Home > The Other You

The Other You
Author: J.S. Monroe

1

 

Kate


She used to be good at faces. So good they paid her. If you were living a lie, she would see it in your eyes. She could spot an impostor at a hundred yards. And she only had to pass you once in the street to remember your face forever.

‘Kate?’ Rob calls up the stairs. ‘You coming?’

Kate glances at herself in the bedroom mirror. Rob is taking her to a new place today, a secret beach somewhere on the south coast. It’s a change from their normal Saturday. Usually they begin with a swim in the bay, followed by coffee at their favourite café overlooking the harbour. Double espresso for him, flat white for her. Rob likes his routine.

‘Just a sec,’ she says.

He’s by the front door, ready to go, but she knows it will take him a few more seconds to switch on all the alarms. The house is like Fort Knox. She leans in closer to the mirror in their bedroom, searching for a clue in her face, a telltale sign that the thirty-three-year-old woman smiling back at her is not quite as blissed up as she seems. Nothing. Her eyes are dancing, happiness radiating from every pore of her sun-kissed skin.

‘Kate?’ Rob calls out again, above a cacophony of beeping alarms.

‘Coming,’ she says, skipping down the stairs to join him in the vast hall. Stretch, the smooth-haired dachshund puppy he’s bought her, trots in from the kitchen.

‘See you later, little legs,’ she says, scooping Stretch up to kiss him goodbye. He normally comes everywhere with her, but in another break with routine, Rob has asked that this morning he stay behind. ‘Sure he won’t set off the alarms? He’s not very good at staying on his bed.’

‘The system’s smarter than that,’ Rob says. ‘Knows a naughty dog when it sees one.’

An hour later, they are walking arm in arm across a small beach that can only be reached by descending a treacherous cliff path. Behind it, granite rocks rise up like a giant stage curtain. The tide is turning, leaving a pool of deep turquoise water trapped by a bar of rippled sand that bisects the mouth of the cove. On either flank, the steep rocks flatten out as they extend into the sea. They’ve got the beach to themselves and no one passed them on the coast path.

‘Why haven’t you brought me here before?’ she asks, stunned by the beautiful location.

‘I didn’t think you were strong enough – to climb down,’ he says, walking on ahead.

They’ve been together five months now and it’s true that she hasn’t been in a good place, recovering from a car accident that nearly killed her. But she’s feeling better by the day, physically and mentally.

Rob stops to pick up something from the tideline. It’s a small piece of glass, heart-shaped and smoothed by the ocean.

‘I think this may be yours,’ he says, watching as she takes it in her hands. His faint Southern Irish lilt is more inflected when he talks quietly, almost musical.

Hearts don’t usually do it for Kate, but for some reason this piece of sea glass, with its rough-hewn beauty, melts hers. Maybe it’s because Rob’s not a natural romantic, still learning.

‘It’s gorgeous,’ she says, turning to kiss him. She closes her eyes, feeling the sun on her eyelids. They both know what’s coming next. They can never help themselves. Or she can’t, at least. Without saying anything, they strip off all their clothes and race down the beach, Kate slightly ahead of Rob.

‘I won,’ she says, running as far as she can into the water until it’s too deep and she has to dive beneath the glistening surface. She knows he let her win. He always does. But this time she feels strong as she swims out into the deep translucent pool. Sometimes she gets a twinge of cramp in her legs, a legacy of the accident, but not today.

‘I’ve been having some swimming lessons, up in London,’ Rob says a few moments later, treading water beside her.

Is he changing the subject, still embarrassed by her skinny-dipping habits? He can be a bit uptight like that.

‘Trying to improve my front crawl,’ he continues. ‘You know, the breathing. Will you tell me how I’m doing?’

He doesn’t wait for an answer and dives under, his white body shimmering below her.

‘Ready?’ he calls out, surfacing ten yards to her right like a seal.

Kate nods, trying to be enthusiastic. Rob has lessons for everything. Swimming, tennis, chess and recently beginner’s French – he needs to speak it for his work. All she wants to learn is how to paint people again. The accident put an end to that. Destroyed her ability to recognise faces too.

Rob starts to windmill through the water, all long arms and legs. She can’t say it’s an improvement on his previous style, but his firm bum is impressive. As he passes, she leans forward and tries to grab him where he likes to be grabbed when he’s not swimming. The result is spectacular, as if he’s swum headlong into a brick wall. He comes up for air, gasping and choking.

‘Was that you?’ he says, shock giving way to a smile.

‘I hope so,’ she says.

‘I thought I’d been bitten by a fish.’

‘Next time I will bite you.’

‘Is that a promise?’ he asks, coming over to kiss her.

She takes him in her hand again, gently this time, and pulls him towards her.

‘Do you dare me?’ she says, nodding at a rock at the back of the beach as they tread water. It’s overhanging the deep pool and just begging to be jumped.

Before he has time to answer, she swims off towards the shore.

‘It’s too high,’ Rob calls out, but she’s already out of the water and climbing up. ‘Kate, be careful.’

He’s always urging her to be careful, to lock the house, look out for strangers. It’s become a bit of a mantra. And she always ignores him.

‘Dive or jump?’ she says from the top of the rock, peering down at the dark water below.

‘Kate, please!’ Rob says, looking up at her.

‘You’re such a pussy,’ she says, raising her arms above her naked body. She feels good today. Better.

‘Kate!’ he calls out again, but it’s too late. She’s already diving through the air like a swallow and coming up from the cold depths beside him.

‘Your turn,’ she says.

‘No way.’ He kisses her with relief, glancing at her head as if checking for damage. ‘You alright?’

‘I’m fine.’ She’s never been afraid of heights, not since her mum encouraged her to leap off the harbour wall in Mousehole, a village further down the Cornish coast. They were on holiday, just the two of them, and she can’t have been older than six. The local boys were impressed – she’d pencil-jumped from the highest point. No wetsuit either. She was terrified, but she’s loved it ever since. The thrill of the jump.

Back on the beach, they warm themselves in the strengthening sun, drink coffee from a new ‘smart’ flask that Rob is testing – he works in tech, loves his gadgets – and talk. Their clothes are back on as a man with binoculars has appeared on the skyline behind them. Apparently, the beach will be busy with nudists later, and Rob doesn’t think this man is a birdwatcher.

‘You really are getting well, aren’t you?’ Rob says, pushing a comma of wet hair off his forehead. ‘I mean properly well.’

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