I was half-expecting Matt to be late back from the hospital; Scott family gatherings often consumed people and it was hard to escape. But to my surprise, he was back just after ten, and we headed off to the retail park. He was quiet, and it seemed his weird mood hadn’t been made any better by his visit. He didn’t give me many details about the new baby, for which I was grateful, but said he had held her, and that Nico and Lisa, who I had met via Skype, had turned up unexpectedly and it had all got a bit crowded and noisy, so he had left.
As we wandered around furniture shops, I sensed Matt’s mind wasn’t really on the task at first, but then he seemed to pull himself together and started paying attention, and then, predictably, messing about.
‘So, how big are we going then?’
‘Well the size of yours is alright.’
‘Yeah, mine’s bloody huge.’
‘It could just do with a bit more support.’
‘So – bloody huge, but not hard enough. A disappointing review all in all.’
‘Sorry Jules, just trying to inject some light-heartedness into proceedings. Should we try them out do you think? Would they mind if we jumped up and down?’
‘I think they’d prefer us to just lie down.’
‘Well I don’t know if I can be responsible for my actions if I’ve got you lying next to me in a public place.’
‘I’m sure you’ll find a way to restrain yourself. What about this one? It’s oak, I like the headboard and footboard, and the mattress is in the sale.’
‘Has it got a telly that rises up like a submarine from the bottom end?’
‘I don’t believe it has. I don’t think you’re taking this very seriously.’
‘Sorry. You’re right. Let’s lie down then. Don’t blame me if we don’t get up again.’
Matt’s phone pinged with a text, and he got his phone out. He looked at the screen for a few moments, then showed it to me. It was a video of a tired looking Amy holding a very small baby, waving at the camera. Matt looked entranced and was waiting for my reaction. I didn’t know what to say, and just shrugged.
‘All babies look the same to me. I’m sure she’s adorable.’
He put his phone away, and we carried on.
Charlie was passed around a few more times, handling it all with great patience, but after a while, a nurse came in, raising her eyebrows at the amount of people in the room.
*OK, I think it’s time for everyone to go home, now. Amy and Charlie need some rest and quiet.
>We are just arriving!
łYou should have been here on time, then, Nico. Only yourself to blame.
When everyone started to stand up, I sat in the chair vacated by Nico and Iz.
*You too, Dad.
Suddenly realising this was directed at me, I looked up, startled.
*Mum and baby time now, just for a few hours, let her recuperate a bit.
‘But – I – no! Ames?’
)Actually, Dec, it might be a good idea to go home, get a shower, you could bring me back some chocolate buttons later?
‘But I can get you chocolate buttons from the shop. And I don’t need a bloody shower.’
łJesus, he’s worse than Cal used to be ‘oh but’.
Beth put her hand on my shoulder.
_Dec, sweetheart, I think what Amy’s trying to say, without hurting your feelings, is, maybe she could do with some time on her own where she doesn’t have to worry about how tired you are, whether you’ve had your lunch and how much you might be starting to smell.
Amy looked at Beth gratefully, but I felt like I’d been punched. I had envisaged spending the whole day with my girls.
)Sorry, hon, just a bit of down time, yeah? I need a shower myself, some sleep if I can. Charlie could do with another feed and a nap, she’s had a busy morning. Come back this afternoon, we’re not going anywhere. Can’t walk far with these stitches anyway.
I just sat and looked at them, on the verge of tears. I heard Jay and Beth quietly leave the room, Cal and Iz in their wake. Carol and Rose left too, Rose giving me a pat on the way. Nico squeezed my arm and Lis kissed me on the cheek. I hardly noticed them all go, and carried on looking at Amy. Looking at her properly, instead of through my love filter. She always looked beautiful to me, but she also looked tired, pale, wiped out. I pulled myself together.
‘I’m going to miss you. Fuck, Amy, I can’t believe how much I’m going to miss you both.’
)Take a photo, some video on your phone. You can send it to Mum, and you can look at us till later.
It was better than nothing, so I took my phone out, took pictures of Charlie, pictures of Amy, pictures of Charlie and Amy, video of Amy holding Charlie and waving, video of close-ups of Charlie looking at the camera. I hoped it was enough to last until I came back. I leaned over and held them. Kissed Amy, gave Charlie a gentle kiss on the forehead. Her skin was so soft, it felt like it might melt.
‘Can I just hold her before I go?’
)Oh Dec, of course.
I picked Charlie up and held her close, looking into her eyes.
‘I’ll be back, lovely girl, don’t forget me.’
)Dec, you’re going home for a few hours, not trekking to the Himalayas.
‘It feels like I’m going to be away forever though – a few hours is half her life! You wait till you have to leave her.’
)I’ll see you later, hon. Love you so much.
‘Love you too, babe. Will you marry me?’
)Yes, Dec, as I’ve said the last twenty, fifty, hundred times you’ve asked me, I will marry you.
)Get out of here, before they send security.
I gave Charlie back, stroking her soft cheek and kissing her perfect forehead again.
I backed towards the door, opened it and stepped out. Looked back through the window, almost unable to turn round and walk down the corridor. Blew my family a kiss – with a start followed by a huge grin I realised this was actually my family. Bits of me entwined with bits of Amy to make Charlie. We were tied together forever. It was the first time I’d ever known someone who was part of me, and it felt great. But now I had to leave them, and it felt crappy. I took a deep breath, then turned and ran down the corridor and out the main door before I could change my mind and chain myself to the bed.
Beth was waiting for me by the main entrance. I skidded to a halt, nearly running by her.
‘Sorry, Beth, didn’t see you.’
_Just checking you’re OK, sweetheart. It’s hard the first time, isn’t it?
‘So hard! I feel like I’ve left part of me back there.’
_Well I guess you have, in a way. Dec, it’s totally up to you, but how about coming over for lunch? Nothing special, just if you’d rather not be on your own. We can all do it together, like we used to. Extra helper now, with Iz.
As usual, Beth had seen what I needed before I’d even realised it myself. I was being torn away from my family, so she was offering me some alternative family time. I saw with new eyes what it meant to be called part of a family I hadn’t been born into, and felt doubly loved.
‘Beth, I’d love that. Your roast potatoes would really help. I’ll go home first, though, have the shower that everyone seems to think I need, pick up some stuff to bring in later.’
‘Yeah, that kind of vital stuff. You would not believe how important chocolate buttons have been over the last few months. I seriously thought we might cause a global shortage.’
Beth laughed and touched my cheek.
_See you later, then, sweetheart.
She headed over to the car where Jay was waiting, engine going. I waved at them all, then tried to remember where I’d left my car. Eventually found it, parked at a bit of a crazy angle, a parking ticket on the windscreen.
Got in, drove home.
Opening the front door to the flat felt slightly surreal. The last time I had been home, only two of us lived here. Now there were three of us, and everything had changed forever. Nothing had prepared me for how completely different I would feel, less than twenty four hours after leaving here the last time.
I sat on the sofa, pulled my phone out and watched the video of Amy and Charlie over and over. I hunted on my laptop for Diane’s email address, then I sent the photos and video to her, and also texted them to Rose, Beth, Lis and Matt for good measure. I found several packets of chocolate buttons, which I put by the front door to remind me to take them when I left. I went into our bedroom and found some baby clothes. We’d taken some in Amy’s bag when we left, but I just wanted to choose something myself; it made me feel a bit useful. I put the clothes next to the chocolate buttons. I had a shower, changed my clothes, cleaned my teeth, made myself presentable. I didn’t want to stay there any longer on my own, so I picked up the things I’d put aside and headed off to Jay and Beth’s.
It was an old fashioned Scott Sunday lunch, like we used to have when I lived there. We were all in the kitchen, Beth was directing operations, Cal was trying to be grumpy and uncooperative but couldn’t help being diverted by constant teasing from Jay and me. Iz wandered around finding bits of vegetable that had fallen on the floor and handing them to anyone who would take them. Despite the chaos, Beth eventually declared that we were just waiting for everything to finish cooking, and we could all go and sit down for five minutes.
_Unless someone would like to set the table?
Jay hurried out in the direction of the living room, closely followed by Cal.
‘Looks like it’s you and me, then, Iz. Help put the knives and forks out, sweetie? Look, here are the forks, can you carry them to the table? Put one on the side of the mat, like this. I’ll do the knives. Do you think we’ll have any pudding?’
‘Well, there’s always a chance. Shall we put spoons out as well, then, in case there’s ice cream?’
/yes. Mummy have ice cream. Stawby an choccit.
‘Definitely spoons then.’
I turned round to get the spoons, and caught Beth watching us from the doorway. She had a strange smile on her face, and the hint of a tear in her eyes.
_You’re going to be great, that’s all. No, not going to be. Already are.
She turned round and went back into the kitchen.
We drove to the retail park and wandered around furniture shops, but I couldn’t concentrate on beds, and Jules got annoyed with me for fucking about too much. She was just telling me off for not taking it seriously, which I fully deserved, when I got a text from Dec. He had sent a video clip of Charlie and Amy, and my heart flipped when I saw it, as it brought all those feelings of want right back to the front of my mind. I showed Jules the video, not really knowing what I wanted her to say or do.
I knew she wasn’t into babies – we’d spent enough of the last nine months telling each other how not into babies we both were – so why I was so disappointed when she said, ‘All babies look the same to me. I’m sure she’s adorable.’, I don’t know. I felt like I’d been slapped, though. Charlie had had a profound effect on me, and I wasn’t used to Jules not feeling the same way as me about things.
We decided on a bed, or rather Jules decided and I agreed, having run out of the little enthusiasm I’d had by the time we’d got to the third shop.
Part of my mind was screaming something at me, something I didn’t want to hear, so I shoved it as far away as I could and pretended I wasn’t listening to the voice telling me that if I really wanted a family, if what I’d just become aware of really was what I wanted, I was going to have to face Jules with it. I could feel it bubbling inside me, and when we’d finally ordered the bed, and then Jules had gone off to lunch with her friend Evie, I was on my own, and I had to let it out and do something about it.
What I would usually have done is texted Dec on some pretext and arsed about until he worked out that I needed to talk about something. God forbid I ever actually came out and asked for help. But Dec was inconveniently engaged with the daughter who had caused all this, and I was going to have to rely on the back-up system that was Jay and Beth. I at least had enough insight to recognise that I needed to talk to someone, I just wasn’t relishing it being Beth.
So I got in the car and drove over to my brother’s house, feeling like my head was going to explode. I felt like my whole world had been stood on its end, like everything I thought I knew about myself had been tossed into the air and scattered. I felt anchorless. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted a family, which rather inescapably meant that I wanted children. And Jules didn’t.
I walked up the path to their front door, bracing myself as I rang the bell. Jay pretended to be surprised to see me, but Sunday lunch was always open house, and I often went along uninvited.
‘Matty! What’s this? We weren’t expecting company, I’d better get Beth to put some clothes on.’
‘Ha ha, the day Beth isn’t ready for visitors on a Sunday is the day the world ends. I just fancied a roast dinner. I knew you’d be good for it, you’re so predictable. And Beth always makes too much, I’m saving you wasting it, really.’
‘Good job we’re not having sushi this week then.’
‘That’s the thing about predictability; sushi tends not to be on the menu –’
As I walked into the living room, I saw Dec. I wasn’t sure what he was doing there, I thought he’d still be at the hospital, but I’d never been more relieved to see him.
Eventually, after I’d got cross with Matt for messing about in the bed shop, we had decided on a bed and a mattress. I got as sensible a decision from Matt as I could, and the whole process was a bit tiring. By the time we got back, I was in two minds as to whether to cancel Evie, but I hadn’t seen her for ages, and I wanted to tell her about moving in with Matt. I knew she wouldn’t tell anyone else, and I was interested in her reaction. She had met Matt a few times, and seemed to quite like him, but I knew she was still reserving judgement based on some of the things she’d heard about him.
Matt saw me, and a look of surprise and relief flickered across his face. The weird thing he’d had going on that morning was back, if it had ever gone away.
}Dec! Have you deserted them already?
‘No, I got kicked out. Some bad-ass nurse said Amy needed ‘mum and baby time’, whatever that means.’
}Probably means Amy paid them off to get rid of you so she can have Charlie all to herself. They’re bloody devious these women, saying it’s what always happens, they make it up as they go along half the time.
‘I’m beginning to think so. I thought you were doing stuff with Julia today?’
A wild-eyed, wary expression on his face. This was what was causing the weirdness – it was something to do with Julia. Matt was unlikely to talk to me about it while Jay and Beth were around, but he needed to get it out of his system. What he’d been thinking coming here, I didn’t know – he hadn’t known I would be here, and Beth would have noticed his agitation and been too curious for Matt to get away with not saying anything
I didn’t know how to begin, not here, not with Jay and Beth around. I don’t know why I’d thought I could talk about this with them, there’s no way I could have even started. I hoped I might be able to talk to Dec on my own, but didn’t hold out much hope, not today. Until I got the chance, I was going to have to try to act normally.
‘Just this morning. Free man this afternoon.’
Jay headed off into the kitchen, and I had my chance to at least ask Dec if he had time to talk, if indeed he had a few spare minutes before returning to the bosom of his family.
Something really wasn’t right. Matt seemed wired, as if he was trying too hard, losing control; I hadn’t seen him like this for a long time. Even Jay had picked up on it, and he raised an eyebrow at me before heading into the kitchen.
‘Well you’ve arrived just in time to avoid all the work, you jammy bastard.’
‘Good timing is a particular attribute of mine.’
But I didn’t seem to be using it to my advantage right now.
‘Fancy going for a beer after lunch?’
Oh thank fuck, he’d noticed something was up. I don’t know how he did it, but he always knew.
Oh, but he’d be heading off again soon, surely?
‘Unless – when are you going back?’
‘No specific time. There’ll be plenty of opportunity for you to get it off your chest.’
‘Fuck, Dec, you know me too well. Thanks, mate, appreciate it.’
Matt was quiet through dinner, producing meaningful glances between Jay and Beth.
_Dec, when are you going back to see Amy?
‘A bit later, Matt and I are going for a beer first.’
Relief in their expressions. They knew Matt talked to me without quite as much fuss as if they were trying to crowbar information out of him.
łSounds good, mate. Actually, Beth, how about a trip out? We could go up on the moors, have a bit of a stroll, wrap everyone up.
\oh Dad …
łNo arguing, Cal, it’ll do us good.
I didn’t say much at dinner, and I could see Jay and Beth looking at each other, in-between the cooing over Charlie. In the end, Dec put Jay out of his misery and told him we were going for a drink. Jay decided a family outing was necessary, which left the house available for soul-baring. I had a fucking awesome family, which I didn’t appreciate often or deeply enough.
Once everyone else had gone, Dec got me a beer and himself a glass of water. I couldn’t let it pass, even though I knew his ‘I’m a professional athlete’ answer.
‘You’re a serious lightweight, Dec. Call yourself a rugby player? You give your sport a bad name.’
‘Ha ha, I have to be careful, it’s all sugar. Might allow myself one later. Maybe even two. Big day.’
‘She is amazing, I got your text.’
Thinking about Jules’ reaction when I showed her the video clip reminded me what I needed to think about, and I felt my face fall.
‘OK, Matt. Let’s do this. Spill.’
I ran my hands through my hair, took a deep breath and looked at Dec wretchedly. I didn’t want to say it, I didn’t want to talk about it, because then I’d have to do something about it, and I kind of knew what that was, but I didn’t want to address it. I looked away. If I wasn’t looking at him it might be easier to say.
‘I’m fucking freaking out.’
‘What, about Charlie?’
What? Maybe he got the wrong idea because I went all silent after I mentioned the video.
‘Fuck, no, mate. No, your text was just … shit, I suppose I should start at the beginning.’
‘It’s a very good place to start.’
Oh he wasn’t seriously quoting The Sound of Music?
‘Yeah, thanks for going all Julie Andrews on me when I’m baring my soul?’
‘Anyway … well, Jules moved in with me last week, and we’ve been –’
‘Whoa, whoa, hold on, you can’t just slip that in like it’s nothing. Holy shit, Matt. I didn’t know things were that serious with you two.’
No one had known. It was typical of Matt to do something huge like move in with his girlfriend and then act like everyone must have known all along; he did it to try and avoid the inevitable family inquisition that would follow, but never seemed to realise that it just made people more curious about him and what he got up to.
I’d almost forgotten it was such a big deal. With everything else that had gone on in my head today, I’d managed to lose sight of the fact that Jules and I had this big secret we were keeping from the rest of my family. So now I had to go through all that first. And it wasn’t like it was just the moving in, none of them really knew how much we saw of each other, as I always gave them the brush off when they asked.
‘Yeah, well, that’s just it, I … we … didn’t want this big announcement, family gathering, meal, Beth going all ‘oh it’s so lovely’, Rose icing the wedding cake, Mum being all quietly hopeful, you and Amy rubbing your hands with glee going ‘you’re just like us now’. It’s not like that. I bloody love you all, but sometimes, fucking hell, it’s like you can’t have anything to yourself, it all has to be shared around.’
‘Are we really that bad?’
‘Sometimes. I need my space. Need people to back off.’
‘I know that.’
I’d always had a sneaking respect for Dec’s ability to throw himself into everything that was going on with this bloody family. He’d talk to anyone about anything, I don’t think I ever heard him say ‘none of your business’ or refuse to answer an impertinent question.
‘I don’t know how you do it, everyone knowing everything that’s going on with you. Do you keep anything to yourself?’
‘Not much, I guess, but Matt, I’m coming from a very different place to you. I kept too much to myself for too long, and it nearly destroyed me. It’s all out there now, so if I’m too pigheaded or dumb to see trouble coming, there’s all you lot to tell me. You’ve always had your family, and I’ve slowly added to it, pretty much without asking you. I can really see how it gets too much.’
That wasn’t it. I had never begrudged Dec and his added extras being part of my family. It had always seemed right, like he just belonged with us.
It sometimes bothered me that, much as I loved this crazy, random family, there were members of it who hadn’t had any choice in the crazy randomness, and might at times have wished that some of the more random bits of it weren’t there.
}Don’t get me wrong, mate, I wouldn’t change it, not any of it, fuck, where would I be without you all? Stuck in some care home, dribbling, most likely. I must sound like an ungrateful bastard. When I was ill, and Jay gave up his job to come and look after me, that was humbling. You realise what you’ve got. That’s part of what I’m freaking out about.
So that was reassuring – Matt wasn’t specifically freaking about the crazy random family having another new addition – but I needed to find out what was at the root of it all.
‘So … Julia moved in, and ..?’
}Well, OK, so we kind of did it all low key, Jules has been staying over more and more, I suppose it’s kind of happened gradually, there wasn’t really a huge ‘let’s do it’ moment, we just realised half her stuff was already there, it had happened and so she gave up her place. She’s not a big one for families, doesn’t always want to join in with everything we do. We agreed no announcements, we thought we might be able to pop it in the conversation sometime –
Even as I was saying it I realised what a forlorn hope that had been.
‘Er, you do know Beth, the one with the sixth sense, married to your brother, never misses a thing?’
‘Yeah, well, a bit of hope over experience, I suppose. So that’s what we agreed, and I’ve been pretty happy with that, part of me thinking ‘ha ha, I know something you don’t know’, feeling a bit smug. Then you go and have your bloody beautiful baby, and for me, it’s pretty intense. I was blown away, Dec, so much more than with Cal or Iz, even though they’re brilliant too. I don’t know why, but Charlie’s just got to me. I wanted Jules to come with me this morning, be part of it, but she was just like ‘no, it’s your family, I don’t really do babies’, and I was like ‘but it’s Dec’s baby, it’s a huge thing, please come’, but she wouldn’t.’
So maybe it was more about how Julia was reacting to the crazy randomness. It was certainly true that since Matt had started seeing Julia, he had been around less, had come to less of the meals and get-togethers. Maybe it was because Julia wasn’t keen, not because Matt had got tired of us. We hadn’t got to know her that well, because she often didn’t come with Matt when he visited, and we’d all said it could be because we were a raucous bunch and not everyone’s cup of tea.
‘Well, fair enough, I guess. We are pretty full on when we’re all together. It can be a bit intimidating.’
And yeah, that was part of it, it was full on when everyone was together, and if you weren’t that type of person, then you felt like you didn’t belong. Jules had told me she didn’t feel like she fitted in, but I didn’t think it bothered her that much; I hadn’t realised until now just how much it bothered me.
‘She’s not intimidated, she’s just … it’s one of the things … I liked her in the first place because she always does what she wants. If she doesn’t want to do something, she doesn’t make excuses, she just says so. You always know where you are with her. It’s not like she’s mean with it or anything, there’s just no bullshit. With all of us, she doesn’t feel part of it, doesn’t really want to, I guess. She’s got her own friends, her family live abroad, we don’t do everything together, don’t expect to. It’s been refreshing, she lets me get on with my stuff and she does hers, it makes doing stuff together more exciting somehow. This has been the first time I’ve really wanted her to do something with me and she’s said no. I told her it was important to me, and she still wouldn’t.’
‘Sounds like she’s being true to herself.’
And I knew that. I knew Jules was never going to change her mind, not for me, not for anyone. It was me who had changed, or at least who had deluded myself about who I was and what I wanted, and expecting her to understand, let alone compromise, was unreasonable.
‘Yeah. I know. But I’m wondering if I’ve made a bloody huge mistake. I’ve been so concerned with having my space and keeping my distance and feeling pleased with myself about you lot not knowing everything … when I was with you this morning, I realised I’d forgotten that as well as being a pain in the arse sometimes, our family is pretty bloody great too, and I want her to share it.’
‘You can’t make her, if it’s not what she wants.’
I knew that, too. I knew Jules never did anything she didn’t want to, especially if you tried to persuade her, but part of me just wanted to grab her, shake her and say ‘Look, this is what we could have’. But it wasn’t going to happen.
‘No, I know, but I think … I think I always thought things might gradually change, especially now we’re living together, and she’d get sucked in. Now, I don’t know if she will, and I’m worried I might start to get sucked out.’
This was all just kind of occurring to me as I was speaking. I hadn’t ever sat down and thought about it, but as I was saying it, I realised how true it was, how much I’d distanced myself from them for Jules, how much staying with her would mean more distance. It was something else to get my head round.
Matt usually wanted me to ask something specific, the thing that had been on his mind, so he could tell me without seeming to have made the first move. I wasn’t sure what that was yet, but he seemed uncertain, as if he felt he had to choose between Julia and his family. Maybe he did, although it would never be because we had forced the choice on him. If he was thinking about some kind of ‘one or the other’ situation, he probably wanted to be sure of how he felt.
‘Do you love her?’
A long pause. Matt looked everywhere but at me. Finally down at his fingers. This wasn’t the question he wanted me to ask; it had taken him by surprise, and he didn’t know how to answer me.
It was like Dec to get to the heart of things. I could ramble on, distract myself with a load of waffle and forget what I was trying to sort out, but Dec often cut through my bullshit with a short question. It was probably all his years of counselling. And the truth was, at that moment in time, that I didn’t know if I loved Jules. I hadn’t worked it all out then, everything was too much, and until this morning I hadn’t thought I needed to know if I loved her or not. Now it seemed important.
‘I don’t know. I like her a lot. I love being with her. Fuck if I know, I can’t work out what I feel anymore. I’m so scared of loving someone and it going to shit like it did with Carrie …’
I stopped speaking as all of that welled up in me and threatened to stop me in my tracks. I never talked about Carrie, to anyone, because talking about her made it hurt again, as if it had just happened. Telling Jules about her all those months ago had been hard, and it wasn’t an experience I was about to repeat. Carrie wasn’t the issue here, or at least not directly. I took some ragged breaths.
He stopped speaking. It was a blunt admission for Matt, and it probably brought up some old hurt. Although it didn’t seem like this was the thing that Matt wanted to talk about it, I decided to explore it a bit more. He wasn’t sure if he loved her, but they’d just moved in together …
‘So you haven’t said it to her?’
Oh get real, Dec. Everyone says it, all the time, without meaning it. Of course, he didn’t know about Jules’ anti-love thing, or that I said it to her as a joke.
‘Fuck yeah, always saying it, doesn’t everyone? ‘Love you’, text it, whatever. Being sarcastic half the time. Can’t not say it in bed, not the done thing, seems ungrateful somehow.’
As I was saying it, I was imagining what an knob I must look to Dec, and I couldn’t help but think what a git I’d been to Jules, albeit unintentionally.
‘Shit, Matt. Has she said it?’
Another pause. Matt looked like he couldn’t decide what to tell me. There was more to this than I was ever going to get to the bottom of.
I knew she hadn’t, would never say it, but I had to be honest about what would have happened if she had.
‘No. I would have run screaming to the hills.’
‘Fucking hell, Matt, you are one emotional fun-ride. Have you ever thought about investing in a therapist?’
‘No need, when I’ve got you. You can pass on the wisdom of your countless lengthy sessions with the lovely Adam.’
Nope, talking to Dec was as much psychoanalysis as I was ever going to get.
‘It is all a bit twisted, isn’t it. And it was all going so well until this morning. You had to fuck it all up by having your bloody bundle of joy.’
I didn’t mean it to sound as whiny as it did, and I saw a brief flicker of hurt cross Dec’s face.
That did take me by surprise. I’d thought we were somehow talking about Julia and Matt moving in together, and Matt maybe regretting it, but now it seemed like it was about Charlie. I felt a flare of protectiveness towards my not-yet-day-old daughter, who had done nothing to anyone and yet was being blamed somehow for Matt’s emotional fuck-ups.
‘My apologies, shall I send her back?’
I needed to explain what I meant, so he could see it was my shit I was whining about, not his daughter.
‘Too late. Another can of worms opened. Jules doesn’t want kids. Very adamant. Not the ‘I’ll say I don’t till I’ve trapped some poor bastard then I’ll change my mind’ not wanting, but seriously doesn’t do babies, or kids actually, at all.’
Dec looked puzzled.
‘Really? She’s great with Cal and Iz.’
‘I know, she makes an effort when she’s with them, throws herself into anything she does, that’s another thing I love about her. There’s lots of things I love about her. Anyway, I’ve always thought I was ambivalent about the whole kid thing, not really bothered about it one way or the other, if it happens one day in the far, far, way far future, so be it, but not grown up enough yet to even think about it, let alone come down on one side of the fence or the other.
I had always assumed that about Matt, too. I couldn’t remember ever specifically talking with him about wanting children, or not wanting them, but Matt’s whole life for the last few years had been about avoiding commitment and responsibility. It had seemed obvious.
}But this morning, seeing you and Amy and Charlie, and holding her, and what you’ve got, your little family, all the love, all the potential, everything you’re going to have and do together … I so fucking want it. I really, really want all that. Fucking hell, it’s knocked me for six, complete revelation. Dec, I don’t know what to do. Jules is never going to change her mind, I’m never going to have any of it with her. I showed her the video you sent, I was being all proud and uncley, and she had a look, and said ‘all babies look the same to me’. She wouldn’t even pretend for a second.
I was struggling to keep up with this new development. It seemed as far from the person Matt was as it was possible to be, but somehow, it felt right. I thought about how much time he had for Cal and Iz, how interested he’d been in Amy’s pregnancy when Julia wasn’t around, the look on his face this morning when he held Charlie, and it all made sense. Maybe Matt hadn’t realised himself, maybe he’d avoided the truth, but now he was going to have to face it, and what it meant for him and Julia, and I was going to have to help him do it.
This was what I was here for, so I could tell Dec how it was and ask him what to do.
‘Matt, you can’t have it both ways. You’re with her because she’s independent and knows what she wants and doesn’t bullshit. Now you’re feeling differently about some stuff, you can’t be annoyed with her because she speaks her mind. You need to talk to her, tell her what you’re feeling.’
But I didn’t want him to say that. I didn’t want him to say I had to talk to her, tell her what I was feeling. I already knew that, and I wanted him to say something different.
‘I just bloody knew you were going to say that. What the fuck do I say? “Sorry, Jules, I’ve made a terrible mistake, I know you’ve just given up your flat and moved in with me but you’re probably going to want to piss off again now, I’ve decided I want a baby”?’
I suppose that’s what I was going to have to say, in the end, albeit a little more sensitively.
‘You’re sure it’s what you want, not just some emotional reaction? Babies do funny things, make tough men go all soppy, all that shit.’
Yeah, I’d tried to convince myself of that as well, but no. This was something that came from deep within me.
‘I think … if I’m totally, brutally honest with myself, which, yeah, I know, I’m not very often, it’s always been something I wanted. But it wasn’t available, and it scared the shit out of me to think about, there’s all the commitment bollocks that goes with it, so I just arsed about to cover it up, and ended up convincing myself it didn’t matter to me one way or the other.’
Ah, the commitment bollocks. I said this wasn’t about Carrie, but it was, really, wasn’t it. Maybe if I’d been less … or more … oh shit, I really couldn’t think about it.
So he was being honest with himself, which was unusual for Matt. Now he needed to face up to the consequences.
‘Do you want her to move out?’
The thought of it made me go cold. Jules had only been living with me a week, but it was my life now, and thinking of doing any of it without her was untenable.
‘Fuck no. I like her being there. She makes me laugh, she’s good for me, she’s very caring, we talked about what would happen if I get ill again, she’s not fazed by any of that. We like doing the same things, we give each other space, we kind of get each other. She’s fucking hot too, and we’re bloody good together. But this just feels like a huge thing. Too fucking huge. I don’t know if it can work.’
‘OK, I know it’s not what you want me to say, but you need to talk to her. If it’s too huge, it’s better that you both know now, rather than get months or years down the line and end up hating each other and bitter because she didn’t know that was how you felt. Or, even worse, if she got pregnant. It happened to us, and it was what we both wanted. If that happens, and you want it and she doesn’t, that could be really messy, you’re both going to end up getting really hurt. Tell her, Matt. If she’s a straight talker, she’ll appreciate it in you too.’
I’d hoped that he would find another way, something that would mean I didn’t have to tell her. But there was no other way, I’d known that all along really.
Matt was just about the furthest thing from a straight talker it was possible to be. He loved talking, using words to win arguments, to baffle people, to show off, and he often took the long way round instead of getting to the point. It felt like he was going to need to try a different route if he stood a chance of making anything work with Julia.
}Oh just stop making so much sense. I’m regretting telling you now.
‘No you’re not, it’s why you wanted to talk to me. You know what you’ve got to do, you just wanted someone to confirm it.’
It sounded like the sort of thing a shrink might say. It was also the truth.
‘Dec speak. Maybe a hint of Adam. Seriously, mate, talking to me is all very well; who knows, it might help you sort things out in your head, but nothing will change unless you talk to Julia.’
‘OK, I’m getting the point. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I really thought I was going to able to avoid deep and meaningfuls with Jules. Never thought I’d be the cause of one.’
I couldn’t remember having many myself, and most of them had been over in a matter of minutes. That was unlikely to be the case this time.
‘Do it soon.’
‘Yeah. I know. Shit, we just bought this fucking expensive bed. That’s what we were doing this morning. I should have put it off, I had all these nagging thoughts, just ignored them.’
‘Matt, talking to her doesn’t have to mean it’s over, maybe you can work something out.’
Yeah Dec, like what?
‘Did you ever have a deep and meaningful that ended well?’
‘Well, a few with Amy, yeah. Massive one with Jay years ago. I’ve actually found that things tend to end better if you talk about them rather keeping quiet. But that’s just me.’
‘Well … maybe there’s some hope for me then. I guess I’ll just have to give it a go.’
Maybe Jules wouldn’t react like I thought she would, like I’d betrayed her. Maybe she’d think of a way this could work. Maybe. I sighed, put my face in my hands, took a deep breath. I knew I had to do it soon, before I lost my courage.
‘I suppose I shouldn’t delay it.’
Another deep breath, while I waited in the hope that Dec would come up with a reason why I didn’t have to do it straight away, but he didn’t, the bastard.
‘OK then, best go off and do the deed. Fuck, Dec, sorry, didn’t mean to piss on your day.’
‘No worries, not feeling pissed on at all. Let me know how it goes, yeah?’
‘Yeah. Wish me luck.’
Although I was going to need more than the mythical gods of fate to help me now.
I stood up and walked out, got in my car and drove away.
I felt bad for Matt, and wished him well. I would give him a call later and see how it went, but for now I had a new family to think about. I got my phone out so I could talk to Amy.
)Hey, when are you coming back?
‘When am I allowed?’
)Oh, Dec, it’s not like that. Come back now, please, hon. We miss you. Where are you?
‘At Jay’s. I had dinner here, then had a chat with Matt. They’ve all gone out.’
)Sounds like you could do with some female company. I know just the girl. She’s petite, blue eyes, dark hair, no teeth, hell of a pair of lungs on her –
‘Sounds perfect, I’ll be right there. I like a woman with no teeth. Even better if she’s wearing a nappy.’
)Then it’s your lucky day.
‘Ha ha, see you soon babe.’
I hung up and texted Jay to let him know I was locking up.
Jay: =How’s Matty?
Me: =So-so b on standby.
Jay: =What’s happened?
Me: =I’ll let him tell u.
Jay: =Very informative, thanks.
I went over and over it in my mind while I drove back home, thinking so hard that I wasn’t concentrating on driving, and ran a red light. I thought of several different ways to say it, all of which ended badly, and by the time I reached the flat I was so nervous my legs shook all the way up the stairs.
When I got in, though, Jules wasn’t there. She must still be with Evie. All of my pent up nervous energy needed somewhere to go, to do something, but there was nothing to do but wait. I thought about texting, but didn’t know what to say, so I waited, tying myself up in more mental knots.
I rehearsed all the ways I could think of to start it all off, what I would say to begin. It wasn’t going to be pretty, however I did it, but at least if I started out right, I could hope Jules might listen to the rest of it. Then I started to talk myself out of saying anything. Maybe I was just having a late crisis about moving in together. It was huge for me, well for both of us, and we’d done it pretty quickly; perhaps it was a delayed backlash, subconsciously looking for a way out.
I’d sorted it all out in my head, that it was just cold feet, and then I thought of Dec’s face when I told him I hadn’t said anything, and how feeble my excuses would sound. And that’s all they were; excuses.
Evie and I spent the afternoon talking, laughing and catching up. I told her about Matt, and she hugged me and congratulated me, and I could see from the look in her eyes that although she was pleased I was happy, she was holding back some concern.
‘So you’ve finally done it then, Jules. I never thought I’d see you living with someone.’
‘I know, but it’s been surprisingly easy. There wasn’t this big build up when I was worrying about if he was going to ask me, it was suddenly just out there, and I did lose it a bit on the day we decided, but then I just realised it was right, and it had happened anyway. We’ve been getting on very well, no arguments, we both like things the same way, really.’
‘Hmm. You’re just perfect for each other.’
‘Don’t be like that. I think we are. I never thought I’d hear myself say that, I used to think he was a complete tool, but I really think he’s changed. I mean, yes, he’s completely sex mad, but only with me, and that’s fine. Better than fine.’
‘Jules, you’re so loved up. He could poke bloody needles in your eyes and you’d say it was because you like the same things.’
‘I’m not loved up. You know I don’t do love, and he doesn’t either. That’s what’s so great, we both know where we stand, there’s not this big romantic thing that’s not real. It’s all completely real. It just makes sense.’
‘OK, my lovely whatever you say. Good for you. It sounds like it’s what you want.’
‘It is, we both want the same things, or don’t want them to be more accurate. He’s got this huge family, lots of children and babies, but he doesn’t want to do all that, so he’s perfect for me.’
Evie nodded, but didn’t say anything.
‘So, anyway, I’ve bent your ear enough. Tell me about your boss.’
By the time Evie had finished pouring her heart out about her job, it was late afternoon and I was really tired. I loved spending time with my best friend, but I’d been woken up early after little sleep, then we’d shopped for the bed, and Evie’s off-loading had finished up the little energy reserves I had. Resisting her asking me to stay for tea, I drove home. Matt’s car was in his parking space, and I wondered if he was as tired as me. Maybe we could curl up in bed together for a sleep, or have an early night.
When I heard Jules’ key in the door, I knew it wasn’t cold feet. I knew I had to tell her, and I had to do it now. I felt the blood drain from my face, leaving me feeling sick and lightheaded.
I knew something was wrong the minute I walked in the door. Matt was sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands, and for a brief second I was reminded of that first day, when I woke up on his sofa after we’d had sex. Then I shook the thought from my head, but other concerns were lining up to make their own suggestions. He looked up and gave me a thin smile as I closed the door behind me, but he looked washed out, tired and emotional.
‘Hello. Are you alright? You don’t look very well.’
‘Can we talk?’
‘I’m really tired, Matt, can it wait?’
I knew that waiting never helped a situation, but I really didn’t feel I could hold my own in a serious conversation just at the moment. I didn’t know what was going on with Matt, if he was having a delayed reaction to me moving in, or something else, maybe he was experiencing symptoms of MS again, but whatever it was, it looked bigger than I felt able to cope with right at that moment.
‘I don’t think it can, Jules. It’s important. There’s something I need to say.’
I sighed and sat down, my visions of a cosy nap together disappearing, and my stomach contracting with apprehension.
Matt looked at the floor and fiddled with his fingers.
‘Holy fuck, this is hard.’
As I waited, my heart started to beat faster, and my head started to buzz with the anticipation of what he was going to say.
‘OK. I know we’ve talked about stuff and … we’ve got similar … we kind of think the same about a lot of shit and maybe I’ve … oh bollocks I had it all straight in my head. Let me start again. This morning, Dec’s baby, it’s kind of … no, I need to just …’
I couldn’t make any sense of it, and my patience ran out.
‘Matt, please can you just say whatever it is you want to say? I haven’t got the energy to sort through all this.’
‘Sorry. Sorry, Jules. OK. OK. Here’s the thing. I hope I haven’t misled you … I really have only just … shit, this is so hard.’
‘Matt, please, you’re worrying me. Please just say whatever it is.’
‘I want children.’
My heart nearly stopped. My blood nearly froze. It was the one thing, the one thing that was insurmountable, non-negotiable. Anything else – serious illness, a gambling addiction, a need to paint the flat black and recite poetry all day – anything else, I could have coped with it, dealt with it, discussed it and come to terms with. Children were not part of that deal, wanting children was a deal-breaker, and Matt knew that. I hoped I’d misheard him, or misunderstood him.
‘I’m sorry. I was trying to say it better than that, I didn’t mean to just blurt it.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m so sorry, Jules, I didn’t know. I honestly didn’t know, until this morning, it started when Dec rang, I just felt weird, kind of jealous, and then I went to see them, and Charlie, she’s so … small and … I didn’t know but … as soon as I saw her, saw them with her, it just kind of clicked, I realised that’s what I want.’
My heart still stuttered, my blood still chilled. He was still talking, and it wasn’t getting any better. Oh God oh God oh God, he really meant it. He wanted children, out of the blue, when yesterday he did not.
‘How can you not have known?’
‘I don’t know. I’m pretty good at avoiding stuff. But I swear, all those conversations we’ve had, I meant it, I thought I fucking meant it. I haven’t lied to you, it wasn’t until today that I knew.’
‘So … what are you expecting from me? Are you expecting me to have your children?’
‘No … I know how you feel about it. I just wanted to be honest with you about how I’m feeling.’
I could feel myself losing my grip on my temper, on all my emotions, as everything I thought was in my power began to slip away from me. I could feel my life spinning out of my control, falling out of my hands. My heart started again with a lurch, in fact now I could feel my heartbeat getting faster, and my cheeks flush as my voice rose.
‘Well it’s a pity you didn’t feel the need to be honest before I uprooted my whole life and moved in here with you, isn’t it. I’ve made a commitment to you, the biggest commitment I’ve ever made to anyone, and it’s all based on fucking lies and pretence.’
‘I’ve just wasted the best part of a year of my life on you, thinking you were someone you’re not.’
‘Jules, please believe me, I’ve only just worked it all out. I wasn’t deceiving you. If you’d have asked me yesterday, do I want kids, I’d have said no, or at least said fuck knows. I know I have no right to say this, but … is there any way we can work this out? I don’t want to lose you.’
The effrontery of it galvanised me. He had just told me the one thing that was going to split us up, and now he wanted to know how to make it better.
‘How exactly do you think we’re going to work it out, Matt? You want kids, I don’t. One of us is going to be very fucking disappointed. Well it’s not going to be me.’
I felt my anger rising up in me like a flood. I stood up, unable to contain myself, needing to do something significant. There was a coffee cup by the sofa; I picked it up and hurled it at the wall, where it smashed satisfyingly, splattering brown droplets across the Farrow and Ball Shaded White paintwork, and dribbling down towards the floor. Smashing things felt good, and I looked for more things to break.
In the meantime, I hurled more words at Matt. I can’t even remember exactly what I said, but they were vile, horrible words because I felt vile and horrible, because the way he’d betrayed me was vile and horrible. At that moment, I hated him; he had been perfect for me and he had just taken that away.
Matt sat looking at me as I screamed at him, his sad expression making me more and more angry. I found the plates, and threw them on the floor and at the wall as I hurled vitriolic insults him. I found the wine glasses we’d chosen together and smashed them one by one on the kitchen worktop as I screamed my pain at him.
I wanted to hurt him; I nearly threw things at him, but I stopped myself and threw them so near him that he flinched as they shattered near his head. He was a lying fucking arsehole, and I told him so, and finally I told him I never wanted to see him again. Then, before I really did him an injury, I left.
Just before I did, I took the keys to the flat out of my bag and turned round. Matt had got to his feet and was heading towards me. I didn’t want him to touch me, or be anywhere near me, so I launched the keys at him as hard as I could. They hit him in the face, and he stumbled backwards as I turned and went through the door, slamming it behind me and running down the stairs as fast as I could, blinded by the tears I could at last allow myself to release.