Authors: Jane Green
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To the many who shared their Nantucket stories with me, in particular Maryellen Scannell, Kari England, Mary Michetti, and Elin Hilderbrand.
The entire team at St. Martin’s Press, Pan Macmillan, David Higham & Associates, and Fletcher & Co., including the dream team of Jen Enderlin, Geoff Duffield, Jeremy Trevathan, John Karle, and Katie James, and everyone else who works on my books; Sarah Hall, Meg Walker, Danielle Burch, Lisa Marie Gina, Lisa Senz, and India Cooper; never forgetting my spectacular agents, Christy Fletcher and Anthony Goff.
Karen, Franklin, and Jake Exkorn; Jeff and Wynter Warshaw; Maggie, Deirdre, Kim, Jeff R, Sam, Joe, Mark, Susan, Sunny, and my other family in the “Tower of Power”—you know who you are. And much gratitude and love to Tricia and Maureen, who brought me into the fold all those years ago.
My London media gang from the old days at the
: Sam Taylor, Vicky Harper, Lisa Sewards, Gerard Greaves, and Narelle Muller. My Westport gang—too many to mention but I love you all.
Patrick and Tish Fried at Write Yourself Free; Michael Ross, Mark Llamos, and Annie Keefe at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Dr. Tanya Futoryan, Dr. Charlotte Ariyan, and all at both Westport Dermatology and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for their diligence, skill, and kindness—thank you.
If I haven’t mentioned you, it is only because memory has failed. So very many people have contributed to this book, to the stories, to the life that had to be lived in order to write it.
I end by thanking my children and my husband. I couldn’t have done any of it without you. Actually, maybe I could have, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. I love you the most.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
Lord knows, most of the time, when I’m facing an evening on my own, I am absolutely fine. If anything, I relish that alone time, when my daughter is with her father; the luxury of eating whatever I want to eat, the relief at not having to provide a nutritious meal for a thirteen-year-old picky eater.
I can curl up on the sofa and watch things my daughter would groan at—documentaries, news, a great three-parter on the BBC—or putter round the kitchen listening to Radio 4 with no one complaining or demanding I put on a radio station that plays nothing but pop music.
Tonight I seem to have itchy feet. Tonight I am restless, and restlessness is always dangerous for me. Restlessness has a nasty habit of leading me to places I’m apt to regret. I have learned from bitter experience that when I feel like this, I need to keep busy.
I have been told to watch out for H.A.L.T. When I’m hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, it means I have to do a better job of taking care of myself. Tonight I am definitely hungry; tonight, like every other night for the last eighteen months, I am definitely lonely.
I phone the Chinese restaurant at the top of Elgin Avenue and order some noodles and spare ribs, then get up and open the kitchen cabinets. I’ve been putting this job off for months. My former husband is fanatical about order. He was the one who kept everything neat and tidy, all the pots and pans organized. Since he’s been gone, the place is a disaster.
It looks perfect when you walk in, but open any cabinet and you have to immediately catch the bowls and dishes that come tumbling out, freed from the restraint of the solid wooden door.
I start with the cabinet that holds the sieves, amazed at how I have managed to amass seven sieves and colanders of various shapes and sizes, when I am now only cooking for Annie and me. I put five of them on the charity pile and keep going.
Breadboards are added, bowls I have been given as presents that I’ve never liked but didn’t have the heart to give away. Cracked dishes, chipped glasses, all go on the pile. As the boxes fill up, I start to feel better, busy, useful. It is almost meditative, as if cleaning out the clutter of my cabinets is somehow cleaning out the clutter in my mind.
I reach to the very back, feel something round, pull it out, and freeze.
A bottle of vodka.
I have no idea what it’s doing there, didn’t know, hadn’t remembered. It must have been there for months, maybe years. When I was married, my vodka had to be hidden, every nook and cranny in the house turned into a hiding spot for my secret shame.
I haven’t held a bottle of vodka in a very long time. I can’t tear my eyes away from the glistening glass in my hand. I listen to the sloshing inside the bottle, so comforting, so familiar, and my heart starts to pound.
I can almost taste it, poured over ice cubes and left to sit until it is ice cold, a twist of lemon if possible, no problem if not.
I feel it slipping down my throat, the silky smoothness, the slight burn as it hits my chest, the warmth that instantly rises, removing the loneliness, the hunger, whatever pain is lurking there.
I know what I should do. I know I need to pour this down the sink, but before I do, let me just sit here a while longer, worship at the altar of the god to whom I was once enslaved.
Surely that won’t do any harm.
For as long as I can remember, I have always had the feeling of not quite fitting in, not being the same as everyone else.
I’m certain that is why I became a writer. Even as a toddler, at nursery school, junior school, I was friendly with everyone, without ever being part of the group. Standing on the outside, watching. Always watching. I noticed everything: how a sideways glance with narrowed eyes could say so much more than words ever could; how a whisper behind a delicate hand had the ability to destroy you for the week; how an outstretched hand from the right girl, at the right time, would see your heart soar for hours, sometimes days.
I knew I was different. The older I grew, the more that difference felt like inadequacy; I wasn’t pretty enough, or thin enough, or simply
I couldn’t have put words to it, certainly not when I was very young, other than looking at those tiny, perfect, popular girls and wanting, so desperately, to be on the inside, to be the girl that was always picked first for sports teams, rather than the one left until last.
When adolescence hit, I became the friend the boys all wanted to talk to, to confide in, to find out how they could possibly make my best friend, Olivia, interested in them.
I was such a good friend, even though I fell head over heels for every last one of them. Adam Barrett afforded me two months’ worth of daydreams about how he would realize, as we were sitting on the floor in my bedroom, the Police playing on my record player in the background, that Olivia was not the answer to his dreams after all; he would suddenly notice the silkiness of my hair (always far silkier in my daydreams), the green of my eyes, the fullness of my mouth, as he woke up to the fact that I was so spectacularly beautiful (which I wasn’t), how had he not noticed that before?
After Adam Barrett it was Danny Curran, then Rob Palliser, and of course, Ian Owens. None of my daydreams came true, and at fourteen I finally discovered a great way of easing the pain of all those unfulfilled dreams, those unfulfilled longings, those misplaced hopes.
Gary Scott was having a party at his house. It was a sleepover, the boys sleeping on one side of the giant loft, the girls on the other. Everyone was ridiculously excited, this being the first mixed sleepover. Looking back, I can’t quite believe the parents allowed it, given the raging hormones of fourteen- and fifteen-year-old teenagers, but I suppose they thought we were good kids, or that they had it under control.
The parents were there, of course. They were having a small gathering of their own; the laughter of the grown-ups and the clinking of their glasses made its way over to us, at the back of the garden with a record player and a trestle table stocked with popcorn, plastic cups, and lemonade.
Ian Owens was my crush at the time. He had become my very good friend, naturally, in a bid to get close to Olivia, who was, on that night, standing under the tree with Paul Johnson, her head cocked to one side, her sheaf of newly highlighted blond hair hanging like a curtain of gold over her right shoulder, looking up at Paul with those spectacular blue eyes. Everyone in that garden knew it was only a matter of time before he kissed her.
Ian was devastated. I was sitting on the grass talking to him quietly, reassuring him, praying that I might be second choice, praying that he might lean his head toward mine, might brush my lips gently with his, spend the rest of the night holding me tightly in his arms.
“I took this,” he said, gesturing to his side, where a bottle of vodka was nestling under his thigh.
“What? What do you mean, you took it? From where?”
“I found it in the garage. Don’t worry, there’s tons more. No one will notice. Want to?” He nodded his head in the shade of the trees, to a private corner where we wouldn’t be seen.
Of course I wanted to. I would have done anything to keep Ian Owens by my side a little longer, to give him more time to change his mind about Olivia and fall in love with me.
I got up, brushing the pine needles from my jeans, aware that there was a damp patch from the grass. I was in my new 501s. Olivia and I bought them together and went back to her house to shrink them in the bath. Hers were tiny, and looked amazing when we were done, drainpiping down her legs. Mine flapped around my ankles like sails in the wind. I had a small waist but great big thighs, so I had to get a big size to fit, which meant they had to be clinched in at the waist with a tight belt and were huge all the way down.
I never looked the way I wanted to look in clothes. I had a new plaid shirt from Camden Market that I really liked, and had smudged black kohl underneath my eyes. Peering from beneath my new fringe—I had cut it two days ago—my eyes looked smoky and sultry, the green sparkling through the kohl. I liked the way I looked, which wasn’t something that happened often.
Maybe tonight was going to be a first for me. Maybe Ian would like the way I looked too.
I followed him into the small copse of trees at the end of the garden, as he brought the bottle out and took the first swig, grimacing as he sputtered, then spat it all out.
“Christ, that’s disgusting.” He passed the bottle to me.
Of course I didn’t want to do it. Watching the look on his face, how could I ever have wanted to taste something so vile, but how could I back down? I gingerly took the bottle, swigged it back, felt the burning going down my throat, then swigged it back twice more.
“Wow!” Impressed, he took the bottle back, this time managing to swallow.
Within minutes, I felt like a different person. Gone was the shy, awkward, ungainly adolescent, and in her place a sexy siren. Suddenly the curves I had always hated so much became sexiness personified, my new fringe a sultry curtain from behind which I could peer with bedroom eyes.