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An Almost Perfect Moon

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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From their vantage point, they looked towards the house, its full scale and layout clearly mapped out. They spied a Range Rover pull into the drive and then stop in front of the main entrance.

‘That’s Daddy back,’ said Julia dismissively. Harry regretted Charles’s return. Somehow it spoiled everything. They’d been quite content, just the two of them, ambling round the garden and fields surrounding the house. It had been so effortless, but Harry feared being with Charles would be an enormous test of good behaviour and concentration. If Julia was scared of him – and she hadn’t got to where she was by being intimidated – her father was bound to be a handful.

‘Harry?’ said Julia at length.

‘Hmm?’

‘Do you ever wonder whether you’ll get married?’

‘I’ve never really thought about it,’ lied Harry.

‘I hope I do,’ continued Julia, ‘and have children … but I don’t think I could bear getting divorced. I’d have to marry someone who was really going to look after me, you know?’

Harry smiled weakly. Just where was this heading? There was another pause, then Julia said, ‘I mean, do you think we’ve got a future together? Have we got what it takes?’

Harry didn’t want this conversation. He desperately wanted to be falling madly in love with Julia, and hoped it might still happen, but he didn’t feel that way yet. Julia and he had been having fun though, and although he had recognized the significance of meeting her father at the old family home, he liked the way things were progressing slowly. He didn’t want to be rushed or pushed into a corner in any way.

‘Harry?’ persisted Julia.

‘I don’t know, Julia,’ he told her, ‘I hope so. Don’t tempt fate yet though, hey?’

She smiled at him, revealing a vulnerability he’d never noticed before. The sun lit up one side of her face and blonde wisps gently blew across her cheek. Without her normal armament of eye and lip make-up, she looked softer, more naturally beautiful.

‘I think I’ve fallen in love with you,’ she told him. Then she looked away, as though embarrassed by her confession.

Harry’s mind raced. What should he say back? What she wanted to hear, or what he really felt? Sitting by her at that moment, with her looking as lovely as she did; he felt he should be in love with her too. But could he say it and really mean it?

Suddenly their relationship, previously so easy and relaxed, had taken on a whole new meaning. Julia, without consulting Harry, was moving them on a stage, and he felt panicked.

‘I love you too,’ he said.

She smiled, then laughed bashfully, and Harry could see her eyes glistening. Shit, shit, shit! he thought. It was all wrong – he was being forced into a situation he didn’t want.

‘I’ve never said that to anyone before,’ she told him, kissing him and then standing up.

‘Oh, I used to all the time when I was younger,’ said Harry, as cheerfully as he could, ‘but I never meant it.’

‘But you do now?’ said Julia playfully.

‘Of course,’ Harry replied as they headed back to the house, conscious he’d lied twice in as many minutes.

Harry finally met Charles at the pre-dinner drinks. He was quite short, with a widening girth, white wispy hair and a garrulous, ruddy complexion.

‘Nice to see you,’ he grunted, cracking into the champagne. ‘Sorry not to be here when you arrived. Problem with the bloody boar. Let me tell you now, don’t ever have a stock of boar. More bloody effort than they’re worth. Dangerous beasts too – can easily break a leg if they run at you. Even worse if you get gored by the bastards. Still, make good sausages and no one else is doing it for miles around. Our sausages are eaten all over the world in fact. Places you probably never even knew existed.’

He continued in this vein until they sat down to dinner, telling Harry everything about the farm, how successful it was while everyone else was struggling (‘Small scale’s a waste of time. No wonder the smaller farmers are having problems – they need to think bigger’). He barely paused for breath and yet somehow he’d still managed to finish off several glasses of Krug.

Then Dominic ran into the room, dressed in his pyjamas.

‘Dominic, you should be in bed,’ growled Charles.

‘He just wants to say goodnight to everyone, don’t you, darling?’ chipped in Stella.

‘Yes,’ said Dominic, standing firmly in front of his mother, ‘and have a drink like everyone else.’

‘Here, pass him this, would you?’ said Charles, handing Harry a glass of water.

Harry passed it to Dominic, felt him grip the glass and then let go. Immediately, it crashed to the floor, splinters of glass flying everywhere.

‘Dominic! For God’s sake,’ muttered Charles.

‘Sorry, I thought he’d taken it,’ said Harry helplessly as Dominic burst into tears.

‘Don’t worry, it’s not your fault,’ Julia told him reassuringly.

‘You’re over-tired darling, that’s all,’ Stella told her wailing son.

‘He didn’t give it to me, it was his fault,’ bawled Dominic, pointing an accusing finger at Harry.

‘Come on, bed,’ said Stella decisively, grabbing his hand and leading him from the room.

‘The sooner he’s packed off to prep school, the better,’ muttered Charles, bending down awkwardly and picking up the larger pieces of broken glass. Harry squatted too, and hunted for scattered shards, aware of Charles’ suspicious glances. Julia, too, looked embarrassed, but Stella soon returned and did her best to diffuse the situation.

‘Don’t worry,’ she said to Harry, ‘he was just tired. You know how children can get.’

‘That your Citroën outside?’ Charles eventually asked him as they began to eat.

‘Yes it is,’ Harry replied, elbows in and gingerly cutting his gravadlax.

‘Bloody good everyday cars in their time. They were very modern when they first came out. First mass-produced monocoque car. That’s why they’re called traction avant – it’s Frog for front-wheel drive.’

Harry, who’d been obsessed by these cars since childhood and knew intricate details about paint codes and production numbers, didn’t need to be told this.

‘Well, mine’s one of the later models – he began, but was cut off.

‘A Light Fifteen, that’s what they call your type.’ Now he was being incorrect too – couldn’t this fat git tell the difference between a French and a British model?

‘Actually, it’s an onze légère, Daddy,’ said Julia, adding, ‘it’s a French one.’

‘Yes, I know that, Julia,’ snapped Charles testily, ‘but in English, they’re called Light Fifteen.’

‘Does it really matter what it’s called?’ Stella smiled. ‘It’s still a jolly nice old car.’

Harry winced slightly and tried a question of his own. ‘I hear you’ve got a few cars yourself.’

‘Yes. Half-decent motors too. A couple of XKs, a Phantom II and an old DB5.’

‘I thought you had a Jaguar,’ put in Julia.

‘I’ve got two, Julia, those are the XKs.’ He rolled his eyes knowingly at Harry.

‘And which one’s the James Bond car?’ she persisted.

‘The Aston Martin DB5,’ Charles told her wearily. Clearly, this was men’s stuff.

‘Very nice,’ said Harry appreciatively, conscious Charles hadn’t offered to show them to him.

There was slight lull between courses, and then Julia said, ‘Harry’s an artist, Daddy.’

‘Oh yes?’ said Charles sceptically. ‘Not that modern crap, I hope. If you ask me, it’s a bloody joke.’

‘Well, I’m not a modernist actually. Murals is what I do most, but I’m a big fan of neo-classicism and the rococo.’

Charles grunted a begrudging approval.

‘But this place is magnificent.’ Harry tried a change of tack. ‘Do tell me more about it.’ He thought he might be very rude any moment, and hoped this would change the rapidly developing impasse. It did: Charles launched into a detailed history of the place, his family and more anecdotes about the first owner, barely pausing for breath until fetching the port and lighting himself an enormous cigar.

‘Well done, Harry,’ said Julia, once Charles had announced he was ready for ‘Bedfordshire’. Stella, having cleared away most of the table things with the help of Harry and Julia, had disappeared long before.
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