“I got it!” Tom yelled as he ran into the Coot Club shed, waving an envelope like a flag.
There was no need for his friends to ask what ‘it’ was as they crowded around him, shouting congratulations and thumping his back; they all knew he had been waiting on tenterhooks for his final letter of admission as a student at his father’s old university. Dick proposed three cheers, which were heartily given.
“Make sure you write and tell us everything,” Starboard said some minutes later, returning the precious letter to its owner after she and her sister had scanned it, Dot reading over their shoulders.
“Of course I will! And you write to me.”
“Won’t the other chaps think it a bit soppy if you’re getting letters from girls?” Pete asked wickedly.
“They’re not girls,” Tom began, and the twins spun as one from glaring at Pete to glaring at him. “They’re Coots!” he hurriedly tried to fix it.
“Ah, will ye look at the bairn! His puir wee brains hae gain in th’ excitement!” Port said in Ginty-language, and the rest laughed.
“And what do you know about being soppy, young Pete?” Joe said, grinning, and Pete grimaced at him.
Starboard banged officiously on the table. “Enough! This is a Coot Club meeting, remember. We can talk nonsense later.”
The others obeyed, and the meeting went on with no more interruptions. Later that day, though, as they hunted for new nests along the river banks, Tom contrived to draw Dot aside without the others noticing. Lucky Port and Starboard are on the other bank, he thought as he waved her to his side. Dick was thinking about birds, and so lost to the world, and the Death and Glories were too busy scrapping over Pete’s earlier teasing to pay attention, but the twins were sharp.
Dot smiled at him as she knelt beside him to peer through some bushes. “I’m so happy you’ve got the place, Tom. Just imagine, one day you could be a world-famous doctor, and be the first to discover a cure for something!”
Tom grinned at this flight of fancy. “Maybe I will! But just being a plain ordinary doctor and helping people that way is enough for me, really. I’m going to miss all this, though.” The wave of his arm seemed to encompass the whole of the Broads.
“You’ll still have the holidays,” Dot reminded him.
“Yes, you’re right… You will write, won’t you?”
“When have you ever known me not write?” she demanded with some point, and Tom chuckled.
“So you will?”
“Of course I will. I’m a Coot, aren’t I? Even if I am a girl,” she teased.
Tom had gone bright red for some reason. “You’re not just a Coot, Dot. You’re… you’re you.”
For a few seconds, Dot didn’t answer, but gazed at him, wide-eyed, colour rising to her cheeks. When she spoke, her voice was oddly unsteady.
“I’ll write to you, I promise.”
“And I promise too.”