Chapter Thirty

‘Well, I guess this is goodbye.’

Walking through the gate at JFK Airport in New York and out into the busy arrivals hall, Nate turns to me.

‘You hope so,’ I caution.

‘Oh, don’t tell me, the legend is going to get me,’ he mocks, waggling his fingers spookily and humming the music from The Twilight Zone.

‘Ha, ha, very funny.’

‘Well, c’mon,’ he tuts. ‘Do you seriously expect me to believe that?’

‘Of course not.’ I shrug. ‘You never believe anything I say.’

He nods, as if to say, Yes, that’s true, then winces and clutches his forehead. Taking out a blister packet of ibuprofen, he pops out two pills and swigs from his Evian bottle. ‘Why the hell did you have to start me on those vodkas?’

‘Why did you have to crash the car?’ I retort, grabbing the water and tablets from him, and taking another two. That makes six already and my hangover is still throbbing.

‘By the way, I’d prefer it if you don’t mention to anyone about me, you know –’ he lowers his voice – ‘doing karaoke.’

‘Oh, you weren’t that bad,’ I tease.

He glowers and has opened his mouth to retaliate when his iPhone starts ringing. ‘That’s my driver,’ he says, glancing at the screen. ‘He’s outside.’

‘Bye.’ I raise my hand in farewell. ‘I hope I don’t see you later.’

‘You won’t,’ he says determinedly. ‘I’ll make sure to forget to send you a Christmas card.’ He throws his bag over his shoulder, then turns sharply and strides off, swallowed up in the bustle of people.

I watch for a moment, barely daring to believe that this is it, he’s really gone for good. Vanished, like a magic trick. I feel a beat of hopeful excitement. After so much false hope, so many false starts, it’s hard to believe he could have finally left me alone. He’s like the boy who cried break-up. But no, he really has disappeared, I reassure myself, looking into the crowd. He’s not coming back.

My body sags with relief. Maybe Nate is right – maybe I was getting carried away by the legend, by all this magic stuff, and spells, and hocus-pocus. Feeling optimistic, I grab my bag from the baggage carousel and with a spring in my step head outside to catch a cab back home. Maybe, finally, this really is the end.

Arriving back at the apartment, I open the door and bump straight into Robyn, who’s rushing manically around the kitchen.

‘Hey! You’re back.’ She grins, giving me a bear hug. ‘How was it?’

‘Interesting,’ I reply, flopping into a chair and kicking off my flip-flops. ‘You’ll never guess what—’

‘Shoot, have you seen my keys?’ she interrupts.

‘Um . . .’ I glance around the kitchen, my eyes flicking over the countertop. ‘No.’

‘Darn,’ she gasps, tapping her foot impatiently.

Her stiletto-clad foot.

I look at it in astonishment. I’ve never seen her wearing anything other than her Havaiana flip-flops, of which she has a dozen pairs in all the colours of the rainbow. She’s so tall and skinny she always says she doesn’t feel the need for heels, but tonight she’s wearing a fabulous pair of gold peeptoes that are to Havaiana flip-flops what a Matisse is to a paint-by-numbers.

‘Are you going out?’ I ask in surprise. Glancing up from her feet, I take her in for the first time and suddenly realise she’s all glammed up. Wearing a long tie-dye dress, which shows off her impressive cleavage, she’s piled her hair on top of her head to show off the most amazing choker. It’s obviously from one of her exotic far-flung travels and is made from hundreds of tiny stones, which glitter and twinkle under the kitchen spotlights.

And there’s me wearing a necklace from Accessorize.

‘Wow, you look amazing,’ I gasp.

She stops rushing around for a moment and stands still in front of me for my approval, so I can get a proper look. ‘Do you think so?’ Nervously she fiddles with her hair. ‘I was thinking maybe it’s a bit much.’

‘No, you look great,’ I say. I’ve never understood why Robyn covers up her figure in baggy clothes, but tonight there’s no mistaking she’s working it. ‘Very sexy.’

Her cheeks flush. ‘Thanks.’ She grins, then, remembering her hunt for her lost keys, darts across to the countertop and picks up a pile of mail. ‘Darn it, where can they be?’

‘Don’t worry, I’ll hide my set.’ Spotting a bag of Kettle Chips, I take a handful. ‘I’ll put them under the potted plant on the landing.’

‘You will?’ She throws me a grateful look. ‘Oh, thanks, you’re an angel.’ She rushes for the door.

‘Hey, but you still haven’t told me where you’re going—’ The door slams behind her, sending something toppling from the top of the fridge with a crash. Bending down, I pick it up. It’s her vision board.

‘Or who with,’ I murmur, staring at the pasted pictures of dark, handsome strangers and cut-out letters that spell the words ‘soulmate’ and ‘Harold’. Something tells me it’s sure as hell not with him.

Propping it back up on the fridge, I reach for my bag. I need to get ready for my date with Adam, though I still don’t know what the surprise is, or where we’re meeting, I reflect, feeling a flutter of nerves. Digging out my phone, I check again to see if I’ve got a text and notice the battery is completely dead. Damn, where’s my charger? By the toaster, where you left it, I notice, hastily plugging it in. Instantly a message beeps up. It’s from Adam.

It’s a time and a place. Excitement buzzes and I glance at the clock on the microwave. Oh, no, it’s that time already?

Dashing into the bathroom, I jump in the shower and spend the next thirty minutes doing what I call the ‘transformation’. Out goes the frizzy hair, sweaty face, baggy T-shirt and leggings, and in comes natural-looking make-up, a vintage dress I got from a thrift store which is a bit tight under the arms but makes me look like I’ve got a flat stomach, and hair that OK, will never rival Jennifer Aniston’s, but won’t rival Donald Trump’s either.

All done, I glance at myself in the mirror. Now I know how Jesus must have felt. Talk about performing miracles. So he made water into wine? Big deal. I can make a hung-over mess into something vaguely presentable. Maybe even a little sexy, I think, giving myself the once-over and feeling a tingle of excitement.

A thought zips through my brain, and rummaging in my chest of drawers, I pull out my ‘special’ underwear: a lacy thong and push-up bra that cost an absolute fortune from Agent Provocateur. I went shopping there last year after the Christmas party, when I was a bit drunk, and ended up spending far too much on sexy lingerie that I’ve barely worn.

The problem is, I’m worried I might look a bit, well, up for it. Looking sexy is one thing, but pre-meditated is another. As if I’m expecting to have sex with him. I want to look like I’ve just thrown this on, that it’s my usual underwear, I decide, wriggling into it. I glance at myself in the mirror.

Oh, please. Like I usually wear a pink and black satin balconette bra that’s squeezing my boobs together and hoisting them upwards to cleavage-busting proportions. I wear comfy flesh-coloured T-shirt bras from M&S that go with everything.

But I can’t wear one of those, I think with horror, looking at the T-shirt bra discarded on the sink, like a beige jelly mould. It is the most unflattering thing you’ve ever seen.

I stare at it for a few seconds, an internal bra battle raging inside me, then make a decision. Nope, I cannot, repeat cannot, wear my jelly-mould bra on my surprise date. A man would never understand the excuse of comfort and that it doesn’t show any seams. In fact, I remember once mentioning that very reason to an old boyfriend and he looked at me in bewilderment. ‘What, you have to wear an invisible bra?’ Which wasn’t the point at all, but still.

In the end I go with the pink and black satin – just in case – and head to the subway. Adam has given me the address, it’s on 12th Street, near Union Square, and I jump on a train. I’m getting pretty good at the subways now, I reflect, sitting down and glancing at the faces around me. When I first arrived, I used to feel so different, like an outsider, but now I’m beginning to feel like one of them. It’s starting to feel like home.

But for how much longer? I muse, a seed of worry sprouting as I think about the gallery and Magda’s financial problems. I just have to hope the meeting went well with Artsy. Whatever the outcome, we’ll find out soon enough, I tell myself. Turning to stare out of the window, I brush my worry aside. For tonight, anyway.  

 Walking out of the station, I look for the address. Admittedly I have to take out my pop-up map – it might be starting to feel like home, but it’s one I still regularly get lost in – and start navigating streets until I see a small art-house cinema. Neon light from the sign is illuminating the pavement, where a few people are milling about, including Adam.

I spot him first, leaning against a wall, smoking a roll-up and reading a magazine. It’s like my eyes laser in on him. Why is it that before I barely noticed him? At the gallery opening that first night he only attracted my attention because he looked out of place. Now it’s as if a spotlight is shining down upon him and I don’t notice anyone but him.

On top of that, I notice everything about him. How the V-necked T-shirt shows off that little softy, fuzzy triangle of skin at the hollow of his neck. How the muscle in his tanned forearm flexes as he turns the pages of his magazine. The way a dark shock of hair keeps falling over his brow like a mischievous child, unwilling to behave. I watch him now, brushing it back with the flat of his hand.


‘Hey.’ His eyes crinkle into a smile as he sees me. ‘So you made it.’

‘Sorry I’m late,’ I begin apologising quickly. ‘The plane was delayed and then my phone died, so I only got your text about an hour ago and—’

‘No worries. I was catching up on some reading.’ Cutting me off with an easy shrug, he puts out his cigarette, then rolls up his magazine and sticks it in his back pocket. ‘I’m just glad you’re here.’ He looks pleased, and utterly adorable, and I feel my insides melt like chocolate. All my life I’ve been told off for being useless and late, greeted with an impatient tut or annoyed gasp. Adam is the first person just to be glad I’m here, like it’s no big deal.

‘Me too.’ I smile and go to kiss his cheek. I don’t want to be presumptuous, despite my choice of underwear, I think, ignoring the pinching of my G-string. Instead I sort of trip up on the paving stone and crash-land on his mouth. A tingle rushes all the way down to my feet.

Then I pull away awkwardly. ‘Oh gosh, sorry . . .’ I begin apologising again.

‘Hey, no worries,’ he says again. ‘I was going to save that move for later, but if you want to go ahead now . . .’ His eyes flash with amusement and I can’t help but laugh, despite my embarrassment. That’s another thing about Adam: even when I’m bursting into tears at police stations or lunging at him in public places, he always manages to put me at ease.

‘So . . .’ Grinning at me, we stand for a moment, facing each other on the pavement.

‘So . . .’ I say, raising my arms and then sort of flapping them back down against my sides. Rather like a penguin, I suddenly realise, quickly sticking them in the pockets of my jacket before he starts thinking he’s gone on a date with Pingu.

‘Shall we go inside?’

‘Yes, let’s.’

Looping his arm through mine, he leads me through the glass doors and into the foyer, with its faded maroon carpet covered in gold swirly patterns and zigzagging marks from where a vacuum has been run over it. On the walls are framed vintage posters advertising The Godfather, an old Bruce Lee movie, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, along with chipped Art Deco mirrors. It smells of buttered popcorn and air-freshener, and the whole place is badly in need of a lick of paint, but it has that warm, shabby, lived-in feeling that you’d never get from a big, modern multi-screen cinema.

You can tell that everyone who comes here loves this place. And so do I, I realise, feeling a sudden fondness for it.

‘This used to be an old fire station,’ Adam is saying as we walk across the foyer. ‘It’s the oldest, longest-running art cinema in the city. It showed the first talkie in 1927, starring Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. Look, there’s a poster over there.’ His voice is animated and his enthusiasm infectious. ‘The reaction from the audience was immediate. They couldn’t believe it. Can you imagine? They got to their feet and started clapping when it happened. It was in the middle of the film, during a nightclub scene, when Jolson suddenly spoke.’

‘What did he say?’ I ask, my curiosity caught.

He puts on a stupid voice. ‘“Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nuthin’ yet!”’ He laughs. ‘Kinda prophetic, huh?’

I marvel at him. ‘How do you know all this stuff?’

‘I dunno.’ He shrugs. ‘I guess because I love it. Film fascinates me.’ He stops and looks at me. ‘It’s like you and art. It’s whatever you’re passionate about, right? It’s the same thing.’

I glance at Adam. Thirty. A filmmaker from Brooklyn. Habits include doing silly voices and gallery-crashing for the freebies. We’re so completely different and yet . . . I look at him again and get the same feeling I got that day at the MoMA: that fundamentally, underneath, we’re the same.

‘Yeah, it is.’ I nod. ‘It’s the same thing.’

We continue walking, past the door that says, ‘Screen One,’ and towards another.

‘So what’s your favourite movie ever?’ I ask, as we reach screen two. We pause outside. Briefly it crosses my mind that we haven’t bought tickets.

‘Wait and see.’ He smiles enigmatically, pushing open the door.

‘Is that the surprise?’ Of course, Adam must have bought tickets earlier.

‘Sort of.’

Pushing it open, we enter the darkened theatre.

‘Gosh, there’s no one here,’ I say, glancing around the empty rows.

‘I know.’ He leads me down the middle of an aisle.

‘Damn, I forgot to get the popcorn,’ I tut, suddenly remembering. ‘That was part of the deal, wasn’t it? You get the tickets and I get the pop—’ I break off as I spot something glinting in the darkness.

A silver bucket. An ice bucket.

‘Is that . . .?’ I glance up at Adam. In the darkness it’s hard to make out the expression on his face, but as my eyes adjust, I see he’s looking at me and smiling nervously.

‘I hope you like champagne,’ he says, producing a bottle from nowhere.

‘But how?’ I’m gobsmacked. Truly. For once in my life I’m lost for words.

‘My friend’s the projectionist. He owed me a little bit of a favour.’ He starts unwrapping the foil.

‘You mean we’ve got this whole place to ourselves?’ I ask in amazement.

‘Call it a private screening.’ He grins as the cork suddenly pops. ‘Oh fuck!’ Champagne froths everywhere and he scrabbles to catch it in a plastic cup. ‘Sorry, I totally forgot the glasses – I got plastic cups instead,’ he says ruefully, passing me one.

‘You know, I’ve always thought champagne tastes better in plastic.’ I grin, chinking my plastic cup against his.

‘Goes well with popcorn too,’ he says, producing a large carton.

‘What are you?’ I smile, incredulous. ‘A magician?’

‘Something like that.’ He smiles as I grab a handful of warm, buttered salty popcorn.

Happiness swells. ‘Mmm, this is—’

He silences me with a kiss on the lips. ‘Ssh . . . the movie’s about to start.’

It turns out Fellini’s is his favourite film, and for the next two and a bit hours I’m completely absorbed by the tale of Guido, an Italian movie director, whose flashbacks and dreams are interwoven with reality.

‘It was amazing, really amazing. Though I didn’t understand a lot of it,’ I confess afterwards, while finishing my second slice of pizza. On leaving the cinema, we’d grabbed takeaway slices and were eating them on the way back to mine.

‘Exactly like I feel about the art you show me,’ he says, as we climb the stairs to my apartment.

‘Can you like something you don’t really understand?’ I muse.

‘Totally.’ He nods, taking a large bite of pizza. ‘You’ve got your whole life to figure it out. My grandfather once told me he’d spent his entire life trying to figure out my grandmother.’

‘And did he?’ Letting ourselves in, we pause in the kitchen.

‘Not yet. Says she’s like a mystery he can’t solve.’ Putting the empty pizza box on the table, he turns to me. ‘Every time he thinks he’s worked her out, she does something to surprise him and he sees her in a different way. I get that with films sometimes. I’ve seen them dozens of times and then I watch them again and I see something new.’

‘It’s the same with art. I can look at a painting one day and the next . . .’ I trail off. There’s no need to explain with Adam. I know that he gets it. He gets me.

‘Hey, you got some grease on your chin.’ He gestures.

‘Oh, really.’ I go to wipe it, but he gets there first with his paper napkin.

‘You’re a messy eater, aren’t you?’ he teases.

‘I’m messy at everything,’ I laugh, and for the first time it doesn’t seem to matter. That I’m messy, or I’m late, or I’m eating pizza and dribbling grease down my chin, or that I talk too loudly, or that my hair is still that dodgy shade of purple from that bad dye job the other week. Because it doesn’t matter to Adam.

‘I think this is the best first date I’ve ever been on.’ I grin a little tipsily.

‘No, the police station was our first date,’ he corrects me, smiling.

‘That wasn’t a date,’ I retort.

‘Well, that’s when we had our first kiss,’ he says.

At the memory of our kiss, all my nerve endings start tingling. ‘So if this is our second date, does that mean we get to have our second kiss?’ I reply flirtatiously.

Well, I haven’t been suffering in this underwear all night for nothing.

‘I guess it does.’ He nods, sliding his hand round my waist and pulling me towards him. Before I know it he’s kissing me. And I’m kissing him back. And he’s sliding his hand up the back of my top. And—

Suddenly the buzzer goes.

I ignore it and keep kissing him.

It goes again.

‘Do you think you should get that?’ murmurs Adam.

‘It will be my roommate. She lost her keys,’ I say thickly. Flinging out my hand, I press the release buzzer for the main door and flick the latch. Gosh, Adam is a really good kisser.

I can hear footsteps pounding up the stairs. ‘C’mon, we should go to my room,’ I whisper, tugging at his T-shirt, worried that Robyn will walk in on us snogging in the kitchen.

‘Just one more kiss,’ he whispers, his soft stubble scratching my face as he pulls me even closer.

Suddenly there’s a loud crash and the door slams wide open. I jump a mile. ‘Crikey, Robyn,’ I exclaim, laughing as Adam and I spring apart.

Only it’s not Robyn. It’s Nate.

It’s like being wrenched from a dream into a nightmare. ‘What on earth?’ I gasp in horror, as his grey-suited figure comes charging through the door.

‘What did you say to Beth?’ he demands without any introduction.

I stare at him speechless with shock. I’ve never seen him look so angry.

‘Who are you?’ asks Adam in total bewilderment.

‘What? When?’ I cry, finding my voice.

‘In Martha’s Vineyard!’

‘You were in Martha’s Vineyard too?’ Adam’s brow creases.

Suddenly the penny drops. It wasn’t Jennifer the real-estate agent I spoke to. It was Beth, Nate’s ex-wife. The Beth. ‘Oh shit, that was her who called our room?’

Adam turns to me, his face shocked. ‘Our room?’

‘She didn’t leave a message. I had no idea,’ I begin explaining, but my mind is reeling. All those years I built her up in my head to be this superhuman person, the girl Nate married, the one he chose over me, and yet she’d sounded so normal.

No wonder she hung up on me. She must have thought—

‘You were together?’ Adam looks at me, dumbstruck.

‘Please, I can explain,’ I try, turning to him, but Nate talks over me.

‘We’re always together!’ he cries in exasperation. ‘We’re never apart.’

‘That’s not my fault,’ I retaliate, wheeling round. ‘It’s as much you as it is me.’

‘Now my wife thinks we’re having an affair.’

‘You’re married?’ Adam’s voice is quiet and he’s looking at Nate, his eyes flicking over him, his mind racing.

‘I thought you were separated,’ I gasp.

‘We are, but . . . well, we’ve been talking . . .’ Nate trails off self-consciously. For a moment he looks down at his feet, then back at me. ‘We want to give it another try. At least she did. Before . . .’

There’s silence for a moment. Nobody says anything. I don’t think anyone knows what to say, least of all me. I feel numb, relieved, suddenly hopeful. If Nate wants to get back with Beth—

‘You’ve been having an affair with a married man?’

Adam’s voice snaps me back. ‘What? No!’ I spin round, shaking my head in furious denial. ‘No, it’s not like that at all.’

I meet his gaze, but gone is his warm faith in me. In its place is a cold, steely distrust. ‘Save it, Lucy.’

‘No, please, it’s not like that.’ I feel the panic rising. He thinks I’m like his ex-girlfriend. He thinks I’ve been cheating, that I’ve been unfaithful with another woman’s husband. ‘Please, I can explain,’ I say desperately. Tears have begun prickling my eyelashes. I reach out to him. ‘Trust me.’

But he brushes away. ‘Like I trusted you before?’ he says, his face splintered into anger and contempt.

‘Adam, please,’ I beg, but he just looks at me and it’s the coldest, hardest look. Turning, he walks towards the door.

‘Don’t go,’ I call out after him, but even as I’m saying the words, I know it’s useless. He’s already gone.

For a moment I stand motionless in the kitchen, staring at the empty doorway. Then slowly I become aware of Nate’s presence. I raise my eyes to meet his, but if I’m expecting to see some kind of satisfaction, I’m wrong.  

‘I’m sorry. I was upset about Beth.’ He looks at me with dismay. ‘I didn’t mean . . .’

‘I know.’ I shake my head wearily. My lovely evening with Adam is lying in tatters and yet there’s no point blaming anyone. Nate’s suffering too. He’s probably lost Beth again now, just like I’ve lost Adam.

A sob rises in my throat. It’s all such a mess.

Nate and I don’t say any more; there’s nothing left for either of us to say. He leaves, and closing the door behind him, I lean against it and sink to the floor.

And only then do I cry.

I cry my bloody heart out.

You're the One That I Don't Want