like it had always been home.

‘I feel like I’ve got a beach house with my beach boy.’

‘Ha ha. Does tha mean you’ll be walking around in your bikini all the time?’

‘In your dreams. I’m going to love having a family here with you.’

‘Me too. You know wha? I was thinking earlier, you know I said I was gona be a cool dad, no bedtimes, no telling off, all tha bollocks – oh fuck it – damn –’

I was really trying, but my excuse, for now, was that I was too tired to block the bad words.

‘– well I think I won’t, I think I’m gona be a complete fascist an never let them do anything. I can’t bear the thought of them getting hurt, or crying, an I migh jus never let them get out of bed.’

‘Ha ha, that would make for an interesting visit from Social Services. You’ll be a great dad. There’s no point worrying about it right now, you’ll just be yourself when they’re here, and you’ll love them, and want the best for them, which will include letting them out of your sight occasionally before they’re twenty seven.’

She had such a sensible head. She should have been matronly and boring, but she was fun and hot as fuck.

‘Lau, you’re so grounded. I feel like I’m never gona know what to do, but you, it feels like you’ll always know. I’ve dicked about for so long, I’m worried I won’t be responsible enough.’

‘Stop stressing, Matt. They’re not even here yet. When they are, it will feel OK, and you’ll know what to do. Well, as much as any parent ever does. I don’t know it all, I don’t know even half, we’re going to have to work it out together.’

‘I wish I was as sensible as you.’

‘I wish I was as brainy as you. You know a lot of stuff, too.’

‘Oh, yeah, like about websites an computer systems an shit.’

‘No, you know about things I’ve never even thought about, you’re always nattering to the kids about things like why the moon goes different shapes, and how deep the sea is, and that cats and lions and things can either purr or roar but not both. I’ll never be as brainy as you.’

‘Bullshit, Lau. You’re the cleverest person I know.’

‘Well, maybe we both use our brains differently. The Philpottses are going to learn tons of stuff from both of us, just as well it’s not all sensible stuff like ‘don’t fall off your bike, it hurts’, or all brainy stuff like ‘the square of the hippopotamus’.

‘Hypotenuse.’

I loved it when she got things so completely wrong. How does anyone go through life thinking it’s the square of the hippopotamus? She’s got Maths GCSE and everything.

Laura

I loved it when Matt thought I got things like that wrong by mistake. As if anyone thought it was the square of the hippopotamus! But he thought it was cute, and so I let him think it.

‘Oh. Well, whatever. They’re going to be well-rounded babies.’

Matt

‘They’re certainly making you well-rounded.’

I put my hand on the large swell of her belly.

‘They certainly are. I might have to sleep downstairs in a few weeks, I’m going to be too wide to get up here.’

‘I’ll sleep with you, if you do.’

‘Thanks, but I don’t think it will come to that. I love you.’

‘I love yuh, Lau.’

We lay together for a while, I kissed the top of Lau’s head a couple of times as she snuggled closer, and then I was asleep.

Laura

After a few days of leave, I went back to work for a week, before being signed off for the rest of the pregnancy with high blood pressure. It was infuriating in a way; I’d wanted to remain as active as possible, and now the advice was to relax, mentally and physically, and concentrate on being healthy. I was glad Matt was so well, as he worried about me, and had more to do, with getting the house straight, than he would have if I’d been fit.

Matt

Lau took a couple of weeks leave to ‘nest’, then her blood pressure got so high she was signed off work for the duration. She struggled with relaxing, she’s always been a doer. In the beginning of our relationship, we were forced to take it easy in a way, the fucking bastard ensuring I needed lots of long lie-ins and not much physical exertion, but as I got better, I wanted to be out and about more, and we both got fitter, went for walks (although Lau was no hiker, and always found hills a challenge). She hated having to sit still, and I dread to think about what she got up to while I was at work, although the threat of hurting the babies was a good deterrent from doing too much.

I loved getting the house straight, Lau sitting in a chair ordering me about: ‘paint the skirting board’, ‘hang those curtains’, ‘put that picture up there, no a bit higher, no a bit lower’. Drove me mad, and I loved every second.

Laura

It was a godsend having Amy so close. She called in regularly with Charlie and Tom, and we became really good friends. Other members of the family were never far away either, and Matt would often come home from work rolling his eyes at the amount of people round the kitchen table or lounging on the sofas in the living room. He was getting much better at both accepting and asking for help, having, seemingly, finally realised that people didn’t offer help to annoy him, but genuinely wanted to make life easier for us. I loved his family, and the way they embraced me, and my own mum, as part of it. Much as Matt liked to complain about them never leaving us alone, it was comforting to me to know that so many people so close-by were on hand for advice, help, suggestions and emergencies, and Matt put up with more than he would have liked to because of me.

Matt

Lau and Amy got to know each other really well, and Amy introduced Lau to the Raiders players’ wives and girlfriends, a lot of whom also had young families. I was always a bit sniffy about socialising with the ‘rugger buggers’, but only because I liked to keep my life separate from Jay’s. Lau got on well with them all, she always got on with everyone anyway, but having new people to ask round for coffee went some way to helping her through what she felt was confinement.

In fact, the whole bloody crowd of family and friends, old and new, could hardly leave us alone, and it was often the case that I’d get home from work, just wanting to sit down in the quiet, only to find a whole gaggle of women, kids, babies, sometimes a dog or two, occupying the kitchen and the living room. I tried my best not to be irritated, recognising that Lau needed people around her more than I did, but it tried my patience on more than one occasion, and we tended to have the same almost-row after she’d had the gang round.

‘Thank fuck they’ve gone.’

‘It’s quiet without everyone.’

‘Yeah, peace at bloody last.’

‘Don’t be such a misery. Come and tell me about your day.’

‘Oh now you’re interested in my day. Just now all you were interested in was placentas. Sorry, haven’t got one of those to enthrall you with.’

‘You daft sod. Come here and hold me while you can still get your arms round me.’

And there it would end, as Lau could never be cajoled into taking my grumps seriously, and I could never resist putting my arms round her and feeling the babies pressing into me as I held her.

Laura

As the babies and I grew together, and I became less mobile, Matt and I became even closer. I still occasionally saw him freaking out inside when he thought about how fast things had happened for us, how quickly our lives had changed over the last year, but had learned how to help him through it by acknowledging it, allowing him to freak and retreat into himself, showing him I loved him. He was still seeing Adam as well, although he hadn’t told anyone apart from me about it, and this gave him another way of releasing pressure and finding coping strategies. Matt hadn’t stopped being a complicated man, he had just found ways to deal with a lot of his complexities. I loved him so much, and couldn’t wait for our children to arrive so we could be the family we both wanted.

Matt

I’d like to say my freaking days were over, but to be honest, as the day of their arrival rapidly approached, it still felt quick, sometimes too quick, and it would all start dancing about in my head: How the fuck was I going to be a dad? How the fuck were we ever going to manage two? How the fuck was I ever going to have any time to myself? Why the fuck hadn’t we waited, taken things more slowly? Why the fuck was I such an arse?

I tried my best to control it all, it really was just irrational freaking, and Lau, as ever, steadied me. She’d acknowledge my freak state with a word, a look, or a touch, she’d let it happen, not try to talk me out of it or reason with me, let me go all incommunicado for a bit, and then I’d come out of it on my own. Adam was also helping, with coping strategies, listening, all the shit that psychologists are supposed to offer, and he was bloody good at it. No one apart from Lau knew I’d started seeing him again; in fact, no one else apart from Dec knew I’d ever seen him in the first place, the Summers kid having somewhat miraculously managed not to splurge the goss to all and sundry, or rather Beth, which amounts to the same thing. It was better that way. It was a part of my life that was just for me.

o0o

There was a bloke at work who was getting married, the conventional way, it having been over a year in the planning. He seemed to have had his whole life mapped out for him by his fiancée, the poor bastard, down to when they were going to have their three children (two boys and a girl, apparently), and what they were going to do with his retirement fund. He was twenty-eight.

On balance, I preferred my way of doing things – act without thinking, do it all in a mad rush, less to worry about over a shorter period of time, job done, but poor Joe had had his ear bent every night since he proposed, and was looking forward to it all stopping once the big day had arrived. I didn’t have the heart to tell him what I suspected, that it was never going to stop.

But anyway, Joe had unexpectedly been allowed to have a stag night. Previously, it wasn’t going to be permitted, on account of the bride-to-be not trusting either him or his mates not to do something foolish, but at the last minute the best-man-to-be had a serious word with her and told her he was going to ‘lose’ the ring if she didn’t capitulate, and she backed down. I think there were provisos, about amount of alcohol consumed, type, gender and nakedness of entertainment, that sort of shit. The best-man-to-be readily agreed, with his fingers firmly crossed behind his back, and an impromptu stag was organised.

I was touched to be asked, along with several other work colleagues, but didn’t give an instant answer because of Lau. Not that she had me under the thumb or anything, but it was only a few weeks before the babies were due, she was the size of a house, and it felt a bit risky. Also, you can’t go on a stag without drinking. If I went, I wanted to get rat-arsed, as I hadn’t done at my own stag. That poked several holes in my ‘only do what Lau can do’ in the drinking department. I didn’t know how to broach the subject, and part of me thought I might just not broach it, and not go, which would make me feel less of a selfish git for really wanting to go.

However, I had missed nights like this – arsing about, being lads – and since I’d been back at work, things had been a bit weird, on account of me having been a fucking cripple, and not really being Matt the Lad any more So having a piss up with them all would make me feel more normal. But I didn’t need a piss up to feel normal, I had Lau, and things were different now, and I should just be satisfied. And so the arguments kept whirling around, unresolved.

Laura

A few weeks before the Philpottses were due to arrive, Matt came home from work, and I recognised the look on his face as the one he had when he wanted to do something he either thought he shouldn’t, or I wouldn’t approve of. I let him stew over dinner, then asked him.

Matt

Lau, I’ll never know how you know, but you knew. You always knew. Just as I was loading the dishwasher, she came up behind me and touched my back, lightly.

‘What is it?’

‘What’s what?’

‘What do you want to do that you think I’ll be mad about?’

I looked at her silently for a moment.

‘Bloody hell, Lau, this had better not be your dead granny whispering in your ear again. How the hell …’

She shrugged.

‘The Philpottses know you pretty well. They told me.’

‘Oh fuck, you’re all going to be against me, aren’t you.’

‘Well, no, it’s not about sides, flower. Although they did tell me they’d really rather you watched your language a bit.’

She’d got a bit of chastisement in, slipped in beside the knowing I needed to say something. Well played.

‘Ha ha, not fair, using the babies to tell me off. True, though, I have been slipping recently. It’s living so close to Dec.’

‘It’s about time you stopped blaming Dec, how long has he been copping grief for your swearing?’

‘As long as he’s been responsible. He’s tons worse than me. I used to have it under control, until he came barging up to Stafford that time, effing this and that, and he didn’t worry about it, so I thought why should I, and it annoyed Beth, so I just carried on. It’s all his fault in the first place.’

‘Not really the point, flower.’

‘No, OK, you win. All three of you. Bloody ganging up on me.’

I really was bottling it, and this way, if I changed the subject and made it about something else, she might forget she’d noticed I was a bit off. No such luck.

‘So, nice diversion, but what’s bothering you?’

I’d followed her into the living room and we flopped onto the sofa.

‘Oh, well, OK, you dragged it out of me. It’s Joe Billington’s stag do tomorrow, and he’s asked me, but there’s going to be a lot of beer …’

‘Oh, you’re not worried about your no drinking pact are you? Stag dos are exempt. I thought that was an unwritten rule.’

And so what the fuck had I been worried about? Lau was cool. Lau was always cool.

‘Seriously, Lau? You are fu – er – bloody awesome. I feel bad, though, I feel like I promised you and now it’s only, like, weeks to go and I’m caving.’

‘Well, firstly, ‘bloody’ is still swearing. Secondly, it might only be weeks to go until they’re born, but the ‘no G and Ts for me’ will last until I finish breastfeeding, so months more,’

Bollocks, I’d forgotten that. It put things in perspective a bit.

‘And thirdly, it’s not caving if it was an unwritten rule. If I had a stag do to go to, I’d be on the beers too, enormous bump or no enormous bump.’

‘Ha ha, maybe you should come, Lau, you’d enjoy the stripper.’

‘Er …’

Lau looked at me like she was feeling a little bit less cool about it.

‘Yeah, I’m joking.’

Laura

Matt’s eyes sparkled as he realised he had almost got me. He was much less successful at teasing me these days, as I’d got to read him pretty well and knew when he was bold-faced lying to get a reaction from me. This one had slipped past me, and I let him have his moment of triumph.

Matt

‘There probably will be a stripper, but I won’t be there for it, I’ll be home by midnight. You’re sure you’re OK? You’ve got everyone’s number, Dec and Amy are at home, I think, at least one of them will be.’

‘It’s fine, Matt, you should go and enjoy yourself before the babies ruin all that for the next twenty-odd years.’

‘You’re right. Actually, I won’t be back until the end of the decade, cheers for the permission, Lau.’

I grinned at her and patted her enormous, taut bump. It almost felt like something was trying to push it’s way out, it was stretched so tight.

‘Bloody hell, you feel like you’re ready to bloody explode, Lau.’

‘I know. Look, you can see feet.’

She pulled her shirt up and exposed her distended belly, pointing out the tiny feet. I had no idea if they both belonged to the same Philpotts, or if they were one of each, but it brought a lump to my throat, the same lump that cropped up every time something made them seem even more real – real feet! These babies had toes and everything. I ran my hands over the bumpy bits, and tried to grip one of them between my finger and thumb.

‘Holy f –, Lau, that’s just awesome. Hey, Philpottses, I can’t wait to meet you – oh, whoa, did you see that?’

The tiny feet had just repositioned themselves. Lau nodded, but looked uncomfortable. They’d probably both just dived on her bladder together.

‘Thanks for that, Philpottses. Sorry, Matt, need the loo now. Help me up?’

I gave her my hand, worried. She needed someone to help her up most of the time at the moment, unless she was sitting on a dining chair. Someone was usually around in the day while I was at work, but she’d be on her own tomorrow evening. As I pulled her to her feet, I changed my mind about going. Disappointing, but there would be other stags.

‘I won’t go tomorrow. If you can’t even get to the loo, you need someone here all the bloody time.’

‘No I don’t. Dec and Amy are seconds away; if I really need a good hoist, they’ll be right over. Honestly, go and enjoy yourself, please, I’ll be absolutely fine.’

I trusted Lau to know a) her own mind and b) her own body. She wasn’t like me, obstinately refusing to admit there was ever anything I needed help with, and she did seem genuinely sure it would be OK. I wanted to go so much, maybe I let myself be swayed by the conviction in her voice. Just to put in some added security, and put my mind at rest, I texted Dec and double-checked he was going to be around tomorrow evening in the event of Lau needed hauling up from her seat or dragging from one room to another. He was fine about it, and I felt easier knowing Lau wasn’t going to be relying on the willing but decidedly less muscly Amy.

Laura

And that was how I managed to find myself, at eleven o’clock the next evening, on my own upstairs, having contractions.

100. Brick house

In which there is architectural love at first sight, and backtracking on long-held beliefs occurs.

Laura

Life settled into, on the one hand, normality, with work and the daily routine, and on the other hand a whirl of change and excitement. I was increasingly conscious of the changes to my body, my swelling belly, my increasingly sore breasts, and often found myself with my hand stroking my abdomen. I spent a lot of time wondering about the two tiny lives growing inside me, and had quite a few dreams about them, where I couldn’t quite make out their faces. My hormones were rampaging, and I was often irritable one minute, crying the next, laughing uncontrollably the one after.

Matt seemed to take it all in his stride. He claimed he’d been reading up on the internet, and was prepared for me to be, in his words, a ‘fucking loony’ for the next few months.

We’d looked for houses, had put the flat on the market and had a bit of interest but no firm offers, but hadn’t seen anything that we liked. I was a little bit worried that we were going to get desperate and have to settle for something we didn’t love, but we weren’t at that stage yet.

Matt

I guess the next thing on the Matt and Lau event horizon was finding a house. As Lau and the babies continued to grow, there was an ever-increasing sense of urgency about where we were going to live. The flat was on the market, and there had been viewings and interest but no offers, and despite trawling the estate agent websites every day, and going to see a few places, there was nothing that screamed ‘LIVE HERE’ at us. It was starting to feel like we were going to have to take something we didn’t really want just so we had enough space. So the search continued, a little frantically, and still nothing came up that we loved.

Lau seemed to change every day. I loved seeing her, belly poking out of her t-shirt, boobs spilling out of her bra, as she sat there, often with her hand resting on her bump. It made me feel protective and manly, and now the bastard MS had receded, I was loving life.

It seemed like everything had been served up on a plate, and life was a heady mix of the mundane and the mysterious; Lau’s hormones rampaged from one extreme to the other, and she would often burst into tears at the slightest event (someone lost their purse in EastEnders), laugh uncontrollably at unfunny things (me falling over trying to put my socks on – OK, maybe it was just me who didn’t think it was funny), or rage unstoppably with the smallest of provocations (not being able to find her car keys, even though they were in my pocket all the time).

Although a lot of these ups and downs were out of character for Lau generally, I was prepared for her to be a fucking loony until the babies were born, and I took it, mostly, in my stride. I like to think. It was a small price to pay, I enjoyed being the strong one for a change, and used the rages and tears as opportunities to hold my Lau until she’d calmed down.

Lau had another scan, a few weeks after the first, and this time the babies were going to be big enough to tell what sex they were. We had both got used to the fact that there were two, but there was still that vaguely unsatisfying sense of incompleteness, of being unable to think of them as proper people, until we knew if they were boy and boy, boy and girl, or girl and girl. I maintained they were both boys, while Lau had a ‘girl’ feeling, and neither of us really had any evidence for our assertions. We argued about it quite a lot, loving having the endless discussions with no basis in any type of fact, but just liking talking about it. Oh, anyway, the scan.

It was a different radiographer, younger, bit more of a sense of humour. Lau and I were much less weirded out this time, and I even managed to whisper scary shit in Lau’s ear (‘they’re gona tell us there are three this time’) and both of us laughed, rather than thinking it could possibly be true. I honestly think that, even if that had been the case, we would have just got on with it. Two, three, what’s the diff? I would never say that to a parent of triplets.

So there we were, assuming the position, Lau on her back with gel all over her belly, me by her side, holding her hand and stroking her hair, watching the screen avidly. This time, maybe because the babies were bigger, we could see their shapes much more easily. We listened to the heartbeats, that thrilling squawshsquawshsquawsh that told us they were really there, really living and growing. The radiographer changed the angle, and then held it in position, looking at us.

‘Do you want to know the sexes?’

‘Yes. Can you tell?’

She nodded. ‘You’ve got a boy and a girl. It’s not always as clear as this, but they’re being very helpful. Or complete show-offs.’

‘Must take after you, then, flower.’

‘Hey!’

‘Oh Matt, a boy and a girl.’

Lau tore her eyes away from the screen long enough to look at me. Her whole face was shining.

‘Yeh. I knew there was a boy.’

‘Well I knew there was a girl. I was right.’

‘So was I.’

We laughed, smiled, kissed, then watched our babies’ hearts beating until we had to stop.

After that, the search for a house took on a new intensity. Now that they weren’t just a swell in Lau’s awesome curves, but were small people, we felt even more of a need to find somewhere bigger to live. We were already filling the flat up with baby paraphernalia – a buggy, new clothes for Lau, toys we’d seen and couldn’t resist – and it was becoming more apparent each day that it would be impossible to live there with two babies.

Laura

Wow, we were going to have a son and a daughter. Barely a year after we’d met, we were going to be a family of four.

One evening, dinner eaten, we were stretched out on the sofa watching a documentary about computers – or rather, Matt was watching it, and I was texting and Facebooking on Matt’s iPad – when I felt a flutter, stronger than a flutter, in my belly. I gasped.

Matt

I looked at her; she had clasped her belly with both hands.

‘Wha?’

Could have been anything from minor indigestion to major panic, but it didn’t sound like a major panic type of gasp.

Laura

‘I think … I just had a kick.’

Matt sat straight up, and put his hands over mine, desperate to feel it too.

‘Is he doing it now?’

‘No. And it might be her doing it.’

Matt

Yeah, still bickering about the him or her. It passed the time.

‘Don’t be bloody silly, it’ll be him, thinking about Spurs.’

‘It might be her trying to kick him for going on about football all the time.’

‘Or him trying to shut her up because all she bloody talks about is Downton Abbey.’

‘Or her trying – oh!’

As she was talking, I felt a kind of fluttering against my fingers. It was faint, but holy shit.

‘Did you feel that?’

My smile almost split my face.

‘Yeah, fuucking hell. Tha was amazing, like a little twitch. Wha’s it feel like inside?’

‘Kind of as if someone is flicking me or tickling me. Wow, Matt, they’re really there.’

I knelt beside her and put my mouth onto Lau’s bump to speak to the babies.

‘Hey, you guys, it’s your father speaking. Mr Philpotts, good work on the moving around, I’ve got you booked in for a trial at White Hart Lane. Ms Philpotts, in case yuh missed the last episode of Downton, the butler’s shagging the housekeeper an the posh people are goin for a picnic or some such shit – oh, whoa!’

As I was speaking, my lips on Lau’s skin, I felt the fluttering against me.

‘I felt that on my mouth. Holy fuck.’

It was as if they were talking back to me, and I kissed the spot where I’d felt the twitches.

‘Cheers guys, love you too.’

I sat back on the sofa and put my arm round Lau, pulling her close. It was weird how we could share this moment, but in such different ways.

‘I’m a bih jealous, Lau.’

‘What of?’

‘You can feel it all, from inside, I jus get to put my hand on it when yuh tell meh.’

‘There are things you can do that I can’t.’

‘Like?’

‘Talk to them, right up close, feel them on your mouth. I wish I could do that. And before too long I’m going to wish I could escape the pressure on my bladder and be able to bend at the waist. It’s not all exciting and magical.’

I knew that, knew that being the woman in this scenario was bloody uncomfortable and irritating, and reined in my envy while I contemplated piles and waddling and, oh, let’s not forget actually giving birth.

‘Ha ha, you’re right. Tha was amazing, though. Know wha? I really should stop saying ‘fuck’ to them, shouldn’t I.’

I was being told this all the time, mostly by Beth, occasionally by Mum, never by Lau, but I knew she wished I wouldn’t. Suddenly, with them moving and responding to my voice, I realised how I would feel if they started coming out with some of the, well, shit I came out with, at an early age.

Laura

‘You really should.’

I was incredibly pleased Matt had come to this conclusion without me having to nag him about it.

Matt

Because she never said it, it meant more, and I was more inclined to listen.

‘It’s like, now they’re moving about, they’re really babies. You jus don’t say ‘fuck’ to a baby. OK, I’ll try really hard. Don’t know how well I’ll do.’

‘Just trying is the important thing, flower.’

‘Lau, you’re soh cool. I know it bothers you, but you never say anything. Beth nags Jay all the time, an it doesn’t make a blind bih of difference, he jus forgets. Dec says whatever the fuck he wants – oops, tha didn’t last long, did it – Beth tells him off but Amy’s given up, maybe when Charlie gets bigger and says ih back to him, he’ll realise. I know I’m a bugger, I do it because ih annoys Beth, hadn’t really thought about the consequences.’

As I sat back up on the sofa, my phone rang, the jaunty strains of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ floating out of my pocket. I gave Lau a quick kiss and answered, mouthing ‘Dec’ at her, because she never quite got the hang of different ringtones for different people.

‘Hey mate.’

‘Hey. How’s things?’

‘Yeah, all good, jus been chatting with the Philpottses, they had a bit of a kick jus now.’

‘Whoa, awesome, mate. Is that the first kick?’

‘Yeah, first time, pretty special.’

I winked at Lau and rubbed her bump, keeping my hand there in case there was any more movement. Lau laced her fingers into mine.

‘Listen, mate, there’s a house going on the market on our road.’

This was exciting news. Lau and I loved the street where Dec and Amy lived, but there had been nothing for sale there since we’d begun looking.

‘Oh, really? Which number?’

‘Er …’

I could almost hear Dec counting to himself. His mouth would be moving as he did so.

‘Forty seven.’

‘So, like, four doors down.’

‘Yeah, the one with the purple garage.’

I could see it in my mind’s eye. It had a small garden to the front, off-road parking, a bay window, horrible purple garage …

‘Whoa, cool, which estate agent?’

‘Well, that’s the thing. You’ll like this, mate. They want to sell without estate agents if they can, and they want a quick sale, so you could save yourself some time and some money.’

‘Really? Awesome.’

It sounded a bit mad, a bit off-road, but it was fast becoming the norm for Lau and me to do things unconventionally.

‘I’ve got their phone number, said you’d call if you were interested.’

‘Yeah, great, hang on, need a pen.’

I made frantic scribbling signals to Lau, as I couldn’t see a pen, and she reached to the grab writing implements from the table. I wrote down a name and a number.

‘Cheers, mate, I’ll give them a bell now.’

‘I don’t know if you’re interested in it or not, but I thought I’d let you know.’

‘Yeah, sounds awesome. How’s everyone?’

‘We’re all good.’

‘Cool.’

‘Charlie pulled the curtains down in the living room this morning.’

‘Ha ha, the perils of toddlers.’

‘They will soon be your perils.’

‘Yeah, not for a year or so yet tho.’

‘It’ll go in a flash, and you’ll be on your own hunt for a new curtain pole. Anyway, give Jon a call if you’re interested.’

‘OK, see yuh soon.’

I disconnected and turned to Lau, excited.

‘There’s a house, four doors down from Dec an Amy, jus about tuh go on the market. They’d rather not use estate agents, he reckons if we’re quick, we could do a deal, save ourselves some commission.’

‘Four doors down which way?’

‘Towards the park. One of those ones wih the bay windows.’

‘Oh! One like Dec and Amy’s? I really like them. Did he give you a number?’

I nodded.

‘Living near Dec and Amy would be great.’

I was glad Lau thought so. They were my family, and I loved them all, and I knew Lau got on well with Dec, and Amy was her friend, but you could never be sure that living so close to your partner’s family was what your partner really wanted.

‘I know. Instant crèche, for later, instant pre-baby advice from the experienced Amy Wright for now. Easy borrow of their lawn mower. Shall I ring?’

Lau nodded enthusiastically. I called the number and had a brief conversation with the man who lived there with his wife and two children. They were expecting another baby, and wanted more room. He agreed that we could go round and see it that evening, so we got ourselves ready and headed over.

Laura

We pulled up outside the house, and sat and looked at it for a while. From the outside, it was very similar to Dec and Amy’s house; yellow brick, grey slate roof, space for two cars to park off the road, a garage with a bright purple door, an archway of some climbing plant framing a small metal gate at the entrance, a paved path leading up the front door in-between two windows, one of which was a big bay.

Matt

I was utterly smitten. In my imaginings, in the dark days when I knew I wanted a family, but had just split up with Jules and been re-initiated into the bastard MS club, which made having a family just an impossible dream, this was what I’d longed for. Yeah, the obvious – wife or girlfriend and two point two children – but also this kind of house, large enough for us to spread out.

I suppose, subconsciously, I’d modelled my desires on what Dec had. But whatever the reason, this just felt like ours. I think that even if we’d discovered a coal mine under the foundations, rising damp up to the guttering and woodworm throughout the joists, I would still have fought to buy it.

From the outside, it was very similar to Dec and Amy’s house; yellow brick, grey slate, two off-road parking spaces in front of a distressingly brightly painted garage door, a clematis archway over the front gate, a paved path leading up the front door, and a big bay window.

We looked at each other and I sensed Lau trying not to get too excited. It was too late for me. We had seen lots of houses, both online and in reality, and nothing had ticked all our boxes, but we knew what the internal layout was likely to be in this one; it would be very similar to Dec and Amy’s. We liked the area, and we liked the outside.

‘Sensible heads on, flower.’

I couldn’t tell Lau I already wanted it. She was making such a big effort to be practical.

‘I know. I’m trying hard not tuh love ih.’

I wasn’t, I wasn’t trying at all. I had already given it a very large down-payment from my soul.

‘Let’s see it first. They might have done something terrible to it, there might be a huge block of flats overlooking the back garden, it might have raging damp or termites, or anything. If we do this without an estate agent, it’s more work for us.’

She was right, she always was, but my heart was already lost.

‘I know. It looks bloody awesome, tho.’

Laura

I sighed, realising Matt’s heart was already lost, and mine wasn’t far behind. It was unlikely either of us were going to be even slightly sensible. I was already seeing us waving at Dec and Amy from the front door, our children playing together in the garden, maybe some daisies painted on the garage door … I suspected Matt was also imagining similar versions of the future, although maybe his would have fewer daisies on the garage door and more barbecues in the back garden.

‘Come on then, let’s go and see.’

We unclipped our seatbelts and got out, walked together up the path and rang the bell.

Matt

The smell of baking bread wafted out as the door opened, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a freshly brewed pot of coffee in the kitchen, but clichés aside, the spacious, tidy three-bedroomed detached house, with a large kitchen, large lounge, dining room, three large bedrooms, planning permission for a loft conversion, a fairly big, neat garden, easy to maintain, not majorly overlooked by neighbours, was pretty much everything we’d been looking for. I mean, yeah, even had it been painted in psychedelic patterns rather than neutrally decorated, and full of mould and spiders’ webs, instead of clean and organised, I would have loved it, but it was our house. It could only ever be our house.

Laura

The whole house had that indefinable ‘feeling’, it was like home, I could see what we could do with it, how we would live here, how the twins would grow up, go to school, have friends over – I was as lost as Matt, looking at his face. We tried really hard to remain outwardly ambivalent, but I could see the want on Matt’s face, and it was probably written all over mine as well. This wasn’t an ideal starting point for negotiating, but we chatted briefly about a price, and agreed that we would talk the next day about an offer, pending doing some frantic researching about just what we needed to do to make sure we were protected by not doing things the traditional way.

Matt

Lau says it had ‘that feeling’. I don’t know about that, all I knew was I fell for it in the same way I fell for Lau, instantly and wholly, and nothing was going to stop me having it. I saw us, me and Lau, living there, and I saw our children there, playing in the garden, having sleepovers, arguing, doing homework.

I wasn’t going to tell the current owners that, of course. There was negotiating to be done, offers to be made and all sorts of to and fro shenanigans before it would be ours. We were both trying hard not to let it show, but I could see how much Lau wanted it; I could only hope I had managed to disguise it on my face.

We chatted briefly about a price, and agreed that we would talk the next day about an offer. That meant an evening of frantic researching about just what we needed to do to make sure we were protected by not going through the conventional channels.

We stayed for a coffee and a chat, Lau and Annie comparing baby notes, wanting them to like us so things would go more smoothly, then we walked out to the car. We had just opened the doors when my phone trilled. It was Dec.

‘Oh, hey’

‘Are you up the road? Amy just saw your car.’

‘Yeah, yuh caught us.’

We hadn’t even thought of going to see Amy and Dec; I think we both wanted to get home and try to start things moving if we could.

‘Have you been to Jon and Annie’s?’

‘Yeah, jus been for a look.’

‘What did you think?’

I caved. This would be part of what would be great about living here, that Dec and Amy were so close.

‘Shall we come an tell yuh all abouh it?’

‘Sure, no worries.’

‘OK, be there in – oh it’s a bugger we’re so far away, might take us ten seconds.’

I put the phone back in my pocket and bent down into the car, where Lau was already sitting in the passenger seat.

‘Quick visit to the Summers-Wrights?’

She smiled, nodded and got back out of the car and we walked the extremely short distance to Dec and Amy’s very similar detached house, slightly less tidy frontage, with a porch stuffed with coats, shoes, boots and a double buggy.

While we were waiting, my thoughts drifted to what colour I would paint the garage door. I was thinking something tasteful like olive green, or maybe a soft grey.

‘You know my favourite thing? The purple garage door.’

Oh you are kidding me. A whole house of awesomeness and Lau’s most beloved feature is the heliotrope monstrosity on the front in full view of the neighbourhood.

‘Mm. Maybe weh could tone ih down a bit?’

‘Really? You don’t like it?’

‘I’m not a purple person.’

‘No, but –’

Dec came to the door as we were talking, and the discussion ended. For now.

‘So, what did you think?’

‘The garage door is offensive and they cut their grass more often than yuh.’

Dec was always round at Mum’s mowing her lawn, but somehow couldn’t ever be arsed to do his own.

‘Ha ha, most people do. Did you like it, though?’

Dec led us through into the living room, where Amy was sitting holding Tom.

‘What did you think, guys? Isn’t their fireplace amazing?’

It was indeed amazing, just one of the many amazing things, none of which included the purple garage door.

‘It’s all lovely. Just what we want, isn’t it, flower.’

‘Yeah, love ih. Got a lot of surfing tuh do tonight to get it sorted, gona put in an offer tomorrow, see if we can sort it.’

‘Oh, that’s completely amazing. You could be living so close! Dec, put the kettle on, hon.’

‘Sure, babe, tea everyone?’

Lau looked at me, giving me a ‘don’t stay too long fucking about’ look.

‘Er, no, better not, need tuh get back and get going on it. Do you know them?’

‘Only to say hi to. That’s how I found out, saw him as I was getting back from training, he was at the game on Saturday, stopped to say good result, got chatting –’

‘There’s a surprise, Dec got chatting to someone, I bet you lost track of time, hon.’

It was one of Dec and Amy’s few bicker points, that Dec was always being delayed and waylaid by conversations with random people.

‘Ha ha. Good job I did, though, otherwise I wouldn’t have found out about the bloody house, would I. Sure you won’t stop for a cuppa, guys? You only just got here. Tom could use a cuddle from his favourite uncle and aunty.’

Well that was just plain evil, offering Tom as bait to get us to stay. Lau could never resist him, the chubby little tyke, and I found it hard not to scoop him up and give him a squeeze myself. He was developing the most arresting blue eyes, and had thick blond hair. He looked very like Dec, but his eyes had a hint of Amy about them.

‘Oh you bastard, tha’s emotional blackmail. Come on, then, Amy, hand him over. I assume he’s got a clean nappy, this isn’t let’s all have a laugh an get Unca Matty to cover himself in shit, is it?’

‘Oh that’s completely not fair. Tom loves his Unca Matty and Aunty Lau. And yes, he’s just had a change, so you’re quite safe. You’d better get used to it, though, Matt. Feel free to do a practice nappy any time.’

‘Think I need tuh save myself. Come here, then, big man.’

Laura

Amy handed Tom to Matt, and he cradled him gently in his arms. My heart squeezed, as it always did when I saw Matt holding a child.

Matt

‘Hey, there, you’re getting bloody enormous. I swear he puts on several pounds every time I see him.’

‘He’s building up my arm muscles.’

‘Yeah, me too, I don’t have to go to the fucking gym any more, I just lift Tom out of his cot and that’s it, instant biceps.’

‘Maybe yuh shouldn’t have a hold, Lau, heavy lifting an all tha.’

‘Get lost, I need a cuddle. Come on, hand him over.’

Lau practically snatched him from me in her eagerness as I laughed.

‘Hello Tom. Aren’t you just the most adorable. I love his tiny jeans, Amy.’

‘I know, they’re so cute. Beth bought them. It’s such a shame he’ll have grown out of them in a few weeks, the way he’s going. Dec said you felt some kicks earlier.’

I watched Lau’s face take on a soft look of intense pleasure.

‘Yeah, it was amazing, just tiny little flickers. Matt was talking to them, and they kicked him in the mouth.’

‘Ha ha, that’s one way of shutting you the fuck up, mate. Have to give that one a try myself when you start bloody rambling on.’

Laura

We carried on chatting and cuddling Tom for longer than we’d meant to, and time was getting on when we finally got home. Matt got his laptop out and started to look up do-it-yourself house purchases. The amount of times he ran his hands through his hair told me it wasn’t the easiest of processes, but I decided to wait until he had taken in all the facts, knowing he preferred to weigh things up once he’d found out all about it, rather than try to form an opinion when he only knew some of the information.

Matt

It was a lot to get my head around, but I needed to know the pros and cons, find out as much information as I could, see what other people thought, think about the pitfalls and the advantages, then I could talk it through with Lau. I was still trying to get to grips with it when my phone rang. The ironic tones of ‘When Will I Be Famous’ (by Bros, keep up) told me it was Jay.

‘Hey.’

‘Hey Matty. How’s things?’

It was a measure of how far I’d come that that question no longer irked me, and I was able to take it as the bland enquiry it was meant to be.

‘Yeah, I’m good.’

‘Lau OK?’

In fact, people asked more about Lau than they did about me these days, now I was no longer a complete fucking cripple.

‘She’s great. We’ve jus been to look at a house.’

‘Yeah? Any good?’

‘Actually, in the same road as Dec an Amy.’

‘Really? They don’t come up there very often, so I’m told.’

I was getting the feeling that this was possibly a Beth-inspired call, as Jay was showing knowledge beyond his usual attention span. Dec would have been on the phone to Beth before we’d left the house.

‘Yeah, I know, Dec was talking tuh the bloke, ih’s not on the market yet, might be able to get it cheaper if we do it ourselves.’

‘Whoa, Matty, without estate agents? Isn’t that really complicated?’

Like Jay would know. He’d owned the same house for aeons, and I highly doubt he had anything to do with its purchase in any case, other than to sign the cheques when told to.

‘Yeah, I know, it looks a fucking nightmare.’

I’d momentarily forgotten my no-fuck policy, and looked up at Lau apologetically.

‘I’ve … I don’t know if you’re interested, but there’s this bloke at work, one of the Raiders legal guys, he bought privately himself. He might be able to help you out. He’s helped out some of the players.’

So either Jay paid more attention than I gave him credit for, or Beth had put him up to this. I knew which one I was plumping for.

‘Oh, really? Oh, that would be bloody awesome.’

Well I might as well be able to get something out of my famous brother’s celebrity status for a change. It had been years since he gave me free trainers.

‘I’m going to call him in a minute, about something else.’

‘Oh, are yuh?’

Yeah, definitely Beth’s hand in all this. I could almost hear her, ‘You call him, James, he won’t take it from me.’ She would have been right, too.

‘Yeah, I can mention it, if you like.’

‘Great.’

Jay sounded surprised at my lack of resistance. It was the sort of thing I usually went all Mr Independent about.

‘I didn’t know if you’d think I was interfering.’

Yeah, I know, rod for my own back. Those wise words from the Summers kid all those years ago, when he told me if I kept on pushing people away, they’d stay pushed one day, biting me on the arse somewhat.

‘No, not at all.’

‘Great then, I’ll call him now.’

‘Thanks, Jay.’

I could even say thank you, like a civilised person. What was the world coming to?

‘Pleasure. I’ll give him your home and mobile numbers – are you around now?’

‘Yeah, in all evening now, not at work till tomorrow afternoon.’

‘Another full day of hard work for you then.’

‘Yeah, you’re bloody hilarious.’

‘Oh, while I remember, Mum asked if we could go round and do a few things for her.’

At least Mum was capable of asking for help when she needed it.

‘Yeah, I talked tuh her yesterday, she was asking if we could take some stuff to the tip at the weekend.’

‘She knows I can’t Saturday, right?’

‘Yeah, she knows there’s a game Saturday, Sunday will be fine.’

‘Let me know when, then.’

‘OK, talk later. Cheers, Jay.’

I looked at Lau, as she waited for me to tell her what all that had been about. I took a deep breath, feeling like everything was moving at a breakneck pace again.

‘Jay says one of the guys at the club bought privately, no estate agent. One of the club solicitors. He reckons he could help us out, gona give him my number see if he’ll call me.’

‘Oh that would be great. It does seem a bit scary to do it all ourselves.’

‘Lau, we’re doing ih again, aren’t we, rushing in. Should weh jus wait an do it properly?’

‘This will be properly. I really want that house, now. I can see us all there, Sunday lunch round Matt and Lau’s, slobbing out watching TV after work, putting the babies to bed, picking apples in the garden.’

‘Oh sod it, Lau, I hoped yuh were gona be the voice of reason. I’m as bloody gone as you.’

We looked at each other hopelessly.

‘Wha a bloody pair we are. At this rate, our kids are gona be at university by the time they’re six an we’ll be grandparents before we’re forty. We really should start taking things slow sometime.’

‘I agree, but we need to do this quickly, so there’s somewhere for our miraculously fast-working babies to sleep.’

My phone rang. I looked at Lau.

‘It’s Jay’s mate. Here we go, hang on tuh your hat.’

Laura

Matt talked for ages to Jay’s solicitor friend, whose name was Ed. At the end of the call, Ed had agreed to act for us on the legal side of things, and to give us step-by-step assistance with all of the other aspects, based on his experiences. Matt asked Ed and his wife, Claire, over for dinner on Saturday so we could carry on discussing it.

Matt

By the time I’d finished talking, I knew enough to be sure. We could make an offer. Although we’d agreed to call Jon and Annie tomorrow, neither of us could wait, despite how it looked on the ‘playing it cool’ scale. We called and told them our price. They accepted. Job done. Holy shit.

Later, as we got into bed, I was filled with something like wistfulness. My time in this flat was coming to an end. There was a lot of history here, and although it was right to move on, I loved my flat, and I would miss it. I folded Lau up in my arms and held her tight.

‘What is it?’

I had no idea how she knew when things weren’t quite right with me, how she could tell the difference between holding her because I was feeling wobbly, holding her because I was feeling horny and holding her because I loved her so much, but she always did. Always.

‘Shit, Lau, how do yuh always know?’

‘I told you about my psychic granny, didn’t I?’

‘She’d bloody better not be here now. Get lost, Lau’s granny, there’s some things imaginary dead rellies shouldn’t beh privy tuh.’

‘Ha ha. But still, spill.’

I was so used to it, I no longer even tried to pretend everything was OK. It saved time in the long run.

‘Oh … jus thinking, I’ve lived here for bloody years, I love this place. Jus feeling a bit … not sad, I’m soh excited about moving wih yuh an the Philpottses, but I’m gona miss here. I’m gona miss being here wih you, jus us. The Philpottses won’t ever be here, it’s like a part of them they won’t ever know. Jus feeling a bit … like I need tuh hold you, tuh hang on tuh jus us for a bit.’

‘I’ll miss here too. It’s where we started as us, really, isn’t it. Where the babies started. Lots of memories. I’m looking forward to starting something new together, though.’

Lau took my face in her hands and gently kissed my mouth, sending reassurance and love through her lips.

‘Yeah, ih’s gona be weird thinking of someone else living here, sleeping in our bedroom, cooking in our kitchen, getting annoyed wih our bloody shower knob.’

‘I’m not going to miss the shower knob. It took me five minutes to turn it to hot this morning, why did you turn it down?’

‘I got hot an sweaty walking back from work, wanted a cool shower.’

‘Maybe we should fix it before we go?’

‘No, you have tuh leave some things behind yuh, your own quirks.’

‘Fair enough. I guess we might have a few quirks left behind for us, if we get this house. We still haven’t had an offer here.’

It was the thing I was trying not to think about, the thing that could put a halt to it all, or make things excruciatingly expensive and problematic.

‘I know. Ed said it’s not strictly necessary, but a bit of a risk tuh move without.’

Laura

So far I’d let Matt think about the money side of moving, but as I thought about buying one house before we’d sold the other, it seemed like a very scary thing. What was it my dad used to say? Something about never spending your money before you had it.

‘I don’t think we need any more stress right now, Matt.’

‘No, maybe, too late though, made the offer now. Oh, come here, Lau, I need the biggest cuddle, I need yuh to make me feel safe, like yuh always do.’

He wasn’t the only one who needed to feel safe. I had to try really hard not to fuss about it. Maybe in a few days, when things were clearer, might be the time to go over it all and get my head round it. We wrapped each other up, holding each other tightly, kissing and touching tenderly, until we both fell asleep.

Matt

I didn’t, don’t, believe in things being ‘meant to be’. If I did, I’d have to believe in some kind of person or being who did the meaning it, and consequently that not just coincidences and good happenings were meant to be, like when people’s days go really well and everything they wanted to happen happens, and they shrug and say ‘well, it was meant to be’; no, then I’d have to believe that everything that had happened to me was planned by some force outside of me, something or someone that was just toying with me, and when things went well I was in his or its good books, and when things went badly, I’d done something to piss it or him off. And that way madness lay. So, the long and short of it is, I don’t believe in ‘meant to be’, as in ‘destined’. However. What a wonderful word that is, holding as it does a plethora of caveats. However, two occurrences in my life have happened with such felicitous outcomes that I found myself thinking they were fated to happen. The first was finding Lau. Well documented thus far, I shall not dwell on it. And …

The second was this house. This bloody house, which just seemed to have our names written above the door from the day it became available. The potential for disaster, fuck ups, delays, hitches and disappointment was vast, but everything slotted into place. Right from the very next morning. The one thing that was left on my ‘I’m really not a hundred per cent comfortable with this’ list was selling the flat. Buying a house without having a buyer here gave me the heeby jeebies, despite Ed’s reassurances.

Laura

It was my day off the next day, and as Matt was still working only afternoons, neither of us had set our alarms. So the ringing phone disoriented me a little, and it took a while to wake up, work out where I was, and realise Matt’s phone was ringing beside him on the bedside table.

Matt was deeply asleep, lying on his front, head turned towards me, mouth open. I resisted the urge to smooth his wayward hair, and poked him hard in the ribs before reaching over him and grabbing his phone. The rib-poke didn’t quite wake him up, so I tried it again while answering the phone. There was a number, but no name. Matt’s eyes were at least open, but were unfocussed.

‘Hello, Matt Scott’s phone.’

I tried another dig in the ribs, which elicited a sleepy ‘fuck off, Jay’.

‘Oh, hello, is Mr Scott available?’

‘I’ll see if I can find him. Who’s calling?’

‘It’s Carl from Browning’s estate agents.’

‘OK, hold on a minute.’

Matt

I was having a dream where Jay was punching me in the ribs, and needless to say I wasn’t enjoying it that much, so I was telling him to fuck off. With that sudden disorienting sensation where you realise it’s not a dream but can’t quite let go of what’s been in your head, it filtered through that it wasn’t Jay punching me, but I was in bed, and it was Lau, prodding me pretty hard and enthusiastically, trying her hardest to wake me up. I wondered why she hadn’t gone the snogging route, but then I realised she was holding my phone, as if someone was on the other end. My brain was fog, I really didn’t want to talk to anyone.

Laura

I muted the phone and shoved at Matt with all my might. It was only just gone nine, and I knew it would take a huge effort to wake him up enough to take a call, but after a few seconds of sustained pushing and poking, it filtered through that I wasn’t just being annoying, and his attention may be required.

Matt

‘Wha?’

‘Estate agents for you.’

‘Fuck. Wha time is it?’

‘Just after nine.’

Shit, the fucking crack of bloody dawn. Somewhere in the world, including my bed. Did estate agents have no respect? Oh, right, they’re estate agents.

Laura

Matt rolled onto his back and rubbed his hands over his face, then took the phone from me. He sounded impressively together as he spoke.

Matt

‘Matt Scott.’

‘Hi Matt, it’s Carl from Browning’s. How are you?’

‘Good thanks.’

Apart from still asleep on account of the ridiculously early hour.

‘I’m just ringing to say we’ve had an offer on your flat.’

Holy shit, no fucking way, this was starting to feel like it was … meant to be.

‘Oh, OK.’

‘Yes, the buyer is pretty keen on your property.’

‘Oh.’

Yeah, and?

‘They’re offering the asking price.’

Remember the not believing in ‘meant to be’? Getting harder not to believe.

‘Really?’

‘Yes, they’re pretty keen to complete as soon as possible, assuming you accept.’

‘Whoa.’

‘So I take it you’re accepting then?’

More like biting their bloody hand off, but I played it cool.

‘Well, I don’t think we can refuse, really.’

‘Excellent. We’ll have to get moving on the paperwork and everything, I’ll be in touch later, I’ll e-mail you some documentation now.’

‘Yeah, great.’

‘Congratulations, Matt. You’ve got a lovely property there.’

‘Yeah, thanks.’

And you, Carl from Brownings, have just made a nice little percentage on it.

I disconnected, and looked at Lau, still sleepy, but feeling excited.

‘Someone’s made an offer on this place. Asking price. Holy fuck. Oh shit, I wasn’t gona say ‘fuck’ near the Philpottses. Or ‘shit’. Sorry.’

Things not going so well in the remembering not to say ‘fuck’ department. Maybe not everything was meant to be.

‘Asking price? I think that we can let one or two go for that. Doesn’t that mean it’s easier to go ahead with the DIY house?’

‘Yeah. Whoa, Lau, I think we migh be bloody well gona do this.’

I turned over and slung an arm across Lau, pulling her towards me and planting a wet, sloppy kiss on her mouth. We smiled into each other’s eyes.

Laura

This was the best news; all the apprehension from last night drained away, and my insides flipped with excitement – no, it was more than excitement.

‘Oh! The Philpottses like it! Here.’

I grabbed Matt’s hand and placed it over my bump, which was twitching and fluttering like mad. He looked down at my tummy.

‘Whoa. Hey, down there, I know you’re excited, buh don’t kick your mum too hard.’

Matt looked up at me.

‘Lau, do you ever think you’re dreaming? The last – what is it? Six, eight, months? – have just gone so fast, everything we wanted is jus here, in our laps. I can hardly believe ih’s real.’

‘I know what you mean, things have happened really quickly, but no, I don’t feel like it’s a dream. I feel a bit overwhelmed sometimes, but I know, without a doubt, it’s real. If it was a dream, I wouldn’t be really lying here with you, belly getting bigger by the day, being kicked inside out by my own children, looking into your lovely eyes. It’s real.’

‘I know. I know it is. I guess sometimes, if ih’s all a bih much, it feels like a dream, an I can hide from it a bit. I don’t wan to, not often, buh jus sometimes.’

‘You do what you need to, flower, it’ll all be real soon enough.’

‘Love you, Lau.’

‘I love you too.’

‘Shit, know wha, we need to call the bloody bank, get going on the mortgage. Wha are yuh doing lazing around in bed, we’ve got work tuh do, Lau.’

And in one of his mad turnarounds, Matt was full of energy, bouncing out of bed and pulling me out too, pausing only to kiss my belly and squeeze my bum.

Matt

Despite the early start (only early for me, I know other people who might have been up for at least half an hour by nine o’clock, but that just seems crazy to me), I was full of energy, and I pulled Lau out of bed, pausing to kiss her belly and squeeze her fine arse.

‘Yeah, more of tha before I goh to work, if we have time, no, fuck it – oh, sorry, Philpottses – before I goh to work full stop. Sod the bloody meeting. So bored of bloody meetings.’

I hurried into the living room and switched on my laptop while Lau went to have a shower. While she was in the bathroom, I contacted the bank to confirm our mortgage, and then called Ed, to talk about the next steps. I did a lot of talking to a lot of people, but shit got, well, if not exactly sorted, then at least started down the path to sorted.

Laura

When I finished my shower, he was still on the phone, but to someone different. After a quick listen, I guessed it was Ed. They were talking about surveys and contracts, and I let it drift over me, hoping that Matt would tell me if there was anything he wanted me to do, but also hoping he would be excited enough to do a lot of it himself. I remembered it being hard work when I bought my house, nearly three years ago now, and I’d had to write loads of lists to help me remember where I was in all the different processes. I was happy to be keeper of the lists, but equally happy to let Matt do all the talking and arranging, which he seemed quite happy with too. Matt disconnected from Ed, and turned to me with a smile.

Matt

‘He’s a good bloke. He’s giving us a discount, as if we worked at Raiders. He’s gona sort the contract, we need tuh get a survey, he’s told me a bloke he knows who’ll give us Raiders discount. Never thought I’d be glad my brother’s a bloody rugby star, but I’ll take ih if ih’s on offer.’

‘That’s amazing. Do I need to do anything?’

‘Noh, it’s under control, Lau.’

Then I realised I’d been taking over, not asking her about it all, and maybe she was feeling a bit left out.

‘Oh, do you want to?’

‘No, I’m quite happy if you’re happy doing all the sorting, you’re better at that than I am, but I was just thinking, when I bought my house, I am pretty good at lists. We’ll need lots of lists, I think – people to call, things to do, bits of Matt’s stuff I want to throw away without him noticing – oh, did I say that out loud?’

She grinned mischievously at me.

‘Ha ha. We’re gona have room for all my stuff, we can get the loft converted into a Tottenham shrine, wih a special corner jus for my life-size cardboard cut-out of Glenn Hoddle.’

‘Who?’

Lau, you always were so bloody hopelessly clueless about the important things in life. I tried so hard to teach you the ways of Tottenham, but you always resisted. It has been my one sadness.

‘Oh, Lau, you have soh much still to learn about me.’

Laura

‘Maybe, but you’re not having a Tottenham shrine, with or without a cardboard cut-out of Gary Waddle.’

It’s possible I may have got the name wrong on purpose.

Matt

Part of me thought she might have got the name wrong on purpose.

‘Glenn Hoddle.’

‘Or him.’

‘You jus smashed my dreams, Lau. All my life tha’s all I’ve ever wanted, all I’ve ever asked for, my life would beh complete. Do you care? Do you fu – er – heck.’

My hastily redirected swear earned me a ‘Well done.’

‘OK, Lau, yuh crushed my dreams, at least let me give you a good Scottying before breakfast.’

Laura

I pulled a face. Not that I wasn’t as up for a good Scottying as the good Scottyer was, but first things first.

‘After breakfast? I’m starving. Need to keep up my blood sugar.’

‘Deal. What do you fancy? Pancakes? Cereal? My world famous scrambled eggs?’

‘Ooh, pancakes. And have we got any cheese and onion crisps?’

Matt

I rolled my eyes; crisps really weren’t acceptable as a breakfast accompaniment, but I could just about let her get away with it. I went to the cupboard and threw her a packet.

‘I don’t think they’re babies in there, I think they’re potatoes. All tha bloody kicking is jus wind. I’ve been talking to your farts all this time.’

‘Dammit, you found me out, this whole thing has just been a cover up for crisp-related weight gain.’

‘Thought as much. So you’re saying no tuh the Tottenham shrine so yuh can store seven hundred boxes of Walkers up there?’

‘Got me again. Where are these pancakes? I thought you’d be a bit keener, bearing in mind your reward after they’re eaten.’

Laura

The next few days were a whirl of phone calls, signing things, paying people to do things, negotiating about things, visits to the house to measure things, people visiting the flat to measure things. It was going so fast, my lists were hard put to keep up with it, but I diligently ticked things off and added things as necessary, although Matt hardly seemed to glance at them.

Before the end of the week, most things had been sorted from a legal and financial point of view, and it was only down to Jon and Annie to find somewhere themselves, and our buyers to finalise a mortgage. Our buyers were currently renting, and once they’d sorted their own finances they were good to go. As house purchases went, it was unbelievably simple and outrageously fast, and I just about kept on top of putting things on the right list – ‘to do’, ‘to call’, or ‘to think about’.

Things went quiet for a few weeks, while we were waiting for Jon and Annie to find their own dream home. Even that went without a hitch, and they found an empty property, sorted their finances and it was all systems go.

Matt

And so there, rather incredibly, we had it. Wife – married. Children – on the way. Flat – sold. House – bought. I should really stop there, because that was kind of the end of the beginning, where everything had fallen into place and all that remained was for Lau and me to live out our lives in the place that had been created for us (there I go again with the creating and the fate shit).

To be honest, I am starting to find this all a bit much now, going over everything in such detail. It’s been hard to recall all of it – Lau, I hope you forgive me if I remember things differently from you. But I so wanted to record all of those heady, mad first days, weeks, months.

As it turns out, though, I can’t stop. There’s too much still to tell, too many happenings. Some of them might not seem much to you, to anyone, but to me they were my defining moments. Some are big, some are little in the grand scheme (but whose grand scheme?) of things. I wish I had time to tell it all, go over the finer points, but I don’t think I will, so from now on I’m just going to recount those things that were important to me. Suffice it to say, Lau, through it all, I have loved you and have held your hand wherever we were.

98. I’ve got news for you

In which word gets around.

Matt

My phone pinged with a text, at the same time as Lau’s. They were both from Beth, the same question.

‘Any news from the scan? Waiting …’

‘She can wait. We’ll surprise her, jus go roun unannounced. Oh, unless … do you want tuh jus be somewhere quiet, take it all in, have a think?’

Lau

I smiled up at Matt. I loved that he was thinking about what I wanted, but I was as excited as he was, although maybe a little less eager to score points over the rest of the family. Oh who was I kidding, surprising Beth was major, and it didn’t happen very often, it was as good a reason as any.

‘No. I want to tell people, I think saying it, showing them the pictures, helps make it more real, stops the freaking. Come on, back in the car, Beth first, then our mums. Then Amy. I’m going to text the girls at work.’

Matt

‘I wana text Dec, I’m so gona love this, I beat him hands down. Twins, hah! Oh, but then he might text Beth, spoil it. Oh bollocks, though, if we wait until after we’ve seen Beth, she’ll text him and spoil it.’

Tying myself up in knots about who to text and what to say was way more fun than tangling myself in fight or flight running under a bus on the way to Brazil.

‘Ask him not to say anything?’

‘Huh, yeah right, tha’s asking for it, he won’t be able to resist.’

‘Say I’ve asked.’

‘Ooh, you’re an evil cow. Tha migh just work. On it.’

Dec may possibly do the opposite of what I asked, just for the hell of it, but he didn’t know Lau well enough yet for that. I sent a text.

‘Just had scan. Due Julyish. Oh, and it’s a they. Twins. Lau says pls don’t tell Beth until we do.’

‘Sent. Right, leh’s get round to Beth before Dec crumbles.’

Laura

We stood on the doorstep, arms round each other, giggling, the whole situation suddenly seeming very funny. Beth’s car on the drive told us she was in, and as an added bonus, Lis’s car was outside on the road. The door opened, revealing Iz and moments later, Beth.

‘Iz, sweetheart, what have I told you about not opening – oh! Matty, Laura, hello! Come in, how was Paris? Have you just had the scan? How are you both? Lis is here, come and tell us everything.’

Iz held her arms up to Matt, who scooped her up and planted a big kiss on her cheek. She solemnly wiped her face with the back of her hand.

‘Hey beautiful. Not so keen on the sloppy kisses?’

Iz shook her head.

‘Sorry, blondie. Come on, leh’s go an sit down. We’ve got some news for your mum.’

Beth turned and looked at us, talking as we walked into the living room and sat down.

‘Due date?’

Matt

I jumped in as I saw Lau open her mouth to reply; I knew how long I wanted to string Beth along, and Lau was shit at playing games of any sort. She was likely to blurt it within seconds.

‘End of Julyish.’

‘Oh, that’s not very exact.’

‘No, well, there were some complicating factors, eh Lau.’

Lau nodded, keeping schtum, just for me.

‘Well are you going to tell me, or shall we play twenty questions?’

Yeah, at least twenty, if at all possible.

‘Ha ha, Beth, I love ih when I irritate yuh. Guess if you wan.’

‘Can I have a go?’

Lis was always up for joining in the fun, although she wasn’t as entertaining, as she didn’t get annoyed with me.

‘Yeh, Lis, write your guess on a piece of paper an if you’re correct yuh get a prize. Basty provides it, a full stinky nappy, jus for you.’

‘Gee thanks, really makes it worth my while. I can get one of those free any time I like without any effort at all.’

Beth was losing patience.

‘Laura, you’re being very quiet, is everything alright, sweetheart?’

Beth had gone in for the kill. She knew as well as I did that Lau couldn’t avoid a direct question.

Laura

I nodded. ‘Matt wanted to have his fun. I’ll give you a clue.’

Matt

No Lau, don’t do it.

Laura

‘There –’

‘Oh! Twins?’

Matt

Unbelievable.

‘Holy shit, Beth, how the fuck do you do it?’

‘Matty! Honestly. You really are going to have to tone down your language. If you won’t do it for us, at least do it for your own.’

‘Sorry, Beth, buh Lau didn’t even say anything. I know she’s usually bloody useless at giving cryptic clues –’

‘Thanks.’

‘– but she didn’t have a chance to give anything away.’

‘She said ‘they’re’. As in they are, as in more than one.’

‘I said ‘there’ as in, er, ‘there might be …’, as in yes, you’re right, it’s twins.’

Lau caved, as I knew she would, and Beth looked triumphantly at me while Lis squealed, making Bastien jump and starting him off wailing. Iz ran in to see what the noise was about.

‘Basty crying.’

‘I know, sweetheart, he’s alright, he’ll go back to sleep in a minute.’

‘Or maybe not. Iz, it’s time for Basty’s lunch, come and help me feed him, yeah?’

Iz nodded, and followed Lis to the kitchen.

Beth looked at Lau, melting.

‘Two at once, sweetheart. Wow.’

‘I know. Talk about life-changing.’

‘You two don’t know the meaning of the words ‘taking it slowly’ do you?’

‘Ha ha, noh, we’re full-on hundred miles an hour people. Matt and Lau, don’t even know where the brake pedal is. Next item on the madness agenda, finding a fucking house big enough for a family of four.’

Beth frowned at the ‘fucking’, but as there were no small children within earshot, let it pass.

‘God, Matty, a family of four. You’ve caught up with me and James in one leap.’

And that was it in a nutshell. Not that it was a competition, because as I’m sure you will be aware, I am not competitive in the slightest. But, oh, to have achieved everything I wanted, had yearned for, in a way, over the last year, in the space of less than a fortnight, and that I could now consider myself equal to Jay in the family department, well, it meant a lot. And it was typical of Beth to know just how important it was, without me ever having said anything to her.

‘Have you told James yet?’

‘No, he’s at work, isn’t he? I texted Dec, but I guess he’s still training too.’

‘James will be back in a while, it was just a morning session today. How about Amy?’

‘Thought we’d pop roun an see them in a bit, after the mums, buh I think Lau texted her in the car?’

Lau nodded. ‘She hasn’t replied yet, though. I expect she’s got enough on her mind at the moment.’

‘Yes, you could be right. You heard about the panic over the weekend?’

‘Yeah, Dec said Braxton-Hicks or something.’

Beth smiled, and looked at me soppily.

‘Oh Matty, look at you, knowing all the technical terms like an old pro. I’m so pleased for you, sweetheart.’

She sat back and looked at us both.

‘You know, I’m so lucky. After Iz, that was it, no more for me,’

I was aware of some kind of gynaecological shit going down after Iz was born, but not the details. I guess Beth was happy with her family but might have liked more.

‘But the babies just keep coming, first Charlie, then Basty, now three more. Sometimes this family is a lot to cope with, eh Matty, but there’s never a dull moment, and the children keep us young. Or very, very old, one or the other.’

‘Yeah. You’re gona be Aunty Beth now.’

She already was, in a way, to Charlie, although what kind of random pseudo relation you’d actually call her – granny? If I was feeling particularly mean, then yeah. But this was bona fide Aunty territory, and she swelled up a bit with pride.

‘Oh Matty, I am, aren’t I. Well, I know I already am with my sister’s children, but I’ll be a very proud aunty of these two. A special privilege.’

Iz chose that moment to run back into the room breathlessly announcing,

‘Basty did a big sick. It in Lis’s hair, Mummy.’

‘Oh God. Coming, Lis.’

Beth got up and hurried to the kitchen, while Iz stood next to me, twirling a golden curl round a finger, looking at me from underneath her eyelashes. I put an arm round her and pulled her close.

‘Hey blondie. Know what? Me and Lau jus went all the way tuh France an we brought you something. It’s in Lau’s bag.’

Laura

I belatedly remembered the doll I had tucked in a pocket of my handbag. Iz looked at me shyly. She wasn’t usually shy, and had no qualms about asking for something she wanted; today she was playing the coy-but-cute card.

‘Yeah Iz, it’s in here somewhere. Come and help me find it.’

I pulled my bag onto my lap and Iz skipped over to begin digging into the different pockets. It was a game we played a lot, with my huge bag with it’s many flaps and zips. I knew exactly where the present was, and kept Iz away from it until the last minute. When her hand found the packet, she looked up at me, and I nodded.

‘You found it, flower, well done. Have a look inside.’

Iz unwrapped the bag and took out the doll, which was a small cloth man wearing a beret and striped Breton shirt, with a string of onions round his neck. He was a model cliché. Iz seemed less than impressed; she might have preferred pink and fairy wings, or maybe the bride and groom figures from the wedding cake that I’d promised her but forgotten to bring with me.

Matt

‘Do yuh like him, Iz? He’s Pierre.’

Iz nodded, not particularly convincingly, picked the doll up and sped out of the room while we laughed.

‘Well that could have gone down better.’

‘Ungrateful brat. See if weh bring her anything back next time we’re on holiday.’

We heard a key in the door, and a moment later, Jay walked in.

‘Hey Matty, thought I saw your car outside. Hey Laura –’

He bent down to kiss her cheek.

‘– how was Paris?’

‘Wonderful. Thanks Jay, it really was fantastic. We’ll bore you with the pictures later.’

‘Look forward to it. Hotel OK?’

Jay was fishing for thanks, and although I wasn’t disinclined to thank him, he wasn’t going to be allowed to bask.

‘Hotel was bloody awesome. View of the Eiffel Tower from the balcony, hundreds of Euros of room service racked up tuh your credit card, we hardly left the room.’

Jay went a bit pale.

‘Seriously? You didn’t go out at all?’

I knew the stingy git in him would baulk a bit at that.

‘Noh need, we had everything on tap, all our meals sent up, breakfast, drinks from the mini-bar, views when weh wanted. We were on our honeymoon, kind of expected ihnt it? Oh, did jus go out long enough tuh get you this – Lau?’

Lau rummaged in her bag and found a small, tacky, plastic Eiffel Tower. She handed it over with a grin. Well, he did ask for it, literally.

‘Wow, thanks mate, glad you brought back such a great present, sorry to make you go to all the trouble of actually going out into, oh I don’t know, France, for some actual bloody holidaying in romantic bloody Paris. Jesus, if I’d known you were going to stay in the whole time, I’d have got you a DVD of the bloody Eiffel Tower and booked you into the Travelodge down the road.’

Iz ran in with her newly bestowed doll in her hand.

‘Look Daddy.’

Jay crouched down to his daughter; it always surprised me, how focussed Jay could be on his children, how unselfconscious he was talking with Iz about My Little Pony and princesses.

‘Oh, wow, Iz, who’s this?’

‘Unca Matty an Lau bringed him. He’s spare.’

‘Spare?’

Jay looked confused, not that this was an uncommon occurrence.

‘Unca Matty say spare.’

Iz looked at me to back her up.

‘Oh, no Iz, he’s Pierre. It’s a French name.’

‘Peeyair.’

‘That’s right, blondie.’

Iz seemed a bit more enthusiastic about the doll now she had someone to show it off to, and possibly now she didn’t think he was some kind of leftover plaything.

‘Really? So, they must have gone out to get this as well – on the same trip to the same gift shop, I bet.’

Jay was being so outraged at us apparently having taken advantage of his generous gift that I was thoroughly enjoying myself, while Beth and Lis came back in, Lis with wet hair and a change of shirt.

‘Oh, hi Jay. Sorry, Basty just threw up all over me. Don’t you just love baby vomit, especially in your hair. Better get home. You two, I expect to hear all about Paris very soon – well, maybe not all, just the non X-rated highlights, yeah?’

‘Huh, don’t hold your breath, Lis, they stayed in their room and looked at the Eiffel Tower out of the window.’

‘No! Really, guys? Oh, that’s so romantic.’

Jay rolled his eyes, but Beth narrowed her gaze and looked sharply at me. I’d talked to her last night, and she knew it wasn’t true.

‘He’s winding you up, James. I’d have thought you’d be able to tell by now.’

‘Ha ha, gotcha. I love ih when you fall for it. Especially when ih’s because you’re being a tight-arse.’

‘Jesus, Matty, you bastard. Just wait –’

‘James, honestly.’

And I loved it when I got him in the shit with Beth, too.

‘Sorry, Beth. Blame Matty.’

‘Hey, I’m being good.’

Well, for the time-being, anyway.

Lis laughed at the usual Scott brothers shenanigans.

‘OK, people, I’m off before the family feuding starts in earnest. Bye Beth, thanks for cleaning me up. Bye Jay. Bye you two, congratulations on your news.’

As Lis left, I saw Jay looking confused. It didn’t take much in the usual run of things, but now he was trying to work out what the news was, as we had already done the baby and wedding bit. He turned to me as Beth left the room to see Lis to the front door.

‘News?’

‘Yeh.’

Great, more stringing it out.

‘About?’

‘Oh, baby stuff.’

Jay was so easy, it was hardly sport.

‘Oh, you had your scan, Laura.’

He turned to her, knowing he was more likely to get a sensible answer.

‘How did it go? Got a date?’

‘Yeah, end of July, give or take.’

‘So what was Lis talking about, congratulations? It’s not like you’re having another baby, is it.’

Oh he was handing it to me on a plate. I could hardly contain myself.

‘Well … kind of.’

‘What?’

I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

‘How does twins sound?’

‘What? Really? Fu … er … flipping heck.’

I nodded.

‘Jesus, Matty. You really know how to stack it up, don’t you, you pair. I can’t keep up. How are you, Laura?’

‘I’m fine, we’re still getting our heads round it.’

Beth came back in, smiling.

‘It’s lovely news, isn’t it. Have you got any pictures from the scan?’

‘Yeh, an a DVD too. Wana see?’

‘Oh yes, sweetheart. Iz, do you want to see Matty and Laura’s new babies on the TV?’

Iz looked at us assessingly.

‘Unca Matty hasn’t got a baby.’

‘No, not yet, sweetheart, the babies are in Laura’s tummy, like Dec and Amy’s baby. We won’t meet them until the summer, but a special camera has looked in Laura’s tummy. Oh, thanks, Laura. James, pop this in, would you?’

We watched the DVD, the first time we’d seen it, and had absolutely no objections when Beth wanted to play it over and over again. I was so proud of my boys (yeah, still on that track; no son of mine was going to be a girl) I just wanted to drink in every wriggle and squiggle.

Dec

‘Rose, it’s Declan. How soon can you get here? The baby’s on its way.’

:Oh, love, I’ll be there as soon as I can, about ten minutes? I’ve got my bag all packed. Everything tidy?

‘Yeah, all seems according to plan. Hurry, though. And no crying before you get here.’

:Alright love, I’ll control myself. See you soon.

Laura

I was just showing Beth the still photos, when Jay’s phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the screen.

‘Dec. Hey mate … oh bloody hell, what really this time? … oh, OK … well you can if you want, but they’re here, I can pass the message on … yeah, did you know? … oh, fair enough. I guess Rose is with Charlie? … Good luck, then, mate, yeah, see you soon. Let us know.’

He looked up.

‘Baby’s on its way. For definite this time. He was going to text you, Matty, but didn’t seem much point as you’re here. Rose is on her way over there, you can stand down red alert. He’ll let us know, hopefully not in the middle of the night, but he’s pretty fond of announcements in the early hours. Didn’t he text you when they found out?’

Matt shrugged. ‘Yeah, but I guess we’ve both done our fair share of waking each other up over the years. Important stuff, doesn’t really matter what time ih is.’

‘Huh, yeah, I’ll remind you of that next time I call you on a Saturday morning about match tickets.’

Matt grinned, nothing, not even Jay’s grumps, likely to get him down for now.

‘OK, Lau, weh should go an see the mums before word spreads. Don’t tell them, Beth, I know you love a good goss, but give us a chance tuh get there an back home before you call, righ?’

‘Alright, Matty, if you insist. Oh, come here, both of you, before you go, such lovely news.’

Matt

Jay and Iz got bored of the Squiggly Line repeat show after a while, and wandered off in search of their separate entertainments, but not before Jay got a call from Dec to say Amy was in labour, and I was not required as an emergency Charlie-sitter. Not that I’d ever thought I would be, with Rose waiting in the wings; it was just a little disappointing that they were overshadowing our baby news by actually having an actual baby on the same actual day, but I suppose they’d had the forethought to get in first, and I couldn’t begrudge them.

Finally Beth had seen the DVD enough times, and we thought we’d better go and spill the beans to Mum and April before Beth’s jungle telegraph did it for us.

Beth still wanted more, and while we were trying to make our escape, instructed us to ‘Come round tomorrow, dinner? Bring all your photos.’

‘We’ll text yuh. Bye.’

I pulled Lau down the drive, before doorstep chatting could commence, and we both sat in the car.

‘Shit, thought weh were never gona get away. Love Beth, but she’s bloody unstoppable sometimes. Right, your mum or mine? Ha ha, we must beh old, that should be your place or mine.’

‘Yeah, we’re an old married couple now, no more chat up lines or flirting.’

‘Fuck no, we’re far too sensible fuh that. What’s a nice girl like you doin in a dive like this?’

‘Ooh, looking for a man like you.’

‘Bloody hell, even our lines are ancient. There’s no hope, Lau.’

‘Apparently not. It was inevitable. Now you’re a dad, your hair’s going to fall out and you’ll have a beer gut by the end of the month. And I’ll start wearing sensible shoes and trying to hide my bingo wings with long sleeves.’

‘Ha ha. You’ll still be the sexiest mum at the school gate. Righ, let’s go an see some real mums, remind us how young we actually are. Mine first?’

‘OK.’

Laura

We drove the short distance to Carol’s house, texting her first to let her know we were on our way. She was at the door as we pulled up.

Carol rarely showed a lot of emotion; she often sat and quietly watched everything going on, adding the odd comment, seemingly enjoying being part of it all without needing to join in the competition for attention.

Matt and Carol had a very close relationship, although you’d never know it if you saw them together in a large group. When it was just the three of us, and I expect when it was just the two of them, Matt chatted away with her about her friends and neighbours, he did odd jobs for her, cooked meals for her and took good care of her. When there were more people about, he retreated behind his banter, albeit still watching out for her from the other side of his messing about.

Carol was more chatty when there were less people, and I sometimes smiled to myself to see them talking together like a couple of old folk about the terrible prices in the Co-op or the graffiti in the bus shelter.

And now we were walking up to her front door. Matt reached her and folded her up in a hug.

Matt

‘Heh Mum.’

‘Hello, dear. Hello Laura, dear.’

She hugged us both.

‘How are you? Did you have a nice time in Paris?’

‘Yeh, awesome. Got some pictures on the iPad if you wana see.’

‘Oh lovely, come through, I’ve got the kettle on.’

Well of course she had. She’d even had a few minutes’ notice, so there was nothing unusual about that.

We followed Mum into the kitchen, where the warning text had also given her time to put out cups and biscuits. I pinched a chocolate digestive off the plate, earning a bat on the arm.

‘You should offer one to Laura before feeding your face.’

Mum loved Lau. She always took her side over mine. Story of my life.

‘Lau’s more than capable of looking out fuh herself.’

‘Yes, dear, I know, but she’s too polite to grab a biscuit before it’s offered.’

‘Ha ha, polite? Yuh never tried to stop her getting her hands on a double choc chip. She’ll have your eye out.’

‘When you’ve both finished discussing me like I’m invisible, I think I’d like to sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit, thank you very much.’

‘See Mum? Bossy cow.’

‘Matthew, that’s no way to talk about your new bride.’

I treated that with the contempt it deserved. Wasn’t I the new groom? Didn’t I get some special consideration too? I picked up the tray and carried it into the small living room, where Mum was obviously eagerly anticipating some sort of holiday slide show.

‘So, where’s this iPad then, Matthew?’

‘Oh, in the car. Er, weh, er, got some other news first. Lau had her scan this morning.’

‘Oh! I completely forgot.’

Mum looked worried. I suppose it was easy to forget that a) I knew what the news was, so wasn’t worried, b) she was my mum, and so genetically predisposed to worry, and c) given recent times, it could have been anything we were about to land on her – joining a commune at the end of the month and moving to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean? Not as unlikely as it would have seemed, say, a year ago.

‘Is everything alright?’

I put my hand over hers.

‘Yeh, it’s all good.’

Mum’s face cleared. She knew I never bullshitted her like I bullshitted everyone else.

‘Have you got a date?’

‘Yeah, late July.’

Oh, just because I didn’t bullshit her doesn’t mean I didn’t play the odd mind game. I like to think she enjoyed it as much as me.

‘That’s not a date, dear, that’s a month. I thought they were usually quite precise these days.’

‘Yeah, well, it’s a bit hit an miss on account of Lau not knowing her dates, an also on account of it being twins.’

I sat back, job done, and watched Mum assimilate it. Her eyes widened.

‘Twins! Oh, Matthew. Laura, that’s wonderful, dear. Oh, but two babies, you’re going to have to get moving, aren’t you. You’ll never all fit in that flat of yours.’

Mum always managed to be positive but realistic about everything.

‘Noh, we thought we’d move in here.’

The look on her face was priceless, as, for once, she thought I was serious, for just a moment. She looked delighted at the thought of us living with her, which was humbling, then worried about where we’d all fit, and then really bloody worried about how she was going to say no. Hilarious.

‘He’s joking, Carol. We’ve got plenty of time to find somewhere. Don’t worry, you’ll be granny for visits and sleepovers only.’

‘Sorry, Mum, couldn’t resist.’

She tried to disguise the relief, but didn’t quite manage it.

‘Well, alright then, dear. You know I’d find room for you if you needed it.’

Yeah, it would have to be in the cupboard under the stairs, but I appreciated the sentiment.

‘I know, Mum. We’d never do that tuh you, we’d invade Jay and Beth, serve them righ for interfering all these years.’

‘Matthew, you know your brother only wants the best for you.’

‘I know. And you know I only want tuh annoy him in return.’

It was a conversation we had a lot. Mum thought I should try to curtail my gleeful Jay-winding-up sessions on account of ‘all he did for you’, but I maintained that Jay and I were happy as we were. She tutted and rolled her eyes, then sat back and looked at us.

‘Twins. Well, well. So you’ve caught up with Jameson in one go. No one can say you’re not fast workers, can they?’

‘Noh, they can’t. Caught up wih Dec and Amy too – oh, did yuh know Amy’s gone into labour? Dec called Jay while we were there.’

‘Yes, I did, Rose called me a while ago, she’s there with Charlie. She’s very excited.’

‘I bet. Charlie all tuh herself, an another one in the pipeline. All her grannying dreams come true.’

‘So am I going to see these pictures of Paris? I’ve got some of the wedding on my camera. Have you seen any yet?’

‘Yeh, some people have texted some an emailed, but we’d love tuh see yours too. I’ll jus go an fetch the iPad.’

Laura

As Matt jogged out to the car, Carol turned to me.

‘You’re quiet, Laura. Twins can be daunting.’

‘Yeah, I feel proper daunted. We’ve both had a bit of a morning, trying to get our heads round it. Not much we can do about it though, and it is great.’

This seemed like the best way to deal with it: just keep saying it, to myself and other people, and eventually it would stop being so new and freaky, and I would stop thinking ‘oh my God I’m having a baby’, quickly replaced by ‘oh my God not just one baby but two’, and would start feeling like a person who was just, you know, going to have a couple of babies in a few months, whatever, no big deal. It was going to take a while to get there, though.

‘Matthew seems happy about it, on the surface.’

‘Yeah, he’s trying.’

Carol knew Matt well, he hid less from her than anyone else. She knew what I meant – that Matt was happy, but also trying not to let anyone see how the suddenness of it was all affecting him.

‘Sometimes getting what you want is the scariest thing that can happen to you, dear. He’ll be alright.’

I smiled at her, and nodded, as Matt came back in with the iPad and we showed Carol our honeymoon. Well, all the bits that you were ever going to show your mum and mother-in-law.

Matt

Then we showed her the scan, and she cried. Then Lau cried. I maintain that I didn’t, but I can feel you raising your eyebrow at that one, Lau, so I will remain silent on the matter.

Then Mum picked up a brown paper parcel and handed it to me. I looked at her quizzically.

‘Wha’s this?’

‘It’s what you asked for, dear.’

Intrigued, I pulled the paper off, and staring up at me, out of an antique silver frame, was my wife, smiling widely, blue-green eyes sparkling. Mum had painted her picture while we were away.

‘Holy shit Mum, that’s awesome.’

I showed it to Lau, whose eyes went wide as her jaw dropped slightly.

‘Carol, did you do this?’

Mum nodded.

‘When? God, it’s like me, but … better. You’ve made me look … beautiful.’

‘Noh, Lau. She’s made yuh look like yuh always look. Which is beauhiful.’

‘I’m glad you both like it. I was a little worried. I don’t do much painting these days, I’m a little out of practice.’

‘Seriously? You need to keep it up, flower.’

‘Well thank you, dear.’

‘I said there was no rush, Mum.’

‘I know, dear, but I was looking at all the photographs from your wedding, and I was just inspired by them. You looked so lovely, Laura dear, I hope I’ve captured some of it.’

‘I can’t believe it, Carol. Thank you so much.’

‘Thahks, Mum.’

Then it was April’s turn, and I was a bit apprehensive about this one, because I’d said a lot of ‘fuck’, and shown a lot of my dick to a lot of people, in her presence, since I was last in her house, and I wondered whether maybe she’d rethought my position at number one in the Top Ten Most Suitable Men For Lau chart. She was waiting at the door as we walked up the path, and she was smiling. That was promising.

Laura

Again, we texted Mum to let her know we were coming, and to give her a chance to tidy up her already spotless house. She was looking out of the window as we pulled up. As we walked up the path, she opened the door, and opened her arms wide to hug us both on the doorstep.

‘Welcome back, both of you. Come in and tell me all about France.’

‘Well, April, weh can’t tell you all about France, having only seen a tiny bit of one city, but I’ve brought my iPad, and weh can bore you wih five hundred an twenty three different shots of the Eiffel Tower if you like.’

Matt

No point acting like I was going to be in the dog house. Might as well play it as normal, which meant sarky comments and the odd pleasantry.

‘Oh good. Maybe we don’t have to see all five hundred and twenty three.’

I put on a disappointed face.

‘Oh, buh I don’t know which ones I could possibly leave out, they’re all masterpieces.’

‘You daft boy.’

She almost sounded … fond. If I’d realised what a few bad words and indiscreet showings of my genitalia would achieve, I would have said ‘here you go, April, feast your eyes on my fucking todger’ the first time I saw her.

Laura

I loved it. My mum and my husband were teasing each other.

‘You daft boy. Come and sit down. Cup of tea? LauraLou?’

‘Yeah, thanks Mum.’

‘Not fuh me, thanks, April. Watching my weight. Lau should beh too, she’s put on a shocking amount the las couple of months.’

This was Matt’s way of reminding Mum that she should be asking about this morning’s appointment.

‘Oh, Laura, your scan! What did they say? Could they tell if it’s a boy or a girl?’

Mum couldn’t bring herself to say ‘sex’ even in the context of gender.

‘No, they couldn’t tell, it’s a bit early, and they were lying on top of each other, so all the important bits were hidden.’

Matt

I silently applauded Lau’s stringing along ability. Much as I’d been unable to stop her blurting to Beth, it seemed she had learned in the last couple of hours, and we both sat back and watched as the information filtered in and was processed through. April was silent for a few moments, frowning slightly, then her eyes widened, and she looked at Lau, then me. We were both smiling widely, and Lau nodded.

Laura

‘Oh Laura. Twins?’

I nodded again.

‘Oh, my love, that’s wonderful. Identical or – what’s the other one – fraternal?’

‘We don’t know yet. I’ve got another scan in a few weeks, they should be able to tell the sex and the identicalness or not then.’

‘How have you been?’

‘Oh, much the same. A bit tired, feeling a bit sick first thing in the morning, nothing too bad. Maybe some mood swings, Matt’d be the one to ask about that, I guess.’

Matt

Doing as she was told, April looked over at me, eyebrows raised. Well there was no way I was going to be telling tales on Lau, not that there were many to tell.

‘I think I’m the one wih the mood swings, Lau.’

‘Well, we’ve both been a bit up and down, especially today, it’s a lot to take in, but it’s exciting. We’ll need to move out of the flat before too long. I probably won’t be able to get up the stairs by the time they come, and – oh – things just keep occurring to me. Manhandling a double buggy up all those steps …’

Lau looked at me in dismay. I held on tightly to her hand. There would be lots of things we were going to suddenly think of, and we would just have to deal with them as they arose. Ha, look at me all sensible. When it was my turn to wake up in the middle of the night going ‘shit, isn’t there a law about car seats’, we’d see who was calm and collected.

‘We’ll sort ih, Lau. We’ve got six months. Tha’s bloody ages. Sorry, April, slipped out.’

I wasn’t sorry, I was testing out how much I could get away with, now she’d been subjected to the full Matt Scott experience.

‘Matt, I became well aware at your wedding how much you like a good swear, and how much you have been toning it down for my sake. Thank you, my love, I appreciate it, but please don’t apologise if the odd one slips out now and then.’

I think I sat with my mouth open for a second or two. Not only had I not been sent to hell for saying ‘bloody’, but she’d called me ‘my love’, which she only ever called Lau. Whoa, full on weird moment. Lau noticed, and pressed back as I squeezed her hand.

‘Hey April, have yuh got any photos of the wedding? Mum jus showed us hers on her camera, an we’ve had some in texts an emails, I thought I could collect them all, do something with them.’

An idea was forming, from the amount of photos people had sent us. We hadn’t had an official photographer, but pictures from cameras and phones had been dribbling to me via text and email since we got back, and I wanted to do something permanent with them, as well as the photos we’d already got. Kind of ‘Matt and Lau: The Early Days’. It sometimes came as a surprise to remember that it was early days for us, it felt like we’d been together forever.

‘Oh, yes, I took a few. I’ll go and get the camera.’

While April was rummaging upstairs, Lau turned to me.

‘You got a ‘my love’!’

‘I know! I nearly fell off my bloody seat. An I can say ‘bloody’ an not apologise. Wonder if I’ll get away wih a ‘fuck’?’

‘I wouldn’t push it. Strict Baptist forgiveness only goes so far. You’ve done something right, though.’

‘Making someone a granny obviously gohs a long way towards redemption.’

‘Ha ha. Let’s hope your eternal soul is safe, then.’

‘Bound tuh be. Twins equals double granny, tha’s enough for both of us.’

We watched the DVD with April, had more tea and cake, but even though I hinted like mad, April didn’t show me a painting she’d done of me while we were away, so that meant we could finally go home and chill before work tomorrow.

Laura

We spent a while with Mum, looking at various pictures of the wedding, Paris, watching the DVD of the scan, looking at the stills, basking in Mum’s approval. Considering the last time we were here she practically threw us out, I was relieved and surprised at the turnaround. Mum was very firm in her beliefs, and it meant a lot that she now seemed so accepting of Matt and me. Us being married had a lot to do with it, but we hadn’t done it for her, so whatever the reason, it was all good.

Matt

Cooking was so not on the cards for either of us, knackered and lazy as we were feeling, and I also wanted to ignore the food Beth had filled the cupboards with in a contrary fit of independence. So we ordered pizza. While we were waiting, I wandered to the fridge and got a beer out without thinking. Then I remembered my promise to Lau, thought about it, and put it back. She noticed.

‘Open it, flower.’

‘Noh, I don’t need ih.’

‘We don’t need pizza, but we’re having it. You’re not planning on getting wasted, are you?’

‘Noh.’

‘Have it, then, don’t make me feel bad.’

I sat next to her, taking her hand in mine. I wanted her to know how serious I was about this. It wasn’t going to make any difference to anything, but it was a promise and it was something I wanted to do for Lau. She was giving up a lot to have our baby, not just alcohol, but part of her body, comfort, rational hormones, all that shit, and I just wanted to do this to show her I was with her.

‘Lau, I don’t wana make yuh feel bad, you shouldn’t, this is something I decided, not something yuh made me do. Look, when yuh did tha for me, the ‘only do wha we can both do’ thing, it was fucking amazing, ih meant so much. An yuh stuck to it. I don’t need a beer righ now, maybe sometimes I will, hard day at the office or some such bollocks, an I’m not gona beat myself up about it, but I’m happy wih orange juice tonight. So we can do it, or not do it, together. Something else weh can do together.’

‘OK, then, flower, it sounds like an amazingly good deal. Who knows when I might need you to be sober in the next few months? ‘

It didn’t feel that amazing, to be honest, but if Lau said it, it must be right. And it earned me a big pash that continued until the pizza arrived, so everyone was a winner.

Dec called me in the middle of the night, to tell me that the new baby had arrived. I don’t know why I woke up when my phone buzzed; somehow I seemed to know when it was Dec. I nearly always stirred when the notes of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ floated out of my phone, and although it was on silent, I woke to the buzzing, unsurprised to pick up and see ‘Dec Calling’ and a photo of him wearing a pair of Australia underpants on his head. It was something he often did at parties; I suppose everyone needs a talent.

‘Heh.’

‘Hey mate. Sorry to wake you up.’

He so was not sorry, I could hear the enormous grin in his voice.

‘S’fine.’

I knew he’d be calling to tell me about the baby, but I was so full of sleep that the next couple of rounds of my side of the conversation were going to be monosyllabic.

‘We’ve got a son.’

‘Cool.’

I couldn’t help a yawn escaping.

‘Yeah, and to save you summoning the energy to fucking ask, he’s bloody enormous, over nine pounds, he’s called Tom. Thomas Jack, actually. He’s screaming his bloody head off, so I’m outside. Ames needed stitches, so she’s not too happy, but he’s awesome, mate, just awesome.’

Dec’s happiness was infectious, and I roused myself a little.

‘Well done, mate.’

‘Can you come in later? Bring Lau? You’ve got to see him, he’s bloody huge.’

But surely not the biggest baby ever born. Nine pounds wasn’t that unheard of, although I did have a twinge of sympathy for the slight-framed Amy.

‘Yeh, course. Can’t wait. Text yuh later, yeh?’

‘Yeah, no worries. Better get back to Ames. See you later, mate.’

‘Dec?’

The sleep was fast disappearing, and I was aware I’d sounded less than enthusiastic. Although I was sure Dec knew me well enough to understand that waking me up at four thirty wasn’t going to find me at my best, I wanted to tell him how pleased I was for him.

‘Yeah?’

‘Congratulations, mate. Whoa, you’ve got a son. Father of two. Holy shit. That’s nearly grown up!’

‘Ha ha, need a couple more before I’m ready to admit to that. Cheers Matt.’

As we disconnected, I thought back to when Dec had called me to tell me about Charlie. It was only a year later, and my life was so different. There was no Jules colluding with my well-woven pretence that I didn’t want a family. I’d been through another bout with the bastard MS. Above all, I had Lau and the babies on the way. Thinking about it all, though, and how I’d felt on that day, when it all crashed around me and Jules smashed the flat up, made me think about her, and what I did to her.

I didn’t think about Jules much these days, not really. It was something I couldn’t change, wouldn’t change even if I could, and so it was best to leave it in the depths. But now, it all flooded out, and I felt truly sad at the way things had ended, what a cock-up I’d made of the whole thing, how much I must have hurt her. Especially that, hurting her. I had no idea if she had been totally fucked up by it all, or whether, in her Jules way, she’d managed to put it behind her and get on with her life.

I felt emotions I’d shoved deep down starting to surface, and tears blurred my vision. I got out of bed and found my way onto the sofa, where I gave in to a bout of self-pity that I hadn’t felt for a long time.

I didn’t want to wake Lau up; hopefully she’d be asleep for a few more hours yet. I sniffed quietly to myself, knowing that eventually I’d stop, not knowing if I was going to be able to talk to Lau about it. I hated keeping shit from her, but I was unsure how she’d feel about me being sad about Jules. Lau was awesome, but this was a fairly recent ex we were talking about, and much as Lau encouraged talking and being up-front, I’d detected a hint of uncertainty whenever Jules’ name was mentioned. So I just curled up on the sofa and sniffed to myself.

96. Home again

In which it’s good to be home.

Laura

The next three days were wonderful. It felt like we’d got our various frustrations and stresses out of our systems, and relaxed into a good mix of sightseeing and staying in.

Our hotel was luxurious, with full spa facilities, and it was no hardship to spend lazy mornings there, but with all of Paris at hand, we made sure we spent time dining out, seeing things like the Louvre, and going to smaller, tucked away places to experience what Matt decided to call ‘le Paris de Scott’ – little cafés and patisseries we would always remember as special to us.

Matt

With limited time to explore, we made a hit list of things we wanted to do, and mixed this with some lounging around in the hotel’s outstanding spa.

We went to the Louvre, bypassed the huge queue for the Mona Lisa and stood for some time in front of Monet’s huge canvasses, whose colours and vibrancy were stunning. We wandered around the smaller streets finding small boutiques and patisseries, drinking the best coffee I’d ever tasted and eating wickedly delicious pastries. A couple of places we went to several times, and our favourite café was also a bistro, where we ate in the evening. Lau wasn’t man enough to try escargots. Ha, I wasn’t stupid enough. I’d tried them before, when we’d been on a huge family holiday, and was in no hurry to repeat the experience.

We could have spent our time rushing here, there and everywhere, trying to see everything and getting frustrated, but we decided that was stupid, and we’d be better off just doing what we felt like. The important thing was we were together; we could have been in Margate, and would have had an equally good time. Which I suppose brings me back to the shit that was at the back of my mind, but I was ignoring that, and so I just enjoyed myself.

Neither of us could quite believe it when Tuesday morning arrived and we were going home. I was even prepared to admit that I’d had an awesome time, and that I would like to thank those responsible for organising it. It must have been a life-changing experience.

Laura

All too soon, it was Tuesday morning and we had to catch our flight home. As the plane touched down in the city airport, and the doors opened, I smelt the air of home, and everything I had to look forward to here came rushing back. I gripped Matt’s hand and smiled up at him.

Matt

‘Wha?’

‘We’re home. Tomorrow, we find out when Philpotts is due, and we can start making plans.’

She seemed delighted to be back, and I suppose I’d missed home too. I was certainly looking forward to getting back to the flat, my cave, my bolthole. I just wanted the circus to stop, now. It had been a furiously hectic week or so, and I’d forgotten that Lau’s scan was booked for tomorrow, so although we’d be home, there was more excitement. It felt like it was never going to end. Finding out about the baby would be awesome, but a little bit of me groaned and put its head under the covers.

‘Oh yeah. Bloody hell, Philpotts is going tuh be a bit more real, isn’t he.’

Laura

We continued to refer to the baby as ‘he’, but although I hadn’t said anything to Matt, or anyone else, I just had a feeling the baby was a girl. I couldn’t have told you why, what it was that made me feel it, I was just certain. Maybe tomorrow we’d know more, although it was likely to be a bit early.

Matt

We got home and sank down on the sofa, both breathing big sighs. I automatically got my phone out of my pocket, ready to text everyone, but then realised what a commotion that would cause. Beth would call, I’d need to talk to Dec and Amy, people would want to see us. So I put the phone back in my pocket. Lau noticed and raised an eyebrow, it being unheard of for me to put my phone away if I didn’t need my hands for something else.

‘Don’t wana tell them we’re home yet, they’ll want us to go round, or come here, see pictures, tell them how great they are fuh thinking of it.’

‘Well, they are pretty great.’

‘Yeah, I know, buh just wana … catch my breath. It’s been mad, soh mad, the last couple of weeks.’

‘I know.’

I knew Lau was tuned in to how I was feeling, she always was. She also seemed to know when to push me to talk and when to leave it alone, and this time she left it. I’m not saying I always agreed with her judgements, just that she was usually, in hindsight, right. Bet you never thought you’d hear me say that, eh Lau?

Laura

I was sensing that undercurrent, the one that hadn’t really left since we argued in Paris, but we’d been too busy having a romantic honeymoon to examine. I really didn’t want to get into a deep and meaningful as soon as we got back, and highly doubted Matt would be up for it either, at least not without a bit of a run-up. So I let it go for now.

Matt

‘Cup of teh?’

I got up and went into the kitchen, filling the kettle and getting the mugs out. I saw a note on the counter.

‘Oh, yes please, Paris can do coffee, but I’m proper gagging for a cup of honest English tea. Oh, we haven’t got any milk though.’

‘Yeah, that’s what I thought. Look.’

I held up the note.

Hello Matty and Laura

Hope you’ve had a wonderfully romantic time in gay Paree. Just to save you having to go out again, I’ve brought a few things over. Milk, bread, just the essentials that might have gone off while you were away.

Call me as soon as you’re back!

Beth xxx

It was really thoughtful, and it pissed me right off.

‘I’m seriously gona get my keys back, ih’s out of order coming in here an –’

‘Doing something nice like make sure we’ve got milk. Yeah, bad form. It looks like she’s put more water in the flowers, and taken some of the dead ones out so they don’t smell, too. What a cow.’

‘Yeah, but you know wha I mean, there was all the business with packing our cases, I mean, the holiday was great, buh not sure ih’s OK for them to jus come in whenever they bluhdy feel like ih, do whatever they want. It’s a privacy thing. Who knows wha they migh have found in my bloody wardrobe.’

It was the principle, rather than the act itself, that was pissing me off. It made me feel like a child, that they a) needed to have a key, and b) thought they could just waltz in and do stuff without question. I could possibly see why it had been necessary when I was in the throes of the bastard MS, on my own, and thinking about ending it all. But I’d been better for months, and I had Lau now.

‘You’re right, it would have been terrible if they’d found that manky pair of gym shorts. Maybe you just need to have a chat with – who did you say had your keys? Jay and Dec? Make some rules.’

‘Yeah, maybe. Or jus get the keys back. Ih’s not like they need them any more, I’m OK now, an you’re here. I haven’t got Jay’s key, gave it back when I moved out.’

‘Dec’s still got one.’

Summers might be a law unto himself, but I had principles.

‘Tha’s up to him, or them, but I always ring the bell. I’d never jus barge in unless they knew I was coming.’

‘Fair enough. Let’s have a word next time we see them.’

Lau was being my grounded voice of reason again. I was trying my hardest to get her to be outraged too, but it wasn’t working.

‘Yeah, it’s your place too, you should have a say in who can come and go.’

I handed her a mug of tea.

‘OK – oh, thanks flower, just what I need. Beth didn’t leave any biscuits, did she?’

I rolled my eyes and went to look in the cupboard.

‘Yeah, chocolate digestives. I had a perfectly good stash of biccies, noh need for that. Here you go.’

I tossed her the packet.

‘Perfect. Now come here and rub my feet.’

‘OK, bossy cow.’

And devious cow, Lau, as if I didn’t know you were trying to take my mind off it, cool me down.

‘Come on, you know you love it.’

‘Yeah, I know. I know wha you’re doing, though, you’re trying tuh distract me from ranting.’

‘Oh, you saw through me.’

She put on an innocent expression, as if we didn’t know the little game we played with each other, where I knew she usually knew what I was thinking, but let her get away with talking me down from whatever it was, I don’t know, work rant, Beth rant, world news rant, general Matt’s-a-git rant. Sometimes I let her get away with it, sometimes I called her on it, but I always let her do it.

‘Yeh, I always know. Works though. Feet please.’

I sat on the sofa and Lau put her feet in my lap, leaning against the back of the seat, sipping her tea. I took her feet and gave them a good, firm rub, making her sigh with pleasure. While I was massaging and zoning out, it popped into my head how they’d done it, how they’d organised the trip to Paris – our cases, passports, everything we’d needed. Beth knew where everything was, because she’d fetched it all for me when I went to Egypt post-Jules. I shook my head at the bare-faced cheek of using my misfortunes against me, nearly got myself riled up again, but found myself too relaxed by rubbing Lau’s feet to do so. I made a mental note to be less predictable about where I stored important items in future, and moved past it to focus on the beautiful woman succumbing to my firm and manly touch.

‘How about head an shoulders?’

I loved massaging Lau, loved feeling the tension slide away from her, loved the little noises she made when I hit a good spot. But she shook her head.

‘Maybe later, sounds great, but I think you’re a bit tense. How about I do your shoulders?’

I nearly denied it, the tension, but there was never much hiding it from Lau, and maybe some unknotting was what I needed. I nodded.

‘How can yuh tell?’

Laura

‘Just the way you’re holding yourself.’

I sat behind him and started to massage his shoulders. I could feel big knots start to unravel, and after a while I felt more confident that Matt was relaxed enough for a gentle enquiry.

‘Want to tell me?’

Matt

And I thought I’d been so good at keeping it from her, that back of my mind shit all the time we’d been away, the little dissatisfied, grumbling voices that were just taking the edge off what should be the happiest time of my life. But she was Lau, and she got me, and so of course she’d noticed.

Laura

He didn’t talk straight away, just sighed and made appreciative noises. I hoped he might unravel his tongue, too, but didn’t hold my breath. Matt only ever talked when he was ready, and much as I wanted to get at the underlying strangeness, I knew better than to push him. He might not say anything now, but he knew I was there when he wanted to talk. After a while, sooner than I expected, I heard a deep breath, and felt him gather himself to speak.

Matt

I knew I would tell her, but I just sat leaning against her for a while, feeling safe with her, thinking about what was going on with me. Then, when I’d worked it out properly, I told her.

‘I’m freaking, aren’t I.’

Lau stopped massaging, and folded her arms round the front of me, laying her head against my shoulder, and nuzzling into my neck.

Laura

‘Are you? What about?’

I tried to keep my tone light and conversational, rather than probing.

Matt

She sounded vaguely interested, not inquisitional, and hit just the right note to make me want to carry on spilling.

‘Everything. Jus had a dose of realihy. Well, not jus. Back in Paris. When we rowed. Before then. I’m married. We’re married. Fucking married. Lau, this sounds terrible, but ih’s like everything I’ve been trying to escape the last few years, an now here I am, married, baby on the way. Shit. Sorry, sorry Lau, I don’t mean … I want it, I want it all, with yuh, but I feel out of control. It was soh quick, I hardly had time to think, I got caught up in it all an then …’

As the words were coming out, in a bit of a rush, I realised how it must sound to Lau, and I was scrambling to try to say it in a way that didn’t make it sound like –

Laura

‘Are you regretting it?’

I always found that asking a direct question got the best results with Matt. He turned to face me, and I moved from behind him to beside him, so I could look into his big grey eyes and see what he wasn’t telling me. He shook his head.

Matt

So that worked well. Lau always asked those sorts of questions so matter of factly, like it wouldn’t have upset her at all if I’d said ‘yeah I wish I hadn’t married you’ or some such shit. But that wasn’t what I’d been going to say, and despite the casual way she asked, I needed to reassure her.

I turned to face her, and as Lau moved from behind me to beside me, I looked into her eyes and shook my head, so she’d know I was sincere.

‘No, fuck no, Lau, I don’t regret any of it, it’s what I’ve wanted, and to do it with you is fucking amazing. You know wha I’m like, I don’t like people taking control, doing stuff for meh, helping meh. We’ve talked about it before, when I was ill, I didn’t realise how much I didn’t like it for other stuff too. With Beth doing all the wedding planner bit, it just got bigger than I could handle, and then when they changed the hotel, I was pissed off, but felt guilty for bein pissed off, then when you wanted to go out, in Paris, I was all ‘I’m doing this my way’ an I jus took it too far. I don’t feel like we sorted it. Yeah, we made up, had a great time, but bloody hell, Lau, I told yuh to fuck off. Tha’s not OK.’

Laura

‘No, I guess it isn’t, really, but we were both tired and emotional.’

I was surprised – I’d thought we had sorted it all out. I’d sensed something, some kind of thing that needed sorting, but hadn’t realised that there was more to our argument than both of us feeling the after-effects of a stressful week. I honestly hadn’t given a second thought, after Matt’s apology, to him telling me to fuck off.

Matt

I could have taken that, and let her accept some of the blame, but the more I’d thought about it, the more it felt like it was only really down to me, when it came to it.

‘Noh, I’m not gona let you let me off. We’re both stubborn, we’re gona bash heads again, I need to feel like I can control myself. This being married thing, I love ih, I love you, I’m just being an arse. I don’t wana fuck ih up.’

‘So what exactly are you freaking about?’

I was quiet for a moment as I tried to pinpoint exactly what it was that was simmering down there.

‘I think … I feel … not in control of things. We’re married. I can’t change it. I don’t wana, Lau, but if I did, I couldn’t, not without huge shit going on.’

Laura

‘Do you wish we’d waited a bit?’

He looked away from me, breathing in deeply, and I knew without him telling me what his reply was.

Matt

Whoa, how did she do it? She could just get right to the heart of what I was feeling before I even knew it myself.

‘Maybe a bit of me does. But no, Lau, I’ve loved it, most of me has loved this crazy week, baby, wedding, us, Paris, I’ve never had such a fucking mad amazing time in my life.’

Laura

He wasn’t being completely straight with me. He was telling me what he thought I wanted to hear, what he wanted to feel, so I tried some more honesty.

‘Part of me wishes we’d waited.’

Matt

‘Really?’

How did she manage it? Just say shit? Without having it dragged out of her by a team of enormous horses?

Laura

‘Yeah, just a part of me. I’ve loved it too, the madness, but a tiny bit wishes I’d had time to savour it, plan things myself, not be so reliant on other people being amazing.’

The relief washed over his face, as he realised it was alright to say it.

Matt

And there we had it, what it was all about, for me as well as Lau. Matt was feeling his life spinning out of his control, in the way life does, and he didn’t like it, and so instead of acknowledging it, he had to have a freak and make life bloody difficult for all and sundry.

‘Oh Lau, tha’s what I feel. I’m so happy, but it’s just a tiny bit tha’s saying ‘we could have waited an done it differently’, tha’s all.’

The more I thought about it and talked about it, the tinier it became. Having it sitting there festering at the back of my mind had been making it a bigger deal than it was, and now it was out there, it didn’t really seem worth the effort of freaking.

‘But we didn’t really have a choice, did we. We wanted to do it this way. Life’s not always about plans and arrangements, sometimes it’s about what happens to you and how you respond to it. I think we responded pretty well. Maybe it’s just catching up with us a bit. We need to give ourselves time to get used to it. Nothing should change, really, well, except we’re having a baby in … whenever. Oh Matt, that’s what I’m having trouble getting my head round. I almost keep forgetting. How can I forget?’

She looked stricken, and I stroked her cheek, and reminded myself that I wasn’t the only one for whom things were moving at breakneck speed.

‘Maybe getting married jus took up so much time the last week, there wasn’t time tuh think about it.’

Laura

And that was the truth of the matter. Wonderful and crazy as the last week had been, it hadn’t given us time to think about the baby who was coming to change our lives really, really soon. I was going to be a mother; Matt and I were going to have to look after a baby, keep her safe, be responsible.

‘Yeah, maybe. I want to think about it, though, this is something we have got time to plan for. I don’t want to get there, and suddenly there’s a baby and we haven’t got any stuff, or made any room for her, or –’

Matt

‘Wait, her? Philpotts is a boy, weh agreed.’

‘I know you think he’s a boy, Matt, but … I just feel she’s a girl.’

If the baby turned out to be a girl, I was going to have to do some major readjusting. For example, it was highly unlikely she was going to captain a victorious Spurs team to three successive Premier League titles. But I needed to focus on Lau.

‘I guess we might know tomorrow, but, anyway, my point is, I think, we got married really fast, and it was great, it is great, it was right. But I want us to have lots of time to think about Philpotts, get used to him or her, not freak when it happens. I think being married won’t make much difference to us, do you? We always said ‘holding hands forever’, we both said that in our vows, it’s just we’ve got a piece of paper saying it officially, and some photos of you wearing a kilt and showing your best bits to the world. Nothing should change between us. I just want to make sure we’ve thought about the baby.’

I looked at her, took her hand, kissed her fingers, trying to show how much I wanted to hold her, protect her, support her and love her. She’d got to the heart of my shit, and now I thought I might have got to the heart of hers, too. Sometimes I was as good at reading her as she was at reading me.

‘Are yuh telling me you’re freaking too?’

Lau laughed as she recognised the truth.

‘Yeah, I guess I am. Maybe about different things, but yeah, a fair amount of freaking going on.’

‘Ha ha, we’re a couple of freaks. Oh Lau, tha makes me feel better. We should freak together more often. Sorry, tho. I feel like I spoilt our honeymoon.’

‘You daft sod. You’re just looking for reassurance now. You know we had an amazing time. I’m glad we sorted this out, though. Matt, I know you’re not always comfortable talking about what’s on your mind, but please tell me, if you can, when something’s freaking you.’

Anyone else trying to cajole me into telling all when I was stressing would have been on a hiding to nothing, but this woman, my Lau, it was as if she was my security blanket, and everything I usually worried about when I was trying not to talk about shit just didn’t matter.

Laura

I could only keep reassuring him that it was always going to be alright to tell me how he was feeling. I don’t know where he got his ‘keep it all to myself’ ideas from, and I doubted I’d ever get him to be completely up front, but I was determined to tell him he was safe with me as much as I could.

Matt

‘I know, Lau, I know. I can talk to yuh better than anyone, even Dec, an he’s usually the one I bother at some ungodly hour, but I don’t always know what I’m thinking until I blow, then I feel guilty, then I think about why I blew, then I try to make it righ. I know it’s the wrong way round. I’ll try to realise when I’m freaking. Yuh can tell me too. We can have little freak parties, jus you an me.’

‘Partying might be just what we need. How about some non-alcoholic fruit juice, healthy snacks, and some womb music?’

‘Whoa, Lau, you’re jus goin wild. I can’t keep up.’

‘I know. Hold on to your hat, it’s going to be a crazy ride.’

‘Ha ha. I love you, Lau.’

‘I love you too.’

And so, finally, it was gone, that annoying niggle that had been underlying everything. If only I could say I learned from it, and that every time something bothered me from that day on, I just talked to Lau about it and life went smoothly. Ha fuckety ha.

Laura

And that sorted it. That thing that had been at the back of my mind since that first morning in Paris was gone. That didn’t mean everything was going to be perfect, far from it; in many ways Matt and I were still getting to know each other. Moving in together had shown us that we’d been pretty efficient at showing off our good sides to each other, and the coming months were going to be challenging as we stopped trying so hard. But if we managed to keep talking, and face what was bothering us, we stood a chance, more than a chance. Matt was complicated, and I wasn’t always easy to live with. The positives were that we loved each other and we made an effort to sort things out when they cropped up.

Matt

‘Oh bollocks.’

Something had just occurred to me.

‘What?’

‘I’m gona have to call Dec, see if Amy’s had Splodge yet.’

‘Surely they’d have told us?’

Possibly, but apart from replying to my ‘thank you’ texts, I hadn’t heard from any of them while we’d been away; some kind of Beth-imposed radio silence I assumed.

‘I suppose. Would they have, though? They might have thought we’d come back early.’

‘Would we have?’

That was a tricky one. There would have been no reason to rush back just because Amy was giving birth. She was more than capable of doing so without us.

‘Dunno. Maybe not. I was first there, tho, after Charlie was born. Set a precedent. Maybe I should just give them a quick ring? Text?’

Laura

Matt was worrying away at himself, wanting to call but not wanting to let any of his family know how much he wanted to talk to them.

‘Matt, it’s fine, if you want to call or whatever, just do it. You don’t have to justify it.’

Matt

And there she was again, calling me on shit.

‘I know. I’m being an arse. I jus spend half my life moaning abou them not leaving me alone, then as soon as I’m away I can’t wait tuh call. Needy or wha?’

‘You know what you are?’

‘A daft sod?’

It was Lau’s favourite thing to call me when I was being bloody ridiculous.

Laura

It was my favourite thing to call him. Just the right amount of almost-swearing to make it a fondly loving insult.

‘A daft sod. Just do what makes you happy, don’t tie yourself up in knots trying to work out why you’re doing it.’

He thought about it for a bit. I could see his inner struggle; it was always going to be there, his conflict between needing his family and not wanting to need them. This time, his need for them won. He picked up his phone and pressed a number, and I saw his whole body relax as Dec picked up.

Matt

It wasn’t just that I was looking for justification; I really was torn between calling them to find out what the news was, and having an evening of peace, here with Lau, letting the aftermath of the last week settle around us. But much as I would hate to admit it to anyone, it felt weird to not be in touch with them, to not know what was going on with all of them. In the end, I just needed to know, and I called Dec.

‘The honeymooner returns. Hey mate.’

‘Heh’

‘Are you back then?’

‘Yeah, been back for a bih.’

‘Did you have a good time – don’t give me any details.’

‘Yeah, had a fucking awesome time.’

‘Sounds about right. I did say no details though. How’s Lau?’

‘She’s great.’

‘Hasn’t she got the scan soon?’

I wondered if Beth had primed him with questions in case I called him instead of her, as Dec would not usually have been aware of things like dates for scans. Amy had had to programme all of her appointments and important dates into his phone so he didn’t miss them.

‘Yeah tomorrow.’

‘Shit, so you’ll know boy or girl, yeah? Maybe a date?’

It was weird talking about baby stuff with Dec. I always forgot he was more than ten years younger than me, but never thought of him as someone who had been through nearly two whole pregnancies with Amy, and knew a lot more about it than I did.

‘Yeah, I guess, haven’t had time tuh think about it.’

‘Well tomorrow should sort that. You’re going with Lau, aren’t you?’

‘Yeh. Yuhr obviously not in the labour ward.’

‘Oh, well, we were, Friday night, after the party, Ames was having full on bloody contractions, all the screaming and swearing started, we were all set, Rose came over, but when we got there they just sent us home.’

‘Oh, rehly? Fuck, is she OK?’

‘Yeah, they said it was Braxton Hicks, like fake contractions. It’s all quiet at the moment. Still waiting.’

It would take a lot to fluster Dec into panicking.

‘Oh, jus a false alarm then.’

‘Yeah, but Ames is bloody pissed off. She’s well fed up with waiting, she can hardly get up. Or sit down.’

‘Yeah, I bet, bloody hell.’

‘Matt, now you’re back, would you … I hope you don’t mind me asking, but if Rose can’t come over for some reason when it all happens, can we call you?’

I loved that he asked, that I was second in line, that he didn’t care that only a few months ago I was a fucking cripple who couldn’t be trusted not to drop his daughter.

‘Yeah, course, but no way is Rose gona miss it.’

There would have to be some kind of earthquake that opened up a ravine between Rose’s flat and Dec’s house for her not to be there.

‘You’ll do it? Might be middle of the night.’

‘Yeah, you know I will, second stand-by or whatever.’

‘Thanks mate. Are we going to get to see the happy couple anytime soon?’

I immediately wanted to go round there, open a few beers, see him and Amy and Charlie, but a larger part of me still wanted to relax here with Lau, just for tonight.

‘Sure, weh’ll call in tomorrow after Lau’s had the scan.’

I raised my eyebrows at Lau to check; she nodded.

‘Great. I’m training in the morning, but come and see Ames, she’d love it. Assuming there’s no other news.’

‘Yeh, let us know.’

‘I’ll wait till a reasonable hour.’

Of course you will Dec, like that ever happened.

‘No, don’t worry about tha, any time, jus call or text, we’d like tuh know.’

‘Will do, then mate.’

‘OK, see you tomorrow, hopefully. Cheers mate. Bye.’

As conversations go, it was pretty standard, but reconnecting with my family had made me feel kind of secure. While we were away, I’d felt somewhat adrift, and recognising that now felt weird, suddenly knowing how much they all meant to me. I turned to Lau.

‘Amy had some Braxton-Hicks thingies yesterday. Got all the way tuh the maternity unit, sent her home. Called Rose over for Charlie, everything. False alarm. Still waiting.’

Laura

I could see that the security that contact with his family gave him had returned. I hadn’t realised it had gone, while we were away, but seeing it back made me realise just how vital they all were to him. I doubted he even realised himself.

Matt

‘Is she OK?’

‘Yeah, jus fed up I think. Sure it’s OK tuh call round tomorrow?’

‘Yeah, that’d be good. We should go and see Jay and Beth too, maybe our mums. Do a bit of a tour?’

‘Shit, I suppose so. Not today, tho. Migh phone them all, but I jus wana be here with you. Come here, not had a proper welcome home yet.’

I shuffled over on the sofa, and folded Lau up in my arms, pulled her onto my lap, then leaned down to kiss her, softly, lips roaming over hers, slipping my tongue into her mouth and flickering it across hers. Before long, my hands had found their way under her shirt and undone her bra, because, well, when you’ve got a hot girl on your lap it’s rude not to, and I squeezed and stroked her breasts, feeling the changes in them.

‘Lau, I think you’re getting bigger every day. Are yuh sore?’

‘A bit. Don’t squeeze too hard.’

‘Sorry. Didn’t mean to hurt you. You’re jus so fucking sexy.’

Lau sighed and sat back against me, allowing me to touch and feel, but not seeming to have the energy to respond.

‘Alright, Lau?’

‘Yeah, that’s lovely, flower, but I’m wiped. Don’t stop.’

I didn’t need more than one invitation. I carried on touching, gently stroking her, then bent my head down, lifted up her shirt and put my mouth to her nipple, sucking gently. Lau sighed and stretched her arms above her head, looking content, and I looked up into her eyes. Then it suddenly felt weird. These were the breasts that our baby was going to be sucking on in a few months time, in the same way I was doing but for a very different reason. Shit. Weird. I pulled her shirt down and sat up.

‘Hey, you stopped.’

‘Yeah, jus had a weird thought, didn’t seem right.’

‘What weird thought?’

‘Well, Philpotts is going to be using these for food soon. Not sure ih’s right to be perving on them.’

‘You weren’t perving. They’re dual purpose. Business and pleasure. And until Philpotts is actually here, all pleasure. Definitely pleasure.’

I knew Lau was disappointed that I’d stopped, but I needed to sort out the weirdness.

‘Yeah. Think I need to get my head round ih a bit first. Sorry Lau. Normal service will be resumed when Matt stops being a fucking mad freak-out.’

I leaned forwards, dejected. Playing with Lau’s awesome boobs was one of life’s little pleasures, and for the time being I was putting them out of bounds. Lau leaned towards me and put her arm round my shoulder, pulling me towards her.

‘It’s OK, flower. All this is taking some getting used to. Everything’s changing really quickly, it’s a bit full-on.’

‘Sorry, Lau. I’m jus a fuck-up. Keep freaking on you.’

I couldn’t believe it, less than half an hour after the last one, here was another freak incident fucking with my head.

‘As long as you’re freaking on me and not going all quiet, I can handle it. It’s when you stop talking I don’t know what to do.’

I turned my head and looked at her. God I loved this woman so much. Whatever I threw at her, she coped with. She made me so happy. But what was happening to both of us was scary. In a few months, before we’d really got to know each other properly, we were going to be parents, and everything was going to have to change. Everything was going to have to change before then, really. It was never-ending. I was scared.

Laura

He turned his head and looked at me. I could see all sorts of emotions flickering through his big grey eyes – love was there, happiness too, but he was scared, maybe of the big things like being married, being a father, maybe of smaller things like the ways we were both going to have to change in a relatively short space of time. He may not even have known exactly what it was he was afraid of, and he wasn’t going to tell me about it just now.

‘Matt, I love you so much. Don’t forget, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I’m holding your hand. I’ll never stop.’

‘I know, Lau. Me too.’

He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face and then, inevitably, through his hair, making it all stick out.

Matt

‘Fuck, I need tuh do something, stop me bloody moping. What am I bloody well thinking? Here I am, world’s most gorgeous woman by my side, an I’m fucking freaking. Get a bloody grip, Matt Scott.’

‘Fancy going out? Get something for tea?’

It was awesomely right, spot on.

‘Going out sounds jus the thing. We haven’t been to the deli for ages – let’s get a coffee out and bring back some bits and pieces. Hahv a picnic at home?’

‘Great idea. Does the deli do cheese and onion crisps?’

‘Maybe bluhdy expensive poncey ones – aged mature cheddar an caramelised shallot or some such shit.’

‘No, has to be Walkers. I’ve had a hankering since Friday, fat chance of getting any in France.’

‘OK, stop off at the corner shop, then deli. Come on, woman, what are you hanging around for? There are crave crisps to be had.’

My mood lightened as suddenly as it had dipped, maybe Lau’s hormonal mood swings were osmosing into me. We grabbed our coats and went out.

Our first evening in our flat as married people went pretty much as you would have expected. We ate, we watched some TV, we called a few people, we went to bed. Actually, that wasn’t as expected, as Lau was wiped and we just slept. First time for weeks that had happened, but extenuating circumstances were present. There was always tomorrow morning, our last chance before going back to work.

I woke up really early, and resisted touching Lau. She was tired, and it was about time I stopped pestering her for sex – yeah, like it was always me doing the pestering, but she was fast asleep, and I’d woken up with shit on my mind, and bloody annoyingly couldn’t get back to sleep. So I got up and tried to deal with it.

I’d tried to go back to sleep, but had ended up thinking about the baby, about what it meant, how things were going to change, what it might mean for Lau and me. It all started whirling round in my head, until I suddenly thought of something Adam had suggested the last time I saw him, a few weeks ago.

I got up, much earlier than I was used to, but sure that this was a way to stop the whirling and try to make my peace with this huge coming event, the thing I’d wanted in a hypothetical way, but now it was real was doing a pretty good job of sending me crazy.

Laura

I woke up the next morning feeling sick and apprehensive. It was still early, dark outside, and I felt chilly. I turned over to pull Matt towards me, but he wasn’t there and I saw light filtering through the gaps around the door from the lounge. It was unusual for Matt to be up early; he slept a lot, still needing to recuperate, and on days off he was sometimes still in bed close to lunch time. I slipped out of bed and opened the door. He was sitting on the sofa, laptop open, typing. He looked up as I came into the room.

Matt

‘Hey Lau. Sorry, didn’t mean tuh wake you up. Jus been writing a letter.’

‘I don’t think you woke me up. I didn’t hear anything. Didn’t sleep very well, feeling a bit sick. It’s a bit early for you, isn’t it?’

‘Couldn’t sleep either. Big day, stuff on my mind. Fancy some ginger tea?’

While we were in France, we’d discovered that ginger tea was great for helping Lau’s sicky feeling.

‘Thanks, that would be great. Are you still freaking, then?’

‘I was, a bih, but I jus wrote a letter to Philpotts, an it really helped. Who’d have thought that bloody psychologists know what they’re bluhdy well talking about?’

‘Adam told you to write it?’

‘Yeah, kind of, last time I saw him, we talked about all kinds of shit, it was just a suggestion for when I’m trying to work stuff out, I didn’t know about Philpotts. Wana see?’

I gestured at the laptop. Lau looked like she was battling between having a nosy and thinking it was private.

Laura

I really wanted to have a look, but it felt like an intensely personal thing. I was touched he wanted to share it.

‘Are you sure? It feels a bit intimate.’

Matt

‘Come on, Lau, you can’t get much more intimate than you and me. Have a look.’

It was true. We’d never said ‘no secrets’ because we didn’t want to get all stressed about surprises and presents and shit, and hey, Lau, if we’d said that then none of this monstrously long story would have got done. I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Laura

‘OK then.’

I pulled the laptop towards me and read.

95. For the first time

In which a journey is commenced, a honeymoon embarked on, and bread products instigate a falling out.

Matt

The wind was still swirling, and Jay and I both had to hold onto our kilts to stop them revealing the full English. Which in our case would have been half Scottish.

‘I’ll go and geh a trolley for the bags.’

‘Can’t we just carry them?’

Ha, yeah right, Lau. Suitcase with wheels or not, my pregnant wife wasn’t going to be lifting more than a teaspoon for the foreseeable.

‘No, Lau, you’re not carrying anything. Jay’ll get the stuff out of the car, wait there till I geh back, won’t be long.’

I headed off in search of a trolley, regretting that I hadn’t put my boxers back on. The wind had really got up, and there was no way I was going to be able to push a trolley and hold the kilt down at the same time. Baring my arse to family and friends was one thing; to an airport full of strangers was another. And all the groping in the car had created an added dimension to my frontage, which meant that any exposure was likely to be seen as indecent at best.

Laura

Jay got the bags out of the boot, and we stood and looked at each other awkwardly for a few seconds.

‘Thanks for this, Jay. Sorry you ended up in a kilt all evening.’

He grinned. ‘I don’t really mind. Matty likes it if he thinks he’s pissed me off. Little brother thing. I hope you’ve had a good day.’

I smiled to myself at the dysfunctional way these two men communicated with each other, in jibes and digs and pretending not to care.

‘I’ve had the most amazing day. Thanks for all your hard work.’

‘Oh, I didn’t have much to do. Wear a skirt, remember a couple of rings, drive, do a speech. Pretty standard.’

‘We really appreciate it. Everyone’s been just incredible, at such short notice.’

‘It means a lot to Matty, although he’d never admit it, not to me, anyway. I’d do a lot to make him happy. Don’t tell him that.’

‘I won’t. Maybe you should.’

‘No, we’re fine as we are.’ He grinned again. ‘Men to the end, reveal feelings only when absolutely unavoidable.’

I tutted and rolled my eyes, but I knew Matt felt the same.

‘I know he thinks the world of you, Laura. A couple of years ago, I was starting to worry about him, thought he was heading for trouble the way he was going. He’s calmed down, had a few wake up calls, then when the MS came back I worried about him going the other way, but when he met you, he changed, you sparked something, he’s just so happy. I can’t believe he’s going to be a dad, though. He’s far too irresponsible. You’ll have to take complete charge, you know.’

‘He told me once he intended to be a great dad, no bedtime, no tellings off, completely cool.’

‘Ha ha, let’s see how long that lasts. He will be great, he’s great with Cal and Iz, he loves Charlie, I’m surprised it didn’t occur to him before that he wanted a family. I guess we all hide from inconvenient truths.’

I thought about how I’d hidden from my own inconvenient truth for several weeks, and nodded.

‘Oh, here he comes, fucking hell, he has no shame.’

Matt

Luckily, I didn’t meet anyone on the way, and I just took the bull by the horns, or rather the trolley by the handle, and kept my eyes to the front as I walked back to the car, the gusts blasting my kilt above my waist. My only strategy was to ignore it, pretend I didn’t give a shit, which I didn’t really. It was all part of today, when I didn’t really give a shit about anything, even Jay making me go to another country when I could have already been in bed with Lau.

As I got closer to the car, I saw Jay rolling his eyes at me.

‘Come on, then, load up, weh’ve got a honeymoon to start.’

Jay lifted the two suitcases onto the trolley.

‘Well, have a good time, you two, try to leave the hotel at least once while you’re there, bring us a plastic Eiffel Tower.’

‘You’ll beh lucky, me an Lau are gona beh closeted in our room making use of room service on your credit card till Tuesday. We’ll beh shagging each other’s brains out all day an night, too.’

‘Yeah, thanks for that mental image, Matty, I think it’s time you checked in. Have a great time, Laura. Try to make him behave himself.’

Jay hugged Lau, then me, which surprised me, and slapped me round the head, which didn’t. Then he got in the car and drove off as we headed to the terminal, both of us pushing the trolley so we could put our arms round each other. Although Lau’s arm slipped a bit so she could hold my kilt down with her free hand.

‘Lau, are you trying to feel my bum?’

‘Of course.’

‘Lovin your work.’

So we had an hour to kill in the small airport, along with the other passengers going to Paris for the weekend. First, I slipped into the gents and put a pair of boxers on, as I thought being arrested before we’d left the country might put a bit of a dampener on proceedings. Then, well I’d like to say we talked, perused the gifts in Duty Free, made plans for the next few days, but we just snogged our faces off. It may or may not have been apparent that we had just got married, didn’t really care, just wanted to kiss my wife for the foreseeable, and fuck off to all the people who gave us dirty looks and tutted and cleared their throats. Had they never been bat-shit crazy in love? Had they never been so happy with someone it was all they could do to keep their hands from wandering into arrestable-in-public areas? Apparently not.

Our flight was called, and we had to cease activities for the time being, as we boarded and took our seats. It would have been great to start again, but the seats were cramped, and the angles not really conducive without doing our backs in, and there was a really mardy looking woman sitting next to me who sighed loudly every time my elbow went a millimetre over her seat arm, so we contented ourselves with holding hands and looking deeply into each other’s eyes, talking about our day.

‘Whoa, Lau. Just … whoa. I can’t believe today. Ih’s been mental.’

‘But mental in a good way.’

‘Oh yeh, mental in a fucking awesome way. I can’t believe ih’s finished.’

‘Well it hasn’t finished yet.’

‘Noh, but I’m getting pretty knackered.’

I was, indeed, beginning to feel those bloody annoying tendrils of fatigue snaking around my consciousness. The tiredness didn’t creep up on me as quickly as it used to, but I wasn’t going to be up for much when we finally got to our hotel.

‘Me too, flower. I know that … this is really lame, but it’s been so exhausting – could we postpone, er, consummating our marriage, just for a few hours?’

I stroked her hair back from her face.

‘Course, Lau. Tuh be honest, I don’t know how much longer I’m gona be awake.’

‘And we both had late nights last night, well late for us.’

‘True. Hey, Lau, I never asked wha yuh did on yuhr hen night. Gang of male strippers? Naked karaoke? Any of ih on YouTube?’

‘Ha ha, if any of it got on YouTube it would have the lowest number of hits ever. We just had a meal, the girls had a lot of wine, they dressed me up in the standard gear – you know, L plate, tiara with veil – and gave us a lovely present.’

‘Year’s supply of chocolate knobs?’

This provoked a tut and a sigh from just beyond my right elbow, so, result.

‘Photo frame.’

‘Practical. Bit boring fuh hen night.’

‘Well I was a proper party pooper with not drinking and everything, I think I slightly spoiled their fun.’

‘I beh Kate was off her tits.’

‘Yeah, she still had a hangover this afternoon, I can’t see her making it to work on Monday.’

‘She’s a fucking animal. She scared the GreenScreen boys tuh death.’

‘Oh, is that why she was trying it on with Dec and Nico? Because your guys weren’t man enough for her?’

‘Fuck knows. I thought Lis was gona fight her at one point. Fuck, tha would have been hot … er, to the blokes who hadn’t just got married tuh the hottest girl on the planet, of course.’

I grimaced at her, and she gave me an outraged look and then laughed.

‘Your worky people seem nice, although that blonde woman – Lexi, is it? She’s a bit … er …’

‘Of a bitch. Yeh. Had tuh invite her, tho, or she tells Phil where yuh really are when yuh say yuhr meeting a client.’

‘It felt a bit like she was trying to … I don’t know … intimidate me a bit? By mentioning ‘the last one’, or whatever it was she said. I’m not sure I liked her doing that at my wedding.’

‘Noh. She’s a bitch, like I said. Sorry, Lau. Maybe I shouldn’t have invited her.’

I felt bad that I had been responsible for possibly the one thing that had spoiled Lau’s enjoyment of the day.

‘Oh don’t be daft. There’s always someone you’d rather not have had at your wedding, isn’t there. I’ll just think of her as a kind of mad aunty who no one wants to sit near on account of her whiskery kisses and smelly farts.’

‘Ha ha. Perfect. Tha’s the image I’ll always have when Lexi’s tryin tuh wind meh up. You’re awesome. Oh, I forgot tuh say. I lohv you.’

‘I love you. This has been the most incredible day. I still can’t get over how much work people must have done to get it all ready in time.’

‘I know.’

I’d been thinking, in between snogging Lau and gazing into her eyes, about all the people I needed to thank.

‘We should send flowers tuh Beth, an everyone, Mum, yuhr mum, Lis …’

‘There’s quite a list of thank yous isn’t there. Maybe not flowers for Jay.’

‘Can’t do ih till weh land, anyway. Jay can keep the kilt as a special present.’

‘Do you think he’ll want to see it ever again?’

‘Maybe, if Beth shows him how much she admires ih tonigh.’

‘Yeah, that could change his opinion. Iz was a bit confused by it, she kept asking me why you and Jay were wearing girls’ clothes. Surely she’s seen pictures of men in kilts?’

‘Obviously a serious lapse in education. I blahm the parents.’

Something completely unconnected with Jay or his kilt occurred to me.

‘Heh, Lau, if I sit in yuhr seat an yuh sit on my lap …’

It might be a bit awkward to arrange ourselves, and would seriously piss off the narky woman sitting next to me, which admittedly was a bit of a bonus, but I just wanted my arms round Lau.

We tried it, to a veritable volley of tutting from Ms Passive-Aggressive, and it worked, and I could feel Lau’s lips on mine again, until one of the flight attendants came and told us to sit properly in our seats and put our seat belts on as we were about to start the descent. Ms P-A could not have looked more triumphant, but it wasn’t a victory for her, as instead of snogging Lau, I just talked dirty in her ear, intentionally audibly, until we landed.

I spent the taxi journey to the hotel ordering flowers on my phone. Lau kept remembering people who should really be included in the growing list of ‘merci’, and I almost wished I hadn’t started it, but we could finally think of no more people to thank, and finished sending texts to everyone just as we pulled up outside the hotel.

We booked in, ignoring the looks we were getting on account of my attire. My schoolboy French just about got us through, and I graciously allowed the bus boy to take the cases up, because I wasn’t going to be able to manage both of them, and wanted to ensure Lau didn’t lug her suitcase any distance at all. I even tipped him.

It was with a huge sense of relief that we closed the door to our room behind us, and we were finally alone. There was more kissing, more holding, but nothing further. The tendrils of fatigue had grown into thick ropes of exhaustion, pulling me down, and I was fighting it, but not winning the battle.

After exploring the room and the balcony, complete with a view across the city to the Eiffel Tower, all lit up in the night, Lau opened her case to start putting things away, and laughed as handfuls of confetti fell out onto the carpet.

‘We’re going to be popular, this stuff is really hard to hoover up. Oh! Oh my, look at this.’

She held up a see-through black negligee, which pushed the tiredness down a way.

‘Fuck tha’s hot. When did yuh get ih?’

‘I didn’t. I’ve never seen it before in my life. Oh, there’s a note – ha, and a box of condoms. It’s from – well, everyone.’

‘Wha’s ih say?’

‘To lovely Laura. A little something to make your honeymoon go with a swing. You don’t need the condoms, obviously, but they are chocolate flavoured … Have a fabulously romantic time. Lots of love, Beth, Jay, Dec and Amy.’

‘Bloody hell. Are you gona try ih on?’

‘Are you?’

‘I don’t think ih’ll fit meh, or look quite soh fucking sexy.’

‘I meant one of these.’

She threw the box at me.

‘Oh.’

Fat chance there, no way was I going to be hard enough to put a condom on, or awake enough to appreciate the results. Lau saw the look on my face and capitulated.

‘You’re as wiped as me. We can wait, can’t we flower?’

I nodded, regretfully. The thought of Lau in the negligee had perked me up for a bit, but now I was struggling, and started yawning.

‘Sorry, Lau. Already failing in my husbandly duhties.’

‘I know, it’s terrible, here we are in the City of Love, and can I get my husband to actually love me? Apparently not. Oh – I wonder if they put anything in your case?’

She immediately started opening it.

‘Can weh leave ih for now?’

I was flagging more by the minute, and right now didn’t care if they’d filled the suitcase with cans of squirty cream and nothing else.

‘I’ve done it now – oh, ha ha. Here’s a posing pouch for you. Red satin, nice. Might be a bit big.’

‘Oi!’

‘And a Barry White CD. Tasteful. There’s a note for you too. Shall I read it?’

‘Yeh, then take yuhr clothes off an come to bed.’

I’d already taken my jacket off, and started to unbutton my shirt.

‘Did they put anything in tuh sleep in?’

Lau had a bit of a rummage.

‘Doesn’t look like it. We don’t need it, though, do we? Wedding night. Nakedness is expected.’

‘Fuck yeh. Good thinking. Come on, read the note an get yuhr arse over here.’

I took my shirt off, slipped out of my shoes and socks, undid the kilt, then climbed into bed as it fell to the floor. It felt like the best bed I’d ever been in; I was so tired, I was going to fall asleep very, very soon, but I really wanted to at least have a go at a traditional wedding night.

‘Dear Matty. We think red is your colour, hopefully Laura thinks the same. And everyone needs a little Barry to help their honeymooning along. Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do. Lots of love, Beth, Jay, Dec and Amy.’

Lau put the note back in the suitcase and reached behind her to unzip her dress.

‘Oh blast, I can’t reach.’

She walked over to the bed and sat on the edge.

‘Can you undo me?’

‘Always. I think undoing yuh is gona beh top of the husbandly duhties I perform every day.’

I pulled the zip down, sat up and kissed her between her shoulder blades, rallying briefly in the face of Lau’s awesome back view.

Lau stood up and slipped the dress off her shoulders; as it fell to the floor, it revealed creamy underwear, including stockings and suspenders. It was a measure of how tired I was that I could only stare in awe and curse my nether regions for being unable to respond in any respectful way to this vision of loveliness.

‘Fuck yuhr beautiful. Wish I could show yuh how gorgeous yuh are.’

‘There’s plenty of time, flower.’

She took the underwear off, fuck she was hot naked, and climbed into bed beside me, snuggling up close, under my arm. I bent down and kissed her, then lay down next to her and pulled her up against me, running my hands along the length of her body, trying to make my body respond to hers. She did the same, but it wasn’t going to happen tonight, we’d both had enough. Part of me silently cursed Jay for doing this to us, when if we’d stuck to my plan, we would have had a whole night of passion already, but that part was very small, and I overrode it in favour of savouring the lusciousness of Lau held against me.

‘Ih’s not gona happen, is it?’

‘I don’t think so, not right now. We both need to sleep. Just hold me, Matt. I’ve wanted to snuggle with you all day.’

So that’s what we did. I wrapped my arms round Lau, and before a couple of minutes had passed, I was asleep, my mind and body giving in to the tug of the black.

Laura

And so, finally, we were in bed, in a beautiful hotel, with a view of the Eiffel Tower lit up through the window. We’d texted everyone to say thank you, Matt had ordered flowers for Beth, Lis, Amy, our mums and Rose, and we were alone. We were both exhausted, and had a go at sex, but it was nearly two in the morning, and just had to give up. I got the snuggle I’d been waiting for all day, which was just as good, if not better, and we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

Matt

I thought I would sleep until late the next morning, but when I woke, it was still dark. The heavy fatigue had gone, and although I was still tired, I felt rested. That was encouraging. I wondered if Lau was awake too, and slipped my arm round her waist.

Laura

I woke up, with a start, in the dark, not knowing where I was, trying to focus on the lights through the window. An arm snaked round my waist, and I squealed. There was a chuckle.

Matt

I felt her startle, and heard her squeal, like she had the first few nights we’d spent together. I laughed as it took me back there, to that time.

‘Shit, Lau, it’s been a while since I made yuh jump.’

Laura

Matt. I was with Matt. In Paris. I smiled and turned towards him.

‘Sorry, I didn’t know where I was. What time is it?’

Matt

I reached out and checked my phone.

‘Five twenty. Bollocks. I’m still wiped. Come here, Mrs Scott, I want to kiss you. And things.’

‘What things?’

‘Well, a good Scottying is on the cards, maybe while it’s still kind of our wedding night, and not tomorrow yet. Ih’s not tomorrow until it’s light. We migh have half an hour if we’re lucky. Then we can have a lie-in. Save our strength.’

‘For?’

‘Well, block Philpotts’ ears, but I wana ravish yuh.’

With a start, I realised I’d almost forgotten about the baby, had hardly given him a thought since leaving the barn.

‘Hey, how is Philpotts? I never even thought to ask. Did he enjoy the flight?’

‘He didn’t seem to have any complaints.’

‘Good lad, Philpotts. Taking care of your mum.’

I rubbed Lau’s belly, to reacquaint myself with the swell of our child, then my hands moved upwards, cupping Lau’s breasts, looking into her eyes, checking it was alright, that she was awake enough and not too tired.

‘Hey, these are getting bigger, Lau.’

‘I know. So is my tummy. Either that, or it’s cake.’

‘Philpotts, are yuh making your mum fat? Shame on yuh.’

I carried on caressing and holding, also reacquainting myself with the changes that were happening to Lau on the outside. I was endlessly fascinated with it all, and continued to hold and fondle her breasts, testing out her responses, seeing if the same actions got the same reactions, or if she was more or less sensitive. Lau’s hands reached up and she pulled my mouth down to hers, so I hypothesised that we could err on the side of more sensitive.

‘Steady, Lau, I’m a married man – oh, I’m married tuh you. That’s OK then. Carry on.’

As I kissed her and stroked her, touching, nibbling, licking, I smiled as she moaned softly and started her own search for the places that would make me moan too. It didn’t take her long to find my hard-on, and she gave it an exploratory squeeze.

‘Oh, fuck yeah, Lau. I’ve wanted yuh to do tha all day. Tha’s why I wore a bloody skirt an no pants. But did yuh feel me up? Did yuh fuck.’

‘I’m not sure it would have met with much approval, particularly from my mum.’

‘She’d have been cool.’

Oh she so would not have, but it wouldn’t have stopped me if Lau had been up for it.

‘You’re lucky you got away with all the swearing. Sexual antics would have been a non-starter. Even though you’ve made an honest woman of me.’

‘Feel like being a bit dishonest? A bit … naughty?’

‘I thought that’s what we were doing.’

‘Yeah, well, carry on – oh yeah, keep doing that, Lau.’

‘Actually, I’m going to give you a good Scottying.’

‘Ha ha, Lau, you have a lot to live up tuh, but do yuhr worst’

‘I intend to. I’m going to give a whole new meaning to a good Scottying.’

She did as promised, and I responded in kind, and we finally managed to complete our wedding night in the expected manner, just before it got light.

‘Must beh time for breakfast.’

‘It’s far too early. Isn’t it booked, room service or something? I thought we said ten. We’ve got hours yet. Come and cuddle me.’

She moved closer into my arms and held on tight. I kissed her forehead and held her to me, and we went back to sleep.

Laura

So Paris was where we started our married life. It was also where we had our first major row. I suppose it was inevitable, after the build up, all the rushing about and stress of the last week. Over the past six months, things had been changing almost weekly, one way and another, and we had been getting to know each other, still loved up, willing to compromise and ignore the little things that annoyed us. We’d still been on our ‘best behaviour’ and trying hard not to argue.

Matt

And then I did it, caused our first row. I can hardly believe now that less than twenty-four hours after we’d got married, I’d told Lau to fuck off and she’d stormed out. It sends chills through me to think about it, and it was completely, utterly, totally and absolutely all my fault. Except maybe a bit of it was Lau, so almost completely, utterly, totally and absolutely all my fault. No, don’t go on about oxymorons, they were made for situations like this.

I suppose, if you’ve been paying attention, you will have noticed that I’m not the best at recognising how I’m feeling. I mean, yeah, if something irritates me, or pisses me off, or I feel hard done by or controlled, then yeah, I bloody well notice right away, but otherwise I just let things creep up on me, ignore it when I’m, oh I don’t know, tired, stressed, in love, want a child, that sort of thing.

The last week had been tiring, and emotional, and I’d just pushed through it all, and now I’d come to a rest place, and I wasn’t really letting myself be aware of how out of juice I was, physically and mentally. I also didn’t consider that Lau might be equally low on energy, and that hormones could also be affecting how she was feeling. Never let it be said I’m not a selfish git, alright?

So, just setting the scene. We woke up after our wedding night, a few hours after completing it, and spent a fairly lazy morning having breakfast, leaning on the balcony in hotel bathrobes looking at the view and texting pictures to everyone, going back to bed, chilling to all intents and purposes.

I suppose, romantic and awesome though it was, it was still rankling somewhere in my fucked up psyche that I hadn’t chosen this. But of course I wasn’t letting on, least of all to myself, that it was any kind of a problem.

I guess I was more than happy to fulfil my threat to Jay of staying in our room the whole time we were there. It would serve the dual purpose of costing him money and spending several days in bed with Lau with no interruptions or demands. But by mid-afternoon, Lau, who was nowhere near as lazy as me and liked to be up and doing, was restless and suggested going out.

Laura

Of all things, we fell out over a baguette. We spent the first morning in our room, having a lazy breakfast, a lazy cuddle and lazy sex. We stood on the balcony in our bathrobes, looking at the Eiffel Tower in the distance, taking pictures on our phones and sending them to everyone we could think of. When we got cold, we shut the windows and went back to bed, having made sure the ‘ne pas deranger’ sign was on the door. Ne pas deranger is apparently French for ‘do not disturb’, and not ‘do not pass, danger’, so Matt informed me. Who knew French was such a confusing language? However, with no likelihood of being interrupted, we dozed and kissed and didn’t do much of anything else, and by the middle of the afternoon I was feeling cooped up, and suggested going out.

Matt

I immediately sulked.

‘Oh, buh I want to stay here all day with you, jus doin this.’

I ran my finger down her breast and flicked the nipple, just how she liked it, expecting her to sigh lustily and roll towards me. But she didn’t; instead, she sat up and swung her legs out of the bed.

‘And very lovely that is, but I need some fresh air. And something to eat. France is famous for baguettes, isn’t it? I’d like a proper French baguette.’

I didn’t want to go out, didn’t feel hungry, just wanted to be closeted here with Lau for the duration, feeling safe and getting my head round everything. Not that I was acknowledging that my head was in any way not round things.

‘They’re no different from wha you get at the supermarket.’

I had been to Paris once, on a school trip, many years ago. I was not an expert in French patisserie. I had no reason to suspect that the baguettes wouldn’t be stupendous. I was being an arse.

‘I’d like to find out for myself.’

It was totally reasonable. France was famous for its bread and cheese, and if you were hungry, why wouldn’t you go in search of some? Yeah, I didn’t think that, though, not right then; I thought …

‘Are you choosing bread over meh?’

Lau stood up and faced me, pulling on her bathrobe as she did so.

Laura

‘Yeah, Matt, I’d much rather have a stick of French bread in me than your man-stick.’

I tried to sound amused, although I was more than a bit irritated.

Matt

She was calling me on a ridiculous statement, but being called on being ridiculous wasn’t always a good strategy when I was being an arse.

Laura

‘I just want to get out, so I can say I’ve been to Paris, rather than I’ve been in Paris. Everyone will ask what it’s like, and I’ll say oh, the walls were cream and the bed was comfy.’

Matt

‘Who fucking cares wha everyone says? You can make it up, say ‘oh it was so romantic, we walked along the Seine, we saw the Louvre, we did this, did that, don’t have to fucking do any of it.’

The stupid thing was, I knew I was being unreasonable, but I couldn’t help myself. I could feel the argument coming, as if it was thunder in the air or some such shit, and I just put my head down and ran into it.

Laura

‘But I’d like to do some of it.’

I could sense the argument coming. Matt was getting stubborn, and disputing everything I was saying. I was tired and grumpy, and cooped up, and I didn’t feel like backing down.

Matt

And I just couldn’t stop. I was feeling all the irritation and annoyance of being controlled, and I just wanted someone to do what I wanted for a change (yeah, I totally realise that people were always doing what I wanted, and I was always an arse about it, I know that, alright?).

‘We can do it tomorrow. Stay here wih me, Lau.’

I was trying my hardest to make her feel like she was deserting me, that if she went out, she was the worst type of person, the worst type of wife.

‘No, I think I’m going to go out –’

I tried pouting, and Lau tried persuading.

‘– come with me?’

‘No, I think I’m gona stay here.’

No way was I going to back down, and I sensed that Lau wasn’t either. We hadn’t really rowed before, not about anything, but I suppose we’d spent the first few months getting to know each other and being amazed by each other, then Lau had moved in and we’d been on our best behaviour while all that was settling down, and had accommodated each other’s foibles. We were both stubborn fuckers, though, beneath it all, and now it seemed that neither of us were going to give in.

Laura

Neither of us were going to back down, although naturally I felt Matt was being more unreasonable than me. I tried wheedling.

‘Please? I don’t want to wander around on my own. I can’t even say anything apart from please and thank you.’

Matt

This was true. I had limited French, but Lau had none. It should have made me feel guilty, but it pissed me off that she only wanted me to speak for her. Yeah, I know that wasn’t what she meant, but I was winding myself up into full-on disgruntled me me me mode.

‘So yuh only want me as your interpreter.’

‘No, of course not. Don’t you think it would be cool to walk around Paris, soaking up the atmosphere?’

‘I’d rather have our own atmosphere righ here.’

I just couldn’t let her win. Of course walking around the Parisian streets with Lau would be incredible, but I couldn’t even allow myself to see that, let alone capitulate and do what she was asking.

‘Matt, you’re being incredibly stubborn.’

‘I’m not.’

I could say this with a completely straight face because I wasn’t letting myself acknowledge it. Kind of ‘la la la la I’m not listening’ but with emotions.

Lau sighed and looked me in the eyes. She wasn’t going to leave it, either. She usually picked her battles, only really trying to change my mind about something when she was passionate about it, and her passion would shine through and win me over. But as previously mentioned, we’d both had a full-on week followed by a even fuller-on day and night, and I’m not surprised she wasn’t as willing to let things go as she usually was.

Laura

I sighed with impatience. I knew he was unlikely to give in, but that just made me all the more determined. If I had just left it, said nothing, he would have changed his mind in half an hour or so, and we could have gone out together, but whatever French demon had possessed us had full control, and I couldn’t leave it.

‘You are, and you know you are. There’s no reason for you not to come with me, apart from me wanting you to.’

I went to the window and walked out onto the balcony, leaning over to see down the street.

‘There’s a bakery down there, it’s only a couple of hundred yards, we’d be back in five minutes.’

Matt

I shrugged. That was easily swatted away.

‘Don’t need both of us tuh go, then. I’ll have fromage et salade in mine. That’s cheese and salad, Lau.’

I sounded so patronising, as if I was a fluent French speaker teaching a two year old. I would have punched myself in the face if I hadn’t been on such a git-trip.

‘No way, I’m eating out if I’m going on my own.’

Lau’s voice was beginning to rise, as she got more and more exasperated with me.

‘Fine. I’ll do room service. Probably beh quicker.’

I tried to keep my tone of voice level, as I knew it was possibly the most irritating thing I could do.

Laura

I had one last attempt, but if I’d been thinking straight, I would have realised it was already a lost cause.

‘Please, Matt, I’d really like you to come with me.’

‘Not now.’

‘So you’re just going to lie around until Tuesday, are you?’

He shrugged. I tutted and exhaled noisily in what I hoped was an exasperated way.

‘OK, I’m going then.’

And then, the clincher. I don’t know what made me say it, apart from possibly tiredness, probably pig-headedness, maybe hormones.

Matt

I really didn’t want her to go, not on her own, but rather than telling her this and asking her to wait a bit and we’d go out together, I just lay there feeling aggrieved that she wanted to do something, on our bloody honeymoon, that didn’t involve being in bed with me.

And then, as if she knew exactly what was going to push all the remaining buttons on the ‘launch Matt into orbit’ console, she hit the big one.

‘You could do with getting out as well. Lying around all day isn’t going to do you any good.’

Her tone of voice was so like Beth’s when she was sticking her nose into my business, that I boiled inside. It was the last straw, the thing that just shoved everything out there. I sat bolt upright, and mustered all my best aggrieved husbandness.

‘Fuck you. You don’t know wha’s good fuh me. Just because you’re a nurse duhnt mean you know everything. Fuck off for your fucking baguette then.’

Lau stared at me for a second or two, looking shocked. She might have been waiting for me to apologise, but I was breathing hard and clenching my fists under the bedclothes, and apologising was the last thing on my mind. At that moment, I thought it was for the best if she went out and left me to my own devices. I stared back at her, stubbornly.

Laura

I stared at him, shocked at his tone, waiting for him to apologise, but he stared back defiantly.

‘That wasn’t very nice.’

I grabbed my phone, pulled some clothes on, picked up my purse and, the room filling with silence, left. Matt sat on the bed, with his back to me, staring out of the window.

I slammed the door behind me, and stomped down the stairs and out of the hotel. I had got disoriented on my way out, and couldn’t work out where the bakery, or – what did they call them here – patisserie was. I stood at the entrance for some time, looking both ways up and down the street, feeling vulnerable and apprehensive. What were you thinking Laura Shoeman? Oh, no, Laura Scott. You can’t speak French. You can’t even ask anyone where the bakery is.

I had to go one way or the other, and surely, in Paris, I would come across a bread shop of some description, and even if I didn’t, there would be somewhere to get a cup of strong French coffee so I could sit and stew and think about how I was going to go back to the room without either losing face or making things worse. It did occur to me that if I was as stubborn as Matt, there was a chance we might never speak to each other again, but he had been very rude to me, and he wasn’t just going to get away with that. This was our honeymoon, and stressful week or not, there were some things you just didn’t say to your bride of less than twenty four hours. In my opinion, ‘fuck off’ was one of them.

Matt

Lau slammed the door behind her, and I heard her stomping down the corridor. She always was a bloody good stomper. And as I heard her walking away, I realised what a dick I’d been. Shit, I’d just let my pregnant wife walk out on me, on the first day of being married. What the fuck was I thinking? Just to prove a fucking point? What exact fucking point did I think I was proving? That I was the biggest fucking idiot in the history of fucking idiots for starters. I was immediately horrified at my self-obsessed behaviour. Wasn’t I supposed to have been cleaning up my act? Nice work, Matt. Very mature and respectful.

I jumped up and ran out of the room to try to catch up with her, but there were too many choices of corridors she could have gone down, and I couldn’t find her. I ran back to the room, hoping to see her walk down the street from the balcony. Fuck, what had I done? I’d just told Lau to fuck off. Lau. I never wanted Lau to fuck off, but I’d told her to and she had. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

I went to the balcony and leaned over, trying to see the hotel entrance. Finally, after an age, I spotted Lau walking determinedly along the pavement. I loved the way she was just doing this, even though she had no real idea where she was going or how she was going to ask for what she wanted, and even though her fucking idiot of a husband had just told her to fuck off. She should have been in floods, but that wasn’t her way, she’d just rolled her sleeves up and got on with it. Fuck, I loved her.

I’m glad in a way, in lots of ways, but especially in this way, that Lau didn’t cry when I told her to fuck off. That she didn’t showed outstanding moral fibre, and I admired that, but most importantly it meant that I didn’t have ammunition in the future, and that was good. If she’d cried, it would have been easy, every time she was getting close to making me change my mind, or accept I was wrong, to tell her to fuck off and she’d cry and it would halt things – oh yeah, I wasn’t above it, not that I thought about it in those calculated terms, but it worked with Beth when she was really riling me. However, Lau was made of sterner stuff and I was never going to tell her to fuck off again.

Oh alright, yeah, I probably was, as I couldn’t help myself, and I was always going ‘fuck off, you can’t be serious’ or ‘fuck off, no way is it my turn to do the washing up’, but paradoxically, because she hadn’t got all tearful, it would make it easier to stop myself using it in seriousness and meaning ‘get out of my face you bitch’.

OK, got that? More fascinating insights into the weird and wonderful world of Matt Scott, swearaholic? Good then, lets get back to Lau, who is wandering alone in the streets of Paris because some unfeeling bastard told her to fuck off.

Laura

I made a decision, and turned right along the street. I hadn’t gone far before I heard my name, coming from above me. I stopped and looked up. Matt was leaning over the railings of the balcony.

‘Lau, wait. I’m sorry. Just wait there.’

He turned and went in through the window. I waited, looking back towards the hotel entrance, not knowing what to think. Was he going to apologise? Was he feeling guilty about letting me walk out on my own? Would he still be mad at me? This was uncharted territory; we hadn’t rowed before, and I didn’t know how things were going to play out.

Matt

I hoped she wasn’t mad enough that she would continue her excellent stomping, and would wait for me to pull some clothes on and catch up with her. I belatedly remembered I hadn’t unpacked my suitcase, so had to wade through piles of confetti and pick the first pair of trousers and shirt that came to hand to avoid having to put the bloody kilt back on. Mercifully Beth had thought of everything, as she always did, and there were socks and trainers to hand too, although everything was covered in tiny bits of coloured paper and I was going to look like a twat. But that wasn’t important, I just needed to throw it all on and get outside to Lau.

I hurried down to the lobby and out of the door, running out of the hotel and down the street to where Lau was, yay, still waiting for me. All the way I was saying ‘idiot, idiot, idiot’ to myself.

Laura

I waited, with a mixture of nervousness and irritation, for what felt like a long time, and was beginning to wonder if he was just messing with me, but eventually I saw him run out, look both ways, trying to spot me, then, seeing me, run towards me.

Matt

As I reached her, I pulled her towards me and held on to her, panting, relieved and able, now, to see what an obstinate arse I’d been.

‘Shit, Lau, I’m soh sorry, I can’t believe I said that to you. I’m soh sorry. I love you, fuck, what a dick, why would I want yuh wandering around out here on your own? Sorry, Lau.’

She tilted her head up to look at me.

Laura

So it was guilt and apology. Well that was more like it, although the implication I couldn’t look after myself without him might have to be explored later. I looked up at him.

‘We’re both as bad as each other, sometimes, aren’t we.’

I was prepared to take some of the blame, looking back over the last few minutes and realising I’d been more than a bit wilful myself.

Matt

Yeah, we were, but this was almost completely, utterly, totally and absolutely all my fault and I couldn’t let her absolve me so easily.

‘I know ih’s an excuse, but I’m knackered, an part of me is annoyed that we’re here an not in the hotel I booked. I know I’m an ungrateful bastard, I know it’s an amazing present, but there yuh are. I’ve stopped sulking now, stopped as soon as yuh left. Fuck, Lau, I never wana make yuh walk out on me again. Especially when I’ve told yuh to fuck off.’

Laura

‘Well I expect it won’t be the last time we have an argument and say things in the heat of the moment. I’m sorry too. I was being just as stubborn. There wouldn’t have been anything wrong with staying put for a while longer. Yeah, I suppose you weren’t very nice to me. Maybe I deserved it, maybe I didn’t. Shall we go and get something to eat? Baguette with marge and salad?’

Matt

Oh my Lau. My bloody amazing, wonderful, forgiving Lau. I so, so did not, do not, deserve her bloody amazingly wonderful forgivingness.

‘Ha ha, good try Lau. Fromage et salade. Don’t try speaky the lingo, yeah? Leave ih to the ones who’ve got GCSE French grade C.’

‘Deal. Come on, then.’

I put my arm round her waist and we walked up the street together, like we should have done in the first place, when Lau asked, perfectly reasonably and before I made it into the huge deal it had become.

‘Shit, does this mean yuh win the first argument? Yuh got your way, you cow.’

She slid her arm round me and put her hand in my back pocket.

‘If getting my way means I have to wind you up enough to tell me to fuck off, I won’t be doing it very often.’

I stopped walking, and pulled her to me, squeezing her hard against me as I felt what she wasn’t telling me, how much I’d upset her. I wanted to show her I knew, and try out a promise. I wasn’t great at promises, but I’d done a shitload yesterday, and maybe I was getting the hang of it.

‘Lau, our first proper fight lasted less than five minutes. I know I’m a bloody stubborn fucker, an so are you, so it could have lasted bloody ages. I love you so much, I never want to fight wih you again, but I guess there migh be other times when we’re tired an stressed an just got married – oh, no maybe not tha – OK, when we’re tired an stressed an jus had a fucking baby or something, but I hope I always remember what it feels like when you walk out, so it stops me before you do it again. I’m bloody useless at apologising, hate ih, but I’ll say sorry until next week if it means things are OK wih us.’

Laura

It was a perfect apology. It almost felt good to have got the argument out of the way so we could see how we reacted to it, how we might be in the future, what we might be able to do to avoid it happening.

‘And I’ll remember what it feels like to walk out – pretty horrible, if you’re interested – but, yeah, we’ve got some hectic times ahead. As long as we try to remember, that’s all we can do. You don’t have to say sorry until next week. A kiss is acceptable.’

Matt

‘You’re on, never say I can’t compromise.’

I bent down to take her up on her offer, and gently brushed her lips with mine, and as the rekindled electricity fizzed between us, we wrapped our arms round each other and held each other close.

‘OK, Lau, let’s get this honeymoon started properly. Eating. Drinking. Then back here for some romance. We’re in bloody Paris, woman, why have weh been lazing around all bloody day?’

‘I have no idea. Eiffel Tower?’

‘Fuck no. Although Jay does deserve a plastic one, as requested, but we can geh one anywhere. Let’s go on the Metro, find somewhere small an cosy, have a coffee …’

And now I was excited about it, and thought about all the things we could do, as well as going for a baguette. There would be plenty of time to be in bed together, but we should find out more about this romantic city, take some memories home with us of the first days after we were married. I got it now. Yeah, it takes me a while, but now I had Lau she was making me see things differently. We linked fingers, walked down the street and started to explore Paris.

Laura

And that was it, first big row over. Something was still lingering at the back of my mind, just a feeling that things weren’t quite right, but we’d made up, and I didn’t explore it, didn’t really have time – I had a city to explore with my husband instead.

Matt

I won’t say that was it, over, because although our row was over, and everything was back to better than great with me and Lau, there was still a hangover at the back of my mind, a little niggling something, that I couldn’t quite define, but just kept prodding me, that said things like ‘this isn’t your honeymoon, this is Beth’s honeymoon’ and ‘holy crap, I’m married’. I pushed it all away as much as I could, because even I could see what an ungrateful sod I was being, but I couldn’t help feeling it, just a little, all the time we were there, some part of me that was not in control and wanted to be.

However, I’d say we made the most of the next three days, after I pushed the whatever the fuck it was to the furthest corner of my mind where it introduced itself to all the other shit I’d shoved there over the years, and got on with enjoying myself.