Page 58 of Together

She couldn’t speak for a moment. It was exciting, this smell, and at the same time comforting. She hunched her shoulders to bring it closer, wrap it around her, buried her nose in the collar.

Then she realised what she was doing and she straightened up. ‘Thanks,’ she said.

‘Want to go for a walk?’ Robbie asked her. ‘You can show me your Cambridge; tell me about all your favourite places. I’d like to be able to picture you here. And it’ll be much easier for me not to flirt with you if we’re walking.’

But he held out his arm for her as they started walking, and she took it. Holding on to him, wearing his jacket, she felt a little bit as if she were floating.

The streets were quiet, and Emily kept her arm linked with Robbie’s as they walked. She was a little bit drunk but his arm was strong and steady, and he kept hers pressed close to his side. As they passed King’s College, Robbie paused.

‘Do you know this song?’ he asked her. He whistled a clear, pitch-perfect melody. Emily tilted her head, listening.

‘Bach?’ she said.

‘I don’t know. I heard someone playing it last night as I walked past here. I think it was some sort of concert.’

‘Do it again.’

He whistled it for her again.

‘The aria from the Goldberg Variations, I think,’ she said. ‘Was it on the piano?’

‘You’re a marvel.’ He smiled down at her and she had to catch her breath. She couldn’t ever remember wanting to be kissed so badly in her life.

‘I’m mad,’ she said to him. ‘I’ve got to be mad, walking around talking about Bach when I should be studying. I’ve got an essay due tomorrow.’

He brushed her hair back from her forehead, tucked a strand behind her ear. ‘Some things are more important than essays.’

‘Not to a student, they’re not.’

‘This is more important,’ he told her. ‘Don’t you think? Can’t you tell?’

He ran his thumb along her cheek, so gently, as if she were delicate and could be broken. Emily shivered.

‘It is fate,’ he said to her. ‘I know you don’t believe in it and you said you don’t want me to flirt with you but since I saw you in the station, you’re all I’ve been able to think about.’

‘And that’s why you went immediately and met another woman.’

‘I thought you were gone. I thought you’d got on a train and I’d never see you again . . .’

His face was in shadow and she had no basis for believing him, but she did.

‘I don’t know you at all,’ she said. ‘This is all so quick.’

‘It has to be quick.’ He touched her bottom lip with his index finger and the longing threatened to knock her over.

‘Why?’ she asked.

He hesitated, furrowing his forehead in an expression that looked like he expected to be slapped.

‘What is it?’ she asked.

‘I’ve got to leave tomorrow.’

Her eyes widened. She stepped back.

‘Tomorrow? Why?’

‘I’m captain on a ketch to the Med.’

‘I don’t even know what that means.’

‘I’m working on a sailboat that’s leaving Lowestoft on Tuesday, to go to Italy.’

She stepped back. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

‘I’ve been trying to ignore it. And I didn’t want you to be angry at me?’

‘I’m not angry at you.’ Though she was. She was angry with him for showing up and making her feel this way, if only for a few hours, and then disappearing. A raindrop hit her cheek, and she wiped it away. ‘Are you coming back to England?’

‘That wasn’t the plan.’

‘Then why did you insist on seeing me again, if you knew you were just going to leave?’

He caught her hand. ‘Because any time together is better than none? We have tonight, at least.’

‘I’m not spending the night with you! I hardly know you.’

‘That’s not what I meant. Well, I did mean it if that’s what you wanted, but if you don’t, then this is fine. Walking and talking with you. I just want to get to know you, Emily.’

‘But what’s the point, if you’re leaving tomorrow?’

‘This is the point,’ he said, and he pulled her to him and kissed her on the mouth.

His lips on hers, the roughness of his chin, the taste of red wine. Emily wrapped her arms around his neck without meaning to and she stood on tiptoes, pushing up towards him, pressing her lips to his.

This is what it feels like to be properly kissed, she thought. She closed her hand in the hair at the back of his head and he pulled her tighter to him. She felt not just his lips but all of him, his breathing, his heartbeat, his arms around her, the lean strength of his body.

She hadn’t known it would be so wonderful, or that she would crave to be even closer, or that nothing else would matter at all.

‘Wow,’ he whispered against her lips, and then kissed her harder.

The rain began with a sudden fall, instantly drenching their hair and shoulders. Robbie looked up, still holding her tight, and laughed.

‘Guess I’m not as good at the weather as I thought.’

‘Let’s get to shelter,’ she said. He wrapped his jacket more tightly around her and they ran for a shop doorway. By the time they’d reached it, her shoes were soaked and water was running down the back of her neck.

‘There, that’s better,’ he said, and settled himself back against the wall, with her pulled close to him. Raindrops rolled down his cheeks, dripping from his hair; she brushed them away with her own wet hand and he kissed her palm. ‘You look even better wet.’

Then he kissed her again, this time with his mouth open, and the heat of it warmed her through. Outside their shelter the rain fell and fell. It drummed on the roof and ran down the cobbles outside their shelter in a sheet. They kissed and kissed until Emily had to break away, breathless.

‘This was worth coming to England for,’ he murmured, his lips brushing her cheek and then the hair beside her ear.

‘We can’t stay here,’ she said, rationality asserting itself, despite the feeling of his breath in her ear and the shiver it sent down her spine.

‘Why not?’

‘Because it’s raining and we’ll catch our death, if a policeman doesn’t come along and turf us out first.’

‘I’d like to see him try.’ He began kissing her neck and she shivered again because it felt so exciting. She had never been pressed this close to a man before. Her chest up against his, her hips against his thighs.

‘So you want to kiss in this doorway all night until you have to leave in the morning?’

‘Sounds perfect.’ He tilted her chin up to kiss her again, but she shook her head.

‘Where are you staying?’ she asked.

‘Right here, I told you.’ He inclined his head to hers.

‘No, I mean, where did you stay last night?’

‘In a park not far from here.’

‘You slept outside?’

‘It was a nice night, and hotels are expensive.’

‘So what were you planning to do tonight?’

He shrugged. ‘I hadn’t thought much further than meeting up with you.’

‘How can you not even—’ Something struck her. ‘You’d been planning to spend last night with that woman you were with yesterday, weren’t you?’