Home > Still Me (Me Before You #3)(4)

Still Me (Me Before You #3)(4)
Author: Jojo Moyes

I sat in a window seat staring out at the early-morning Manhattan street for half an hour or so, my mouth alternately filled with claggy, buttery muffin or scalded by hot, strong coffee, giving free rein to my ever-present internal monologue (I am drinking New York coffee in a New York coffee house! I am walking along a New York street! Like Meg Ryan! Or Diane Keaton! I am in actual New York!) and, briefly, I understood exactly what Will had been trying to explain to me two years previously: for those few minutes, my mouth full of unfamiliar food, my eyes filled with strange sights, I existed only in the moment. I was fully present, my senses alive, my whole being open to receive the new experiences around me. I was in the only place in the world I could possibly be.

And then, apropos of apparently nothing, two women at the next table launched into a fist fight, coffee and bits of pastry flying across the tables, baristas leaping to pull them apart. I dusted the crumbs off my dress, closed my bag, and decided it was probably time to return to the peace of the Lavery.


Ashok was sorting huge bales of newspapers into numbered piles as I walked back in. He straightened up with a smile. ‘Well, good day, Miss Louisa. And how was your first morning in New York?’

‘Amazing. Thank you.’

‘Did you hum “Let The River Run” as you walked down the street?’

I stopped in my tracks. ‘How did you know?’

‘Everyone does that when they first come to Manhattan. Hell, even I do it some mornings and I don’t look nothing like Melanie Griffith.’

‘Are there no grocery stores around here? I had to walk about a million miles to get a coffee. And I have no idea where to buy milk.’

‘Miss Louisa, you should have told me. C’mere.’ He gestured behind his counter and opened a door, beckoning me into a dark office, its scruffiness and cluttered décor at odds with the brass and marble outside. On a desk sat a bank of security screens and among them an old television and a large ledger, along with a mug, some paperback books and an array of photographs of beaming, toothless children. Behind the door stood an ancient fridge. ‘Here. Take this. Bring me one later.’

‘Do all doormen do this?’

‘No doormen do this. But the Lavery is different.’

‘So where do people do their shopping?’

He pulled a face. ‘People in this building don’t do shopping, Miss Louisa. They don’t even think about shopping. I swear half of them think that food arrives by magic, cooked, on their tables.’ He glanced behind him, lowering his voice. ‘I will wager that eighty per cent of the women in this building have not cooked a meal in five years. Mind you, half the women in this building don’t eat meals, period.’

When I stared at him he shrugged. ‘The rich do not live like you and me, Miss Louisa. And the New York rich … well, they do not live like anyone.’

I took the carton of milk.

‘Anything you want you have it delivered. You’ll get used to it.’

I wanted to ask him about Ilaria and Mrs Gopnik, who apparently wasn’t Mrs Gopnik, and the family I was about to meet. But he was looking away from me up the hallway.

‘Well, good morning to you, Mrs De Witt!’

‘What are all these newspapers doing on the floor? The place looks like a wretched newsstand.’ A tiny old woman tutted fretfully at the piles of New York Times and Wall Street Journal that he was still unpacking. Despite the hour, she was dressed as if for a wedding, in a raspberry pink duster coat, a red pillbox hat and huge tortoiseshell sunglasses that obscured her tiny, wrinkled face. At the end of a lead a wheezy pug, with bulbous eyes, gazed at me belligerently (at least I thought it was gazing at me: it was hard to be sure as its eyes veered off in different directions). I stooped to help Ashok clear the newspapers from her path but as I bent down the dog leapt at me with a growl so that I sprang back, almost falling over the New York Times.

‘Oh, for goodness’ sake!’ came the quavering, imperious voice. ‘And now you’re upsetting the dog!’

My leg had felt the whisper of the pug’s teeth. My skin sang with the near contact.

‘Please make sure this – this debris is cleared by the time we return. I have told Mr Ovitz again and again that the building is going downhill. And, Ashok, I’ve left a bag of refuse outside my door. Please move it immediately or the whole corridor will smell of stale lilies. Goodness knows who sends lilies as a gift. Funereal things. Dean Martin!’

Ashok tipped his cap. ‘Certainly, Mrs De Witt.’ He waited until she’d gone. Then he turned and peered at my leg.

‘That dog tried to bite me!’

‘Yeah. That’s Dean Martin. Best stay out of his way. He’s the most bad-tempered resident in this building, and that’s saying something.’ He bent back towards his papers, heaving the next lot onto the desk, then pausing to shoo me away. ‘Don’t you worry about these, Miss Louisa. They’re heavy and you’ve got enough on your plate with them upstairs. Have a nice day now.’

He was gone before I could ask him what he meant.

The day passed in a blur. I spent the rest of the morning organizing my little room, cleaning the bathroom, putting up pictures of Sam, my parents, Treena and Thom to make it feel more like home. Nathan took me to a diner near Columbus Circle where I ate from a plate the size of a car tyre and drank so much strong coffee that my hands vibrated as we walked back. Nathan pointed out places that might be useful to me – this bar stayed open late, that food truck did really good falafel, this was a safe ATM for getting cash … My brain spun with new images, new information. Some time mid-afternoon I felt suddenly woozy and leaden-footed, so Nathan walked me back to the apartment, his arm through mine. I was grateful for the quiet, dark interior of the building, for the service lift that saved me from the stairs.

‘Take a nap,’ he advised, as I kicked off my shoes. ‘I wouldn’t sleep more than an hour, though, or your body clock will be even more messed up.’

‘What time did you say the Gopniks will be back?’ My voice had started to slur.

‘Usually around six. It’s three now so you’ve got time. Go on, get some shut-eye. You’ll feel human again.’

He closed the door and I sank gratefully back on the bed. I was about to sleep, but realized suddenly that if I waited I wouldn’t be able to speak to Sam, and reached for my laptop, briefly lifted from my torpor. Are you there? I typed into the messenger app.

A few minutes later, with a little bubbling sound, the picture expanded and there he was, back in the railway carriage, his huge body hunched towards the screen. Sam. Paramedic. Man-mountain. All-too-new-boyfriend. We grinned at each other like loons.

‘Hey, gorgeous! How is it?’

‘Good!’ I said. ‘I could show you my room but I might bump the walls as I turn the screen.’ I twisted the laptop so that he could see the full glory of my little bedroom.

‘Looks good to me. It’s got you in it.’

I stared at the grey window behind him. I could picture it exactly, the rain thrumming on the roof of the railway carriage, the glass that steamed comfortingly, the wood, the damp and the hens outside sheltering under a dripping wheelbarrow. Sam was gazing at me, and I wiped my eyes, wishing suddenly that I had remembered to put on some make-up.

‘Did you go into work?’

‘Yeah. They reckon I’ll be good to start back on full duties in a week. Got to be fit enough to lift a body without busting my stitches.’ He instinctively placed his hand on his abdomen, where the gunshot had hit him just a matter of weeks previously – the routine callout that had nearly killed him, and cemented our relationship – and I felt something unbalancing and visceral.

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