Chapter Thirty-One

‘I’ve called a dozen times and left messages, but he won’t return my calls.’

The next day I’m sitting in a café on the Upper West Side, having lunch with my sister. Over Eggs Florentine I’ve been telling her all about what happened, about Martha’s Vineyard, about last night, about everything.

‘I’ve tried emailing, texting, you name it, but nothing. I just don’t know what else to do.’ I heave a deep sigh and slump down into my seat. ‘I can’t believe Nate. He completely sabotaged everything with Adam. To think I did all those things on the Strategy.’ I give a little shudder. ‘It’s like nothing works.’

I stare dolefully into the dregs of my latte. Last night, after Nate left, I went to bed but couldn’t sleep. I spent the whole night tossing and turning, and woke up this morning still feeling horrible. ‘But I’m not blaming Nate. I mean, it can’t be nice for him either. Apparently he’s trying to get back with his wife and give it another try, and now that’s ruined too.’ I heave an even deeper sigh and sink down further into my chair. ‘It’s all such a mess. We’re doomed to be together for ever.’

‘Lucky you.’

‘Excuse me?’ I glance up from my coffee cup to look at my sister. She’s barely said a word since we met and has hardly touched her salad Niçoise. Instead she’s spent the whole time staring off into space, as if her mind’s on other things. Most likely mergers and acquisitions or her marathon training.

‘Some people would love to be together for ever. I wish Jeff and I could be so lucky.’

‘Aren’t you the same person who called marriage a life sentence?’ I remark. ‘And you get your sentence shortened for good behaviour?’ I look at Kate, expecting her to laugh, but her face remains passive.

‘Jeff has cancer.’

Boom. Just like that.

I look at her in disbelief. ‘What?

‘Testicular. The doctor’s finally figured out why he’s been losing weight and feeling so unwell. He’s got to have a chest X-ray and blood work to see if it’s spread.’ She says all this very matter-of-factly, in the same tone of voice she used to discuss what to have for lunch. ‘He’ll have his ball chopped off, of course, though that’s OK – you can manage perfectly fine with just one.’

I’m staring at Kate and listening to her calmly talking, but I can’t compute what I’m hearing. ‘Oh my God, Kate, I can’t believe it,’ I manage finally. ‘I had no idea.’ I reach out across the table for her hand, but she pulls it away. I feel dreadful. There’s me jabbering on about Nate and Adam and the whole time Kate’s been sitting here with this awful news.

‘I know, neither did I. I thought all he needed was antibiotics.’ She falters momentarily – a blink of an eye and you’d have missed it – then, regaining her composure, quickly carries on. ‘The good news is that there’s a strong chance we’ve caught it early enough and the cancer hasn’t spread, and by getting rid of the tumour, you get rid of it all. We don’t know for sure yet, but they’re running tests, so we’ll know soon enough.’ Affording a tight smile, she takes a sip of water. ‘According to the oncologist, it’s the best cancer to have. I didn’t know there was a top ten of cancers you most want to have, but I guess you learn something every day.’

‘And what if—’ I stop myself. I don’t want to ask the question, but Kate asks it for me.

‘What if it’s spread?’ she says evenly.

I look at her mutely, almost shamefully. I feel disloyal for even thinking such a thing.

‘Well, we have to deal with that if it happens,’ she says pragmatically. ‘We’ll have to go through the motions – radiotherapy, chemotherapy. I’ve been reading up on everything, but even for me, with my medical background, it’s a whole new learning curve.’ She’s being incredibly calm. Spookily so.

‘You’re being so calm about everything,’ I say to her in amazement.

She shrugs. ‘There’s no point bringing emotions into this. We need to deal with the facts. When it comes to medical matters, the body is like a car that’s broken down and we need to figure out the best way to try to fix it.’

‘But this isn’t a car we’re talking about – this is Jeff,’ I say passionately.

‘I’m acutely aware of that, Lucy,’ she snaps, the strain showing for the first time.

I fall silent. I’m not sure what to do or what to say to try and comfort her. I know she’s upset, but she refuses to show it. She refuses to put down the big, strong sister act and let anyone in, least of all me. It’s so frustrating. I feel so helpless.

‘How is Jeff dealing with it?’ I say after a moment.

‘He’s been better. Obviously. His main concern seems to be that after the operation he’s going to be flying solo.’ She raises an eyebrow. ‘But the doctor explained to him that you can get an implant.’

‘An implant?’

‘Apparently. I don’t know if they come in different sizes like with breasts. My husband with the double-D testicles.’ She smiles ruefully, attempting a joke. ‘I’ll be calling him “Jordan” next.’

We both laugh, but it’s a hollow sound. This is cancer we’re talking about, this is Jeff, and this is something that threatens the rest of their lives together, but she’s refusing to go there, and so I don’t go there either.

After lunch I leave Kate insisting she’s OK. ‘Don’t fuss,’ she protests. ‘Everything’s going to be fine.’

‘I know, of course,’ I say hurriedly. ‘I didn’t mean . . . Look, if you need anything, anything at all. If you want me to come with you to the hospital, keep you topped up with bad vending-machine coffee . . .’

‘I’ll call you.’ She nods curtly, in a way that says she has no intention of calling me, or anyone for that matter.

She hitches her bag on to her shoulder and is about to turn away when instinctively I reach over and give her a big hug. I can’t help myself. Despite her steely demeanour, she feels tiny and fragile beneath her cotton jacket.

She stiffens and awkwardly pulls away. ‘Oh, and, Lucy, don’t mention anything to Mum and Dad. You know how they worry about stuff.’

‘Yes, of course.’ I nod, thinking how that’s so typical of Kate. Never wanting to be any trouble. Always determined to handle everything herself. ‘I won’t breathe a word.’

We say our goodbyes and I walk back to the subway and begin descending the steps, then pause. I don’t feel like going back to the apartment, I feel like walking, and so, turning round, I climb back up again. I’ve no destination in mind, no clue where I’m heading. I just start walking aimlessly, paying no attention to my surroundings, the people who walk by, the shops that I pass, the neighbourhoods that I enter. Staring at the ground, I focus on putting one foot in front of the other, the rhythm propelling me forward, like a musician with his metronome.

I think about Jeff and Kate. About my sister’s stoicism, her flippant remarks, the sarcastic humour that hides the true depth of love she has for him, but couldn’t hide the shadow of fear I saw in her eyes. About Jeff and how he must be feeling. I try to imagine it, but of course I can’t. How can I? This is life or death we’re talking about. Not some silly legend about soulmates. I feel a stab of shame. Talk about putting things into perspective.

I’m not sure how long I walk for, but after a while I become vaguely aware that my legs are beginning to ache. As I slow down, I find myself outside a large art gallery: the Whitney, on Madison Avenue. It feels fortuitous. Galleries are where I always go to seek comfort. They never fail to make me feel better. They’ve never let me down yet. Right now I need them more than ever.

Seeking solace, I walk, as if on autopilot, in through the doors, eager to immerse myself in the art. To lose myself and block out everything else. Only today the paintings don’t make me feel better; the sculptures don’t lift my spirits; even Rothko’s Four Shades of Red doesn’t work its usual magic.

I think back to the last time I was at a gallery. It was after the row with Nate, when I bumped into Adam at the MoMA. As my mind flicks to him, I feel a tug in the pit of my stomach. What wouldn’t I give to turn a corner and see him now? I reflect, as I wander from room to room, each time hoping to glimpse him, each time feeling a thump of disappointment as I realise he’s not here.

I leave when the gallery closes. It’s early evening, the clear sky is now a purplish bruise, and for the first time I can feel summer nudging into autumn. As if while I was inside the gallery there was a shift, a change, a coming to an end. I set off walking. My feet are sore and I’m not sure exactly where the subway station is, but somehow the feeling of being lost suits my mood.

I’ll just keep walking until I come across one, I decide, zigzagging blocks, meandering past the park.

Until before you know it I’m in the Village and the streets are lined with busy restaurants and bars, and people are milling around outside on the pavement, smoking cigarettes and chattering, their voices filling the evening air. I keep walking, absently catching snippets of conversation, until all at once I stumble across another gallery.

I slow down. Sounds of glasses clinking, the hum of conversation, wafts of perfume and aftershave float towards me. Outside the gallery are gathered a small crowd of people.

For a moment my heart races. It’s a gallery opening. Maybe Adam is here.

With my breath held tight in anticipation, I glance around, my eyes skimming the crowd.

Then I see a figure. He has his back turned to me, but he’s wearing a T-shirt, baggy jeans, and he’s got dark, floppy hair . . . My heart races. It’s him. It’s Adam.

It’s like a shot of adrenaline. A jumble of thoughts shoots through my brain as I step towards him: relief, apprehension, hope, fear.

‘Adam.’ I hear an urgent voice say his name and suddenly realise it’s me. ‘I need to explain.’

He stops talking and turns round.

Only it’s not him. It’s a stranger with a passing resemblance to him. He looks at me questioningly.

‘Oh.’ I feel a crash of disappointment. ‘I thought you were someone else.’

‘Who would you like me to be?’ he jokes good-naturedly, and his friend laughs.

I try to smile, but my face won’t quite do it. Abruptly I feel tears prickling. ‘I’m sorry. I made a mistake,’ I stammer, and turn away sharply.

If only I could say that to Adam. But I’ll probably never get the chance, I realise, with a heavy clunk of dismay. There are over eight million people living in New York – what’s the likelihood of ever seeing him again?

And fighting back tears, I hurry away.

You're the One That I Don't Want