Do you ever read a book that you’re just so excited about you can’t keep it to yourself? We feel that way about LOVE AND OTHER WORDS, the first women’s fiction novel by our favorite author duo Christina Lauren! Take a sneak peek at this exclusive excerpt, and read the whole book on April 10th! We hope you love these words as much as we do!
My dad was a lot taller than my mother—I mean a lot.
He was six foot five and my mom was just over five foot three. Danish big and Brazilian petite. When they met, she didn’t speak a word of English. But by the time she died, when I was ten, it was almost as if they’d created their own language.
I remember the way he would hug her when he got home from work. He would wrap his arms all the way around her shoulders, press his face into her hair while his body curved over hers. His arms became a set of parentheses bracketing the sweetest secret phrase.
I would disappear into the background when they touched like this, feeling like I was witnessing something sacred.
It never occurred to me that love could be anything other than all-consuming. Even as a child, I knew I never wanted anything less.
But then what began as a cluster of malignant cells killed my mother, and I didn’t want any of it, ever again. When I lost her, it felt like I was drowning in all the love I still had that could never be given. It filled me up, choked me like a rag doused in kerosene, spilled out in tears and screams and in heavy, pulsing silence. And somehow, as much as I hurt, I knew it was even worse for Dad.
I always knew that he would never fall in love again after Mom. In that way, my dad was always easy to understand. He was straightforward and quiet: he walked quietly, spoke qui- etly; even his anger was quiet. It was his love that was boom- ing. His love was a roaring, vociferous bellow. And after he loved Mom with the strength of the sun, and after the cancer killed her with a gentle gasp, I figured he would be hoarse for the rest of his life and wouldn’t ever want another woman the way he’d wanted her.
Before Mom died, she left Dad a list of things she wanted him to remember as he saw me into adulthood:
- Don’t spoil her with toys; spoil her with books.
- Tell her you love her. Girls need the words.
- When she’s quiet, you do the talking.
- Give Macy ten dollars a week. Make her save two. Teach her the value of money.
- Until she’s sixteen, her curfew should be ten o’clock, no exceptions.
The list went on and on, deep into the fifties. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t trust him; she just wanted me to feel her influence even after she was gone. Dad reread it frequently, making notes in pencil, highlighting certain things, making sure he wasn’t missing a milestone or get- ting something wrong. As I grew older, the list became a bible of sorts. Not necessarily a rule book, but more a reas- surance that all these things Dad and I struggled with were normal.
One rule in particular loomed large for Dad.
- When Macy looks so tired after school that she can’t even form a sentence, take her away from the stress of her life. Find a weekend getaway that is easy and close that lets her breathe a little.
And although Mom likely never intended that we actu- ally buy a weekend home, my dad—a literal type—saved, and planned, and researched all the small towns north of San Francisco, preparing for the day when he would need to in- vest in our retreat.
In the first couple of years after Mom died, he watched me, his ice-blue eyes somehow both soft and probing. He would ask questions that required long answers, or at least longer than “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t care.” The first time I an- swered one of these detailed questions with a vacant moan, too tired from swim practice, and homework, and the dull te- dium of dealing with persistently dramatic friends, Dad called a real estate agent and demanded she find us the per- fect weekend home in Healdsburg, California.
We first saw it at an open house, shown by the local Realtor, who let us in with a wide smile and a tiny, judg- mental slant of her eyes toward our big-city San Francisco agent. It was a four-bedroom wood-shingled and sharply angled cabin, chronically damp and potentially moldy, tucked back into the shade of the woods and near a creek that would continually bubble outside my window. It was bigger than we needed, with more land than we could pos- sibly maintain, and neither Dad nor I would realize at the time that the most important room in the house would be the library he would make for me inside my expansive closet.
Nor could Dad have known that my whole world would end up next door, held in the palm of a skinny nerd named Elliot Lewis Petropoulos.