“We looked down at the cliff jutting into the sea, a rubber boat full of kids going under the arch, and then you started running and jumping through the grass, dodging the rabbit holes, shouting at the top of your voice, so I started chasing you, trying to catch you, and we were laughing so hard as we ran and ran, kicking up rainbow showers in the leaves.”
Rob Coates feels like he’s won the lottery of life. There is Anna, his incredible wife, their London town house and, most precious of all, Jack, their son, who makes every day an extraordinary adventure. But when a devastating illness befalls his family, Rob’s world begins to unravel. Suddenly finding himself alone, Rob seeks solace in photographing the skyscrapers and clifftops he and his son Jack used to visit. And just when it seems that all hope is lost, Rob embarks on the most unforgettable of journeys to find his way back to life, and forgiveness.
We Own the Sky is a tender, heartrending, but ultimately life-affirming novel that will resonate deeply with anyone who has suffered loss or experienced great love. With stunning eloquence and acumen, Luke Allnutt has penned a soaring debut and a true testament to the power of love, showing how even the most thoroughly broken heart can learn to beat again.
I looked at Anna as she took a sip of her drink. She really was beautiful, her mouth always on the cusp of a smile, her eyes sparkling like a promise. She was too good for me. She would go to London and end up with the type of guy who was invited to her high-school dances.
“And what about you, where do your parents live?” Anna said, and I realized I was staring at her.
“My dad still lives in Romford.”
Anna hesitated, took a sip of her drink. “Are your parents divorced?”
“My mom died. When I was fifteen.”
“Oh,” Anna said. “I’m very sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I said, “it’s not your fault.” It took her a moment to get my little joke, and I grinned and she smiled back, a little more at ease.
I didn’t like talking about that morning, when Dad was waiting for me outside the school gate. For some reason, he was wearing his best suit. He didn’t say much. He didn’t have to. Mom had collapsed at work, he said, a massive stroke. They had always joked that he would be the one to go first.
“So where’s home?” I asked Anna.
“Oh, the main house is in Suffolk, but we’ve not really been there enough for it to feel like home.”
“Ah, the hard life, so many houses…” I didn’t know why I said it. It was meant to be flippant, a quip, but it just sounded petty and unkind.
Anna scowled at me and took a hurried sip of her drink as if she had to leave. “Actually, Rob, if you must know, I was on scholarship at Roedean, and my parents don’t have two pennies to rub together.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean…” I stammered. She was frowning, and I could see she found it hard to disguise her annoyance.
“And before you try to out-poor me, Rob, my parents were missionaries and I spent most of my childhood living in Kenyan slums that would make your public housing complex look like Cheam.”
She angled her body away from me, and we both silently sipped our drinks.
“Sorry again. I didn’t mean it like that, I really didn’t,” I said.
Anna sighed and nervously fiddled with the menu. Then she smiled and looked at me again. “Sorry, I probably overreacted a little. Evidently you’re not the only one to have a chip on your shoulder.”
That night we kissed as soon as we closed the bedroom door. After a few breathless minutes, Anna stopped and I thought she was having second thoughts. But then she started to undress, as if she was alone in her own room, and I watched her and I didn’t think she minded me watching her: the angular bones of her hips, her neat little breasts, her pale, delicate arms. When she was naked, she folded her clothes and left them in a tidy pile on my desk.
Since I had been a teenager, sex had always been an exercise in caution. A gradual testing of the waters, a constant expectation that my probing hands would be quickly brushed away. Anna was nothing like that. She was hungry and uninhibited, so unlike the prim and proper way she carried herself. Her desire was single-minded—a quality then, not really knowing women, I found curiously masculine. We stayed awake until the early hours, shuttered behind hastily drawn curtains, our bodies wet with each other, until finally we slept.
I waited for her out on the court, feeling a little uncomfortable in my West Ham United football shirt and Umbro shorts. The court smelled of rubber and fresh sweat. I wanted to impress on her that I was sporty, that I didn’t just spend my time in front of my computer. So we agreed to a game of squash, which Anna said she had played once or twice at school.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she came out onto the court. In her flappy men’s shorts and regular blouse, she looked like a 1920s tennis star.
“What?” she said.
“What, what?” I said, stifling a laugh.
“Well, your clothes aren’t exactly regulation either. With your football jersey.”
“I didn’t say anything,” I protested, smirking and looking away from her.
“Right. Shall we play then?” she said, awkwardly holding her racket with two hands.
We started warming up, slowly hitting the ball back and forth. Except Anna wasn’t really hitting the ball, but flailing, struggling to connect even when she was serving.
“I’m not so good without my glasses,” Anna said, as she scooped the ball up toward the ceiling.
We carried on like that for a while, not having anything that would resemble a game.
“Okay, I admit it. I lied,” Anna said, after she missed the ball yet again while attempting to serve.
“I’ve actually never played squash.”
“Oh,” I said, once again stifling a laugh.
“I asked Lola and she said it was easy. She said that anyone could do it. Apparently not.”
I wished, then, I could have taken a picture of her on that squash court. She looked so beautiful, her dark flannel shorts accentuating her pale legs, her dimpled cheeks flushed with exercise.
“Have you really only played a few times?” Anna asked.
“I don’t know, four or five. At school.”
Anna was quiet, bit her lip. “Well, the truth is, I hate sports.”
“I thought you wanted to play?” I said, putting my arm around her cold shoulders.
“Not really. I thought you wanted to,” she said, gently tapping her racket against her leg. “I only did it because, well, I didn’t want you to think that I was sedentary.”
I smiled when she said that. Sedentary. It was a very Anna word. After another five minutes of pretending, we gave up and went outside.
It was sweltering in the sun. We sat on a small wall that overlooked an enclosed field hockey turf. Children, mostly infants and a few older teenagers, were running around at some kind of sports camp.
We had both decided that we would stay the summer in Cambridge, living off the rest of our student loans. Anna said she wanted to do all the touristy Cambridge things she had never done because she had been working so hard to get her first-class honors. So we went punting and walked around some of the colleges and spent an afternoon in the Fitzwilliam Museum and a morning in the botanical gardens. Much of the time, we just spent in bed.