"I suppose we should go home now," Peggy murmured forlornly, pulling the rug more tightly around her shoulders. The wispy hairs at the edges of her scalp had dried into salty little corkscrews, startlingly dark against skin which was suddenly paler now the sun had long since descended from view.
Rhyll ground out another cigarette into the sand beside them. "I suppose we should." She grinned wickedly across at Peggy. "Another quick dip in the sea first?"
"Matey'd go ravers," Peggy began, but one look at her face told Rhyll she would do it.
"Were you planning on telling her?" she inquired, already shrugging off the shirt which currently covered her bathing suit.
Peggy giggled and got to her feet, dropping the rug and standing patiently waiting. Rhyll stood up too, unbuckling her belt and giving Peggy a quizzical look. "Are you going in, Burnett? In your dress?"
Peggy rolled her eyes, glanced up and down the deserted beach before letting her gaze rest pointedly on her discarded bather where it lay, wet on the sand. "I'm waiting 'til you're ready, you goop."
Rhyll couldn't repress a shout of delighted laughter. She too cast an eye across the beach, as if to make sure, although they had been quite alone for what must be hours now. As she stepped free of her trousers, Peggy was as good as her word, slipping the flimsy yellow sundress over her head and racing through the night air to the sea. Rhyll marvelled for a moment before chasing after her, and the two grabbed hands as they stumbled into the sea, squealing as the cold water hit them.
As soon as they were waist-deep, Peggy flung herself under, swimming a lazy crawl beside Rhyll. "It's never too late for dignity," she gasped cheerfully.
"I'll take your word for it!"
It was a clear night, the bright moon - almost full - untroubled by a single cloud, reflecting off the darkness of the sea. As Peggy swam, a thousand fragments of reflected moonlight sparkled around her. Rhyll sank herself to her shoulders too, kicked alongside her.
"Isn't this magical?" Peggy wanted to know. "I wonder if it's a sacking offence?"
"Do you mean the skinny-dipping in particular, Burnett?" Rhyll teased. "Or merely the grave sin of being in cold water after eight o'clock in the morning? Hot milk and a week in bed for you, I should think..."
Peggy swam closer, reaching for Rhyll's hand underwater. Fingers linked together, slippery and dancing like fronds of seaweed. "Is that a promise, Evvy? I do hope it is."
Rhyll smiled. Peggy was near enough now that she could see the moonlight reflected in her eyes, too. Earlier the same day, she would have sworn that Peggy was never more beautiful than she was in the bright sunlight, but now she found she had changed her mind again. "You're quite right," she called gently, above the roar of the sea. "It is magical."
Peggy shoved their wet bathing suits and picnic detritus into the picnic basket, whilst Rhyll shook the sand from the rugs and raked over her little pile of cigarette butts with her heel. They each took a handle of the wicker basket, and sauntered contentedly back up to the gravel of the coast road.
"What time do you think it is?" Peggy wondered.
Rhyll glanced thoughtfully up at the sky. "Eleven, maybe? Aren't you supposed to know how to tell the time by the position of the moon, or something? Are you sure you were a Guide?"
"Hey!" Peggy retorted. "You know an awful lot about Guiding, today. You do sound jealous..."
Rhyll grinned. "Maybe I am. Wouldn't you be?"
"Poor deprived little Rhyll," Peggy agreed, with a cheerfulness which couldn’t possibly be mistaken for sympathy. "Although I've always had the impression that Swanley was much the same thing, really. All picking blackberries and milking cows..."
Rhyll chuckled. "This from someone who spent three years partaking in gymnastics displays."
"And country dancing," Peggy objected, affecting injury.
"And country dancing," Rhyll agreed. "I like that you're more anxious to have that included than any of your physiology."
Peggy laughed. "Guilty as charged. I think it's later than eleven, anyway."
"I'll defer to your greater expertise, then," Rhyll murmured, her voice dropping as they reached the island road even though there was still neither person nor building in sight. "Either way, I'm quite certain I've earned a lie in for the morning - consider this fair notice, my darling!"
Peggy's lips twitched. “Do you mean you’re not thankful for every waking moment you spend with me, sweetheart?”
“I love you even when I’m asleep,” Rhyll retorted. “And at certain hours of the morning, I love you especially when I’m asleep.”
And yet even as she said it, it was with gratitude that Rhyll noted Peggy’s refusal to commit to a lazy morning. For one short week, she would relish every waking sunlit minute they could share.