Home > Still Me (Me Before You #3)(18)

Still Me (Me Before You #3)(18)
Author: Jojo Moyes

And when we slid into the Formica booth, it was like I had a different woman opposite me. Agnes was funny, animated and loud, with an abrupt, cackling laugh, and I could see who Mr Gopnik had fallen in love with.

‘So how did you meet?’ I asked, as we slurped our way through scalding bowls of ramen.

‘Leonard? I was his masseuse.’ She paused, as if waiting for my scandalized reaction, and when it didn’t come she put her head down and continued, ‘I worked at the St Regis. And they would send masseur to his home every week – André, usually. He was very good. But André was sick this day and they ask me to go instead. And I think, Oh, no, another Wall Street guy. They are, so many of them, full of bullshit, you know? They don’t even think of you as human. Don’t bother saying hello, don’t speak … Some, they ask for …’ she lowered her voice ‘… happy finish. You know “happy finish”? Like you are prostitute. Ugh. But Leonard, he was kind. He shake my hand, ask me if I want English tea as soon as I come in. He was so happy when I massage him. And I could tell.’

‘Tell what?’

‘That she never touch him. His wife. You can tell, touching a body. She was cold, cold woman.’ She looked down. ‘And he is in a lot of pain some days. His joints hurt him. This is before Nathan came. Nathan was my idea. To keep Leonard fit and healthy? But anyway. I really try hard to make this good massage for him. I go over my hour. I listen to what his body is telling me. And he was so grateful after. And then he asks for me the next week. André was not so happy about this, but what can I do? So then I am going twice a week to his apartment. And some days he would ask me if I would like English tea afterwards and we talk. And then … Well, it is hard. Because I know I am falling in love with him. And this is something we cannot do.’

‘Like doctors and patients. Or teachers.’

‘Exactly.’ Agnes paused to put a dumpling into her mouth. It was the most I had ever seen her eat. She chewed for a moment. ‘But I cannot stop thinking about this man. So sad. And so tender. And so lonely! In the end I tell André he must go instead. I cannot go any more.’

‘And what happened?’ I’d stopped eating.

‘Leonard comes to my home! In Queens! He somehow gets my address and his big car comes to my home. My friends and I, we are sitting on the fire escape having cigarette and I see him get out and he says, “I want to talk to you”.’

‘Like Pretty Woman.’

‘Yes! It is! And I go down to the sidewalk and he is so mad. He say, “Did I offend you in some way? Did I treat you inappropriately?” And I just shake my head. And then he walks up and down and he say, “Why won’t you come? I don’t want André any more. I want you.” And, like a fool, I start to cry.’

As I watched, her eyes brimmed with tears.

‘I cry right there in the middle of the day on the street, with my friends watching. And I say, “I can’t tell you.” And then he gets mad. Wants to know if his wife was rude to me. Or whether something has happened at work. And then finally I tell him, “I can’t come because I like you. I like you very much. And this is very unprofessional. And I can lose my job.” And he looks at me for one moment and he says nothing. Nothing at all. And then he gets back in his car and his driver takes him away. And I think, Oh, no. Now I will never see this man again, and I have lost my job. And I go to work the next day and I am so nervous. So nervous, Louisa. My stomach hurts!’

‘Because you thought he’d tell your boss.’

‘Exactly this. But you know what happened when I arrive?’

‘What?’

‘Enormous bouquet of red roses is waiting for me. Biggest I have ever seen, with beautiful velvet scented roses. So soft you want to touch them. No name on it. But I know immediately. And then every day a new bouquet of red roses. Our apartment is filled with roses. My friends say they are sick from the smell.’ She started to laugh. ‘And then on the last day he comes to my house again and I go down and he asks me to get in the car with him. And we sit in the back and he asks the driver to go for a walk and he tells me he is so unhappy and that from the moment we met he could not stop thinking about me and that all I have to say is one word and he will leave his wife and we will be together.’

‘And you hadn’t even kissed?’

‘Nothing. I have massaged his buttocks, sure, but is not the same.’ She breathed out, savouring the memory. ‘And I knew. I knew we must be together. And I said it. I said, “Yes.” ’

I was transfixed.

‘That night he goes home and he tells his wife that he does not want to be married any more. And she is mad. So mad. And she ask him why and he tells her he cannot live in marriage with no love. And that night he calls me up from hotel and asks me to come meet him and we are in this suite at the Ritz Carlton. You stayed at Ritz Carlton?’

‘Uh – no.’

‘I walk in and he is standing by the door, like he is too nervous to sit down, and he tells me he knows he is stereotype and he is too old for me and his body is wrecked from this arthritis but if there is a chance I really do want to be with him he will do everything he can to make me happy. Because he just has feeling about us, you know? That we are soulmates. And then we hold each other and finally we kiss, and then we stay awake all night, talking, talking about our childhoods and our lives and our hopes and dreams.’

‘This is the most romantic story I’ve ever heard.’

‘And then we fuck, of course, and my God, I can feel that this man has been frozen for years, you know?’

At this point I coughed a piece of ramen onto the table. When I looked up several people at nearby tables were watching us.

Agnes’s voice lifted. She gesticulated into the air. ‘You cannot believe it. It is like a hunger in him, like all this hunger from years and years is just pulsing through him. Pulsing! That first night he is insatiable.’

‘Okay,’ I squeaked, wiping my mouth with a paper napkin.

‘It is magical, this meeting of our bodies. And afterwards we just hold each other for hours and I wrap myself around him and he lays his head on my breasts and I promise him he will never be frozen again. You understand?’

There was silence in the restaurant. Behind Agnes, a young man in a hooded top was staring at the back of her head, his spoon raised halfway to his mouth. When he saw me watching, he dropped it with a clatter.

‘That – that’s a really lovely story.’

‘And he keeps his promise. Everything he says is true. We are happy together. So happy.’ Her face fell a little. ‘But his daughter hates me. His ex-wife hates me. She blames me for everything, even though she did not love him. She tells everyone I am a bad person for stealing her husband.’

I didn’t know what to say.

‘And every week I have to go to these fundraisers and cocktail evenings and smile and pretend I do not know what they are saying about me. The way these women look at me. I am not what they say I am. I speak four languages. I play piano. I did special diploma in therapeutic massage. You know what language she speaks? Hypocrisy. But it is hard to pretend you have no pain, you know? Like you do not care?’

‘People change,’ I said hopefully. ‘Over time.’

‘No. I don’t think is possible.’

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