Home > Normal People(3)

Normal People(3)
Author: Sally Rooney

He followed her into the study last week while she was looking for a copy of The Fire Next Time to lend him. He stood there inspecting the bookshelves, with his top shirt button undone and school tie loosened. She found the book and handed it to him, and he sat down on the window seat looking at the back cover. She sat beside him and asked him if his friends Eric and Rob knew that he read so much outside school.

They wouldn’t be interested in that stuff, he said.

You mean they’re not interested in the world around them.

Connell made the face he always made when she criticised his friends, an inexpressive frown. Not in the same way, he said. They have their own interests. I don’t think they’d be reading books about racism and all that.

Right, they’re too busy bragging about who they’re having sex with, she said.

He paused for a second, like his ears had pricked up at this remark but he didn’t know exactly how to respond. Yeah, they do a bit of that, he said. I’m not defending it, I know they can be annoying.

Doesn’t it bother you?

He paused again. Most of it wouldn’t, he said. They do some stuff that goes a bit over the line and that would annoy me obviously. But at the end of the day they’re my friends, you know. It’s different for you.

She looked at him, but he was examining the spine of the book.

Why is it different? she said.

He shrugged, bending the book cover back and forth. She felt frustrated. Her face and hands were hot. He kept on looking at the book although he’d certainly read all the text on the back by then. She was attuned to the presence of his body in a microscopic way, as if the ordinary motion of his breathing was powerful enough to make her ill.

You know you were saying the other day that you like me, he said. In the kitchen you said it, when we were talking about school.


Did you mean like as a friend, or what?

She stared down into her lap. She was wearing a corduroy skirt and in the light from the window she could see it was flecked with pieces of lint.

No, not just as a friend, she said.

Oh, okay. I was wondering.

He sat there, nodding to himself.

I’m kind of confused about what I feel, he added. I think it would be awkward in school if anything happened with us.

No one would have to know.

He looked up at her, directly, with total attention. She knew he was going to kiss her, and he did. His lips were soft. His tongue moved into her mouth slightly. Then it was over and he was drawing away. He seemed to remember he was holding the book, and began to look at it again.

That was nice, she said.

He nodded, swallowed, glanced down at the book once more. His attitude was so sheepish, as if it had been rude of her even to make reference to the kiss, that Marianne started to laugh. He looked flustered then.

Alright, he said. What are you laughing for?


You’re acting like you’ve never kissed anyone before.

Well, I haven’t, she said.

He put his hand over his face. She laughed again, she couldn’t stop herself, and then he was laughing too. His ears were very red and he was shaking his head. After a few seconds he stood up, holding the book in his hand.

Don’t go telling people in school about this, okay? he said.

Like I would talk to anyone in school.

He left the room. Weakly she crumpled off the seat, down onto the floor, with her legs stretched out in front of her like a rag doll. While she sat there she felt as if Connell had been visiting her house only to test her, and she had passed the test, and the kiss was a communication that said: You passed. She thought of the way he’d laughed when she said she’d never kissed anyone before. For another person to laugh that way might have been cruel, but it wasn’t like that with him. They’d been laughing together, at a shared situation they’d found themselves in, though how to describe the situation or what was funny about it Marianne didn’t know exactly.

The next morning before German class she sat watching her classmates shove each other off the storage heaters, shrieking and giggling. When the lesson began they listened quietly to an audio tape of a German woman speaking about a party she had missed. Es tut mir sehr leid. In the afternoon it started snowing, thick grey flakes that fluttered past the windows and melted on the gravel. Everything looked and felt sensuous: the stale smell of classrooms, the tinny intercom bell that sounded between lessons, the dark austere trees that stood like apparitions around the basketball court. The slow routine work of copying out notes in different-coloured pens on fresh blue-and-white lined paper. Connell, as usual, did not speak to Marianne in school or even look at her. She watched him across classrooms as he conjugated verbs, chewing on the end of his pen. On the other side of the cafeteria at lunchtime, smiling about something with his friends. Their secret weighed inside her body pleasurably, pressing down on her pelvic bone when she moved.

She didn’t see him after school that day, or the next. On Thursday afternoon his mother was working again and he arrived early to pick her up. Marianne had to answer the door because no one else was home. He had changed out of his school uniform, he was wearing black jeans and a sweatshirt. When she saw him she had an instinct to run away and hide her face. Lorraine’s in the kitchen, she said. Then she turned and went upstairs to her room and closed the door. She lay face down on the bed breathing into the pillow. Who was this person Connell anyway? She felt she knew him very intimately, but what reason did she have to feel that? Just because he had kissed her once, with no explanation, and then warned her not to tell anyone? After a minute or two she heard a knock on her bedroom door and she sat up. Come in, she said. He opened the door and, giving her an enquiring look as if to see whether he was welcome, entered the room and closed the door behind him.

Are you pissed off with me? he said.

No. Why would I be?

He shrugged. Idly he wandered over to the bed and sat down. She was sitting cross-legged, holding her ankles. They sat there in silence for a few moments. Then he got onto the bed with her. He touched her leg and she lay back against the pillow. Boldly she asked if he was going to kiss her again. He said: What do you think? This struck her as a highly cryptic and sophisticated thing to say. Anyway he did start to kiss her. She told him that it was nice and he just said nothing. She felt she would do anything to make him like her, to make him say out loud that he liked her. He put his hand under her school blouse. In his ear, she said: Can we take our clothes off? He had his hand inside her bra. Definitely not, he said. This is stupid anyway, Lorraine is right downstairs. He called his mother by her first name like that. Marianne said: She never comes up here. He shook his head and said: No, we should stop. He sat up and looked down at her.

You were tempted for a second there, she said.

Not really.

I tempted you.

He was shaking his head, smiling. You’re such a strange person, he said.


Now she’s standing in his driveway, where his car is parked. He texted her the address, it’s number 33: a terraced house with pebble-dash walls, net curtains, a tiny concrete yard. She can see a light switched on in the upstairs window. It’s hard to believe he really lives in there, a house she has never been inside or even seen before. She’s wearing a black sweater, grey skirt, cheap black underwear. Her legs are shaved meticulously, her underarms are smooth and chalky with deodorant, and her nose is running a little. She rings the doorbell and hears his footsteps coming down the stairs. He opens the door. Before he lets her in he looks over her shoulder, to make sure that no one has seen her arrive.

One Month Later

(MARCH 2011)

They’re talking about their college applications. Marianne is lying with the bedsheet pulled carelessly over her body, and Connell’s sitting up with her MacBook in his lap. She’s already applied for History and Politics in Trinity. He’s put down Law in Galway, but now he thinks that he might change it, because, as Marianne has pointed out, he has no interest in Law. He can’t even visually imagine himself as a lawyer, wearing a tie and so on, possibly helping to convict people of crimes. He just put it down because he couldn’t think of anything else.

You should study English, says Marianne.

Do you think I should, or are you joking?

I think you should. It’s the only subject you really enjoy in school. And you spend all your free time reading.

He looks at the laptop blankly, and then at the thin yellow bedsheet draped over her body, which casts a lilac triangle of shadow on her breast.

Not all my free time, he says.

She smiles. Plus the class will be full of girls, she says, so you’ll be a total stud.

Yeah. I’m not sure about the job prospects, though.

Oh, who cares? The economy’s fucked anyway.

The laptop screen has gone black now and he taps the trackpad to light it up again. The college applications webpage stares back at him.


After the first time they had sex, Marianne stayed the night in his house. He had never been with a girl who was a virgin before. In total he had only had sex a small number of times, and always with girls who went on to tell the whole school about it afterwards. He’d had to hear his actions repeated back to him later in the locker room: his errors, and, so much worse, his excruciating attempts at tenderness, performed in gigantic pantomime. With Marianne it was different, because everything was between them only, even awkward or difficult things. He could do or say anything he wanted with her and no one would ever find out. It gave him a vertiginous, lightheaded feeling to think about it. When he touched her that night she was so wet, and she rolled her eyes back into her head and said: God, yes. And she was allowed to say it, no one would know. He was afraid he would come then just from touching her like that.

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