Once upon a time, med student Annie Coffey set out to have a purely physical fling with Charles Douglas, a gorgeous British doctor in her lab. It didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, secrets—and desires—were bared, hearts were broken, and Annie knew she had to leave this complicated, compelling man who remains convinced he can never give her what she needs.
Walking away is one thing. Staying away is another. Annie and Charles reunite at a London conference, rekindling a friendship they struggle to protect from their intense physical connection. Little by little, Annie gets a glimpse into Charles’s dark past and his wealthy, dysfunctional family. Soon, she’s discovering what it means to have someone claim her, body and soul. And she’s learning that once in a lifetime you find a love that can make you do anything…except let go.
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How not to Let Go
A Belhaven Novel
By Emily Foster
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Emily Nagoski
All rights reserved.
Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime
I've never driven a moving truck before, but I drive this one for twelve hours, Indiana to New York, sobbing off and on the whole way. I listen to Beck's version of "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime" on repeat. The sky is gray and it spits rain all day, like there's a raincloud following me east.
By the time I pull up in front of my parents' building on Fifth Avenue, opposite the park, the sky is thundery and dark, too dark for an evening in June. My parents meet me under the green awning and hug me in happy greeting. If they notice my blotchy, tear-stained face, they don't mention it. If they wonder why, when I say I'm so glad to be home, I instantly burst into tears, they don't ask.
Maybe they think it's because of the rain.
I was nine years old and living a little over a mile from Ground Zero on 9/11. Mostly what I remember is the way a bright sunny day was transformed into the uniform, infinite gray of my parents' fear, the smell of burning, and the taste of ash. It felt like the whole world was covered in ash and debris. It was Charles who pointed out to me that this is probably why sometimes when it rains I get this swamping dread that the sun might never come out again, that the universe is a fundamentally unreliable place and the laws of physics could simply stop functioning at any time.
It's maybe also why I had a thing about heights until Charles took me rock climbing and I learned to trust the harness and the rope and my partner.
Charles, I should explain, was the postdoc in my research lab — or anyway, that's what he was for almost two years: my research supervisor, my mentor, my tutor, my climbing partner, and, not least, my hot crush.
Then at the end of my last semester, we spent four weeks having sex, because I was like, "Dude, we have A Thing," and he was like, "Yes, we do, but it's not appropriate," and I was like, "Once I graduate, it's appropriate," and he was like, "We'll talk about it when the semester ends." And when the semester ended, I went over to his apartment and ... I spent almost every night there until I left Indiana for good. Until last night.
And I — ugh, god, it seems so inevitable in retrospect — I fell in love with him. How could I not? Brilliant, compassionate, beautiful, funny, I mean how could anyone not fall in love with Charles?
He, I think, may have fallen in love with me, but he never said it and he told me that he was broken, that love didn't happen for him. He explained it with science, so I believed him — but I didn't believe him when he said it wasn't fixable. Everything is fixable. Except he didn't want to be fixed.
And so this morning, at the end of our month, I left before dawn, sneaking out of his bed and out of his apartment while he was still asleep, because I was too much of a coward to say good-bye.
And I drove home.
And here I am.
The super found a couple guys to move my stuff into the library, so Mom and Dad and I have dinner while the guys bring it all in. I take a shower and wash away last night's sex, and then my parents and I sit on the living room couch and celebrate my homecoming by binge-watching Gilmore Girls, which was one of my favorite shows when I was little.
And then I go to bed alone. I lie there, wondering what Charles is doing, how he feels, how he felt when he woke up and I wasn't there.
The swamping shame of sneaking out like that is too much. I curl up in a ball, teeth gritted, and try to soothe myself by making lists in my head of the many valuable things I've learned recently:
How you feel about a person doesn't necessarily match the kind of relationship you can have with them.
When you and your partner laugh during sex, you can feel the laughter inside your body.
If a baby monkey's mother starts abusively rejecting the baby, it will abandon all its friends and obsessively try to make its mother love it again.
Bonus lesson: The best way not to fall is not to mind falling, and the way not to mind falling is to fall a lot.
That one is about rock climbing.
I cry myself to sleep.
I wake up, cry a little more, go for a run, take a nap, eat dinner with my parents and watch a movie with them, and then cry myself to sleep again.
This is most of how I spend my month at home before I leave for medical school.
At my parents' suggestion, I start attending the drop-in ballet classes for adults at Joffrey a few times a week. They think the discipline and the community will do me good. They're right. I rip the shanks out of some old, dead pointe shoes, stop eating sugar, and kick my own ass three nights a week, and it keeps my bleeding heart tethered to the rest of my body. I enjoy being in a group of "adults." Which is apparently what I am now.
And every night for a month, I lie in bed staring at my Alan Turing poster — "We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done" — and I make lists in my head to remind myself of all the important things I'm learning:
The death of hope is like the death of a parent, the permanent loss of the place you would return to when life is at its worst.
When you sob until you can't breathe, you don't die, even though it feels like you might. All that happens is you stop sobbing and you start breathing.
The universe is not, despite my dread and my despair, a fundamentally unreliable place; it behaves with perfect consistency. However, my expectations of it have been warped and confused. Now that my expectations are more realistic, it's easier for me to trust that the universe will catch me if I fall.
My mom is really, really, really smart.
I knew that last one already, but about ten days into my cry/run/nap/ballet/dinner/cry/sleep routine, she follows me into my room after we watch Groundhog Day, sits on the bed, and pats the spot next to her.
"Tell me what's going on, girl."
"Yeah," she says, rolling her eyes, and she pats the bed again.
So I sit beside her and bunch my lips together against the trembling they've learned to associate with lying in this bed: If on bed, then cry until asleep. Ugh.
"Charles," I say, suppressing my tears. I stare at my hands.
"What did he do?"
"I repeat: Yeah."
"He didn't —" I stop and hold my breath, and then whimper, "He just didn't love me." I curl up in a ball with my forehead against my knees and let myself cry in front of my mom. I feel like a six-year-old confessing that another kid at school didn't want to be my friend.
She sighs heavily and brushes her hand softly over my hair. "Annabelle Frances Coffey." She only uses my whole name when she's about to say something she feels self-conscious about saying. My mom isn't demonstrative the way my dad is.
"Yeah," I sniff.
"Are you listening?"
"I'm only going to say this once. Are you really listening?"
"Yeah," I huff into my knees.
"Your heart. Is too wise. To love someone. Who doesn't deserve it. So either: He's a superb human being who has earned your friendship. Or else you will stop loving him altogether, and soon. I don't know which it is, but I know it's one or the other. This thing you're experiencing right now is the chaos as your heart decides whether to let go of the love or ... hold on to it in a new way."
I wipe my nose on my sleeve and try to breathe. I ask, "How do you know?"
"How do I know what?"
"How do you know my heart will figure out what to do?"
"That's what hearts do, when you let them."
I sigh and sniff again, and I believe her. "Okay."
And she's right. That's what my heart does.
Slowly, painfully, like a hand uncurling from a fist to an open palm, my heart opens up, exploring ways to hold Charles differently.
I'm not out of the chaos yet when Margaret calls me, barely three weeks after I left Indiana, and says in an urgent voice, "I know the answer is probably no, but you're my best friend and I have to ask: Can you fly to Indiana tomorrow to attend my wedding?"
"The district court overturned the same-sex marriage ban today. We want to go get a license right away because you know that shit is going to be stopped within a matter of days."
"Oh my god, yes! Oh my god!"
I ask my parents for the thousand dollars it costs to book the next flight to Indianapolis, explaining about both the personal and the historical importance of this moment, and they agree that I should be there if I can.
Margaret and Reshma pick me up at the airport the next morning and take me to Reshma's moms' house, and we clean and decorate and cook and hug and laugh. I go out and mow the lawn while Margaret and Reshma weed the flowerbeds, which seems to be mostly an excuse to roll around in the dirt, tickling each other. The moms are inside moving furniture around to create space and "flow." They're getting married, too — a double wedding in the backyard — and I feel so, so lucky to be here with these amazing people on this amazing day.
I also feel like I'm a one-hour drive away from Charles. I don't know if he's coming and I can't bring myself to ask. I just do what I'm instructed to do, being as helpful as I can until it's my turn to take a shower and put on a dress, and then I start meeting guests at the back fence. My job is to let people in without letting the dog out. (The dog has no interest in getting out. He's a twelve-year-old bulldog with an underbite and a casual attitude about licking his penis in public.)
I don't know any of the people who start streaming in with potluck dishes and folding chairs — the planning was so last-minute that the e-mail invitation literally asked people to bring their own chairs — but every one of them is beaming with joy in the midst of the makeshift, overnight wedding.
Eventually Margaret's and my research supervisor, Professor Smith — "Diana," she insists — arrives with her husband. I hug her hello. She's so pregnant I worry she might pop like a balloon if I squeeze her, but I hug her as hard as I dare.
"Hey, is Charles coming?" I ask casually. The impression I want to give is that this isn't something I've been obsessing about more or less nonstop since Margaret called.
Professor Smith — Diana — looks at me suspiciously but only says, "He's here — we drove up together."
"Oh." Something cold drops into my stomach, even as my heart starts fluttering.
All of our heads turn back to the driveway, and there he is.CHAPTER 2
Tell Me What to Do
I've hardly ever seen her in a dress. Mostly it's skinny jeans and novelty T-shirts; you'd mistake her for an awkward fourteen-year-old boy, if it weren't for the way she moves — not awkward, not a boy. But she stands at the fence now in the same red silk thing she wore under her academic regalia at commencement and to dinner in Montreal. At commencement, she looked pretty and happy. In Montreal, she looked fucking gorgeous, tousled and pink-cheeked from sex. Now, though, she looks pale and sick and much too thin, with exhaustion in her eyes.
That's my fault.
There's a look of dread on her face as her eyes find mine.
That's my fault, too.
I wouldn't have come if I had known. When the e-mail from Margaret came yesterday, and Diana asked if I would drive her and her husband up, I said yes easily, thinking there was no chance Annie would fly back at one day's notice. No chance.
But she is a better friend than I gave her credit for, and now I am imposing myself on her, at her best friend's wedding. Fuck. I am a waste of skin and oxygen, and she — god. Brilliant. Strong. Dazzling. Sane, so sane, when I was with her I felt like an escaped convict with his face turned toward raw winter sunlight. Clear. Vivid. Luminescent and illuminating.
I made her cry. I made her hurt. I am the lowest thing on Earth.
I tuck the crate of wine bottles and presents under my arm, put on my sunglasses, and go to the fence.
"Hey," she says, not quite looking at me.
"Hey," I answer, as blandly as I can.
"Need help with that?" she asks, squinting against the sun.
"Just point me to the food table."
"In the house." She closes the gate behind us and waves us to the back door. "Living room. It's easy to find."
I head for the house, planning tactics for staying out of Annie's way for the next couple of hours.
Reshma and Margaret are married in the backyard, right after Reshma's parents. Annie cries becomingly through both ceremonies, standing beside Margaret and handing over the rings when it's her turn. I watch her the whole time; I can't take my eyes off her. She looks so obviously unwell — can anyone see her and not see the grief, the loss of appetite, the disrupted sleep? They're all my fault.
And at the same time ... her feet are bare, her bare toes in the grass. Can anyone see Annie's long, bony bare feet in the grass and not imagine the dirty, cool soles pressing into the backs of their thighs as she laughs and wriggles under them? I want to make love with Annie outside. I've never done that.
I never will do that.
Just stay out of her way, you arse, I chide myself.
Margaret's family hasn't come, so the only guests I know are Diana, her husband, and Annie. During the reception, mostly I occupy myself with noticing when Annie comes into the room, so that I can leave it — trying to give her space, trying to do what she asked. The third time this happens, Diana comes over and asks me what the hell is going on, and I look at the floor and the wall and the furniture as I confess, "Er, it's awkward. Annie told you that she and I had, as she put it, 'A Thing,' but it ended rather messily when she left Indiana, and she asked for space."
In fact, what the note said was You're the best man I know. Please don't call or write for a while, and I haven't called or written, so technically I'm not violating her request, but — "I'm trying to give her that space," I conclude.
Diana pats my arm and gives me a sympathetic smile.
"We'll go," she says. "We don't need to stay for presents. I'm hot and tired and my feet are swelling anyway. Let me just say good-bye to Margaret."
I nod — then I notice Annie watching us, and I walk out the front door. I put on my sunglasses and sit on the porch swing to wait for Diana.
After just a minute the door opens and I look up, expecting Diana, but instead there's Annie.
"Hey," she says.
"Hey." I look out at the garden. "I'm really sorry. I thought you wouldn't be here or I wouldn't have come. We're leaving as soon as Diana's ready."
"Oh," she says, and the hurt in her voice stabs at my heart. "I didn't realize you wouldn't want to see me."
At first I'm too stunned by the irony of that to say anything at all, but finally I babble, "You asked me not to contact you. I didn't. I wouldn't. I won't, not until you say. I'm not avoiding you — I mean, I was, but it's to give you the space you asked for. Not because I don't want to see you." I stare at her with my mouth open for a few desperate seconds, and then I add, just to be clear, "I do want to see you."
"Oh," she says, and she looks tired and gaunt. She must feel it, too, because she says, "Okay. Um. I'm gonna sit down for a second."
When she sinks onto the other end of the swing, I feel my weight counterbalance hers. Our bodies automatically find a shared rhythm, a slow, steady rocking that moves us back and forth together. We're connected this way, through the swing, as we sit in a long silence. I feel all the things I want to say stack up inside me as I try to think of which thing I should say, but everything I can't say jams up my thoughts and so I just sit there, bottlenecked, silent. This is probably my only chance to fix our ending, to give us something besides "You're the best man I know. Please don't contact me."
I look down at Annie's bare feet, the dirty soles turned toward each other on the wooden porch. I glance at the front door. I don't know how long we've got before Diana comes. I take a deep breath and say, "Thank you for the note."
It comes out at the same time she says, "I'm sorry I left without saying goodbye."
"The note?" she says, turning to look at me, while I say, "You did say goodbye."
I say, "With the key," as she says, "I didn't, I snuck out like a coward."
"The note was your good-bye," I say, folding our two conversations into one. I add, formally, "And it meant a very great deal to me."
We sit and rock in silence, connected still through the swing, even as we each struggle with all the things we haven't said, the things that have to be said now, when we have this last, unexpected chance.
Excerpted from How not to Let Go by Emily Foster. Copyright © 2017 Emily Nagoski. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime,
Chapter 2 - Tell Me What to Do,
Chapter 3 - The E-mails I Don't Send ... and the One I Do,
Chapter 4 - Remember the Ducklings,
Chapter 5 - Ye Olde Mitre,
Chapter 6 - You're the Sun,
Chapter 7 - Massively Complex Dynamical Systems,
Chapter 8 - The Edge of My Own Terrain,
Chapter 9 - Give Me a Fucking Hug,
Chapter 10 - I Was Never Unsafe,
Chapter 11 - Welcome Back to the Present,
Chapter 12 - Waterloo,
Chapter 13 - Rage Over a Lost Penny,
Chapter 14 - Look at Me,
Chapter 15 - So I Let Him,
Chapter 16 - Because You Hate Me So Much?,
Chapter 17 - I Felt Trapped,
Chapter 18 - Only a Flesh Wound,
Chapter 19 - The Relationship Is the Medicine,
Chapter 20 - Doctor Scientist,
Chapter 21 - Debbie, Coco, Bananas, Peanut, Parfait, and Éclair,
Chapter 22 - Stony Limits,
Chapter 23 - The Money Pitch,
Chapter 24 - The Boyfriendy-Girlfriendy Romance Thing,
Chapter 25 - One of Us Gets Hurt,
Chapter 26 - Train to Failure,
Chapter 27 - Necessary to Me,
Chapter 28 - The One Who Keeps Getting Hurt,
Chapter 29 - Be Really Still for Me, Annie,
Chapter 30 - Torn to Pieces,
Chapter 31 - God from the Machine,
Chapter 32 - The Bloody Tree,
Chapter 33 - You'll Wear It,
Chapter 34 - Tender Shepherd,
Chapter 35 - Who I Am Isn't Bad,
Chapter 36 - Yes, My Lord,
Chapter 37 - Par la Souffrance, la Vertu,
DON'T MISS - HOW NOT TO FALL,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Emily Foster is my favorite New Adult author because she is perfectly able to capture both the angst and romance of people finding their place in the world. She has a gift for writing complex characters that absolutely captured my attention. This is part two of the Belhaven Series and continues the story of Annie and Charles. Annie is completing medical school and Charles returned home to London to practice medicine. Neither is willing to completely give up on the other person, and eventually they are reunited in London at a medical conference. I won't say much more other than while this is an awesome book on its own, you will get a much richer experience if you read How Not to Fall first. I loved this series and eagerly await Ms. Foster's next book! I was given a free copy for honest review.
I've been anxiously awaiting the follow up to How Not To Fall since June. I could not wait to see how Charles and Annie's love story concluded. When we last saw them, Annie had broken up with Charles and moved across the country to start graduate school. How Not To Let Go is about how Annie learns to heal from the break up. Reading Annie's heartbreak was painful. Charles feels he is not capable of loving someone else because of his abusive father (this broke my heart again and again!) Annie's love was not enough to change him and she has to grapple with that fact and figure out how to do life without her best friend. Eventually they meet up while attending a conference in England. My heart was in my throat with their every interaction. There is so much mutual affection and regard for one another. While I knew Charles couldn't magically get over his issues, I wished so badly he could and I was impressed with Annie's self-awareness and how magnanimous she could be toward him in spite of her heartache. Whereas the first book showed Charles as the person holding more power, being generally older, wiser, and more experienced, this book shows how Annie has that position, being emotionally balanced and able to care for herself and others. I loved when we got to see Annie through Charles's eyes and what all he learns from her. Indeed, it is Charles's growth as a character that puts this book on my favorite list for this year. Foster gave us one of the best depictions of a character working through past trauma and their own inner demons I've ever seen. She also shows what a healthy relationship should look like. It is marvelous to watch it play out, especially because Annie so clearly cannot save Charles. He has to do the work himself. He has to decide to do the work. And he does. Annie believes in Charles completely. She keeps telling him he's the best man she knows, even when he cannot believe that about himself. Annie needed to learn how to let him work through things on his own and to trust this could eventually bring them back together. Or that she could learn how to love him where he was at, even if he could never love her the way she wanted. This was remarkable to see. The way it built toward the HEA was phenomenal. The characters go through a lot together and apart. In fact, they're apart more than they are together, which is unusual for the genre but it is imperative for the sake of their relationship. There are no instant fixes and I loved how Foster incorporated this into the story. I also loved how we got to see Charles's relationship with his brother and his mother. The scene of them all dancing to ABBA in the kitchen was one of my favorites! There were a few moments where I felt a distance between myself as a reader and the characters, likely due to Foster's narrative style and her background. It can get pretty scienc-y in places, which usually works and is interesting but can also create a disconnect. These moments never lasted long though. I'm all in favor of smart romance and find Foster/Nagoski's background as a sex educator makes for a compelling romance reading experience. I had to write a few passages down, not only because the writing was lovely but because it struck me as sound relationship advice. I hope she'll keep writing in this vein. Charles and Annie's love story should be read and enjoyed by all! Disclosure: I was provided an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
How Not to Let Go, Emily Foster Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews Genre: Romance, New Adult I’d only reads the sample of How Not to Fall, and after reading this I really want to read that. How Not to Let Go is an incredible read, full of emotions that really pulled at me, had me on the edge of tears. It is a romance read, very much so, but very, very different to the typical ones we see. I think even though I loved this I’d have got more, understood more if I’d read the first story. Its very connected to this book, Charles family and background is so flawed, so integral to how he feels here, the problems he has, the way he just feels he’s just not good enough for her, can’t be what she deserves and needs. Yet he can’t seem to stay away, can’t quite let go of her. Its clear to the reader he loves her as much as she loves him but he just can’t let himself love. And that’s the problem, letting go, feeling, trusting, giving oneself over to someone else, he just can’t take that step. Annie- oh she’s wonderful, adored by her parents and yet she’s not spoiled, they have money but she’s not showered in material goods. What it has given her though, this precious background full of love, is so much self confidence, not in an OTT arrogant way, but just that she knows and acknowledges her strengths, and she’s always a glass half full person, always looking at the positives. I really enjoyed her. The story picks up from their separation, to where they’re both moving on, but shattered, broken it feels. At first I though Annie was the more distraught one, but as I came to know Charles ( and perhaps would have got this earlier if I’d read book one), I understood that actually he’s really struggling underneath that facade he puts forward. He’s a different man inside, but he’s so used to controlling himself, putting his needs last and looking after everyone else, that what we see is only a shadow of the actual man. Oh I was soooo in love with him, even when I wanted to scream “ just hug her Man, give her a chance”. There were times when I felt the novel got a little too wordy, too literate and “clever”, that the continual metaphors and references were a bit much, and I had to keep stopping to work out what exactly the author meant by them, it took time to understand what she was getting at. I didn’t really follow Charles’ family dynamics, didn’t know why no-one really stood up to his father, why his mum stayed with him – he really was an awful, obnoxious ranter. Again maybe that was in the first book, but it became clear by the end of this. It didn’t spoil how I loved the story, but maybe would have helped me understand Charles a little more. Their love seems destined, their Thing, their Something, is just meant to be, but somehow Charles keeps getting in his own way. Annie is so open, so ready to accept any and everything, to take Love as part of the natural progress of Annie and Charles but he can’t. It took most of the book before I really understood why. I’d got early on he had some serious issues, but somehow each time they look like their being overcome something happens and more arise and I see they’re deeper than I thought. I can’t end with mentioning Charles family, the good side - their mum and Abba – wonderful, Biz, I want to know more of her, and of course Simon. Simon is even more of a genius that Charles, works in some super secret role for the UK Gov, and he’s got issues beside the ones he shares with Charles