Home > Still Me (Me Before You #3)(17)

Still Me (Me Before You #3)(17)
Author: Jojo Moyes

The attendant handed me a pin, and using its point I caught the tiny scrap of thread that had entangled itself, tugging gently until I had freed it and the zip moved again. ‘Got it!’

Agnes stood, held the attendant’s proffered hand and stepped elegantly back into the yellow dress, which the two of us raised around her body. When it was in place I pulled the zip smoothly up until she was clad, every inch of the dress flush against her skin. She smoothed it down around her endless legs.

The attendant proffered a can of hairspray. ‘Here,’ she whispered. ‘Allow me.’ She leant forward and gave the fastening a quick spray from the can. ‘That’ll help it stay up.’

I beamed at her.

‘Thank you. So kind of you,’ Agnes said. She pulled a fifty-dollar bill from her evening bag and handed it to the woman. Then she turned to me with a smile. ‘Louisa, darling, shall we go back to our table?’ And, with an imperious nod to the two women, Agnes lifted her chin and walked slowly towards the door.

There was silence. Then the attendant turned to me, and pocketed the money with a wide grin. ‘Now that,’ she said, her voice suddenly audible, ‘is class.’

6

The following morning, George didn’t come. Nobody told me. I sat in the hall in my shorts, bleary and gritty-eyed, and at half seven grasped that he must have been cancelled.

Agnes did not get up until after nine, a fact that had Ilaria tutting disapprovingly at the clock. She had sent a text asking me to cancel the rest of her day’s appointments. Instead, some time around mid-morning, she said she’d like to walk around the Reservoir. It was a breezy day and we walked with scarves pulled up around our chins and our hands thrust into our pockets. All night I had thought about Josh’s face. I still felt unbalanced by it, found myself wondering how many of Will’s doppelgängers were walking around in different countries right now. Josh’s eyebrows were heavier, his eyes a different colour, and obviously his accent wasn’t Will’s. But still.

‘You know what I used to do with my friends when we were hungover?’ said Agnes, breaking into my thoughts. ‘We would go to this Japanese place near Gramercy Park and we would eat noodles and talk and talk and talk.’

‘Let’s go, then.’

‘Where?’

‘To the noodle place. We can pick up your friends on the way.’

She looked briefly hopeful, then kicked a stone. ‘I can’t now. Is different.’

‘You don’t have to turn up in Garry’s car. We could get a taxi. I mean, you could dress down, just turn up. It would be fine.’

‘I told you. Is different.’ She turned to me. ‘I tried these things, Louisa. For a while. But my friends are curious. They want to know everything about my life now. And then when I tell them the truth it makes them … weird.’

‘Weird?’

‘Once we were all the same, you know? Now they say I can never know what their problems are. Because I am rich. Somehow I am not allowed to have problems. Or they are strange around me, like I am somehow different person. Like the good things in my life are an insult to theirs. You think I can moan about housekeeper to someone with no house?’

She stopped on the path. ‘When I first marry Leonard, he gave me money for my own. A wedding present, so that I don’t have to ask him for money all the time. And I give my best friend, Paula, some of this money. I give her ten thousand dollars to clear her debts, to make fresh start. At first she was so happy. I was happy too! To do this for my friend! So she doesn’t have to worry any more, like me!’ Her voice grew wistful. ‘And then … then she didn’t want to see me any more. She was different, was always too busy to meet me. And slowly I see she resents me for helping her. She didn’t mean to, but when she sees me now all she can think is that she owes me. And she is proud, very proud. She does not want to live with this feeling. So …’ she shrugged ‘… she won’t have lunch with me or take my calls. I lost my friend because of money.’

‘Problems are problems,’ I said, when it became clear she was expecting me to say something. ‘Doesn’t matter whose they are.’

She stepped sideways to avoid a toddler on a scooter. She gazed after it, thinking, then turned to me. ‘You have cigarettes?’

I had learnt now. I pulled the packet from my backpack and handed it to her. I wasn’t sure I should be encouraging her to smoke, but she was my boss. She inhaled and blew out a long plume of smoke.

‘Problems are problems,’ she repeated slowly. ‘You have problems, Louisa Clark?’

‘I miss my boyfriend.’ I said it as much as anything to reassure myself. ‘Apart from that, not really. This is … great. I’m happy here.’

She nodded. ‘I used to feel like this. New York! Always something to see new. Always exciting. Now I just … I miss …’ She tailed off.

For a moment I thought her eyes had filled with tears. But then her face stilled.

‘You know she hates me?’

‘Who?’

‘Ilaria. The witch. She was the other one’s housekeeper and Leonard will not sack her. So I am stuck with her.’

‘She might grow to like you.’

‘She might grow to put arsenic in my food. I see the way she looks at me. She wishes me dead. You know how it feels to live with someone who wishes you dead?’

I was pretty scared of Ilaria myself. But I didn’t want to say so. We walked on. ‘I used to work for someone who I was pretty sure hated me at first,’ I said. ‘Gradually I worked out that it was nothing to do with me. He just hated his life. And as we got to know each other we started to get along just fine.’

‘Did he ever scorch your best shirt “accidentally”? Or put detergent in your underwear that he knew would make your vajajay itch?’

‘Uh – no.’

‘Or serve food that you tell him fifty times you do not like so you will look like you are complaining all the time? Or tell stories about you to make you seem like prostitute?’

My mouth had opened like that of a goldfish. I closed it and shook my head.

She pushed her hair off her face. ‘I love him, Louisa. But living in his life is impossible. My life is impossible …’ Again she tailed off.

We stood, watching the people passing us on the path: the roller-bladers and the kids on wobbling scooters, the couples arm in arm and the policemen in their shades. The temperature had dropped and I gave an involuntary shiver in my tracksuit top.

She sighed. ‘Okay. We go back. Let’s see which piece of my favourite clothing the witch has ruined today.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘Let’s get your noodles. We can do that much at least.’

We took a taxi to Gramercy Park, to a place in a brownstone on a shady side-street that looked grubby enough to harbour some terrible intestinal bug. But Agnes seemed lighter almost as soon as we arrived. As I paid the taxi she bounded up the stairs and into the darkened interior, and when the young Japanese woman emerged from the kitchen she threw her arms round Agnes and hugged her, as if they were old friends. Then, holding Agnes by the elbow, she kept demanding to know where she had been. Agnes pulled off her beanie and muttered vaguely that she had been busy, got married, moved house, never once giving any clue to the true level of change in her circumstances. I noticed she was wearing her wedding ring but not the diamond engagement ring that was large enough to ensure a triceps workout.

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