Still Me (Page 40)

I did. We bonded over that short jacket the way other people bond over pictures of babies. Her name was Lydia and she lived in Brooklyn. She and her sister, Angelica, had inherited the store from their parents seven years previously. They had a small but loyal clientele, and were mostly kept afloat by visits from TV and film costume designers who would buy things to rip apart and re-tailor. Most of their clothes, she said, came from estate sales. ‘Florida is the best. You have these grandmas with huge air-conditioned closets stuffed full of cocktail dresses from the 1950s that they never got rid of. We fly down every couple of months and mostly restock from grieving relatives. But it’s getting harder. There’s so much competition, these days.’ She gave me a card with their website and email. ‘You ever have anything you want to sell, you just give me a call.’

‘Lydia,’ I said, when she had packed my clothes with tissue, and placed them in a bag. ‘I think I’m a buyer more than a seller. But thank you. Your store is the greatest. You’re the greatest. I feel like … I feel like I’m at home.’

‘You are adorable.’ She said this with no change in her facial expression whatsoever. She held up a finger, then stooped below the counter. She came up bearing a pair of vintage sunglasses, dark with pale blue plastic frames.

‘Someone left these here months ago. I was going to put them up for sale but it just occurred to me they would look fabulous on you, especially in that dress.’

‘I probably shouldn’t,’ I began. ‘I’ve already spent so –’

‘Ssh! A gift. So you’re now indebted to us and have to come back. There. How cute do you look in those?’ She held up a mirror.

I had to admit, I did look cute. I adjusted the shades on my nose. ‘Well, this is officially my best day in New York. Lydia, I’ll see you next week. And basically spend all my money in here from now on.’

‘Cool! This is how we emotionally blackmail our customers into keeping us afloat!’ She lit a Sobranie and waved me off.

I spent the afternoon putting together the mood board, and trying on my new clothes, and suddenly it was six o’clock and I was sitting on my bed tapping my fingers on my knees. I had been thrilled with the idea of having time to myself, but now the evening stretched in front of me like a bleak, featureless landscape. I texted Nathan, who was still with Mr Gopnik, to see if he wanted to go out for a bite to eat after work, but he had a date, and said so nicely, but in the way that people do when they really don’t need a gooseberry tagging along.

I thought about calling Sam again, but I no longer had faith that our phone calls were going to happen in real life the way they happened in my head, and although I kept staring at the phone my fingers never quite made it to the digits. I thought about Josh, and wondered whether if I called him up and asked to meet him for a drink he would think It Meant Something. And then I wondered if the fact that I wanted to meet him for a drink did Actually Mean Something. I checked Katie Ingram’s Facebook page, but she still hadn’t posted. And then I headed into the kitchen before I could do anything else that stupid and asked Ilaria if she wanted any help making supper, which caused her to rock on her black-slippered heels and stare at me suspiciously for a full ten seconds. ‘You want to help me make supper?’

‘Yes,’ I said, and smiled.

‘No,’ she said, and turned away.

Until that evening I hadn’t realized quite how few people I knew in New York. I had been so busy since I’d arrived and my life had been so comprehensively based around Agnes, her schedule and needs, that it hadn’t occurred to me that I hadn’t made any friends of my own. But there was something about a Friday night in the city with no plans that made you feel like … well, like a bit of a loser.

I walked to the good sushi place and bought miso soup and some sashimi I hadn’t had before and tried not to think, Eel! I’m actually eating eel! and drank a beer, then lay on my bed, flicked through the channels and pushed away thoughts of other things, such as what Sam was doing. I told myself I was in New York, the centre of the universe. So what if I was having a Friday night in? I was simply resting after a week of my demanding New York job. I could go out any night of the week, if I really wanted to. I told myself this several times. And then my phone pinged.

You out exploring New York’s finest bars again?

I knew who it was without looking. Something inside me lurched. I hesitated a moment before responding.

Just having a night in, actually.

Fancy a friendly beer with an exhausted corporate wage slave? If nothing else, you could make sure I don’t go home with an unsuitable woman.

I started to smile. And then I typed: What makes you think I’m any kind of defence?

Are you saying we look like we could never be together? Oh, that’s harsh.

I meant what makes you think I’d stop you going home with someone else?

The fact that you’re even responding to my messages? (He added a smiley face to this.)

I stopped typing, feeling suddenly disloyal. I stared at my phone, watching the cursor wink impatiently. In the end he typed, Did I blow it? I just blew it, didn’t I? Damn, Louisa Clark. I just wanted a beer with a pretty girl on a Friday night and I was prepared to overlook the feeling of vague dejection that comes with knowing she’s in love with someone else. That’s how much I enjoy your company. Come for a beer? One beer?

I lay back on the pillow, thinking. I closed my eyes and groaned. And then I sat up and typed, I’m really sorry, Josh. I can’t. x

He didn’t respond. I had offended him. I would never hear from him again.

And then my phone pinged. Okay. Well, if I get myself in trouble I’m texting you first thing tomorrow morning to come get me and pretend to be my crazy jealous girlfriend. Be prepared to hit hard. Deal?

I found I was laughing. The least I can do. Have a good night. X

You too. Not too good, though. The only thing keeping me going right now is the thought of you secretly regretting not coming out with me. X

I did regret it a little. Of course I did. There are only so many episodes of The Big Bang Theory a girl can watch. I turned the television off and I stared at the ceiling and I thought about my boyfriend on the other side of the world and I thought about an American who looked like Will Traynor and actually wanted to spend time with me, not a girl with wild blonde hair who looked like she wore sequined G-strings under her uniform. I thought about ringing my sister but I didn’t want to disturb Thom.

For the first time since I had arrived in America I had an almost physical sense of being in the wrong place, as if I were being tugged by invisible cords to somewhere a million miles away. At one point I felt so bad that when I walked into my bathroom and saw a large chestnut-coloured cockroach on the sink I didn’t scream, like I had previously, but briefly considered making it a pet, like a character in a children’s novel. And then I realized that I was now officially thinking like a madwoman and sprayed it with Raid instead.

At ten, irritable and restless, I walked to the kitchen and stole two of Nathan’s beers, leaving an apologetic note under his door, and drank them, one after the other, gulping so fast that I had to suppress a huge belch. I felt bad about that damned cockroach. What was he doing after all? Just going about his cockroachy business. Maybe he’d been lonely. Maybe he’d wanted to make friends with me. I went and peered under the basin where I’d kicked him but he was definitely dead. This made me irrationally angry. I’d thought you weren’t meant to be able to kill cockroaches. I’d been lied to about cockroaches. I added this to my list of things to feel furious about.

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