‘Who’s Gilbert?’ he said. ‘You never talk about him when you’re with me.’
‘Father said he’d be good company for me. He’s a scholar, a very clever man.’
He’d seen them walking together in the far distance on the beach one time, his arm wrapped around her waist. Gilbert’s coming made very little difference to their friendship. But it made all the difference to their future.
‘You can say what you like. I don’t care.’ she said, smiling.
Up ahead a battered gate, swinging by the hinges, gave access to a swollen stream.
‘There was an orchard there once,’ he said pointing to the valley, ‘down there, close to the stream. Nothing left of it now.’ They crept down the bank to look upon the marshy meadow where long ago the orchard grew.
‘I do want to fall in love and get married when I’m grown up, don’t you?’ she said.
He turned to her, suddenly quiet. ‘That’s what I said to you – last time we were here. Don’t you remember?’
‘Last time we were here you told me there was an orchard there once.’ she pointed exactly where he had pointed, smiling again. ‘Some things never change.’
The air that blew about them tasted salty, queer.
The spirit of independence seemed something worth shrugging off, like a blanket in summer.
‘You and I are cut from the same cloth,’ he said. He knew her. He knew her by heart.
‘Perhaps some day we’ll…’ Then without finishing the sentence, she pretended to button up her coat, which was buttoned already.
He wanted to stroke her chin, to pull her face closer to his. But he never did. He’d always believed their Friendship stood for something outside time – unlike the ebb and flow of romantic pursuits that came and went as the tide.
And yet, she appeared almost as a relic as she walked away from the car and into her father’s house – a solidified, stagnant thing of the past. Her countenance had looked uncertain and yet the feeling of abandonment became a presence, the certainty of an empty future.
It lingered in the car as he pulled away, like the smell of drying seaweed on the shore.
He knew Gilbert was different to the others. He knew because he knew her.
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