Rachel tugs at the sleeves of her plaid coat. “Colin! Take a break.” It is just past three o’clock. Colin’s desk, in a dull downstairs room apart from the upstairs offices of Mr. Meredith and the foreman, is covered in papers detailing the 1926 and 1927 budgets. “Please?” she asks.
Colin looks her in the eye. “All right.” He stands up and pulls on his coat. They walk out of the factory and down towards the main street. It has not snowed much yet, just two or three times, but enough to leave a light coating on the sidewalks.
“How’s work?” she asks.
“Oh, just accounts,” he mutters, “boring.”
They trudge on. Rachel imagines he knows she spent Saturday night with Bernard (in the high school’s yearbook office, which he, being editor, has keys for) while she told her parents she was going to Anthea’s. Rachel has difficulty thinking of a brotherly dynamic between them, or of them as separate people at all, sometimes. They are simply the Merediths, one entity. To become a Meredith, one of the family’s glorious number, she must marry one of the brothers. Her mother thinks she has trouble deciding which, but Rachel hardly sees it as there being any decision to make, has only a vague sense that she cannot simply walk to the altar, close her eyes and grasp one at random.
Rachel smiles mischieviously at Colin. She grabs his arm. “Let’s not go downtown.” She twists towards the street of the girls’ school, the woods behind.
“Oh. Rachel.” She looks up at him, touches his blond hair, watches the apprehension in his eyes disappear. He likes her, despite everything.
She and Colin have not done more than hold hands since the summer. “Look, Colin, the summer-”
“The summer’s over, Rachel.”
“You still want me,” she says, looking at the woods. He won’t argue because he can’t lie well. He falls silent for a moment, fiddling with his mittens. They come up to the school, walking down the path to the woods at the side of the building. The red brick rises beside them , the building’s austere shape looming over the flat, snow-dusted land bordering it. Colin puts his arm around her and draws her into his side.
They reach the woods and he kisses her, desperately. Rachel follows suit for a moment, then pulls back. “Colin, slow down,” they try and fail. He unbuttons her coat; the weather, fortunately, is not too cold today.
His hands move over and under her sweater and blouse. He touches her leg, lifting her skirt a couple inches, stroking her thigh. Rachel pulls Colin tightly against her, touching him through his pants. He moans. She thinks that this was a good idea, she should do it every week.
Cecilia Shaw looks out the window of her science class and sees her sister and Colin Meredith walking beside the school. She watches Colin grab Rachel and the couple disappear into the woods. Rachel has been doing this with the Meredith boys since she was seventeen, for more than two years; before that, it was Colin and every other boy her age. At first it was just flirting and dates for dull plays in town or school dances, but she has been going off with them since the summer, at least, probably earlier. Colin, the elder brother, is the same age as Rachel, working in his father’s factory for a few years before maybe going to university. Bernard is eighteen and in his last year of high school; he will go to the University of Toronto next year. Both attended the public high school because the boys’ school is in the next town over, though the Merediths could afford it. Despite their reputations at high school, Colin as the handsome gentlemanly one who would take over business for Mr. Meredith one day, Bernard a still good-looking young man but a studious overachiever, Bernard is the one with more experience. Neither boy is serious about any girl except her sister.
Cecilia tends to believe that Colin is the superior choice- although he can be stuck in his business demeanour sometimes, and Bernard reads a lot of books, like Rachel, so she can see the dilemma. Her mother believes Colin is the one with a wealthy future ahead, whereas Bernard will fall prey to the throes of academia; but she tells this only to Cecilia, says Rachel’s lecture will wait, as neither of those boys is getting married before they’re through university. Rachel is expected to sit around at home reading and knitting until then, Cecilia presumes. Cecilia herself is expected to be taking notes on the various systems of a plant cell, but finds it difficult to concentrate amid her raging curiousity about her sister’s love life.
Rachel walks Colin back to the factory and returns home to start making dinner. Her mother is already in the kitchen, chopping vegetables for a stew. “Where did you go?” she asks.
“To the factory, to have tea with Colin,” she says, eating a few slices of carrot from the mound of chopped vegetables.
“Oh, that’s nice, dear,” Minnie says.