Deleted scene: a day at the beach

In a spirit of ‘all’s well that ends well’, I present this alternative view of the beginning of the Summer section.

 

Peter opened his eyes. Sunlight, creeping down the hall and through his open door. He reached out a hand for the clock on his bedside table, and connected instead with something soft. It was a crumpled polo shirt. Ah, yes. He had not undressed neatly. What had he slept in? Pants. Logical enough.

He drew the polo shirt towards him, sending a glass of water tumbling to the floor. Peter cursed. It spilt but did not break. Leaving it to soak into the carpet for the moment, he shook the shirt experimentally; the clock rolled out. He squinted at it. Eight fifteen. Ridiculous. By rights, he should sleep for another three hours and wake with one hell of a hangover. Not that he was complaining about that last one. Fine. He would go back to sleep. He rolled over and hugged the pillow to him.

But he was feeling remarkably alert, and the awareness of that spilt water tugged at him until he got up and put a towel down over the puddle. Then, of course, the glass had to go back to the kitchen. He shrugged his dressing gown on and went upstairs.

Colette was in the kitchen, drinking her horrible weak tea. She raised her mug to him in salute. ‘How was the Theology binge?’

‘Good, thanks, yes,’ Peter said. ‘How are you?’

She twisted her mouth into a nervous grimace. ‘It’s results day.’

‘For you, maybe.’ He smiled, thinking of his solid 2:1. ‘Are you going up to campus soon, then?’

‘When I’ve had some breakfast.’

‘Do you mind if I come up with you?’ he asked on impulse. ‘I could do with a walk and a look at the Grand Union Stores, before I leave this place forever.’

She regarded him for a fraction of a second too long. He stopped a sigh. Would she ever trust him? But she said, ‘Of course; why not?’

Why not indeed? Peter said: ‘OK, I’ll go and get dressed.’

They went to the Chemistry floor of the Science block first. Peter had never been further inside than the foyer in all his three years at Stancester; today the great glazed atrium was like a greenhouse. Colette led him across the hall, up a flight of stairs, over a bridge and along a corridor. At last she came to a halt opposite a small gaggle of excited first-years. ‘Here.’

She slid past the group and scanned a list headed ‘SECOND YEAR’. Peter also looked, but could make nothing of it: the marks were listed next to the students’ identity numbers, with no names mentioned.

‘Ah,’ Colette said grimly.

Peter followed her finger with his eyes. ‘Fifty-one. That’s OK; it’s a 2:2.’ He knew his voice lacked conviction.

‘Could do better,’ Colette said.

It was true; they both knew it. Peter said, ‘You’ve had a hell of a year.’

She nodded. She was on the verge of tears. The first years moved off, chattering happily; presumably they had all attained the forty per cent mark necessary to progress. In second year marks counted.

She was looking at the board more closely. ‘I didn’t actually fail,’ she said. ‘I’m not sure that it was possible to fail the whole year on one set of exams. I just didn’t do as well as I should have done.’

He had hoped never to see her look so bleak again. Her head was tipped forward; her shoulders drooped. She was wilting in the heat and disappointment. He risked putting a hand on her shoulder. She sagged under the weight of it.

‘Do you want to go home?’ he asked. ‘Or to the pub, or something?’

She shook her head. ‘Even the Venue won’t be open yet. And I can’t go home.’

‘Why on earth not?’

‘It’s kicking-out day for halls. Which means it’s moving-in day for Lydia. Her parents are coming down to drive all the stuff over to our place from Wycombe, and then take her home. I can’t be there when they arrive. We agreed on that last -‘ She sniffed and let the sentence trail off.

‘They surely won’t be here this early?’

‘I suppose not.’

‘Would it be worth giving her a ring, to see if they are? And, if not, you could go over to Wycombe now and say goodbye before they get here.’ Inspiration struck. ‘And then -‘

‘What?’

‘We could go to the beach.’

Colette’s mood lifted as the train drew out of Stancester and pelted south and west into Devon. She felt happier still when they left the express at Exeter. A soft breeze floated through the station as they waited for the branch line train that would take them down along the Exe estuary to the coast. Perhaps, Colette thought as she wandered up and down the platform, she had just needed to get out of Stancester, away from the expectations and the pressure and the dead heat.

The Exmouth train was short, only two carriages, and warm and lazy. She leaned her head against the window and closed her eyes for a moment or two, trying to fix Lydia’s image in her mind, those dark eyes concerned and loving and anxious; that tawny hair dishevelled in the bustle of last-minute packing, with a cobweb caught in it from goodness knew where. She tried not to think about how Lydia had jumped at every footstep in the corridor, every little whistle or chirrup from her mobile phone, tried to remember instead the exact sensation of having her in her arms. She sighed, noiselessly. Eight weeks!

Sitting up and opening her eyes, she looked sideways at Peter, who was frowning at the Church Times crossword. He looked up at her and smiled. ‘How are you doing?’

‘Better, thanks. I don’t deal with heat so well.’

He nodded. ‘Sea breezes, that’s the answer. We’ll have a nice day at the beach.’

They did. They ate ice creams; they bought buckets and spades and built sandcastles. Wandering down to the water line, Colette picked up her skirt and paddled, the water swirling cool around her ankles. She gazed out to sea for some time, then glanced back up the beach to see where Peter was. He had stretched out on the sand and was dozing.

‘Peter,’ she said, when she had trudged back up the beach and sat down beside him.

He removed the newspaper from his face and blinked up at her. ‘Yes?’

‘Are we friends?’

‘Of course we are. Didn’t I let you stand me an ice cream?’

‘So you did. Clotted cream and all.’

‘Clotted cream and a little plastic spoon to eat it with. That’s proof enough of my devotion, I should say.’

Colette laughed. ‘It wasn’t your devotion I was questioning. It was whether you still liked me the way I like you, even though I don’t like you the way you like me in the other way.’

‘Mrmph,’ Peter agreed. ‘Well, obviously. If it was just the other way, I wouldn’t have let you get the ice creams. I’d have insisted on buying them myself.’

‘I suppose.’

‘Actually I think I might be over you. I did throw the spoon away, after all.’

‘Really?’ This was encouraging.

He sighed. ‘Not really, I’m afraid. At least, I did chuck the spoon, but I’m not over you. I’m sorry. I know it’s awkward.’

‘I’m sorry, too.’

‘That’s all right. You can’t help it. Nor can I. We just live with it, don’t we?’

‘We do.’ She wiggled her feet in the sand, enjoying the dry powdery warmth between her toes.

‘In fact, we only live with each other for another week, so I wouldn’t worry. It’s much easier these days, anyway, now you’ve got Lydia.’

‘Oh. Good,’ she said, feeling warmth spread through her at the sound of Lydia’s name.

‘Well, obviously it’s a lot easier for you. I just keep going as I was before, but you’re happy, and that’s a bonus.’

She shook her head. ‘You’re such a gentleman.’

‘I know.’ He smiled and shut his eyes again.

‘Once upon a time,’ she said, idly, ‘there was a knight who wished to marry a beautiful princess. Her father told him, fine, you can marry her, but first you have to complete seven impossible tasks. No problem, he said. Bring it on. OK, said the king. The first impossible task is this: go away and never come back.’

‘Exactly,’ Peter said. ‘At least, that was the way you were playing it.’

‘Well, yes.’ She picked up a discarded lolly stick and doodled in the sand with it. ‘I didn’t expect the princess to take matters into her own hands and come after me. And in the mirror version you play it straight. Metaphorically speaking.’

‘Quite. I’m here. In body, at least. Not so much in mind.’ He yawned.

Tentative: ‘Like I was, back in March?’

‘I didn’t want to bring that up,’ he said.

‘Nor did I, particularly. But I want to apologise.’

‘Fair enough.’ He sat up and extended a hand to her. ‘Shake?’

She took it. ‘Of course. Friends?’

‘Friends.’

‘Good.’ She smiled. ‘Sorry – well, sorry it’s been so awful.’

He glowered. ‘Stop apologising.’

‘OK, then. Thank you for today – this was a really good idea.’

‘Wasn’t it?’ he agreed happily.

‘Took my mind off things. Except for how I’m talking about them to you now, of course.’

Peter stretched his arms high, bracing his back against the seawall. ‘Ah, yes, that’s the other thing, isn’t it? The princess actually does have a real father.’

‘Yup. And I’m not even asking him for her hand. I’m a wuss.’

Peter looked at her severely. ‘I thought you were doing this voluntary exile thing for her? So that her family wouldn’t catch on and give her hell this summer?’

‘Yes, that was the idea. But I still feel like a wuss.’

‘You’ll just have to swallow your pride and be a wuss, in that case. You can be chivalrous and sneaky at the same time. It’s practically the definition of courtly love.’

She laughed. ‘I suppose so.’

They bought fish and chips and ate them on the station platform, waiting for the train back to Exeter. Colette fell asleep on the express, only waking when Peter shook her shoulder, gently, as it drew into Stancester.

‘Ouch,’ she said.

‘Sorry. Sunburn?’

‘Yup.’ She craned her neck, trying to see how pink her back had gone. ‘Oh, well. I’ve got some after-sun stuff, at home.’

‘Safe to go back now, you think?’

‘Should be. She’ll be half-way back to Hastings, by now.’

‘OK,’ Peter said, thoughtfully. ‘OK.’

A neat stack of boxes and bags in the corner of the sitting room betrayed Lydia’s recent presence in the house. There was no rational reason to go into the sitting room, so Colette, feeling Peter’s sad, understanding, eyes on her, proceeded straight up the stairs. He followed her as far as the kitchen; she went on up to her room.

She chucked her sandals under the bed and her bag on the desk. It left a little trail of sand behind. She winced as she stretched her arms, and felt the sunburn on her shoulders. There was still sand between her toes; she sat down on the edge of the bed and wriggled them to try to dislodge it.

‘Colette!’ Peter called from downstairs. ‘Tea? Cake?’

‘Tea, yes please; cake, no thanks,’ she called back. How Peter could even think about eating after such vast quantities of fish and chips… She sighed. Odd how the minor discomforts combined to make contentment. Her results seemed less disastrous now. Summer retakes; that wouldn’t be so bad. And Lydia… Lydia had left Stancester, and was probably back in Sussex; they wouldn’t see each other for nearly two months now, but after that… She thought of Lydia’s things, boxes piled up in the sitting room, to be moved into Olly’s room in September. Not Olly’s room, at least, not for much longer. Lydia’s room, soon: the room next door. Would it be weird to go downstairs to look at the boxes, count them, perhaps, to let herself think that Lydia had been standing there only a couple of hours ago?

Just as she was reluctantly deciding that it would, Peter appeared. ‘Tea oop, love,’ he announced, in a woeful parody of Becky’s accent. ‘Hey, hey, what’s up?’

‘Something in my eye… sand, maybe,’ she lied. ‘Sorry.’ She grabbed her pyjama top and wiped her eyes on it. A folded piece of paper fluttered to the floor.

Peter handed it to her. ‘Something of yours?’

Lydia’s cramped, tangled writing. Colette pounced on it. ‘Oh! She’s left me a letter.’

Peter turned around and tactfully began to eat his cake while Colette read the note.

Dearest Colette,

Writing this very quickly – Mum and Dad think I’ve gone back to get something from my book box. Just wanted to say 3 things:

1. I love you.
2. Thank you for going out today. I feel awful for kicking you out of your own house, but you were right: they’d have known straight away if they’d seen the 2 of us together.
2a. I love you.
3. I’ve nicked your pink cardigan. I hope you don’t mind – I had to have something to prove you still existed. Let me know if you need it and I’ll post it back.

Goodbye, my darling. I’ll phone you whenever I can. September seems so far off!

All my love – Lydia xxxx

Reaching the end of the note, Colette threw herself face down on the bed and howled. Peter patted her ineffectually on the shoulder. ‘Is it – all right?’ he asked. ‘Either way, there’s tea here.’

‘Oh, yes,’ she gulped. ‘It’s as all right as it can be.’ She sat up, blew her nose, and reached for the mug. Far too strong, of course but none the less welcome.

‘Are you working this summer?’ he asked.

Colette knew a deliberate attempt to change the subject when she saw one, but she humoured him. ‘I haven’t sorted anything out yet, but I probably will. Why?’

‘I was just thinking: you could come and stay with me if you happened to have a free week. Tonbridge is only about an hour from Hastings, you know.’

Deleted scene: Colette goes off the rails II

By dint of not speaking much, they got through the next few days without allowing the atmosphere to contaminate the rest of the household. Peter was counting down the days to the end of term – so, no doubt, was Colette: Sunday (he went to chapel; she went to Wardle Street), Monday (that was all right; that was her heaviest day of lectures); Tuesday (although at some point they were going to have to meet to hand over the vice-presidential duties, damn it); Wednesday (there was no escaping AngthMURC, though he was very late, telling himself that the chapel needed a thorough sort-out after the last Evensong of term); Thursday (and then he had lots of reading to catch up with for his dissertation).

Thursday. Almost Friday: it was getting on for one in the morning. Peter had long since given up on Thomas Aquinas, and was alternating between an aimless wander through Wikipedia links in one browser window, and a ten-page argument about the role of women in the Church on the Stancesternet forums in another. He should, he supposed, go to bed, but he could not quite be bothered. The thought of traipsing upstairs to clean his teeth, and finding a clean pair of pyjamas – any pyjamas, come to that – was exhausting in itself; so he sat there, and clicked, and clicked.

He jumped when he heard a sound – small, scraping, metallic. A key, fumbling for, and turning in, the front door lock. Becky and Colette, back from clubbing. Becky’s attempt to take Colette’s mind off – whatever it was. Peter stood up and stretched the cramp out of his right arm. Better go out and make sure everything was all right.

In the corridor, Colette was leaning heavily on Becky. ‘’m gonna throw – up –’

‘No, you’re not. Not until I can get you upstairs.’

A bitter giggle. ‘Oo-er, missus.’

‘You didn’t throw up in the taxi. I’m very proud of you.’ Becky hoisted Colette’s arm around her shoulder, and they lurched up the stairs together. He could hear her saying, ‘Not on the landing, either.’

Ought he go and help? Becky seemed to have things well in hand; and he did not deal well with people throwing up. He compromised by calling, softly, up the stairs, ‘Need any help, Becky?’

‘If you wouldn’t mind finding a bucket…’ she replied.

A bucket. That was easy enough. He shoved his feet into slippers and went out into the back garden. There was a builder’s bucket out there, last used for dousing the sparklers on Bonfire Night. It would be far easier to clean than the mop bucket, should the worst come to the worst.

By the time he had tipped the slime out, rinsed it under the outside tap, dried it off, and hauled it upstairs, Becky had managed to tidy Colette up and put her into bed. She was standing over her, now, making her drink a pint of water before going to sleep. ‘You’ll thank me in the morning,’ she said.

Colette groaned faintly. Peter handed the bucket to Becky and retired discreetly downstairs. ‘Good night,’ he said, as if everything were perfectly normal.

He sat down on his own bed. He needed to think. This was not normal, not normal at all. Other students went out and got hammered and threw up, but not Colette. She knew when to stop. Other students dyed their hair outrageous colours, but not Colette. Her hair was a perfectly nice colour as it was. Other students – well, no, they didn’t, unless you counted Ali, last year – but nor was it at all like Colette to have thrown herself at him.

He had, he noted in passing, got it bad. A disinterested observer would have said that Colette was looking terrible – no, to be fair, she had looked passable enough when she went out, but she had come home with black circles under her eyes, smudged lipstick, the badly dyed hair falling lank around her face, and miserably unhappy – but he would have asked her out in a heartbeat, had he thought she was remotely interested. (Well, he supposed, she had been, in a way, but he had known then, and knew now, that it was false. He was too proud for that. He knew very well that her interest in him was merely a sign of her unhappiness. That just went to show that there was nothing to hope for there.) He rubbed his eyes. Thinking about her, a furious, longing, tightness spread across his chest, something that was not entirely sexual, but that was more than a friend’s vicarious anger.

‘I love Colette,’ he said to the empty room. It was the first time he had admitted it out loud; which did not make it any the less true, or serious. He loved her grey eyes and her deceptive vagueness; he loved her cynical smile and the way she would pounce on a flaw in an argument and maul it until only the bare bones of the truth were left. She would never love him back; he would never stop loving her. One day, he supposed, he would be grateful to have her simply as his friend – assuming they could be friends, now. One day he would have the grace to pray for that to be the case.

Somebody tapped at his door. ‘You still up?’

‘Becky. Come in.’

She sidled into his room, shivering in her skimpy top and miniskirt, and her hair looking greasy with the raindrops caught in it. ‘Well. That was a disastrous idea. I was trying to take her mind off it all, but I suppose you just take it with you, don’t you?’

Peter forbore to comment on the sense, or otherwise, of Becky’s plan. ‘She’s not herself,’ he said, jerking his head upwards.

‘No.’ Becky shut the door and leaned against it, arms crossed.

‘Do you -‘ he hesitated ‘- have any idea why?’

She nodded. ‘She’s trying,’ she said, with a pomposity that betrayed the fact that she, too, had been drinking a little too much, ‘to get back into the closet. And it’s too small for her. She’s a fucking butterfly. Of course she doesn’t fit back into the chrysalis. And it hurts so much that she’s drinking to stop it hurting.’

‘Why is she even trying?’

Becky gave him a look. ‘Oh, come on. You of all people should know. She’s head over fucking heels in love with fucking Christian Fellowship Lydia. Why you thought it would be a good idea to introduce them in the first place…’

Peter ignored the bait, and the sickening certainty that she was right. ‘Did she tell you that?’

‘No, but it’s obvious. It couldn’t be anyone else; there’s nobody else she’d pretend to be straight for. I’ll tell you something else, too: Lydia knows.’

‘Oh, no.’ Peter was fond of Lydia; he did not want to think that she might be capable of driving Colette to the edge, knowing that she was doing it.

Becky nodded. ‘I can’t make sense of it any other way. Think about it. If, in the ordinary way, you have a crush on someone you see a lot of -‘ her eyes flickered over Peter ‘- and you know it’s not going to go anywhere, for the perfectly reasonable reason that you’re pretty sure the other person isn’t interested, what do you do? You ignore it and hope it goes away. You don’t pretend to be someone completely different, someone who wouldn’t even think of fancying that person in the first place.’

‘That’s what you think she’s doing?’ Peter said, disregarding the too-accurate description of his own approach to things.

‘I’m sure of it. And who would she go that far for? Somebody who was bothered by her not being straight. For obvious reasons, she doesn’t hang around with too many people like that. I mean, even Lydia wasn’t bothered at the beginning, and I know Colette told her straight off, because she told me she had. So if she wasn’t bothered then, why is she bothered now? Because she knows that it’s not general any more, it’s specific, and Colette fancies her. Specifically.’

‘Right.’

‘Somehow Colette’s worked out that Lydia knows – she might even have told her, it’s the sort of bloody stupid thing she’d do in a misguided attempt at being noble – and has freaked out and is trying to undo it all. Of course it’s not working, because that’s the toothpaste you can’t put back in the tube, but you try telling her that.’

It sounded horribly plausible. ‘Shit,’ Peter said. ‘What do we do about it?’

‘Hope she gets over it during the Easter holidays. Otherwise, buggered if I know,’ Becky said. ‘Buggered.’ She nodded morosely a couple of times, and left the room.

Deleted scene: Colette goes off the rails I

‘Are you frustrated, then?’ Becky asked, later, while Georgia was at the bar. There was nobody within earshot; the Lamb and Flag was reliably quiet, even on a shamrock-draped Saturday, and the jukebox was pumping out Britney Spears by way of cover.

Colette stood to feed it another pound. ‘Yes. No. It was a stupid comment. I didn’t mean it.’

Becky narrowed her eyes. ‘You’re not usually the one to suggest going to the pub. And you don’t usually have vodka in your room.’

She queued three songs at random, and did not turn back to face Becky while she spoke. ‘Birthday present. I keep forgetting to buy lemonade to go with it.’

‘Not saving it for a special occasion?’

Colette flopped back into her chair and sighed. ‘There will never be a special occasion. Today’s as good as it’s going to get.’

Becky raised her eyebrows; but Georgia came back just then, and started talking about AngthMURC committee elections, and the conversation moved on. They spoke afterwards of Peter’s prospects of being chosen for ordination, the Fellowship question, whether Liam had in fact been worth the fuss, and end of term deadlines; left when last orders was rung; and meandered home three abreast in the rain.

‘Well,’ Georgia said once they were safely inside, ‘I hope that’s going to do the trick and knock me out, so I’m going to make the most of it and go to bed now.’ Impulsively, she hugged first Becky, then Colette. ‘Thanks, guys. If I ever do anything that stupid again, I’m coming to you.’

‘No worries,’ Becky said; ‘any time. Night.’ Feeling that she had played nursemaid long enough, she turned to Colette. ‘I think I’ll turn in, too. What with three pints of Corbett’s Old Gutrot or whatever it was, I could do with some shut-eye.’

‘Night, then,’ Colette said.

 

Peter came in some time later, exhorting the world to shake it like a Polaroid picture, and found her half way through both the vodka and an obscure 1980s action film, curled on the sofa with all the cushions stacked under her left elbow.

‘Hey,’ he said, gently.

‘Hi.’ She moved a box of cranberry juice from the table to the floor.

‘How’s things?’

She nodded. ‘Yeah. Could be worse. Have a drink?’

He’d had a few, but still. ‘Thanks. What is this film?’

‘Dunno – I’m waiting for an ad break to find out.’ She poured surprisingly tidily. ‘Here you go.’

He sipped delicately at the vodka-and-cranberry – mostly vodka, it seemed. ‘You’re up late.’

She grimaced. ‘Don’t much want to go to bed.’

‘Why not?’ He sat down on the sofa next her.

She drew her knees up – more relaxed, but at the same time more defensive. ‘Turn the lights off: have to think.’

‘Not sleeping?’

‘Not soon enough.’ She leaned her head, experimentally, or so it seemed, on his shoulder.

He patted it awkwardly. ‘You’re not happy.’

She made no answer, but put her hand to his face and pulled his head down to hers in a contorted attempt at a kiss. It was not a particularly good kiss, but he could not help responding. Later, he wished he had paid more attention, but then he was conscious only of horrified enjoyment. ‘Be careful what you wish for,’ he murmured, as Colette abandoned the idea and slipped sideways into his lap.

‘Mm?’

He put his arms carefully around her. For a moment, all he could hear was her breathing, and his own. ‘Oh, Colette,’ he said. ‘Not like this.’

‘It’s the only way it’ll ever happen,’ she said, looking up at him, flushed, bright-eyed.

‘I know. But still.’

He held her, very still, for perhaps ten seconds, then laid a chaste kiss on her forehead. ‘Not like this,’ he said again.

‘Right,’ she said. ‘Yes. I see.’ She sat up, unfolded her legs, and yawned pointedly. ‘In which case I think I’ll go to bed.’

 

She was up before him the next morning. He found her sitting in exactly the same spot and the same attitude as last night, but with clothes replaced by pyjamas, and a cup of tea in her hand. The two sticky glasses still stood on the coffee table.

‘Hello,’ she said bleakly. ‘You were quite right.’

Peter smiled. ‘Damn. I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t have thought better of it.’

‘I would if I could,’ she said. ‘Or I wouldn’t if I could. You know what I mean. You’re so nice; you deserve it.’

‘Let me know if you ever do.’ He bent to pick up the glasses; she reached out impulsively and squeezed his hand.

‘I will. Thank you.’

‘It was nothing.’

‘Precisely,’ Colette responded, with a trace of her usual edge, and Peter knew that it was never going to be quite the same again.

Deleted scene: the Students’ Union general meeting

Picture doubly relevant to this scene. Or half relevant. Or something.

Picture doubly relevant to this scene. Or half relevant. Or something.

I take you to all the exciting locations. Actually, this happens after the SU meeting; it follows straight on from the current chapter 2 of the Lent term. Had it made it into the final version I’d have made a couple of changes, but it… didn’t. So I’m not.

 

Will was ranting to some other Fellowship members. Peter thought it best not to interrupt, and so walked home with Olly, who was accosted at every pace by people congratulating him on his speech.

‘I didn’t realise you were going to speak in favour,’ Peter said, once they were out of the Venue. ‘Not that I expected you to speak against – I mean, I hadn’t thought you’d be interested in the question at all.’

‘Yeah?’ Olly smiled. ‘I dunno, it just seemed like the thing to do…’

‘I mean,’ Peter pursued, ‘I wasn’t surprised at Tim speaking, because he’s such a stereotypical Catholic with a chip on his shoulder, and he’s been threatening to do something like this for years, but you’ve never seemed to care much, when we’ve talked about it at home or whatever…’

‘Just because I don’t talk,’ Olly said darkly, ‘doesn’t mean I don’t listen. And if it comes to it, it’s not so much about… well, it’s not so much about taking a side swipe at Evangelical Christianity, as it is about seeing things properly labelled. It’s the rationalist in me.’

Peter wondered what Olly had been going to say that it was not so much about. He would not have been so surprised had it been something to do with impressing Georgia.

‘Which wouldn’t help,’ he said, out loud. Georgia was still seething about the Camilla episode.

‘What?’

‘Sorry. Just thinking out loud.’

‘Oh… I thought Tim was very persuasive on why the Statement of Belief makes the Christian Fellowship a specifically Evangelical organisation, which I didn’t really understand, before. Not, like, living and breathing this stuff, the way you do.’

‘That’s a Theology degree for you,’ Peter said.

‘Do you really think,’ Olly asked, ‘that the existence of something called a Christian Fellowship results in you being misrepresented as a Christian?’

That had been a contentious point in the debate, and had been misunderstood in all directions. ‘Um,’ Peter said. ‘No. Yes. All the time.’

‘Really?’

‘Well.’ He paused. ‘OK, think about the person who tells you they’re a Christian, you know, quite early on, when you’ve just met them. Think about how you react. You take a step backwards, discover you’re late for your lecture, run away screaming…’

‘You mean Will. At least, the way he is now.’

‘You knew him before he was like that?’ Peter said, momentarily distracted. ‘I mean, I know you two were at school together, but I got the impression he sprang fully formed from some church leader’s forehead… Did he used to be a leftie feminist atheist, or something?’

‘Oh, he was always an over-privileged toffee-nosed git,’ Olly allowed. ‘But the Christian thing is new. He used to just fidget through the services up until his voice broke and he left the choir, and piss around in RE, like the rest of us. All this in-your-face Christian stuff has developed since we left school, so far as I can tell. Maybe something got him on his gap year…’ Going by Olly’s face, he was hoping it had hurt.

‘I hope he’s not following us… But yes, that’s my point exactly. It gets to the point where the rest of us are almost afraid to introduce ourselves as Christians, even to people we know quite well, because we know that we’ll then have to spend half an hour explaining that we’re not Bible-bashing, homophobic, anti-woman bigots who have no interest in them beyond converting them. I’m not sure if I get more people assuming that because I’m black… Anyway, that’s what Tim means by the Christian Fellowship misrepresenting other Christians.’

‘Evangelical Christian Fellowship, now,’ Olly corrected him.

‘Indeed. I don’t think, by the way, that it’s going to make any difference. In ten years’ time I will still be describing myself as a socially liberal Anglican on the high end of the candle…’

‘That’s a mouthful.’

Peter snorted.

‘What?’

‘Sorry. Just imagining the way Becky would laugh at that.’

‘Oh, well, Becky…’

They were turning the corner into Alma Road. Peter scrabbled in his pocket for his keys, but before he found them Colette had the door open. ‘Did you drop my card off?’ she asked, anxiously.

‘Hello to you, too.’

‘Sorry. Hello. And congratulations, Olly! Becky was refreshing the forums every five seconds until the result came out. But Peter, did you drop Lydia’s card off?’

‘No,’ Peter teased, and watched her face fall. ‘…I gave it to her in person.’

‘Oh! Did she like it?’

‘She didn’t open it when I was there. But…’ Peter frowned, trying to remember, ‘I think it was a nice surprise.’

‘Oh.’

Colette’s smile made his heart turn over twice: first with wistfulness on his own account, and then with dread, on hers.

Deleted scene: some more awkwardness

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.

‘Oh, nothing.’

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.’

 

Deleted scene: a wedding

2013 June Jim and Val wedding 352

Once upon a time, this was going to be the opening scene of Speak Its Name. Not this particular version, which slots in after another deleted scene where Lydia’s mother is driving her to Stancester (literally, not metaphorically), but it definitely started with a wedding. I was trying to do something clever with doubling and framing; also to introduce all the Alma Road characters; also to drop in the point that the ministers of a marriage are the couple themselves. It does all that, but it also introduces three completely unnecessary characters and slows up the action. And it doesn’t involve Lydia.

 

The wedding was at Wardle Street Methodist Church. Lily Wicks, former President of Stancester University Anglican, Methodist and United Reformed Church Society, AngthMURC for short, was marrying Ross Whitehouse, former Social Secretary of the same organisation – a commitment that most of their friends affected to deplore, on the grounds of their excessive youth, but were secretly rather pleased about.

‘And after all,’ Peter Nathan observed to Olly Sennick as they awaited the arrival of the bride, ‘who cares if they have only just graduated? If you know what you want, you know what you want.’

‘Well,’ Olly said, cattily, ‘Lily always knows what she wants, and Ross is so laid back that I don’t think he much cares. Ridiculous institution, anyway. It’s just a piece of paper. I can’t see why they need a vicar.’

Peter could not resist rising to that particular piece of bait. ‘Not a vicar, in a Methodist church. You’re right, though: technically, it’s the couple themselves who are the ministers of the marriage. The chap in the dog-collar is just the registrar.’

‘Hmph,’ Olly said.

The pair of them, together with their housemates and various other friends who, if anyone had asked them, ‘Bride or groom?’ would have replied, ‘Um…’, filled the second row on both sides of the church. Peter glanced left and right. On Olly’s other side sat Ruth, attending her last service at Wardle Street before leaving to start her PhD in America. Across the aisle was Colette, managing to look slightly dishevelled even today. She saw him looking, and turned away, a flush streaking up her cheekbones. Peter sighed, and told himself – again – to stop barking up that particular tree. It was pointless, offensive, and liable to cause difficulties sharing a house in the year ahead.

Speaking of which… The two unknown quantities sat on Colette’s right – her friend Becky, the Lancastrian Quaker (loud, but not, so far as Peter had seen, obnoxious), and then her friend Will, the incongruous posh-boy Evangelical, to whom Olly seemed to have already developed a violent antipathy. (Why? It couldn’t be the Christianity alone, or Olly could hardly have survived last year, stuck in the middle of the assorted gaggle of Anglicans and Methodists. It wasn’t as if he had a strong personal liking for anybody beside Georgia…)

Georgia’s seat was empty, of course; she had a place reserved on the front row, handy for bouquet-catching and train-bearing and whatever else a chief bridesmaid was meant to do. Although – was that her voice? Peter looked at his watch.

‘Early,’ Olly said. ‘Trust Lily.’

‘She’ll be wandering around talking to people, and Georgia will be trying to shove her back in the car and drive round the block a few times until she’s properly late.’

‘Not a wise move, in Stancester on a Saturday. Particularly not in Freshers’ Week.’

‘Do you know, I had actually forgotten, for five seconds, that it was Freshers’ Week?’ Peter groaned. ‘And, no matter how bad the hangover, I have to be up tomorrow to shepherd all the little baby firsties to Chapel. I bet there won’t even be any…’ He shook his head. ‘Just don’t remind Georgia, OK?’

Colette leaned across the aisle and said, reproachfully, ‘She’ll be fine once it’s actually started. Actually I think it’s been good for her, being bridesmaid. It’s taken her mind off AngthMURC stuff.’

‘I love Georgia, and I know I voted for her,’ Peter said, ‘and she does get stuff done, but I’m still not convinced that her taking over from Lily was the best idea in the world, from the point of view of harmony in the home and everybody’s mental health. Wait until you’ve lived with her for a term: you’ll see.’

‘Dunno why she wastes her time with it, anyway,’ Olly said. Peter put it down to the enforced churchgoing, and ignored him.

‘What are we – Colette began, but she was interrupted by a well-intentioned fanfare on the electric organ. Peter was the first to his feet, Olly close behind, the whole congregation rising and simultaneously turning to look over its collective shoulder at the west door.

Peter felt surreptitiously in his breast pocket for the card on which he had printed his reading, just to make sure that it was still there. He could have done it without the text, at a pinch, but it was 1 Corinthians 13, which everyone knew from all the other weddings they had ever been to, and to complicate matters Ross had insisted on compiling his own ‘translation’ from all the versions he liked. This, Peter was fairly certain, was not legal (though you never knew, with Methodists), but at least it wasn’t the Street Bible. He wondered if he was nevous, and rejected the thought: he read, in church, without the stutter, which, he thought, showed, if anything did – but here came the bride.

‘End of an era,’ Olly murmured, as Lily passed them, and winked.

Deleted scene: awkwardness at Alma Road

Another bit from the first year’s action that went in the great Lydia takeover. Once again I note my fondness for ‘C…l…’ names. I was rather sad to ditch Milly…

 

Georgia came up the road at a jog, hair flapping, cheeks rosy. ‘Hi, Colette.’

‘Morning. I don’t know how you’re so energetic. It’s January, and it’s tipping it down!’

‘I’ve only been down to Clifford’s Bridge and back,’ Georgia said, as if that wasn’t half-way across the city, and then, ‘Some days I just need to run and run.’

Colette did not know what to say to that. She just nodded. ‘Have you had breakfast?’ she asked. That at least was a safe question.

‘I had phase one of breakfast before I went out. Phase two is now.’ Georgia ran a hand over her forehead, shiny with rain and sweat. ‘Drat. I meant to get some milk on the way back.’

‘Whoops,’ Colette said. She shook the last reluctant envelope into the recycling bin and turned to go back indoors. Georgia followed her upstairs to the kitchen.

The timing was unfortunate. Olly was using a tea-towel to dust off a perfectly clean bowl. Seated at the table was a rumpled looking (but oh-so-sexily rumpled!) girl with big blue eyes and dishevelled blonde hair. She was wearing what Colette recognised as Olly’s dressing gown, and, by the looks of it, not much else. She looked better than she had any right to at that time in the morning and in that garment.

Olly stared at Georgia. Georgia stared at Olly. The air grew denser, and the girl looked at Colette. Colette said, helplessly, ‘Hi. I’m Colette.’

‘Camilla. Milly.’ There was money in her voice.

Colette gestured at Georgia, who was hitching up her damp jogging bottoms. ‘Georgia. We’re Olly’s housemates.’

‘Hi. Hi.’ Camilla – Milly – smiled slowly, apparently oblivious to the thickening awkwardness.

Georgia was not going to help. Colette asked, ‘So, how do you know Olly?’

‘Oh, one of my friends dragged me along to Archery yesterday afternoon, and of course Olly was there as a member.’

‘You’re a first year?’

‘Oh, yes.’

Georgia said, ‘Excuse me,’ and stomped off to the bathroom. Olly shrugged, but, since he was standing behind Camilla, only Colette saw.

‘Which hall are you in?’ Colette asked, having failed to think of a less boringly Freshers’ Week sort of question.

‘Ward.’

The newest, shiniest hall of all. That figured. ‘Do you like it?’

‘It’s not too bad.’

No, she must be aware of the atmosphere; she’d be talking more if she were genuinely unaffected. Desperately, Colette asked, ‘What are you studying?’

‘French and Spanish.’

French and Spanish. Colette probably knew something about French and Spanish, if only she could think of it, and if only Olly would stop gawping at her and turning progressively redder in the face. ‘Cool. I believe Stancester’s Languages School is pretty high up in the league tables.’

Camilla shrugged; the dressing gown slipped a little way down her shoulder. Colette tried not to look. ‘Yes, it’s not bad. I tried for Oxford, of course.’

‘Didn’t we all?’

Olly, contributing to the conversation at long last, said, ‘Oxbridge rejects, the lot of us. Don’t worry. There are plenty around.’

Colette was running out of small talk. She said, ‘Well, I need a shower. Stuff to do. Nice to meet you,’ and fled.