Home > Still Me (Me Before You #3)(10)

Still Me (Me Before You #3)(10)
Author: Jojo Moyes

The driver said nothing.

I leant forward a bit further, so that my face was inches from his.

‘So. How long does this usually take?’

‘As long as it takes.’ His eyes slid away from mine in the mirror.

‘And you wait here the whole time?’

‘That’s my job.’

I sat for a moment, then put my hand through to the front seat. ‘I’m Louisa. Mrs Gopnik’s new assistant.’

‘Nice to meet you.’

He didn’t turn around. Those were the last words he said to me. He slid a CD into the music system. ‘Estoy perdido,’ said a Spanish woman’s voice. ‘¿Dónde está el baño?’

‘Ehs-TOY pehr-DEE-doh. DOHN-deh ehs-TA el BAH-neeo.’ The driver repeated.

‘¿Cuánto cuesta?’

‘KooAN-to KWEHS-ta,’ came his reply.

I spent the next hour sitting in the back of the car staring at the iPad, trying not to listen to the driver’s linguistic exercises and wondering if I should also be doing something useful. I emailed Michael to ask but he simply responded: That’s your lunch break, sweetie. Enjoy! xx

I didn’t like to tell him I had no food. In the warmth of the waiting car, tiredness began to creep over me again, like a tide. I laid my head against the window, telling myself it was normal to feel disjointed, out of my depth. You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. It always does feel strange to be knocked out of your comfort zone. Will’s last letter echoed through me as if from a long distance.

And then nothing.

I woke with a start as the door opened. Agnes was climbing in, her face white, her jaw set.

‘Everything okay?’ I said, scrambling upright, but she didn’t answer.

We drove off in silence, the still air of the interior suddenly heavy with tension.

She turned to me. I scrambled for a bottle of water and held it up to her.

‘Do you have cigarettes?’

‘Uh … no.’

‘Garry, do you have cigarettes?’

‘No, ma’am. But we can get you some.’

Her hand was shaking, I noticed now. She reached into her bag, pulling out a small bottle of pills and I handed over the water. She swigged some down and I noticed tears in her eyes. We pulled up outside a Duane Reade and, after a moment, I realized I was expected to get out. ‘What kind? I mean, what brand?’

‘Marlboro Lights,’ she said, and dabbed her eyes.

I jumped out – well, more of a hobble, really, as my legs were seizing up from the morning’s run – and bought a packet, thinking how odd it was to buy cigarettes from a pharmacy. When I got back into the car she was shouting at somebody in Polish on her cell-phone. She ended the call, then opened the window and lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply. She offered one to me. I shook my head.

‘Don’t tell Leonard,’ she said, and her face softened. ‘He hates me smoking.’

We sat there for a few minutes, the engine running, while she smoked the cigarette in short, angry bursts that made me fear for her lungs. Then she stubbed out the last inch, her lips curling over some internal fury, and waved for Garry to drive on.

I was left briefly to my own devices while Agnes had her piano lesson. I retreated to my room where I thought about lying down but was afraid that my stiff legs would mean I couldn’t get up again so instead I sat at the little desk, wrote Sam a quick email and checked the calendar for the next few days.

As I did so, music began to echo through the apartment, first scales, then something melodic and beautiful. I stopped to listen, marvelling at the sound, wondering how it must feel to be able to create something so gorgeous. I closed my eyes, letting it flow through me, remembering the evening when Will had taken me to my first concert and begun to force the world open for me. Live music was so much more three-dimensional than recorded – it short-circuited something deep within. Agnes’s playing seemed to come from some part of her that remained closed in her dealings with the world; something vulnerable and sweet and lovely. He would have enjoyed this, I thought absently. He would have loved being here. At the exact point it swelled into something truly magical, Ilaria started up the vacuum-cleaner, swamping the sound with a roar, the unforgiving bump of machinery into heavy furniture. The music stopped.

My phone buzzed.

Please tell her to stop the vacum!

I climbed off my bed and walked through the apartment until I found Ilaria, who was pushing the vacuum cleaner furiously just outside Agnes’s study door, her head dipped as she wrenched it backwards and forwards. I swallowed. There was something about Ilaria that made you hesitate before confronting her, even though she was one of the few people in this zip code shorter than I was.

‘Ilaria,’ I said.

She didn’t stop.

‘Ilaria!’ I stood in front of her until she was forced to notice. She kicked the off button with her heel and glared at me. ‘Mrs Gopnik has asked if you would mind doing the vacuuming some other time. She can’t hear her music lesson.’

‘When does she think I am meant to clean the apartment?’ Ilaria spat, loud enough to be heard through the door.

‘Um … maybe at any other point during the day apart from this particular forty minutes …?’

She pulled the plug from the socket and dragged the cleaner noisily across the room. She glared at me with such venom that I almost stepped backwards. There was a brief silence and the music started up again.

When Agnes finally emerged, twenty minutes later, she looked sideways at me and smiled.

That first week moved in fits and starts, like the first day, with me watching Agnes for signals in the way that Mum used to watch our old dog when her bladder got leaky. Does she need to go out? What does she want? Where should I be? I jogged with Agnes and George every morning, waving them on from about a mile in and motioning towards my hip before walking slowly back to the building. I spent a lot of time sitting in the hall, studying my iPad intently when anybody walked past, so that I might look as if I knew what I was doing.

Michael came every day and briefed me in whispered bursts. He seemed to spend his life on the run between the apartment and Mr Gopnik’s Wall Street office, one of two cell-phones pressed to his ear, dry-cleaning over his arm, coffee in his hand. He was completely charming and always smiling, and I had absolutely no idea if he liked me at all.

I barely saw Nathan. He seemed to be employed to fit around Mr Gopnik’s schedule. Sometimes he would work with him at five a.m., at others it was seven in the evening, disappearing to the office to help him there if necessary. ‘I’m not employed for what I do,’ Nathan explained. ‘I’m employed for what I can do.’ Occasionally he would vanish and I would discover that he and Mr Gopnik had jetted somewhere overnight – it could be San Francisco or Chicago. Mr Gopnik had a form of arthritis that he worked hard to keep under control so he and Nathan would swim or work out often several times each day to supplement his regime of anti-inflammatories and painkillers.

Alongside Nathan, and George the trainer, who also came every weekday morning, the other people who passed through the apartment that first week were:

– The cleaners. Apparently there was a distinction between what Ilaria did (housekeeping), and actual cleaning. Twice a week a team of three liveried women and one man blitzed their way through the apartment. They did not speak, except to consult briefly with each other. Each carried a large crate of eco-friendly cleaning materials, and they were gone three hours later, leaving Ilaria to sniff the air, and run her fingers along the skirting disapprovingly.

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