Home > Still Me (Me Before You #3)(21)

Still Me (Me Before You #3)(21)
Author: Jojo Moyes

I stopped halfway across and stood very still as I gazed across the East River, feeling briefly suspended, almost giddy with the sense of no longer being tied to any place at all. Another tick. And slowly I stopped ticking off experiences, because pretty much everything was new and strange.

On those first walks I saw:

– A man in full drag riding a bicycle and singing show tunes through a microphone and speakers. Several people applauded as he rode past.

– Four girls playing jump rope between two fire hydrants. They had two ropes going at once and I stopped to clap when they finally stopped jumping and they smiled shyly at me.

– A dog on a skateboard. When I texted my sister to tell her, she told me I was drunk.

– Robert De Niro.

At least I think it was Robert De Niro. It was early evening and I was feeling briefly homesick and he walked past me on the corner of Spring Street and Broadway, and I actually said, ‘Oh, my God. Robert De Niro,’ out loud before I could stop myself as he walked past and he didn’t turn round and I couldn’t be sure afterwards whether that was because he was just some random who thought I was talking to myself, or whether that was exactly what you would do if you were Robert De Niro and some woman on the sidewalk started bleating your name.

I decided the latter. Again, my sister accused me of being drunk. I sent her a picture from my phone but she said, That could be the back of anyone’s head, you doofus, and added that I was not just drunk but genuinely quite stupid. It was at that point that I started to feel slightly less homesick.

I wanted to tell Sam this. I wanted to tell him all of it, in beautiful handwritten letters or at least in long, rambling emails that we would later save and print out and that would be found in the attic of our house when we had been married fifty years for our grandchildren to coo over. But I was so tired those first few weeks that all I did was email him about how tired I was.

I’m so tired. I miss you.

Me too.

No, like really, really tired. Like cry at TV advertisements and fall asleep while brushing my teeth and end up with toothpaste all over my chest tired.

Okay, now you got me.

I tried not to mind how little he emailed me. I tried to remind myself that he was doing a real, hard job, saving lives and making a difference, while I was sitting outside manicurists’ studios and running around Central Park.

His supervisor had changed the rota. He was working four nights on the trot and still waiting to be assigned a new permanent partner. That should have made it easier for us to talk but somehow it didn’t. I would check in on my phone in the minutes I had free every evening but that was usually the time he was heading off to begin his shift.

Sometimes I felt curiously disjointed, as if I had simply dreamt him up.

One week, he reassured me. One more week.

How hard could it be?

Agnes was playing the piano again. She played when she was happy or unhappy, angry or frustrated, picking tumultuous pieces, high in emotion, closing her eyes, as her hands roved up and down the keyboard, and swaying on the piano stool. The previous evening she had played a nocturne, and as I passed the open door of the drawing room, I’d watched for a moment as Mr Gopnik sat down beside her on the stool. Even as she became wholly absorbed in the music, it was clear that she was playing for him. I noted how content he was just to sit and turn the pages for her. When she’d finished she’d beamed at him, and he had lowered his head to kiss her hand. I tiptoed past the door as if I hadn’t seen.

I was in the study going over the week’s events and had got as far as Thursday (Children’s Cancer Charity lunch, Marriage of Figaro) when I became aware of a rapping at the front door. Ilaria was with the pet behaviourist – Felix had done something unmentionable in Mr Gopnik’s office again – so I walked out to the hallway and opened it.

Mrs De Witt stood in front of me, her cane raised as if to strike. I ducked instinctively and then, when she lowered it, straightened, my palms raised. It took me a second to grasp she had simply used it to rap on the door.

‘Can I help you?’

‘Tell her to quit that infernal racket!’ Her tiny etched face was puce with fury.

‘I’m sorry?’

‘The masseuse. The mail-order bride. Whatever. I can hear it all the way down the corridor.’ She was wearing a 1970s Pucci-style duster coat with green and pink swirls and an emerald green turban. Even as I bristled at her insults, I was transfixed. ‘Uh, Agnes is actually a trained physical therapist. And it’s Mozart.’

‘I don’t care if it’s Champion the Wonder Horse playing the kazoo with his you-know-what. Tell her to pipe down. She lives in an apartment. She should have some consideration for other residents!’

Dean Martin growled at me, as if in agreement. I was going to say something else but trying to work out which of his eyes was actually looking at me was weirdly distracting. ‘I’ll pass that on, Mrs De Witt,’ I said, my professional smile in place.

‘What do you mean “pass it on”? Don’t just “pass it on”. Make her stop. She drives me crazy with the wretched pianola. Day, night, whenever. This used to be a peaceful building.’

‘But, to be fair, your dog is always bar–’

‘The other one was just as bad. Miserable woman. Always with her quacking friends, quack quack quack in the corridor, clogging up the street with their oversized cars. Ugh. I’m not surprised he traded her in.’

‘I’m not sure Mr Gopnik –’

‘ “Trained physical therapist”. Good Lord, is that what we’re calling it these days? I suppose that makes me chief negotiator at the United Nations.’ She patted her face with a handkerchief.

‘As I understand it, the great joy of America is that you can be whatever you want to be.’ I smiled.

She narrowed her eyes. I held my smile.

‘Are you English?’

‘Yes.’ I sensed a possible softening. ‘Why? Do you have relatives there, Mrs De Witt?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ She looked me up and down. ‘I just thought English girls were meant to have style.’ And with that she turned and, with a dismissive wave, hobbled off down the corridor, Dean Martin casting resentful glances behind her.

‘Was that the crazy old witch across the corridor?’ Agnes called, as I closed the door softly. ‘Ugh. No wonder nobody ever comes to see her. She is like horrible dried-up piece of suszony dorsz.’

There was a brief silence. I heard pages being turned.

And then Agnes started a thunderous, cascading piece, her fingers crashing on the keyboard, hitting the pedal so hard that I felt the wood floors vibrate.

I fixed my smile again as I walked across the hallway, and checked my watch with an internal sigh. Only two hours to go.

8

Sam was flying in that day, and staying until Monday evening. He had booked us into a hotel a few blocks from Times Square. Given what Agnes had said about how we shouldn’t be apart, I had asked if she might give me some of the afternoon off. She had said maybe in what I felt was a positive tone, although I got the distinct feeling that Sam coming for the weekend was an irritation to her. Still, I walked to Penn Station, a bounce in my step, and a weekend bag at my heels, and caught the AirTrain to JFK. By the time I got to the airport, slightly ahead of time, I was buzzing with anticipation.

The arrivals board said Sam’s flight had landed and that he was awaiting his luggage so I hurried into the Ladies to check my hair and make-up. A little sweaty from the walk and the packed train, I touched up my mascara and lipstick, and swiped at my hair with a brush. I was wearing turquoise silk culottes with a black polo-neck and black ankle boots. I wanted to look like myself, but also as if I had changed in some indefinable way, perhaps become a little more mysterious. I dodged out of the way of an exhausted-looking woman with an oversized wheelie case, gave myself a little spritz of perfume, then finally judged myself the kind of woman who meets her lover at international airports.

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