Me Before You

By: Jojo Moyes



By the time we finished talking the sky had grown dark, and there were fourteen messages on my mobile phone wondering where we were.

‘You don’t need me to tell you it wasn’t your fault,’ he said, quietly.

Above us the sky had become endless and infinite.

I twisted the handkerchief in my hand. ‘Yes. Well. I still feel … responsible. I drank too much to show off. I was a terrible flirt. I was –’

‘No. They were responsible.’

Nobody had ever said those words aloud to me. Even Treena’s look of sympathy had held some mute accusation. Well, if you will get drunk and silly with men you don’t know …

His fingers squeezed mine. A faint movement, but there it was.

‘Louisa. It wasn’t your fault.’

I cried then. Not sobbing, this time. The tears left me silently, and told me something else was leaving me. Guilt. Fear. A few other things I hadn’t yet found words for. I leant my head gently on his shoulder and he tilted his head until it rested against mine.

‘Right. Are you listening to me?’

I murmured a yes.

‘Then I’ll tell you something good,’ he said, and then he waited, as if he wanted to be sure he had my attention. ‘Some mistakes … just have greater consequences than others. But you don’t have to let that night be the thing that defines you.’

I felt his head tilt against mine.

‘You, Clark, have the choice not to let that happen.’

The sigh that left me then was long, and shuddering. We sat there in silence, letting his words sink in. I could have stayed there all night, above the rest of the world, the warmth of Will’s hand in mine, feeling the worst of myself slowly begin to ebb away.

‘We’d better get back,’ he said, eventually. ‘Before they call out a search party.’

I released his hand and stood, a little reluctantly, feeling the cool breezes on my skin. And then, almost luxuriously, I stretched my arms high above my head. I let my fingers straighten in the evening air, the tension of weeks, months, perhaps years, easing a little, and let out a deep breath.

Below me the lights of the town winked, a circle of light amid the black countryside below us. I turned back towards him. ‘Will?’

‘Yes?’

I could barely see him in the dim light, but I knew he was watching me. ‘Thank you. Thank you for coming to get me.’

He shook his head, and turned his chair back towards the path.





18





‘Disneyland is good.’

‘I told you, no theme parks.’

‘I know you said that, but it’s not just roller coasters and whirling teacups. At Florida you’ve got the film studios and the science centre. It’s actually quite educational.’

‘I don’t think a 35-year-old former company head needs educating.’

‘There are disabled loos on every corner. And the members of staff are incredibly caring. Nothing is too much trouble.’

‘You’re going to say there are rides specially for handicapped people next, aren’t you?’

‘They accommodate everyone. Why don’t you try Florida, Miss Clark? If you don’t like it you could go on to SeaWorld. And the weather is lovely.’

‘In Will versus killer whale I think I know who would come off worst.’

He didn’t seem to hear me. ‘And they are one of the top-rated companies for dealing with disability. You know they do a lot of Make-A-Wish Foundation stuff for people who are dying?’

‘He is not dying.’ I put the phone down on the travel agent just as Will came in. I fumbled with the receiver, trying to set it back in its cradle, and snapped my notepad shut.

‘Everything all right, Clark?’

‘Fine.’ I smiled brightly.

‘Good. Got a nice frock?’

‘What?’

‘What are you doing on Saturday?’

He was waiting expectantly. My brain was still stalled on killer whale versus travel agent.

‘Um … nothing. Patrick’s away all day training. Why?’

He waited just a few seconds before he said it, as if it actually gave him some pleasure to surprise me.

‘We’re going to a wedding.’

Afterwards, I was never entirely sure why Will changed his mind about Alicia and Rupert’s nuptials. I suspected there was probably a large dose of natural contrariness in his decision – nobody expected him to go, probably least of all Alicia and Rupert themselves. Perhaps it was about finally getting closure. But I think in the last couple of months she had lost the power to wound him.

We decided we could manage without Nathan’s help. I called up to make sure the marquee was suitable for Will’s wheelchair, and Alicia sounded so flustered when she realized we weren’t actually declining the invitation that it dawned on me her embossed correspondence really had been for appearance’s sake.

‘Um … well … there is a very small step up into the marquee, but I suppose the people who are putting it up did say they could provide a ramp … ’ She tailed off.

‘That will be lovely, then. Thank you,’ I said. ‘We’ll see you on the day.’

We went online and picked out a wedding present. Will spent £120 on a silver picture frame, and a vase that he said was ‘absolutely vile’ for another £60. I was shocked that he would spend that much money on someone he didn’t even really like, but I had worked out within weeks of being employed by the Traynors that they had different ideas about money. They wrote four-figure cheques without giving it a thought. I had seen Will’s bank statement once, when it had been left on the kitchen table for him to look at. It contained enough money to buy our house twice over – and that was only his current account.

I decided to wear my red dress – partly because I knew Will liked it (and I figured today he was going to need all the minor boosts he could get) – but also because I didn’t actually have any other dresses which I felt brave enough to wear at such a gathering. Will had no idea of the fear I felt at the thought of going to a society wedding, let alone as ‘the help’. Every time I thought of the braying voices, the assessing glances in our direction, I wanted to spend the day watching Patrick run in circles instead. Perhaps it was shallow of me to even care, but I couldn’t help it. The thought of those guests looking down on both of us was already tying my stomach in knots.

I didn’t say anything to Will, but I was afraid for him. Going to the wedding of an ex seemed a masochistic act at the best of times, but to go to a public gathering, one that would be full of his old friends and work colleagues, to watch her marry his former friend, seemed to me a sure-fire route to depression. I tried to suggest as much the day before we left, but he brushed it off.

‘If I’m not worried about it, Clark, I don’t think you should be,’ he said.

I rang Treena and told her.

‘Check his wheelchair for anthrax and ammunition,’ was all she said.

‘It’s the first time I’ve got him a proper distance from home and it’s going to be a bloody disaster.’

‘Maybe he just wants to remind himself that there are worse things than dying?’

‘Funny.’

Her mind was only half on our phone call. She was preparing for a week’s residential course for ‘potential future business leaders’, and needed Mum and me to look after Thomas. It was going to be fantastic, she said. Some of the top names in industry would be there. Her tutor had put her forward and she was the only person on the whole course who didn’t have to pay her own fees. I could tell that, as she spoke to me, she was also doing something on a computer. I could hear her fingers on the keyboard.

‘Nice for you,’ I said.

‘It’s in some college at Oxford. Not even the ex-poly. The actual “dreaming spires” Oxford.’

‘Great.’

She paused for a moment. ‘He’s not suicidal, is he?’

‘Will? No more than usual.’

‘Well, that’s something.’ I heard the ping of an email.

‘I’d better go, Treen.’

‘Okay. Have fun. Oh, and don’t wear that red dress. It shows way too much cleavage.’

The morning of the wedding dawned bright and balmy, as I had secretly known it would. Girls like Alicia always got their own way. Someone had probably put in a good word with the weather gods.

‘That’s remarkably bitter of you, Clark,’ Will said, when I told him.

‘Yes, well, I’ve learnt from the best.’

Nathan had come early to get Will ready so that we could leave the house by nine. It was a two-hour drive, and I had built in rest stops, planning our route carefully to ensure we had the best facilities available. I got ready in the bathroom, pulling stockings over my newly shaved legs, painting on make-up and then rubbing it off again in case the posh guests thought I looked like a call girl. I dared not put a scarf around my neck, but I had brought a wrap, which I could use as a shawl if I felt overexposed.

‘Not bad, eh?’ Nathan stepped back, and there was Will, in a dark suit and a cornflower-blue shirt with a tie. He was clean-shaven, and carried a faint tan on his face. The shirt made his eyes look peculiarly vivid. They seemed, suddenly, to carry a glint of the sun.

‘Not bad,’ I said – because, weirdly, I didn’t want to say how handsome he actually looked. ‘She’ll certainly be sorry she’s marrying that braying bucket of lard, anyway.’

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