He had expected her to be wearing blue, but the dress - the hem twitched outwards in a fan from her wardrobe to show him a few days earlier - was a dull matt grey, the colour of thickened dust or of slush on the roads in February. He hadn't been particularly impressed, but he had to admit that tonight she had managed to bring the colour alive. She stood out, as he knew she would, in a room of pastels and black, swathed in silk of an alien sheen. The dress was like a small sea moving with her about the room, her pleasure the cresting of waves.
When they had first entered, her arm had snaked through his, and made them like a magic trick, a hoop around a triangle with no visible join. Her eyes are lined and dusted with silver and almost level with his tonight, thanks to the heels. Her hair is lightly curled and bounces and tosses as she laughs, and he feels astonishingly proud that he can afford this person, this other, so much joy. He wonders if she feels it too, the feeling of Coming Home for the last time.
There have been speeches and dinner and dancing but still the celebration of his return continues on into the night. She won't let on, but the balls of her feet are tender and burning in the borrowed shoes and she shuffles restlessly on them. The hairspray is losing its grip and her hair falls limp again, and she feels like the pumpkin after midnight. He, still beside her, occupying the spot from which he was so long absent, is as bright and alive as ever, happy to have the same conversation over and over again with every single well-wisher.
And finally the torrent of people wanting time with the man of the hour slows, and he takes his chance. He braces her forearm and leads her out into the gardens, half a bottle of champagne in his free hand, her sister's shoes dangle from hers.
The dawn is coming on now, the grass is already slick with its moisture and they both laugh as she slips in her bare feet. The dew creeps up from the hem of the dress, little dark veins on the silk, and she hikes it up to hold it bunched at her thighs. Her skin is as white as bone in the moonlight.
He spreads his jacket on the ground – brand new, expensive, but no matter – and she drinks a mouthful of champagne from the bottle before lying down. He lies down heavily beside her; the elbows and upper back of his shirt are soaked through in seconds but already she's pointing straight upwards and in a voice thickened with champagne and sleep she talks about the constellations, and her mouth forms the elongated O of Cassiopeia like a kiss.
You talk too much, he tells her with a smirk as he settles back on one elbow to watch her profile as she stares up at the wheel of stars above them, narrators of ancient stories, and allows himself - just for a moment - to feel very small, very insignificant. But - on the other hand – he is so overwhelmed by the sense of providence that has given him the best friend he has ever had, that brought two separate people crashing into one another's lives all those years ago, almost as if with this night in mind.
There is no rush, not now he's home to stay, but then again he can't see the point of waiting any longer. That part of their lives is over, and what has tonight been about other than new beginnings, old obstacles surmounted?
So he kisses her quickly, before allowing himself to think about it too much. Her nose and her cheeks are chilled by the pre-dawn air but her mouth is warm, and she tastes like summers and afternoons, with the flavour of champagne sharp underneath. The skin on the back of his neck tingles in a way that brings to mind the image of those champagne bubbles evaporating off his skin. She doesn't pull away and she doesn't reciprocate, but her breath grows quick and heavy under his lips and when he moves to look at her he can see even in the bleaching moonlight that a band of colour has reddened her face. She sits up, wordless. He wonders, perhaps too late, if she was as ready to stop waiting as he.
Suddenly shy, he rubs her bare shoulder roughly with his free hand as he searches for the right words to say, the right steps to take. He lets the hand drop to skim down her arm and take up her cold fingers in his.
You look so beautiful tonight, he tells her, and resolutely he kisses her again.