So here comes the hotly anticipated sequel to The Half-Life of Hannah. And if you can’t wait until next the 12th of December, here’s the first chapter for you. Please let me know what you think! Nick xxx
The hotly anticipated sequel to the No.1 Kindle bestseller ‘The Half-Life of Hannah’
Hannah and Cliff’s marriage is over. After a traumatic family holiday, Cliff’s lies have been exposed and Hannah has been reunited with her lost love, Cliff’s brother, James. But after fifteen years together, and forever bound by love for their eleven-year-old son, Luke, breaking free and starting again seems impossible.
A new life in Australia with James beckons for Hannah – but can she embark on this adventure without losing the love of her son? And can Cliff finally face up to issues he has suppressed since adolescence and find happiness in a confusing world?
Amid the turmoil of separation, and with Luke caught in the crossfire, both Hannah and Cliff face the challenge of rebuilding their lives. To make the other halves of their lives count, theyneed courage and determination. But perhaps it’s more than they possess . . .
CHAPTER ONE (HANNAH)
I was in the middle of a family holiday in France when I walked out on my marriage. Some would say that I could have chosen my moment better, but the appearance at our holiday villa of the man I had fallen in love with in my twenties – a man who unfortunately happened to be my fiancé’s brother – not only provided the opportunity, but opened the floodgates on a tsunami of revelations that revealed my marriage to be built upon nothing more substantial than a sea of untruths.
My husband, Cliff, had been revealed as a compulsive liar – to keep us apart, he had told me that James had died, when in fact he had simply been living in Australia – and my feelings for James were rekindled with the same intensity as fifteen years earlier.
But though one could explain my walking out of that door in terms of these events – my attraction to James and my betrayal by Cliff – in hindsight, I think that would be somewhat missing the point.
What really happened that day was that my bubble of steely self-control burst. A muscle that I had been exercising, stretched to its limit in order to keep myself centred in the middle of my life, gave way. The desire to break free, to live something new, to change not this, not that, but everything about my life became, in an instant, irresistible.
Perhaps it was what people call a “midlife crisis”. Some buy sports cars, others have affairs, and perhaps it was a similar thing going on here, only in my case, it didn’t build slowly enough for me to identify small safety valves that might enable me to get by. In my case, the water suddenly boiled and blew the top right off the pressure cooker.
I blamed Cliff, of course, for making a lie of our marriage, and I thanked James for returning and providing a catalyst and a suitable destination, but the truth is, I think, that both were almost innocent bystanders in a much larger process grounded not in events but in some internal body-clock. I truly believe now that the explosion would have happened anyway; it was just a matter of time.
So, one minute I was sitting on the bed feeling trapped in my marriage and confused about my feelings, and the next I was walking away from the house with a bag over my shoulder – my husband protesting behind me.
I don’t know what Cliff was thinking as he watched me walk away, but I expect he thought I had gone mad. Perhaps I had, a little.
As Cliff didn’t know that James was staying in the little auberge down the road, it certainly must have seemed crazy of me to head off on foot without any apparent destination.
When I got to the auberge, I asked Jean-Jacques, the barman, if he could put me through to James Parker’s room.
“Il est parti,” he said, which I somehow managed to understand: James had already left.
I surprised myself by thinking, “Oh, OK then.”
One part of me watched the other react calmly, and was surprised at the lack of emotion. That was the moment I first suspected that this was bigger than Cliff or James – that this was about escape.
I ordered a glass of wine and, because all the seats outside were wet from the recent rainstorm, I sat in a window seat and watched steam rising from the ground. I thought, “So, no James.”
I felt unexpectedly calm and strangely wise. It was such an unusual feeling that I thought, as I sipped my wine, that I might be having some kind of nervous breakdown.
It was a surprise, and I wondered if all the melodrama hadn’t perhaps been because I needed to be alone. As a wife and a mother, day after day, you forget to notice just how stifling, how suffocating motherhood and marriage can feel. After the drama of the day, a glass of wine, alone, in an empty bar felt like everything I had ever wanted. It crossed my mind that this might be a momentary need, that perhaps I would want, in an hour or so, to return to the villa to carry on as if nothing had happened.
Jean-Jacques brought me a plate of nibbles and said something that I didn’t understand.
“I’m sorry,” I reminded him. “I don’t speak French.”
“Ah . . .” he said. “Will you be stay ’ere? In the ’otel?”
Exactly as he said these words, the door to the hotel lobby opened, James reappeared, and my heart did a little somersault.
At first he didn’t see me, and I didn’t say a word – I just watched him and thought about my feelings.
Jean-Jacques returned to the desk and retrieved James’ room key from a board. Jean-Jacques glanced in my direction and so James turned and saw me sitting with my bag and my glass of wine. He broke into a smile – a lopsided, confused smile – and said, “Hannah?” and my heart fluttered again. So my feelings for him were real, after all.
“Hannah!” he said again, distractedly taking the key that Jean-Jacques was proffering and crossing the room to where I sat. “What are you doing here?” he asked, crouching down beside me.
“I . . .” I stammered.
James raised his eyebrows expectantly.
“I think I’ve left him.”
James nodded. “Wow,” he said.
“I thought you’d gone. I thought I’d missed you.”
“Nah, I just went to get some food. I didn’t think you were coming.”
“Yes,” I replied. “I know.”
“Are you . . . ?”
“I don’t know,” James said, looking hopeful and scared at the same time. “Are you . . . here for me? Or just . . .”
“I’m not sure,” I said, aware that I was sounding less enthusiastic than I intended. “I think so.”
James nodded slowly. “D’you want me to go?”
I shook my head. “God, no!” I said. “I’m just . . . I feel a bit strange. It’s all been a bit much.”
James glanced at the barman, then back at me. “Do you want to go up to the room?” he asked.
I sipped my wine and stared outside for a moment before I replied, a little robotically, “No, actually, I think I’d like you to take me somewhere else.”
James nodded thoughtfully.
“Can we do that? Can we go somewhere away from here?” I asked, with increasing urgency. “Can we just get out of here and go stay somewhere else?” I suddenly needed to be as far from Cliff as possible.
James nodded. “Sure,” he said, standing and offering me a hand. “Sure we can.”
The hotel in Antibes was beautiful. It was set on the ramparts behind the old town, overlooking the sea.
We had barely spoken during the drive there, just sitting side by side in a weird, numbed silence, but James seemed OK about this. He seemed to understand that the day had been monumental, and that it was perhaps normal that this hadn’t been a passionate falling into each other’s arms.
The receptionist asked, “A twin room or a double?” and I replied without thinking, “A double.” I think that was the moment both of us realised that this was really going to happen.
The receptionist took our names down and assumed that we were married. I was – stupidly – surprised to find that James and I shared the same surname. It hadn’t crossed my mind that his being Cliff’s brother would make hotel check-ins that much easier. And then we followed the porter up to the room.
Our room had the most stunning sea view, and the afternoon sun was low enough to be flooding through the windows.
While James tipped the porter, I opened the French doors, then stood on the tiny balcony and sniffed at the air. It seemed like the freshest, purest, most oxygenated air I had ever breathed.
James came and stood behind me, so close that I could feel his breath on my neck, and after a moment, I reached for his hands and pulled his arms around me.
He nuzzled my neck and my spine tingled and he said, “I’m so glad you’re here.”
And like some other, younger, more confident woman I barely remembered from way back, I said, “Yes, I know,” and I turned to kiss him.
My newfound confidence lasted precisely until I had to undress in front of him; after all, it had been fifteen years since I had shown myself to anyone other than Cliff. This time around, I was closer to forty than twenty. Plus I had had a baby in the intervening years.
I had never been that sure how attractive Cliff had found me, and though I now realised that this sense of doubt might not have been entirely of my own making, I still felt incredibly uneasy about my body.
I broke free from James’ embrace just long enough to pull the blinds and switch the lights off. Daylight was still filtering around the edges, but it was certainly an improvement. If James did notice my stretch marks or cellulite, it certainly didn’t put him off his stride and that reassured me sufficiently that I was able to relax – just enough – to enjoy sleeping with him.
We stayed in that hotel for five nights, eating in little local seafood restaurants, wandering the streets of the old town and making love in the semi-shade of our room.
Though occasionally I would think of Cliff and my vision would tint red with rage or blue with guilt, I mainly managed to push every other aspect of my situation from my mind, and for five days and five nights, I let myself live in the moment. I felt a little crazy, but that craziness felt heavenly.
Jill, my sister, phoned a couple of times from the villa, and I reassured her that I was fine, thanked her for looking after my son, Luke, and headed her off when she tried to tell me anything about Cliff. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to hear it. Whatever it was, I couldn’t bear to hear it.
In Antibes, we visited the Picasso museum, which had beautiful floor tiles but little else of note – “It’s a bit shit really, isn’t it?” was James’ comment – and another day we drove along the coast around the stunning shallows of Cap d’Antibes past the millionaires’ residences, on to the golden beaches of Golf Juan and then Juan Les Pins, and then Cannes, where, sitting on a sandy beach with James’ arms around me, I wept for the mess that, unexpectedly, my life had become.
“It’ll all be OK, Hannah,” James said, but I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t see any way that could possibly be true.
Opposite the beach in Cannes we could see two small islands that looked gorgeous, so the next day we returned and took the small ferry out to the larger of them. Here, we wandered around the island, pausing to kiss, or picnic, or sit on the beach and stare back at the mainland, where everything seemed, from this calm haven, so unreasonably chaotic. Armed with pots of lavender honey bought from the monks, and over a rougher sea – the wind had got up – we travelled back, eating in a gorgeous but outrageously expensive restaurant in Le Suquet, before driving back to Antibes.
James was gorgeous throughout: a little abrupt at times, a little vulgar at others, but thoughtful and kind and, above all, undemanding. I think he understood that for our time together to be anything but horrific, reality had to be suspended. And that required avoiding whole areas of discussion, specifically anything pertaining to the future or the past.
At the end of the holiday, I bought a plane ticket so that I could fly home with James.
The horrid security personnel at the airport confiscated my pots of honey – apparently they were potentially explosive – and, ridiculously, I worried that, as they were the only thing I had bought with James to take home, this was somehow a bad omen.
It wasn’t until we were actually seated side by side on that EasyJet flight that James asked me, rather nervously, “So what happens now?”
“I don’t know,” I told him. I purposely hadn’t projected any further than passport control.
“Do you just go back to Cliff?” James asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t think I can,” I said.
“Do you like me?” he asked.
I laughed. “Can’t you tell that?”
James nodded. “Well, I can hang around, or I can head back to Oz,” he said, once the safety demonstrations were over.
I nodded. “Then hang around.”
“Will you go back to the house?”
“Luke’s there,” I said, simply. “So, yes, initially at least . . . God, James. I don’t know . . .”
“I could just find somewhere to stay then. Somewhere not too far from you. I can stay for a while. Ryan, my manager, is running the farm.”
I covered my eyes with my palms, trying to think, then dropped them and said, “Yes. Then please stay.”
“And then we just, what?” James asked. “See how things pan out?”
I nodded. “I don’t know how else to play it,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
James nodded. “Suits me fine,” he said. “I’m cool with that.”
It’s strange that those are the only words we exchanged on the subject – I think that it all seemed too vast to think about, the links between everything and everything else too criss-crossed and confusing even to be considered.
I had never been a big let’s-sit-and-talk-about-this kind of person anyway, and I now realised that this part of my relationship with Cliff – the stilted communication that we had always experienced – had probably been more my doing than his, and would probably follow me wherever I went and whoever I was with.
On arriving home, I braced myself all the same for hysterical arguments with Cliff, but they didn’t transpire either.
Cliff knew, through Jill, that I had spent the week with James, and by the time I got to the house he had moved to the spare room. It wasn’t the first time in fifteen years that he had slept in the spare room, so Luke, though unusually surly, simply assumed, I think, that we were going through a rough patch.
For a few weeks we lived this strange, brittle silence of non-communication, gliding around each other without any unnecessary word being uttered. It was horrible, tense, unbearable, almost . . . but as the days went by it became more and more obvious, to me at least, that there was no going back.
Things with James, though unscheduled, continued in a relatively easy manner. Considering the horrifically stressful circumstances surrounding us, the fact that we never had a single argument struck me as astounding. He was undemanding and easy to get on with – a model partner. When I looked at him, I felt myself melt with desire, and whenever he was elsewhere, I missed him. My feelings for James were growing stronger by the day and my marriage to Cliff was revealed to be a sham. It was over, and I attempted to make Cliff realise this in the only way I knew how: through my actions.
– end of excerpt –