Where Love Lies: A Novel

Where Love Lies: A Novel

by Julie Cohen

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250081742
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 08/09/2016
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 1,319,220
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

JULIE COHEN grew up in Maine, USA, and studied English at Brown University, Rhode Island and Cambridge University in England. She moved to the UK permanently to research fairies in Victorian children's literature at the University of Reading, and then taught English at secondary level. She now writes full time and is a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing. She lives with her husband and their son in Berkshire. She is also the author of Dear Thing.

Read an Excerpt

Where Love Lies


By Julie Cohen

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 Julie Cohen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-08175-9


CHAPTER 1

I know exactly where I'm going.

I've only been to the restaurant once before, but as soon as I step off the train at Richmond everything looks completely familiar. I touch my Oyster card and turn left immediately outside the station. A young busker with wild dreadlocks plays 'Walking on Sunshine'. He throws his whole body into it, strumming and twitching and singing to the darkening London evening, as if he can make it midsummer noon with the force of his will. I dig into my jacket pocket and drop a pound coin into his guitar case amongst the litter of money.

I check my watch; I'm meeting Quinn in five minutes. I'm cutting it fine, but from what I remember, I have plenty of time to get there. I pass familiar shopfronts and turn right at the junction. The restaurant, Cerise, is round the next corner: it's a brick building, painted yellow, with a sign made of curly wrought iron. It's a treat for both of us after our separate days of meetings in London – Quinn's idea because I've told him they serve the best crème brûlée I've had outside of Paris.

I turn the corner and I don't see the restaurant.

I stand for a moment, peering up and down the street. Maybe they have repainted it. I look from building to building, but there's no wrought-iron sign, no wide window with a view of the tables inside. Anxiety rises from my stomach into my throat.

A little bit late isn't a problem, said my editor Madelyne this afternoon, just a couple of hours ago, on the other side of London. But this is more than a little.

I shake my head. Of course. The restaurant isn't on this street, it's further on. How silly of me. I stride to the end of the road and over the junction.

Quinn is never late. Quinn is frequently early. He'd prefer to wait outside wherever he's going, looking around him or reading a newspaper, than to be rushed or rude. You'd think he'd know me well enough by now to build in some leeway when he's meeting me, but he never does. I tried suggesting this once, breezily, and he listened, as he always does when I try to explain something. 'I'd still rather read the paper for a little while,' he said, and that was it. I've learned that Quinn is Quinn, and he does not change.

And even though he never acts impatient or annoyed, I try not to be late so often. I even bought a watch. I hate to think of him waiting, over and over.

It's warm and I'm still feeling anxious, so I take off my jacket and drape it over my arm. The restaurant should be right here, on the left. Except it's not; it's a Starbucks.

I frown. I must have got turned around the wrong way, somehow. This Starbucks looks exactly the same as every other Starbucks in the world, and definitely not like a French restaurant. I probably went too far down this road. I turn around and start back the way I've come.

My phone rings. It's Quinn. 'Hello hello,' I say, as cheerfully as I think I should.

'Hello, love. Where are you? Are you still on the train?'

'No no, I'm in Richmond, I'm on my way. I took a wrong turn, I think, but I'll be there in a tick.'

'Right,' he says. 'See you in a minute, love.'

He hangs up and I put my phone back in my handbag. He always says love, always, leaving in the morning or greeting me when I come in the room or ending a conversation on the phone. It punctuates beginnings and endings. It's something his father does with his mother, and he's slipped into the habit as if he were born to it.

At the corner I catch a whiff of scent, something familiar, someone's perfume.

I stop walking. 'Mum?' I say.

My mother isn't here. Of course she isn't here. But the scent is so strong, it's as if she's just walked past me.

I glance around. Two teenage girls sharing earphones, a man walking a terrier, a young couple, her with a hijab and him with a pushchair. There's a woman near the end of the street, walking away from me. She's wearing a sleeveless top and rolled-up jeans, her shoulders tanned. Her hair is a long silver plait down her back. The scent of flowers trails behind her on the warm air.

'Mum?' I hurry after her. She turns the corner, and by the time I reach it, she's gone.

But I can still smell her perfume. It's so familiar I can't think of the name of it, and my mother never wore perfume anyway. This smell, though, is my mother: it tugs something deep inside me, makes my heart leap with hope and a kind of sweet agony. I run further along the street and think I see the woman ahead of me, crossing the bridge over the Thames.

It can't be my mother. It's impossible. But I'm still thinking of everything I need to tell her: I'm married, I've bought a house, I'm sorry. So sorry for what I made you do.

I collide with the plastic shopping bag held by a man coming the other way over the bridge, and it falls onto the pavement with a clang of tins. 'Oi, watch it,' he says.

'I'm sorry, so sorry,' I say, maybe to him, maybe to the woman ahead of me. I reach for his bag but he's snatched it up again. He's eyeing me up and down.

'Don't worry, beautiful, it's my pleasure,' he says.

'Sorry,' I say again, and carry on over the bridge, quickly.

'Smile,' he yells after me. 'It might never happen!'

People are between us and she's walking rapidly; my moment with the man with the shopping bag has put me even farther behind her. But the scent is as strong as ever, and as I get closer, dodging around pedestrians, my heart beats harder and harder. It's impossible that when I catch up to this woman she will be my mother, Esther Bloom, and she will turn around and say, Darling. It's impossible that she could take me into her arms and I could be forgiven. I know it's impossible, and yet I can't look away from her. It's as if my body doesn't know what my mind does. I can't stop my feet from following her, faster now, running, my ballet flats pounding over the pavement, sweat dampening the cotton collar of my shirt. My jacket slips off my arm; I stuff it into my handbag, mindless of wrinkles, and hurry forward.

The woman opens the door of a pizza takeaway. Panting, I clasp her by the shoulder.

It isn't my mother's shoulder. It feels all wrong, and this woman is darker than my mother, with more grey in her hair, which is finer than my mother's was – but my body has that irrational hope that when she turns around, her face will be Esther's.

'Mum?' I gasp.

It isn't. It's a stranger. She looks nothing like my mother at all.

'My mistake,' I say, backtracking. 'So sorry, I thought you were someone else.'

She shrugs and goes into the takeaway. The scent of flowers is gone, replaced by a whiff of baking dough and melting cheese.

My mother didn't even like pizza very much. I rub my forehead and look around. It's starting to get dark; the streetlights have come on, and this street is entirely unfamiliar, even more unfamiliar because not ten minutes ago I thought I knew exactly where I was, exactly who I was following. It's as if the street has changed around me. As if the world has changed around me.

In my bag, my phone rings. I know without looking that it's Quinn, wondering where I am. I don't answer it; I'll be with him in a minute. I hurry back across the bridge and along the road, which seems quite busy now; the cars have their lights turned on. I see a sign pointing to the station and I turn that way. This street looks strange too, but if it takes me back to the station that's good because I can definitely find my way from there.

Though I didn't just now.

How did I get so lost?

I reach for my phone to answer Quinn's call. Sometimes it's better to admit defeat and get somewhere that little bit quicker, and Quinn loves giving directions anyway. And also it would be sort of nice to hear his voice, his habitual calm. Hello, love.

Two things happen at once: my phone stops ringing, and I see the restaurant. It's thirty metres away, on the other side of the road from where I'd expected it to be, and Quinn is outside it, his phone in his hand. He's wearing the same grey suit he was wearing when he left this morning to get the train to London, though the tie's been removed and he's unbuttoned his collar. His dark hair, as usual, is sticking up in the front because he's been running his fingers through it. The restaurant is painted yellow, with a wrought-iron sign outside. Light spills through the window. Everything is exactly as it's supposed to be.

He spots me and runs across the street, dodging a cab. I kiss him on his cheek, where there's a couple of days' growth of beard.

'You had me worried, love,' he says, kissing me back. 'What happened?'

I look at my husband: slender, pale, serious, with his grey eyes and his dedication to facts. The newspaper he's been reading while he's been waiting for me is tucked underneath his arm. He's never been late in his life, and he's certainly never followed a woman who doesn't exist any more, except in his memory.

'Oh,' I say, 'I just took a wrong turn.'

CHAPTER 2

On the train out of London, I lean against Quinn's shoulder and half-doze, trying to recall the scent I followed in Richmond. It's fading already in my memory. Something floral, definitely. Something exotic. Something I've smelled many times before, though I'm not sure where or why.

It didn't necessarily belong to the woman I followed; maybe someone else was wearing the perfume, which is why it seemed to vanish when I caught up with her. Maybe it was a flower growing in a window box, or in a garden. Maybe it was a perfume exuded out onto the street from a posh boutique, and happened to be similar to another perfume that I know.

As we drive home to Tillingford from the station, I open the window so the fresh air will wake me up a bit. 'So Madelyne is anxious for your new book?' Quinn says, though we've discussed this already at dinner. Or at least we've discussed it as much as I want to.

'She says she's looking forward to it.'

'So am I. Did you come up with any ideas together?'

I sit up straighter. 'Pull over,' I say.

'Are you okay?'

'Yes, yes! Pull over!'

He pulls into a lay-by and I jump out of the car. 'Come on!' I say, and run to a stile between the hawthorn hedges.

'What are you doing, Felicity?' Quinn has turned off the engine, but left the car lights on. He stands with the door open, looking after me. The road is quiet, the night scented with growing things.

'Turn off the lights and come and join me! We need to see.'

'Are you — oh, all right.' The car door shuts. I swing a leg over the stile and jump over. A nettle stings my bare ankle, but I keep on going, threading through a stand of trees. There's just enough silver light up ahead for me to see. Behind me, I hear the rustle of Quinn's footsteps. I wait for him to catch up, and when I feel him standing beside me I walk forward, through the last of the trees into a field.

Without the trees in the way we can see the full moon. It's silver and enormous, perfectly round, hanging in the sky.

'Is this why you had me stop the car?' Quinn asks.

'Isn't it worth it?' I gaze up at the moon. He stands beside me and gazes up at it too. 'I wish I knew what all of those shapes on it are called.'

'Mare Tranquillitatis,' he says. 'Mare Serenitatis, Mare Imbrium.' He points to different parts on the huge disc. 'Sea of Tranquillity, Sea of Serenity, Sea of Showers.'

'They're beautiful names. How do you know them?'

'Many, many misspent hours with a telescope and a book. There's an Ocean of Storms, and a Lake of Clouds. All on a surface with no water at all.'

'It was worth stopping the car, wasn't it?'

He takes my hand. His fingers are warm in the night, which has become cool. 'Yes.'

I look up at the moon some more.

'I know whose field this is,' Quinn says. 'He'd be quite surprised to see me standing in it at this hour.'

'Let's sit in it, then.' I sit down on the rough grass at the edge of the field. As I do so, there's a crinkle from my handbag and I pull out a box of macaroons. I offer one to Quinn. 'Macaroon? It's only slightly crushed.'

He begins to laugh. 'You're as daft as a brush,' he says. 'I do love you.'

'I love you too.' I lean my head against his shoulder and let my thoughts float away into the tranquil seas of the moon.


* * *

'A little bit late isn't a problem,' my editor Madelyne had said, yesterday afternoon, 'but this is more than a little. It's been eighteen months, and we have schedules to think of. Don't you have anything to show me yet?'

We were in her office, in the corner, overlooking the park. Her assistant had made us tea in a proper teapot, on a proper tray. There was a little box of macaroons, which Madelyne insisted I take because she was on a diet. The whole office was so quiet, as if everyone was reading at the same time. Books lined every wall that wasn't a window. Above the door I'd come in there was a framed original of the cover of my first picture book. I could feel Igor's wide owl eyes staring at the back of my neck as I sat in the wooden chair.

'I've been working on it,' I said to her, lying. 'But nothing seems to come out quite right.'

We'd always met in restaurants before. Long, boozy lunches where we got the business bit out of the way at the beginning and spent the rest of the time trading gossip, tossing around ideas. Behind her desk, Madelyne seemed different. Her posture was straighter, her pulled-back hair more severe.

'I'm sure it will all be fine,' I added.

'Even some sketches would be useful,' she said. 'A title, something we could bring to the Frankfurt Book Fair. We've already put back publication twice. I'm worried that we'll lose the momentum on this series, with such a long gap.'

'I understand. I completely agree.'

'We all love Igor so much! And we miss him.' She smiled then, for the first time, and put down her cup. 'I know you've had a very eventful couple of years. So many ups and downs, with getting married, and your mother —'

'Yes, but it's fine. It's fine. I'll send you some sketches.'

'I can help you with ideas, you know. That's what I'm here for. You can pass me anything and we can bounce it around together.'

But not if there aren't any ideas at all. Not if the only thing I've ever been any good at has gone for ever. 'Of course.'

'And you know that if you ever want to talk —'

'Yes. Of course. I'm sorry the book is so late, Maddie. I'm always late for everything. I was even late to my own wedding.'

And we both laughed, even though it was true.


* * *

The next morning, I wake up after Quinn has gone off to work and I go straight into my studio, pulling on a dressing gown and pushing my hair into an elastic. I turn on the computer and the scanner, even though I don't have anything to use them for yet, and I clear off a stack of books from my chair beside the window, pick up a sketch pad and a pencil and look out at the morning.

My studio is actually the back bedroom of Hope Cottage, the house Quinn and I bought when we married. It has better natural light than the front bedroom where we sleep, and looks out over the garden – a jumble of flowers and weeds, a lawn that needs mowing, gnarled fruit trees. Petals from the cherry and the apple have drifted over the grass like pink and white snow. On warm days, sometimes I take a cushion out to the metal bench, painted with flakes of peeling blue, and read in the shade. I fell in love with the garden as soon as we saw this cottage: overgrown, wild – the sort of garden that harbours fairies in foxgloves. I love the cottage too, with its crooked floors and bulging walls, the suspicion of damp in the dining room, and a thatched roof that really should be replaced soon, this summer or next. But the garden is my favourite place.

A blackbird hops across the grass. I make a mark on the page, a black curve of head and wing, then fill in sharp beak, gleaming eye. I sketch in the dandelions behind him. This is all very well, but it's not Igor the Owl.

I've drawn and written six Igor the Owl books in the past four years, all of them before meeting Quinn. They're not complicated things: Igor is a tiny, fluffy owl, much smaller than all of his owl family and owl mates. To make up for being so tiny and fluffy, not much bigger than a chick, he solves puzzles.

For example, in the first book, Igor the Owl Takes to the Air, Igor has a problem because his wings are too little. He can fly in a fluttery way, but he can't soar on silent wings like the rest of his family, and he's feeling quite down about it. He's worried he'll never be a proper owl. Meanwhile, he makes friends with a family of squirrels who are living in a hole in a dead tree by the river. When the river floods, Igor tries to help his friends but he's too small to carry them to safety, so he quickly invents a sort of hang-glider thing with wings made out of discarded feathers and a framework made out of twigs, and the squirrels use it to fly to safety. And then Igor uses it to soar with his family, on silent wings. He's the only hang-gliding owl in children's literature, apparently, and the book sold much more than I expected it to, so I created more of the stories for publication, though I would have continued doing so anyway.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Where Love Lies by Julie Cohen. Copyright © 2014 Julie Cohen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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