Chapter Thirty-Two

I arrive back late to the apartment with a giant bag of Kettle Chips and a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Usually they’re my fail-safe, cheer-up, get-out-of-a-crap-mood card, but tonight not even New York Cheddar Cheese can make me feel better, I reflect, letting myself into the kitchen and putting the half-eaten packet on the table.

Maybe the wine will do better.

I screw open the top. I once read an article about why winemakers have started using screw-tops in the twenty-first century. It said something about being a better way of sealing the wine, as corks can go mouldy, apparently. Personally, I think that’s a load of rubbish. Screw-tops are in demand because of all the heartbroken single girls who need to get the wine faster.

Pouring a glass, I glug half of it back, then pick up my discarded Kettle Chips in a resigned ‘OK, let’s try again stance,’ like a weary couple giving things another shot, pad into the living room and flick on the light.


I hear a strangled yelp and spot a couple lying entwined on the sofa. At exactly the same time they see me and spring apart in a flurry of adjusting bra straps, fiddling with belts and hastily brushing down hair.

‘Oh, er, hi, Lucy,’ murmurs Robyn. Face flushed, she smoothes her dress. ‘I didn’t think you’d be back so early.’

‘Um, no, I guess not,’ I say, frozen in the doorway. Now I know how my dad must have felt when he blundered in on me and Stuart Yates in the conservatory when we were fifteen.

‘You’ve met Daniel before.’ She gestures to Daniel, who’s now sitting bolt upright on the sofa as if he’s about to have tea with the vicar.

‘Yes, of course.’ I nod. ‘Hi, Daniel.’

‘Hi, Lucy.’ He stands up to shake my hand politely and I can’t help noticing his flies are undone.

‘Um . . .’ I gesture downwards with my eyes.

He looks puzzled and glances down. Seeing his zip, he turns beetroot. I’m not sure who’s more embarrassed, him or me. Or Robyn, who’s now vigorously plumping cushions like my mother when the relatives are coming.

‘We were just watching a DVD,’ she says briskly.

I glance at the TV. It’s turned off.

‘Great.’ I nod, playing along.

‘So did you have a nice day?’ she asks brightly.

The conversation is so stilted it’s like we’re in a bad amateur dramatics play.

‘Oh, you know . . .’ I consider telling her about my sister and Jeff and Adam, but decide against it. Now’s hardly the time to unburden myself. ‘How about you two? How was your day?’

‘Amazing,’ beams Daniel enthusiastically.

‘OK,’ says Robyn, speaking over him with forced nonchalance.

Glances fly between them and I feel the air prickle as if there’s a lot going on under the surface. I take this as my cue to leave.

‘Well, I think I’ll probably go to bed. It’s late.’ I start backing out of the doorway.

‘Oh, don’t go on our account,’ she says breezily. I notice she’s still plumping the same cushion. As does Daniel, who prises it from her gently.

‘Actually, I’m exhausted,’ I say, and throw in a yawn for good measure. Which is true, I suddenly realise. It’s been quite some day. ‘Night.’

‘Night,’ they say in stereo, from opposite ends of the sofa, where they’re standing awkwardly as if to prove there’s nothing going on between them.

Proving that without any doubt there is something going on between them.

I go into my bedroom, flick on a couple of lamps and turn on my fairy lights. That’s always a sure-fire way to make me feel better. I don’t know why it is, but there’s something about their soft, twinkly glow that never fails to lift my spirits.

Except for tonight. Tonight they have zero effect, I think glumly. Lighting an aromatherapy candle, I put on some cheery music, but it’s hopeless. Not even my ludicrously expensive Diptyque candle, which I only burn on special occasions, and the Mamma Mia soundtrack Mum bought me can make a dent in my black mood.

Giving up, I resign myself to feeling miserable and ensconce myself on my bed with my wine, Kettle Chips and laptop. Maybe Adam’s replied to my message on Facebook, I tell myself. Maybe now he’s had time to think about things . . . Hope flickers, like the flame on my candle, and for a brief moment I feel a tiny pulse of anticipation, a ray of possibility. Maybe, just maybe.

Taking a large slurp of wine for courage, I check my emails. I have three. One from my mum asking me if I’ve spoken to Kate, as she can’t get hold of her, and that it’s ‘boiling hot here. Everyone is wearing T-shirts.’ Ever since I moved to New York, Mum and I have had an ongoing weather battle. For some reason she’s determined to prove Manchester is hotter than Manhattan. ‘You wouldn’t believe how sunny it’s been since you left!’

Quite frankly no, Mum, I wouldn’t, I think, clicking off her email and on to the next one, which is an engagement party evite from a friend in London. ‘Brilliant. Congratulations,’ I type with two fingers, while glugging back wine. ‘Sorry I can’t make it.’ Am in New York, becoming an alcoholic, I add mentally, pressing send.

The last one is from eBay, reminding me that the online auction for my spare theatre ticket is about to end tomorrow and that I’ve had several bids. I feel slightly cheered. Well, at least that’s something.

And that’s it. No email from Adam. I stare at my empty inbox, my mind turning, then log into Facebook. You never know, there could have been an error and his reply never got forwarded. That happened to a friend of mine once. Well, not an actual friend, a friend of a friend, or maybe it was in an article I read. I can’t remember. The most important thing is, it did happen.

Not to me, though, I realise, looking at my profile page. No new messages. Nothing, apart from a status update from Nathaniel Kennedy:

This time I don’t even bother trying to defriend him. After all, what’s the point? I think resignedly, logging out. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter so much any more.

My mind jumps back to this lunchtime and Kate’s comment about wishing she and Jeff would be tied together for ever. Reminded, I feel a clutch of anxiety and take a sip of wine, trying to shake off the sense of foreboding that’s threatening to envelop me like a heavy overcoat. Jeff’s going to be OK, I tell myself firmly. Kate said it was the best cancer to have, and she trained to be a doctor, so she should know. Kate knows everything. She never gets it wrong. Why should now be any different?

I wake up on Sunday morning with one question and one question only: why, oh, why did I have that fourth glass of wine? Yet along with a thumping headache comes a new sense of determination. That’s it. No more drowning my sorrows. I’m going to forget about men and relationships. I’m going to stop wasting time on all that stupid love stuff. Instead I’m going to focus on what’s really important. Like family and friends, health, raising money for charity . . .

And a stonking great big cup of coffee.

Padding bleary-eyed into the kitchen, I find Robyn making herbal tea. Robyn is the queen of herbal teas, and we’re not just talking bog-standard chamomile or peppermint that come as pre-packaged teabags from Ralph’s Supermarket. She makes a whole science of herbal tea, brewing up spoonfuls of dried herbs with exotic-sounding names in her little teapot, stewing, sieving and straining through various filters and fiddly bits of gauze. All so she can produce the most foul-tasting liquid known to man.

Flicking on the kettle, I pull three cups from the cupboard.

‘One for me, one for you and one for Daniel,’ I say pointedly, giving her a knowing smile.

‘Thanks –’ she nods, ladling out dried herbs into a small ceramic teapot – ‘but I’ll only be needing one cup.’

‘Sensible man. He hates that stuff too, does he?’ I grin. I start unscrewing my little silver espresso pot. ‘Maybe he’d like a coffee instead.’

‘He’s not here.’

Dumping the old coffee grains in the bin, I give it a quick rinse under the tap. ‘Oh, has he gone to get croissants?’

Robyn and I live on the next street to this great little bakery that does the most delicious croissants. Every time I walk by I think of Nate’s comment and tell myself, ‘A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.’ And every time I can’t resist popping in for an almond one. It’s a stupid rhyme anyway. I much prefer ‘A moment on the hips, a lifetime on the lips.’

‘No, he’s gone,’ she says flatly. The kettle boils and clicks off and she starts pouring water over her herbs.

‘Gone?’ The way she says it, it’s as if he’s gone missing. I’m almost tempted to look under the kitchen table to see if that’s where he’s hiding. Then it suddenly strikes me that she means he’s gone as in ‘He won’t be coming back.’

‘But how? Why?’ In confusion I watch her stirring her teapot, a strange sort of dazed look on her face. ‘Last night you two seemed so . . .’ I search for the right word. About to have sex? No, that’s three. ‘ . . . cosy,’ I finish.

She stops stirring and looks up. ‘It’s over.’

‘Over?’ I feel like the time I missed an episode of X-Factor and didn’t realise that one of my favourites had been knocked out and spent the first ten minutes completely bewildered and trying to work out what had happened.

‘Not that we were dating each other or anything,’ she adds hurriedly.

‘No, of course not.’ I nod, playing along.

‘We were just friends.’

‘Good friends,’ I suggest.

‘Yes, totally,’ she agrees, averting her eyes.

‘So what happened?’

There’s a pause and then she sighs. ‘Harold. That’s what happened. You told me you’d met him in Martha’s Vineyard.’

Guilt thuds. This is all my fault. ‘I didn’t mean for you to break up with Daniel,’ I protest quickly. ‘I mean, not that you were ever together—’ I try to backtrack, but she cuts me off.

‘I didn’t finish it. Daniel did. He doesn’t think we should see each other any more.’

I stare at her incredulously. ‘But I thought . . .’ I hesitate, my mind whirring. ‘I thought you two were having lots of fun together . . . the African drumming band, the vegan restaurant, last night . . .’ I trail off thinking about them together on the sofa. Trust me, Daniel did not look like a man who wanted to finish things.

‘We were.’ She nods. ‘We did.’ She gives a little sniff and her large green eyes start to glisten. She blinks rapidly. ‘But he said now that I’ve found Harold, he didn’t want to stop me from being with him. From being with my soulmate.’

I pause, allowing for that to register. ‘Can you just rewind that bit?’ I fix her with a hard look. ‘How does he know you’ve . . . I mean, I’ve found Harold?’

‘I told him.’

You told him?

‘Of course.’ She nods. ‘I told him about Harold from the very beginning, how I’m searching for him, how he’s my soulmate.’

‘You haven’t even met him yet! He might be the completely wrong Harold,’ I exclaim, waving the espresso pot around. ‘I mean, there must be more than one unlucky sod in the world with the name Harold.’

Robyn stiffens slightly.

‘And even if by some miracle he is the right one, you might hate him.’

‘I don’t hate anyone,’ she reprimands hotly. ‘Hate is wasted emotion. It will only bring bitterness into your heart.’

‘That’s not what you said about the man who left his dog in the car.’

Last week Robyn saw an article on the news about a man who’d nearly killed his Dalmatian from heat exhaustion by leaving it locked in his jeep in the midday sun. Thankfully it was found in the nick of time by a passerby.

‘I don’t hate him. I want to lock him in his car in hundred-degree heat without any water or air and let him suffer in agony for a very, very long time and beg for help and come this close to dying.’ She pinches her two fingers together and scrunches up her face so that she looks pretty scary. ‘There’s a difference.’

‘So what are you going to do?’ I quickly change the subject. ‘About Daniel, I mean, not the man with the Dalmatian,’ I say hurriedly, before she reams off a list of torture devices. For a woman who’s all about healing, she knows an awful lot of ways to inflict pain.

‘Nothing.’ She shrugs and stares dolefully down at the teapot. ‘I would have had to finish it anyway. It was inevitable. It’s meant to be.’

‘Why? Because of what some stupid psychic said?’ I feel a stab of frustration.

Robyn purses her lips tightly and lifts her chin. ‘Wakanda is a Native American healer who can communicate with spirit guides. She has an amazing gift. Her Sioux name actually means “possesses magical power”.’

I open my mouth to argue, then, realising it’s futile, let out a groan. ‘Oh God, why didn’t I keep my mouth shut? I should never have told you about meeting the artist. It was supposed to be a secret.’

‘But you did,’ she says, reaching out and squeezing my arm in a don’t-blame-yourself kind of way. ‘You did tell me, and you did meet him. It’s serendipity.’

‘I thought that was a movie, not real life,’ I quip ruefully.

She smiles and, turning back to her teapot, gives it one last stir and pours herself a cup of tea.

‘So what are you going to do now?’

She pauses, and for a moment a look of sadness flashes briefly across her face, then it’s gone and is replaced with one of determination. ‘Do what I always do,’ she says firmly, and tucking her hair behind her ears, she gives me one of her megawatt smiles. ‘Leave things up to Fate.’

You're the One That I Don't Want