They had come to that point where, after a day spent in each other’s company, they would either be inseparable or heartily sick of one another.
It was late, the moon high and sliding slowly down the far side of the sky, and they stood under a tree in the small rectangle of grass outside her flat. In a few steps she would be inside and gone, but they had stopped walking; who had stopped first, he wondered, but couldn’t remember.
She’d turned to face him—she had parcels on her right arm from all the shopping—and his mouth had gone suddenly dry. He wanted to take her hand, the free one, but was reluctant to upset their strange balance. Like any man unsure of his welcome, he hesitated, alert for any small signal that she might be receptive to an advance.
But she wasn’t looking at him, was in fact looking down with a tiny frown as if she’d forgotten something. And so he stood there impotent, trying to decide whether to take her shopping bags and offer to carry them up. She would miss the point, though, he was sure; she was perceptive but also trusting and never sought any deeper motive in people than what they themselves suggested.
“I’d ask you up for tea,” she said, still frowning at the grass, “but I’m not sure I have any.”
Her eyes lifted then in an attitude of bravery, and she blinked and squinted at him as if he were standing in bright light, though the streetlamps were soft and widely spaced.
He reached out and gently took hold of the parcels. “At least let me help you with these.”
A shiver ran through her when his hand brushed hers, and that gave him hope. No woman who’d made up her mind against a man trembled like that.