Chapter Fifteen

When I switch on my phone, I discover I have eight missed calls and one, two, three . . . I start counting as all those little envelopes come beeping in . . . six texts.

All from Nate.

It’s lunchtime. Where R U?
I’m sorry, babe. I was a jerk. Call me. xx
Hey, lovely. R U still mad at me? Love U xoxoxox
OK, U R obviously ignoring me. If you want to speak, U know where I am.
It’s 6 p.m. Where the hell R U? I don’t have time to play these games. Stop being so childish.

As texts go, it’s a bit like going from the beginning of a relationship – polite and friendly – to the middle madly-in-love bit and ending up at the angry, pissed-off and arguing part. My emotions follow the same arc. I start off feeling pleased and relieved and thinking, Aw, isn’t Nate wonderful? but by the time I’ve reached text number six, I’m back to being annoyed and indignant.

Which makes two of us, I muse, listening to one of his cross-sounding voicemails.

I call him straight back.

‘Why haven’t you been answering your phone?’ he demands as soon as he picks up.

I bristle. ‘I turned it off. I was at the MoMA.’

‘All day?’ He sounds disbelieving.

‘Well, I had no other plans,’ I can’t help replying, then not wanting to argue, add, ‘Anyway, I’m sorry I didn’t get your calls.’

There’s a beat, and then, ‘Yeah, me too,’ he replies, his voice softening. ‘So how was the MoMA?’

‘Amazing,’ I gush, then catch myself. I don’t want to sound like I had too good a day. ‘I mean, the art was amazing, not the actual day . . .’

‘I really missed you,’ he says, sounding contrite. ‘Did you miss me?’

‘Of course,’ I answer automatically. Only now, saying those words, it occurs to me that I haven’t missed him at all. To be truthful, I didn’t think about him once. But that’s only because I was surrounded by such incredible paintings and I just lost track of everything, I tell myself firmly. It had nothing to do with Adam.

Adam? His name catches me by surprise. Why did he just pop into my head? What’s he got to do with anything?

‘So, when are you coming home?’ asks Nate, interrupting my thoughts.

I feel a warm glow. See, we’re back on course again. It was just a silly row. Nothing more.

‘Well, I was going to head back to my apartment. I need to feed Jenny and Simon.’

‘Jenny and Simon?’

‘My roommate’s dogs,’ I explain, realising that of course he wouldn’t know anything about them as he’s never been to my apartment. ‘She’s away on a course all day and not back until late.’

‘OK, well, a producer friend of mine is having a little drinks thing. It’s nothing too fancy, just some TV people . . .’

Just some TV people? I feel a flash of nervous excitement.

‘ . . . I wondered if you wanted to go.’

‘That sounds fun,’ I hear myself saying.

‘Cool.’ Nate sounds pleased. ‘Give me your address. I’ll pick you up in an hour.’


One hour. Sixty minutes. Three thousand and six hundred seconds.

That’s it?

To rush home, nearly have a heart attack racing up three flights of steps, feed the dogs, drag them round the block and almost choke them to death in an attempt to stop them sniffing every lamp-post. Then jump in the shower, shave my legs, cut them to ribbons, exfoliate, moisturise, blow-dry my hair, try my super new straightening balm, realise super new straightening balm is a total con and tie my hair up instead. Afterwards apply make-up, attempt smoky eyes like I saw in a magazine, end up looking like I’ve done three rounds with Mickey Rourke, agonise over what to wear, then wear only thing I can find that’s not too creased.

Then finally charge around the apartment tidying up, abandon tidying up and shove everything under the bed or behind the sofa, jump a mile when the buzzer goes, panic, take deep breaths and greet Nate at door looking composed and utterly relaxed.

‘You look nice,’ he says approvingly, as he walks in and gives me a kiss. Then jumps back as Simon and Jenny come running, tails wagging, to greet him.

‘Don’t worry, they’re super friendly.’ I smile at his worried expression.

‘I’ve just had these trousers dry-cleaned, that’s all.’ Bending down, he brushes a couple of hairs from the legs of his suit, where the dogs have rubbed against him. Jenny, thinking he’s bending down to pat her, rewards him with a big slobbery lick. ‘Eugh.’ He jerks upright, looking disgusted.

‘Ooh, sorry.’ Hastily I try to shoo the dogs back into the living room.

‘Do you have any antibacterial wipes?’ he asks, wiping his face with his hand.

‘No, I don’t think so . . .’

‘Where’s your bathroom?’

‘Just down the hallway on the right—’

Before I can finish he marches past me and I hear the taps start running on full blast.

‘Is everything OK?’ Shutting the dogs in the living room, I hurry down the hallway to find the bathroom door wide open and Nate stooped over the sink, washing his face.

‘Yeah, fine.’ Face dripping, he looks around for a towel.

Which is when I realise that in my mad rush to tidy up the flat, I totally overlooked the bathroom. Through the steam my eyes do a quick sweep and fall on several soggy towels I’ve left lying on the floor, together with the different products I’d used, all with their tops off. There’s even my Bic razor just lying there on the shelf, full of shaving foam and bristles, I notice, feeling a wave of mortification.

I have a flashback of Nate’s spotlessly clean bathroom, with his pristine white towels rolled up and stacked neatly on the shelves, like something out of Elle Décor.

Oh God, he must think I’m a total slob.

‘I’ll get you a fresh one,’ I say, quickly scooping up the towels and shoving them into the laundry basket. I open the airing cupboard, but it’s empty. Shit. Where are all the towels? Then I remember. I’ve got about five hanging over the back of my chair in my bedroom. ‘Erm, sorry, we seem to have run out.’

‘Don’t worry, I’m practically dry now anyway,’ he says, a little tetchily. ‘Ready?’

‘Nearly. I just need to finish my make-up.’ Having wiped off my ill-fated attempt at smoky eyes after realising I looked like Ling-Ling the giant panda, I need to apply a bit of mascara.

‘You’ve had an hour. What have you been doing?’ He laughs, but I detect a twinge of irritation.

Or maybe that’s just my twinge of irritation, I realise, resisting the urge to reel off the long list of everything I’ve been doing in a mad panic so I won’t be late. Instead I say brightly, ‘Do you want something to drink while you wait?’

‘Just some water will be great.’

‘I don’t have any bottled. Is tap water OK?’ I start heading towards the kitchen.

‘You don’t? Well, in that case, no.’ Nate wrinkles up his nose. ‘You know me – I only drink mineral.’

‘Oh, of course.’ I nod, feeling a bit stupid. We’ve moved into the tiny hallway and I’m suddenly aware it seems much more cramped and poky than usual.

‘Shit. What’s that?’ He bangs into a carved wooden mask hanging on the wall.

‘It’s from a tribe in Ethiopia,’ I say, hurriedly straightening it. ‘My roommate got it. I think it’s supposed to scare away evil spirits.’

‘No kidding.’ He studies it with a raised eyebrow.

‘OK, well, I’ll just grab my bag and then we can leave.’ The sooner we get out of here, the better, I tell myself, pushing open my bedroom door. I dive inside and scramble around for my mascara. I’ll put it on in the cab on the way to the party.

‘So this is your room?’

I turn to see Nate standing at the doorway, his eyes glancing around him, taking everything in.

‘Er, yeah, this is it. It’s a bit small . . . and there’s not much wardrobe space,’ I add hastily, catching him looking at the piles of clothes on the back of the chair, ‘but I like it.’ I continue hunting for my mascara.

‘It’s very . . . colourful,’ he says, choosing his words carefully.

‘Well, I’ve always loved colour.’

Shit, where is that mascara? I look at my make-up, strewn all over my dressing table. It’s got to be here somewhere.

‘You’ve certainly got a lot of stuff considering you only moved to New York a few weeks ago.’

I look up from my dressing table to see Nate staring at my bookshelves, which are crammed with pictures, magazines, old sketchbooks and my collection of seashells, which I haven’t got round to finding a place for.

‘What’s this?’

I watch as absently he picks up a magazine and peers at it, frowning. ‘You’ve done some kind of quiz . . .’

Suddenly it registers. He’s found that quiz. I feel a flash of embarrassment.

‘Oh, that?’ I say, trying to sound casual while hastily taking it from him. Yesterday I would have probably shown it to him, had a giggle over it – after all, Nate would probably find it cute – but now . . .

Out of the corner of my eye I spot my mascara on the bed and pounce on it.

Now something’s different. I don’t feel the same somehow.

‘It’s just a load of rubbish,’ I say dismissively, and chucking it in the wastepaper basket, I grab my bag. ‘OK, let’s go.’

The party is already in full swing by the time we arrive. Well, I say ‘full swing’, but in reality it’s just lots of people standing around drinking vodka martinis and talking TV. And by ‘talking TV’ I don’t mean chatting about who they think is going to win Dancing with the Stars, but discussing the ins and outs of production, escalating budgets and viewing figures.

Apart from me, it appears that everyone here is in the industry, and whereas on the way over I’d been imagining a really glamorous party, it’s actually a bit dull. In fact, at one point, while struggling to keep up with a conversation about production scheduling, I find my mind wandering and I catch myself wondering when we can leave. I quickly remind myself that I’m in New York at a TV party with Nate. A few months ago this would have been my dream scenario, and now I’m wanting to go home, put on my pyjamas and curl up in front of Oprah. I mean, Lucy!

I force myself to focus on the conversation.

‘As I was saying, it’s all about having integrity,’ intones Brad, a short man in a shiny suit, who keeps putting his arm round my waist under the guise of moving me out of the way of waiters and then letting his hand linger. Not that Nate notices. He’s too busy trying to pitch his new idea for a game show.

‘Totally,’ nods Nate, his face earnest.

I mean, please. He’s talking about a game show, not an award-winning documentary.

‘If you’ll excuse me,’ I say politely, trying to extricate myself.

‘Why, what have you done?’ chuckles Brad, highly amused at his own bad pun.

‘Always the joker, Brad,’ smiles Nate, playing along with the locker-room humour.

‘Anyway, tell me,’ says Brad, flashing Nate and me a broad smile, ‘how did you two meet?’

‘In Italy. We were both studying art,’ I explain. At the memory of Venice I feel a familiar tingle.

‘Oh, really? So are you an artist?’

I pause, briefly thrown by the question. ‘I was, for a little while,’ I say quietly.

‘Then she realised she needed to live in the real world and get a proper job,’ laughs Nate.

His words sting. ‘Something like that.’ I nod, forcing a smile, but deep down it’s like something suddenly breaks inside me and at the first opportunity I make an excuse about popping to the loo and leave them laughing.

Making my escape, I wander to the far end of the room. The party is being held in an amazing loft in Tribeca, all exposed brickwork and pipes, and über-trendy furniture dotted around like art. Speaking of which, there’s some amazing artwork on the walls, all of it no doubt original. According to Nate, the owner is someone high up at one of the networks, which doesn’t mean much to me, except that working in TV seems to make people very rich.

After a few aborted attempts at trying to mingle, which make me realise that everyone is talking another language and I don’t speak TV, I find myself outside on the balcony chatting to one of the waiters. His name is Eric and he plays guitar in a heavy-metal band. After twenty minutes of telling me all about his recent gig and how he spent the whole evening head-banging next to the speakers, he has to leave to serve canapés and I make my way to the loo.

This time it’s genuine – I really do need to go – and finding the door unlocked, I push it open, only to see a couple of guys with their backs to me, one of whom is bent over the sink. It’s pretty obvious he’s doing coke, as when I walk in, he springs up. It’s Brad. And with him, I suddenly realise, is Nate.

‘Oh!’ Feeling a mixture of shock and embarrassment, I stand there frozen for a moment as they turn round and see me. Then I remember myself.

‘Sorry,’ I blurt, before backing out.

‘Excuse me, Brad,’ says Nate, and quickly follows me out into the hallway. ‘Where are you going?’ He looks at me, his brow etched.

‘I’m tired. I think I’m going to go home.’

‘I’ll come with you.’

‘No, it’s OK. You stay. You’re obviously busy.’

Nate frowns. ‘Oh, come on, Lucy, don’t make a big deal of it.’

I look at him and suddenly I see someone I don’t know. This isn’t long-haired, pot-smoking, easy-going Nate. This is uptight, exercise-obsessed, workaholic Nate, who says coffee is bad for you and yet who’s in the toilets at a party with a slimeball in a shiny suit doing God knows what.

‘That’s not the point. You’re the one who’s always going on about being healthy. I mean, you won’t even drink tap water,’ I say, thinking back to earlier.

‘That’s totally different.’

‘No, it’s not.’ I shake my head. ‘You’re being a hypocrite.’

‘And you’re making a scene,’ he shushes, glancing around at the other party guests to see if anyone has overheard us.

I bristle, but stop myself from retaliating. ‘Look, I don’t want another row. Let’s forget about it.’ I start to put on my jacket and turn to leave, but Nate follows me out.

‘Lucy, wait. Let me say goodbye to a few people and I’ll come with you.’

‘It’s OK. You stay. I’ll catch a cab home.’

He shoots me a look as if to say, Don’t do this to me in front of all these people.

‘Just give me five minutes.’

I end up giving him over twenty as I wait in the doorway watching him working his way around the room, getting involved in conversations, laughing at jokes. At several points I come close to leaving without him, and part of me wishes I had done, because by the time he finally joins me and we climb into a cab, neither of us is in the best of moods.

‘We always stay at yours – why can’t we stay at mine for a change?’ I ask, as he gives the driver his address.

‘What? You’d rather stay at your place than mine?’ He throws me a look across the back seat. Whereas before we’d be cuddled together in the middle, now we’re sitting at opposite ends. It wouldn’t take a body-language expert to see something is up.

‘What’s wrong with my place?’ I feel a beat of irritation.

‘Well, you can’t really compare the two, can you?’ He laughs lightly and raises an eyebrow.

If I was irritated before, now I’m annoyed. ‘No, please, go ahead. I’m interested,’ I say, folding my arms expectantly.

He lets out an impatient sigh. ‘OK, well, one’s a penthouse with a view of the park, and the other is a four-storey walk-up with a view of graffiti.’

‘I happen to like it,’ I bristle.

‘Well, I don’t.’ He shrugs.

‘Well, I don’t particularly like your place,’ I fire back.

‘What’s not to like?’

‘All that white for a start. I like splashes of colour.’

‘Splashes of colour?’ Nate snorts. ‘Your apartment looks like a paint factory exploded in there.’

I let out an indignant gasp.

‘And as for all that voodoo stuff.’

‘What voodoo stuff?’ I demand hotly.

‘Like that mask.’ He pulls a face.

‘That’s not voodoo!’ I exclaim. ‘Anyway, at least there are interesting things in there. Your place is so minimalist there’s hardly anything in it, apart from that epileptic machine.’

‘It’s an elliptical,’ he corrects brusquely, ‘and by the way, it wouldn’t hurt for you to start using one.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Well, it wouldn’t do your thighs any harm, would it? If you want to get rid of that cellulite.’

I inhale sharply. It’s like a boxer’s jab.

‘And you put a hole in my rug,’ he continues with a swift uppercut.

‘What?’ I’m still reeling from the last comment.

‘I have security CCTV cameras as part of the alarm system.’

Damn, I thought he might have CCTV. What else has he taped?

‘That’s a really expensive rug.’

‘For Christ’s sake, it was an accident,’ I gasp defensively.

‘Like the juicer?’ He glares at me.

My jaw sets defiantly. ‘Well, I’m sorry I’m not as perfect as you. With your showroom apartment.’

‘Your place is a mess. There’s crap everywhere.’

‘I’d rather be messy than anal.’

‘What? So I’m anal because I don’t leave Domino’s pizza boxes lying under the bed?’ he cries indignantly.

Shit. He saw them.

‘No, because you fuss about how to stack the dishwasher, or which way to put a spoon in the cutlery drawer. You’re so anal you even iron your pineapple boxer shorts! Speaking of which, what thirty-year-old wears pineapple boxer shorts?’

He scowls. ‘Look, this was obviously a huge mistake.’

‘A mistake?’

‘You and me. It isn’t working out. I want to break up.’

You want to break up?’ I cry indignantly. ‘I want to break up!’

He stares at me in disbelief. ‘What? You’re breaking up with me?’ he retorts. ‘No, I’m the one breaking up with you.’

‘God, you always were a jerk!’ I gasp contemptuously.

‘You really haven’t changed, have you? You’re still pig-headed,’ he yells.

‘And you have changed. You used to be fun,’ I yell back.

‘Life’s not all about having fun, Lucy. You need to grow up.’

‘I am grown up!’

‘You have purple hair!’ he says scornfully.

‘At least I have hair,’ I fire in return.

There’s a sharp moment of silence and he visibly winces.

‘S’cuse me, where are you both going?’

In the middle of our break-up we turn, breathless from arguing, to see the driver looking at us quizzically in the rear-view mirror.

‘I’m not going anywhere with him,’ I say, throwing Nate a furious glare.

‘And I’m not going anywhere with her,’ he shoots at me with a scowl.

For a moment there’s a stand-off in the back of the cab, both of us stubbornly refusing to move. Until, with an impatient gasp, Nate grabs the door and gets out, slamming it firmly behind him.

You're the One That I Don't Want