Ŕâňîđčçŕöč˙
×

Still Me / Âńĺ ĺůĺ ˙ (by Jojo Moyes, 2018) - ŕóäčîęíčăŕ íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě

Still Me / Âńĺ ĺůĺ ˙ (by Jojo Moyes, 2018) - ŕóäčîęíčăŕ íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě

Still Me / Âńĺ ĺůĺ ˙ (by Jojo Moyes, 2018) - ŕóäčîęíčăŕ íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě

Čç ďđĺäűäóůĺé ęíčăč ÷čňŕňĺëţ čçâĺńňíî, ÷ňî ăëŕâíŕ˙ ăĺđîčí˙ đîěŕíŕ «Ďîńëĺ ňĺá˙» Ëó îáđĺëŕ â ëčöĺ âîäčňĺë˙ ńęîđîé ďîěîůč Ńýěŕ íîâóţ ëţáîâü. Îáńňî˙ňĺëüńňâŕ âűíóäčëč ĺĺ ďĺđĺáđŕňüń˙ â Íüţ-Éîđę. Č ęŕę áű îíŕ íĺ ńňŕđŕëŕńü íŕ÷ŕňü íîâűé ćčçíĺííűé ýňŕď, îňíîřĺíč˙ ń Ńýěîě ďóńňü íŕ đŕńńňî˙íčč âîçâđŕůŕţň ĺĺ íŕ ďđĺäűäóůóţ ńňđŕíčöó ćčçíč.  íîâîě äîěĺ, íîâîě îęđóćĺíčč, íîâîé ńňđŕíĺ ĺé äîâîëüíî ńëîćíî îáîńíîâŕňüń˙ č ěîđŕëüíî, č â áűňó. Îíŕ ďűňŕĺňń˙ çŕí˙ňü ńĺá˙ đŕáîňîé č ďîăđóćŕĺňń˙ â ĺ¸ áĺç îńňŕňęŕ âđĺěĺíč č ńčë. Ďĺđčîäč÷ĺńęč îíŕ ďîńĺůŕĺň ńâĺňńęčĺ đŕóňű č âőîäčň â íîâűé ęđóă çíŕęîěűő. Íĺâîëüíî îíŕ îęóíŕĺňń˙ â íĺčçâĺäŕííűé ěčđ ďóáëč÷íűő ëčö, čńďîëíĺííűé ňŕéí č ńĺęđĺňîâ. Íî, ęŕę íč ńňđŕííî, â ýňîé ŕňěîńôĺđĺ îíŕ ńĺá˙ č îáđĺňŕĺň. Ĺĺ ďîăëîůŕĺň íŕńűůĺííŕ˙ ńâĺňńęŕ˙ ćčçíü. Âĺđî˙ňíî, áĺńńîçíŕňĺëüíî, îíŕ âîçâđŕůŕĺňń˙ âî âđĺěĺíŕ, ęîăäŕ ďđîâîäčëŕ ěíîăî âđĺěĺíč ń Óčëü˙ěîě č áűëŕ ďđč÷ŕńňíŕ ę ěčđó áîăŕňűő ëţäĺé. Ę íĺé íĺîćčäŕííî ďđčőîäčň ďîíčěŕíčĺ, ęîăî îíŕ ëţáčň č ęóäŕ ńňîčň äâčăŕňüń˙ äŕëüřĺ. Ňŕę ęîăî ćĺ ëţáčň Ëóčçŕ? Ńýěŕ? Ńĺá˙? Čëč ĺĺ ńĺđäöĺ ďđĺäŕíî Óčëü˙ěó?

Đĺéňčíă:
Ďđîńěîňđîâ: 3 676
Íŕçâŕíčĺ:
Still Me / Âńĺ ĺůĺ ˙ (by Jojo Moyes, 2018) - ŕóäčîęíčăŕ íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě
Ăîä âűďóńęŕ ŕóäčîęíčăč:
2018
Ŕâňîđ:
Jojo Moyes
Čńďîëíčňĺëü:
Anna Acton
ßçűę:
ŕíăëčéńęčé
Ćŕíđ:
ëţáîâíűé đîěŕí, äđŕěŕ
Óđîâĺíü ńëîćíîńňč:
upper-intermediate
Äëčňĺëüíîńňü ŕóäčî:
13:17:47
Áčňđĺéň ŕóäčî:
128 kbps
Ôîđěŕň:
mp3, pdf, doc

Ńëóřŕňü îíëŕéí Still Me / Âńĺ ĺůĺ ˙ ŕóäčîęíčăó íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě ˙çűęĺ:

Ńęŕ÷ŕňü ňĺęńň ęíčăč â ôîđěŕňĺ .doc (Word) ďî ďđ˙ěîé ńńűëęĺ jojo_moyes_-_still_me.doc [2.29 Mb] (cęŕ÷čâŕíčé: 41) .
Ńęŕ÷ŕňü ňĺęńň ęíčăč â ôîđěŕňĺ .pdf ďî ďđ˙ěîé ńńűëęĺ  jojo_moyes_-_still_me.pdf [21.3 Mb] (cęŕ÷čâŕíčé: 65) .
Ńęŕ÷ŕňü audiobook (MP3) áĺńďëŕňíî ń ôŕéëîîáěĺííčęŕ.


×čňŕňü ęíčăó íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě îíëŕéí:

(×ňîáű ďĺđĺâîäčňü ńëîâŕ íŕ đóńńęčé ˙çűę č äîáŕâë˙ňü â ńëîâŕđü äë˙ čçó÷ĺíč˙, ůĺëęŕĺě ěűřęîé íŕ íóćíîĺ ńëîâî).


1 I t was the mustache that reminded me I was no longer in England: a solid, gray millipede firmly obscuring the man’s upper lip; a Village People mustache, a cowboy mustache, the miniature head of a broom that meant business. You just didn’t get that kind of mustache at home. I couldn’t tear my eyes from it. “Ma’am?” The only person I had ever seen with a mustache like that at home was Mr. Naylor, our maths teacher, and he collected Digestive crumbs in his—we used to count them during algebra. “Ma’am?” “Oh. Sorry.” The man in the uniform motioned me forward with a flick of his stubby finger. He did not look up from his screen. I waited at the booth, long-haul sweat drying gently into my dress. He held up his hand, waggling four fat fingers. This, I grasped after several seconds, was a demand for my passport. “Name.” “It’s there,” I said. “Your name, ma’am.” “Louisa Elizabeth Clark.” I peered over the counter. “Though I never use the Elizabeth bit. Because my mum realized after they named me that that would make me Lou Lizzy. And if you say that really fast it sounds like lunacy. Though my dad says that’s kind of fitting. Not that I’m a lunatic. I mean, you wouldn’t want lunatics in your country. Hah!” My voice bounced nervously off the Plexiglas screen. The man looked at me for the first time. He had solid shoulders and a gaze that could pin you like a Tazer. He did not smile. He waited until my own faded. “Sorry,” I said. “People in uniform make me nervous.” I glanced behind me at the immigration hall, at the snaking queue that had doubled back on itself so many times it had become an impenetrable, restless sea of people. “I think I’m feeling a bit odd from standing in that queue. That is honestly the longest queue I’ve ever stood in. I’d begun to wonder whether to start my Christmas list.” “Put your hand on the scanner.” “Is it always that size?” “The scanner?” He frowned. “The queue.” But he was no longer listening. He was studying something on his screen. I put my fingers on the little pad. And then my phone dinged. Mum: Have you landed? I went to tap an answer with my free hand but he turned sharply toward me. “Ma’am, you are not permitted to use cell phones in this area.” “It’s just my mum. She wants to know if I’m here.” I surreptitiously tried to press the thumbs-up emoji as I slid the phone out of view. “Reason for travel?” What is that? came Mum’s immediate reply. She had taken to texting like a duck to water and could now do it faster than she could speak. Which was basically warp speed. —You know my phone doesn’t do the little pictures. Is that an SOS? Louisa tell me you’re okay. “Reasons for travel, ma’am?” The mustache twitched with irritation. He added, slowly: “What are you doing here in the United States?” “I have a new job.” “Which is?” “I’m going to work for a family in New York. Central Park.” Just briefly, the man’s eyebrows might have raised a millimeter. He checked the address on my form, confirming it. “What kind of job?” “It’s a bit complicated. But I’m sort of a paid companion.” “A paid companion.” “It’s like this. I used to work for this man. I was his companion, but I would also give him his meds and take him out and feed him. That’s not as weird as it sounds, by the way—he had no use of his hands. It wasn’t like something pervy. Actually my last job ended up as more than that, because it’s hard not to get close to people you look after and Will—the man—was amazing and we . . . Well, we fell in love.” Too late, I felt the familiar welling of tears. I wiped at my eyes briskly. “So I think it’ll be sort of like that. Except for the love bit. And the feeding.” The immigration officer was staring at me. I tried to smile. “Actually, I don’t normally cry talking about jobs. I’m not like an actual lunatic, despite my name. Hah! But I loved him. And he loved me. And then he . . . Well, he chose to end his life. So this is sort of my attempt to start over.” The tears were now leaking relentlessly, embarrassingly, from the corners of my eyes. I couldn’t seem to stop them. I couldn’t seem to stop anything. “Sorry. Must be the jet lag. It’s something like two o’clock in the morning in normal time, right? Plus I don’t really talk about him anymore. I mean, I have a new boyfriend. And he’s great! He’s a paramedic! And hot! That’s like winning the boyfriend lottery, right? A hot paramedic?” I scrabbled around in my handbag for a tissue. When I looked up the man was holding out a box. I took one. “Thank you. So, anyway, my friend Nathan—he’s from New Zealand—works here and he helped me get this job and I don’t really know what it involves yet, apart from looking after this rich man’s wife who gets depressed. But I’ve decided this time I’m going to live up to what Will wanted for me, because before I didn’t get it right. I just ended up working in an airport.” I froze. “Not—uh—that there’s anything wrong with working at an airport! I’m sure immigration is a very important job. Really important. But I have a plan. I’m going to do something new every week that I’m here and I’m going to say yes.” “Say yes?” “To new things. Will always said I shut myself off from new experiences. So this is my plan.” The officer studied my paperwork. “You didn’t fill the address section out properly. I need a zip code.” He pushed the form toward me. I checked the number on the sheet that I had printed out and filled it in with trembling fingers. I glanced to my left, where the queue at my section was growing restive. At the front of the next queue a Chinese family was being questioned by two officials. As the woman protested, they were led into a side room. I felt suddenly very alone. The immigration officer peered at the people waiting. And then, abruptly, he stamped my passport. “Good luck, Louisa Clark,” he said. I stared at him. “That’s it?” “That’s it.” I smiled. “Oh, thank you! That’s really kind. I mean, it’s quite weird being on the other side of the world by yourself for the first time, and now I feel a bit like I just met my first nice new person and—” “You need to move along now, ma’am.” “Of course. Sorry.” I gathered up my belongings and pushed a sweaty frond of hair from my face. “And, ma’am . . .” “Yes?” I wondered what I had got wrong now. He didn’t look up from his screen. “Be careful what you say yes to.” — Nathan was waiting in Arrivals, as he had promised. I scanned the crowd, feeling oddly self-conscious, secretly convinced that nobody would come, but there he was, his huge hand waving above the shifting bodies around him. He raised his other arm, a smile breaking across his face, and pushed his way through to meet me, picking me up off my feet in a gigantic hug. “Lou!” At the sight of him, something in me constricted unexpectedly—something linked to Will and loss and the raw emotion that comes from sitting on a slightlytoo-bumpy flight for seven hours—and I was glad that he was holding me tightly so that I had a moment to compose myself. “Welcome to New York, Shorty! Not lost your dress sense, I see.” Now he held me at arms’ length, grinning. I straightened my 1970s tiger print dress. I had thought it might make me look like Jackie Kennedy The Onassis Years. If Jackie Kennedy had spilled half her airline coffee on her lap. “It’s so good to see you.” He swept up my leaden suitcases like they were filled with feathers. “C’mon. Let’s get you back to the house. The Prius is in for servicing so Mr. G lent me his car. Traffic’s terrible, but you’ll get there in style.” — Mr. Gopnik’s car was sleek and black and the size of a bus, and the doors closed with that emphatic, discreet thunk that signaled a six-figure price tag. Nathan shut my cases into the boot and I settled into the passenger seat with a sigh. I checked my phone, answered Mum’s fourteen texts with one that told her simply that I was in the car and would call her tomorrow, then replied to Sam’s, which told me he missed me, with Landed xxx. “How’s the fella?” said Nathan, glancing at me. “He’s good, thanks.” I added a few more xxxxs just to make sure. “Wasn’t too sticky about you heading over here?” I shrugged. “He thought I needed to come.” “We all did. Just took you a while to find your way, is all.” I put my phone away, sat back in my seat and gazed out at the unfamiliar names that dotted the highway: Milo’s Tire Shop, Richie’s Gym, the ambulances and U-Haul trucks, the rundown houses with their peeling paint and wonky stoops, the basketball courts, and drivers sipping from oversized plastic cups. Nathan turned on the radio and I listened to someone called Lorenzo talking about a baseball game and felt, briefly, as if I were in some kind of suspended reality. “So you’ve got tomorrow to get straight. Anything you want to do? I thought I might let you sleep in, then drag you out to brunch. You should have the full NY diner experience on your first weekend here.” “Sounds great.” “They won’t be back from the country club till tomorrow evening. There’s been a bit of strife this last week. I’ll fill you in when you’ve had some sleep.” I stared at him. “No secrets, right? This isn’t going to be—” “They’re not like the Traynors. It’s just your average dysfunctional multimillionaire family.” “Is she nice?” “She’s great. She’s . . . a handful. But she’s great. He is too.” That was as good a character reference as you were likely to get from Nathan. He lapsed into silence—he never was big on gossip—and I sat in the smooth, air-conditioned Mercedes GLS and fought the waves of sleep that kept threatening to wash over me. I thought about Sam, now fast asleep several thousand miles away in his railway carriage. I thought of Treena and Thom, tucked up in my little flat in London. And then Nathan’s voice cut in. “There you go.” I looked up through gritty eyes and there it was across the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan, shining like a million jagged shards of light, awe-inspiring, glossy, impossibly condensed and beautiful, a sight that was so familiar from television and films that I couldn’t quite accept I was seeing it for real. I shifted upright in my seat, dumbstruck as we sped toward it, the most famous metropolis on the planet. “Never gets old, that view, eh? Bit grander than Stortfold.” I don’t think it had actually hit me until that point. My new home. — “Hey, Ashok. How’s it going?” Nathan wheeled my cases through the marble lobby as I stared at the black and white tiles and the brass rails, and tried not to trip, my footsteps echoing in the cavernous space. It was like the entrance to a grand, slightly faded hotel: the lift in burnished brass, the floor carpeted in a red and gold livery, the reception a little darker than was comfortable. It smelled of beeswax and polished shoes and money. “I’m good, man. Who’s this?” “This is Louisa. She’ll be working for Mrs. G.” The uniformed porter stepped out from behind his desk and held out a hand for me to shake. He had a wide smile and eyes that looked like they had seen everything. “Nice to meet you, Ashok.” “A Brit! I have a cousin in London. Croy-down. You know Croy-down? You anywhere near there? He’s a big fella, you know what I’m saying?” “I don’t really know Croydon,” I said. And when his face fell: “But I’ll keep an eye out for him the next time I’m passing through.” “Louisa. Welcome to the Lavery. You need anything, or you want to know anything, you just let me know. I’m here twenty-four seven.” “He’s not kidding,” said Nathan. “Sometimes I think he sleeps under that desk.” He gestured to a service elevator, its doors a dull gray, near the back of the lobby. “Three kids under five, man,” said Ashok. “Believe me, being here keeps me sane. Can’t say it does the same for my wife.” He grinned. “Seriously, Miss Louisa. Anything you need, I’m your man.” “As in drugs, prostitutes, houses of ill-repute?” I whispered, as the service lift doors closed around us. “No. As in theater tickets, restaurant tables, best places to get your drycleaning,” Nathan said. “This is Fifth Avenue. Jesus. What have you been doing back in London?” — The Gopnik residence comprised seven thousand square feet on the second and third floors of a red-brick Gothic building, a rare duplex in this part of New York, and testament to generations of Gopnik family riches. This, the Lavery, was a scaled-down imitation of the famous Dakota building, Nathan told me, and was one of the oldest co-ops on the Upper East Side. Nobody could buy or sell an apartment here without the approval of a board of residents who were staunchly resistant to change. While the glossy condominiums across the park housed the new money—Russian oligarchs, pop stars, Chinese steel magnates, and tech billionaires—with communal restaurants, gyms, childcare, and infinity pools, the residents of the Lavery liked things Old School. These apartments were passed down through generations; their inhabitants learned to tolerate the 1930s plumbing system, fought lengthy and labyrinthine battles for permission to alter anything more extensive than a light switch, and looked politely the other way as New York changed around them, just as one might ignore a beggar with a cardboard sign. I barely glimpsed the grandeur of the duplex itself, with its parquet floors, elevated ceilings, and floor-length damask drapes, as we headed straight to the staff quarters, which were tucked away at the far end of the second floor, down a long, narrow corridor that led off the kitchen—an anomaly left over from a distant age. The newer or refurbished buildings had no staff quarters: housekeepers and nannies would travel in from Queens or New Jersey on the dawn train and return home after dark. But the Gopnik family had owned these tiny rooms since the building was first constructed. They could not be developed or sold, but were tied through deeds to the main residence, and lusted after as storage rooms. It wasn’t hard to see why they might naturally be considered storage. “There.” Nathan opened a door and dropped my bags. My room measured approximately twelve feet by twelve feet. It housed a double bed, a television, a chest of drawers, and a wardrobe. A small armchair, upholstered in beige fabric, sat in the corner, its sagging seat testament to previous exhausted occupants. A small window might have looked south. Or north. Or east. It was hard to tell, as it was approximately six feet from the blank brick rear of a building so tall that I could see the sky only if I pressed my face to the glass and craned my neck. A communal kitchen sat nearby on the corridor, to be shared by me, Nathan, and a housekeeper, whose own room was across the corridor. On my bed sat a neat pile of five dark-green polo shirts and what looked like black trousers, bearing a cheap Teflon sheen. “They didn’t tell you about the uniform?” I picked up one of the polo shirts. “It’s just a shirt and trousers. The Gopniks think a uniform makes it simpler. Everyone knows where they stand.” “If you want to look like a pro golfer.” I peered into the tiny bathroom, tiled in limescale-encrusted brown marble, which opened off the bedroom. It housed a loo, a small basin that looked like it dated from the 1940s, and a shower. A paper-wrapped soap and a can of cockroach killer sat on the side. “It’s actually pretty generous by Manhattan standards,” Nathan said. “I know it looks a little tired but Mrs. G says we can give it a splosh of paint. A couple of extra lamps and a quick trip to Crate and Barrel and it’ll—” “I love it,” I said. I turned to him, my voice suddenly shaky. “I’m in New York, Nathan. I’m actually here.” He squeezed my shoulder. “Yup. You really are.” — I managed to stay awake just long enough to unpack, eat some takeaway with Nathan (he called it takeout, like an actual American), flicked through some of the 859 channels on my little television, the bulk of which seemed to be on an ever-running loop of American football, adverts for digestion issues, or badly lit crime shows I hadn’t heard of, and then I zonked out. I woke with a start at four forty-five a.m. For a few discombobulating minutes I was confused by the distant sound of an unfamiliar siren, the low whine of a reversing truck, then flicked on the light switch, remembered where I was, and a jolt of excitement whipped through me. I pulled my laptop from my bag and tapped out a chat message to Sam. You there? xxx I waited, but nothing came back. He had said he was back on duty, and was too befuddled to work out the time difference. I put my laptop down and tried briefly to get back to sleep (Treena said when I didn’t sleep enough I looked like a sad horse). But the unfamiliar sounds of the city were a siren call, and at six I climbed out of bed and showered, trying to ignore the rust in the sputtering water that exploded out of the shower head. I dressed (denim pinafore sundress and a vintage turquoise short-sleeved blouse with a picture of the Statue of Liberty) and went in search of coffee. I padded along the corridor, trying to remember the location of the staff kitchen that Nathan had shown me the previous evening. I opened a door and a woman turned and stared at me. She was middle-aged and stocky, her hair set in neat dark waves, like a 1930s movie star. Her eyes were beautiful and dark but her mouth dragged down at the edges, as if in permanent disapproval. “Um . . . good morning!” She kept staring at me. “I—I’m Louisa? The new girl? Mrs. Gopnik’s . . . assistant?” “She is not Mrs. Gopnik.” The woman left this statement hanging in the air. “You must be . . .” I racked my jet-lagged brain but no name was forthcoming. Oh, come on, I willed myself. “I’m so sorry. My brain is like porridge this morning. Jet lag.” “My name is Ilaria.” “Ilaria. Of course, that’s it. Sorry.” I stuck out my hand. She didn’t take it. “I know who you are.” “Um . . . can you show me where Nathan keeps his milk? I just wanted to get a coffee.” “Nathan doesn’t drink milk.” “Really? He used to.” “You think I lie to you?” “No. That’s not what I was s—” She stepped to the left and gestured toward a wall cupboard that was half the size of the others and ever so slightly out of reach. “That is yours.” Then she opened the fridge door to replace her juice, and I noticed the full two-liter bottle of milk on her shelf. She closed it again and gazed at me implacably. “Mr. Gopnik will be home at six thirty this evening. Dress in uniform to meet him.” And she headed off down the corridor, her slippers slapping against the soles of her feet. “Lovely to meet you! I’m sure we’ll be seeing loads of each other!” I called after her. I stared at the fridge for a moment, then decided it probably wasn’t too early to go out for milk. After all, this was the city that never slept. — New York might be awake, but the Lavery was cloaked in a silence so dense it suggested communal doses of zopiclone. I walked along the corridor, closing the front door softly behind me and checking eight times that I had remembered both my purse and my keys. I figured the early hour and the sleeping residents gave me license to look a little more closely at where I had ended up. As I tiptoed along, the plush carpet muffling my steps, a dog started to bark from inside one of the doors—a yappy, outraged protest—and an elderly voice shouted something that I couldn’t make out. I hurried past, not wanting to be responsible for waking up the other residents, and, instead of taking the main stairs, headed down in the service lift. There was nobody in the lobby so I let myself out onto the street and stepped straight into a clamor of noise and light so overwhelming that I had to stand still for a moment just to stay upright. In front of me the green oasis of Central Park extended for what looked like miles. To my left, the side streets were already busy—enormous men in overalls unloaded crates from an open-sided van, watched by a cop with arms like sides of ham crossed over his chest. A road sweeper hummed industriously. A taxi driver chatted to a man through his open window. I counted off the sights of the Big Apple in my head. Horse-drawn carriages! Yellow taxis! Impossibly tall buildings! As I stared, two weary tourists with children in buggies pushed past me clutching Styrofoam coffee cups, still operating perhaps on some distant time zone. Manhattan stretched in every direction, enormous, sun-tipped, teeming and glowing. My jet lag evaporated with the last of the dawn. I took a breath and set off, aware that I was grinning but quite unable to stop myself. I walked eight blocks without seeing a single convenience store. I turned into Madison Avenue, past huge glass-fronted luxury stores with their doors locked and, dotted between them, the occasional restaurant, windows darkened like closed eyes, or a gilded hotel whose liveried doorman didn’t look at me as I passed. I walked another five blocks, realizing gradually that this wasn’t the kind of area where you could just nip into the grocer’s. I had pictured New York diners on every corner, staffed by brassy waitresses and men with white pork-pie hats, but everything looked huge and glossy and not remotely as if a cheese omelet or a mug of tea might be waiting behind its doors. Most of the people I passed were tourists like me, or fierce, jogging hard-bodies, sleek in Lycra and oblivious between earphones, stepping nimbly around homeless men, who glared from furrowed, lead-stained faces. Finally I stumbled on a large coffee bar, one of a chain, in which half of New York’s early risers seemed to have congregated, bent over their phones in booths or feeding preternaturally cheerful toddlers as generic easy-listening music filtered through speakers on the wall. I ordered cappuccino and a muffin, which, before I could say anything, the barista sliced in two, heated, then slathered with butter, all the while never breaking his conversation about a baseball game with his colleague. I paid, sat down with the muffin, wrapped in foil, and took a bite. It was, even without the clawing jet lag hunger, the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. 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 coffeehouse! 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 two 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. 2 A shok 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 d?cor 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 percent 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 leaped 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 badtempered resident in this building, and that’s saying something.” He bent back toward 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 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 tire 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. Sometime 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 shuteye. 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 toward 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 gray 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 makeup. “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. “I wish you were here,” I said, before I could stop myself. “Me too. But you’re on day one of your adventure and it’s going to be great. And in a year you will be sitting here—” “Not here,” I interrupted. “In your finished house.” “In my finished house,” he said. “And we’ll be looking at your pictures on your phone and I’ll be secretly thinking, Oh, God, there she goes, whanging on about her time in New York again.” “So will you write to me? A letter full of love and longing, sprayed with lonely tears?” “Ah, Lou. You know I’m not really a writer. But I’ll call. And I’ll be there with you in just four weeks.” “Right,” I said, as my throat constricted. “Okay. I’d better grab a nap.” “Me too,” he said. “I’ll think of you.” “In a disgusting porny way? Or in a romantic Nora Ephron-y kind of way?” “Which of those is not going to get me into trouble? You look good, Lou,” he said, after a minute. “You look . . . giddy.” “I feel giddy. I feel like a really, really tired person who also slightly wants to explode. It’s a little confusing.” I put my hand on the screen, and after a second he put his up to meet it. I could imagine it on my skin. “Love you.” I still felt a little self-conscious saying it. “You too. I’d kiss the screen but I suspect you’d only get a view of my nasal hair.” I shut my computer, smiling, and within seconds I was asleep. — Somebody was shrieking in the corridor. I woke groggily, sweatily, half suspecting I was in a dream, and pushed myself upright. There really was a woman screaming on the other side of my door. A thousand thoughts sped through my addled brain, headlines about murders, New York, and how to report a crime. What was the number you were meant to call? Not 999 like England. I racked my brain and came up with nothing. “Why should I? Why should I sit there and smile when those witches are insulting me? You don’t even hear half of what they say! You are a man! It is like you wear blinkers on your ears!” “Darling, please calm down. Please. This is not the time or the place.” “There is never a time or place! Because there is always someone here! I have to buy my own apartment just so I have somewhere to argue with you!” “I don’t understand why you have to get so upset about it all. You have to give it—” “No!” Something smashed on a hardwood floor. I was fully awake now, my heart racing. There was a weighty silence. “Now you’re going to tell me this was a family heirloom.” A pause. “Well, yes, yes, it was.” A muffled sob. “I don’t care! I don’t care! I’m choking in your family history! You hear me? Choking!” “Agnes, darling. Not in the corridor. Come on. We can discuss this later.” I sat very still on the edge of my bed. There was more muffled sobbing, then silence. I waited, then stood and tiptoed to the door, pressing my ear against it. Nothing. I looked at the clock— four forty-six p.m. I washed my face and changed briskly into my uniform. I brushed my hair, then let myself quietly out of my bedroom and walked around the corner of the corridor. And I stopped. Farther up the corridor beside the kitchen, a young woman was curled into a fetal ball. An older man had his arms wrapped around her, his back pressed against the wood paneling. He was almost seated, one knee up and one extended, as if he had caught her and been brought down by the weight. I couldn’t see her face, but a long, slim leg stuck out inelegantly from a navy dress and a sheet of blond hair obscured her face. Her knuckles were white from where she was holding on to him. I stared and gulped, and he looked up and saw me. I recognized Mr. Gopnik. “Not now. Thank you,” he said, softly. My voice sticking in my throat, I backed swiftly into my room and closed the door, my heart thumping in my ears so loudly that I was sure they must be able to hear it. — I stared, unseeing, at the television for the next hour, an image of those entwined people burned onto the inside of my head. I thought about texting Nathan but I wasn’t sure what I would say. Instead, at five fifty-five, I walked out, tentatively making my way toward the main apartment through the connecting door. I passed a vast empty dining room, what looked like a guest bedroom and two closed doors, following the distant murmur of conversation, my feet soft on the parquet floor. Finally I reached the drawing room and stopped just outside the open doorway. Mr. Gopnik was in a window seat, on the telephone, the sleeves of his pale blue shirt rolled up and one hand resting behind his head. He motioned me in, still talking on the phone. To my left a blond woman—Mrs. Gopnik?—sat on a rose-colored antique sofa tapping restlessly on an iPhone. She appeared to have changed her clothes and I was momentarily confused. I waited awkwardly until he ended his call and stood, I noticed, with a little wince of effort. I took another step toward him, to save him coming further, and shook his hand. It was warm, his grip soft and strong. The young woman continued to tap at her phone. “Louisa. Glad you got here okay. I trust you have everything you need.” He said it in the way people do when they don’t expect you to ask for anything. “It’s all lovely. Thank you.” “This is my daughter, Tabitha. Tab?” The girl raised a hand, offering the hint of a smile, before turning back to her phone. “Please excuse Agnes not being here to meet you. She’s gone to bed for an hour. Splitting headache. It’s been a long weekend.” A vague weariness shadowed his face, but it was gone within a moment. Nothing in his manner betrayed what I had seen less than two hours previously. He smiled. “So . . . tonight you’re free to do as you please, and from tomorrow morning you will accompany Agnes wherever she wants to go. Your official title is ‘assistant,’ and you’ll be there to support her in whatever she needs to do in the day. She has a busy schedule—I’ve asked my assistant to loop you in on the family calendar and you’ll get e-mailed with any updates. Best to check at around ten p.m.—that’s when we tend to make late changes. You’ll meet the rest of the team tomorrow.” “Great. Thank you.” I noted the word “team” and had a brief vision of footballers trekking through the apartment. “What’s for dinner, Dad?” Tabitha spoke as if I wasn’t there. “I don’t know, darling. I thought you said you were going out.” “I’m not sure if I can face going back across town tonight. I might just stay.” “Whatever you want. Just make sure Ilaria knows. Louisa, do you have any questions?” I tried to think of something useful to say. “Oh, and Mom told me to ask you if you’d found that little drawing. The Mir?.” “Sweetheart, I’m not going over that again. The drawing belongs here.” “But Mom said she chose it. She misses it. You never even liked it.” “That’s not the point.” I shifted my weight between my feet, not sure if I had been dismissed. “But it is the point, Dad. Mom misses something terribly and you don’t even care for it.” “It’s worth eighty thousand dollars.” “Mom doesn’t care about the money.” “Can we discuss this later?” “You’ll be busy later. I promised Mom I would sort this out.” I took a surreptitious step backward. “There’s nothing to sort. The settlement was finalized eighteen months ago. It was all dealt with then. Oh, darling, there you are. Are you feeling better?” I looked round. The woman who had just entered the room was strikingly beautiful, her face free of makeup and her pale blond hair scraped back into a loose knot. Her high cheekbones were lightly freckled and the shape of her eyes suggested a Slavic heritage. I guessed she was about the same age as me. She padded barefoot over to Mr. Gopnik and kissed him, her hand trailing across the back of his neck. “Much better, thank you.” “This is Louisa,” he said. She turned to me. “My new ally,” she said. “Your new assistant,” said Mr. Gopnik. “Hello, Louisa.” She reached out a slender hand and shook mine. I felt her eyes run over me, as if she were working something out, and then she smiled, and I couldn’t help but smile in return. “Ilaria has made your room nice?” Her voice was soft and held an Eastern European lilt. “It’s perfect. Thank you.” “Perfect? Oh, you are very easily pleased. That room is like a broom cupboard. Anything you don’t like you tell us and we will make it nice. Won’t we, darling?” “Didn’t you used to live in a room even smaller than that, Agnes?” said Tabitha, not looking up from her iPhone. “I’m sure Dad told me you used to share with about fifteen other immigrants.” “Tab.” Mr. Gopnik’s voice was a gentle warning. Agnes took a little breath and lifted her chin. “Actually, my room was smaller. But the girls I shared with were very nice. So it was no trouble at all. If people are nice, and polite, you can bear anything, don’t you think, Louisa?” I swallowed. “Yes.” Ilaria walked in and cleared her throat. She was wearing the same polo shirt and dark trousers, covered by a white apron. She didn’t look at me. “Dinner is ready, Mr. Gopnik,” she said. “Is there any for me, Ilaria darling?” said Tabitha, her hand resting along the back of the sofa. “I think I might stay over.” Ilaria’s expression was filled with instant warmth. It was as if a different person had appeared in front of me. “Of course, Miss Tabitha. I always cook extra on Sundays in case you decide to stay.” Agnes stood in the middle of the room. I thought I saw a flicker of panic cross her face. Her jaw tightened. “Then I would like Louisa to eat with us too,” she said. There was a brief silence. “Louisa?” said Tabitha. “Yes. It would be nice to get to know her properly. Do you have plans for this evening, Louisa?” “Uh—no,” I stuttered. “Then you eat with us. Ilaria, you say you cook extra, yes?” Ilaria looked directly at Mr. Gopnik, who appeared to be engrossed in something on his phone. “Agnes,” said Tabitha, after a moment. “You do understand we don’t eat with staff?” “Who is this ‘we’? I did not know that there was a rulebook.” Agnes held out her hand and inspected her wedding band with studied calm. “Darling? Did you forget to give me a rulebook?” “With respect, and while I’m sure Louisa is perfectly nice,” said Tabitha, “there are boundaries. And they exist for everybody’s benefit.” “I’m happy to do whatever . . .” I began. “I don’t want to cause any . . .” “Well, with respect, Tabitha, I would like Louisa to eat supper with me. She is my new assistant and we are going to spend every day together. So I cannot see the problem in me getting to know her a little.” “There’s no problem,” said Mr. Gopnik. “Daddy—” “There’s no problem, Tab. Ilaria, please could you set the table for four? Thank you.” Ilaria’s eyes widened. She glanced at me, her mouth a thin line of suppressed rage, as if I had engineered this travesty of the domestic hierarchy, then disappeared to the dining room from where we could hear the emphatic clattering of cutlery and glassware. Agnes let out a little breath and pushed her hair back from her head. She flashed me a small, conspiratorial smile. “Let’s go through,” said Mr. Gopnik, after a minute. “Louisa, perhaps you’d like a drink.” — Dinner was a hushed, painful affair. I was overawed by the grand mahogany table, the heavy silver cutlery and the crystal glasses, out of place in my uniform. Mr. Gopnik was largely silent and disappeared twice to take calls from his office. Tabitha flicked through her iPhone, studiously declining to engage with anybody, and Ilaria delivered chicken in a red wine sauce with all the trimmings and removed serving dishes afterward with a face, as my mother would put it, like a smacked arse. Perhaps only I noticed the hard clunk with which my own plate was placed in front of me, the audible sniff that came every time she passed my chair. Agnes barely picked at hers. She sat opposite me and chatted gamely as if I were her new best friend, her gaze periodically sliding toward her husband. “So this is your first time in New York,” she said. “Where else have you been?” “Um . . . not very many places. I’m sort of late to traveling. I backpacked around Europe a couple of years ago, and before that . . . Mauritius. And Switzerland.” “America is very different. Each state has a unique feel, I think, to we Europeans. I have only been to a few places with Leonard, but it was like going to different countries entirely. Are you excited to be here?” “Very much so,” I said. “I’m determined to take advantage of everything New York has to offer.” “Sounds like you, Agnes,” said Tabitha sweetly. Agnes ignored her, keeping her eyes on me. They were hypnotically beautiful, tapering to fine, upward-tilted points at the corners. Twice I had to remind myself to close my mouth while staring at her. “And tell me about your family. You have brothers? Sisters?” I explained my family as best I could, making them sound a little more Waltons than Addams. “And your sister now lives in your apartment in London? With her son? Will she come visit you? And your parents? They will miss you?” I thought of Dad’s parting shot: “Don’t hurry back, Lou! We’re turning your old bedroom into a Jacuzzi!” “Oh, yes. Very much.” “My mother cried for two weeks when I left Krak?w. And you have a boyfriend?” “Yes. His name’s Sam. He’s a paramedic.” “A paramedic! Like a doctor? How lovely. Please show me picture. I love to see pictures.” I pulled my phone from my pocket and flicked through until I found my favorite picture of Sam, sitting on my roof terrace in his dark green uniform. He had just finished work, and was drinking a mug of tea, beaming at me. The sun was low behind him and I could remember, looking at it, exactly how it had felt up there, my tea cooling on the ledge behind me, Sam waiting patiently as I took picture after picture. “So handsome! And he is coming to New York too?” “Um, no. He’s building a house so it’s a bit complicated just now. And he has a job.” Agnes’s eyes widened. “But he must come! You cannot live in different countries! How you can love your man if he is not here with you? I could not be away from Leonard. I don’t even like it when he goes on two-day business trip.” “Yes, I suppose you would want to make sure you’re never too far away,” said Tabitha. Mr. Gopnik glanced up from his dinner, his gaze flickering between his wife and daughter, but said nothing. “Still,” Agnes said, arranging her napkin on her lap, “London is not so far away. And love is love. Isn’t that right, Leonard?” “It certainly is,” he said, and his face briefly softened at her smile. Agnes reached out a hand and stroked his, and I looked quickly at my plate. The room fell silent for a moment. “Actually I think I might head home. I seem to be feeling slightly nauseous.” With a loud scrape, Tabitha pushed her chair back and dropped her napkin on her plate, where the white linen immediately began to soak up the red wine sauce. I had to fight the urge to rescue it. She stood and kissed her father’s cheek. He reached up a free hand and touched her arm fondly. “I’ll speak to you during the week, Daddy.” She turned. “Louisa . . . Agnes.” She nodded curtly, and left the room. Agnes watched her go. It’s possible she muttered something under her breath, but Ilaria was gathering up my plate and cutlery with such a savage clatter that it was hard to tell. — With Tabitha gone, it was as if all the fight left Agnes. She seemed to wilt in her seat, her shoulders suddenly bowed, the sharp hollow of her collarbone visible as her head drooped over it. I stood. “I think I might head back to my room now. Thank you so much for supper. It was delicious.” Nobody protested. Mr. Gopnik’s arm was resting along the mahogany table now, his fingers stroking his wife’s hand. “We’ll see you in the morning, Louisa,” he said, not looking at me. Agnes was gazing up at him, her face somber. I backed out of the dining room, speeding past the kitchen door to my room so that the virtual daggers I could feel Ilaria hurling my way from the kitchen wouldn’t have a chance to hit me. — An hour later Nathan sent me a text. He was having a beer with friends in Brooklyn. —Heard you got the full baptism of fire. You all right? I didn’t have the energy to come back with something witty. Or to ask him how on earth he knew. —It’ll be easier once you get to know them. Promise. See you in the morning, I replied. I had a brief moment of misgiving—what had I just signed up for?—then had a stern word with myself, and fell heavily to sleep. — That night I dreamed of Will. I dreamed of him rarely—a source of some sadness to me in the early days when I had missed him so much that I felt as if someone had blasted a hole straight through me. The dreams had stopped when I met Sam. But there he was again, in the small hours, as vivid as if he were standing before me. He was in the backseat of a car, an expensive black limousine, like Mr. Gopnik’s, and I saw him from across a street. I was instantly relieved that he was not dead, not gone after all, and knew instinctively that he should not go wherever he was headed. It was my job to stop him. But every time I tried to cross the busy road an extra lane of cars seemed to appear in front of me, roaring past so that I couldn’t get to him, the sound of the engines drowning my shouting of his name. There he was, just out of reach, his skin that smooth caramel color, his faint smile playing around the edges of his mouth, saying something to the driver that I couldn’t hear. At the last minute he caught my eye—his eyes widened just a little—and I woke, sweating, the duvet knotted around my legs. 3 From: BusyBee@gmail.com To: Samfielding1@gmail.com Writing this in haste—Mrs. G is having her piano lesson—but I’m going to try and e-mail you every day so that at least I can feel like we’re chatting. I miss you. Please write back. I know you said you hate e-mails but just for me. Pleeeease. (You have to imagine my pleading face here.) Or, you know, LETTERS! Love you, Lxxxxxx W ell, good morning!” A very large African American man in very tight scarlet Lycra stood in front of me, his hands on his hips. I froze, blinking, in the kitchen doorway in my T-shirt and knickers, wondering if I was dreaming and whether if I closed the door and opened it again he would still be there. “You must be Miss Louisa?” A huge hand reached out and took mine, pumping it so enthusiastically that I bobbed up and down involuntarily. I checked my watch. No, it really was a quarter past six. “I’m George. Mrs. Gopnik’s trainer. I hear you’re coming out with us. Looking forward to it!” I had woken after a fitful few hours, struggling to shake off the tangled dreams that had woven themselves through my sleep, and stumbled down the corridor on automatic pilot, a caffeine-seeking zombie. “Okay, Louisa! Gotta stay hydrated!” He picked up two water bottles from the side. And he was gone, jogging lightly down the corridor. I poured myself a coffee, and as I stood there sipping it, Nathan walked in, dressed and scented with aftershave. He gazed at my bare legs. “I just met George,” I said. “Nothing he can’t teach you about glutes. You got your running shoes, right?” “Hah!” I took a sip of my coffee but Nathan was looking at me expectantly. “Nathan, nobody said anything about running. I’m not a runner. I mean, I am the anti-sport, the sofa-dweller. You know that.” Nathan poured himself a black coffee and replaced the jug in the machine. “Plus I fell off a building earlier this year. Remember? Lots of bits of me went crack.” I could joke about that night now when, still grieving Will, I had drunkenly slipped from the parapet of my London home. But the twinges in my hip were a constant reminder. “You’re fine. And you’re Mrs. G’s assistant. Your job is to be at her side at all times, mate. If she wants you to go running, then you’re running.” He took a sip of his coffee. “Ah, don’t look so panicked. You’ll love it. You’ll be fit as a butcher’s dog within a few weeks. Everyone here does it.” “It’s a quarter past six in the morning.” “Mr. Gopnik starts at five. We’ve just finished his physio. Mrs. G likes a bit of a lie-in.” “So we run at what time?” “Twenty to seven. Meet them in the main hallway. See you later!” He lifted a hand, and was gone. — Agnes, of course, was one of those women who looked even better in the mornings: naked of face, a little blurred at the edges, but in a sexy Vaseline-onthe-lens way. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and her fitted top and jogging pants made her seem casual in the same way that off-duty supermodels do. She loped down the corridor, like a Palomino racehorse in sunglasses, and lifted an elegant hand in greeting, as if it were simply too early for speech. I had only a pair of shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt with me, which, I suspected, made me look like a plump laborer. I was slightly anxious that I hadn’t shaved my armpits and clamped my elbows to my sides. “Good morning, Mrs. G!” George appeared beside us and handed Agnes a bottle of water. “You all set?” She nodded. “You ready, Miss Louisa? We’re just doing the four miles today. Mrs. G wants to do extra abdominal work. You’ve done your stretches, right?” “Um, I . . .” I had no water and no bottle. But we were off. — I had heard the expression “hit the ground running” but until George I had never truly understood what it meant. He set off down the corridor at what felt like forty miles an hour, and just when I thought we would at least slow for the lift, he held open the double doors at the end so that we could sprint down the four flights of stairs that took us to the ground floor. We were out through the lobby and past Ashok in a blur, me just able to catch his muffled greeting. Dear God, but it was too early for this. I followed the two of them, jogging effortlessly like a pair of carriage horses, while I sprinted behind, my shorter stride failing to match theirs, my bones jarring with the impact of each footfall, muttering my apologies as I swerved between the kamikaze pedestrians who walked into my path. Running had been my ex Patrick’s thing. It was like kale— one of those things you know exists and is possibly good for you but, frankly, life is always going to be too short to get stuck in. Oh, come on, you can do this, I told myself. This is your first say yes! moment. You are jogging in New York! This is a whole new you! For a few glorious strides I almost believed it. The traffic stopped, the crossing light changed, and we paused at the curbside, George and Agnes bouncing lightly on their toes, me unseen behind them. Then we were across and into Central Park, the path disappearing beneath our feet, the sounds of the traffic fading as we entered the green oasis at the heart of the city. We were barely a mile in when I realized this was not a good idea. Even though I was now walking as much as running, my breath was already coming in gasps, my hip protesting all-too-recent injuries. The farthest I had run in years was fifteen yards for a slowing bus, and I’d missed that. I glanced up to see George and Agnes were talking while they jogged. I couldn’t breathe, and they were holding an honest-to-God conversation. I thought about a friend of Dad’s who had had a heart attack while jogging. Dad had always used it as a clear illustration of why sport was bad for you. Why had I not explained my injuries? Was I going to cough a lung out right here in the middle of the park? “You okay back there, Miss Louisa?” George turned so that he was jogging backward. “Fine!” I gave him a cheery thumbs-up. I had always wanted to see Central Park. But not this way. I wondered what would happen if I keeled over and died on my first day in the job. How would they get my body home? I swerved to avoid a woman with three identical meandering toddlers. Please, God, I willed the two people running effortlessly in front of me, silently. Just one of you fall over. Not to break a leg exactly, just a little sprain. One of those things that lasts twenty-four hours and requires lying on a sofa with your leg up watching daytime telly. They were pulling away from me now and there was nothing I could do. What kind of park had hills in it? Mr. Gopnik would be furious with me for not sticking with his wife. Agnes would realize I was a silly, dumpy Englishwoman, rather than an ally. They would hire someone slim and gorgeous with better running clothes. It was at this point that the old man jogged past me. He turned his head to glance at me, then consulted his fitness tracker and kept going, nimble on his toes, his headphones plugged into his ears. He must have been seventy-five years old. “Oh, come on.” I watched him speed away from me. And then I caught sight of the horse and carriage. I pushed forward until I was level with the driver. “Hey! Hey! Any chance you could just trot up to where those people are running?” “What people?” I pointed to the tiny figures now in the far distance. He peered toward them, then shrugged. I climbed up on the carriage and ducked down behind him while he urged his horse forward with a light slap of the reins. Yet another New York experience that wasn’t quite as planned, I thought, as I crouched behind him. We drew closer, and I tapped him to let me out. It could only have been about five hundred yards but at least it had got me closer to them. I made to jump down. “Forty bucks,” said the driver. “What?” “Forty bucks.” “We only went five hundred yards!” “That’s what it costs, lady.” They were still deep in conversation. I pulled two twenty-dollar notes from my back pocket and hurled them at him, then ducked behind the carriage and started to jog, just in time for George to turn around and spot me. I gave him another cheery thumbs-up as if I’d been there all along. — George finally took pity on me. He spotted me limping and jogged back while Agnes did stretches, her long legs extending like some double-jointed flamingo. “Miss Louisa! You okay there?” At least, I thought it was him. I could no longer see because of the sweat leaking into my eyes. I stopped, my hands resting on my knees, my chest heaving “You got a problem? You’re looking a little flushed.” “Bit . . . rusty,” I gasped. “Hip . . . problem.” “You got an injury? You should have said!” “Didn’t want to . . . miss any of it!” I said, wiping my eyes with my hands. It just made them sting more. “Where is it?” “Left hip. Fracture. Eight months ago.” He put his hands on my hip, then moved my left leg backward and forward so that he could feel it rotating. I tried not to wince. “You know, I don’t think you should do any more today.” “But I—” “No, you head on back, Miss Louisa.” “Oh, if you insist. How disappointing.” “We’ll meet you at the apartment.” He clapped me on the back so vigorously that I nearly fell onto my face. And then, with a cheery wave, they were gone. — “You have fun, Miss Louisa?” said Ashok, as I hobbled in forty-five minutes later. Turned out you could get lost in Central Park after all. I paused to pull my sweat-soaked T-shirt away from my back. “Marvelous. Loving it.” When I got into the apartment I discovered that George and Agnes had returned home a full twenty minutes before me. — Mr. Gopnik had told me that Agnes’s schedule was busy. Given his wife didn’t have a job, or any offspring, she was in fact the busiest person I had ever met. We had a half-hour for breakfast after George left (there was a table laid for Agnes with an egg-white omelet, some berries and a silver pot of coffee; I bolted down a muffin that Nathan had left for me in the staff kitchen), then we had half an hour in Mr. Gopnik’s study with Mr. Gopnik’s assistant, Michael, penciling in the events Agnes would be attending that week. Mr. Gopnik’s office was an exercise in studied masculinity: all dark paneled wood and loaded bookshelves. We sat in heavily upholstered chairs around a coffee table. Behind us, Mr. Gopnik’s oversized desk held a series of phones and bound notepads and periodically Michael begged Ilaria for more of her delicious coffee and she complied, saving her smiles for him alone. We went over the likely contents of a meeting about the Gopniks’ philanthropic foundation, a charity dinner on Wednesday, a memorial lunch and a cocktail reception on Thursday, an art exhibition and concert at the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center on Friday. “A quiet week, then,” said Michael, peering at his iPad. Today Agnes’s diary showed she had a hair appointment at ten (these occurred three times a week), a dental appointment (routine cleaning), lunch with a former colleague, and an appointment with an interior decorator. She had a piano lesson at four (these took place twice a week), a spin class at five thirty, and then she would be out to dinner alone with Mr. Gopnik at a restaurant in Midtown. I would finish at six thirty p.m. The prospect of the day seemed to satisfy Agnes. Or perhaps it was the run. She had changed into indigo jeans and a white shirt, the collar of which revealed a large diamond pendant, and moved in a discreet cloud of perfume. “All looks fine,” she said. “Right. I have to make some calls.” She seemed to expect that I would know where to find her afterward. “If in doubt, wait in the hall,” whispered Michael as she left. He smiled, the professional veneer briefly gone. “When I started I never knew where to find them. Our job is to pop up when they think they need us. But not, you know, to stalk them all the way to the bathroom.” He was probably not much older than I was, but he looked like one of those people who came out of the womb handsome, color-coordinated, and with perfectly polished shoes. I wondered if everyone in New York but me was like this. “How long have you worked here?” “Just over a year. They had to let go their old social secretary because . . .” He paused, seeming briefly uncomfortable. “Well, fresh start and all that. And then after a while they decided it didn’t work having one assistant for two of them. That’s where you come in. So hello!” He held out his hand. I shook it. “You like it here?” “I love it. I never know who I’m more in love with, him or her.” He grinned. “He’s just the smartest. And so handsome. And she’s a doll.” “Do you run with them?” “Run? Are you kidding me?” He shuddered. “I don’t do sweating. Apart from with Nathan. Oh, my. I would sweat with him. Isn’t he gorgeous? He offered to do my shoulder and I fell instantly in love. How on earth have you managed to work with him this long without jumping those delicious Antipodean bones?” “I—” “Don’t tell me. If you’ve been there I don’t want to know. We have to stay friends. Right. I need to get down to Wall Street.” He gave me a credit card (“For emergencies—she forgets hers all the time. All statements go straight to him”) and an electronic tablet, then showed me how to set up the PIN code. “All the contact numbers you need are here. And everything to do with the calendar is on here,” he said, scrolling down the screen with a forefinger. “Each person is color-coded—you’ll see Mr. Gopnik is blue, Mrs. Gopnik is red, and Tabitha is yellow. We don’t run her diary anymore as she lives away from home but it’s useful to know when she’s likely to be here, and whether there are joint family commitments, like meetings of the trusts or the foundation. I’ve set you up a private e-mail, and if there are changes you and I will communicate them with each other to back up any changes made on the screen. You have to double-check everything. Schedule clashes are the only thing guaranteed to make him mad.” “Okay.” “So you’ll go through her mail every morning, work out what she wants to attend. I’ll cross-check with you, as sometimes there are things she says no to and he overrides her. So don’t throw anything away. Just keep two piles.” “How many invites are there?” “Oh, you have no idea. The Gopniks are basically top tier. That means they get invited to everything and go to almost none of it. Second tier, you wish you were invited to half and go to everything you’re invited to.” “Third tier?” “Crashers. Would go to the opening of a burrito truck. You get them even at society events.” He sighed. “So embarrassing.” I scanned the diary page, zooming in on this week, which to me appeared to be a terrifying rainbow mess of colors. I tried not to look as daunted as I felt. “What’s brown?” “That’s Felix’s appointments. The cat.” “The cat has his own social diary?” “It’s just groomers, veterinary appointments, dental hygienists, that sort of thing. Ooh, no, he’s got the behaviorist in this week. He must have been pooping on the Ziegler again.” “And purple?” Michael lowered his voice. “The former Mrs. Gopnik. If you see a purple block next to an event, that’s because she will also be present.” He was about to say something else but his phone rang. “Yes, Mr. Gopnik . . . Yes. Of course . . . Yes, I will. Be right there.” He put his phone back in his bag. “Okay. Gotta go. Welcome to the team!” “How many of us are there?” I said, but he was already running out of the door, his coat over his arm. “First Big Purple is two weeks’ time. Okay? I’ll e-mail you. And wear normal clothes when you’re outside! Or you’ll look like you work for Whole Foods.” — The day passed in a blur. Twenty minutes later we walked out of the building and into a waiting car that took us to a glossy salon a few blocks away, me trying desperately to look like the kind of person who spent her whole life getting in and out of large black cars with cream leather interiors. I sat at the edge of the room while Agnes had her hair washed and styled by a woman whose own hair appeared to have been cut with the aid of a ruler, and an hour later the car took us to the dental appointment where, again, I sat in the waiting room. Everywhere we went was hushed and tasteful and a world away from the madness on the street below. I had worn one of my more sober outfits: a navy blouse with anchors on it and a striped pencil skirt, but I needn’t have worried: at each place I became instantly invisible. It was as if I had “STAFF” tattooed on my forehead. I started to notice the other personal assistants, pacing outside on cell phones or racing back in with dry-cleaning and specialty coffees in cardboard holders. I wondered if I should be offering Agnes coffee, or officiously ticking things off lists. Most of the time I wasn’t entirely sure why I was there. The whole thing seemed to run like clockwork without me. It was as if I was simply human armor —a portable barrier between Agnes and the rest of the world. Agnes, meanwhile, was distracted, talking in Polish on her cell phone or asking me to make notes on my tablet: “We need to check with Michael that Leonard’s gray suit was cleaned. And maybe call Mrs. Levitsky about my Givenchy dress—I think I have lost a little weight since I last wear it. She maybe can take it in an inch.” She peered into her oversized Prada handbag, pulling out a plastic strip of pills from which she popped two into her mouth. “Water?” I cast around, finding one in the door pocket. I unscrewed it and handed it to her. The car stopped. “Thank you.” The driver—a middle-aged man with thick dark hair and jowls that wobbled as he moved—stepped out to open her door. When she disappeared into the restaurant, the doorman welcoming her like an old friend, I made to climb out behind her but the driver shut the door. I was left on the backseat. I sat there for a minute, wondering what I was meant to do. I checked my phone. I peered through the window, wondering if there were sandwich shops nearby. I tapped my foot. Finally I leaned forward through the front seats. “My dad used to leave me and my sister in the car when he went to the pub. He’d bring us out a Coke and a packet of pickled onion Monster Munch and that would be us sorted for three hours.” I tapped my knee with my fingers. “You’d probably be done for child abuse now. Mind you, pickled onion Monster Munch was our absolute favorite. Best part of the week.” The driver said nothing. I leaned forward a bit farther so that my face was inches from his. “So. How long does this usually take?” “As long as it takes.” His eyes slid away from mine in the mirror. “And you wait here the whole time?” “That’s my job.” I sat for a moment, then put my hand through to the front seat. “I’m Louisa. Mrs. Gopnik’s new assistant.” “Nice to meet you.” He didn’t turn around. Those were the last words he said to me. He slid a CD into the music system. “Estoy perdido,” said a Spanish woman’s voice. “?D?nde est? el ba?o?” “Ehs-TOY pehr-DEE-doh. DOHN-deh ehs-TA el BAH-neeo.” The driver repeated. “?Cu?nto cuesta?” “KooAN-to KWEHS-ta,” came his reply. I spent the next hour sitting in the back of the car staring at the iPad, trying not to listen to the driver’s linguistic exercises and wondering if I should also be doing something useful. I e-mailed Michael to ask but he simply responded: That’s your lunch break, sweetie. Enjoy! xx I didn’t like to tell him I had no food. In the warmth of the waiting car, tiredness began to creep over me again, like a tide. I laid my head against the window, telling myself it was normal to feel disjointed, out of my depth. You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. It always does feel strange to be knocked out of your comfort zone. Will’s last letter echoed through me as if from a long distance. And then nothing. — I woke with a start as the door opened. Agnes was climbing in, her face white, her jaw set. “Everything okay?” I said, scrambling upright, but she didn’t answer. We drove off in silence, the still air of the interior suddenly heavy with tension. She turned to me. I scrambled for a bottle of water and held it up to her. “Do you have cigarettes?” “Uh . . . no.” “Garry, do you have cigarettes?” “No, ma’am. But we can get you some.” Her hand was shaking, I noticed now. She reached into her bag, pulling out a small bottle of pills, and I handed over the water. She swigged some down and I noticed tears in her eyes. We pulled up outside a Duane Reade and, after a moment, I realized I was expected to get out. “What kind? I mean, what brand?” “Marlboro Lights,” she said, and dabbed her eyes. I jumped out—well, more of a hobble, really, as my legs were seizing up from the morning’s run—and bought a packet, thinking how odd it was to buy cigarettes from a pharmacy. When I got back into the car she was shouting at somebody in Polish on her cell phone. She ended the call, then opened the window and lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply. She offered one to me. I shook my head. “Don’t tell Leonard,” she said, and her face softened. “He hates me smoking.” We sat there for a few minutes, the engine running, while she smoked the cigarette in short, angry bursts that made me fear for her lungs. Then she stubbed out the last inch, her lips curling over some internal fury, and waved for Garry to drive on. — I was left briefly to my own devices while Agnes had her piano lesson. I retreated to my room where I thought about lying down but was afraid that my stiff legs would mean I couldn’t get up again so instead I sat at the little desk, wrote Sam a quick e-mail and checked the calendar for the next few days. As I did so, music began to echo through the apartment, first scales, then something melodic and beautiful. I stopped to listen, marveling at the sound, wondering how it must feel to be able to create something so gorgeous. I closed my eyes, letting it flow through me, remembering the evening when Will had taken me to my first concert and begun to force the world open for me. Live music was so much more three-dimensional than recorded—it short-circuited something deep within. Agnes’s playing seemed to come from some part of her that remained closed in her dealings with the world; something vulnerable and sweet and lovely. He would have enjoyed this, I thought absently. He would have loved being here. At the exact point it swelled into something truly magical, Ilaria started up the vacuum-cleaner, swamping the sound with a roar, the unforgiving bump of machinery into heavy furniture. The music stopped. My phone buzzed. Please tell her to stop the vacum! I climbed off my bed and walked through the apartment until I found Ilaria, who was pushing the vacuum cleaner furiously just outside Agnes’s study door, her head dipped as she wrenched it backward and forward. I swallowed. There was something about Ilaria that made you hesitate before confronting her, even though she was one of the few people in this zip code shorter than I was. “Ilaria,” I said. She didn’t stop. “Ilaria!” I stood in front of her until she was forced to notice. She kicked the off button with her heel and glared at me. “Mrs. Gopnik has asked if you would mind doing the vacuuming some other time. She can’t hear her music lesson.” “When does she think I am meant to clean the apartment?” Ilaria spat, loud enough to be heard through the door. “Um . . . maybe at any other point during the day apart from this particular forty minutes?” She pulled the plug from the socket and dragged the cleaner noisily across the room. She glared at me with such venom that I almost stepped backward. There was a brief silence and the music started up again. When Agnes finally emerged, twenty minutes later, she looked sideways at me and smiled. — That first week moved in fits and starts, like the first day, with me watching Agnes for signals in the way that Mum used to watch our old dog when her bladder got leaky. Does she need to go out? What does she want? Where should I be? I jogged with Agnes and George every morning, waving them on from about a mile in and motioning toward my hip before walking slowly back to the building. I spent a lot of time sitting in the hall, studying my iPad intently when anybody walked past, so that I might look as if I knew what I was doing. Michael came every day and briefed me in whispered bursts. He seemed to spend his life on the run between the apartment and Mr. Gopnik’s Wall Street office, one of two cell phones pressed to his ear, dry-cleaning over his arm, coffee in his hand. He was completely charming and always smiling, and I had absolutely no idea if he liked me at all. I barely saw Nathan. He seemed to be employed to fit around Mr. Gopnik’s schedule. Sometimes he would work with him at five a.m., at others it was seven o’clock in the evening, disappearing to the office to help him there if necessary. “I’m not employed for what I do,” Nathan explained. “I’m employed for what I can do.” Occasionally he would vanish and I would discover that he and Mr. Gopnik had jetted somewhere overnight—it could be San Francisco or Chicago. Mr. Gopnik had a form of arthritis that he worked hard to keep under control so he and Nathan would swim or work out often several times each day to supplement his regime of anti-inflammatories and painkillers. Alongside Nathan, and George the trainer, who also came every weekday morning, the other people who passed through the apartment that first week were: The cleaners. Apparently there was a distinction between what Ilaria did (housekeeping) and actual cleaning. Twice a week a team of three liveried women and one man blitzed their way through the apartment. They did not speak, except to consult briefly with each other. Each carried a large crate of eco-friendly cleaning materials, and they were gone three hours later, leaving Ilaria to sniff the air, and run her fingers along the skirting disapprovingly. The florist, who arrived in a van on Monday morning and brought enormous vases of arranged blooms to be placed at strategic intervals in the communal areas of the apartment. Several of the vases were so large that it took two to carry them in. They removed their shoes at the door. The gardener. Yes, really. This at first made me slightly hysterical (“You do realize we’re on the second floor?”) until I discovered that the long balconies at the back of the building were lined with pots of miniature trees and blossoms, which the gardener would water, trim and feed before disappearing again. It did make the balcony look beautiful, but nobody ever went out there except me. The pet behaviorist. A tiny, birdlike Japanese woman appeared at ten a.m. on a Friday, watched Felix at a distance for an hour or so, then examined his food, his litter tray, the places he slept, quizzed Ilaria on his behavior, and advised on what toys he needed, or whether his scratching post was sufficiently tall and stable. Felix ignored her for the entire time she was there, breaking off only to wash his bottom with what seemed like almost insulting enthusiasm. The grocery team came twice a week and brought with them large green crates of fresh food, which they unpacked under Ilaria’s supervision. I caught sight of the bill one day: it would have fed my family—and possibly half my postcode—for several months. And that was without the manicurist, the dermatologist, the piano teacher, the man who serviced and cleaned the cars, the handyman who worked for the building and sorted out replacement lightbulbs or faulty air-conditioning. There was the stick-thin redheaded woman who brought large shopping bags from Bergdorf Goodman or Saks Fifth Avenue and viewed everything Agnes tried on with a gimlet eye, stating: “Nope. Nope. Nope. Oh, that’s perfect, honey. That’s lovely. You want to wear that with the little Prada bag I showed you last week. Now, what are we doing about the Gala?” There was the wine merchant and the man who hung the pictures and the woman who cleaned the curtains and the man who buffed the parquet floors in the main living room with a thing that looked like a lawnmower, and a few others besides. I simply got used to seeing people I didn’t recognize wandering around. I’m not sure there was a single day in the first two weeks when there were fewer than five people in the apartment at any one time. It was a family home in name only. It felt like a workspace for me, Nathan, Ilaria, and an endless team of contractors, staff, and hangers-on who traipsed through it from dawn until late into the evening. Sometimes after supper a procession of Mr. Gopnik’s suited colleagues would stop by, disappear into his study, and emerge an hour later muttering about calls to DC or Tokyo. He never really seemed to stop working, other than the time he spent with Nathan. Even at dinner his two phones were on the mahogany table, buzzing discreetly like trapped wasps, as messages filed in. I found myself watching Agnes sometimes as she closed the door to her dressing room in the middle of the day—presumably the only place she could disappear—and I would wonder, When was this place ever just a home? This, I concluded, was why they disappeared at weekends. Unless the country residence had staff too. “Nah. That’s the one thing she’s managed to sort her way,” said Nathan, when I asked him. “She told him to give the ex their weekend place. In return she got him to downscale to a modest place on the beach. Three beds. One bathroom. No staff.” He shook his head. “And therefore no Tab. She’s not stupid.” — “Hey, you.” Sam was in uniform. I did some mental calculations and worked out he had just finished his shift. He ran his hand through his hair, then leaned forward, as if to see me better through the pixelated screen. A little voice said in my head, as it did every time I’d spoken to him since I’d left, What are you doing moving to a different continent from this man? “You went in, then?” “Yeah.” He sighed. “Not the best first day back.” “Why?” “Donna quit.” I couldn’t hide my shock. Donna—straight-talking, funny, calm—was the yin to his yang, his anchor, his voice of sanity at work. It was impossible trying to imagine one without the other. “What? Why?” “Her dad got cancer. Aggressive. Incurable. She wants to be there for him.” “Oh, God. Poor Donna. Poor Donna’s dad.” “Yeah. It’s rough. And now I have to wait and see who they’re going to pair me with. I don’t think they’ll put me with a rookie because of the whole disciplinary-issues thing. So I’m guessing it will be someone from another district.” Sam had been up in front of the disciplinary committee twice since we had been together. I had been responsible for at least one of those and felt the reflexive twinge of guilt. “You’ll miss her.” “Yup.” He looked a bit battered. I wanted to reach through the screen and hug him. “She saved me,” he said. He wasn’t prone to dramatic statements, which somehow made those three words more poignant. I still remembered that night in bursts of terrifying clarity: Sam’s gunshot wound bleeding out over the floor of the ambulance, Donna calm, capable, barking instructions at me, keeping that fragile thread unbroken until the other medics finally arrived. I could still taste fear, visceral and metallic, in my mouth, could still feel the obscene warmth of Sam’s blood on my hands. I shivered, pushing the image aside. I didn’t want Sam in the protection of anyone else. He and Donna were a team. Two people who would never let each other down. And who would probably rib each other mercilessly afterward. “When does she leave?” “Next week. She got special dispensation, given her family circumstances.” He sighed. “Still. On the bright side, your mum’s invited me to lunch on Sunday. Apparently we’re having roast beef and all the trimmings. Oh, and your sister asked me round to the flat. Don’t look like that—she asked if I could help her bleed your radiators.” “That’s it now. You’re in. My family have you like a Venus flytrap.” “It’ll be strange without you.” “Maybe I should just come home.” He tried to raise a smile and failed. “What?” “Nothing.” “Go on.” “I don’t know . . . Feels like I just lost my two favorite women.” A lump rose to my throat. The specter of the third woman he’d lost—his sister, who had died of cancer two years previously—hung between us. “Sam, you didn’t lo–” “Ignore that. Unfair of me.” “I’m still yours. Just at a distance for a while.” He blew out his cheeks. “I didn’t expect to feel it this badly.” “I don’t know whether to be pleased or sad now.” “I’ll be fine. Just one of those days.” I sat there for a moment, watching him. “Okay. So here’s the plan. First you go and feed your hens. Because you always find watching them soothing. And nature is good for perspective and all that.” He straightened up a little. “Then what?” “You make yourself one of those really great bolognese sauces. The ones that take forever, with the wine and bacon and stuff. Because it’s almost impossible to feel crap after eating a really great spaghetti bolognese.” “Hens. Sauce. Okay.” “And then you switch on the television and find a really good film. Something you can get lost in. No reality TV. Nothing with ads.” “Louisa Clark’s Evening Remedies. I’m liking this.” “And then”—I thought for a moment—“you think about the fact that it’s only a little over three weeks until we see each other. And that means this! Ta-daa!” I pulled my top up to my neck. With hindsight, it was a pity that Ilaria chose that exact moment to open my door and walk in with the laundry. She stood there, a pile of towels under one arm, and froze as she took in my exposed bosom, the man’s face on the screen. Then she closed the door quickly, muttering something under her breath. I scrambled to cover myself up. “What?” Sam was grinning, trying to peer to the right of the screen. “What’s going on?” “The housekeeper,” I said, straightening my top. “Oh, God.” Sam had fallen back in his chair. He was properly laughing now, one hand clutching his stomach, where he still got a little protective about his scar. “You don’t understand. She hates me.” “And now you’re Madam Webcam.” He was snorting with laughter. “My name will be mud in the housekeeping community from here to Palm Springs.” I wailed a bit longer, then started to giggle. Seeing Sam laugh so much it was hard not to. He grinned at me. “Well, Lou, you did it. You cheered me up.” “The downside for you is that’s the first and last time I show you my ladybits over WiFi.” Sam leaned forward and blew me a kiss. “Yeah, well,” he said. “I guess we should just be grateful it wasn’t the other way around.” — Ilaria didn’t talk to me for two whole days after the webcam incident. She would turn away when I walked into a room, immediately finding something with which to busy herself, as if by merely catching her eye I might somehow contaminate her with my penchant for salacious boob exposure. Nathan asked what had gone down between us, after she pushed my coffee toward me with an actual spatula, but I couldn’t explain it without it sounding somehow worse than it was, so I muttered something about laundry and why we should have locks on our doors, and hoped that he would let it go. 4 From: BusyBee@gmail.com To: KatClark!@yahoo.com Hey, Stinky Arsebandit Yourself (Is that how a respected accountant is really meant to talk to her globetrotting sister?) I’m good, thanks. My employer—Agnes—is my age and really nice. So that’s been a bonus. You wouldn’t believe the places I’m going—last night I went to a ball in a dress that cost more than I earn in a month. I felt like Cinderella. Except with a really gorgeous sister (yup, so that’s a new one for me. Ha-ha-ha-ha!). Glad Thom is enjoying his new school. Don’t worry about the felt-tip thing—we can always paint that wall. Mum says it’s a sign of his creative expression. Did you know she’s trying to get Dad to go to night school to learn to express himself better? He’s got it into his head this means she’s going to get him going tantric. God knows where he’s read about that. I pretended like she’d told me that was definitely it when he called me, and now I’m feeling a bit guilty because he’s panicking that he’ll have to get his old fella out in front of a room full of strangers. Write me more news. Especially about the date!!! Miss you, Lou xxx PS If Dad does get his old fella out in front of a room full of strangers I don’t want to know ANYTHING. A ccording to Agnes’s social diary, numerous events were highlights of the New York social calendar, but the Neil and Florence Strager Charitable Foundation Dinner teetered somewhere near the pinnacle. Guests wore yellow— the men in necktie form, unless particularly exhibitionist—and the resulting photographs were distributed in publications from the New York Post to Harper’s Bazaar. Dress was formal, the yellow outfits were dazzling, and tickets cost a pocketful of small change under thirty thousand dollars a table. For the outer reaches of the room. I knew this because I had started researching each event that Agnes was due to attend, and this was a big one not just because of the amount of preparation (manicurist, hairdresser, masseur, extra George in the mornings) but because of Agnes’s stress level. She physically vibrated through the day, shouting at George that she couldn’t do the exercises he’d given her, couldn’t run the distance. It was all impossible. George, who possessed an almost Buddha-like level of calm, said that was totally fine, they would walk back and the endorphins from the walk were all good. When he left he gave me a wink, as if this were entirely to be expected. Mr. Gopnik, perhaps in response to some distress call, came home at lunchtime and found her locked in her dressing room. I collected some drycleaning from Ashok and canceled her teeth-whitening appointment, then sat in the hall, unsure what I should be doing. I heard her muffled voice as he opened the door: “I don’t want to go.” Whatever she went on to say kept Mr. Gopnik home way after I might have expected. Nathan was out so I couldn’t talk to him. Michael stopped by, peering around the door. “Is he still here?” he said. “My tracker stopped working.” “Tracker?” “On his phone. Only way I can work out where he is half the time.” “He’s in her dressing room.” I didn’t know what else to say, how far to trust Michael. But it was hard to ignore the sound of raised voices. “I don’t think Mrs. Gopnik is very keen on going out tonight.” “Big Purple. I told you.” And then I remembered. “The former Mrs. Gopnik. This was her big night, and Agnes knows it. Still is. All her old harpies will be there. They’re not the friendliest.” “Well, that explains a lot.” “He’s a big benefactor so he can’t not show. Plus he’s old friends with the Stragers. But it’s one of the tougher nights of their calendar. Last year was a total wipeout.” “Why?” “Aw. She walked in like a lamb to the slaughter.” He pulled a face. “Thought they would be her new best friends. From what I heard afterward, they fried her.” I shuddered. “Can she not just leave him to go by himself?” “Oh, honey, you have no idea how it works here. No. No. No. She has to go. She has to put a smile on her face and be seen in the pictures. That’s her job now. And she knows it. But it’s not going to be pretty.” The voices had risen. We heard Agnes protesting, then Mr. Gopnik’s softer voice, pleading, reasonable. Michael looked at his watch. “I’ll head back to the office. Do me a favor? Text me when he leaves? I have fifty-eight things for him to sign before three p.m. Love ya!” He blew me a kiss and was gone. I sat for a while longer, trying not to listen to the argument down the corridor. I scrolled through the calendar, wondering if there was anything I could do to be useful. Felix strolled past, his lifted tail a question mark, supremely unbothered by the actions of the humans around him. And then the door opened. Mr. Gopnik saw me. “Ah, Louisa. Can you come in for a moment?” I stood and half walked, half ran to where he was standing. It was difficult as running brought on muscle spasms. “I wondered if you were free this evening.” “Free?” “To come to an event. For charity.” “Uh . . . sure.” I had known from the start that the hours would not be regular. And at least it meant I wasn’t likely to bump into Ilaria. I would download a movie onto one of the iPads and watch it in the car. “There. What do you think, darling?” Agnes looked as if she had been crying. “She can sit next to me?” “I’ll sort it out.” She took a deep, shaky breath. “Okay, then. I suppose so.” “Sit next to . . .” “Good. Good!” Mr. Gopnik checked his cell phone. “Right. I really have to go. I’ll see you in the main ballroom. Seven thirty. If I can get through this conference call any sooner I’ll let you know.” He stepped forward and took her face in his hands, kissing her. “You’re okay?” “I’m okay.” “I love you. Very much.” Another kiss, and he was gone. Agnes took another deep breath. She put her hands on her knees, then looked up at me. “You have a yellow ballgown?” I stared at her. “Um. Nope. Bit short on ballgowns, actually.” She ran her gaze up and down me, as if trying to work out whether I could fit into anything she owned. I think we both knew the answer to that one. Then she straightened. “Call Garry. We need to get to Saks.” — Half an hour later I was standing in a changing room while two shop assistants pushed my bosoms into a strapless dress the color of unsalted butter. The last time I had been handled this intimately, I quipped, I had discussed getting engaged immediately afterward. Nobody laughed. Agnes frowned. “Too bridal. And it makes her look thick around the waist.” “That’s because I am thick around the waist.” “We do some very good corrective panties, Mrs. Gopnik.” “Oh, I’m not sure I—” “Do you have anything more fifties-style?” said Agnes, flicking through her phone. “Because this will pull in her waist and get around the height issue. We don’t have time to take anything up.” “What time is your event, ma’am?” “We have to be there seven thirty.” “We can alter a dress for you in time, Mrs. Gopnik. I’ll get Terri to deliver it over to you by six.” “Then let’s try the sunflower yellow one there . . . and that one with the sequins.” If I’d known that that afternoon would be the one time in my life I would be trying on three-thousand-dollar dresses, I might have made sure I wasn’t wearing comedy knickers with a sausage dog on them and a bra that was held together with a safety pin. I wondered how many times in one week you could end up exposing your breasts to perfect strangers. I wondered if they had ever seen a body like mine before, with actual fatty bits. The shop assistants were far too polite to comment on it, beyond repeatedly offering “corrective” underwear, but simply brought in dress after dress, wrestling me in and out like someone wrangling livestock until Agnes, sitting on an upholstered chair, announced, “Yes! This is the one. What you think, Louisa? It is even perfect length for you with that tulle underskirt.” I stared at my reflection. I wasn’t sure who was staring back at me. My waist was nipped in by an inbuilt corset, my bosom hoisted upward into a perfect embonpoint. The color made my skin glow and the long skirt made me a foot taller and entirely unlike myself. The fact that I couldn’t breathe was irrelevant. “We will put your hair up and some earrings. Perfect.” “And this dress is twenty percent off,” said one of the shop assistants. “We don’t sell much yellow after the Strager event each year . . .” I almost deflated with relief. And then I gazed at the label. The sale price was $2,575. A month’s wages. I think Agnes must have seen my bleached face, for she waved at one of the women. “Louisa, you get changed. Do you have any shoes that will go? We can run to the shoe department?” “I have shoes. Lots of shoes.” I had some gold satin-heeled dancing pumps, which would look fine. I did not want this bill going any higher. I went back into the changing cubicle and climbed out of the dress carefully, feeling the weight of it fall expensively around me, and as I got dressed, I listened to Agnes and the assistants talking. Agnes summoned a bag and some earrings, gave them a cursory glance and was apparently satisfied. “Charge it to my account.” “Certainly, Mrs. Gopnik.” I met her at the cash desk. As we walked away, me clutching the bags, I said quietly, “So do you want me to be extra careful?” She looked at me blankly. “With the dress.” Still she looked blank. I lowered my voice. “At home we tuck the label in, then you can take it back the next day. You know, as long as there are no accidental wine stains and it doesn’t stink too much of cigarettes. Maybe give it a quick squirt of Febreze.” “Take it back?” “To the shop.” “Why we would do this?” she said, as we climbed back into the waiting car and Garry put the bags into the boot. “Don’t look so anxious, Louisa. You think I don’t know how you feel? I have nothing when I come here. Me and my friends, we even shared our clothes. But you have to wear good dress when you sit next to me this evening. You can’t wear your uniform. This evening you are not staff. And I am happy to pay for this.” “Okay.” “You understand. Yes? Tonight you have to not be staff. It’s very important.” I thought of the enormous carrier bag in the boot behind me as the car navigated its way slowly through the Manhattan traffic, a little dumbstruck at the direction this day was taking. “Leonard says you looked after a man who died.” “I did. His name was Will.” “He says you have—discretion.” “I try.” “And also that you don’t know anyone here.” “Just Nathan.” She thought about this. “Nathan. I think he is a good man.” “He really is.” She studied her nails. “You speak Polish?” “No.” I added quickly: “But maybe I could learn, if you—” “You know what is difficult for me, Louisa?” I shook my head. “I don’t know who I . . .” She hesitated, then apparently changed her mind about what she was going to say. “I need you to be my friend tonight. Okay? Leonard . . . he will have to do his work thing. Always talking, talking with the men. But you will stay with me, yes? Right by me.” “Whatever you want.” “And if anybody ask, you are my old friend. From when I lived in England. We—we knew each other from school. Not my assistant, okay?” “Got it. From school.” That seemed to satisfy her. She nodded, and settled back in her seat. She said nothing else the whole way back to the apartment. — The New York Palace Hotel, which held the Strager Foundation Gala, was so grand it was almost comical: a fairytale fortress, with a courtyard and arched windows, it was dotted with liveried footmen in daffodil silk knickerbockers. It was as if they had looked at every grand old hotel in Europe, taken notes about ornate cornicing, marble lobbies, and fiddly bits of gilt and decided to add it all together, sprinkle some Disney fairy dust on it, and ramp it up to camp levels all of its own. I half expected to see a pumpkin coach and the odd glass slipper on the red stair carpet. As we pulled up, I gazed into the glowing interior, the twinkling lights and sea of yellow dresses, and almost wanted to laugh, but Agnes was so tense I didn’t dare. Plus my bodice was so tight I would probably have burst my seams. Garry dropped us outside the main entrance, levering the car into a turning area thick with huge black limousines. We walked in past a crowd of onlookers on the sidewalk. A man took our coats, and for the first time Agnes’s dress was fully visible. She looked astonishing. Hers was not a conventional ballgown like mine, or like any of the other women’s, but neon yellow, structured, a floor-length tube with one sculpted shoulder motif that rose up to her head. Her hair was scraped back unforgivingly, tight and sleek, and two enormous gold and yellow-diamond earrings hung from her ears. It should have looked extraordinary. But here, I realized with a faint drop to my stomach, it was somehow too much—out of place in the old-world grandeur of the hotel. As she stood there, nearby heads swiveled, eyebrows lifting as the matrons in their yellow silk wraps and boned corsets viewed her from the corners of carefully made-up eyes. Agnes appeared oblivious. She glanced around distractedly, trying to locate her husband. She wouldn’t relax until she had hold of his arm. Sometimes I watched them together and saw an almost palpable sense of relief come over her when she felt him beside her. “Your dress is amazing,” I said. She looked down at me as if she had just remembered I was there. A flashbulb went off and I saw that photographers were moving among us. I stepped away to give Agnes space, but the man motioned toward me. “You too, ma’am. That’s it. And smile.” She smiled, her gaze flickering toward me as if reassuring herself I was still nearby. And then Mr. Gopnik appeared. He walked over a little stiffly—Nathan had said he was having a bad week—and kissed his wife’s cheek. I heard him murmur something into her ear and she smiled, a sincere, unguarded smile. Their hands briefly clasped, and in that moment I noted that two people could fit all the stereotypes and yet there was something about them that was completely genuine, a delight in each other’s presence. It made me feel suddenly wistful for Sam. But then I couldn’t imagine him somewhere like this, trussed up in a dinner jacket and bow tie. He would, I thought absently, have hated it. “Name, please?” The photographer appeared at my shoulder. Perhaps it was thinking of Sam that made me do it. “Um. Louisa Clark- Fielding,” I said, in my most strangulated upper-class accent. “From England.” “Mr. Gopnik! Over here, Mr. Gopnik!” I backed into the crowd as the photographers took pictures of them together, his hand resting lightly on his wife’s back, her shoulders straight and chin up as if she could command the gathering. And then I saw him scan the room for me, his eyes meeting mine across the lobby. He walked Agnes over. “Darling, I have to talk to some people. Will you two be all right going in on your own?” “Of course, Mr. Gopnik,” I said, as if I did this kind of thing every day. “Will you be back soon?” Agnes still had hold of his hand. “I have to talk to Wainwright and Miller. I promised I’d give them ten minutes to go over this bond deal.” Agnes nodded, but her face betrayed her reluctance to let him go. As she walked through the lobby Mr. Gopnik leaned in to me. “Don’t let her drink too much. She’s nervous.” “Yes, Mr. Gopnik.” He nodded, glanced around him as if deep in thought. Then he turned back to me and smiled. “You look very nice.” And then he was gone. — The ballroom was jammed, a sea of yellow and black. I wore the yellow and black beaded bracelet Will’s daughter, Lily, had given me before I’d left England —and thought privately how much I would have loved to wear my bumblebee tights too. These women didn’t look like they’d had fun with their wardrobes their entire lives. The first thing that struck me was how thin most of them were, hoicked into tiny dresses, clavicles poking out like safety rails. Women of a certain age in Stortfold tended to spread gently outward, cloaking their extra inches in cardigans or long jumpers (“Does it cover my bum?”) and paying lip service to looking good in the form of the occasional new mascara or a six-weekly haircut. In my hometown it was as if to pay too much attention to yourself was somehow suspect, or suggested unhealthy self-interest. But the women in this ballroom looked as if they made their appearance a full-time job. There was no hair not perfectly coiffed into shape, no upper arm that was not toned into submission by some rigorous daily workout. Even the women of uncertain years (it was hard to tell, given the amount of Botox and fillers) looked as if they’d never heard of a bingo wing, let alone flapped one. I thought of Agnes, her personal trainer, her dermatologist, her hairdressing and manicurist appointments and thought, This is her job now. She has to do all that maintenance so she can turn up here and hold her own in this crowd. Agnes moved slowly among them, her head high, smiling at her husband’s friends, who came over to greet her and share a few words while I hovered uncomfortably in the background. The friends were always men. It was only men who smiled at her. The women, while not rude enough to walk away, tended to turn their faces discreetly, as if suddenly distracted by something in the distance so that they didn’t have to engage with her. Several times as we continued through the crowd, me walking behind her, I saw a wife’s expression tighten, as if Agnes’s presence was some kind of transgression. “Good evening,” said a voice at my ear. I looked up and stumbled backward. Will Traynor stood beside me. 5 A fterward I was glad that the room was so crowded because when I stumbled sideways onto the man next to me, he instinctively reached out a hand and, in an instant, several dinner-suited arms were righting me, a sea of faces, smiling, concerned. As I thanked them, apologizing, I saw my mistake. No, not Will—his hair was the same cut and color, his skin that same caramel hue. But I must have gasped aloud because the man who was not Will said, “I’m sorry, did I startle you?” “I—no. No.” I put my hand to my cheek, my eyes locked on his. “You—you just look like someone I know. Knew.” I felt my face flush, the kind of stain that starts at your chest and floods its way up to your hairline. “You okay?” “Oh, gosh. Fine. I’m fine.” I felt stupid now. My face glowed with it. “You’re English.” “You’re not.” “Not even a New Yorker. Bostonian. Joshua William Ryan the Third.” He held out his hand. “You even have his name.” “I’m sorry?” I took his hand. Close up, he was quite different from Will. His eyes were dark brown, his brow lower. But the similarities had left me completely unbalanced. I tore my gaze away from him, conscious that I was still hanging on to his fingers. “I’m sorry. I’m a little . . .” “Let me get you a drink.” “I can’t. I’m meant to be with my—my friend over there.” He looked at Agnes. “Then I’ll get you both a drink. It’ll be—uh—easy to find you.” He grinned and touched my elbow. I tried not to stare at him as he walked off. As I approached Agnes, the man who had been talking to her was hauled away by his wife. Agnes lifted a hand as if she were about to say something in response to him and found herself talking to a broad expanse of dinner-jacketed back. She turned, her face rigid. “Sorry. Got stuck in the crowds.” “My dress is wrong, isn’t it?” she whispered at me. “I have made huge mistake.” She had seen it. In the sea of bodies it looked somehow too bright, less avantgarde than vulgar. “What am I going to do? Is disaster. I must change.” I tried to calculate whether she could reasonably make it home and back. Even without traffic she would be gone an hour. And there was always the risk she might not come back . . . “No! It’s not a disaster. Not at all. It’s just about . . .” I paused. “You know, a dress like that, you have to style it out.” “What?” “Own it. Hold your head up. Like you couldn’t give a crap.” She stared at me. “A friend once taught me this. The man I used to work for. He told me to wear my stripy legs with pride.” “Your what?” “He . . . Well, he was telling me it was okay to be different from everyone else. Agnes, you look about a hundred times better than any of the other women here. You’re gorgeous. And the dress is striking. So just let it be a giant finger to them. You know? I’ll wear what I like.” She was watching me intently. “You think so?” “Oh, yes.” She took a deep breath. “You’re right. I will be giant finger.” She straightened her shoulders. “And no men care what dress you wear anyway, yes?” “Not one.” She smiled, gave me a knowing look. “They just care what is underneath.” “That’s quite a dress, ma’am,” said Joshua, appearing at my side. He handed us each a slim glass. “Champagne. The only yellow drink was Chartreuse and it made me feel kind of queasy just looking at it.” “Thank you.” I took a glass. He held out his hand to Agnes. “Joshua William Ryan the Third.” “You really have to have made up that name.” They both turned to look at me. “Nobody outside soap operas can actually be called that,” I said, and then realized I had meant to think it rather than say it aloud. “Okay. Well. You can call me Josh,” he said equably. “Louisa Clark,” I said, then added, “The First.” His eyes narrowed just a little. “Mrs. Leonard Gopnik. The Second,” said Agnes. “But then you probably knew that.” “I did indeed. You are the talk of the town.” His words could have landed hard, but he said it with warmth. I watched Agnes’s shoulders relax a little. Josh, he told us, was there with his aunt as her husband was traveling and she hadn’t wanted to attend alone. He worked for a securities firm, talking to money managers and hedge funds about how best to manage risk. He specialized, he said, in corporate equity and debt. “I don’t have a clue what any of that means,” I said. “Most days I don’t either.” He was being charming, of course. But suddenly the room felt a little less chilly. He was from Back Bay Boston, had just moved to what he described as a rabbit-hutch apartment in SoHo, and had put on five pounds since arriving in New York because the restaurants downtown were so good. He said a lot more, but I couldn’t tell you what because I couldn’t stop staring at him. “And how about you, Miss Louisa Clark the First? What do you do?” “I—” “Louisa is a friend of mine. Just visiting from England.” “And how are you finding New York?” “I love it,” I said. “I don’t think my head has stopped spinning.” “And the Yellow Ball is one of your first social engagements. Well, Mrs. Leonard Gopnik the Second, you don’t do things small.” The evening was flying by, eased by a second glass of champagne. At dinner, I was placed between Agnes and a man who failed to give me his name and spoke to me only once, asking my breasts who they knew, then turning his back when it became clear that the answer was not very many people at all. I watched what Agnes drank, on Mr. Gopnik’s orders, and when I caught him looking at me I switched her full glass for my near-empty one, feeling relief when his subtle smile signaled approval. Agnes talked too loudly to the man on her right, her laugh a little too high, her gestures brittle and fluttery. I watched the other women at the table, all of them forty and above, and saw the way they looked at her, their eyes sliding heavily toward each other, as if to confirm some dark opinion expressed in private. It was horrible. Mr. Gopnik could not reach her from his position across the table, but I saw his eyes flickering toward her frequently, even as he smiled and shook hands and appeared, on the surface, to be the most relaxed man on the planet. “Where is she?” I leaned in to hear Agnes more clearly. “Leonard’s ex-wife. Where is she? You have to find out, Louisa. I can’t relax until I know. I can feel her.” Big Purple. “I’ll check the place settings,” I said, and excused myself from the table. I stood at the huge printed stand at the entrance to the dining room. There were around eight hundred closely printed names and I didn’t know if the first Mrs. Gopnik even went by Gopnik anymore. I swore under my breath just as Josh appeared behind me. “Lost someone?” I lowered my voice. “I need to find out where the first Mrs. Gopnik is seated. Would you happen to know if she goes by her old name? Agnes would like . . . to have an idea where she is.” He frowned. “She’s a little stressed,” I added. “No idea, I’m afraid. But my aunt might. She knows everyone. Stay right here.” He touched my bare shoulder lightly and strode off into the dining room, while I tried to rearrange my facial expression into that of someone who was scanning the board to confirm the presence of half a dozen close friends, not someone whose skin had just colored an unexpected shade of pink. He was back within a minute. “She’s still Gopnik,” he said. “Aunt Nancy thinks she might have seen her over by the auction table.” He ran a manicured finger down the list of names. “There. Table 144. I walked past to check and there’s a woman who fits her description. Fifty-something, dark hair, shooting poison darts from a Chanel evening bag? They’ve put her about as far away from Agnes as they could.” “Oh, thank God,” I said. “She’ll be so relieved.” “They can be pretty scary, these New York matrons,” he said. “I don’t blame Agnes for wanting to watch her back. Is English society this cut-throat?” “English society? Oh, I don’t—I’m not very big on society events,” I said. “Me either. To be honest, I’m so worn out after work that most days it’s all I can do to pick up a takeout menu. What is it you do, Louisa?” “Um . . .” I glanced abruptly at my phone. “Oh, gosh. I have to get back to Agnes.” “Will I see you before you go? Which table are you at?” “Thirty-two,” I said, before I could think about all the reasons I shouldn’t. “Then I’ll see you later.” I was briefly transfixed by Josh’s smile. “I meant to say, by the way, you look beautiful.” He leaned forward, and lowered his voice so that it rumbled a little by my ear. “I actually prefer your dress to your friend’s. Did you take a picture yet?” “A picture?” “Here.” He held up his hand, and before I worked out what he was doing, he had taken a photograph of the two of us, our heads inches apart. “There. Give me your number and I’ll send it to you.” “You want to send me a picture of you and me together.” “Are you sensing my ulterior motive?” He grinned. “Okay, then. I’ll keep it for myself. A memento of the prettiest girl here. Unless you want to delete it. There you go. Yours to delete.” He held out his phone. I peered at it, my finger hovering over the button before I withdrew it. “It seems rude to delete someone you’ve just met. But, um . . . thank you . . . and for the whole covert table-surveillance thing. Really kind of you.” “My pleasure.” We grinned at each other. And before I could say anything more I ran back to the table. — I gave Agnes the good news—at which she let out an audible sigh—then sat and ate a bit of my now-cold fish while waiting for my head to stop buzzing. He’s not Will, I told myself. His voice was wrong. His eyebrows were wrong. He was American. And yet there was something in his manner—the confidence combined with sharp intelligence, the air that said he could cope with anything you threw at him, a way of looking at you that left me hollowed out. I glanced behind me, remembering I hadn’t asked Josh where he was seated. “Louisa?” I glanced to my right. Agnes was looking intently at me. “I need to go to the bathroom.” It took me a minute to recall that this meant I should go too. We walked slowly through the tables to the Ladies, me trying not to scan the room for Josh. All eyes were on Agnes as she went, not just because of the vivid color of her dress but because she had magnetism, an unconscious way of drawing the eye. She walked with her chin up, her shoulders back, a queen. The moment we got into the Ladies, she slumped onto the chaise longue in the corner and gestured to me to give her a cigarette. “My God. This evening. I may die if we don’t leave soon.” The attendant—a woman in her sixties—raised an eyebrow at the cigarette, then looked the other way. “Er—Agnes, I’m not sure you can smoke in here.” She was going to do it anyway. Perhaps when you were rich you didn’t care about other people’s rules. What could they do to her after all—throw her out? She lit it, inhaled, and sighed with relief. “Ugh. This dress is so uncomfortable. And the G-string is cutting me like cheese-wire, you know?” She wriggled in front of the mirror, hauling up her dress and rummaging underneath it with a manicured hand. “I should have worn no underwear.” “But you feel okay?” I said. She smiled at me. “I feel okay. Some people have been very nice this evening. This Josh is very nice, and Mr. Peterson on other side of me is very friendly. It’s not so bad. Maybe finally some people are accepting that Leonard has a new wife.” “They just need time.” “Hold this. I need to pee-pee.” She handed me the half-smoked cigarette and disappeared into a cubicle. I held it up between two fingers, as if it were a sparkler. The cloakroom attendant and I exchanged a look and she shrugged, as if to say, What can you do? “Oh, my God,” Agnes said, from inside the cubicle. “I will need to take whole thing off. Is impossible to pull it up. You will need to help me with zipper afterward.” “Okay,” I said. The attendant raised her eyebrows. We both tried not to giggle. Two middle-aged women entered the cloakroom. They looked at my cigarette with disapproval. “The thing is, Jane, it’s like a madness takes hold of them,” one said, stopping in front of the mirror to check her hair. I wasn’t sure why she needed to: it was so heavily lacquered I’m not sure a force-ten hurricane would have dislodged it. “I know. We’ve seen it a million times.” “But normally at least they’ve got the decency just to handle it discreetly. And that’s what’s been so disappointing for Kathryn. The lack of discretion.” “Yes. It would be so much easier for her if it had at least been someone with a little class.” “Quite. He’s behaved like a clich?.” At this both women’s heads swiveled to me. “Louisa?” came a muffled voice from inside the cubicle. “Can you come here?” I knew then who they were talking about. I knew just from looking at their faces. There was a short silence. “You do realize this is a nonsmoking venue,” one of the women said pointedly. “Is it? So sorry.” I stubbed it out in the sink then ran some water over the end. “You can help me, Louisa? My zipper is stuck.” They knew. They put two and two together and I saw their faces harden. I walked past them, knocked twice on the cubicle door, and she let me in. Agnes was standing in her bra, the tubular yellow dress stalled around her waist. “What—” she began. I put my fingers to my lips and gestured silently outside. She looked over, as if she could see through the door, and pulled a face. I turned her around. The zipper, two-thirds down, was lodged at her waist. I tried it two, three times then pulled my phone from my evening bag and turned on the torch, trying to work out what was stopping it. “You can fix this?” she whispered. “I’m trying.” “You must. I can’t go out like this in front of those women.” Agnes stood inches from me in a tiny bra, her pale flesh giving off warm waves of expensive perfume. I tried to maneuver around her, squinting at the zipper, but it was impossible. She needed room to take the thing off so I could work on the zipper or I couldn’t do it up. I looked at her and shrugged. She looked briefly anguished. “I don’t think I can do it in here, Agnes. There’s no room. And I can’t see.” “I can’t go out like this. They will say I am whore.” Her hands flew to her face, despairing. The oppressive silence outside told me the women were waiting on our next move. Nobody was even pretending to go to the loo. We were stuck. I stood back and shook my head, thinking. And then it came to me. “Giant finger,” I whispered. Her eyes widened. I gazed at her steadily, and gave a small nod. She frowned, and then her face cleared. I opened the cubicle door and stood back. Agnes took a breath, straightened her spine, then strolled out past the two women, like a backstage supermodel, the top of the dress around her waist, her bra two delicate triangles that barely obscured the pale breasts underneath. She stopped in the middle of the room and leaned forward so that I could ease the dress carefully over her head. Then she straightened up, now naked except for her two scraps of lace, a study in apparent insouciance. I dared not look at the women’s faces, but as I draped the yellow dress over my arm I heard the dramatic intake of breath, felt the reverberations in the air. “Well, I—” one began. “Would you like a sewing kit, ma’am?” The attendant appeared at my side. She worked the little packet open while Agnes sat daintily on the chaise longue, her long pale legs stretched demurely out to the side. Two more women walked in, and their conversation stopped abruptly at the sight of Agnes in her lingerie. One coughed, and they looked studiedly away from her, stumbling over some new conversational platitude. Agnes rested on the chair, apparently blissfully unaware. The attendant handed me a pin, and using its point I caught the tiny scrap of thread that had entangled itself, tugging gently until I had freed it and the zipper moved again. “Got it!” Agnes stood, held the attendant’s proffered hand and stepped elegantly back into the yellow dress, which the two of us raised around her body. When it was in place I pulled the zipper smoothly up until she was clad, every inch of the dress flush against her skin. She smoothed it down around her endless legs. The attendant proffered a can of hairspray. “Here,” she whispered. “Allow me.” She leaned forward and gave the fastening a quick spray from the can. “That’ll help it stay up.” I beamed at her. “Thank you. So kind of you,” Agnes said. She pulled a fifty-dollar bill from her evening bag and handed it to the woman. Then she turned to me with a smile. “Louisa, darling, shall we go back to our table?” And, with an imperious nod to the two women, Agnes lifted her chin and walked slowly toward the door. There was silence. Then the attendant turned to me, and pocketed the money with a wide grin. “Now that,” she said, her voice suddenly audible, “is class.” 6 T he following morning, George didn’t come. Nobody told me. I sat in the hall in my shorts, bleary and gritty-eyed, and at half seven grasped that he must have been canceled. Agnes did not get up until after nine, a fact that had Ilaria tutting disapprovingly at the clock. She had sent a text asking me to cancel the rest of her day’s appointments. Instead, some time around mid-morning, she said she’d like to walk around the Reservoir. It was a breezy day and we walked with scarves pulled up around our chins and our hands thrust into our pockets. All night I had thought about Josh’s face. I still felt unbalanced by it, found myself wondering how many of Will’s doppelg?ngers were walking around in different countries right now. Josh’s eyebrows were heavier, his eyes a different color, and obviously his accent wasn’t Will’s. But still. “You know what I used to do with my friends when we were hung-over?” said Agnes, breaking into my thoughts. “We would go to this Japanese place near Gramercy Park and we would eat noodles and talk and talk and talk.” “Let’s go, then.” “Where?” “To the noodle place. We can pick up your friends on the way.” She looked briefly hopeful, then kicked a stone. “I can’t now. Is different.” “You don’t have to turn up in Garry’s car. We could get a taxi. I mean, you could dress down, just turn up. It would be fine.” “I told you. Is different.” She turned to me. “I tried these things, Louisa. For a while. But my friends are curious. They want to know everything about my life now. And then when I tell them the truth it makes them . . . weird.” “Weird?” “Once we were all the same, you know? Now they say I can never know what their problems are. Because I am rich. Somehow I am not allowed to have problems. Or they are strange around me, like I am somehow different person. Like the good things in my life are an insult to theirs. You think I can moan about housekeeper to someone with no house?” She stopped on the path. “When I first marry Leonard, he gave me money for my own. A wedding present, so that I don’t have to ask him for money all the time. And I give my best friend, Paula, some of this money. I give her ten thousand dollars to clear her debts, to make fresh start. At first she was so happy. I was happy too! To do this for my friend! So she doesn’t have to worry anymore, like me!” Her voice grew wistful. “And then . . . then she didn’t want to see me anymore. She was different, was always too busy to meet me. And slowly I see she resents me for helping her. She didn’t mean to, but when she sees me now all she can think is that she owes me. And she is proud, very proud. She does not want to live with this feeling. So”—she shrugged—“she won’t have lunch with me or take my calls. I lost my friend because of money.” “Problems are problems,” I said when it became clear she was expecting me to say something. “Doesn’t matter whose they are.” She stepped sideways to avoid a toddler on a scooter. She gazed after it, thinking, then turned to me. “You have cigarettes?” I had learned now. I pulled the packet from my backpack and handed it to her. I wasn’t sure I should be encouraging her to smoke, but she was my boss. She inhaled and blew out a long plume of smoke. “Problems are problems,” she repeated slowly. “You have problems, Louisa Clark?” “I miss my boyfriend.” I said it as much as anything to reassure myself. “Apart from that, not really. This is . . . great. I’m happy here.” She nodded. “I used to feel like this. New York! Always something to see new. Always exciting. Now I just . . . I miss . . .” She tailed off. For a moment I thought her eyes had filled with tears. But then her face stilled. “You know she hates me?” “Who?” “Ilaria. The witch. She was the other one’s housekeeper and Leonard will not sack her. So I am stuck with her.” “She might grow to like you.” “She might grow to put arsenic in my food. I see the way she looks at me. She wishes me dead. You know how it feels to live with someone who wishes you dead?” I was pretty scared of Ilaria myself. But I didn’t want to say so. We walked on. “I used to work for someone who I was pretty sure hated me at first,” I said. “Gradually I worked out that it was nothing to do with me. He just hated his life. And as we got to know each other we started to get along just fine.” “Did he ever scorch your best shirt ‘accidentally’? Or put detergent in your underwear that he knew would make your vajajay itch?” “Uh—no.” “Or serve food that you tell him fifty times you do not like so you will look like you are complaining all the time? Or tell stories about you to make you seem like prostitute?” My mouth had opened like that of a goldfish. I closed it and shook my head. She pushed her hair off her face. “I love him, Louisa. But living in his life is impossible. My life is impossible . . .” Again she trailed off. We stood, watching the people passing us on the path: the Roller-bladers and the kids on training wheels, the couples arm in arm, and the police officers in their shades. The temperature had dropped and I gave an involuntary shiver in my tracksuit top. She sighed. “Okay. We go back. Let’s see which piece of my favorite clothing the Witch has ruined today.” “No,” I said. “Let’s get your noodles. We can do that much at least.” — We took a taxi to Gramercy Park, to a place in a brownstone on a shady side street that looked grubby enough to harbor some terrible intestinal bug. But Agnes seemed lighter almost as soon as we arrived. As I paid the taxi she bounded up the stairs and into the darkened interior, and when the young Japanese woman emerged from the kitchen she threw her arms round Agnes and hugged her, as if they were old friends. Then, holding Agnes by the elbow, she kept demanding to know where she had been. Agnes pulled off