Clare Swatman's Before You Go

16 January 2017

By The Window Seat

start reading before you goclare swatman's spellbinding, intoxicating love story.

when zoe's husband ed dies, her world caves in. now zoe must find a way to survive. but she's not ready to let go of the memories. zoe decides she has to tell ed all the things she never said...

for whatever reason, i’ve woken up in 1993, back in my eighteen-year-old life. whether it’s just for one day or for much longer i have no idea, and right now i don’t care because all i can think about is one thing: ed.

if this day goes as it did the first time round – and it has so far, so i have no reason to believe that it won’t – then i’ll be meeting ed soon. it won’t be my ed as i know him now. it will be the ed i first met, the young, sexy, slightly arrogant ed who i liked but didn’t fall head over heels in love with at that moment: there was no lightning bolt, no spark of electricity shooting across the room. there was just me and a boy, meeting for the first time, with a whole world of possibilities ahead of us.

this time, it’s going to be hard – almost impossible – to behave as though i’ve never met him before. i’ve loved him and hated him intensely; i’ve held him and comforted him and fought with him and lost him and grieved for him, and with all that in my mind, how am i supposed to get through this? i have no idea.

‘what do you think?’ with a start i’m brought back to now to see jane and rob looking at me expectantly, waiting for an answer.

‘sorry, i was miles away. what did you say?’ i hope neither of them notices the wobble in my voice.

‘shall we find the local?’ rob says. ‘have a quick pint before the others get here?’

‘good idea.’ i need some dutch courage to get me through the next few hours. a drink is just what i need. i stand quickly. ‘i’ll just put my stuff in my room before mum and dad leave.’

we traipse down the stairs to say our goodbyes as dad ferries my bags and boxes into the room next to jane’s.

‘take care, love.’ mum hugs me tightly and i feel tears welling in my eyes again. ‘make sure you ring me, and come home to see us soon.’

‘not too soon, though, i’m turning your room into a b & b.’ dad smirks as he gives me a quick hug, then i wave as they drive off down the road, leaving me to my new life. i can do this. i can live the student life again. it’s only one day, after all – and it might just be the day i’ve been hoping for since i lost ed.

‘right, let’s go,’ i say, taking a deep breath and pasting a smile on my face, and the three of us march down the path for the short walk to our local.

as we push through the swing door i’m surprised by the pang of nostalgia. it’s a long time since i’ve been here, and the memories come flooding back. i can picture ed at the pool table, deep lines etching his forehead as he concentrates on potting the black, a pint balanced on the table edge, half drunk.

i remember jane getting so drunk she fell off her chair and curled up for a nap in the corner. i can almost hear blind melon’s ‘no rain’ on the jukebox we used to play, pumping in endless coins to hear our favourite tunes. and despite the utter ridiculousness of the situation and the apprehension i’m feeling at what’s to come, a sudden warmth washes over me as i settle at the table to spend the afternoon with these people – my oldest friends, who i’ve only just met.

three hours later we’re back at the house. simon has arrived and after a quick introduction we get on with the job of claiming kitchen cupboards and sharing a cheap bottle of wine we picked up at the offie on the way home. it tastes like paint stripper but it’s blurring the edges of my anxiety.

outside it’s starting to get dark and i know what this means. ed will be here soon. i feel the knot in my chest tighten.

i haven’t exactly accepted the fact that i’ll never see ed again, but somewhere deep down i know it’s true, and i’m terrified that his face is already starting to blur in my memory, however desperately i try to hold it there. i can see the outline of his face, almost trace it with my fingertips. but i can’t picture the shape of his eyes, the exact rise and fall of his nose or the angle of the cupid’s bow in his lips, and it’s been driving me mad. i’m not sure i can handle being in front of all these people when i see him again. how do i look at him, without reaching out to touch him or worse, throwing myself at him? how can i possibly do that?

the hands on the cheap plastic clock above the sink tick monotonously on; the tap drip, drip, drips endlessly into the sink. i can feel my hands start to sweat and my head feels fuzzy. voices murmur in the periphery, but i’m blocking it all out, focusing instead on the in and out, in and out of my breath, the rise and fall of my chest and the steady, insistent thump of my heart. i just want to get this over and done with.

and then, as if in answer to my prayers, there’s a loud knock on the door, and before anyone has a chance to open it, the kitchen door bursts open and there’s ed, a huge smile lighting up his handsome face.

the blood rushes to my head and i think i might pass out.

around me there’s a frantic wave of activity as everyone leaps up to greet him, but i stay stock-still, my eyes trained on the air just to the side of his head, too scared to look directly at him. but i have to eventually, and when i force my eyes to see him properly, i feel as though i’ve been punched in the guts. oh god. it’s him, he’s really here.

i stand and move slowly round to the back of the chair, gripping hold of it tightly in the hope it will hold me up. and then i look at him again, trying to drink in every inch of him. his dark hair flops over his bright-blue eyes, and he keeps pushing it out of the way with his hand, a gesture so familiar it hurts. he looks so young, and i can’t believe that when we met for the real first time i wasn’t in love with him at all.

now, i feel as though my heart has been ripped out and is being dangled in front of the whole room for all my friends to see. i’m in love with this man yet my heart is breaking, because he’s gone and i know this might be my only chance to see him again. yet i can’t tell him how i feel.

at least, i can’t with words. but surely he’ll know, the moment he looks in my eyes, surely he’ll see everything we’ve shared together since this moment? surely there’s no way he can’t see the bond we have? i need to make this moment count, because this could be the only chance i get.

so i take a deep breath, wipe my hand on my dress and hold it out as i step forward, trying to stop it shaking. ‘i’m zoe,’ i say. ‘lovely to meet you.’

and as he takes my hand in his, everything around me explodes.

‘lovely to meet you too,’ he says, the deep timbre of his voice vibrating straight through to my heart. 

before you go by clare swatman is out on 9th february 2017. find out more