Home > Still Me (Me Before You #3)(16)

Still Me (Me Before You #3)(16)
Author: Jojo Moyes

‘A picture?’

‘Here.’ He held up his hand, and before I worked out what he was doing, he had taken a photograph of the two of us, our heads inches apart. ‘There. Give me your number and I’ll send it to you.’

‘You want to send me a picture of you and me together.’

‘Are you sensing my ulterior motive?’ He grinned. ‘Okay, then. I’ll keep it for myself. A memento of the prettiest girl here. Unless you want to delete it. There you go. Yours to delete.’ He held out his phone.

I peered at it, my finger hovering over the button before I withdrew it. ‘It seems rude to delete someone you’ve just met. But, um … thank you … and for the whole covert table-surveillance thing. Really kind of you.’

‘My pleasure.’

We grinned at each other. And before I could say anything more I ran back to the table.

I gave Agnes the good news – at which she let out an audible sigh – then sat and ate a bit of my now-cold fish while waiting for my head to stop buzzing. He’s not Will, I told myself. His voice was wrong. His eyebrows were wrong. He was American. And yet there was something in his manner – the confidence combined with sharp intelligence, the air that said he could cope with anything you threw at him, a way of looking at you that left me hollowed out. I glanced behind me, remembering I hadn’t asked Josh where he was seated.

‘Louisa?’

I glanced to my right. Agnes was looking intently at me.

‘I need to go to the bathroom.’

It took me a minute to recall that this meant I should go too.

We walked slowly through the tables to the Ladies, me trying not to scan the room for Josh. All eyes were on Agnes as she went, not just because of the vivid colour of her dress but because she had magnetism, an unconscious way of drawing the eye. She walked with her chin up, her shoulders back, a queen.

And the moment we got into the Ladies, she slumped onto the chaise longue in the corner and gestured to me to give her a cigarette. ‘My God. This evening. I may die if we don’t leave soon.’

The attendant – a woman in her sixties – raised an eyebrow at the cigarette, then looked the other way.

‘Er – Agnes, I’m not sure you can smoke in here.’

She was going to do it anyway. Perhaps when you were rich you didn’t care about other people’s rules. What could they do to her after all – throw her out?

She lit it, inhaled and sighed with relief. ‘Ugh. This dress is so uncomfortable. And the G-string is cutting me like cheese-wire, you know?’ She wriggled in front of the mirror, hauling up her dress and rummaging underneath it with a manicured hand. ‘I should have worn no underwear.’

‘But you feel okay?’ I said.

She smiled at me. ‘I feel okay. Some people have been very nice this evening. This Josh is very nice, and Mr Peterson on other side of me is very friendly. It’s not so bad. Maybe finally some people are accepting that Leonard has a new wife.’

‘They just need time.’

‘Hold this. I need to pee-pee.’ She handed me the half-smoked cigarette and disappeared into a cubicle. I held it up between two fingers, as if it were a sparkler. The cloakroom attendant and I exchanged a look and she shrugged, as if to say, What can you do?

‘Oh, my God,’ Agnes said, from inside the cubicle. ‘I will need to take whole thing off. Is impossible to pull it up. You will need to help me with zipper afterwards.’

‘Okay,’ I said. The attendant raised her eyebrows. We both tried not to giggle.

Two middle-aged women entered the cloakroom. They looked at my cigarette with disapproval.

‘The thing is, Jane, it’s like a madness takes hold of them,’ one said, stopping in front of the mirror to check her hair. I wasn’t sure why she needed to: it was so heavily lacquered I’m not sure a force-ten hurricane would have dislodged it.

‘I know. We’ve seen it a million times.’

‘But normally at least they’ve got the decency just to handle it discreetly. And that’s what’s been so disappointing for Kathryn. The lack of discretion.’

‘Yes. It would be so much easier for her if it had at least been someone with a little class.’

‘Quite. He’s behaved like a cliché.’

At this both women’s heads swivelled to me.

‘Louisa?’ came a muffled voice from inside the cubicle. ‘Can you come here?’

I knew then who they were talking about. I knew just from looking at their faces.

There was a short silence.

‘You do realize this is a non-smoking venue,’ one of the women said pointedly.

‘Is it? So sorry.’ I stubbed it out in the sink then ran some water over the end.

‘You can help me, Louisa? My zipper is stuck.’

They knew. They put two and two together and I saw their faces harden.

I walked past them, knocked twice on the cubicle door and she let me in.

Agnes was standing in her bra, the tubular yellow dress stalled around her waist.

‘What –’ she began.

I put my fingers to my lips and gestured silently outside. She looked over, as if she could see through the door, and pulled a face. I turned her around. The zipper, two-thirds down, was lodged at her waist. I tried it two, three times, then pulled my phone from my evening bag and turned on the torch, trying to work out what was stopping it.

‘You can fix this?’ she whispered.

‘I’m trying.’

‘You must. I can’t go out like this in front of those women.’

Agnes stood inches from me in a tiny bra, her pale flesh giving off warm waves of expensive perfume. I tried to manoeuvre around her, squinting at the zip, but it was impossible. She needed room to take the thing off so I could work on the zip or I couldn’t do it up. I looked at her and shrugged. She looked briefly anguished.

‘I don’t think I can do it in here, Agnes. There’s no room. And I can’t see.’

‘I can’t go out like this. They will say I am whore.’ Her hands flew to her face, despairing.

The oppressive silence outside told me the women were waiting on our next move. Nobody was even pretending to go to the loo. We were stuck. I stood back and shook my head, thinking. And then it came to me.

‘Giant finger,’ I whispered.

Her eyes widened.

I gazed at her steadily, and gave a small nod. She frowned, and then her face cleared.

I opened the cubicle door and stood back. Agnes took a breath, straightened her spine, then strolled out past the two women, like a backstage supermodel, the top of the dress around her waist, her bra two delicate triangles that barely obscured the pale breasts underneath. She stopped in the middle of the room and leant forwards so that I could ease the dress carefully over her head. Then she straightened up, now naked except for her two scraps of lingerie, a study in apparent insouciance. I dared not look at the women’s faces, but as I draped the yellow dress over my arm I heard the dramatic intake of breath, felt the reverberations in the air.

‘Well, I –’ one began.

‘Would you like a sewing kit, ma’am?’ The attendant appeared at my side. She worked the little packet open while Agnes sat daintily on the chaise longue, her long pale legs stretched demurely out to the side.

Two more women walked in, and their conversation stopped abruptly at the sight of the nearly-naked Agnes. One coughed, and they looked studiedly away from her, stumbling over some new conversational platitude. Agnes rested on the chair, apparently blissfully unaware.

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