Read The Wedding Online

Authors: Nicholas Sparks

Tags: #Fiction, #General

The Wedding (3 page)

BOOK: The Wedding
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I sometimes wonder how many other men are exactly like me.

While Jane was in
New York
, Joseph answered the phone when I called.

“Hey, Pop,” he said simply.

“Hey,” I said. “How are you?”

“Fine,” he said. After what seemed like a painfully long moment, he asked, “And you?”

I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. “It’s quiet around here, but I’m doing okay.” I paused. “How’s your mom’s visit going?” “It’s fine. I’ve been keeping her busy.”

“Shopping and sightseeing?”

“A little. Mainly we’ve been doing a lot of talking. It’s been interesting.” I hesitated. Though I wondered what he meant, Joseph seemed to feel no need to elaborate. “Oh,” I said, doing my best to keep my voice light. “Is she around?” “Actually, she isn’t. She ran out to the grocery store. She’ll be back in a few minutes, though, if you want to call back.”

“No, that’s okay,” I said. “Just let her know that I called. I should be around all night if she wants to give me a ring.”

“Will do,” he agreed. Then, after a moment: “Hey, Pop? I wanted to ask you something.”

“Yes?”

“Did you really forget your anniversary?”

I took a long breath. “Yes,” I said, “I did.”

“How come?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I remembered that it was coming, but when the day arrived, it just slipped my mind. I don’t have an excuse.” “It hurt her feelings,” he said.

“I know.”

There was a moment of silence on the other end. “Do you understand why?” he finally asked.

Though I didn’t answer Joseph’s question, I thought I did.
 
Quite simply, Jane didn’t want us to end up like the elderly couples we sometimes saw when dining out, couples that have always aroused our pity.
 
These couples are, I should make clear, usually polite to each other. The husband might pull out a chair or collect the jackets, the wife might suggest one of the specials. And when the waiter comes, they may punctuate each other’s orders with the knowledge that has been gained over a lifetime—no salt on the eggs or extra butter on the toast, for instance.

But then, once the order is placed, not a word passes between them.
 
Instead, they sip their drinks and glance out the window, waiting silently for their food to arrive. Once it does, they might speak to the waiter for a moment—to request a refill of coffee, for instance—but they quickly retreat to their own worlds as soon as he departs. And throughout the meal, they will sit like strangers who happen to be sharing the same table, as if they believed that the enjoyment of each other’s company was more effort than it was worth.
 
Perhaps this is an exaggeration on my part of what their lives are really like, but I’ve occasionally wondered what brought these couples to this point.
 
While Jane was in
New York
, however, I was suddenly struck by the notion that we might be heading there as well.

When I picked Jane up from the airport, I remember feeling strangely nervous. It was an odd feeling, and I was relieved to see a flicker of a smile as she walked through the gate and made her way toward me. When she was close, I reached for her carry-on.

“How was your trip?” I asked.

“It was good,” she said. “I have no idea why Joseph likes living there so much.

It’s so busy and noisy all the time. I couldn’t do it.”

“Glad you’re home, then?”

“Yes,” she said. “I am. But I’m tired.”

“I’ll bet. Trips are always tiring.”

For a moment, neither of us said anything. I moved her carry-on to my other hand. “How’s Joseph doing?” I asked.

“He’s good. I think he’s put on a little weight since the last time he was here.”

“Anything exciting going on with him that you didn’t mention on the phone?”

“Not really,” she said. “He works too much, but that’s about it.” In her tone I heard a hint of sadness, one that I didn’t quite understand. As I considered it, I saw a young couple with their arms around each other, hugging as if they hadn’t seen each other in years.

“I’m glad you’re home,” I said.

She glanced at me, held my eyes, then slowly turned toward the luggage carousel.

“I know you are.”

This was our state of affairs one year ago.

I wish I could tell you that things improved in the weeks immediately following Jane’s trip, but they did not. Instead, our life went on as it had before; we led our separate lives, and one unmemorable day passed into the next. Jane wasn’t exactly angry with me, but she didn’t seem happy, either, and try as I might, I was at a loss as to what to do about it. It seemed as though a wall of indifference had somehow been constructed between us without my being aware of it. By late autumn, three months after the forgotten anniversary, I’d become so worried about our relationship that I knew I had to talk to her father.
 
His name is Noah Calhoun, and if you knew him, you would understand why I went to see him that day. He and his wife, Allie, had moved to Creekside Extended Care Facility nearly eleven years earlier, in their forty-sixth year of marriage. Though they once shared a bed, Noah now sleeps alone, and I wasn’t surprised when I found his room empty. Most days, when I went to visit him, he was seated on a bench near the pond, and I remember moving to the window to make sure he was there.

Even from a distance, I recognized him easily: the white tufts of hair lifting slightly in the wind, his stooped posture, the light blue cardigan sweater that Kate had recently knitted for him. He was eighty-seven years old, a widower with hands that had curled with arthritis, and his health was precarious. He carried a vial of nitroglycerin pills in his pocket and suffered from prostate cancer, but the doctors were more concerned with his mental state. They’d sat Jane and me down in the office a few years earlier and eyed us gravely. He’s been suffering from delusions, they informed us, and the delusions seem to be getting worse. For my part, I wasn’t so sure. I thought I knew him better than most people, and certainly better than the doctors. With the exception of Jane, he was my dearest friend, and when I saw his solitary figure, I couldn’t help but ache for all that he had lost.

His own marriage had come to an end five years earlier, but cynics would say it had ended long before that. Allie suffered from Alzheimer’s in the final years of her life, and I’ve come to believe it’s an intrinsically evil disease. It’s a slow unraveling of all that a person once was. What are we, after all, without our memories, without our dreams? Watching the progression was like watching a slow-motion picture of an inevitable tragedy. It was difficult for Jane and me to visit Allie; Jane wanted to remember her mother as she once was, and I never pressed her to go, for it was painful for me as well. For Noah, however, it was the hardest of all.

But that’s another story.

Leaving his room, I made my way to the courtyard. The morning was cool, even for autumn. The leaves were brilliant in the slanting sunshine, and the air carried the faint scent of chimney smoke. This, I remembered, was Allie’s favorite time of year, and I felt his loneliness as I approached. As usual, he was feeding the swan, and when I reached his side, I put a grocery bag on the ground. In it were three loaves of Wonder Bread. Noah always had me purchase the same items when I came to visit.

“Hello, Noah,” I said. I knew I could call him “Dad,” as Jane had with my father, but I’ve never felt comfortable with this and Noah has never seemed to mind.

At the sound of my voice, Noah turned his head.

“Hello, Wilson,” he said. “Thanks for dropping by.”

I rested a hand on his shoulder. “Are you doing okay?” “Could be better,” he said. Then, with a mischievous grin: “Could be worse, though, too.”

These were the words we always exchanged in greeting. He patted the bench and I took a seat next to him. I stared out over the pond. Fallen leaves resembled a kaleidoscope as they floated on the surface of the water. The glassy surface mirrored the cloudless sky.

“I’ve come to ask you something,” I said.

“Yes?” As he spoke, Noah tore off a piece of bread and tossed it into the water.

The swan bobbed its beak toward it and straightened its neck to swallow.

“It’s about Jane,” I added.

“Jane,” he murmured. “How is she?”

“Good.” I nodded, shifting awkwardly. “She’ll be coming by later, I suppose.” This was true. For the past few years, we’ve visited him frequently, sometimes together, sometimes alone. I wondered if they spoke of me in my absence.
 
“And the kids?”

“They’re doing well, too. Anna’s writing features now, and Joseph finally found a new apartment. It’s in
Queens
, I think, but right near the subway. Leslie’s going camping in the mountains with friends this weekend. She told us she aced her midterms.”

He nodded, his eyes never leaving the swan. “You’re very lucky,
Wilson
,” he said. “I hope you realize how fortunate you are that they’ve become such wonderful adults.”

“I do,” I said.

We fell into silence. Up close, the lines in his face formed crevices, and I could see the veins pulsing below the thinning skin of his hands. Behind us, the grounds were empty, the chilly air keeping people inside.
 
“I forgot our anniversary,” I said.

“Oh?”

“Twenty-nine years,” I added.

“Mmm.”

Behind us, I could hear dried leaves rattling in the breeze.

“I’m worried about us,” I finally admitted.

Noah glanced at me. At first I thought he would ask me why I was worried, but instead he squinted, trying to read my face. Then, turning away, he tossed another piece of bread to the swan. When he spoke, his voice was soft and low, an aging baritone tempered by a southern accent.

“Do you remember when Allie got sick? When I used to read to her?” “Yes,” I answered, feeling the memory pull at me. He used to read to her from a notebook that he’d written before they moved to Creekside. The notebook held the story of how he and Allie had fallen in love, and sometimes after he read it aloud to her, Allie would become momentarily lucid, despite the ravages of Alzheimer’s. The lucidity never lasted long—and as the disease progressed further, it ceased completely—but when it happened, Allie’s improvement was dramatic enough for specialists to travel from
Chapel Hill
to Creekside in the hopes of understanding it. That reading to Allie sometimes worked, there was no doubt. Why it worked, however, was something the specialists were never able to figure out.

“Do you know why I did that?” he asked.

I brought my hands to my lap. “I believe so,” I answered. “It helped Allie. And because she made you promise you would.”

“Yes,” he said, “that’s true.” He paused, and I could hear him wheezing, the sound like air through an old accordion. “But that wasn’t the only reason I did it. I also did it for me. A lot of folks didn’t understand that.” Though he trailed off, I knew he wasn’t finished, and I said nothing. In the silence, the swan stopped circling and moved closer. Except for a black spot the size of a silver dollar on its chest, the swan was the color of ivory. It seemed to hover in place when Noah began speaking again.
 
“Do you know what I most remember about the good days?” he asked.
 
I knew he was referring to those rare days when Allie recognized him, and I shook my head. “No,” I answered.

“Falling in love,” he said. “That’s what I remember. On her good days, it was like we were just starting out all over again.”

He smiled. “That’s what I mean when I say that I did it for me. Every time I read to her, it was like I was courting her, because sometimes, just sometimes, she would fall in love with me again, just like she had a long time ago. And that’s the most wonderful feeling in the world. How many people are ever given that chance? To have someone you love fall in love with you over and over?” Noah didn’t seem to expect an answer, and I didn’t offer one.
 
Instead, we spent the next hour discussing the children and his health. We did not speak of Jane or Allie again. After I left, however, I thought about our visit. Despite the doctors’ worries, Noah seemed as sharp as ever. He had not only known that I would be coming to see him, I realized, but had anticipated the reason for my visit. And in typical southern fashion, he’d given me the answer to my problem, without my ever having had to ask him directly.
 
It was then that I knew what I had to do.

Chapter Two

I had to court my wife again.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? What could be easier? There were, after all, certain advantages to a situation like ours. For one thing, Jane and I live in the same house, and after three decades together, it’s not as though we had to start over. We could dispense with the family histories, the humorous anecdotes from our childhoods, the questions of what we did for a living and whether or not our goals were compatible. Furthermore, the surprises that individuals tend to keep hidden in the early stages of a relationship were already out in the open. My wife, for instance, already knew that I snore, so there was no reason to hide something like that from her. For my part, I’ve seen her when she’s been sick with the flu, and it makes no difference to me how her hair looks when she gets up in the morning.

Given those practical realities, I assumed that winning Jane’s love again would be relatively easy. I would simply try to re-create what we had had in our early years together—as Noah had done for Allie by reading to her. Yet upon further reflection, I slowly came to the realization that I’d never really understood what she saw in me in the first place. Though I think of myself as responsible, this was not the sort of trait women considered attractive back then. I was, after all, a baby boomer, a child of the hang-loose, me-first generation.
 
It was 1971 when I saw Jane for the first time. I was twenty-four, in my second year of law school at Duke University, and most people would have considered me a serious student, even as an undergraduate. I never had a roommate for more than a single term, since I often studied late into the evenings with the lamp blazing. Most of my former roommates seemed to view college as a world of weekends separated by boring classes, while I viewed college as preparation for the future.

BOOK: The Wedding
7.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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