Being a widower is not something Joshua Park ever expected. Given his solitary job, small circle of friends and family, and the social awkwardness he’s always suffered from, Josh has no idea how to negotiate this new, unwanted phase of life. But Lauren had a plan to keep him moving forward. A plan hidden in the letters she leaves him, giving him a task for every month in the year after her death. A plan that leads Joshua with a loving hand on a journey through grief, anger, and denial.
It’s a journey that will take Joshua from his first outing as a widower to buy groceries…to an attempt at a dinner party where his lack of experience hosting creates a comic disaster…to finding a new best friend while weeping in the dressing room of a clothing store. As his grief makes room for new friendships and experiences, Joshua learns Lauren’s most valuable lesson: The path to happiness doesn’t follow a straight line.
Funny, sometimes heart-wrenching, and always uplifting, this novel from New York Times bestselling author Kristan Higgins illuminates how life’s greatest joys are often hiding in plain sight.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
The happy mother of two snarky and well-adjusted adults, Kristan enjoys gardening, mixology, the National Parks and complimenting strangers on their children. She lives in Connecticut with her heroic firefighter husband, cuddly dog and indifferent cat. Find her online at KristanHiggins.com, twitter.com/Kristan_Higgins, and facebook.com/KristanHigginsBooks.
Read an Excerpt
Eight days left
I'm dying, my husband is going to be a widower, and this has been the most wonderful year of my life.
How's that for surprising?
These past few weeks . . . months . . . I've been feeling things changing. Remember the time we all flew to California and drove home? I think I was ten. I remember being able to feel us getting closer to the East Coast, all those miles behind us, home getting closer, even when we still had hundreds of miles to go. You could feel it. You could tell you were getting close.
That's where I am these days.
But I'm too busy living to dwell on that fact. Like Red says in The Shawshank Redemption, get busy living, or get busy dying. I'm going with the first one.
People carry a terminal diagnosis differently. I wanted to ride on its back like it was a racehorse, Dad. I think I have. I can't say that being sick is the greatest thing that ever happened to me, because I'm not an idiot. But it's an undeniably huge part of my life . . . and I love my life. More than ever.
Writing to you has been a way to keep you in my life after you died, Dad. You've been gone for eight years, but I've always felt you with me. That's what I want to do for Josh. I've been working on my plan, and today, I finished. Kind of fitting that it's our anniversary. Three years. I want to make today great for Josh, make him laugh, make him feel loved to the moon and back, because I don't think we're going to make it to our fourth.
We're so, so lucky. No matter what's coming, no matter how soon.
It's easy to cry and even panic over this stuff. But then I look around and see everything I have, and all that joy . . . it pushes everything else away. It truly does. I've never been so happy in my life.
Thanks for everything, Daddy. I'll see you soon.
On their third wedding anniversary, Joshua Park came home to Providence, Rhode Island, from a meeting in Boston with a medical device company. They'd bought his design, and he was glad to be done being around people, and very, very glad to go back home to his wife.
He stopped at the florist and picked up the three dozen white roses he'd ordered. This was in addition to the chocolates he'd bought from his wife's favorite place, which he'd hidden carefully; the leather watch; a pair of blue silk pajamas; and two cards, one sappy, one funny. He did not take anniversaries lightly, no sir.
Joshua unlocked the apartment door and found the place dark except for a trail of candles leading down the hall. Pink rose petals had been scattered on the floor. Well, well, well. Guess he wasn't the only one who'd gone to the florist. Pebbles, their dog, was asleep on her back on the sofa.
"Is this your work?" he asked Pebbles. Pebbles wagged her tail but didn't open her eyes.
He took off his shoes and shrugged off his coat, which was wet from melting sleet. Cradling the huge bouquet, he walked slowly down the hall to the master bedroom, savoring the moment, banishing the worry over knowing she'd gone out in this raw weather. Anticipation fizzed through his veins. The bedroom door was open a crack, and the room flickered with more candlelight. He pushed the door open, a smile spreading slowly across his face.
His wife lay on the bed on her stomach, wearing nothing but a red ribbon around her waist, tied in a bow on the small of her back. Her chin was propped on her hands, her knees bent so that her heels almost touched her very lovely ass.
"Happy Valentine's Day," she said, her voice husky.
"Happy anniversary." He leaned in the doorway and just took in the sight-his wife (the word still gave him a thrill)-her dark red hair loose around her shoulders, her creamy skin glowing in the candlelight.
"Guess what I got you," she said.
"I have no idea."
"It starts with 'sexy' and ends with 'time.'"
"Just what I wanted." He loosened his tie. "You're not too tired?" he asked.
"Do I look tired? Or do I look like someone who's about to get shagged silly?"
He laughed. "Definitely the latter." He went to their bed, knelt down and kissed her with all the love, gratitude, lust and happiness in his heart.
"You taste like chocolate," he said, pulling back a little. "Shame on you."
"Is it my fault you left me alone in the house with Fran's salted caramels?" she asked. "I think we both knew what would happen."
"Those were hidden."
"Not very well. In a shoebox in a suitcase on the top shelf of the closet? Please. You're such an amateur."
"You have a nose like a bloodhound."
"Yes, yes, talk dirty to me," she said, laughing. "Come on. Unwrap your present and make love to your wife."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, and he did, sliding his hands over her silky skin. God, he loved being married. He loved Lauren, loved this room and this bed and the fact that she'd go to the effort of lighting candles and scattering rose petals and undressing and finding a red ribbon. Her skin smelled like almonds and oranges from her shower gel. She'd painted her toenails red. All for him.
"I'm the luckiest guy in the world," he whispered against her neck.
"Ditto. Except woman," she said, and she started laughing, and when they kissed again, they were both smiling.
In love wasn't a phrase. It was how they lived, wrapped in the warm, soft blanket of mutual adoration, and in this moment, on this evening, nothing else mattered. They were untouchable, golden, immortal. He would love her the rest of his life, and he knew, with absolute certainty, that she would love him the rest of hers.
However long or short a time that would be.
Two weeks later
Was it weird to look for your wife at her funeral?
But he was. He kept glancing around for Lauren, waiting for her to come in and tell him what to say to all these people, what to do during this service. Where to put his hands. How to hug back.
She would know. That was the problem. She knew all about these things-people, for example. How to act out in the world. At her wake last night, she would've told him what to say as her friends cried and held on to his hand and hugged him, making him uncomfortable and stiff and sweaty. Classic spectrum problem. He didn't like crowds. Didn't want to hug anyone except his wife. Who was dead.
She would've told him what to wear today. As it was, he was wearing the one suit he owned. The same one he'd worn to propose to her, the same one he wore to their wedding three years ago. Was it a horrible thing to wear your wedding suit to your wife's funeral? Should he have gone with a different tie? Was this suit bringing shit up for her mother and sister?
This pew was hard as granite. He hated wooden chairs. Pews. Whatever.
Donna, Lauren's mother, sobbed. The sound echoed through the church. Same church where Josh and Lauren had gotten married. If they'd had kids, would they have baptized them here? Josh was pretty much an atheist, but if Lauren had wanted church as a part of their life, he'd go along with it.
Except she was dead.
It had been four days. One hundred and twelve hours and twenty-three minutes since Lauren died, give or take some seconds. The longest time of his life, and also like five seconds ago.
Lauren's sister, Jen, was giving the eulogy. It was probably a good eulogy, because people laughed here, cried there. Josh himself couldn't quite make out the words. He stared at his hands. When Lauren had put his wedding ring on his finger at their wedding, he couldn't stop looking at it. His hand looked complete with that ring on. Just a plain gold band, but it said something about him. Something good and substantial. He wasn't just a man . . . he was a husband.
Rather, he had been a husband. Now he was a widower. Utterly useless.
So much for being a biomedical engineer with numerous degrees and a reputation in healthcare technology. He'd had two years and one month to find a cure for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that slowly filled the lungs with scar tissue, choking off the healthy parts for breathing. He had failed. Not that a cure was easy, or someone would've done it before. The only devices on the market were designed to push air into lungs, work chest muscles or clear mucus, and those weren't Lauren's problems.
He hadn't figured it out. He hadn't created something or found a drug trial that would kill off those fucking fibers and scars. Since the day of her diagnosis, he'd devoted himself to finding something that would save his wife. Not just slow the disease down-they had those meds, she'd been on them, plus two experimental drugs, plus the Chinese herbs and traditional medicine, plus an organic diet with no red meat.
No. Josh's job had been to find-or make-something that would cure her. Restore her. Keep her.
He had not done so.
A large picture of her was placed on the altar. It had been taken on their trip to Paris just before Christmas that first year they were married. Before they knew. Her red hair blew back from her face, and her smile was so full of fun and love and joy. He stared at that picture now, still stunned that he got to marry her. She was way out of his league.
The first time they'd met, he'd insulted her.
Thank God he'd gotten another chance. Not that God existed. Otherwise, she'd still be alive. Who the hell took someone like her at age twenty-eight? A merciful God? Fuck that.
It didn't seem possible that she was gone forever. No. It seemed like Lauren, who had enjoyed childlike tricks such as hiding in the shower and jumping out at him as he brushed his teeth, could pull off the biggest trick of all-jump out from behind the altar and say, "Boo! Just kidding, babe!" then laugh and hug him and tell him she was just testing him these past few years. She'd never been sick at all.
Then again, she'd already been cremated.
Apparently, Jen was done, because she came down from the altar of the church and stood before him.
"Thank you, Jen," he said woodenly. His mother, sitting beside him, gave him a nudge, and he stood up and hugged his sister-in-law. Former sister-in-law? That didn't seem fair. He liked being related to Jen and her husband, Darius, not to mention their two kids. He even almost liked Donna, his mother-in-law, who, after a shitty start, had been great at the end there. When Lauren was actively dying.
Now, his wife was ashes inside a baggie in a metal container. He was waiting for the special urn to arrive from California, at which point he would mix her with an organic soil mix. He'd plant a tree in the bamboo urn, and Lauren would become a dogwood tree. Cemeteries were unsustainable, if beautiful, she'd said. "Besides, who wouldn't want to be a tree? Better than compost."
He could almost hear her voice.
Everyone began filing out of the church. Josh waited, being at the front of the church. His mom slid her arm through his. "Hang in there, honey," she whispered. He nodded. They both watched as Ben and Sumi Kim, his mother's best friends and next-door neighbors, went to the altar and stood in front of Lauren's picture. Ben bowed from the waist, then knelt on the floor and pressed his forehead to it, then rose and bowed again while Sumi sobbed gently.
Josh had to cover his eyes for a minute at the reverence, the heartache in that gesture. Lauren had loved the Kims, who were essentially Josh's second parents. Ben was the closest thing to a father he'd ever had. Of course Lauren loved them. She loved most people, and they all loved her right back.
The Kims came over, hugged him. Josh stood there with the three adults who'd raised him, all helpless now in the face of his loss.
No one could help him.
"You'll get through this, son," Ben said, looking him in the eye. "I know it seems like you won't, but you will."
Josh nodded. Ben wasn't the type to lie. Ben gripped his shoulders and nodded back. "You're not alone in this, Josh."
Well. That was a nice thought, but of course he was alone. His wife was dead.
"Shall we head out, then?" the older man asked. Like his mother, Ben was good at giving Josh the cues he often needed in social situations. Not as good as Lauren, though.
Panic flashed painfully through his joints. What was he going to do without her?
"Let's go, honey," his mom said.
Right. He hadn't answered. "Okay," he said. It felt wrong, somehow, leaving the church. Ending the funeral.
There was a lunch after the service. So many flowers, despite Lauren's wish that in lieu of, there'd be donations for the Hope Center, her favorite place in Providence, her hometown. Her workmates from Pearl Churchwell Harris, the architectural firm where she'd worked as a public space designer, were all here-Bruce, who'd been such a great boss to Lauren, crying as if he'd lost his own child. Santino and Louise, who'd gone on walks with Lauren to keep her lung capacity up. That shitty Lori Cantore, who'd asked if she could have Lauren's office two years ago. Such a vulture, coming to the funeral when she'd been a pill in real life. He imagined grabbing her scrawny arm and dragging her out, but he didn't want to make her the center of attention. This was Lauren's funeral, after all.
And there were so many of Lauren's friends-Asmaa from the community center; Sarah, her best friend from childhood; Mara from Rhode Island School of Design; Creepy Charlotte, the single woman who lived on the first floor of their building, and, Josh was almost sure, had been making a play for him since they'd met, wife or no wife. People from Lauren's childhood, high school and college, teachers, classmates, the principal of Lauren's grammar school.
Some people even came for Josh, having read Lauren's obituary. Not exactly his friends . . . he didn't have many of those. Lauren had been his friend. His best friend. Her family had welcomed him, but he was really just a phantom limb at this point. An amputation without her.