A sophisticated, page-turning double love story spanning forty years-an unforgettable Brief Encounter for our times.
It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing-not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply "B", asking her to leave her husband.
Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter in a forgotten file in her newspaper's archives. She becomes obsessed by the story and hopeful that it can resurrect her faltering career. Perhaps if these lovers had a happy ending she will find one to her own complicated love life, too. Ellie's search will rewrite history and help her see the truth about her own modern romance.
A spellbinding, intoxicating love story with a knockout ending, The Last Letter from Your Lover will appeal to the readers who have made One Day and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society bestsellers.
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Jojo Moyes is the New York Times bestselling???author of The Girl You Left Behind, Honeymoon in Paris, Me Before You, and The Last Letter from Your Lover. She also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines. She lives in Essex, England.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
“She’s waking up.”
There was a swishing sound, a chair was dragged, then the brisk click of curtain rings meeting. Two voices murmuring.
“I’ll fetch Dr. Hargreaves.”
A brief silence followed, during which she slowly became aware of a different layer of sound—voices, muffled by distance, a car passing: it seemed, oddly, as if it were some way below her. She lay absorbing it, letting it crystallize, letting her mind play catch-up, as she recognized each for what it was.
It was at this point that she became aware of the pain. It forced its way upward in exquisite stages: first her arm, a sharp, burning sensation from elbow to shoulder, then her head: dull, relentless. The rest of her body ached, as it had done when she . . .
When she . . . ?
“He’ll be along in two ticks. He says to close the blinds.”
Her mouth was so dry. She closed her lips and swallowed painfully. She wanted to ask for some water, but the words wouldn’t come. She opened her eyes a little. Two indistinct shapes moved around her. Every time she thought she had worked out what they were, they moved again. Blue. They were blue.
“You know who’s just come in downstairs, don’t you?”
One of the voices dropped. “That singer. The one who looks like Paul Newman.”
“I thought I heard something on the wireless about it. Lend me your thermometer, will you, Vi, mine’s acting up again.”
“I’m going to try and have a peek at him at lunchtime. Matron’s had newspapermen outside all morning. I’ll wager she’s at her wits’ end.”
She couldn’t understand what they were saying. The pain in her head had become a thumping, rushing sound, building in volume and intensity until all she could do was close her eyes again and wait for it, or her, to go away. Then the white came in, like a tide, to envelop her. With some gratitude she let out a silent breath and allowed herself to sink back into its embrace.
“Are you awake, dear? You have a visitor.”
There was a flickering reflection above her, a phantasm that moved briskly, first one way and then another. She had a sudden recollection of her first wristwatch, the way she had reflected sunlight through its glass casing onto the ceiling of the playroom, sending it backward and forward, making her little dog bark.
The blue was there again. She saw it move, accompanied by the swishing. And then there was a hand on her wrist, a brief spark of pain so that she yelped.
“A little more carefully with that side, Nurse,” the voice chided. “She felt that.”
“I’m terribly sorry, Dr. Hargreaves.”
“The arm will require further surgery. We’ve pinned it in several places, but it’s not there yet.”
A dark shape hovered near her feet. She willed it to solidify, but, like the blue shapes, it refused to do so, and she let her eyes close.
“You can sit with her, if you like. Talk to her. She’ll be able to hear you.”
“How are her . . . other injuries?”
“There’ll be some scarring, I’m afraid. Especially on that arm. And she took quite a blow to the head, so it may be a while before she’s herself again. But given the severity of the accident, I think we can say she’s had a rather lucky escape.”
There was a brief silence.
Someone had placed a bowl of fruit beside her. She had opened her eyes again, her gaze settling on it, letting the shape, the color, solidify until she grasped, with a stab of satisfaction, that she could identify what was there. Grapes, she said. And again, rolling the silent word around the inside of her head: grapes. It felt important, as if it were anchoring her in this new reality.
And then, as quickly as they had come, they were gone, obliterated by the dark blue mass that had settled beside her. As it moved closer, she could just make out the faint scent of tobacco. The voice, when it came, was tentative, perhaps a little embarrassed, even. “Jennifer? Jennifer? Can you hear me?” The words were so loud; strangely intrusive.
“Jenny, dear, it’s me.”
She wondered if they would let her see the grapes again. It seemed necessary that she did; blooming, purple, solid. Familiar.
“Are you sure she can hear me?”
“Quite sure, but she may find communicating rather exhausting to begin with.”
There was some murmuring that she couldn’t make out. Or perhaps she just stopped trying.
Nothing seemed clear. “Can . . . you . . . ,” she whispered.
“But her mind wasn’t damaged? In the crash? You know that there will be no . . . lasting ... ?”
“As I said, she took a good bump to the head, but there were no medical signs for alarm.” The sound of shuffled papers. “No fracture. No swelling to the brain. But these things are always a little unpredictable, and patients are affected quite differently. So, you’ll just need to be a little—”
“Please . . .” Her voice was a murmur, barely audible.
“Dr. Hargreaves! I do believe she’s trying to speak.”
“. . . want to see . . .”
A face swam down to her. “Yes?”
“. . . want to see . . .” The grapes, she was begging. I just want to see those grapes again.
“She wants to see her husband!” The nurse sprang upward as she announced this triumphantly. “I think she wants to see her husband.”
There was a pause, then someone stooped toward her. “I’m here, dear. Everything is . . . everything’s fine.”
The body retreated, and she heard the pat of a hand on a back. “There, you see? She’s getting back to herself already. All in good time, eh?” A man’s voice again. “Nurse? Go and ask Sister to organize some food for tonight. Nothing too substantial. Something light and easy to swallow. . . . Perhaps you could fetch us a cup of tea while you’re there.” She heard footsteps, low voices, as they continued to talk beside her. Her last thought as the light closed in again was, Husband?
Later, when they told her how long she had been in the hospital, she could barely believe it. Time had become fragmented, unmanageable, arriving and departing in chaotic clumps of hours. It was Tuesday breakfast. Now it was Wednesday lunchtime. She had apparently slept for eighteen hours—this was said with some disapproval, as if there were an implied rudeness in being absent for so long. And then it was Friday. Again.
Sometimes when she woke it was dark, and she would push her head up a little against the starched white pillow and watch the soothing movements of the ward at night; the soft-shoe shuffle of the nurses moving up and down the corridors, the occasional murmur of conversation between nurse and patient. She could watch television in the evenings if she liked, the nurses told her. Her husband was paying for private care—she could have almost anything she liked. She always said, No, thank you: she was confused enough by the unsettling torrent of information without the endless chatter of the box in the corner.
As the periods of wakefulness stretched and grew in number, she became familiar with the faces of the other women on the little ward. The older woman in the room to her right, whose jet-black hair was pinned immaculately in a rigid, sprayed sculpture upon her head, her features fixed in an expression of mild, surprised disappointment. She had apparently been in a moving picture when she was young, and would deign to tell any new nurse about it. She had a commanding voice, and few visitors. There was the plump young woman in the room opposite, who cried quietly in the early hours of the morning. A brisk, older woman—a nanny perhaps?—brought young children in to see her for an hour every evening. The two boys would climb onto the bed, clutching at her, until the nanny told them to get down for fear they would “do your mother an injury.”
The nurses told her the other women’s names, and occasionally their own, but she couldn’t remember them. They were disappointed in her, she suspected.
Your Husband, as everyone referred to him, came most evenings. He wore a well-cut suit, dark blue or gray serge, gave her a perfunctory kiss on the cheek, and usually sat at the foot of her bed. He would make small talk solicitously, asking how she was finding the food, whether she would like him to have anything else sent along. Occasionally he would simply read a newspaper.
He was a handsome man, perhaps ten years older than she was, with a high, noble forehead and serious, hooded eyes. She knew, at some deep level, that he must be who he said he was, that she was married to him, but it was perplexing to feel nothing when everyone so obviously expected a different reaction. Sometimes she would stare at him when he wasn’t looking, waiting for some jolt of familiarity to kick in. Sometimes, when she woke, she would find him sitting there, newspaper lowered, gazing at her as if he felt something similar.
Dr. Hargreaves, the attending physician, came daily, checking her charts, asking if she could tell him the day, the time, her name. She always got those right now. She even managed to tell him the prime minister was Mr. Macmillan and her age, twenty-seven. But she struggled with newspaper headlines, with events that had taken place before she arrived here. “It will come,” he would say, patting her hand. “Don’t try to force it, there’s a good girl.”
And then there was her mother, who brought little gifts—soap, nice shampoo, magazines—as if they would nudge her into a semblance of who she apparently used to be. “We’ve all been so worried, Jenny darling,” she said, laying a cool hand on her head. It felt nice. Not familiar, but nice. Occasionally her mother would begin to say something, then mutter, “I mustn’t tire you out with questions. Everything will come back. That’s what the doctors say. So you mustn’t worry.”
She wasn’t worried, Jenny wanted to tell her. It was quite peaceful in her little bubble. She just felt a vague sadness that she couldn’t be the person everyone evidently expected her to be. It was at this point, when the thoughts got too confusing, that she would invariably fall asleep again.
They finally told her she was going home on a morning so crisp that the trails of smoke broke into the blue sky above the capital like a spindly forest. By then she could walk around the ward occasionally, swapping magazines with the other patients, who would be chatting to the nurses, sometimes listening to the wireless, if they felt so inclined. She had had a second operation on her arm and it was healing well, they told her, although the long red scar where the plate had been inserted made her wince, and she tried to keep it hidden under a long sleeve. Her eyes had been tested, her hearing checked; her skin had healed after the myriad scratches caused by fragments of glass. The bruises had faded, and her broken rib and collarbone had knitted well enough for her to lie in a variety of positions without pain.
To all intents and purposes, she looked, they claimed, like “her old self,” as if saying it enough times might make her remember who that was. Her mother, meanwhile, spent hours rummaging through piles of black-and-white photographs so that she could reflect Jennifer’s life back at her.
She learned that she had been married for four years. There were no children—from her mother’s lowered voice, she guessed this was a source of some disappointment to everyone. She lived in a very smart house in a very good part of London, with a housekeeper and a driver, and plenty of young ladies would apparently give their eyeteeth to have half of what she had. Her husband was something big in mining and was often away, although his devotion was such that he had put off several very important trips since the accident. From the deference with which the medical staff spoke to him, she guessed he was indeed quite important and, by extension, that she might expect a degree of respect, too, even if it felt nonsensical to her.
Nobody had said much about how she had got there, although she had once sneaked a look at the doctor’s notes and knew that she had been in a car accident. On the one occasion she had pressed her mother about what had happened, she had gone quite pink and, placing her plump little hand on Jennifer’s, had urged her “not to dwell on it, dear. It’s all been . . . terribly upsetting.” Her eyes had filled with tears, and not wanting to upset her, Jennifer had moved on.
A chatty girl with a bright orange helmet of hair came from another part of the hospital to trim and set Jennifer’s hair. This, the young woman told her, would make her feel a lot better. Jennifer had lost a little hair at the back of her head—it had been shaved off for a wound to be stitched—and the girl announced that she was a wonder at hiding such injuries.
A little more than an hour later she held up a mirror with a flourish. Jennifer stared at the girl who stared back at her. Quite pretty, she thought, with a kind of distant satisfaction. Bruised, a little pale, but an agreeable face. My face, she corrected herself.
“Do you have your cosmetics on hand?” the hairdresser said. “I could do your face for you, if your arm’s still sore. Bit of lipstick will brighten any face, madam. That and some Pan-Cake.”
Jennifer kept staring at the mirror. “Do you think I should?”
“Oh, yes. A pretty girl like you. I can make it very subtle . . . but it’ll put a glow into your cheeks. Hold on, I’ll pop downstairs and get my kit. I’ve got some lovely colors from Paris, and a Charles of the Ritz lipstick that’ll be perfect on you.”
“Well, don’t you look fetching? It’s good to see a lady with her makeup on. Shows us that you’re a little more on top of things,” Dr. Hargreaves said on his rounds, some time later. “Looking forward to going home, are we?”
“Yes, thank you,” she said politely. She had no idea how to convey to him that she didn’t know what that home was.
He studied her face for a moment, perhaps gauging her uncertainty. Then he sat on the side of her bed and laid a hand on her shoulder. “I understand it must all seem a little disconcerting, that you might not feel quite yourself yet, but don’t be too concerned if lots of things are unclear”. It’s quite common to get amnesia after a head injury.
“You have a very supportive family, and I’m sure once you’re surrounded by familiar things, your old routines, friends, shopping trips, and the like, you’ll find that it’s all popping back into place.”
She nodded obediently. She had worked out pretty quickly that everyone seemed happier if she did so.
“Now, I’d like you to come back in a week so that I can check the progress of that arm. You’ll need some physiotherapy to recover the full use of it. But the main thing is simply for you to rest and not worry too much about anything. Do you understand?”
He was already preparing to leave. What else could she say?
Her husband picked her up shortly before teatime. The nurses had lined up in the downstairs reception area to say good-bye to her, bright as pins in their starched pinafores. She still felt curiously weak and unsteady on her feet, and was grateful for the arm that he held out to her.
“Thank you for the care you’ve shown my wife. Send the bill to my office, if you would,” he said to the Sister.
“Our pleasure,” she said, shaking his hand and beaming at Jennifer. “It’s lovely seeing her up and about again. You look wonderful, Mrs. Stirling.”
“I feel . . . much better. Thank you.” She was wearing a long cashmere coat and a matching pillbox hat. He had arranged for three outfits to be sent over for her. She had chosen the most muted; she did...
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