Still Me

Page 23


‘He’s sick too. My wife is super mad at me right now. She’s meant to be at one of her library meetings but we don’t have anybody to look after the kids. She says if I spend one more of my days off here she’s going to have a word with Mr Ovitz herself. And nobody wants that.’ He shook his head. ‘My wife is a fearsome woman, Miss Louisa. You do not want to upset my wife.’
‘I’d offer to help. But I think I’d better go back and check on Sam.’
‘Be sweet,’ he said, as I handed him his mug. ‘He came a long way to see you. And I can guarantee he is feeling way worse than you are right now.’
When I got back to the room, Sam was awake, propped up on pillows and watching the grainy television. He looked up as I opened the door.
‘I just went for a walk. I – I –’
‘Couldn’t face one more minute stuck in here with me.’
I stood in the doorway. His head was sunk into his shoulders. He looked pale and unutterably depressed.
‘Lou – if you knew how hard I’m kicking myself –’
‘It’s fi—’ I stopped myself just in time. ‘Really,’ I said. ‘We’re good.’
I ran him a shower, made him get in and washed his hair, squeezing the last out of the tiny hotel bottle, then watched the suds slide down the huge slope of his shoulders. As I did he reached up, took my hand silently and kissed the inside of my wrist softly, a kiss of apology. I placed the towel over his shoulders and we made our way out to the bedroom. He lay back on the bed with a sigh. I changed out of my clothes and lay down beside him, wishing I didn’t still feel so flat.
‘Tell me something about you that I don’t know,’ he said.
I turned towards him. ‘Oh, you know everything. I’m an open book.’
‘C’mon. Indulge me.’ His voice was low against my ear. I couldn’t think of anything. I still felt really oddly annoyed about this weekend even though I know that’s unfair of me.
‘Okay,’ he said, when it was clear I wasn’t going to speak. ‘I’ll start then. I am never eating anything but white toast again.’
He studied my face for a moment. When he spoke again his voice was unusually quiet. ‘And things haven’t been easy at home.’
‘What do you mean?’
It took a minute before he spoke again, as if he wasn’t sure even then if he should. ‘It’s work. You know, before I got shot I wasn’t afraid of anything. I could handle myself. I guess I reckoned I was a bit of a tough guy. Now, though, what happened, it’s at the back of my mind all the time.’
I tried not to look startled.
He rubbed at his face. ‘Since I’ve been back I find myself assessing situations as we go in … differently, trying to work out exit routes, potential sources of trouble. Even when there’s no reason to.’
‘You’re frightened?’
‘Yeah. Me.’ He laughed drily, and shook his head. ‘They’ve offered me counselling. Oh, I know the drill from when I was in the army. Talk it through, understand it’s your mind’s way of processing what happened. I know it all. But it’s disconcerting.’ He rolled onto his back. ‘To tell you the truth, I don’t feel like myself.’
I waited.
‘That’s why it hit so hard when Donna left because … because I knew she’d always look out for me.’
‘But this new partner will look out for you, surely. What’s her name?’
‘Katie will look out for you. I mean, she’s experienced, and you guys must be trained to take care of each other, right?’
His gaze slid towards me.
‘You won’t be shot again, Sam. I know you won’t.’
Afterwards I realized it was a stupid thing to say. I’d said it because I couldn’t bear the idea of him being unhappy. I’d said it because I wanted it to be true.
‘I’ll be fine,’ he said, quietly.
I felt as if I’d failed him. I wondered how long he’d wanted to tell me that. We lay there for a while. I ran a finger lightly along his arm, trying to work out what to say.
‘You?’ he murmured.
‘Me what?’
‘Tell me something I don’t know. About you.’
I was going to tell him he knew all the important stuff. I was going to be my New York self, full of life, go-getting, impenetrable. I was going to say something to make him laugh. But he had told me his truth.
I turned so that I was facing him. ‘There is one thing. But I don’t want you to see me differently. If I tell you.’
He frowned.
‘It’s something that happened a long time ago. But you told me a thing. So I’m going to do the same.’ I took a breath then and told him. I told him the story I had only ever told Will, a man who had listened and then released me from the hold it had had over me. I told Sam the story of a girl who, ten years previously, had drunk too much and smoked too much and found to her cost that just because a gang of boys came from good families it didn’t make them good. I told it in a calm voice, a little detached. These days it didn’t really feel like it had happened to me, after all. Sam listened in the near dark, his eyes on mine, saying nothing.
‘It’s one of the reasons coming to New York and doing this was so important to me. I boxed myself in for years, Sam. I told myself that was what I needed to feel safe. And now … well, now I guess I need to push myself. I need to know what I’m capable of if I stop looking down.’
When I had finished he was silent for a long time, long enough that I had a momentary doubt as to whether I should have told him at all. But he reached out a hand and stroked my hair. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I wish I’d been there to protect you. I wish –’
‘It’s fine,’ I said. ‘It was a long time ago.’
‘It’s not fine.’ He pulled me to him. I rested my head against his chest, absorbing the steady beat of his heart.
‘Just, you know, don’t look at me differently,’ I whispered.
‘I can’t help looking at you differently.’
I tilted my head so that I could see him.
‘Only in that I think you’re even more amazing,’ he said, and his arms closed around me. ‘On top of all the other reasons to love you, you’re brave, and strong, and you just reminded me … we all have our hurdles. I’ll get over mine. But I promise you, Louisa Clark.’ His voice, when it came, was low and tender. ‘Nobody is ever going to hurt you again.’
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Hey, Lily!
In haste as I’m tapping this out on the subway (I’m always in haste these days) but lovely to hear from you. Glad school is going so well, though it sounds like you were quite lucky with the smoking thing. Mrs Traynor is right – it would be a shame if you got expelled before you’d even taken your exams.
But I’m not going to lecture you. New York is amazing. I’m enjoying every moment. And, yes, it would be lovely if you came out here but I think you’d have to stay in a hotel so you might want to speak to your parents first. Also, I’m quite busy as my hours with the Gopniks are long so I wouldn’t have much time to hang out just now.
Sam is fine, thanks. No, he hasn’t dumped me yet. In fact he’s here right now. He heads home later today. You can talk to him about borrowing his motorbike when he’s back. I think that may be one for the two of you to sort out between you.
Okay – my stop is coming up. Give Mrs T my love. Tell her I’ve been doing the things your dad did in his letters (not all of them: I haven’t been on any dates with leggy blonde PR girls).
Lou xxx
My alarm went off at six thirty a.m., a brittle micro-siren breaking the silence. I had to be back at the Gopniks’ for seven thirty. I let out a soft groan as I reached across to the bedside table and fumbled to turn it off. I had figured it would take me fifteen minutes to walk back to Central Park. I mentally ran through a rapid to-do list, wondering if there was any shampoo left in the bathroom and whether I would need to iron my top.