Authors: Nicholas Sparks
Tags: #Fiction, #General
But love, I’ve come to understand, is more than three words mumbled before bedtime. Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day.
Now, as I stared at the picture, all I could think was that thirty years of innocent neglect had made my love seem like a lie, and it seemed that the bill had finally come due. We were married in name only. We hadn’t made love in nearly half a year, and the few kisses we shared had little meaning for either of us. I was dying on the inside, aching for all that we’d lost, and as I stared at our wedding photograph, I hated myself for allowing it to happen.
Despite the heat, I spent the rest of the afternoon pulling weeds, and afterward I showered before heading off to the grocery store. It was, after all, Saturday—my day to cook—and I had decided to try my hand at a new recipe that called for side dishes of bow-tie pasta and vegetables. Though I knew this would probably be enough for both of us, I decided at the last minute to make appetizers and a Caesar salad as well.
, I was in the kitchen; by five-thirty, the appetizers were well under way. I had prepared mushrooms stuffed with sausage and cream cheese, and they were warming in the oven next to the bread I’d picked up at the bakery. I’d just finished setting the table and was opening a bottle of Merlot when I heard Jane come in the front door.
“Hello?” she called out.
“I’m in the dining room,” I said.
When she rounded the corner, I was struck by how radiant she looked. While my thinning hair is speckled with gray, hers is still as dark and full as the day I married her. She had tucked a few strands behind her ear, and around her neck I saw the small diamond pendant I’d purchased in the first few years of our marriage. As preoccupied as I might have been at times during our marriage, I can honestly say that I have never grown inured to her beauty.
“Wow,” she said. “It smells great in here. What’s for dinner?” “Veal marsala,” I announced, reaching to pour her a glass of wine. I crossed the room and handed it to her. As I studied her face, I noticed that the anxiety of the night before had been replaced with a look of excitement that I hadn’t seen for quite some time. I could already tell that things had gone well for her and Anna, and though I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath, I felt myself exhale in relief.
“You’re not going to believe what happened today,” she gushed. “Even when I tell you, you’re not going to believe it.”
Taking a sip of wine, she grasped my arm to steady herself as she slid one foot and then the other out of her shoe. I felt the warmth of her touch even after she let go.
“What is it?” I asked. “What happened?”
She motioned enthusiastically with her free hand. “C’mon,” she said. “Follow me into the kitchen while I tell you about it. I’m starved. We were so busy we didn’t have time for lunch. By the time we realized that it was time to eat, most of the restaurants were closed and we still had a few places to visit before Anna had to get back. Thank you for making dinner, by the way. I completely forgot it was your day to cook, and I was trying to think of an excuse to order in.”
She kept talking as she moved through the swinging doors into the kitchen.
Trailing behind her, I admired the subtle movement of her hips as she walked.
“Anyway, I think Anna’s sort of getting into it now. She seemed a lot more enthusiastic than she did last night.” Jane glanced at me over her shoulder, eyes gleaming. “But oh, just wait. You’re not going to believe it.” The kitchen counters were crowded with preparations for the main course: sliced veal, assorted vegetables, a cutting board and knife. I slipped on an oven mitt to remove the appetizers and set the baking sheet on the stovetop.
“Here,” I said.
She looked at me in surprise. “They’re already done?”
“Lucky timing.” I shrugged.
Jane reached for a mushroom and took a bite.
“So this morning, I picked her up . . . Wow, this is really good.” She paused, suddenly examining the mushroom. She took another bite and let it roll around in her mouth before going on. “Anyway, the first thing we did was discuss possible photographers—someone a lot more qualified than me. I know there are a few studios downtown, but I was certain we wouldn’t be able to find anyone last minute. So last night, I got to thinking that Claire’s son might be able to do it. He’s taking classes in photography at
Jane popped the last of the mushroom into her mouth, letting the anticipation build. The tips of her fingers were shiny as she reached for another mushroom.
“These are really good,” she enthused. “Is this a new recipe?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Is it complicated?”
“Not really,” I said, shrugging.
She drew a deep breath. “So anyway, just like I thought, the first two places we visited were booked. But then we went to Cayton’s Studio. Have you ever seen the wedding pictures Jim Cayton does?”
“I’ve heard he’s the best around.”
“He’s amazing,” she said. “His work is stunning. Even Anna was impressed, and
you know how she is. He did Dana Crowe’s wedding, remember? He’s usually booked
six or seven months in advance, and even then he’s hard to get. I mean, there wasn’t a chance, right? But when I asked his wife—she’s the one who runs the studio—she told me that he’d had a recent cancellation.” She took another bite of her appetizer, chewing slowly.
“And it just so happens,” she announced with the faintest of shrugs, “that he was open for next Saturday.”
I raised my eyebrows. “That’s wonderful,” I said.
Now that the climax had been revealed, she began to speak more quickly, filling in the rest of the blanks.
“Oh, you can’t believe how happy Anna was. Jim Cayton? Even if we had a year to plan, he’s the one I would have wanted. We must have spent a couple of hours flipping through some of the albums they’ve put together, just to get ideas.
Anna would ask me whether I liked these types of shots, or I’d ask which ones she liked. I’m sure Mrs. Cayton thinks we’re crazy. As soon as we’d finish an album, we’d ask for another—she was kind enough to answer every question we had.
By the time we left, I think both of us were just pinching ourselves at how lucky we’d been.”
“So after that,” she continued breezily, “we headed out to the bakeries. Again, it took a couple of stops, but I wasn’t too worried about getting a cake. It’s not as if they have to prepare them months in advance, right? Anyway, we found a small place that could do it, but I didn’t realize how many choices they have.
There was an entire catalog devoted to wedding cakes. They have big cakes and small cakes, and every size in between. Then, of course, you have to decide what flavor you want it, what kind of frosting, the shape, what additional decorations and all those kinds of things. . . .”
“Sounds exciting,” I said.
She rolled her eyes heavenward. “You don’t know the half of it,” she said, and I laughed at her obvious joy.
The stars weren’t often in alignment, but tonight they seemed to be. Her mood was rapturous, the evening was young, and Jane and I were about to enjoy a romantic meal together. All seemed right with the world, and as I stood beside my wife of three decades, I suddenly knew that the day couldn’t have gone any better had I planned it in advance.
While I finished preparing dinner, Jane continued filling me in on the rest of her day, going into detail about the cake (two layers, vanilla flavoring, sour cream frosting) and the photographs (Cayton fixes any imperfections on the computer). In the warm light of the kitchen, I could just make out the soft creases around the corners of her eyes, the feathery markings of our life together.
“I’m glad it went well,” I said. “And considering it was your first day, you actually got quite a bit done.”
The smell of melted butter filled the kitchen, and the veal began to sizzle slightly.
“I know. And I am happy, believe me,” she said. “But we still don’t know where we should have the ceremony, and until then, I don’t know how to make the rest of the arrangements. I’d told Anna that we could have it here if she wanted, but she wasn’t too keen on the idea.”
“What does she want?”
“She isn’t sure yet. She thinks she might want to have a garden wedding of some sort. Someplace not too formal.”
“It shouldn’t be too hard to find a place.”
“You’d be surprised. The only place I could think of was the
“Mmm . . .” I added salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the pan.
“The Orton Plantation is nice, too. Remember? That’s where we went to the Brattons’ wedding last year.”
I remembered; it was in between
, almost two hours from
. “It is sort of out of the way, isn’t it?” I asked. “Considering most of the guests are from around here?”
“I know. It was just an idea. I’m sure it’s booked anyway.”
“How about someplace downtown? At one of the bed-and-breakfasts?” She shook her head. “I think most of them might be too small—and I don’t know how many have gardens—but I suppose I can look into it. And if that doesn’t work . . . well, we’ll find someplace. At least I hope we can.” Jane frowned, lost in thought. She leaned against the counter and propped her stockinged foot against the cabinet behind her, for all the world the same young girl who talked me into walking her to her car. The second time I walked her to her car, I assumed she would simply get in her car and drive away, as she had the first time. Instead she’d struck just the same pose against the driver’s-side door, and we had what I consider to be our first conversation. I remember marveling at her animated features as she recounted the details of her life growing up in
, and it was the first time I sensed the attributes I would always cherish: her intelligence and passion, her charm, the carefree way she seemed to view the world. Years later, she showed the same traits when raising our children, and I know it’s one of the reasons they’ve become the kind and responsible adults they are today.
Breaking into Jane’s distracted reverie, I cleared my throat. “I went to visit Noah today,” I said.
At my words, Jane resurfaced. “How’s he doing?”
“Okay. He looked tired, but he was in good spirits.”
“Was he at the pond again?”
“Yes,” I said. Anticipating her next question, I added: “The swan was there, too.”
She pressed her lips together, but not wanting to ruin her mood, I quickly went on.
“I told him about the wedding,” I said.
“Was he excited?”
“Very.” I nodded. “He told me he’s looking forward to being there.” Jane brought her hands together. “I’m bringing Anna by tomorrow. She didn’t have a chance to see him last week, and I know she’s going to want to tell him about it.” She smiled appreciatively. “And by the way, thanks for going out to see him today. I know how much he enjoys that.”
“You know I like to spend time with him, too.”
“I know. But thank you anyway.”
The meat was ready, and I added the rest of the ingredients: marsala wine, lemon juice, mushrooms, beef broth, minced shallot, diced green onions. I added another dab of butter for good measure, rewarding myself for the twenty pounds I’d lost in the last year.
“Have you talked to Joseph or Leslie yet?” I asked.
For a moment, Jane watched me as I stirred. Then, after retrieving a spoon from the drawer, she dipped the tip into the sauce and tasted it. “This is good,” she commented, raising her eyebrows.
“You sound surprised.”
“No, I’m really not. You’re actually quite the chef these days. At least compared to where you started.”
“What? You didn’t always love my cooking?”
She brought a finger to her chin. “Let’s just say burned mashed potatoes and crunchy gravy are an acquired taste.”
I smiled, knowing what she said was true. My first few experiences in the kitchen had been less than an earth-shattering success.
Jane took another taste before setting the spoon on the counter.
“Wilson? About the wedding . . . ,” she began.
I glanced at her. “Yes?”
“You do know it’s going to be expensive to get a ticket for Joseph at the last minute, right?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And the photographer isn’t cheap, even if there was a cancellation.”
I nodded. “I figured that.”
“And the cake is kind of pricey, too. For a cake, I mean.”
“No problem. It’s for a lot of people, right?”
She looked at me curiously, clearly stumped by my answers. “Well . . . I just wanted to warn you in advance so you won’t get upset.” “How could I get upset?”