There was a warmth that radiated from Penny that calmed me immediately. We hugged again and I put my hands on her shoulders and said it was good to see her. Penny was like an estranged little sister to me. We were in the same house at the boarding school all those years ago but she was a year below me. And as I looked at her now I saw that she was not quite the same person I knew so well but had grown a little taller and stood a little straighter. There was always a goofy eagerness about her and the way she buzzed with anticipation told me none of it was lost in the passing of time.
She fired question after question at me as if she'd been loading a whole arsenal of guns during her bus ride over and I answered the best I could. Nah, I wasn't going to be in London much longer. I would be leaving tomorrow actually, oh, um to Tahiti. Yep, Tahiti but kind of via America. Where the hell had I been? Tromsoe, way up north where the sun and moon shared custody over the earth, six months at a time.
And the part that inevitably comes when people tiptoe towards the real question: What happened to you and Lina?
It's always asked in a hushed tone. I mean no one died or anything.
We split. It's all good though.
Penny fell silent. The first years always looked up to us second years, which I think is hilarious. I mean us second years were still in flux still battling all our confusions and contradictions but were kind of thrust onto the stage with our lines half learnt. When the first years arrive on the college everything appears like it had been there forever, everything is how it is. The second years all had their own personalities and they seemed to know how things worked.
I must admit abusing this trust more than once, but only in the name of humour. I told Penny and Emma (another equally bright eyed English girl) that I was from North Korea and hadn't seen my family since I was seven. They listened to me intently and I think Penny even cried. I had no recollection of that until now.
Well, I assume that Lina and I were one of 'those' couples. No drama nor flaunting of affection, just a deep and calm respect and love. I noticed the first years looked up to that with admiration. For Penny to hear that we had come apart it was like an unraveling of a myth. I would say we were a heroic couple not in the over the top all-conquering way, but in kind of a brave and resolute way. That was the only way we knew how to be.
We ordered some food and I looked over Penny's shoulder at a group of late twenty/early thirty somethings neck deep in their bottomless brunch. I hate these groups of people. The men are always too loud and the women are always too pretty. They wore collared shirts, of course, but often style supplants sincerity and their presence was so abrasive to my mind that it felt like all my sense were being sandpapered.