83. Pencil full of lead

In which practicalities are faced, appointments are made, and shopping is scrutinised.

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Laura

I’d set the alarm on my phone to chime quietly, so I woke up slowly, not at first recognising the room, but gradually, with a smile, remembering I was in Matt’s bedroom. I turned over gently, to see Matt still asleep, facing me, on his side, mouth slightly open. I got out of bed as quietly as I could and went into the bathroom to shower. Matt’s shower was impressive, with several different pulse settings, and I luxuriated in the hot water.

Matt

Maybe it was the vast amount of catch-up sleep I’d managed to get the previous day, but I actually woke up at about seven thirty the next morning. I could hear the shower going, and for a split second I thought I must have left it running last night, and then I remembered what had actually happened last night, and that I’d fallen asleep with Lau in my arms, so it must be her in the shower. And that, quite probably, meant that she was naked, and I so had to see that.

I sat up, swung my legs out of bed, tested their ability to not crumple under me, which seemed pleasingly robust today, took my clothes off and went in search of naked Lau.

I stood in the doorway of the bathroom, not caring about the steam leaking out into the living room, and watched her for a few minutes. My shower was pretty good; it had a pulsing head, really strong stream, and I had a range of deluxe shower foams arranged along a glass shelf. Lau was making full use of it all, and had her eyes shut to stop the shampoo from getting in her eyes.

Oh, I could see her because it was a wet room, hence no shower cubicle. All the better to see you with my dear. I made my way over to her and stood behind her, having a brief debate with myself about what I planned to do next. I knew she freaked at the slightest unexpected touch, but she was irresistible, and I didn’t argue it for long. It went something like ‘I want to touch her’ ‘you’ll scare her’ ‘yeah but that’ll be funny’. Argument won.

Laura

I was just rinsing my hair, eyes closed against the shampoo and water, when a hand snaked around my waist. I screamed and span round. Matt stood there, hands in the air. He had absolutely no clothes on. None at all.

‘Sohry Lau. Couldn’t bear the thought of yuh in here on yuhr own. Dihnt mean tuh make yuh jump. Bluhdy hilarious tho.’

I spat water and soap bubbles out of my mouth, then sagged against the wall of the shower, as I tried to surreptitiously glance at the fully revealed glory of Matt Scott. And oh boy was it glorious. I mean he. Was he glorious.

Matt

Lau sagged against the wall of the shower. Then she noticed I was as naked as her, and yeah, she couldn’t resist a downwards glance at my tackle, or a little grin to herself at what she saw.

‘You scared me to death. Have you not got by now that I startle easily?’

‘Sohry.’

I really wasn’t sorry at all, and neither of us were thinking about me making her jump any more, but it’s the thought that counts, at least that’s what my mum always says. She probably didn’t mean it to apply to this specific situation; maybe I’ll ask her one day.

Laura

He didn’t really look very sorry, but he was completely naked, and so was I. It was the first time I’d seen him with no clothes on, and he didn’t disappoint; his body was slender but not skinny, his legs well muscled, and all other bits and pieces looked pretty damn good to me. In fact, I had to have a stern word with myself about my ‘only what we can both do’ promise to stop myself doing something completely shameless. Although he’d made me squeal and swallow shampoo, it seemed like a bit of a waste to be cross with him, and I hated waste, so I peeled myself off the wall and pulled him into the stream, where the water fell down on us as we kissed good morning.

His body felt so good wet; he was lean and hard, and his bum was particularly squeezable as I pulled him towards me. His hands found my breasts, and he pinched my nipples as I ran my hands up and down his back. As he moved his mouth down to my breasts – something he seemed to really like doing, and no, I’m not complaining – I arched my back and pressed them against his lips, moving my hands down without thinking, below his waist and then lower, stroking my way down to his balls.

Matt

I felt her hands move downwards, below my waist, along my cock, and was just about to regretfully remind her of the ‘both together’ clause, when she cupped my balls and a flood of fizzing surged under her fingers, then my dick twitched and I gasped as I froze.

‘Lau, yuh made ih twitch! An ih goh a bih bigger!’

We both looked down, to where it was indeed a little bit larger, and standing out from my body a bit.

‘Just ignore it.’

Ignore my first attempt at a hard-on for months?

‘Wha? Cahnt ignore my dick.’

‘Don’t focus on it, let what happens happen, we’ll just carry on. It’s not important.’

‘Ih fucking well is impohtant. Tha’s more movement than I’ve had foh months.’

I knew what she was trying to say, but it was too much of a significant event for me to just pretend it wasn’t happening.

‘And if you try to force it, you’ll chase it away. Just do what you were doing before, and I’ll do what I was doing before, and we’ll see. You can’t rush it, you’ll make it worse.’

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, nodded, and bent down to Lau’s breasts again, but all I could feel, all I could think about was Lau’s hands on me, cupping my balls, stroking my dick, as the sensation dribbled away. She took her hand away after a while, gently pushed me away from her chest, and kissed me, tenderly.

‘I’ve got to get ready for work. Sorry flower.’

‘S’okay. S’all gone now anyway.’

‘Seriously, Matt, if it comes back it will be a bit at a time, not all at once. Be patient.’

I nodded, disappointed; I really wasn’t very good at being sensible and patient, and although I knew she was right, everything she said was right, I just wanted it all back, right now, none of this farting around with a bit here and a bit there. I wanted a great big hard-on so I could … well, Lau had better watch out once I had a great big hard-on, that’s all I was saying. Lau turned the water off, and I pulled her to me for a hug.

‘I love seeing yuh naked. Yuhr fucking awesome.’

Laura

‘So are you. Nice, very nice, bum. Turn round a minute.’

He turned round, and I leaned down and kissed each bum cheek. I was getting to be very very fond of his bum, with it’s two perfect round buttocks which were just the right size for grabbing as I pulled him towards me.

Matt

I was getting that she liked my arse, and it was flattering, me being a skinny git who didn’t really have much at all in the way of muscular attributes. I turned round, and Lau leaned down and kissed each bum cheek. I loved that she always seemed to do exactly what she wanted to with me, and it was often something that took me by surprise.

‘Lau, yuhr a bih wanton ahrnt yuh?’

‘Just a little something for me to take to work with me.’

She wrapped herself in a towel and wound another one round her head, and I started to dry myself too.

I’d been thinking about some of the things Lau had said, in the time we’d been apart yesterday. I knew she couldn’t be my personal nurse, and I was getting that I maybe needed some proper answers to some of the questions I’d asked her. Beth would have been astounded at my next question; it was something she’d been trying to get me to do for months. But Beth wasn’t The One, so she’d missed a trick. I tried to make it sound casual, and not like I was breaking the habit of a lifetime.

‘Soh, if I was goin tuh, say, call some kind of service fuh some hehp, or some such shih, wha would I duh?’

If Lau realised how much of a break from tradition this was for me, she didn’t show it.

Laura

I tried not to show my delight and relief; Matt would benefit so much from some input from the team I worked for.

‘Have you still got the card I gave you last week at the church hall?’

Matt

To be honest, I couldn’t remember her giving me a card, but if she had, it would still be in my trousers from Wednesday. Oh bollocks, laundry.

‘Er … think I migh have washed ih.’

‘OK, well in case you did I’ll write the number down before I go. You need to call and – hm, you’ll have to give your name. It might be best if you ask for Anna. If Rachel answers, she might not be very nice. She should be professional, but there’s not always any telling with her. So ask for Anna – I’ll write that down too – and tell her you want to refer yourself, she’ll take details and there you’ll be, fully signed up for the city’s finest MS service.’

‘Yuhr sure I cahnt have yuh?’

She’d been pretty clear, but there seemed no harm in double checking, just in case there had been some major change in the rules she’d neglected to inform me about.

‘Yeah, I’m sure. I’m not going to be able to talk to them about you at all, even if they want to use my sex expertise.’

‘Shih, Lau, ih’s all a bit of a minefield, ihnt ih. Anyway, haven’t definitely decided tuh call, ih’s jus in case.’

No, I didn’t want to pin myself down to definitely calling, because there would be all sorts of questions if I didn’t, so best to just make it like I might do, I might not, depends.

Laura

‘OK.’

I kissed him on the cheek – the one on his face this time – and left him to dry himself in the bathroom, as I went in search of a plug for my hairdryer.

While I was drying my hair and dressing for work, I thought about what might actually happen if Matt called the service. It would cause a fair amount of comment, and although I would try to stay out of it as much as possible, all the conjecture and questions would be uncomfortable.

Then I remembered with a start and a groan that I’d forgotten to call Patrick as I’d planned to, to tell him what had gone on with Rachel on Friday. I picked my phone up from the bedside table and put it in my bag. I’d have to call from my car; it would be too awkward to have that conversation about Matt in Matt’s home.

Matt

I wrapped a towel round my waist and wandered in to watch her. I was still watching when she’d finished drying her hair.

‘What?’

‘Yuhr fucking gorgeous, Ih’m lovin yuh in yuhr uniform. Reminds meh of the first time I saw yuh.’

‘The first time you saw me, I was giving a very useful talk on sex, which you apparently enjoyed very much, and shouldn’t have been noticing my uniform.’

‘Ha ha. I only came to talk tuh yuh because I fancied yuh. Hardly listened tuh a word of yuhr talk, too busy watching yuhr tits jiggling in yuhr tunic.’

This was mostly true. I hadn’t really been concentrating on the content of Lau’s talk, more on the content of the woman giving the talk. Call me shallow, you won’t be the first.

‘They were not jiggling.’

‘They bluhdy were. Every time yuh pressed yuhr button tuh change the slide, jiggle jiggle. Drove meh wild. An all the other blokes there, I ‘spect.’

‘Really. Well I’ll have to remember to wear more supportive underwear next time then. Can I grab some toast?’

‘Yeh, course.’

Then I remembered my manners.

‘Duh yuh wan meh tuh make scrambled eggs? Or bacon?’

‘No, you go back to bed, it’s early for you. I’ll bring you something in – cup of tea?’

‘Hey, I geh breakfast in bed. Life of Riley. Thanks, Lau.’

Oh this was so cool. I hadn’t had breakfast made for me since – oh, yesterday, when Dec made me a cup of tea and some toast, but it wasn’t quite the same, especially as it had gone cold by the time I woke up. I lay down on the duvet, and just closed my eyes while I listened to Lau rummaging in my cupboards, clinking spoons against mugs and humming to herself. It felt so homely, so natural. I shut my eyes for a minute …

Laura

When I got back to the bedroom, Matt was asleep on his side, on top of the duvet. I folded the rest of the duvet over the top of him, kissed him gently on the cheek, left the tea and toast on the bedside table and ate mine in the living room before quickly scribbling the MS service number and Anna’s name on a piece of paper, then quietly leaving, pulling the door gently shut behind me.

In my car, I got my phone out and pressed Patrick’s name. He might already be at work, could be on his way, or may not have left yet. I should have called him before now, to avoid him being confronted with a situation when he arrived.

‘Hello Laura. Everything alright?’

‘Hi Patrick. Er, not sure. I meant to call you over the weekend, but things were a bit hectic. I’m not sure if Rachel’s called you …’

‘No. Is Rachel alright?’

‘Well, do you remember in supervision I was talking about a hypothetical situation?’

‘Yes.’

Patrick sounded concerned, and was probably wondering what I was about to tell him.

‘Well, the hypothetical person I was asking about is actually real, I know, big surprise. He’s someone Rachel knows from the past who upset her quite badly, and she found out on Friday that I’ve been seeing him, and I think, well I won’t really know until I get in this morning, but I don’t think she’s speaking to me. It’s upset things, she’ll want people to take sides, it will make things awkward for us all. I’m sorry. I just wanted you to know.’

I heard Patrick take a deep breath.

‘OK, Laura, well, it does sound a bit complicated. You girls have had your fallings out before though, haven’t you, you always seem to work it out.’

‘Yeah, but this feels a bit more serious. And, just to make things more complicated, Matt might be going to call the service to register with us. Obviously I can’t be his named worker, and Rachel wouldn’t be the ideal candidate, so that’s going to be tricky too.’

‘Hmm. Alright. Well, thanks for letting me know, Laura. I’m just about to set off for the office. I think we need to have a talk when I get in, just so we can be clear about the rules, the law and the guidelines, so we all know where we stand.’

‘Thanks Patrick. Sorry.’

‘OK, Laura, see you in a little while.’

We disconnected and I started the car.

Pulling up in the car park outside the office, I saw Kate, Anna and Patrick were already in, but Rachel’s car wasn’t there yet. A bit relieved, I walked up to the door and into the office. Kate and Anna looked up, Anna smiling, Kate raising her eyebrows.

‘Morning.’

‘Hello Lau. Thanks for the on-call on Saturday. Lifesaver.’

‘No problem. How did the dinner with the girlfriend go?’

‘Oh, I was just telling Kate, she’s a lovely girl, but took a bit of getting used to. Piercings, tattoos, pink and green hair, a bit intimidating, but we ended up talking about knitting, of all things.’

‘Good weekend, Lau?’

‘Yes thanks.’

I tried to leave it at that, but Kate was having none of it.

‘What, no gory details? You haven’t had gory details to spill for ages, out with it.’

‘I think maybe this isn’t the time or place.’

‘Rach isn’t coming in today, if that’s what you’re worried about.’

I actually felt my shoulders lift as if a weight had been taken off them.

‘Oh really?’

‘No, she’s called in sick. Well it is a kind of sick I suppose.’

‘Did you talk to her much over the weekend?’

‘Yeah, a fair bit. Went through the whole range of mad as hell, sad as hell, resigned as hell, then back to mad, she’s just in a bit of a state. I think she’s possibly coming round to the idea, but couldn’t face it this morning. I’ll go and see her after work. A few glasses of wine might help.’

‘I’m sorry, Kate, you’ve been landed with her. Is there anything I can do?’

‘Apart from dumping Matt Scott back in the bloody swamp he emerged from? No, Lau. I think your reduced contact policy is the best one really, let her cool off.’

‘Do you think she will cool off?’

‘Who knows, it’s Rach, she’s never been predictable. Does Matt even remember her? Have you even talked about her?’

‘We’ve talked about her, I don’t think he remembers her.’

‘Nice. You’re sure he’s the one for you, Lau?’

‘Yes. He’s changed.’

‘Yeah, he bloody well has. He’s got MS now. Bloody tosser.’

‘Steady on, Kate, you’re talking about Lau’s boyfriend.’

‘It’s OK, Anna. Kate’s entitled to her opinion.’

So much for not getting embroiled, I’d been here three minutes, and I was already in the middle of an uncomfortable conversation, and Rachel wasn’t even here.

‘Is Patrick in his office?’

‘Yes, he was here before us.’

‘I’ll take him a cup of tea. Anyone else want one?’

I wasted a bit of time fiddling with the kettle and teabags, and then couldn’t put it off any longer. I picked up Patrick’s mug and tapped on his door.

‘Come in – oh hello Laura. Is that for me? Thank you. Have a seat.’

I sat down, holding my own mug with both hands, nervously tapping my thumb on the handle.

‘I’m sorry Patrick. It’s already causing difficulties.’

‘Alright, Laura, I think we need to establish a few things, before we get into what’s causing difficulties. Firstly, this man – what’s his name? I can’t keep referring to him as ‘this man’.’

‘Matt.’

‘Oh – oh!’

I saw light dawn on Patrick’s face, as he realised exactly who we were talking about. He didn’t get that involved in our gossip sessions, but had been around long enough that he had been unable to escape a few Rachellings in his time.

‘Ah, I’m beginning to see things a bit more clearly. Alright, it doesn’t really change things that much though. When you first met Matt, you knew he had MS, but he wasn’t officially registered with the service, and wasn’t seeing any of you – I mean therapeutically.’

He gestured out towards the office, encompassing me, Kate, Anna and Rachel.

‘Well, I guess so. I’ve known who he was for ages, seen him around, but I’d never spoken to him before last Wednesday, and I didn’t know he had MS until then either, and no, he’s not registered with us or seeing any of us professionally yet, although he may call to refer himself. We talked about it this morning.’

‘So you haven’t begun a relationship with someone you knew was a patient. So, officially, according to law, you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s almost the same as if you were in a relationship with someone who subsequently developed MS. There’s only the one service in the city, he doesn’t have any choice if he wants help, so all we need to do is make sure that we give him, should he require it, as professional a service as we would give anyone else. You can’t be his named worker, and it sounds like Rachel wouldn’t be a good idea either, so Anna or Kate will have to fight for the honours. You can’t be involved in any clinical meetings or discussions about him, or look at his notes, or talk to him as a member of the service. Obviously any conversations you have with him in your private time are your own, but they can’t be official advice.’

‘I understand that. I’ve told him all that.’

‘Good. It sounds like you’ve got a good understanding of it. The other side of it, the possible upset that it may have caused between you and Rachel, will just have to be resolved between you and Rachel, as if it was any other person without MS who you were in dispute about. I hope it doesn’t affect the smooth running of the service, I expect you both to be mature and professional enough to sort out your differences. If anything else crops up, we’ll just have to deal with it at the time.’

‘Thanks, Patrick.’

I was incredibly grateful. I hadn’t given it much time or thought over the weekend, but had been worrying all the way over in the car about the implications for me and my job. I hoped that things now might be a bit smoother, if I kept a low profile and kept out of Rachel’s way.

The rest of the morning was filled with visits and preparations for a support group meeting in the afternoon, and Matt wasn’t mentioned again.

Matt

… and then Lau was naked, running towards me across a field, and I was just staring at her, and my eyes felt like they could swallow her whole, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up, Lau had gone, and my breakfast was cold next to me. I looked at my watch; it was nearly ten o’clock.

I resisted the urge to turn over and go back to sleep; I was sleeping my life away at the moment, and I needed to take control of it. Thinking that made me think of what I needed to do to take that control, who I might need to talk to, and I remembered Lau saying she was going to write down a number for me. I picked up the cold tea and toast and took it into the kitchen while looking to see if she’d left me a note. There it was, on the table:

Hey Beach Boy

Here is a number you might find useful – 555222. If you decide to call, ask for Anna Lovell.

Thanks for dinner last night and the shower this morning. You are multi-talented, and I’m hoping to find more skills to explore in the days to come.

Holding your hand until I see you later. I’ll come by after work, hope that’s OK.

See you soon

Lau xx

I read and re-read it, smiling to myself about being multi-talented. I hadn’t even felt singly-talented for a long time, and it was a boost to my confidence.

I still hadn’t decided about phoning the bastard MS service, and to postpone making a decision, I did some online shopping. I never went to the supermarket, even when I wasn’t a fucking cripple, and once my energy and mobility deserted me, I realised what a sensible lifestyle choice that was. I could sit in front of my computer, at my leisure, drinking a cup of coffee, adding things as they occurred to me, not getting side-tracked by lots of shit I didn’t need, not getting irritated by the length of the queues or other people’s screaming kids, not being frustrated by the absence of the one thing I really wanted to get, not getting half way home and remembering three more things I’d meant to put on the list. The only down side I could think of was sometimes having ‘out of stock’ items replaced, but the way I saw it, that just gave an added frisson of the unexpected to the whole procedure, Russian roulette with yogurt, so to speak. I didn’t know why everyone didn’t do it, especially as someone else lugged the whole lot of it up two flights of stairs for me. I even got a delivery slot for that afternoon, which meant I would have fully stocked cupboards for the rest of the week.

I took my time selecting my shopping and getting myself together. Beth texted while I was using my laptop; she texted every morning, give or take, and following Lau’s advice I’d been answering her instead of ignoring her. Her texts had become less insistent and more chatty, and much as I hated to admit it, it seemed there was an element of concern and worry behind it, rather than a need to boss people about. Or rather than solely a need to boss people about.

‘Hi Matty. Hope yr having a gd morning. We had flood in utility room waiting 4 plumber. Massive clean up going on and no water for tea :(‘

‘Oh no. Can I help?’

‘No thx, sweetheart. All under control. J was mopping b4 work tho ha ha.’

‘If u need cuppa tho, Avondale awaits.’

‘Ooh, actually, thx. Choc milk 4 Iz?’

‘Always got choc milk 4 blondie.’

‘Be there once plumber arrives :)’

I rarely invited Beth over, although she invited herself on many occasions and for many reasons. I was feeling benevolent, but realised I was going to have to stop grinning from ear to ear and be at least a bit grumpy, or she would guess something was up and I would get no peace. At least Iz would be a buffer, and the fact they were invited should stave off most of the nosy questions.

Beth arrived about twelve, and I provided lunch as well as tea. While we ate our sandwiches, the shopping arrived, and Beth couldn’t resist commenting.

‘That’s a lot of groceries, Matty.’

Shit, I’d forgotten that I’d ordered tons as I’d planned on cooking lots of fancy meals for Lau.

‘Yeh, I wahs ruhning low on ehverything. Fahncied sohm dihferent stuff too.’

Oh bloody hell, she was even having a rummage in the bags.

‘Heh, kehp yuhr nose ouh.’

‘Why do you need three different sorts of oil? Gosh, isn’t this truffle oil really expensive?’

‘Wehl, dihferent dishes nehd dihferent flavohrs, buh mihnd yuhr own. Yuh’ll fihnd the condohms if yuh dig any dehper.’

That stopped her. It was probably the thought of Iz asking ‘what’s comdoms Mummy’ rather than actually coming across any, but it was an effective deterrent, and I moved the bags into the kitchen for later disembowelling and redistribution. I’d inadvertently moved the subject onto somewhere else I didn’t really want to go, though.

Beth was looking at me with sympathy. Bugger, what had I said now?

‘You didn’t really buy condoms, did you Matty?’

Oh shit no. It was like talking about sex with your sister.

‘Noh, Beth, I wahs tryin tuh stop yuh prihcing up ahl my shopping.’

I gave her my best ‘back off or you’ll regret it’ stare, but she was unstoppable.

‘Has anything … come back … down there?’

She kept her eyes fixed on my face, but her meaning encompassed anything from the waist down. She only knew about my lack of action because it had happened last time, and because I was in the same house, and Jay had to wash me for a while, and, well, I suppose you can’t stop a man telling his wife shit.

When the fucking bastard returned this time, Beth had asked about it, as if it was an acceptable topic of conversation, and I had told her in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t going to discuss it with her, but she kept on and I ended up getting emotional and yelling, ‘Fuh fuck’s sahk, no, my dick migh as wehl hahv fucking wehl drohped off fuh all I can tehl ih’s thehr. Satisfihd? I nehver wan tuh tahk abouh this again.’ and with Iz and Cal in the next room, I guess she must have been satisfied, because she hadn’t asked after that. Until now. I wondered if she even remembered me yelling before, because I was getting near the point when I was going to be yelling again, Iz in close proximity or not, if she didn’t back off.

However, we were saved by the bell. Beth’s phone rang, it was the plumber needing a decision that required Beth’s immediate physical presence, and she beat a hasty retreat, promising, or was it threatening, to call me tomorrow.

I sank down on the sofa and considered why Beth pushed so many of my buttons. Maybe I should have been grateful that she was prepared to talk to me about things no one else would. It’s not like the world is full of places you can go for advice about sexual dysfunction because of a fucking bastard disease – your mates down the pub would look embarrassed and change the subject to the footy; your work colleagues would look at you like you’d grown two heads and you’d be reported for sexual harassment; your brother – well, your brother didn’t do deep and meaningfuls, left that to his interfering wife, and your kind of brother or mate or whatever, well he would have had a go, but was currently in the midst of fathering a brood of mini-mes, and would have been clueless. So if I’d wanted to talk to anyone, Beth would have been my best bet.

Maybe it was because she never gave up, maybe I felt it was like a competition – the more she pushed, the more I dug my heels in, and so when I finally told her something, it felt like I’d lost and she’d won, rather than just a sharing of information, or communication between two family members. So maybe it was more to do with me than with her; she certainly didn’t do it out of anything other than concern and caring, and no one else seemed to have the same issues with her that I did.

Does this sound like I’m beginning to cut her some slack, understand her, be more sharing? Ha, fuck off. No way. But thinking about it did make me realise that I needed to talk to someone. Lau wouldn’t do it, not in a detached nursey way, and I wondered if that was what I needed; someone who understood, but wasn’t emotionally involved. If only there was some kind of, oh I don’t know, specialist service for people with fucking bastard diseases, where you could go for a chat with someone who knew their shit – oh, hang on, what’s this note in Lau’s handwriting, with a number and a name …

Before I could talk myself out of it, I had dialled the number.

Laura

Close to lunchtime the phone rang. Kate was nearest to the phone, so she picked it up.

‘MS Service, Kate Fuller’

Matt

I nearly bottled it, nearly hung up, but I took a deep breath and ploughed on regardless.

‘Cahn I spehk tuh, er, Anna Lovell, plehs?’

My heart was pounding. I wondered if Lau was anywhere nearby.

Laura

‘Er …’

Kate shot a quick look at Anna.

‘… can I say who’s calling?’

Matt

‘Maht Scoht.’

‘Oh.’

She sounded surprised. Well, I guess they all knew about me, though I wasn’t sure how many people worked with Lau, or who exactly she had told.

‘Can I say what it’s about?’

‘Wan tuh refehr mysehf.’

Is that what you did? Referred yourself? No idea.

‘Well I can do that.’

Oh, no, Lau said this Anna woman.

‘Er, behn told tuh ask fuh Anna.’

The voice on the other end sounded a bit pissed off.

‘OK, fine, I’ll see if she’s free.’

The phone went to ‘on hold’ bleeps for a short time, and I nearly bottled it again, but now they knew who I was, and hanging up would be embarrassing, especially for Lau.

Laura

Kate put the phone on hold.

‘An, some wanker called Matt Scott wants to refer himself. Apparently I’m not good enough and only you will do.’

I kept my eyes glued to my computer screen, trying not to listen, but it was impossible not to.

‘Alright, Kate, I’ll take it. Is there a referral form there?’

Anna passed by my chair on the way to the phone and rested her hand briefly on my shoulder.

Matt

Just as I had convinced myself that a few moments of embarrassment for Lau would be better than torturing myself by going through my life history with a stranger, another voice came on the line.

‘This is Anna, I understand you want to refer yourself.’

And we were off. I had to give details, but not as many as I was fearing, just basics like date of birth, GP, full name. We agreed an appointment, she would come here to meet me, we didn’t mention Lau, and it was all over, I was officially a fucking cripple with my name on a computer and everything. It might make it worthwhile if there was a badge and a certificate too.

Laura

Neither Kate nor I did any work while Anna was talking to Matt, but neither did we look at each other. She asked all the questions we always asked, but was giving no clue about the replies she was getting, being as non-committal and professional as any of us would have been with anyone else. I was dying to know what he was saying, but I wouldn’t ever know unless he told me. When Anna had finished, and made an appointment to see him, Kate immediately jumped in.

‘So? What did he say?’

Anna looked at me, aware of what she may or may not be allowed to reveal.

‘An can’t discuss Matt with me in the room.’

‘What? But you must know it all already, Lau. That’s bloody ridiculous.’

‘Kate, Lau can’t be party to any professional discussions about Matt without his express permission.’

‘I wasn’t asking for a professional discussion, just a bloody good gossip.’

‘It’s alright, I’ll go and get the sandwiches. Talk all you want while I’m gone.’

I was relieved to be away from the office. It would hopefully get better as we all got used to it, but I could see me doing the sandwich run regularly for the foreseeable future, and volunteering for lots of visits and other tasks that would take me out and about. My phone pinged as I was getting into the car.

Matt

We disconnected, and I felt both elated and terrified. Lau would be pleased, I was sure. Beth would be ecstatic, but I wasn’t necessarily going to tell her, maybe just slip it in the conversation sometime – ‘oh yeah, my MS nurse said …’, maybe with a few more fuckings and bastards, and see how she reacted.

I texted Lau, to see if she had been there, and to see if the news had flown around the office. OK, maybe I was enjoying a tiny bit of celebrity status.

‘I did it. Were you there? Am I causing a stir?’

‘Yes I was there. Yes u r centre of attention. Good sleep?’

‘Awesome. Dreamed of u naked. Yum ;)’

‘What u up 2 2day?’

‘Online shopping, then wait 4 delivery, I lead an exciting life.’

‘Can I come over after work?’

‘Do u need 2 ask? Fuck yeah!’

‘Gr8. Just off to get sarnies. Talk l8r. Lau xx’

‘Check yr bag. Put sarnies in 4 u.’

‘When?’

‘Made them last night, put in this morning.’

‘Oh u! Got to get everyone else’s tho. Or did u make them for us all? =)’

‘Oh bollox. No, just u. Hope u like it anyway.’

‘Thanks my beach boy xx’

Laura

I got out of the car and checked the bag in the boot. I found an oblong parcel, wrapped in tin foil, with an ice pack attached to it with an elastic band, tucked at the bottom below yesterday’s clothes. There was a note tucked under the elastic band:

Hey Lau, hope you like chicken salad. Happy munching. M x

I smiled fondly to myself, reading the note several times, liking Matt’s curly writing, then got back in the driver’s seat and went to the supermarket.

Matt

So now I’d done it, I was on a roll. I phoned my GP and made an appointment to see her later in the week, and while I was at it, I called Adam. I know, right?

‘Adam Palmer.’

‘Heh. I dohnt knoh if yuh remehmber meh, buh –’

‘Hi Matt, yes of course.’

‘Wha?’

Was he bloody psychic or something?

‘Sorry, your name came up on caller ID.’

Oh. Dur, Matt.

‘What can I do for you?’

‘Cahn I mahk an appoihtmeht tuh see yuh?’

I wasn’t going to go into details, but he’d be able to hear from my unintelligible bollocks that I wasn’t the same as I’d been last time I’d seen him.

‘Of course. When were you thinking?’

He didn’t mention it, though, just gave me a list of dates, as if people he’d had one session with months ago rang him up all the time, speaking like they’d been on the Jägerbombs, and asking to see him again. Maybe they did, for all I know, but it helped me to not feel conspicuously mad.

So that was three things I’d done today that I felt self-righteous about, and I thought I deserved a beer. I didn’t usually drink in the middle of the day, in fact I didn’t drink much alcohol at all at that time, because it just increased my fatigue, and I was already sleeping more than I’d ever slept before, but a beer, cold and hoppy, sliding down my throat, after all that talking to people on the phone had made me hoarse – aah, that hit the spot.

Laura

Returning with sandwiches for Anna, Kate and Patrick, it seemed a change was in the air. Kate appeared less confrontational, and although we didn’t specifically mention Matt or Rachel or any of the issues that had got between us in the morning, she didn’t jump on every opportunity to have a go at me. She went out for a breath of fresh air after eating her sandwich, and Anna turned to me.

‘How’re you doing, Lau? All this must be a bit hard for you, love.’

‘I suppose it is, kind of, but I have to say, An, I’m having such a great time with Matt, it seems worth it.’

‘Well that’s great. Has he really changed? I’ve heard some wild things about him.’

‘I think he has. I don’t think it’s just the MS calming him down, he seems really – what’s the word – repentant about some of the things he’s done, not that they were really, like, evil or anything, but I guess he has been pretty inconsiderate and thoughtless. I think he was trying to change, even before he had his relapse, from what he says. Oh An, I really care about him, it’s happened so fast.’

‘I can see that, love. There’s no point telling you to be careful, you’re way beyond that, you’re as bad as Harry with Poppy, he’s smitten too.’

‘Poppy? Oh, the girlfriend. Knitting, eh?’

‘Yes, she apparently does bombs or something.’

‘Bombs?’

‘Oh I can’t remember what it’s called, where people cover things with wool and knitted things overnight – buses and lamp posts and things.’

‘Oh, yarn-bombing. They had some in the city centre the other week – I wonder if that was her?’

‘Well, it seems a bit daft, but more harmless than some of the things she could get up to I suppose. She does flash mobs as well.’

‘Ooh get you, An, with your ‘down wiv der kids’ lingo and knowing about yarn-bombing and flash mobs and stuff.’

‘Well, it’s kids keep you young, I suppose.’

‘Yeah. She didn’t persuade you to get a tattoo or a piercing, though?’

‘Ha ha, no, but I think I might have talked her into knitting Harry a jumper for Christmas. Yarn bomb him, rather than a tree, seems more useful.’

My phone pinged with a text. I glanced at the phone, which was lying face up on the desk next to me.

‘Just made appt w my GP. How many brownie pts do I get?’

I smiled to myself. I suspected Matt didn’t usually respond well to being advised what to do, and was feeling a bit self-satisfied with his fairly quick response to my prodding. Anna noticed my smile.

‘Matt?’

I nodded. ‘He made me a sandwich and put it in my bag, with an ice pack attached to it and a note.’

‘Oh that’s sweet.’

‘I know. I would never have thought Matt Scott would be sweet. It’s almost like he’s a different person to the git I used to get annoyed with at parties and in clubs. He’s a good, no, a great cook, he’s tidier than me, he’s thoughtful, sensitive and kind of vulnerable. He’s just so different than I thought he was.’

‘You haven’t known him long, though, have you. And he’s ill at the moment. OK, mum moment, I can’t help myself. You will be careful, won’t you.’

I nodded, but it didn’t mean anything. I was so far beyond careful, my heart was so fully given to Matt, if he chose to, he could stop my pulse. Anna rolled her eyes at me and shook her head.

‘OK, back to work. Do you want to share a lift to the support group? I think Gloria’s making her fruit cake.’

‘No, I’ll take my car, I’m going straight off afterwards.’

‘Matt-ward bound?’

I shrugged and smiled.

My phone pinged on the way to the support group, and when I arrived I checked the screen.

‘So none? 549?’

‘What?’

‘Brownie points. U didn’t reply.’

‘I was busy. Can’t always reply straight away. Be patient! 2. Minus 1 for impatience :)’

‘Soz, didn’t think. Thinking like a foul mouthed layabout not a Baptist working girl xx’

‘:) Going 2b busy, phone on silent. Don’t expect replies. Cu l8r. Lau xx’

Matt

I had got complacent about being off work, and used to having people I could reach for chat and contact when I wanted it. None of my family had what you would call conventional jobs – Beth: Housewife and mother. Full time and more, but always available on the end of the phone. Jay: Rugby coach. Full time, lots of weird hours, but often lazing around at home in the afternoons. Mum: Retired. Nothing better to do than make cakes and drink tea, obvs. Dec: Rugby player. Lots of running around and early morning training sessions, but, like Jay, a lot of lazing around at home in the afternoons. It was called ‘recovery’ or some such shit. Amy: Housewife and mother. Charlie was more than a full-time job, and she had another one on the way, but again, always there for tea and gossip if necessary. Nico and Lis: Always there for a square meal, a laugh, a chat. My work colleagues, who I wasn’t in touch with as much as I used to be, were always texting, tweeting, Instagramming, Facebooking, Snapchatting, WhatsApping; we worked in IT, it would have been a disciplinary offence not to.

So it was weird to know someone who couldn’t do that, whose job involved doing things where the phone had to be turned off. I mean, yeah, at the start Jules had been all ‘I don’t do texting’, but I soon won her over, and although she never texted from work, we were pretty much in contact the whole time whenever we were apart. I wanted that with Lau, I missed her, but was going to have to get used to the fact that she did a grown up job where ringtones and text pings weren’t acceptable. I was even more reliant on our ‘holding hands’ pact.

When Lau came home (I was already thinking of my home as her home, and I was constantly reminding myself that we’d been together less than a week) that evening, I greeted her as if I hadn’t seen her for months. It nearly felt like it.

‘Ooh, hello, miss me did you?’ she managed between breathtaking kisses.

‘Yuh hahv noh idea.’

‘I think you might have just given me one. How tired are you?’

I liked her thinking.

‘Not tihred at ahl. Wana wear meh ouh?’

‘Maybe. What’s for tea?’

‘Sohted. Cohtage pie in the ohven.’

I was nothing if not a forward planner when it came to getting Lau into bed, or whatever venue she chose for the execution of her idea.

‘Oh I like that. So we could, potentially, do a lot more of, say, this –’

She reached behind me and pulled me to her using my arse as leverage, and gave me a cheeky kiss, licking my nose on the way out.

‘– maybe somewhere more comfortable …’

‘Wha, lihk the behdrohm?’

‘Genius! How long till dinner?’

‘Ih’ll turn ih down a bih, kehp ih warm, couhd beh hours.’

And so a delicious time was had, discovering more about each other, how we kissed, how we touched, what made her sigh, what blew my mind. In-between, we were talking, getting to know each other. It was weird that it wasn’t weird, being so close physically to someone you hardly knew. It was just as if I’d always known her, and the things I found out about her didn’t feel new, just kind of confirmation of how it had always been.

If you’d asked me six months ago what I thought about the idea of soulmates, I’d have spouted off some condescending shit about how there isn’t some kind of grand plan for the universe, that destiny and fate are just bullshit, but now, with Lau, I couldn’t deny that I felt that we were designed for each other, that we fitted, that we were ‘meant to be’. Even though she really liked Boyzone.

‘Seriohsly, Lau? Ronan Kehting?’

‘He is a genius, writing songs for those other boys to sing, all those harmonies, don’t you think?’

‘Noh. Gihv meh a prohper songwriter, who writes prohper muhsic and cahn play an instruhment.’

‘Like?’

‘Anyohn who ihnt five prehty boys sat on stools. Muse. Sparklehorse. Bears Den.’

‘You’re a music snob. Oh, just like you’re a food snob.’

‘Wha? I am not.’

‘Yep, you are. You look down on boy bands because they’re popular, not because they don’t write their own stuff, because some of them do. And Ronan Keating plays the piano, I’ll have you know. And you look down on fast food, like burgers and pizza, because lots of people like them, not because it’s not tasty.’

‘Oh Lau, Lau, Lau. Places lihk Pizza Plahce serve shih tuh the mahses. Ih’s tohtal crap, I haht ih cos ih’s evil, not cos ih’s popular.’

‘Hm. Well, alright, then, maybe fast food and music not the same, but you are still a snob.’

‘Not abouh everything.’

‘No?’

‘Lihk my girhls in unifohm.’

‘True. You are a bit of a chav in that respect. Hey, Matt Scott the chav, who’d have thought?’

And so it went on, between kisses and touches, the teasing, the exploring, the getting-to-know-youing. We had time for dinner, even though the cottage pie had dried out a little by the time we got to it, and we cleared up together afterwards as if we’d always done that, loading the dishwasher, wiping the table, as if we were dancing it.

Ha ha, that just shows how soppy I was feeling, that clearing away the dinner things felt like a dance, and a sexy one at that. But soon after, it was back to bed, for more getting-to-know-youing, where I found out that Lau had always lived here, in this city, had done her nurse training here, had learned to drive here, had hardly ever left the county, let alone the country, and had only been abroad on holiday a handful of times, and that was counting a couple of hen weekends in Marbella and Ibiza that she couldn’t really remember.

Most of what we talked about that night was the little things – the bands, the films, the TV, the books, the minutiae. There was bigger shit to get off our chests; I’d told her about Jules and Carrie, briefly, but they were large contributors to what made me tick, and I wanted her to know about them, even felt like I could tell her about Carrie, all about her, like I’d never told anyone.

And I knew nothing about Lau’s past. I wanted to know about her men, to see how I measured up – oh, of course, it terrified me. Comparing myself to Martin had been a constant thing when I was with Carrie, and Jules had had a whole string of posh rich blokes who had wanted to marry her, and who were still her friends, and now I was a fucking cripple, so I wasn’t sure I was going to come out with that many man points in any battle of the exes, but in the same way that Jules and Carrie were a big part of who I was, so I wanted to know Lau’s defining moments, who had loved her and who had hurt her. Hopefully I wouldn’t be familiar with any of them, so I wouldn’t be tempted to go and beat the shit out of them for a) touching her and b) being stupid enough to let her go.

But exes and all that bollocks felt like it was for another day, and tonight was for more touching, more kissing, more holding. I had to check with her that it was OK; I was having the time of my life, malfunctioning man-parts notwithstanding, and I still couldn’t quite believe that she felt the same for me as I did for her.

‘Lau, ahr yuh suhr?’

‘Sure about what?’

‘Abouh this. I’m soh intuh yuh, jus cahnt quite beliehv ih’s truh.’

‘Do you think I just randomly go to bed with men I’m not completely and utterly into?’

Well, I suppose she had a point, maybe it was a bit like calling her a floozy.

‘Noh, buh –’

‘No. Exactly. I don’t understand it either, but yeah, I’m totally into you.’

‘Soh Ih’m not sohm random mahn?’

‘You’re so far from random. You feel very … specific. Is that the opposite of random?’

‘Yeh, spohs soh. Yuh dohnt jus fehl sohry fuh meh then?’

She tutted and rolled her eyes. I knew how needy I was being, but couldn’t help it.

‘Do you think I just randomly go to bed with men I feel sorry for then?’

‘Spohs not.’

‘Give me some credit, Matt. OK, maybe someone’s needing an ego boost. Here’s what I’m thinking, just so you’re sure, just so you know, and you can ask as many times as you like, the answer will be the same. You know, I feel like you’ve changed my life. You are so, so gorgeous, I’ve never known eyes like yours, you’re funny, gentle, kind, and have the cutest bum I’ve ever seen. Maybe your taste in music needs some work, but otherwise, ten out of ten, big tick, see me after class for some extra homework.’

I laughed at the last bit, feeling a bit guilty that I’d needed to hear her say what preceded it.

‘Wha kind of hohmwork? Science? I lihk science.’

‘I suppose you could consider it science. Biology, definitely. Biology’s a bit of a specialism of mine.’

‘Yuhr a nuhrse.’

‘Yeah, but not that kind of biology. More like … certain areas of anatomy, for example. Physiological reactions, maybe. Here, let me demonstrate.’

And with that, she dived into my boxers and, with a flourish, produced another hefty tingle.

‘Whoa, Lau! Holy fuck, if yuh kehp doin tha, Ih’ll beh back tuh nohmal in noh tihm.’

I followed her hands with mine, trying to coax the tingle into something more, but it remained elusive.

We carried on chasing tingles, mine and hers, for some time. I had a few more, and I know Lau had several too. Ultimately, though, sleep claimed me, and Lau got another early night. Or did to my knowledge. For all I know, she got up again as soon as I hit the black, and belly danced around the living room until midnight. Although I hope she would have woken me up to see that.

81. Hold my hand

In which two people find that the morning after the night before is a happy place.

Matt

I was lying on my front, as I usually was when I woke up, and after a few of the obligatory seconds of disorientation, I realised I wasn’t alone; there was a beautiful woman asleep beside me, her body turned away from me, her form vaguely outlined by the duvet and highlighted by the morning sun filtering in through the curtains.

I smiled to myself, stretched, needed to touch the beautiful woman, so I slipped my arm under the duvet and around her waist. As I did so, her whole body flinched, and she let out a little squeal. I remembered her being similarly startled that first night; it was possible she woke up even worse than I did.

Laura

I woke with a start as someone put their arm round my waist. I let out a scream and pulled away, only to have the arm tighten around me and pull me backwards towards them. I was in a strange room, light filtering through the curtains. As my head unravelled itself from sleep, a voice whispered in my ear, making me jump again.

Matt

‘Morning Lau. Yuhr bluhdy jumpy in bed, aren’t yuh?’

I felt her relax against me, then she turned over and I forgot about teasing her as she directed her blue/green/grey gaze at me. I reminded myself, as if I needed to, how lucky I was that Lau was who she was, and that she wanted to be here with me.

‘Yeah. Sorry. It always takes me a while to wake up, even at home. I didn’t know where I was. Or who you were.’

‘Still the same bluhdy fucked up cripple I was last nigh.’

It was important that I didn’t just pretend it hadn’t all happened. What Lau had done, said, for me last night was incredible. I needed to acknowledge it.

‘Let’s not start that again.’

She pulled me close.

‘I nehd tuh. I nehd tuh say this, ask this. Then noh more, prohmis.’

She sighed. Then nodded.

‘Lau, yuh know abouh this, bastahd MS, more than anyone I know. I’m pretty bad at the moment, buh I know ih could geh better, or worse, much worse. I can’t duh tha tuh yuh.’

Laura

‘Too bad. It’s done. I’m here now. We haven’t said forever, we haven’t even made plans for today. Let’s enjoy what we’ve got, what we are now. I’m not going anywhere, Matt, whether you want me to or not. Look, I’m going to be a bit nursey now, and then I’ll be back to me. Relationships are tricky for people with MS, but usually because of how things change when one person gets it; it changes the balance of things, the dynamics have to be sorted out, reorganised. When one person already has it and meets someone – well I’m guessing it’s already there, part of the whatever it is that has attracted them to each other. OK, Nurse Laura over and out. It might get tricky for us when you start to get better. But either way, you’re stuck with me. Holding hands, whatever. Besides, who better to have with you than a self-declared MS sexpert? You’d better get used to it, buster.’

Matt was silent for a while, holding my gaze. I gazed back, lost in the winter sea colour of his grey eyes.

Matt

It was a lot to take in. When Jules had told me she was going to take care of me if I got ill again, it blew my mind. This did the same, possibly more, because however much reading Jules had done about it, she couldn’t possibly have really known what she was letting herself in for. Lau knew, with certainty, all the permutations, all the possibilities. She also knew, now, from personal experience, what I was like. And she was still here, she was still going to do it. God. I had no words to respond. No, she was right, neither of us had said we were going to be together forever, but it felt like it. It felt like it didn’t need saying, especially after last night and all the drama.

So I picked up on something she’d just said, used it to distract myself, before I started getting all bloody emotional again.

‘Plans fuh today, then?’

Lau grinned, looking like she thought she’d won an argument. Maybe she had.

‘Well, I thought maybe you could make me some of your yummy scrambled egg, and then we could stay here for a long lazy morning, and then I’ve got to go and see my mum. I usually go and see her on Saturday afternoons. You can come if you like, see how much she loves how sweary you are.’

Oh God, no, not yet, not today. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck, and needed more sleep before I went over to Dec and Amy’s later.

‘Not suhr I’m up fuh meeting the mother jus yet. Will duh soon tho. I like a challenge.’

‘It will be epic. What about the rest, though? Breakfast in bed? Other stuff in bed?’

‘Yeh, ih’s a plan. Lau … thanks. Yuhr fucking A.’

‘A? What does that mean.’

‘Oh, er, Austrahlian abbrehviation fuh, er, awesome.’

‘You don’t sound too sure. You wouldn’t be making it up would you?’

‘Noh, I never bullshih.’

‘Hmm, we’ll see.’

I smiled as I felt as far from my despair of the previous night as it was possible to feel. Things were opening up in front of me, I could almost feel my life beginning to change, and it was all because of Lau.

Laura

‘How about you stop telling porkies and get going on my breakfast.’

He grinned, quickly kissed me on the lips and got out of bed. I watched him walk out of the bedroom, checking how steady he was on his feet; it seemed to have improved from last night, and his back view, with his small, tight buttocks wrapped in his sleeping shorts, made me hug myself with pleasure.

The clatter of pans and the smell of cooking and toast stopped me from going back to sleep, and a short while later I was rewarded with a tray complete with a plate of scrambled eggs, some buttered toast cut into triangles and a cafetière of coffee. I sat up, and Matt placed the tray across my legs.

‘Wow. This is the best breakfast I’ve had since …’

‘Yesterday?’
‘No, better than yesterday, it’s in bed. Always a winner. And proper coffee trumps teabags any day. Not that I’m complaining about yesterday, that was mighty fine too. Where’s yours?’

‘Jus coming, couldn’t fit ih all on the tray.’

He left the room and returned with his own tray, handing it to me while he got back into bed.

‘Very civilised. Oh my God, and delicious. What on earth do you put in your scrambled eggs?’

‘Family secret. I’ll take it to my grave.’

‘Oh. That’s disappointing.’

‘Ih’s paprika.’

‘Blimey, you gave that up quickly. You’d be useless under torture.’

‘I would if yuh were torturing meh. Yuhd only have to say yuh were disappointed, I’d spill the country’s secrets.’

‘That’s information worth knowing. Oh my God, this coffee’s incredible too. Is there anything you’re not amazing at?’

‘Well not tha I’m gona admit. You’ll have tuh find out foh yuhself.’

As we finished our breakfast, Matt’s phone started ringing. While he reached for it, I looked for mine, which wasn’t there, wasn’t anywhere, as I hadn’t brought it with me last night.

I didn’t know what the time was, so as Matt started talking I went in search of a clock. Eventually I found one on the DVD player. It said ten o’clock. Surely it was wrong. DVD clocks were notoriously always wrong, re-setting themselves, not being reset after power cuts – or maybe that was just me. Admittedly, Matt seemed like the sort of bloke who would have a permanently correct clock on his DVD player, but it couldn’t be ten. If it was ten, I was late calling my mum, and she’d be worried. I heard Matt finish his call in the bedroom and went back in.

‘Is it really ten o’clock?’

‘Yeh. Time fuh our other stuff in bed.’

He pulled the duvet aside and waggled his eyebrows suggestively. I hopped in and sat up next to him, as it occurred to me that most of the time we had spent together so far had been in bed, but not doing the activities you might have expected.

‘Can I ring my mum first? I usually call her before ten on a Saturday, but I’ve left my phone at home.’

‘Sure.’

He handed over his phone. I had to think for a minute about what her number was, it was so long since I’d actually dialled it. For good measure, I saved it onto Matt’s phone, as ‘Lau’s Mum’, noting with satisfaction that it nestled nicely underneath ‘Lau’ in his address book.

‘I thoht yuh were calling her, not putting yuhr entire bluhdy family on my phone.’
‘You never know when you might need to ring her, to explain why I haven’t called her, maybe because I was in bed with you for example.’

‘Oh, OK, shall I duh tha now? Give ih here.’

He snatched the phone from me and pressed call. I tried to get the phone back from him, but he held it away from me and I could hear it ringing. After the customary three rings, I heard her answer, and redoubled my efforts to get the phone back. I could hear her saying ‘Hello? Hello?’ and then ‘LauraLou, is that you?’

‘LauraLou? Ha ha!’

He finally handed the phone over, laughing.

‘Hi Mum, sorry, had a bit of a problem with the line, sorry I’m late calling, I stayed with a friend last night, and I left my phone at home.’

‘Oh, is that why I didn’t recognise the number? I was getting worried when you didn’t ring. I haven’t heard from you for a few days. Are you coming this afternoon?’

‘Yeah, I’ll be there. Anything you want me to bring?’

‘No, my love, I’ve been pretty good, I got to the shop yesterday, got a few things I needed. I’ve got another appointment at the fracture clinic, in a couple of weeks, I think they’ll give me the all clear.’

‘Oh that’s great. Let me know the date, I’ll come with you.’

‘No, no, Laura, I’ll go on my own. Don’t take a day off just for me.’

‘Well we’ll talk about it nearer the time, shall we?’

‘Alright my love. When did you say you’d be over? Only Margaret was asking if I wanted to go over for a cuppa later. We said about four.’

‘I’ll be there before then. See you later.’

‘Bye my love.’

I disconnected and handed the phone back to Matt.

‘Thanks. And thanks for freaking my elderly disabled mum out.’

He looked stricken.

‘Sorry, Lau, I didn’t think.’

‘I’m teasing. She’s only just sixty, and she’s only got a broken ankle. She fell off a stepladder a couple of months ago trying to put up a bird box in her garden.’

‘Oh, she likes birds? I can see a way in alrehdy. Big on birds, meh.’

‘Yeah, so I’ve heard.’

‘Especially ones wih interesting brehsts. Like, er, robins an suchlike.’

I raised an eyebrow.

‘Yeh, ‘specially like interesting brehsts.’

He looked pointedly at my chest, then laughingly back up at my face.

‘Actually, I duh goh birding sometimes. If yuh look ouh the window when I draw the curtains, there’s a bird feeder. I’ve got binoculars an shih, books on the shelf, yuh can check. Buh definitely like a good brehst.’

Matt

I made breakfast, went back to bed, Lau called her mum on my phone, then programmed her mum’s number in, and I would usually have got all arsey about that and felt trapped or violated or some such shit, but instead I felt pleased that Lau was starting to link her life to mine, even in small ways. And, of course, having Lau here, in my bed, was too good an opportunity to waste, now I was properly awake, and so I angled my body towards her, stroked her cheek and then ran my hand down her body, until I cupped her breast.

‘This one fehls like a rehly good one. Worth exploring.’

To my delight, her nipples were growing hard under her sleeping shirt. I hoped she was up for more of what we’d done last night, on her sofa.

Laura

My body was responding to his touch, nothing I could do about that, but I already had a strategy.

‘Be my guest.’

Matt

She lay on her back and stretched her arms over her head, enticingly.

‘Rehly? Whoa, Lau.’

I held her breast in my hand for a moment, then ran my thumb lightly over the fabric of her shirt, feeling her nipple peak even more, but I wanted to touch her skin to skin; so I slid my hand under her t-shirt, then pulled it all the way up so I could see her too, and lowered my head to take her in my mouth and suck, running my tongue over the nubbly mouthful. Lau arched her back and moaned. I licked my way across to her other breast, felt my way around it with my mouth, kissing, sucking, nibbling, teasing. Between us, we pulled her t-shirt completely off, and I marvelled again at her awesome body, so full, so inviting.

Lau was arching her back, giving me the best view, and I slid my hand downwards, down her side, across her waist, onto her belly, down further – then she put her hand on mine and stopped me. I pulled back and looked up into her face, wondering what I’d done. She was smiling, but shook her head.

‘Wha? Why not? Dohnt yuh like ih?’

I frowned.

Laura

‘Matt, I love it, no one’s ever made me feel like you do. But we’re doing this together. Last night, when you did what you did for me, was sensational. No one’s ever made me feel like that. But until I can do the same for you, or we can do something together, we’re only doing what we can both do.’

I’d come up with this last night, while I was lying next to Matt. I had had an awesome time, and Matt taking care of me the way he had was unbelievable, but it felt important that we started this off fairly, and this was the best way I could think of.

Matt

‘Buh I love ih, I loved yesterday, making yuh come, ih was soh fucking sexy.’

I didn’t get it; why didn’t she want it? I knew she’d enjoyed it – she’d virtually just said it was the best she’d ever had.

‘I know, me too, but it makes things lopsided, starts things off on an uneven footing. I’m not backing down on this, Matt. Equal, the same, or not at all.’

Oh my fucking God. When was this woman going to stop getting more bloody awesome? I stared at her, unable to comprehend how, what, why she would do that for me. It made total sense, although it was with some regret that I actually saw the sense it made and decided not to battle with her about it. She took the hand she’d stopped just below her belly button, and placed it back on her breast.

‘So, up here, fine, I can do that for you too, we can have a good play, get to know each other’s likes and dislikes, but no pressure on either of us. Just tingly and nice and oh my God, yes, that too.’

So she wasn’t saying nothing at all, was she, she was just saying no downbelows until my fucked-up downbelows stopped being fucked up, then both sets of downbelows were fair game. It was encouraging, even, like she was saying it would come back given time.

In the interim, I had pinched her nipple and started to suck the other one, but looked up to speak.

‘I cahnt believe how incredible yuh are, Lau. I soh, soh dohnt deserve yuh.’

‘Yeah, well, not many do. Anyway, buster, flip over, there’s some nipple action of my own I’d like to try.’

Laura

He sat up, but didn’t lie on his back as instructed.

‘Hold on, Lau. Tha’s twice yuh called meh buster. Is tha my new endearment? Yuh said yuh were gona think of one, buh I thoght ih was beahch boy.’

I thought about it. I tended to throw pet names about willy-nilly, but Matt seemed to want to know what I was going to call him.

‘Well … it could be ‘buster’, if you like it, but it’s more of a ‘don’t mess with me’ kind of name, isn’t it? If you don’t like ‘beach boy’, and you really don’t go for ‘flower’, well, could be baby – ‘

‘Noh, Nico calls Lis tha all the time, grates.’

‘– or darling –’

‘Fuck noh, not behn married fifty threh yehrs.’

‘– dude?’

‘Hmm, has a ring, buh weh dohn live in California, soh noh.’

‘Sweetheart?’
‘Noh, noh, noh, Beth calls everyone tha, if she thinks yuhr fahmly.’

I was running out of options.

‘Babe?’
‘Dec calls Amy babe all the bluhdy time. You wehr gona give meh a manly name tha made yuh grow bollocks.’

‘OK, er, mate?’

‘Ha ha, bluhdy hell, Lau, yuh sound lihk a builder.’

‘Well, beach boy, I think your family seem to have first dibs on all the best names. We might have to invent a new one.’

Matt

I suddenly wondered why I was pissing around. She’d already said it, the name I wanted to hear her call me.

‘Noh, tha’s it. Yuh jus said ih.’

‘Did I?’

‘Beach boy. I like ih behter than all the rehst. Lihked ih wehn yuh said ih the other day.’

‘Really? I thought it wasn’t manly enough.’

‘Noh, buh ih’s diffrehnt from anything ehlse. Yuh made ih up. Ih’s jus ours. An ih mahks meh sound lihk a surfer dude, tha’s cool.’

‘If that explains it to you, then let’s go with that. I’ll try not to overuse it, and I expect the odd ‘flower’ might slip through every now and then. OK, beach boy, let’s get this show on the road. On your back, please.’

I’ve never got tired of hearing it, her special name. She doesn’t use it that often, I get called ‘flower’ more often than I care to admit, and she uses her mum’s ‘my love’ quite a lot too, but ‘beach boy’ is just for me.

Laura

With a delighted smile, Matt lay on his back, put his hands behind his head and waited as I knelt beside him, bent my head down and started to kiss his chest, trailing my lips up his sternum and then to one side, flicking my tongue over his nipples then taking one into my mouth, sucking it hard while at the same time running my fingers over the other one and flicking it with my finger.

I felt his hands in my hair, stroking, massaging, touching my ears, running his finger down my jawline and back up my neck and down my shoulder and arm, as I teased his nipples into hardened little buds on his chest, and heard him moan softly. Then he suddenly gasped and grabbed my hair so tightly it hurt.

Matt

She did it, she made me moan, and then suddenly, it all headed south, and a shot of heat hit my dick, and I gasped, my legs lifting off the bed with a jerk.

Lau stopped and looked up, looking worried. I’d gripped her hair pretty tightly, and I loosened my hold. We locked eyes as I explained.

‘Tingly dick, tingly dick!’

Lau dropped her head forwards, relieved.

‘I thought I’d hurt you.’

‘Noh, yuh tingled meh. Still tingly. Mind if I have a fehl?’

It had already lasted longer than the tingle I’d felt last night, and I wondered if I could encourage it to stay, or even to grow into something else.

Laura

‘Feel free. I’ll just carry on shall I?’

I lowered my mouth to his nipple again, flattening my tongue on it and licking in broad strokes from one to the other, as I felt Matt’s hand travel to his boxers. I put my hand over the top of his, and felt him rub himself slowly, then stop. I pushed my fingers underneath his and laid my hand on the soft shape of his penis underneath the fabric of his boxers. I slowly stroked him, to and fro, a few times, then looked up at him. He shrugged.

Matt

The tingles died away as I felt Lau push her fingers under mine and touch my dick through the fabric of my shorts. She stroked a couple of times, but nothing happened, and I shrugged as she looked up at me. It seemed the rule about the downbelows was flexible.

‘Tingles hahv gone. Thanks, tho Lau. Yuhr so fucking hot, yuhr so gona mahk meh better. Cohm hehr.’

I gestured her back up to the pillow, so I could hold her, and we lay close together, as Lau stretched her face up, lips pursed, wanting a kiss. Well I was always going to be happy to oblige the dick-tingler with requests like that. After a good while of kissing, though, something kept occurring to me, and I had to ask.

‘Lau, can I ask yuh something?’

‘Not if it’s something hard, like algebra.’

‘Algebra’s easy, buh OK, noh equations befohr lunch. Something nuhrsy.’

‘Oh, OK. Go on then.’

‘If I’ve goh a tingly dick, does tha mean things are getting better?’

I couldn’t keep the hope out of my voice. The fucking bastard had been with me for too fucking bastard long, and I just wanted a sign that it might be fucking off some time soon. Yeah, maybe it wasn’t ever going to, but I so wanted it to. I knew I was ‘lucky’ in some respects, if you can even begin to call it that, but I mean in comparison to someone who’s got, oh I don’t know, terminal cancer or something, where it’s pretty much a downhill path. At least for me there was a chance, having got better before, that I might get some of the way back up there again. I just wanted a bit of hope.

Laura

I looked up at him, and saw the hope in his face.

‘Oh God, Matt, that’s a huge question. I can’t answer it. It might do, it might not do. OK, nursey response to a nursey question. You should get yourself signed up with the MS service, get yourself a worker who can help you answer your questions, or go to your GP. Or both.’

‘Wha duh yuh think ih is?’

‘I really, really can’t say. I’m sorry, flower. I can’t tell you something that gives you hope or dashes your hopes, and then be wrong. It’s not fair.’

Matt

I was disappointed. I wanted Lau to make things better, to say I was on the mend, and she was giving me what sounded like bullshit.

‘I’m only asking yuhr opinion. If yuh wanted hehp wih yuhr computer I’d give yuh my opinion.’

‘Maybe, but my computer hasn’t been staring at a pile of pills and a bottle of whisky half the night. OK, I won’t give an opinion. All I’ll say is let’s hope so. And go and get yourself checked out. And ring the MS service first thing on Monday and get signed up. Seriously, Matt, I think I’d rather have had algebra.’

It had dropped the mood a little bit. I should have been impressed that Lau wasn’t willing to give me false hope, but it felt like she had inside knowledge she wasn’t willing to share. I know, unfair of me. Still a git, eh?

Laura

Matt’s expression had clouded a little. I knew from experience how much hope people took from small events like tingles and twitches and good days, and how much the bad days when nothing worked properly knocked them back. I had learned to be non-committal until something was confirmed either way, and that needed a doctor as well as someone neutral to help with the fall-out.

It was hard to be that way with Matt; he wasn’t a patient, and I had a lot invested in his recovery or otherwise too. I had a vision of all the fine lines I was going to be walking if this thing with us was going to work out.

Matt

‘If I call the service, can I have yuh as my nuhrs?’

That might be a way round it. Cosy nursing sessions under the duvet would work very well.

Laura

‘No. Remember I talked about this with my boss? I can’t treat you. I can’t be involved with you professionally. I wouldn’t be able to attend any meetings or discussions about you. It would be Anna or Kate. Although Kate’s an OT.’

As Rachel would also be a non-starter. The cloud deepened in Matt’s expression.

Matt

Fuck it, I’d forgotten about all that. I began to see that if I wanted answers, I was going to have to go looking for them, and that what I’d just asked of Lau wasn’t on, wasn’t even approaching fair on her. Didn’t make me like it, though.

‘I hate talking to pehpl I dohnt know abouh this. Bad enough having tuh goh back tuh Adam.’

‘I know, flower, but you’ll get to know them really quickly, and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them. Everyone says it about all of us, we’re all absolutely brilliant.’

‘An soh modest.’

I sighed as I made the concession.

‘OK Lau, I see yuhr point. I’d give yuh computer advice, buh if yuh nehded a major overhaul of yuhr computer system at work, I’d give yuh GreenScreen’s number. Fair enough.’

‘And if you ever need bandaging, or de-fibrillating, don’t hesitate to ask.’

‘An if I can hehp wih a good de-fragging jus leh meh know.’

Matt Scott, IT innuendo a speciality.

‘I know what de-fragging is.’

‘I bet yuh duh.’

The kidding about was making me feel better, so much better about everything.

‘Lau, this fehls soh good, being here wih yuh, after las nigh, yuh make meh soh hahpy. Thanks foh coming over and bullying meh.’

I folded her up in my arms, needing to feel her as close to me as possible, and we lay together for a while, just holding each other. It was like we’d got back on our mad journey, having made a stop at a crappy service station, but now having refuelled we were back on the bus for the mystery tour. Or some such metaphorical shit.

Laura

We lay snuggled together for a while, just holding each other. I realised I’d been holding on to some of the tension from the previous night, waiting to see if Matt still felt any of the anguish he’d shown, but it seemed like it might be OK to relax, and just start enjoying this again.

‘Matt …’

‘Yeh, LauraLou.’

‘OK, only my mum calls me that. It’s not even a tease option.’

Matt looked delighted, and I suspected I was going to regret telling him not to tease me.

Matt

Oh brilliant! I loved being told not to do things, it gave me loads of tease options. She seemed to know she’d made an elementary error, and tried to look stern, but she couldn’t manage it.

Laura

‘Anyway, you know a couple of days ago, we said just holding hands for now, nothing more, just see how it goes.’

‘Yeh.’
‘And I remember you saying you want to say how you feel when you feel it, or something, and I know this might freak both of us out, and I did just say we haven’t said forever, but this feels like a bit more than holding hands and seeing where it’s going.’

There was silence from Matt’s end. I daren’t look at him, scared of what I might see flitting across his face. Eventually there was an intake of breath.

Matt

I was silent. Yeah, it did feel like more, I’d been thinking that since I met her, but then I’d had my meltdown and it had scared me, and I’d wondered if I ought to back off a bit, decrease the intensity. Hearing Lau say she wanted more made it all feel real again; I’d never, really, thought long term with a woman.

Mercy was never a keeper, and I’d cheated on her as soon as she gave off ‘settling down’ vibes, great bloke that I was. With Carrie, it was pretty much ‘well things are OK, let’s keep it how it is’; with Jules we were still ‘seeing how things went’ when I fucked it all up. But now, with Lau, I was suddenly starting to think huge words like ‘forever’, and, yeah, of course, I was freaked out.

‘I know. Yuhr righ, ih fucking frehks meh righ ouh, buh ih’s OK. I dohn even knoh wha I’m doin tomorrow, I’m such a fucking mess at the moment, buh I knoh I’m gona beh doin ih wih yuh. Cahnt imagine not hohding yuhr hand, rehly or in my mind. An yuh said las nigh yuh’d beh hohding my hand fuhever.’

It was true. Freaking or not, I needed to be with Lau. I couldn’t imagine, now, ever letting go of her hand.

Lau looked at me, stretched up and pulled my head down for a kiss. I wanted to stay there, doing that, all morning and beyond, but she pulled away, looking regretful.

Laura

I risked a look up at him. He was smiling, eyes sparkling, crinkling at the corners, along with his mouth. I stretched up and kissed him. He put his hands to my face and held my mouth against his, but I pulled away.

‘Sorry, I’ve got to get going, I’ve got to go to Mum’s this afternoon.’

‘Stay a bih. Goh from hehr.’

‘I can’t. I haven’t got any clothes with me. I think I’d have a hard time explaining why I turned up to hers in my manky sleeping shirt in the middle of the afternoon. I need a shower and stuff. I can come back later.’

‘When?’
‘She’s going out at four, so after then I guess.’

Matt

Oh fuck it, Dec was coming to fetch me at four; it had seemed like a great idea at the time, I could help out with Charlie while they got ready. Now it meant I wasn’t going to see Lau until tomorrow afternoon. I looked at Lau, frowning.

‘I’m going tuh Dec’s, they asked meh tuh look after Chahlie. I’m gona stay the nigh. Fuck. Wanted tuh beh wih yuh.’

‘Do you spend all your life looking after other people’s children?’
I laughed. It was true that I was a convenient babysitter, but never a reluctant one. If I didn’t look after Cal, Iz and Charlie so much, I’d be visiting them anyway, so I might as well make myself useful.

‘Sometimes. I love ih tho. Getting in practice foh one day. An they all love their Unca Matty, he’s a bih bad. Sweeties an stayin up laht, an over eighteen X-box. Not fuh Iz or Chahlie wih the X-box.’

I tried my best to corrupt them all, in various ways. No point being an uncle if you can’t misbehave.

I had a wicked uncle once – wicked in the disreputable, bit of a bad role model sense, rather than, well, you know, mwahahah evil. He was who I based my uncling on. He was my dad’s older brother, and I guess he was my best shot at a father figure, although I didn’t see him very often.

Uncle Jock. His name wasn’t really Jock, it was Robert – my middle name was for him – but he was Scottish, and us English do things like that to foreigners, to put them in their place. He used to visit a couple of times a year, with his wife, Auntie Pam (she wasn’t Scottish, so no xenophobic nickname for her, just her own English name, which was punishment enough in itself). I don’t remember much about Auntie Pam, but I do remember Uncle Jock, who was a large man with a bushy red beard – oh, this could be where some of my ‘memories’ of my dad come from. I know they looked fairly similar from photos.

Anyway, getting side-tracked in the middle of getting side-tracked. So, Uncle Jock always brought us a mountain of chocolate, some of which he would let Mum see and confiscate for later distribution, and some of which he would give us when she wasn’t looking, so we could hide it in our rooms and eat it all in one go and feel sick.

Uncle Jock would spend his time with us punching Jay on the arm and congratulating him on being big and strong, but also firing hard questions at me and congratulating me on being brainy. When he was visiting, it was the only time Jay and I ever played together. Jock would make us all go out in the garden to kick a football about and he’d use his own size to bully Jay off the ball, and pass to me so I could score. Jay didn’t really like playing football, but I think he was a bit intimidated, and couldn’t refuse, at least when he was younger.

Uncle Jock would also cajole Mum into letting me stay up late to watch usually forbidden TV.

‘Let the boy experience some life, Carol, you can’t keep him wrapped up forever.’

And I’d sit, delighted, eyes wide as comedies with swear words and, if I was really lucky, the occasional topless lady, corrupted me.

And when Mum was otherwise engaged, often cooking with Auntie Pam, he’d slip me a tenner and tell me to buy something useless. He had lots of ideas for useless purchases, all things Mum frowned on – comics, X-ray specs (not real ones, they would have cost more than a tenner and wouldn’t have been available in the joke shop section of Woolworths), football stickers, Mars bars; there was a long list.

He was pretty clear on his opinions of green vegetables as well, and I always got let off eating cabbage when Uncle Jock was at the dinner table.

‘For God’s sake, Carol, the boy eats well enough, don’t be forcing him to eat shit he doesn’t like.’

Oh, and he swore. Uncle Jock was ace.

So, all in all, my role model for fatherhood came from a man who used to visit a couple of times a year until I was about ten. It wasn’t until I was a real dad that it all became clear, the difference between being a dad and being an uncle.

Then Uncle Jock stopped coming, and in the way of a child I didn’t really think about it, until years later when I asked Mum, and she looked sad and said he had dementia and had to go into a care home because Auntie Pam couldn’t look after him any more. He died when I was at Uni, and because I was in the middle of exams, I couldn’t go to his funeral. I wish he’d known what a big influence he had on my life.

But anyway, back to Lau, who has just learned that Unca Matty is a bit bad.

‘Why am I not surprised. You’re going to be a terrible father.’

No I wasn’t, I knew exactly how I was going to be.

‘Ih’ll beh a cool dad. Mohr like a mate, never tell them off, noh bedtime, noh eatin broccoli.’

I was still imagining operating the Uncle Jock model of parenting. Lau looked dubious, but let me hang on to my fantasy. I bet you’re laughing your head off now, Lau.

‘Good luck with that. Anyway, I need to get going. I’ll see you tomorrow, then?’

I frowned again; it seemed like a long time to wait, and I hoped I would last until the aftermath of Sunday lunch, which usually wiped me out.

‘I hope soh. Ih’s roast dinner at Jay an Beth’s. I dohnt geh up till laht, or I geh tuh tired, and Ih’ll be at Dec’s so we’ll goh from there. Can I call yuh?’

‘Course you can. I’ll be holding your hand until then.’

Laura

I swung my legs out of bed, and gathered up my jeans, pulling them on as Matt got up and stood behind me, putting his arms round me and kissing my neck. I stood up and leaned into him, resting my head back against his shoulder, then turned into his arms, folding mine round his neck and planting a large wet kiss on his mouth.

Before he could delay me with more kissing, touching and other villainous activities, I stepped back and out of the bedroom, trying to find my car keys. I had no idea where I’d left them last night, and tried to remember where I’d gone first. The table. There they were, still on top of the tablecloth. I picked them up, noticing as I did so that the pills and whisky from the night before had been cleared away, and then I made my way to the door. Matt leaned on the door frame of the bedroom and watched me go, a sad smile on his face. I blew him a kiss.

‘See yuh Lau. I’ll call yuh, or text or something. Prohbly both. Say hi tuh yuhr mum from meh.’

‘I will. I’ll tell her exactly what we’ve been up to this morning, she’ll be very interested, and have all sorts of advice.’

‘Rehly?’

‘No! Remember the strict Baptist? That was Mum. Her advice would involve quite a lot of burning in hell. I might mention you in passing, not make a big deal, get her used to the idea. Anyway, enjoy corrupting Charlie tonight, don’t keep her up too late.’

‘I’ll miss yuh.’

‘I’ll miss you too. Like you wouldn’t believe.’

‘Cohm here.’

‘No. I’m going. You’re a bad man, I’d never get away.’

‘Fuck ih, yuh saw through my plan.’

‘I’m going now, before you tempt me any more.’

‘Yuh keep saying tha, yuhr not gone yet.’

I was finding it incredibly hard to open the door and actually leave. It was only when Matt started to move towards me that I realised I had to go now or not at all, and I opened the door, waved, and shut it behind me, hurrying down the stairs and out into the car park.

This time when I looked up, I saw Matt standing at one of the windows. He raised a hand to me and I waved back, before getting in my car and driving away.

Matt

It took me a while to drift off to sleep once I’d gone to bed; my body felt rested, even after the travails of last night, and I kept thinking about Lau – her smile, her voice, her body, the way she pulled her mouth to one side when she was thinking, the way she just knew what to say, the way our bodies fitted together, the way she was Lau.

I was going to find it hard not to mention her to Dec, but I didn’t want to go public just yet. There would be questions and ‘oh Matt, don’t you think …’ and ‘isn’t it a bit …’ and ‘but what about …’ and I didn’t want to have to examine all of it right now. I wanted to enjoy it, this little haven, this little oasis, of something good in the middle of all the crapola that had gone on since Jules left.

I was going to tell all of them, and soon; I’d learned my lesson from moving in with Jules that it never helped matters to deliberately keep big shit from them all. But just a few days, that’s what I promised myself, to hug it to me and savour it, before everyone started questioning whether it was the right thing for me, like I had no say, like it wasn’t, er, actually my life, thanks.

80. So sorry

In which things are torn asunder, and a rescue mission takes place.

Matt

I saw how it was now, could just imagine how Matt the Lad would have sucked up the attention from a woman with ‘a thing’ for him, used her and dropped her. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how long it might have repercussions, but it was undeniable that Lau was now being affected by it. It couldn’t happen. I wasn’t going to let my selfish former life to fuck up Lau’s current life. I wasn’t going to allow it. I was going to have to stop, stop all of it, right now, stop thinking about myself, before I did her any more damage. You shouldn’t risk friendships for skanky blokes you’d only just met.

What had I just been thinking? How could I have been congratulating myself about being there for Lau, when all the time I’d fucked this up for her? I couldn’t do it any more, how much more shit was there to come out and mess with the people I cared about? I’d be better off out of it all, away from anyone I could hurt with my past, present or future. I didn’t quite know what that meant, I was still reeling with it, as if the realisation had drenched me with a bucket of ice water.

Lau turned to look at me.

‘Matt?’
I shook my head.

‘I can’t jus stop bein a bastahd can I. Ih carries on, all the shih. Pehpl still think I’m like tha, yuh must still think I’m like tha. Wha I did tuh her, an plenty of others, still fucking pehpl up, even tho I’m not like tha any more Serves meh righ. Prohbly deserve everything Ih’v goh now.’

Laura

‘No!’

I was instantly on my feet, then kneeling by him on the floor, needing to face him, show him it wasn’t true.

‘Nobody deserves to get ill. Nobody deserves to be unhappy, whatever they’ve done. And especially if they’ve tried to change. Matt, you’ve been around a few years, you know the reputation you’ve got, I expect you know what people say about you. Only you know what’s true and what’s not, and only you can show people that you’re different. You’ve showed me. You’ve showed me a caring, sensitive man who is facing up to a hell of a lot of stuff, and has been trying to do it on his own. You can’t change what you’ve done or been in the past, but you can know in your heart how you are now.’

Matt

I couldn’t meet her eyes. She didn’t know me, not really. She’d only seen my charming side, the side that was trying to get in her knickers. Shit, it was as if I hadn’t changed at all. It was a punch to the guts to realise what a selfish bastard I was being, deciding this was the woman for me, with no thought for whether it was what she wanted. She certainly didn’t need it, a lifetime of my past and my future ruining things for her.

I’d surfed along on a wave of dreams, only thinking of how much better my life would be with her, not how much worse hers would be with me. I’d spent the last two days justifying it to her and to myself, saying how much I’d changed. I had hardly found out a thing about her, except her favourite colour, her favourite chocolates and her favourite film, all the other talking had been me, taking.

‘I dunno Lau. Maybe I dohnt deserve yuh, this, us. Yuhr pretty fucking top notch. Yuh should have someone who ihnt a complete tosser an a fucking cripple intuh the bargain.’

She reached out, held my chin and turned my face towards her. I slowly lifted my eyes to hers, but could hardly bear to look into them.

Laura

I could sense a distance between us that hadn’t been there before.

‘You know what, I do actually deserve someone flipping top notch.’

Matt

I felt my lips twitch into an almost-smile at her paraphrase of my swear. God she was great. I so wished she wasn’t, this would be so much easier.

Laura

‘That person is you. I’ve only known you – what – two days. I hardly know you, but I completely know you. I’m sure there’ll be hiccups, but you tick every single one of my boxes. Please, Matt, please don’t talk about yourself like that.’

Matt

I shook my head again, and lowered my eyes. There was no other way to think about myself. I had to be real, to stop deluding myself that I had anything to offer her. I slowly sat up and leaned forwards, my hands covering my face.

‘I hahvnt changed as much as I thoht. I’m still doin ih. I’m doin it tuh yuh. Not one nigh stands, buh bein selfish, rushin in, takin. You dohnt need meh fucking up yuhr friends, yuhr job, yuhr life. Shih, Lau, I can’t believe I dihnt see ih.’

I stood up. I had to do it now, before it was too hard. It was already nearly too hard.

‘I’m gona go. I can’t do this tuh yuh.’

Laura

‘No! What do you mean? You haven’t done anything. I want this.’

Oh God, he’d stood up. He was going. What? What just happened? As he started to walk out of the room, I got up off the floor and followed him, holding onto his arm to stop him leaving.

Matt

I shrugged her off and walked up the stairs, feeling numb. In fact, I could hardly feel my feet as I made them take me away.

Laura

He carried on, out of the room, up the stairs, me behind him all the way trying to make him talk to me, trying to stop him, terrified he would get to the front door and go.

Matt

Lau was frantic, trying to make me talk to her, but her superpower had deserted her, and I shut my ears to her so I wouldn’t be persuaded. I needed to think of what I had to do, for her, not what I wanted to believe, for me, and Lau was saying all the things that would make leaving too hard to do.

When I got to the top of the stairs, I stopped and turned to face her. I couldn’t just walk out, say nothing. I had never felt so miserable.

Laura

There was so much sorrow on his face, it nearly made my knees buckle.

Matt

‘Lau, I just can’t do ih. I can’t fuck up yuhr life like I fucked up so many pehpl’s. I was jus sailin along in a little Matt world, enjoying yuh, not thinking abouh wha ih meant. Call yuhr friend. Tell her – oh fuck ih, I dohnt know, tell her I dumped yuh too, or make ih up, say wha yuh like. Dohn ruin ih wih her fuh meh. Dohn fuck yuh job up fuh meh. Ih’m not woth ih. Sohry Lau.’

I shut my eyes against the expression on her face, which was of anguish. She’d see, pretty soon, that she had no reason to be upset, that she was better off.

Laura

‘No, Matt, don’t go, please –’

He turned and opened the front door and walked out. I didn’t know what to do, couldn’t think. I called after him.

‘If you go, that’s what screws my life up. I can deal with the rest, I can’t deal with it without you. If you go, you’ve just done to me exactly what you did to Rachel.’

Matt

That nearly stopped me in my tracks. I hadn’t seen it like that, what a close parallel there was. But it didn’t change things. She’d get over it. There wasn’t really anything to get over, was there. I carried on walking until I was out of sight of her house.

Laura

I saw him break his stride as I shouted out, but he didn’t stop and he didn’t look back, just walked up the road.

My legs went from under me before I could think about whether to follow him, and I fell to my knees by the door, the tears beginning to flow down my face, as I started to sob. Hardly able to breathe, I buried my face in my hands and wept, the realisation that Matt had gone – just walked out of my life as quickly as he’d walked into it – hitting me hard.

I sat by the open front door, crying, for a long time, then my knees began to hurt, and I stood, closed the door and dragged myself to the bedroom where I lay on the bed, shuddering sobs shaking me every so often, tears continuing to course down my face, soaking the pillow.

I barely understood it. We had promised to hold hands – had we said forever? I wasn’t sure I could remember clearly, but it felt like it. I was still reeling from the stupendous orgasm. Then that text from Rachel changed everything, made him think he’d somehow ruined things for me. I wanted to make him see he’d done the opposite, but I didn’t know how. I doubted he would answer if I called him. He would still be on his way home. But the phone seemed like my best bet. I tried to dry my eyes, and went downstairs in search of my own phone.

I called up Matt’s name on the screen and pressed call. As I expected, it went to voicemail:

‘Yeh ih’s Matt. I’m suhr I’m stihl alihv, buh prohbly jus wana bih of peace an quieh. Lehv a mehsage an I’ll cahl yuh.’

I tried leaving a message, but wasn’t really sure what I was saying, and it felt incoherent and hysterical.

‘Matt, please listen to me. I don’t know why you think you’ve messed up my life. You’ve done the opposite. The last couple of days have been just the best. You’re the best. Tonight, this evening, with you was incredible. Please don’t do this, please don’t take it away from me. I want to hold your hand, I’m doing it now, across the city. Please call me, please. Please talk about this. Please.’

I ran out of words and hung up on his voicemail. I realised I sounded like a desperate dumped woman, but that was how I felt, and for good measure I sent several texts. I had never done this, begged a man to take me back, in my life, but I had no pride where Matt was concerned. He had walked off with a large chunk of my heart, and I couldn’t bear the thought of being without him.

‘Matt, please call me. Please don’t do this. You are incredible.’

‘I’m still holding your hand.’

‘Please come back, I miss you.’

‘Bruce has just realised he’s dead people. I know how he feels.’

The last one was admittedly melodramatic, but I was getting increasingly desperate. None of it brought any reply. I hadn’t expected it to, but I’d needed to try.

Matt

Once I was far enough away, and there was no sign of her coming after me, I sagged to the ground, leaning up against a wall. I heard my phone ringing, with Lau’s tone, but ignored it, and then it pinged with a text, from Lau, so I turned my phone off.

I felt like I had ripped my own insides out. Noble self-sacrifice or not, that was possibly the fucking hardest thing I had ever had to do, and it was coming close to destroying me. Over the last couple of days I’d built this little fantasy up in my head, of how it would be me and Lau, together forever, holding hands into the sunset, all that shit that I never went for. I had let myself be swept along with it, I had swept Lau along with it, and it had become my world, in that short space of time. Now, without it, I was alone again and it hurt, caused me physical pain somewhere in my gut.

I don’t know how long I sat there, staring at nothing, attracting strange looks from people walking past. Eventually my bum went numb, matching my heart, and I realised I was going to have to get home somehow. Calling any of my bloody interfering family was not going to happen, and the thought of another two hour bus journey was equally unthinkable. So I called a taxi firm and waited for what felt like hours before spending twenty quid getting across the city and back to my flat.

Laura

Feeling empty, I cleared up my plate of dinner from earlier and put Matt’s beer bottle in the recycling bin. I didn’t want to do anything else, so I turned off the TV and went upstairs to bed, taking my phone with me. As I lay down, another bout of crying swept over me, and I sobbed until I wore myself out with it, and drifted off into a broken sleep.

I went over it all, between the dozes: what I could have done differently, how I could have handled it better, what I could have learnt from where things had gone wrong before, but I couldn’t come up with anything from my past experiences that helped. To be honest, I had never felt like this before. I hadn’t had loads of boyfriends, just a handful of reasonably nice blokes who had been alright, but weren’t The One, especially Bryan the Smackhead, oh and Ferdi the Chauvinist Pig. No one who had made me feel like I did about Matt, like I would fight to my dying breath to be with him. This all tumbled around in my head between snatches of sleep and bouts of crying.

Matt

I hardly noticed time passing as I sat on my own in the flat, while the light slowly faded around me; all I could think of was what a complete mess I’d made of my whole life. I had no one to blame but myself, although I tried everyone on for size before I came to that conclusion.

First on the rap sheet was my dad. He’d bloody died before I knew him, and that must have fucked me up in all kinds of hidden ways. Then Mum, well, she always let me get away with murder, never told me I was being inappropriate, or that she was disappointed in me, although I knew she wasn’t a great fan of Matt the Lad. Beth, well, if Beth had just once kept her nose out and let me get on with things, I might not have felt the need to go it alone so much. And Jay, he was at the root of a lot of it, with his macho silences, his never talking about shit, his being older, better, more successful than me. Lastly, Dec. He’d been as fucked up as me when we met, but he’d sorted his shit out and rubbed my nose in his sortedness every opportunity he got.

And then I got real, and stopped blaming them all. My dad could take no blame. Mum always let me know, not necessarily in so many words, but with a look here and a sigh there, when she thought I’d gone too far. Beth was kind and good at heart, and she irritated me more because she was usually right than because she was inherently annoying. Jay couldn’t help being older than me, and he never said or acted like he thought he was better than me. And he had given up his job to come and look after me when I needed him. Dec was just about the best mate anyone could have, and was so far from rubbing my nose in anything. He always made time for me, even though he had his family and his rugby. Shit, I was a selfish tosser.

I sat and stared into the dark, and thought hard about just what I was going to do, then I lined up my options on the counter.

I was seriously fucked up, I knew that. Not just with the bastard MS, but psychologically. My life felt out of my control, I was falling, spinning, from a great height. Lau had stabilised me for a while, but I didn’t have her any more, and the spiralling just got worse. Maybe if I gave Adam another go. He had seemed like a good bloke, and had talked some sense. So, he was an option.

There was my family. There was always my family. I spent a lot of time moaning about them, but really, they were fucking awesome, and they would do anything for me. I loved them all, loved being a part of the huge sprawly mass of people that Jay and Beth had gathered to them. They were part of me and I was part of them, and I’d do as much for them as they would for me. And the kids – God I loved those kids. So, the next option was embrace the family, stop being an arse about it, let them love me.

And finally. It was hard to think about, because it would be the end, and it would be terrifying. But maybe the world was better off without me, and maybe I was better off without the world. I already knew how I would do it, I had told Lau. Painkillers and whisky, enough to finish it with a deep sleep. I knew how much would do it, just let me drift off, I had found out. I knew they were all terrified I would do it one day, somehow, some way. And maybe, just maybe … so that was a third option.

I lined them up on the counter: Adam’s business card. Family photos. All the painkillers I possessed, my bastard MS meds and a large bottle of Jack Daniels. Then I sat and looked at them, thinking, considering, wondering.

I had been staring into the darkness for – what? Hours? I don’t know. It was still dark, quiet, I still didn’t have any answers, only options. I was half asleep, possibly totally asleep, in some kind of trance, and I couldn’t sense the time passing. I had laid my head on my arms, sitting at the table, and I could easily have been asleep. I was drifting, in the dark, waiting for some kind of revelation. Waiting for the spinning to stop and the arrow to point the way.

Laura

It must have been about three in the morning when I suddenly opened my eyes into the dark and knew I had to go over there. To Matt’s flat. Now. It felt urgent, it felt right. Matt – Matt was The One. What was I doing lying here in bed without him? Whyever had I let him just walk out of here? I needed to be with him, sorting this out, right now. God, I was angry too. How dare he walk out on me, just go, not even listen to me? He was going to get a piece of my mind. No one did that to me, just trampled all over my feelings.

Full of purpose, I jumped out of bed, pulling my discarded jeans on and a sweatshirt over the top of my sleeping shirt, grabbed my keys, ran to my car and drove across the city to Avondale.

As I pulled up in the car park, I did stop and briefly wonder what on earth I was doing here, at this hour, or even at all. The certainty I’d felt twenty minutes ago had faded a little, and I was less sure. But I was here now. I got out and made my way over to the rank of doorbells outside the entrance. I leaned on MRS. There was no reply.

Matt

The night silence was shattered by the sound of my buzzer. Who the fuck was that? It had happened before, and it was kids, fucking about. I ignored it, but it went on and on, for seconds, then minutes, then it got into a rhythm and I just shut it out for a bit. It was bound to be annoying Mrs Bartlett upstairs enough that she’d come down and tell me off tomorrow. If I was still here tomorrow …

Laura

I stood back to see if any lights went on, on the second floor, but it remained in darkness. I leaned on the bell again, for longer. And then again, and again. I must have pressed the bell over and over again for ten minutes. Finally, when I was almost certain he was either not at home, or was wearing ear plugs, I got the result I wanted.

Matt

Eventually, I got pissed off with it, after a lot longer than it would normally have taken to piss me off. I got up and pressed the button.

‘Fuck off, whoever the fuck yuh are.

‘It’s Laura.’

Shit. No. I couldn’t see her, she would make me change my mind. I was doing this for her. She wouldn’t understand, and she needed to stay out of it.

‘Lau – I can’t – goh away. Plehs.’

‘No. I’m going to ring your bell all night until you let me in. I might start ringing your neighbours’ bells as well.’

Oh bollocks, not at this time of night, she could give someone a heart attack.

‘Fuck ih. Wha do yuh wan?’

‘I want to see you.’

‘Why?’
‘Because I miss you.’

No, I wasn’t having that. I didn’t want her here confusing me, making me go back on it, making me want her. I needed to send her away, tell her how it was.

‘Go away, Lau. Yuhr better off withouh meh.’

‘I’m not. I’m much, much worse off. You don’t get to say what I need, that’s up to me.’

‘I’m a stubborn fucking bastahd, you wohnt win this.’

Laura

‘It’s not a competition. And if you think you’re more stubborn than me, you’re in for a surprise. OK, I think Pinky, or is it Jeff, is going to be the first one I press …’

I was desperate enough to do it, too. I had a whole row of buzzers to press – someone would let me in, if only to shut me up, although I might get a bit of abuse from annoyed residents.

Matt

Oh for fuck’s sake. Pinky, or Jeff, or Mr Critchley as I knew him, was eighty seven and would struggle out of bed to answer his buzzer, even if Lau had moved on to someone else. And she’d call him Jeff, and he’d let her in, and who knew what havoc she’d wreak trying to get into my flat if I didn’t let her in. Once she was inside, she’d start banging on doors.

Well alright, I could let her in, I didn’t have to talk to her, did I? Surely I could do strong and silent. For the sake of Mr Critchley, then. I pressed the buzzer, opened my front door and sat back down, elbows on the table, head in my hands.

Laura

I heard the door click, and quickly pushed it open, amazed that I’d done it, I’d got in, and I headed up the stairs. At the top, Matt’s door was slightly ajar, but he wasn’t standing there waiting for me. I pushed it open, the light from the hallway the only thing illuminating the room, and saw him sitting at his small dining table, head in his hands.

Matt

I didn’t look up when she walked in, I didn’t look up when she put a lamp on, and I didn’t look up when she sat across the table from me. When she stroked my fingers, I took them away from my face and looked into her eyes, because I wanted her to believe me, to see it in my eyes that I wasn’t going to back down, because I was right. I hadn’t expected to see that much sadness in her eyes, though, and it nearly changed my mind. My strong and silent crumbled.

‘I dohnt wana talk abouh this, Lau. Yuh should jus go. We’ve only known each other a couple of days, it wohnt beh tha bad after a while, we’ll forgeh.’

This was a complete lie. I was never going to get over this, over letting Lau go. I would never forget her.

Laura

If his eyes hadn’t been saying the complete opposite, I might have been convinced. But I realised this was the reason I’d needed to be here. His eyes would tell me what I needed to know.

‘You told me you’d found something you didn’t know you’d lost, but had always needed. How can you walk away from that?’

Matt

I had told her that, it was still true, I would always need her, but I couldn’t have her, it would be wrong to do it.

‘I nehd tuh. I can’t hurt another person, I’ve spent the last fuck knows how lohng being a fucking bastahd, I cahnt duh it any mohr.’

Laura

‘So are you never going to have another relationship again?’

He looked at me and shrugged. He hadn’t thought about it. He was making a gesture without thinking about the implications. Alright, that gave me something to work with.

Matt

Who knows? I might not even be here tomorrow, then what would it matter?

Laura

‘Matt, we’ve found each other. It’s been intense and fast, and I’m on the one hand completely overwhelmed and on the other completely terrified and oh my God what are all those pills doing on your counter?’

I had just noticed them, a huge bottle of paracetamol, packets of ibuprofen, some solpadeine and a few boxes of prescription drugs. They were stacked next to a large bottle of Jack Daniels. Matt closed his eyes and tilted his head back.

Matt

She had just noticed them, and I heard a note of panic enter her voice. She looked at me, terrified. I closed my eyes, so I couldn’t see her fear.

‘Matt? Oh my God.’

I hadn’t definitely decided. It was an option.

Laura

I was frantically trying to remember my talking someone down from suicide training, not that we’d had any specific training in that, but it had come up numerous times in various courses we’d done. There was something about remaining calm; there wasn’t a lot about if it was someone you were personally involved with, someone who was about to make the most ridiculously stupid decision of his life.

‘Lau, I –’

‘Tell me you’re not seriously going to.’

He hung his head, shaking it, but I wasn’t sure if he was denying it, or was just finding it all too much.

Matt

I hung my head, shaking it, not knowing until that moment that I wasn’t going to. I almost felt the rush as my future popped back into existence.

Laura

‘Matt?’
He looked up, the pain in his eyes almost touchable.

Matt

I looked up, knowing that options one and two were, in some ways harder, now that I had discounted option three.

‘I suppohs not. If I’d meant tuh, Ih’d have done ih by now. Buh ih’s hard tuh live wih who I am, wha I am, wha I’ve done tuh pehpl. An ih’s hard tuh live wih fucking bastahd MS makin a mockery of everything I wan tuh beh.’

Laura

Everything I said from now on was top of my head, seat of my pants, no time to think, emergency response stuff.

‘Matt, seriously, I know you’ve been a bit of a player. There are people who aren’t that happy with how you’ve treated them. But it’s not like you’re a serial killer or something. Give yourself a break. You’ve had some fun, you’ve been trying to exorcise some demons, and from what you’ve told me, a lot of those demons have been duffed up and sent back to where they came from. You’ve changed. It can take time for these things to sort themselves out. You can’t tell me everyone you’ve dated, slept with, or snogged, had a dreadful time and is living a terrible life? Most of them will have had a good time, maybe even used you to have it.’

Matt

She was trying to let me off, and it was tempting.

‘Buh yuhr friend –’

‘Rachel needs to get a life and stop dwelling. We’ll work it out or we won’t, but that’s up to us, not you. You need to stop feeling responsible for how other people act and feel.’

‘I dohnt.’

‘Come on Matt. You feel guilty because of how much your family care about you. You feel guilty because of how much I care about you. You feel guilty because of what happened with you and Julia – do I need to go on?’
And there she was again, with the getting me, understanding me. How had she managed that in two days? I looked at her, shook my head.

‘Noh. I knoh I’m a fuck up.’

Laura

I sighed with exasperation, that wasn’t what I meant, and I needed to change tack, away from what he thought he’d done to me, and others, to get him to focus on something else. This wasn’t going to be easy to say, but I thought of something that might do the trick.

‘OK. I’m going to tell you something. It might help. It might make me cry. If it does, it’s not your fault, OK? It’s just because I’m sad. A few years ago, my dad died. He just keeled over, right in front of me. I couldn’t do anything, he was dead in minutes. We found out afterwards that he had an aneurysm, he’d probably had it for years, it was always going to happen. But it didn’t stop me blaming myself. I’m a nurse, I should have spotted something, should have been able to do more. That’s ridiculous, right? How can you control something it isn’t possible to have control over?’

I looked at Matt, who was nodding. He reached for my hand, to comfort me, and I nearly cheered because it meant he wasn’t thinking about just himself any more. Instead, I felt my eyes fill with tears. I tried to speak around the closing of my throat.

Matt

Of course, it wasn’t her fault at all, but now she was looking even more sad and I couldn’t bear it. I reached for her hand, as her eyes filled with tears. When she spoke, I heard her throat close up with emotion, but she carried on.

Laura

‘So anyway, all this time later I’ve realised the truth of that, but it took a lot of help, from friends, family, and, yes, a counsellor, to get me to acknowledge it here …’

I placed my hand over my heart.

‘… as well as here.’

I touched my head.

Tears were running down my face; I still missed my dad every day. Matt reached up and wiped a few of them away.

‘I’m sorry Lau.’

‘Thanks. But I don’t need you to be sorry, I need you to get the point. You can’t solve things with pills and whisky, whether you just get blind drunk or end up in A and E having your stomach pumped, or wind up dead. That doesn’t solve things this end, at best it takes the pain away for you, at worst it causes a whole lot of other pain for other people. And that is your fault. It’s the most selfish thing anyone can do.’

‘I knoh. Ih’m still hehr aren’t I? Look over there. Ih’s not jus pills.’

I looked beyond the terrifying pile of painkillers. There were photos of Cal, Iz and Charlie, and what looked like a business card. I looked back at Matt, willing him to explain, hoping the relief I felt when he said he wasn’t going to do it was real, that he meant it.


Matt

‘I nehded to remind mysehf wha the options are. One – end ih all. Always an option, righ? Two – fahmly. Bloody annoying option, but they’re fucking good at caring abouh meh. An I … love them, an I wana see them grow up. Threh – Adam.’

‘Adam?’
‘Psychologist. Saw him a few tihms after Jules. Made a bih tuh much bluhdy sense, stopped goin.’

OK, so for ‘a few times’ read ‘once’. I still wasn’t through with lying to myself just yet. Lau didn’t say anything, just squeezed my hand and held my gaze.

‘Yeh, I know, prohbly tihm tuh give him another try.’

Laura

I nodded, almost dizzy with gratitude that he seemed to have dismissed the pills and booze option. I decided to push my luck.

‘Option four.’

‘Dihnt geh tha far.’

‘Option four – Lau. It even rhymes, so you can remember it.’

Matt

But that was just it, she couldn’t be an option, because all of the options were instead of her, so that I stopped thinking of her as an option. I opened my mouth to reply, but she spoke first.

‘I’m always going to be an option. I’m always going to be holding your hand now, forever, you’re never going to get rid of me. Even if you never see me again, I’ll always be there, holding your hand, across the city, across the country, across the world. Wherever you are, I’ll be there too.’

‘Buh wha abouh in the loo?’

I just couldn’t help myself.

Laura

‘Even there. Although I might try not to think about it too much.’

He looked up and gave me the ghost of a smile. I gave him a full smile back. I wasn’t sure if it was crisis averted yet, but smiles and attempts at humour were a start.

Matt

I offered her a kind of smile. Yeah, what she’d just said made a difference. If she was going to hold my hand whatever the fuck I did, of course it made a bloody difference. She smiled back.

‘Fucking hell, Lau, yuhr as bad as bluhdy Dec. He told meh once we were connected by fahmly, as if there was a webcam in my head when I wiped my ahrs. Wha is ih wih yuh caring pehpl an bogs?’

She would have no idea what I was talking about, but I knew. I knew that somehow, in the same way that Dec would always have my back, Lau would always keep me safe, whether I wanted her to or not. And, oh, I wanted her to, I just still wasn’t sure it was the right thing to want.

Laura

I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but he’d obviously made some connection between what I’d said and what someone else had said to him in the past. And now I needed to push it further, because I was done with being Nurse Laura, I needed to be Lusty Lau, who cared so much about this man in front of me that if I didn’t get him back I was going to make personal use of the pills and whisky that were lurking on the counter so menacingly.

‘Matt, I need you. We need each other. We belong with each other. I feel it between us.’

He looked up and as his eyes met mine, there was a jolt. I saw it hit him too.

Matt

I looked up and as her eyes met mine, there was that electric shock. She felt it too, it was like that time in Mean Bean when she touched my hand.

Laura

‘Tell me you don’t feel it fizzing between us, right now?’

He shook his head, but this time I knew it wasn’t to deny it.

Matt

I shook my head, in disbelief.

‘Yeh, I do. Lau, I never felt anything like I fehl when I’m wih yuh. Buh I’m trying tuh beh selfless fuh once in my fucking life.’

This was the heart of things, right now. I was done with being selfish, I wanted to show the world I could think about someone other than myself and my woes, or my jollies, for once.

‘What’s the point in being selfless about this? It’s not like anyone’s going to benefit. I’ve been breaking my heart since you left this evening, and you don’t look like you’ve been that happy either. Let’s end the sadness. We were made for each other, weren’t we?’

She was a fast talker; she was giving me hope. Hope that I could have what I wanted, and as well as being alright, it wasn’t wrong. Slowly, I nodded, then felt tears fill my eyes, fuck them the salty bastards. I brushed them away in exasperation.

Laura

He continued to look into my eyes, and I could see the hope there, hope that he could have what he wanted and it would be alright. Slowly, he nodded. I saw his eyes fill with tears, which he brushed away with an exasperated flick of his hand.

‘Well if we’re made for each other, it’s a bit of a waste not to be together. I hate waste, it really upsets me.’

‘Fuck, Lau, rehly dohn wana upset yuh any more tonigh.’

‘Well stop this bloody nonsense, then.’

‘Yuh swore! Only bluhdy, buh still.’

‘Desperate times …’

I saw him take a deep breath. He was stubborn, and as a stubborn person myself, I recognised him steeling himself to change his mind and accept a different way. And also as a stubborn person myself, I rejoiced a little at getting my own way, particularly as the end result was Matt looking at me a little sheepishly, trying out a smile on the face that had so recently looked like its world could easily come to an end.

Matt

It felt like it might be time to stop the bloody nonsense. I took a deep breath, sure that Lau had no idea how stubborn I usually was and how much willpower it took to change my mind, see things differently.

‘OK.’
‘OK what?’

‘OK bluhdy cohm here an kiss meh before I change my bluhdy mind.’

We were both on our feet before I’d finished saying it, and I held her tightly against me, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, so I kissed her instead, then I tasted salt, and I pushed Lau away so I could look at her, and she was the one crying, streams of tears from the corners of her eyes.

Laura

I was in his arms and he was kissing me and holding me and his mouth was on mine and his arms round me felt so good, so right, it was like coming home, and it wasn’t until he stopped and pushed me away, and wiped my face with his fingers that I realised I was crying.

Matt

I wiped her eyes, the guilt welling up in me again.

‘Oh Lau, dohnt. Dohnt do tha. Not cos of meh.’

She rolled her eyes.

‘I’m happy, you bloody stupid man. Don’t you ever do anything like that to me again. Don’t you ever push me away and lock me out. I’m in here now.’

She placed her hand over my heart.

‘If you cut me out, you’re cutting out a piece of yourself.’

It was more than I deserved. I was going to try to deserve it, to deserve Lau, who wasn’t going to let me throw it all away, and who wanted me, and had changed my mind.

‘OK. I’ll try. Not guhd at all this. Wana try wih yuh tho, Lau, yuhr fucking wohth ih. Yuh never bluhdy give up, duh yuh?’

‘Not often. You’re fairly determined yourself, I have to say.’

Yeah, Lau, understatement much? She’d learn.

‘I’m pretty fucking stubborn. Prohbly beh some fireworks along the way.’

‘I’m OK with fireworks. Easier to deal with than silence and staring.’
‘Mm.’

Oh fuck, all of a sudden I couldn’t focus, could hardly stand upright. I hadn’t even noticed the tiredness creeping up on me, having been preoccupied with recent dramas. I found myself leaning on Lau; without her I would have fallen over. Ha, if that wasn’t a metaphor for my whole life since then, I don’t know what is.

Laura

Matt seemed to suddenly crumple. His face had gone ashen, and he sagged against me, like he had yesterday outside Mean Bean.

‘Matt?’
‘Tihred.’

His voice was barely audible. He really was going to have to learn to pace himself, but until then, Nurse Laura would heed a blue light call.

‘OK, into bed.’

I put Matt’s arm round my shoulder and my arm round his waist, much as I had the other day when I’d hauled him down the street, and supported him into the bedroom.

Matt

‘Shruf … dohb … buhl …’

I was trying to apologise, but I knew it was all coming out garbled, and any second now I was going to be asleep.

Laura

He was trying to speak, but none of his words were making any sense, so I ignored him while I sat him on the edge of the bed and swung his legs onto the mattress, then laid him back on the pillow, before covering him with the duvet.

Matt

I made myself last until Lau sat me on the edge of the bed, so she didn’t have to try and lift me. I wasn’t a heavyweight, but I was too much for her to lift on her own. Of course, now I know that if I’d fallen over, she would have left me on the floor and fetched a blanket and a pillow, but that was before I knew about the sensible practicalities of NHS manual handling training. So, as soon as the objective was achieved, i.e. my arse on the mattress, it was lights out for me, and I knew no more until I stirred, some hours later.

Laura

I had no idea if I was invited, but as I was still in my sleeping shirt, I pulled off my sweatshirt and jeans and climbed in next to him. I lay awake for some time, listening to the tone and regularity of his breathing, my heart rate gradually slowing down to an acceptable speed. I’d done it, persuaded him, changed his mind, got him back. Matt was sleeping next to me, and I didn’t intend to ever let him get so far away from me again. I smiled for a long time before I eventually drifted off to sleep.

79. Night moves

In which there is a coming together, er, so to speak.

Laura

Feeling better from having heard his voice, but with my head still all over the place, I disconnected and went back into the office. Anna and Kate watched me without speaking as I sat back down at my desk. I no longer felt like making a cup of tea, and just sat in front of the computer, staring at it without seeing it. After a while, I heard the kettle go, and Anna placed a mug in front of me. I looked up at her.

‘Thanks, An.’

She pulled a chair over and sat next to me.

‘How did all this happen, Lau?’

I ran my hands over my face.

‘Oh, I don’t know, it’s been a bit mad. After the LMS day, he waited afterwards while I was packing up and said he needed to talk, about, you know, having MS, and so we went to a café and talked. He unloaded some stuff, I held his hand, we had a moment. Then he realised he’d lost his wallet, so we were going back to my car to see if it was there when he kind of half collapsed, needed me to manhandle him, the nearest place was my house.’

‘You took him into your bloody house?’

Kate had pulled up a chair, and was looking eager for information.

‘He could hardly stand up, he was semi-conscious. I was practically carrying him. I couldn’t have got him into my car, and I didn’t know where he lived.’

‘Oh Lau, after everything we said on that Lone Working course.’

‘I know, An, I know. But I didn’t have a choice.’

‘Know those big white vans, noisy buggers, flashing blue lights, good at giving ill people lifts?’

‘I wasn’t going to call an ambulance, Kate. He was just tired. He slept it off for a couple of hours, I contacted his family, let them know where he was.’

‘You should have told me, Lau. Was he there when you rang me?’

I nodded. Kate rolled her eyes with exasperation.

‘What if he’d tried something on?’

‘Kate, he was asleep. I was perfectly safe.’

‘So when did everything … happen … between you, then?’

‘Nothing’s happened. We’ve just held hands. Kissed a bit.’

It didn’t sound much, given the monumental emotions I was feeling and the amount of upset I had already caused, but I was trying to downplay it, so it didn’t sound so bad.

‘So it’s not too late, you can still bloody well stop it.’

‘I’m not going to stop it. It’s … amazing.’

‘Ah love, you sound besotted.’

‘Yeah, well, she would be. Isn’t that how the bloody man operates? Gets you hooked then drops you.’

‘It’s not like that.’

‘How do you know? You’ve only known him five bloody minutes.’

‘I feel like I’ve known him forever.’

‘Oh Jesus, you’ve got it bad. Lau, have you even thought about Rach? You saw her just now. This will destroy her.’

‘Of course I’ve thought about her. I’ve thought about everything – Rach, working here, him having MS – I know it’s completely crazy. But nothing has ever felt so right. He feels the same as I do.’

Kate snorted.

‘Yeah, I bet he does. Got his own personal MS advisor with benefits. Don’t expect he’s had much luck with the ladies since he got it.’

‘Come on now, Kate, I think we need to give Lau a break. She hasn’t done this on purpose, there are some things you just have no control over. Feelings is one.’

Anna turned to me.

‘Just promise me you’re being a bit sensible, Lau.’

I nodded.

‘A bit.’

I didn’t add that if Matt had been ‘fully functional’ as he’d put it, all sense would have gone out the window, and there would have been a bit more to the story so far than I had told them just now.

‘What are you going to do about Rach?’

I sighed as I looked at Kate.

‘I don’t know. She needs time to cool off. I’ll try ringing her or texting later.’

‘Don’t leave it too long, you know how she gets. Don’t end up on her blacklist.’

I nodded.

‘I suspect I’m already at the top of that. I’ll try though.’

Anna stood up and put an arm round my shoulder.

‘It’s not that we’re not happy for you, Lau. It’s been a while since you had someone. I know you can’t always choose these things. We’re just worried about the who and the how fast.’

I looked up at her. Anna was older than the rest of us, married with nearly grown up children. She was a bit like our mum and always mixed a sympathetic ear with a dose of common sense.

‘I know. Thanks, An. God, what a day. Know what, let me take those last three cases, including that one Rach was going to do. Then we can finish up and I can go home.’

We finished inputting all the information onto the computer, washed up the mugs and started to lock up for the weekend.

‘Who’s helpline on call?’

‘Me.’

That was Anna.

‘Hope it’s not too busy, I’ve got Harry’s new girlfriend coming for tea on Saturday.’

‘You should be OK, Mrs Ramsden’s up country visiting her family, she won’t have an emergency until middle of next week when she’s missing her grandchildren. I’ll be on emergency Rachel Telford call though.’

Kate sounded resigned, and looked at me with a shake of the head.

‘Seeing him this weekend?’

‘Yes.’

She tutted and sighed.

‘Oh well, have a nice time. Think of me answering the phone at all hours to a dribbling wreck.’

‘Sorry, Kate.’

She waved her hand dismissively and walked to her car.

‘See you Monday, Lau.’

‘Bye, An. Have a good one with the girlfriend. Hand the on call over to me if you need to.’

‘Don’t be daft. Enjoy yourself.’

‘Thanks.’

Matt

So the afternoon had gone, and I had to get across the city to Lau’s, using buses I hadn’t used before, carrying the cheesecake we didn’t eat last night (and to be honest wasn’t all that appetising, but Lau bought it, so it seemed special) and my Amelie DVD, and picking up some beer and chocolates from the shop on the way to the bus stop. It was about the maximum weight I was going to be able to carry without dropping the lot.

Laura

We got in our cars. Anna drove off while I stayed sitting for a while, trying to sort through how things might change here. Rachel was going to be upset, hurt and angry, and want people to take sides. It was likely to affect our whole team and make life very uncomfortable for me, for I didn’t know how long. I was going to have to call Patrick over the weekend to tell him, and catch the fall-out from that too.

Bolstering myself with the thought of a whole weekend free to do what I wanted without anyone judging me, and with Matt if we chose to be together, I started the engine and drove home.

I’d been trying to compose a text to Rachel in my head as I drove. When I got in, I sat down and tapped it out. I wanted to contact her, even though I was pretty sure she wouldn’t answer.

‘I’m so sorry, Rach. Sorry for what I’m doing, and sorry for not telling you. You know where I am if you want to talk. Lau x’

It wasn’t great literature, but I thought it said both ‘sorry’ and ‘I’m not going to stop seeing him’ without being quite so blunt, while at the same time being as conciliatory as I could.

Once the text was sent, I relaxed a little and got changed. It was only a DVD and a takeaway, and I wanted to feel comfortable, so I just put on a pair of jeans and a loose top, with, just in case, sexy pink underwear with coloured bra straps that showed at the wide neck of my top. I was as capable as the next woman of being a floozy.

So, dressed to mildly maim if not to kill, I went in search of the DVD I was going to suggest. If Matt was bringing Amelie, I was going to dig out Bruce Willis, so we could see dead people. Eventually I located the DVD and rooted out some takeaway menus. I found a few bottles of beer I had kicking around in the fridge, but had no idea if they were good ones or even if beer had a sell-by date. If they weren’t acceptable, I could pop to the offy. Finally, as ready as I could be, I sat and waited for Matt.

Matt

The buses were a nightmare, with long waits between the two changes, and the last stop was a fair way from Lau’s house. It took me almost two hours. Lau hadn’t been specific about a time, but I’d wanted to get there soon after she got home; I’d really missed her, more than it should have been possible to miss someone I had only just met. As I walked up the path to her front door, though, all the stress from the journey melted away and left me with a tingle of anticipation. I rang the doorbell.

Laura

The trouble with saying something vague like ‘anytime after five’, is that you have to be ready for five, but the person could literally arrive anytime between five o’clock and the end of the world, and not consider themselves rude in any way. It got to six, and I started to wonder, firstly if he was coming at all, and then secondly, whether I should text or call to see when or if he was planning to arrive.

After my illogical panic the last time he was here, I tried to dismiss the first thought, and tied myself up in knots with the second one. I’d seen how much it bothered him when people checked up on him, so it was never really a goer, but what if he’d fallen over or something? I began to understand why his family kept in such regular contact, but managed to stop myself from picking up my phone.

I pottered about some more, plumping already chubby cushions, putting some music on, turning the DVD player on, then off again in case we wanted to talk first, then on again because did it really matter if the DVD player was on while we were talking? I thought about how much preparation Matt had put into yesterday evening, i.e. sleeping all afternoon, and tried not to worry so much.

Finally, eventually, at last, at half past six, the doorbell went. I ran up the stairs faster than was really sensible for someone as unfit as me, and flung the door wide. There he was, silly grin plastered to his face, big grey eyes all crinkled up in his smile. Gorgeous, he was just gorgeous.

Matt

A smile split my face as I saw her. It felt like I hadn’t seen her for weeks, and now I was home. Lau was panting and a bit red in the face, although she was smiling too.

‘Hey Lau, yuh behn runnin?’

‘Only up the stairs. Not very fit.’

‘Nehd tuh come hikin wih meh. Few hills soon sort yuh ouh.’

Laura

Ignoring that as an unlikely occurrence, I held the door wide and he stepped inside, dropping the bag he’d brought as I closed the door and catching me up in a hug. The hug rapidly became his hands in my hair, my arms round his neck, our mouths devouring each other with lips and tongues and licks and kisses until he was as breathless as me and we pulled apart, panting.

Matt

I found it incredible that a) we’d only known each other a couple of days and b) we were both so hungry for each other’s company.

‘Shih, I nehded tha.’

I hadn’t realised how much. It was like a lifeboat to a drowning man, and I suddenly felt buoyant.

Laura

I smiled widely at him, unable to tear my eyes from his face, the anxiety of the last hour and a half gone in an instant. Matt picked up the bag he’d dropped, and handed it to me.

‘Behr, cheesecake, chocolates, DVD. Chocolates for yuh, buh only if yuh share. Cheesecake migh have goh bih squashed on the bus.’

‘You came on the bus?’

‘Yeh. Dohnt drive at the moment. Spasms. Nehly ran someone over. Too scary.’

Matt

Although admitting this wasn’t easy, it was great to be able to say it without having to explain what spasms were, or why they happened, to just know that Lau knew the what and the why, and I didn’t have to spend the next half an hour listening to someone going all ‘oh that’s terrible, I had no idea’.

No, Lau was matter of fact about it, like she was about everything, and she just treated it like she did everything else – the unintelligible bollocks, the exhaustion, the fucked-up downbelows – like it was merely something that was part of me, not something that she had to pick to pieces ad infinitum. Realising this was another revelation, maybe two revelations.

Revelation a) it was possible to treat someone with a fucking bastard neurological condition as if they were a normal person. Revelation b) all of those things – the unintelligibles, the tiredness, the downbelows – were part of me. Holy shit, that was a big revelation and not one I could assimilate right at that moment.

How did you do it, Lau? How did you manage to not see me as just another one of your fucking cripples? Because I swear from the moment we met, you didn’t see it, the fucking bastard, or rather you saw past it or through it or some such shit, and yeah, of course it was there, it’s not like you ignored it or pretended or anything, but it was like it didn’t matter, because you saw me. No one else could do that. To everyone else I was poor Matt, who’d been taken over by this thing, but it was never like that with you, was it. You just saw me.

Anyway, where was I? Blah di blah, snog, bag of stuff, chat about the bus, mention the spasms – oh yeah.

‘Oh. You should have said, we could have done this at yours.’

Yeah, I’d thought about that, but, tortuous bus journey aside, getting out was good.

‘Noh, ih’s fine. Good tuh geh ouh. Not sure how late at nigh the buses goh, tho, soh can I stay?’

I knew it was cheeky, but I also knew it would be OK. All part of the plan.

‘Ooh, what a good ploy to get between my sheets.’

I loved that I was transparent, and that she didn’t mind, and that I’d known she wouldn’t mind.

‘Inspired, I thoht.’

I had plenty more of those sorts of inspirations up my sleeves.

‘Well, as you’ve brought me, let’s see …’

Lau looked into the bag.

‘… a weird French DVD, yesterday’s smushed up cheesecake and … oh my God my favourite chocolates … OK, you can stay.’

The chocolates had been a lucky guess, mostly inspired by the paltry selection available at the corner shop on the way to the bus stop. Fortunately, Lau didn’t have sophisticated cocoa tastes.

‘Ih’s not hard tuh geh into yuhr bed is it?’

‘No, chocolate will do it every time.’

‘Nohted.’

‘Come on down.’

She led the way down the stairs, into the living room and gestured to the sofa.

‘Nah.’

‘What do you mean, ‘nah’?’

I was about to try my luck again. I wasn’t bothered about watching a DVD, mine or hers, but I was bothered about how we were going to be arranged while we did it.

‘Wrong sofa tuh TV configuration. Nehd tuh beh able tuh lie down wih yuh. Nehd tuh move ih.’

Laura

‘What? You want to move my furniture?’

Apart from the bare-faced cheek of it, which should have made me cross, but actually made me laugh, I was imagining the horrors that lurked beneath the sofa, un-vacuumed.

‘Yeh. Feng shui’s all wrong. Sofa should beh facing east.’

‘Oh, do you know about feng shui?’

It didn’t seem like a Matt Scott sort of thing, but he’d constantly surprised me since the day before yesterday. Matt laughed and stroked my cheek.

‘I know fuck all abouh feng bluhdy shui. Lau, you’re soh easy tuh wind up. Jus wanted tuh curl up wih yuh tuh watch DVD, so we can touch a bih an whatever weh fehl like withouh, yuh know, having tuh ask or move too much. An withouh getting a stiff neck watching sideways.’

Curling up on the sofa, touching, and watching Bruce Willis sounded pretty amazing.

‘Oh. Fair enough. But you might have to avert your gaze from the dust bunnies that have perished underneath the sofa. There’s been a bit of a massacre.’

‘OK. Dead bunnies not noticed by meh. I migh have tuh geh yuhr hoover ouh later.’

‘Be my guest.’

We moved the sofa to Matt’s satisfaction, and he sat down while I put the cheesecake and beer in the fridge.

‘Do you want one of these now?’

‘Noh, too warm.’

‘I’ve got some beer already in the fridge, don’t know if it’s your cup of tea.’

Matt

‘Hope ih’s nothing lihk teh. Give ih a shot.’

She came back with drinks, a gin and tonic for her and a bottle of something, er, I want to say Hungarian, for me. I took a mouthful; it was fairly nasty.

‘Ih’s nice an cold.’

‘Is that all that you can say about it?’

‘Er, tastes lihk piss?’

Laura

I laughed. I didn’t know much about beer, and those bottles had been at the back of my fridge since I last had the girls round – beer was Kate’s tipple.

Matt

Lau laughed, not offended in the least. She didn’t seem like a beer drinker, and I wondered how long it had sat in her fridge. Maybe since her last boyfriend – fuck, I needed to find out about that. Or rather, didn’t ever want to find out, didn’t like the thought of her with anyone else. Or maybe it was a brother. Yeah, that’d be it. Brother. Brothers drink beer all the time, in my experience. Lau interrupted my frantic self-reassurance.

‘OK, well you’ll have to wait for yours to cool down then. Or join me in a G and T.’

‘Noh, this’ll do. Wha we eatin?’

Lau handed me a pile of menus, but none of them really hit the spot. I guess I wasn’t that hungry, not for food. I was hungry for time with Lau, couldn’t wait to get my hands on her, and food was just going to get in the way. Lau seemed like a woman who enjoyed her three meals a day, though. Maybe a quicker way would be to go out, if there was anywhere close by – like the coffee shop round the corner. Ideal.

‘How late is Meahn Beahn open?’

‘Until nine, but they don’t deliver either.’

‘Noh, buh they’re so close yuh could almost geh them tuh throw yuhr dinner onto the bluhdy plate. Weh could go there – eat ouh?’

‘If that’s what you want. They haven’t got a huge selection, it’s mostly salads.’

‘Salad is good. Tryin tuh beh healthy.’

And trying to get eating over with as quickly as possible. Serve yourself salad bar five minutes walk away did it for me.

‘OK, then, let’s do it. Now, or in a bit?’

‘In a bih. Leh’s try ouh the new sofa position.’

We got comfortable, me semi-reclining, Lau leaning back against me. I folded my arms round her, leaned down, pushed her hair aside with my mouth and kissed her in that sweet spot just below her ear. I’d learned yesterday just what that did to her, and I’d learned well, as she breathed out a sigh.

Laura

As his breath sighed across my earlobe, all the magical tingles came to life and started partying down below.

‘You can move my furniture anytime.’

‘Doin ih foh yuh?’

‘Very … er … comfortable.’

I sighed and snuggled down against him.

‘I’m not squashing you am I?’

Matt

‘Dohn mind a bih of squashing in the righ places.’

And she was finding all the right places.

‘Then carry on. Do you want to start a DVD, or wait till we’ve eaten?’

I didn’t care, I’d got what I wanted, for now, making a start on the plan.

‘Dohn mind. Happy jus doin this, tuh be honest. Buh ih’s yuhr date nigh, yuh choose.’

‘Oh, this is a date, is it? I’d have dressed up a bit if I’d known.’

‘Yuh look lovely, Lau, yuhr soh beauhiful.’

Laura

Hearing him murmur that in my ear set my pulse racing, especially as he pulled my hair away from my face and stroked his fingertips down the side of my neck.

Matt

It was true, she was beautiful. She was only wearing jeans, and some kind of loose fitting top, but she looked awesome, particularly as I could see her lacy pink bra straps at the wide neck of her top. The bra straps were encouraging, as they were extremely noticeable, extremely sexy and extremely different from the black cotton she had worn before. They spoke to me. They said ‘Come and explore me’. They said ‘I wouldn’t be averse to you seeing more of me’. They said ‘If you think I’m hot, wait till you see what’s underneath me’. They were speaking my language.

‘Well, thanks, but you should see me when I really make an effort. Shall we go in a bit? They run out of homity pie if you leave it too late.’

Oh yeah, food. Focus, Matt, don’t get distracted by talking bra straps.

Laura

I don’t know why food seemed so important – maybe I just wanted to get it over with, so it didn’t get in the way of … anything … later. I was very happy as things were, however, so we stayed cuddled up for a while, then my hunger got the better of me, and I cajoled a slightly reluctant Matt – who seemed happy to loll on the sofa drinking beer for the rest of the evening despite having been the one who suggested going out – to walk down the road.

Going into Mean Bean felt strange; I hadn’t been back since I was there with Matt last time, and that was officially work. Now it was definitely for pleasure. I waved at Bridget and we took seats in a booth. Matt looked at the menu while I had a look at the specials. He seemed fidgety and kept sighing and tutting. Eventually I asked him what the matter was.

‘Jus not rehly hungry. I’d rather be back at yuhrs on yuhr sofa. Buh s’okay. Sohry, I’ll have wha yuh have. Can’t decide.’

‘How about we take it away? Then you can eat it later if you want to.’

He grinned, boyishly happy that his problem had been solved.

‘Soh resourceful. Thanks, Lau. Sure s’okay?’

‘It’s fine. We’ve managed to be outside for, ooh, about ten minutes, that’s enough for anyone.’

We went to the counter and ordered, taking a bag full of salads and pie home. I put some on a plate when we got back, Matt deciding to wait for a while.

‘Which DVD, yours or mine?’

‘Yuhrs. I won’t beh watching ih anyway, I’ll beh otherwise engaged.’

‘Really? Doing what?’

‘Wait an see.’

Matt took up his semi-reclining position on the sofa, then beckoned me over.

‘I think I need to sit up properly to eat this, it’ll go everywhere.’

‘Huhry up, then, gehting lonely.’

I ate a few mouthfuls of salad and a bite of homity pie, which was proper tasty but not what I was hungry for right at that moment. I put my plate on the floor and shuffled into position, grabbing the remote control. I’d eaten enough to stop my stomach rumbling, and now I wanted to get back to the good stuff. Which didn’t really include Mr Bruce Willis, but the whole point was a DVD night, so I decided to play along.

Matt

Lau had filled a plate with salad and homity pie from Mean Bean, but I didn’t want any, couldn’t contemplate eating. Lau only ate a few mouthfuls before, it seemed, she could resist me no longer and turned in to snuggle back against me.

‘Yuh dihnt eat much.’

‘Other things to do. I can go back to it, the joy of salad is it doesn’t get cold.’

‘Wha things?’

‘Oh I’m sure you’ll think of something.’

‘Something like …’

It felt like it was time to get going on the plan. I’m sure by now you’re thinking there’s some elaborate scheme afoot, full of complexities and intrigue. No, just wanted to get in her knickers. It was looking good, though.

‘Hold on, just going to press play. OK, Brucie, do your stuff. You had an idea?’

Well, more of a plan, but …

‘Yeh. Hope Brucie’s not watching.’

‘No, he’s too busy being dead.’

‘Wha? Brucie’s a dead pehpl? Yuh spoilt the whole film now. Definitely noh poin watching. OK, I was jus gona see … if … this …’

I stroked lightly down her neck to the top of her shoulders and touched one of the bra straps.

‘… is as sexy as it looks.’

I noticed her shiver slightly under my touch, and heard her gasp as I pulled the top to one side slightly, pushing my finger between the strap and her smooth skin, then ran my finger along the inside of her neckline, touching the curve of her breast. I was hardly breathing, it was such a huge moment. I could do this in my sleep, had done so countless times, but it felt as if it had never meant so much, there had certainly never been as much riding on my moves as on me being able to turn Lau on. I wanted us to click, I wanted to show her how I could make her feel, I wanted to show her how I felt about her.

Laura

I nearly forgot to breathe. He didn’t explore down any further inside my bra, but pulled his hand out of my top and gently cupped my breast outside the fabric, leaving his hand resting there and leaning over to kiss my neck.

In my position leaning up against him, I couldn’t reach much but I ran my hands along his outer thigh to his knee to an accompanying sigh. Matt’s hands began another little journey inside my top, this time pulling the neck down as low as he could to get a look at my bra.

Matt

I was ready for any sign that Lau was anything less than willing, but all I could feel was her melting into me, tiny hitches in her breathing, her eyes fluttering closed, the smile spreading from the corners of her mouth.

It was so sexy, being able to touch her, think completely about what I could do for her, without having to worry about what was happening for me (which was still a big fat nothing and barring a miracle was likely to stay that way for the foreseeable).

I started another foray inside her top, this time pulling the neck down as low as I could to get a look at her bra. It was lacy, made of something translucent, bright pink, with flowers embroidered here and there. It was definitely a bra that had been designed to be seen, not just to support.

‘Looks awesome, Lau. Thought yuh dihnt dress up tonigh?’

‘Not on the outside.’

‘Did yuh wear this foh meh?’

‘Yeah.’

As she said it, I felt it. A little spark, a fizz, in my fucked-up downbelows. It was the first time I’d felt anything down there for months, and I gasped and wrapped my arms round her tightly, kissing her hard where her neck met her shoulder. Maybe, just maybe, this was that unlikely miracle, and she was going to make me better.

‘What was that for?’

‘Jus goh a tingle in my dick. Not had any tingles fuh soh bluhdy long. Thanks Lau.’

Laura

Tingles were great, I was getting plenty, and I wanted to congratulate him. I reached my hand back behind me and stroked the back of his neck as well as I could.

On the screen, Bruce Willis was being murdered. Off screen, something was coming to life.

Iz

Right then folks, here is a huge bit of parental guidance. Matty is about to do some very naughty things to Lau, and if you are at all squeamish about what your more mature relations might have got up to, then skip ahead a bit. Don’t mind me, I’ve had to read it in all its minute detail, thanks Lau, but I wouldn’t want any of the rest of you to have to unless you want to. Scarred for life doesn’t even cover it.

Matt

I wondered if she knew how momentous this was, how much I’d dreaded never feeling anything there again. The tingles disappeared almost as soon as they had arrived, but rather than hanker after them, I sat back with a sigh, and started running my fingers through her hair, rubbing her scalp in small circles. Then, still rubbing her head with one hand, I moved the other down to her breast, still over the top of her shirt, where I continued with the same circular motions. Wanting to feel her skin, I moved my hand under her top and then up, to the fabric of her bra, rubbing my fingers lightly over her nipple. It went hard straight away, and I knew she was feeling it, and I was going to give her as much pleasure as I was capable of, as much as she would let me. Nipples aside, though, she wasn’t letting me know how she was feeling. I needed to hear from her before I went any further.

Laura

I was trying really hard not to react, as I didn’t want to freak him out again, but the sensation was overwhelmingly erotic, and I had started to throb in all the places where throbbing was required. I hardly dared to move, because if I did, I was going to jump on him, and that would ruin it, because it was breathtakingly sensual.

‘Is this OK, Lau?’

I bent my head up to try and look him in the eye.

‘Are you kidding me? It’s amazing. I’m on fire.’

‘Yuhr not saying anything.’

‘I can hardly speak.’

Matt

That was alright then. Speechless with desire was fine.

‘Want mohr?’

Laura

‘Just go slowly, there’s no hurry.’

Although my body was trying to have a serious argument with that statement.

Matt

She was being considerate of me, now, of my fucked-up downbelows, letting me know she could wait. Oh but this so wasn’t going to be about me. At least not in the usual way. I was going to get off on getting Lau off.

‘I’m happy wih my tingle. I wan to duh something foh yuh. Take yuh top off?’

Laura

Oh God, oh God, he wanted to undress me. He pulled at the bottom of my shirt and lifted it over my head as I sat forwards, lifted my arms up and just let him. Laura Shoeman you are such a tart.

Matt

‘Turn roun.’

I wanted to see her, all of her. The view from above was pretty awesome, she had a great cleavage, and her bosom heaved prettily as she breathed, but I suspected she would be stupendous from the front.

Laura

I swivelled to face him, so I was kneeling between his legs, and he looked at me, first at my breasts, enclosed in the pink see-through bra, then at my face, as if trying to gauge something. He’d seen me in my underwear twice already, but this wasn’t my boring black cotton, this was my date night see-through pink lace. He could definitely see my nipples. I didn’t care; in fact, I was enjoying the look on his face a lot.

Matt

OK, when I said it wasn’t going to be about me, I didn’t mean I wasn’t going to enjoy any of it. Oh she was breath-taking. Her pink bra with the embroidered flowers contained her full breasts, and I could see the buds of swollen nipples peeking from beneath the petals. I could feel my eyes going wide as I looked at her, but Lau didn’t seem self-conscious at all, just watched me looking at her, her mouth slightly open.

So, plan going well thus far. I had wondered how far I could go – I knew how far I wanted to take it, but didn’t want to be too pushy. However, Lau didn’t seem at all hesitant or unsure, and seeing her kneeling there, looking at me, I knew I was going to try for all the way, the big O. I knew what I was doing when it came to coming, although I had been out of practice for a while.

I leaned forwards and slowly pushed Lau backwards, so she was lying on her back and I was kneeling between her legs. I bent down to the flowery bra and put my mouth over her nipple, sucking and nibbling the hard nub through the lace. Lau moaned softly and held my face to her by winding her fingers in my hair. Holy fuck she was sexy.

Laura

Oh God, I felt like I was ablaze all over, with special ultra-flaming hotspots. His tongue found its way inside my bra, and he pulled the cups down below my breasts so my nipples were exposed, like actually out in the open, and then he began a twin assault with tongue and fingers that sent shooting stars from my chest to my groin. I thought I was going to explode with pleasure.

Matt

I was expecting, or maybe just hoping for, more tingles, but they didn’t arrive, so I just continued. This really, really, wasn’t about me, although I was enjoying myself immensely.

I pushed my tongue inside her bra, and pulled the cups down to expose her nipples. They were pink and perky and very happy to see me, and just begging to be touched; I bent my head again, and took one into my mouth, the other between my fingers. She felt so good, so soft, and the flesh of her breast quivered enticingly with every movement.

‘Oh my God you’re good at this.’

I looked up at her, smiling. She must have known I’d done it before.

‘Lohs of practice. Hahnt yuh heard?’

Laura

And that was just it; I had heard. I knew just how experienced he was, yet here I was, Laura Shoeman, being undressed by Matt Scott. It felt unreal, almost as if I was dreaming. All those times I’d seen him copping off with women here, there and everywhere, had I been secretly wishing it was me? I mean so secretly that I didn’t even tell myself, obviously, because if you’d asked me more than a couple of days ago, I would have denied that Matt Scott was my type, whatever that may have meant. I didn’t have a ‘type’, unless ‘feckless loser’ was a type. No time to think about it now, things were happening rather quickly …

At the same time as Matt’s hand travelled down towards my jeans, which he opened expertly with one hand, exposing my matching pink see through pants, he started kissing his way down my abdomen, sucking my belly-button and licking all the way to the top of the my pants. He looked up at my face every so often, checking I was OK. I was more than OK, I was in ecstasy.

Matt

I opened her jeans with one hand, impressed at my coordination, which didn’t seem to have deserted me in my time of need, yay.

Lau was wearing pink lacy see-through knickers that matched her bra, and as I reached her belly-button with my tongue, I noticed the dark, trimmed triangle that was clearly visible. I was approaching my destination, and was hoping I could get Lau to hers in good time. I looked up at her face again, checking it was still OK, that she was fine with me being here, touching her here. The look on her face told me she was more than fine, and I sent my tongue on a mission to complete the journey.

I pushed the lacy knickers down slightly and ran my tongue along the top of her mound, as she moved slowly beneath me, then I pushed her knickers back up and continued licking over the fabric. I stopped briefly to push her jeans down her thighs, giving me more room to manoeuvre, leaned forwards and found her swollen and ready. As I pushed the tip of my tongue over her, then sucked through the sheer fabric, Lau moaned and wriggled against me, pushing her hips up against my tongue. I smiled into her, and began kissing my way back up to her breasts, feeling behind her to try and undo her bra strap. I couldn’t manage it, as she was lying on her back, so she sat up for me, as I pulled her to me and unhooked her, pulling the straps down her arms and the bra completely off, revealing her naked breasts.

Laura

He pulled me to him, kissing my mouth thoroughly as he put his arms around my back, unhooking me easily, then slowly pulled the straps down my arms, revealing me, completely topless.

He stared at me as if he’d never seen a pair of breasts in his life before.

Matt

I had to stop and stare. Fuuuuck she was beautiful. I already knew she was the most beautiful, most desirable woman I’d ever seen, that we were destined to be together, but I was destined to be with this woman, who had the face and body of an angel. I was bowled over.

‘Lau, you’re fucking gorgeous.’

She smiled self-deprecatingly and wiggled her chest so her breasts jiggled; I had to close my eyes for a second, the sight was overwhelming. They didn’t stay closed for long, though; too much to see.

Laura

Well tart doesn’t even begin to describe it, Laura Shoeman. Oh but I was so loving it, how he made me feel, as if I was the first woman he’d ever enjoyed, as if he was discovering all this for the first time. Sex had, for me, previously been fairly perfunctory with an expectation that it was my job to make sure the guy had a good time. Matt was totally focussed on me, for whatever reason, and it was unbelievably hot.

‘Holy, holy fuck, I migh jus die now, hahpy man.’

Matt bent his head down to my breasts and sucked as much of each of them into his mouth as he could while I arched my back under the touch of his tongue and lips.

Matt

After a while, I remembered that this wasn’t about me, although Lau did seem to be enjoying herself regardless, and I pushed her onto her back again, restarting my journey downwards.

Laura

He reached his destination with his hands first, and slipped his fingers below the fabric of my pants – oh sweet Lord, Matt Scott was officially in my pants. I should be going ‘who the hell do you think you are’ and ‘what the hell do you think you’re doing’, but instead I was going ‘ooh’ and ‘mmm’ and ‘oh God’ and ‘yes’ – then he began to pull my jeans and underwear off. I lifted my bum up to make it easier, and as soon as he had dropped my clothes on the floor, he clamped his mouth over me, kissing and sucking, using teeth and tongue, igniting me. Oh my God, he knew where everything was, and not only that, he knew just what to do with it!

I arched my back, wanting his mouth as tight against me as I could get it so I could get the most out of this. I’d heard Matt Scott was an expert lover, but that usually meant wham, bam, thank you ma’am, let’s go again, not putting just the right amount of pressure in just the right place for just the right length of time until wowzers. His tongue licked in broad strokes from back to front, which then became narrower and narrower until he was using just the tip to explore and excite me. I felt his tongue enter me, searching for the sensitive spots, and his fingers danced over me as I squirmed and moaned. I could feel him smiling into me as I pushed my pelvis against his face, trying to feel more of him in me, wanting more, wanting him all.

Matt

I lifted my mouth away and moved my fingers into position, knowing I was going to make her come like this, she was ready, she wanted it. I pushed my middle finger up inside her, feeling the welcoming heat and moisture wrap itself around me. As I felt my way, I sent a second finger inside her, increasing Lau’s movements and moaning.

Laura

Once he was certain of his geography, he began to push harder, finding the places that made me buck and groan, thrusting into me as I pushed against him, feeling myself flowing towards a climax.

Matt

I started to push harder, finding the spots that made her buck against me, and then, as I found the right places, I started to thrust hard and fast with one hand, stroking backwards and forwards with the other, as I felt her building, the tension in her climbing, until she was on the edge.

Laura

He suddenly replaced the fingers which were sending me skywards with his mouth, and the tip of his tongue flicked backwards and forwards a few times, sending ripples of longing to gather and wait until, as he thrust harder and faster with his fingers, I felt myself stiffen as the pressure built higher and higher, and then I exploded in wave after wave of rapturous pulses.

‘Oh my God, Matt, oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God.’

He licked and stroked me for a while as the sensation swam around me, making me dizzy, then ebbed away; then he slowly made his way up my body until he was lying almost on top of me, to kiss me on the mouth. I responded as best I could, but was in no state to think of anything but the most spectacular orgasm I had ever had. It was mind-blowing; I was still having aftershocks. From the start, there had been that connection fizzing and buzzing between us, but that … just Wow! I had never felt like that before with anyone. I really got it now. Thirty-four years old and I finally found out what all the fuss was about.

Matt

I continued licking and stroking her for a while, feeling very pleased with myself as she quietened, as the pulsing slowed; then I slowly kissed my way back up her body until we were face to face, so I could kiss her mouth. She tasted fucking incredible, and I wanted her to taste herself too. She lay, panting, and kissed me gently back.

‘Enjoyed tha then?’

She nodded.

‘Any feedback?’

Never let it be said I’m not needy. I require constant praise and reassurance about my sexual performance, and I’m not afraid to ask for it. Lau shook her head in answer.

‘Thumbs up or down?’

I got a double thumbs up. I was getting that I’d taken her breath away. Result.

‘Thanks foh the tingle, Lau.’

She found her voice.

‘Blimey, if I get that for a tingle, what will I get when you get a full-on stiffy?’

‘Well ih’ll beh worth the wait. Oh look, Brucie’s still dead.’

‘Isn’t there something I could do for you?’

I shook my head. ‘Noh, I wish sohmthing was goin on, buh Ih’ll have tuh settle fuh getting ohf on Bruhce.’

‘Ha ha. You’re so lovely.’

Lau was glowing, and I have to admit to a bit of a satisfied inner warmth too. I won’t say I’d never looked after the woman exclusively, because I wasn’t a total self-centred bastard with Carrie or with Jules, but there had always been that little bit that asked when I was going to get mine. But I wasn’t going to tonight, dick-tingle notwithstanding, and that had been awesomely erotic, so sexy. I’d executed my plan with one hundred per cent success.

Laura

He sat up, handed me my top and renewed his reclined position at the other end of the sofa, looking like a kid with a lollipop. I sat up slowly, still reeling from it all, pulling my top on and collecting my pants and jeans from the floor, collecting myself, pulling my clothes on. Matt beckoned me over to him again, and I resumed my position against him and sighed contentedly as he pulled my hair away from my neck and resumed the gentle stroking he’d been doing before.

Was this really happening? Had I just had the most awesome oral sex from a man who, a few days ago, if I’d thought of him at all, I would have wanted to slap, but now thought about almost constantly with a soppy smile?

Matt

She sighed against me as I continued to stroke her hair, her arms, her cheek, anything I could touch. I felt so connected to her, although, yeah, she was practically lying on top of me, so that was fairly easy.

‘Hahpy?’
She nodded drowsily, and I wondered if it was too early to suggest going to bed. Then my phone pinged with Beth’s tone.

‘Hi Matty. How’s your day been? Have you had dinner yet? Lasagne if you’re interested, J can fetch you.’

‘No thanks, just eaten.’ Yeah, it was rude and I was the only one who got the joke, but it made me smile. ‘Good day, caught up with housework :%’

I felt Lau’s raised eyebrow.

‘Yeh, OK, wise one, they lehv meh alone if I reply. Noh need tuh look soh smug.’

‘How can you see what I’m looking like? You can only see the top of my head.’
‘Top of yuhr head looks bluhdy smug.’

I bent down and kissed her on the top of said smug-looking head, then folded my arms round her. We lay quietly together, while Bruce Willis wrestled with dead people. I wasn’t at all interested in his struggles, but was extremely happy he’d given me an excuse to be here with this fabulous woman.

There was another ping, but it wasn’t from my phone. Lau carried on nuzzling her cheek against my hand. I wasn’t complaining, but felt I needed to point out the injustice of the situation.

‘One rule fuh me, then?’

‘What?’
‘You dohnt have tuh answer yuhr texts?’

‘Oh. I thought it was yours.’

Lau pulled her phone out of her pocket and looked at the screen. I glanced at it over her shoulder, and caught the first few words.

‘Keep your sorrys. How could you Lau?’

Oh bugger, this didn’t look too good.

Laura

‘Stay away from me. I don’t want to talk to you if I can help it.’

‘Oh damn.’

‘Wha?’
‘Remember the stuff that hit the fan earlier? At work?’

Matt

I’d been so caught up, first in the bus journey over, and then in Lau, that it had slipped my mind.

‘Shih, Lau, I completely forgot. I mehnt tuh ask. Are yuh OK?’

‘Well, that was Rachel, the one who sent you the text. Could be friendship over.’

No, surely not. Hadn’t Lau said it was years ago?

‘Shih, Lau. Why ‘xacly? Is ih because of meh?’

She went quiet, and I didn’t know what to think, whether she was blaming me, or trying to spare me, or what.

Laura

I thought for a moment, wondering if it was because of Matt, or me, or Matt and me, or whether in the end it was because of Rachel.

‘Lau?’
‘I think it’s complicated. Apparently you and Rach had a one night stand some time ago – probably getting on for two years. She … it meant more to her than it did to you, and she hasn’t properly ever got over it. I knew what this – us – would do to her, so I guess I’ve chosen you over her. She’s going to be pretty upset and angry. I’m not sure if it’s mendable.’

Matt

She was speaking quietly, as if she was trying hard not to let it be a drama, but this was a friend of hers, someone she saw every day. It felt somewhat unreal for this … thing … that must have happened years ago could be causing so much grief now.

‘Buh – shih, Lau, I haven’t – I’ve only been wih Jules fuh – it must have been bluhdy ages ago. Even befohr Jules, I was trying tuh clean up my act, not beh such a bastahd, noh mohr one-nighers. I know ih’s not up tuh meh tuh say, buh shouldn’t she beh gehting a life?’

It really wasn’t up to me to say, I knew that, but I felt a sudden surge of panic, that after all this time, of deciding what I needed to do to put things right, my past was still popping up with this kind of shit to fuck with people’s lives.

Laura

‘Well, that’s what we’ve all tried to tell her, but you never know what’s going to mess you up, do you? I think she had a major crush on you before you slept with her, and in her mind it was the start of something big, so when she never heard from you, and the next time you saw her you blanked her like you didn’t know her, she was crushed.’

It felt a bit unreal to talk about it, the thing that Rachel had talked about so many times, with the person on the other end of it sitting here with me. Matt was silent. So quiet and still that I turned round to look at his face, which had gone white.

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.

75. Let’s spend the night together

In which spending the night together means different things to different people.

Laura

Things were starting to go a little quickly for me – I wasn’t sure of myself, and I wasn’t sure of Matt. I never moved this fast, I never kissed a bloke on the first date, and we hadn’t even had a first date yet. And I hadn’t had either a bloke or a first date for quite some time.

My body was tingling all over, and I thought I knew where it wanted to end up, but after everything Matt had said, and all the doubts and uncertainties I’d had, things needed to slow down so I could regain some control over my feelings.

‘Matt –’

Matt

‘I know. Tuh much. Sohry. Old habits. Dohnt wohry, hohding hands is fine. Come ohn.’

I turned her round to face me, took her hand and led her back to the sofa. I noticed her breathe out a long breath as we sat down.

‘Heh, yuh dohn have tuh wohry. Not turning back intuh uncontrollable shahg monster anytime soon.’

‘Uncontrollable what?’

I laughed, remembering what Jules used to think of me. Oh I was so, so far from that person now.

‘Sohry. Someone called meh tha once. Kind of stuhk.’

I didn’t want to get into Jules and all that had gone on there just yet, so I changed the subject.

‘Heh, yuh goh a woolly doll on yuhr bog roll. Rehtro.’

‘She’s a crocheted toilet tissue concealment. She’s an ironic post-modern statement.’

‘Wha’s she stahting? Bog roll uhp my skirt?’

‘Philistine.’

My phone pinged with another text from Beth.

‘Shih, see wha I mehn?’

I took the phone out of my pocket and looked at the screen.

‘Please, Matty. Just let me know you got home safely. Worried.’

Oh for fuck’s sake. I suppose the only way to stop her was to just get it over with. She was never going to stop, otherwise.

‘Actually, Lau, duh yuh mind if I ring someone? I wohn beh long.’

‘No, of course not.’

I pressed call and spoke to Beth. She did sound a bit frantic, but I managed to reassure her I was OK without giving away my exact geographical location, I chatted to her a bit about my day without giving her any details and I had a quick natter with Iz who was much less demanding than her mother, and only wanted to tell me about chocolate.

I disconnected and laid the phone on the arm of the sofa, then looked at Lau, who was looking back at me with an ‘I told you so’ kind of expression. On anyone else it would have wound me up and got me defensive, but it seemed I could forgive Lau almost anything.

‘Wha?’

‘Doesn’t that feel better than all the aggro of getting wound up every time you get a text?’

I stuck my tongue out at her.

‘Were you talking to your niece?’

I smiled, thinking about her.

‘Yeh. Iz. She’s fohr. Blohnd bombshell. Wanna see?’

I reached for my phone as Lau nodded, more than willing to show off. I was a very proud uncle.

Laura

He reached for his phone as I nodded enthusiastically. Matt obviously really loved his family, and I wanted to get to know them, even if it was only via a screen for now.

He showed me Iz, who was gorgeous with golden ringlets cascading down her back, and Cal who was a slightly grouchy looking boy of about ten, with short blond hair that looked like it could be like his sister’s if it was a bit longer, and eyes like his uncle’s. He was going to break some hearts before he was much older.

Matt showed me family shots – Jay, Beth, Cal and Iz at a party, looking happy and smiley, lots of people sitting round tables laughing. He pointed out his mum, Rose, Nico and Lisa. He skipped over pictures of a small dark haired woman without explanation, and I wondered if she was Julia. He showed me pictures of Dec, Amy and Charlie, an ecstatically happy looking family. I recognised Dec as Declan Summers, Raiders rugby player, and his dark haired wife Amy was beautiful. I had already seen a picture of Charlie, but Matt had loads more on his phone.

Matt

I ended up showing Lau everyone, although I skipped over the pictures of Jules. Seeing her there, still on my phone, made me realise it was time I deleted the pictures of her. I never looked at them, I had only kept them because if I deleted them, then it was definitely done, over. And it definitely was done, over; it was about time I stopped hiding from it.

Lau oohed and aahed over Iz and Charlie, and asked questions about everyone else she saw, seeming interested in them all. It wouldn’t be long before she met everyone anyway, I was sure, so this was just a sneak preview. She asked if I was Charlie’s godfather, and I wondered if she was still trying to work out the relationship between me and Dec’s family.

‘Fuck noh, thehr not married. Engaged fuh lihk fifty centuries tho. He asks her tuh marry him, ahl the tihm, at least once a wehk. She always says yeh. They never duh ih.’

‘Oh, that’s so romantic.’

Yeah, I heard that a lot, and applauded Declan Summers’ unthinking ability to get in the good books of females everywhere just by being soppy.

‘Ih’s noh romantic, ih’s bluhdy annoying. Makes the res of us look bad. An think of poor Chahlie, unmarried parents, ihs a disgrace. An thehr having anohther one, thehr irresponsihbl.’

I grinned to show her I wasn’t serious.

‘Really? Amy’s pregnant?’

I nodded, pleased to note that Lau had been paying attention to my flit through the Scott family gallery.

‘Charlie is gorgeous.’

‘I know. She sorted my lihf ouh wehn she wahs a day old – hours old, actually.’

With a start, I realised what I might be about to tell Lau, how much of myself I might be about to share.

‘How come?’

‘Made meh realise something. Noh sure I shouhd –’

I stopped as I wondered how much of my hopes for a family of my own I should actually reveal. What if she didn’t want kids? That would put a stop to this whole thing right now. But wasn’t that the point? Wasn’t that the lesson I’d learnt from Jules?

‘Oh fuck ih, wha’s poin noh saying? Tha’s wha fucked everything up las tihm. If yuh know, then we both know. If yuh dohn like ih, we can wave goodbye, noh hard fehlings.’

Laura

I sat silently, expecting the blow to fall. Big revelations were usually to be avoided, on account of the revelation usually being something you really, really didn’t want to hear, but speculating was pointless, so I waited.

Matt

‘She made me realise I wahn a fahmly. Rehly, rehly wan one. Changed my life. Dohnt wana scare yuh off, buh tha’s where Ih’m headed if the bastahd’ll leh meh. Join meh or not.’

I shrugged. There really wasn’t any point in not saying it. I’d had a quick scout for pictures of children and babies, and there didn’t seem to be any in Lau’s home. Likewise, a lack of wedding ring and pictures of doting husbands, fiancés or boyfriends. It seemed like the only thing, and admittedly it could be a pretty big thing, that might get in the way of my hopes and dreams was if Lau was heading somewhere else – maybe she didn’t want kids, maybe she couldn’t have them, maybe lots of other things. But if she was headed where I was, if she wanted a family, and if she was the one for me, then we could –

Laura

He shrugged, unaware of how much he had just thrilled me.

‘Wow.’

Matt

Oh bloody hell. Did ‘wow’ mean ‘great, me too’, or just ‘holy fuck, how much more crap can this mad-arse dump in my lap’?

Laura

My heart had leapt out of my chest. I could not believe my ears. For the last several years, I had been fighting the growing conviction that my life was not going to be complete without a child. Fighting it because, with the lack of a prospective partner, and the further I got into my thirties, the more likely it was that it wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t going to be one of those single women in their late forties who drained the NHS’s resources by having IVF. If it didn’t happen naturally for me with a loving partner, preferably husband (it’s all about the upbringing), it wasn’t going to happen. But I really wanted it to happen, I would mourn it not happening. And now Matt Scott, who had just agreed to hold my hand for the foreseeable future, Matt Scott, playboy of the Western world (or at least this part of the West of England), had just told me he really, really wanted a family and asked me to join him on the ride. Hence ‘Wow’.

Matt

‘I know. Scared yuh off?’

‘Made my day.’

She had a big smile on her face. I was erring on the side of ‘great, me too’. Could this woman just get any more perfect? Rein it in, Matt, this could still all go horribly wrong, you know how easily you fuck things up.

‘Rehly?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Yuh wan kids?’

I just had to double, double check, so there were no misunderstandings.

Laura

I wanted to shout ‘like you wouldn’t believe’, but confession or not, that kind of behaviour usually ended badly for a girl. So I played it cool.

‘Yeah.’

Matt

‘Greah! Wanna goh tuh bed wih meh?’

Yeah, I knew exactly what it sounded like, coming straight after that conversation. I meant it to. There was no way on this earth I would be capable of fathering a child tonight, but that didn’t stop me putting the idea in her head for later. I can play a long game when I want to. Of course, the bastard MS was ensuring my game was very, very long at the moment.

‘What?’

I saw her swallow.

‘I’m fucking wiped. Nehd some sleep. Dohn think I can mahk ih home, even if yuh carry meh. Yuhr bed’s comfy, behn thehr already.’

Do you like my plan? I thought it was inspired, playing as it did both a) the fucking cripple card and b) the sleep with me platonically card, which to be honest I had never played before, so it was a bit like playing my joker.

Laura

‘Oh. Sleep.’

I gulped, panting slightly.

Matt

Lau’s eyes had gone wide, and she was breathing fast. I had a bit of an inward chuckle at her expense.

‘Wha, yuh thoht I meant sex?’

‘Of course I did, that’s what you wanted me to think.’

I chuckled again, outwardly this time. She was an easy mark, but she wasn’t daft. I liked that.

‘Struh, yuhr soh fucking easy tuh tease. Sohry, Lau, couhnt resist. Buh I mean ih abouh bed. Noh funny business, jus hold hahnds all nigh. Wha yuh think? Tuh soon?’

Oh the thought of spending all night in bed with Lau, holding hands, was so way beyond what I had imagined for tonight, that I nearly stopped breathing as I waited to see if she’d agree to it.

‘Do you snore?’

Fair question, I suppose. It’s not like I knew any of her annoying night time habits either.

‘Noh tha I know of. Dealbrehker?’

‘Yeah, no snoring. Or farting. Unless it’s me. I have had a lentil casserole tonight after all.’

She seemed to have a lot of rules about her bed; I was used to rules, having spent so long with Jules, and felt I could pretty much agree to anything, although things that happened in my sleep like snoring and farting were a little beyond my control and seemed somewhat unfair. I decided to counter with my own anti-social occurrence objections when she mentioned the lentils.

‘Oh fuck, forgot abouh tha. Migh hahv tuh withdraw my offer.’

‘It’s up to you, you have been warned.’

Lentil fallout notwithstanding, I hadn’t come prepared to stay the night, obviously. When I left the house that morning, I had thought I was going to spend precisely three seconds with my head round the door of a church hall before making Beth drive me home again. Night attire and toiletries had not seemed like necessary accoutrements.

‘I haven’t goh any jahmies.’

‘Well that’s a definite deal-breaker. No snoring, farting or naked bums in my bed unless any of the above are mine.’

‘Shih, yuhr bluhdy strict wih yuhr rules. Rehly, noh naked buhms? Mine’s rehly good, yuh should try ih.’

Well if she was amenable to having my bum in her bed, I might as well try for it being naked. It could save a lot of time in the long run.

Laura

I could hardly believe I was discussing the merits of Matt Scott’s naked bum prior to negotiating what he was going to wear while he stayed the night with me in my bed. Sleep or not, I decided to be practical. I needed to be practical about something, for heaven’s sake.

‘I’ve got a spare pair of men’s PJs for, er, such emergencies. There is also a spare toothbrush in the cupboard over the sink. They have never, I’m sorry to say, seen active duty.’

Matt’s face took on a delighted look of respect.

‘Lau, yuh trollop! Yuh were expecting tuh geh laid.’

‘Expecting? No. Hoping? Yes. Ever happened? No.’

‘Fuck, Lau, I cahnt believe ih. Yuhr fucking gorgeous. Wha, never?’

What was he on about? Oh! He thought I meant I was a virgin. No, Matt Scott, get real. I’m thirty-four.

‘Well, not never in my whole life, no, sorry to disappoint, I don’t come to you chastely untarnished, but since I’ve lived here, my bedroom hasn’t seen any unplanned bouncy mattress-spring action, no.’

‘How long?’

‘Have I lived here? Two years.’

‘Fuck, Lau, two years wihouh a … fuck?’

‘I didn’t say that, I said unplanned and in my bedroom. I am not choosing to divulge any more of my sexual history at this time.’

Matt opened his mouth to ask a question, but I didn’t want to get into the fairly nondescript, fairly short list of the previous participants in Laura’s Love-life right then.

‘Ah ah. No more at this time.’

‘Whoa, yuh noh how tuh keep a boy interested dohnt yuh? Know wha, tho, Lau, I rehly am knackered. Yuh duhnt have tuh, if yuhr noh tired yet, buh can I goh an sleep in yuhr bed? I’ll kehp my boxers on, an even my sohks. Hahv behn tohld my feht ahr a bih, er, fragraht.’

I didn’t believe for a minute that he just wanted to sleep. After that spine-tingling kiss? He was Matt Scott. OK, he had MS, and yeah I knew a fair bit about MS and sex, but I also knew him, or thought I did. However, I was prepared to play along, because I had never felt like this before, like being reckless and wild, and letting him in to my bed for whatever reason.

Matt

By now, I was in danger of falling asleep before her eyes; I was holding on by the skin of my teeth, and I really needed to go to bed, now it had been established that this was OK. I had to remind myself that I’d only met Lau earlier that morning, had only exchanged proper words a few hours ago. This was fast work, even for Matt the Lad. He would be dead impressed by my audacity.

‘Of course, flower.’

‘Flohwer? Wha?’

I don’t think I’d ever been called a flower before. Of course now, I’ve been called ‘flower’ at least eleven billion times, but then it was the first time, and it took me by surprise.

‘It’s my term of endearment. Only people I like get a ‘flower’. Ordinary mortals might get a ‘lovey’ if they’re lucky. Unless they annoy me, in which case they get a ‘git’ under my breath. You’ve had a few of those in your time, I can tell you. Recently, too.’

‘Oh, buh now I’m a flohwer. I shall float tuh bed happily on a sea of bluhdy pehtals. Any chance of a drink of wahter?’

‘I’ll bring it up. You know where the bathroom is, I’ll put some PJs on your pillow.’

Laura

Matt grinned his thanks, then went upstairs and I followed with a glass of water, which I put by the bed. As I rummaged in the top of my wardrobe looking for the spare pyjamas, it struck me what a bizarre evening we’d had, and were about to continue.

I wasn’t sure what had started here tonight, but something definitely had; it was exciting and unlike anything I had ever known. I kissed the pyjamas on the bottoms as I lay them on Matt’s pillow, smiling foolishly to myself, feeling ridiculous and giddy.

Matt

I went gratefully up the stairs to clean my teeth with the spare toothbrush. We swapped rooms, and I pulled on the pyjama bottoms Lau had placed on the pillow. Then, with a sigh, I climbed in to bed and forced myself to stay awake until Lau came back in.

I was good at forcing myself to stay awake, but if I went too far, like this afternoon, when I hadn’t even felt the onrushing tide of fatigue as I’d been so focussed on Lau, I just crashed. I didn’t want to crash straight away, I wanted to enjoy being in bed with Lau, just for a little while. I put my arms behind my head and waited for her to come in to the room.

Laura

We swapped rooms, I brushed the garlic out of my teeth and washed my face, having decided a shower was too time consuming, and then went into the bedroom. It felt so unbelievably natural seeing Matt lying in my bed, bare-chested, arms behind his head as if he owned the place, that I had to make myself notice it. Matt Scott was lying here half naked in my bed. I was about to undress in front of him and get in next to him. I didn’t know what the rest of the night might hold. He was looking at me appraisingly, eyebrows raised.

‘What?’

Matt

I wondered if she would have changed into her sleeping clothes in the bathroom, but to my delight she was still wearing her uniform. I raised my eyebrows at her, wondering how much I could get away with. I was pushing for all I was worth, trying to see how far Lau would come with me on my journey to the perfect life.

She looked back at me challengingly. Ooh she had the sparkiest of flashing eyes when she was feeling feisty.

‘Jus wondering if yuh’d sleep in yuhr uniform foh meh?’

I knew it wasn’t a goer, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I’d done quite a bit of asking tonight, resulting in quite a bit of getting.

‘Get lost, I’d never get any sleep, it’d be too tight, too hot, too not a nightie.’

‘Oh well, cahnt blame a bloke foh trying. Nex bes thing, see yuh geh ouh of ih?’

Laura

As well as we’d been getting on, I wasn’t about to strip naked for his pleasure. Not just yet at any rate. But I did take my trousers off, revealing a pair of plain cotton pants, and undo the poppers on the tunic slowly, which gratifyingly seemed to make his eyes bulge a bit.

Matt

She didn’t seem self-conscious in her underwear at all, and I gazed appreciatively at her. OK, so she was the first woman I’d seen naked since Jules, but that wasn’t the point. No, it so wasn’t the point. And look, she wasn’t even naked.

‘Fuucking hell, yuhr so hoht.’

That was as far as it went in the taking things off in front of me department, though, and she pulled a baggy sleeping shirt with a picture of a penguin on it over the top and took her bra off in some complicated through the sleeves move that ensured I didn’t see any more actual bare flesh. So still not naked. Oh well, plenty of time for all that, and as previously stated, it was all completely fucked in that area for me. It was such a strange mixture of going fast and going slowly, that it was nearly making my head spin.

I had no thoughts of sleeping while all this was going on; I couldn’t have kept my eyes closed with superglue.

‘Whoa, I’m in heaven. Yuhr naked under thehr aren’t yuh?’

Laura

‘Yes, Matt, under these clothes, I’m completely naked.’

‘Glad tuh hehr ih.’

I pulled back the duvet and got in next to him. My heart was beating hard and fast. I reached for Matt’s hand and gave it a squeeze, and we lay on our backs, holding hands, looking up at the ceiling. I reached over and turned the lamp out, and we lay in the dark, hands linked together. Surely now he was going to make his move.

Matt

Lau pulled back the duvet and got in next to me. She lay on her back, and I felt her squeeze my hand, then she reached over and turned the light out. My body seemed to sag, as if it was only the light that had been keeping me together. I knew I didn’t have very long before I would be asleep.

‘Lau, thihs is weird. Nice, buh weird.’

‘I know. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything quite like this before. I know it’s not exactly bungee jumping, but it feels very thrilling.’

She was right, it was thrilling, but it was so different from anything I’d ever done before, I couldn’t classify it.

‘Ih’s weird taking ih soh slow. By now I shouhd have behn in an ouh of yuhr knickers, cheeky wave at the door if yuhr lucky. Fehls like slow motion.’

‘Well I guess it is, for you. It makes me feel very young. Like about nine or something. When there are still things you haven’t done, ordinary things, but terrifying things, like driving a car or wearing a bra.’

‘Ihv nehver wohn a bra.’

‘It’s overrated, flower.’

‘I knoh wha yuh mean tho. Thihk anyone else ever did this?’

‘No. We must be the only ones to ever think of lying in bed in the dark holding hands.’

‘Yeh. Sexual traihlblazers, us. Lau …’

Laura

OK, this was it, he was going to make his move now, although it was a bit unexpected that he sounded like he was going to ask me first.

‘Yes, Matt.’

‘Now I’m a flohwer, is ih OK tuh call yuh Lau?’

Oh. He wanted to chat.

‘Yes, Matt, it’s OK. You have been calling me Lau most of the night, despite me telling you not to, why stop now?’

‘Oh, I wahnt gona stop, jus checking ih’s OK. Lau …’

‘Yes, Matt.’

‘Cahn I hahv a cuddle?’

A cuddle? OK, this was surely it, a precursor to making his move. I didn’t answer, but turned onto my side, reached out for him and pulled him close, wondering if he could feel my heart beating. His arms folded round me tightly and my head rested against his chest. I was expecting, or rather eagerly anticipating, a bit of wandering hands, some kissing, some removing of sleeping garments; however, Matt just carried on holding me tight, so I held him back, and decided to just enjoy being in his arms.

Actually, being in anyone’s arms. I’d split up with my last boyfriend well over a year ago, and I’d missed this closeness. So anyone’s arms – good. Matt’s arms – extra specially good.

Matt

Now I was here, in bed, with her, I wanted her to hold me. I needed her to hold me. I was starting to freak out, bowled over by the enormity of it all. I didn’t know if Lau would be up for a cuddle; she didn’t know I was a sexual fuck-up, she still thought I was Matt the Lad, who could have shagged you and been off down the road while you were still saying ‘yes, yes, yes’, and I wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d demurred. She didn’t answer, and for a minute I thought she was going to say no, but then she turned to face me and just pulled me into her arms.

Oh. My. God. I was in her arms. She was holding me. I felt so … safe. I had never felt so completely held, contained, secure in all my life. I wrapped my arms round her and pulled her as close as I could, her head resting on my chest.

It was overwhelming. I was exhausted and emotional, and I had never felt anything like this before, and it just welled up in me. I knew I was going to cry, but I didn’t care. It was Lau, and Lau would keep me safe, and that thought both daunted and excited me, and made me relaxed enough to just let go of everything that was locked up in me.

Laura

Matt didn’t seem in any rush to get started, and I wondered if we would fall asleep like this, then wake up with various bits having gone numb.

I was shaken out of my reverie by a shuddering sob. What? Was Matt crying? Yes, he was, and clinging on to me as if I was a lifebelt in an empty ocean, racking his body with every tear-laden breath.

Matt

I started to sob into her hair, as tears ran down my face, and shudders shook my body. I clung to her, knowing she was my lifeline, the one who would always save me, and then I felt her stroke my back and whisper to me that it was OK. She kissed my shoulder softly, and pressed herself against me, pulling me into her and taking it all away, making it feel better. I was in a cloud of Lau, and I gradually cried it all out, and felt sleep rushing to claim me. I tried to stay awake, to carry on feeling this incredible safeness, but the blackness came, and I couldn’t fight it off any longer.

Laura

When he had finished, when the shudders diminished and the noises quieted, I felt him go to sleep. As his hold relaxed, his body fell away from me, and I couldn’t keep him against me any more, so I let him go and felt him sleeping beside me until I drifted away too.

Matt

Under current circumstances, that would have been me unconscious for at least eight hours straight, no waking up until well into the next morning, possibly afternoon. But due to the fact that a) it was only about eight o’clock when I went to bed, b) it was a really weird situation, and possibly c) I’d had a few hours kip/coma earlier, I woke in the middle of the night.

It was dark, with a bit of orange light from the street lights outside filtering in around the edges of the curtains. I didn’t know where I was; all I could recall for those first few confusing post-sleep moments was that something momentous had happened yesterday. I turned over on to my back and my hand brushed against someone … and it all flooded back.

I smiled a huge smile to myself in the dark, then remembered that the last thing I’d done was make an idiot of myself by blarting all over Lau. I wondered if she was awake; I didn’t have a clue what the time was, and without rummaging around for my phone, it was anybody’s guess. For all I knew, it could be five minutes since I dropped off. It didn’t feel like it, though, it felt like I’d had a good few solid hours. I decided to see if there was anyone else awake.

‘Lau?’

It was barely a whisper. There was no reply, and I couldn’t see her to tell if she was facing me or not. I turned my head towards her and tried again, very slightly louder. I didn’t want to wake her up, but – oh alright, I did want to wake her up. I wanted more of her, to talk to her, to hold her again.

Laura

It was late. Or early. That weird time of night when it could be either, depending on what you were doing before or after. I woke up suddenly. I’d heard a noise. My senses tingled as I waited for it to sound again.

‘Lau?’

It was barely a whisper, but the man’s voice was right next to my ear, and I jumped out of bed as if it had become electrified, half way to a hefty pair of platform shoes from the wardrobe, before I remembered who it was who would have whispered. My no-swear policy took a bit of a hit.

Shit! Who the fuck is there?’

I heard a rustle from the bed as my assailant sat up.

Matt

Oh. It seemed like she was awake, then, and a great deal more sweary than she had been last night. I sat up.

‘Lau?’

Still no reply, just some heavy breathing.

Laura

My heart was beating so hard I couldn’t speak immediately.

‘Wha yuh doin?’

‘You scared the – sorry – shit out of me.’

Matt

I nearly laughed at her apology, so cute and unnecessary, but kept my composure.

‘How exacly?’

‘You whispered my name.’

‘Rehly, rehly quietly, in case yuh wehr asleep.’

‘Well I’m not asleep now, I’m wide awake and out of bed and there’s so much adrenaline pumping through my body I’m not going to get back to sleep for another couple of hours. Thanks for that.’

She really did sound freaked out, and it was obviously my fault, so there was only one thing I could say. I’d had a lot of practice earlier on, and I’d got quite good at it.

‘Sohry.’

‘What did you want?’

‘When?’

‘When you whispered my name.’

‘Oh. Jus tuh say sohry.’

‘What for?’

She was still standing by the wardrobe, I could just make out her form in the dark.

‘Come bahk tuh bed? I cahnt say ih prohply wehn I cahnt touch yuh.’

I needed to touch her, not just to apologise, but I just … needed it. How quickly I had developed this addiction, this need to be in contact with her. I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage to be apart from her ever again.

Laura

I took some deep breaths and felt my way back to the bed, clambered in and lay on my back. My heart rate was slowing down, but I still felt like I had run a marathon. I felt Matt reach for my hand, and I filled his with mine, holding tightly, rubbing my thumb along his thumb.

Matt

We lay there, rubbing our thumbs together, reconnecting.

‘Sohry.’

‘What for?’

‘Wehl, now I’m sohry foh scaring the living shih ouh of yuh by whispering at half a bluhdy decibel, buh before I wahs sohry foh crying in yuh hair. Hope thehr’s not tuh much snot.’

‘No, just enough, I expect. I’ll look tomorrow. Snot removal can be your first job of the morning.’

‘Dohnt yuh wan tuh knoh why I wahs crying?’

I didn’t want to tell her, but was sure that, being a nurse like Beth, she would want to go over it all. If I offered, it would just save all that time.

‘Well, yeah, of course. It seemed like a big deal. But in your own time, and never, if you don’t want to. Sometimes people can’t explain why they’re crying, it just happens.’

Well that was bloody brilliant. She was nothing like Beth, didn’t need endless explanations and discussions.

‘I can explain. I wahn tuh.’

Ha, see? If she was nothing like Beth, then I could behave completely differently to the way I behaved around Beth.

‘OK then, I feel like I’ve always known yuh, yuh mahk meh fehl safe. Tha scares meh. Tha’s ih.’

What had occurred to me, in some kind of flash of insight, outsight, something, was that I felt safe crying with Lau in the same way that Dec had felt safe blarting all over us on the beach last summer. I’d found, somehow, the one person who could hold me like that, and if I ever needed to let go like Dec had, Lau would make it OK, she’d catch me.

I was already imagining a future in which Lau would always be there. I should have been terror-stricken at the implications of that; the me from pre-church hall yesterday would have been. How can one person change another person so much in such a short time? Or was this new me always there, underneath, waiting to be unlocked? Fuck if I know.

Laura

I made him feel safe, which terrified him so much it made him cry. Oh boy, Laura Shoeman, you’ve got your work cut out with this one. As I thought it, I realised I was more than happy to consider having my work cut out for a long time to come.

‘You’re one huge bundle of delightful contradictions aren’t you, Matt Scott. I’m looking forward to finding a few more.’

Matt

‘I never cried wih a wohman before. Cep foh Muhm. Wehn I wahs seven.’

Well OK, this wasn’t strictly true, I could have come up with a couple more occasions if I’d tried, but this felt immense. I wanted her to know how important it was, how much she already meant to me.

‘I will feel honoured just as soon as I know precisely how much snot you’ve left in my hair.’

‘Jus saying.’

‘Thanks, Matt. I’m glad I was your first.’

Oh that would have been great. Yeah, first big cry, but if she’d been my first, if I could have started with Lau and never had to fuck everything else up …

‘Mm. Wish yuh had behn. Lau …’

‘Yes, Matt.’

‘Can weh spoon?’

Laura

This man, who I’d made all sorts of assumptions about, was turning into something, someone, I was going to be falling pretty hard for in the fairly near future. He was turning his reputation on its head, revealing himself to be sensitive, deep and troubled. A little voice at the back of my mind kept saying ‘He’s got MS, that’s not going to be a barrel of laughs’, but it was speaking quietly and I was ignoring it. To be honest, I’d hardly remembered the MS since Matt woke up, and certainly kissing him had put all thoughts of it out of my head. It just didn’t seem to be important.

I didn’t answer Matt directly, but turned away from him onto my side, pulling his hand round my waist. He fitted his body into the curves of my back. I half expected to feel the nudge of excited mens bits, but it wasn’t there.

Matt

The thought of holding her so close was very appealing. Again, she didn’t answer, but turned away from me onto her side, pulling my hand round her waist as she did so, telling me it was fine without needing to use words.

I moved up against her, feeling my body fitting against hers as if we were pieces of a jigsaw. I wondered if she was expecting to feel some evidence of arousal, and thought it was about time I let her know how things were with me. She’d done the talk on sex, or potential for lack of it, with the bastard MS; it’s not like it would be a surprise.

Laura

Almost as if he read my mind:

‘Bet yuh thoht yuhd beh feeling a bih more of meh.’

‘I hadn’t really given it much thought. Is there much more?’

I had, of course. I’d expected it, wanted it, would have welcomed it.

Matt

‘Yeh, Ih’m bluhdy huge, thahks.’

There are some things that blokes just have to boast about whether they’re true or not.

‘Oh, of course. Silly me.’

It was all very well being flippant, trying to avoid it by having a laugh, but this was difficult to say, and I needed to just get it over with. Then if she thought I was more trouble than I was worth, she at least had all the available facts.

‘I hahnt got hard fuh months.’

Laura

‘No?’

Trying to keep my voice neutral, I silently berated myself for not thinking about this. What had I spent the first hour doing in the church hall yesterday? Talking about how MS affects the sex drive, how it blocks the normal nerve pathways and makes sexual responses unpredictable, and can lead to diminished sexual function. Honestly, Laura Shoeman, where has your head been? You need to be a bit more switched on.

However, I needed to respond to Matt without going into MS sex expert mode. I was going to find it hard to be natural about this; I’d done too much research.

Matt

Her voice was neutral, and I wished I could see her face so I had more clues as to what she was thinking.

‘Thoht yuh migh turn meh. Yuhr soh sexy.’

Laura

The thought of Matt Scott finding me sexy was something I wouldn’t have anticipated before today. I wasn’t what I would have thought was his usual ‘type’, being several years older and several curves more voluptuous than the thin, blonde twenty-somethings-if-that I’d often seen him with. But he said it like he meant it, and I believed him.

‘Don’t force it, flower.’

Matt

Her choice of phrase made me giggle.

‘Dirty talk like tha migh jus do ih.’

Laura

‘Every little helps.’

I now needed to reassure him, at the same time as drastically downgrading my own expectations.

‘It’s not a problem for me, Matt. Holding hands is fine.’

Matt

‘Rehly?’

With every single thing she said, she just got more sublime.

‘Yuh dohnt need a little Scotty lohvin?’

‘Holding hands is fine. Things are going fast enough as it is.’

Well that was true. And I’d just nearly scared her to death; maybe I needed to check how she was feeling, instead of trying to get her to reassure me.

‘How’s the adrenaline?’

‘Acceptable levels. No more whispering though, please.’

‘OK. Lau?’

‘Yes, Matt.’

‘Can I fehl yuhr bum?’

I was lying so close to her, I wanted to feel some of those curves for myself. Her arse had looked bloody magnificent when she was getting undressed earlier, and it needed checking out.

Laura

Oh God yes. A bit of groping was just what I needed.

‘You already did once today.’

‘I knoh, buh I wahs asleep. Dihnt geh the benefit.’

‘Just a quick feel then.’

Matt

Delighted, I unpeeled my arm from around her waist and ran my hand up her leg to her buttock, the first arse I’d touched for six months, where I had a bloody good feel. She was soft and pliable and it all boded very, very well for the future.

Oh, this is just sounding like I was perving on her because it had been six months since I last saw any action, but it so wasn’t like that. It wasn’t. I mean, yeah, touching Lau’s soft skin was awesome, and probably more awesome because of the recent lack of feminine skin to skin contact, but make no mistake, it was mostly awesome because it was Lau.

Laura

It felt wonderful, and I knew I was going to have to steel myself not to respond.

‘Mm. Nice ahrs.’

His arm came back round my waist and pulled me against him, and we slept.

Matt

I let her bum go, and put my arm back round her waist, pulling her against me. I didn’t even cop a feel higher up – does that sound like someone who’s perving on someone else? No, I should think not. As I held Lau to me, the feeling of comfort and safety enfolded me again, and soothed me to sleep.

74. Anything could happen

In which there are misunderstandings, misconceptions and misgivings.

Matt

I don’t remember much after we stood up to leave. A wave of fatigue caught me and started to drown me, turning my brain to fog and my limbs to jelly. I was just thinking to myself that I’d left it too late, and I was going to have to call Dec after all, when it all went peculiar, there was a rushing noise, I heard a phone pinging and I woke up with a start in a strange bedroom. I was lying on my side, and when I could focus and feel all my limbs, I saw there was a note on the pillow next to me:

Hi Matt

You’re in my bedroom, don’t worry, you got a bit tired and I brought you home to have a sleep. I’ve checked your vital signs, you’re OK.

I’m downstairs, just give me a yell and I’ll be right up.

Laura

Well of all the bloody nerve. I know, I wasn’t exactly in a position to be dictating what should happen when I was practically unconscious, but it pissed me right off. The phone pinged again, and I picked it up before I realised it wasn’t mine. I glanced at the screen as I put it back down, and caught sight of my name. Not only my name, but ‘Matty’. Only two people called me Matty, OK maybe three but one of those was Argentinian so he didn’t count.

I read the text; it was from Beth, wondering how I was. OK, now I was properly mad. Not only had Laura somehow dragged me down the street to be seen by fuck knows who in fuck knows what state, but she’d obviously been in touch with Beth. How had she known Beth’s number? Had she been through my phone too?

I started to stand up, realised I was still pretty fucked in the legs department and fell back onto the bed with a bit of a crash. I sat there trying to get my concentration, my energy and my balance back enough that I could stand up, walk out and go the fuck home.

For now, all thoughts of finding the girl of my dreams were gone, engulfed in the general rage caused by finding myself at the mercy of the fucking bastard once again.

How long had I been there? I picked up Lau’s phone again and glanced at the time. Fuck, I’d been asleep, unconscious, whatever the fuck I’d been, for nearly three hours. I really needed to go. Just as soon as I could –

The door to the bedroom opened, and Lau came in. I immediately went on the attack, as I tend to do when I feel vulnerable, and waved her phone at her to show her the offending text.

Laura

I ran up the stairs, to find Matt looking angrily at his phone – no, wait, my phone.

Matt

‘Why the fuck is Beth texing yuh tuh ahsk how I am?’

I soon found out I wasn’t the only one who felt they had been wronged.

Laura

Well I wasn’t having that, on so many levels; it wasn’t exactly the smiley gratitude I’d been imagining, and Matt Scott was going to have a bit of a word from Laura Shoeman.

‘Hang on just a minute. Firstly, why are you looking at my texts? Secondly, I nearly broke my back getting you here, you could at least sound a bit grateful. Thirdly, you’ve dribbled all over my pillow, I’m going to have to wash it now. Fourthly –’

Matt

I needed to stop her before her list got any longer, and she lost sight of the main point, which was obviously the thing I was cross about.

‘Yuh had noh righ tuh tell her. Who the fuck duh yuh think yuh ahr?’

‘Someone needed to know where you were, and I didn’t know anyone else I could get hold of. I got her number from a friend and put her mind at rest. If it was my family I’d have wanted her to do the same.’

Yeah, well, it wasn’t her family, and she had no right contacting any of them. The repercussions were going to rumble on for bloody weeks, they were never going to let me out of their sight again.

‘Not yuhr business. Dihnt yuh hehr meh tell yuh how much they fuhs?’

‘No, I heard you tell me how much they care about you.’

She sounded really pissed off.

Laura

I was getting very irritated with his go-it-alone attitude. It wasn’t uncommon, and at work I could deal with it, but I was at home, and I felt a bit of righteous indignation coming on at the ungrateful git sitting up on my bed, waving my phone at me as if I’d committed a terrible crime with it. Oh Laura Shoeman, you let yourself be fooled by his pretty face and his flirty smiles, you wally. See? He’s just Matt Scott underneath.

‘I see you’re feeling better. If you’ve finished sleeping on my bed and slobbering all over my pillows, you can go.’

Matt

It brought me to my senses with a crash. She was justifiably irritated that I was coming over all wounded party or some such shit, when she’d put herself out for me. I’d just fucked it up, with The One, the one I’d found. So now I had no choice, I’d been a dick, as usual, let my pride do my talking, and I should just go.

‘Alrigh then.’

I stood up, still a bit wobbly on my legs, but no way was I asking for help or leaning on anything. I crossed the room to the hallway, surprised to find the front door right outside the bedroom door, but I let myself out and walked down the path.

Laura

He stood up, swayed a bit unsteadily but not as if he was likely to fall over and I’d have to help him, and made his way to the door. He looked out into the hallway, found the front door and let himself out. Not a word, not a single word of thanks or apology or anything to acknowledge that I might just have put myself out a little bit for him in the last couple of hours.

I stared at the front door for a while as if it might speak for him, but thankfully it didn’t, so I turned to the bed and started taking the pillow case off, muttering to myself about the ingratitude of arrogant men who thought they were God’s gift and even felt your bum in their sleep, but that wasn’t important, what was important was – the doorbell went.

Matt

As I walked, so angry with myself, with the fucking bastard, with her, with the whole sodding universe, I realised I was still going to have to get home. I felt recovered enough to try some form of public transport, and felt for my wallet to find the card of a taxi firm – shit my bloody fucking bastard wallet. I still didn’t have it. Lau had said it might be in her car. Oh sod it. Now I was torn between just calling Dec, and crawling back to Lau.

Only it wasn’t really a choice, because if I didn’t go crawling back to Lau, I wouldn’t know if my wallet was in her car, and I would have to spend the rest of the evening cancelling my credit cards, possibly needlessly. Bollocks.

I turned round and trudged back up the path. I’d try to make it as quick and painless as possible. Any thoughts of any kind of connection with Lau were fast receding with the tide of fuck-ups I had instigated, and I just wanted to get home, lick my metaphorical wounds and try to forget the whole thing.

I rang the bell. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flicker of movement at the window. So she knew it was me, and I suppose it would serve me right if she didn’t answer the door. I needed my wallet, though, and I was prepared to ring a few more times until she did answer. I knew a thing or two about persistence in the face of – oh, the door was opening.

Laura

A quick peek out of the bedroom window showed me Mr Matt Scott, head down, hands shoved in his pockets. Ha, come crawling back to me, have you? I jerked the door open. Now he would apologise, and be grateful and smiley. This was better.

Matt

I didn’t look her in the eye, just wanted to be gone, done with it, what had I been thinking, I didn’t deserve her, didn’t deserve anyone.

‘Still hahvnt got my wallet. Yuh wehr goin tuh check yuhr car.’

Laura

So not crawling back apologising, but needing to ask for his wallet and wishing he didn’t. Git. Git, git, git.

Almost closing the door in his face I stomped downstairs to get my car keys then stomped back up again, hoping he was noticing the industrial amount of stomping I was doing for his benefit.

Matt

The stomping came back up the stairs, she flung the door open and continued stomping straight past me down the path to her car. I followed at a less furious pace and waited anxiously behind her. She rummaged behind the passenger seat and, to my enormous relief, emerged clutching my wallet. She thrust it at me and resumed stomping, past me and towards her front door.

‘Thahks. Listen, I –’

Laura

He started to say something but I was beyond hearing him, and I did a little additional stomping back in through the front door, which I closed firmly behind me.

Matt

But she was gone, back up the path, slamming the door before I could begin what I was going to say. The closed door had a look of finality about it and at last I came to my senses, reviewed my behaviour, and realised exactly how rude and ungrateful I’d been. I know, I know, I don’t have that sort of revelation very often, certainly not as often as I should. But now I was confronted with my rudeness in the face of kindness actually costing me something big. Lau wasn’t my family, who had shown over and over again that they would pretty much put up with anything from me. Lau was someone who didn’t know me, had no reason to indulge my petty behaviour, and above all was someone who I really really wanted to spend a lot more time with. And I’d just completely ruined it in a fit of the sulks. And now, shit, I was starting to feel wobbly again.

I went over to Lau’s car and leaned on it while I considered what to do. I really didn’t want to knock on her door again, she was already seriously pissed off with me, but I was beginning to feel bad about how I’d treated her and, miracle of miracles, wanted to apologise.

In my recent post-Jules self-analysis, I’d belatedly reached the conclusion that life’s golden opportunities didn’t come along that often, and I needed to act on my feelings when I felt them, rather than hiding from them and trying to convince myself I was someone else. Yeah, I know, bloody hilarious really, but deciding something isn’t always the same as doing it, is it?

Anyway, that’s what was occurring to me as I leaned on Lau’s car and tried to pluck up the courage and the strength to go back and say sorry, for the second time that day. If I didn’t, I’d only have myself to blame when I let her slip away, but if I went back, and things worked out, only myself to congratulate. I tried not to think about the in-between, if I did it and she didn’t answer the door or told me to piss off. I was trying to think positive, alright? Didn’t happen often, back then, and still wouldn’t now without Lau’s smile. So, having convinced myself that the potential gains outweighed the definite losses, I quickly fished a mint out of my pocket, as it’s never too late to create a good impression, and set off back up the path.

Laura

Back in my bedroom, I was suddenly overcome with tearfulness. I couldn’t quite understand why – it wasn’t like he’d disappointed me; I’d known what he was like. Well alright, I suppose I fancied him, quite a lot actually, but that had been overridden by realising that underneath all the good looks and cheeky grins was just a waste of space.

Wiping my eyes and pulling my thoughts together, I concluded that Matt Scott tended to have that effect on women and I wouldn’t be the first person he had left in tears after sleeping in their bed, although I might be among the first to have not experienced the complete entertainment package.

I took some deep breaths, changed the pillow case, punched the pillow a few times for good measure, gathered some more things out of the laundry basket, and headed downstairs to put it all in the washing machine.

As I placed my foot on the bottom step, my doorbell rang again. I dumped the laundry and, sighing, walked up the stairs. When I looked through the spyhole and saw Matt on the doorstep again, I was taken aback at how pleased I was. What was I thinking? The man was a grade A pillock, he’d hurt my friends, dammit he’d just made me cry, why was I happy to see him? I almost didn’t open the door, but he must have realised I was standing there as I heard his voice from outside.

Matt

I waited quite a while, rapidly losing my nerve, trying to give myself courage, almost convincing myself she wasn’t going to answer. I suddenly had the weirdest feeling that she was on the other side of the door. I don’t do feelings or intuition or any of that shit, but I just felt it. I had to say something.

‘Laura? Plehs leh meh in. Ih’m sohry. I wahn tuh apologise.’

I don’t know if she knew what it took to get the words out. I was never that good at admitting when I was wrong, and hardly ever backed down, but this was a special case, she was an exception. Already there were things I was prepared to do for Lau that I wouldn’t do for any other person.

Laura

Well that was something I suppose. Not a lot, but something. Enough, maybe. I opened the door. He looked up at me, sheepish, hands still tucked in his pockets, shoulders hunched. I folded my arms.

Matt

With a skip to my heart I heard the door open. Lau stood in the doorway looking gorgeous but uncompromising; arms beautifully folded, severe yet seductive expression, no trace of her fabulous sunny smile. Fuck, I was gone. Just seeing her again, after all of two minutes, made my heart beat faster and the heat was melting me from the inside out. But from the look on her face, she wasn’t going to make it easy for me, and fair enough I suppose; I was the one who needed to do the hard work. I decided to play the fucking cripple card. If I couldn’t use it in times of need what bloody use was it?

‘Can I cohm in, sit dohn? Ihm stihl a bih wohbly.’

Well it was true, wasn’t it? And apologies were always much more convincing when you didn’t collapse in the middle of them.

Lau sighed, standing aside to let me wobble past her.

Laura

I sighed, not feeling particularly sympathetic but unable to put my nursey impulses aside to leave him wobbling outside on the doorstep.

‘OK, but the living room is downstairs. Can you manage the stairs?’

Matt

I might have started getting arsey again at the implication that I was not completely mobile if I wasn’t a) so not completely mobile that I was nearly falling over and b) absolutely smitten.

‘Yeh, think soh. Yuh cahn carry meh if not.’

I tried the grin that had worked for me earlier in the day; it didn’t have a noticeable warming effect on my frosty reception, but she did turn and lead me down the stairs.

Laura

He’d plastered the lopsided grin back on his face as if that was going to make up for his rudeness. Maybe he was used to that being the case. It did make my own knees go a bit wobbly, but I chose to try and ignore that. I turned and led him down the stairs, pausing at the bottom to pick up the laundry and dump it on top of the telephone table. When I turned round he had a pair of my knickers dangling from his forefinger. Oh for Pete’s sake.

Matt

Now I was back in Lau’s house, and feeling mentally if not physically more alert, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity. I was going to turn on the charm, try to make her forget my performance as a mardy unreasonable old git, be Matt the – no, not Matt the Lad, but Matt the Glad. Glad to have another half a chance, willing to be honest and open, busting a gut to make her like me, to re-ignite some of the heat I’d felt – we’d felt – when she had touched my hand back at the coffee shop, to make her look at me like she had then, with bewilderment and interest.

I followed Lau down the stairs, holding on tightly to the banister to keep me on my feet. I badly needed to sit down, but I held on to my uprightness with sheer willpower.

Lau paused to pick up a pile of laundry from the bottom step – it looked like she’d dumped it there, probably when I rang the doorbell – but something fell out of the pile. I bent to retrieve it for her, and was delighted to find it was a pair of knickers. Black, bikinis, lacy trim if you’re interested; I was. I hung them from my finger and waited for her to turn round.

‘Drohped these.’

She grabbed them, still no blush, interesting, stuffing them on top of the pile that she had now put on a small table, and gestured to the sofa. I gratefully crossed the room and sank down into the cushions while Lau stood and looked at me, arms folded, waiting. For me to apologise, I assumed, as she was all but tapping her foot in impatience. She looked like she just wanted me to go so she could get on with her evening but, sorry Lau, I was never going to let that happen. I was there, I was going to take this second chance with both malfunctioning hands, and I was never going to let you go again.

‘Lau, I’m –’

‘Laura. My friends call me Lau.’

Oh for fuck’s sake. I couldn’t believe I was going to balls it up on a technicality, the same one that had narked Jules off in the beginning as well. She was just being pissy for the sake of it. But, OK, come on Matt, learn a lesson for once, do it her way. I couldn’t help being a teeny bit exasperated though.

‘Oh bohlocks noh thihs again. OK. Laura. I cahnt member gehting back from the cohfee place. Wha happened?’

Laura

I decided not to sugar coat it. He deserved to know how much he’d put me out.

‘You nearly knocked me over falling on me as we were leaving. You leaned on me all the way back, I had to practically carry you up the path and into the house, you groped my bottom, and I had to manhandle you onto the bed. Then you slept like the dead for a couple of hours, then you woke up, then you were very rude to me, then you left.’

He actually looked ashamed, his forehead creasing in a frown and his big eyes looking up at me, pained.

Matt

And so that told me. Maybe people should tell me more often in words of one syllable exactly what a pain in the arse I’ve been and what they’ve done for me; I might be a bit more appreciative. Ha ha. But with Lau, this time, it worked and fired up my remorse nodes. It wasn’t lip service, not just faking sorriness while I tried it on with Lau, it was real. I felt bad, really bad, about the effort she’d made to help me. I knew how difficult I was to manoeuvre when I was tired, she was quite a lot shorter than me, and I had virtually needed dragging.

Dec had had to haul me up the stairs to my flat a couple of times recently, and it had left him panting, and he was a burly rugby player. I was full of chagrin that Lau had had to do the same, because she was not in any way burly. And I’d sworn at her and been an arse. And been at her arse. Lots of sorries were now overdue.

‘Sohry. Ih’m a wanker sohmtihms. Lohs of tihms. Sohry. I woke up, dihnt know wehr I wahs, saw yuhr note, felt bad fuh nehding hehp, hehrd yuhr phohn, thoht ih wahs mine, saw tex from Beth. Wahs annoyed. Wahs a prick. Sohry. I groped yuh?’

She nodded. I really was sorry, it was totally unacceptable under any circumstances, but I couldn’t help feeling pleased with myself for having had the wherewithal to try it while I was asleep. Go Matt.

‘Sohry.’

Lau had been looking a bit less pissed off until then, but I guess the grin I couldn’t keep off my face spoilt all that.

She was silent for a moment, and I couldn’t read her expression.

Laura

The smirk slightly spoilt the effect of that particular apology.

I was unsure how to respond. He was saying all the right words and making me feel all the right things, but I was quickly coming to the conclusion that I wasn’t really completely in my right mind where Matt Scott was concerned. Was this how all his conquests felt? I wasn’t confident I was going to make the right choices in what I said or did next. Still, I didn’t have a handy confidante whose opinion I could ask, and short of phoning Kate, Anna, or Rachel within earshot, I was going to have to go it alone and trust my instincts.

Trouble was, one lot of instincts were saying ‘play it down, he’s a bastard, he just wants to get in your pants’ and the other lot of instincts were saying ‘go for it girl, he’s hot, and he might want to get in your pants’. No instincts I could muster could foresee Matt Scott not wanting to get in my pants, or that he was just there to apologise because he felt bad for being rude to me, and I realised with a start that this might be because it was what I wanted.

I remembered the shock when I took his hand in Mean Bean, and his widened eyes when he looked into mine. I tried to remember he was a man with MS who had asked for my help; I also tried to remember he was Matt Scott with a capital Git, but I was having a hard time doing so. Right now, he was this man, here, with me, having expressed heartfelt regret, and looking at me with his sad grey eyes. And I still hadn’t replied to his apology.

‘Yeah. Well. You were rude.’

Matt

Did I detect a slight, very slight, thawing? I pressed my advantage with more grovelling.

‘I know. Sohry. An … thahks fuh hehping meh. Yuh dihnt have tuh.’

‘No, I could have left you in a crumpled heap on the pavement I suppose. That would have made a good headline: Nurse leaves patient on the street to go and have her tea.’

Another quick flare of irritation, that I tried to suppress but didn’t completely manage. I didn’t want her to be my nurse, I wanted her to be my … everything.

‘I’m not yuhr patient.’

‘I know. It was a hypothetical headline.’

Hmm, well, OK, things definitely seemed to be defrosting a bit, let’s ignore the nurse bit, get things back on track.

‘Lau –’

I caught her look, and belatedly added the rest

‘–ra, yuh knoh I said thihs afternoon I wahnt ahsking yuh ouh?’

She nodded, suspiciously, quite rightly wondering where I was heading off to now.

‘Wha wouhd yuh have said if I wahs?’

I wanted to come clean, to let her know to some degree what I’d really been thinking all day. I was going to have to work up to it, though.

‘Hypothetically?’

I nodded. Hypothetical was good, lets everyone off the hook, or paves the way, depending on how it goes.

‘Then or now?’

Ooh, and she was considering me asking her out now. That really was promising.

‘Bohth.’

‘Well, hypothetically, if you had been asking me out earlier today, I would have had to, in a fit of solidarity with my friend and colleague Rachel Telford, who you won’t remember but whose heart you broke after a one night stand some time ago, well I would have had to refuse I’m afraid. And now, well, same rules apply.’

Oh fuck it. I had not considered that she might have known anyone I’d been Matt the Lad with. If I’d fucked around with one of her mates, I was done for. No wonder she was so pissed off with me, I was lucky she’d agreed to have coffee with me at all. When was my past ever going to let me go? How long was I going to have to keep paying for how I’d been?

She was right, I didn’t remember her friend, not by name anyway. There had been a few Rachels; there had also been a few, more than a few, whose names I hadn’t caught, or had forgotten, or had been too shit-faced to have a hope in hell of remembering. I had been a right bastard, I got it, I’d stopped, but that didn’t mean it didn’t keep catching up with me, catching me out, making me pay. Was it now going to cost me this woman, this one woman? At that moment, I was completely dejected and miserable at the thought of it, about to jack it all in, this ridiculous venture with some poor woman I’d taken a fancy to.

Laura

Yay me, I had socked it to him and stood up for Rachel all in one go. I was super-fem girl-power woman. I was – making Matt look even more sad. He looked up at me from the sofa; I don’t think I could ever have imagined the great Matt Scott looking so dejected and miserable.

Matt

‘Yuhr righ. Ih’v behn an utter bahstrd over the yehrs. Lohs of excuses, nohn of them guhd enough. Biting meh on the ahrs now, ih seems.’

I couldn’t just leave it, though. This was my one opportunity, and I was going to say it, tell her how I felt. If I didn’t, I wasn’t going to get another chance. One last go, then I’d leave her alone.

‘I rehly like yuh, Lau. OK, I’m gona beh honest. I know weh only met tuhday, buh I tahk my chances wehn I see them. I dohn know if I cahn explain this, I felt like, when I saw yuh today, the first tihm, ih was lihk I recognised yuh. I was lihk holy fuck, tha’s her. Even tho we never met. Tha’s why I talked tuh yuh at lunch, and cahm back to ask yuh out. I noticed yuh checking meh ouh too. An I thoht, in the cohfee shop, thehr wahs a mohment, when yuh held my hand …’

Lau was quiet for a long time, and I saw lots of things flitting across her face, none of them easily identifiable, but none of them saying ‘piss off you tosser’, not yet, anyway. I was hopeful, but needed to know what she was thinking.

Laura

Oh my God, he’d felt it too. Now I was all confused and mixed up. Sod Rachel and her long obsession. Matt Scott was making the moves on me. Me! And I wanted him to, I so wanted him to make the moves on me. Oh damn, Matt Scott had MS and I could be seriously compromising my professional standards. But it wasn’t as if he was a patient, I’d only been for a coffee with him. Laura Shoeman, what on earth are you thinking?

‘Lau – Laura? Ahr yuh OK? Yuh kehp looking ah meh fuhny. Yuhr not talking.’

‘Sorry. I’m feeling a bit peculiar. I think I need to sit down.’

Matt

She sat at the other end of the sofa and looked at me. I was a bit worried about her, she looked spaced. Just then my phone pinged with Beth’s tone. Fuck off and leave me alone, the whole sodding lot of you. I ignored it as Lau started to speak.

Laura

I tried to gather my scrambled thoughts, made a go of it, decided to share, taking a huge leap of faith or something equally stupid. Pulse racing, I looked him in the eyes, those big grey eyes, and just said what was in my heart.

‘Matt, OK, I’m not sure where this is going to lead, but, yes, I have to admit I have been feeling – things – for you all day.

Matt

I bloody knew it. She’d been feeling things. Yes! Result. Oh, but concentrate, Matt, she’s still talking. Pay attention.

‘I also have to admit that I know you, not to talk to, but I’ve seen you around at parties and clubs, I know people who have been, um, out with you I suppose you could call it. You’ve got a bit of a reputation.’

Oh shit. Not only has one of her friends been Scotted, but she’s seen me around, quite a lot by the sound of it. I’m just that arrogant bastard to her, aren’t I.

‘I am also, frankly, not sure how I stand professionally.’

Bloody hell, I never even thought. There are probably rules for nurses and patients. But I’m not her bloody patient, I told her that already.

‘I don’t even know what you’re asking me, my head’s spinning a bit. So, the bottom line for me is, everyone thinks you’re a bit of a git, but I like you, or at least find you physically attractive, maybe you feel the same. I’d like to know what that means to you, so I can either forget it and move on, or try and work it out some more.’

She looked a bit breathless, and that’s how I felt, like for the whole of her little speech I’d been holding my breath, waiting for the ending. And the ending was sublime. She wanted more. Had I done it, convinced her? She was looking back at me, as if she was finding it hard to believe what she’d just said.

Laura

I couldn’t quite believe I’d said it. It was almost like I’d been reflecting and reframing my own thoughts into something vaguely coherent. I didn’t feel at all coherent and if I’d tried to stand at that moment, I would have keeled right over, as thinking the thoughts and saying the words had taken all my coordination.

Matt

‘Whoa, Lau. Dohnt hold bahk will yuh! OK, fuck yeh tuh physically attractive – in tha unifohm, ahr yuh fucking kidding meh?’

At this juncture I should just confirm that I do love a girl in uniform. Nurses’ uniforms these days are pretty tame compared to the old days, like in Carry on Matron, which is obviously historically factual. These days they’re kind of boringly practical, more tunic and trousers than little short dresses, but there’s still something that just gets me all steamed up. Lau was still wearing hers, and she looked awesome. She looked down at herself as if she’d forgotten what she was wearing and wrinkled her nose; I guess if it’s something you wear every day you get used to it. I would never get used to it.

Lau’s kept her uniform all these years, just for me. It still fits her, very well. But it’s never on her for long. But back to the story. Where was I? Oh yeah; Lau had just said she fancied the bloody pants off me and wanted to know what I was going to do about it. Alright, not in so many words, but go back and have a look; there’s a lot of subtext. Anyway, I still had to answer her

Laura

I looked down. I hadn’t even changed yet, was still wearing my tunic from today. It probably smelled pretty bad by now.

Matt

‘I dohnt rehly duh big fuck-ohf analysis of fehlings. Rather geh on wih fehling an doing. Buh I’d lihk tuh geh tuh know yuh better. See if I’m rehly feeling wha I think I am. Mehbe sit closer than ten feet apart tuh duh ih?’

I patted the sofa cushion next to me; I really wanted Lau as close as I could get her, and to my delight she shuffled along the sofa until we were not quite touching, but were near enough that I could feel her body heat, near enough for me to hold her hand. Well, it would have been rude not to, her being so close, so I reached out and took her hand in mine, and there it was again, that jolt of electricity.

Laura

He patted the sofa cushion next to him. With a still-pounding heart I moved close enough that I could feel the heat from his body. He took my hand, and the fireworks went off again. He held my fingers on his lap, gently stroking my knuckles with his thumb, looking into my eyes as if he was going to find out all my secrets and then tell me his. I felt like I was in a dream, finding it hard to keep up with the speed at which things were happening.

Matt

I’d read about it, usually in bad romance novels – not that I’ve read a lot of those you understand, but sometimes a novel unexpectedly turns into a bad romance when you were expecting zombies or futuristic dystopias – but dismissed it as artistic license. But this, this was absolutely real. Just our fingers rubbing against each other made pulses of heat flood through my body. If my sexual organs and been firing on all cylinders, I would have been totally and irreversibly aroused, but nothing had happened down there for, well, months now, and much as I would have loved Lau to have miraculously reversed that whole part of the bastard MS, it didn’t happen. Still, just holding her hand was pretty incredible, and so much more than I’d expected.

I pulled Lau’s hand gently onto my lap, and looked deep into her eyes. This was incredible; I hadn’t in my wildest dreams imagined that Lau would feel anything close to what I had been feeling, but she certainly seemed to be on her way. She looked blissed out; she looked like I felt. My heart was pounding fast and hard, but before I got completely carried away, I needed to make a stab at explaining what was going on with me. I was a fuck up; she deserved to know.

‘Lau, I think I nehd tuh say sohmthing.’

‘OK.’

‘I dohnt know whehr the fuck this is goin. Ih’m bluhdy terrified. I had a rehly bad brehk-up a few months ago. Made meh realise a loh of shih abouh mysehf. Ih’v behn a monumental ahrshole to lohs of women. Called ih fun. It wahs foh meh, not foh ehvryohn. Ih’m not lihk tha now, haven’t behn foh long time. Buh Ih’v not behn wih anyone since befohr the bastahd MS came bahk. Wehn I first hahd ih, my girfriehd lef meh, prehty much fucked meh up. Lau, I cahnt prohmis anything. Nothing mohr than this –’

I held up our linked hands.

‘– now, thihs moment. Thehr ahr things I wahnt, things I nehd, buh all thihs is, foh now, is us hohding hands. Fuck. I only came bahk tuh apologise, now look wha yuh made meh duh.’

I smiled at her. She had broken me, in a good way. She had made me talk, admit to some of my fears, make myself vulnerable, in such a short time. I felt small, as if she could hold me in her hands, to protect or crush. I had never felt so open to anyone in my whole life, as if I could tell her anything. I wanted to, I wanted to tell her everything about me, and it was terrifying and liberating at the same time.

Laura

He looked at me and grinned, his crinkly smile melting my heart into a little puddle. I had heard a lot of things about Matt Scott. I had heard he was a thoughtless pig, a self-centred dick, a single-minded sex-machine, an unstoppable force of nature who took what he wanted and discarded the rest.

I hadn’t heard he was eloquent and vulnerable and scared, and if I had I wouldn’t have believed it. I didn’t feel I had any words to match his. If he was sincere, and a tiny part of me still wondered if it was all just a line to get in my pants, but if he was sincere, he was perfect and I was happy to just be there holding hands, now, in this moment. So I turned to him and went to kiss him on the cheek.

Matt

I had other plans for any kissing that was going to occur, and turned my head so my mouth met hers.

Laura

Oh God, his mouth. Oh God. I’d heard stories about Matt Scott’s kisses. They did not do him justice. As our lips met, a fizz of static seemed to burst between us, flinging my eyes wide. I opened my mouth in surprise, as his soft tongue flicked along the bottom of my top lip and then pushed gently forwards to meet my own tongue. He held my cheek in his hand and gently angled my face up to his, sealing my lips with his and then flicking at my bottom lip as his tongue continued its exploration around my mouth. The fizzing electricity carried on its way round my body, settling somewhere in the centre of me, and Matt’s nibbles and licks sent fresh top-up jolts with every peck and suck. I opened my mouth wider to let more of him in and more of me out. I pushed my tongue against his and sucked him into my mouth. His hand moved up into my hair, and he pulled my head towards his as he thrust his tongue deep into my mouth and sucked hard on my lips, and the heat rose and rose in me until it almost filled me up.

Matt

Fuuuck she was good. Her mouth was so inviting, so soft and warm and nibbly and licky and wet, that I barely noticed the garlic. If I thought our hands had static racing round my body, our lips and tongues positively exploded, as we burst against each other. I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen when my dick was in working order once more – oh yes, have no doubt, now we’d kissed there was no turning back. I knew, if I hadn’t known before, that I never wanted to kiss another woman as long as I lived. No, Lau was going to have no choice, although she didn’t look like she wanted one at that moment. We were lost in each other, happily marooned on an island of oral sensuality.

I had my hands in her hair, she had her arms round my neck, and our mouths were suctioned together, and it was all awesome, so awesome. Lau moaned, and it broke the spell, brought us back to ourselves. We sat back, looking into each other’s eyes, breathless and flushed. I reeled a little bit to remember that less than half an hour before, she had been throwing me out of her bedroom for being rude and dribbling on her pillow.

‘Yuhr a bluhdy guhd kisser.’

‘Mm. You too. God.’

Lau wiped her mouth.

‘How do you taste so good?’

‘Breath mint befohr I knocked.’

She cuffed my arm.

‘You cheat! I’ve just had a lentil casserole with extra garlic.’

‘I knoh. I think yuh lef mos of ih on yuhr tongue.’

I was teasing, I hadn’t really noticed, didn’t really care anyway. She batted my arm again.

‘God, Matt. God. Kissing Matt Scott. I’m … I’m a bit in awe.’

Oh, now that sounded wrong, like she thought I was some kind of celebrity or something. I didn’t want her thinking I was anything like that arrogant piss-artist.

‘Noh Lau. Dohnt beh in awe, plehs. I dohn deserve ih. Tha ohl meh yuh knew, he wahs a fucking bastahd, mehbe inspired awe, fuck I dohn noh, but he’s gohn. Ih’m jus meh now. Noh sure wha tha mehns. Shih, I dohn do all thihs deep an meaningful bollocks. Stop making meh talk – ooh yuhr guhd, aren’t yuh! Ih’s wha yuh duh, yuh did ih at the cohfee shop, made meh talk, made me – fuck, wohman, yuh mahd meh bluhdy cry yuh cow! Did yuh mean tuh?’

She held my gaze. I was expecting her to deny it, to say sorry maybe.

‘Yes.’

What? But, but that’s just mean, isn’t it? I thought nurses were supposed to be all caring and shit. I must have shown what I was thinking, because her expression changed from defiant to sympathetic. That was better.

‘But not to upset you. I wanted to get you to face what you were feeling. You’re not very good at that, are you?’

And so she knew me, had seen into the heart of me. Matt Scott equals not very good at facing what he’s feeling. She was bloody good.

‘Gehting better. Buh noh, not guhd. Still a bluhdy cow.’

I gave her the benefit of a fake sulk, until my phone pinged with another text from Beth. I rolled my eyes, exasperated.

‘Lehv meh the fuck alone.’

‘Why don’t you just answer them?’

‘Wha?’

‘Surely if you replied when they texted they might just think you’re responsible enough for them to leave you alone for five minutes? When you keep up the silent treatment, it makes them more worried about what might have happened to you. They won’t be imagining you sitting on the sofa holding my hand, they’ll be imagining you with pills and ropes and carving knives, and they’ll try harder to get in touch until they know you’re OK.’

This was bordering on what one might call interfering, and much as I might have made strides in the last few minutes in the sharing my feelings department, any hint of fussing or nursiness à la Beth was not that welcome. I scowled and I think she got the point.

Laura

Matt gave me a dark look, and I realised I was getting close to crossing a line with him. I remembered how he’d reacted when he woke up to Beth’s text on my phone, Beth’s warnings that Matt wasn’t happy with people fussing over him, and indeed Matt’s constant grumbling about the amount of contact he got from his family. I backed off, for now, before I ruined things.

‘Alright, I’ll stop being a nurse now, but it’s who I am, and it bleeds through everything I do, so get used to it.’

Matt

I didn’t say anything, but as she’d backed off and hadn’t pushed it, I got my phone out and looked at the screen.

‘Matty, ru OK? RU home?’

‘I’m fine, stop it now.’

It never seemed to make any difference, telling them I was fine, they never believed me. Probably because half the time I was lying my fucking head off, and wouldn’t tell them if I was tied to train tracks with the five fifteen from Plymouth approaching at ninety miles an hour.

Laura

‘Family?’

‘Yeh. I know, I’m a nighmare. I dohnt duh asking fuh hehp, I make them beg tuh hehp meh, as if I’m doin them sohm huge fucking favour. I’m a fuck-up, Lau. Run now, while thehrs still tihm.’

Matt

Although if she looked like she might, I was going to stop her.

‘Oh, you know what, I think I won’t. See this?’

She held up our hands, which were still linked together.

‘I think I’m going to be holding this hand for quite some time.’

It was music to my ears.

‘Rehly?’

Lau nodded. I was a bit overcome, and in these situations, some arsing about is always necessary. Holding hands long term sounded great, but held some practical complications.

‘Nehd a pee.’

‘Oh.’

She looked like she was reconsidering.

‘Alright, I might let go for a few minutes then.’

‘Yuhr easily tahked ouh of big statements, aren’t yuh. Yuh could’ve said ‘noh, Matt, I’ll even come wih yuh tuh the loo an hold yuhr hand while yuh pee’ buh yuh jus dropped ih lihk tha. Noh staying power. So whehr is ih then?’

‘What?’

‘Loo. Shih, fucking bad memory too.’

I was feeling good enough, relaxed enough about how things were going, to tease her.

Laura

‘Oh. It’s upstairs. Door opposite the bedroom. You need to hold the handle down when you flush.’

As Matt made his way up the stairs, I noticed my pile of laundry, still on the telephone table. I took it into the kitchen, threw it in the washing machine and set it running. Then I stood up and leaned heavily on the sink, catching my breath.

Matt

I stood up and went upstairs, slowly, hoping she didn’t notice how difficult I was finding it to walk. I sat on the toilet seat for a while, gathering my strength, then stood to pee and managed not to splash, which was all anyone can ask, really. Lau’s bathroom was pretty standard apart from the crocheted lady covering the spare toilet roll, which made me smile, and some ‘risqué’ seaside postcards in a frame which made me chuckle with delight about what their cheeky rudeness said about her.

I was feeling really tired; tired enough that I should be at home in bed, before a repeat of my earlier performance. I decided to do it a different way, to take another chance, as chance-taking had been a productive strategy so far today. Taking a few deep breaths, I left the bathroom and made it down the stairs as best I could.

Laura

I heard Matt come back down the stairs and resisted an urge to turn round and watch him to see how he managed the steps, part of me still in nurse mode despite myself.

Matt

I walked up behind her and slipped an arm round her waist and she jumped at my touch. I laughed softly, as I felt her relax into me. I bent forwards and spoke quietly into her ear; this had often had the effect in the past of a rapid improvement in pulling power, and I wasn’t above using some of Matt the Lad’s techniques, even if most of his shit was dubious.

‘Heh Lau, is ih OK to duh this as well as hohd hands?’

Laura

He murmured in my ear, making me tingle all the way down my neck and then onwards to join the fizzing that had started and not really stopped when we were kissing. I nodded, and he slid his other arm round me. His body pressed into mine, his front moulding to my back, and I felt him bend his head down to my neck and brush his lips along my skin, just below my earlobe. I breathed in sharply and clasped my hands over the top of his.

Matt

I felt the side of her face move against mine as she nodded. Her cheek was soft and smooth. I slid my other arm round her, leaning against her and brushed my lips along her neck, just below her earlobe, which made her gasp and put her hands over the top of mine. She stiffened slightly, and for a moment I thought she was going to push me away; I realised it was too much for her right now. Shit, it was nearly too much for me. It was all going crazily fast, and I recognised that we needed to slow down before it all got too overwhelming and she called a halt. Also, I was nearly out on my feet and I needed to put my plan into action.