Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)
He always comes to her parties, though he says he doesn’t really understand her friendship group. Her female friends like him a lot, and for some reason feel very comfortable sitting on his lap during conversations and tousling his hair fondly. The men have not warmed to him in the same way. He is tolerated through his association with Marianne, but he’s not considered in his own right particularly interesting. He’s not even smart! one of her male friends exclaimed the other night when Connell wasn’t there. He’s smarter than I am, said Marianne. No one knew what to say then. It’s true that Connell is quiet at parties, stubbornly quiet even, and not interested in showing off how many books he has read or how many wars he knows about. But Marianne is aware, deep down, that that’s not why people think he’s stupid.
How was it disrespectful to our friendship? he says.
I think it would be difficult to stay friends if we started sleeping together.
He makes a devilish grinning expression. Confused, she hides her face in her arm.
Would it? he says.
I don’t know.
One night in the basement of Bruxelles, two of Marianne’s friends were playing a clumsy game of pool while the others sat around drinking and watching. After Jamie won he said: Who wants to play the winner? And Connell put his pint down quietly and said: Alright, yeah. Jamie broke but didn’t pot anything. Without engaging in any conversation at all, Connell then potted four of the yellow balls in a row. Marianne started laughing, but Connell was expressionless, just focused-looking. In the short time after his turn he drank silently and watched Jamie send a red ball spinning off the cushion. Then Connell chalked his cue briskly and resumed pocketing the final three yellows. There was something so satisfying about the way he studied the table and lined the shots up, and the quiet kiss of the chalk against the smooth surface of the cue ball. The girls all sat around watching him take shots, watching him lean over the table with his hard, silent face lit by the overhead lamp. It’s like a Diet Coke ad, said Marianne. Everyone laughed then, even Connell did. When it was just the black ball left he pointed at the top right-hand pocket and, gratifyingly, said: Alright, Marianne, are you watching? Then he potted it. Everyone applauded.
Instead of walking home that night, Connell came back to stay at hers. They lay in her bed looking up at the ceiling and talking. Until then they had always avoided discussing what had happened between them the year before, but that night Connell said: Do your friends know about us?
Marianne paused. What about us? she said eventually.
What happened in school and all that.
No, I don’t think so. Maybe they’ve picked up on something but I never told them.
For a few seconds Connell said nothing. She was attuned to his silence in the darkness.