Chapter Two

Inside, it’s dimly lit and busy with the after-work crowd. I pause at the doorway. It’s one of those really cool New York bars you see in films and on TV. Several tables are squeezed inside, and running the whole length is a bar made of polished dark wood, with shiny brass fittings and hundreds of different bottles of spirits, all stacked in rows.

Sitting ramrod straight at the bar is a girl in a pinstripe suit. She’s jabbing away at her BlackBerry. With her hair cut into a sharp blonde bob and an imposing black leather briefcase sitting beside her on a barstool, she cuts a rather formidable figure amid the relaxed early evening crowd. Think Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and then imagine a more imposing, female version.

That’s my big sister, Kate. She’s older, by five years, but it might as well be twenty the way she bosses me about like I’m a child. She’s used to bossing people about, though. She has not one but two assistants working for her.

She’s an associate at a major law firm here in Manhattan that specialises in mergers and acquisitions. Personally, I haven’t got a clue what mergers and acquisitions are, let alone the ability to compile hundred-page reports on them and win cases worth millions of dollars.

But then my sister has always been the super-brainy one in the family. She spent seven years training to be a doctor, then as soon as she qualified, changed her mind and retrained as a lawyer. Like it was no biggie.

I swear I’ve agonised more over what sandwich to have for lunch at Prêt-à-Manger.

Kate got all the brains and I got all the creativity. At least, that’s what my mum likes to tell me, though sometimes I wonder if it was just to make me feel better after flunking yet another maths test. While logarithms baffled me (and still do – could someone please tell me exactly what a logarithm is?), drawing and painting were like second nature and I ended up at art college.

Three glorious paint-splattered years later I graduated and moved to London. I had all these big dreams. I was going to have this amazing career as an artist. I was going to have exhibitions in galleries across the country. I was going to have my own studio in this super-cool loft in Shoreditch . . .

Er, actually, no, I wasn’t.

For starters, have you any clue how expensive lofts in Shoreditch are?

No, neither did I. Well, let me tell you. They’re an absolute fortune.

That wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d been selling my artwork. I mean, at least then I could have saved up. For about eighty years, but still, it’s possible.

But the truth is, I never actually sold one of my paintings. Well, OK, I sold one, but that was to my dad for fifty quid, and only then because he insisted on giving me my first commission.

As it turned out, it was also my last. After six months of sliding further and further into debt, I had to give up painting and look for a job. Consequently, my dreams of being an artist ended up just that. Dreams.

Still, it’s probably for the best. I was young and naïve and unrealistic. I probably would never have made it anyway.

Excusing my way through the crowd, I make my way towards the bar.

After that I temped for a while, but I was pretty terrible. I can’t type, and my filing is useless, but finally I got lucky and landed a job in an art gallery in the East End. At first I was only the receptionist, but over the years I clawed my way up from answering the phone to working with new artists, organising exhibitions and helping buyers with their collections. Then a few months ago I was offered the chance to work in a gallery in New York.  

Of course I jumped at it. Who wouldn’t? New York is where the art world is right now, and career-wise it’s an amazing opportunity.

Except, if I’m entirely truthful, that’s not the only reason I decided to pack up my stuff, move out of my flat-share and fly three thousand miles across the Atlantic. It was partly to get over my latest break-up, partly to escape the prospect of another terrible British summer, but mostly to get my life out of a bit of a rut.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my job, my friends, my life in London. It’s just . . .Well, recently I’ve had this feeling. As if there’s something missing. As if I’m waiting for my life to begin. Waiting for something to happen.

Only problem is, I’m not exactly sure what.

My sister’s still focused on her BlackBerry and hasn’t seen me walking over to her yet. Since I arrived, I’ve been staying with her and Jeff, her husband. They have a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side and it’s been great. It’s also been, shall we say, challenging. Put it this way, I’ve never stayed in army barracks, but I have a feeling they might be similar. Only without the polished wenge floors and flat-screen TV.

As soon as I told her I was moving here, she sent me a list of house rules. My sister’s very organised like that. She draws up regimented lists and ticks things off, one by one, with special highlighter pens. Not that I’d call her anal . . .

Well, not to her face, anyway.

We’re total opposites in everything really. She’s blonde; I’m brunette. She likes to save; I like to spend. She’s super tidy; I’m horribly messy. It’s not that I don’t try to keep things neat and tidy – in fact, I’m forever tidying, but for some strange reason that just seems to make things more untidy.

Kate’s also a stickler for timekeeping, whereas I’m never on time. I don’t know why. I really try to be punctual. I’ve tried all the tricks – setting off fifteen minutes early, putting my clocks forward, wearing two watches – but I still seem to end up running late.

Like now, for example.

Right on cue I hear my phone beep to signal I’ve got a text. Hastily I dig it out of my pocket. I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m a teeny bit scared of my big sister.

I click the little envelope on the screen.

         Five more minutes then you’re dead.

Make that a lot scared.

‘You’re late.’

As I plop myself down next to her on the barstool, she doesn’t even look up from her BlackBerry. Instead she continues replying to an email, a sharp crease etched down the middle of her forehead, like the ones down the front of her trouser legs.

Kate always wears trousers. In fact, I think the only time I’ve ever not seen her wearing them was on her wedding day, five years ago. And that was only because Mum got all upset when she found out she was going to be wearing a trouser suit (‘But it’s from Donna Karan,’ my sister protested) and said the neighbours would think her daughter was a lesbian.  Which seems a bit ridiculous, considering she was marrying Jeff.

‘I know, I’m sorry,’ I apologise briskly, giving her a kiss on the cheek. ‘You know me – I’m useless with directions.’

‘And timekeeping,’ she reminds, hitting send with her thumb, then turning to me.

She looks pale, despite the fact it’s sunny and seventy-five degrees outside. Kate rarely gets outside. During the week she’s always at her desk in her air-conditioned office, and at weekends—

Well, she’s usually at her desk then too.

‘Guilty as charged.’ I nod, pulling a remorseful expression. ‘What do I get? Two years? Five?’

She smiles, despite herself. ‘Well, this isn’t my legal field of expertise, but let’s see . . . No prior convictions? Mitigating circumstances?’ She drums her fingers on the bar. ‘You’d probably get away with a warning and a good-behaviour bond.’

‘That’s it?’ I’m laughing now.

‘Plus a fine,’ she adds, raising an eyebrow.

‘A fine?’ I frown. ‘How much?’

‘Hmm . . .’ She taps the tip of her nose with her forefinger, like she always does when she’s thinking. ‘Three drinks. At ten dollars a drink. I reckon thirty bucks should do it.’ My sister smiles at me slyly. ‘Plus tip, of course.’

She’s nothing if not a tough negotiator. Now I know how she wins those multi-million-dollar cases.

‘Hang on – three drinks?’

‘You, me and Robyn,’ she explains.

‘Oh, she’s here?’ I say in surprise, looking around for her.

‘She went to the bathroom.’ Kate gestures to the back of the bar, where at that moment I see a tall girl with wild, curly hair and wearing a tie-dye kaftan appear from the ladies’. Her face splits into a huge, excitable grin as she spots me.

Honnnneeeeyyyy!’ she shrieks, waving manically as she rushes over, seemingly unaware of the people she’s knocking into as she makes a beeline for me. She’s like the human form of a heat-seeking missile.

I watch in amusement. A slightly different welcome from my sister, then.

Throwing her arms out, she envelops me in a haze of patchouli oil and a jingle-jangle of silver bracelets, which are stacked up her freckled forearms like Slinkys.

Anyone watching Robyn greet me would think we were lifelong friends, but we only met a week ago, when I answered her ad for a roommate to share her apartment. I move in this weekend. After a few weeks of my sister’s house rules – ‘1) Usage of electric toothbrush not permitted after 10 p.m.’ Apparently it wakes her up, as she likes to be in bed by nine thirty so she can get up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym. Yup, that’s right. Five in the morning – I knew it was time to move out and get my own space.

Well, maybe ‘space’ is something of a misnomer. ‘Broom cupboard’ would be a more accurate description. New York might be exciting, but it comes with a hefty price tag and on my salary I can only afford nine-foot square in a fourth-storey walk-up on the Lower East Side.

Still, the most important thing is it’s all mine. Well, Robyn’s really. Plus guess what? I can see the Empire State Building from my window!

Well. Sort of. It’s not actually from my bedroom window. The view from my bedroom window is a brick wall, a fire escape and some pretty interesting graffiti. You can see it from Robyn’s bedroom, though. If you sort of hang out of the window and squint a bit. It’s definitely there. Promise.

‘I didn’t think you could make it,’ I gasp, finally breaking free.

‘My last client cancelled,’ she explains, still grinning.

Americans, I’ve noticed, spend a lot of time grinning, but I haven’t yet worked out if they’re really happy or if it’s an excuse to show off their teeth. Robyn has perfect straight white teeth. Like piano keys.

‘Said he was afraid of needles. Which made things a little problematic, what with me being an acupuncturist.’

‘What is it with men and little pricks?’ quips Kate.

I stifle a giggle, but Robyn is oblivious to my sister’s sense of humour. ‘I don’t know,’ she says earnestly, her face falling serious. ‘I think perhaps men have a much lower threshold when it comes to pain. Women endure the agony of childbirth . . . menstrual cramps—’

‘Brazilian bikini waxes,’ interjects my sister.

‘Not to mention the emotional pain women suffer,’ continues Robyn, ignoring her and chattering on regardless. ‘We just feel things so much more deeply – like, for example, the other day I was watching Oprah and there was this whole section about comfort eating . . .’

I glance across at my sister. Eyebrows raised, she’s staring at Robyn with a mixture of horror and disbelief. I feel a pang of concern. My sister’s not the kind of person you talk to about emotions. She doesn’t really get emotional. The only time I’ve seen her look slightly perturbed  was when she scored 99 per cent in a chemistry exam.

‘ . . . Her husband had run off with her best friend and she gained two hundred pounds by eating cupcakes. Can you believe it? She was so devastated she used cupcakes to try to block out the pain. There were red velvet cupcakes for breakfast, double-chocolate fudge cupcakes for lunch, lemon butter cupcakes for—’

‘OK, so what are we drinking?’ I ask, butting in and changing the subject before we all die of thirst.

‘Whisky sour,’ says my sister without a moment’s hesitation.

‘Robyn?’ Having got the attention of the barman, I turn to her expectantly.

‘Er, wow, I have no idea,’ she gasps, drawing breath for the first time in five minutes. ‘Now let me think. What do I feel like . . .?’ Tilting her head, she winds a brown curl round her finger thoughtfully. ‘Something sweet . . .’

‘A lemon drop?’ suggests the barman, smiling broadly.

She wrinkles her nose. ‘ . . . but not too sweet.’

‘Well, in that case, what about a mojito?’

‘Ooh!’ She gives a little squeal of excitement. ‘I love mojitos!’

‘Great.’ The barman reaches for a handful of mint and grabs the pestle and mortar.

‘But not tonight,’ she adds after a moment, shaking her head decisively.

The barman puts down the pestle, his jaw clenching.

‘Tonight I feel like something a bit different,’ she continues cheerily. Behind us a queue is forming, but she’s chattering on, completely obliviously.

‘Maybe a martini?’ The barman passes her a menu. ‘We have lots of different kinds. Like the ginger martini.’

‘Mmm, that sounds yummy . . .’ she coos.

The barman flashes a look of relief.

‘ . . . but so does the pomegranate one,’ she says, reading from the menu. ‘Wow, there are so many and they all sound delicious. Oh, look, what about the one with lychees? What does that taste like?’

‘Lychees,’ deadpans my sister.

Robyn looks up, startled. ‘Actually, you know what, I think I’ll just have a glass of wine,’ she says hastily, passing the barman the menu. ‘Anything white. I’m not fussy,’ she adds, avoiding my sister’s glare.

‘And I’ll have a beer.’ I smile. I’ve never been one for cocktails. I get way too drunk on them.

‘Coming right up.’ The barman reaches for a cocktail shaker.

‘Oh, just one more thing . . .’ On tiptoe, Robyn suddenly leans across the bar and studies the barman under the lights. ‘What’s your name?’

I’m taken aback. Crikey. I’ve heard American women are confident when it comes to asking men out, but this is so, well, brazen.

‘Brad.’ He grins, showing off by doing a little impersonation of Tom Cruise in Cocktail with the shaker. ‘Why, do you want my number too?’

Robyn’s face falls in disappointment. ‘No, thanks.’ Leaning back from the bar, she gives a little sigh. ‘Not unless your name’s Harold.’

‘Who’s Harold?’ I ask in confusion.

‘I dunno.’ She shrugs. ‘That’s the problem.’

‘If you’re looking for a missing person, I’ve got some great contacts at the NYPD,’ suggests Kate helpfully.

‘My sister’s married to a cop,’ I explain.

‘Really?’ Robyn’s eyes go wide. ‘How exciting!’

‘Not really,’ laughs my sister. ‘You haven’t met Jeff.’

‘Or Harold,’ reminds the barman, who’s been ear-wigging. He looks vaguely put out that he’s been passed over for a total stranger with a name like someone’s aged uncle.

‘Not yet, but I know he’s out there,’ says Robyn with complete conviction. ‘A psychic told me.’

‘You went to see a psychic?’ Kate looks at her in disbelief.

‘About a year ago,’ nods Robyn, her face serious. ‘She said I was going to meet my soulmate and I have to be on the lookout for a Harold.’ She reaches for the large pink crystal pendant hanging from her neck and clasps it tightly. ‘When it comes to love, I just have to put my faith and trust in the power of the universe.’

I glance at my sister. She’s struggling to contain her cynicism.

‘Did she say what this Harold looked like?’

Robyn pauses and glances furtively around the bar to check no one is listening, as if she’s afraid someone might overhear and steal off with this highly classified information and find Harold first. Satisfied the coast is clear, she whispers conspiratorially, ‘Tall, dark and handsome.’

Out of the corner of my eye I see the barman puff out his chest.

‘Well, there’s a surprise,’ remarks Kate drolly, rolling her eyes.

‘There you go, ladies,’ interrupts the barman, placing three drinks on the bar in front of us. ‘That’ll be twenty-eight bucks.’

‘I’ll get this,’ I say, reaching for my bag. ‘It’s my round.’ I start rummaging around inside for my wallet, but it’s so crammed full of stuff I can’t find it. Big bags might look fashionable, but in reality you just end up carrying around a load of junk.

I pull out an old chocolate-brownie wrapper, a lip gloss that’s covered in fluff, my subway pass . . . Damn it. It’s got to be in here somewhere. Balancing my handbag on my lap, I’m just tipping it to one side to get a better look when it suddenly topples over on to the floor, spewing out its contents.

‘Oh shoot, let me help,’ cries Robyn. Bending down, she scrabbles around, helping me pick up my stuff. ‘Ooh, what’s this?’

I glance over to see her holding up the magazine I was reading on the train. ‘Oh, nothing,’ I say, reaching for it, but it’s too late – she’s already turned to the quiz.

She starts reading it out loudly. ‘“Everyone is looking for their soulmate. Take our Love Test and find out: Is He the One?”’ She looks up at me, her eyes wide with excitement. ‘Oh wow, I love these things!’

‘Why does that not surprise me,’ says Kate, paying the barman for me.

I throw her a grateful look.‘It’s just a bit of silly nonsense,’ I say, feeling my cheeks flush with embarrassment.

‘But you filled it in!’ refutes Robyn, waggling it in evidence.

Oh God. Now I feel like a complete idiot.

‘I was bored on the subway, you know what it’s like.’ I’m trying to keep my voice casual while not looking at my sister. Once, when I was a teenager, she caught me secretly reading my horoscope and that of Ricky Johnston, whom I’d had a crush on for ever. She teased me about it for months afterwards.

Years later nothing’s changed.

‘Give it to me. I’ll throw it away.’ I laugh lightly and hold out my hand, but Robyn is poring over it, head bent, eyes narrowed in concentration.

‘So what was your score? Was he the One?’ She looks up, her face eager with expectation.

‘Look, I hate to break this to you, but there’s no such thing as the One,’ dismisses my sister. ‘It’s bullshit.’

Robyn’s face drops like a six-year-old who’s just been told the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist. ‘But you’re married,’ she protests urgently. ‘What about your husband?’

‘What about him?’ replies Kate evenly. ‘I love Jeff, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t call him my soulmate.’

‘You wouldn’t?’ asks Robyn in a hushed voice.

‘No.’ My sister shrugs nonchalantly and takes a sip of her drink. ‘I call him plenty of other things, though,’ she adds, and laughs throatily.

Robyn looks stricken. ‘What about you, Lucy?’ She turns to me desperately. ‘What do you think? You believe in the One, don’t you?’

I hesitate. ‘Well, um . . .’

‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ Robyn suddenly claps her hand to her forehead. ‘I’m being so insensitive.’ She looks at me, her face full of remorse. ‘Your sister mentioned you’d broken up with someone recently. I didn’t think.’

‘You mean Sean? Oh, he wasn’t anything serious,’ I reassure her quickly.

‘He wasn’t the One?’ she says knowingly, refusing to look at my sister.

My mind flashes up a picture of Sean in his purple Crocs. Even if things had been perfect, those Crocs would have always come between us. ‘No, he wasn’t the One,’ I laugh, but deep down I feel that familiar twinge.

‘Well, don’t worry,’ she encourages, patting my hand. ‘I’m sure you’ll find him.’

I smile ruefully. ‘That’s the thing. I already did.’

There’s a loud groan from Kate. ‘Oh God, not the Bridge Guy.’

‘His name was Nathaniel,’ I retort, shooting my sister a look.

She rolls her eyes impatiently. ‘Lucy, when are you going to forget about him and move on?’

‘I have moved on,’ I snap back defensively. ‘I’ve had loads of boyfriends.’

‘You’re still hung up on that guy.’

‘No, I’m not!’

‘So why are you doing some stupid quiz?’

‘So what? It doesn’t mean anything!’

‘Not much!’

Robyn’s head is flicking back and forth between me and Kate as if she’s watching tennis. ‘Whoa, you guys!’ she cries, holding out her silver-ringed hands to break up what is in danger of turning into one of our sisterly quarrels.

Trust me, that’s something we’re both good at.

‘Would someone mind filling me in?’

We exchange glances. Sheepishly Kate turns her attention back to her drink.

Which leaves me.

I hesitate.

‘Well?’ Robyn looks at me expectantly.

‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ I mutter dismissively.

‘It sure as hell doesn’t sound like nothing,’ remarks Robyn, raising her eyebrows. ‘C’mon, I want all the juicy details.’

I think about resisting, but the beer is weaving a warm path inside me and I can feel my defences weakening.

‘Do I have to remind you that I stick needles into people for a living?’ She fires me her most threatening look, which couldn’t be less threatening, but still.

I swallow hard, my mind flicking back. ‘It was the summer of 1999. I was nineteen and studying art in Venice, Italy.’ I start talking quickly, the words tumbling out. I’m keen to get it over and done with. ‘His name was Nathaniel and he was twenty and an American on the Harvard summer programme, studying the Renaissance painters. Afterwards I went back to England and he went back to America—’

‘You’ve missed out the bit about the bridge,’ interrupts my sister.

My momentum broken, I throw her a furious glance, but she’s pretending to focus on her drink as if she never said anything.

I turn back to Robyn. ‘Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. First I should tell you how it all started.’ As the memory comes flooding back, my stomach starts whooshing giddily and I take a deep breath to steady my voice. ‘Let me tell you about the legend of the Bridge of Sighs . . .’

You're the One That I Don't Want