Every morning, he stands at the end of the carriage near the window and opens it just an inch on colder days, or to the maximum if its anything else. His wide rugby player shoulders block most of the draught and protect his newspaper, he glances at the headlines then flips it over to read the sports section. By the time the train heads underground Matt has finished with the paper, has placed it for someone else to pick up and has his nose in his book, his favourite fiction stories being set in ancient Rome. He is oblivious to the admiring glances thrown in his direction from both female and male passengers. His days of flirting on the train are far behind him, he has a purpose.
Matt leaves the train at Bond Street and makes his way to his office just off Marylebone High Street. The building used to be a private residence, but was long ago too expensive to maintain and converted into offices. He works on the second floor of Trevelyn House, having started in a small basement studio with little more than a desk, a computer science degree and a great idea. He has quite literally worked his way up as his Sherbourn Technologies has grown.
“Good Morning,” calls the receptionist from behind her frosted glass desk.
“Good Morning Jo,” he smiles warmly. She feels her tummy lurch as it does every time he’s near, the merest waft of his aftershave is enough to send heat to her cheeks. She watches him pass her going towards his office at the end of the open plan workspace, she watches the way his suit hangs from his broad shoulders, studies the cling of his trousers to his calf muscle, wishes she could touch him, just once.
Katie is the Office Manager and Matt’s PA, and sits well within eavesdropping distance. Until Matt married Lorna, Katie had high hopes he’d spot that his true love was there, just a desk away right under his nose. There has never been anything physical between them, but Katie knows he felt it too, that if they hadn’t have been colleagues they would most certainly have been lovers. What Matt didn’t realise was that if he had asked, she would have got a job somewhere else, and enjoyed waking up to his perfect face every day, his perfect face with the perfect scar through his eyebrow, and his perfect smile that won her heart the second she saw him in her interview. Katie has engineered it so she is as good as indispensable, she moans terribly to Jo on smoke breaks, but really, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Matt has offered to get her extra help, but the idea of Katie sharing Matt is about as likely to happen as her getting over him.
Katie watches Matt and wonders why he is with a woman who clearly doesn’t make him happy. In the old days Matt was a laugh; he smoked with them on the fire escape, came to the pub on Fridays and actually smiled now and again. The company is doing brilliantly and Matt’s salary must surely reflect that, and yet he works like a dog with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He is relentless. The only conclusion Katie and Jo have come to is that it must be Lorna. Gold digging, poe-faced Lorna. And, who said marriage and babies made you happy? Matt was definitely happier before the pitter-patter of tiny feet.
Every Friday lunch starts out the same way; What happened to Matt? They’ve had a number of theories over the last three years since Matt and Lorna’s big day, and the current one is that Matt has post natal depression brought on by neglect from Lorna.
“I bet he thought fatherhood would be better than it is,” says Jo.
“You can just imagine old prissy Lorna fussing over that baby and leaving Matt to get himself a Pot Noodle for dinner. Fillet steak for the baby and you can phone whatever you want,” mimics Katie.
“No, he’s far too fit to be living off of take-aways or Pot Noodles.”
“Fair point. You can make yourself a tin of tuna on organic spelt. There’s nothing else as we’ve been to baby yoga today and are too busy being fabulous.”
“She is like that. You can just see her now getting an organic veg box delivery every week. What shall I make with this?” says Jo in her poshest ra-ra voice, “Mummy said turnips are only for ones horses.”
They both fall about laughing.
“Could you imagine what it’s like to be married to him? Do you think she’s forgotten how very hot he is?”
“How could you?” I’d constantly be walking like John Wayne,” says Jo.
“I’d certainly make a bit more effort to make him happy, and ease up on the finances. I mean, how much must she be spending if he feels the need to work like he does?”
“Posh people send their kids to boarding school and I bet that costs a chunk.”
“Dot is only about two, he doesn’t have to pay the whole lot up front you know, and anyway, what kind of school fees are that high?”
“She should be careful, there’s many a lady that would be all too willing to give him a place to sleep at night.”
“Sleep? I’d want more than a kip with him,” says Katie with a sad missed the boat look in her eye.
“Pass the wine Katie, I’m getting a dry throat just picturing his naked body getting out of the shower.”
“Jesus Jo, you’re a pervert. I never mentioned naked or showers, but now you have, I’ll have a little top up. I can’t have much as Matt gets the hump.”
“You are entitled to a Friday vino, God knows how much he used to do it. In the days before… well before, he was neglected.”
Jo fills Katie’s glass to the top, “cheers” she holds her glass aloft.
“Does he ever talk about Dot to you?”
“No” replies Katie “he’s very private about her. I know there was some sort of trouble after she was born, but since then he barely mentions her.”
“Maybe that’s it. Maybe he doesn’t like being a dad so has thrown himself into work. Maybe he’s earning enough money to leave them and run off with someone”
“And let me guess who that someone would be,” smiles Katie.
From the end of the corridor Matt can survey the whole office, he does it because he’s interested not because he’s a slave driver, he watches a couple of the young execs arrive everyday at nine and then have a quick bowl of cereal at their desk. He knows their tricks, God knows he used to do it himself when someone else was paying the wages. He won’t mention it and it won’t even come back to bite them on the arse at pay review time, he just knows. He can see Katie busy at work, she’s always on top of things, if only he could have a few more Katie's he could take over the world. He watches her out of the corner of his eye. He has a fondness for Katie that he has to be careful about, he in no way finds her attractive, never has. He’s caught her a few times gazing at him but has chosen to ignore it, he doesn’t want to lose his best employee over some silly misunderstanding. It’s her mouth, even when smiling it’s an ugly mouth, and when eating, arrghh, Matt has to look away.
Late morning and Jo pops her head around Matt’s door.
“I’m going out for my lunch soon, do you want me to get you anything while I’m out?”
“Thanks Jo, you’re an angel. My usual please.”
Matt’s usual is crayfish and rocket on rye with lemon mayo, black pepper and no butter. What Matt doesn’t know is that Jo gets her own sandwich from Tesco Metro and then queues in Selfridges for most of her lunch break to get Matt his favourite. He’d be mortified if he knew. Jo goes back to reception for a few minutes while she waits for Katie to finish her call.
Katie pops her head around Matt’s door. “I’m going out now, do you want anything?”
“No thank you,” smiles Matt.
Katie fights the irritation inside as she knows she’s been pipped to the job.
On the way along Marylebone High Street Katie turns to Jo and, not for the first time brings up the sandwich dilemma.
“Why do you think Matt’s lunch would fall into your department? I’m his P.A.”
“Does it state in your contract that you are also his carer?” smiles Jo, she enjoys baiting Katie.
“It’s not the point and you know it.”
“What is the point then? You love Matt and he loves my sarnies more than yours,” she starts to laugh.
“Oh bollocks to you,” she smiles hearing the ridiculous conversation they are having. “It’s just so frustrating. Sitting there watching him being unhappy when I could fix him.”
“Or I could,” Jo teases again.
Katie raises her eyebrows in a ‘oh really’ kind of way.
Matt’s day was once again dominated with the potential sale of Sherbourn Technologies, he’d been approached on several occasions by potential buyers, non of whom he fancied being locked into for at least two years. Recently, a large American company had approached and their offer looked a lot more appealing, but still Matt wasn’t sure. When he had set up Sherbourn Technologies he’d done it with a view to becoming a market leader, to becoming the CEO of a plc, he liked the sound of that, but since Lorna and especially Dot had come along they had changed his view. Now, he wanted to push it as hard as he could, then sell it for the best possible price, keeping an interest and a shed load of shares. The question remained, was it the right time or could he wait and get more?
“Do you know,” began Jo in the coffee shop on the corner, “that until they added all the calorie info to everything in here I used to enjoy a Mocha and a muffin. Now I have to have a poxie tea, that I might add I could make for myself for free in the office. It’s a sad day when a croissant is the lowest calorie item you can opt for.”
“I know, why did we need to know? I’m on skimmed milk, which is basically white water. I was happily unaware that I was blocking up myarteries with whole milk. We should save the money and not come in here,” replied Katie.
“But then we’d out on miss Vlad.”
“True again,” as if on cue, Vlad glanced up from behind the Barrista machine, with little more than a sexy sneer, “but so moody though.”
“Shit. We’d better get back, quick down it.”
“I’m not downing molten coffee for anyone.”
They shared a fag on the way back to the office. In the lift, Jo squirted perfume on them both, she also sprayed one up Katie’s skirt.
“You never know,” she laughed as the door opened to reveal Matt.
“Ladies,” he said as they exited and he entered, he stuck his foot in the door to prevent it closing. “I’ll just wait for some oxygen to get in here.”
Jo knew her neck was getting blotchy from the close contact, from the perfume and from Matt’s piercing Paul Hollywood eyes with the worlds sexiest scar above the right one.
“I’ll leave this on your desk,” she said holding up the small yellow bag.
“Thanks Jo. I’ll be an hour Katie, I’m on the mobile.”
“Shall we have a quick fag to make up for that last rushed one?” suggested Jo watching the monitor to make completely sure Matt had left the building. “I remember when Matt used to smoke, it’s the only reason I started.”
“What? You started smoking when you started work here?”
“Yeah, I never smoked a single fag until I was twenty two.”
“Well, I did not know that. We used to have a laugh on fag breaks didn’t we? Pre Lorna. She probably moaned about the smell getting on the baby or something. He did stop the second Dot was born didn’t he?”
“Yeah, I remember thinking, he’ll never manage it. He used to love a fag. Do you remember the way he used pout those lips to blow the smoke out?” said Jo still gazing at Matt on the small screen.
Usually, Matt would be last to leave the office, leaving just as the team of night time cleaners arrived, but today Matt had promised to be home in time for Lorna to go to hot yoga at 7.30. The train home was as packed as a rush hour train always promises to be, he found himself wedged up against Jo, them speaking in hushed tones only inches from one another’s faces. Jo didn’t seem her usual noisy self, she looked uncomfortable pressed up against her boss.
“See you tomorrow,” said Jo as the doors opened at Tottenham Court Road and a few commuters actually tumbled out onto the crowded platform.
“Night,” she called while pushing forward trying to leave the carriage against a tide of people already trying to muscle in.
“There’s no more room,” shouted a voice from deep inside the belly of the carriage.
Matt was washed further inside, in between the sideways facing seats, he held on to the red bar running high up even though the denseness of the passengers would hold him upright. He looked up at his left hand, at his wedding ring, the heavy platinum band that he had secretly engraved inside. It read ‘I promise’, not even Lorna knew it was there, only Dot knew and she was only six weeks old when he showed her so she wouldn’t be telling either. He meant it then and he means it now…I promise. I promise my girls that I will be there for you, through good times and bad. I promise that I will love you with all my heart forever. I promise to be the best Dad I can. I promise to work hard so that I can retire and be with you as much as possible. I promise to pick you up from school as often as I can, I promise to be at every sports day, parents evening, ballet performance, birthday party or anything else that’s important to you. I promise to earn enough money while you’re a baby so you won’t miss me when you’re bigger. I promise to worry about you both so you don’t have to worry about anything. I promise that one baby will be enough for us. I promise. He knows that some of the promise will be hard to keep, but he’ll try his best. One baby. Will one baby be enough? Lorna always wanted lots of babies, but they both knew the second the doctor said that Dot had Cystic Fibrosis that there would be no more. Dot was it. How selfish would they be now they knew about the defective gene they both carried? Not knowing had spared them guilt over Dot, but hadn’t spared their broken hearts. His lovely Lorna, her generous and open smile had gone for a while, her sparkle tarnished and yet somehow, by some miracle deep within her she had made it back, she was Lorna again, Lorna with a twist. She’d never be carefree ever again, but then what mother was? And, then there was Dot; the most perfect creature ever created, apart from the stickiness inside her, the stickiness that could kill her. They say that if a baby has a challenge ahead, genetically they are born more feisty, an extra dose of fizz to give them the fight they’ll need when times are tough. In that case, Dot must be made of sherbet and lemonade and if the C.F was shaping her personality into the one she was growing in to, it wasn’t all bad.
Matt walked up his driveway with his key in his hand. He could hear his girls laughing before the door was fully open, and his heart flushed with love.
“I’m home,” he called.
“Dadda,” Dot called from upstairs and her tiny feet that are unfeasibly heavy stomped towards him from the upstairs landing. She leant on the baby gate and grinned down at him. “Lift,” she demanded with her arms held high.
“How was your day?” asked Lorna as Matt opened the lid on the saucepan that was bubbling away on the hob.
“The usual, but how was yours more importantly?”
“Really good. We made pudding, didn’t we Dot?”
“Yummy,” said Dot as she made her way over to the fridge.
“Daddy’s got to have his proper dinner before he can have his pudding sweetheart.”
“Which I might add smells lovely.”
“Beef stew with dumplings. There’s some lazy veg in the fridge too that you just need to microwave. Dot’s fed and bathed, so she just needs a story and a kiss. She hasn’t slept this afternoon so she’s ready for some sleep, aren’t you princess?.”
“Bananas,” said Dot.
“We made your favourite, Banoffee Pie, didn’t we Dot?”
“Its official,” announced Matt, “I’m the luckiest Daddy in the world.”
Dot clapped. “Now then, about that story. You go,” he said to Lorna, “and have a lovely time.”
Lorna tip toed to kiss Matt and then kissed Dot on her dribbly lips.
“Bye then,” she hesitated in the doorway.
“Go, or you’ll be late.”
“Night Dot I love you.”
“Lub you too,” smiled Dot as she snuggled into Matt’s chest looking ready to go to sleep there and then.
The stew was delicious and Matt laughed out loud when he saw his pudding covered in Smarties, sparkly glitter, squirty cream and enough grated chocolate that it was probably once a family sized bar. He could picture Lorna now, “I’m not sure Daddy will need more chocolate Dot.”
“Yes, more for Daddy,” there was no telling her some times. It didn’t bear thinking about the amount of times she would have licked or sampled bits before they made it to Matt’s topping, Matt enjoyed eating it all the same.