‘Then be attracted to me enough to come to Lowestoft with me. It’s one day out of your life, Emily.’
‘I have a tutorial at ten. And . . .’ There was something else, but she couldn’t remember it with Robbie kneeling beside her bed, holding both her hands and looking entreatingly at her.
‘You’ll be back tomorrow,’ he said. ‘It’ll be as if none of this ever happened.’
‘It’s not the sort of thing I do.’
‘All the more reason to do it, I would have thought.’ He squeezed her hands. ‘We won’t be young forever, Emily Greaves. And we only have one day. Let’s make the most of it.’
Looking at you makes me feel happier than I’ve been in years, maybe ever.
He might be lying. But he didn’t look as if he were.
‘I’ll have to find someone to give in my essay for me,’ she said. ‘And I’ll need to leave a note for my tutor.’
His smile made her heart turn over.
‘Oh, you beauty,’ he said, and kissed her.
‘You’ll have to leave the same way you got in,’ she said, pushing him gently away from her. ‘I’ll be dressed in ten minutes. Meet me by the front.’
She scurried out to the bathroom, giving a false, bright smile to her neighbour Adrienne whom she met coming out, and by the time she came back the window was open and Robbie and his bag were gone. The blanket had been folded neatly on the bottom of her bed.
After she dressed she scribbled a note to Dr Madison and was reaching for another piece of paper to write a note to Christopher, to drop in his pigeonhole on her way to the station along with her essay, when she stopped.
Christopher. She’d completely forgotten.
The blood rushed to her face as she recalled how shy he’d been, how difficult it had been for him to ask her for a date. The date that was supposed to be tonight. Being with Robbie had driven it utterly out of her mind.
She should stay. She had promised Christopher.
If she could feel this strongly attracted to a man after less than a day – ten thousand times more strongly attracted than she was to Christopher, after having known him for two years – wasn’t that a sign that it wasn’t right to date Christopher?
I’m sorry, she scribbled on the paper, before she could let herself think about it too much. I’ve had to go away for the day. I’ll be back tomorrow and I’ll explain it then. Can you please give in my essay to Dr M? So sorry, Christopher.
She began to write Love but thought better of it and just signed it Em.
She shoved some clothes and her toothbrush into an overnight case, gave her hair a brush and hurried down her staircase, already rehearsing her excuse to the porter about an emergency at home.
Emily stared out the train window, chewing on a fingernail. She checked her watch: two minutes till the train left, and there was no sign of Robbie since he’d left her on the platform, asking her to find them a couple of seats.
What was she doing? She didn’t know this man. He could be anyone. He could be lying to her about the boat. He could be lying to her about everything. He could have some sort of nefarious plan to lure her somewhere. He could have a wife, children, be a murderer. He could have changed his mind and decided he didn’t want to spend his last day with her after all.
She heard the guard’s whistle and the doors slamming up and down the train. He wasn’t coming, and she didn’t have a ticket. Emily stood up to leave and through the window she saw Robbie running along the platform outside, carrying a paper parcel.
He burst on to the train, breathing hard, and smiled widely when he saw her. ‘Provisions,’ he said, holding up the bundle.
He’d bought sweets, crisps, biscuits and bottles of Coca-Cola which he opened using the penknife from his pocket. They spread everything out on the table in front of them and Emily ate what was probably the unhealthiest breakfast of her life and she couldn’t stop smiling.
Somewhere past Thetford, the guard came into the end of their compartment. ‘Tickets to Norwich,’ he announced, and began to make his way down towards them.
Robbie swept up their picnic, shoved it under his seat, and seized her hand. ‘We’ve got to go,’ he whispered to her, and pulled her out of her seat and up the aisle away from the conductor.
‘To the bathroom.’ He reached the loo at the end of the carriage and tugged her into it, shutting the door behind them.
It was rather unpleasant smelling and so tiny that Emily was pressed right up against Robbie, her stomach against his hip and her face close to his. The train lurched over points, and he wrapped his arm around her waist to keep her steady. He was very warm and very solid.
‘What on earth are we doing?’ she asked.
He put his finger on her lips and whispered. ‘Quiet. If we’re caught without tickets we’ll be thrown off the train.’
‘You didn’t buy tickets? I thought that was what you were doing while I found the seats.’
He shrugged. ‘I was too busy getting our picnic.’
He put his palm over her mouth. ‘Shh. The conductor will be walking by any minute now.’
Emily kept quiet, her eyes wide, looking up at Robbie. He seemed to think this was an enormous joke. He held her easily and close and the motion of the train made her body vibrate against his, rubbing her even warmer. She felt herself beginning to sweat. Her nostrils were filled with the scent of his skin. If she stuck her tongue out and touched his palm, she would taste salt.
Long moments later, he removed his hand from her mouth and reached behind her to unlock the door. ‘I’ll follow you in a minute,’ he murmured, pushing her out and closing the door again.
She was more than a little unsteady walking back to their seats.
He joined her, sliding into the seat next to hers, whistling a snatch of the music they’d listened to the night before.
‘Why didn’t you get tickets?’ she asked in a low voice.
‘I thought there were better things to spend money on.’
‘Robbie, you have to buy tickets if you’re going to ride a train.’
The question was so ridiculous she sputtered. ‘Because – because that’s what you do. I could have given you the money if you’d told me.’
‘I had enough money. I just like to keep it for important things.’ He reached under the seat and retrieved the parcel. ‘We can split the last Coke.’
‘Did you pay for that?’
‘The snacks for the train journey were more important in your mind than the actual train journey?’
He popped open the bottle. A small wisp of fizz appeared at its mouth. ‘I don’t like having to pay for travel; travel should be free. We should all be able to go wherever we want to. That’s the point of being alive.’
‘But what about the guards who have to make a living? And the drivers? And the signalmen, and the people who build the trains and the track and—’
‘Emily Greaves, you’re going to give me a conscience if you keep on like that.’
He tried to kiss her, but she pulled back. ‘We’re buying tickets in Norwich for the rest of the journey.’
‘I love it when you get all strict.’
‘Robbie, I mean it.’
‘All right, all right. Point taken. You’re right, I’m wrong. Can you forgive me?’