Still Me

Page 27


‘I’ll be back for Christmas. For a whole week.’
Sam frowned. He took my face in his hands. They were warm and slightly rough. We stood there for a moment, and then we kissed, and some decades later he straightened up and glanced at the board.
‘And now you have to go.’
‘And now I have to go.’
I swallowed the lump that had risen in my throat. He kissed me once more, then swung his bag over his shoulder. I stood on the concourse, watching the space where he had been for a full minute after security had swallowed him.
In general, I’m not a moody person. I’m not very good at the whole door-slamming, scowling, eye-rolling thing. But that evening I made my way back to the city, pushed my way through the crowds on the subway platform, elbows out, and scowled like a native. Throughout the journey I found myself checking the time. He’s in the departure lounge. He’ll be boarding. And … he’s gone. The moment his plane was due to take off I felt something sink inside me and my mood darkened even further. I picked up some takeout sushi and walked from the subway station to the Gopniks’ building. When I got to my little room I sat and stared at the container, then at the wall, and knew I couldn’t stay there alone with my thoughts so I knocked on Nathan’s door.
Nathan was watching American football, holding a beer. He was wearing a pair of surfer shorts and a T-shirt. He looked up at me expectantly, and with the faintest of delays, in the way people do when they’re letting you know that they’re really locked into something else.
‘Can I eat my dinner in here with you?’
He tore his gaze away from the screen again. ‘Bad day?’
I nodded.
‘Need a hug?’
I shook my head. ‘Just a virtual one. If you’re nice to me I’ll probably cry.’
‘Ah. Your man gone home, has he?’
‘It was a disaster, Nathan. He was sick for pretty much the whole thing and then Agnes wouldn’t let me have the time off she promised me today so I barely got to see him and when I did it kept getting … awkward between us.’
Nathan turned down the television with a sigh, and patted the side of the bed. I climbed up, and placed my takeout bag on my lap where, later, I would discover soy sauce had leaked through onto my work trousers. I rested my head on his shoulder.
‘Long-distance relationships are tough,’ Nathan pronounced, as if he was the first person to have considered such a thing. Then he added, ‘Like, really tough.’
‘It’s not just the sex, and the inevitable jealousy –’
‘We’re not jealous people.’
‘But he’s not going to be the first person you tell stuff to. The day-to-day bits and pieces. And that stuff is important.’
He proffered his beer and I took a swig, handing it back to him. ‘We did know it was going to be hard. I mean we talked about all this before I left. But you know what’s really bugging me?’
He dragged his gaze back from the screen. ‘Go on.’
‘Agnes knew how much I wanted to spend time with Sam. We’d talked about it. She was the one saying we had to be together, that we shouldn’t be apart, blah-blah-blah. And then she made me stay with her till the absolute last minute.’
‘That’s the job, Lou. They come first.’
‘But she knew how important it was to me.’
‘She’s meant to be my friend.’
Nathan raised an eyebrow. ‘Lou. The Traynors were not normal employers. Will was not a normal employer. Neither are the Gopniks. These people may act nice, but ultimately you have to remember this is a power relationship. It’s a business transaction.’ He took a swig of his beer. ‘You know what happened to the Gopniks’ last social secretary? Agnes told Old Man Gopnik that she was talking about her behind her back, spreading secrets. So they sacked her. After twenty-two years. They sacked her.’
‘And was she?’
‘Was she what?’
‘Spreading secrets?’
‘I don’t know. Not the point, though, is it?’
I didn’t want to contradict him but to explain why Agnes and I were different would have meant betraying her. So I said nothing.
Nathan seemed about to say something, then changed his mind.
‘Look … nobody can have everything.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘This is a really great job, right? I mean, you might not think that tonight, but you’ve got a great situation in the heart of New York, a good wage and a decent employer. You get to go to all sorts of great places, and some occasional perks. They bought you a nearly-three-thousand-dollar ball dress, right? I got to go to the Bahamas with Mr G a couple of months ago. Five-star hotel, beachfront room, the lot. Just for a couple of hours’ work a day. So we’re lucky. But in the long term, the cost of all that might turn out to be a relationship with someone whose life is completely different and a million miles away. That’s the choice you make when you head out.’
I stared at him.
‘I just think you’ve got to be realistic about these things.’
‘You’re not really helping, Nathan.’
‘I’m being straight with you. And, hey, look on the bright side. I heard you did a great job today with the drawing. Mr G told me he was really impressed.’
‘They really liked it?’ I tried to suppress my glow of pleasure.
‘Aw, man. Seriously. Loved it. She’s going to knock those charity ladies dead.’
I leant against him, and he switched the volume back up. ‘Thanks, Nathan,’ I said, and opened my sushi. ‘You’re a mate.’
He grimaced slightly. ‘Yeah. That whole fishy thing. Any chance you could wait until you’re in your own room?’
I closed my sushi box. He was right. Nobody could have everything.
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Hey, Mum,
Sorry for the late reply. It’s quite busy here! Never a dull moment!
I’m glad you liked the pictures. Yes, the carpets are 100 per cent wool, some of the rugs are silk, the wood is definitely not veneer, and I asked Ilaria and they get their curtains dry-cleaned once a year while they spend a month in the Hamptons. The cleaners are very thorough but Ilaria does the kitchen floor every day herself because she doesn’t trust them.
Yes, Mrs Gopnik does have a walk-in shower and also a walk-in wardrobe in her dressing room. She is very fond of her dressing room and spends a lot of time in there on the phone to her mum in Poland. I didn’t have time to count the shoes like you asked but I’d say there are well over a hundred pairs. She has them stacked in boxes with pictures of them stuck to the front just so she knows which is which. When she gets a new pair it’s my job to take the picture. She has a camera just for her shoe boxes!
I’m glad the art course went well and the Better Communication for Couples class sounds grand, but you must tell Dad that it’s not to do with Bedroom Stuff. He’s sent me three emails this week, asking if I think he could fake a heart murmur.
Sorry to hear that Granddad’s been under the weather. Is he still hiding his vegetables under the table? Are you sure you have to give up your night classes? Seems like a shame.
Okay – got to go. Agnes is calling me. I’ll let you know about Christmas, but don’t worry, I will be there.
Love you,
Louisa xxx
PS No, I haven’t seen Robert De Niro again but, yes, if I do I will definitely tell him that you liked him very much in The Mission.
PPS No, I honestly haven’t spent any time in Angola and I’m not in urgent need of a cash transfer. Don’t answer those ones.
I’m no expert on depression. I hadn’t even understood my own after Will died. But I found Agnes’s moods especially hard to fathom. My mother’s friends who suffered depression – and there seemed to be a dismaying number of them – seemed flattened by life, struggling through a fog that descended until they could see no joy, no prospect of pleasure. It obscured their way forward. You could see it in the way they walked around town, their shoulders bowed, their mouths set in thin lines of forbearance. It was as if sadness seeped from them.