Authors: Rowan Coleman
Perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes, Dorothy Koomson and Liane Moriarty, this is an uplifting and heartfelt novel from the author of
The Memory Book
, which was featured in the Richard & Judy book club 2014
For five years, Maggie has known what her life is all about: her satisfying job in a small catering company, her boyfriend (and boss) Christian, and the future they’re building together. Christian is the man Maggie’s destined to be with forever, she fell in love with him the moment they met, their love runs River Deep, Mountain High – until Christian comes home one night and says the terrible words ‘it’s over’.
Numb, shocked and disbelieving, Maggie moves home to her parents’ pub. Jobless and single, living in a bedroom still papered with A-ha and Take That posters, she’s back to square one. The life she spent five years building is over. Or is it? Convinced she knows Christian better than he knows himself, Maggie sets out to win him back. But when she enlists the help of Pete, temporarily abandoned by his fiancé, she starts to wonder just how broken her heart really is ...
Rowan Coleman worked in bookselling and then publishing for seven years, during which time she wrote her first novel,
Growing Up Twice
, published in 2002. She left to write her second novel,
After Ever After
, and now lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and daughter.
Growing Up Twice
After Ever After
For Erol and Lily, always
St Albans, July 20th
‘Did you hear what I said? Maggie?’
Maggie opened her eyes and was momentarily dazzled by the rush of morning light that swam dizzily on the smoked glass coffee table. She screwed her eyes shut as she pulled herself into a sitting position, trying to make sense of the situation. Gradually the edge of the coffee table came into focus and beyond it sat Christian, his hair unkempt, his face dark with stubble, his eyes rimmed with red. Maggie smiled at him.
‘Oh, you’re back!’ She looked around her and down briefly at her crumpled shirt. ‘I can’t believe I slept all night on the sofa waiting for you to get home!’ She touched her face, aware that her skin would be red and creased with sleep, and pushed her tangled hair behind her ear. ‘You must have been hard at it all night?’ She gave a small laugh but there was something, some sixth sense, which stopped her just short of crossing the room to fling herself into his arms as she had done so many times before. As Christian listened to her she noticed his face crumble slightly. He dropped his chin and looked away.
She looked at the wall clock. Five forty-five a.m. ‘God, it’s still the middle of the night! I know, I’ll make us some coffee and we can take it to bed?’ She raised her eyebrows playfully. Hopefully.
‘I said – that it’s over. It’s over, Maggie. I’m so sorry. I didn’t plan it this way, I never dreamt things would end like this, but they have. You have to believe me, I’d do anything not to hurt you like this. I’d … I’m sorry.’
Maggie stared at him, rooted to the spot. She felt panic constrict her chest, and as she looked at him she felt the same love, the same passion she had always felt ignite into an uncontrollable storm that raged behind the stupidly calm façade of her face.
‘You mean the business, don’t you?’ she asked him, knowing that he didn’t. ‘But listen, listen to me. It’s OK, because … It will be OK. I’ve been thinking, we might have overstretched ourselves opening a London branch now, I think maybe we needed more time, maybe we were going too fast.’ She paused as he lifted his gaze to meet hers, saw tears in his eyes, and felt fear and hope all at once. ‘Because it doesn’t matter. We’re in good shape here, we might have to let a couple of people go, which is a shame, but I made sure when we started this … I made sure that if the London branch didn’t work out it wouldn’t be the end of us, of Fresh Talent, I mean. It wouldn’t be the
of us. I know we’d have to start again, but we can, we built this up from nothing once, and look how far we’ve come. If we have to do it again it’ll be better, much better, this time.’
Without realising it Maggie had crossed the room and sunk to her knees at Christian’s feet; unclenching his stiff fingers and holding them in hers, she looked up into his eyes and shook her head. ‘It doesn’t have to be over, Christian,’ she said again. ‘It doesn’t have to be.’
As she looked up at him, she felt that the whole of her life, everything she had given to make things work with Christian, was balancing on a cliff edge. Christian disengaged his fingers from hers and ran them through his hair, shaking his head, and Maggie knew she was falling.
‘Please, Mags, please. Listen to me. I don’t mean the business, I …’ He stopped, and it seemed as if he had entirely deflated. ‘I mean
, Maggie. We are over. You and me. I’m in love with someone else.’
Maggie felt the sudden shocking calm of a drowned woman.
Leeds, later the same morning
The first thing Pete saw as he opened his eyes was the curve of Stella’s bottom, like luminescent marble, smooth and firm. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, her back to him, perfectly still, thinking. For the millionth time Pete marvelled at her waist-length hair which somehow managed to be all kinds of blonde and curly and straight all at once. Occasionally, when he ventured to compliment her about it, she’d laugh and mention something about it being out of a bottle, but Pete preferred the wonder of it as a mystery. In fact, Pete preferred the whole wonder of Stella as a mystery, an insoluble enigma that he couldn’t hope to understand but could only marvel at. Stella was the universe encapsulated in a single small but perfectly curvy body.
Not realising he was awake, Stella lifted her bottom gently off the bed and walked over to the mantlepiece of their bedroom. She eyed herself in the mirror for a moment, turned her body a little to examine her profile, and Pete felt the familiar surge of desire for her as he watched her watch herself. That was the wonderful thing about Stella. When Pete had first met her five years ago, she wasn’t like so many of the girls he’d encountered in the past. She wasn’t born half empty, always looking for a fix or a cure in the shape of a man. She wasn’t the type to try and rush relationships to some premature conclusion. If anything, Stella liked to keep the emotional side of things in a kind of suspended animation, and commitment was something she’d only hint at just when you thought all hope might be lost.
Pete smiled to himself and let out a small breath. It had been like that with him and Stella not so long ago. She’d come and go, and he’d be waiting for her latest fad or fling to fade until she came back to him, and she always did. But for the last year almost, eight months anyhow, there had been no one else, he was sure of it. In the last few months she’d started to call Pete’s flat ‘ours’ and she’d make plans with him for the weekend as early as Wednesday night. Pete was certain, he was
, that his persistence had finally won her. She’d stopped searching for a more promising alternative. She was finally his.
He found it hard to prevent himself from laughing with pure joy as he watched her bend over to rifle through the contents of their bottom drawer, but just as he was about to call out and ask her to get back into bed, Stella straightened and looked at herself in the mirror again. Pete caught sight of her reflection. In her right hand was her passport.
Pete closed his eyes abruptly, his mind racing. ‘Idiot. Stupid bloody idiot,’ he cursed himself silently. ‘Haven’t you learned that tempting fate always, always ends in tears?’
He opened his eyes just a crack to see Stella, still naked, zipping the passport into her backpack and stuffing summer dresses on top of it. He’d lulled himself into a false sense of security and now, on the very morning he’d been congratulating himself on being able to keep her, she was leaving. Only this time he wasn’t going to let her go.
Desperate and determined, Pete formulated the only plan to make her stay that he could conjure up in those few split seconds. It was pretty extreme, sort of Bruce-Willis-on-top-of-a-skyscraper-full-of-terrorists-with-a-nuke extreme – but needs must.
‘I’ve got a surprise for you tonight,’ he said, sitting up quickly.
Stella jumped and dropped a selection of near translucent thongs on the floor.
‘Bloody hell,’ she laughed, and then, gesturing to the bag. ‘I was just sorting out the washing.’ They looked at each other. They both knew she was lying.
‘Reservations at that place you’re always banging on about …’ Pete struggled for the name.
‘Hugo’s?’ Stella gave a little jump and Pete groaned inwardly, trying to keep his mind off her breasts and on the plan.
‘Yeah, there, I’ve got reservations for tonight at eight. You’ll be there, won’t you?’
Stella looked at the bag. Suddenly she reached for her dressing gown and put it on, wrapping it tightly around her.
‘Of course I will,’ she said with quiet uncertainty.
Pete ploughed on. ‘Because I’ve got to go out today, I’ve got a few things to organise, some surprises for you and stuff … and you won’t go anywhere, will you, Stella? Promise me you won’t do anything until after tonight, until then, will you, Stella?’
Stella examined the ends of her dressing gown cords for a long moment before meeting his eyes with a smile.
‘No, I won’t. I promise I won’t, but Pete …’
Pete knew that his plan, his last stand, was about as clear as glass and he knew that Stella could see what was coming a mile off.
‘Look, Stella, please. All I’m asking is that you come tonight and just see. Just see how you feel after tonight? I’ve arranged it especially for you.’
Stella scooped the fallen thongs up from the floor and stuffed them, temporarily at least, back into the drawer. The passport, he noticed, stayed where it was.
‘Of course,’ she said with half a smile, and turned on the TV.
‘Well,’ thought Pete, high on the terror inspired by the thought that he was going to have to get a diamond big enough to keep her and what’s more a reservation at the most exclusive place in town – by eight o’clock tonight. ‘It’s about time I took the plunge.’
‘Right, Mrs Billingham.’ Sarah looked at the reflection of the woman in her seventies seated before her, and then at the picture of Cameron Diaz clipped neatly from
that she held in her hand. ‘You want ash blonde with honey lowlights and an elfin tousled cut, is that right?’ She raised her voice just a little for Mrs Billingham’s benefit.