A Banquet of Consequences(12)

By: Elizabeth George


The sea was grey on this day, but the sky was blue. Clouds scudded across it as if chased by the sun, but there were no birds, which Lily found odd. She’d expected gulls, but not a bird was in sight. And the only sound was the relentless wind.

She said to William, “You’re dead mad, you are, bringing us up here. Even the birds can’t cope.”

His response was a happy, “Swim to France? I feel like I could.” He cast a look at her, and his face was boyish. He said spontaneously but a little shyly, which she found appealing, “Lily, can I kiss you?”

“Odd question from a bloke I shared a tooth glass with.”

“Does that mean yes?”

“S’pose it does.”

He leaned to her and kissed her, a gentle kiss without expectation of anything more. This, too, she found appealing. She responded, and the kiss lingered. She felt the stirring within her, as she ever had.


SEATOWN

DORSET

On the way back down to their camping site, he kissed her again. This time he didn’t ask permission. He merely stopped abruptly, and the expression on his face told her what was coming. She discovered that she wanted it to come, but there was danger in this.

She said, “I’ve got my life back, William. I don’t want to lose it again.”

“We’re not going to talk about that,” he told her. “Not yet. I won’t say not ever because things have changed for me. I’ve moved on as well.”

“What’s that mean? Is there someone . . . ?”

“I wouldn’t have asked you to come down if there was someone, and I bloody well hope you wouldn’t have come if there was someone on your side as well.”

“I’ve said there isn’t.”

“But has there been? In these last months? Because there hasn’t for me and—”

“William . . .” She said his name like a gentle admonition.

“Never mind,” he said quickly. “None of my business.” He resumed their walk.

They made love that night. Lily couldn’t have said what was behind William’s desire to be with her that way—aside from biology and the kind of animal lust that arises when a male and a female are thrust into intensely intimate quarters with each other after a pleasant day together—but on her part it was a half-and-half thing. Half lust, if she was honest with herself. Half curiosity, if she was more honest still. For their previous coupling had been an engagement of manic intensity where his release followed so hard on the heels of initiation that the end result had most often been abject apology, reassurance, and a recommitment to “make things different next time.” They’d never been different, but she’d kept up her hopes. Now she was merely curious.

Thus she let him seduce her once she read the signs that he wanted to do so: the earnest looks, the warm hand on the back of her neck as they walked back from their meal at the pub, the fingers gently brushing her hair from her cheeks. When he said without the hesitant preamble she’d come to learn was his style, “D’you want to make love with me, Lily?” she admired that new courage in him that gave voice to desire instead of sidling into the act as if it was the expected thing between them. This made her consider that perhaps it had been her own lusty approach which had, all along, been the source of his troubles. So this time, she followed his lead and let him guide her as he wished. They lay together afterwards on their sides with their hands intertwined on her hip.

“I love you,” he said. “Now and always.”

She smiled, but she didn’t say the words he wanted to hear. She thought he might protest at this, asking for more as he’d done in the past, but he didn’t. Instead he smiled back at her and said, “So . . . How was it for you?”

“You know very well how it was for me. But, William . . .” She waited for him to steel himself, but he didn’t do so behind that open and generous expression on his face. She said, “It doesn’t change anything. It’s lovely here. I recognise that. But I don’t want to leave London.”

“Yet,” he said. “Add ‘yet.’ You know it’s there, waiting to be said.”