Chapter Six

By the end of the afternoon all the paintings have been carefully packaged and are being loaded into a truck for delivery. As the last wooden crate disappears into the back of the truck, Magda turns to me.

‘So the doorman will sign for the paintings, but they are to be delivered to the customer’s penthouse. You must wait with them until the customer arrives. For insurance purposes, you understand?’

‘But if someone’s already signed, then surely—’

Magda silences me with an outstretched palm. ‘You must wait,’ she repeats in a tone that’s non-negotiable.

I fall silent. I know there’s no point trying to reason. She’s determined to matchmake, I muse, reluctantly climbing into the front seat of the truck alongside the driver. And after her son, Daniel, I’m under no illusions.

‘Y’all set?’

A thick Queens accent interrupts my spiral downwards into general gloom about being single, nudging thirty and at the mercy of well-meaning friends, relatives and now my boss wanting to try to set me up with anything that’s got a penis and a heartbeat.

I glance up.

I feel my spirits lift. I’ve been so distracted I hadn’t noticed my driver until now, but he’s actually really cute. He’s got a shaved head, dark brown eyes and the whitest teeth. In fact, they’re so white they look almost luminous against his dark skin. And look at those arms! My eyes flick to biceps that are bulging out of his T-shirt like two huge watermelons as he grips the steering wheel. Crikey, I don’t think I’ve ever seen arms like that in real life. They look like he’s stolen them from Rambo, or Rocky, or one of those Stallone films, and he’s got this amazing tattoo of a dragon.

Shit, I’m staring.

‘Erm, yes . . . all set.’ I smile brightly.


I snap back to see Magda at my side window, an expression of disapproval on her face. Without thinking I glance at the driver’s feet. He’s wearing Nikes.

Well, so what? I’m not looking for a husband, I think indignantly, peeking at his empty wrist and noticing he’s not wearing a watch. Or anyone else’s, I realise, before noticing he is wearing a wedding ring.

Bang goes my little crush.

‘And remember to call me,’ she instructs. ‘I want to know everything got there safely.’

‘I will,’ I reply dutifully, as the driver turns on the ignition.

‘And make sure—’

Thankfully her voice is drowned out as the engine fires up noisily.

Waving goodbye as the truck pulls away, I watch her figure getting smaller and smaller in the side mirror, and for the first time today I allow myself to feel a beat of excitement. I can’t believe it. Me. Lucy Hemmingway. In sole charge of some of the finest artwork. Representing the gallery. It’s a huge responsibility and a great opportunity to help me climb further up the career ladder.

Plus I get the chance to see inside a real-life penthouse in New York! With a doorman and everything!

Smiling to myself, I roll down the window and look out across Manhattan as me and thousands of dollars worth of paintings begin our journey uptown.

The traffic is bumper to bumper and it takes a lot of stopping and starting and cursing from my driver, who hangs one arm out of the window, yelling at cab drivers and gesticulating, before we reach the park. En route I’m given a running commentary by Mikey, my driver, who’s full of anecdotes about each district we go through.

‘SoHo’s SoHo ’cos it’s south of Houston and its neighbour is Tribeca, named for its shape – Tri-angle Be-low Ca-nal, get it? It used to be just full of abandoned warehouses until Robert de Niro set up the Tribeca Film Festival. Greenwich Village is just called the Village. It’s always been this bohemian haven. See that café on the corner? That’s where Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan used to hang out.’

It’s hot and humid and I stare out of the window and watch Manhattan slowly pass us by.

‘Now Union Square. Man, that was nasty, full of drug dealers, but now it’s totally cleaned up its act. Over there is where Roosevelt was born. Amazing, huh? Now Chelsea, that’s famous for where Sid Vicious killed Nancy Spungen.’

As we move uptown, old brick warehouses covered in cast-iron fire escapes that cling like ivy give way to elegant brownstones with wide steps and polished brass doorknobs. Shafts of sunlight shine through the gaps in the buildings that tower overhead, and shopfronts change from discount 99-cent shops, busy markets and eclectic bookstores to fancy designer stores and expensive restaurants.

Neighbourhoods smarten up, as do the people. From the grungy guys, with their skinny jeans, piercings and White Stripes T-shirts, trawling through second-hand record stores on Canal Street, to the blonde ponytailed mums with their four-wheel-drive baby buggies and coffees-to-go on the Upper West Side, to the hordes of joggers and rollerbladers zigzagging in and out of Central Park.

‘And finally we have touchdown . . .’

Amid a fanfare of horns the truck swings to a shuddering halt outside a large, modern high-rise towering over the park.

‘We’re here?’ Dipping my head, I try craning upwards to see.

‘Yup. Sure are,’ nods Mikey, flashing me a huge grin. He glances at the building and lets out a whistle. ‘Very fancy.’

I look across at the dark green awning, the square of carpet that spills out on to the pavement and the polished glass and brass door out of which a uniformed doorman hurries to greet us.

Wow. It’s like arriving at the Savoy or something.

‘Are you sure this isn’t a hotel?’ I call to Mikey, who’s already jumped out of the truck and is hoisting up the back door with a loud rattle.

He laughs at my reaction. ‘Nope, this is how some people live, lady.’

I feel a clutch of nerves. God, this is seriously posh. Nervously climbing out of the truck, I tug down my skirt and quickly smooth my hair, which has gone all poufy in the heat. That’s another difference between my sister, Kate, and me. Whereas she’s got thick, straight blonde hair, mine’s fine and brown.

I swear I have the most boring hair colour in the world. I’ll never forget the first time I dyed it. I matched it up against a colour chart in Boots, the ones where they give you little locks of hair to compare against, and guess what? It wasn’t even chestnut brown or dark brown; it was ‘normal brown’. Can there be a more dispiriting description?

Hence I’ve coloured it my entire life. I’ve been ‘butterscotch’, ‘cinnamon’, ‘jet’ and all the colours in between, including a dodgy period in my mid-twenties when I thought I’d try something different and dyed it ‘bubblegum pink’. I’m currently a very sensible and mature ‘chestnut’.

‘Good afternoon. You’re from the gallery?’

I turn to see the doorman. Wearing a dark green uniform, complete with peaked cap and white gloves, he nods briskly.

‘Hi, yes,’ I say, smiling brightly to cover up my nerves, before realising he’s not smiling and I’m grinning away like a loon. I quickly match my expression to his very formal one. ‘Lucy Hemmingway . . . um . . . senior coordinator.’

I just made that up. I don’t actually have a title.

‘I’m here to oversee the delivery and installation of a collection of artwork.’

I want to appear super professional. Like someone who’s completely in control of every situation. Someone who’s efficient, organised and, well, basically like my sister.

I do not – repeat not – want to appear like someone whose approach to problem-solving is ignoring something and hoping it goes away, who writes lists only to lose them and once hit ‘reply all’ to a friend’s birthday evite and asked if she was still having sex with her ex.

‘Ah, yes.’ The doorman nods gravely. ‘I’ve been given instructions to expect you.’ Pushing his half-moon glasses up his nose, he flicks his eyes to the paintings, which are being unloaded on to a trolley by Mikey. ‘I’m to take you up to the penthouse.’

My stomach gives a little flutter. It’s that penthouse thing again. You can take the girl out of her poky little one-bed flat in Earl’s Court, but you can’t take the poky little one-bed flat out of the girl.

‘If you’d care to follow me.’

With Mikey in charge of pushing the trolley, I dutifully follow the doorman through the doorway and enter a large marbled lobby, complete with trickling water feature, button-back leather sofas and oversized vases filled with the kind of exotic-looking flower arrangements that you know cost an absolute fortune.

‘The elevator is straight ahead.’

I’m trying to appear completely nonchalant and unimpressed, but my head is swivelling from side to side like a barn owl. It’s a bit different to my lobby, with its obstacle course of bikes, pushchairs and piles of mail to negotiate. And that’s before you even begin to climb the three flights of stairs to mine and Robyn’s apartment. Stairs, by the way, that are so steep they make the ones up the sides of the Mayan pyramids at Chichen Itza in Mexico seem like a walk in the park.

‘Whoa, fancy,’ whistles Mikey from behind the trolley. ‘You must have some celebrities living here, right?’

‘I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to disclose that kind of information,’ replies the doorman stiffly.

Mikey throws me a look and mouths, ‘Madonna.’

I break into a grin, despite myself, and stifle a giggle.

Ahead of us, I notice a lift, the doors of which are just about to close. ‘Oh look,’ I say, gesturing to it, ‘just in time.’ I make a dash towards them, but the doorman stops me.

‘The penthouse has its own private elevator.’

‘It does?’

He turns the corner, where another lift is waiting for us.

Crikey. There’s posh and there’s then posh.

Maybe Mikey’s right. Maybe Madonna does live here.

Buzzing with anticipation, I step into the lift. It’s quite tight inside and we have to shuffle up against each other as the door slides closed. The doorman presses the button with a ceremonious stab of his white-gloved finger and we start travelling upwards, climbing steadily higher and higher. I feel my stomach drop as we gather speed. Gosh, we really are going quite high, aren’t we? Now my ears are even starting to pop.

I try swallowing to unblock them. Nope, they’re still blocked. I know, maybe if I yawn . . . Hiding behind my hand, I give a couple of hippo-sized yawns, but nothing. My ears are still well and truly blocked. So much so I can’t hear anything.

Out of the corner of my eye I notice the doorman. He’s looking at me expectantly, the way people do when they’ve asked you a question and are waiting for your reply. Shit. Trying to look as natural as possible, I throw him what I hope looks like the confident smile of someone who knows exactly what they’re doing, and not someone who can’t hear a bloody thing as their ears are popping like crazy.

Honestly, you’d think I never go in elevators.

You don’t, pipes up a little voice. You hate them.

My nerves wobble. With everything that’s been going on, I’ve managed to block that out, but now I feel the familiar creeping anxiety. Still, it’s no biggie. It’s not like I’m phobic or anything. I just prefer to use the stairs.

Ever since you got stuck in one at art college and had to be rescued by the fire brigade.

I feel a flash of panic, but ignore it. I’ll be fine. Totally fine. That was a crappy old lift in the student union at Manchester Poly. This is New York. Home of the skyscraper. People use elevators all the time here.

Elevators are just lifts in American clothing, and you’re scared of lifts. You have nightmares about the cords snapping and plunging to your death.

I slow my breathing and stare fixedly ahead. I’m being ridiculous. I bet if you told a New Yorker you were scared, they’d think you were crazy.

I glance at Mikey for reassurance, but he’s staring at his feet and muttering something under his breath. I notice he’s wearing a small gold cross round his neck. And he’s clutching it.


This is not good. This is not good. This is—

The elevator suddenly comes to a halt and the doors spring open.


My fear instantly evaporates as I’m hit with the most breathtaking view of Central Park. Stretching out ahead of me, as far as the eye can see, is a vast carpet of trees. On and on it goes, as if someone just plopped a big piece of the English countryside in the middle of Manhattan.

‘Holy shit.’

As we step out into the apartment, with its huge floor-to-ceiling windows, I turn to Mikey. Eyes out on stalks, he’s gripping on to the trolley as if for support. ‘I’m not good with heights. I get dizzy,’ he mutters gruffly, a queasy expression on his face as he gazes out at the skyline and the towering skyscrapers we’re now rubbing shoulders with.

‘I would recommend putting the crates here in the hallway,’ the doorman is saying in the background. ‘That way, they’re not causing an obstruction.’

‘Sure, good idea,’ nods Mikey. Immediately he gets underway unloading the crates in an eager bid to get out of here.

‘It’s very important not to cause an obstruction,’ continues the doorman sombrely. ‘Fire regulations, you know.’

‘Um, yes.’ I nod distractedly, my eyes flicking around me. Gosh, this place is enormous.

Wow. In my head I hear Lloyd Grossman’s voice. Who lives in a place like this?

‘Fire?’ repeats Mikey. His voice sounds a little strangled. ‘Did someone just say “Fire”?’ He starts unloading faster, his biceps popping like pistons.

And white. Everything’s white, I notice, glancing around at the white rugs, white sofas, white walls. I feel nervous just looking at it. Like I’m going to get this sudden impulse to chuck a glass of red wine everywhere.

Not that I go around chucking glasses of red wine everywhere, but I have been known to spill things occasionally. Not that I’m clumsy, I’m just—

Oh, who am I kidding? If I lived here, I’d have to take out shares in Vanish.

Anyway, I don’t need to worry about that, I reflect, thinking about my cluttered little shoebox downtown with its clashing colour schemes and eclectic mix of East-meets-West-meets-thrift-shop. Which is something, I suppose.

‘I like art, you know.’

I drag my eyes back to the doorman. ‘Oh, really?’ I nod politely.

‘Van Gogh, he’s my favourite,’ he confides. ‘Got any of his stuff?’ He jerks his head towards the paintings.

‘Er, no.’ I smile apologetically.

The doorman’s face drops with disappointment.

‘OK, well, I’m all done here,’ interrupts Mikey, straightening up. Digging out an invoice from his back pocket, he holds it out for me to sign.

‘Great. Thanks.’ I scribble my signature and pass it back.

‘Right, I’m outta here.’ Diving back to the elevator, he stands by the closed door with his trolley, waiting for the doorman. He reminds me of my parents’ dog when it’s time to go for a walk and he’s sitting by the door, desperate to go out.

‘If you’ll excuse me, miss . . .’ Clearing his throat, the doorman adjusts his peaked cap and strides into the elevator, like a pilot climbing into his cockpit. ‘Any problems, buzz down.’ He jabs at the button with a white-gloved hand. ‘I’ll be straight up.’ And with that, he and Mikey disappear behind the sliding door.

I listen to the hum of the lift as it descends, gradually getting quieter and quieter. Then it’s gone.

You're the One That I Don't Want