Still Me

Page 21


I had forgotten how much he preferred to listen than talk. It took a while before he offered up anything about himself. He finally had a new partner. After two false starts – a young man who’d decided he didn’t want to be a paramedic, and Tim, a middle-aged union rep, who apparently hated all mankind (not a great mindset for the job) – he had been paired with a woman from North Kensington station who had recently moved house and wanted to work somewhere closer to home.
‘What’s she like?’
‘She’s not Donna,’ he said, ‘but she’s okay. Least she seems to know what she’s doing.’
He had met Donna for coffee the week previously. Her father was not responding to chemotherapy, but she had disguised her sadness under sarcasm and jokes, as Donna always did. ‘I wanted to tell her she didn’t have to,’ he said. ‘She knows what I went through with my sister. But,’ he looked at me sideways, ‘we all cope with these things in our own ways.’
Jake, he told me, was doing well at college. He sent his love. His dad, Sam’s brother-in-law, had dropped out of grief therapy, saying it wasn’t for him, even though it had stopped his compulsive bedding of strange women. ‘He’s eating his way through his feelings now. Put on a stone since you left.’
‘And you?’
‘Ah. I’m coping.’
He said it simply, but it caused something in my heart to crack a little.
‘It’s not for ever,’ I said, as we stopped.
‘I know.’
‘And we’re going to do loads of fun stuff while you’re here.’
‘What have you got planned?’
‘Um, basically it’s You Getting Naked. Followed by supper. Followed by more You Getting Naked. Maybe a walk around Central Park, some corny tourist stuff, like the Staten Island ferry and Times Square, and some shopping in the East Village and some really good food with added You Getting Naked.’
He grinned. ‘Do I get You Getting Naked too?’
‘Oh, yes, it’s a two-for-one deal.’ I leant my head against him. ‘Seriously, though, I’d love you to come and see where I work. Maybe meet Nathan and Ashok and all the people I go on about. Mr and Mrs Gopnik will be out of town so you probably won’t meet them but you’ll at least get an idea of it all in your head.’
He stopped and turned me to face him. ‘Lou. I don’t really care what we do as long as we’re together.’ He coloured a little as he said it, as if the words had surprised even him.
‘That’s quite romantic, Mr Fielding.’
‘I tell you what, though. I need to eat something pretty fast if I’m going to fulfil this Getting Naked bit. Where can we get some food?’
We were walking past Radio City, surrounded by huge office buildings. ‘There’s a coffee shop,’ I said.
‘Oh, no,’ he said, clapping his hands together. ‘There’s my boy. A genuine New York food truck!’ He pointed towards one of the ever-present food trucks, this one advertising ‘stacked burritos’: ‘We make ’em any way you like ’em.’ I followed him and waited while he ordered something that appeared to be the size of his forearm and smelt of hot cheese and unidentified fatty meat. ‘We didn’t have plans to eat out tonight, right?’ He wedged the end into his mouth.
I couldn’t help but laugh. ‘Whatever keeps you awake. Though I suspect that’s going to put you in a food coma.’
‘Oh, God, this is so good. Want some?’
I did, actually. But I was wearing really nice underwear and I didn’t want bits of me hanging over the top. So I waited until he had finished it, noisily licking his fingers, then tossing his napkin into the bin. He sighed with deep satisfaction. ‘Right,’ he said, taking my arm, and everything felt suddenly, blissfully normal. ‘About this naked thing.’
We walked back to our hotel in silence. I no longer felt awkward, as if the time apart had created some unexpected distance between us. I didn’t want to talk any more. I just wanted to feel his skin against mine. I wanted to be completely his again, enfolded, possessed. We headed down Sixth Avenue, past the Rockefeller Center and I no longer noticed the tourists who stood in our way. I felt locked into an invisible bubble, all my senses trained on the warm hand that had closed around mine, the arm that crept around my shoulders. His every movement felt heavy with intent. I was almost breathless with it. I could live with the absences, I thought, if the times we spent together felt as delicious as this.
We were barely in the lift when he turned and pulled me to him. We kissed, and I melted, lost myself in the feel of him against me, my blood pulsing in my ears so that I barely heard the lift doors open. We staggered out.
‘Door thing,’ he said, patting his pockets with some urgency. ‘Door thing! Where did I put it?’
‘I’ve got it,’ I said, wrestling it out of my back pocket.
‘Thank God,’ he said, as he kicked the door shut behind us, his voice low in my ear. ‘You have no idea how long I’ve been thinking about this.’
Two minutes later I was lying on the Burgundy Bedspread of Doom, sweat cooling on my skin, wondering whether it would be really bad if I reached down to get my knickers. Despite the bedbug checks, there was still something about this cover that made me want a barrier between it and any part of my bare body.
Sam’s voice floated into the air beside me. ‘Sorry,’ he murmured. ‘I knew I was pleased to see you, but not that pleased.’
‘It’s fine,’ I said, turning to face him. He had this way of pulling me into him, like he was gathering me up, so that I was totally enclosed. I had never understood women who said a man made them feel safe – but that was how I felt with Sam. His eyes were drooping, battling sleep. I calculated it was around three in the morning for him now. He dropped a kiss on my nose. ‘Give me twenty minutes and I’ll be good to go.’
I ran my finger lightly along his face, tracing his lips, and shifted so that he could pull the covers over us. I placed my leg over his, so that there was almost no part of me not touching him. Even that movement caused something in me to ignite. I don’t know what it was about Sam that made me unlike myself – without inhibition, full of hunger. I was not sure I could touch his skin without feeling that reflexive internal heat. I could glance over at his shoulders, the heft of his forearms, the baby-soft dark hairs where his neck became his hairline, and I would feel almost incandescent with lust.
‘I love you, Louisa Clark,’ he said softly.
‘Twenty minutes, hmm?’ I said, smiling, and hooked him in tighter.
But he dropped into sleep like someone stepping off a cliff. I watched him for a while, wondering whether it would be possible to wake him, and what means I might employ to do it, but then I remembered how disoriented and exhausted I had been when I’d arrived. And then I thought of how he had just done a week of twelve-hour shifts. And that it was only a few hours into our whole three days together. With a sigh I released him and flopped onto my back. It was dark outside now, the sounds of the distant traffic floating up to us. I felt a million things and I was disconcerted to find that one was disappointment.
Stop, I told myself firmly. My expectations for this weekend had simply risen, like a soufflé, too high for sustained contact with the atmosphere. He was here, and we were together, and in a few hours he would be awake again. Go to sleep, Clark, I told myself. I pulled his arm over me, inhaling the scent of his warm skin. And closed my eyes.
An hour and a half later, I was lying on the far side of the bed, scrolling through Facebook on my phone, marvelling at Mum’s apparently infinite appetite for motivational quotes and photographs of Thom in his school uniform. It was half past ten, and sleep was uninterested in stopping by. I climbed out of bed, and used the bathroom, leaving the light off so that Sam wouldn’t be woken by the screeching fan. I hesitated before climbing back in. The sagging mattress meant that Sam had tipped gently into the middle, leaving me a few inches on the edge unless I pretty much lay on top of him. I wondered idly if an hour and a half’s sleep was enough. And then I climbed in, slid my body against his warm one and, after a moment’s hesitation, I kissed him.