I stayed on the sofa for a while, trying to sort it all out in my head. Maybe I was a bit too pissed to think straight, but I wasn’t too pissed to feel straight. Jay had meant it, that he didn’t want me to apply for the job at Raiders, and it made me feel small and, oh I don’t know, insignificant or something. Just when I thought I was catching up with him, with being married, having children, he does this, and it’s like he’s still the big ‘I am’, who calls all the shots. Remembering Lau’s advice, I went downstairs to get my iPad, and started typing.
What the fuck? I feel like punching your fucking head in, or at least giving it as good a go as I’m capable of. How dare you? How dare you, in front of my wife, tell me you think I’m a flirt and a slacker? Have you not been paying the slightest bit of attention for the last couple of years?
I’m the first to admit I played the field a bit when I first moved down here, and yeah I’ve arsed about a lot, and work has had its fun moments, but you have no idea who I am if you think I’d a) be like that now, b) carry any of that over into a job or c) do anything to make life difficult for you at work. After everything that’s happened with us, I thought you knew me better than that. Yeah we’re different, in so many ways, but I thought we understood each other at some basic level, got each other.
Your speech at my wedding really got to me, and I thought then that our differences really didn’t matter, but now it appears they might be insurmountable. Everything you did for me back then, when I nearly died, I wonder why you did it. If Raiders means so much to you, why the fuck did you give it up to come back to Stafford? It seems to me now that it might have just been some kind of power trip. Look at Jay, how great he is, he gave up his job for his pathetic brother, isn’t he a hero. I’m struggling to see it any other way, really, if what you think of me still, after all this time, is that I’m just a waster who can’t control himself with the grown-ups.
I was hoping that writing all this to you would calm me down, give me a sense of perspective about it all, but
I stopped there. It really wasn’t helping; if anything, it was making me more mad. I wasn’t going to send it to Jay, even though part of me wanted to show him how I was feeling. I knew that I should tell him face to face, but that was only going to get ugly if I did it right now. I wasn’t going to be able to do anything but simmer, until I was calm enough to talk to him directly. Even then, it was really up to him to initiate any talking.
It all churned around in my head, for ages. Eventually, I needed to be in bed with my wife, so I shut up the iPad and went upstairs, no closer to resolving anything.
I glanced at the clock as I climbed into bed; it was nearly three. I tried not to wake Lau, but she shuffled over and put an arm round me, as I turned to her and kissed her forehead. We didn’t speak, but held each other, communicating silently. Lau was still my safe place, my security blanket. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt her hands touching me, checking me, soothing me.
I drifted off again, and slept until the early morning call from Josh woke me up.
I flopped back into bed an hour or so later, hoping for a little bit more sleep before having to get my persuading head on with Matt. He stirred as I got in next to him, and reached for me. I expected him to pull me towards him and go back to sleep, as usually happened, but his eyes were open, and he was looking at me in his ‘I want to talk, but don’t know where to start’ kind of way.
Some time later, I have no idea how long, I stirred as Lau got back into bed. She must have been feeding the babies, although, as per, I had been oblivious to the squawking from the monitor. I often roused when she came back to bed, albeit fleetingly, before I was dragged back into the black, but this time I was alert. I still had all the Jay shit filling my mind, and I wanted to talk to her, for her to make it better somehow. Lau always knew how to make things better. She also always knew when I wanted to talk, or rather when I needed to whether I wanted to or not. This time was no exception, but I was worried about keeping her awake with my whingeing.
She stroked my cheek as she spoke.
‘Just love you.’
OK, I was never going to find it easy to just launch into a big declaration, and Lau knew that, so we played along with each other.
‘Love you too.’
‘Have a good time with the babies?’
‘Yeah, we had a party in there, hope we didn’t keep you awake.’
‘You were bloody rowdy. Nearly called the Council for a decibel check. Keep it down next time, no DJ.’
‘Want to tell me?’
Just when I was getting going on some good avoidance, she slammed into me with her insight. I closed my eyes in defeat.
‘You bloody always know.’
‘You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. You just looked like you wanted to talk.’
‘Then you’d just drag it out of me in some other devious manner. I thought you might be wiped.’
‘I’m always wiped, Matt. Come on, tell me.’
I sighed. Yeah, she was always wiped, and I should be a bit more considerate about the time of day I chose to unburden. I closed my eyes, wondering if I could leave it until the morning, but now she had wind of some kind of inner turmoil, she was going to keep on at it until I gave it up.
‘This just feels really weird. I did a letter and everything, told Jay what I thought, how he made me feel, sorted it out in my head a bit, but I’m still so angry with him. I just don’t … all these years, all the bickering and fighting we’ve done, we’ve never pissed each other off so much that it’s mattered. It matters now.’
It really felt like there was some kind of immovable barrier between us, that something had shifted, changed irrevocably, and I felt like part of me had been stolen, or vandalised.
‘You’ve really never annoyed each other so much before?’
‘Not since we were a lot younger. If he really thinks I’d get a job at Raiders and then fuck about so much I’d make it awkward for him, he just has no idea who I really am.’
‘Why do you think that?’
Lau was great at this, at asking rather than advising.
‘I always thought, underneath the banter and the grunting, we … oh I’m just gona say it, sod the man points … we loved each other. He gave up his fucking job when I was ill the first time. I kind of hated that, having to rely on him so much, to owe him so much, but at the same time I felt – I don’t know, special or something. Now, this is the opposite. He’s taken something away from me that I really wanted, and it’s made me feel like, when we were younger and he used to make fun of me for building model rockets and fiddling about with circuit boards.’
‘But he hasn’t taken anything away from you. You can still go for the job.’
She didn’t get it. Now I’d said I wouldn’t, there was no way I could go back on it. This wasn’t just about being a stubborn fucker, although that was part of it; it was about being true to my word.
‘No I can’t Lau, I’ve said I won’t now. Jay’s made it quite clear he doesn’t want me to.’
‘Matt, you really should talk to Jay. Don’t stubborn yourself out of this. Why don’t we go round for lunch later?’
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was she really suggesting we just pop round later for our Sunday roast and play happy families? I pulled back from her, searching her face as if what she intended would be written there for me to see.
‘No fucking way! I’m not just going round there like nothing’s happened. If he wants to sort it out, explain himself, he can fucking well come here, or call me.’
Lau sighed, as if I’d frustrated some plan of hers. I probably had; she’d had all night to cook up some scheme, would have been texting Beth while I was downstairs too. Well they weren’t going to plot me out of this. This was serious, it wasn’t just a boys’ scrap. Jay had hurt me, shown me he didn’t really care about me, and I was beginning to feel something hard and permanent form inside me, almost as if I started to let Jay go, so he could drift off out of my life and take his judgemental shit with him.
I sighed. I really hadn’t believed it was going to be that easy, but my task seemed harder now I knew how determined Matt was to make a real issue of it.
‘OK, just a thought. You’re not really going to just let the job go, though, are you?’
I set my jaw.
‘I said I wouldn’t go for it. I haven’t got a choice now.’
I knew Lau found my obstinacy exasperating, but she wasn’t going to win this one. If she pushed it, she ran the risk of me feeling she was taking the wrong side; I needed her to support me, not nag me. I felt her leave it, for now, as she moved closer to me.
‘Come here. I think you need the strong arms of a good woman.’
‘Yeah. But you’ll have to do.’
‘You’re so funny.’
‘I know. Come on, then.’
Lau snuggled into me as we put our arms round each other. She felt so good, so soft and warm, comforting and sexy, and I couldn’t resist lightly running my hand down her side. She was probably already on her way to sleep as I stopped at the hem of her t-shirt, pushing it up and running a finger underneath, but I couldn’t help myself. I started to stroke her from waist to hip, smooth strokes slipping round her back and over her magnificent arse before travelling back up, under her shirt and over her belly, then cupping her breast.
Oh nice one, Matty, thanks a bunch, sneaking that one in, lulling me into a false sense of security, like oh nothing to see here just a cuddle oops wrongo better slap an 18 certificate on it. I should know by know, and so should you, that Matty and Lau hardly ever do ‘just a cuddle’. You always have to be on your guard.
Her nipples hardened – so was she awake? I felt myself grow hard in anticipation, and I pinched her nipple. She moaned softly, sighing and moving against me, and I could no longer hold back. I found her mouth with mine, and Lau kissed me back, insistently, searching between my lips with her tongue as my hands wandered over her breasts, squeezing and teasing. I dropped my other hand to the top of her pants and pushed beneath them, dipping a finger into her folds and finding the water wonderfully warm, inviting and indeed wet. I began to circle her with my finger as Lau continued to kiss me hard.
‘Mm, yeah, Lau, whoa. Are you liking that?’
It really seemed like it was going to happen. I tried, I really did, to tell myself it was late, Lau was shattered, I was an emotional wreck, it really wasn’t a good time, but my libido had taken over, and my dick was on a one way mission. To be fair, Lau seemed as up for it as I did, and she was exploring my erection fervently and pressing up against me in a manner designed to set me on fire.
I was almost speechless, surprised by want. I hadn’t given much thought to sex for quite a while; now my whole body was buzzing with the need for it. I rolled onto my back and spread my legs, in the manner of a tart. But a married tart, obviously.
Suddenly, she rolled onto her back and spread her legs in the most inviting of ways. I stared at her. All of her. Fuck, she was beautiful.
‘Holy shitstorm, Lau, seriously?’
I needed no further invitation, and made short work of pulling her pants off and pushing her t-shirt up so I could see her awesome breasts, nipples swollen. I set off again with my fingers and tongue, licking my way up from her belly to her nipples, taking them into my mouth, and then suddenly tasting the sweet flavour of – oh, ew, breast milk.
So it was back to fingers, where I continued to make Lau moan and squirm against me by squeezing and flicking her, above and below She was close to coming, as was I; it seemed so long since either of us had let go like this. I slipped a finger into her and started to push. Lau groaned, loving it, but seemed to be trying to get away from me. I was nearly too far gone to stop and listen to her, but I looked up at her face, just as she said it.
I felt an energy gathering deep inside me as Matt slipped a finger into me and started to push. I groaned, it was hitting all the right spots, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted him in me, I wanted us joined, together. I was going to have to tell him what I wanted.
He looked up at me, incredulous. I never talked dirty, but I was doing it now, because I didn’t want to just ‘make love’. I wanted something real and hot, and Matt was pussy-footing around, so to speak, and I loved that he was being caring, but I knew what I wanted, I wanted a thorough fucking. Blimey.
‘Fuck me, Matt. Please.’
Oh this was so fucking hot. Lau never swore, the odd ‘sod’ aside, and it filled my whole body with overwhelming need for her.
‘Whoa, Lau, yeah, whatever you say.’
With a huge smile on my face, and promising with my eyes that we would explore this little episode at a later, less urgent, date, I pulled my boxers off and positioned myself between her thighs, pausing for a moment to appreciate the view I hadn’t had for weeks and bloody weeks.
Then I set about fulfilling her request, in no uncertain terms. I pushed into her, gently but firmly, and as I started to thrust, we both shouted out.
All I could think about was how she felt against me, that sweet friction, those electrifying shivers, the tingling and sparking. As my thrusts got faster and deeper, Lau wrapped her legs round my back, pulling me into her, clutching my back and shoulders with her hands, raking her nails across my spine, and I lost myself in her, burying myself as deep as I could, surging forwards, pulling out, plunging in again. We were both shouting louder and louder, racing to a climax, and Lau beat me by a whisker. As I heard her cry ‘oh God, oh God, oh God’ and felt her muscles tightening and pulsing around me, I pushed deep into her, filling her completely, and then shouted her name as the fizzing burst up through me and out of me and poured into her and it was good, so fucking good, so, so fucking good.
Lau pushed me off her and sat up, looking at me in horror. I sat up too, confused, slightly miffed at having things come to a halt so abruptly, but worrying I’d hurt her somehow.
‘What have we done?’
‘What, apart from had a bloody amazing Sunday morning romp?’
‘We weren’t using contraception.’
Oh. Oh shit.
It hadn’t even crossed my mind. We had never used condoms, as Lau had a coil fitted, yeah that was effective, and once she was pregnant, well there wasn’t much point really. But now …
‘Fuck. Oh Lau, I’m sorry. Shit, what are we going to do?’
‘I can’t have another one, Matt. Not right now.’
There was a panicked note to her voice, and she was looking at me with fear in her eyes. She was seriously on the edge, and I needed to be masterful and reassuring. I tried my hardest to pull my thoughts into some kind of comforting burble.
‘Don’t panic, Lau, we don’t know if that’s happened. Isn’t it, like, really hard to conceive anyway? And when you’re breastfeeding isn’t it even harder?’
‘It’s supposed to be hard to conceive when you’ve got a coil fitted, and when you’re having a flare-up of MS. It didn’t stop us before.’
‘But – you haven’t had, you know, the necessary, have you?’
The details of the inner workings of the female reproductive system eluded me somewhat, but I tried my hardest and paid attention every time Lau patiently explained it all. Turns out I still had a lot to learn.
‘No, but that doesn’t happen until after ovulation, so if I’ve ovulated in the last couple of weeks – oh Matt.’
She looked at me, agonised. I swallowed, hardly daring to think what it might mean. We were barely surviving with two, another screaming poo monster was unimaginable.
I looked at him hopelessly. Rationally, I knew it was extremely unlikely that I could have conceived while I was still breastfeeding so often, and so soon after giving birth, but it wasn’t impossible, and fear was making me imagine the worst. Matt swallowed hard. Look on the bright side, though, it might have taken his mind off Jay for a few minutes. Yes, positives, that’s what I needed.
‘Oh baby, what can we do? Can you take a test?’
See, this was the time to call her baby, when there was a crisis, but she wasn’t ready to murder me for being an insensitive arse.
‘Not right this minute. I’ll have to wait at least a week, and even then it might be a false negative. Oh, how could I have been so stupid?’
She needed to know it was joint responsibility for all things conception related. Fifty-fifty all the way.
‘How could we have been so stupid. In it together, Lau. Is it … would you … what if you are? What then?’
I needed to know, so I could support her whatever she decided. I had no strong general view either way, but when it was my own … well I wasn’t sure I was ambivalent.
Lau just shook her head. I knew her feelings, had tested it out with her before, when we knew it was twins.
‘Well we’ll just have to get on with it, won’t we.’
‘So you wouldn’t think about, er, taking measures?’
I was appalled at the thought.
‘I couldn’t ever do that.’
Matt was trying to school his features into a neutral expression, but I caught a brief flicker of relief.
I will admit to feeling a flicker of relief, but hoped nothing showed on my face. And even though she was a nurse, and knew this shit, I just wanted her to have considered all the options, at least all the ones I knew of.
‘It’s just, there’s the morning after pill or whatever …’
‘It’s the same thing, so is having an emergency coil fitted. Same result. No way.’
This was something else from my strict Baptist upbringing – no truck with terminations of any sort, not for me.
So she had thought about it, knew her own mind. That gave us something to work with.
‘OK, then whatever, like you say, we’ll just have to get on with it, then. Yea or nay. And just hope for nay.’
Although … but I couldn’t think about it. I just wanted her in my arms.
‘Come here, Lau.’
I wrapped her up and lay her down and held her close. I was going to try to take her mind off it; there was no point worrying until we knew, so I was happy to put it out of sight somewhere. I was good at that.
‘I have to say, before the freak-out, that was bloody awesome. Lau, you said ‘fuck me’. Practically demanded it.’
I wanted to focus on the sex. It certainly stopped me worrying about everything else that had gone on for me that night. Lau didn’t seem to want to talk about it though, and just nodded, sighing raggedly.
I fully intended being supportive and loving, determined to hold her close as long as she needed it, but I’d been awake most of the night, had got into a big fight with my brother, had had an intense if brief session of amazing sex, and now had a potential pregnancy to worry about. I was out of juice, and before I could even stroke Lau’s hair, I was asleep.
I smiled weakly into his chest, although my passion was forgotten as my mind whirled and considered the different ways my life could go in the next few days – hard work with twins or almost impossibly hard work with three, or who knows, four, the way things had gone so far.
There was no more sleeping for me, my mind was too active, I was too worried. All thoughts of Matt’s row with Jay were forgotten for now; I didn’t know how I was going to get through the next few days before I could take a useful pregnancy test. I tried to reassure myself that whatever the outcome, I would cope, that it wasn’t like there was a decision to be made, only information to find out, and that whatever that information was, it would help with organising and planning the future. But each time I allowed myself to see a future with more babies in it, I was overwhelmed by panic.
Matt had, irritatingly, dropped off back to sleep, while I lay fretting and worrying. I reminded myself that he’d been up most of the night with his own worries, and forgave him his tiredness. As the light started to creep through the curtains, I got up and went to look at Ella and Josh. They were both still asleep, arms flung above their heads, perfect mouths slightly open, breathing regularly. I sat on the sofa and watched them, trying to convince myself that another one like this would be wonderful. And it would, in a way. I’d always wanted a large family, but things had gone from nought to sixty in a very short space of time for Matt and me, and I’d just started to feel like we were beginning to find our feet, settle down, stop the whirl of events. Now it was threatening to spiral out of control again. I pulled the throw from the back of the sofa, hugged it round me and tried to halt my churning thoughts.
I woke some time later, my neck stiff from the position it was in. I stared around me, disoriented, until I remembered I was in the twins’ room. Something had woken me up; I looked over at Ella and Josh, but they were still sleeping peacefully. Then the noise sounded again. It was my phone, signalling a text. With a sigh, I stood up and went into the bedroom to pick it up from the bedside table. Matt was still fast asleep; nothing as innocuous as a text tone was likely to get through to him. The text was from Beth.
‘Hope u had better night than me. Think I worked some of it out, but J won’t admit. Being a grumpy git. Coming 4 lunch?’
‘Prob not, M not keen. Sorry.’
I didn’t think I could tell her about the latest Laura and Matt drama. Maybe it was better if Matt and I stayed put today.
‘:( Think we need 2 get them 2getha soon.’
‘Agree. Not 2day tho.’
‘OK. Keep in touch. Xx’
I left Matt to it and went back to the twins’ room, where Ella was stirring, starting to snuffle, on the point of crying. I picked her up and sat down with her, lifting my night shirt so she could feed. Josh woke as well, and looked at me, wriggling his arms and legs.
‘Can you wait, little man? Just let me sort Ella out.’
Josh was usually very patient, but today he was hungry. He let out a yell, and carried on screaming as I fed Ella. I tried to block it out, to tell myself that I was going to feed him in a minute, not to feel as guilty as I did, as if I was neglecting him, but I was more than a little frazzled by the time Ella had finished and I could pick him up, and so was he.
It was a measure of how deeply Matt was asleep that he wasn’t woken by the monitor, which was on his bedside table, right by his head. I envied his ability to sleep through anything.
By the time I had finished feeding Josh, Ella needed a nappy change, and then Josh did, and when I had a chance to look at the time, it was gone nine o’clock. I would have loved to have gone back to bed, but there was washing to do, and I’d forgotten about the clearing up from last night. I hadn’t even cleared the table, let alone put the plates and dishes in the dishwasher, so I left Josh and Ella in bed and went downstairs to make a start.
Seeing the remains of the meal reminded me of the way it had all ended, and I started to think about how Beth and I could possibly manage to persuade two of the most stubborn men in the history of family feuding to talk to each other. To say it wasn’t going to be easy was a massive understatement. I was going to have to talk Beth properly, see if she could shed any light on what she thought was going on.
As the morning wore on, I tidied, did laundry, fed the twins again, changed nappies again, had breakfast.
When I woke up, Lau was already downstairs. I could hear clattering from the kitchen, and her voice as she chatted to the babies. I stumbled downstairs, yawning, running my fingers through my hair.
‘What’s the time, Lau?’
As I spoke I looked at the kitchen clock. It was eleven thirty.
‘Holy shit. Why didn’t you wake me up?’
I looked around me – the place was spotless. Lau had cleared up all the dishes from last night’s disaster, wiped everything down, put a load of laundry on the airer, and fed and changed the babies, who were gurgling to themselves, or more likely each other in some kind of evil baby plotting language, in their baby chairs. She had let me sleep through all of it. I had married some kind of superwoman.
‘You didn’t get much sleep last night. You were dead to the world.’
‘You’ve done all the clearing up.’
I nodded and shrugged, modestly.
‘You’re bloody awesome.’
Another nod and shrug.
‘We’re so getting takeaway for dinner.’
More nodding and shrugging.
Laughing, I folded her up in a big hug and kissed her forehead as she looked up at me.
‘Did I dream it, or did we have some awesome lovin’ earlier? With a fair amount of dirty talk from you, Mrs Potty-Mouth.’
‘Er, no, you didn’t dream it.’
The slight hesitation told me that she wasn’t thinking as much about the act as about the possible results thereof.
‘Are you still freaking?’
I nodded, although my ponderings on Matt and Jay had overtaken my worries for the time being. It seemed like as soon as I stopped worrying about the one thing, the other would come to the front of my mind, and I hadn’t been able to forget any of it by keeping myself busy with the clearing up.
‘Well, what I think is this. There’s no way we’re going to do anything about it either way, right?’
She nodded again.
‘So, what will be will be and we’ll find out in a week or so, and deal then, and try not to think about it till we know for sure. How does that sound?’
‘It sounds more easily said than done, but I’ve been thinking the same, really, and I’ll try my best.’
She squeezed me tightly, and I could feel the tension in her that told me she wasn’t as cool as she sounded.
‘Oh Lau, I’m sorry, I was a thoughtless selfish bastard not to realise before I got carried away.’
‘Come on, Matt, it took both of us. Joint responsibility for all children, current or future.’
Well I suppose I had said exactly the same to her earlier.
‘You’re so bloody awesome. Even when you’re freaking you’re the voice of reason.’
‘Good job one of us is, otherwise we’d be scraping each other off the ceiling every five minutes.’
‘Don’t you ever lose it?’
‘You’ve seen me lose it. Gibbering wreck on your kitchen floor after pregnancy test, freak city at the scan, nearly didn’t get out of the car at the registry office –’
That was news to me. Rather disconcerting news, as it happens.
‘Oh. Didn’t I tell you that?’
‘No! You nearly left me at the altar?’
Now all sorts of scenarios were running through my mind. How could I have not known she nearly jilted me? Bloody Nico was going to have to answer some seriously searching questions.
‘No, of course not. We didn’t have an altar for a start, but Mum had to give me a verbal slap to get my bum off Nico’s back seat. Just nerves, and a bit of a freak. Then, best day of my life. Well, until the twins, obviously.’
I wasn’t prepared to let it go that easily, although I was reassured.
‘I can’t believe you nearly left me at the altar.’
Matt knew I wasn’t serious, and it took some of the focus away from our two huge events for just a while.
‘You daft sod. It was momentary. I made it, didn’t I? Braved the scary men in kilts and everything. I could have turned round and snuck back down the stairs once I’d seen that, no one would have known.’
But I knew Lau had loved the kilts, so she really was only teasing.
‘The kilts were fucking awesome. I should get mine out, give it an airing.’
‘How you persuaded Jay to wear his I’ll never know.’
It was as if a shadow crossed my mind as she said his name. I let go of Lau and turned away from her to open the fridge, looking for something for breakfast. I wasn’t going to talk about Jay, I could hardly bear to hear his name.
A shadow crossed Matt’s face as I mentioned his brother, and he turned away to open the fridge in search of breakfast. I decided my strategy was going to be indirect: subtly remind Matt of all the things Jay had done for him because he loved him, and hope to stop Matt dwelling on the one thing Jay had done to call that love into question. It didn’t require Matt to answer me, or discuss it in any way, and if I was careful he might not even notice I was doing it. Of course if he did notice, he was going to call me on it and I’d have to stop, but it was as good a scheme as any for now.
The morning became the afternoon, babies needed feeding and changing once more, then we got them and ourselves dressed and went out for a short walk, making the most of the autumn sunshine, both of us ignoring the huge gulf that seemed to have opened up between this side of the city and the other side, where Jay and Beth lived.
The park wasn’t far away, and we took a flask of coffee, sitting on a bench with a baby each on our knees, wrapped up in their thick all in one quilted coats, as we watched the world go by walking its dogs and playing with its Frisbees.
Having a double buggy meant there weren’t that many places we could go if we were planning to go indoors, like a café or something, so we took a flask and sat in the park, which was a short stroll away, with a well-wrapped baby each on our knees, watching the dog walkers, and children running about.
‘That’ll be us in a few years’ time.’
I was looking at a family playing football. Matt was looking in the opposite direction.
Or maybe I was being deliberately obtuse.
‘What, picking up dog shit with a jaunty purple pooper scooper?’
Sometimes Lau was OK with me fucking about and misunderstanding on purpose, sometimes she was a grown up.
‘No, Matt, having a lovely family afternoon, after a civilised breakfast and a morning of reading the papers while the children play happily together, and lunch with maybe a few other family members. Our family game of football will take up the whole park, though, and be about fifty times more competitive. There will be several broken limbs, and tears before tea time, let alone bed time.’
This was apparently the wrong thing to say, although I had been trying to make a joke out of the whole ‘rambling family’ thing, rather than to make any particular point, as the shadows crossed Matt’s face again.
Oh, so she was using this as an opportunity to be all high and mighty about how I was feeling. I felt a surge of anger.
‘You think all this is about being competitive?’
She sighed and looked at me sadly. I didn’t want to see it, so I looked away.
I hadn’t even been thinking about him and Jay, but it was obviously in his thoughts.
‘No, I didn’t mean that. I only meant that the whole lot of you see everything as a competition, isn’t it a boy thing? You, Dec, Nico, Jay, Cal even. There’s always some sort of macho jostling going on about something.’
Yeah, there was, and I was as fed up of it as anyone. This latest thing was just the last in a long line of Jay muscling his own way out of everything.
‘So I should just let everyone walk all over me?’
I felt Lau look at me, but I avoided her gaze. I wanted to have a row, if I’m honest, a good old fashioned screaming match, flinging insults and emotion at each other with gay abandon; but I knew Lau was the wrong person to be having it with, however conveniently placed she was.
I looked at him. He didn’t meet my eyes; he was being ridiculous, spoiling for a fight, and he knew it. I refused to let it escalate, and kept my tone light.
‘If you want an argument, flower, you can have one, but I’m not sure I’m the best person to take all this out on.’
This met with silence, as Matt stared across the park, jaw clenched. Josh and Ella babbled happily to each other, oblivious to the rather less successful communication their parents were having.
Lau’s tone of voice was light, and I knew she didn’t seriously want an argument, even though she said it like she was offering it to me, like I could have a row, or a custard cream; my choice.
I had no answer for her, feeling my anger bubbling under as I clenched my jaw and stared across the park. If I kept quiet a bit longer, maybe she’d say something patronising or annoying, and I could really let rip. I wanted an excuse to really let rip. It was as if I didn’t know Lau at all.
I tried again, with the same light-heartedness.
‘OK, shall we do it then? Which one of us should start yelling first? Maybe if we get really loud we can scare the dogs away and have the whole park to ourselves.’
This was all said in the same light-hearted tone of voice that took any potential heat out of her words and left me without a blue touch paper for my rocket.
‘Yeah, OK Lau, you made your point, I’m being a dick, trying for a fight. I don’t want to fight with you, you haven’t done anything. Could do with a bloody good punch up with someone though. What about you, Josh, up for it? Show your old man what you’re made of?’
I held Josh’s tiny fists up and pummelled the air with them, then kissed him on the forehead.
‘Hey, leave my son out of it. He’s a pacifist.’
‘No son of mine’s a wooss.’
‘Pacifists aren’t woosses.’
‘And they’d fight to the death for their right not to fight.’
She’d done it, made me make a joke of sorts, defused it, for now.
‘You’re so funny.’
I put my arm round this wonderful woman, who knew me so well and worked so hard to keep me sane, and I pulled her close.
For whatever reason, Matt stopped behaving like a sulky kid, and put his arm round me. We sat and looked at Ella and Josh watching the world go round for a bit, then got cold and went home.
It was just starting to get dark when the doorbell went. Lau was upstairs changing nappies and I answered it. Mum was standing there, on our doorstep, on a Sunday.
‘Mum! What the … er, come in. How did you get here?’
There were no buses to speak of at this time of the weekend, so it’s not like she would have been on her way somewhere else. I began to have more than an inkling as to why she had turned up here, unannounced for the first time ever.
‘I got a lift with Rose, she’s gone to see Declan and Amy.’
‘Cup of tea?’
I spoke over my shoulder as I went into the kitchen. Mum never declined tea.
‘That would be lovely, dear. I brought some cake – Beth made it, but there weren’t enough of us to finish it this afternoon. It’s coffee and walnut.’
‘Whoa, I love Beth’s coffee cake.’
‘She thought you might appreciate it.’
I listened from upstairs, intrigued. Carol didn’t drive any more, her arthritis being too bad nowadays, and the reduced weekend bus service meant she couldn’t usually get out here on a Sunday. She had visited us a lot, but never unannounced. I was sure this was to do with Jay, Matt would think it too, and I decided to keep out of the way, for now, so they could talk.
As I passed the bottom of the stairs, I yelled up to Lau.
‘Alright up there, Lau? Mum’s here. There’s coffee cake.’
‘Be down in a bit. Hi Carol.’
The door to the living room stayed open, and I held Josh against me and jiggled him as I listened to them talking. To start with it was the usual conversation – Carol’s garden, her friends and neighbours, TV programmes – and then the focus shifted slightly to the family, what Iz and Cal had been up to, then imperceptibly, and very skilfully, Carol gradually brought the topic of conversation round to our dinner party on Saturday.
Mum obviously had her agenda, and I knew, and she knew I knew, but we did the little dance around it, because she was nervous about it. We covered the topics of the garden (hers and mine), her friends and neighbours, recent documentaries about owls and Lithuania – and then she asked about the babies, and then shifted the conversation onto the family in general, what Iz and Cal had been up to, and, oh quel surprise, the dinner party on Saturday.
After I’d skirted around it all for as long as I could muster, she finally pinned me down.
‘Beth said you had them over for dinner yesterday.’
I scowled at her. Not that it would do me much good, Mum was impervious to anything I threw her way.
I could almost feel the weighty silence; I could definitely see, in my mind’s eye, Matt’s scowl, but knew he didn’t keep much from his mum, and let her get away with more what he would call interfering than anyone else. I was glad I’d waited upstairs.
‘Yeah, I bet she told you all about it.’
‘She told me you and Jameson had a bit of a falling out. I told her I’d seen a few of those in my time.’
‘Yeah, well, you haven’t seen anything like this. He’s bloody done it this time.’
‘What exactly has he done?’
As if she hadn’t heard it all already, been dissecting it over the roast beef this afternoon.
‘I’m sure you’ve had their bloody version, with Saint Jay coming off as the wounded victim.’
Matt sounded like a wounded victim himself, but Carol didn’t rise to it.
‘Jameson wouldn’t tell me anything, and Beth is very worried about you.’
I just bet she was. I’d expected texts and calls all day, but my phone had been quiet, at least as far as Beth’s tones were concerned. Maybe Lau had been fielding them for me. Actually, where was Lau? She must have finished what she was doing by now.
‘Did she tell you what he said?’
‘A little. Something to do with a job?’
She was doing the vague old lady bit with me, to try to get me to expand on the details. OK then, let’s go for it.
‘He just … he said he didn’t want … fuck it, Mum, Ed told me about this brilliant job going, at Raiders, just what I’ve been looking for. I don’t know if Jay knew about it, but he certainly hadn’t said anything. Then after Ed had gone, Jay was all ‘I don’t want you at Raiders you’ll be too busy arsing about and embarrassing me’, like he really meant it, and he said he didn’t want me to go for the job. Fuck him, all my life I’ve wanted to bloody be like him, but I’ve never got anywhere near, and the one chance I get, to show him I can be successful somewhere near his fucking pedestal, doing something I’m really good at, and he stops it, just stops it dead. I’ve bloody had it with him.’
There was stuff in there that I’d said without thinking, that I’d never said to anyone, never even thought to myself. It had come out in a big splurge, and Mum was just sitting, nodding at me, looking sad.
Matt’s voice had been steadily rising with indignation as he talked. Carol, whose voice I had never heard raised, remained calm as she replied.
‘You know, dear, what’s quite ironic is that Jameson has always wanted to be like you.’
Oh yeah, good one, Mum. Try again when you’ve regained your sanity.
‘He’s rather envious of how clever you are, and how easily you get on with people.’
I looked at her, open-mouthed. ‘He said that?’
Mum laughed. ‘No, dear, can you imagine that? I just see it in him. I wonder if he’s worried that if you got a job at Raiders, you’d be compared with him and he feels threatened.’
I nearly laughed. ‘Oh that’s just bollocks. Sorry, Mum, but the thought of Jay worrying about how he looks compared to me is hilarious. It’s a bloody rugby club, for fuck’s sake, full of burly men, of which I am not one. He’s still one of the burliest. It’s his world.’
‘Which could be why he would feel threatened by you disturbing it. You know these rugby players, they have their own way of behaving with each other, there’s a lot of teasing. Jameson needs to maintain his authority, and if he thinks he might lose some respect, it would worry him.’
It sounded like she thought he had a point, like she was on his side.
‘So you think I’m going to arse about as well?’
Matt was in a frame of mind I recognised, where he was determined to twist everything someone said in order to remain the one who had been wronged. I usually got him out of it by playing along in a ridiculously exaggerated way, but Carol took a different tack.
‘Oh Matthew, when did I say that? Of course I don’t. I know you work hard, and I know you’d do your very best. I doubt your brother’s even thought about it in that way, or thought about it at all. You and he are just the same, you react without thinking. What I mean is that, without even considering why, Jameson felt threatened and that may be why he said what he did last night. I’m not saying he was right, to feel or say any of it, but that’s what I think is going on.’
‘And you know all this because you’ve, what, had a fucking vision from on high or something?’
It was all very well for Mum to go all ‘I know you’ and just spout off her opinion, but she didn’t know, not for sure. At best it was a guess; it was unlikely Jay had told her anything other than ‘Matty went off on one’.
I heard Carol sigh. Fortunately she was very easy going, knew Matt very well, and wasn’t put off by his rudeness.
‘Matthew, I’ve known you and your brother for a long, long time. Give me some credit for being able to work some things out for myself without needing either of you to actually tell me. Heaven knows I’ve had enough practice at that over the years.’
I looked down at my hands, unwilling to concede that Mum did, in fact, know me better than anyone else, and was likely to have got it right.
‘The question is, dear, what are you going to do about it?’
I winced to myself as I anticipated Matt’s reaction, correctly as it turned out.
Oh no, I wasn’t having that. It wasn’t up to me to do anything, I wasn’t the one who had decided to call the shots over someone’s life, refusing to help their brother, accusing them of all sorts of things, being all control freak.
‘Me? I’m not going to fucking do anything. He’s the one who bloody told me to stay in a job I’m bored with for the rest of my life so I don’t bloody make things awkward for him. If he’s feeling bad about it, he can come and tell me, but otherwise I guess I’ll just keep out of his fucking way.’
‘No, Mum. He’s bloody well crossed a line. I thought he cared about me, had some respect for me, but I was wrong.’
‘Matthew, your brother loves you very much.’
I snorted. It was just lip service. I had seen last night that Jay didn’t care about me at all, not really.
‘Funny way of showing it.’
‘Do you not think he’s shown it in some rather big ways in the past?’
It was one thing, just one thing, a lot of years ago, and it felt irrelevant now, with the way things stood, and I just wished everyone would stop fucking well throwing it in my face all the time.
‘Yeah, well, not sure that means a lot at the moment.’
Mum looked down and sighed.
‘I’m disappointed to hear you say that, dear. I know he’d do it again in a heartbeat if you needed him to.’
There was a long silence. That was what I had wanted to remind Matt about, not that he ever forgot, but I hadn’t even begun to approach it. If anyone could say it to Matt without blowing it, it was Carol. I held my breath.
I highly doubted it. I doubted Jay would be willing to do anything for me again if his response to a simple request was anything to go by. I really didn’t want to upset Mum, but this was between me and Jay. The more she went on, the more she was going to get caught up in it.
‘Yeah, well, I don’t think I’ll be asking for his help again, so he’s safe from having to bother.’
It was Carol’s turn to be quiet. She’d tried her best, and if Matt was going to listen to anyone, it would be his mum, but it hadn’t worked. I heard the clink of crockery, as Matt tidied the plates and cups away and took them into the kitchen. Carol’s voice floated after him.
‘Is Laura upstairs with the babies?’
‘Yeah. Go up and say hi, if you like.’
I put the plates and cups in the dishwasher, and leaned on the sink for a bit, trying to stop the feelings bubbling over. It wasn’t Mum’s fault, she would have been failing in her maternal duties to have just left me to it without trying something. This was her only chance, though. I wasn’t going to let any of them bulldoze me into retreating. The more I thought about it, the more I just wanted the whole bloody lot of them to stay the fuck away from me while I sorted my head out. Beth going on, Mum being quietly sad, Dec giving it welly, they could all just sod the fuck off. I had Lau, and she was brilliant, and she was all I needed.