All his last week in Venice, Tom waited for some word, some telegram – that it had all come unstuck after all. Marge, hysteria deflated now into cold determination, had perhaps worked on Mr Greenleaf through the long hours of their journey together. Had convinced him of what she had once so dirty-mindedly convinced Dickie: that Tom was some sort of queer, who had been engaged in some perverted pursuit of Dickie.
And now Mr Greenleaf would be wiring to say he had already wired New York to stop the money, and to give Tom his opinion – an opinion of a kind that necessarily ends an acquaintance between civilised people.
On Monday night, Tom stayed over at Peter’s little apartment. They had begun something very long for four hands, crowded together on the piano stool, and stubbornly worked the whole thing through to the end, laughing and apologising as they made a hash of the close hand-work. Then it was late, and Tom lay down on the sofa. Peter, who had stretched out on the rug nearby to talk to him, threatened for a while to doze off right there on the floor. It was almost like with dear old Cleo in New York – many nights she and Tom had slept together on her bedroom rug, chaste as children, and happier, he ventured, than many children ever were.
Tom watched Peter’s ribs rise and fall beneath his loose Italian shirt as he lay prone, his dark hair fallen artlessly back from his forehead, and the softness of unconsciousness stealing across his face.
There came into his mind, like an evil dream, all the things he could do to that trusting, unguarded body – the terrible things he had done to Dickie’s equally beautiful, vital, masculine body.
But almost at once the dream began to fade. Would Dickie ever have lain down beside Tom this way – simply left his body unmoored in Tom’s keeping? For a long time Tom had been troubled by thoughts that sooner or later, he was going to do to Peter what he had done to Dickie. But looking at him now, he was certain he would not. It was like some horrible ghost always lurking in the corner of the room had at last floated out the window and blown away. What need did he have to wrest anything from Peter, when Peter offered everything freely?
Across the space between the rug and the sofa, Tom reached out his hand. He could not have said what he intended. His palm hovered above Peter’s shoulder, so close he could feel the radiant warmth of the body. What a miracle the body was! Or, if he were truthful with himself, he felt irrationally that the miracle of Peter’s body was unique from that of other bodies, and wholly to Peter’s personal credit. What if he were to lay his hand on Peter’s shoulder?
He found himself doing it already in the moment of thinking of it. The heat of the skin through the shirt seemed prodigious, and the bones of the shoulder strange in his hand. A much taller man than Tom, Peter’s frame was exotically oversized. Playing four-handed, they struggled to manage their elbows and knees.
Peter stirred, grumbling. At once Tom pretended he had placed his hand there to shake Peter, to wake him. ‘Hey,’ Tom said softly, ‘go to bed.’
Peter grumbled more urgently, and slitted open his eyes. ‘No,’ he murmured. ‘I’ll stay here.’ But his body had unslackened itself, and was clearly inhabited again.
‘You’ll wake up stiff,’ Tom scolded.
‘Don’t care,’ Peter said. His eyes were drifting closed again.
Tom got to his knees and put his arms around Peter, in the guise of coaxing him to his feet. Already the scent of Peter’s body was familiar to him – he could have found Peter’s coat in a cloakroom on smell alone. Somewhat to his surprise, Peter roused himself, and allowed himself to be helped up. Peter’s weight bore down on Tom’s shoulder as they made their way across the floor to the foot of the stairs leading to the bedroom. ‘Come up,’ Peter said. ‘The sofa’s too lonely.’ It was the dreamy way he had of speaking sometimes, amplified by his being half-drunk with sleep.
One of Tom’s anxieties was that the American detective, MacCarron, had not been convinced by Tom after all, and had remained behind in Venice to surveil him in secret, thinking that Tom would give something away now that he thought he was in the clear. He felt suddenly as though MacCarron were watching him now, and that Tom had better be very careful of what he said.
‘I’m fine,’ he said.
‘Are you sure?’ Peter said. And when Tom had confirmed he was, Peter embraced him in farewell, enfolded him full-bodied, chest to chest. Tom felt the rising of Peter’s clavicle as he breathed in as if it were a mechanism of Tom’s own body. In his half-asleep state, Peter was guileless as a child. This was what Tom imagined explaining to MacCarron.
They were late to rise the next day. There were no servants at Peter’s, and so they walked out themselves along the narrow side canal of Peter’s street to buy the papers. As a friend of both Dickie and Freddie, Tom had naturally been following the Italian papers and the Paris edition of the Herald-Tribune on the Greenleaf and Miles cases. It was so late in the day, it would have been an economy to have just waited for the afternoon editions. Peter suggested this, then immediately apologised and withdrew the remark. Tom preferred not to clarify that he had not been offended; instead, he accepted Peter’s apologies warmly and fully. They clasped hands for a moment, then stopped, and walked on along the canal. They were not quite Italian enough that they could hold hands in the street, Tom supposed.
In the little shop, as Tom gathered his thick sheaf of papers – laying each one across Peter’s outstretched arm, which was a great help.
Out the window, from the corner of his eye, he saw a dark shape. The police!
He had thought himself safer at Peter’s. Always, home alone at the palazzo, he suspected every small street noise, every motor on the canal, would precede a knock at the gate. But now they had found him anyway. And out with Peter!
When he had thought of this moment, he had always imagined he would go along quietly. He would be dignified about it. He would not try to say anything, anything at all.
But for Peter to be here! That was another thing entirely.
For some strange reason, Tom’s mind went straight to Peter’s burst of fair-minded anger at the police station that time, when they had accused Tom of being a homosexual: his little speech about Leonardo and Michelangelo. The thought that had leapt to Tom’s mind was that above all else Peter must not be allowed to start talking to the police about homosexuals.
Tom felt ill, deep into his bones. He was an ancient, haggard creature that had been propping itself up in a youth’s body by some exhausting magic, which was now seeping away.
‘Alright?’ Peter said, hefting the stack of papers into a neater pile over his arm. He put his free hand on Tom’s back.
The dark shape was no longer visible at the window.
‘Yeah,’ Tom said. ‘Thanks.’ They went to pay for the papers.
As he fumbled for his wallet, Tom was suspended between believing the police were outside, hiding out of sight of the window ready to pounce as he stepped out, or that it had all been a figment of his anxious imagination – perhaps just some man in a navy suit who had stopped to light a cigarette.
Already the worst of the sick terror was unclenching itself. His instincts had already reached a decision.
They encountered no police outside, and he was not surprised.
They took the papers to a little café, and ordered milk coffee, to the small smile of the waiter – for this was only drunk by tourists so late in the day. There was a safety in Peter’s companionship that made Tom careless of such opinions.
‘There’s nothing today,’ Tom said, after a pass over all the front sections.
The boundless sympathy of Peter’s silence was a pleasure.
Peter said, ‘Is that good or bad?’
‘If it means these people will leave me alone, it’s good. I guess?’ He did not need to fake the ambivalence in his voice.
‘We don’t know what happened to Freddie. Or Dickie, really. Or I suppose we do. Everyone seems to think we do. But I don’t feel like I do. I keep thinking, if he’d just told me, straight up, and I could have just talked to him…’
Peter put his hand on Tom’s arm. Tom twisted their wrists together.
Tom had been thinking about this ferry trip to Athens, that if the police were coming for him, he would not be trapped right up until the moment the luggage was sent aboard. On a train, handling your own luggage, you could get off on a whim if you saw someone you didn't like get on, or you even glimpsed a flash of something down the corridor that made you nervous. But with a ship – being on water, and the luggage with your name on it taken away so you could not easily get it back – well.
They were in the hall at Naples harbour, waiting to board the Hellenes. Tom had just watched a dumpy little uniformed porter wheel the luggage trolley away when he saw them.
It was Meredith Logue, and her Aunt Joan and Uncle Ted, whom Tom had met at the opera in Rome.
They were in a group of well-heeled Americans. Meredith, fur-collared, gestured at something and laughed archly, in her way that seemed to mean, Oh, Italians!
If Meredith saw him, she would greet him as Dickie, and exclaim that he was alive. And the aunt and uncle too. There would be a round of introductions to the others, naming Tom as Dickie. All in front of Peter.
Tom felt, for a moment, superhuman, as if he might bound across the hall and strike her down with a single blow. Somehow, he imagined, the oar from the boat was in his hands – the one with which he had beaten Dickie so horribly, so bloodily. He would swing for her neck and fell her like a tree. Then everyone else - anyone who got in his way.
There was a ringing in Tom’s ears – a feeling of static, as though he was going deaf.
A genius came over him. He clutched Peter’s arm. ‘Peter! Those people. I can’t!’
He was remembering the time he had almost cried, sitting at Peter’s piano, and speaking of the press hounding him about Dickie, and all the gossips at the parties. He was remembering Peter’s kindness. His mind was racing faster and faster, the way it did when a really good lie came to him, one that knit reality together more perfectly, more seamlessly than even the truth would have. He really was superhuman in such moments: able to make and mend the whole universe.
He tugged Peter behind a pillar.
‘Yes, of course,’ Peter said. Though Tom had barely asked him for anything yet.
‘I’m so sorry,’ Tom said. ‘I can’t be trapped on a boat with those people. I just can’t do it. I’m so sorry, I can’t come.’ He let his voice thicken to the point of a sob.
‘No, of course you can’t,’ Peter said. ‘Of course you can’t. I’ll cancel with the people in Athens. It’s alright. Don’t worry.’ Peter hugged him, fast and earnest.
‘Oh God, I’d better go and fetch the luggage back, or they’ll take it without us!’ Peter said, and dashed away.
Tom retreated carefully backwards from the pillar, then back behind the one behind it. He stood half behind an awning of a newspaper stand, where he judged he could watch the hall and stay out of sight.
He had not even asked Peter to cancel the concert. He had not even dreamed he could ask for that. He was aware he was beaming maniacally, and tried to stop.
Their train came back in to Venice after dark, and Peter ordered them a dinner of bigoli in salsa outside a café by the station, crowded against the table by their luggage. Then they went back to Tom’s, since it was closer to the station. Tom would have preferred Peter’s, but did not like to argue.
Tom had the palazzo paid up to the end of the month, but he had already returned the keys to the rental agent: the two great eight-inch ones to the grand front entrance on the canal, and the four-inch pair to the tall back gate facing the Viale San Spiridione and the garden door within. But Anna and Sugo, the servants who came with the house, had used to hide their key to the kitchen door in an ancient plaster planter-box in the tiny side alley, and Tom trusted it would still be there now.
Peter directed the water taxi. Only when the deep stone steps of the palazzo’s front entrance were within stone’s throw did Tom realise their peril. He bellowed, ‘Mi dispiace, Signor! Mi dispiace!’ and redirected them to the landing at the steps of the Santa Maria della Salute church instead. Only from there was there foot access to San Spiridione and the side alley. He had remembered almost too late the near hour he had spent marooned on the steps at high tide, that horrid, drunken night with Marge, with the chill wind blowing off the canal, when he had forgotten those enormous keys to the front gate and door. His bellowing was uncharacteristically loud for Tom Ripley, though not notably loud for an Italian. The man would not remark on it, Tom thought, should he be asked by the police, for instance, if he had transported an American, and if the American had seemed agitated. And Peter already knew he was agitated, and would not make anything of it either.
Tom counselled himself to remember that anyone in his position would be agitated. He did not need to offer a defence for it. If you offered a defence, it could make it seem like you needed one.
Tom dug blindly in the planter box in the dark, dirt driving disagreeably beneath his fingernails. The alley was a cul-de-sac, and his turned back felt vulnerable. He wanted to ask Peter to watch the mouth of the alley for anyone coming, but could not think of a justification.
‘Got it!’ he said at last. ‘I was afraid I was going to have to make you sleep in the alley.’
‘Oh, you know I’d follow you anywhere,’ Peter joked.
‘Now another three-quarter hour or so to get the key into the lock,’ Tom said deprecatingly, and fumbled across the surface of the door with his hand. He had seldom entered by this door, and his mental picture of the keyhole’s location was vague.
He found it at last, and turned the key, sucking in his breath with relief – too soon. ‘Wait!’ he said, at the sound of Peter stirring behind him. He had turned it the wrong way, and now could not withdraw it to try again. He turned back, and around again in the other direction. Still the catch did not give. Was it just stiff – what if he turned harder? He gave it a try with both hands. At last it gave. ‘Ah!’ he said.
Peter gave a low cheer.
‘Now the next thing,’ Tom cautioned. ‘I don’t know where the light switch is, coming from this door.’
‘Do you want some help?’
So they both stepped inside, and fumbled around in the dark. At once Tom walked into something that clanged, and Peter almost stumbled, and had to catch Tom's arm. There was a little light through the lace curtains on the kitchen window, to which Tom's eyes had begun to adjust. Tom said, ‘You know, I’m just going to go over and turn it on from the switch on the far side. You stay here.’
He made his way slowly through the kitchen in the dim light, fending off the benches with his hands, and found the switch beside the far door.
With the light on, they laughed to find that the switch they’d been looking for was right next to where Peter was standing – between two pantry shelves, which was how they’d missed it in the dark.
They brought their luggage in and left it in the formal foyer, which was full of crates of Tom’s things that were waiting to be sent on, then went through to the sitting room. In the electric light, the dust-sheeted furniture on the marble floor looked bleak.
‘What a mess I’ve made,’ Tom said.
He had loved this house: its wonderfully tall, ornate iron gates; the beauty of its slightly run-down garden with its ancient statue of a boy holding a wide, shallow bowl; its carven-fronted armoires, chests and chairs. It had made him feel substantial: really and fully himself at last.
Now the antique panoramas of Naples he had hung in the bedroom were taken down and crated up, and the sheeted furniture was no longer his to sit on. He had exiled himself, but without anywhere else to go. He hadn’t the faintest idea what to do next.
‘Hush,’ Peter said. ‘What shall we sit down on? I’ll take the sheet off.’
Tom identified a sofa, and Peter unsheeted it. ‘Right. I saw some coffee in the pantry still. I’ll make us one. You sit down,’ Peter said.
Tom had almost complied before he realised that he could not imagine anything sadder than sitting alone among the rest of the hooded furniture. ‘I’ll come with you,’ he called.
He leaned his hip on the bench while Peter filled the caffettiera and lit the hotplate. ‘It’ll be espresso or nothing, I’m afraid,’ Peter said. ‘The icebox is off.’
‘What else could it be?’ Tom ventured limply. ‘Are we not true Italians?’
Peter smiled. They leaned together to wait for the coffee.
Whenever Tom glanced at Peter, Peter was looking at him with his deep brown eyes. The invitation to confide was so strong, it was frightening. Tom felt too insubstantial just now to bear it. That is, the version of Tom who was a concerned but distant bystander to the deaths of Dickie Greenleaf and Freddie Miles felt too insubstantial.
They took a coffee tray back into the sitting room, and Peter unsheeted a side table to put it down on.
They sat close on the sofa. ‘I was thinking,’ Peter said, ‘and I know I’ve said this before, and I really will shut up about it this time if you’re not interested. But I was going to go home in May anyway. Do you want to come to my place in Ireland after all? We could phone for a reservation in the morning, and be on the sleeper train to Paris by dinner.’
Tom gaped idiotically.
‘No, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked again. Forget I said anything.’ Peter gestured.
‘No!’ Tom said. ‘I’m not saying no. I just can’t believe you’re really asking.’ He could not tell if the tightening in his throat was panic or elation.
‘Of course I am.’
‘I just don’t know what I did to deserve you.’ Tom stared at the floor.
Peter threw an arm around him fiercely. To Tom’s surprise, he felt Peter’s lips against his temple.
He had seldom been kissed. Aunt Dottie had only touched him with distaste – he remembered her near wrenching his nose off when he had a cold as a child. There had been girls: he had kissed them because he had gone on a date with them, and he had felt that he had to – or often he had only gone on the date to begin with because he felt he had to – and there had been anger in his heart, doing it. There was nothing he hated more than feeling that a woman wanted something from him.
There had been men who wanted things too, but he had not kissed them. In New York, several times Tom had taken up with a man friend and become wonderfully close, and then the man would turn out to be queer, and try to kiss him. Of course he always said no, and then things became awkward. Some of these friends were the friends of other queers Tom knew from the theatre, so maybe he should have known. But the truth was, he was the most clean-minded person in the world, and honestly never saw it coming.
When Peter touched him, he felt needy as a stray cat. If Peter stroked his side a little, for a second Tom would imagine being stroked all over, lavishly and for a long time. Then instantly he would feel so humiliated by his own wish, he would want to die.
Peter had felt his stillness. He released him and got to his feet. ‘Right. I’m going to see about where we should sleep. Is there a linen press?’ His voice was thick.
‘At the head of the stairs on the left,’ Tom said.
They slept together in the giant king-sized bed. Tom lay awake, feeling irrationally that someone was going to burst into the room and see them there. He rehearsed in his mind what he was going to say to explain.
In the blue-grey semi-dark, Peter said, ‘You don’t sound asleep.’
‘I’m not,’ Tom conceded.
‘Shall I rub your back?’ Peter said.
So Tom let him, for a long time. He tried to seem as though he were relaxing, not as though he were holding himself absolutely rigid, for fear he would writhe like an animal.
Eventually Peter whispered, ‘It’s easier this way.’ And slipped his hands up under Tom’s pyjama shirt to touch bare skin instead.
It was like being electrified. Tom did start to writhe a little, slowly.
Tom’s private parts were stirring. He became more and more transfixed with shame.
He took a slow, careful breath, so that he would not sound panicked. ‘Okay, I think I can sleep now,’ he said. He caught Peter’s hand and lifted it off his body.
He heard Peter’s breath stutter.
‘You’re so good to me,’ Tom said.
‘I want to be good to you,’ Peter said softly. He did not immediately move away.
At last Peter went back to his side of the bed.
‘You are,’ Tom said, and reached out to touch Peter’s shoulder.
They had bought first class sleeper tickets, double share, so that they had a cabin to themselves. Out the window, Tom watched the last of the blue twilight fading behind the Alps, and craned to catch what was left of the view.
‘I want to come back,’ he said to Peter. ‘Some time when this has all died down. I never feel like I’ve seen enough.’
‘You will,’ Peter said. ‘I don’t think one ever gets enough of Italy. It’s my fourth time.’
‘My first and only,’ Tom admitted.
‘When I first met you, I wouldn’t have guessed,’ Peter said. ‘You were such a native in Venice. But it comes out in your enthusiasm.’
‘I’m a rube, you mean,’ Tom said deprecatingly.
Peter did not know what a rube was, and Tom explained. ‘No!’ Peter protested. ‘It’s lovely.’
‘Yeah right,’ Tom said, and cuffed Peter’s arm lightly. They laughed.
Tom pushed Peter’s hair out of his eyes, where it was always falling down. Peter stopped laughing.
Sometime overnight – once Tom had heard Peter’s breath deepen into sleep, it had been easy to sleep himself – Tom had come to a resolution that had made everything so much easier. He had been so sad when he’d had to put away being Dickie, and go back to being diffident Tom, with his apologetic stoop, his way of ducking his head. But Peter liked him that way – that time he had sobbed on the piano stool was the moment that he’d had Peter, he thought now. What was needed here was to be Tom Ripley – he needed to impersonate himself. It would be safest, most perfect ruse he would ever perform.
‘We should come through this way together in daylight some time,’ Peter said. ‘I’ve never actually seen it myself except in the dark like this.’
‘I’d like that,’ Tom said.
‘Puccini’s house in Lucca is almost on the way.’
‘How do you keep reading my mind?’ Tom said.
When they returned to their cabin after dinner, the attendant had converted the seats to sleeping berths. There were crisp white sheets and plaid blankets on the bunks, and a curved cupboard that contained a mint-green washstand with shining fittings. Tom had had a cabin like this to himself on his way down to Mongibello. Now with two bunks folded down, the effect of a hotel room sized for children, which he had found so delightful, was heightened.
Quarters were very close with two, though. There was now nowhere to sit but the bottom bunk. When Peter did not sit down, Tom thought he’d better – there was not space for them both to be milling around.
Peter slipped out of his jacket, hung it, and began to unbutton his shirt.
Tom was mortified. ‘Shall I step out?’ he said, with a stammer that he had not intended.
‘No, it’s alright,’ Peter said. ‘Unless I’m embarrassing you?’
‘No, I’m fine.’ Tom did not feel fine. He did not feel he was in control of how he was coming off at all.
Peter took his shirt off and hung it up. He was pale and slim, though naturally broad-shouldered, in his close-fitting singlet undershirt.
Now he took the undershirt off over his head, flashing two dark, tender feathers of underarm hair. His chest, revealed, was lightly hairy, concentrating into a thick stripe down the belly which then disappeared beneath his worn tan belt.
Peter tutted – he had forgotten he did not have his pyjamas out of his suitcase yet, and knelt to fetch them. He was almost leaning over Tom’s lap. He braced his hand on Tom’s knee to help himself up.
Peter put the pyjama shirt on. Then he took his pants off and hung them up, then his underwear. He was very tall, and his pyjama shirt just grazed his buttocks.
There was nowhere else for Tom to be looking. Nothing for him to pretend to be paying attention to.
Peter pulled his pyjama pants up, and tied the drawstring. He flopped on the bunk beside Tom. ‘The field is yours,’ he said.
Tom looked at Peter. But Peter was already looking at him, smiling.
Tom stood up. He took his jacket off and hung it. That was nothing – just what you’d do to have lunch informally at home.
He could not seem to get the button free on the cuff of his shirt.
Peter reached out and caught Tom’s wrist, to help. Tom stood between Peter’s thighs while Peter unbuttoned both his shirt cuffs for him. Peter’s fingers tickled when he slipped them inside the cuffs. Tom was not able to step back, because Peter had slid his hands up his body, to hold his open lapels at the throat.
Peter undid the first button of Tom’s shirt.
Where Tom’s mind had been was a rushing noise.
Peter stood up and took Tom in his arms. He kissed him wetly on the mouth.
Tom was struggling to breathe.
‘Am I frightening you?’ Peter asked gently.
Tom could not speak. Peter let him go, and would have stepped back, but Tom had caught his fingers in Peter’s pyjama shirt. ‘Yes,’ Tom got out at last.
‘I don’t want to frighten you,’ Peter said. ‘I just want to love you.’
‘You can’t possibly love me,’ said Tom, half in a laugh, half in a wheeze.
Peter laughed at him. ‘Well, I do, so back to the drawing board for that theory.’ It was a confidential, humorous tone you could imagine him using to cheer up a child piano student.
The terror of the moment had been punctured, somehow. They both stepped back.
‘Oh Jesus, I don’t think I locked the door,’ Peter said suddenly, and lunged to flip the latch.
‘Christ!’ Tom said. Panic surged in him, and at once ebbed away. In its wake he was oddly elated. He laughed, and sank down to recline on the bunk, where Peter joined him.
They fell to looking at each other in silence.
Tom looked at Peter openly, lingeringly, the way he had only ever looked at him while he was sleeping. Peter received his look, and returned it.
Tom was struggling to make his mind accept his situation. It would make sense to touch Peter now. But his hand, hovering, could not seem to bridge the gap.
Peter lifted his own hand, let Tom see it, then took Tom’s hand and put it on his side. Tom felt the warm corrugations of Peter’s ribs move beneath his pyjama shirt.
Now it seemed possible to map the soft concavity of Peter’s belly through the fabric, and then the rise of his breathing chest.
From there it was easy to touch the prickle of Peter’s evening beard where it rode the swell of his Adam’s apple, and to fit the flat of his thumb into the shallow cleft of Peter’s chin.
Tom closed Peter’s eyes with his hand, and felt his eyelashes flutter against his palm.
That made it possible to kiss him.
‘Please,’ Peter said.
‘Yes,’ Tom said, and did it again.
It was a balmy August for Ireland, and the housekeeper had the week off. Peter brought Tom his coffee in bed, with tea for himself, and they threw back the covers to lounge and drink it. Peter groomed Tom’s hair, which Tom could feel was standing up crazily from the pillow, with his fingers.
They went downstairs to make breakfast still in pyjamas and slippers. Peter caught Tom and kissed him as they passed through the smaller sitting room, where the untidied remains of last night’s dinner, evidence of their blissful solitude, could be seen. Tom leaned Peter against the back of a well-stuffed floral sofa and, seating himself on a low footstool to save his pyjama-knees, made love to him with his mouth.
With the paper forecasting eighty degrees, they’d decided to brave a swim in the private cove on the castle’s estate. After breakfast, they made sandwiches to take with them – there was a good roast beef and horseradish, and some ham and watercress. Peter had just opened his mail, and was reading it with the folds weighed down by the horseradish jar.
‘There’s some people going skiing in Cortina again in January,’ Peter said cautiously.
‘Oh?’ Tom said.
‘I’m told the Logues have gone home for now. If that’s still a concern.’
Tom rearranged some watercress.
‘Don’t look like that,’ Peter said, and darted across to put his arms around Tom. ‘We don’t have to go. I was just asking.’ He kissed Tom’s temple.
‘No, it’s fine,’ Tom said, ‘I just –’
‘No, don’t explain. If you can think of any way you could be alright about going, then let me know. Otherwise, it’s fine.’
‘Okay,’ Tom said.
They dressed in their Italian clothes over bathing suits, and went dawdling over a field of lichened stones towards the shore, with the basket of sandwiches and a rug and towels.
They could not stay in the water for long, and ran frantically out to huddle on the blanket, wrapped in the towels.
‘It’s no Italy,’ Peter coughed, unbending enough to lie down on his back.
Tom unbent himself by force of will and lay down too. ‘That’s an understatement.’
‘I told you!’ Peter laughed.
‘I wasn’t prepared!’ Tom said, and swatted Peter’s clammy chest.
Peter clutched the place Tom had struck him, and hammed a cry of pain. But Tom had already relented, and reached out to stroke the place apologetically. Peter gave up his outcry and cradled Tom’s hand.
A gull flew over. They lay that way a while, Peter cradling Tom’s hand over his heart.
Then Tom said, ‘Peter.’
Peter was a such weathervane for Tom’s moods, Tom saw, that he was already up on his elbow, concern on his face.
‘I have to tell you something.’
‘Alright,’ Peter said.
‘It’s about Meredith Logue. It was true I couldn’t stand the gossip anymore, if I had to get on the ferry with her. But there was something else.’
He told Peter about introducing himself to Meredith as Dickie, in a moment’s playfulness, that first day arriving in Naples. And how it had spiralled out of control.
‘I’m just such an idiot,’ Tom said passionately. ‘If only I’d just confessed the first time I saw her again. But her aunt and uncle were there, and before I knew it, she’d introduced me as Dickie to them. And how could I get out of it then? I just kept lying and lying. Now I’m caught in a web of my own imbecility.’ Tom’s regret was sincere – not least because he was thinking of the part of the story he hadn’t told, which involved a boat trip from San Remo, from which Tom had returned alone.
‘Oh my darling,’ Peter said, ‘that makes so many things make sense. Thank you for telling me. What a mess! You’re not an idiot. But what a mess.’
Peter took a sharp breath and buried his face in Tom’s shoulder.
‘Peter?’ Tom said, and touched his wet hair.
‘I thought you were going to tell me you were ill, or you were going to leave.’ Peter’s voice was thick.
‘God! No,’ Tom said. ‘I don’t ever want to leave.’
‘Please don’t. I don’t ever want you to.’
‘I won’t,’ Tom said, ‘I won’t.’
They ate their sandwiches, then walked across the headland to take the view over the low cliffs at the boundary of the estate.
‘Oh,’ Peter said. ‘I forgot say. My parents are coming up here for Christmas.’
‘Oh? What do you need me to do?’
‘Nothing. They’ll love you,’ Peter said.
‘I don’t know about that.’ Tom pulled some seaweed from his hair.
‘Oh, hush,’ Peter said, and squeezed Tom’s shoulder.
They looked out over a long, bright horizon.