That evening, I decided to go over and make some dinner, enough for two in case Matt came back early enough to eat. I took a change of clothes, so I could stay the night and go to work from there the next day; while I was hanging them up, I noticed how many of my clothes were hanging in Matt’s wardrobe. I also had a collection of toiletries in his bathroom, books on the bedside table and underwear in the drawer. I had no idea if Matt was comfortable with it or not, and resolved to ask him when he got back. He didn’t have anywhere near as much of his stuff at my flat; we tended to stay at his rather than mine, as it was closer to work, and I loved the view from his window. His bed wasn’t as comfortable as mine, but it was a small price to pay for the cool, tasteful spaciousness of his place. This, with my things in his apartment, was the closest I had ever come to living with someone, and a small thrill raced through me as I realised this. I wondered if I could see myself ever living with him, and surprised myself by realising that I could, in time.
We suited each other well. Matt was clean and tidy, had great taste in décor and furnishings, and we didn’t fall out about who left the top off the toothpaste, although that was mainly because we used separate toothpaste. I needed to have my own space, but I could definitely see a time when I would need to see Matt every day more than I needed my own company. I wasn’t about to tell him this, or allude to it in any way, but held the knowledge inside me.
As we walked through the door, Iz came hurtling into the hall and hurled herself into my arms.
I gave her a big cuddle and carried her into the living room. She poked a plastic fairy under my nose.
/cal say Stinkerbell.
‘Oh, well, he must be right then. Have you had a good day with Daddy?’
/daddy an me go park an play horsie.
‘Sounds great. Is he a good horsie?’
/he go neigh.
‘Sounds like he got it just right.’
/he go woof doggy.
‘Wow, what a repertoire.’
We walked through to the lounge and sat next to Jay.
łDec, don’t leave me on my own all day again. There’s only so many times I can neigh and bark and meow before I go mad.
łOK, one more, Iz, then that’s it. Woof.
Iz giggled in delight.
She looked at him from underneath her long blonde eyelashes.
łOh, bloody hell, you’re impossible to resist, Iz. OK, last one. Woof.
łNo, Iz, I’ve got to … er … help Mummy with dinner.
‘That’d be a first. Let’s go see what’s happening in the kitchen, Iz.’
We wandered through and found Beth opening the trays of food and putting out plates. Matt was sampling each dish as it was opened.
‘Leave some for us. Hey, that’s a whole spring roll. Iz, I reckon Uncle Matty could use a cuddle.’
Iz, always one for an extra bit of male attention, held her arms out to Matt, who gave me a dirty look as I passed her over.
}Cheap trick, Summers. Hey, blondie, you’re looking rather glamorous today. Nice hair clips, interestingly positioned. Did Daddy put them in, perchance?
I left Matt discussing hairstyles with Iz and wandered back into the living room, where Jay was sprawled on one sofa. On the other one, Amy and Rose had found a magazine with celebrity wedding pictures, and were exclaiming over it. I pushed Jay’s feet off the sofa onto the floor and sat down. Jay ran his hands through his hair.
łShit, I’m bloody wiped out. How the fuck does Beth do it every day?
‘Energy reserves of a rhino, probably.’
łBetter not let her hear you comparing any part of her to a rhino, mate. How did it go today?
‘Oh, had its ups and downs. Short or long version?’
łDo you mind short for now? Lacking a bit of concentration. Beth can fill me in later.
‘OK then … short version … I dragged everyone here, there and everywhere looking for something I could have found here.’
I put my hand on the spot over my heart that Matt had touched earlier.
‘Did the memory bottle thing. Had a bit of a major moment, scared the shit out of everyone. Feel better.’
‘Oh, yeah, it was going to be scattering rose petals on the waves, but I decided to put some pictures in a bottle with my letter and send it out to sea instead. Everyone else gave me something to put in the bottle too – I thought Beth told you.’
łOh, yeah, yeah she did, she did ask me about something she was writing, I did have some input, I’m just useless at details. Sounds very moving. What sort of major moment?
‘Lost it. Total blubfest.’
łShit. You OK now?
‘Yeah. Got a lot out of my system.
łBut apart from being a bloody headcase, good way to commemorate it?
łI’m glad to hear it, mate.
Jay and I never needed to talk about anything in great detail. I knew he worried about me and cared about me, and there were plenty of other people to do the searching questions and the angst with. Our shorthand was reassuring.
Beth came out of the kitchen.
_Right, everyone, it’s all out on the counter in here, help yourselves. I’m not setting the table, have it on your knees. James can you call Cal?
_I mean go and get him.
Jay hauled himself off the sofa with a groan and stomped up the stairs.
Matt was still in the kitchen, and still encircled by Iz who wouldn’t let him put her down so he could load his plate. He was trying to do it one-handed and failing messily. I laughed, unsympathetically.
‘Oh, Uncle Matty, are you having trouble there?’
}Help me out, mate?
‘I’ll just do mine first, then one for Amy, then we’ll eat it, then I’ll possibly come back and help you out.’
Even Matt wouldn’t swear out loud with Iz actually in his arms, so he mouthed several choice words at me, put his spoon down and flipped the finger at me. Then he picked up his spoon and continued to drop rice on the floor. I took the two plates in and sat next to Amy, passing hers over. As we ate, I noticed how tired she looked.
)Wish I hadn’t fallen asleep in the car, I feel completely groggy now. I probably won’t sleep properly tonight.
‘Well that was never going to happen anyway, so just think of it as catching up on a bit of yesterday’s instead. How’s your chow mein?’
)Mm, lovely, I wouldn’t be surprised if this baby looks like a chicken.
‘Or a chocolate button, possibly.’
)Yeah, quite possibly – could it have something to do with all the chocolate sauce we – oh.
She stopped, blushing, realising Matt had come in. He was holding Iz close to him with one hand and balancing a piled plate in the other.
}Oh just stop it, don’t need to bloody well hear your perverted conception stories thanks.
Amy went a deeper shade of scarlet, and ignored Matt, who chuckled to himself at her discomfort, as she changed the subject.
)Dec, has it been OK, today? I’m just worried it didn’t turn out quite how you thought.
‘Yeah, babe, it’s been OK. It didn’t turn out how I thought, I guess, but I did it and shit happened. It was all good in the end. I was there, and you were all there with me, that’s the main thing.’
)Are you OK?
She reached up and pulled me down for a kiss. I brushed her hair back from her face, held her face in my hands and made the kiss a deep and lingering one.
‘Mm, chicken chow meiny. Love you, babe.’
)Love you too.
‘Oh, hey, Cal. Didn’t notice you sit down. We were otherwise occupied with some lovely snogging.’
Cal was concentrating hard on his plate.
\urgh, you put me off my dinner.
}Cal, you know that’s the chance you take when you sit too close to Dec and Amy. Snog fall-out can be a terrible thing. Personally I think those two should be banished to the conservatory while people are eating, just in case they can’t control themselves.
\it’s just gross.
Amy smiled over at him.
)You won’t always think so, Cal.
\i think I will, it’s gross now and it’ll be gross in a hundred years.
‘Well let’s agree to stop the snogging just for now so everyone can feel comfortable, but watch out after the washing up, Cal, anything could happen. And if you haven’t snogged someone in a hundred years time I’ll eat Matt’s hat.’
}You bloody won’t, it’s my best hat.
‘No, not that one, the woolly one with the red bobble.’
}I have not got a hat with a red bobble.
‘Well what am I supposed to eat in a hundred years time when Cal hasn’t snogged anyone?’
}Not my problem. Your bet, you supply the hat. And the cryogenic chamber to keep you alive until you’re a hundred and twenty three.
Normal service had been resumed. After the intensity of the day, it was good to relax, eat, talk and be silly, be with my family. Eventually, Amy started flagging beside me, and asked Matt to take us home. Rose got a lift too. Matt dropped us off and we made our way slowly up the steps to the flat.
Rose didn’t say much on the journey back to her flat, and I didn’t really think much of it, I suppose we were both lost in our own thoughts, until we were almost back at her place, sat at a red light.
‘Well, this has been a bit of a day, hasn’t it.’
‘Yeah. Not every day Dec buys everyone coffee.’
She smiled, indulging me.
‘You know what I mean, though, love. It feels a bit overwhelming, doesn’t it. I was worried there for a bit.’
I looked at her in surprise; Rose had seemed the epitome of cool, calm and collectedness. We had all looked to her to tell us what to do.
‘Really? You seemed to know what you were doing.’
The traffic light turned green and I pulled away.
‘I was just doing it automatically, I think. I remembered before, when he was in that state about those points – oh, you wouldn’t have been around, then, love, it was while he still lived here. Do you know the story?’
There wasn’t much of Dec’s story I didn’t know. He was pretty open about everything, didn’t seem to mind what I called Beth’s fussing, answered questions when asked, didn’t sulk about being asked if he was OK, generally behaved like a normal person rather than a thirty-four year old teenager.
‘Yeah, something about his passport, and Raiders getting docked points because of it, and he went all emo and shit.’
‘Well I don’t really know what emo means, love, but he was in a bad way. He went all quiet, and then me and Nico tried to get him to talk about it, and he just collapsed, a bit like today, poured it all out on my kitchen table. Nico and me were looking at each other, like we all were today. Nico wanted to call one of his doctor friends, get him some help. We didn’t want to leave him alone, we were that worried.’
‘Worried about – what, you thought he’d top himself?’
Rose nodded, looking down at her hands. I turned the car into the road where Rose’s building was.
‘Holy shit. Sorry.’
I didn’t usually apologise for swearing, but Rose never complained about it, so me being me, it seemed like the thing to do.
‘Yes, well, it wasn’t like he hadn’t tried it before, in a way.’
Just when you think you know someone. This had never got through the Scott family filter, and it shocked me. I pulled the car up outside the building, and we sat there, with the engine running. Rose didn’t take her seatbelt off.
‘Oh, not that he ever told me he tried, but, when I thought about it after, I just wondered … this would have been before you got to know him, as well, but when all that happened with him and Jay, when they told him they wanted him to stay away from them, and he got suspended from his rugby, he went on a hell of a bender. I cleared the empties up, and he’d drunk a lot. Too much. Mostly vodka. I don’t think he cared, really. He could have … I don’t like to think about it, what could have happened to him up there, all on his own.’
‘Shit, Rose. I had no idea. I knew he’d had a rough time, I even vaguely remember something about a lost few days, but I guess I only really heard Jay’s version. You really think he might have tried … on purpose?’
The thought of it did something weird to my brain. Dec was one of the cheeriest, most annoyingly bloody laid back people I knew, and imagining him feeling shit enough to want to end it all, only a few years ago, made me reassess a lot of things about him.
‘I think he was about as low as you can go. His flat was miserable – he was there all alone, no family, no friends, he’d sold all his stuff. I didn’t meet him for a while after he moved in, but his flat was right above mine. I could hear him, sometimes, crying. Terrible, it was. When those buggers from the paper started on him, though, I couldn’t just leave it. Well you know what I’m like, love. I let myself in and tried to look after him a bit. Not that he wanted me to, not at first.’
‘You and him have both got a stubborn streak that does you no favours, love.’
‘Maybe. He warmed up to you, eventually, though.’
‘He did. We’re a bit of an odd pair, aren’t we. When he started to tell me how things had been for him, all the things he’d let go, all the people he’d lost, well I was heartbroken for him. I thought about him living up there on his own, nothing to think about except who was dead or gone, and I just thought I’d try to cheer him up, help him out a bit. But on that night, after the points, I realised there wasn’t anything I could do. He’d seemed more cheerful, Nico had helped him pay back the money he owed people, everyone was being nicer to him, but at the back of it all was how he thought he’d messed it all up with your brother. It didn’t matter if he got his friends back, he’d lost Jay and Beth, and then he thought he’d lost his rugby, and it was too much. I think there was a bit of that feeling today, I know I felt the same … kind of helpless, like nothing I did would make any difference.’
‘But you were so bloody great, Rose. You said ‘hold him’, and we did, and it worked.’
‘Well it did, and I’m relieved. I’m not sure it was much to do with me, though, really. It’s good that he had us all.’
‘He’s told me before that he’s held on to you when he’s felt desperate, that you’ve pulled him out of some dark places.’
‘Yeah, Rose. Give yourself credit. I didn’t know how bad things had been for him; I think he’s got a lot to thank you for.’
Rose waved this away.
‘Oh, it’s a two way thing. He’s given me so much, as well. I was a pretty lonely old biddy too before he came along.’
She reached over and undid her seatbelt. Then gave me a penetrating look.
‘Are you still thinking about what happened earlier? About whether it might happen to you?’
I shrugged. Dec might use Rose as a confessional, but I kept my thoughts to myself, on the whole. Who knows, maybe I’d be as cheery and annoyingly bloody laid back if I took a different approach, but the likelihood was slim.
‘Are you going straight to bed, babe? You look shattered.’
)I might get my PJs on and snuggle under the duvet, come and join me? Maybe there’s something on the telly I can doze off to.
‘OK. Fancy a hot chocolate or something?’
)You’re a mind reader. That would be completely awesome. Thanks hon.
I made Amy’s chocolate, and opened myself a beer. One of the advantages of the off season was that I didn’t have to be quite so careful what I ate and drank, so the odd takeaway and beer was alright. I couldn’t go overboard, though, and risk having to shed a lot of weight during pre-season training, which was starting the week after next. I still went to the gym most days, just to keep in shape.
I took the drinks into the bedroom, where Amy had changed into her night things and was sitting up under the duvet, with the TV showing one of the celebrity reality programmes she loved. I put one arm round her and got my phone out with the other hand. Sent a text to Rose, Matt and Beth.
As Rose put her fingers on the door handle, our phones both pinged with text messages. I knew mine was from Dec, as I recognised his tone. Rose fished in her bag while I clicked open the message.
‘Thx 4 coming 2day. I ❤ my awesome family. Xx‘
Rose read her screen.
‘Oh, it’s from Declan. Is yours the same?’
She showed me and I nodded.
‘Ah, he’s a good lad. I’ll wait to get inside to reply, I can’t get my fingers to work right sometimes. Thanks for the lift, love. Take care of yourself, now, won’t you.’
She gave me a light pat on the cheek and got out of the car.
As I drove off, I sagged in the seat. I hadn’t realised how much I was holding everything in, and how much I was looking forward to going home, opening a beer and just being on my own, letting it all out.
One immediate reply.
Beth: =Yr awesome family ❤ u2. Thx 4 asking me. Special day. xx
Rose took a little longer; she had never really got to grips with texting. Textspeak took her a while to translate sometimes, she could never find the punctuation and had to turn the predictive text off as it confused her too much.
Rose: =youre welcome see you soon
Matt didn’t reply, I wasn’t expecting him to.
When Matt finally came home from his outing, it was quite late. It was apparent he had forgotten I was going to be there, and wasn’t in a great mood, when he walked in and stopped in his tracks as he saw me sitting on the sofa drinking a glass of wine and reading a book.
As soon as I walked through the door, though, and saw the lights on, I remembered that Jules might be waiting for me. Shit. I don’t think I’d given Jules a thought all day, I’d been so caught up in everything that had happened. I really didn’t feel like talking to anyone, being with anyone. I just wanted to be on my own.
‘Oh, hi Jules. Shit, I forgot. Sorry.’
I ran a hand through my hair while I tried to decide what to say.
He dragged a hand through his hair, making it stick out, as he often did when he was stressed.
‘Fuck it, I’ve been ages, I would have texted.’
‘It’s alright. I’ve been quite happy. Have you eaten?’
I could smell the pasta Jules had made; she’d probably done enough for me as well. Bollocks.
‘Yeah, we had takeaway at Jay and Beth’s.’
I took a breath and just decided to say it.
‘Look, I know you’ve been waiting for me for bloody ages, but … oh shit this is awkward. I’m not in the best mood, I’ve got stuff on my mind, I’m not sure I’m up to doing a sleepover.’
Jules looked a bit disappointed, and to be fair she had been waiting for me for hours, but she didn’t seem too troubled.
I was disappointed, having been waiting all evening for him, but it wasn’t insurmountable.
‘No problem. But I’ve had quite a few glasses of wine, I can’t drive home.’
Bollocks. More bloody faffing before I can just be on my own. I toyed with the idea of calling a taxi, but the thought of pissing her off and then having to wait for the taxi while she sat there being pissed off was more than I could cope with. So now I was going to have to take her home in her car and get a sodding cab back myself.
‘I’ll take you then. Are you ready to go now?’
Yeah it was rude, but I was almost beyond caring. Jules got up and picked up her things without saying anything. I guess I’d managed to piss her off anyway, might as well just have phoned the bloody taxi.
Feeling a little disgruntled at being hustled out so soon, I stood up and got my things together without saying anything. Matt had made no moves to kiss me or hug me; in fact, he had remained standing by the door, and as soon as I was ready to go, he held it open and followed me out, down the stairs and across the car park. He did at least offer to drive my back in my car so I could get to work in the morning – I nearly let him off, but he was being so cold and distant that at that moment I didn’t feel kindly towards him at all, and didn’t argue with him. Once in the car, though, I couldn’t stand the silence any longer.
We didn’t speak until I drove away, and I wouldn’t have said anything if she hadn’t started the conversation. I recognised that she was making an effort, but I was winding myself up for a good wallow, and I didn’t feel like making it easy for her.
‘How did it go today? Was Dec alright?’
‘Yes and no, he got pretty upset. But I think he’s OK now. He sent a text saying how much he loves us or some such shit.’
‘Are you alright?’
It was obvious he wasn’t, but it wasn’t obvious whether he wanted to talk about it.
‘No. But don’t really want to go there.’
‘How will you get home?’
‘Taxi. Walk. Whatever.’
‘You can’t walk, it’s late.’
‘Fucking taxi then. Jesus.’
I was seriously irritated now, with her, with having to come out again, with having to talk, all irrational and unfair, but, yeah, I took it out on her like the dick I am. I didn’t speak to her again, didn’t even say goodbye when I dropped her off, walking away as I called a cab without looking back.
And that was the end of the conversation. Matt dropped me and my car off outside my flat without another word, without even a kiss on the cheek, and left me rather bewildered. I nearly rang someone – Dec? Beth? – to see if they could enlighten me as to what had caused his mood, but knew that would really make him cross. I hoped he would feel better the next day, or talk to me about it; I felt out of sorts, and also realised with annoyance that I’d left my work clothes at Matt’s apartment. Sighing, I changed into my night things and got into bed.
Yeah, I felt guilty, I’d been an arse, but I’d achieved my objective, and I sank into my sofa, bottle of beer in hand, and tried to let it all drift away, to feel the tension leave me. But it didn’t, even aided by two more bottles of beer. I kept thinking in circles about how much undealt with shit I had brewing inside me, and how I didn’t ever want to let go of it in the way that Dec had, but how I didn’t want to address it in any way that involved me actually talking to anyone about it, because what did talking achieve? You just went over and over things and how could that make things better? I was screwing myself up inside.
I picked my phone up and saw the text Dec had sent. I realised it was late, I’d heard everything Beth said about how my shit was the last thing Dec needed on this night of all nights, but I tapped out a reply and sent it; I don’t know if I really thought about what I was doing. Maybe subconsciously. Maybe more consciously. I know he’d had a full on day, I know I should have thought about whether he might need a break from worrying about my shit, but there you have it. It was done now. It just remained to be seen whether he was a) still awake and b) perceptive enough.
A few moments later I found out that he was both a) and b), as my phone rang.
Eventually I dozed off in front of the TV, until my phone pinged and woke me up. Text.
Matt:=Bloody sentimental fucking nutter 😉 xx
I looked at the time. One thirty. Amy had curled up properly in the bed, while I had stayed sitting up, getting myself a sore neck into the bargain. I turned the TV and the light off. Thought about why Matt might have waited until one thirty to text me. Went into the living room. Called him.
}What the fuck?
‘What the fuck right back, you’re the one who just texted.’
}I was replying to you.
‘At one thirty in the morning. What’s up? Spill.’
}Oh bloody hell, Dec, do you always have to see right through me? It gets a bit tedious.
‘I don’t know why you can’t just ring someone for a chat like normal people.’
}Normal people aren’t usually up at the hours when I’d like a chat.
}I refer you to my previous comment.
‘I think you actually like the games, seeing if people work it out. Are we as fucking clever as you, or something.’
}You could be right. It’s an open verdict so far.
‘So what’s bothering you? Bear in mind I’m going to be up with a puking Amy at three, so please excuse any tetchiness.’
}Well it’s nothing really, maybe you should go back to sleep.
‘Look Matt, you’ve woken me up at stupid o’clock to talk. Stop fannying about and just fucking talk.’
}Yep, there was a definite hint of tetchiness there. OK, OK, I’ll talk. I’m still … I guess … a bit freaked out about the stuff on the beach. I don’t know how you can be OK after all that, it was heavy duty. I thought we were going to be carting you off to the local asylum, straight-jacket, the lot. It went on for a bloody long time. Rose kept saying ‘hold him, just hold him’, but being so close to something so fucking intense was hard. It was bloody scary.
I paused for a moment. I hadn’t really thought about how it might have affected everyone else who was there, or how much they might have worried about me, even though Rose had mentioned something a bit earlier.
‘I’m sorry I scared you. I’m so sorry, Matt. It didn’t occur to me. I guess I knew I was going to come out of it. I knew how much shit there was. I didn’t think about it from your point of view, not having seen it all before, that you didn’t know that. Rose has been there with me through some tough times, she’s kind of an expert.
}I know we’ve always had this being there for each other thing going, but it just didn’t seem like it would be enough. Even Rose said she wasn’t sure, although, yeah, she seemed to know what she was doing at the time.
‘If it helps at all, having you all there holding me was exactly what I needed. Having all that shit pouring out of me needed some kind of containment, or maybe I would have been in trouble. I know you’re not great with touchy feely stuff, if I’d thought it was going to get like that I would have warned you.’
}Yeah, well, like I said this morning, the main reason I came was to try to protect you a bit from Rose and Beth going all weepy on you and making things worse, but as it turned out, it was me who unleashed the beast.
‘Matt, what you said, it really made a difference to me. It’s really helped. I feel better about my parents than I have for years. Yeah it blew it all wide open in a bit of a loud and messy way, but it made sense of the whole day. And you did help take the pressure off from the girls too. They get a bit emotional, and you’re good at turning it into laughter rather than tears.’
}Well, thanks, nice to know my arsing about has its uses. And I’m glad I didn’t completely fuck you up. But how do you know it won’t happen again, maybe when you don’t have four convenient family members ready to be showered with snot?
‘Well … I guess … it’s like a box. There’s this box and all the shit from over the years gets put in the box and if you never have a good clean up, eventually it starts to smell, and you keep smelling it and thinking, well that needs doing, but it’s not a very nice job, so you put it off. Eventually it’s full to bursting, and that’s what it does. Bursts. The box explodes, the shit gets blown away, it’s empty again.
}So I should think myself lucky it was only snot I was showered with?
‘What I mean is, as long as I’m a bit more aware of what’s bubbling in there, and make myself do something about it every so often, it’ll be OK. No more explosions. It’s another ten years before there’s another big anniversary, you’ve got plenty of notice.’
}OK, well, nice box-of-shit analogy, I’ll assume this has been thoroughly endorsed by your shrink, so how do I stop it happening to me? I’m terrified of something like that happening unannounced. What if my box is approaching dangerous shit levels?
‘Well, firstly, you’re not me, you haven’t had my experiences, we do things differently. So the chances of you reacting in the same way as me are remote, I would imagine. Secondly, use the people around you to talk to, offload some of it. I think the main reason I got myself in such a state today is because I find talking about Mum and Dad so hard. Every time I thought about them, it made me too sad, so I’d push it back down there. I blocked it out, didn’t deal with it, didn’t even think about it. If you can talk to people, deal with it, you clean it all out and it doesn’t build up. You know you can always talk to me, there are plenty of other people – talk to Jay and your mum about your dad, talk to your MS group if you still go, talk to Julia, just use people who are here, don’t shut us out. Rose always talks a lot of sense, too.’
}I know. I had a bit of a chat with Rose when I dropped her off earlier. She told me some hair raising stuff about when she first met you. I knew you had a tough time back then but, shit, I didn’t realise you were suicidal.
‘I’m not sure it ever got that bad, but I guess I was pretty low. Didn’t think I had much to live for, if that’s the same thing.’
}She mentioned something about ridiculous amounts of vodka and not really giving a fuck about what could have happened.
‘Yeah, well, it’s all a bit of a blur really. Feels like a long time ago. Rose was … well she saved me, really. Talked me down, if you like. Still is talking me down, I guess, in a way.’
}She really did haul you out of the shit by your bootlaces, didn’t she. Fuck, you were lucky to find her when you did.
‘Yeah. Wouldn’t be here now without her. But anyway. So, nice diversion, but back to you. There’s all of us. Use us. If you’re really that scared of losing control, you need to start making sure it doesn’t happen. Stop fucking about playing mind-games so much and talk properly.’
}You’re no fun. I will still text you in the middle of the night. It’s like our special signal. Thanks, Dec, you talk a lot of sense for a youngster.
‘Well, I’m sorry I freaked you out. Feeling any better?’
}Yeah, a bit. I’ll think about it. Talking about stuff not my most robust attribute. Might have to work on it.
‘Practice on me, sometime. Start small. Tell me about your day or something, without being a smart-arse or a sarcastic bastard.’
}OK, well today my day was mostly eclipsed by my mate having a psychiatric episode on a beach – oh fuck, that’s the sort of thing you mean isn’t it. I might need a lot of practice. Straight talking is fucking hard.
‘Everyone starts somewhere. I look forward to hearing about your day tomorrow, darling.’
}Fuck off. Thanks Dec. Go to sleep now.
‘Will do. I’ve got at least an hour before the vomming starts. Bye, Matt.’
I hung up and went back into the bedroom, feeling my way to the bed in the dark. I undressed, slipped under the duvet and cuddled up to Amy, trying not to wake her but unable to resist stroking her hair. She stirred. I felt guilty, and glad.
)Were you talking to someone?
)Is he OK?
‘He will be, he’s just overthinking stuff and undertalking stuff as usual. Ames, I’m sorry if I scared you this afternoon, all the big emotional drama and everything.’
She was quiet for a bit, and I thought she’d gone back to sleep.
)Well, it was a bit scary, I’ve never seen you that upset, and we were all looking at each other like ‘oh my God, what do we do if he doesn’t stop?’, and wondering if we needed to get some help or something. But Rose, she was just completely amazing. She knew just what to do. I know she’s seen you like that before, so maybe she was panicking a bit less, but she just made us all hold on to you and each other, and kept telling you it would be alright. I don’t know if you could hear her, you were making a bit of a racket.
‘I couldn’t hear anything, I was in a bit of a world of my own. Oh, babe, I’m so sorry. I just kind of came out of it and walked off like nothing had happened, didn’t I. I’ll have to talk to Beth tomorrow, I think she was as freaked out as Matt.’
)It’s OK, Dec. I think we can see you’re OK, it was just at the time it was so full on. I’m glad Rose was there.
‘Sorry you’re stuck with such a weirdo.’
)Ha ha, I’d choose your weirdness any time. Do you know the weirdest thing? When you were reading your letter, you had an Australian accent. Now that was completely bizarre.
‘No fucking way, I did not.’
)You did, hon, it was really strong, I was surprised Matt resisted saying something, he must have been on his best behaviour because he looked like he was completely busting a gut to chip in with something.
‘Fuck me. Must have been a bit of the old Charlie coming out.’
)It’s all in there somewhere, isn’t it. What time is it? Must be nearly time to get up and start puking.
‘We’ve got a while yet, just stay here and hold me. I need a gorgeous amazing woman in my arms right now. You’ll have to do though.’
)Watch it, or I might just have to miss the toilet next time you’re holding my hair. I’ve got quite good at aiming.
I put my arms round her and held her close, shut my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Dreaming. I am flying, high above the world. I collect all the people I love and store them in my heart. They help me fly higher and higher and I reach the stars.
I thought about what Dec had said. He was just about the only person I would allow to make suggestions about what I should do. That’s not to say I took any notice, most of the time, but he could get away with saying stuff nobody else could.
And something he said about talking to people struck a chord, and I thought of Jules, who would be asleep by now, and would probably have her phone off, but I could at least show willing and apologise to her for the way I’d been when I got home. I sent a text.
Not only did she reply, she agreed to FaceTime, which we hadn’t done for ages, seeing each other so often, and was more than I deserved following my rudeness earlier. I apologised, she agreed I’d been a bit of a git, I told her a bit about what had been going on, what had been bothering me, the things I worried about being buried in my box-of-shit, and then … then she blew my fucking mind. Right. Out. Of. The. Water.