‘Thank you, Polly.’
‘Don’t make me regret it.’ She drank the rest of her beer and stood up. ‘She’s happy, now. She’s really happy. Don’t mess it up for her.’
‘I won’t,’ he said. ‘I want her to be happy. That’s what I want, more than anything.’
Even at nine o’clock in the morning it was too hot and humid to go outside. The minute you did, sweat sprang out under your arms, between your breasts, on your upper lip. Your lipstick melted off and your mouth tasted of salt. Emily hovered in the air-conditioned living room, looking out the window to the pool, where her father was swimming laps. There was a long-legged white bird standing on the concrete near the pool, absolutely still. It looked like a crane, though Emily didn’t know what it could possibly be looking for in the clear, sterile pool water. It tilted its head slightly as her father swam past.
Her mother, incredibly, was cooking a full English breakfast for Christopher, after he’d made a chance remark yesterday that he hadn’t had one for years. Heat and the scent of bacon radiated out from the kitchen.
The telephone rang across the room. She abandoned her window and the crane and picked it up.
‘Hello, can I speak to Emily?’
She knew his voice at once; would have known it even if she hadn’t heard it the day before calling her name.
‘Robbie,’ she said, in a whisper, before she realised that the right thing to do would have been to hang up immediately.
‘Emily,’ he said, his voice full of relief. ‘Oh my God, it’s so wonderful to hear your voice. Don’t hang up.’
‘Why are you calling me?’
‘I had to speak with you. I had to – I couldn’t believe it was you, yesterday.’
She looked around, though she knew no one could hear her: her father was swimming, her mother and Christopher were in the kitchen, and Polly, who’d been out till very late, was asleep and wouldn’t be up for hours yet. Still, she cupped her hands around the phone, and lowered her voice. ‘How did you get this number?’
‘Polly gave it to me. I ran into her by chance.’
‘Why are you in Miami?’
‘I live here. Listen, Emily, I never expected to see you again. I know you said we couldn’t see each other again. But now we have, and I can’t stop thinking about you.’
‘I . . .’ I can’t stop thinking about you either. ‘Don’t. Don’t think about me.’
‘I need to meet you. Please? Please meet with me?’
‘I can’t. I’m with my husband.’ As soon as she said it she knew it was a mistake: she shouldn’t have given him any reasons to argue with. She shouldn’t be talking with him at all.
But his voice. She heard his voice when she slept, sometimes. It hadn’t changed at all.
‘Bring your husband with you. It’s just an innocent meeting, Emily. Old friends.’
‘We’re not old friends.’
‘Old . . . acquaintances, then. Please, Emily. A lot has changed.’
How can it have changed, when I remember you like this? She didn’t say it. That would be a real mistake.
‘When can you get away?’ he asked. ‘Tonight?’
‘Not tonight,’ she said without thinking.
‘Tomorrow morning, before I go to work? Are you in Miami Beach?’
‘What about on South Beach? Say six o’clock? Right on the south end.’
‘I don’t know. It’s not a good idea.’
‘I’ll be there, waiting. If not tomorrow, then I’ll wait the next day too.’
‘It’s . . . Robbie, we agreed never to—’
‘Please come, Emily. Please.’
When she put down the phone, her hands were shaking. Her father slid open the patio doors and walked in, towelling off his hair. ‘Did you see that bird?’ he said. ‘Who rang?’
‘It was a wrong number,’ she told him.
She slipped out of the house as the sun was rising, but he was still there before her. He stood straight and tall, smoking a cigarette. A light blue bicycle was propped against the trunk of the palm beside him. She remembered him standing on a station concourse and she nearly turned around.
But then he spotted her and she forgot all about running away. His presence pulled her to him as he dropped his cigarette and ground it out.
‘Emily,’ he said.
She couldn’t say his name. Instead, unwillingly, she drank him in: the length of his dark hair, grown out since the last time she’d seen him. He was unshaven and wore a white T-shirt and shorts made of cut-off jeans, and his eyes had dark circles under them, as if he hadn’t slept for a while, or not slept properly. His eyes were the same as she remembered. His mouth was the same. He was more filled out now, more muscular, his forearms tanned and corded.
Even this early, it was too hot to breathe.
‘Should we – should we take a walk?’ he asked her, and she nodded.
They walked down across the fine white sand to where the surf kissed the beach. She remembered the other beach they had walked on, with shingle mixed in with the sand. The water had been a different colour. There had been no palm trees, just buildings, and it had been a spring afternoon, cool enough to have to wear a jacket.
The beach was nearly deserted. Her sandals filled with sand and she bent down and slipped them off. Robbie put his hands in his pockets as they walked. She couldn’t bear to look at him. Instead she gazed out at the sea, where the sunrise was colouring the water with pink and yellow. But she still felt him beside her. Still saw him in her peripheral vision, like she’d seen him in the periphery of her memory for ten years. Her body fell into rhythm with his as they walked.
‘You didn’t bring your husband with you,’ he said.
She’d forgotten he’d suggested it. She’d not said a word to Christopher. He’d been still sleeping when she’d left.
‘Why did you want to see me?’ she asked him.
‘I want to know if you’re happy.’
‘Yes,’ she said quickly. ‘Of course I’m happy.’
‘Good. I only wanted you to be happy. Polly said you’re an obstetrician, and you’re working in South America.’
‘Yes. We’re on our way back to England after this holiday.’
‘How long have you been married?’ he asked her. There was a forced casualness in his voice.
‘Seven years. Christopher didn’t want to wait until we’d qualified. It made sense for us to be in married accommodation.’
‘Christopher . . . that’s . . .’ He took a breath. ‘You told me about him.’
‘Yes. He’s a good husband. Are you – are you married?’
‘Yeah. Five years. I’ve got a little boy.’
It choked her. Her hands flew to her throat before she caught herself and made them return to her sides.
‘Oh, that’s wonderful. What’s he called?’
‘William.’ He took out his wallet and held out a photograph to her. She took it: a skinny scrap of a boy, with Robbie’s dark hair and eyes. He wore a striped shirt and dungarees and was holding a toy car by one wheel. He smiled, revealing a gap in his teeth.
His beauty burned. She couldn’t look away from it. She had to look at the photo and look at it and burn. She wondered what his mother was like.