Chapter Twenty-One

Just like when we were kids, my big sister comes to the rescue.

‘You need a strategy,’ she instructs, drawing herself up to full lawyer mode.

‘Oh, you mean like reading her horoscope?’ suggests Robyn brightly.

Kate throws her a withering look. ‘No, I mean a plan of action to achieve a particular goal,’ she explains briskly. ‘We use them all the time in law. We have to apply one to your situation by creating a systematic approach to solving this current problem and methodically working through the aims until the desired outcome is accomplished.’

I look at her blankly. ‘Can you say that again, but in English this time?’

She tuts impatiently. ‘It’s perfectly simple. You want to break up with Nathaniel, but something or someone appears to be preventing this from happening properly.’

‘Like the legend,’ pipes up Robyn.

‘Or Nathaniel himself,’ retorts Kate, who after a brief moment of astonishment has swiftly gone back to her original opinion.

‘Look, I don’t care what it is. I just want it to be over.’

‘OK, follow me. Let’s get to work. Magical legend or no magical legend, this will do the trick. Trust me, no one is going to stick around after this. And I don’t care what you say about your universe,’ she adds, throwing Robyn a stern look. ‘Universe schmooniverse.’

Robyn looks offended. ‘You can’t alter the course of destiny,’ she says stiffly.

‘Just you watch me.’

‘It won’t work. The laws of our world have no bearing on the laws of the universe.’

‘So do you have a better plan?’ scoffs Kate. ‘What are you suggesting? Hocus-pocus? Crystals? Chinese herbs? We need to get aggressive and tough.’

‘I just think you’re being very closed off,’ says Robyn sulkily.

‘What do you expect? I’m a lawyer,’ she deadpans. ‘I’m not paid to have an imagination.’

Kate doesn’t waste any time, and armed with a briefcase full of notepads, biros and her famous highlighter pens in every colour, she marches us to a nearby diner to prepare our case. I’ve never seen my sister in action before and I’m scarily impressed. Swiftly turning a red vinyl booth into an office, she rolls up her shirtsleeves, instructs the hapless waiter to ‘keep the coffee coming’ and starts talking tactics.

Six intensive hours later, and buzzing with a heady cocktail of caffeine and exhaustion, she finally comes up with the Strategy. Underlined twice, and highlighted in fluorescent orange, it runs into a four-page, twenty-five-point document and is entitled ‘How to Get Rid of the One.’

1. Take out a restraining order.

This was Kate’s immediate suggestion – ‘Well, having a lawyer for a sister and a cop for a brother-in-law has to count for something,’ she’d argued – before reluctantly conceding that the courts might take a dim view of our case: ‘My Honourable Judge, I’m here to request a restraining order to prevent the defendant, Lucy Hemmingway, being stalked by the accused, Nathaniel Kennedy, as her friend on Facebook, through his TV show Big Bucks and by their song, Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’, playing on the radio.’


Better is her idea that I turn up at his apartment unannounced and:

2. Tell him you love him.

A sure-fire winner if ever there was one. The plan being that I declare my undying love and – poof – watch him disappear for ever.

Just in case extra ammunition is needed:

3. Don’t shave your legs beforehand.

So that I can turn up in a skirt.

4. Grow your underarm hair.

Better still, team it with a spaghetti-strap top.

5. In fact, go the whole hog
and grow your bikini line too.

Then cross my legs Sharon Stone style.

6. Leave off the deodorant.

It doesn’t sound like much, but right now in Manhattan it’s ninety degrees. Sweaty armpits are one thing, but hairy sweaty armpits are quite another.

7. Talk about periods.

As in ‘Gosh, I’m so exhausted, but that’s because I’m on my period.’ Be sure to throw in lots of words like menstruating, bleeding, cramps, bloating, water retention, PMT and acne.

8. Even better, use the loo and leave
super-super-plus Tampax lying around.

Men have a fear of Tampax. Like dogs are scared of thunder. It sends them cowering.

9. On second thoughts, make that
super-super-plus sanitary pads.

Then tell him I’ve had ‘an accident’ and could he pop out to the store and buy the aforementioned large tampons. Pretty pleasey-weasey, pumpkin.

Which brings me to:

10. Give him a pet name, and speak in a baby-
waby voice.
11. Say you want to get married and suggest
looking at rings.
12. Start showering him with phone calls, emails
and texts.

Reason being, he’ll think I’m a bunny boiler and delete my number from his phone faster than you can say, ‘Fatal Attraction.’ Result: I’ll never get a misdialled call again.

13. Ask him how many lovers he’s had.

Then double the amount and say that’s how many I’ve had. No, triple it.

14. Turn up at a sports bar when he’s there with
his friends.
15. Be wearing a fleece.

Together with no make-up, hair scraped up in a bun and leggings. Make that unwashed baggy-at-the-bum leggings.

16. Proceed to tell all his friends hilarious anecdotes about erectile dysfunction/premature ejaculation/small penises.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

17. Be clingy.

Think limpet. Think Posh with Becks.

18. Fart.
19. Belch.
20. Pick your nose.
21. And then eat it.

OK, so it’s pretty revolting, but it’s like doing a Bushtucker Trial on I’m a Celebrity . . .Get Me Out of Here! Only in this case it’s I’m Lucy Hemmingway . . .Get Me Out of This Relationship!

22. Coo at babies.
23. Steal his iPod and put music on it.

Suggestions: James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’, the Mamma Mia soundtrack, The Best of Take That.

24. Cancel his pay-per-view for the big game.

One of Robyn’s clients works for Direct TV and can hack – I mean ‘look into’ – customers’ accounts.

25. Buy bridal magazines.

And carry them with me at all times.

Just in case I should ‘accidentally’ bump into him again, I muse, peering round a bookshelf to make sure the coast is clear and Nate’s not lurking.

It’s the following Monday and I’ve popped into McKenzie’s, my local bookstore, on my way to work. Navigating my way through the aisles stuffed full of paperbacks and signed hardbacks piled high on tables, I head over to the magazine section.

Gosh, I didn’t realise there were so many, I think, staring at a smorgasbord of wedding publications displayed on the shelves. Bride This, Wedding That . . . I grab a handful. Ooh, maybe I should pick up some baby ones too, I decide, pouncing on one with a picture of a pregnant woman, along with the caption ‘Broody!’

Well, no, it doesn’t really say that, but that’s definitely what Nate will think if he sees it, I conclude, grabbing a copy. Fingers crossed the Strategy works. Kate is convinced that it will. ‘I’ve never lost a case yet,’ she’d said determinedly as she’d passed me a copy. At this point I’m so desperate I’m prepared to try anything.

My phone starts ringing. I glance at the screen. Nate. Again. I’ve already had half a dozen missed calls from him this morning. He’s still insisting he’s not calling me on purpose, and it’s hard to know what to believe. I press reject. I sincerely hope this isn’t the first case my sister loses . . .

‘Hi. Have you found everything you’re looking for?’ A smiley-faced assistant interrupts my thoughts.

‘Yes, thanks.’ I smile back.

‘Getting ready for the big day?’ She gestures towards the bridal magazines.

‘Er, yes . . . something like that.’ I nod, clutching them tightly to my chest. The big day when I can forget all about Nate, I tell myself, feeling my phone buzzing in my pocket. Oh God, not again.

This time I pick up.

‘Hi, Nate,’ I say wearily.

‘Lucy?’ he asks resignedly. Despite what Kate says, he doesn’t sound like a crazy stalker ex – he sounds as fed up as I am.


There’s a deep sigh.



I hang up. I don’t know what to think, or who to believe – Robyn or Kate – so I’m taking the belt-and-braces approach.

‘Well, if you need any help, my name’s Emily.’

I turn back to the assistant. ‘Thanks.’ I start moving off towards the cash register, past the self-help books, when suddenly a section catches my eye: ‘Love and Romance.’ My eyes glide over the spines of the hundreds of books. There’s even a whole shelf about the One: How to Find the One, How to Keep the One, How to Know He’s the One, Is He the One?

‘Actually . . .’ I turn back to Emily, the smiley-faced assistant.

She beams eagerly. ‘Yes?’

‘Do you have any books on how to get rid of the One?’

Arriving at Number Thirty-Eight ten minutes later, I’m surprised to find the gallery closed. That’s odd. Where’s Magda? Standing on the pavement clutching my magazines and obligatory extra-shot latte, I stare, perplexed, at the electronic grilles, tightly laced over the windows. Not once in the whole time I’ve been working here has Magda not been here to greet me. I check my watch. Knowing me, I’ve probably got the time completely wrong. But no, it’s just a few minutes after 10 a.m.

Puzzled, I balance my coffee and magazines in one hand, fish my set of keys out of my bag and unlock the front door. As I step inside the darkened gallery, the alarm starts beeping, counting down its twenty seconds or whatever it is for me to punch in the code. For an instant I panic. Shit, what is it? Then it comes to me in a flash. Of course, Magda’s date of birth – I remember her telling me once.

One, nine, six, five.

The alarm falls silent, and pressing the button for the window grilles, I flick on the lights. A blaze of colour bursts out of the shadows as the artwork is illuminated and I feel a rush of pleasure. There’s something magical about being alone in a gallery. Once, when I was little, I remember losing my parents in the Louvre in Paris and finding myself alone in a room filled with paintings. Most kids would have probably been scared, started crying, tried frantically to find their mum and dad, but I can still recall that feeling of excitement, of being surrounded by all the different faces, characters, colours. It was like being lost in a world of imagination.

Unfortunately my mum took a rather different view of it and I remember getting severely ticked off when she finally found me and being made to stick by her side for the rest of the trip.

Scooping up the mail, I walk across to the reception desk and dump it, along with my magazines, on the counter. Sipping my coffee, I flick on the computer and check our emails. There’s nothing much of interest . . . a few press releases, an enquiry about an internship from an art student, an invoice from the caterer we used for the gallery opening, entitled ‘Unpaid. Urgent.’ I frown. I thought Magda had sent a cheque for that last week. I feel a slight twinge of anxiety, but I brush it aside. It must just be an oversight. The cheque and the email must have crossed, that’s all.

I look up from the computer, but still no sign of a golden beehive, so I click on to Facebook. Well, I’ll only be a minute . . . Feeling a flicker of excitement, I log in. Over the past few days Adam and I have been exchanging emails. It’s all been very light and friendly. He sent me a few lines to tell me about the short film he’s been working on; I sent a few carefully constructed lines back about my week at work.

Carefully constructed, as I want to appear keen but cool. Chatty but relaxed. Busy but not too busy. As in, if he wants to fix up a date to watch a movie, my diary isn’t that full.

OK, the truth is, it’s completely empty, but I can’t let him know that. I can’t let him know that I’ve been agonising over every email I’ve sent him, trying to make sure I get it just right.

God, it used to be so much easier when you just picked up the phone and spoke.

Ooh, look, I have an unread message in my inbox. My stomach flutters as I open it. It’s from Adam.

Call me.

Underneath he’s added his number. I stare at the message, as if trying to wring some more meaning from it, other than just he’s free this week and he wants me to call him. Oh, for God’s sake, Lucy, what are you like? He wants to see you! My stomach gives another nervous flutter. I don’t know why I’m so nervous.

Because you like him, whispers a voice in my head. And because this is the first guy you’ve ever really liked apart from Nate. Reminded of him, I slip my fingers into my pocket and finger the Strategy. I’m not sure when I’ll have an opportunity to put it properly into practice. Or even if it will work. Unlike my sister, I’m far from convinced she’s right. I don’t think it’s that simple. Right now, though, I don’t have any other options.

A shrill barking outside causes me to glance up from the computer screen, just in time to see the door open and Magda appear. Dressed in a fuchsia Jackie O-style shift dress and matching heels, she’s wearing a pair of sunglasses so large they almost look like welding goggles.

‘Morning,’ I say brightly, rushing over to help her. Under one arm she’s carrying Valentino and under the other a large package.

‘Ah, Loozy!’ she puffs, out of breath. ‘Thank you, thank you.’

Taking the package from her grasp, I follow dutifully as she stalks stiffly across the polished concrete floor of the gallery, taking minuscule fairy steps because her dress is so tight.

‘I’m so sorry I am late,’ she continues, redundantly patting her hair to make sure every strand is still hair-sprayed into place. ‘So sorry.’

‘Oh, it’s fine, don’t worry.’ I smile, then pause. ‘Where do you want me to put this?’ I gesture to the package.

‘Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t care.’ She sniffs dismissively, waving her diamond-encrusted hand around her like an air-freshener spray. Reaching a chair, she folds herself carefully into it. ‘Just as long as I don’t have to look at it.’

‘What is it?’ I ask, propping it up against the wall.

‘A painting. From my aunt Irena.’

‘Ooh, she gave you a painting?’ My curiosity is piqued and I peer at the package, wondering what the painting’s like.

‘If you can call it that,’ she says gloomily. ‘It was left to me in her will.’

Her will?’ I wheel round and look at Magda. I’d presumed she was wearing her sunglasses because she’d had more ‘enhancement’, but now I notice her face looks a bit red and blotchy, even underneath her layers of make-up. And she’s sniffling. ‘Gosh, I’m so sorry. I had no idea,’ I say hastily. ‘When did she . . .?’

‘At the weekend,’ she replies, tugging out a box of tissues from her tote and loudly blowing her nose.

‘Oh, no.’ I crouch down beside her and squeeze her hand supportively. ‘Was it sudden?’

‘Nothing is sudden when you’re ninety-six.’ She shrugs, her palms outstretched. ‘She had a good life.’

‘Are you OK?’ I ask with concern.

‘I make a living,’ she shrugs, and blows her nose again.

‘No, I mean about your aunt.’

‘Oh, yes, yes.’ She nods. ‘Everything is wonderful.’

I study her blotchy face, half hidden under her sunglasses, and feel a protective surge. ‘No, everything’s not wonderful,’ I suddenly hear myself saying, and feel a beat of surprise at my outspokenness.

As does Magda, who looks at me with a shocked expression.

For a moment I think she’s going to be angry and I swallow hard. ‘I mean, it’s not, is it?’ I say, trying to keep my voice from wavering.

There’s a pause and then she seems to collapse inwards, folding up like a fuchsia ironing board, with only her shoulder pads and beehive sticking out. I watch as they both start shaking and suddenly I realise she’s sobbing.

‘Oh gosh, Mrs Zuckerman . . .’

I watch her, feeling completely useless. I don’t know what to do. I’m trying to be polite and appropriate given that this is an employee-and-boss-type situation. After all, I can’t just give her a big hug and say, ‘There, there.’

Oh, sod being appropriate.

‘There, there,’ I soothe, diving to give her a big bear hug. I’d never realised how tiny she was, but it’s like hugging a child. ‘Don’t worry, it’s all going to be OK. She’s gone to a good place now.’

Abruptly Magda stops sobbing and looks up. She pushes her sunglasses on to her forehead and stares at me, aghast. ‘These tears are not for Irena.’

‘They’re not?’

‘Oy! Of course not.’ She frowns. Or at least tries to, but she’s had so many injections in her face that it barely moves. ‘Irena lived like royalty. She had servants, furs, diamonds.’ She waggles her knuckle-dusters at me. ‘Real diamonds, not like my fake ones!’

‘They’re fake?’ Now it’s my turn to look aghast.

Magda hiccups and lets out a pitiful sob. ‘Everything is fake – the diamonds, the Gucci, the Louis Vuitton . . .’ She thrusts her tote away from her as if she can’t bear to look at it. ‘I am broke, Loozy, broke!’

I look at her in alarm. ‘But I thought . . .’

I’m not sure what I thought, to be honest. It’s just that with the designer clothes, and the plastic surgery, and the Upper West Side address, I assumed . . .

‘Appearances can be deceptive, Loozy,’ she continues. ‘That’s what my aunt Irena used to say.’ She shakes her head. ‘The bank, they are thieves, they want to take everything from me, my apartment, the gallery . . .’

The gallery?’ I feel a flash of panic.

‘I am terrible with money. I borrow this for that, and that for this.’ She hunches her shoulders as she waves her hands around.

I stare at her, a cold, sinking dread washing over me. My first thought is for Magda. How terrible to think you might have to lose your home, and at her age. But I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say I was worried about what it would mean for me if she lost the gallery too. And what about the gallery itself?

‘This place can’t close. It just can’t!’ I cry, before I can help myself.

Magda suddenly raises herself up to full height and, reaching for my hand, holds it aloft like we’re two protestors. ‘We will do our very best, Loozy,’ she says in a rallying cry. ‘Our very best. We will not be beaten. We will not be afraid.’

‘Um . . . hear, hear,’ I offer.

‘All is not lost yet. There is a new up-and-coming artist. He lives on the Vineyard, but I think if we can meet with him, we might be able to show his work. He is incredible. Simply incredible! He will save us!’ All fired up, she smacks her fingers against her lips.

Watching her getting her mojo back, becoming passionate again, I feel a swell of affection and relief.

‘Sounds good.’ I smile. Maybe she’s right. Maybe everything will be all right.

‘Oh, it will be, it will be.’ Her eyes flashing, she stands up, dusts off her shift dress, smoothes down her hair and takes a deep breath. ‘OK, enough of these tears. Irena would kill me. She’d say, “Magda, what are you doing, acting like a big baby?” She was my mother’s twin sister, but she was more like a mother to me.’

Smiling, I go to turn away, when a thought strikes. ‘Did you say Irena was ninety-six?’

‘Nearly ninety-seven,’ says Magda proudly.

I pause, doing the maths. ‘And you were born in 1965,’ I say, remembering the code for the alarm. ‘So that means . . .’ I frown. That can’t be right. I must have got it wrong. ‘Your mum was fifty-one when she had you?’

Magda colours. ‘Um . . . yes, I know!’ Clearing her throat, she pretends to look as surprised as I am. ‘The doctors were amazed! I was a miracle baby!’

You're the One That I Don't Want