Publication Date: 8th May
Black Swan (Transworld books)
Blurb:After years of watching her best friends Ben and Claire try for a baby, Romily offered to give them the one thing they most wanted.
But Romily wasn't prepared for the overwhelming feelings that have taken hold of her and which threaten to ruin her friendship with Ben and Claire - and even destroy their marriage.
Now there are three friends, two mothers and only one baby, and an impossible decision to make . . .
Exclusive preview - Chapter 1
I want to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, when we still believed in wishes, there lived a prince and a princess. The prince was handsome and clever, and the princess was beautiful and good, and they were deeply in love.
That’s something you might ask about one day, when you’re older. What is love? Some people think it’s magic. Some people think it’s biology. In this case, the prince and his princess seemed meant for each other. It’s difficult to explain why; he liked football and she liked concerts. She liked old things, and he liked new. Their life together was a series of compromises. Maybe that’s what a happily ever after really is.
The prince asked the princess to marry him. Their wedding was a wonderful day, full of silver and gold and flowers and joy. The prince danced to ‘Boogie Wonderland’ and nearly knocked over the top table. I wish you’d been there to see it. In a way, you were there; the princess and the prince had certainly thought of you. They already wanted you. A perfect child, who would make their love complete.
But the years went by, and they went by, and you never appeared.
It’s not much of a fairy tale, is it?
A Little Secret
The day before she was supposed to have the test, Claire escaped the music block so she could look again. Her suede boots spotted with wet as she walked across the frosty grass past the pet shed. Two lower school boys were checking on their guinea pigs, their breath rising in clouds. She raised a hand to them in greeting and headed for the small path leading into the wood that surrounded the school.
On the field a group of girls were playing hockey. As soon as she entered the wood, their cries of encouragement faded. She tightened her right hand around the objects in her pocket and quickened her steps. She skirted rhododendron bushes, pine needles releasing scent beneath her feet, until she reached the rusted iron gates tucked in a corner near the school boundaries. She pushed open the gate and walked into the cemetery.
The St Dominick’s students rarely came here. The one time she’d brought half a dozen A-level students, thinking it might give them some inspiration, they’d shuddered and told her that they’d been whispering scary stories about the nuns’ graveyard for years. There was a rumour about a crying lady, and another about a swirling mist. But in the light of day, the graveyard wasn’t frightening: sunshine streamed through the towering pines above and pooled around the grey stones. They were all different shapes and sizes, some very old, some recent. Although St Dominick’s school hadn’t housed nuns for many years now, sisters of the order who had moved elsewhere were occasionally buried here, where they’d started their lives of service. The newer graves towards the outside were low granite blocks. One or two had plastic flowers in baskets next to them.
Claire moved into the centre of the graveyard. The engraving on the stones here was nearly illegible. In the trees above, a magpie clattered.
She wore a woollen jacket. The left pocket held her phone. The right held two objects carefully wrapped in toilet paper. Claire looked around before she took them out, though she knew that she was alone. Not even a ghostly nun watched her unwrap the pregnancy tests.
She’d seen the blue lines already; they’d appeared almost immediately when she’d taken the tests, but that had been in the staff toilet, where the light wasn’t good. She couldn’t have been sure it wasn’t wishful thinking. Now, she held up the first test and squinted at the lines.
Positive. A clear, dark positive. Same with the second one. She hadn’t made a mistake.
She sank onto the grass, ignoring the cold and damp, staring at the tests on her lap.
She should ring Ben. And her mum. She wasn’t supposed to take a test yet. She and Ben had both agreed that it would be wisest to wait until she had the proper test, tomorrow morning at the fertility clinic.
But she couldn’t wait. All through the school day, through the mild rebukes to Year Seven to pay attention, please, through the rehearsals for the Easter term concert and the department meetings, she’d been thinking about one thing: her tiny embryo, hers and Ben’s, the single one inside her, the only one that was good enough.
Please take, she’d been thinking. Exactly as she’d been thinking for every minute of the past ten days since it had been introduced into her womb.
Please take. Driving to school. Brushing her teeth. Washing the glasses in the sink. Please take. Sharing dinner with Ben. The first thought waking up and going to sleep.
Hold on and live. I want to meet you.
About the Author:
Julie Cohen grew up in Maine and studied English at Brown University and
Cambridge University. She moved to the UK to research fairies in Victorian
children’s literature at the University of Reading and this was followed by a career
teaching English at secondary level. She now writes full time and is a popular
speaker and teacher of creative writing.
Previous novels include: The Summer of Living Dangerously and Getting Away With It.
She lives with her husband and their son in Berkshire.
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