Authors: Nicholas Sparks
Tags: #Fiction, #General
I looked at her.
“Of course it is,” I agreed.
The easy mood between us lasted until we finished dinner and began to clear the table.
Then, slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, the quick banter between us gave way to more stilted conversation, punctuated by longer pauses. By the time we’d started to clean the kitchen, we had retreated into a familiar dialogue, in which the most animated sound came not from either of us, but from the scraping of plates in the kitchen.
I can’t explain why this happened, other than to say that we’d run out of things to say to each other. She asked about Noah a second time, and I repeated what I’d said previously. A minute later, she started speaking of the photographer again, but halfway through her story, she stopped herself, knowing she’d already recounted that as well. Because neither of us had spoken to Joseph or Leslie, there was no news on those fronts, either. And as for work, because I was out of the office, I had nothing whatsoever to add, even in an offhanded way. I could feel the earlier mood of the evening beginning to slip away and wanted to prevent the inevitable from happening. My mind began to search for something, anything, and I finally cleared my throat.
“Did you hear about the shark attack down in Wilmington?” I asked.
“You mean the one last week? With the girl?”
“Yes,” I said, “that’s the one.”
“You told me about it.”
“Last week. You read me the article.”
I washed her wineglass by hand, then rinsed the colander. I could hear her sorting through the cupboards for the Tupperware.
“What a horrible way to start a vacation,” she remarked. “Her family hadn’t even finished unpacking the car yet.”
The plates came next, and I scraped the remains into the sink. I turned on the garbage disposal, and the rumbling seemed to echo against the walls, underscoring the silence between us. When it stopped, I put the plates into the dishwasher.
“I pulled some weeds in the garden,” I said.
“I thought you just did that a few days ago.”
I loaded the utensils and rinsed the salad tongs. I turned the water on and off, slid the dishwasher rack in and out.
“I hope you didn’t stay in the sun too long,” she said.
She mentioned this because my father had died of a heart attack while washing the car when he was sixty-one years old. Heart disease ran in my family, and I knew it was something that worried Jane. Though we were less like lovers than friends these days, I knew that Jane would always care for me. Caring was part of her nature and always would be.
Her siblings are the same way, and I attribute that to Noah and Allie. Hugs and laughter were a staple in their home, a place where practical jokes were relished, because no one ever suspected meanness. I’ve often wondered about the person I would have become had I been born into that family.
“It’s supposed to be hot again tomorrow,” Jane said, breaking into my thoughts.
“I heard on the news it’s supposed to hit ninety-five degrees,” I concurred.
“And the humidity is supposed to be high, too.”
“That’s what they said.”
“That’s too hot.”
Jane put the leftovers into the refrigerator as I wiped the counters. After our earlier intimacy, the lack of meaningful conversation seemed deafening. From the expression on Jane’s face, I knew she too was disappointed by this return to our normal state of affairs. She patted her dress, as if looking for words in her pockets. Finally, she drew a deep breath and forced a smile.
“I think I’ll give Leslie a call,” she said.
A moment later, I was standing in the kitchen alone, wishing again that I were someone else and wondering whether it was even possible for us to start over.
In the two weeks following our first date, Jane and I saw each other five more times before she returned to
for the Christmas holidays. We studied together twice, went to a movie once, and spent two afternoons walking through the campus of
But there was one particular walk that will always stand out in my mind. It was a gloomy day, having rained all morning, and gray clouds stretched across the sky, making it look almost like dusk. It was Sunday, two days after we’d saved the stray, and Jane and I were strolling among the various buildings on campus.
“What are your parents like?” she asked.
I took a few steps before answering. “They’re good people,” I finally said.
She waited for more, but when I didn’t answer, she nudged my shoulder with her own.
“That’s all you can say?”
I knew this was her attempt to get me to open up, and though it wasn’t something I’d ever been comfortable doing, I knew that Jane would keep prodding me—gently and persistently—until I did. She was smart in a way that few others were, not only academically, but about people as well. Especially me.
“I don’t know what else to tell you,” I said. “They’re just typical parents.
They work for the government and they’ve lived in a town house in
“No. There was a nice courtyard, though, and sometimes weeds would sprout between the bricks.”
She laughed. “Where did your parents meet?”
I considered her question as I pictured both my parents. “My mom likes to write letters to the editor of The Washington Post,” I said. “I think she wants to change the world. She’s always taking the side of the downtrodden, and of course, she’s never short of ideas to make the world a better place. She must write at least a letter a week. Not all of them get printed, but she cuts out the ones that do and posts them in a scrapbook. And my dad . . . he’s on the quiet side. He likes to build ships in bottles. He must have made hundreds over the years, and when we ran out of space on the shelves, he started donating them to schools to display in the libraries. Kids love them.” “Do you do that, too?”
“No. That’s my dad’s escape. He wasn’t all that interested in teaching me how to do it, since he thought I should have my own hobby. But I could watch him work, as long as I didn’t touch anything.”
“It didn’t bother me,” I countered. “I never knew any different, and it was interesting. Quiet, but interesting. He didn’t talk much as he worked, but it was nice spending time with him.”
“Did he play catch with you? Or go bike riding?”
“No. He wasn’t much of an outdoor guy. Just the ships. It taught me a lot about patience.”
She lowered her gaze, watching her steps as she walked, and I knew she was comparing it to her own upbringing.
“And you’re an only child?” she continued.
Though I’d never told anyone else, I found myself wanting to tell her why. Even then, I wanted her to know me, to know everything about me. “My mom couldn’t have any more kids. She had some sort of hemorrhage when I was born, and it was just too risky after that.”
She frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“I think she was, too.”
By that point, we’d reached the main chapel on campus, and Jane and I paused for a moment to admire the architecture.
“That’s the most you’ve ever told me about yourself in one stretch,” she remarked.
“It’s probably more than I’ve told anyone.”
From the corner of my eye, I saw her tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. “I think I understand you a little better now,” she said.
I hesitated. “Is that a good thing?”
Instead of answering, Jane turned toward me and I suddenly realized that I already knew the answer.
I suppose I should remember exactly how it happened, but to be honest, the following moments are lost to me. In one instant, I reached for her hand, and in the next, I found myself pulling her gently toward me. She looked faintly startled, but when she saw my face moving toward hers, she closed her eyes, accepting what I was about to do. She leaned in, and as her lips touched mine, I knew that I would remember our first kiss forever.
Listening to Jane as she spoke on the phone with Leslie, I thought she sounded a lot like the girl who’d walked by my side on campus that day. Her voice was animated and the words flowed freely; I heard her laughing as if Leslie were in the room.
I sat on the couch half a room away, listening with half an ear. Jane and I used to walk and talk for hours, but now there were others who seemed to have taken my place. With the children, Jane was never at a loss as to what to say, nor did she struggle when she visited her father. Her circle of friends is quite large, and she visited easily with them as well. I wondered what they would think if they spent a typical evening with us.
Were we the only couple with this problem? Or was it common in all long marriages, an inevitable function of time? Logic seemed to infer it was the latter, yet it nonetheless pained me to realize that her levity would be gone the moment she hung up the phone. Instead of easy banter, we’d speak in platitudes and the magic would be gone, and I couldn’t bear another discussion of the weather.
What to do, though? That was the question that plagued me. In the span of an hour, I’d viewed both our marriages, and I knew which one I preferred, which one I thought we deserved.
In the background, I heard Jane beginning to wind down with Leslie. There’s a pattern when a call is nearing an end, and I knew Jane’s as well as my own. Soon I would hear her tell our daughter that she loved her, pause as Leslie said it back to her, then say good-bye. Knowing it was coming—and suddenly deciding to take a chance—I rose from the couch and turned to face her.
I was going to walk across the room, I told myself, and reach for her hand, just as I had outside the chapel at Duke. She would wonder what was happening—just as she wondered then—but I’d pull her body next to mine. I’d touch her face, then slowly close my eyes, and as soon as my lips touched hers, she’d know that it was unlike any kiss she’d ever received from me. It would be new but familiar; appreciative but filled with longing; and its very inspiration would evoke the same feelings in her. It would be, I thought, a new beginning to our lives, just as our first kiss had been so long ago.
I could imagine it clearly, and a moment later, I heard her say her final words and hit the button to hang up the call. It was time, and gathering my courage, I started toward her.
Jane’s back was to me, her hand still on the phone. She paused for a moment, staring out the living room window, watching the gray sky as it slowly darkened in color. She was the greatest person I’ve ever known, and I would tell her this in the moments following our kiss.
I kept moving. She was close now, close enough for me to catch the familiar scent of her perfume. I could feel my heart speed up. Almost there, I realized, but when I was close enough to touch her hand, she suddenly raised the phone again. Her movements were quick and efficient; she merely pressed two buttons.
The number is on speed dial, and I knew exactly what she’d done.
A moment later, when Joseph answered the phone, I lost my resolve, and it was all I could do to make my way back to the couch.
For the next hour or so, I sat beneath the lamp, the biography of
open in my lap.
Though she’d asked me to call the guests, after hanging up with Joseph, Jane made a few calls to those who were closest to the family. I understood her eagerness, but it left us in separate worlds until after nine, and I came to the conclusion that unrealized hopes, even small ones, were always wrenching.
When Jane finished, I tried to catch her eye. Instead of joining me on the couch, she retrieved a bag from the table by the front door, one I hadn’t noticed she’d brought in.
“I picked these up for Anna on the way home,” she said, waving a couple of bridal magazines, “but before I give them to her, I want to have a chance to look through them first.”
I forced a smile, knowing the rest of the evening would be lost. “Good idea,” I said.
As we settled into silence—me on the couch, Jane in the recliner—I found my gaze drawn surreptitiously toward her. Her eyes flickered as she looked from one gown to the next; I saw her crease the corners of various pages. Her eyes, like mine, are not as strong as they once were, and I noticed that she had to crane her neck back, as if looking down her nose to see more clearly. Every now and then, I heard her whisper something, an understated exclamation, and I knew she was picturing Anna wearing whatever was on the page.
Watching her expressive face, I marveled at the fact that at one time or another, I’d kissed every part of it. I’ve never loved anyone but you, I wanted to say, but common sense prevailed, reminding me that it would be better to save those words for another time, when I had her full attention and the words might be reciprocated.
As the evening wore on, I continued to watch her while pretending to read my book. I could do this all night, I thought, but weariness set in, and I was certain that Jane would stay awake for at least another hour. The creased pages would call to her if she didn’t look at them a second time, and she had yet to make her way through both magazines.