If you set Wuthering Heights in the present day, how would it go? What if Catherine had lived? Whom would she have chosen? Author Meg Donohue answers those question – and more – in her latest novel You, Me, and the Sea (out this week from William Morrow Paperbacks). It tells the story of Merrow Shawe, a woman drawn to the sea and the escape it offers, who finds solace in the company of Amir. The two share a common tragedy, and when another strikes, Merrow must find her own way through the storm.
We’re pleased to present this exclusive excerpt.
FROM “YOU, ME, AND THE SEA”
Will chartered a yacht to take us from Portofino to Monterosso al Mare, one of the towns of Cinque Terre. There, our pace slowed. We took long naps under colorful umbrellas on the beach and swam in the ocean. The Ligurian Sea was shockingly warm—an entirely different swimming experience than the one offered by the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Northern California. When I swam in California, I was always moving. I rarely allowed myself to simply bob in the water; it was too cold. The Mediterranean encouraged floating, and we obliged. I learned that Will, like his sister, Emma, was a strong swimmer. Still, while I would happily float about for an hour or longer, Will would head back to shore much sooner. He would kiss me before swimming away, teasing that he feared if I stayed out much longer, I would turn into my namesake and slip away from him forever.
If the sea encouraged floating, the town encouraged eating. A boat pulled up to the beach and offered plump anchovies and mussels in paper cups piled high with slices of lemon. For lunch, we had dry white wine and focaccia slathered with pesto.
In the afternoons, we retreated to our hotel room’s shaded balcony overlooking the sun-soaked coastline. We sat in our bathing suits and let the breeze from the sea wash over us. Will read while I wrote. I had not really decided what I was working on. I wrote descriptions of the Italian landscape, snippets of dialogue. I lost myself in a world that was half real, half imagined.
It was there, on the balcony in Cinque Terre, that the sensation of being watched overcame me again for the first time since Will and I had shared that kiss months earlier in San Francisco. On a path below our balcony, a dark-haired man paused and then walked toward the sea. His bare torso was lanky; his skin brown. My heart raced. I leaned forward in my seat, Amir’s name on my tongue—
The man called out in a merry torrent of Italian to someone farther down the path.
I sank back, my face flushed.
I squinted at the sparkling water, the boats bobbing offshore. How could I not think of Amir in a place like Monterosso? The cliffs around me were crowded with pastel buildings and darker than the golden bluffs of my home, but the sea that crashed against them sounded the same. The air was warmer but held the same primal scent, the half struggle, half embrace where land meets sea.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Will asked.
I looked over at him. He sat back in his chair, shirtless, his arms speckled with the ghostly kisses of Ligurian sea salt. His hair was turning blonder and more disheveled by the hour. He looked relaxed, his smile vaguely suggestive.
“You know,” I said, “this place suits you. The water brings out the blue of your eyes. I didn’t think it was possible for your eyes to be bluer than they already were, but the Ligurian Sea has proved me wrong.”
He clapped his book shut. “Well, that’s it then.” He stood and walked around the table and pulled me up, laughing, into his arms. “We’ll just have to stay forever.”
We flew first class back to San Francisco, just as we had on the way to Italy. Our seats were even the same, 1A and 1B. I wondered if it was the same plane. I had never in my life experienced two weeks that had passed so quickly. I wasn’t sure I liked the feeling. Our time in Italy already seemed like a beautiful dream. I was glad that I had written so much of it down in my journal. I drank the glass of champagne that was offered to me and it helped to steady the fluttery feeling in my stomach. Will held my hand and listened as the flight attendant detailed our strategy for survival in case of emergency. I rested my head on Will’s shoulder, overcome by a rush of love for him.
I wondered if life went by more quickly when it was easy, if that was the trade-off you accepted.
The letter had arrived while I was away.
When Ronnie mentioned that I had received mail, for some reason, I immediately thought of being on the balcony in Monterosso, the sensation that I was being watched, the man who had looked so much like Amir.
A thorny sensation spread across my throat when I saw Bear’s scraggly handwriting on the envelope. I opened the letter with shaking hands. There was no polite buffer of “Dear Merrow” on which to hang any hope. He simply said what he had to say, and in so doing, yanked me back in time.
I know what you did to Rei. You and him.
I want my money. You don’t get to run off with it.
I know what you did, Merrow Shawe. All that you have, I can take away.
Excerpted from “You, Me, and the Sea” by Meg Donahue. Available now from William Morrow Paperbacks. All rights reserved.