Still MeJojo Moyes
ALSO BY JOJO MOYES
Paris for One and Other Stories
One Plus One
The Girl You Left Behind
Me Before You
The Last Letter from Your Lover
The Horse Dancer
The Ship of Brides
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
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New York, New York 10014
A Pamela Dorman Book/Viking Copyright (c) 2018 by Jojo's Mojo Limited Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
ISBN 9780399562457 (hardcover) ISBN 9780399562471 (e-book)
ISBN 9780525559030 (export)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To darling Saskia: wear your own stripy tights with pride.
Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.
ALSO BY JOJO MOYES
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
It 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.
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.
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.
"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.
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."
"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 he
re and I'm going to 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?"
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 slightly-too-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."
"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 dry-cleaning," 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 li
ght 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."