Chapter Ten

The grin never leaves my face. I wear it all day, like a clown’s painted smile, as I waft dreamily around the gallery. Nothing can pierce my good mood. Not the jammed printer that decides to chew up my guest list and get ink all over my skirt. Not the couple with the little boy who misreads the sign saying, ‘Please don’t touch,’ so that it says, ‘Please touch everything with your grubby, sticky fingers.’ Not even the sullen man behind the counter at Katz’s when I go to pick up our usual lunchtime order. Everything and everyone is wonderful. Life is wonderful.

Even my hair looks wonderful.

Well, OK, maybe not wonderful, but less fluffy and definitely shinier.

All through the day my phone beeps like a heart monitor as Nate sends me texts. Funny texts, flirty texts, romantic texts – plus quite a few suggestive texts that send me blushing to the bathroom to secretly respond. Magda might be the most broad-minded boss I’ve ever worked for, but there are still some things I can’t do in front of her, and typing, ‘Naked with whipped cream,’ is one of them.

I float all the way home from work. I’m oblivious to the wail of police sirens and crazy rush-hour traffic, and when someone stomps on my foot, I barely notice. Neither do I notice the three flights of stairs that I usually pant up, cursing my lack of fitness. Instead, cocooned in my own little world, called Planet Nathaniel, I glide up them effortlessly, until here I am, unlocking the door of my apartment.

I discover the TV on, and Robyn lying on the sofa with Simon and Jenny. A braceleted arm waves from over the back of the cushions. ‘You’re just in time. Oprah’s about to interview a man who had a baby.’

‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it!’ I blurt, plonking myself down on the sofa.

‘Well, it’s not really a man, but she’s got a beard and everything.’

‘It’s unbelievable.’ I shake my head.

‘No, don’t you see? It’s actually a woman who’s been taking male hormones. I reckon she’s doing it for the publicity.’ She waggles the remote at the TV accusingly.

‘I still can’t believe it,’ I murmur dazedly.

‘No, Lucy, you’re not getting it.’ Turning from the screen to look at me, Robyn suddenly stops. Her brow furrows. ‘Lucy, are you OK? You look funny.’

Hugging my knees to my chest, I’m staring into space, a dippy expression on my face. ‘I had sex. It was amazing. I think I’m in love.’

Robyn looks like someone just hit her around the head. She stabs the pause button on the remote, freezing Oprah in mid-sentence. ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,’ she cries, holding out both hands like one of the Supremes in a dance routine. ‘Not so fast. Let’s back up here a moment.’ Tucking her curls behind her ears, she fixes me with her flashing green eyes. ‘Sex? Love? With whom?’ she demands.

‘Nathaniel.’ I smile dreamily.

Her eyes grow wide like dinner plates. ‘You mean the One,’ she gasps in a sort of hushed awe.

I nod, feeling a beat of joy. ‘The One,’ I repeat, feeling a swell of happiness.

There’s a sharp intake of breath and Robyn shoots bolt upright, like something out of The Exorcist, arms flailing, eyes rolling, nostrils flaring. Simon and Jenny jump off the sofa whimpering.

‘Oh wow, Lucy!’ she shrieks. ‘I can’t believe it! Well, actually, I can,’ she says quickly, as if arguing with herself. ‘It’s the power of the universe bringing you guys together. I just knew when you told me that story . . . you and Nathaniel are meant to be together. It’s kismet.’ Clutching at the crystal round her neck, she continues breathlessly, ‘So come on, tell me, what happened?’

And so I tell her, in all the wrong order, and she asks me millions of questions, trying to fill in the gaps, as I jump in the shower, then out and start getting ready.

‘Hang on a minute, so he’s no longer married?’

‘Separated, getting divorced,’ I explain, twisting my hair into a towel and padding into my bedroom. I flick on the tangle of fairy lights around my wardrobe and light my aromatherapy candle.

‘And he’s moved to New York?’

‘From LA, yes. He’s filming some TV shows here. He’s a producer,’ I add with a beat of pride.

‘What does a producer do?’ asks Robyn, trying to clear a space on the bed to sit down, then giving up and sitting down anyway.

‘Um . . . produce.’ I shrug, reaching for my moisturiser. I have no idea what a producer does, but it sounds impressive. ‘Oh God, Robyn, it was just amazing,’ I sigh, daubing little dollops of cream on my cheekbones. ‘He was amazing.’

‘Wow, it’s so romantic.’ She sighs dreamily.

‘I know.’ I nod, tugging off my towel and pulling on my bobbly old dressing gown. ‘You know, he asked me if I believed in soulmates.’

‘He did not!’

‘He did.’

We exchange glances. Robyn looks like she’s died and gone to heaven. ‘Oh Jeez, Lucy,’ she exclaims, her face flushed with happiness. ‘I told you, you just have to believe. That’s all you need to—’ She breaks off and wriggles uncomfortably. ‘Ouch, I think I’m sitting on something sharp.’ Grimacing, she reaches underneath the embroidered bedspread. ‘What’s this?’

‘I don’t know. What is it?’ I say abstractedly, without even looking. Having unearthed a pair of tweezers from my underwear drawer, I’m making a start on my eyebrows.

‘Um . . . it’s some kind of pendant, I think.’

‘Oh, just chuck it with all my other jewellery.’ I motion vaguely to my dressing table, which is strewn with nail polishes, loose change, a couple of sketchbooks . . . I make a mental note to add it to the list of things to clear up when I have a minute. Only I never seem to find that minute.

‘It’s made from a bit of a coin.’

In the middle of tweezing, I freeze. Hang on a minute, it can’t be . . .

‘Where is it?’ I gasp, twirling round, my heart pounding.

Robyn sees my expression and suddenly the penny, quite literally, drops.

‘Oh wow, is this . . .?’

‘My necklace,’ I gasp, catching it as it falls from her fingers. In disbelief I trace the broken edge with my thumb. ‘I thought I’d lost it years ago. Where did you find it?’

‘Just here, on the bed.’

‘But that’s impossible.’ My mind is helter-skeltering. I only moved to New York six weeks ago and there was no way it was in my suitcases. OK, so my idea of packing is less ‘capsule’ and more ‘chuck everything in’, but even so, I would have noticed a necklace that went missing years ago. Especially this necklace. ‘I mean, things don’t just turn up like that,’ I murmur, shaking my head incredulously.

Bewildered, I look up at Robyn, expecting her to appear as baffled as I am, but instead her eyes are shining with excitement. ‘Don’t you see? It’s the legend,’ she gasps, her face splitting into an ecstatic grin.

‘The what?’ I frown in confusion, not comprehending.

‘The legend of the Bridge of Sighs,’ she responds impatiently. ‘It’s coming true!’

As she says it, a warm gust of wind blows in from the open window, causing the flame of the aromatherapy candle to flicker and billowing out the length of red and gold sari fabric acting as a curtain. As the golden threads shimmer and dance, a shiver suddenly runs up my spine, and for an infinitesimal moment my imagination ignites . . .

Then just as quickly the gust of wind stills and my imagination is snuffed out.

‘Don’t be silly,’ I retort. ‘It’s me being messy, never knowing where anything is. I’m always losing things.’

Inside, though, I feel jittery. Seriously, what has got into me? You’re just nervous about tonight, I tell myself firmly. That’s what it is. Nerves make you think all kinds of silly things.

‘Anyway, on to more important matters,’ I say, briskly shoving the coin pendant into my bag.

‘Ooh, you mean like his star sign,’ enthuses Robyn. ‘Don’t tell me. I bet he’s an Aries.’

‘No,’ I gasp, grabbing a jumble of clothes. ‘Like what am I going to wear?’

An hour later and I’ve tried everything on that’s hanging in my wardrobe, which isn’t very much, as I seem to have an aversion to coat hangers and instead prefer the back-of-the-chair approach to hanging up clothes. Plus everything that’s lying crumpled on my bed, for when the back of the chair gets full. Plus everything that belongs to Robyn, even though she’s about six inches taller than me and a fan of all things tie-dye.

And I’m still in my dressing gown.

‘Oh God, what am I going to wear?’ I wail desperately for the umpteenth time.

‘What about this?’ enthuses Robyn brightly.

Honestly, the woman is amazing. Now I know why she was chosen for the cheerleading team at college. Even in the face of defeat she remains amazingly upbeat.

‘It looks great with leggings.’

Pausing from rummaging through a pile of tops that have gone bobbly, or have a mysterious stain on the front, or seem to have shrunk in the wash, I glance over. She’s holding up a vicious purple tie-dye smock thing that looks like every other item of clothing she’s already shown me from her wardrobe.

‘It’s nice, but . . .’

‘But what?’

‘I’m not sure about tie-dye,’ I say carefully. Or the fact that it looks like a shapeless purple tent, I think.

‘What’s wrong with tie-dye?’

What’s right with tie-dye? I want to reply, but I have to be tactful. Unlike most Americans I’ve met, Robyn spends her holidays travelling to far-flung corners of the globe, and her wardrobe stands testament. Forget the high street, hers is an eclectic mix of embroidered silk tunics from tiny hill villages in China, woven jackets from a tribe in Africa and baggy fisherman trousers from Thailand. And lots of tie-dye from India. The other day I caught sight of her underwear on the airer and saw even that was tie-dye.

‘You’ve got to be a really special person to wear it. I mean, it looks amazing on you,’ I gush, and see Robyn flush at the compliment, ‘but I think I need something that’s a bit more . . .’ I search around for the right words ‘ . . . of a statement.’

‘Right, I see,’ nods Robyn thoughtfully. Sitting cross-legged on the bed, she wrinkles up her nose in concentration, the tiny stud in her nostril twinkling under the fairy lights. ‘What kind of statement?’

‘I’m not sure. Something that’s feminine but not girly.’ In desperation I start attacking the heap of garments on the back of the chair again.

‘Something sexy,’ grins Robyn wickedly.

‘But not tarty,’ I add quickly, feeling a beat of panic. ‘I want him to think, Wow.’

‘He already thinks, Wow,’ she reassures.

I shoot her a grateful smile.

‘Seriously, he loves you the way you are!’ she exclaims. ‘You could wear a trash bag and he’d still think you look amazing.’

‘Actually, that’s not a bad idea,’ I groan, holding up a pair of black leggings that have gone all baggy at the knees. ‘Do we have any of those?’

In the end, I opt for a lilac silk dress I bought on eBay last year. It’s made of crumpled silk (so it’s supposed to be creased), and I cinch in the waist with an amazing belt I borrow from Robyn.

‘It’s from the Amazon,’ she says, fastening the strands of multicoloured beads round my waist.

‘Have you been to the Amazon too?’ I ask, impressed. God, Robyn has been everywhere.

‘No, Chinatown,’ she says matter-of-factly. ‘They sell everything there.’ Standing back, she looks me up and down appraisingly.

‘How do I look?’ I ask, angling my body into the mirror above my dressing table. I can see my torso and not much else.

‘You look perfect,’ she says, her face splitting into the whitest, toothiest smile. ‘Just perfect.’

‘Not too dressy?’

‘Lucy, he’s taking you to one of the best restaurants in Manhattan!’

‘Argh, don’t!’ I feel a beat of excitement and alarm. Nate had texted me the name of the restaurant earlier, and when I’d told Robyn, she’d just looked at me agog and whispered, ‘Oh wow, Lucy,’ over and over until I begged her to stop as she was making me nervous.

‘What time is the reservation?’

‘Um . . .’ Picking up my mobile, I scroll through the texts. Nate sent me dozens today, every one of which has been duly read and analysed by Robyn to much approval. ‘Nine thirty,’ I say, finally finding the right one.

‘But it’s twenty past now,’ says Robyn glancing at my alarm clock.

What?’ I shoot a panicked look at the same clock. ‘It can’t be.’

I watch the digital numbers flick to nine twenty-one.

‘Shit, I’m going to be late!’

‘You’ll be fine. Jump in a cab,’ she says calmly.

‘I can’t. I’m broke. I’m still trying to pay off that Visa bill.’ Scrambling around, I grab my bag.

‘Lucy! This is your destiny!’ she gasps. ‘You can’t make it wait while you catch the freaking subway.’

Actually, put like that . . .

‘Here’s twenty bucks for the fare,’ she says, digging a bill out of her little embroidered purse. ‘And I’m not going to take no for an answer.’

I give her a grateful hug. ‘Thanks. What would I do without you?’

‘I have no idea. Now, go have fun,’ she calls after me, as I dash out of the bedroom.

Then dash back in again. ‘I forgot my shoes,’ I explain breathlessly. Snatching up my favourite pair of heels, I run barefoot out of the apartment, down the stairs and on to the street to hail a cab.

You're the One That I Don't Want