Page 56 of Together

‘That other girl’s dress was worth saving.’

There wasn’t much he could say to that, that wouldn’t also be rude, so he didn’t say anything. Water ran from his clothes and dripped on to the path under his feet. He wanted a cigarette, and the ones in his pocket were ruined, but he didn’t quite feel able to ask her for one.

She stubbed out her own cigarette on the wall. ‘Well, you can make up for it by buying me a drink.’

He shook his head. ‘Sorry, Cynthia.’

She huffed. ‘What, you don’t have any money? I’m supposed to be impressed by your nicking a boat?’

‘I have some money,’ he told her, ‘though it’s pretty wet right now. I mean that it wouldn’t be a very nice thing to do.’

‘What wouldn’t be a very nice thing to do?’

‘For me to spend any more time with you while I’m thinking about someone else.’

‘You mean her? That girl?’

‘Yes.’

‘But you’ve just met her!’

‘To be absolutely fair, Cynthia, I’ve only just met you, too.’

She jumped off the wall with a swish of skirts. ‘You are such a bastard,’ she said, and stormed off as fast as her heels would allow her.

‘I prefer “bounder”,’ he said to her back.

Chapter Thirty

She waved Polly off on her train at ten past four on Sunday, making her promise to ring the college and leave a message that she’d got home safely. Then Emily dawdled. She took far too long to walk back to Newnham, and still more time tidying her room. Polly was like a whirlwind – everything in Emily’s room was subtly misplaced because of her presence.

She definitely wasn’t going to meet Robbie. It was a bad idea. She should check through her essay before she gave it in tomorrow, anyway. She’d tried to plan ahead and get all of her work done early because of Polly’s visit, but a whole weekend was a lot to spend without doing any revision at all.

She sat on her bed with her copy of her biology textbook and her lecture notes and stared at her own handwriting as if it were that of a stranger.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way before.

He had a deep voice but his accent was soft, not so hard on the Rs as other Americans she had heard. There was something relaxed about it. Something that made her want to smile.

He probably wouldn’t even be there on the riverbank. He’d probably have found another girl to pursue by now. One he rescued from a tree or something.

And she had a date with Christopher tomorrow. A real date, which she’d hardly had any time to think about. That wasn’t something she could do unprepared; it would require a whole consideration of tone, a whole adjustment of feelings.

A whole lot of forgetting how it had felt when Robbie had tucked her hair behind her ear.

She threw the book on to her bed and walked around her room. Christopher had twisted and tortured that pound note when he’d asked her out. It had been a real effort for him; he’d been afraid of her answer. He cared so much about her that he was willing to risk their friendship. Not like the way Robbie had tossed out an invitation, urged her to meet him as if it were the easiest and simplest thing in the whole world, as if he was so cocksure that she would do it, as if any objection she could make was laughable.

‘He’s an arrogant sod,’ she muttered.

But he was so beautiful.

She checked her watch. It was ten past five.

She ran down the staircase and across the quad and out past the porter, who called after her, ‘Careful as you go!’

He was waiting for her on the backs not far from Clare Bridge; he’d rolled his trousers up and his feet were in the river. She remembered his confidence in the water yesterday, and then he looked up as she approached and she didn’t think about anything, not about his swimming or the fact that this was a bad idea.

She felt simply glad to see him.

His face lit up entirely, as if someone had turned on a switch. He jumped up and ran to her, putting his hands on her shoulders. For a dizzy moment she thought he was going to pull her into his arms and kiss her and she didn’t think she would be able to help herself from kissing him back, but he just grinned at her and looked at her, drinking in her face.

She drank in his. His eyes were dark, dark brown, with thick dark brows above them. His hair was a little long, uncombed and untidy. He had a wide, generous mouth, a straight nose that turned up a little bit at the end. His skin was tanned and he hadn’t shaved for a couple of days.

‘I’m so glad you came,’ he said to her.

‘Where’s your . . . date?’ she asked.

He had the grace to look slightly sheepish, but only slightly. ‘That’s over, Emily. She wasn’t pleased with me. But I’d only met her yesterday afternoon.’

‘You only met me yesterday afternoon.’

‘You’re different.’ He slid his hands down her arms and clasped her hands in his. ‘God, you’re beautiful.’

Emily felt her cheeks flushing. ‘You say that to everyone, I’m sure.’

‘Not like I mean it.’ He regarded her for a few more moments; Emily gazed at his shirt. It was wrinkled, and unless she was mistaken, it was the same one he’d been wearing yesterday.

‘So is this what you’d planned when you asked me to meet you?’ she asked his shirt. ‘We could stand here and look at each other?’

‘I’d be happy with that,’ he said, ‘but maybe you’d like to sit on the bank and talk with me for a while. I brought a little picnic.’

The little picnic was a punnet of strawberries and a bottle of red wine. Emily slipped off her shoes and dangled her feet in the water while he pulled an impressive-looking penknife from his pocket and uncorked the wine.

‘I don’t have any glasses,’ he said, holding the bottle out to her. Emily shrugged; she was already doing something foolish, why not drink wine straight out of the bottle on a Sunday afternoon? It warmed her throat and her belly. She passed it back to him and he took a drink, tilting his head back so that she could see his throat as he swallowed.

She wanted to touch it: the cords of his neck, the dark stubble, the tanned skin.

‘So who are you, Emily?’ he asked, handing her back the bottle. ‘Tell me about yourself.’

‘I’m a medic,’ she said, and then clarified, ‘A medical student. In my second year at Newnham.’

‘Newnham, is that part of the university? I’m not exactly up on all this college stuff.’

‘It’s a women’s college.’

He whistled. ‘You’re a med student at Cambridge?’ He regarded her with such frank admiration that she blushed again.

‘Don’t.’

‘Don’t what?’

‘Look at me like that. It’s so . . . American. And you don’t mean it.’

‘I do mean it. I’ve never met a medical student at a women’s college in Cambridge before, even one who doesn’t know how to punt.’ He splashed his foot in the water. ‘And besides, I am American.’

‘Why are you here?’

‘Other than because I was fated to meet you?’

She couldn’t help but laugh at that, but she said, ‘Stop it.’

‘Why? Why should I stop it?’

‘Because it’s . . . silly. We weren’t fated to meet each other.’

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