The flat statement of his name twisted in his stomach. It hadn’t come with the usual warmth, the familiar “mate”. Of course when Chris had first called Matt that, he had kicked off. “I’m not your fucking mate,” he had spat before pushing back his chair and storming towards the interview room door. He hadn’t reached it; Chris had managed to diffuse his anger almost as quickly as it had sparked. But now it was Chris’ turn to be pissed.
Matt didn’t look up as Chris approached, partly because he didn’t want to face him and partly out of defiance. Yeah, so he’d fucked up, but that didn’t give Chris the right to talk to him like a piece of shit. Matt fiddled with his phone, ignoring his presence, for as long as he could. After what felt like an age, he started to wonder if he was still there, and glanced up. His eyes were met with a pair of old jeans and scruffy Converse.
“Shit man, you need some new trainers. Don’t they pay you?”
He snorted at his own joke and looked up. With his crossed arms and tensed jaw, Chris clearly hadn’t found it funny. Matt sucked his teeth and slid further down his chair as he turned back to his phone. Chris inhaled slowly.
Matt waited a few seconds before following him, his pace deliberately slow. He let Chris hold the door open for him as he strolled into the interview room and slouched into the chair he had sat in so many times before – and had intended to never sit in again. He took out his phone again and pumped out another message as Chris sat down opposite him. Satisfied that he had made him wait long enough, Matt put his phone back into his hoodie pocket and looked up.
Chris met his gaze easily. Matt stared back as he tried to figure out what he was thinking. What he was feeling, even, about him, about what he had done. How he had broken his promise. The uncomfortable vacuum that seemed to grow inside him made him realise he didn’t want to know. He jutted out his chin sharply.
Chris’ gaze didn’t waver. His arms were still folded over his checked shirt, clearly designed to flatter his toned physique, one that Matt had been envious of since they had met almost 2 years ago. Chris being Chris had figured out the root of his jibes pretty quickly and soon had Matt looking after himself, eating better and even working out. Whilst he hadn’t been able to reach Chris’ high standard, he had been pretty pleased with the results. And so had Lou.
The thought of her cast a shadow over Matt’s mind like a thunder cloud. It needed to pass, he knew that, before the storm came. But then part of him wanted it to come.
“Look, if you’ve got something to say, can you just get on with it and say it, right? I’ve got better things to do than sit here and play your mind games.”
He had expected Chris’ face to soften, for him to gently talk him down, to reassure him that there was no trickery. But instead he just shook his head slowly.
“Sorry Matt, but I’m not letting you off the hook that easily today.”
Matt sucked his teeth again and slumped even further in his seat. He didn’t need this. Not now. Not from Chris.
“I just want to know what happened.”
Matt felf himself relax. Explaining away his behaviour was a skill he had developed nicely years ago. He inhaled easily.
“Well, blood. It’s quite simple really. I went over to Lou’s and her dad started on me. So I started back. End of.”
Chris raised a pierced eyebrow.
Matt shrugged. “Yeah.”
“So, all that talk about making a fresh start, managing your feelings and not letting others drag you down just went out of the window?”
Matt hesitated. “No. He just pushed my buttons. That’s all.”
Chris managed to keep his eyebrow raised as his freckly forehead crumpled into a frown.
“What, so some guy pisses you off and you decide it’s okay to smash up his porch and garden, then finish off with assaulting a Police Officer?”
The well in the pit of Matt’s stomach deepened.
“You just don’t fucking get me, do you bruv?”
Chris’ face softened, but only slightly.
“I want to, Matt. You just need to help me understand why you would jeapodise everything because Lou’s dad gave you a hard time? I know you love her and everything but…”
“He said I was a useless piece of shit, that I would never amount to anything and would drag Lou and our baby down with me if I had anything to do with…”
Matt let the question hang in the air, another cloud to add to those that had already gathered. Of course he had been excited at first, ecstatic even. Okay, so they were a bit young, but this was his chance to show everyone, show himself, that he could be good at something. He could be a father, a good father. And, unlike his own, he’d stay around when, if, things got tough.
“Yeah. She’s pregnant.”
“And she wants to keep it?”
“Yeah, she wants to keep it, man! For fuck’s sake…”
“Okay, okay. I’m just trying to gage the situation Matt.”
Matt looked up from his hands, curled into fists, for long enough to see Chris’ held up apologetically, his face open, concerned even. It was the concern that made his eyes prickle dangerously.
“So, you went over to see Lou, and you had an argument with her dad?”
“And he said he didn’t think you’d made a good dad.”
The starkness of the statement hit hard. Matt swallowed.
“Which I’m guessing evoked a lot of feelings about your own dad.”
“He told me I was useless, man. That I had ruined Lou’s life. And that I would make it even worse if I stuck around.”
Matt had forgotten that part of the conversation until then. He had wiped it from his mind, his memory judging it too difficult to retain. But now it was out. It had been repeated. And hearing those words again, even from his own mouth, made them resonate even deeper. Words that, despite all the work he had done since he had met Chris, still reverberated to his core.
Matt looked up, confused.
“You zoned out a bit mate.”
The ease of Chris’ compassion worked at the back of Matt’s eyes even more. He sometimes wondered if Chris was the only person in the world who gave a shit about him. His dad clearly didn’t. As for his mum, well, despite all his efforts to take care of her, she’d never let him forget how much he had fucked up her life.
Like he was about to fuck up – no, had fucked up – Lou’s.
“You know, just cos someone says you’re going to mess up doesn’t mean that you will.”
“I already have. I mean, I’m here with you again, aren’t I?”
“I’m afraid you are. But you won’t be forever.”
Chris’ words made Matt’s stomach lurch unexpectedly. Chris’ smile faded in response.
“What just happened, Matt?”
Matt shrugged, unsure himself, and shifted in his seat. Chris looked at him steadily before taking a deep breath.
“Okay, so Lou’s dad pissed you off. I get that. But I know you’ve been called a lot worse and not ended facing a charge that could see you get custody.” Chris raised his eyebrows in response to Matt’s silent protestation. “So, what was it? What made you decide to smack a police officer in the face with the remains of a wooden bench?”
Matt sat in silence whilst the answer screamed at him inside his head, the answer that exposed him for the poison that he was, that he didn’t want to ever have to admit to anyone but himself. The answer that even Chris might not understand – and might push him away. He looked up, desperate for some kind of reassurance. Chris was looking down at the desk between them, absently knawing on the nail of his thumb, his usual self confidence alarming in its absence. Seeming to sense Matt’s gaze, he looked up and cleared his throat.
“I was just wondering, Matt, if I’m actually helping you anymore. I mean, I wonder if you would benefit from seeing a different officer? Someone with a fresh perspective might be able to help you look at things from a different angle.”
Matt’s response was out like lightening.
“I’m just thinking it might be what you need to get to the bottom of what is going on for you, that’s all.”
Matt’s chair clattered awkwardly against the door as he stood up.
“What, so you’re going to desert me too, yeah?”
“No, I just think someone else might be better to…”
“Don’t fucking lie to me, bruv. You think I’m a useless shit too, don’t you? I’ve fucked up and gone and got arrested, right? And that doesn’t look good on you, does it? So that’s it, I’m cast aside again, not good enough for you, not good enough for Lou’s dad, for my dad, no-one. Well, fuck you.”
“Matt, you’re more than good enough. That’s why it frustrates me so much that you’re here again. And you know you’re not the reason your dad left. We’ve talked about that.”
“Yeah, well try tell my mum that.”
“What? What about your mum?”
Chris was on his feet too. They looked across the desk at each other, trying to assess what the other was thinking, desperately trying to understand. Matt’s gaze flicked away for a moment, his breath hard and fast at his throat, his anger derailed by Chris’ interruption. He looked back at Chris’ wide eyes and furrowed brow and hesitated.
“She… she told me why my dad left. I made her drink, when I was a baby. I drove her mad, so she drank. Then dad left.”
Chris held his gaze. Matt’s chest pounded as he waited for the other man to respond.
“So your mum blames you for her drink problem, right? And says that’s why your dad left.”
Matt stalled again.
“So you, as a baby, are to blame for your mother’s drink problem? You forced it down her throat?”
“Don’t mock me, man…”
Chris held up his hand.
“I’m not mocking you mate. What I’m trying to say is that there is no way your mum, you or anyone can blame you for your dad walking out. You were, what, two? Three?”
“Something like that. She said he’d never of left if it wasn’t for me, though. That I’d ruined her life.”
“Like Lou’s dad said you’ll do to hers.”
The statement hit Matt hard before its meaning filtered through into his mind. Slowly he sat back in his chair.
“So I guess that’s why you kicked off right? He didn’t just press any button. He pressed the one that’s at the root of all this self hate you’ve been carrying.”
Matt shook his head, his gaze unfocused.
“It isn’t self hate, bruv. I don’t need to hate me. The world does that for me.”
“Well, I don’t hate you. In fact, I quite like you. Most of the time.”
Matt dared to look at the other man, who smiled softly as their eyes met. Matt looked down at his hands, limp in his lap. “Well, you’re on your own.”
“Lou likes you. In fact it looks like anyone you let really know you likes you.”
“Except my mum.”
“It sounds like your mum doesn’t like herself much. Maybe you were an easy person to pin all the blame on for what was wrong with her life. Perhaps that’s something you can look at with a counsellor.”
“Not wth you?”
The question was out quicker than Matt had intended, his neediness making the blood rush to his cheeks. “Well, I’ll still work with you, if you want, and don’t mind talking to you about it. But a proper counsellor will be much better at helping you unravel what all this means to you.”
Matt hesitated again.
“I’d rather talk to you about it. I don’t need fucking therapy, man. Just to talk, to someone who get’s me. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Bruv.”
Chris laughed out loud.
“Sorry mate.” He took a deep breath. “Well, how about we leave it here for today and we catch up again same time next week?”
Matt nodded slowly.
“Yeah, that works.”
He stood up again, slowly, deliberately. Chris stood up too, his pace matching that of the younger man. Matt’s hand lingered on the door handle.
Matt glanced at him and returned his smile before opening the door, his hands automatically reaching to pull up his hood as he jogged down the stairs to the street below.