Authors: Ali Harris
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #General
Ali Harris is a magazine journalist and has written for publications such as
and was deputy features editor at
before leaving to write books and have babies. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and their two children.
Also by the author
Miracle on Regent Street
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2012
A CBS COMPANY
This paperback edition published in 2013 by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
Copyright © Ali Harris, 2012
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.
The right of Ali Harris to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
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Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Typeset by M Rules
Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred.
Then, another thousand, and a second hundred.
Then, yet another thousand, and a hundred.
Then, when we have counted up many thousands,
Let us shake the abacus, so that no one may know the number,
And become jealous when they see
How many kisses we have shared.
To anyone who has ever loved, lost and loved again
6.11 a.m. 5 January 2012
There’s no sweeter way to be woken than with a kiss. Sadly this morning – the last I’ll spend in this house – I’m woken not by the soft graze of a lover’s lips against mine, but by the prickly claws of the fat, purring cat lying on my chest.
‘Morning Harry,’ I murmur, tickling him under his chin and pondering that this morning, there is no man with a six-pack between my sheets, just the two-pack of Jammie Dodgers I munched my way through last night. ‘It’s the big day today, fella,’ I say. Harry looks startled and licks his paws frantically. He has been anxious with all the comings and goings of the last few days.
‘Aww, don’t be silly, I’m not going anywhere without you and your sister.’ I kiss him on the nose and lift him off the mattress and swing my legs onto the floor full of boxes. Once again, I can’t help but think how quickly a life can be packed up. It makes everything feel so transitory. All this stuff we place so much importance on to make us feel at home, surrounding ourselves with comforting memory-triggers when really, most stuff is disposable. Actually, having a clear-out has been surprisingly cathartic.
I take a deep breath and try to work out what I should do first. It’s too cold to have a shower as the heating hasn’t come on yet. And besides, I’m gagging for a cuppa. I’ve some final bits of packing to do before the removal van arrives. Part of me is resentful that I’m doing this alone but I also know that today has to go like clockwork which, as any woman knows, means doing it myself. I balk a little and then smile as I realize just how much I sound like my mother. My teenage self would be
Outside, everything is shrouded in a sea of subterranean black. I shiver and throw my dressing gown on over my T-shirt and leggings, slip into my Ugg boots, blanching at the sight in the full-length mirror that’s propped up against a wall, waiting to be bubble-wrapped. What a mess. My eyes are puffy and swollen, my skin is grey and sallow with lack of sleep and to top it all my face has broken out in some sort of rash.
I pause in the doorway and then turn back and extract the DVD which I was watching last night from the TV in the corner of my bedroom. I slip it under my arm, grab the half-eaten packet of biscuits and go downstairs. I found the DVD yesterday afternoon on top of an open box marked ‘storage’ and couldn’t resist. I’ve seen it plenty of times before, but not for a long time. It was ‘our film’. And everyone knows that you shouldn’t open up old wounds at times like this.
I pace up and down the lounge clutching my mug of tea, trying not to look at the TV flickering in the lounge. It’s paused on the opening credits and I’m desperately fighting the urge to press play. I’ve got too much to do to be distracted.
I clearly remember moving into this house. It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago. It was meant to be a Forever House (damn you, Kirstie Allsopp, for giving me such high expectations), somewhere to plant roots. Tucked away on a cute little street, just off the bustling Broadway in Leigh-on-Sea with its eclectic little shops and cafés, it had gorgeous views of the sea from the balcony just off the master bedroom. But the house itself had been terribly neglected. It was the definition of ‘a project’; perfect for a young married couple – and one I was eager to take on. It had always been our dream to live somewhere like this and I loved every moment spent making it feel like home, painting the bedroom duck-egg blue and putting over the fireplace the canvas of a photo I took of pebbles on Leigh beach. Weeks went by ripping up carpets, sanding and varnishing the floorboards, exposing the original fireplaces, painting the walls bright, life-affirming colours while Take That blared loudly on the iPod to keep me company. And then, every day at dusk, no matter what the weather was like, I’d go for a walk with him, down to The Green that overlooked the sea and we’d sit on our bench and mull over the day we’d spent apart. We’d talk about the past and dream about the future. It was the happiest I felt every single day.
I walk over to the DVD player.
Don’t go there again, Molly
, my ‘sensible voice’ says. Just one more time won’t hurt. I clutch my cup of tea tightly as I press play. This is the very last time I’m going to watch it. Then I’ll hide it back behind all the other soppy romcoms that occupy the shelves of my lounge. Or at least used to. I look at the now bare room that’s devoid of all the personal touches – the vast array of photos, the abundance of scatter cushions and candles, the cat basket, the knick-knacks and memories that have made it home for so long – then I look back at the TV.
The sound is low but the rousing chords of the film’s opening song perforate the silence. I press the volume button and rest the remote on the arm of the sofa. I close my eyes as the goosebump-inducing lyrics of the soaring chorus swell out into the room. It always gives me an overwhelming urge to bawl like a baby. There was a time when I played this song continuously as I threw my heart and soul into making this house a home. If I wasn’t doing DIY, I was cooking delicious feasts in this kitchen like a proper wife, then eating it laid out in front of this film, with him jokingly chastising me for turning into such a softie.
I roll my eyes heavenward and swipe my hand across my face. This film always does this to me, even though I know every scene off by heart. I grab a tissue from the box that’s next to me and blow noisily into it. I glance back to the TV screen as the handsome young heart throb gazes longingly at the object of his affection. I pick up the remote control and press pause just as their lips clumsily meet for the first time. Then I reach for another biscuit and pop it like a pill, hoping it will soothe my urge to sob.