No One but You is a fictional account of a young girl’s extraordinary life, from the post-war East End of London to the high life of America and back again. It portrays Tessa Levy’s yearning for adventure and opportunity and ultimately love on both sides of the Atlantic. She is the youngest child of a large family who takes on the responsibility of caring for her beloved dying mother. When her father secretly marries another woman, Tessa’s world is shattered. At the tender age of 17, Tessa seeks solace with her distant cousins in America and sets off on the adventure of a lifetime.
A year and a half later, she returns to England as a glamorous young woman having fallen in love for the first time. However, she crosses the cultural divide and struggles to resettle, despite her family’s best efforts to reintegrate her into their Jewish community in London. Eventually meeting the man she will marry, Tessa suffers another painful premature family death that rocks her world. She embarks on motherhood and a successful career but life continues to challenge her happiness. She finds herself torn between the two loves of her life; the handsome, poetic and artistic Gus in America; and the charismatic, successful, but disloyal Michael in England. Her romantic adventure crosses back and forth between the two countries ultimately in the quest to find the answer to the underlying theme of the book, and Tessa’s life; is it possible to love two men in one lifetime?
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1: 2008: Memories
"How can it be almost twenty-five years since I've seen you? When I close my eyes, I can still conjure up your face, the lines that came as we aged. Your twinkling brown eyes, creased at the corners when you laughed. God, I miss you. Even after all this time, it still feels like a part of me went with you." A wistful smile crinkled her own eyes.
"In my dreams, you're angry that it's been so long since I've come here. I think I'm becoming invisible. Old age does that to people. You were lucky to have escaped that part. It's hard to believe that we're grandparents, can you imagine? I wish you could see them. They know all about their grandfather. The girls say I've given you some sort of iconic status, which of course you would love. I often wonder how you would fit in to today's world. Maybe you would have adapted more smoothly than I have. I teeter on the edge of a world I don't really belong in. Everything is unfamiliar – people no longer speak to each other, they simply send messages on their computers and phones. If you were here, I think I would be able to shrug it off, instead I simply feel inept."
Tess shivered, lifting the collar of her coat to protect herself against the harsh weather. With a gloved hand, she stroked brittle leaves from the cold granite and sighed.
"Where did all those years go? My darling, what would you make of me now? I don't think we would know each other anymore."
"I wish I could touch you again, feel your fingers linked with mine. After all these years, I still miss you."
She dabbed at the stone with a tissue from her bag. Her hand curled into a tight fist, tears pushing their way through her lashes.
"You were so sure that I'd move on, weren't you? I suppose I did, but I never got over loving you. It was a different love, but it was always you. I can imagine your face right now, settling into a smug, satisfied expression."
For a moment, she stopped talking, in order to compose herself.
"Do you know, today would have been our sixtieth anniversary? Who knows whether that gap in between counts? It was Christmas Eve and Chanukah at the same time. Remember, sweetheart? We were so excited and eager to please our parents. Yours were upset about the location of their family's seating arrangement."
Her laughter mingled with the sounds of winter as her memory reconstructed a time she'd almost forgotten. Early afternoon gloom descended, the skies growing dark, and the wind almost disguised the sound of someone calling her name.
Waiting on the path, her head slightly tilted, was an old lady, blinking furiously against the rain lashing her face. Only the voice was familiar.
"Millie? Where on earth did you appear from?" Tess said.
"I've been watching you for a while. I didn't want to intrude. I've just been to see my Aaron, and here you are."
So this was what it came down to, widows missing their husbands; dipping into memories, which were too frequently visited.
"I'm not losing the plot, I promise. I like to talk to him; I find it comforting." Tess looked back to the gravestone.
The face of the girl Millie had once been emerged as she laughed. "To tell you the truth, I was a bit worried; after all, we're hardly young women anymore. Who am I kidding? I've been doing the same with Aaron for almost an hour."
The wind strengthened, whipping tree branches, pushing heavy clouds across the skies, promising only more rain.
"Can you give me another moment with Michael?" Tess asked.
"Oh my goodness, of course," Millie said, already shuffling off.
Tess watched her old friend's shrunken frame disappearing. Sighing heavily, she turned her attention back to Michael.
"I'm sure that amused you no end. Me, talking to myself in the freezing cold, as Millie watched. I must have looked like a right old fool. To think I was always saying you were the crazy one. At least you get the last laugh!"
The bite of icy rain felt sharp against her skin. Time to leave. Reaching inside her coat, her gloved fingers found the chain with the gold-ridged wedding band he'd given her. One last pat of farewell on the granite and she left, dabbing her eyes but smiling nonetheless.
She found Millie pacing in a fruitless effort to generate warmth. Gently, she slipped her arm through her friend's bent elbow.
"How are you getting home? Do you have a car?" Tess asked, raising her voice against the sudden gusts of wind as the storm arrived with a vengeance.
"No, no, I'll catch the bus, it isn't terribly far."
"Nonsense,? she said. "You can't possibly take a bus in this weather, please let me take you home." Brooking no argument, Tess steered Millie towards her driver. He opened an umbrella and held it against the wind as the two women approached. Tess sensed her friend's fatigue and remembered Millie's constant battle with her pride.
"Please, get in the bloody car. It's freezing out here." Tess reached for her friend's hand. "Do you think I've forgotten where we came from?" One of her eyebrows lifted and she looked into Millie's face.
"I was always prideful, you know that," Millie said, glancing at the ground.
"It's a very lonely indulgence, Tess said. "Trust me, I struggle with it too. How about we stop off and have a nice hot cup of tea and a chat?"
Unexpectedly and to Tess's delight, Millie agreed, suggesting something stronger would be preferable on such a cold day.
"That's more like the girl I used to know!" Tess said, patting Millie's arm.
A little while later, Tess held her glass in a toast and said, "Here's to us on Christmas Eve."
"Hold on, didn't you ...?" Millie started to say.
Before she could complete her question, Tess interrupted. "Yes, it would have been our anniversary today."
Suddenly the walls of time and financial differences dissolved and they became two close friends again, companions with so much shared history.
"God, Millie, were we ever that young?"
"You bet we were! I was there, even if our kids can't imagine it!"
The years crumbled away as the combination of humour and alcohol warmed them.
"You and Michael were like celebrities with the club. I used to follow you in the papers. I wanted to call you when things got tough. Believe me, my heart ached for you. I'm sorry, I should have, but I didn't think you'd want to talk to me." Millie couldn't look into Tess's eyes.
"Are you serious? I'm going to pretend you didn't say that. Let's have another drink." Tess waved to get the barman's attention.
"I've embarrassed you," Millie said quietly. "We were in Manchester, living a very suburban life, while you two were so sophisticated. I still have a knack of putting my foot in my mouth."
They drank more than they realised and remembered long forgotten childhood memories, filling in the gaps with anecdotes of their adult lives.
Mo, Tess's driver, hid his amusement as he helped them into the car. Both women were giggling and quite tipsy, but he silently blessed the coincidence which had sent Tess to visit the cemetery that day. Mo had worked for their family since he was a kid. He'd loved Tess's late husband and felt protective towards her and her two girls; they were like family to him.
He pulled up at the address Millie gave him. The drab structure of council estate living was all too familiar. Mo's beginnings had been formed in a building much like it.
"Thank you for reminding me of who we are. I felt like a grownup tonight, without having my kids fussing over me. It was wonderful," Tess said before Millie got out of the car.
Millie hugged her. "I know exactly what you mean. Bette Davis was definitely right when she said getting older is not for sissies."
They laughed like old friends and Millie reached for her umbrella. Tess insisted Mo walk her upstairs.
When he returned from Millie's front doorstep, Tess said, "Mo, sometimes life feels so unfair. My poor friend shouldn't have to struggle at her time of life. I want you to do something for me, and please don't tell the girls." She instructed him to go back the following day and slip an envelope through Millie's door.
Tess wasn't a woman who cherished living alone. She had spent very few years doing so. There were always friends and family to keep her company, but solitude was something she had, at last, come to accept. It had been many years since she'd sold the family home. The emptiness of all of those rooms a constant reminder of what she no longer had. She took a flat overlooking Hyde Park and she had grown to love it.
Having her grandchildren to stay was a blessing because she'd missed them desperately when she lived in the States for long stretches of time. She'd filled the walls of her flat with framed photographs containing all the stories of their lives. Sadly, she possessed few pictures of her parents. They had been poor; photography never a priority. With uncharacteristic sentimentality, she stroked the heavy silver frame – her brothers and sisters all gone now.
The youngest by quite a few years, the baby of the family, she was the only one left.
Taking a different picture from the wall, Tess sank into her favourite chair and switched on the lamp. There was everyone, smiling back at her in shades of sepia. Her dad, with the brim of his hat pulled slightly over his eyes. With the pad of her thumb, she stroked the face of Sadie, her oldest sister. Carefully resting the frame on her lap, she sipped her tea from Michael's cup. It was chipped, but she knew she would never part with it.
Another Christmas Eve and she was feeling the years; the absences of people no longer where they used to be. She wasn't given to waves of nostalgia, but the anniversary, and seeing Millie, had stirred up too many ghosts. Her eyes grew heavy and she tried to straighten her thoughts. They were not responding fairly, rushing around in her mind. So many memories. Sounds of times long gone by, and voices she used to know. She put the teacup back in its saucer and it felt as if her mother was watching her from behind the glass of the oval frame facing her. It was one of only two photographs that were ever taken of her. Tessa leaned forward and squinted as she studied her mother, Rachel's, face. Forever young, frozen in time. Tess sighed and asked herself how old would she have been then. Possibly forty-nine. Karen, Tess's oldest daughter, was almost that age, and yet the woman staring back at her looked so much older.
Tessa was nine years old when she lost her mother. That loss profoundly shaped her life.
For years, her mother would come to her in dreams and then suddenly, one day they stopped. Lately, the dreams had started again. Sometimes they were nightmares, and at times, they felt as real as if she was a child once more.
Staring out of the window at black silhouettes of bare limbed trees lining the park, she looked up at the full moon. During the war years, they'd called such a moon a Bomber's Moon. A bright beacon to light the way for enemy planes.
Looking out at the sky, the view began to shift, Hyde Park faded. Her mind returned to the bedroom she and her sisters shared in the East End of London. If she closed her eyes and concentrated hard enough, she could feel the soft warmth of a deep slumber, harshly interrupted by piercing shrillness; there was no ignoring or mistaking that noise!CHAPTER 2
2: 1939: Bombed Out
The discordant intrusion of the air raid siren screeching through the thin walls of their home jolted Tess awake.
"Not again!" she grumbled, tired and not ready for the mad dash to the shelter in the freezing cold. She punched her fist into her pillow. She was forced to accept the inevitable with a sharp kick from her older sister, Lorna. Before Tess managed to kick her back, Lorna was already running down the stairs.
"Lorna, I'm awake!" Tess yelled out. "In case you care."
It was her eldest sister, Sadie, who helped her to dress, fastening buttons whilst dangling her own gas mask on her arm. The fourteen-year age difference was glaringly obvious during such times. Lorna always made it clear she had little time for her younger sister, while Sadie showed more patience.
"Quick, hurry, you can put this on while we walk," Sadie spoke quickly as if that would somehow make Tess move faster. She pushed shoes and socks at the child and fumbled with the buttons of her sister's cardigan.
"I can do it, I'm not a baby. For goodness' sake, Sadie, I'm eight years old!" Tess slapped at her sister's hands.
"I know you are, but I want you to live to be nine. Now put your coat on, it's freezing out there."
Their mother's voice at the bottom of the stairs urged them to hurry. "Girls, move it, quickly, your father and sister have already left."
Grabbing Tess's hand, Rachel pulled her into the street where they joined throngs of people running for the same destination.
It was always freezing in the shelters, filled to the rafters with the population of the East End; singing the old songs and smoking incessantly. No one had any concept of the damage that was being wreaked across London as they huddled together during that long winter's night. They only knew the repetitive staccato sounds were drawing terrifyingly close.
Rachel retained a vice-like grip on her youngest child's hand. So many mothers seeking refuge in the shelters that night, no different to animals protecting their young. "Issac, move up, make some room," she said, pushing her husband.
Tess's father looked half-terrified as he grabbed her hand.
That's how it was with Mummy, she was like a lighthouse and you never saw her flinch. It was the tutting sound she made that gave away her displeasure. "What about the boys, hmmm? You think your sons are sitting in the safety of a shelter? Who even knows what danger they're in."
With his index finger, he pushed up his hat, nodding in agreement. "Rachel, I'm joking. After everything I've been through in my life, you think a few bombs exploding are going to scare me?"
He pushed Tess playfully on her arm and she started to laugh. His round face was kind and jovial, blue eyes almost hidden beneath a pair of white eyebrows. Lorna sat squashed into a corner, one of her signature smirks plastered across her face.
Laughter cut short, all eyes looked up as though they could see what caused the sporadic pounding as it starting up again. The sounds of planes droned closer and the walls vibrated with explosions. Then came that awful sound, the one they all dreaded. The incessant volley of bombs finding their targets, annihilating buildings.
A stark silence descended; no one in the shelters made a sound until the 'all clear' resounded across the city, assuring them that the terror was over.
Tess woke to her mother tenderly stroking her face. "Come, it's time to go home. Please God, we still have one."
People shouted and shoved, rushing to get outside, desperate to see if their home had survived. Lorna carefully re-pinned her hair and pinched her cheeks to give them more colour. She met Tess's eyes and shrugged. "Well, you never know who you might bump into."
They laughed and pushed through the people crowding the exit.
The smell was the first hint of what awaited them. The dismal stench of destruction. A hint of sulphur and ashes wafted down the steps of the shelter.
A different form of terror showed in everyone's eyes. Weak though it was, the early morning light made them squint. Entire streets had been decimated and people stood aghast, openmouthed at the devastation. Others collapsed in shock. Mostly women and children, with tear-stained faces, trying to make sense of how it had happened.
The City of London burned and the sky turned red; buildings reduced to heaps of brick and ash. Tess's eyes stung with the smoke. Covering her nostrils, she attempted to stave off the smell of burning. Pop's fingers uncurled from her own and she looked up at him. She knew the moment well; she watched him dust the sleeves of his jacket.
"I have to go to work now." He nodded his head in disbelief. "If the building is still there." He slipped into his suit of bravado and headed for work.
Like the rest of the population, if they had a job, a night of terror underground was followed by a hard day's graft in the city's factories and businesses.
As soon as they reached their street, Rachel let go of Tess's hand and ran awkwardly towards their house. Frantically, she pulled at tape placed there by the warden, to prevent entry.
The girls called out, worried for her. The warden, a surly man with missing teeth, had taken charge while he waited for the bomb squad to arrive. Their house was taped off. Rachel tried to push past the men blocking her way.
"I need to get inside, please. Sadie, explain to the man," Rachel said.
Sadie stepped forward. "We need to get our things."
"Six adjoining streets have been cordoned off. I'm sorry, Miss, but nobody is to go anywhere near this building. A bomb has sliced through the house, but somehow hasn't exploded ... yet." He stood firm, refusing them entry.
Sadie slipped her arm around her mother; she was confused, but refusing to move. "Mum, it's dangerous. We need to get out of here, we could all be killed." Sadie's voice trembled and her eyes looked enormous behind the thick lenses of her glasses.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "No One but You"
Copyright © 2018 Tessa Levy.
Excerpted by permission of Filament Publishing.
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
About Tessa Levy,
What Other People Are Saying About This Book,
2. PART ONE: ENGLAND: RACHEL,
3. 1: 2008: Memories,
4. 2: 1939: Bombed Out,
5. 3: Losing Her,
6. 4: Letters from America,
7. 5: Danny,
8. 6: Birthday Upheaval,
9. 7: Leaving England,
10. PART TWO: AMERICA: SOPHIE,
11. 8: New York,
12. 9: Sally and Jenny,
13. 10: The Betrayal,
14. 11: A New Phase of Life – Respect,
15. 12: Harlem,
16. 13: Recovery,
17. 14: Luca,
18. 15: Heartbreakers,
19. PART THREE: AMERICA AND ENGLAND: GUS,
20. 16: First Love,
21. 17: Thanksgiving in Connecticut,
22. 18: Precious Time,
23. 19: Leaving America,
24. 20: London Again,
25. 21: Adjustment,
26. 22: Leon,
27. 23: Henry,
28. 24: A Visitor,
29. PART FOUR: ENGLAND AND AMERICA: MICHAEL,
30. 25: Last Love,
31. 26: A Wedding to Plan,
32. 27: The Opportunity of a Lifetime,
33. 28: The Blue Star Club,
34. 29: Sophie's Club,
35. 30: Motherhood,
36. 32: Love's Complicated Net,
37. 33: Tony's Legacy,
38. PART FIVE: THE FINAL REFUGE,
39. 34: Release,
40. 35: Moving On,
41. 36: Just Friends,
42. 37: Los Angeles,
43. 38: Home at Last,
44. 39: Full Circle,