78. Found out about you

In which a relationship encounters conflict and hostility.

Advertisements

Matt

Over dinner we talked a bit, although looking back it was mostly me talking about me, needing to let her know things about me, how and why I’d been Matt the Lad, seeing Adam and why I hadn’t gone back. I wanted to talk to her all night, but I didn’t think I’d last that long, and she said she had to go back home. I was really disappointed that she wasn’t staying, I’d looked forward to another night like last night, with lots of holding and touching and getting to know each other.

‘It’s Friday tomorrow. We can do it then.’

‘Yeh, a date. We should go ouh first, like all the young dudes. Or sit an watch rubbish on the telly, like all the old dudes.’

I knew which I was more likely to be capable of, but I was happy to show willing.

‘How about a compromise and staying in to watch a DVD with some beers and G and Ts, like all the thirty-something dudes?’

I laughed, relieved that I wasn’t going to have to a) think of an excuse not to go out or stay out late or b) try to stay conscious while going out or staying out late.

‘I like ih. Behr, good. DVD, good. Lau, good. Wha’s not tuh like? Hahvnt yuh got Nehflix tho?’

‘No, I haven’t quite got into the techy TV stuff. Why have you?’

‘Yeh, cohrse, tech is my johb.’

‘Oh yeah. Well you’ll have to settle for my very untechy lifestyle for now, buster. Happy with that?’

‘Yeh.’

It was all fitting in with my plan, too, which was developing more form as the evening progressed, and the electric connection between us got stronger.

When we’d finished eating, Lau helped me clear up, and I could feel my energy draining away. I held on extra tight to the wine glasses, feeling like I was about to drop something or trip over or some such shit.

Laura

We finished up the curry, and I helped Matt clear the plates and load the dishwasher. To me, he looked a bit tired, and was seeming less coordinated than he had been earlier.

‘How about going to bed?’

My offer was purely noble, wondering if he could do with a lie-down, and I wasn’t thinking of him fondling my bum in any way. He raised an eyebrow.

Matt

I looked at Lau and raised an eyebrow, wondering exactly what she was proposing. Anything more than, well, nothing, just was not, sadly, going to happen tonight.

‘Well you did mention it earlier, you said you wanted to cuddle up and talk.’

Oh my God, this woman was just the knees of the fucking bees. She seemed to know what I was thinking.

‘Yeh. Sounds like the kind of greht idea I migh have had.’

I wanted her to be absolutely clear, though, about what I was and wasn’t able to offer.

‘Lau, yuh know I can’t … we can’t … fuck ih, yuh did the talk on sex, yuh know wha I mean.’

Laura

I’d heard what he’d said the previous night, and I knew he was anxious about what my expectations were. There was no way I was going to try to rush him into anything that he wasn’t ready for. I was scarcely ready myself, although I wouldn’t have said no to anything that had been offered. The fact was, Matt was having difficulty with his sexual functioning, and I knew, probably better than most, how low-key my responses needed to be.

‘Matt, we’re taking this slowly. Cuddle up and talk means cuddle up and talk. There’s no pressure to do anything else, ever. It’s enough for me. Talking means more to me, actually; I really want to get to know you. We’re so doing things a weird way round. Shall we?’

Matt

She stood up and held her hand out to me, and I took it and stood with her, thanking the gods of perfect women as I did so.

‘Thanks Lau. Yuhr fucking awesome.’

We undressed and got into bed, with minimum fuss, two people who had only known each other for just over twenty four hours but who were already comfortable enough with each other that they could just hop into bed for a chat and a cuddle. Lau was just wearing her underwear, and I was just wearing my boxers and t-shirt, and it was so fucking sexy but so fucking … friendly.

Laura

I turned onto my side and Matt turned to face me. We kissed first, softly and gently, causing little fizzing sparks to travel from my lips down to my fingertips and well beyond. It was delicious, knowing that it wasn’t going to go any further; it was almost better, just allowing myself to be filled up with fizzing desire. Almost. Then we lay and looked at each other, not really knowing where to start.

‘OK, so getting to know each other. Favourite colour?’

‘Navy an white.’

‘That’s two.’

‘Tottenham colours.’

‘Football?’

‘Yeh. Yuhrs?’

‘Don’t do football really.’

‘Noh, colour.’

‘Oh. Purple.’

‘Hearts?’

‘No, just the colour.’

‘Noh, Heart of Midlothian, footy tehm, play in purple.’

‘Oh. Maybe we can accept that I don’t really know or care much about football. Sorry, it seems to mean a lot to you, but that’s just how it is.’

‘Cahnt blame a blohk fuh trying. One day I’ll hahv a decent chat wih a woman abouh footy.’

‘Dream on.’

‘Ha ha, yeh. Childhood crush?’

‘George Smallwood. You?’

‘Lily Knight. Snog him?’

‘No, he was way older than me, never knew I existed, I was, like, ten and he was, I don’t know, eighteen or something. He lived a few doors up from me. You and Lily?’

‘Yeh, we pashed a bih. Roun the back of the portakabin at break. Then she wen off wih Harry Thomas one lunch and tha was tha.’

‘Oh, she broke your heart.’

‘Noh, snogged Lucy Carpenter two minutes later.’

‘I see your early sexual exploits may have set a pattern. Favourite film?’

‘Tha yuh’d have heard of? Amelie.’

Well that was a bit of an assumption.

‘What do you mean, that I’ve have heard of? I’m pretty cultured, me.’

‘OK then, MicMacs.’

Hm, correct assumption as it turned out.

‘Oh, OK, Amelie it is then. Good film. Mine’s The Sixth Sense. Saw it three times at the cinema, and have it on DVD.’

‘Stihl surprised at the ending?’

‘No, but you watch it differently. It’s kind of a ghostly love story. I thought Amelie had a bit of a twist, myself, I kept expecting her to get knocked off her bike at the end.’

‘Noh, never gona happen. Fihrst kiss?

‘Damian Wetherly.’

‘Ooh, quick ahnswer. Mehmorable thehn.’

‘For it’s sloppy grossness, yes. Surely you remember your first kiss?’

‘Lily’

‘What, you kissed your first crush? Lucky you.’

Matt shrugged modestly.

‘Did you lose your virginity to her too?’

‘Ha ha, noh Lau, weh wehr only ten. Buh Damiahn …’

‘God no. Steven Rasmussen. First boyfriend. Sixteen. My parents’ bed, while they were at a wedding.’

Matt was quiet for a moment, and it almost felt like he was finding the thought of me having sex with someone else difficult to process.

‘How about you?’

‘Bes maht’s girfriehd.’

‘No!’

Although I could well believe it, having heard some of the stories about Matt.

‘What, when you were at school or something?’

‘Noh, Uni.’

It took a second or two to work it out.

‘What, you didn’t have sex until you were – what – eighteen?’

Matt nodded.

‘Nehly nihnteen.’

‘Blimey. I’m surprised.’

‘Hihden depths, Lau.’

Well that was becoming apparent. There was a lot more to find out about this man, and I was looking forward to doing a bit of digging. Matt had his next question ready, however.

‘Favourite position?’

‘For yoga?’

I did, of course, know exactly what he meant.

‘Sex.’

I knew that.

‘I’m not sure. It depends on lots of things.’

‘Cohm on Lau, everyone’s goh a favourite. Good Baptist girl like yuh, I beh ih’s missionary.’

‘Cowgirl.’

‘Holy fuck. Whoo. Yuh duh like tuh beh in charge.’

‘You’d better believe it. Yours?’

‘Wish I could show yuh.’

He looked so sad, I immediately needed to make him feel better.

‘Oh Matt, there’s all the time in the world. Actually, I’m going to change mine. At the moment, my favourite sexual position is face to face, having a chat. You’re giving me everything I need right now.’

‘Lau …’

Matt’s eyes had filled with tears.

‘It’s really important to you, isn’t it, flower.’

He nodded, unable to speak.

‘You’ll get there, just don’t put pressure on yourself. Enjoy the other bits as well.’

He nodded again.

‘Ih’s jus such a big part of meh, wha I’ve been the last few yehrs. Now ih’s gone, ih’s … I can’t explain.’

Enough people had told me what it was like, that I had the words.

‘It’s like you’ve lost an arm, or the ability to walk. It affects every part of your life, all the time, sometimes you can’t think about anything else except not being able to have sex.’

He looked at me with something approaching awe.

‘Yuh understand!’

‘Not really. I know the words, what people have told me, what I’ve read. I can’t possibly really understand, it hasn’t happened to me.’

Matt

We started off slow, with colours, interests, all that shit, and worked up to more intimate comparisons.

Favourite colours: Matt – navy and white – Spurs, keep up.

Lau – purple (not football related).

Football: Matt – yes, very much so.

Lau – not so much.

Films: Matt – arty French nonsense.

Lau – sentimental tosh not that I was judging her taste in films in any way.

Childhood crushes: Matt – Lily.

Lau – some git called George.

First kisses: Matt – Lily.

Lau – Damian the Dick (not her nickname, it was applied by me).

Virginity lost: Matt – Cindy.

Lau – Steven something German and too much information it made me feel weird.

Favourite Positions: Matt – didn’t get to answer.

Lau – cowgirl! Fuck, she was a goer. As soon I was back in working order, we were going to have some bloody fun!

And then I got a bit maudlin about not being able to show her my favourite position, and she changed her mind, and said her favourite was face to face, having a chat, and it made me cry because it was so bloody thoughtful, the cow.

And then she blew my mind by telling me exactly how it felt, this fucking bastard MS and what it had done to my sex drive – as if I’d lost an arm or the ability to walk, and that sometimes it was all I could think about, not being able to do it – and I knew, if I hadn’t before, that she was always going to get me. Not just because I had the bastard MS and she knew a lot about the bastard MS, but because on some deep level, although we were so different in the things we liked and didn’t like, we were the same where it mattered, in understanding how we worked, what made us tick.

‘Will ih … will I geh ih back?’

I had to ask. I’d stopped myself from talking to Lau like she was a nurse, an expert in the thing I had, but this was so big for me that I couldn’t help myself. I needed to know.

Laura

It was what everyone asked, whether it was their sexual function or their ability to walk in a straight line, and it was what I could never answer. The truth was that it would probably come and go, and then it would take longer to come back after it had gone, and then one day it might not come back at all. But I wasn’t going to be saying that right at this moment.

‘No one can promise that. With most people, yes, it comes back. There’s a big psychological element too. Wanting it too much can play as big a part as the physical side of it. And that is the end of Laura Shoeman’s sexual counselling session. That will be one hundred pounds, please, I take personal cheques and cash. Further appointments should be booked through my personal assistant.’

I needed to stop being Nurse Laura. I was here with this gorgeous man, who I kept forgetting had the very disease I spent my working life dealing with, and I wanted to get to know him. I knew there was so much more to him than MS, and I wanted to stop him fixating on it, and tell me about his life.

Matt

She had managed to tell me to step away from the medical questions and make me laugh, at the same time.

‘Ha ha. Lau, yuhr greht, even if yuhr prices ahr a bih stehp. I wan yuh tuh know abouh meh.’

Laura

‘OK, get spilling then.’

I said this with a smile, but inside I was a little worried – was he going to tell me everything? We could be here some time.

Matt

‘Well, OK, buh first, I wan tuh tell yuh abouh yuh. I wan yuh tuh know tha when I first saw yuh, yesterday, the second I saw yuh, I was like, whoa. Ih was profound. I jus knew it was yuh. I wahnt gona stay, Beth talked meh into goin, buh I only agreed tuh put my head roun the door, then I was gona goh, buh I saw yuh an couldn’t stay away. I made ih up abouh wanting tuh talk.’

Lau pretended to be astounded.

‘Then when we were at Meahn Beahn, yuh touched my hand an, whoa, like electric shock. Ih’s like I’ve been looking foh yuh all my life. Whatever I’d behn doing, whoever I’d behn with, I’d have had to stop it to beh wih yuh.’

I was still finding it hard to believe, but it was true. If I’d been with Carrie, or Jules, or if I’d been on my way to the other side of the world, it would all have stopped so I could be here with Lau.

Laura

He looked like he could hardly believe what he was saying, but I believed it, because I felt it. It hadn’t been as instant for me, but it felt like it was now as deep. I felt like I could reach out and touch it, this thing that was binding us together.

‘You know what, that’s what it’s like for me too. Not exactly when I first saw you, all I was thinking was ‘blimey, isn’t that Matt Scott?’, but then I couldn’t stop looking at you, and yeah, I felt the same in Mean Bean, it was like a jolt when we touched. I’m still getting it. I can’t quite take it in, but I love it.’

Matt

Every time she said it, said that she’d felt the same things, I got a bit closer to believing that it was going to happen, was happening right now, but there was still shit she needed to know. It was all very well me thinking that nothing would stop me being with her, that she could tell me anything and it wouldn’t make any difference, but she didn’t necessarily have the same point of view.

‘OK, tha’s greht, I’m glad we fehl the same. I wan tuh tell yuh abouh Jules. I keep almost saying stuff, then goin ‘yuh can’t say tha, Lau wouldn’t understand’ but I think maybe yuh would. We were together foh abouh nine months. I ruined her lihf. She’s the reason I’m like I am now, I mehn trying tuh beh honest an shih.’

Laura

I had been dying to know about Julia, but now he was talking about her, I felt a bit shy about it. Their relationship, or its ending, had obviously affected Matt a lot, and part of me felt ridiculously threatened by what they must have had. I put on what I hoped was an interested and not at all a jealous cow expression.

‘What was she like?’

Matt

‘Bih like meh.’

I’d answered before I really thought about it, but it was partly true.

‘Really?’

Lau frowned, as if she knew different, and again I wondered how much she knew from other people.

Laura

Not from what I’d heard, but I didn’t know her.

‘Only tha she hid herself too. I hide behind Matt the Lad, she hid behind being The Ice Queen. She was warm an funny, but scared and insecure. Weh ended up being too dihferent, we wanted dihferent things, or rather jus the one dihferent thing, buh because I was tuh busy hiding, I hid wha I wanted from myself. I wan a fahmly, rehly wan ih, member I said yesterday?’

I nodded, feeling again the thrill of being invited to join Matt in the journey that led to children. Was that what he’d said? It felt like it. But we’d only known each other a day. God, this was completely insane.

‘She dihnt want children. At all. Ever. Noh compromise. I told her I did a week after weh moved in together.’

‘Oh Matt.’

I could only imagine how devastating that had been for both of them. I knew how much I wanted children, and if the opposite had happened to me, if someone I was committed to had told me it was never going to happen, it would have been the end.

Matt

She looked so sad, it was as if she felt it, how much it had hurt both of us.

‘I dihnt know. Ih was when Chahlie was born, I saw them all together, goh this surge of … lohs of things – jehlousy, recognition, felt ahl protehtive, I jus wanted ih, wha they had. I knew that day ih was gona end wih me an Jules, ih would either go on fuh a while, both pretending ih was OK, then ripping us apart, or ih could rip us apart there an then. Tha’s wha happened. She smashed the place up, picked up her stuff, I never saw her again, apart from one of the mos fucking awful wehks at work Ih’v ever had. The worst thing was, she had this thing, she said she dihnt believe in love, said ih was made up by pehpl. So I’d tell her I dihnt love her, like ih was gona make her fehl better. Buh I did, I so did, I even pretended tha. I told her in the end, wrote a letter, buh way tuh late. So tha’s why now, if I feel ih, I say ih. I try tuh be honest abouh wha I want, wha I’m feeling, first tuh myself and then tuh other pehpl. I’m getting there, buh still a bluhdy mardy git sometimes. Cahnt always dehl wih pehpl caring.’

Laura

‘Do you still love her?’

I needed to know, not that I thought it would make any difference to me, but you need to know these things rather than wondering. Matt’s story was so sad, he obviously still felt very guilty about what had happened, and I wanted to know how he felt now. He’d said, incredibly, unbelievably, that when he saw me – me – only yesterday, he would have finished it anyway. That took a lot of getting my head round, and I just wanted to know how things stood with him and Julia.

Matt

Well that was a bloody awkward question. I knew Lau had seen Jules’ photo, and would have seen me flicking past her pictures on my phone. I could have just said no, but I wanted to start as I intended to go on, and that meant being as honest as I could. I took a deep breath and sighed it out.

‘I think part of meh will always love her. Part of meh still loves Carrie, or how she was tuh staht wih. Buh foh meh ih’s abouh putting ih away, moving on.’

Laura

It was a truly honest reply. He wasn’t trying to soften anything for me; he was just telling me his truth. I reached up and stroked his hair. He put his hand over mine, then pulled it to his mouth and gently kissed my knuckles, looking into my eyes as he did so.

Matt

She seemed OK with this big splurge of information, and I wanted her to know I was grateful.

‘Soh, wha tha means is I tell yuh wha I’m feeling when I feel ih. Try noh tuh hide or be scared of ih. Migh not always manage ih. Migh beh a bih intense foh yuh.’

I really wanted to start this that way, facing up to everything as it happened, not letting my need to keep things to myself, or to do things on my own, or for bloody man points, stop me from being open about shit. I really wanted it. I was at least going to try.

‘Honesty is the best way. I’m pretty up front, usually. It can be uncomfortable sometimes, but everyone knows where they are.’

‘OK, then, leh’s start now. Ih’m amazed an fucking terrified. I feel like I’ve found something I dihnt know I was looking foh, buh always needed. I dihnt think I believed in love at first sigh.’

Oh shit, what the fuck was I saying? I said I was being open, not bloody blurting out ridiculousness. Extreme backtracking was in order.

‘Not sayin I love yuh, migh be a bih soon, buh dohnt know how tuh describe wha I’m fehlin.’

I wondered if I’d got away with it. Lau didn’t seem fazed, she was just looking at me the same way she had been all evening, her direct gaze seeming to find a connecting link with my soul. However, this was the closest I had come for a long time to telling someone I loved them. It would, in a way, have been easy to say, as I was feeling such strong emotions for Lau, but saying it now would have been foolhardy, and I wasn’t sure, not yet.

Laura

My heart was pounding. Despite his backtracking, Matt had practically said he loved me. It was mad, crazy, absolutely the most bonkers thing, but so thrilling and so fast. How can you feel like that for someone you’ve just met, who you barely know? But it was true, mad as it was; I felt exactly the same. Sensible Nurse Laura decided to talk for me, though.

‘There’s no rush to say anything we can’t take back later. Let’s just see how it goes. The ‘L’ word is huge. The other ‘L’ word is a bit less scary.’

Matt

I waited for her to tell me which other ‘L’ word she had chosen. I could think of a few I could try – lick, lap, lips …

‘Like.’

‘Oh. Yeh. And lust. Lohs of lust foh yuh, Lau. I like lusting after Lau a loh. Yuhr turn: Matt makes me …’

I tried to reduce the intensity a bit, to back us both away from what I had nearly declared so rashly, and I waggled my eyebrows, indicating she should finish the sentence.

‘Oh. OK … Matt makes me mad with … er … magnetism …’

‘Magnetism? Tha’s best yuh can come up wih?’

‘I thought it was a fair shot for being put totally on the spot.’

‘How abouh manly masculinity?’

‘If you like.’

‘Manly Matt likes Lusty Lau a loh.’

‘And Lusty Lau … er … must have Manly Matt.’

‘Yuhr rubbish at this.’

‘Oi! My name is much easier to rhyme with.’

‘Not rhyming, alliterating.’

‘OK, clever clogs. You just had some lucky words.’

‘Leh’s call ih a draw. Lau …’

I looked into her eyes. She looked back. I loved messing about with her, batting words to and fro, but it wasn’t all I wanted to do. There was a plan to be following.

‘I rehly wana kiss yuh.’

‘OK. What’s stopping you?’

‘Not much. Buh not often behn in bed wih a woman, an snogged an tha’s ih.’

‘We managed OK yesterday, didn’t we?’

‘Yeh, buh yuh wanted more, an I frehked.’

This, us, being together but not being able to be properly together, was going to get weird – or should that be weirder – if we didn’t talk about it.

‘I didn’t notice you freaking, I noticed you asking me to stop and me stopping. Isn’t that what everyone does? Matt, I’ll say it as often as you need me to, we’re taking it slowly here. Maybe some things are going way way fast, but that’s fine because other things can go way way slow. Slow is fine, slow is good, slow is damn good, we can get to know each other, talk about things, work stuff out before we worry about sex. We’re doing everything else the wrong way round, why not that too?’

God, she was awesome. She was just so calm and down to earth about it all, like it was completely normal for her to spend two nights in a row in bed with a fucking cripple with fucked-up downbelows, kissing and feeling each other up and nothing more, no more fucking anything for the foreseeable.

Laura

He carried on looking into my eyes. If he didn’t kiss me soon, I was going to take matters into my own hands.

‘Lau, yuhr fucking amazing.’

I shrugged modestly, relishing the compliment.

Matt

‘Knoh wha, though, I’m bluhdy knackered.’

I laughed.

‘Cahnt believe I’m saying tha, wha’s time? Shih, not even eigh yet. Quick snog then sleep foh me, yuh gona stay?’

‘I can’t stay the night, I haven’t brought anything with me.’

‘Stay foh bih? Jus cuddle.’

I was still pushing, trying to get her to stay. I wondered whether, if she fell asleep, she’d end up staying the night anyway. I didn’t care if she slept in her undies – was extremely unambivalent to the idea actually – and I could rustle up a spare toothbrush if necessary.

From the living room, Beth’s text tone sounded. I sighed. I’d managed to forget, for a couple of hours, that I was the personal property of Beth Scott due to being short-sighted enough to have awarded her health coordinator status. I was bloody irritated that she’d reminded me.

‘Wha now? They’ve made ih since this afternoon withouh checking up on meh.’

‘Just answer them, Matt.’

I sighed again, closed my eyes, almost too tired to bother, then opened them, gave Lau a quick kiss on the lips and tottered into the living room to retrieve my phone.

Laura

I watched him walk unsteadily to the living room, retrieve his phone, and come back to bed.

‘You’re really tired, aren’t you.’

He looked at me ruefully and nodded.

‘Even if I was fuhly functional, wouldn’t hahv the energy tonigh. Iz does foh meh, an had a long day yesterday. Wih lohs of excitement.’

He winked at me, then bent his head to his phone to read his text.

Matt

‘Oh, ha ha, apparently Iz told Beth she was going tuh live wih me so she can hahv pizza and ice crehm foh lunch every day.’

Excellent. My afternoon’s work was yielding fruit. That would teach Beth. Oh, no, that’s right, it wouldn’t, but that didn’t stop me gloating about my small and extremely time-limited victory.

‘So she’s not checking up on you, then, just checking in.’

Oh alright, you win, Lau. You always did.

‘OK, yuhr righ, I did hear wha yuh said yesterday, Ih’v been texting back more today. Maybe ih’s worked.’

‘Bossy Nurse Laura strikes again.’

She raised a brow at me, impishly

‘Yeh. Cohm here before yuhr head gehs too big tuh snog.’

Laura

We moved towards each other and our lips met with the increasingly familiar jolt of electricity. We held each other tightly and moved slowly and lingeringly in each other’s mouths, hands roaming over each other’s bodies. I felt Matt’s hands slide down my back and settle on my bum, where he stroked me over the top of my knickers. I followed suit and moved my hands along his side, unable to resist slipping my hand under the waistband of his boxers, where it came to rest on his bum cheek. It was very firm and was crying out for a squeeze, so I squeezed.

Matt

‘Holy fuck, Lau, yuhr killing me.’

‘Sorry, shall I stop?’

‘Fuck noh. Loving ih. Yuhv goh greht hands.’

We held each other, touching, kissing, looking deep into each other’s eyes, until I was unable to stop the blackness of sleep claiming me. It drifted in from the corners of my vision and took me away while I was stroking Lau’s soft hair and feeling her lips tasting mine.

I hope you’ve noticed. I hope you’ve been paying attention to what I have been doing and what I haven’t been doing. There has been a lot of groping and feeling up that Matt and Lau have been doing, and I expect you assume that all parts have been fair game, but if you think about it, no, not all parts. I have been saving myself. We have been going faster than a speeding bullet the last couple of days, but I kind of knew that there were some places I needed to save until later to explore.

Part of it was my plan, and part of it was it just felt right. No cupping was had, by either of us, just stroking of arses, deep kisses. We could have knocked ourselves out, gone everywhere, but it was as if we were balancing the insane speed we were going at emotionally with going slow slow slow in the physical reconnaissance mission. Without Lau telling me, or me having to ask, I knew it was too soon to be touching the bits enclosed in her sensible black bra and pants. Maybe the simple nature of her underwear was sending a message in itself. I didn’t know when she’d be ready, but I knew I’d know. I had never been so in tune with anyone in my life.

Laura

We snuggled together for a while longer, touching, kissing a bit – and oh, his kisses were just as thrilling and tantalising and delicious as they had been the first time – until I felt Matt’s movements slow and stop, his body relax. I spent a long time looking at his face – his eyes were shut, his mouth slightly open, and I heard his breathing deepen. I waited a while, until he’d had the chance to fall properly asleep, then disentangled myself gently and climbed out of bed, grabbing my dress and uniform as I crept out of the room, pulling the door shut behind me. I dressed quickly, then, on a whim, found a bit of paper and wrote a note.

I left it on my pillow, then I let myself quietly out of the flat and drove home, smiling to myself the whole way.

I went to bed early myself. I’d had a tiring twenty four hours or so, and some solid sleep felt like a really good idea. Matt had other ideas, though.

Matt

I woke up and I was alone. It felt wrong, more wrong than sleeping alone had ever felt before. It was the dead of night, and Lau was gone and I missed her. Then I saw the note she’d left, sitting on her pillow, where her head had rested, facing me, just a few hours ago.

Hope you slept well, you look so cute when you’re asleep.

Thanks for a lovely evening,

looking forward to tomorrow’s 30-something DVD night.

My place?

Text me.

Lusty Lau xx

Something that had been blinking at the edge of my consciousness came into view as I read the note. I had no idea how old Lau was. I hadn’t even thought about it. She’d written ’30-something DVD night’, so I assumed she was in her thirties, and yeah I guess I knew she wasn’t like eighteen or some such shit. She certainly wasn’t older than me, but she had a kind of, oh I don’t know, can I call it an ‘ageless quality’ and not sound like a complete arse? Probably not. I guess I mean it didn’t matter. She could have been eighteen or twenty eight or thirty eight or forty eight or more maybe (OK I’m being generous to myself, perhaps), and she would still have been Lau, still the one I’d been looking for. It wasn’t important, but it was … relevant. To the whole having a family thing. I hoped it would become clearer without me having any awkward conversations, and I dismissed it from my mind for now.

So anyway, I was missing Lau, like crazy. I reached for my phone. She’d said text her, although she probably didn’t mean text her in the middle of the night, but you couldn’t be too careful, wouldn’t want to piss her off by mistake.

Laura

A ping from my phone woke me up in the middle of the night. I reached for it blearily, in my disoriented state thinking it was the alarm. The time said three twenty. There was a text.

‘Yr not here 😦 miss u. Thx 4 note.’

Matt

There was a bit of a pause, and I nearly drifted back to sleep. Then she answered.

‘U shld b asleep. Need ur strength 4 2moro = film nite.’

‘U said txt u.’

‘Didn’t mean immediately.’

‘Oh. Shld b more specific w yr bossiness ;)’

‘Will remember 🙂 Go 2 sleep now. Specific enough?’

‘Yeh. Night Lau x’

‘Night x’

‘Sleep tight.’

‘Thx. U2.’

‘Don’t let bedbugs etc.’

‘Go 2 sleep.’

‘Can’t. Miss u.’

‘Me 2 but need sleep. Night. Still holding hands, if it helps.’

‘Yeh. Helps 🙂 xx’

And so I floated back to sleep, holding her hand in my thoughts.

I dreamed that night. I hardly ever dream, or if I do I don’t remember them, but that night I dreamed I was riding a horse along a beach, looking for something. Just as I found it, I woke up. I felt more awake and alert than I had for a long time, and I checked the time. I was amazed to find that it was only just gone quarter past seven.

Lau. My next thought was Lau. She would be getting ready for her day. I grabbed my phone and started texting, thinking that she wouldn’t have much opportunity once she got to work.

Laura

And so another day dawned, at seven seventeen, with the insistent alarm tone of my phone pulling me out of a dream in which I was following a horse along a beach. There was more to it than that, but it skittered away as dreams do and I’d forgotten it before I’d swung my legs out of bed. As I pulled my dressing gown on, my phone pinged. Text from Matt.

‘Hey Lau, u up?’

‘Yes. Just.’

‘We didn’t have dessert.’

‘Oh yeah. Never mind. Bring 2nite?’

‘Cool. Wot time?’

‘I’ll b home after five. NE time after then :)’

‘Wot DVD?’

‘Bring one? One each. If we last that long. DVD nite can b 2 nites. Or 3.’

‘gr8. Cu l8r. M xx’

‘cu xx’

And so, happily set up for the day, I showered, dressed, had breakfast and left for work. Anna was back, her cold on the mend, and when I got in Kate was filling her in on developments with her patients while she’d been off.

‘Hi Lau, thanks for doing the LMS day, I owe you one.’

‘No problem, An, it was a good day.’

With a sudden shiver, I realised that if Anna hadn’t been off sick, I wouldn’t have met Matt. I wouldn’t be in the middle of this thrilling swirl of excitement and emotion. The things that hinge on the common cold virus.

‘Hey, yeah, An, you’ll never guess who came along as a newbie.’

Still not wanting to discuss it, I scowled at Kate, who deliberately didn’t look at me.

‘No, who?’

‘Matt Scott.’

‘What, Rach’s Matt?’

‘Well, Rach’s and half the bloody women in the city’s Matt, yeah.’

‘He’s been diagnosed?’

Kate turned to me, questioning eyebrows raised.

‘Don’t look at me, I just had a quick chat with him afterwards.’

This earned an exasperated snort from Kate.

‘How’s Rach taken it?’

‘Pretty bloody philosophically, actually. She said yesterday he wasn’t a superhero and it was time to move on.’

‘Wow. Might be the best thing that’s ever happened to her, well since ‘that night’.’

Matt

So that was my evening sorted, and the plan was taking shape nicely. Now for the rest of the day. I was feeling great, and getting up early would enable me to organise things so I wasn’t dashing about. I lay in bed for a while, enjoying feeling clear-headed. I sent Lau another text and then I fell asleep, and woke up near lunchtime, feeling muzzy.

Laura

I busied myself boiling the kettle and putting teabags in mugs, trying not to get involved in the conversation. I heard my phone ping in my bag. Another text from Matt.

‘Holding hands xx’

‘:) xx’

Kate noticed me texting.

‘Your mum up and about early, is she?’

It was a sad reflection of my recent lack of romantic success that the person who was most likely to be texting me this early in the morning was my mother, but I smiled ambiguously and let her think what she wanted to.

‘Have a chilled evening yesterday?’

‘Yeah, great, had a takeaway, wine, went to bed early.’

It was all true; leaving stuff out like where and who with, and not mentioning the odd head massage and going to bed with a handsome man again wasn’t like really lying.

‘Sounds like just what you needed, Lau, you weren’t really here yesterday afternoon.’

‘Yeah, I think it was. Oh, hi Rach. Tea?’

The morning went on, all of us either on visits or catching up with writing notes on the computer. Lunchtime came and went with the usual sandwich run, and then we had a referral meeting to set up our schedule for the next week. There was always a steady flow of new referrals to the service, and we each had responsibility for a fairly large caseload.

Matt

I picked up my phone and saw several texts from various people.

Lau: ‘:) xx’

Dec: ‘Alright, m8? Hope u still on 4 Charlie sitting/sleepover Sat :)’

Beth: ‘How r u 2day?’

‘Hi Matty. There’s an all-ability walking group in Telton. Interested?’

‘Emailed u article abt MS and diet.’

‘Don’t forget Amy’s birthday.’

Mum had called but not left a message, as she never did, and Beth must have recruited Jay into the ‘let’s all bug Matty, I’m obviously not annoying him enough on my own’ campaign, as there was a voicemail from him.

‘Hi Matty, er, just, er, wondered if you could, er – oh alright, Beth, just let me do it. Give Beth a call, or something, mate, she’s giving me a ton of bloody grief, you’ll save my ears. Wha –’

I tried not to be exasperated. They all knew I slept hard and never heard my phone if I was really gone. Lau’s words kept coming back to me, and I pinged off a few texts:

‘Hey. Yep, looking 4ward 2 keeping Charlie up l8 on Sat ;)’

‘Beth. I am alive. Was there something u needed? No 2 cripples walking gp, thx tho. Diet? Donuts n beer do it 4 me. CU Sun.’

‘Hey Jay. Tell Beth hv already got Amy’s present. Hope u hv 2.’

Then I called Mum back. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t have allowed herself to be drafted into Beth’s circle of bothering, as she was usually pretty good unless it was a real emergency, so there was something specific she wanted to talk to me about.

‘Heh Muhm.’

‘Matthew, dear. I tried to call you earlier.’

‘Yeh, I knoh. Ahr yuh OK?’

‘Yes, dear, but I was wondering if you could help me out with something?’

Mum, bless her heart, always tried her hardest to think of ways to make me feel useful. She knew I was pretty fucked in the limbs department, and my usual handyman abilities were out the window at the moment, so it was often something like a cryptic crossword clue, or she was writing a letter to someone and wanted another word for ‘nice’. She didn’t think I knew what she was doing, or maybe she did and we just played the game of not letting on that I knew she knew I knew, because it was out of kindness, and it worked, in a weird kind of way. It’s always good to be needed, even if it’s only for the answer to seven across.

‘Wha yuh nehd?’

‘Well I was talking to someone at the gardening club the other day, and we were discussing sauces.’

This time it was cooking. Well, I was pretty into cooking, so fair enough.

‘Uh huh.’

‘Well, we were having a slight disagreement about the ingredients of béarnaise sauce. I said that béarnaise had shallots and tarragon, but someone else said that was hollandaise. I was sure you’d know.’

‘Top of the clahs, Muhm. The sauhce is the sahm, buh diffrehnt grehdy yuhms.’

‘Different what, dear?’

I laughed. ‘Iz’s new wohd. Ingrehdiehts. I lihk hers behter.’

‘Ha ha, me too. So what’s in hollandaise? I just want to make sure I get it right next week.’

‘Lehmon juhs an cahenne. Goh geh ’em.’

‘I will. Thank you, dear. How are you?’

Mum was allowed to ask because a) she always talked about something else first and b) she was my mum. I didn’t always tell her the truth, because you don’t always tell your mum everything, but today I was taking advice from a particularly lovely expert in my specific fucking bastard neurological disorder, and I told her the truth. Oh, not about the lovely expert, I wasn’t spilling everything just yet, come on, do you know me at all?

‘Bih wihped. Hahd busy cohple of days. Ohnly jus wohk up.’

‘Oh, you had that day at the church hall, didn’t you. Beth said you stayed for the whole thing.’

Bloody Beth, see, this was why I was so reluctant to do things, go anywhere, talk about anything, because it got endlessly discussed with everyone whether you wanted it or not. I felt like I was public property, and it really pissed me off, and then I stopped talking to anyone about anything. Like with Mum, now. I expect she’d been part of the whole ‘where’s Matty, let’s all panic until we know he’s tucked up in his own bed’ malarkey, even though she hadn’t texted or called herself, but I wasn’t going there right now, and I just closed off.

‘Did she?’

Mum sensed my withdrawal, as she changed the subject.

‘So are you going to Sunday lunch?’

‘Yeh. Staying at Dec an Amy’s Satuhday nigh, lohking after Chahlie while thehr ouh fuh Amy’s birthday. Goin wih them Suhnday mohning.’

I wondered about taking Lau along with me, but I wanted her to myself for a bit longer before I subjected her to the madness of a full-on Scott interrogation. Maybe another time.

Mum, sensing that I’d been annoyed by Beth talking about me to all and sundry, wrapped things up before I could take any further umbrage.

‘Alright, well I’ll see you on Sunday, then. Rose is bringing me.’

‘OK, Muhm, seh yuh thehn.’

I pottered about, getting myself some lunch, changing my bed, doing laundry, all things that should have been so mundane, but all things that sapped my strength, and I had to do slowly and efficiently to conserve my energy. Half way through the afternoon, I sent Lau a text.

Can’t wait 2 cu l8r. Amelie n cheesecake. Mm. Xx.

There wasn’t an immediate reply, and I got on with something else, then I heard the ping and picked up my phone.

Laura

Half way through the afternoon, it was my turn to make the tea. I heard my phone ping on my desk, but didn’t think much of it until I heard Rachel’s voice.

‘Lau … you’ve got a text from Matt?

‘What?’

She was holding my phone up, with the screen clearly showing his name. I never blushed, but I felt my face begin to heat up.

‘Why’s Matt texting you? Is it Matt Matt, as in newly diagnosed with MS and while we’re at it serial woman dumper Matt?’

She looked at the screen. Anna and Kate looked on wide-eyed.

‘Oh my God! You’re seeing him later? What the fuck Lau? He’s texted you kisses.’

I couldn’t make my mouth say any words. I stood there, kettle in my hand, trying to find a single thing to say that would explain it without lying my head off. I could have lied my head off, I might even have made it sound convincing, but eventually Rachel was going to know. And I never lied, but I felt like I had spent the last couple of days at work half-lying. Maybe it was better for all of us that she knew now, when it was new, and I hadn’t been deceiving everyone for ages. My face went hot – it wasn’t embarrassment, it was shame, my half-truths and deceit catching up with me. Trying to ignore my reddened cheeks, I had a stab at it.

‘I’m sorry, Rach, maybe I should have said something, but it’s early days –’

‘Lau!’

This was Kate.

‘You’re not serious, you’re seeing Matt bloody Scott? Oh that is just wrong on so many levels.’

Rachel had turned as red as me, and I saw her expression darken.

‘Well I think I’ll just reply, shall I?’

She started to tap on my phone. I dropped the kettle back onto the table in my haste to get the phone back from Rachel, but she gave it a final triumphant tap and threw it on my desk before picking up her bag and marching out of the office. Kate and Anna continued to look at me, open mouthed.

‘What? It’s not like it’s illegal.’

I lifted my chin defiantly.

‘Bloody hell, Lau, no wonder you didn’t want us all asking about him. What are you thinking? Apart from all the grief he’s given Rach, who is your friend in case you need reminding, he’s a wanker of the first order and, just to top it all, he’s got bloody MS. Could you be seeing a more inappropriate person?’

I held her gaze, determined not to be ashamed. What Matt and I were starting to have wasn’t shameful, I’d checked it out with Patrick, it was just that things were awkward while Rachel was getting used to it.

Then I had a bit of a reality check. I’d known how upset Rachel was going to be, and I’d gone ahead anyway, not really caring. Now things were going to be really tricky here, I had lost a good friend, and, yes, Kate was right, it was a pretty inappropriate relationship. As I was thinking all this, my phone rang. I walked over to where Rachel had thrown it. The screen announced that Matt was calling. I answered, then walked outside.

Matt

I was more than a bit surprised by Lau’s response.

‘Get lost you cocking ballache.’

What? Something had gone badly wrong. Either I had done something to upset her, although what the fuck it could have been I had no clue, or someone had told her something about me, or maybe someone had taken her phone, maybe she’d been mugged, or – I needed to stop catastrophising and call her. I frantically hit call and waited for what seemed like a million rings before it was answered.

‘Hello.’

So she hadn’t lost her phone. It must have been directed at me, then. She didn’t sound that pleased to hear from me. Fuck, what had I done?

‘Lau? Wha’s wrong?’

Laura

Wow, it was as if he was psychic. How could he have possibly known what had just happened? He couldn’t. What did he mean, then?

‘Er …’

Matt

She sounded hesitant and a bit confused.

‘Why did yuh call me a cocking ballache?’

Laura

‘Oh.’

Oh great. Rach had really landed me in it.

‘I didn’t. That was Rachel. Sorry, a whole lot of something smelly just hit the fan here. She saw your text, wasn’t happy, sent you a reply.’

Matt

Oh, the friend. Well that explained things a bit, but sounded bad from Lau’s point of view.

‘Oh fuck. Are yuh OK?’

Laura

Matt seemed to be taking it well. At least he didn’t think it was me who’d sent him an insulting message.

‘Been better. It was bound to happen eventually. I’d have liked a bit more time to prepare, but whatever. Better out than in, as they say.’

I tried to put a smile in my voice, but felt close to tears and took a deep shuddering breath.

Matt

She sounded like she was putting on a brave face and I so wished I could see her, hold her, make it alright.

‘Are yuh nearly finished foh the day?’

‘Hour or so more.’

Oh bloody hell, I needed to get going, if I was going to get all the buses I needed to cross the city to Lau’s house. I tried to sound as reassuring as I knew how to, before I disconnected and set off.

‘Hang in there. Hohding hands till I see yuh.’

‘Thanks. Need it. Better go.’

‘Bye Lau.’

I sent her some virtual strength through our still mentally clasped hands, not that it was likely to make any difference, but was the best I could manage.

77. Kissy kissy

In which two people miss each other all day.

Laura

Matt Scott had certainly put a spell on me that acted in close proximity. The further away from him I got, the more I started to doubt what I had felt, what he had said, how we had seemed so … right together. It was only the thought of us holding hands across the city that stopped me from completely disbelieving it had happened. Somehow being with Matt was stopping me thinking and considering. I didn’t mind that, it was exciting to just act rather than questioning everything, but being apart meant I had time to think.

Matt

A quick check of the clock told me I had at least a couple of hours before Iz arrived. I cleared away the breakfast things and sat down on the sofa with my iPad, intending to find some games for Iz to play.

Laura

I got to work a lot later than I was used to. Rachel and Kate were already there, catching up with notes on the computer. They looked up as I walked in.

‘Nice of you to grace us with your presence.’ Kate grinned.

‘Well I worked on my day off. Bit of time owing seemed fair enough. Anyone want a cuppa?’

‘Yes please, I need a break from writing up Mrs Richards.’

Rachel handed me her cup, and Kate followed suit.

‘Where have you been?’

‘Oh, just had to give someone a lift.’

I tried to make ‘someone’ sound like ‘my mum’. I must have managed it, as there were no further questions.

While I was boiling the kettle, Kate was looking at me pointedly.

‘What?’

‘Any more news on your last minute counselling session?’

I’d almost forgotten about it, it seemed a million years ago. But now I was going to have to be careful what I said; I didn’t want to deceive either of them, they were my friends as well as my colleagues, but this whatever it was with Matt was just too new and unknown to announce and dissect, and there were Rachel’s feelings to consider too.

‘No, nothing to report.’

‘Going to write it up?’

Kate was really pushing, because, I realised, she wanted me to tell Rachel.

‘No, it was just coffee and a chat. Nothing official.’

Kate frowned at me, not understanding why I didn’t want to say anything. She didn’t know Matt and I were, well Matt and I, and I was at a loss as to what to say. Luckily, Patrick came out of his office, saw me and asked if we could meet earlier, as in now, as he had an appointment he’d had to rearrange. Relieved, I agreed, but realised it had only put off the inevitable.

Patrick and I discussed the usual list of cases and talked about the Living with MS days, how successful they’d been, how we could change things to make them better, and then he asked if there was anything else I wanted to discuss.

‘Actually, I have got a bit of a hypothetical situation.’

Patrick sat back in his chair.

‘Right. Let’s have it then.’

‘OK, well this is completely hypothetical. Don’t read anything into it, it’s just a question.’

‘Alright.’

A look of amusement crossed his face, and I realised I might just as well have said, ‘I’ve got this friend …’

‘Well, say someone works for a health service, and they meet someone who has a condition but isn’t formally known to the service but has used a couple of the resources, like an information day, and maybe a helpline, and the two people have, er, a relationship. Is that allowed?’

Patrick looked at me, frowning slightly.

‘Hypothetically, is the person with the condition likely to become a patient of the person who works for the health service?’

‘Unlikely, but, I suppose, possible.’

‘Hmm. I think that as long as things are informal, then there isn’t a problem. Anyone can come to the ‘information days’ or use a helpline, they don’t have to give their name, they don’t have to be a patient, we … er … the health service don’t have to know who they are. It becomes more tricky if someone is officially a patient of a service. Not impossible, just tricky. You – er – the person working for the health service wouldn’t be allowed to directly treat that person, for example. Or have access to their medical records.’

‘OK. That’s helpful. Thank you.’

‘Laura, I know this is hypothetical, but we’re not talking about a certain tall young man who may or may not have been waiting until Kate and I had left yesterday to go back into the church hall where he could talk to you on your own, are we?’

I should have known he’d work it out; Patrick didn’t miss much, and it’s not like my hypothetical health service employee was subtly camouflaged. I still wasn’t able to admit it out loud, though, it was still too new.

‘I don’t know what you mean, I was just asking out of interest.’

Patrick sighed.

‘Alright, Laura. You will be careful, hypothetically, won’t you.’

I chose not to answer, gathered some papers up, put them in a folder, smiled at Patrick and walked back into the main office.

I felt vindicated by the conversation. All of us had talked about whether we’d ever go out with a patient, and we’d all said no, it was a big taboo, even if he was the hottest, richest guy on earth, even if he was Ben Affleck (my personal favourite, and I’d said no, but secretly I so would have), Ryan Gosling (Kate’s heartthrob), Harry Styles (Rach’s guilty pleasure) or Liam Neeson (Anna’s golden oldie). But I knew where I stood, how I felt, and I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I wasn’t.

Back in the main office, Kate was still on a mission to make me tell Rachel. I suppose I should have been grateful she wasn’t just blurting it out herself, but avoiding the comments and looks was becoming more difficult and it felt uncomfortable. When Rachel finally left the room, Kate rounded on me.

‘What’s your problem, Lau? Why don’t you want to tell Rach?’

‘It’s not her business. It’s not anyone’s. He’s not on our list, he was a drop-in, it’s not up to me to go telling anyone. I don’t think it would be helpful.’

‘It would help cheer Rach up.’

‘That’s mean. You wouldn’t like it if it was you some bunch of health professionals were gossiping about over their PG Tips, using your problems to have a good laugh.’

‘That’s beside the point. If anyone’s used to being gossiped about it’s bloody Matt Scott.’

‘He has a right to privacy.’

Kate snorted.

‘He has a right to a good kick up the arse and that’s more effort than I’d spend on him.’

‘Who’s this?’

Rachel had come back unnoticed by either of us. We were both silent, Kate scowling at me while I busied myself turning my computer on.

‘Kate? Who deserves a kick up the arse?’

‘Who do you think?’

‘Kate …’

I could tell by the way she avoided my eyes and lifted her chin that she was going to say something, but I didn’t know how to stop it.

‘Who are we usually talking about when kicks up the arse are mentioned?’

Rachel was quiet for a moment, looking from Kate to me and back again, then said in a small voice,

‘Matt. Why, what’s happened?’

‘Lau had coffee with him yesterday.’

Rachel looked at me with a stricken expression that told me everything I needed to know about how she would deal with the rest of the story so far.

‘What? Lau?’

I sighed. I couldn’t tell it all, not yet. I was going to have to lie.

‘It was strictly professional. Thanks Kate. He was at the LMS day yesterday. He wanted to talk afterwards, he had some issues he wanted to chat about.’

‘He was at the LMS day? Wait, Lau, has he …’

Rachel’s face showed a succession of emotions, starting with puzzlement as she started to work it out, comprehension as she realised, a brief glimpse of pity, and then, finally, triumph. It was hard to see it, how pleased she was.

‘… has he got MS?’

I nodded. Rachel’s eyes shone.

‘Well isn’t that just ironic. How very fitting. I hope he enjoyed your sex talk about how hard it can be to get it up.’

‘Rach, come on, have some compassion.’

‘Compassion? After what he did to me and countless other women across this city? He’s got everything he deserves. Did he say anything about the Ice Queen?’

‘No. We weren’t talking for long. He got tired … and needed to go home.’

With approximately fifteen hours between the getting tired and the needing to go home, obviously.

‘How bad is he?’

Her gleeful need for information made me feel slightly sick.

‘Rach, that’s unworthy of you. He’s got MS. It’s bad enough.’

Kate decided to weigh in.

‘Oh stop being such a goody-goody Lau. Anyone would think you cared about him. We goss about people all the bloody time, it doesn’t go outside the team. It won’t this time, will it Rach?’

Rachel looked at Kate and shook her head, but I wasn’t sure. Rachel told anyone who would listen about how Matt Scott had ruined her life, and it was likely that she would tell the same people now she felt he’d had his comeuppance. I felt I needed to warn her of the consequences, even though my main goal was to protect Matt.

‘It had better not, Rach, because if the whole city is talking about how Matt Scott has MS, and he finds out it’s because it came from us, we will all be in serious trouble. It’s breaching confidentiality.’

‘Lau, he’s not even a patient.’

‘It’s personal information he hasn’t given us permission to use. Rach, you can’t tell anyone. I know you want to, I know how much you want to tell everyone, but you can’t. You just can’t.’

Rachel lowered her eyes and nodded. Maybe, just maybe, if she didn’t get too drunk and forget herself, she would be able to keep it to herself.

There was an uncomfortable silence in the office for the rest of the morning, which I escaped from as soon as I could in the name of, firstly going on a couple of visits, and then the lunchtime sandwich run.

Matt

Before I knew it, the buzzer was sounding, and I was waking up groggily, iPad on the floor, still wearing yesterday’s clothes. I hadn’t realised I was still tired; I still didn’t pace myself very well, choosing to believe I could outsmart the fucking bastard by deciding not to allow myself to feel exhausted. Never worked, but it didn’t stop me trying.

Anyway, Iz was now here, and I was all rumpled and half-awake, and I just had to hope that Beth was so eager to get to her lunch appointment that she didn’t notice. The buzzer sounded again, twice, and I hurried over to answer it.

‘Yeh.’

‘Hi Matty. I wondered if you were in.’

‘On the loo. Cohm uhp.’

I pressed the door entry button and waited, trying to smooth my hair down and wipe some of the sleep from my eyes.

There was a knock on the door, and I opened it, sweeping Iz into my arms and making a big fuss of her so that Beth didn’t get a chance to comment on anything she may have noticed. I was well able to fend her off, but the less practice she got, the less I had to endure it.

‘Heh beauhiful. Ooh, who hahv yuh got hehr?’

I nodded at the doll Iz was clutching as I took her over to the sofa; I never held any of the kids for long, ever since I’d nearly dropped Charlie.

‘Barbie.’

‘Oh rehly.’

I looked at Beth, who had always taken a particularly anti-Barbie stance before Iz started pestering her for one.

‘Yes, well, some you win, some you lose, Matty. Carol bought it for her birthday, I think it was their little secret.’

I laughed out loud at Mum outwitting Beth in cahoots with Iz. It had been Iz’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, and I’d had strict instructions about the type of birthday present that would be acceptable. I had duly bought an educational game, and given it to Iz at her party, but had also snuck in a big box of tooth-rotting sweeties and a DVD of some sexist cartoon that Iz loved where Mummy did the housework and Daddy worked all day and the kids had adventures.

If Beth didn’t go on so much, people would be much better behaved around her children. ‘People’ meaning me; everyone else pretty much did as they were told.

‘Scohr Muhm.’

‘Hmm. Anyway, if you’re sure you’ll be OK until two …’

‘Yeh. Suhr. Goh tuh yuhr thing an hahv a guhd whaever ih is.’

‘I’m meeting –’

‘Yeh, whaever ih is. Goh. Meh an Iz hahv goh playpahks tuh explohr.’

‘Unca Matty, can Barbie come to the playpark?’

‘Yeh, blohndie. Say bye tuh Muhmmy.’

‘Bye Mummy.’

Iz dismissed Beth as crisply as only a four year old can, and Beth disappeared, looking slightly hurt. I had managed to avoid any searching questions, and now I was going to have a good time with Iz.

I could still feel Lau holding my hand, and I hoped it wasn’t stopping her getting any work done, but it was getting me through my day. I loved spending time with Iz, but she was demanding, always asking questions, wanting to have races, never happy to sit and look at stuff. That was great, it was what being a kid was all about, and she was never going to be one of those obese children you see on the news when it’s Fat Kid Week or some such shit. But she bloody exhausted me a lot of the time, and I had to either keep up and suffer later, or be inventive with things that kept her occupied while giving me a bit of a rest.

Today’s cunning plan, which mostly worked, was to let Iz run around in the play park, showing me how good she was at swinging the swing by herself, making a friend or two who she could dash madly about squealing with while I took a breather on a bench, at the same time fending off curious glances from the mums of the new friends, who wondered if I was her dad or some child stealer but couldn’t decide how to ask. Then, having expended some of her newly four year old energy, it was down to Pizza Place for a bit of a sit, some colouring courtesy of The Place’s freebies for children, and a good slice of the cheesy tomatoey rat-shitty gloop they called pizza.

My opinion of Pizza Place hadn’t changed, but I did acknowledge its usefulness as a haven for frazzled child-carers. Iz never ate much of the evil stuff and I never ate any of it, but we always ordered a pizza of our choice each, because Iz was never allowed a whole one to herself and usually had to share what Cal wanted. I didn’t tell her off when she didn’t eat hers, because she didn’t tell me off when I didn’t eat mine, and I boxed it all up ‘for later’, took it home, and binned it once she had gone. It was a small price to pay; I wanted to be cool Unca Matty, and I succeeded a lot of the time.

Pizza having not been noticeably eaten, but slices of the rat-shit special put in takeaway boxes and carried up the road, it was time for copious amounts of chocolate ice-cream. I know, I know, she was only really having ice-cream for lunch, bad Unca Matty, but I knew she’d have a balanced meal for dinner via Beth, who calculated nutritional benefits to the microgram of Riboflavin, whatever the fuck that was, and my main aim was to be cool, rather than to instil any kind of discipline or indeed healthy eating habits.

Iz knew exactly where I kept the ice-cream, and she headed to the freezer while I got the bowls and the scoop out.

‘Unca Matty, can I spook it?’

‘Yeh, Iz, hehr’s the spook.’

I never corrected Iz when she got words wrong, as a) who was I to be correcting words just at the moment and b) it was dead cute. So we spooked several spookfuls of chocolate ice-cream into two bowls, squirted strawberry sauce and toffee sauce on top (strawberry is one of your five a day, isn’t it?), and sprinkled pink sparkles over the lot. It made a delightfully sticky mess, and we both ensured a lot of it got on our hands and round our mouths. I took a selfie of us and sent it to Beth, then as an afterthought, asked Beth for Lau’s number ‘so I could say thanks’. I should have asked for her number this morning, but it hadn’t occurred to me.

Beth’s reply came back almost immediately.

‘Honestly, Matty, I don’t know who’s the biggest child. Here’s Laura’s number. R u going 2 contact the MS service?’

No, I had no intention of contacting any bastard MS service, whether Lau worked there or not. I ignored Beth’s text, which is why texts are so great, and sent the picture to Lau.

Laura

I drifted round the local supermarket with my basket, looking for a pudding to take to Matt’s later. Chocolate was always my dessert of choice, but I’d found that men often didn’t particularly like it. I wanted to get something he’d really like, but hardly knowing him was hindering my decision making. Eventually I plumped for a lemon cheesecake, partly as it was a catch-all dessert and partly because I was running out of time and needed to choose something and happened to be standing in front of lemon cheesecakes.

When I got back with the sandwiches, the atmosphere seemed to have cleared a little. We sat and chatted while we ate, about the usual things, TV programmes we’d watched, our mothers and their bossiness, plans for the weekend, nothing at all about sharing a bed with completely unsuitable and inappropriate handsome men, and it felt easier.

‘I’m sorry, Lau.’ Rachel said, out of the blue.

‘What for?’

‘What I said. We were talking while you were out,’

I looked at Kate who was nodding at Rachel.

‘You’re right, I can’t tell anyone. I don’t even think I want to. It was a bit of a shock, that’s all, but I think it’s made me realise he’s only human. God, I’ve been moping after him all this time like he’s some superhero or something. I think I need to move on.’

‘Oh Rach, that’s OK, and if it’s made you feel like you can move on, well that’s a good thing.’

I didn’t want to think about whether she would have moved on far enough to cope with the news that Matt had spent the night with me, or a discussion of what exactly it was that was developing between us in the ‘holding hands’ department. Maybe if we had enough time before she found out, she would deal with it well. And maybe pigs would fly.

‘So are you going to see him again?’

My heart gave a lurch as Kate asked the question, then I realised she meant professionally.

‘Oh, no, we didn’t arrange anything. I guess he’s got the helpline number, he’ll probably ring that.’

‘So he could get me if I’m on call?’

Rachel seemed unsure whether this delighted or panicked her.

‘It’s possible, I suppose. He doesn’t seem like the helpline type, though, it was just a spur of the moment thing after the LMS day. I wouldn’t worry, flower. And if by some million to one chance he does, and it’s your day, you can just pretend the line’s gone dead and transfer the call to me.’

How noble was that? Telling Rach that if something that was never going to happen should happen, I’d deal with it for her, when firstly it was never going to happen, and secondly dealing with it would be one of the least onerous favours I was ever unlikely to do for her.

‘Really? Thanks, Lau, you’re a good friend.’

Which of course made me feel terrible. But not terrible enough to tell all and deal with it there and then.

Peace made between the three of us, it was time for our planning meeting. We had decided to re-jig the format of the Living with MS days, introduce some new topics, and change things around a bit. We’d all had vague ideas from time to time of how things could be better, but now we had the afternoon to make some real plans and freshen things up. I made my contributions, but found my attention wandering, my focus dragged away from guest speakers and venues by a pair of grey eyes and the thought of someone holding my hand from afar.

It didn’t help when I got a text. I pulled my phone out of my bag and looked at the screen, but didn’t recognise the number. I had a closer look when we stopped for a cup of tea. It was from Matt; I couldn’t remember giving him my number – he must have got it from Beth. He’d sent me a selfie of him and Iz, both with ice cream round their mouths.

‘Who’s da messiest? Close call. Liking holding hands with u. M x’

I quickly dashed off a reply.

‘Def u. Liking it 2. CU l8r. Lau x’

I saved his number to my phone. It wasn’t long before another text came, and I got a tiny thrill as my phone announced ‘Matt’.

‘Curry OK 4 l8r? x’

‘gr8 🙂 x’

Kate handed me my tea, and I quickly put my phone in my bag, wondering if having photos and texts from Matt on display was really such a good idea while nobody knew.

Matt

The texting topped me up. I was starting to feel, now Lau had been gone a few hours, like maybe I’d imagined it all, like maybe I’d made more of it than there had been. But the texts, with the kisses, restored my confidence that I hadn’t imagined it, and I started to look forward to the evening. I had plans for Lau, plans that involved showing her that even though I had fucked-up downbelows, we could still be close, we could still connect … yeah, alright, maybe I thought I might be in with a chance of getting in her knickers. One way or another. Maybe not tonight, maybe even I recognised that it could look presumptuous at best, but that didn’t stop the planning from whirring away as I got on with things at home.

I needed to get cracking on dinner after Iz had gone, but I was starting to feel tired, and it might have to wait until I’d had a sleep. I was frustrated at how worn out I was at the moment; I seemed to be snoozing my life away, it was such a waste, but I knew that when I ignored the fatigue, everything just went to shit and I ended up, well, regaining consciousness in strange bedrooms.

Beth came to fetch Iz at two o’clock, and although I really didn’t want to, I offered her a cup of tea, which she naturally accepted, feeling the need to sit down and give me the benefit of her advice.

‘So, Matty, you wore yourself out yesterday.’

‘Noh.’

She raised an eyebrow at me and my monosyllabic reply.

‘So you didn’t collapse and have to be dragged to a stranger’s house?’

‘I dihnt say tha. I said ‘noh’ when yuh said I wohr mysehf ouh.’

I enjoyed the look of puzzlement on her face and then delivered the punchline.

‘Ih was yuhr fault.’

The increased puzzlement was also enjoyable.

‘Yuh made meh goh tuh tha bluhdy day, geh up early, concehtrate fuh hours on hard chairs. Yuhr fault, yuh wohr me ouh.’

Light dawned, and she tutted and rolled her eyes.

‘Nobody made you stay, Matty. I believe the deal was that you only had to put your head round the door. I don’t remember forcing you at gunpoint.’

‘Noh buh yuh wehr shoving meh pretty hahd. Dihnt wan tuh mahk a scene.’

‘Well that would be a first. You’ve never been above embarrassing me before when it means you get your own way.’

She’d obviously given it some thought, which was a bit of a bugger. Usually with Beth I had the benefit of thinking more quickly than she did, but she’d had all night to consider it, and I was tired now. I needed a diversion. Ignoring her last comment, I used my niece.

‘Heh, Iz, goh an fetch the box from the frihdge.’

Iz ran over, collected the pizza and presented it to Beth.

‘Unca Matty says we can have it for dinner, Mummy.’

Beth narrowed her eyes at me and looked at Iz, and then at the box as if it was an unexploded bomb. She was such a hypocrite, I knew she took Iz and Cal to Pizza Place regularly.

‘Well it’s very kind of Unca Matty, but we’ve already got our dinner sorted, sweetheart.’

‘Yeh, Iz, ih’s prohbly brohcoli nuggets an rice.’

I couldn’t resist it; I didn’t usually interfere in Beth’s child rearing, but I needed some time with Lau, free of interference, before Beth got wind of it, and the longer I spent with Beth, the more likely she was to guess something was up. No one could ever keep anything from Beth; it was as if she was a mind-reader or something. My distract-and-disperse strategy was working for now, as Iz looked horrified at the thought of broccoli, her least favourite dinner component, and she went into full-on whine mode, explaining it all to Beth as I had explained it to her.

‘But Mummy, it’s two pizzas, Meat Feast for Daddy and Vegtle Superman for you. Unca Matty telled me its greedy yums are –’

‘Greedy yums, sweetheart?’

‘Unca Matty said.’

‘Yeh, Beth, grehdy yuhms. Things tha goh intuh a recipe an mahk it tahst yuhmy, an mahke yuh grehdy.’

‘Oh. Ingredients, sweetheart. And did you mean Vegetable Supreme?’

Beth always, but always corrected pronunciation, grammar, all that shit. Always Iz’s, never mine, although my words often came out more wrongerer than any four year old’s. I loved the idea of Vegtle Superman pizza, and I preferred greedy yums, it explained it much better.

‘And Unca Matty telled me there are special ones in pizza from Pizza Place.’

I mouthed ‘rat-shit’ to Beth over the top of Iz’s head and laughed at the disgust on her face. She decided it was time to go, before I gave Iz any more fodder with which to argue. Result.

‘Well, maybe Uncle Matty should have the pizza to himself, as he thinks it’s so tasty, Iz.’

‘Oh but Mummy –’

‘No, sweetheart, leave it here.’

Iz put on a sulky face, and I congratulated myself on ruining Beth’s afternoon. Beth and Iz had some breath-taking stand-offs; it was hard to work out who was the most determined to get their own way and some of the battles went on for days. This one looked set to last until at least tea-time, possibly beyond, and had successfully diverted Beth from any more nosiness about events that may have occurred yesterday.

I waved goodbye to them from the door, then shut it after them and stumbled to my bedroom, removing clothing as I did so. Wearing just my t-shirt and boxers, I crashed into bed, and was asleep before I could pull the duvet over me.

Laura

The meeting wore on, I tried to pay attention, and even contributed a little, but the nearer it got to time to go home, the more I was thinking about the evening ahead.

‘Lau?’

‘What?’

‘Honestly, you’ve been away with the bloody fairies all afternoon. Are you OK?’

‘Yeah, I’m fine. Just tired. I worked my day off yesterday.’

‘Why don’t you go home? Put your feet up, have a glass of something, by which I mean something stronger than Ribena, and relax? We can do the rest here.’

I looked gratefully at Kate. I hardly ever left early, in fact all of us put in more hours than we were paid for, it was fine, it was part of loving your job. But just this once, I decided to take it when it was offered.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Sure, Lau, off you go. Have some peace and quiet, chill.’

I smiled at her, feeling a fraud, as peace and quiet and chilling were the last things I was going to be doing. I still left, with a wave, nearly running to my car in my eagerness to get going.

I drove home faster than was strictly legal or sensible, ran up the path and into the house, where I grabbed something vaguely nice to wear out of the wardrobe, pulled a pair of shoes from underneath the bed and dashed downstairs to find a bottle of wine in the cupboard. Feeling less than fully prepared, but too excited to slow down, I rushed across the city to Avondale to meet my fate. Or have nice curry and maybe a bit of a snog with someone I hardly knew. Whichever it turned out to be.

A short while later, I was standing in front of the array of door bells, wondering which one was Matt’s. None of them seemed to have his name on, or indeed anybody’s actual name. There was a whole bunch of initials, a few names that seemed like nicknames (Pinky, Gaff, Butch) and some were just numbers. I couldn’t remember what number was on the door of Matt’s flat. I was flummoxed for a minute, then went through them in my head, one by one, trying to eliminate some of them.

I left the numbered ones in reserve, disregarded the nicknames as impossible to interpret, then looked at the initials. I was down to a choice of two – MGS or MRS – but couldn’t decide between them. I chose MGS, thinking that no one would be cruel enough to give their son initials that made him a married woman. There was no reply.

Phew, at least if it was the wrong flat I hadn’t made a total fool of myself. I tried MRS. There was no reply to that one either. Oh. Damn. I looked at all the numbered buttons and decided to start with the higher numbers, as Matt was a couple of floors up. Just as I was about to press forty-one, a voice came out of the speaker.

Matt

A few seconds later, my door buzzer went. I cursed, loudly. Fuck off, I really needed to sleep before Lau got here. However, it could be Beth coming back to collect something of Iz’s she’d left behind, and if I didn’t answer she’d get the Army round to break the door down. Sighing, I tottered to the intercom.

‘Hello?’

‘Matt?’

Holy shit, it was Lau. I quickly glanced at my watch; I’d been asleep for more than three hours. How the fuck had that happened?

‘Oh, Lau, sohry. Come up.’

I buzzed the door open, then opened my front door and leaned on the door frame to wait for her, trying to collect my thoughts. I should have put some clothes on and unruffled myself, but I didn’t have the energy. I was so looking forward to seeing Lau again, and my heartbeat rose as I heard her footsteps coming up the stairs.

Laura

He didn’t exactly sound thrilled, which took the edge off my excitement a little, but I pushed the door when it buzzed and climbed the stairs to the second floor. His door was open and he was waiting, leaning on the door frame, wearing only a t-shirt and boxer shorts, hair sticking out all over the place, grinning blearily. He looked as good as I’d spent all day trying to half-convince myself he didn’t; in fact, being clothed so sparingly only enhanced it.

Matt

‘Heh Lau.’

Lau looked at my scruffy attire.

‘Hello. I’m glad I didn’t go to a lot of trouble dressing up.’

I ran a hand through my hair and looked down at my clothes.

‘Sohry. I’ve behn asleep. Iz wore meh ouh. Dihnt mean tuh sleep soh long.’

‘Oh.’

She looked apologetic, and then undecided.

‘Are you sure it’s alright to be here? I can come tomorrow if –’

‘Dohnt yuh fucking dare.’

I pulled her inside and closed the door before she could back out on sympathy grounds.

‘Behn waiting fuh this all day. Worth ih too. Whoa, hotter than I ‘member.’

I held her at arms length and looked at her, drinking in how gorgeous she was, and how bloody hot she looked. I just had to kiss her, so I leaned towards her, and we locked lips, tangled tongues, delved deep into each others’ mouths, and I loved the soft wetness of her, the gentleness, the passion, with which she gave me a bloody good tonguing. She was a great kisser, there was no hint of garlic this time, and I felt a hand run down my back and touch my bum while I was burying my hands in her hair.

Laura

It was quite some time later that we stopped and pulled apart and looked at each other. I really, really liked kissing Matt.

Matt

‘Whoa, Lau, yuh are something else. Where yuh learn tuh kiss like tha?’

‘Sunday School.’

I laughed. ‘Seriously? Should’ve paid mohr attention tuh Baptist girls.’

‘We know how to snog. Practised on each other a lot.’

The image that danced into my head weakened my knees.

‘Holy fuck. Think I need tuh sit down.’

I grinned and took her hand, pulling her to the sofa. She draped a dress over the back, and handed me a carrier bag, which she had somehow managed to hold on to while she was kissing and groping me. I looked inside to see a bottle of wine and a cheesecake, then put it on the coffee table.

‘Thanks Lau. Sohry, haven’t started dinner yet.’

I’d meant to, I really wanted to cook her something spectacular, but the thought of it made me groan to myself.

‘Why don’t we just order out, if you’re tired?’

How did she know? Oh, apart from the fact I was dressed for bed and looked like I’d just woken up.

‘Buh I wanted tuh cook foh yuh.’

Laura

Oh, he was so sweet.

‘Another time? I just want to be with you. We can just have cheesecake and wine if you like.’

‘Ha ha, noh, nehd my protein. There’s a greht Indian jus down the road, do good takeaway. Wana choose?’

Matt

I gave her a menu, still unsure if it was acceptable.

‘Sure ih’s OK?’

Jules used to hate it when I suggested takeaway rather than ‘proper’ cooking … oh stop comparing, Matt. It should be abundantly clear that this woman is neither Jules, nor Jules-like.

‘Sounds great.’

And I rest my case. We chose and I ordered. It occurred to me that it might be a bit early for dinner, but it was done now. I was hungry, as I’d only had ice-cream for lunch, and most of that had ended up on my face, but I didn’t know how hungry Lau was. Still, we didn’t have to eat it all right away, did we.

‘How will they know which flat it is?’

‘They know meh.’

‘Oh. So are you MGS or MRS?’

‘Wha?’

‘Your doorbell. None of them actually have names on them, except Pinky, Gaff and Butch. It took me ages to work out which one was you, and then it could have been either.’

I’d completely forgotten about the doorbells. It was a bit of received wisdom that you didn’t put your own name on your bell, it was just asking for trouble.

‘Oh. Yeh, no one puts their name on. Yuh geh random pehpl pressing and asking for Matt, yuh dohn know who ih is. Yuh only tell pehpl yuh know which button tuh press. Sohry, forgot yuh dihnt know. Pinky’s real name’s Jeff, by the way. If someone asks fuh Pinky, he knows he duhnt know them. Why dihnt yuh jus call me tho?’

Laura

Well, yes, Laura. That would have made more sense than pressing any old doorbell. Is someone not thinking straight, hmm?

‘So which one are you?’

‘MRS.’

‘Your parents seriously called you ‘Mrs’?’

Matt

I nodded, ruefully. There wasn’t anything I hadn’t already heard, and I’d stopped being bothered by it.

‘Ih’v embraced ih now. Announce my shahm tuh the world throgh my doorbehl.’

‘So R is your middle initial?’

‘Migh beh.’

Why are people always so shy about their middle names? I was no different. It seemed like some kind of secret that shouldn’t just be handed out to the first person who asked.

Laura

He looked at me coyly, as if it was a slightly embarrassing personal defect, so I took the lead.

‘My middle name’s Mildred.’

‘Ih fucking well is noh. No one’s middle name’s Mildrehd.’

‘I’m sorry you see fit to knock the name given me by my dear parents, I’m sure I shan’t be nearly so cruel when you reveal that yours is Ronald. Or Ranulf, or Ralph, Ramon, Rafael –’

Matt

‘Robert, for fuck’s sake.’

I tried hard to be a bit mardy, but she grinned pure sunshine at me and I lost the will to scowl.

‘There, that wasn’t so hard, was it. Laura Louise Shoeman, pleased to meet you.’

Her whole name. It sounded like something you might call an angel. Yeah, I really thought that, and then immediately laughed out loud.

‘Fuck yuhr good at getting meh tuh say stuff, Laura Louise Shoeman.’

She looked at me smugly; she knew exactly how good she was. She has always known, and has always been as good, and she’s the best at getting me to talk, say things I didn’t mean to spill, just for her. I wish I didn’t bloody love her so much.

‘Never say I don’t take my work home with me. Talking of which, I am going to get out of this uniform –’

I tried a spectacular pout, much good it did me.

‘– and into something marginally more comfortable. Have you got anywhere I can change?’

‘Bedroom. Tha one.’

I stood up when she did, and followed her.

‘Er, I was going to get changed?’

‘Yeh, meh too. Do ih together? I wohnt peek, promise.’

No, peeking of any sort was definitely not on the cards.

Lau rolled her eyes as she came to a halt by the bed. Then she started to undo the poppers on her tunic, looking me straight in the eye as I looked back, torn between her face and the slowly revealed sumptuousness beneath her uniform.

‘Yeah, I can see you’re not peeking at all.’

Oh, she’d spotted that, had she? Well I was about to get out of it on a technicality.

‘Noh, not peeking. Having a bluhdy good gawp. Yuhr soh fucking sexy, Lau. Can’t keep my eyes off yuh. Sohry, duh yuh feel uncomfortable?’

‘Actually, no. I don’t embarrass easily, and we did spend the night together last night, even if it was pretty innocently.’

Too right. And she had just about admitted she was brazen. Things were getting better and better. The plan was going according to itself, even though I hadn’t quite figured it out yet. Maybe it was one of those self-fulfilling plans.

‘Nothing innocent abouh las nigh, Lau. If everything was working properly, yuh’d have behn well an truly Scottied.’

‘Oh really? Would I have had any say in the matter?’

‘Yeh, course. Yuh wanted it too tho.’

I was pretty sure that was true, judging from her reaction this morning when I’d had to stop her.

Laura

He was right. If it had been available, I would have had sex with Matt. But I knew what MS could do to the libido, and knew as well how careful I had to be not to make a big deal of it. And it wasn’t a big deal. I had enough going on with the rest of this craziness right now.

‘Well I’m sure any girl would find it hard to turn down a good Scottying.’

As I said this I slipped the tunic off my shoulders and pulled my trousers down, so I stood in just my bra and pants. Nothing fancy or lacy, just good honest black cotton. Matt appeared spellbound, and I thanked my empty evening a couple of nights ago for making sure I was trimmed and plucked in all the right places.

Matt

As she said this she slipped the tunic off her shoulders and pulled her trousers down, so she stood in just her black cotton bra and pants. I was awestruck; I had never seen anyone look so beautiful and appealing in something that I would have considered, before this moment, serviceable.

Lau’s skin was smooth and creamy, and although all the good stuff was well covered by the underwear, the swell of her breast disappearing into her bra cup and the shape of her hips beneath her knickers were tantalising. There were still no stirrings from my fucked-up loins, though, and I couldn’t understand it.

‘Holy fuck. How is this not giving me the hard-on from hehven?’

‘I thought you were going to get dressed too.’

I sat down on the edge of the bed. Putting clothes on was the very opposite of what I wanted to do right now.

‘Do I hahv tuh?’

‘Of course not, it’s your place, you can do what you like. Are the takeaway delivery boys used to you opening the door to them in your undies?’

I tutted; if only I hadn’t been so eager to order a curry, we could have got into bed and carried on where we left off this morning.

‘Shih, forgot abouh the takeaway. Was goin tuh suggest we jus cuddle up an talk.’

Lau started to pull her dress on, covering herself up, and I felt a real sense of regret. She laughed at me, eyes dancing as she teased me, seeming to know what her floor-show was doing to me.

‘There’s plenty of time, isn’t there? I’m starving, let’s wait for the takeaway. Put some trousers on, man.’

‘Ooh, Lau, I like ih when yuhr bossy.’

‘Just as well, I’m really good at it, and I keep in practice.’

I had a feeling I was letting myself in for a lot of bossing. Who knows, maybe it would be OK coming from Lau. I got up and pulled some jeans out of the wardrobe, then put them on. I smiled at Lau and spread my arms, inviting her comments.

Laura

‘That’s better. Good boy.’

I turned and flounced out of the bedroom, heading for the sofa. He was right behind me, and we sat close together, holding hands, not speaking for a while, just being next to each other, looking with rather bewildered expressions into each other’s eyes.

‘Matt …’

‘Yeh.’

‘I need to tell you something that happened today.’

He looked at me, a small frown forming.

Matt

Oh now what? Was there a problem with her work? Was she in trouble?

‘OK.’

‘Do you remember I told you about Rachel, my friend, who, er …’

Yeah, I remembered the friend. Or at least, I remembered her telling me about the friend.

‘Who I fucked aroun with an broke her heart? Yeh. Kind of story of my lihf. Yuh work wih her yuh said?’

‘Yeah. Anyway, when you and me had coffee yesterday, I had to tell people where I was going and who with, kind of health and safety thing, and, well, now Rachel knows about your MS. I tried to avoid her finding out, but we work so closely, it’s difficult. I don’t think she’ll tell anyone, but she doesn’t always know when to keep quiet, especially if she’s had a drink. I just wanted you to know, I don’t know what you’ve told people. I’m sorry.’

Oh fuck, hardly anyone knew about the fucking bastard. People at work just knew I was off long term sick; I know most of them thought it was stress related, coming as soon as it did after breaking up with Jules. I did a quick evaluation of what it would mean if word got out that I was a fucking cripple. I thought about the potential Sunday paper feature I had imagined yesterday; I looked down at the floor, then at our hands, linked together, then up into Lau’s face. I was safe with Lau, I could do anything, say anything, be anything, and it would be OK. It was maybe time to stop being so precious about who knew the truth about me, it’s not like I’d done anything wrong, I had a fucking disease. Jay was more than capable of holding his own in the media world, this was my information, not his. Did it really matter if people knew?

‘Know wha, Lau, ih dohnt matter who knows. Yuh only have tuh look at meh or talk tuh meh tuh know something’s up. If everyone knows wha ih is, then there’s no … when I had ih first time, I was wih someone who couldn’t cope. Carrie. She lef me foh her ex, an told people I’d fucked aroun an had HIV. Think I’d rather pehpl know the truth.’

It wasn’t until I said it that I knew it was true. People probably thought all sorts of things about me at the moment, assuming they were thinking about me at all. It really would be better if what they thought was the truth.

‘Oh my God, who would do that? That’s … unforgivable.’

Yeah, it was, I wasn’t forgiving Carrie, just using her as an example.

‘Yeh, well, long tihm ago now. Thanks fuh telling meh, Lau, buh dohn worry. There’s worse things been said abouh meh.’

‘I talked to my boss today, too, about us. Well, not about us specifically, I was being all hypothetical, but I think he spotted you going back into the hall yesterday, and he kind of guessed.’

It was kind of weird talking to Lau about me being a fucking cripple with the fucking bastard MS. It so didn’t seem to matter between us – we’d hardly mentioned it – but there was life beyond us where it did matter. I wondered if there was going to be a problem and tried to prepare myself to do whatever, say whatever I needed to, to make it right. Was I going to have to be noble and self-sacrificing? I bloody hoped not, I really wasn’t very good at it.

I frowned, and stroked Lau’s cheek.

‘Are yuh worried abouh yuhr job?’

‘I was, a bit, not enough to make any difference. Patrick said that he didn’t see a problem with how things are at the moment, you not being a patient of mine or anything. But we might have to think again if things change, I mean if you need to use our service at all.’

‘Shih, I never thought. Yuh could geh in trouble?’

But only in theory, if I used their service. Unlikely.

‘No, I don’t think so, I think I know where the line is now I’ve talked to Patrick. I think my main worry is Rachel. Once she knows about you and me, things will get really difficult.’

‘Oh Lau, sohry tuh make things hard for yuh.’

Matt Scott, the git that just kept on gitting. I put my arm round her and pulled her to me. She leaned against me and sighed.

Laura

He let go of my hand and put his arm round my shoulders, pulling me to him. I nestled into the space made by his arm, and felt safe and protected.

‘I don’t mind. This – whatever it is – I think it might be worth it.’

Matt

‘Oh Lau.’

Whoa, this woman was unbelievable. I’d spent a lot of today wondering if I’d misread her signals, if I’d been so keen that I’d misinterpreted how she was feeling, but she’d just said we were worth it, along with any hassle that might ensue. I’d just rocked up, said she was the one for me, and against all logical odds she was going with it.

I bent my head down and tilted her head up with my finger, kissing her mouth softly. Lau put her hand up to cup my cheek and turned towards me, pressing herself against me. We kept things soft and gentle and tender, just exploring each other with tiny tongue-flicks, nibbles and pecks against each other. It was a bloody marvellous way to get to know someone, and the little sparks of static that fizzed between us were thrilling.

Laura

I cupped his cheek with my hand and melted into the kiss, turning towards him and pressing myself against him. It stayed soft and gentle and tender, tiny flicks of his tongue against mine, it was almost more sensuous than the full-on snog we’d had earlier.

Matt

I suddenly thought of another way I could get to know a different part of her body. Oh stop it, not one of those parts, I thought I made it clear my unstoppable shag monster days were over? Honestly. It’s not that bit of the plan yet. No, I could do head massages, actually massages of most body parts, but heads a speciality. I hadn’t even been officially taught, although I’d had some pointers from Carrie, who did Reiki and Shiatsu. I hadn’t practised for some time, not since Jules and not since my nerves stopped sending reliable messages to my muscles, but I wanted to try to take some of Lau’s heavy day away from her.

‘Yuhv had a hard day – fancy a head massage?’

‘You can do head massages?’

I nodded. ‘Fingers migh not work, ih’s been a while, buh weh can try. Come on, hop on.’

I grabbed a cushion, patted my lap, and Lau wriggled round until she was lying on the sofa with her head on the cushion on my knees. Ignoring the fact that her head was very close to my manly extremities, that honestly wasn’t the reason for offering, no, honestly, I began. After a while of stroking, touching, massaging, Lau was sighing with pleasure, and I felt useful, valued, worth more than I’d felt in a long time.

Laura

I felt his hands in my hair, firstly softly stroking, then touching more firmly, using his fingertips to rub and stroke all over my head. His fingers moved confidently through my hair, pressing into my skull here and there, causing shivers and tingles to radiate outwards from the spots where his fingertips were touching me. I felt waves of tension leave me, and my whole body went limp. It was soothing, relaxing, making me sigh with pleasure.

The door buzzer shattered the mood, and Matt removed his hands from my head with a stroke to my cheek. I felt briefly like someone had poured cold water on me, although the sense of heat and wellbeing remained.

‘Fuck. OK Lau, tha’s yuhr lot fuh now. Tea’s up.’

He pushed me up and went to the door intercom, buzzing the door open and paying the delivery boy, then went to the kitchen to get plates and cutlery. I sat on the sofa, hardly able to move, in a state of complete bliss.

‘Where on earth did you learn to do that?’

‘Wha? Pay foh takeaway? My muhm brung me up proper.’

‘No, dafty, head massage. That was totally amazing.’

‘Glad yuh liked ih. Made ih up rehly. I’m good at massages.’

Seriously? Nobody who is that good just makes it up. But maybe now wasn’t the time to argue about it. If he was good at massages, I was going to be very relaxed a lot of the time.

‘Hooray.’

We smiled at each other.

‘Let’s eat this befohr ih gehs cold.’

Matt carried the plates over to the table, then went back for naan bread and cutlery. I sat down on a chair.

‘I love that you eat at the table. I usually slob out on the sofa. This is civilised.’

‘My sofa cost a bluhdy fortune. Not abouh tuh risk masala sauce stains. Much chehper tuh geh a new tablecloth.’

I was silent for a moment, looking at him, considering what I’d known about Matt, what I’d heard and what I’d supposed from the mixture of the two.

‘Wha?’

‘You’re not what I expected.’

‘Wha’d yuh expec?’

‘Well, maybe more … less … er … maybe more beer and football, less cooking and housework and flipping amazing massages.’

‘Heh, I do behr an football. Two of my threh favourite things tuh duh.’

I didn’t need to ask what the third was.

‘It wasn’t a criticism.’

‘I know. Lau, pehpl think they know meh. A loh of wha they know is shih, some of wha they know was meh buh not now, and some is the truth. Not many pehpl know the real meh, I’ve behn pretty guhd at hiding.’

‘Why have you wanted to hide?’

Matt looked away, out of the window, either considering the question, or deciding whether to answer it. I hoped he wasn’t going to want to hide too much from me. I was good at getting people to talk, but it was tiring having to extract information all the time.

‘Ih’s complicated. I’ve behn pretty fucked up. Since I was ill first tihm, then Carrie, then moved hehr, then work, ih’s all mixed up togehther. Needed tuh beh a certain way at work, like I was Matt plus, larger than lihf, women, flirting, drinking. Got the johb done.’

The picture he was painting sounded like the Matt I’d thought I knew, but it didn’t match up with the computer job he’d told me about this morning, and I wasn’t sure how it all fitted in.

‘I thought you worked in IT.’

‘Yeh, we’re not all nerds. Anyway, needed pehpl tuh see meh a certain way, soh couldn’t leh them see the other bits of meh. Soh no one knows I can cook, no one knows I can uhs a hoover, the lads come hehr foh behr an pizza, ih’s a mess till well after they’re gone. I tol yuh yesterday, I’m a bluhdy fuck up. Saw a counsellor a while bahk. Dihnt get anywhere.’

‘You could always give it another go.’

‘Noh, not foh meh. How’s the curry?’

I accepted the change of subject as the diversion it was, and agreed that the curry was tasty, if a bit salty, and could do with washing down with copious amounts of alcohol, although not too copious for me. I was starting to get a feeling for when I could push Matt to talk more, and when it really was ‘subject closed’. We filled our wine glasses and clinked them together.

‘Dohnt usually drink wine.’

‘Me neither, I’m a G and T girl.’

‘Always behr foh meh. Heh, I’ve got G and T if yuh wan?’

‘Maybe another time, I’ve got work tomorrow and I’m going to have to drive home.’

‘Oh, yuh not staying?’

He looked really disappointed.

‘No, it’s a school night. It’s still early, though, we’ve got plenty of time.’

‘Yeh, I know, I jus had such a greht time las nigh, behn a long tihm since I did jus a slehpover. Wanted tuh duh ih again.’

And so did I, so much, but I was having to try really hard to be sensible. I couldn’t be late to work again, and if I stayed here, with Matt, I was going to find it hard to leave the bed, let alone the flat, or travel across the city, away from him.

76. Never gonna give you up

In which bumps in the road are hit.

Laura

My alarm started peeping at seven seventeen precisely. I had worked out over time that seven fifteen was too early, causing catastrophic falling back to sleep events; seven twenty was too late, incurring rushing around madly and potential lateness, but seven seventeen was just right, allowing an orderly and organised morning routine designed to deliver me relaxed and refreshed to my place of work.

This morning, though, the peeping wasn’t coming from the bedside table where I kept my mobile phone, it was coming from the floor somewhere. I turned towards the noise and came face to face with a sandy haired man lying on his front, head turned towards me, mouth open, dribbling onto the pillow. I swallowed a scream, and then the previous night came back to me in a rush.

I ignored the peeping alarm, laid my head back on the pillow and stared at Matt’s sleeping face. He had really long eyelashes, long enough to be wasted on a man, but they looked so delicious, resting there on his cheeks, I almost forgave him for them. I had an overwhelming urge to touch his hair, which was dishevelled and sticking out at several different angles. I reached over and started to smooth it flat, trying to do it gently so as not to wake him, and then changed my mind and tried to wake him up by tugging his hair; I so wanted to look into those grey eyes this close up and see if they were as compelling as I remembered.

Eventually my insistent tugging, and the annoying bleeping from my alarm, had the desired effect.

Matt

I came to, the next morning, to the feeling of someone stroking my hair. My first thought – hey, I wake up really slowly, remember – was ‘Carrie?‘. She had always liked smoothing my wayward locks. Then my brain quickly caught up with the last few years, and my brief confusion-panic-realisation-relief-remembering-delight chain of thoughts ended when I stretched, put my hand over Lau’s fingers and opened my eyes, to see her close, so close, looking into mine. I still had my contact lenses in from last night, and I could see everything in high definition, if not high comfort.

Laura

Matt stirred, his body stretched, his hand came up to cover mine on his hair, and at last he opened his eyes. It was worth the wait. I felt like I could drown in them, they were the colour of the sea on a winter’s day. I felt a smile spreading over my face, and saw a twin movement of his mouth.

Matt

Lau smiled her stupendous smile, and I smiled back.

‘Heh Lau. Yuhr not a drehm.’

‘Nope.’

‘Had a greht nigh.’

The truth was that I felt rested, more rested than I had any right to feel after the day, evening and night I’d had, in a strange bed with a new woman.

‘Me too.’

‘Lehs stay hehr all day, geh tuh know each other.’

I knew this was likely to be a non-starter, but I was trying everything, right now, as Lau had seemed so open to suggestions yesterday. She was, indeed, looking tempted, but then sighed regretfully.

Laura

Oh he was a tempter.

‘I can’t, I’ve got to go to work. Haven’t you?’

I knew Matt had worked with Julia Marran, some consultancy thing, but had no idea if he still worked there, actually didn’t know anything else about him at all apart from gossip and speculation from a couple of years ago, but as a frown flickered on his brow I realised I could have been a bit more sensitive.

Matt

I hadn’t been to work for quite a while, due to the fucking bastard. I thought Lau would have realised.

‘Off sick. Bastard MS cripple, mehmber?’

I crossed my eyes and stuck my tongue out of the side of my mouth to remind her.

‘Sorry. I didn’t think. I forgot.’

Oh, she wasn’t being insensitive, was she thinking of me like I was a normal person?

‘Yuh forgot? Fucking brilliant. Skive off wih meh?’

‘I can’t. MS nurse, remember?’

‘Yuh can nurse meh. Ih’m a greht patient.’

Any of my family hearing me say this would have spent the rest of the day laughing. Luckily they were nowhere nearby to hear the blatant lie, but Lau seemed to have sussed me out without their help.

Laura

‘Yeah, I can imagine how good you are at being looked after. Sorry, flower, I’ve got a busy day. You can stay here if you want, though, I won’t kick you out before I go.’

I couldn’t quite believe I was offering someone I’d only just met the chance to steal all my worldly goods, hack into my online shopping accounts, and look through my underwear drawer while I was at work, but I just trusted Matt. It was, as he’d said last night, like we’d always known each other. Plus, I knew where I could get hold of his family if any of my cheap plastic jewellery went missing, or I suddenly ran up a thousand pound debt on Choc4U.com.

Matt

Whoa, that was quite an offer to someone you’d only just met, all night in bed with them or not.

‘Rehly? Aren’t yuh worried I’ll perv in yuhr knicker drawer?’

‘I have no doubt you’ll perv on my knickers. I think you’ll find they’re all in order.’

‘Crotchlehs?’

I was trying to get my knicker fix in early.

‘Oh I wouldn’t want to spoil a good rifling, wait and see.’

Since I’d woken up I’d been vaguely aware of an insistent bleeping, and now it had filtered into my consciousness to the extent that it was annoying me.

‘Wha’s tha bluhdy noihs?’

‘Oh, sorry, my alarm. I think it’s in my trousers.’

As she leaned across me to retrieve her phone, I gave her arse a whack. Just felt like it. It wobbled beautifully.

Laura

‘Ow. What was that for?’

‘Tha was foh hahving a bluhdy gorgeous ahrs. Come hehr.’

I pulled the phone out of my trouser pocket and turned off the alarm, then wiggled back across Matt and into his arms. We looked at each other for a long time; I stroked his sandy hair and drank in his winter-sea eyes and realised I wasn’t falling for him. I had fallen already. Hard.

‘You’re my beach boy.’

‘Wha?’

‘Nothing. Just … your hair and your eyes. They remind me of the sea. Beach boy.’

Matt

It sounded great. I loved having a name she’d made up just for me. I kissed her, deeply, for the first time that day, to say ‘thank you’. Lau kissed me back with a fervour that said ‘you’re welcome’ and a few other things that weren’t quite so well-mannered. We were where we’d been last night, wrapped up in each other, amazed at each other, into each other. It was a lot to take in, and I couldn’t help feeling a few tiny trepidations.

‘Lau …’

‘Mm?’

‘This is fucking mentahl.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Weh dohnt knoh each other.’

‘Mm.’

‘Buh I wahn tuh beh like this foh bluhdy ever.’

Lau nodded into my chest and spoke as I stroked her hair.

Laura

He was right, we’d hardly talked yesterday, but somehow I fitted with this man. As if we belonged with each other. I didn’t want it to end, either.

‘I wondered if last night was a bit, kind of, a paranormal event; if we’d wake up this morning and it would all be back how it was; if we’d feel like strangers. But it doesn’t feel like that. I feel like I’ve always known you. God Matt, what have you done to me? I should be completely freaking out, but I’m absolutely calm. And God, so the opposite of calm at the same time.’

‘I am.’

‘You are what?’

Matt

‘Fucking frehking ouh.’

As she’d been talking, saying how right it felt and how calm she felt, I realised that I wasn’t, maybe, in quite the same place as she was. The quickness, the weirdness, the suddenness, of it all after wanting it so much, so soon after seeing her yesterday, was doing my head in.

‘Jus a bit. Ih’s wha I duh. Buh yuh, Lau, I look at yuh, an I fehl safe, lihk, wha the fuck Matt, why yuh frehking yuh yampy loony? Ih’s Lau, yuhr OK, yuhr wih her. Buh cahnt hehp frehking a bih.’

Laura

‘What’s freaking you?’

I stroked his cheek, knowing what he meant, but a bit worried it was too much for him and he was going to back off. I wanted to ask what ‘yampy’ meant, but I didn’t what him to feel self-conscious if I’d just misheard his speech.

Matt

She stroked my cheek as she encouraged me to tell her. I’d tell her everything, anything she asked, all my secrets. She had the key to me.

‘Soh intense. Soh quick. Where’d ih come from? Is ih gona goh again? Never, ever felt lihk this.’

I brushed a strand of hair away from her eye and tucked it behind her ear as I said it. I wanted her to know how new this was for me. I’d loved Carrie and I’d loved Jules, but nothing had ever been as deep as what I felt for this woman whose last name I didn’t even know. I wasn’t calling it love, not yet; I wasn’t calling it anything, but I wanted it to last and last.

Laura

His touch made me shiver, and I heard the catch in his breath that told me he was as affected as I was.

‘Me neither. We just need to go with it, like you said last night. Holding hands, right now, in this moment. If it disappears, well that’ll be sad, but let’s not worry about that now, because we’ve got this, us. God, I can’t quite believe there’s us.’

We moved towards each other at the same time, lips touching, then parting, tongues reaching, exploring …

Matt

… and then I pulled her face to mine and she was on top of me …

Laura

… and we were kissing and touching and he was me and I was him, and our mouths were one and it felt like we were on fire, we were so hot, burning, melting into each other …

Matt

… it felt like we were one person, and we were fiery and electric and oh, it was overwhelming, she wanted me, really wanted me, I couldn’t do it, nothing was working down there, and I freaked again.

‘Lau …’

I tried to push her away, but she was in me and on me, so I spoke into her mouth.

‘Mm.’

I felt it vibrate through my jaw.

‘Lau, stop.’

Laura

His voice got through, and I stopped, the suddenness of it feeling like a loss. I looked at him, slid off his chest and lay down on my side, facing him.

Matt

‘Sohry Lau. Soh sohry. Cahnt duh this.’

‘Can’t do what?’

OK, so I’d told her last night, hadn’t I? Maybe she was half asleep and had forgotten. Maybe she just got carried away.

Laura

This was it, then, he’d decided he couldn’t go through with whatever it was we’d started. It had freaked him out too much, or maybe he wasn’t as into me this morning as he was last night, and it was over now.

Matt

‘Too much, not rehdy foh ih, can weh goh back tuh hohding hands? Everything’s a bih fucked up down thehr.’

I gestured down towards the borrowed pyjama bottoms. She looked relieved, then guilty.

Laura

Oh. Oh God, I’d done it again. So much for being the MS sex expert; that was twice I’d forgotten myself and made things difficult for Matt. I really needed to be more sensitive. But it wasn’t easy, he made me feel so … damn … hot.

‘Oh, Matt, of course. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry flower. Here.’

I clasped his hand, and was pleased to see his creased brow replaced with a crinkly smile. I gave myself a mental smack on the forehead for forgetting the middle-of-the-night confession session about the state of Matt’s libido, and resolved to be better at remembering important things that hot guys told me about the state of their hotness.

Matt

She clasped my hand and everything felt OK again, but I still felt bad that I’d had to stop her. I’d never stopped a woman in full flow before in my life.

‘Yuhr gona have tuh think of a better word than flohwer, Lau. Not good fuh my man points.’

‘Well we can’t have you losing man points, you might not win the man trophy at the end of the season –’

And she knew about man points. Was there nothing about her that wasn’t ideal?

‘– but what’s wrong with beach boy? Surely it’s enough of a mixture of maleness and lazing around to be ideal for you?’

‘Ha ha chehky cow. I lihk ih tho. OK. Leh’s duh ih.’

Lau gave me a quick kiss on the lips, and then sat up.

‘Right, I really am going to have to get up and get ready for work. If I get a moment I’ll try to think of something better than beach boy. Maybe something manlier?’

‘Mohr manly.’

I couldn’t help myself. I was – am – a real pedant when it came to the English language.

‘What?’

‘Ih’s behter grahmar.’

‘Oh. Grammar is not my strong point, so I’ll take your word for it. Alright then, something more manly, not too manly though, I don’t want to end up with testicles every time I say it.’

I loved the way she just said shit, like ‘testicles’ that most women would blush and be all coy about. There seemed to be no messing about with Lau, plain speaking was her forte, if not plain grammar.

‘Bluhdy hell, Lau, rehly dohn wana beh thihking bouh yuh wih bohlocks.’

‘Point taken. A suitable name, then, if I get a chance. Right, I’ve really got to get going, have a shower, go to work, earn an honest day’s wage, all that.’

‘Noh, dohnt leave meh, I miss hohding yuhr hand.’

Yeah, I was really needy, bordering on whining.

‘Get up with me then.’

‘Wha’s time?’

‘Nearly seven thirty.’

What hour of the sodding morning was that to be waking me up?

‘Fucking hell, Lau, duh all nurses geh up at the crack of dawn?’

‘Most nurses will have been up working for hours on the early shift. I’m really lucky my job is nine to five. What time do you have to get up when you’re not off sick?’

I looked at her, embarrassed. Even when I was well, I wasn’t in early. Ten was pretty standard.

‘I’m usuahly late in.’

‘How late?’

‘Has behn lunchtime.’

‘What? How can you get away with that?’

‘Part tihm. Hours tuh suit.’

It’s not like I was skiving. I did more hours than I was paid for, in the long run, it just suited me to make myself look like a bit of a layabout.

‘Lucky you. What do you do?’

‘IT consuhtant.’

‘Oh. Lazy sod farting around on the internet all day downloading porn then?’

Even Lau, who was pretty perfect, failed in this stereotypical view of what people who worked in IT did. Everyone always thought computers were an easy option over a ‘real’ job. In truth, I did spend a lot of my time doing things that people might consider ‘not work’ – social media, surfing the net, playing with apps and gadgets – but it was my job to know how it all worked, so I could get things right for the clients. I would explain it all one day, but for now I let it slide. The ‘getting to know you’ bit of all this was likely to be the thing that would inject some realism into the whole thing. I sighed inwardly and went along with it.

Laura

I said it with a smile on my face. It was the same kind of stereotype as the naughty nurse in the skimpy uniform Matt had seemed so keen on yesterday.

‘Heh, yuh read my job description.’

‘Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but for some of us the concept of ‘work’ involves getting out of bed before noon and putting in some hard hours before it’s time to knock off for the day.’

‘Noh way. Duh they still send pehpl up chimneys too?’

‘Sometimes, if their job happens to be, oh I don’t know, chimney sweep or something.’

‘Ouhrageous.’

‘Right. I’m getting up. I need a shower, see if I can’t get all your bogeys out of my hair.’

‘Lau …’

‘Yes, Matt.’

‘Nothin, jus like sayin ih.’

I batted his arm with a smile, feeling ridiculously soppy. As gorgeous as Matt was, I was also enjoying talking to him, teasing him a bit, getting to know him more.

‘You daft sod.’

I hauled myself out of bed with a physical and mental effort; it was hard to leave him there and get on with ordinary things like showering and dressing. I briefly wondered how I was going to get through a whole day at work while Matt was in my head.

Matt still had hold of my hand, and he hung on to it as I walked round the bed, kissing my fingers just before he had to let go, looking into my eyes the whole time. It was intense, and the butterflies that had started to fizz in my stomach last night woke up and fluttered again.

Under the cascading water of the shower, it felt like the first time I’d been alone for a long time. Apart from Matt, away from the semi-madness that his closeness had brought since yesterday evening, I started questioning everything.

As I rubbed the shampoo into my hair, I considered just what exactly the hell I thought I was doing. So many people were going to have so much to say, none of which was likely to be urging me on to whatever conclusion was going to come of all this. I couldn’t even think about what Rachel was going to do when she found out; she had spent so long being angry and sad about her night with Matt that it affected her ability to think clearly about other men, and she hadn’t been out with anyone seriously since. She was going to hate me.

And there was my job. I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong, but it was the spirit and not the letter of the rules that people worried about, and I was close to pushing several boundaries, a toe up against a few lines without actually crossing them.

And then there was the what-the-hell-is-all-this-about-anyway? I’d just spent the night with a notorious womaniser, managed to convince myself I was falling for him, and that it was OK, because he was vulnerable. Seriously Laura?

But if I was completely honest with myself, I didn’t really care about any of it. Feelings like this just didn’t come round every day, every week, every year. It might change everything for me, for good or for bad, but I wanted to see where it went, how long it could go on being as weird and wonderful as it had been already. Was it worth risking my friends, my job and my self-esteem for? Only time would tell.

Matt

While she was in the shower, I realised I was feeling pretty perky, as well as starving, having hardly eaten the previous day. I often went all day without eating, sometimes just to spite Beth, but I knew I wasn’t going to last much longer without some sustenance. I decided I felt well enough to get dressed and pop out to Mean Bean for some breakfast.

Maybe you’re surprised I wasn’t straight in the shower with Lau? Long game, remember? Fucked-up down-belows, remember? Already going at a crazy speed, remember? Besides, with my early night last night, I’d missed dinner, and I was really hungry.

I got out of bed and quickly pulled on my clothes and shoes, then shouted to Lau through the bathroom door to let her know where I was going. The shower was running, but I thought she replied, although she might have been singing. I wasn’t going to be gone long in any case.

Laura

I stayed in the shower longer than I would normally have done, getting my thoughts together, enjoying the invigorating spray and the cleansing water. I pulled on a bathrobe and wrapped my hair in a towel, and went back into the bedroom, expecting to see Matt still in bed, fast asleep.

He wasn’t there. His clothes weren’t there. I called downstairs, and trotted down to see if he was in the kitchen or living room. Nothing. There wasn’t anywhere else he could be. He’d gone.

My insides took a nosedive as I realised what had happened: I’d been evaluating things while I was in the shower; he must have been doing the same, and come to different conclusions, conclusions that told him this was madness and he was better off out of it. Oh my God! That’s what he does, isn’t it? He spends the night then scarpers. I was lucky he’d lasted the whole night, from what I’d heard.

I sat down hard on the sofa, deflated and miserable, tears springing to my eyes. So much for holding hands for the foreseeable future, it had lasted less than twelve hours. You silly, gullible moo, Laura Shoeman. He probably just wanted a bed for the night with the chance of a snog and a grope, maybe see if he could get it up for something more. Well done, walked into that one. When will you ever learn?

Oh well, that’ll be something to laugh about with Rach, then, join the club, at least he didn’t get his end away, big chuckles all round. And I can keep my job, hurrah. But it didn’t stop the heavy sensation in my chest, the one that made me feel like a part of me had been ripped away and made tears roll down my face as I sat there miserably.

‘Lau?’

The front door had opened and his voice floated like a choir down the stairs. He’d come back!

‘Where are yuh?’

I sniffed back the tears and frantically tried to wipe my face.

‘Down here.’

I heard his uneven footsteps coming down the stairs, and rubbed at my eyes and nose with the corner of the towel. I wasn’t yet ready to believe that he was really back, and that my dark thoughts of the last few minutes may have had more basis in paranoia than fact.

Matt

At the bottom of the stairs, I poked my head round the living room door and held up the bag to show off my hunter-gatherer prowess. French pastries and diluted roasted beans my speciality.

‘How are yuh not the size of a house? Meahn Beahn is soh close –’

Then I looked at Lau’s face. She was sitting in a pink dressing gown with a towel on top of her head, and her eyes were red and watery. It was possible she had got shampoo in her eyes, but the expression on her face had me rushing over to her immediately.

‘Heh, wha’s matter? Lau? Yuh crying?’

I flung the bag onto the other end of the sofa and held her face in my hands, wiping her eyes with my thumbs. I forgot all about my ‘I don’t do women crying’ rule. It seemed like for this woman, I would do everything and anything in or out of my power to stop those tears.

‘I thought you’d gone.’

Oh no, she thought Matt the Lad had buggered off after a night of, well, not exactly passion but a night in her bed. Fuck it.

‘Ohh, noh noh noh, yuh bluhdy daft wohman. Dohnt yuh geh ih? Ih’m not goin anywhere. I mean, I dohnt mean like I live hehr now, dohnt wohry, I mean hohding hands, all day, even wehn yuhr at work an Ih’m somewhere else, or yuhr ouh wih yuhr friends an Ih’m at the footy, or we’re in a dihfrent room. Still hohding hands. Sihly bluhdy cow, lihk I’m goin anywhere. Arse lihk yuhrs? Need tuh stick close tuh tha. Oh, Lau, come hehr.’

She was looking at me with such an expression of relief, as well as of embarrassment, and a tear or two still escaped down her cheek.

Laura

He pulled me close, knocking the towel off my head, and kissed my tears away. I put my arms round his waist and laid my head against his chest. I could feel his heartbeat, and had to stop myself measuring his pulse. Nursing was part of me.

Matt

I realised this was my chance to make her feel safe. I did my best with touching, stroking and gently kissing.

‘So you just went out to get breakfast, then?’

‘Yeh, bluhdy hell, I hope a trip up the road for a lahte an a pastry ihnt ahlways such a fucking drahma.’

‘Sorry. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster, all of this.’

Both of us had been through a complete emotional theme park over the last twenty-four hours. It was hardly surprising there had been tears from both of us.

‘I knoh. Dihnt yuh hear me shout, tho? I said where I was goin.’

Laura

I had heard nothing over the noise of the shower, and now I felt really daft for immediately assuming the worst case scenario was fact.

‘No. I thought you’d still be in bed. When I couldn’t find you … oh I’m a stupid woman. I expect it’s hormones or something.’

Matt

‘Heh, yuh can’t say tha. Sihsterhood police’ll cohm an geh yuh, or some such shih.’

I had to stop arsing about. Lau was upset and I needed her to know that I wasn’t who she thought I was. I had been him, that scrote who would take what he wanted and fuck off without a second thought, but I wasn’t him now.

‘Lau, yuh need tuh know I’d never duh tha, jus walk ouh. I know … I know ih’s happened before an yuh prohbly know pehpl Ih’v done ih tuh, buh I’m diffrehnt now. Yuh dohn have tuh trust meh, buh I hope yuh will one day.’

I held her away from me so I could look into her eyes, which were still a bit red and puffy, but so beautiful.

‘You know what, it’s really weird, with everything I know about you from before, with Rach and everything as well, I shouldn’t trust you at all. But I do. I can just feel it. I think I might be starting to get a bit serious about you, Matt. Isn’t that the sort of thing that sends you running for cover?’

Ha, yeah, don’t let Matt Scott know you’re serious about him, he’ll bugger off in a second if you even think it. I looked at her with a grimace.

‘A year or soh ago, yeh. Yuhd beh toast. Buh I learned some hard lessons the las year, an I faced up tuh wha I want. Still scares the shih ouh of meh, buh Ih’m glad tuh report I can hear ‘serious’ withouh running. Yuhr lucky, could have gone either way. There hahnt been anyone to say ih since … well, foh a long time. Yuh passed the test. Or rather, I did.’

I was going to have to explain about Jules, and about everything I’d decided both before and after Jules, before too long. But not now, not just yet.

Laura

I thought about what I knew about Matt’s break-up with Julia Marran. Not very much, and most of what I knew was Rachel’s delighted and probably exaggerated repetition of the rumour mill. I hadn’t known Julia, but as seemed to be the case with everyone in this city, knew someone who knew someone who knew her from work, who said she was a frosty bitch. I wanted to ask Matt about it, but it wasn’t the time or the place, and he might not want to tell me anyway.

I pulled him close, to reassure myself he still wanted to put his arms round me, which he did, then I pulled myself together, and then let him go.

‘Sorry, Matt, I’ve really got to get ready for work. Help yourself to breakfast, there’s bread, cereal, eggs, bacon, whatever you want, have a rummage.’

‘I goh cohfee an croissants from Meahn Beahn – oh shih, ih’s leaked.’

He looked round at the paper bag he’d thrown on the end of the sofa. A dark stain was spreading along the seat. Matt sprang up, impressively quickly for someone whose co-ordination was erratic, and grabbed the bag, which immediately disintegrated, dropping two takeaway coffees and two croissants onto the sofa in a spectacular tsunami of coffee and crumbs. I jumped out of the way to avoid being swept up in the tidal wave.

‘Shih. Fuck. Sorry Lau. Where’s yuhr cleaning stuff? Fuck ih. Sorry.’

I dashed to the kitchen and came back with an armful of cleaning products, stain removers and cloths. I hadn’t had the sofa long, and coffee was difficult to get out. Matt held his hands out for the bottles.

‘It’s OK, I’ll do it.’

‘Yuhr late fuh work, Lau. I’ll do ih. Give ih here.’

Cleaning up wasn’t something I expected Matt Scott would be very good at, but I was late, and I could always have another go later if he didn’t get it all out. Maybe he could get rid of the worst of it. I handed everything over and went upstairs to get dressed and fix my hair and face.

Matt

She probably didn’t reckon I’d be up to much as far as domesticity went, because that fitted my invented character, but she had a few things to learn about the real Matt Scott, and one of them was that I knew my shit when it came to cleaning.

I got cracking on the coffee stain while Lau went upstairs to get ready for work, and by the time she got back downstairs, I had completely sorted it and was sitting, one leg crossed over another, nonchalantly flicking through a magazine. Lau looked gratifyingly, or insultingly depending on your take on it, impressed.

Laura

To my amazement, when I came down, Matt had completely removed all traces of coffee and pastry from the sofa. There was a dark patch where it had been, but it was drying and looked like you might not be able to tell what had happened once the damp bit had dried. Matt was sitting, one leg crossed over another, nonchalantly flicking through a magazine.

‘Wow, you’ve done a good job.’

‘Oh, did yuh doubt ih? Bet yuh thought I never touched upholstery cleaner in my lihf.’

‘Well … I’m starting to see there’s more to you than meets the reputation. Thanks, Matt.’

Matt

‘Only fair, I spilt.’

I looked at her, in her nurse’s uniform.

‘Whoa, sexy Nurse Lau’s bahk. Are yuh sure yuh can’t skive off?’

I gave her my best lustful gaze, just in case there was a chance it changed her mind. She regretfully shook her head.

Laura

The look he was raking me with had me mentally scanning my schedule for loopholes, but I couldn’t find any.

‘I’ve got tons to do today. I’ve got supervision this morning, then visits, and we’ve got a planning meeting this afternoon. I can’t get out of any of it. Are you going to stay here? I’d …’

I could hardly believe how brazen and reckless I was about to be.

‘… it’d be really nice if you were here when I got home.’

Matt

Again, the trust she was willing to place in me after knowing me for only a few hours, was humbling. But to be honest, I would have trusted her with my life, too.

‘I’d love ih too, Lau, buh I need tuh goh home, looking after Iz later.’

I’d remembered my play date while I was on my way back from Mean Bean, when Beth had texted to confirm the time she was dropping Iz off.

‘Wha the buses like from here?’

Laura

‘To where?’

This was crazy, I didn’t even know where he lived.

‘Other side of the river.’

‘Hm, they’re not great from here. You have to go into the city centre and then change. Know what –’

I made an impulsive decision, mentally rejigging things. Not a loophole so much as a tiny dropped stitch, but it was something.

‘– I could drop you home. I’ve earned a bit of time, it was my day off yesterday. I can phone and say I’ll be a bit late. As long as I’m there in time for supervision, it should be OK.’

It was really unlike me, and I was sure it would raise eyebrows, but I didn’t care. It would give me more time with Matt, and I’d find out where he lived.

Matt

Aha, so she was already willing to break the rules for me a bit. This was looking promising.

‘Tha’d beh awesome. Yuh sure?’

Lau made a quick call, and then we drove across the city to my flat. I had my hand on her thigh the whole way, and she didn’t tell me to remove it. She had the radio on, and she sang along to all the songs, in-between chatting inconsequentially about the weather and the traffic. I was spellbound. She was such a happy person, she is always, even now after twenty odd years of dealing with me, such a happy person. She lit up my day then, and she lights up my life now.

Laura

Matt spent the journey to the other side of the river with his hand on my thigh. It was highly distracting. We chatted inconsequentially about nothing, the radio was on and I hummed along to some of the songs much to Matt’s amusement.

‘Yuh always seem soh … happy. ‘Cept when yuh bluhbing ’bout me going ouh foh breakfast.’

‘I guess I am pretty positive, what’s the point being miserable if you don’t have to be?’

‘No fucking poin. I like ih.’

‘Where exactly do you live?’

‘Near St Saviours church. Duh yuh know Avondale?’

‘Wow, you live in Avondale? Isn’t that, like, really posh?’

‘Not rehly. My flat’s prehty small.’

‘One of my friends nearly bought a flat there; she said you can see the moors.’

‘The view is pretty guhd. Come up an see?’

I really wanted to; I was very curious about where Matt lived. I couldn’t imagine it, especially now I knew he lived in Avondale. I checked the time; I had a little while before I really had to be at work.

‘OK, I’d love to.’

‘I’ll cook yuh breakfast.’

‘Oh, don’t worry, I’ll grab something on my way in.’

‘Ih’d like tuh. I spihlt yuhr brehkfast. An Ih’m a good cook .’

‘Is there no end to your talents?’

‘Not tellin all my secrehts at once.’

‘Wise man. Oh, do I turn off here?’

I pulled up in the car park, and Matt led me up the stairs to his flat. Walking behind him, I was able to see the effort he had to put into climbing the stairs, and the slight overstepping he had to make to avoid catching his feet on the steps.

Then I stopped being MS nurse Laura, because Matt had opened the door for me, and let me into his actually flipping huge flat, which was light, airy and tasteful and had the most jaw-droppingly spectacular panorama out of his window. The river wound its way past in the foreground, and behind it was the rest of the city, with fields and hills beyond, and above them the peaks and tors of the moors.

Matt

Lau drove me home, and I managed to persuade her to come up to the flat so she could ooh at the view and I could cook her breakfast, and I could be with her for a short while longer. I wasn’t looking forward to saying goodbye, even for the day. In such a short time, I’d got so used to her being there, with me, that I just wanted to be with her all the time, forever. I had never thought ‘forever’ before, but instead of chilling me to the bone it warmed me to the core. I was a different, less cautious, more open person who came back to my flat than the one who had left it the morning before.

As I started to get a quick breakfast together, Lau clocked the view.

‘Holy … I nearly swore. That is some view.’

I laughed.

‘Yuh dohn swear much duh yuh? ‘Cept when yuh think I’m an intruder.’

‘I think it’s justified then. No, my mum brought me up as a strict Baptist. It’s one of the things that stuck.’

I looked up, amused. I hadn’t considered that she might be religious. I hadn’t had much to do with organised, or even disorganised, religion, but if that was Lau, it was fine by me.

‘How stric?’

‘Well my upbringing was pretty strict, but I think I survived. Mum doesn’t know everything I get up to, but it’s easier not to swear, because you can’t control that so well.’

Oh, well, that’s alright, it’s the mother not Lau who’s religious. Wouldn’t have been a problem, but …

‘Fuck, she’s not gona like meh much then.’

Laura

‘You could be right.’

I didn’t even bat an eyelid at the thought of my mum meeting Matt; it was just something that was going to happen.

‘Your flat is fantastic. I can’t believe no one’s ever mentioned what a cool place Matt Scott lives in.’

Matt

‘Not many pehpl geh up here. Yuhr only the second non-fahmly woman to make ih up the golden staircase.’

I tried a shrug and a self-deprecating expression.

‘Really? You haven’t invited, er, anyone else?’

‘Only the lads, not the girls. Matt’s Law. Or wahs.’

I frowned at the reminder of how things used to be, then changed the subject to breakfast.

Laura

A shadow passed over his face, and I decided not to push for more information. It made me aware, though, that there was a lot I didn’t know about him, and a lot I really ought to know. Plenty of time for that. For now, I was distracted by the smell of cooking.

‘Scrambled egg an toast? Cup of teh?’

‘Sounds perfect. I’ll just stand here and be amazed by your window.’

Matt

‘Ahr yuh vegetahrian?’

‘Er, no. Why?’

‘Lehtil cahserole wih extra gahlic las nigh.’

‘Oh. No. It was all I had in the freezer, emergency only. Why, though?’

‘Wait an seh.’

I was secretly very pleased Lau ate meat – it dented my chefly versatility to be limited to vegetables only, and I wanted to show off my cooking skills. I quickly chopped some bacon to add to the eggs, along with some spinach and tomatoes.

As I made the eggs, boiled the kettle and toasted the bread, I noticed Lau looking, not at the view, but at the photographs on top of my bookcase. She was paying particular attention to one of Jules. Why the fuck did I still have it up there? I wondered if Lau knew about Jules, if any of her friends knew about the whole thing. Then she turned her attention back to the window and I concentrated on breakfast.

Laura

It had certainly been my intention to stare at the panoramic view, but my eye was caught by an array of photographs on a shelf. I wandered over and had a nose. I recognised Beth and Jay Scott, and their children from Matt’s phone the night before. Declan Summers and his family were also present, a few group photos of the same people and more who I didn’t recognise. A small picture of a petite woman with short dark hair and a serious expression, the same woman whose picture Matt had skipped over last night. Could be Julia Marran, I’d never met her. I was dying to know, but didn’t know how to ask – although I wondered if I would eventually need to broach the subject, because if he still had pictures of her on his phone and in his flat, that didn’t look to me like he was over her.

Before he caught me staring at the photo, I looked away. The only laddish element in the entire flat was a vintage-looking Star Wars poster, but even that was in a frame that matched the rest of the décor. There were several other bits of art that told me Matt knew what he was about when he bought it, and I wondered what he had thought of my framed naughty postcards in the bathroom, and the abstract canvas in the lounge that Anna had painted and I’d bought out of a sense of loyalty. While I pondered the artistic differences between Matt and me, I looked out of the window and drank in the scenery. IT consultants obviously got paid a bit more than nurses, if this flat and its location were anything to go by.

Matt brought over a tray containing two plates of scrambled egg and two mugs of tea, to the small table by the window. He gave me a knife and fork and I tucked in. He had added bacon, spinach and tomato to the egg, and some sort of spice, and I couldn’t believe how tasty it was.

‘Wow, you really are multi-talented. This is delicious.’

‘Glad yuh like ih. Goh tuh work on an egg, ihn’t tha the old saying?’

‘Yeah, good way to ruin your trousers.’

‘Ha ha. Isn’t the protein good foh yuh?’

‘No idea.’

‘Yuhr a nurse.’

‘I don’t know everything about everything though, that’s not in my job description.’

‘Bluhdy NHS goin downhill these days.’

‘Sad but true.’

I loved the easy teasing that was going on between us, all the while holding each other’s gaze and saying things that words couldn’t. Things like ‘cor’ and ‘wow’, or maybe a little more sweary in Matt’s case.

Matt

I needed to stop with the chat and find out when I was going to see her again. If it wasn’t soon, I didn’t know what I was going to do.

‘Lau, will yuh come roun tonigh after work? I’ll cook yuh dinner. We can talk. Think I need to tell yuh stuff.’

I needed to tell her about Jules, about a lot of other shit, and I needed to do it before things went any further. This last twenty-four hours, this incredible feeling, well it was awesome and extraordinary, but before it got out of hand, I needed to tell her a lot of shit, so that when she knew everything, if she was disappointed or offended, she could tell me to piss off. Yeah, I wasn’t big on self-esteem just then.

‘I’d love to come round. Are we doing all the secrets then? Are you ready for all mine? Baptist girls are a bit racy.’

‘Fuck yeh, love a saucy secret. I saw yuh looking at her photo.’

‘Oh. Sorry. Just curious. You don’t have to tell me anything.’

Lau didn’t ask who I meant, which told me a lot.

‘I knoh. Buh tha’s part of wha I learned. Dohnt help to hide shih. If yuh know abou meh, then yuh know, an there wohnt be anything to hurt yuh later. I need to say ih.’

As I said it, I realised I was trying to make things better, to show to myself I’d learned a lesson from Jules, that I needed to face my feelings and my desires and wants and above all my past and make sure, so fucking sure, that I did my utmost to never deceive either myself or Lau like I had done with Jules.

Laura

It sounded good to me. I was all for being up front and open about past, present and future, although my experience so far with Matt suggested that he didn’t necessarily hold the same view at all times. Still, he sounded willing, so I was happy to go with that, and if he found it harder than he’d anticipated, I had a few tricks I could use to encourage him.

‘OK. I’ll bring pudding.’

‘Sounds awesohm.’

I’d finished my breakfast, and sat back, drinking my tea and looking at Matt. He suddenly seemed very dear to me. I should have been worrying about what he was going to tell me later, but it couldn’t be worse than the things I’d heard, and I felt protective rather than concerned.

‘Wha?’

‘Nothing. Just looking. You have the most amazing eyes.’

Matt

‘All the better tuh see yuh with.’

I reached over and took the hand that wasn’t holding a mug of tea. I just wanted to hold her hand all day, never let her go. I felt like such a daft bugger, but I couldn’t help it. I was gone. I’d never been like this with anyone; Carrie and I had started off really full on, but then she’d kept me at arm’s length, and Jules had never been one for sentimentality of any description. Suddenly, with this woman, I could do and say all those soppy greetings card things that I’d never realised I wanted.

‘Lau, I dunno, how did yuh geh tuh meh so quick? Yuhr in here.’

I put my hand over my heart.

‘Ih feels like yuh always will be.’

Every time I said something like that, the old cynical part of me was laughing at myself, and I was half expecting Lau to laugh at me too for how ridiculous I sounded, but she didn’t think I was ridiculous. She was feeling it too, and that made the old cynical part of me back off and go a bit quiet. How had that happened?

Laura

I didn’t want to go, but the longer I stayed here, the more I was going to be tempted to phone work and invent some freak accident that prevented me going in, without actually injuring me in any way. Reluctantly, I stood up, and so did Matt, opening his arms as he did so.

‘Come hehr.’

I stepped over to him, and he wrapped his arms round me, pulling me close against him as my arms circled him too. He sighed into my hair and I felt his hands travel downwards towards my bum. Regretfully I pushed away from him, stroking his cheek as I did so.

Matt

She stepped over to me, and I wrapped my arms round her, wanting to hold her to get that last little bit of contact. I sighed into her hair and couldn’t resist allowing my hands wander down towards her arse. I felt Lau push away from me and stroke my cheek. She looked mock stern.

‘Ah ah, I’ve got to get to work sometime this morning. I can’t go all rumpled. Plenty of time later, if you want to.’

I grinned ruefully.

‘OK. Sohry. Will yuh be wearing yuh uniform when yuh come later?’

She rolled her eyes, and I realised I was going to have to rein in the uniform fetish a bit.

‘Well if I come straight from work, I suppose so, but I don’t really like wearing it outside of work, it doesn’t feel right. How’s this, you can have a little perv on me in my uniform, but I’ll stop by home on the way and get something more comfy and change into it as soon as you’ve had an eyeful?’

‘Fair enough. I’ll beh thinking about yuh all day now.’

Yeah, like I wouldn’t have been anyway, but sweet Lordy, she was so up for it.

‘Well, me too. Holding hands all day, remember?’

‘Yeh. All day. Bluhdy long virtual arms.’

But it did sound great, holding hands all day, even across the city.

I bent down and skimmed her lips lightly with mine, amazed once again at the surge of electricity that I felt. I thought I might have a chance of keeping her with me a little while longer, but she had more willpower than I did, and she bent down and picked up her bag, heading for the door. I followed her and opened the door for her.

Laura

His kiss nearly dissolved my willpower, but I bent down and picked up my bag, rummaged for my keys and headed for the door. Matt followed me across the room and opened the door for me.

‘Bye Lau. See yuh later.’

‘Bye Matt. Have fun with Iz.’

Matt

I’d been so caught up in Lau that Iz’s arrival for a bit of Unca Matty time, while Beth met some friends for lunch, or was it had a lunch meeting about some charity thing she was organising, or … oh whatever the fuck it was, it had been far from my mind.

‘What have you got planned?’

I had given a cursory thought to our itinerary, in that it would be the same as always.

‘Trip tuh the park. She loves a swing. Then Pizza Plahce foh lunch. Then back here foh ice cream. Then hand her back to her mum full of junk food an sugar. Ha ha.’

‘That’s mean. It will come back to haunt you in the end.’

‘Prohbly. Iz loves her Unca Matty tho.’

‘See you later.’

‘See yuh Lau. Lau …’

I put out my hand and touched her arm.

‘Yeah?’

‘Nohthing. Jus dohn wan yuh tuh goh.’

She laughed and patted my hand.

Laura

‘Daft sod. Holding hands all day. See you soon.’

Although I knew exactly how he felt, as I was feeling it too. I made myself remember supervision with Patrick, and with an iron grip on my self-control I waved, turned and made my way down the stairs into the car park.

When I reached my car I looked up at the array of windows, trying to work out which one was Matt’s. The sun was shining on the glass, and I couldn’t see if he was looking out of any of them or not, but I waved up anyway just in case, then got in my car and drove back across the city to work.

Matt

I watched as she walked down the stairs, then went to the window to see her get in her car, with a wave up at me. I waved back and watched, feeling ridiculously bereft, as she drove away.