Chapter Twenty-Four

Adam escorts me back to my apartment, where I discover Robyn and the dogs fast asleep on the sofa, snoring loudly, an episode of Oprah playing faintly in the background. Tiptoeing past, so as not to wake Simon and Jenny – nothing, I’ve learned, will wake Robyn, who doesn’t so much fall asleep as fall into a coma –  I grab half a bottle of wine from the fridge and a couple of glasses and go into my bedroom. It’s a warm, muggy evening, and pulling open the rickety old sash window, we clamber out on to the fire escape.

‘I’m so sorry about bursting into tears like that,’ I say, for about the zillionth time, as I perch on a metal step and pour two glasses of wine. ‘I’m so embarrassed.’

‘Hey, no problem.’ He shrugs, sitting one step up from me. Taking out his tobacco, he waves it at me as if to say, Do you mind? and I shake my head. ‘I tend to have that effect on women.’

Laughing, I shoot him a grateful smile and pass him a glass.

‘So, you had a lucky escape by the sounds of it,’ he continues, licking the cigarette paper. ‘Trying to rescue that cat and getting trapped in there . . .’

‘Um . . . yeah, I know.’ I nod, crossing my fingers behind my back. ‘Lucky the police found me!’

In my defence, it wasn’t me who came up with this story; it was Officer McCrory. On meeting Adam, he’d taken him to one side to ‘explain the situation’. It was only afterwards, when we were leaving, with strict instructions to Adam to ‘look after this young lady’, that he’d thrown me a wink over his shoulder and I’d realised he’d been up to something. And it wasn’t law enforcement.

‘Thanks for coming to get me –’ I smile shyly – ‘and for being so nice about everything.’

‘My pleasure.’ He grins. ‘I’m used to rescuing damsels in distress.’

‘You are?’ I peer at him in the darkness, the soft, twinkly glow from the fairy lights in my bedroom casting patterns across his face, and for a brief moment I get a wobble of insecurity. Damsels? What damsels? Who are the damsels?

‘Oh, yeah.’ He nods, his face serious. ‘It’s a little sideline I have going. When I’m not crashing gallery openings.’ He looks up at me, his mouth twisting with amusement, and I punch him playfully on the arm. ‘Hey, I’ve still got a bruise on the other arm from where you punched me last time,’ he yelps.

‘Well, now you have a matching pair.’ I grin ruefully.

‘This is my reward for rushing out halfway through a movie?’

I look at him in astonishment. ‘You left a movie halfway through? For me?’

‘A late-night screening of Annie Hall at the Pioneer Theater.’ He nods, then seeing my face adds quickly, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve seen it a hundred times, so I know how it ends.’ He adopts a funny voice: ‘“Well, I guess that’s pretty much how I feel about relationships. You know, they’re totally irrational and crazy and absurd and . . . but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us need the eggs.”’

Listening to him, I laugh, feeling a surge of amusement and affection.

And something else.

Out of nowhere I suddenly fancy him. Like really fancy him. Even with that ridiculous Woody Allen impersonation.

‘No, this is your reward.’ Impulsively I’m leaning forwards and kissing him on the cheek. His skin feels soft beneath my lips and he smells faintly of cigarette smoke . . .Then, realising I’ve lingered just that millisecond too long, I pull back, blushing.

How embarrassing. Why not just grab hold of him and snog his face off, Lucy, why don’t you?

‘Well, it’s not much of a reward,’ I add self-consciously, trying to make a joke of it. Honestly, could I be any more crap at flirting? If I’m not lunging at him, I’m making bad, clumsy jokes.

His eyes sweep over my face and for a moment I think he’s going to say something, do something. Then he seems to think better of it. ‘I accept cash and cheques,’ he quips.

‘I’m sure I can’t afford you,’ I quip back.

‘Oh, I’m sure we can come to some arrangement,’ he replies, and holds my gaze for a moment.

My chest tightens. He’s flirting with me, right? That’s definitely flirting. And yet all my confidence has deserted me and I’m not sure. He could be just being friendly, I reason. I mean, for all I know, his invitation to ‘hook up and see a film’ might simply be him returning the favour after I showed him around the MoMA. It could have been purely platonic.

As the thought strikes, so does another: Which means he’s probably not interested in me like that at all. Followed by another: I’ve been reading it all wrong. And another: He’s just being a gentleman, coming to rescue me from the police station . . . As the thoughts gather momentum, hope starts unravelling like knots: In fact, he’s probably not single at all . . . He’s probably got a girlfriend . . . I bet it’s the brunette at the gallery.

‘So are you single?’ I suddenly have that discombobulated feeling of hearing a voice blurt out, wondering who it belongs to, then realising with horror that it belongs to me.

In the middle of sipping his wine, Adam pauses.

The shame. The shame.

‘I mean . . . sort of . . . as in . . .’ I scramble around desperately in my brain for something to say that will stop me looking like . . . like . . . Oh, this is awful. I can’t even think of that word.

‘As in, do I have a girlfriend?’ says Adam evenly.

I stop scrambling and look at him resignedly. ‘Yes, that’s what I meant.’ I brace myself. OK, so he’s got a girlfriend, and it’s the pretty brunette, and they’re very happy together, but that’s all right – we can be friends. Platonic friends. Like in When Harry Met Sally.

Actually, no, they ended up sleeping together. Oh crap.  

‘No, I don’t have a girlfriend,’ he replies. ‘I did, but we broke up a while back.’

‘You did?’ I sound happy and relieved. ‘I mean, that’s tough. Breaking up is tough,’ I add, trying to look suitably glum.

Though not as tough as not being able to break up, I think fleetingly, rubbing my wrist, which is still a bit sore from the handcuffs.

‘Not really. She cheated on me.’ He shrugs.

I’m shocked. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to cheat on Adam. ‘Gosh, that’s awful.’

‘Yeah, finding out wasn’t fun, but once I did, well, it was over pretty quick.’ He takes a drag of his roll-up. ‘There’s no point. You can never trust someone again after that . . .’ He trails off as if deep in thought, then holds out his roll-up. ‘You smoke?’

I hesitate. ‘Only on special occasions.’

‘Do you think getting someone out of jail is a special occasion?’

‘Maybe.’ I nod, playing along as he passes me the roll-up. I inhale. It makes my head spin slightly, but in a good way. I can feel myself gradually unwinding after the madness of the evening, and for a few moments neither of us speaks; we just sit together sipping wine and listening to the sounds of Manhattan, which are playing like background music.

‘I guess this is a bit different from most first dates,’ he says finally.

‘Um . . . yeah, I guess so.’ I nod, trying to keep my voice even, but it’s zipping through my brain. We’re on a first date? So he wasn’t just being friendly. I feel a buzz of delight, quickly followed by a sudden pressure. Casually drinking wine on the fire escape and sharing a cigarette has suddenly turned all official. If this is a first date, aren’t I supposed to have made an effort, washed my hair, put on some mascara at least? Aren’t I supposed to be making flirty small talk, and flicking my freshly washed hair, and trying to be cool and impressive.

Honestly, I’m useless. Why didn’t someone tell me this was supposed to be a first date? Instead I’ve narrowly missed being arrested, I’ve burst into tears, I’m not wearing a scrap of make-up, my hair is tied up in a scrunchie, and I just lunged at him.

And yet . . . I glance at Adam, sitting across from me on the fire escape, and my nerves disappear into the darkness as quickly as they appeared. And yet none of it seems to matter.

Well, maybe the hair scrunchie, I decide, hastily pulling it out. I’m trying to shake out my hair surreptitiously when I notice we’ve finished the wine.

‘Oh look, all gone,’ I say, standing up quickly. This is a good excuse to dash back inside and take a quick peek in the mirror, I realise. ‘I’ll just grab us another bottle.’

Actually, I don’t know if we have another bottle, but I’m sure I can dig out some beers from somewhere.

‘Hey, I can do that.’ Adam makes to stand up, but I push him down.

‘No, no, I’m fine,’ I say urgently. ‘I want to get it.’

‘Oh, OK.’ He sits back down, looking slightly puzzled. Never has anyone appeared so keen to go into the kitchen to get a bottle of wine as a girl who has suddenly realised she’s on a first date and needs to put on some concealer and lip gloss. Pronto.

Leaving him on the fire escape, I climb back through the window and hurry into the kitchen. There’s no wine. There aren’t even any beers. There is, however, mine and Robyn’s emergency bottle of tequila. I eye it for a moment, weighing up how this could be perceived, then grab it anyway, along with two shot glasses, then make a quick detour to the bathroom.

A few minutes, some concealer, a smear of raspberry lip gloss and some hasty scrunching of hair products later, I head back into the bedroom to join Adam on the fire escape. Only he’s not there any more. Instead he’s sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor with his back to me, looking at something.

‘Who did these?’ he asks as hears me walk back in.

I glance over his shoulder to see what he’s looking at. ‘Oh, that’s one of my old sketchbooks,’ I realise. I hold out the bottle of tequila. ‘I’m afraid we only have this.’

He ignores me. ‘These are yours? You did these?’ He’s flicking through pages. Stopping at one, he holds it up to me. ‘You drew this?’

‘Um . . . yeah.’ I shrug absently, put the shot glasses down on my dressing table and unscrew the tequila. I begin pouring it out. ‘A long time ago.’

‘Who is it?’

I stop what I’m doing and look back at the sketch. It’s a pen-and-ink drawing of an old lady, her face turned to the light, her body in shadow. ‘I don’t know who she was. I saw her sitting on a park bench one day.’ My mind flicks back. ‘She was reading a book – I remember it was open in her lap – but she had her eyes closed and her face to the sun, as if she was lost in her own world.’

‘It’s amazing, Lucy.’ Adam’s voice is hushed. ‘These are all amazing.’

I smile with embarrassment. ‘Oh, don’t be silly, they’re just drawings.’ I hold out a shot glass and he takes it from me wordlessly.

‘Seriously, Lucy.’ He looks up at me, his eyes wide. ‘They’re incredible. You’re really talented.’

I feel myself blush under his praises. Taking a sip of tequila, I kneel down next to him.

‘Are those all your sketchbooks?’ He gestures over to a pile of books stuffed into my cluttered shelves. Despite my attempts at having a clear-out, they’re still filled with stuff.

I nod. ‘My canvases are back in England.’

‘Canvases?’

‘My paintings,’ I explain. ‘I couldn’t bring them with me. I keep them at my parents’, in their garage.’

‘You keep them hidden away?’ He looks at me, incredulous. ‘You should have them out so everyone can see them.’

‘You haven’t even seen them,’ I say, amused by his enthusiasm. ‘You might not like them.’

‘Don’t you have pictures?’

‘Um . . . somewhere I think I have some Polaroids.’

‘Where? I want to see!’

I know that he’s never going to rest until he sees them, and so, leaning over to my shelves, I scrabble around for a bit until I find an old shoebox. ‘Here you go.’ I pass it to him. ‘The colours are probably a bit faded now, as it was a few years ago.’

I watch while Adam opens the box. It’s filled to the brim with a jumble of photos. That’s another thing I should really sort out, I tell myself, as he starts rifling through. I need to get a lot more organised . . .

‘Wow!’

I snap back to see Adam looking at me. But he’s not looking at me like he normally does; he’s looking at me as if I have a little green man from outer space sitting on my head.

‘I had no idea,’ he’s saying now, his eyes wide with astonishment.

That really I’m a complete pig and this tidy room is merely a temporary situation? I’m addicted to tuna melts and I have the thighs to prove it? My middle name is Edna?

‘You’re an amazing artist, Lucy. You have so much talent. The colours, the shapes . . .’ He’s waving Polaroids discriminately. ‘I mean, this one is incredible.’ He grabs another. ‘And then this one. Just look at their faces . . .’

I watch him, feeling embarrassed by this show of eagerness, and yet . . . and yet I feel something else. An old excitement. A possibility. A dream.

‘You really think so,’ I say, my voice almost a whisper.

He stops looking through the Polaroids and gazes at me. ‘Yeah, I really think so,’ he says quietly. Reaching for my hand, he pulls me closer beside him, his eyes never leaving mine. ‘I really think so.’

He leans towards me – or is it me who leans towards him? I can’t remember. All I’m aware of is his lips brushing against mine, my heart racing in my chest, as we start kissing.

I close my eyes. I’ve been wanting to do this all evening. I lean closer.

Abruptly he pulls away.

‘Lucy.’

I let out a little groan of dismay and try to pull him back towards me.

‘What are those?’

Reluctantly I open my eyes. My heart is still racing and I can still taste him on my lips. ‘What?’ I murmur thickly.

‘Those,’ he says, only firmer this time.

I turn my head to see where he’s looking, slightly woozy with desire, wondering what it is, surely not more sketches . . .

Oh. My. God.

Suddenly I see them. My backpack has fallen off the bed, spilling out the contents, and there, lying on the rug, mocking me, taunting me, ruining my evening, are Nate’s—

‘Boxer shorts,’ I gasp, my face contorted into a rictus of horror.

‘Is there something you’re not telling me?’ Adam shoots me a look. His usual easy-going expression is gone and his face is set hard.

‘No,’ I say hastily. ‘I mean yes, but well, no.’ Flustered, my mind is racing. I can’t tell him the truth about this evening, about magic spells, and soulmates, and hambones wrapped up in boxer shorts. He’ll think he’s been kissing a crazy girl. ‘There was a mix-up. I got someone else’s laundry,’ I gabble. Well, that’s the truth.

A tiny little bit of it.

‘OK . . .’ he says slowly, seeming to accept the explanation, before asking, ‘So where’s the rest of it?’

‘Um . . . I gave it back.’

‘But kept the boxer shorts?’ He raises his eyebrows.

Shit. He doesn’t believe me. He thinks I’m sleeping with someone. And do you blame him, Lucy? pipes up a little voice. You have another man’s boxer shorts lying on your bedroom floor. I cringe inwardly. This does not look good. I suddenly remember his story of his cheating ex. Fuck, this really does not look good at all.

‘It’s not what you think,’ I say urgently.

‘How do you know what I’m thinking?’ he fires back contrarily.

‘I don’t . . . I’m guessing.’ Taking a deep sigh, I raise my eyes to meet his. There’s no point trying to explain. I can’t. ‘Look, I know it seems kind of weird, and I know how it looks, but you’ve just got to trust me on this one.’

There’s a long pause and he looks at me for what feels like the longest time. Then slowly he gets to his feet. My chest tightens. So that’s it. He doesn’t believe me. I feel a heavy thump of dismay.

‘OK,’ he says after a pause. ‘I trust you.’

‘You do?’ Relief surges. For a moment there I thought that we were over before we’d even started.

‘There’s just one thing . . .’

I look up at him, feeling a beat of apprehension.

‘Why are they covered in pineapples?’

As his mouth twists up into a smile, I burst out laughing. ‘Funny you should ask that. I’ve asked myself the same question . . .’

You're the One That I Don't Want
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