Chapter Nineteen

‘Well, it’s not broken.’

An hour later and I’ve left the gym and am en route to the gallery I wanted to visit, my phone wedged underneath my chin, my ankle twinging painfully. I’m talking to my sister, who called to see how my workout went. ‘Oh, it certainly went,’ I’d replied, limping out of the shower with an ankle the size of a watermelon. ‘It nearly went all the way to Accident and Emergency.’

‘Lucy, do you have to be so clumsy?’ she’s saying now, having spent the last fifteen minutes listening to how I’d gone flying off the cross-trainer, landed in a tangled mess by the rowing machine and had to be helped into the changing rooms by a very sweet personal trainer called Rudy, who’d advised me against ‘trying to run before you can walk when it comes to fitness’.

The word ‘embarrassing’ doesn’t even come close.

‘I’m not clumsy,’ I refute holy, pausing to check my pop-up map before continuing down a busy side street. ‘It was Nate’s fault.’

‘Nate? What’s it got to do with him?’

Up until this moment I’d avoided mentioning his involvement in my humiliating debacle. Partly because I was feeling sorry for myself and wanted some sympathy from my big sister – which is akin to being a contestant on Dragons’ Den and hoping Duncan Bannatyne might take pity on you – and partly because I hadn’t got round to that bit.

‘Well, you’re never going to believe it,’ I gasp, ‘but he was on the machine next to me at the gym. God, it was so embarrassing. He even tried apologising—’

‘See! I told you!’ She cuts me off, sounding triumphant. ‘He’s trying to make amends and find a way to get back with you!’

Oh God, she’s still banging on about that. ‘No way!’ I refute, wincing as another pain shoots through my ankle. ‘He looked as horrified to see me as I was to see him.’ I pause to rub my ankle. ‘How would he know I was at the gym, anyway?’

‘He heard you talking about it in the sushi restaurant,’ she fires back without missing a beat. ‘It’s perfectly viable.’

Now I know why my sister is such a successful lawyer.

‘Viable, yes. Realistic, no. Trust me when I tell you that Nate did not look like a man who wants to get back together.’

‘Well, what other explanation do you have?’

I pause, my mind momentarily throwing up something Robyn said about the legend.

‘Sorry, Luce, I’ve got a call on the other line,’ Kate suddenly says. ‘It’s the CEO from the loan-out company. Speak later.’ And before I can say anything, she promptly hangs up.

Five minutes later I arrive at the address of the gallery to discover a hive of activity. Swarms of people gather outside on the tree-lined street, and the balmy air is filled with the sounds of laughter, chatter and the clinking of glasses. It’s a sleek, expensive crowd, but then this is a sleek, expensive gallery.

Located in Chelsea, along with all the major blue-ribbon galleries, what used to be a garage is now this huge, lofty space that is home to big names like Damien Hirst and is famous for exhibiting large-scale installations.

Basically it makes Number Thirty-Eight look like my sitting room, I muse, making my way through the perfumed crowds and stepping inside. Huge white spaces. Huge impressive pieces of art. Huge price tags. Glancing in my catalogue at the price of one particular painting, I do a double-take at the number of zeros at the end. Nope, that’s not a typo.

Tonight’s opening is a showcase for a new rising star that I’d read about in one of the press releases we’d received at work and I was curious to come along. The artist is just a few years older than me. I know because I did that thing I always do when I read about an artist: I check their date of birth. It’s silly, but if they’re older, it somehow gives me comfort that I still have time.

Time for what? To have my own exhibition?

I bring myself up sharply. Even now it’s like there’s a tiny, secret part of me left that’s still clinging to that dream. As if I can’t fully let go.

I start making my way around the gallery. That’s one of the great perks of my job: I get to hear about all the shows and can usually bag a free invite. Well, it was Magda who’s bagged me the free invite, along with one for herself, but she wasn’t able to come. She had to pay a visit to her elderly aunt, who’s recently moved into a nursing home.

At the thought of Magda, I feel a twinge of anxiety. The last few days she’s had this worried look about her. She won’t say why, and whenever I’ve asked if everything is OK, she’s replied with her usual ‘Wonderful, wonderful’, but I know everything is far from wonderful, and I know it’s because the gallery isn’t selling as many pieces as it should. In fact, despite our opening last weekend to drum up business, the only paintings we’ve sold recently are the ones Nate bought.

Nate. As his name pops into my head, I quickly shoo it back out again. No, I don’t want to think about him. I’ve had quite enough of him. My ankle throbs painfully and I grimace. Go on, scoot.

A waitress wafts by with a tray of champagne. I accept a glass and take a sip. Savouring the cold bubbles, I glance around me. Now, what shall I look at first . . .?

Instead of my eyes landing on a piece of artwork, they land on a familiar figure in a baseball cap and faded T-shirt and jeans, hovering by one of the waitresses, who’s carrying a tray of canapés. He’s got his back to me, but I recognise him immediately.

The gallery crasher.

‘Hi there.’ Going up to him, I tap him on the shoulder.

He turns round and, seeing me, holds up his hands in surrender. In one is a glass of champagne, in the other a vol-au-vent. ‘Guilty as charged,’ he declares, grinning, before I can say anything.

‘So how is it?’ I smile.

I’m surprised by how pleased I am to see him. That’s only because I’m here on my own, I decide quickly. At events like these it’s always nice to see a familiar face, regardless of who it is.

‘The art or the champagne?’ he asks, his eyes twinkling with amusement.

‘Both,’ I laugh.

‘Hmm, well . . .’ He takes a sip from his glass and rolls it around his mouth. ‘I’d say the champagne is pretty damn good, better than the last opening I went to . . .’

I shoot him a look. ‘And the art?’ I raise my eyebrows enquiringly.

He looks sheepish. ‘I haven’t looked yet.’

‘Adam!’ I cry, and whack him on the arm.

‘You remembered my name.’ He seems surprised.

‘Um . . . yeah, my memory’s not that bad.’ I laugh self-consciously, suddenly feeling awkward. ‘I think I need to hit you harder.’ I try rescuing myself by resorting to violence a second time and punching his arm again.

‘Ow, no.’ He winces, rubbing his arm. ‘I bruise like a peach.’

‘Serves you right.’ I smile ruefully. ‘I can’t believe you haven’t bothered to look at any of the installations. They’re supposed to be amazing.’

‘I was waiting for you,’ he says simply.

‘Me?’ Now I’m the one to look surprised. Not just by his answer, but by my stomach, which unexpectedly flips over like a pancake.

‘Well, I figured you might show up, being such an art lover . . .’ He trails off, smiling, and I can’t tell if he’s teasing me or not. ‘I thought I’d wait for you to talk me through it. You did such a good job last time.’

So it’s just because I know about art, I realise, feeling curiously deflated.

‘Compliments aren’t going to get you off the hook,’ I say, quickly hiding my disappointment. ‘Anyway, it’s your turn.’

He looks at me, his eyes narrowed, as if now he thinks I’m the one teasing him.

‘You want me to take you to a movie?’

‘Wasn’t that the deal?’

Abruptly I catch myself. Lucy Hemmingway, are you flirting? At the realisation I feel my cheeks flush. I am. I’m flirting. What on earth’s got into me?

‘Well, in that case, leave it to me . . .’ He nods and chews his lip, clearly deep in thought.

‘OK, whatever,’ I say with a sort of noncommittal shrug, as if I’m not really bothered either way. Well, I don’t want him getting the wrong impression and thinking I fancy him or anything ridiculous like that. Because I don’t. Obviously.

We start moving around the gallery.

In fact, thinking about it, I wasn’t really flirting. I was just being friendly. And jokey. Yes, that’s it, friendly and jokey.

‘Gosh, I’m starving,’ I exclaim, trying to be all jolly and normal and steering the conversation on to something safe. Spotting a waitress, I help myself to a tiny wafer elaborately piled with slivers of lots of things I’m not sure I know the names of. I pop it into my mouth in one go. Well, it was really tiny. ‘Mmm, this is delicious,’ I murmur. ‘You should try one,’ I tell Adam.

‘I’ve already had half a dozen.’ He grins, swapping his empty champagne flute for a full one. ‘But I suppose another couple wouldn’t hurt.’ Helping himself to more, we come to a standstill in front of a large red metal and mirror sculpture.

‘So what exactly is it?’ asks Adam, after a moment’s pause.

I glance in the catalogue. ‘It’s called Minanga.’

‘Meaning?’ Glancing at me sideways, he looks at me expectantly.

‘I have no idea,’ I confess with a giggle.

His face creases up into a smile, making his eyes crinkle around the edges. ‘How about getting some fresh air?’

‘Good idea.’

We weave our way through the clusters of people, out on to the pavement and further along the street, until we reach the edge of the crowd, where it’s quieter.

For a moment we both stand there, sipping our drinks. Then, after a long pause, Adam says, ‘So, is your boyfriend coming here tonight?’ with what feels like feigned nonchalance.

My chest tightens and I pretend to study the bubbles in my glass, but I can feel his gaze upon me. ‘We broke up,’ I say, forcing my voice to sound casual.

I sneak a look at his reaction. I might be imagining it, but I’m sure I see surprised happiness flash across his face. A split second and then it’s gone and we’re back to the feigned nonchalance.

‘Oh, what happened?’

At least I think it’s feigned nonchalance. Perhaps it really is nonchalance and he’s not bothered and I’m reading this all wrong.

I suddenly feel about twelve years old again and confused about whether Robert Pickles likes me or he’s kicking my chair in maths simply because he likes kicking my chair. I never did find out, but you’d think after all these years I would have learned something, discovered a few tricks, got better at this body-language stuff.

Instead I’m still completely rubbish, I think, feeling a stab of frustration. If only men were like New York taxi-cabs and had a light that they can switch on when they’re interested and off when they’re not available. Then you’d know exactly where you were and you wouldn’t have to worry about getting it wrong and being horribly embarrassed.

Like now. I look at Adam. Is his light on or off?

For safety’s sake, I go for the ‘light off’ option.

‘It didn’t work out.’ I shrug.

Well, I’m hardly going to tell him the truth, am I? That I thought Nate was my soulmate. That we thought we couldn’t live without each other, only to realise that we couldn’t live with each other. And that we ended up having a huge row during which he said unspeakable things about my thighs and I made a hurtful comment about his receding hairline.


I think I’m going to stick with ‘It didn’t work out.’

‘Sorry to hear that,’ says Adam quietly.

‘Thanks.’ I give him a rueful smile, but somewhere deep inside I don’t want him to be sorry to hear that I’ve broken up with Nate – I want him to be pleased I’m single.

Hang on, what did I just think?

As the realisation strikes, it suddenly triggers two more thoughts: 1) If I’m one of those cabs, my light has just been flicked on and 2) What on earth is that noise?

Abruptly I’m distracted by sounds coming from a shop across the street. I hadn’t noticed it before. It’s one of those stores that sells electrical goods and its window is filled with a jumble of toasters, kettles, hi-fis and TV sets, each showing the same programme. I look at them now, all the different screens ablaze with identical giant graphics, and there’s a blasting sound of jingling theme music. Even from across the street I can hear the singsong voices booming out, ‘Big Bucks means big bucks!’

Big Bucks? Hang on a minute, that’s the name of one of Nate’s game shows, the one that, rather appropriately given its name, made him all his money. He told me about it one night when we were in bed, about how it was one of the most lucrative and popular on TV. At the time I didn’t pay much attention – to be honest, I was more interested in what was under the covers than cash prizes – but now . . .

Now I watch, mesmerised, as a cheesy presenter bounds on to each and every screen, his neon-white teeth flashing, and feel myself recoil.


I tune back in. ‘Oh, sorry, I got distracted,’ I fluster, turning back to Adam.

‘You OK?’ He’s looking at me quizzically.

‘Sorry . . . yeah, I’m fine.’ I smile, shrugging it off.

Bloody Nate, he’s everywhere. If I’m not bumping into him, I’m being reminded of him. It’s like there’s no escape.

‘Oh good, because I was going to ask you . . . um . . . if you’d like to . . .’ He shuffles his feet self-consciously.

I feel a leap of nervous excitement. Oh my God, I think he’s going to ask me out.

‘Hey, it’s Lucy, isn’t it?’

Suddenly we’re interrupted by a loud voice and I feel my heart plummet. Oh, no, go away. Whoever you are, go away!

‘Yeah, it is you!’

I pretend I haven’t heard. ‘You were saying . . .’ I prompt Adam, looking at him expectantly, but it’s no good. The mood is broken.

‘I think that guy knows you,’ he says, gesturing behind me.

Hiding my crushing disappointment, I turn round and come face to face with a short man in a shiny suit, beaming at me. He looks familiar, but for a moment I can’t place him—

‘The TV party, the other evening. I said how cute your dress was . . .’ He jogs my memory.

‘Oh, hi . . . Brad?’

Of course, he was the creep who kept putting his arm round my waist and told one bad joke after another.

‘Brad by name, bad by nature.’ He laughs and lights his cigarette.

I falter. Normally conversations go back and forth, but there really is no answer to that. In desperation, I grab hold of Adam. ‘Have you two met? This is my friend Adam. Adam, this is Brad.’

If I was hoping to be saved by this introduction, I’m wrong. Instead Brad grunts and shakes hands before immediately turning back to me. ‘So, how’s Nathaniel?’

I cannot believe this.

‘Oh . . . um, I think he’s OK.’

‘He’s an awesome guy. You make a really great couple.’

This is a bad dream. Any minute now I’m going to wake up.

‘Well, actually—’ I begin, but he cuts me off by turning to Adam.

‘Seriously, they are so cute together.’

Oh my God. Make it stop. Please. For the love of God. Please make it stop.

‘I’m just going to get a top-up,’ says Adam, and moves away before I can stop him.


I think about draining my drink and following him, but I’m not quick enough, I realise, with dismay. Reluctantly I turn back to Brad, who’s now droning on about himself. I try to look interested – ‘Uh-huh . . . really? . . . Uh-huh . . .’ – but ten minutes later and I’m still caught in this stranglehold of a conversation. I keep smiling and nodding, but on the inside I’m crying with frustration. This is all Nate’s fault. He completely sabotaged it for me. One minute I thought Adam was going to ask me out on a date, and the next up popped Brad and ruined it.

Talk about bad timing. I glance desperately over Brad’s shoulder to see if I can see Adam. He’s been gone ages. Where is he?

Then I spot him. Over by the entrance to the gallery. He’s smoking a roll-up and talking to a girl. My heart thuds. A very pretty brunette. Heads bent low, they’re deep in conversation, and I see her lightly touching his arm. My stomach lurches. Who is she? Jealousy stabs, followed by a crushing sense of disappointment as I watch them break into raucous laughter. They look intimate, comfortable, together.

‘I’m sorry, will you excuse me?’ Abruptly I cut Brad off mid-sentence.

‘Oh . . . yeah, sure.’ He nods, slightly taken aback.

I turn away before Adam sees me looking, and quickly slipping away through the crowd, I hurry into the night.

‘You’re home early.’

I arrive back at the apartment to find Robyn sitting cross-legged on the floor of the living room, surrounded by piles of magazines.

‘Yeah.’ I nod glumly, plopping myself on to the sofa.

‘How’s your ankle?’

‘Painful.’ I wince, slipping off my sandal and rubbing my ankle. It’s gone all puffy and a large purple bruise is starting to form.

‘I’ve got some arnica gel for that.’ Scrabbling around on the coffee table, on which more magazines are strewn, she unearths a tube. ‘Rub it on three times a day and you’ll be as good as new,’ she instructs, passing it to me.

‘Thanks.’ I smile gratefully, then watch as she grabs a pair of scissors and starts attacking a magazine. ‘What are you doing?’ I ask curiously.

‘Making a vision board.’ She holds up a large piece of foam board on which she’s pasted various magazine cuttings. There’s a chocolate-box country cottage with roses around the door, some rosy-cheeked children, a couple of rescue dogs that look similar to Simon and Jenny. Across the top she’s cut out letters that spell the words ‘Harold’ and ‘soulmate’.

‘I thought you’d done one of those already.’

‘It didn’t work, so I’m doing another one,’ she says matter-of-factly.

I pause. I’m sure there’s logic in there somewhere.

‘This is the house I want to live in. These are all the children I’m going to have.’ She starts pointing to the various pictures. ‘These are my dogs.’

‘And where’s Harold?’ I ask, playing along.

‘Well, that’s the thing – I can’t quite decide. What do you think about this one?’ She holds up a magazine, which is turned to an advertisement for aftershave, featuring a tall, dark-haired man in a suit.

‘Er, yeah, he looks fine.’ I nod, trying not to think about what we’re actually discussing here.

‘Oh good. I think so too.’ She grabs the scissors and energetically cuts him out. Reaching for her Pritt Stick, she glues him slap bang in the middle of the board.

‘You’ve cut out his face,’ I point out, looking at the stranger, who now has a blank space where his face should be.

‘Of course.’ She nods, as if that’s absolutely normal and not verging on serial-killer behaviour. ‘We don’t know what Harold looks like yet, do we?’ Wielding her scissors, she continues flicking through the magazine. ‘So I’ll leave it empty until I do.’ She glances up at me, bits of paper sticking to her hair, making her look like a crazy woman. ‘It makes perfect sense.’

‘Right, yes, perfect sense,’ I agree, somewhat dubiously.

‘Oh by the way, I’ve just remembered I’ve got something for you.’ Rummaging around under all the magazines, she unearths an envelope. ‘Theatre tickets!’

‘Wow, that’s great, thanks.’ I smile, taking them from her.

‘Who are going to take with you?’ she asks, trying to sound nonchalant.

I hesitate. I know she still thinks I should take Nate, especially after what happened in the gym, which she declared was a ‘sign’ that the universe was trying to keep us together, that the legend was working its magic.

I agree. It was a sign. A sign exercise and I don’t mix.

‘No one,’ I say defiantly. Briefly my mind flicks to Adam. I would have liked to have asked him, but after seeing him with the brunette . . . I force my mind to flick back again. ‘I’m going to put it on eBay, auction it off for charity,’ I say decisively.

Immediately her face lights up. ‘Oh, Lucy, what an awesome idea.’ She grins, all thoughts of Nate suddenly forgotten. ‘I know just the one. It’s an orang-utan sanctuary that I worked at when I was in Borneo.’

‘Perfect.’ I smile, stifling a hippo-sized yawn. It’s been a long day, and not exactly one of my best. To tell the truth, I just want to go to bed and forget all about it. ‘Well, I think I’ll call it a day.’ I haul myself off the sofa.

‘OK, night.’ Throwing me a little wave, she turns back to her vision board. ‘How many “t”s in “serendipity”? One or two?’

I pause in the doorway. ‘Um, one, I think.’

‘Cool, thanks,’ she mutters, and grabs her Pritt Stick and scissors. I leave her chopping up pages with a vengeance.

Fifteen minutes later I’m lying in bed with my laptop. Forget men, I want to marry my MacBook. It’s dependable, reliable and you can even go shopping with it, I think, clicking on to eBay.

I go to the section marked, ‘Sell,’ and type in the description: ‘One ticket for Broadway play to see performance of Tomorrow’s Lives.’ I add a few details, then post the listing. Hopefully someone will bid on it, I muse, searching for things to bid on myself. I’d really like a new bag . . . I start looking through the vintage section. Usually I can spend hours like this, but tonight my heart’s not in it. Instead my mind keeps sliding back to the gallery and Adam. I feel a beat of sadness. I didn’t even say goodbye.

Regret gnaws. I wonder what he’s doing now. Probably with the pretty brunette, I remind myself. In fact, they’re probably somewhere right now, having fun, while I’m here in bed with my laptop husband. I stare distractedly at the ceiling and listen to the droning hum of the fan on my windowsill.

Before I can sink even further into gloom, I’m distracted by the ping of an email plopping into my inbox. I look at it absently. It’s from Facebook.

It’s like someone suddenly plugged me into the mains. Adam! The Adam. Adam-who’s-suddenly-switched-my-light-back-on-in-my-cab Adam?

Suddenly galvanised, I click on it and it takes me to Facebook and his profile picture. I peer at it closely. It’s a photo of him in a silly hat and glasses. It’s a good sign. You can tell a lot from Facebook pictures. Anyone who has a black-and-white headshot, or a picture of themselves posing in a bikini (women), or looking bare-chested and moody (men) is slightly worrisome.

As are all those people who have over hundreds and hundreds of friends. I mean, they’re not real friends, they’re just people they met randomly in a club one night, or in a queue at Tesco . . .

I look at Adam’s profile. He has fifty-seven friends – not too few, not too many, just perfect, I think happily, feeling like Goldilocks.

Now it’s my turn. Interested in seeing a really good film? You disappeared before I could ask you. Say yes and all you have to do is bring the popcorn.

I stare at the message, feeling a mixture of delight and excitement. That will teach me to jump to conclusions about pretty brunettes. Quickly I type, ‘Yes,’ then smiling happily to myself, I snuggle down into my pillows and am about to log off when suddenly I notice a status update:

My ankle twinges in annoyance. Argh, is there no getting away from him? Quick! I need to defriend him.

I click on ‘Remove from friends’ and he’s gone.

You're the One That I Don't Want