‘So that’s Key Biscayne,’ he said. ‘We’ll go out there and round Cape Florida Lighthouse. Have you seen Stiltsville?’
‘No,’ she said. She didn’t want a tour guide.
‘It’s something to see. A little village of houses in the sea. Built by shipwreckers, gamblers and rum-runners.’ Robbie reached into his jacket pocket and took out a flask. He offered it to her, and she shook her head.
‘You shouldn’t be drinking while you’re sailing,’ she told him.
‘I can sail this boat in my sleep.’
‘You still shouldn’t be drinking. You just said that you shouldn’t.’
‘I just said that I drink, and I know I shouldn’t, but I do it anyway.’ He took a drink from the flask and put it back in his pocket. ‘Like you know you shouldn’t be here, but you are.’
‘Robbie,’ she said desperately, ‘we only have a little while. Let’s not spoil it.’
‘A little while today? Or forever?’
‘I’m leaving the country next week.’
‘So this is it. Then it’s back to being unhappy, for both of us.’ He jerked the tiller, and the sail flapped.
‘What’s the alternative? This is wrong. All the reasons why we parted back then, they’re still there. And now there are too many people, Robbie. We’d hurt too many people.’
He didn’t answer, or look at her. He took another drink.
‘Christopher knows I’ve met you again,’ she told him. ‘He’s said that he’ll look the other way while we’re here, but it has to end when we get back to England.’
‘And you . . . agree with that?’
‘I don’t see what other choice I have. It’s not just him. It’s Polly, my father, my mother—’
‘Your mother hates everything about me. Your father too, I imagine.’
‘We’d hurt everyone, Robbie, if we stayed together. Everyone we’re supposed to love.’
‘What you’re saying is that you don’t love me more than everyone else.’
‘How can anyone even begin to make a decision like that? Love isn’t a finite thing that you can measure. It’s my family. And I’ve known Christopher for a very long time.’
‘Do you love him?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘The same way you love me?’
She swallowed. She looked away from Robbie, to the coast they’d come from: the trees and the white masts and the buildings of white and pink, like a city made of candy floss.
‘Not the same way,’ she said quietly. ‘But I love him. Very much. He’s a good man. He doesn’t deserve any of this.’
‘He’s a better man than I am. I can’t look the other way. I can’t forget that you’re with another man who isn’t me.’
‘He’s not forgetting. He’s . . . giving me time.’
‘I’m not a good man,’ said Robbie. ‘I’m not good without you, and I don’t know if I could be good with you, either. I drink. I’m a horrible husband. I’m probably a horrible father. I don’t know why I think that being with you would change anything.’
‘Robbie,’ she said, and put her hand on his knee.
‘I don’t love Marie. I shouldn’t have married her. But I’m responsible for her now. And I love my son. I love William.’
‘Of course you do.’
‘She’s going to take him away from me.’
She wasn’t prepared for the cold that seized her – the horror that another woman, someone she’d never met, could know their secret, that it could have spiralled so far out of control, that this woman, Robbie’s wife, could take such calculated revenge.
‘She knows too? About us?’
He shook his head. ‘She knows that I’m not committed to her. She knows that I don’t love her as I should. She knows I come home late every night and I make every excuse not to touch her. She knows I’ve never told her about what I did in the war, and I don’t tell her what I really feel and what I really want. She deserves better. She deserves for me to be a better person, but I can’t. Or she deserves someone better than me, but then I won’t see my son again.’
‘She couldn’t take him away from you. He’s your son.’
‘She could. She’s got steel in her. She could do it, if she wanted to. She could move away and stop me from seeing him. If her family closed ranks, I wouldn’t have a chance.’
‘Emily, I’m a drunk. A court would choose Marie.’
‘You’re not a drunk. You could stop drinking.’
He didn’t reply.
‘I’m not a good person,’ she said. ‘When I came here, all I could think about was my patients. And now all I can think about is you.’
He took his eyes off the horizon for the first time to look at her. ‘We can’t do it, can we? We can’t have anything but this.’
‘And this used to be enough. When I first met you, all I wanted was to live in the present. To spend as much time with you as I could and savour every moment. But this isn’t enough. I want our past back. I want a future.’
‘But neither of these can happen. Now is all we’ve got. Today, and the next few days.’
‘It isn’t good enough.’
He put out his hand for hers. His hands were so different from hers, from Christopher’s: tanned, weather-beaten, calloused. She held on to him tightly. Something rumbled in the distance, from the towering clouds.
‘So this is the last time,’ he said softly.
‘It doesn’t seem fair to have to do this twice in a lifetime,’ he said.
‘But nothing has really changed. We still can’t be together. We have even more reasons not to be together now.’
‘I love you,’ he said.
‘I love you,’ she said.
Where was the sun? The sea had gone as dark as the sky. Even the white sail was muted and grey. Emily took her hand from Robbie’s. When she’d said goodbye ten years before, she’d tried her best not to look at him. She didn’t want to see his face, see his pain, in case it tempted her to touch him and to prevent him from leaving.
This time she knew what it was like to hold someone for years in your memory instead of in your arms. She knew how features blurred, voices faded, touches dissolved. So she looked at Robbie and tried to imprint him on her memory, to be able to take him out when she was alone and felt strong enough. When she was safe, and able to think about this moment when she had been perfectly loved and perfectly alone.
‘Emily. Please.’ Robbie stood and reached for her, leaning forward, and several things happened at once. A wave hit the boat and he stumbled. His hand let go of the tiller. The wind gusted, bringing the boat round. The mainsail flapped, the boom swung, striking Robbie on the head and sweeping him over the side of the boat.
She heard the splash before she understood what had made it. The boom kept going, though slower than it had been, and she fended it off with her hands and then twisted to look over the side of the boat.
She could see him, a dark shape in the dark water. He wasn’t moving.
There was a life preserver near the tiller, attached to the boat with a rope. Emily grabbed it and threw herself over the side of the boat into the water. It was nearly as warm as her blood and she struck forward, swimming frantically to reach Robbie. Her clothes weighed her down, her shoes. She was not a good swimmer. She couldn’t see him any more. Salt water stung her eyes and the waves had come up with the wind.