The kiss with which Leni had greeted him had been just a friendly peck. Hadn’t it? That was how she greeted everyone.

‘Got time for a coffee? she’d asked.

Across their narrow table they talked about friends and study, films and music, and places they’d like to see.

After ordering more coffee, then toasties for lunch, then tea, because three coffees was too much for him, Gus looked at his watch and gasped. ‘I’ve gotta go. I’ll miss my tute.’

Leni stood to kiss him again. Then she dropped the word that was now pinging around his brain. ‘See you, Babe.’

Babe. That was good wasn’t it? Affectionate even? Or just exuberant? No. She’d never called him that before. Babe. It was what pop song lovers called each other—but maybe that was just to fill a beat. What would she call him next time she saw him? When would that be? Babe! Maybe it was condescending. She was a bit of a hippy, too—perhaps that’s all it was. He remembered the earthy perfume she wore. The gentle sway of loose cotton. Babe…

‘Mr O’Laughlin.’ Rodney, his tutor, lifted Gus’s fringe with the end of the remote. ‘Are you with us?’

Gus jerked his head. ‘Sorry, I…what…’

‘When Austen describes Darcy’s reluctance here, what’s she really saying?’

2011—Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)
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