After you, p.9
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       After You, p.9
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         Part #2 of Me Before You series by Jojo Moyes

  “I’m your father. I’ve known about every bloody thing you and your sister have done since you were three years old.” He leaned forward. “Your mother would never let me have one.”

  “No, Dad, I don’t have another tattoo.” I took a breath. “I . . . I have Will’s daughter.”

  Dad stood very still. Mum appeared behind him, with her apron on. “Lou!” She caught the look on his face. “What? What’s wrong?”

  “She says she has Will’s daughter.”

  “She has Will’s what?” Mum squawked.

  Dad had gone quite white. He reached behind him for the radiator and clutched it.

  “What?” I asked, anxious. “What’s the matter?”

  “You—you’re not telling me you harvested his . . . you know . . . his little fellas?”

  I pulled a face. “She’s in the car. She’s sixteen years old.”

  “Oh, thank God. Oh, Josie, thank God . . . These days, you’re so . . . I never know what—” He composed himself. “Will’s daughter, you say? You never said he—”

  “I didn’t know. Nobody knew.”

  Mum peered around him to my car, where Lily was trying to act as if she didn’t know she was being talked about.

  “Well, you’d better bring her in,” said Mum, her hand to her neck. “It’s a decent-sized chicken. It will do all of us if I add a few more potatoes.” She shook her head in amazement. “Will’s daughter. Well, goodness, Lou. You’re certainly full of surprises.”

  She waved at Lily, who waved back tentatively. “Come on in, love!”

  Dad lifted a hand in greeting, then murmured quietly. “Does Mr. Traynor know?”

  “Not yet.”

  Dad rubbed his chest. “Is there anything else?”

  “Anything else what?”

  “Anything else you need to tell me. You know, apart from jumping off buildings and bringing home long-lost children. You’re not joining the circus, or adopting a kid from Kazakhstan or something?”

  “I promise I am doing none of the above. Yet.”

  “Well, thank the Lord for that. What’s the time? I think I’m ready for a drink.”

  • • •

  “So where do you go to school, Lily?”

  “It’s a small boarding school in Shropshire. No one’s ever heard of it. It’s mostly posh retards and distant members of the Moldavian royal family.”

  We had crammed ourselves around the dining table in the front room, the seven of us knee to knee, and six of us praying that nobody needed the loo, which would necessitate everyone getting up and moving the table six inches toward the sofa.

  “Boarding school, eh? Tuck shops and midnight feasts and all that? I bet that’s a gas.”

  “Not really. They shut the tuck shop last year because half the girls had eating disorders and were making themselves sick on Snickers bars.”

  “Lily’s mother lives in St. John’s Wood,” I said. “She’s staying with me for a couple of days while she . . . while she gets to know a bit about the other side of her family.”

  Mum said, “The Traynors have lived here for generations.”

  “Really?” Lily looked up. “Do you know them?”

  Mum froze. “Well, not as such . . .”

  “What’s their house like?”

  Mum’s face closed. “You’d be better off asking Lou about that sort of thing. She’s the one who spent . . . all the time there.”

  Lily waited.

  Dad said, “I work with Mr. Traynor, who is responsible for the running of the estate.”

  “Granddad!” exclaimed Granddad, and laughed. Lily glanced at him and then back at me. I smiled, although even the mention of Mr. Traynor’s name made me feel oddly unbalanced.

  “That’s right, Daddy,” said Mum. “He’d be Lily’s granddad. Just like you. Now who wants some more potatoes?”

  “Granddad.” Lily repeated the words quietly, clearly pleased.

  “We’ll ring them and . . . tell them,” I said. “And if you like we can drive past their house when we leave. Just so you can see a bit of it.”

  My sister sat silently throughout this exchange. Lily had been placed next to Thom, possibly in an attempt to get him to behave better, although the risk of him starting a conversation related to intestinal parasites was still quite high. Treena watched Lily. She was more suspicious than my parents, who had just accepted everything I’d told them. She had hauled me upstairs while Dad was showing Lily the garden and asked all the questions that had flown wildly around my head, like a trapped pigeon in a closed room. How did I know she was who she said? What did she want? And then, finally, Why on earth would her own mother want her to come and live with you?

  “So how long is she staying?” she said at the table, while Dad was telling Lily about working with green oak.

  “We haven’t really discussed it.”

  She pulled the kind of face at me that told me simultaneously that I was an eejit, and also that this was no surprise to her whatsoever.

  “She’s been with me for two nights, Treen. And she’s only young.”

  “My point exactly. What do you know about looking after children?”

  “She’s hardly a child.”

  “She’s worse than a child. Teenagers are basically toddlers with hormones—old enough to want to do stuff without having any of the common sense. She could get into all sorts of trouble. I can’t believe you’re actually doing this.”

  I handed her the gravy boat. “Hello, Lou. Well done on keeping your job in a tough market. Congratulations on getting over your terrible accident. It’s really lovely to see you.”

  She passed me back the salt and muttered under her breath. “You know, you won’t be able to cope with this, as well as . . .”

  “As well as what?”

  “Your depression.”

  “I don’t have depression,” I hissed. “I’m not depressed, Treena. For crying out loud, I did not throw myself off a building.”

  “You haven’t been yourself for ages. Not since the whole Will thing.”

  “What do I have to do to convince you? I’m holding down a job. I’m doing my physio to get my hip straight and going to a flipping grief counseling group to get my mind straight. I think I’m doing pretty well, okay?” The whole table was now listening to me. “In fact—here’s the thing. Oh, yes. Lily was there. She saw me fall. It turns out she was the one who called the ambulance.”

  Every member of my family looked at me. “You see, it’s true. She saw me fall. I didn’t jump. Lily, I was just telling my sister. You were there when I fell, weren’t you? See? I told you all I heard a girl’s voice. I wasn’t going mad. She actually saw the whole thing. I slipped, right?”

  Lily looked up from her plate, still chewing. She had barely stopped eating since we sat down. “Yup. She totally wasn’t trying to kill herself.”

  Mum and Dad exchanged a glance. My mother sighed, crossed herself discreetly, and smiled. My sister lifted her eyebrows, the closest I was going to get to an apology. I felt, briefly, elated.

  “Yeah. She was just shouting at the sky.” Lily lifted her fork. “And really, really pissed.”

  There was a brief silence.

  “Oh,” said Dad. “Well, that’s—”

  “That’s . . . good,” said Mum.

  “This chicken’s great,” said Lily. “Can I have some more?”

  • • •

  We stayed until late afternoon, partly because every time I got up to leave, Mum kept pressing more food on us, and partly because having other people to chat to Lily made the whole situation seem a little less weird and intense. Dad and I moved out to the back garden and the two deck chairs that had somehow failed to rot during another winter (although it was wisest to stay almost completely still once you were in them, just in case).

  “You know your sister has been reading The Female Eunuch? And some old shite called The Women’s Bedroom or something. She says your mother is a classic example of oppressed womanho
od, and the fact that your mother disagrees shows how oppressed she is. She’s trying to tell her I should be doing the cooking and cleaning and making out I’m some fecking caveman. But if I dare to say anything back she keeps telling me to ‘check my privilege.’ Check my privilege! I told her I’d be happy to check it if I knew where the hell your mother had put it.”

  “Mum seems fine to me,” I said. I took a swig of my tea, feeling a faintly guilty pang as I realized that the sounds I could hear were actually Mum washing up.

  He looked sideways at me. “She hasn’t shaved her legs in three weeks. Three weeks, Lou! If I’m really honest it gives me the heebie-jeebies when they touch me. I’ve been on the sofa for the last two nights. I don’t know, Lou. Why are people never happy just to let things be anymore? Your mum was happy, I’m happy. We know what our roles are. I’m the one with hairy legs. She’s the one who fits the rubber gloves. Simple.”

  Down in the garden, Lily was teaching Thom to make birdcalls using a thick blade of grass. He held it up between his thumbs, but it’s possible that his four missing teeth hampered any sound production, as all that emerged was a raspberry and a light shower of saliva.

  We sat in companionable silence for a while, listening to the squawks of the birdcalls, Granddad whistling, and next door’s dog yelping to be let in. I felt happy to be home.

  “So how is Mr. Traynor?” I asked.

  “Ah, he’s grand. You know he’s going to be a daddy again?”

  I turned carefully in my chair. “Really?”

  “Not with Mrs. Traynor. She moved out straight after . . . you know. This is with the redheaded girl, I forget her name.”

  “Della,” I said, remembering suddenly.

  “That’s the one. They seem to have known each other quite a while, but I think the whole, you know, having a baby thing was a bit of a surprise to the both of them.” Dad cracked open another beer. “He’s cheerful enough. I suppose it’s nice for him to have a new son or daughter on the way. Something to focus on.”

  Some part of me wanted to judge him. But I could too easily imagine the need to create something good out of what had happened, the desire to climb back out, by whatever means.

  They’re only still together because of me, Will had told me, more than once.

  “What do you think he’ll make of Lily?” I asked.

  “I have no idea, love.” Dad thought for a bit. “I think he’ll be happy. It’s like he’s getting a bit of his son back, isn’t it?”

  “What do you think Mrs. Traynor will think?”

  “I don’t know, love. I have no idea where she even lives these days.”

  “Lily’s . . . quite a handful.”

  Dad burst out laughing. “You don’t say! You and Treena drove your mother and me half demented for years with your late nights and your boyfriends and your heartbreaks. It’s about time you had some of it coming back your way.” He took a swig of his beer and chuckled again. “It’s good news, love. I’m glad you won’t be on your own in that empty old flat of yours.”

  Thom’s grass let out a squawk. His face lit up and he thrust his blade skyward. We raised our thumbs in salute.


  He turned to me.

  “You know I’m fine, right?”

  “Yes, love.” He gave me a gentle shoulder bump. “But you know, it’s my job to worry. I’ll be worrying till I’m too old to get out of my chair.” He looked down at it. “Mind you, that might be sooner than I’d like.”

  We left shortly before five. In the rearview mirror Treena was the only one of the family not waving. She stood there, her arms crossed over her chest, her head moving slowly from side to side as she watched us go.

  • • •

  When we got home, Lily disappeared up onto the roof. I hadn’t been up there since the accident. I’d told myself the spring weather had made it pointless to try; that the fire escape would be slippery because of the rain, that the sight of all those pots of dead plants would make me feel guilty, but, really, I was afraid. Even thinking about heading up there again made my heart thump harder; it took nothing for me to recall that sense of the world disappearing from beneath me, like a rug pulled from under my feet.

  I watched her climb out of the landing window and shouted up that she should come down in twenty minutes. When twenty-five had gone by, I began to get anxious. I called out of the window but only the sound of the traffic came back to me. At thirty-five minutes I found myself, swearing under my breath, climbing out of the hall window onto the fire escape.

  It was a warm summer evening and the rooftop asphalt radiated heat. Below us the sounds of the city spelled out a lazy Sunday in slow-moving traffic, windows down, music blaring, youths hanging out on street corners, the distant char-grilled smells of barbecues on other rooftops.

  Lily sat on an upturned plant pot, looking out over the City. I stood with my back to the water tank, trying not to feel a reflexive panic whenever she leaned toward the edge.

  It had been a mistake to go up there. I felt the asphalt listing gently underneath my feet, like the deck of a ship. I made my way unsteadily to the rusting iron seat, lowering myself into it. My body knew exactly how it felt to stand on that ledge; how the infinitesimal difference between the solid business of living and the lurch that would end everything could be measured in the smallest of measurements, in grams, in millimeters, in degrees, and that knowledge made the hairs on my arms prickle and a fine sweat seep through the skin on the back of my neck.

  “Can you come down, Lily?”

  “All your plants have died.” She picked at the dead leaves of a desiccated shrub.

  “Yes. Well. I haven’t been up here for months.”

  “You shouldn’t let plants die. It’s cruel.”

  I looked at her sharply, to see if she was joking, but she didn’t seem to be. She stooped, breaking off a twig and examining the dried-up center.

  Then she looked out at the city below. “How did you meet my dad?”

  I reached for the corner of the water tank, trying to stop my legs from shaking. “I just applied for a job looking after him. And I got it.”

  “Even though you weren’t medically trained.”


  She considered this, flicked the dead stem away into the air, then got up, walked to the far end of the terrace, and stood, her hands on her hips, legs braced, a skinny Amazon warrior. “He was handsome, wasn’t he?”

  The roof was swaying under me. I needed to go downstairs. “I can’t do this up here, Lily.”

  “Are you really frightened?”

  “I’d just really rather we went down. Please.”

  She tilted her head and watched me, as if trying to work out whether to do as I asked. She took a step toward the wall and put her foot up speculatively, as if to jump onto the edge, just long enough to make me break out into a spontaneous sweat. Then she turned to me, grinned, put her cigarette between her teeth, and walked back across the roof toward the fire escape. “You won’t fall off again, silly. Nobody’s that unlucky.”

  “Yeah. Well, right now, I don’t really want to test the odds.”

  Some minutes later, when I could make my legs obey my brain, we went down the two flights of iron steps. We stopped outside my window when I realized I was shaking too much to climb through and I sat down on the step.

  Lily rolled her eyes, waiting. Then, when she grasped that I couldn’t move, she sat down on the step beside me. We were only perhaps ten feet lower than we had been, but with my hallway visible through the window, and a rail on each side, I began to breathe normally again.

  “You know what you need,” she said, and held up her roll-up.

  “Are you seriously telling me to get stoned? Four floors up? You know I just fell off a roof?”

  “It’ll help you relax.”

  And then, when I didn’t take it, “Oh, come on. What, are you seriously the straightest person in the whole of London?”

  “I’m not from L

  Afterward, I couldn’t believe I had been manipulated by a sixteen-year-old. But Lily was like the cool girl in class, the one you found yourself trying to impress. Before she could say anything else, I took it from her and had a tentative drag on it, trying not to cough when it hit the back of my throat. “Anyway, you’re sixteen,” I muttered. “You shouldn’t be doing this. And where is someone like you getting this stuff?”

  Lily peered over the edge of the railing. “Did you fancy him?”

  “Fancy who? Your dad? Not at first.”

  “Because he was in a wheelchair.”

  Because he was doing an impression of Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot and it scared the bejesus out of me, I wanted to say, but it would have taken too much explaining. “No. The wheelchair was the least important thing about him. No, I didn’t fancy him because. . . . he was very angry. And a bit intimidating. And those two things made him quite hard to fancy.”

  “Do I look like him? I Googled him but I can’t tell.”

  “A bit. Your coloring is the same. Maybe your eyes.”

  “My mum said he was really handsome and that was what made him such an arsehole. One of the things. Whenever I’m getting on her nerves now she tells me I’m just like him. Oh God, you’re just like Will Traynor.” She always calls him Will Traynor, though. Not ‘your father.’ She’s determined to make out like Fuckface is my dad, even though he is patently not. It’s like she thinks she can just make a family by insisting that we are one.”

  I took another drag. I could feel myself getting woozy. Apart from one night at a house party in Paris, it had been years since I’d had a joint. “You know, I think I’d enjoy this more if there wasn’t a small possibility of me falling off this fire escape.”

  She took it from me. “Jeez, Louise. You need to have some fun.” She inhaled deeply and leaned her head back. “So did he tell you about how he was feeling? Like the real stuff?” She inhaled again and handed it back to me. She seemed totally unaffected.


  “Did you argue?”

  “Quite a lot. But we laughed a lot, too.”

  “Did he fancy you?”

  “Fancy me? . . . I don’t know if fancy is the right word.”

  My mouth worked silently around words I couldn’t find. How could I explain to this girl what Will and I had been to each other, the way I felt that no person in the world had ever understood me like he did or ever would again? How could she understand that losing him was like having a hole shot straight through me, a painful, constant reminder, an absence I could never fill?

  She stared at me. “He did! My dad fancied you!” She started to giggle. And it was such a ridiculous thing to say, such a useless word to describe what Will and I had been to each other, that in spite of myself I giggled too.

  “My dad had the hots for you. How mad is that?” She gasped. “Oh, my God! In a different universe, you could have been MY STEPMUM.”

  We gazed at each other in mock horror and somehow this fact swelled between us until a bubble of merriment lodged in my chest. I began to laugh, the kind of laugh that verges on hysteria, that makes your stomach hurt, where the mere act of looking at someone sets you off again.

  “Did you have sex?”

  And that killed it.

  “Okay. This conversation has now got weird.”

  Lily pulled a face. “Your whole relationship sounds weird.”

  “It wasn’t at all. It . . . it . . .”

  It was suddenly too much: the rooftop, the questions, the joint, the memories of Will. We seemed to be conjuring him out of the air between us: his smile, his skin, the feel of his face against mine, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. I let my head fall slightly between my knees. Breathe, I told myself.

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