We begin with Will deciding not to convert Olly at this particular juncture. Good plan, Will. He is not really relevant to this scene, which is more about the regrettably absent Camilla. I miss her.
Tonight was not the night for such a daunting undertaking, even if Will had known where to start. He had other things to do: a Teaching and Study committee meeting, followed by dinner at Jake’s house, finishing up at the Royal Oak with the rest of the Sailing Club for Frizzo’s birthday. Becky was out as well, having dinner with Adam to celebrate their first anniversary. Peter, therefore, was left to feed only his two fellow finalists and Colette, who was even more quiet than usual through the meal, and slunk off to her room at the earliest possible opportunity.
When the silence grew oppressive, Peter asked, ‘Any plans for the evening, Olly?’
‘I was going to go to Liam’s party – you know, Liam in Maths, used to hang around Morley in first year, sometimes? But something’s come up.’
‘Something?’ Peter was curious.
He looked shifty. ‘I’m going to the cinema, actually.’
Georgia tilted her head and looked at him sideways, accusingly. ‘Oh. You might have told me you were missing Liam’s thing. What are you seeing?’ (Angling for an invitation?)
‘I don’t know, yet. We were going to decide over a drink.’
Peter raised his eyebrows. ‘We?’ he said, and, seeing Georgia’s face, regretted it.
‘Me and Camilla.’ He was turning red, clashing increasingly with his sandy hair.
Georgia had gone from neutral to beetroot without warning. She said, dangerously calmly, ‘You’re seeing her again, then?’
‘That’s right,’ Olly agreed.
Peter considered the distance between himself and the door. Trying to change the subject as unobtrusively as possible, he said, ‘I hear what’s its name, the new Tarantino film, is meant to be very good.’
‘She didn’t look to me like the sort of person who’d be a Tarantino fan,’ Georgia said.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Olly asked through a sudden glacier.
Peter made one last effort. ‘Seriously. It’s had very good reviews.’
‘I shall see what Milly thinks.’
Georgia muttered something about what the rest of us think, the details of which Peter did not catch. Olly, however, did. ‘I don’t care what the rest of you think,’ he stated. ‘I’ll admit to a certain sordid interest, though. Do you have a problem with Camilla, Georgia?’
A swift harsh sigh. ‘No. Of course I don’t. I’ve barely met the woman.’
‘Then I’ll thank you to refrain from making snide remarks about her.’
Georgia rose, which gained her a temporary height advantage. ‘If you choose to interpret a perfectly neutral comment as snide, that’s up to you.’
Olly also stood, stiff-backed as a guardsman. ‘Georgia, if you object to my occasionally enjoying the company of the opposite sex, could you do me the favour of saying so to my face?’
‘Oh, so that’s what they call it these days?’
Peter groaned. They turned to face him, wearing comically similar expressions of outrage. ‘What?’ Georgia demanded.
It was a bad idea, but he said it anyway. ‘Can’t you two just shag and get it over with?’
He took advantage of the appalled silence to get up and leave the room. He just heard Olly say, mildly, ‘Fuck off,’ as he closed the door behind him.
He only got half-way down the stairs before Georgia caught him up. ‘No, we can’t, and you know it,’ she hissed.
He turned back to face her. ‘You can’t stop him going out with other girls, G.,’ he said.
‘I know.’ She had herself under control. ‘I know. It’s not fair. I could just do with not knowing about it, that’s all. And she’s so bloody gorgeous and posh. What the hell do I look like next to her?’
‘The one he’s in love with, that’s what you look like,’ Peter said, gentle but impatient. ‘And if you’ve turned him down, you can’t expect him to live like a monk.’
A floorboard creaked on the landing above them. As one, they froze, looked very slowly upwards, listened as Olly’s footsteps plodded all the way up to the top of the house; then Georgia said, quietly and furiously, ‘Fine. You’ve told me all the things I can’t do. What, in that case, can I do?’
Peter was suddenly sick of them all: of Olly and Georgia, stubbornly apart; of Becky and Adam, loudly and ecstatically reunited; of Lily and Ross, smugly together; of Colette, as far out of his reach as ever; most of all, of himself. ‘You know what?’ he said. ‘Do what the hell you want.’