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Authors: Harriet Evans

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The Love of Her Life

BOOK: The Love of Her Life
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The Love of Her Life

 

 

HARRIET EVANS

Darling Kate
,

I’m sorry
.

Perhaps one day, when you’re grown-up, you’ll
understand why I’ve done it. Relationships are complicated,
that’s the truth. Darling, I love you, and your father loves you.
You mustn’t blame yourself. You are our little girl, and we’re
both very proud of you
.

You must come and see me soon
,

Lots and lots of love
,

Mummy

xxx

PS Happy belated fourteenth birthday, darling. I do hope you
like the telescope, is it the one you wanted?
Zoe helped me choose it, so I do hope so. Lots of
love xxxxx

It’s not love. It’s just where I live
.
Nora Ephron,
Moving On
 

   

Set me a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine
arm; for love is stronger than death
.

Song of Solomon, ch
VIII
, v6

Contents

Title Page
Epigraph
Part One
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Part Two
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Twenty-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Part Three
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Part Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Chapter Forty
Chapter Forty-One
Chapter Forty-Two
Chapter Forty-Three
Preview
Acknowledgements
About the Author
Praise
By The Same Author
Copyright
About The Publisher

New York, 2007

Her father wasn’t well. They kept saying she shouldn’t worry too much, but she should still come back to London. He had had an operation – emergency kidney transplant, he’d been bumped right up the list. He was lucky to get one, considering his lifestyle, his age, everything. They kept saying that, too. Earlier, before it was an emergency, Kate had even been tested, to see if she could be a donor. She couldn’t, which made her feel like a bad daughter.

It all happened so suddenly. It was Monday afternoon when she got the call telling her it had happened, the previous day, after a kidney miraculously became available. He’d been unwell for a few years now, the diabetes and the drinking; and the stress of his new life, he was busier than ever – but how had it got to this, got so far? Apparently he had collapsed; the next day he’d been put at the top of the transplant list; and that afternoon, Daniel was given a new kidney. Kate’s stepmother Lisa had rung the following day to let her know.

‘I think he’d very much like to see you.’ Lisa’s rather nasal voice was not improved by the tinny phone line.

‘Of – of course,’ Kate said. She cast around for something to say. ‘Oh god. How … how is he now?’

‘He’s alive, Kate. It was very sudden. But he’s got much much worse these last few months. So he’s not that well. And he’d like to see you. Like I say. He misses you.’

‘Yes,’ said Kate. Her throat was dry, her heart was pounding. ‘Yes. Yes, of course.’

‘He’s going to be in intensive care for a few days, you know. Can you come next week? You can get the time off at the office, I presume.’ Lisa made no other comment, but a variety of the comments she could make hung in the air, and rushing in next to them came millions of other guilty thoughts, all jostling for attention in front of Kate till she couldn’t see anything. She rubbed her eyes with one hand as she cradled the phone on her shoulder. Her darling dad, and she hadn’t seen him for eighteen months, hadn’t been back to London in nearly three years. How the hell … was this emergency, his rapid decline, was it her fault? No, of course it wasn’t, but still, Kate couldn’t escape the thought that she had made him ill herself, as certainly as if she had stuck a knife into him.

Out of the window, Manhattan looked calm and still, the grey monolithic buildings giving no clue to the arctic weather, the noise, the hustle, the sweet crazy smell of toasted sugar and tar that hit you every time you went outside, the city she had grown used to, fallen in love with, the city that had long ago replaced London in her affections. Kate looked round the office of the literary agency where she worked. It was a small place, only four full-time members of staff. Bruce Perry, the boss, was in his office, talking on the phone. Kate could see his head bobbing up and down as he violently agreed with someone and what they were saying. Doris, the malevolent old bookkeeper from Queens, who openly hated Kate, was pretending to type but in reality listening to Kate’s
conversation, trying to work out what was going on. Megan, the junior agent, was in the far corner, tapping a pencil against her keyboard.

‘Kate?’ said Lisa, breaking into Kate’s thoughts. ‘Look, I can’t force you to come back, but …’ She cleared her throat, and Kate could hear the sound echo in the cavernous basement kitchen of her father and Lisa’s flashy new home in Notting Hill.

‘Of course I’ll come,’ Kate heard herself say, and she crouched into herself, flushed with shame, hoping Doris hadn’t heard her.

‘You will?’ Lisa said, and Kate could hear incredulity and something else, yes – pleading in her voice, and she was horrified at herself, at how cold she was capable of being to Lisa. Her father was ill, for god’s sake. Dad.

It was time to get a grip and go back home. And so Kate put the phone down, booked a flight for Saturday evening, getting into London on Sunday morning. Then she went into Bruce Perry’s office to ask for two weeks off. No more. She wasn’t staying there any longer than she had to.

   

Bruce had grimaced a bit, but he’d been fine about giving her the time off. Perry and Co was not exactly the fast-paced business unit it might have been, which is why Kate had got her job as assistant there in the first place. In fact, to the outside eye, but for one author it would seem to be a mystery that they managed to stay in business, employing as they did five people, and with no books sold to any major publisher, no scripts sold to any studio, for years and years, so it would seem.

But one day, seventeen years ago, a middle-aged lady called Anne Graves had arrived in Bruce’s office with the idea for a crime series set in her hometown in Ohio. And that day Bruce had got lucky, very lucky. It was Anne Graves
who kept them afloat, Anne Graves who paid their salaries, for the lunches, for the midtown offices a block or two from the Rockefeller Plaza. Anne Graves, and her creation Jimmy Potomac and his dog, Thomas. Jimmy and Thomas lived in Ravenna, Ohio, and solved crimes together. A flagpole goes missing. The local sheriff loses his golden wedding anniversary present. Some kids make a little disturbance. That kind of thing. The books had sold one hundred million copies, and the NBC series,
Jimmy Potomac
, now in its third season, pulled in sixteen million viewers a week. When the dog playing Thomas had died, the studio had received five thousand letters of sympathy.

Kate had been the office assistant at Perry and Co now for over two years. She had yet to meet a single person who’d read a Jimmy Potomac book.

   

‘Where will you stay?’ Bruce asked. ‘Will you go to your dad?’

‘No,’ said Kate firmly. ‘I’ve – I’ve actually got a place there.’ Bruce raised his eyebrows, and Kate could see Doris put down her ledger and look up, intrigued.

‘Your own place?’

‘It’s … kind of,’ Kate told him. She cleared her throat. ‘I part own it. I was renting it out, but they’ve just left. Last month.’

‘Good timing,’ said Bruce, pleased. ‘That’s great!’

‘Yes,’ said Kate. She wasn’t sure it was that good timing, the ending of Gemma’s rental lease coinciding with her father’s emergency kidney transplant, but still, look for the silver lining, as her mother was always telling her. She shook her head, still trying to come to terms with it. ‘Wow,’ she said out loud. ‘I’m going back to London. Wow.’ She bit her thumb. ‘I’d better see if I can get hold of Dad, Lisa said he’d be awake in a little while …’

‘Well, what will we do without you,’ Bruce said, more for effect than sounding like he meant it. He stood up languidly. ‘Hurry back now!’

‘I will,’ said Kate, although she was kind of sure she could simply not ever appear again and all they’d need to do after a few weeks would be to hire a temp to filter through the fan letters to Anne Graves. ‘I’m sorry to leave you in the lurch like this –’

‘Oh honey,’ Doris said, standing up and coming over. She patted Kate’s arm. Kate reared back in horror, since usually Doris wore an expression of murderous hate every time she came near Kate. ‘Don’t you worry about that. My niece, Lorraine, she can cover for you. She’ll do a real good job too, you know it, Bruce.’

‘Great idea!’ Bruce said happily.

Kate nodded. It made sense. Lorraine had temped for her before, when Kate and her friend Betty had driven across the States the previous summer. She had put all the files back in extraordinary places, none of Kate’s messages had been checked, nor her emails, but she had, during the handover session they’d had, managed to walk behind Bruce, murmuring, ‘Oh, excuse me, Mr Perry,’ brushing her enormous breasts against his back and that, not her shorthand skills, was the reason she’d be welcomed back at Perry and Co anytime. That, plus she was the kind of girl who made herself genial, asking questions about folks, smiling brightly at people, even when on the phone.

‘That OK with you?’ said Bruce, as if it were up to Kate, and he’d ring up a temping agency right away if she vetoed Lorraine. He rubbed his hands together.

‘Oh sure, sure,’ said Kate. ‘That’s cool, and you know, I’ll be –’

‘I’ll call her now,’ said Doris, waddling back to her desk, and smiling gleefully down at her own monstrous nails. ‘Say,
Bruce! Lorraine did say to tell you hi last week anyway. She’ll be thrilled, you know!’

‘I’m thrilled too, Doris,’ Bruce said, solemnly. ‘Real thrilled.’ He went back into his office, whistling, as Kate swung back around to face her computer. She bit her lip, not sure whether she wanted to laugh or cry.

   

Kate walked home that night, the twenty-odd blocks that took her back to her mother and Oscar’s apartment, a feeling of slight unease hanging over her about the task that lay ahead, and the conversation she would have to have with her mother and stepfather. It was a milder March night than it had been thus far that year, and though it was dark, and the clocks wouldn’t go forward till Sunday, there was still a sense that spring was in the air. She walked up Broadway, following its slicing path through her beloved Manhattan. She didn’t try to think about anything, just walked her usual walk, drinking it all in. This was her home. Here she could walk the streets and be part of the glorious, jostling mass of humanity, anonymous even if she wore a pink wig and rode a giraffe. No one here cared, no one here recognized her, knew her. Here she bumped into no old school friends, ex-work colleagues, here she saw no ghosts getting in her way. Just the wide stretch of the road, leaving mid-town behind, heading up past the Lincoln Center, the lights getting dimmer, a little cosier, people out running, walking their dogs, living their lives in the thick of the metropolis – that was what she loved best about New York.

She knew she was nearly home when she got to Zabar’s. The huge, cheery, famous deli was as busy as ever. Families doing late-night shopping, solitary coffee drinkers hunched over a paper in the café. Warmth, light, colour, bursting out of every window and door. Kate stared in. They were advertising gefilte fish for Passover, only a few weeks away in
mid-April. I’ll be back by then, she thought. Only a couple of weeks. Really, that’s all it is.

He’s going to be fine, she told herself, as the traffic purred beside her and she looked around wildly, wondering where she was for a moment. She thought about him for the moment, wondering with terrified fascination what it would be like to see him again. Her father, so tall, so commanding, so handsome and charismatic, always the centre of the room – what would he be like now, what would his life be like after this operation? What if the kidney didn’t work? How had it come to this, that she could push down the love she had for him, push it down so far inside her she had been able to pretend, for a while, that it was all OK?

But she knew the answer. She’d become an expert at the answer since she’d left London.

Deep inside her came a stabbing pain at the top of her breast bone. Kate gently rubbed her collarbone; her eyes filled with painful tears. But she could not cry, not here, not now. If she started, she might never stop. Come on, she told herself. She carried on walking, turned the corner.

I’ll go back, see Dad, make sure he’s OK, check on the flat, try and find a new tenant.

And I’ll see Zoe.

At the thought of seeing her best friend after all this time, the hairs on Kate’s neck stood up, and though the memory of what had happened still sliced at her she smiled, a small smile, until she realized she was grinning through the window at a rather bewildered old man with thick white hair, who was trying to read his paper in peace. Kate blushed, and hurried on.

   

It was Oscar’s sixtieth birthday in a few weeks’ time, and Venetia had given him his present – a brand-new baby grand piano – early, back in January. As Kate arrived at
the apartment building, on the corner of Riverside Drive, the window of Venetia and Oscar’s apartment was open, and the sound of the piano came floating down to her on the sidewalk.

‘Hello there, Kate!’ Maurice the doorman called happily, opening the door for her into the small marbled foyer. He pushed the button for the elevator. Kate smiled at him, a little wearily.

‘How are you, Maurice?’ she said.

‘I’m just fine,’ said Maurice. ‘I’m pretty good. That spray you told me to get, for my back – well, I bought it yesterday, I meant to say. And it’s done a lot of good.’

‘Really?’ said Kate, pleased. ‘That’s great, Maurice. I’m so glad.’

‘I owe you Kate, that’s for sure. It just went away after I used that spray.’

Kate got into the lift. ‘Good-o. That’s brilliant.’

‘Hold the elevator!’ came a querulous voice, and Mrs Cohen, still elegant, tall, refined in a powder-blue suit, shuffled into the lobby. ‘Kate, dear, hold the elevator! Hello Maurice. Would you be a dear, and –’

‘I’ll get the bags from the cab,’ said Maurice, nodding. ‘You wait here.’

There were times when the geriatric street theatre of the apartment block made Kate’s day; there were other times when she would have given fifty dollars to see someone her own age in the lift. Just once. When they were installed in the lift, bags and all, and when Kate had helped Mrs Cohen to her door, and put her bags in her hallway, she climbed the last flight up to her mother’s apartment, hearing the sound of the piano again, as she reached the sixth floor.

   

Venetia was born to be a New Yorker; it was hard to believe she’d ever lived anywhere else. Of course, Kate could remember
her in London, but it seemed rather unreal, now. The mother she’d had until the age of fourteen when, the day after Kate’s birthday, Venetia had left, was like a character Kate remembered watching in a film, not her actual, own mother. She had to remind herself that it was Venetia who’d picked her up from school every day, Venetia who’d smoothed her hair back when she’d been sick after some scrambled eggs when she was eight, Venetia who’d collected her from the Brownie camp in the New Forest a day early after Kate had cried all night for her. The idea that she and Kate’s father had lived together no longer had any substance. That Venetia had taken Kate to the Proms to watch Daniel play, had entertained myriad friends of Daniel’s in their cluttered basement in the tall house in Kentish Town, had wiped down tables, collected up wine bottles, fielded calls from agents and journalists and critics and young, lithe music students: that Venetia had long disappeared. She was a New Yorker now, and more importantly, Kate thought, she was the star of her
own
show.

BOOK: The Love of Her Life
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