Still Me

Page 26


‘Okay,’ he said finally. ‘But on one condition.’
‘Name it.’
‘I draw you.’
For a minute nobody spoke. Agnes raised an eyebrow, then took a slow drag of her cigarette, her eyes not leaving his. ‘Me.’
‘Can’t be the first time someone’s asked.’
‘Why me?’
‘Don’t play the ingénue.’
He smiled then, and she kept her face straight, as if deciding whether to be insulted. Her eyes dropped to her feet, and, when she lifted them, there it was, her smile, small, speculative, a prize he believed he had won.
She stubbed out her cigarette on the floor. ‘How long will it take?’
He shoved the carton of noodles to one side and reached for a white pad of thick paper. It might have been only me who noticed the way his voice lowered in volume. ‘Depends how good you are at keeping still.’
Minutes later I was back in the car. I closed the door. Garry was listening to his tapes.
‘Por favor, habla más despacio.’
‘Pohr fah-VOR, AH-blah mahs dehs-PAHS-ee-oh.’ He slapped the dashboard with a fat palm. ‘Ah, crap. Lemme try that again. AHblamahsdehsPAHSeeoh.’ He practised three more lines, then turned to me. ‘She gonna be long?’
I stared out of the window at the blank windows of the second floor. ‘I really hope not,’ I said.
Agnes finally emerged at a quarter to four, an hour and three-quarters after Garry and I had run out of our already limited conversation. After watching a cable comedy show downloaded on his iPad (he didn’t offer to share it with me) he had nodded off, his chins resting on the bulk of his chest as he snored lightly. I sat in the back of the car growing increasingly tense as the minutes ticked by, sending periodic messages to Sam that were variations on: She’s not back yet. Still not back. Omigod, what on earth is she doing in there? He had had lunch in a tiny deli across town and said he was so hungry he could eat fifteen horses. He sounded cheerful, relaxed, and every word we exchanged told me I was in the wrong place, that I should be beside him, leaning against him, feeling his voice rumble in my ear. I had started to hate Agnes.
And suddenly there she was, striding out of the building with a broad smile and a flat package under her arm.
‘Oh, thank God,’ I said.
Garry woke with a start and hurried around the car to open the door for her. She slid in calmly, as if she had been gone two minutes instead of two hours. She brought with her the faint scents of cigarettes and turpentine.
‘We need to stop at McNally Jackson on the way back. To get some pretty paper to wrap it in.’
‘We have wrapping paper at the –’
‘Steven told me about this special hand-pressed paper. I want to wrap it in this special paper. Garry, you know the place I mean? We can drop down to SoHo on the way back, yes?’ She waved a hand.
I sat back, faintly despairing. Garry set off, bumping the limo gently over the potholed car park as he headed back to what he considered civilization.
We arrived back at Fifth Avenue at four forty. As Agnes climbed out, I hurried out beside her, clutching the bag with the special paper.
‘Agnes, I – I was wondering … what you said about me leaving early today …’
‘I don’t know whether to wear the Temperley or the Badgley Mischka this evening. What do you think?’
I tried to recall either dress. Failed. I was trying to calculate how long it would take me to get over to Times Square, where Sam was now waiting. ‘The Temperley, I think. Definitely. It’s perfect. Agnes – you remember you said I might be able to leave early today?’
‘But it’s such a dark blue. I’m not sure this blue is a good colour on me. And the shoes that go with it rub on my heel.’
‘We talked last week. Would it be okay? It’s just I really want to see Sam off at the airport.’ I fought to keep the irritation from my voice.
‘Sam?’ She nodded a greeting at Ashok.
‘My boyfriend.’
She considered this. ‘Mm. Okay. Oh, they are going to be so impressed with this drawing. Steven is genius, you know? Actual genius.’
‘So I can go?’
My shoulders sagged with relief. If I left in ten minutes I could get the subway south and be with him by five thirty. That would still give us an hour and a bit together. Better than nothing.
The lift doors closed behind us. Agnes opened a compact and checked her lipstick, pouting at her reflection. ‘But maybe just stay until I’m dressed. I need second opinion on this Temperley.’
Agnes changed her outfit four times. I was too late to meet Sam in Midtown, Times Square or anywhere else. Instead I got to JFK fifteen minutes before he had to head through security. I shoved my way past the other passengers to where I could see him standing in front of the departures board, and hurled myself through the airport doors and against his back. ‘I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.’
We held each other for a minute.
‘What happened?’
‘Agnes happened.’
‘Wasn’t she going to let you out early? I thought she was your mate.’
‘She was just obsessed by this artwork thing and it all went … Oh, God, it was maddening.’ I threw my hands into the air. ‘What am I even doing in this stupid job, Sam? She made me wait because she couldn’t work out what dress to wear. At least Will actually needed me.’
He tilted his head and touched his forehead to mine. ‘We had this morning.’
I kissed him, reaching around his neck so that I could place my whole self against him. We stayed there, eyes closed, as the airport moved and swayed around us.
And then my phone rang.
‘I’m ignoring it,’ I said, into his chest.
It continued to ring, insistently.
‘It might be her.’ He held me gently away from him.
I let out a low growl, then pulled my phone from my back pocket and put it to my ear. ‘Agnes?’
‘It’s Josh. I was just calling to see how today went.’
‘Josh! Um … oh. Yes, it was fine. Thank you!’ I turned away slightly, putting my hand up to my other ear. I felt Sam stiffen beside me.
‘So he did the drawing for you?’
‘He did. She’s really happy. Thank you so much for organizing it. Listen, I’m in the middle of something right now, but thank you. It really was incredibly kind of you.’
‘Glad it worked out. Listen, give me a call, yeah? Let’s grab a coffee sometime.’
‘Sure!’ I ended the call to find Sam watching me.
‘Josh,’ he said.
I put the phone back into my pocket.
‘The guy you met at the ball.’
‘It’s a long story.’
‘He helped me sort this drawing for Agnes today. I was desperate.’
‘So you had his number.’
‘It’s New York. Everyone has everyone’s number.’
He dragged his hand over the top of his head and turned away.
‘It’s nothing. Really.’ I took a step towards him, pulled him by his belt buckle. I could feel the weekend sliding away from me again. ‘Sam … Sam …’
He deflated, put his arms around me. He rested his chin on the top of my head and moved his from side to side. ‘This is …’
‘I know,’ I said. ‘I know it is. But I love you and you love me and at least we managed to do a bit of the getting-naked thing. And it was great, wasn’t it? The getting-naked thing?’
‘For, like, five minutes.’
‘Best five minutes of the last four weeks. Five minutes that will keep me going for the next four.’
‘Except it’s seven.’
I slid my hands into his back pockets. ‘Don’t let’s end this badly. Please. I don’t want you to go away angry because of some stupid call from someone who is literally nothing to me.’
His face softened when he held my gaze, as it always did. It was one of the things I loved about him, the way his features, so brutal in repose, melted when he looked at me. ‘I’m not pissed off at you. I’m pissed off at myself. And airline food or burritos or whatever it was. And your woman there who can’t apparently put on a dress by herself.’