Today’s post comes courtesy of Deborah Blumenthal, author of books for adults, children, and young adults. Today she’s sharing an excerpt from her latest adult novel, Someone Else’s Love Letter, which was released on March 1.
Fixing your wardrobe is a dream job. Fixing your life is a work of art.
Sage Parker has the perfect occupation for a Manhattanite—she helps the rich and powerful keep their wardrobes current and suitable for every need. Her sense of fashion is impeccable, her connections are unsurpassed, and her eye misses not a single well-made stitch.
So when she discovers a love note left in the back of a cab, Sage admires the card stock and the ink, but also the heartfelt words. She sets out on a mission to find out who the love note was intended for—and who wrote it.
What Sage discovers will broaden her horizons and change her life, introducing her to an extraordinary woman who is revamping her entire world midway through life, a dashing Brit with a hive of secrets, and a free-spirited painter, whose brush captures the light in everything he paints, including Sage.
There are things you never expect to find in a taxi. Things like love letters. This one was easy to miss, wedged under the driver’s seat except for a tiny triangle of icy blue playing peekaboo. I would never have seen it if a stretch limo to our right hadn’t turned with no warning, nearly shearing off the front fender.
When the driver slammed the brakes, I was on my way home after three hours inside a walk-in closet. My handbag pirouetted over the seat, releasing a sea of bracelets, beads, scarves, shoulder pads, Miracle Bras, panty hose, scissors, Scotch tape, safety pins, Velcro, Motrin, tampons, and Red Bull. To the barrage of expletives from the driver, I tossed it all together like a crazy salad and stuffed it back into my bag.
That’s when I spotted the envelope.
I tugged at the corner and it slid free. The paper was thick, luxurious, and addressed in amethyst ink. I lifted the flap, tracing my finger over the midnight-blue lining embedded with whispery white threads. I held it to my nose.
A faint perfume. Two sheets were neatly folded inside.
I was just a block from home, so I slid it into a jacket pocket and searched for my wallet. After greeting the doorman, I picked up my mail and rushed upstairs to feed Harry, the man of the house, my yellow lab. It wasn’t until a week later, when I wore the jacket again, that I thought of the letter.
When important things happen, your mind has a way of xing the moments into your memory. You recall exactly where you were and why, who you were with, the time of day, even the light. I began reading the letter on the bus up Madison Avenue, passing Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Barneys, Yves St. Laurent, and Ralph Lauren’s flagship store in the Rhinelander Mansion. Only then I didn’t try to glimpse the clothes as the shop windows fast-forwarded like frames from a high-fashion video.
It was a crisp fall day, a time of beginnings. For no particular reason, everything felt right in my world when I woke that morning. It was Saturday. The Chinese finger trap of time was looser. My plan was to spend the morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then walk part of the way back through Central Park.
I was in navy D&G flannel slacks, a white ribbed Tory Burch sweater, and Fratelli Rosetti loafers. My jacket was over my arm. On the way to the bus I stopped at Starbucks and asked for Panama La Florentina, the coffee of the day, because the barista behind the counter told me it was similar to their house blend, and anyway, I just liked the way it sounded. Before I left, I put the coffee down and slipped on my jacket. The only free seat on the bus was the hot seat in the back, always the last to be taken because it was over some motor part that turned it into a radiator. I sat anyway, afraid that if the bus stopped short I’d be faced with litigation. Before I opened the newspaper, I slid my Metrocard into my pocket. That’s when I remembered the letter.
I opened the envelope and recalled how much I had admired the stationery, particularly the way the sender put the return address not in the usual places—on the upper left-hand corner or on the flap—but vertically up the left side of the front edge of the envelope, in carefully printed block letters.
Dear Caroline, I know you’re used to reading emails, not letters. I know you make split-second decisions, and think life’s more black and white than gray, but I have to explain…and I beg you to listen.
He talked about his empty life before they met—the unhappy relationships, his despair at not being able to find the right woman, his feelings of isolation. Then they met and everything changed.
How can I explain the way I feel about you? Let me tell you about a book of letters I read by the physicist and Nobel laureate Richard P. Feynman. His first wife had moved to Albuquerque to be near him when he worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. She later died there in a sanitarium, from tuberculosis. A year and a half after her death he wrote, “I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead. But I still want to comfort and take care of you—and I want you to love me and care for me.” He ventures that maybe they could still make plans together, but no, he had lost his “idea- woman, the general instigator of all our wild adventures.”
“You can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else,” he wrote. “But I want to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.”
Before you nothing in my life had real meaning. You’re gone now, yet all I think about is you. I live in the shadow of our relationship, pretending you’re still with me. Even without you, the memories of our life together mean more than the reality of being with someone else.
Caroline, please, let me see you. At least let me talk to you. Life without you is unthinkable.
A heartfelt plea to win a woman back. It was almost Shakespearean. Only the address wasn’t Stratford-upon- Avon, it was downtown Manhattan. I slipped it back into the envelope.
Whose life had I stumbled on? Where did he live, what did he do? Men called, emailed, or sent text messages—they didn’t write letters, and if they did, never on handmade paper with deckle edges, a throwback to the fifteenth century.
The writer had style. He was smooth, articulate. The wrappings of his thoughts were as affecting as his words. Just thinking about him set my mind reeling with the possibilities. Where did that leave me?
Which made no sense. I was a peeping tom, peering into someone else’s emotional life. Still, he was a kindred spirit. He knew the importance of putting things in the proper wrapping too. So never mind Caroline who had tossed away the letter like a losing lottery ticket; maybe he’d like to meet a woman of the cloth who judged letters by their covers.
I gazed out the bus window, forgetting my plans for the day. When I remembered to check the street signs, the bus had passed the Met and was approaching 96th Street. I got off, turned around, and walked the three miles back to Murray Hill, as if it made perfect sense to ride all the way uptown and then go directly back home without stopping anywhere at all in between.
Deborah Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and nutritionist who now divides her time between writing children’s books and adult novels. She has been a regular contributor to The New York Times (including four years as the Sunday New York Times Magazine beauty columnist), and a home design columnist for Long Island Newsday. Her health, fitness, beauty, travel, and feature stories have appeared widely in many other newspapers and national magazines including New York’s Daily News, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times,Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Self, and Vogue.
Blumenthal lives in New York City.