Start Reading

The Days I Loved You Most by Amy Neff

A love story for the ages, joining greats like The NotebookMe Before You, and In Five Years

Start Reading The Days I Loved You Most and enter for the chance to win a copy. On sale July 30, 2024. Discover this book and more at

Chapter 1

June, 2001

Joseph’s words loom before us, waiting. I reach for his hand, calmed by the map of callouses, cuticles rimmed with dirt from planting bulbs this afternoon. My fingers shake in his grip. Sweat forms where our palms meet.

Our children sit across from us on the sagging couch. They are silent. The two lamps nearest us glow yellow beneath their shades. Joseph clicked them on as the room darkened, no one willing to interrupt the conversation to stand and flip on the lights overhead. Moonlight spills onto the dual pianos in the study, glinting off the ivory keys. The windows are open to the night that moved in as we spoke and the air is stale and thick, exceptionally hot for late spring in Connecticut. The only sound is the whirring ceiling fan above and the echo of waves from Bernard Beach around the bend.

When the kids were growing up and our home was still the Oyster Shell Inn, the coffee table hid beneath half-finished puzzles depicting New England lighthouses. Tonight, it’s buried in appetizers, blocks of cheese that have begun to gloss and soften; stems of plucked grapes and a few lone crackers litter the platters. Joseph told me not to go to the trouble—but Thomas had come from Manhattan and we hadn’t seen him since Christmas. This rare visit from our son gave me an excuse to walk to the new wine and cheese shop in town. The one across from Vic’s Grinders that had been there since the grandkids were young, and Joseph pressed dollar bills into their palms before sending them to fetch wax paper­–wrapped sandwiches for lunch on the beach. Joseph tried to talk me out of it but I can still find my way, though I move slower now. The mission kept me focused, my mind from drifting.

No one speaks, waiting for Joseph to continue his ominous preamble, the reason for this meeting. We have something important to talk to you three about.

Violet, the baby of the family, now a grown woman with a husband and four children of her own, sits between her brother and sister on the worn sofa. I reupholstered it myself, once the kids were out of the house and the inn was closed to guests, though it inevitably bore the faint stains left by our grandchildren, the filling softening in the center of each cushion once more.

Our kids were raised here in the Oyster Shell, as Joseph was. As I was too, in a way. Me and my brother Tommy, and Joseph, inseparable and constantly bursting through the screen door until Joseph’s mother, waving her apron and laughing, shooed us out onto the front porch before we could disturb the guests. Years passed and before we knew it, our children marked reservations on a crowded calendar, and swept floors, and helped me roll and cut biscuits for breakfast. Our grandchildren pitched in too, showed guests to their rooms, unclipped sun-bleached sheets from the line, rinsed sand from stacks of beach chairs with a coiled garden hose. The inn was always full but the faces came and went like static on the radio, background noise to the life we built. Even as we prepare to tell them, I can’t fathom it, how we can leave it all behind. All I want is to begin again, together, at the start.

“There’s no easy way to put this, to tell you. I don’t know how to begin…” Joseph stammers, gripping my hand tight.

Jane, our oldest, fixes her attention on me, her expression difficult to read. She used to hide her emotions under her wild mane of hair. Now it is professionally relaxed and cut to her shoulders, a look more in line with the other news anchors. Her lanky limbs and long neck became an asset; she moves with a learned grace that escaped her as a gangly teen. I have to turn away from her gaze, afraid my face will betray what I haven’t told her.

Thomas stares at Joseph, his mouth a hard line. How similar their frames are, shy of six feet, built like swimmers with wide shoulders and narrow torsos. But unlike Joseph, who had dark hair until his sixties, when it began to thin at his temples and turn white, Thomas started graying young. Silver threads glinted in the light beneath his cap when he graduated from New York University; how serious he was, smiling only for photos, even on a day of celebration. His face looks thinner now than at Christmas, and I don’t know if he and Ann cook together at night or if he eats dinner alone at his desk. He wears a suit, here after a long day of meetings with other executives. He slid out of his jacket only because of the stifling heat. Even his sweat is contained, caught in his hairline, not daring to trickle past his brow.

“Your mother and I…” Joseph teeters on the edge, eyes filling. I’m not sure he will be able to bring himself to say the words. “You know how much we love each other, how we’ve always had each other in our lives. We love you all so much too, please know that…it’s just that we can’t imagine life without the other at this point…” I nearly cut in, to carry the blame, to save him from being the one to break their hearts. Our children, our babies all grown up, who used to grab me behind the knees, all bursting love and need, clamoring into my lap, never close enough, and then they were walking to school, and driving away, and leading lives that had nothing to do with us, making friends and choices and mistakes and falling in and out of love, our blood and bone the fabric of their bodies but not their innermost lives, and all the while Joseph and I still here, an island of two, disoriented and mystified by the years that slipped us by.

He takes a deep breath, gathering strength. “We don’t want to leave the last chapter of our life to chance, with some miserable, drawn-out end for everyone. I know this is going to come as a shock, it feels shocking to say it, it took us a while to come to terms with everything, but we feel it is the best decision...”

“And that is...” Thomas prompts, impatient when Joseph can’t go on.

“We are planning to end our lives in one year. Next June.” Joseph’s voice breaks.

“I’m sorry-what did you say?” Violet’s eyes widen.

“We don’t want one of us to die before the other. We don’t want to live without each other…we want a say in how our story ends.” This explanation comes out more gentle, but his voice is pained, doing his best to ease our burden onto them, to conceal it in a love letter.

What?” Thomas says.

“Yeah, what are you even talking about?” Jane sputters, setting her drink on the table as though she may need use of her hands.

“This will be our final year.” It’s surreal to hear Joseph speak the words aloud, although I had been the one to say them to him first. This will be my final year.

Excerpt from The Days I Loved You Most, Copyright © 2024 by Amy Neff. All rights reserved.

The Days I Loved You Most will be available in bookstores across Canada and online on July 30, 2024

Enter for your chance to win a copy of
The Days I Loved You Most by Amy Neff

Enter for your chance to win a copy of The Days I Loved You Most by Amy Neff