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Without a Backward Glance

From Chapter 5: The Party

Within a few moments most of the group, including James, was on the dance floor. Robert drifted unobtrusively to the perimeter of the room, where he leant with self-conscious casualness against the frame of a handsome set of doors that led out to a terrace and the back garden.

A girl drifted over too and leaned against the opposite door frame. She was wearing a pretty green dress, and she had a cloud of flame coloured hair, more orange than red, which blazed against the dark wood of the frame. Their eyes met, the girl’s magnified by her glasses. “Hi,” Robert said. She smiled. What a beautiful smile, he thought. That hair is incredible, too.

On a sudden impulse, he pushed himself off from his lounging position and moved over to her. “My name’s Robert,” he said. “I’m a friend of Justin’s.”

“Hi,” the girl said shyly. “I’m Vesna. I’m actually a friend of Sarah, Justin’s sister. I don’t know many people here.”

“Me either, to tell you the truth.”

“I saw you come in, with that guy in the white T-shirt.” She indicated James, who was dancing away with a dreamy expression on his tanned face. His eyes were half-closed but as they watched he opened them fully and looked around, smiling. Even from across the room they were striking, those eyes, as lovely as sapphires. The three girls who had approached the group earlier had him surrounded now, twining sinuously around him and each other.

“That’s my brother,” Robert said. They watched him silently for a few moments.

“I wonder what it’d be like,” the young woman said quietly, “to be that good-looking.”

“I don’t know, but I think I’d hate it,” said Robert honestly. “People always looking at you! But James seems to cope with it okay.”

“I guess he’s used to it. But I’d hate it too.”

“Your name’s ... Vesna?” Robert asked, turning to her. “Is that right?”

She nodded. “It means ‘spring’. It’s a Yugoslav name.”

“It’s beautiful,” he said, and she smiled at him again, a pleased, radiant smile. Robert felt a little light-headed, as though he’d been drinking, and something else too, like goldfish were swimming around in his chest. But it was not unpleasant. Not at all.

Over the next couple of hours he and Vesna parted several times to mingle with other people at the steadily swelling party, neither wanting to make the other feel they had to stay together. But their eyes kept meeting, from doorways and across rooms, and they were drawn back to each other again and again, to talk more, to laugh quietly and just to stand together, observing. I feel so relaxed, Robert marvelled. She’s just so easy to be with.Sometime after midnight they found themselves back in the same doorway where they had first met. The party was in full swing now, the dance floor seething. It was hard to hear each other over the racket of music and voices and loud laughter.

“Let’s go outside for a while,” Robert suggested, having almost to shout. Vesna nodded. They found a bench at the far end of the stone-paved terrace; the light from the house and the sounds of the party spilled out in a way that was attractive but not obtrusive. There were enormous pots full of shrubs and flowers placed here and there. The delicious perfume of gardenias drifted on the warm air. From their shadowed nook they could see the dark outlines of trees with the moon glimmering through branches, and a suggestion of other terraces below.

Suddenly they heard a loud splash, and lights came on somewhere below them. Standing now and leaning on the balustrade, they saw a swimming pool on a lower terrace. Someone had dived in and was swimming steadily, covering the length of the pool in half a dozen long strokes and turning. James, of course, stripped to his underpants, his T-shirt and jeans tossed over a bench.

“My brother the water baby,” said Robert. “He can’t stay away from it.”

The same three girls who had been pursuing him all evening appeared by the pool. One slipped her party dress over her head, laughing, and dived in wearing her bra and panties. A second, the blonde, took her dress off too: she wasn’t wearing a bra. Not hesitating for a moment, she pulled her panties down and stepped out of them. Her pale pubic hair caught the light for a moment, like a tiny silvery cloud, and with a shriek she jumped into the water.

“Oh!” gasped Vesna. “Gosh!”

Excerpted from Without a Backward Glance © Copyright 2012 by Kate Veitch. Reprinted with permission by Plume. All rights reserved.

Without a Backward Glance
by by Kate Veitch

  • paperback: 371 pages
  • Publisher: Plume
  • ISBN-10: 0452289475
  • ISBN-13: 9780452289475