‘We don’t have a choice,’ she said. ‘We’ve made the decision and it’s over. The ending is the same as the beginning. Isn’t it?’
He nodded. ‘I don’t know if we ever really had a choice.’
‘Do you think she’ll really take your boy away from you?’
‘I don’t know. I hope not.’
‘I don’t think I can do that to you,’ she said softly. ‘Or to him.’
He sighed. ‘The thing is that she’s going to leave me. Now, or ten years from now. I can’t be who she needs me to be. Even if I stopped drinking, if I were home every night. I still couldn’t be that person. Not for her. It’s better to be honest.’
‘We’ve betrayed them anyway. I betrayed Christopher before I even married him, because I knew he’d always be second best. But your son shouldn’t get caught up in it.’
‘I’ll try. I might not have a choice.’
‘We’ll both try, together.’
Analena brought them two more tiny coffees. As Emily lifted hers to drink it, her eyes caught on the flash of her diamond ring, the gold band beneath it. She put down her coffee and slid the rings off her finger.
On the rough, weather-beaten table, they looked like the relics of a life that had been unmade. Another country, another time, another set of decisions, a different ending.
Robbie slid off his own ring and put it with hers. A bigger circle, also made of gold. There was a band of pale skin beneath it and when Emily looked at her own bare finger, she had a matching band.
‘I’ll never leave you again,’ he told her.
13 April 1962
She was rushing across the station concourse, late to meet Polly’s train, searching for a glimpse of curly hair, when she saw him.
He was wearing a denim jacket and he had a rucksack slung over his shoulder, and he had paused, bowing his head to light his cigarette with a match cupped in his hands, when he glanced up – and he saw her too. Even at a distance, even across a crowded station, she could see his eyes were dark.
She couldn’t breathe. He stared at her as she was staring at him, and this was completely not something you did, you didn’t stare at strange men in stations, but the side of his mouth quirked up in a smile. It wasn’t a flirtatious smile, not exactly – it was more like . . .
. . . more like wonder.
She looked away, then looked back. He was still staring at her. He seemed to have forgotten about his cigarette. He raised his hand, as if to wave, and she raised hers, as if to wave back.
Hello, she thought.
The tannoy spoke. ‘The train arriving on platform three is the delayed eleven fifty-five train from Norwich.’
Delayed. Platform three. She turned away from the man and saw the train pulling in on the platform. Automatically, she hurried towards it.
But when she glanced back over her shoulder, he was still there, still watching her. It was almost as if they knew each other already.
‘Em!’ Polly’s voice, and the sound of running footsteps. She collided with Emily in a tangle of skinny arms and legs. ‘I am so excited,’ she began right away. ‘I sat on the train next to this group of boys and they kept on looking at me but I didn’t look back, I just looked out the window but I watched them out of the corner of my eye. Do you think they thought I was older because I was travelling by myself?’
Emily regarded Polly’s untidy hair, her skinny frame, her freckles and her crooked-toothed smile. If anything, she looked younger than twelve.
‘They thought you were a sophisticated, independent woman,’ said Emily. ‘They probably thought you were a student here.’
Polly punched her arm and giggled. ‘I’ll never even get into Cambridge. I’m not as clever as you.’
‘Keep studying,’ said Emily, taking Polly’s suitcase. ‘Oof. What have you got in here, rocks?’
Polly leaned close and whispered. ‘Make-up. Don’t tell Mum!’
‘Where did you get make-up?’
‘Woolworths. I’ve been saving my pocket money and hiding it in my wardrobe. I wanted to put some on while I was on the train but the lavatory was occupied the whole time. Also, I brought some records to play. I wanted to bring my record player but it wouldn’t fit and you have one anyway, right?’
Emily began to walk them down the platform, Polly skipping beside her. Her hands were shaking a bit. She gripped the suitcase more tightly to stop them. ‘I’ve got my portable, but there’s a better one in the JCR. I mean, the Junior Common Room.’
Polly inhaled in rapture. ‘The Junior Common Room. I’m going to hang out in the Junior Common Room.’
Emily suppressed a smile. ‘Have you eaten?’
‘Mum gave me sandwiches.’ She held up a squashed paper bag with some grease stains on it. ‘But I was too excited to eat on the train. Also, they were egg. Who eats egg sandwiches on a train? Everyone would smell them.’ She theatrically tossed the bag into a bin as they passed. ‘Goodbye, stinky sandwiches. Don’t tell Mum.’
‘I have a feeling that’s going to be a continued refrain this weekend.’
‘But you won’t tell her, will you?’
‘Do you think I’m likely to tell Mum anything, after everything I had to do to get her to let you stay with me overnight? I’d be in just as much trouble as you. More, because I’m supposed to be the responsible adult.’
They crossed the concourse and Emily hesitated by the exit, searching the people waiting.
‘What are you looking for?’ Polly asked.
‘No one. I mean, nothing.’ She looked around again briefly, though she was chastising herself even as she did it. She wouldn’t recognise him again even if she did see him. And he was long gone, anyway.
She linked her arm through her younger sister’s. ‘I’m glad you didn’t eat the stinky sandwiches, because we’re meeting Christopher for lunch.’
‘At a student pub?’ She said it with the same reverence she’d pronounced ‘Junior Common Room’.
‘Can I have a real coffee?’
Emily rolled her eyes in the way expected of an elder sister. ‘If this is what you’re like without caffeine, I can’t imagine you with a coffee under your belt.’
‘But can I?’
‘Oh, all right. If only in the spirit of scientific enquiry.’
‘I won’t tell Mum.’
She took a last look around outside the station before starting down Station Road towards the centre of town.
Polly kept up a running commentary on everything they passed and saw. She’d been to Cambridge more than once, but everything seemed to be new this time, without their parents with her. She mentioned students on bicycles, the buildings, the shops, even the trees, and Emily tried her best to be attentive and not look up and down the pavements, peer through the windows of cafés and shops, looking for dark hair and a denim jacket. She caught a flash of faded blue in the window of a used-book shop and paused, staring. Polly proceeded several paces before realising she was alone.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ she demanded, returning to where Emily was transfixed on the pavement. The flash of blue was gone, disappeared between the bookshelves.