Chapter Twenty-Six

Nate and I don’t talk for the rest of the flight, and after touching down, we mutter our goodbyes – ‘See you around’, ‘Yeah, you too’, while both fervently hoping that’s not the case – and grabbing my bags, I go outside to get a taxi.

‘Menemsha Inn, please,’ I say to the driver, as I climb inside and roll down the window.

It’s a lovely warm evening and I turn my face to the slowly sinking sun. It’s the magic hour. Everything is bathed in a honey-coloured light, and after the frenzy of New York, the island feels quiet and sleepy. Like the pace of life has slowed down, I muse, as we drive down country lanes bordered by handcrafted stone walls, by fields filled with wild flowers and past clapboard houses and quaint village stores that remind me of The Waltons.

According to the driver, I’m staying ‘up island’, which is the more remote side of the island and where Artsy has his studio. It’s also much wilder, I decide, as we pass white windswept beaches with grassy bluffs and a lighthouse standing proud up on the cliff.

After thirty minutes we arrive at the small ramshackle fishing port of Menemsha – blink and you’d miss it – and the cab pulls up a gravel driveway. At the end is a pretty inn with a pitched roof, white-painted windows and a wooden porch complete with a rocking chair on which is curled a big, fat ginger tomcat, fast asleep.

As I pass him with my bags, I tickle his tummy and he stretches out like a draught-excluder and yawns languorously.

‘Welcome to Menemsha Inn,’ beams a stout, ruddy-cheeked woman when I walk into reception. ‘I’m Sylvia.’

‘Hi. I’m Lucy Hemmingway. I’m checking in for two nights.’

‘One moment, please.’ She taps cheerfully at her computer. ‘Ah, yes, we’ve got you in the shell room. That’s one of my favourites. It’s just down the corridor in a separate annexe. It has an uninterrupted view of the ocean.’

‘Super.’ I smile happily. Despite the shaky start, I’m really looking forward to my time here on the Vineyard. It really is like turning back the clock, I note, glancing around at the vast stone fireplace, the framed black-and-white photographs of fishing boats, the grandfather clock ticking quietly in the corner.

‘Oh dear.’

I turn back to Sylvia. Her smile has slipped slightly.

‘Is anything wrong?’

‘Erm . . .’ She’s still tapping at the computer keyboard. Only now she’s not so much tapping cheerfully as jabbing frantically. ‘I’m afraid we have a slight problem.’

I get a twinge of apprehension. I don’t like how she uses the word ‘we’.


‘We seem to have double-booked the shell room.’

‘Oh.’ I feel a beat of disappointment. After her big sell on the shell room I was looking forward to staying in it. Still, I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’m only here for two nights. ‘Well, never mind. I’m sure all your rooms are lovely,’ I say placatingly. ‘What else is available?’

There’s an ominous pause. ‘Well, that’s the problem. There isn’t anything else available. We’re fully booked.’

I look back at her, not quite computing what she’s saying. ‘But I have a confirmation.’ I waggle the documents that Magda gave me.

‘I know, my dear, but so does the gentleman.’

I frown. ‘What gentleman?’

At that moment the door swings open and my heart sinks.

I should’ve known.

‘Nathaniel,’ I say stiffly.

‘Lucy.’ He nods curtly.

‘Oh, you two know each other?’ cries Sylvia, glancing between us in astonishment.

‘Intimately,’ says Nate, through gritted teeth.

A look of relief flashes across Sylvia’s face. ‘Oh, silly me, I didn’t realise you were together.’

‘No, we’re not,’ I refute quickly. ‘Together, I mean . . .Well, we are . . .’ I glance at Nate, who’s typing an email on his iPhone ‘ . . . but we’re not supposed to be . . .’ I trail off. This is hopeless.

‘Oh, I see.’ Her eyes widen, then lowering her voice, she says quietly, ‘Don’t worry, here at Menemsha Inn we’re very discreet. The Vineyard has a history of accommodating presidents and world-famous celebrities.’

I look at her blankly.

‘Who just happen to be married,’ she adds, raising a bushy eyebrow.

Suddenly it registers. Oh my God, she thinks we’re having an affair! ‘No, it’s not like that,’ I try explaining quickly, but she’s pinned a coy expression on her face and is holding out a key.

‘Very discreet,’ she repeats in a whisper.

I glance at the key. For a split second I think about trying to demand another room, but it’s been a long day and I’m exhausted. I just want take a shower and go to bed.

And if you don’t grab that room first, Nate will, hisses a voice inside my head.

‘OK, great. Thanks,’ I say hastily, and snatching the key, I quickly set off down the corridor.

‘The shell room is just to your left,’ she calls after me.

Then I hear Nate’s voice. ‘I’m sorry, but I thought I was in the shell room . . .’

Five minutes later there’s a loud rapping at the door. For a moment I consider ignoring it, pretending I can’t hear, hoping it will go away.

Yeah, right. This is Nate we’re talking about, remember.

Bracing myself, I open the door. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ I say, feigning a look of innocent surprise.

‘Of course it’s me,’ he snaps, brushing past me. ‘This is my room.’

‘And mine,’ I fire back challengingly.

‘So it seems.’ He nods, glancing around at my stuff, which is already strewn all over the place. I don’t know how I manage to do that. I can makeover a spotlessly tidy room in five minutes flat and make it look like it’s been lived in for years. I could be on one of those home-makeover TV shows, only with a slight twist.

‘I tried everything,’ Nate continues, ‘but it’s August, their busiest time of year, and there’s no availability anywhere on the island.’ He drops his luggage on the floor.

‘Meaning?’ I glance at his suitcase nervously.

‘Meaning one of us will have to sleep on the sofa.’

We both look over at it. Tucked into the corner, it’s this tiny little wicker thing, with plumped-up cushions embroidered with seashells, in keeping with the room’s nautical theme.

‘I’m six foot three,’ he says, turning to me.


‘So it will have to be you,’ he says simply. He takes off his jacket and hangs it over the chair. Then kicking off his shoes, he flops down on the bed, picks up the remote and turns on the TV.

I watch him in amazement. ‘Er, hang on a minute.’

Flicking channels, he appears not to hear me.

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Don’t think what?’ he says absently, getting comfy on a pillow. Suddenly he pounds the bedspread with his fist. ‘Oh great, it’s the game,’ he whoops excitedly.

‘Me. On the sofa,’ I say loudly.

There’s no response. Not even a glimmer. It’s like I’m not here. Marching over to the TV, I stand in front of it.

‘What the . . .?’ He glares at me and motions with the remote. ‘I can’t see!’

‘I have a bad back,’ I say, folding my arms.

‘Since when?’ he gasps exasperatedly.

‘Since. I. Got. My. Period,’ I repeat slowly.

He blanches. ‘OK, whatever.’ He sighs, throwing his hands up in the air. ‘I don’t want to argue with you.’

I’m thrown off balance. ‘You don’t?’

He pauses to lean across to the bedside table and deftly pop out his contact lenses. Then, reaching for his glasses, he pushes them up his nose and turns to me. ‘Look, I don’t know what’s going on here. I don’t know why we keep getting thrown together, and I don’t like it any more than you do. For now, though, we’re stuck with each other, so why don’t we call a truce for the next forty-eight hours?’

I look at him suspiciously. Damn, he’s being too reasonable. This is not supposed to be how it works. He’s supposed to be furious. Appalled. Horrified. He’s supposed to be grabbing his jacket and marching out of the room right now, slamming the door behind him and declaring he never wants to see me again. And if everything goes to plan, he never will see me again. And I won’t see him either.

And we can both live happily ever after. Separately.

And yet . . .

I stifle a yawn. I’m dog tired. Tomorrow is a big day. I’m meeting Artsy at his studio and hopefully I’m going to convince him to show at the gallery. Anxiety twinges as I think of the responsibility that’s on my shoulders. I really should get some rest. Maybe Nate is right. Maybe it’s time for a ceasefire.

I hesitate, and then . . .

‘Budge up.’

Nate looks momentarily surprised but shifts obediently to one side of the bed. I sit down on the other and lean back against the feather pillows. Oh God, that feels good.

‘I’m going to order room service. Hungry?’ he asks, glancing across at me.

‘Oh, I don’t think . . .’ I begin, then pause as my stomach rumbles. ‘Actually, yeah, I’m starving.’

‘I hear the clam chowder is awesome here,’ he continues.

I smile ruefully. ‘OK, clam chowder it is.’

He picks up the phone and dials, then covers the mouthpiece. ‘Just for the record, this is as painful for me as it is for you.’ Then, turning back to the phone, he asks, ‘You want crackers with that?’

After we’ve eaten two big bowls of the most delicious clam chowder, Nate declares he’s going to call it a night. ‘Do you want to use the bathroom first or shall I?’ he asks politely.

‘It’s fine, go ahead,’ I reply, equally politely.

See, we can do this, I tell myself, as he disappears for five minutes, then re-emerges in his T-shirt and boxer shorts. We’re two mature adults. My eyes flick to his boxers and I get a fright – I got rid of the pineapple ones, but do these have Rudolph on them? Quickly I avert my gaze. Don’t look, Lucy, don’t look. Pretend like it’s not happening.

I keep my eyes fixed determinedly on the TV screen. Only, instead of heading for the sofa, he heads back towards the bed and proceeds to get under the covers. Er, just a minute. Surreptitiously sliding my eyes sideways, I watch him snuggling into a pillow. What the . . .?

Horror and indignation stab, but I remain calm.

OK, so I have two options:

1. Sod the truce, have a huge row and forcibly try to remove him from the bed (which, considering he’s six three and about thirteen stone will not be easy).
2. Sleep on the sofa.

I eye the uncomfortable-looking sofa with annoyance. That is just so unfair. So bloody unfair. Why is it that I have to— In the middle of my cerebral ranting a third option strikes:

3. Take the Strategy one step further and share the bed.  

Oh, no.

Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no.

Just the thought makes me shudder. Whereas only a few weeks ago I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do more than climb into bed with Nate, now I can’t think of anything I want to do less. Like my sister says, it’s always about timing. And my timing sucks, I muse, looking across at Nate.

What about our truce?

He broke the truce when he clambered into bed, argues the other voice in my head.


All’s fair in love and war, it reminds me. Or when you can’t get rid of your soulmate . . .

Right, OK, that’s it. I’m convinced. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Feeling like a soldier preparing for battle, I grab my washbag and my ‘uniform’ and march into the bathroom. I’ve got to make myself look as unattractive as possible, I tell myself, scrubbing my face clean of make-up. Two little piggy eyes stare back at me in the mirror. Hmm, not bad. I tie up my hair in an unflattering top-knot. Not bad indeed. Squeezing out toothpaste, I apply a couple of big dollops – one on my nose and one on my chin – as a make-do spot cream. Revolting! Excellent.

Now for my ‘bedtime attire’. God, what a difference a couple of weeks make. Before, when I was sleeping with Nate, I was applying lip gloss, dabbing perfume on my pulse points and slipping into my special-occasion lingerie. Now I’m pulling on an old greying vest and the big, ugly pair of period knickers that I always carry with me in case of emergencies. And the same goes for Tampax.

Digging out a box, I scatter them freely around the bathroom, like some might scatter rose petals, along with a half-used tube of Canestan (another of my emergency supplies), which I leave in a prominent position next to the washbasin, with the words ‘For fungal infections’ face up. Genius! Then taking one last look in the mirror, and almost frightening myself to death, I go back into the bedroom.

Damn, he looks asleep. Spotting Nate spread-eagled in the middle of the bed and hogging the covers, my plans are suddenly in danger of being thwarted. I can’t have gone to all this trouble for nothing . . . I have to think fast. Grabbing the remote control, I quickly flick on the TV. Sleepless in Seattle is now playing. Perfect. All men hate this film. In fact, another ex-boyfriend of mine used to hate it so much that every time Meg Ryan came on the screen, he’d come out in hives.

Hitting the volume button, I turn it right up.

‘Huh?’ Nate rolls over and opens his eyes. At the sight of me he visibly recoils. ‘Jesus, what’s that on your face?’

‘Spot cream,’ I say, tugging up my big black period knickers. I see his eyes sweeping over me. ‘I’m really breaking out. I just had a good squeeze in the bathroom.’ I pull a face. ‘Honestly, the stuff that came out!’

He looks like he’s about to gag.

Pulling back the covers, I slide into the other side of the bed, and then, for the briefest of moments, I suddenly feel a tremor of doubt. What if this get-up doesn’t put him off? What if he thinks I’m coming on to him? What if he’s – I swallow hard as panic begins knotting my stomach – horny?

As the terrifying thought strikes, so does another: What if Kate’s been right all along and he is trying to get back with me?

Oh shit, I know . . .Quickly remembering the Strategy, I stuff my finger up my nostril and start picking my nose, just to be on the safe side. I needn’t have worried, though. A look of terror flashes across his face and immediately he scuttles as far as possible to his side of the bed.

‘Well, night,’ I say, forcing myself to sound all breezy.

‘Um . . .yeah, night,’ he says gruffly.

I glance across at him. He’s pulled up the covers tightly around his chin and is lying teetering on the far side of the bed. Breathing a sigh of relief, I remove my finger from my nostril. Thank goodness. For a horrible moment there I thought I was going to have to eat it.

Shuddering, I turn off the light.

It’s going to be a long thirty-six hours.

You're the One That I Don't Want