In this new book from For Once In My Life author Marianne Kavanagh, Kim and Harry are total opposites who happen to have the same favorite people in the world: Kim’s older sister, Eva, and her young son, Otis. Kim has never seen what her free-spirited big sister sees in a stuck-up banker like Harry and has spent her childhood trying to keep him out (must he always drive the most ostentatious cars and insist on charming everyone he meets?), while Harry’s favorite occupation is provoking Kim.
Both Harry and Kim are too stuck in their prejudices to care about what’s really going on beneath the surface of each other’s lives. They’ll never understand each other—until the worst of all tragedy strikes. Faced with the possibilities of losing the person they both love most, long-buried secrets come to a head in ways that will change both Harry and Kim forever. Keep reading below for an excerpt from the book, available now!
“I hate him,” said Kim.
“I know. You’ve told me. Many times.” Izzie’s Newcastle accent was stronger than usual. Her parents had reactivated it, like sugar on yeast.
“She should never have brought him. Not without asking me.”
“What would you have said?”
“If she’d asked you?”
Kim lifted her chin. “I would have said no.”
They had just arrived at the restaurant to celebrate their new graduate status. As the others took their seats, Kim, still seething, had grabbed Izzie’s hand and raced her upstairs. Rage bubbled inside her, red-hot, like molten lava. She had visions of erupting like a volcano, turning everyone around her into stone. Years ago, Eva, briefly excited by homeopathy, had said that Kim’s constitutional type was Phosphorus. This meant she was like a match—quick to light, and just as quick to burn out. It didn’t help, knowing this. Kim would rather have been calm and saintly like Gwyneth Paltrow.
“You know, from the outside,” said Izzie, “he seems quite normal.”
Izzie had great admiration for people who fitted in. She didn’t quite know how you did it. She pored over magazines, making lists of magical beauty products and books on self- improvement. She listened carefully when people raved about yoga or goji berries or learning Japanese. She worried that her hair was too wild, her thighs too fat, and that no one else found bassoons funny. “You look at someone like Kate Moss,” she’d say, “and she doesn’t seem to follow any of the rules. But every- one loves her. So what are you supposed to do?” Kim found this strange. Let people think what they like. What else can you do but just be yourself ?
“He was talking to my dad about Michael Owen,” said Izzie. Kim looked blank.
“Newcastle United. Knee injury. World Cup.”
“But that’s exactly what Harry does,” said Kim in a burst of irritability. She was leaning against the hand dryer on the wall, while Izzie—her foot jammed against the cubicle door to keep it open—sat on the closed lid of the nearest toilet. “Finds out what you’re interested in and gets you talking.”
“That’s not a crime, is it? Being a bit chatty?”
The main door banged back against the wall, and a roar from the restaurant below rushed in. “Oh, sorry,” said a woman with bright red hair and a green dress.
“Don’t mind us,” said Izzie. “We’re just hiding from Harry.”
The woman lunged forwards, skidded on the wet floor, and crashed headlong into a cubicle. They heard a small cry of pain. Kim tried again. “He charms people. Gets them to like him.”
“You don’t like him.”
“I see through him.”
Izzie put her head on one side. “So you’re saying it’s all fake?”
“You can see it in his eyes. He’s not straight.”
“Hiding something,” said Kim impatiently.
“We all hide something.”
“How do you know?” Izzie raised her eyebrows.
Kim shifted position. The hand dryer turned itself on. Blasted by lukewarm air, she shouted, over the noise, “He’s bad for her.”
“For Eva?” Izzie waited for the racket to stop. “She can look after herself.”
No, she can’t. You have no idea. She’s not as strong as she seems on the surface.
“Some people might say she’s done well for herself,” said Izzie. “He’s rich. He’s good-looking. There isn’t a woman here who’d turn him down.” He’s like toilet paper stuck to the sole of her shoe.
“What’s he done that makes you hate him?”
Kim’s head was spitting with so much fury she couldn’t think where to start.
Izzie sighed. “I know. She’s your sister. No one’s good enough. But if he’s the one she wants, you’re fighting a losing battle. You’re just going to make yourself miserable.”
The toilet flushed in the next cubicle.
Izzie stood up. “It’s like the serenity prayer. Change what you can, put up with what you can’t, and be wise enough to know the difference.”
This made Kim cross. Maybe you should follow your own advice, she thought, and stop trying to change yourself into what you think other people want you to be. But then she felt guilty. Izzie was only trying to help.
Back downstairs, deafened by shrieks and crashing cutlery, they were flattened against the wall by a waiter carrying a silver tray. “Do you want to swap places?” shouted Izzie. “I could sit next to him if you like.”
It wouldn’t make any difference, thought Kim as she fol- lowed Izzie through the crowded restaurant. Even if he was at the other end of the table. It’s that oozing self-confidence. That conviction he’s right. It seeps into the air like fog. He laughs at everything I care about. He makes me feel small and insignificant—as if I’m scurrying about like a tiny black ant while he strides about like God. The very first time I met him, he blocked out the sun. What was I—thirteen? Lying in the back garden in tatty old shorts and a crop top, the grass long under my fingers, soaking up the first hot day for weeks. Christine next door said the TV weather map had turned completely orange. I could feel my skin burning, tiny prickles of heat. Always stay out of the sun, my mother used to say. So aging. My one act of teenage rebellion—sunbathing.
“Kim? This is Harry.”
The world went dark. An eclipse.
Eva said, “We’re going to buy ice cream. Do you want some?” I couldn’t speak. Half-asleep, dazed by heat, I couldn’t say a word.
“No ice cream?” A deep voice. A posh boy voice.
I looked up. But I couldn’t see his face—just shadow, like a cliff, against the glaring white light.
“Are you always this talkative?”
“Oh leave her, Harry. She just wants to enjoy the sunshine.” I put up my hand to shield my eyes. And now I could see his expression.
Laughing at me. His whole face creased up, grinning from ear to ear, as if I was one huge joke.
“Harry? Come on.”
Then he moved, and the sun blinded me. I sat up, and the world was washed out, like someone had bleached it. I kept star- ing as they sauntered back to the house. He was a head taller than Eva but thin. Nothing but bones, as Christine would say.
At the top of the concrete steps, he stopped. “So that’s your baby sister.”
I waited, very still.
“You know, she could look quite pretty if she smiled.”
The hurt. The rage. You’d think the years would make a difference. But they don’t.
He spent most weekends in our house when I was a teenager.
Taking up space. There was no one to stop him. Dad had walked out. Mum was floating about in a cocktail dress and a cloud of Chanel, happy to spend the evening (the week, the weekend) with anyone who asked her. You wouldn’t know Mum had been born above a chip shop in Torquay. From her voice, you’d think she’d grown up in Kensington—in one of those grand white houses with black iron railings and nannies with prams like Cinderella coaches. Mum loved Harry. Like a young Montgomery Clift. You know, darling? All those films from the 1950s. She said he fitted so well with Eva—tall and dark against Eva’s blond fragility.
That’s all that mattered to Mum. The way things looked.
So Dad had gone, and Mum had gone, but Harry was always around.