“Anyone think it would be funny to hide Toly’s clothes?” David asked with a smirk.
“Oooh blimey, yes, but please can we get dressed first?” Darrell asked shivering a little as they jogged up the beach.
“Really, Darrell?” I’m surprised at you!” David said with a grin. “Julian and I would absolutely do something like that, of course, but aren’t you supposed to be on his side?”
“Not when he’s showing off like that I’m not,” Darrell said as they wrapped their towels around them and began to dry themselves down, huddling down to avoid as much as possible of the wind. As quickly as possible they stripped off their soaking shirts and costumes, replacing them with layers of dry things. “Quick!” Darrell hissed, looking over her shoulder, “he’s just about swum back!”
Julian and David smirked at each other and grabbed Anatoly’s stuff and made a quick dash to hide their friend’s clothes behind a biggish rock a few yards away. They came back and sat down with the girls. Sally was pulling out her thermos of coffee and the little trophy whiskies she and Darrell had got for the boys.
“Show off!” David told Anatoly as he jogged up the beach. Darrell’s eyes hadn’t left Anatoly since he left the water. She bit her lip and her cheeks were flaming dark red as she looked at his toned chest.
“Well, that was bracing,” Anatoly said with a shiver, pushing his wet hair back from his face, his curls having almost straightened out with the weight of the water. He looked around and then at their faces, seeing the joke immediately. “All right. Very funny. Where are my clothes?”
“Your clothes Toly?” Julian asked, completely sincerely. “I haven’t seen your clothes, have any of you?”
“No, I haven’t,” Sally said airily, pouring out cups of coffee.
“Me neither,” David said, taking a cup of coffee. “Darrell?”
“Sorry Toly,” she said with a shake of her head, “where did you leave them?”
Anatoly looked between them all, but none of them so much as laughed. He knew they couldn’t have taken his clothes far, but he couldn’t tell if they had stuffed them into the girls’ bags, layered them on with their own clothes or if they were perhaps sitting on them. “Fine, I shall just freeze!” he grumbled, sitting on the sand and wrapping his arms around his knees as he shivered again.
“Well you told us you weren’t cold,” Sally said lightly, handing him a coffee.
Anatoly glared at her as he took the coffee, clutching it close to his chest to try to warm himself up a little. “I was not cold,” he said obstinately. “But there is a limit to what even I can endure.”
Julian and David were carefully not looking at one another, because they knew if they did, they would laugh. Darrell handed Anatoly her towel to drape around his shoulders. “Maybe someone came and took your things while we were out swimming?” she suggested.
“And somehow they picked up only my things?” he said scornfully, trying not to get annoyed with them over what was essentially a harmless prank, but he really hated being made a fool of.
Sally sensed his tetchiness with Darrell and the girls shared a sympathetic look as the boys gave in and began laughing. “Let me get them,” Darrell said softly as Julian and David leant on each other for support.
“Zatknis’ vy dvoye, vy ne tak smeshno, kak vy dumayete, chto vy,” Anatoly said crossly, knowing they wouldn’t understand a word of it though he imagined they would get the meaning from his tone.
“I have no idea what you said Toly,” Julian gasped as Darrell returned with the clothes. “But I take it you’re upset with us?”
“Thank you,” he said stiffly to Darrell, just about resisting the urge to snatch the pile of clothes from her. He ignored them for a moment as he stood, his fingers almost completely numb with the cold as he tried to dry off and get dressed.
“I’m sorry Toly,” Darrell whispered, watching him.
“Will a small bottle of good whisky help make it up?” Sally asked quietly. “We got them for you boys last night at the fair,” she said softly.
Anatoly pulled his clothes on as quickly as possible, aware he was being a bit of a surly git. “A whisky would certainly help warm me up,” he said to Sally, trying to sound friendlier.
“You got little bottles of whisky for us?” David asked, genuinely touched.
“Why didn’t you get one each for you two?” Julian asked, pulling Sally into his side for a hug as she passed Darrell one of the bottles to give to Anatoly.
“We weren’t sure we would be doing the dip then,” Darrell explained, watching Anatoly from the corner of her eyes as she took the little bottle from Sally.
“Would you like to share then?” Julian asked Sally. David cleared his thought and glanced at Darrell.
“Care to share?” he asked her, unsure that Anatoly would be friendly enough to share his after the joke, and he was sure that the Russian probably deserved the whole measure.
“There’s not very much in the bottles,” Sally said, “but I’ll have a little taste if you don’t mind.”
Anatoly felt a little ashamed of himself as Darrell looked awkwardly between him and David. “Come here and share mine dorogoy,” he said softly, holding out his arm for her.
Darrell smiled thankfully at David and moved to sit next to Anatoly.
“All the more for me then!” David chuckled. “Bottoms up!” he said with a smile, opening his bottle and taking a little sip. “Oh that’s nice.”
Julian did the same and then offered it to Sally, “very nice, don’t you agree Sally?”
Sally took a little drink herself before handing it back, “Mm, yes,” she said, “very warming!”
Julian grinned and hugged her closer, taking another small drink of it, before passing it back to her. She leant her head on his shoulder as David added a little of the whisky to his coffee and took a drink.
“Mmm even nicer,” he said happily.
Anatoly let Darrell settle against his side and wrapped his arm around her as he kissed her cheek. “Better open it up,” he said nodding at the bottle, “or everyone else will have finished before we have started.”
Darrell opened the bottle and took a little mouthful before handing it to Anatoly. “Very smooth, but smoky!”
Anatoly took the bottle from her, toasting her with it before taking a drink. “Very nice,” he agreed, looking at the label. “Perhaps the next time I buy a bottle I should get this one. What do you think dorogoy?”
“That would be nice Toly,” she said, cuddling into him as Sally took another drink behind them from Julian’s bottle.
“Its Talisker,” she giggled. “Anatoly, that’s really expensive!”
Anatoly shrugged casually. “Maybe not a large bottle then!”
They laughed a little.
“I think we did good today,” David said with a smile. He stood up and raised his bottle in the air. “I propose a toast! To us! For a successful Neer Days’s Dip!”
The others laughed at him, but Darrell had Anatoly’s bottle again and raised it up too, as Sally did the same. “To us!” the girls chorused.
They took a drink and then handed them to the boys who did the same.
“How about that pier walk now?” Julian asked as the wind whipped around them, his arm around Sally tightening.
Darrell shivered. “Well aren’t you a glutton for punishment!” she said with a laugh, pressing closer to Anatoly.
“David’s idea, and we all agreed,” Julian pointed out to her with a smirk. “Plus I really do think it’ll warm us up!”
“If we don’t get blown over the edge into the sea first,” Sally said dryly. Julian began tickling her. She shrieked and tried to push him off, begging for mercy. “Truce!” she managed to choke out.
Julian laughed and stopped the tickling. “All right, truce,” he said with a grin. As he spoke, Sally pulled his lips down to hers for a kiss.
“Now it’s a truce,” she whispered.
“Come on dorogoy, I will stop you getting blown off the pier and then we can go for some lunch and warm up properly?” asked Anatoly.
“As if I would get blown off the pier Anatoly,” Darrell said haughtily as she got up and started pulling all her things towards her.
“Definitely lunch afterwards though,” David agreed. “I think we’ll need it as that wind is quite strong!”
“We’re probably all in shock anyway from that cold water,” Sally added jokingly.
Anatoly just smirked, getting up gracefully now he could actually feel his hands and feet again. He helped Darrell cram her things into her bag, shoving his towel and trunks into his satchel and taking her arm.
Julian put his bag on across his body and linked arms with Sally too. “Ready?”
“Think so,” Sally said, reaching behind her to link her arm through David’s so he wouldn’t be left out. “Are you going to lead the way David? As it was your idea!”
“You just want me to be swept off first!” David joked, leading them across the beach to where they could scramble up the grass back towards the harbour.
“Well it would do me no good as I’ll be holding on to you!” Sally pointed out as Julian took her bag from her to help her up the slope.
“Sally, I’m touched!” David grinned as he climbed up, “you mean you wouldn’t just let go of me?”
“I wouldn’t,” Sally said with a smile. “Doesn’t mean someone else might not let you fall!” she reminded him.
“Oh I should let him fall in,” Anatoly said airily, having helped Darrell scramble up the bank.
“See what I mean?” Sally teased as Julian shook his head.
“Thing is, Toly might let you fall in,” Julian told David. “But he’d pull you out again as well!”
“Would I?” Anatoly snorted, “seems like a lot of hard work to me!”
Darrell elbowed him, “play nice Toly!”
“You would, because that’s what friends do!” Sally told him firmly as David and Julian laughed, leading the way across the small wooden bridge and then along the harbour, towards the pier where they walked every Sunday after church in their red robes.
“I suppose,” Anatoly grumbled. “I would never hear the end of it if I did not,” he joked, patting David on the back with his free hand.
David laughed. “No you wouldn’t!”
“Does it feel odd to anyone else, doing this without our robes on?” Julian asked as they stood at one end of the pier.
“I’m glad it was you that said that Ju,” Sally said with a grin. “I would have sounded like a complete pious idiot if I had said it!”
“Seeing as we’re dressed all wrong,” Darrell pondered aloud, “should we walk the wrong way too?” At the other’s expressions she sighed, “I mean, walk along the top and come back along the bottom?”
“Isn’t that bad luck?” David asked, shifting his bag on his shoulder. “It would be like standing on the PH outside St Sal’s chapel! I don’t want to do it in case I get cursed and fail my degree!”
The others laughed at him for a moment, Julian patting David on his shoulder.
“Oh David,” he laughed. “You don’t half come up with some cracking suggestions.”
“See, now he’s said it,” Sally admitted. “I don’t want to walk the wrong way down the pier!”
Anatoly grinned as Darrell looked at him for his view. “I do not believe in any such silly superstitions,” he said, “I will walk either way.”
“Ju?” Darrell asked looking from Anatoly to Julian.
“I can’t see any harm in walking the opposite way,” Julian said. “I mean if David fails his degree it’ll be because he’s fatheaded and nothing to do with which way he walks along the pier!”
David gave Julian a little shove. “You three can walk along the wrong way and Sally and I can do it the proper way and we’ll see who fails their degree!” he challenged, with a teasing glint in his eye.
“You are on,” Anatoly said as Julian also said, “you’re on!”
Darrell laughed and shared a look with Sally. “We’ll meet you at the end then?” she suggested.
“Looks like it,” Sally chuckled. “Are you going to link arms and skip up there, singing ‘We’re off to meet the Wizard’ from the Wizard of Oz?” she teased.
“I do not skip,” Anatoly protested as Darrell laughed.
“I bet you could if you tried Pilks,” David teased.
“Do you want us to fall off the pier?” Julian teased her.
“I don’t want you to fall off!” Sally protested. “But I bet you wouldn’t!”
“You want to make a bet?” Julian asked her, kissing her cheek. “Come on then you lot because otherwise we’ll catch our death of cold.”
“And I could do with some food,” David added with a smile. “I’m quite hungry after that swim!”
“You’re always hungry!” Darrell laughed. She smiled and linked her arm through David’s for a moment as they walked along the harbour wall and stopped at the end of the pier. She pecked him on the cheek, much to Anatoly’s disappointment and then went with Julian and Anatoly back a little way to where the pier met the concrete path.
Sally laughed and slipped her arm through David’s as they began to stroll along the pier. “Happy New Year David,” she said with a grin.
“Happy New Year Sally,” he said as he watched Anatoly, Darrell and Julian stumble along the rocky pier above them. “I am going to enjoy the next time they get low marks on their tests,” he told her. “Because I can say that it’s all down to walking the wrong way down the pier.”
“You are mean,” Sally laughed at him. “But I see your point! Better make sure that you don’t step on the PH outside St Sal’s now, because then they will laugh at you something rotten!”
David laughed. “I know, I know. I make a rod for my own back sometimes, I am well aware of this.”
Sally patted his arm. “Well we do try and look after you but it makes it very hard.”
David smiled and nudged her. “You won’t have to look after me after today,” he said softly.
Sally pulled up, confused. “David?”
“Oh nothing to worry about,” he assured her, giving her arm a little squeeze. “I’m just going home for the rest of the holiday tomorrow, to spend it with Peter. We have two weeks,” he added with a shrug and smile.
“Oh David,” Sally whispered with a smile. “That’s so nice. Does she know you’re going home?”
“No, my parents do, and her father, but it’s a secret. I want to surprise her,” David said bashfully.
“That’s so sweet,” Sally said as the spray of the sea caught them as they reached the end, a little after Julian, Anatoly and Darrell.
“Just don’t mention it to those two,” he whispered to her as he stood back to let her up the ladder first to be with Julian.
“My lips are sealed David,” she said with a grin, as she began to climb the ladder. Julian’s out stretched hand helped her up as David started to climb.
Julian pulled her into his arms and away from the ladder so David could get up. Julian lead her to the look out and they leant against the rails, his arms around her as the wind whipped around them, his arms around her waist as he stood behind her. He kissed her neck, tasting the salt.
“Ju?” she asked with surprise as Anatoly and Darrell climbed down the ladder and sat on the end of the pier, while David looked out over the rocks to the castle.
“Oh just felt like doing that,” he said softly. He smiled at her. “You have no idea how glad I am that I found you,” he whispered as they watched the sea swirling around below them in deep greys, greens and dark blue.
She gripped his hands that were around her waist and turned to kiss him, nestling back into his embrace. She smiled at him and rested her head against his neck as they turned to look back over the East Sands, the coast line that they loved.
“Is this it then Ju? Is this us? Here and now, in this beautiful place with our wonderful friends?” she asked shyly.
“Undoubtedly,” he promised her, kissing the side of her head as Darrell and Anatoly climbed up the ladder again and David wandered over to join them, all leaning back on the rail. “What more could we ask for?”
“Nothing,” Sally whispered as she smiled at their friends. “Apart from a Happy New Year.”
“Here’s to a Happy New Year then,” Julian agreed as David grinned and Anatoly pressed a kiss to Darrell’s cheek. “Good friends, and fun times, may it continue as it started.”
“Good friends and fun times!” they all chorused happily as they looked at the town that they loved, and its magnificent ruins rising up from the ground into the sky. They stood in silence for a while just watching and hearing the wind and the sea moving around them, happy in the knowledge that they were where they should be with the right people.
“You know,” Julian said as he walked back with Sally along the pier, her hand in his. “I think I’m really going to like this year.”
“Oh yes?” Sally asked with a giggle. “Why would that be?”
“Oh yes, definitely, because it’s had such a wonderful start, and it’s my first year with you,” he said, lifting her hand to his mouth to kiss the back of it. “And that’s the best adventure of all, being with you.”
Sally pulled him close to her and wrapped her arms around his neck to kiss him. She felt her cheeks get wet with her tears , and she knew in her heart that this year was indeed going to be the best. Julian was right, it had already started so well.
The End… (for now)
 Shut up, you two, you’re not as funny as you think you are.