Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)
You didn’t say anything about wanting to stay here, she adds. You would have been welcome, obviously. You always were.
Right, okay, he says. Look, I’ll head off, then. Have a good night, yeah?
He leaves. The door clicks shut behind him, not very loudly.
In the Arts Block the next morning Jamie kisses her in front of everyone and says she looks beautiful. How was Connell last night? he says. She grips Jamie’s hand, she gives a conspiratorial roll of her eyes. Oh, he was so out of it, she says. I got rid of him eventually.
Six Months Later (JULY 2013)
He wakes up just after eight. It’s bright outside the window and the carriage is warming up, a heavy warmth of breath and sweat. Minor train stations with unreadable names flash past and vanish. Elaine is already awake but Niall is still sleeping. Connell rubs his left eye with his knuckles and sits up. Elaine is reading the one novel she has brought with her on the journey, a novel with a glossy cover and the words Now a Major Motion Picture along the top. The actress on the front has been their constant companion for weeks. Connell feels an almost friendly affinity with her pale period-drama face.
Whereabouts are we, do you know? says Connell.
Elaine looks up from the book. We passed Ljubljana about two hours ago, she says.
Oh, right, he says. We’re not far, then.
Connell looks over at Niall, whose sleeping head is bobbing slightly on his neck. Elaine follows his gaze. Out for the count as usual, she says.
There were others at the beginning. Some friends of Elaine’s went with them from Berlin to Prague, and they met a few of Niall’s Engineering classmates in Bratislava before they crossed over to Vienna on the train. Hostels were cheap, and the cities they visited had a pleasantly temporary feeling about them. Nothing Connell did there seemed to stay with him. The whole trip felt like a series of short films, screened only once, and afterwards he had a sense of what they were about but no exact memories of the plot. He remembers seeing things out the windows of taxis.
In each city he finds an internet cafe and completes the same three rituals of communication: he calls Helen on Skype, he sends his mother a free text message from his phone network’s website, and he writes Marianne an email.
Helen is on a J1 in Chicago for the summer. In the background of their calls he can hear her girlfriends chatting, doing things with each other’s hair, and sometimes Helen will turn and say something to them like: Guys, please! I’m on the phone! He loves seeing her face on-screen, especially when the connection is good and her movements are smooth and lifelike. She has a great smile, great teeth. After the end of their call yesterday he paid at the counter, walked back out into the sunshine and bought himself an overpriced glass of Coke with ice. Sometimes when Helen has a lot of friends around or if the internet cafe is especially crowded, their conversations can get a little awkward, but even still he feels better after talking to her. He finds himself rushing to the end of the conversation so they can hang up, and then he can retrospectively savour how much he likes seeing her, without the moment-to-moment pressure of having to produce the right expressions and say the right things. Just to see Helen, her beautiful face, her smile, and to know that she continues loving him, this puts the gift of joy into his day, and for hours he feels nothing but a light-headed happiness.