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Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)

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They get to Marianne’s house at three, in baking afternoon heat. The undergrowth outside the gate hums with insects and a ginger cat is lying on the bonnet of a car across the street. Through the gate Connell can see the house, the same way it looks in the photographs she’s sent him, a stonework facade and white-shuttered windows. He sees the garden table with two cups left on its surface. Elaine rings the bell and after a few seconds someone appears from around the side of the house. It’s Peggy. Lately Connell has become convinced that Peggy doesn’t like him, and he finds himself watching her behaviour for evidence. He doesn’t like her either, and never has, but that doesn’t strike him as relevant. She races towards the gate, her sandals clapping on the gravel. The heat beats down on the back of Connell’s neck like the feeling of human eyes staring. She unlocks the gate and lets them in, grinning and saying ciao, ciao. She’s wearing a short denim dress and huge black sunglasses. They all walk up the gravel towards the house, Niall carrying Elaine’s backpack as well as his own. Peggy fishes a set of keys from her dress pocket and unlocks the front door.

Inside the hall a stone archway leads down a short flight of steps. The kitchen is a long room with terracotta tiles, white cupboards and a table by the garden doors, flooded with sunlight. Marianne is standing outside, in the back garden among the cherry trees, with a laundry basket in her arms. She’s wearing a white dress with a halter-neck and her skin looks tanned. She’s been hanging washing on the line. The air outside is very still and the laundry hangs there in damp colours, not moving. Marianne puts her hand to the door handle and then sees them inside. This all seems to happen very slowly, though it only takes a few seconds. She opens the door and puts the basket on the table, and he feels a sort of enjoyably painful sensation in his throat. Her dress looks immaculate and he’s conscious of how unwashed he must appear, not having showered since they left the hostel yesterday morning, and that his clothes aren’t really clean.

Hello, says Elaine.

Marianne smiles and says ciao, as if she’s making fun of herself, and she kisses Elaine’s cheeks and then Niall’s and asks about their journey and Connell stands there, overwhelmed by this feeling, which might only be total exhaustion, an exhaustion that has been accumulating for weeks. He can smell the scent of laundry. Up close he sees Marianne’s arms are lightly freckled, her shoulders a bright rose colour. Presently she turns to him and they exchange kisses on each cheek. Looking in his eyes she says: Well, hello. He senses a certain receptivity in her expression, like she’s gathering information about his feelings, something they have learned to do to each other over a long time, like speaking a private language. He can feel his face get warm as she looks at him but he doesn’t want to look away. He can gather information from her face too. He gathers that she has things she wants to tell him.