Christmas was fast approaching; the end of term loomed ahead of them. Their first term at St Andrews would soon be over. Teaching was beginning to wind down but there was still plenty of reading to do over the holidays. Sally had fully recovered from her experience at the top of the cathedral tower and had practically raided the campus library in an attempt to read as much as possible for the essay she had to write over the holiday. Darrell had been amused at her friend’s attempt at getting all the books into her trunk.
They were all travelling down to London’s Kings Cross by train on the next day to spend Christmas at their homes. The girls were only a short distance from each other and were confident in the fact that they would see a lot of each other over the festive period.
David was heading back to the heather clad slopes of Shropshire and Anatoly, who had been accepted into their friendship group, was heading back to London. He had assured them that he would be back next semester as he had ‘rather taken to all the physics’.
Julian had told them that he was spending the Christmas period with his family down in Kirrin. All three of his friends had warned him not to get into another adventure and Darrell had added jokingly;
“And don’t bring an adventure back with you either, Kirrin!”
They had all laughed. They felt like they could laugh now; the last few weeks with assignments and one thing and another, laughter had been thin the ground. Only when the boys’ last assessed practical and the girls’ last essays had been handed in could they even begin to look to Christmas. They had done some Christmas shopping in the town and had enjoyed hot toddies in the evenings.
It was the day before they were all due to start leaving for home. David and Julian were leaving a few hours before the others as they had more travelling to do than the girls. They met in the quieter common room in the girls’ halls as most of the girls had already gone home. The fires in the grates were still burning brightly and warmly. The rich red carpet and curtains shielded them from the worst of the cold outside.
A merry little Christmas tree in the corner of the room added to the festive cheer as they settled down in the warm chairs of the room, each with a small bag of presents to give out. Darrell fetched some hot chocolate and the five of them drank and talked for a while as the world outside the curtains got darker.
“What time do you two have to leave in the morning?” Sally asked, curling up in her chair, her cup grasped in between her hands as Julian leaned forward and threw another log on the fire.
“We’ve got to be at Leuchars train station for about six to get the train to Edinburgh. Which means being at St Andrews train station for about five,” David said leaning forward to catch some of the heat off the fire. “Then, for me, the train to Crewe leaves about ten to nine.”
“Sounds like a long day!” Sally said giving a little shiver at the thought. “And I thought that six hours to Kings Cross was going to be bad!” she said shaking her head.
“It was just lucky that my leaving tomorrow means that I don’t have to head straight down to Kirrin,” Julian said rolling his eyes. “I wouldn’t be getting there until supper time if I had to do it all by one train!” They laughed at him.
“Be glad then that you are staying with your parents for a day or so before heading on down to Kirrin,” Anatoly said with a chuckle. Julian smiled at him.
“Don’t worry, I’m very glad that is how things have worked out,” Julian said with a chuckle. They all looked into the fire, for a moment.
“I wonder what it’ll be like next term,” Darrell said with a smile. “I hope we don’t end up in any more adventures. I hate to think how badly my university work has suffered thanks to Julian’s nose for a mystery,” she teased her friend, winking at him. Julian pulled a sarcastic smile at Darrell.
Anatoly tightened his arm around her shoulders. Everyone had been amused at how quickly Darrell and Anatoly had gotten closer. Sally had told David and Julian that Darrell had admitted that she had always thought there was something interesting about him.
“Very funny, Miss Rivers, I do believe that you came along under your own steam,” he chuckled at her.
Darrell laughed.“Did I give you that impression? How remiss of me. You must remind me not to do so next time,” she said with a chuckle. Sally, Anatoly and David were rolling their eyes at Julian and Darrell as this conversation was going on.
“Are we going to exchange Christmas presents or not?” Sally asked before Julian could retort. She had a feeling that given the chance this could last for a long time. David was laughing silently as Sally tried to bring things under control.
“Yes, Christmas presents!” Darrell said with a chuckle. She slapped her hands on her thighs and stood up. “Come on Sally, we should go and get them.”
Sally nodded and stood up.
“It is a good thing that we brought the presents we have for you with us isn’t it?” David said with amusement in his voice as the girls turned to go and collect their presents from their room. Julian leant back against the back of the chair he was sitting on and momentarily appeared to forget his manners and lounged in a rather undignified way in the armchair. His legs splayed out in front of the fire his head almost on the seat. Anatoly and David had to laugh.
“What on earth are you doing?” Anatoly asked in between bouts of laugher.
“Sort of stretching,” Julian said with a contented look on his face as he sat up properly in his seat once more.
“It looked fairly uncomfortable for stretching,” David told him firmly.
“Oh it was,” Julian assured his friend. There was more laughter at this.
“So what did you get the girls in the end?” Julian asked his friends after half a moment’s silence.
“Nothing too fancy,” David said with a shrug, pulling his satchel towards him and pulling out the presents, neatly wrapped in brown paper and string. “I just got them a notebook each. Something with a nice cover on it,” David added as Julian reached for his own bag. “What about you?”
“I got them some sweets,” Anatoly said, with a shrug.
“I just got Darrell a book,” Julian said, and he was about to add what he had got Sally when the girls came back into the room, each with a bag in their hands.
The girls took their seats again and the five of them exchanged presents. Darrell looked at her pile and then around at the others.
“Are we to save these for Christmas or can we open then now?” she asked with a wicked smile.
“We should really wait for Christmas day,” Sally said quietly to her friend. “Your lack of patience will be the end of you Darrell,” she added fondly to her friend. Darrell smiled at her best friend.
“I don’t see why we can’t open them now,” David said with a shrug. “If you want to that is,” he added leaning forward. “I mean that if we do open them now, we don’t have to take them home and take up space in luggage and things.”
“That is quite a clever idea, Morton,” Julian said with a loud laugh. He slapped David on the shoulder.
“The man makes an excellent point,” Darrell said, with a smile, turning her head to Sally. Sally relented and smiled.
“He is due another good idea at any rate,” Anatoly said. David chucked a cushion at him.
“All right,” Sally said with a chuckle. They all picked up a present each and began to unwrap; there were exclamations of thanks all around.
“That’s just what I needed, thank you!” David said to the girls who had got him a joint present of a new satchel. He definitely needed one, every one he had owned had broken under the weight of all his books.
“It’s actually made for hiking, it’s very strong,” Darrell explained as David turned the bag over in his hands.
“So it shouldn’t break!” Sally added with a laugh. David chuckled, getting out of his seat and giving each of the girls a kiss on the cheek.
“It’s magnificent. Thank you,” he said with a smile.
Anatoly was opening his present from Julian, which turned out to be a children’s book of spying.
“Thank you Kirrin,” said Anatoly rolling his eyes at Julian who shrugged with a laugh.
Julian was unwrapping his present from Darrell while this was all going on. He laughed when he saw that it was “The Science of Life” by H.G Wells.
“Thank you Darrell,” Julian said with a chuckle, also giving her a kiss on the cheek. “I shall enjoy reading this on the way home tomorrow.”
“Well I thought at least it would give you something to think about next term, and hopefully keep you out of trouble!” Darrell laughed gleefully as she unwrapped her present from Julian; a collection of works by Virginia Woolf.
“Just what the English lecturer ordered!” Darrell laughed happily as Sally opened her present from Anatoly.
“I swear Julian, you are a mind reader.” Darrell carefully pretended that she didn’t see Julian mouth the words ‘Thank you’ to Sally as he sat back down. Sally on the other hand wasn’t paying much attention as she was un-wrapping her last gift, her present from Julian. Sally opened the small cardboard tube at one end, under the wrapping paper and fished her fingers around inside the tube until she gripped on to the slippery paper inside. She grinned a little at Julian.
“I think I know what this is going to be!” she said with a laugh. Sally pulled the poster of the tube and unrolled it. She looked up at her friend with astonished eyes. Julian smiled nervously at her. Sally was very good at making him nervous.
“Is it all right?” he asked her raising his eyebrows, unsure whether her silence was a good thing. Sally nodded.
“It’s amazing! However did you find this?” she asked, as Darrell impatiently shared a look with the others.
“Oh, it just caught my eye when I was in town,” Julian said shrugging a little, still unsure of how his present was going down.
“What is it a picture of Sally?” Darrell asked quietly, as Sally looked at Julian still with the same surprised look on her face. Sally turned the poster in her hands around to show them what it was. It was a nineteen thirties national rail poster of the same part of the Cornish coastline where Malory Towers was.
“That is stunning!” Darrell said looking at the detail on the poster in her friend’s hands. “You really must have good eyes, Julian. I wouldn’t have spotted that in any old shop.”
David fixed his friend with an un-impressed look. He had had no idea that had been what his friend had been looking for when they had wandered around town the other week. David sighed and stood up.
“We’d better be getting back to St Salvator’s, ladies,” he said. Julian and Anatoly followed suit, collecting their presents as they did so, stuffing the wrapping paper in the waste paper basket.
“Have a good Christmas and New Year. See you when we get back,” David added as Darrell regained her senses.
“Please don’t forget to write,” Darrell said with a smile, standing up to give the boys a hug each. “And I think it would be best if none of you get into trouble!” she added with a smile, as David hugged Sally, who still seemed a little shell shocked.
“We’ll try not to!” the boys chorused. They had heard this from Darrell several times in the last week or so. Everyone managed to laugh, even Sally.
“You better not get into trouble either,” David said with a grin as they walked to the common room door.
“Would we ever?” Darrell said with a chuckle as she wound her arm around Anatoly’s waist for a goodbye hug.
“I wouldn’t see us down if I were you, it’s going to be cold,” Julian said giving Darrell a hug, after she let go of Anatoly, before turning to hug Sally, who regained herself enough to hug him back and say ‘Thank you’ quietly as she did so.
“Merry Christmas,” they all said together and then added, “Only four weeks.”
As the door to the common room closed behind the boys, Darrell turned to Sally and asked;
“Are you just going to let Julian leave like that?”
“What do you mean, Darrell?” Sally asked, the picture was rolled up in her hand, the tube for it was in the other. Sally slowly started putting the poster back into the tube.
“That is not just any old present you know Sally,” Darrell said, settling herself down in her seat. “That was hand picked if I am any judge.” She treated Sally to a knowing look.
Sally sat down in her own seat and sighed, putting her head in her hands.
“So what does that mean, Miss Smarty-pants?” Sally asked almost despairing. She liked Julian, a lot. There had been times during the term when she’d wondered what it would be like to have him like her back and enjoy being together and she was even more sure of herself as she had seen how happy Darrell was with Anatoly. Part of the problem was that Sally wasn’t sure that Julian liked her back in that way; he was pleasant enough to her, but it was nothing special as far as she could see, besides he had quite definitely said that they were friends. He treated Darrell the same way, and he had asked Sally what to get Darrell for Christmas so Sally had almost given up on the idea of her and Julian.
“Oh Sally,” Darrell said, climbing on to the arm of her friend’s chair and putting an arm around her shoulders.
“Julian likes you, you know. He really does,” Darrell assured her friend. “Call it a feeling, but I would place good money on the fact.”
Sally looked up at Darrell, her eyes brimming with tears. She knew her friend had no reason to lie to her.
“You really think so?” Sally managed to ask. Darrell had to keep from rolling her eyes. For an intelligent woman Sally was being very cliché, like one of the heroines out of Darrell’s English novels.
“Yes!” Darrell said enthusiastically, giving her friend a tug up out of her seat. “Go on! Go get him to tell you himself. He won’t have made it back to St Salvator’s just yet.”
Sally looked at Darrell like she had gone crazy. She couldn’t see herself running after Julian like one of those girls in books. Sally was too sensible for that. Darrell glared at her.
“I can’t Darrell. That’s not like me at all, how bad would it look?” Sally asked her head over powering her heart in one swift motion.
“Sally! Honestly!” Darrell said shaking her head. “If you don’t do it now, how can you be sure that things will be exactly the same after the Christmas holidays? And now is perfect. He’s just given you a wonderful, well planned, Christmas present. Do I have to drag you there myself?” she added with a threatening tone in her voice.
Sally knew she was well and truly beaten. “All right, I’ll go,” she said quietly, trying to laugh at Darrell’s tone. Her hands were shaking as she stood up and went to fetch her coat.
The boys were almost back at St Salvator’s. They had fallen into silence after their rather terse discussion between David and Julian about Julian’s present to Sally. David couldn’t make up his mind which would give him more pleasure; pushing Julian to tell Sally how he felt about her, or thumping him, hard, on the shoulder he’d dislocated earlier in the term. David had almost made up his mind to give Julian the thump and then tell him to go and talk to Sally when Julian said that he was going for a short walk up to the cathedral ruins. Both Anatoly and David were a little surprised at this, but didn’t feel it right to ask Julian why he wanted to go the ruins so they just nodded and David offered to take Julian’s presents for him.
“Thank you, that would be brilliant if you don’t mind,” Julian said gratefully as David held out his hands to receive Julian’s gifts.
“I’ll keep them in my room, you can pick them up on your way back,” David said quietly.
Julian nodded his thanks and turned towards the cathedral. David shook his head at Anatoly who raised an eyebrow and then they turned to walk the last few metres to the St Salvator’s halls front door when he heard footsteps behind them.
Both boys turned and saw Sally on the other side of the road, looking a little harassed. She spotted them and hurried over the road.
“Hello,” Anatoly said, slightly surprised. “What are you doing here? We have not picked up something of yours by mistake have we?”
Sally shook her head, a little out of breath from her run. She grasped David’s arm for a second while she got her breath back and asked;
“Where’s Julian? I need to talk to him.”
David half wished that Darrell was standing behind Sally so he could shoot her that all too knowing look; he wasn’t sure that Anatoly would completely understand what the look meant. Between the two of them, they’d seen what had been brewing between Julian and Sally all term.
“He’s gone up to the cathedral ruins for some reason,” David told Sally, getting a little concerned about the state she seemed to have worked herself up into. “Why do you need to talk to him so urgently?” David called after Sally as she gave his arm a squeeze and headed back up the path and towards the cathedral. David turned and shrugged at Anatoly and nodded to him to lead the way into St Salvator’s.
Sally slowed her pace as she neared the ruins and was out of sight of the others. She didn’t want to cause unnecessary delays in her conversation with Julian. She went to the seaward entrance of the ruins, she put her hand in her pocket before she went any further glad to feel the presence of her torch, now ever present, there. She fetched it out of her pocket and turned it on as the ruins were darker than the streets.
The clouds were a steely gray and made the winter gloom darker than usual. Sally could hear the roar of the sea as she stepped forward into the ruins. She shone her torch around the ruins trying to spot Julian. She thought she saw him under the archway to her left.
“Julian?” she called as she started walking towards where she had seen the figure. She turned off her torch, but kept it in her hand as she walked forward.
Julian was indeed where Sally had spotted him. He turned his head to look at her as he leant back on the old stone wall of the archway.
“Sally? What are you doing here?” Julian asked standing up straight and in the gloom, managing to put his hand on her shoulder to stop her walking into him.
“Is anything the matter?” he asked, pulling her into his side so she was tucked under his left arm. He had gotten used to the feeling of how natural it was to have Sally there by his side now. Sally allowed herself to be steered against Julian’s side, if truth be told she was a little chilly. The wind off of the North Sea wasn’t kind.
“Not really,” Sally said, slightly uncertainly.
“Then what is the matter Miss Hope?” Julian said, in a slightly teasing voice giving her shoulder a squeeze. Sally was beginning to feel a little sick. She was almost certain now that Darrell had been wrong.
“I just wanted to ask you about that poster you got me,” Sally said, before she could really stop herself.
“What about it?” Julian asked, swallowing awkwardly. Suddenly his collar began to feel a little bit too tight around his neck.
“Well, I just wondered why you got it for me,” Sally said, quietly. “I mean it’s very thoughtful and I do love it, but…” she faltered.
She couldn’t think of a sensible way of saying what she wanted to say without seeming like one of the droopy heroines from those cheap romance books. She hung her head.
Julian waited for a few seconds to see if Sally would continue, and whether it was along the same train of thought as he had hoped she was going for.
“I hope it’s not going to make you homesick for boarding school,” Julian found himself saying in a joking tone, which even to his own ears sounded strained. “I just thought you might like a visual reminder. You’re always talking about Malory Towers after all.”
“Oh Julian, it is wonderful and very sweet of you, incredibly sweet,” Sally said finding her tongue. She took a deep breath and tried to continue.
“Now I know we’re friends, good friends, and I know there have been times this term, where I’ve been unnecessarily harsh towards you, but …” Sally paused for another breath, but as she did so, Julian started talking.
“…but I’m sure I deserved it,” he said with a smile. He looked down at her and tried to take control.
“Even through your harshness towards me, Miss Hope, I do confess, I have found myself becoming rather fond of you…” Julian trailed off, a hopeful look in his eyes.
Sally smiled to herself in the gathering gloom. Darrell was right.
“Oh that is good news!” Sally said breathing out. She reached in the darkness for Julian’s free hand and grasped it tightly in her own.
“I was hoping not to be alone in the fondness department,” she said quietly, although she suddenly felt quite giddy.
Julian hardly dared to breathe. He pulled her out from under his arm and positioned her in front of him, both his hands on her shoulders, face inches from hers; even though this was a serious moment, he couldn’t stop himself from grinning widely.
“Did you just say what I thought you said, Sally?” he asked weakly as the wind whipped around them.
Sally nodded. “I did,” she said, a smile on her face. She couldn’t help but laugh as she found herself being hugged tightly by Julian. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him back. She rested her cheek against the rough tweed of his jacket and smiled happily to herself.
Julian pressed his face against her shoulder and took a shaky breath. He hugged Sally tighter, just enjoying the moment. His heart was soaring; his head felt like it was spinning. He had never really dared to believe that this could happen.
He reluctantly pulled back from the embrace when the wind picked and Sally started shivering. He guessed they must have been standing there for at least five minutes. He smiled down at her, barely able to see her face in the darkness. Sally looked up at him as they simultaneously turned their torches on. Julian laughed.
“So you really are carrying it around with you now!” he chuckled, his hand reaching for hers. “I think I’d better walk you back to your dorm now,”hee added as he felt the coldness of her hands in his own. “You are freezing.”
“I’m not that cold!” Sally protested as Julian started to walk forward, still holding on to her hand, towards the exit of the cathedral.
“You are you know,” Julian said, stopping and turning to her. The smile on his face was infectious. Sally couldn’t help but smile.
“Well maybe a little, but I was warmer back in the cathedral than out here,” she said, pretending to be sulky. Julian laughed at her, giving her hand a squeeze.
“And you will soon be a lot warmer if you let me take you back to your dorm,” Julian said gently.
Sally rolled her eyes at him but relented. ‘Julian won’t always have things this easy,’ she told herself when they were on the move again. ‘Sooner or later I’m not going to just let him look after me. He knows I’m not just going to let him have his way.’ She smiled to herself as they walked at a steady pace towards her halls.
Julian’s hand never let go of Sally’s as they walked. It was reassuring to be holding her hand in his. The holidays were going to seem awfully long now.
“You should come and visit this Christmas, if you get time,” Sally said quietly as they entered the university grounds.
“Your parents wouldn’t mind?” Julian asked raising an eyebrow. “I can’t see them being particularly keen on having a boy to come and stay,” he teased gently as they walked through the outside arches of the university buildings towards Sally’s halls.
Sally blushed a little; hoping that Julian wouldn’t notice. They walked in silence the rest of the way to Sally’s halls. They stood outside the building, suddenly unsure of what they should say.
Sally looked up at the building and then back at Julian as they stood facing each other in front of the door.
“It is almost like we’re back in time, that first night after the debate club when you walked me back here,” Sally said softly.
Julian smiled. “I was thinking almost the same thing,” he said pulling her close for another hug. Sally smiled and allowed herself to be folded into his hug.
Just as she leant her head against his jacket once more, there was the sound of a whoop, and someone laughing above them. Sally pulled back from Julian, who raised his head and had a very unimpressed look on his face. Sally spotted where he was looking and shook her head as she spotted Darrell, Anatoly and David leaning out of the common room window. Darrell was laughing, David looked amused and she could see Anatoly’s grin as she looked up at her friends.
Julian began laughing a little, shaking his head and looking down at Sally.
“It’s about time!” David called down to them. Julian jokingly raised his fist heavenwards to them and they immediately disappeared indoors. Sally laughed, clutching on to Julian’s coat to help keep herself steady.
“I think they’re almost as happy as us,” Sally laughed a little, as Julian curled an arm around her waist as they both began to descend into laughter.
“I’m assuming that they’re on their way down, so I think I’ll do this now before they get here,” Julian said with a chuckle, gently pulling back a little, his hand gently cupping Sally’s chin and pressed his lips against hers softly. Sally closed her eyes briefly, for it was all over too soon as beyond the front door they heard the hallway door open.
Stepping off the step, Julian made sure that he was still holding Sally’s hand. Sally grinned up at him as a beam of light burst through the opening door.
“Haven’t you three heard that spying is a disgusting thing to do?” Julian asked pushing past them and pulling Sally inside, where it was marginally warmer than outside.
“Well we weren’t really spying,” Darrell said innocently.
“We just happened to be looking out of the window, and there you two were,” David continued in the same innocent tone. Julian raised an eyebrow as Sally tried not to laugh.
“We were wondering where you two had gotten to anyway,” Anatoly continued.
“And what are you two doing here?” Julian asked, with a hint of disapproval in his voice. David and Anatoly grinned at him.
“Well after you wandered off and Sally came looking for you, and you took your time getting back, I wandered over here to see if Darrell had heard anything of the two of you,” David said honestly.
Darrell took Sally’s arm and smiled at her.
“So you sorted things out then?” Darrell asked her friend, as both Sally and Julian turned a delicate shade of pink.
“I think we did,” Sally said with a happy smile, still a little pink on the cheeks.
“Well thank God for that!” David said raising his arms and pretending to pray. Julian gave him a shove on the shoulder.
“It sounds as though it was about time!” Anatoly said with a smirk.
“Give over,” he muttered as Darrell beamed happily at the two of them.
“Well maybe next term you two can stop teasing each other and actually settle down to do some work!” Darrell said giving Sally’s arm a squeeze.
“Well if that’s what the lady demands,” Julian said with a grin, giving a little bow. Darrell laughed as Julian continued;
“If you really want no teasing then you at least have to put up with another adventure.”
Darrell’s laughter faded.
“NO!” the four of them chorused together at Julian. “No more adventures!”
Julian laughed and put his arm around Sally’s shoulders and hugged her for a second before saying, “Well I can’t promise that.”
There was a twinkle in his eye as he spoke.