Home > Still Me (Me Before You #3)(9)

Still Me (Me Before You #3)(9)
Author: Jojo Moyes

The prospect of the day seemed to satisfy Agnes. Or perhaps it was the run. She had changed into indigo jeans and a white shirt, the collar of which revealed a large diamond pendant, and moved in a discreet cloud of perfume. ‘All looks fine,’ she said. ‘Right. I have to make some calls.’ She seemed to expect that I would know where to find her afterwards.

‘If in doubt, wait in the hall,’ whispered Michael, as she left. He smiled, the professional veneer briefly gone. ‘When I started I never knew where to find them. Our job is to pop up when they think they need us. But not, you know, to stalk them all the way to the bathroom.’

He was probably not much older than I was, but he looked like one of those people who came out of the womb handsome, colour-coordinated and with perfectly polished shoes. I wondered if everyone in New York but me was like this. ‘How long have you worked here?’

‘Just over a year. They had to let go their old social secretary because …’ He paused, seeming briefly uncomfortable. ‘Well, fresh start and all that. And then after a while they decided it didn’t work having one assistant for two of them. That’s where you come in. So hello!’ He held out his hand.

I shook it. ‘You like it here?’

‘I love it. I never know who I’m more in love with, him or her.’ He grinned. ‘He’s just the smartest. And so handsome. And she’s a doll.’

‘Do you run with them?’

‘Run? Are you kidding me?’ He shuddered. ‘I don’t do sweating. Apart from with Nathan. Oh, my. I would sweat with him. Isn’t he gorgeous? He offered to do my shoulder and I fell instantly in love. How on earth have you managed to work with him this long without jumping those delicious Antipodean bones?’

‘I –’

‘Don’t tell me. If you’ve been there I don’t want to know. We have to stay friends. Right. I need to get down to Wall Street.’

He gave me a credit card (‘For emergencies – she forgets hers all the time. All statements go straight to him’) and an electronic tablet, then showed me how to set up the pin code. ‘All the contact numbers you need are here. And everything to do with the calendar is on here,’ he said, scrolling down the screen with a forefinger. ‘Each person is colour-coded – you’ll see Mr Gopnik is blue, Mrs Gopnik is red, and Tabitha is yellow. We don’t run her diary any more as she lives away from home but it’s useful to know when she’s likely to be here, and whether there are joint family commitments, like meetings of the trusts or the foundation. I’ve set you up a private email, and if there are changes you and I will communicate them with each other to back up any changes made on the screen. You have to double-check everything. Schedule clashes are the only thing guaranteed to make him mad.’

‘Okay.’

‘So you’ll go through her post every morning, work out what she wants to attend. I’ll cross-check with you, as sometimes there are things she says no to and he overrides her. So don’t throw anything away. Just keep two piles.’

‘How many invites are there?’

‘Oh, you have no idea. The Gopniks are basically top tier. That means they get invited to everything and go to almost none of it. Second tier, you wish you were invited to half and go to everything you’re invited to.’

‘Third tier?’

‘Crashers. Would go to the opening of a burrito truck. You get them even at society events.’ He sighed. ‘So embarrassing.’

I scanned the diary page, zooming in on this week, which to me appeared to be a terrifying rainbow mess of colours. I tried not to look as daunted as I felt.

‘What’s brown?’

‘That’s Felix’s appointments. The cat.’

‘The cat has his own social diary?’

‘It’s just groomers, veterinary appointments, dental hygienists, that sort of thing. Ooh, no, he’s got the behaviourist in this week. He must have been pooping on the Ziegler again.’

‘And purple?’

Michael lowered his voice. ‘The former Mrs Gopnik. If you see a purple block next to an event, that’s because she will also be present.’ He was about to say something else but his phone rang.

‘Yes, Mr Gopnik … Yes. Of course … Yes, I will. Be right there.’ He put his phone back in his bag. ‘Okay. Gotta go. Welcome to the team!’

‘How many of us are there?’ I said, but he was already running out of the door, his coat over his arm.

‘First Big Purple is in two weeks’ time. Okay? I’ll email you. And wear normal clothes when you’re outside! Or you’ll look like you work for Whole Foods.’

The day passed in a blur. Twenty minutes later we walked out of the building and into a waiting car that took us to a glossy salon a few blocks away, me trying desperately to look like the kind of person who spent her whole life getting in and out of large black cars with cream leather interiors. I sat at the edge of the room while Agnes had her hair washed and styled by a woman whose own hair appeared to have been cut with the aid of a ruler, and an hour later the car took us to the dental appointment where, again, I sat in the waiting room. Everywhere we went was hushed and tasteful and a world away from the madness on the street below.

I had worn one of my more sober outfits: a navy blouse with anchors on it and a striped pencil skirt, but I needn’t have worried: at each place I became instantly invisible. It was as if I had ‘STAFF’ tattooed on my forehead. I started to notice the other personal assistants, pacing outside on cell-phones or racing back in with dry-cleaning and speciality coffees in cardboard holders. I wondered if I should be offering Agnes coffee, or officiously ticking things off lists. Most of the time I wasn’t entirely sure why I was there. The whole thing seemed to run like clockwork without me. It was as if I were simply human armour – a portable barrier between Agnes and the rest of the world.

Back in the car, Agnes, meanwhile, was distracted, talking in Polish on her cell-phone or asking me to make notes on my tablet: ‘We need to check with Michael that Leonard’s grey suit was cleaned. And maybe call Mrs Levitsky about my Givenchy dress – I think I have lost a little weight since I last wear it. She maybe can take it in an inch.’ She peered into her oversized Prada handbag, pulling out a plastic strip of pills from which she popped two into her mouth. ‘Water?’

I cast around, finding one in the door pocket. I unscrewed it and handed it to her. The car stopped.

‘Thank you.’

The driver – a middle-aged man with thick dark hair and jowls that wobbled as he moved – stepped out to open her door. When she disappeared into the restaurant, the doorman welcoming her like an old friend, I made to climb out behind her but the driver shut the door. I was left on the back seat.

I sat there for a minute, wondering what I was meant to do.

I checked my phone. I peered through the window, wondering if there were sandwich shops nearby. I tapped my foot. Finally I leant forward through the front seats. ‘My dad used to leave me and my sister in the car when he went to the pub. He’d bring us out a Coke and a packet of pickled onion Monster Munch and that would be us sorted for three hours.’ I tapped my knee with my fingers. ‘You’d probably be done for child abuse now. Mind you, pickled onion Monster Munch was our absolute favourite. Best part of the week.’

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