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    "Yes! A Japanese entertainment, with Japanese food and drinks and amusements, Miss Colpster. It will be a change for you, and no doubt will give you a great deal of pleasure."

    “I am not only sure he hasn’t, but I would wager that he wants to change her grave simply in order to have one more look at her.”

    'The merchant bows unto the seaman's star, The ploughman from the sun his season takes.'


    "I have told you," he began stiffly, "that recruiting on Malaita is impossible for a woman, and that is all I care to say--or dare."

    "Never," said Missy firmly. "I know my sins pretty well by this time. I've had time to study 'em lately; and the worst of the lot was how I played it upon all of you here. Now don't you begin! You want to know where I've been lying low all this while, and what I've been doing. I'll tell you in two twos; then I'll give you what I've got for Mr. Teesdale, and then you shall run away indoors, and back I go to the place I come from. Where's that? Over twenty miles away, in the Dandenong Ranges. It's a farm like this—What am I saying? There never was or will be a farm like this! But it isn't so unlike, either, in this and that; and I'm the girl in the kitchen there, same as Mary Jane is here, and help milk the cows, and cook the dinner, and clean up the place, and all that."

    It came to Gilhooley's turn.

    “There’s no need to carry on like an opera, Wilky,” said the doctor. “This is only your side of things.”

    Chapter 6


    "I suppose you wonder why I have come to see you, Mr. Tibbetts," said Hyane, taking a cigarette from the silver box on the table. "I rather wonder why I have the nerve to see you myself. I've come on a very delicate matter."

    NEITHER ONE of them moved as they faced each other.He hadn’t said anything, and for a second she thought he didn’t recognize her. Suddenly she felt guilty about showing up this way, without warning, and it made it harder. She had thought that she would know what to say. But she didn’t. Everything that came into her head seemed inappropriate, somehow lacking.As she stared at him, she noticed how little he’d changed since she’d last seen him. He looked good, she thought. With his shirt tucked loosely into old faded jeans, she could see the same broad shoulders she remembered, tapering down to narrow hips and a flat stomach. He was tanned, too, as if he’d worked outside all summer, and, though his hair was a little thinner and lighter than she remembered, he looked the same as he had when she’d known him last.She took a deep breath and smiled. “Hello, Noah. It’s good to see you again.”He looked at her with amazement in his eyes. Then, after shaking his head slightly, he slowly began to smile. “You too,” he stammered. He brought his hand to his chin, and she noticed he hadn’t shaved. “It’s really you, isn’t it? I can’t believe it..She heard the shock in his voice as he spoke, and surprising her it all came together—being here, seeing him. She felt something twitch inside, something deep and old, something that made her dizzy for just a second. She caught herself fighting for control. She hadn’t expected this to happen, didn’t want it to happen. She was engaged now. She hadn’t come here for this. Yet.Yet the feeling went on despite herself, and for a brief moment she felt fifteen again. Felt as she hadn’t in years, as if all her dreams could still come true. Felt as though she’d finally come home.Without another word they came together, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and he put his arms around her, drawing her close. They held each other tightly; both of them letting the fourteen years of separation dissolve in the deepening twilight.They stayed like that for a long time before she finally pulled back to look at him. Up close, she could see the changes she hadn’t noticed at first. His face had lost the softness of youth. The faint lines around his eyes had deepened. There was a new edge to him; he seemed less innocent, more cautious, and yet the way he was holding her made her realize how much she’d missed him.Her eyes brimmed with tears as they finally released each other. She laughed nervously while wiping the corners of her eyes.“Are you okay?” he asked, a thousand other questions on his face.“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cry.“It’s okay,” he said, smiling. “I still can’t believe it’s you. How did you find me?”She stepped back, trying to compose herself, wiping away the last of her tears. “I saw the story on the house in the Raleigh paper a couple of weeks ago, and I had to come and see you again.”Noah smiled broadly. “I’m glad you did.” He stepped back. “You look fantastic. You’re even prettier now than you were then.”She felt the blood in her face. Just like fourteen years ago.“Thank you. You look great, too.” And he did, no doubt about it.“So what have you been up to? Why are you here?”His questions brought her back to the present, making her realize what could happen if she wasn’t careful. Don’t let this get out of hand, she told herself; the longer it goes on, the harder it’s going to be. And she didn’t want it to get any harder. She turned away and took a deep breath, wondering how to say it, and when she finally started, her voice was quiet. “Noah, before you get the wrong idea, I did want to see you again, but there’s more to it than just that.” She paused for a second. “I came here for a reason. There’s something I have to tell you.”“What is it?”She looked away and didn’t answer for a moment, surprised that she couldn’t tell him just yet. In the silence, Noah felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. Whatever it was, it was bad.“I don’t know how to say it. I thought I did at first, but now I’m not so sure..The air was suddenly rattled by the sharp cry of a raccoon, and Clem came out from under the porch, barking gruffly. Both of them turned at the commotion, and Allie was glad for the distraction.“Is he yours?” she asked.Noah nodded, feeling the tightness in his stomach. “Actually it’s a she. Clementine’s her name. But yeah, she’s all mine.” They both watched as Clem stretched, then wandered towards the sounds. Allie’s eyes widened just a bit when she saw her limp away.“What happened to her leg?” she asked, stalling for time.“Hit by a car a few months back. Doc Harrison, the vet, called me to see if I wanted her because her owner didn’t any more. After I saw what had happened, I guess I just couldn’t let her be put down."“You were always nice like that,” she said, trying to relax. She looked past him towards the house. “You did a wonderful job restoring it. It looks perfect, just like I knew it would some day.”He turned his head in the same direction as hers while he wondered about the small talk and what she was holding back.“Thanks, that’s nice of you. It was quite a project, though. I don’t know if I would do it again.”“Of course you would,” she said. She knew exactly how he felt about this place. But then she knew how he felt about everything— or at least she had a long time ago.And with that she realized they were strangers now. Fourteen years apart was a long time. Too long.“What is it, Allie?” He turned to her, but she continued to stare at the house.“I’m being rather silly, aren’t I?” she asked, trying to smile.“What do you mean?”“This whole thing. Showing up out of the blue, not knowing what I want to say. You must think I’m crazy.”“You’re not crazy,” he said gently. He reached for her hand, and she let him hold it as they stood next to one another. He went on:“Even though I don’t know why, I can see this is hard for you. Why don’t we go for a walk?”“Like we used to?”“Why not? I think we both could use one.”She hesitated and looked to his front door. “Do you need to tell anyone?”He shook his head. “There’s no one to tell. It’s just me and Clem.”Even though she had asked, she had suspected there wouldn’t be anyone else, and inside she didn’t know how to feel about that. But it did make what she wanted to say a little harder. It would have been easier if there was someone else.They started towards the river and turned onto a path near the bank. She let go of his hand and walked on with just enough distance between them so that they couldn’t accidentally touch.He looked at her. She was still pretty, with thick hair and soft eyes, and she moved so gracefully that it seemed as though she were gliding. He’d seen beautiful women before, women who caught his eye, but to his mind they usually lacked the traits he found most desirable. Traits like intelligence, confidence, strength of spirit, passion, traits that inspired others to greatness, traits he aspired to himself.Allie had those traits, he knew, and as they walked now he sensed them once again lingering beneath the surface. “A living poem” had always been the words that came to mind when he tried to describe her to others.“How long have you been back here?” she asked as the path gave way to a small grass hill.“Since last December. I worked up north for a while, then spent the last three years in Europe.”She looked at him with questions in her eyes. “The war?”He nodded and she went on.“I thought you might be there. I’m glad you made it out okay.”“Me too,” he said.“Are you glad to be back home?”“Yeah. My roots are here. This is where I’m supposed to be.” He paused. “But what about you?” He asked the question softly, suspecting the worst.It was a long moment before she answered. “I’m engaged.”He looked down when she said it, suddenly feeling just a bit weaker. So that was it. That’s what she needed to tell him.“Congratulations,” he finally said, wondering how convincing he sounded. “When’s the big day?”“Three weeks. Lon wanted a November wedding.”“Lon?”“Lon Hammond Junior. My fiancé”He nodded. The Hammonds were one of the most powerful and influential families in the state. Cotton money. Unlike that of his own father, the death of Lon Hammond Senior had made the front page of the newspaper.“I’ve heard of them. His father built quite a business. Did Lon take over for him?”She shook her head. “No, he’s a lawyer. He has his own practice.”“With his name, he must be busy.”“He is. He works a lot.”He thought he heard something in her tone, and the next question came automatically. “Does he treat you well?”She didn’t answer right away, as if she were considering the question for the first time. Then: “Yes. He’s a good man, Noah. You’d like him.”Her voice was distant when she answered, or at least he thought it was. Noah wondered if it was just his mind playing tricks on him.“How’s your daddy doing?” she asked.Noah took a couple of steps before answering. “He passed on earlier this year, right after I got back.”“I’m sorry,” she said softly.He nodded, and they walked on in silence.They reached the top of the hill and stopped. The oak tree was in the distance, with the sun glowing orange behind it. Allie could feel his eyes on her as she stared in that direction.“A lot of memories there, Allie.”She smiled. “I know. I saw it when I came in. Do you remember the day we spent there?”“Yes,” he answered, volunteering no more.“Do you ever think about it?”"Sometimes,” he said. “Usually when I’m working out this way.It sits on my property now.”"You bought it?”I just couldn’t bear to see it turned into kitchen cabinets.”She laughed under her breath, feeling strangely pleased about that. “Do you still read poetry?He nodded. “Yeah. I never stopped. I guess it’s in my blood.”“Do you know, you’re the only poet I’ve ever met.”“I’m no poet. I read, but I can’t write a verse. I’ve tried.”“You’re still a poet, Noah Taylor Calhoun.” Her voice softened.“I still think about it a lot. It was the first time anyone ever read poetry to me. In fact, it’s the only time.”Her comment made both of them drift back and remember as they slowly circled back to the house, following a new path that passed near the dock.As the sun dropped a little lower and the sky turned orange, he asked: "So, how long are you staying?”“I don’t know. Not long. Maybe until tomorrow or the next day.”"Is your flanc6 here on business?” She shook her head. “No, he’s still in Raleigh.”Noah raised his eyebrows. “Does he know you’re here?”She shook her head again and answered slowly. “No. I told him I was looking for antiques. He wouldn’t understand my coming here.”Noah was a little surprised. It was one thing to come and visit, but it was an entirely different matter to hide the truth from her fiancé.The gravel crunched beneath their feet as they walked. He asked: “Allie, do you love him?”She answered automatically. “Yes, I love him.”The words hurt. But again he thought he heard something in her tone, as if she were saying it to convince herself. He stopped and gently took her shoulders in his hands, making her face him. The fading sunlight reflected in her eyes as he spoke.“If you’re happy, Allie, and you love him. I won’t try to stop you from going back to him. But if there’s a part of you that isn’t sure, then don’t do it. This isn’t the kind of thing you go into halfway.”Her answer came almost too quickly. “I’m making the right decision. Noah.”He stared for a second, wondering if he believed her. Then he nodded and they began to walk again. He said: I’m not making this easy for you, am I.?”She smiled a little. "It’s okay. I really can’t blame you.”"I’m sorry anyway.""Don’t be. There’s no reason to be sorry. I’m the one who should be apologizing. Maybe I should have written.”He shook his head. "I’m glad you came. It’s good to see you again. You were the best friend I ever had, Allie. I’d still like to be friends, even if you are engaged, and even if it is just for a couple of days. How about we just kind of get to know each other again?”She thought about it, and decided that since he knew about her engagement, it would probably be all right. Or at least not wrong.She smiled slightly and nodded. "I’d like that.”"Good. How about dinner? I know a place that serves the best crab in town.”"Sounds great. Where?”"My house. I’ve had the traps out all week, and I saw that I had some good ones caged a couple of days ago. Do you mind?”"No, that sounds fine.”He smiled and pointed over his shoulder with his thumb."Great. They’re at the dock. I’ll just be a couple of minutes.”Allie watched him walk away and noticed the tension she’d felt when telling him about her engagement beginning to fade. Closing her eyes, she ran her hands through her hair and let the breeze fan her cheek. She took a deep breath and held it for a moment, feeling the muscles in her shoulders relax as she exhaled. Finally, opening her eyes, she stared at the beauty that surrounded her. She always loved evenings like this, when the faint aroma of autumn leaves rode on soft southern winds. She loved the trees and the sounds they made. Listening to them helped her relax even more. After a moment, she turned towards the dock and looked at Noah.God, he looked good. Even after all this time.She watched him as he reached for a rope that hung in the water. He began to pull it, and despite the darkening sky she saw the muscles in his arm flex as he lifted the cage from the water. He let it hang over the river for a moment and shook it, letting most of the water escape. After setting the trap on the dock, he opened it and began to remove the crabs one by one, placing them into a bucket.She looked around and realized she had forgotten how fresh and beautiful everything seemed here. Over her shoulder, as she walked over to join Noah, she saw he had left a couple of lights on in the house. It seemed to be the only house around. At least the only one with electricity.She stepped on the dock and it creaked under her foot. The sound reminded her of a rusty squeezebox. Noah glanced up, then went back to checking the crabs, making sure they were the right size. She walked to the rocker that sat on the dock and touched it, running her hand along the back. She could picture him sitting in it, fishing, thinking, reading. It was old and weather-beaten, rough-feeling. She wondered how much time he spent here alone, and about his thoughts at times like those.A compulsion had driven her here, and for the first time in three weeks the feeling was gone. She’d needed Noah to know about her engagement, to understand, to accept it—she was sure of that now. While thinking of him, she was reminded of something they shared the summer they were together. With head down, she paced around slowly until she found it—the carving. Noah loves Allie, in a heart. Carved into the dock a few days before she’d left.A breeze broke the stillness and chilled her, making her cross her arms. She stood that way, alternately looking down at the caning and then towards the river, until she heard him reach her side. She could feel his closeness, his warmth.“It’s so peaceful here,” she said, her voice dreamlike.“I know. I come down here a lot now just to be close to the water. It makes me feel good. Come on, let’s go. The mosquitoes are getting vicious, and I’m starved.” THE SKY had turned black and they started towards the house. In the silence Allie’s mind wandered and she felt a little light-headed. She wondered what he was thinking about her being here and wasn’t exactly sure if she knew herself. When they reached the house a couple of minutes later, Clem greeted them on the back porch.Noah set the bucket by the door, then led the way inside to the kitchen. It was on the right, large and smelling of new wood. The cabinets had been done in oak, like the floor, and the windows were large and faced east, allowing the light from the morning sun. It was a tasteful restoration, not overdone as was so often the case when homes like this were rebuilt.“Do you mind if I look around?”“No, go ahead. I did some shopping earlier and I still have to put the groceries away.”She toured the house for the next few minutes, walking through the rooms, noticing how wonderful it looked. She came down the stairs, turned towards the kitchen, and saw his profile. For a second he looked like a young man of seventeen again, and it made her pause a split second before going on. Damn, she thought, get a hold of yourself. Remember that you’re engaged now.He was standing by the counter; a couple of cabinet doors open wide, empty grocery bags on the floor, whistling quietly.“It’s unbelievable, Noah. How long did the restoration take?”He looked up from the last bag he was unpacking. “Almost a year."“Did you do it all yourself?”He laughed. “No. I always thought I would when I was young, and I started that way. But it was just too much. It would have taken years, and so I ended up hiring some people. . . actually a lot of people. But even with them it was still a lot of work, and most of the time I didn’t stop until past midnight.”“Why’d you work so hard?”Ghosts, he wanted to say, but didn’t.“I don’t know. Just wanted to finish, I guess. Do you want anything to drink before I start dinner?”“What do you have?”“Not much, really. Beer, tea, coffee.”“Tea sounds good.”He gathered the grocery bags and put them away, then walked to a small room off the kitchen before returning with a box of tea. He pulled out a couple of tea bags and put them by the stove, then filled the kettle. After standing it on the burner, he lit a match and she heard the sound of flames as they came to life.“It’ll be just a minute,” he said, “this stove heats up pretty quick.”“That’s fine.”When the kettle whistled, he poured two cups and handed one to her. She smiled and took a sip.“I’m going to get the crabs in to marinate for a few minutes before I steam ‘em,” he said, putting his cup on the counter. He went to the cupboard and removed a large pot with a steamer and lid. He brought the pot to the sink, added water, then carried it to the stove.“Can I give you a hand with something?”He answered over his shoulder: “Sure. How about cutting up some vegetables to fry. There’s plenty in the icebox, and you can find a bowl over there.”He motioned to the cabinet near the sink, and she took another sip of tea before setting her cup on the counter and retrieving the bowl. She carried it to the icebox and found some okra, courgettes, onions and carrots on the bottom shelf. Noah joined her in front of the open door, and she moved to make room for him. She could smell him as he stood next to her—clean, familiar, distinctive—and felt his arm brush against her as he leaned over and reached inside. He removed a beer and a bottle of hot sauce, then returned to the stove.Noah opened the beer and poured it in the water, then added the hot sauce and some other seasoning. After stirring the water to make sure the powders dissolved, he went to the back door to get the crabs.He paused for a moment before going back inside and stared at Allie, watching her cut the carrots. As he did that, he wondered again why she had come, especially now that she was engaged. None of this made much sense to him. But then Allie had always been surprising.He smiled, remembering the way she had been. Fiery, spontaneous, passionate—as he imagined most artists to be. And she was definitely that. Artistic talent like hers was a gift. He remembered seeing some paintings in the museums in New York and thinking that her work was just as good.She had given him a painting before she’d left that summer. It hung above the fireplace in the living room. She’d called it a picture of her dreams, and to him it had seemed extremely sensual. When he looked at it, and he often did late in the evening, he could see desire in the colours and the lines, and if he focused carefully he could imagine what she had been thinking with every stroke.A dog barked in the distance, and Noah realized he had been standing with the door open a long time. He closed it quickly and went into the kitchen.“How’s it going?” he asked, seeing she was nearly finished.“Good. I’m almost done here. Anything else for dinner?”“I have some homemade bread that I was planning on. From a neighbour,” he added as he put the pail in the sink. He began to rinse the crabs, holding them under the tap, then letting them scurry around the sink while he rinsed the next one. Allie picked up her cup and came over to watch him.“Aren’t you afraid they’ll pinch you?”“No. Just grab ‘em like this,” he said, demonstrating.She smiled. “I forget you’ve done this your whole life.”She leaned against the counter, standing close to him, and emptied her cup. When the crabs were ready he put them in the pot on the stove. He washed his hands, turning to speak to her as he did so.“You want to sit on the porch for a few minutes? I’d like to let them marinate for a half-hour.”“Sure,” she said.He wiped his hands, and together they went to the back porch. Noah flicked on the light as they went outside, and he sat in the older rocker, offering the newer one to her. When he saw her cup was empty, he went inside for a moment and emerged with a refill and a beer for himself. He held out the cup and she took it, sipping again before she put it on the table beside the chairs.“You were sitting out here when I came, weren’t you?”“Yeah. I sit out here every night. It’s a habit now.”“I can see why,” she said as she looked around. “So, what is it you do these days?”“Actually, I don’t do anything but work on the house right now.It satisfies my creative urges.”“How can you... I mean..."“Morris Goldman. My old boss from up north. He offered me a part of the business just as I enlisted, and died before I got home. When I got back to the states, his lawyers gave me a cheque big enough to buy this place and fix it up.”She laughed under her breath. “You always told me you’d find a way to do it.”They both sat quietly for a moment, thinking back again. Allie took another sip of tea.“Do you remember sneaking over here the night you first told me about this place?”He nodded, and she went on: “I got home a little late that evening, and my parents were furious when I finally came in. I can still picture my daddy standing in the living room smoking a cigarette, my mother on the sofa staring straight ahead. I swear, they looked as if a family member had died. That was the first time my parents knew I was serious about you, and my mother had a long talk with me later that night. She said to me, ‘I’m sure you think that I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I do. It’s just that sometimes our future is dictated by what we are, as opposed to what we want.’ I remember being really hurt when she said that.”“You told me about it the next day. It hurt my feelings, too. I liked your parents and I had no idea they didn’t like me.”“It wasn’t that they didn’t like you. They didn’t think you deserved me.”“There’s not much difference.”“I know that I always did. Maybe that’s why my mother and I always seem to have a distance between us when we talk.”“How do you feel about it now?”“The same as I did back then. That it’s wrong, that it isn’t fair. It was a terrible thing for a girl to learn, that status is more important than feelings.”Noah said nothing.“I’ve thought about you ever since that summer,” she said.“You have?”“Why wouldn’t you think so?” She seemed genuinely surprised.“You never answered my letters.”“You wrote?”“Dozens of letters. I wrote to you for two years without receiving a single reply.”She slowly shook her head before lowering her eyes. “I didn’t know.. .” she said finally, quietly, and he knew it must have been her mother checking the mail, removing the letters without her knowledge. It was what he had always suspected, and he watched as Allie came to the same realization.“It was wrong of her to do that, Noah, and I’m sorry she did. But try to understand. Once I left, she probably thought it would be easier for me to just let it go. She never understood how much you meant to me, and, to be honest. I don’t even know if she ever loved my father the way I loved you. In her mind, she was just trying to protect my feelings, and she probably thought the best way to do that was to hide the letters you sent.”“That wasn’t her decision to make,” he said quietly.“I know.”“Would it have made a difference even if you’d got them?”“Of course. I always wondered what you were up to.”“No, I mean with us. Do you think we would have made it’?”It took a moment for her to answer. “I don’t know, Noah. I really don’t, and you don’t either. We’re not the same people we were then. We’ve changed. Both of us.”She paused. He didn’t respond, and in the silence she looked towards the creek. She went on. “But yes, Noah, I think we would have. At least, I’d like to think we would have.”He nodded, looked down, then turned away. “What’s Lon like?”She hesitated, not expecting the question. Bringing up Lon’s name brought slight feelings of guilt to the surface, and for a moment she didn’t know how to answer. She reached for her cup, took another sip of tea, then spoke quietly.“Lon’s handsome, charming and successful. He’s kind to me, he makes me laugh, and I know he loves me in his own way.” She collected her thoughts. “But there’s always going to be something missing in our relationship.”She surprised herself with her answer but knew it was true nonetheless. And she also knew by looking at him that Noah had suspected the answer in advance when he asked, “Why?”She shrugged and her voice was barely above a whisper. “I guess I still look for the kind of love we had that summer.”Noah thought about what she had said, thought about the relationships he’d had since he’d last seen her.“How about you’?” she asked. “Did you ever think about us?”“All the time. I still do.”“Are you seeing anyone’?”“No,” he answered, shaking his head. He finished his beer. “I’m going to go and start the water. Can I get you anything’?”She shook her head, and Noah went to the kitchen and put the crabs in the steamer and the bread in the oven. He found some flour and cornflour for the vegetables, coated them, and put some fat into the frying pan. After turning the heat on low, he set a timer and pulled another beer from the icebox before heading back to the porch. And while he was doing those things, he thought about Allie and the love that was missing from both their lives.Allie, too, was thinking. About Noah, about herself, about a lot of things. For a moment she wished that she weren’t engaged, but then quickly cursed herself. It wasn’t Noah she loved; she loved what they once had been. Besides, it was normal to feel this way. Her first real love, the only man she’d ever been with—how could she expect to forget him?Yet was it normal for her insides to twitch whenever he came near? Was it normal to confess things she could never tell anyone else? Was it normal to come here three weeks before her wedding day?“No, it’s not,” she finally whispered to herself as she looked to the evening sky, “there’s nothing normal about any of this.”Noah came out at that moment and she smiled at him, glad he’d come back so she didn’t have to think about it any more.“It’s going to take a few minutes,” he said as he sat down.“That’s fine. I’m not that hungry yet.”He looked at her then, and she saw the softness in his eyes. “I’m glad you came, Allie,” he said.“Me too. I almost didn’t, though.”“Why did you come?”I was compelled, she wanted to say, but didn’t.“Just to see you, to find out what you’ve been up to. To see how you are.”He wondered if that was all, but didn’t question further. Instead he changed the subject. “By the way. I’ve been meaning to ask, do you still paint?”She shook her head. “Not any more.”He was stunned. “Why not? You have so much talent.”“It’s a long story.”“I’ve got all night,” he answered.“Did you really think I was talented?” she asked quietly.“C’mon,” he said, reaching out for her hand. “I want to show you something.”She got up and followed him through the door to the living room. He stopped in front of the fireplace and pointed to the painting that hung above the mantelpiece. She gasped, surprised she hadn’t noticed it earlier, more surprised it was here at all.“You kept it’?”“Of course I kept it. It’s wonderful.”She gave him a sceptical look, and he explained. “It makes me feel alive when I look at it. Sometimes I have to get up and touch it. It’s just so real—the shapes, the shadows, the colours. It’s incredible, Allie. You mean to tell me no one has ever told you that before?”“My professor did,” she said, “but I guess I didn’t believe him.” He knew there was more. Allie looked away before continuing “I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a child. I guess that once I got a little older I began to think I was good at it. I enjoyed it too. I remember working on this painting that summer, adding to it every day, changing it as our relationship changed. I don’t even remember how it started or what I wanted it to be, but somehow it evolved into this.“I remember being unable to stop painting after I went home that summer. I think it was my way of avoiding the pain I was going through. Anyway. I ended up majoring in art in college because it was something I had to do; I remember spending hours in the studio all by myself and enjoyed every minute. I loved the freedom I felt when I created, the way it made me feel to make something beautiful. Just before I graduated, my professor, who happened to also be the critic for the paper, told me I had a lot of talent. He told me I should try my luck as an artist. But I didn’t listen to him.”She stopped for a moment, gathering her thoughts.‘My parents didn’t think it was proper for someone like me to paint for a living. I just stopped after a while. I haven’t touched a brush in years.” She stared at the painting. “I’m not sure if I can paint any more. It’s been a long time.”“You can still do it. Allie. I know you can. You have a talent that comes from inside you, from your heart, not from your fingers. What you have can’t ever go away. It’s what other people only dream about. You’re an artist, Allie.”The words were spoken with such sincerity that she knew he wasn’t saying it just to be nice. He truly believed in her ability, and for some reason that meant more to her than she expected. She turned to face him. She reached over and touched his hand, hesitantly, gently, amazed that after all these years had somehow known exactly what she’d needed to hear. When their eyes locked, she once again realized how special he was.And for just a fleeting moment, a tiny wisp of time that hung in the air like fireflies in summer skies, she wondered if she was in love with him again. THE TIMER WENT off in the kitchen, and Noah turned away, strangely affected by what had just happened between them. Her eyes had spoken to him and whispered something he longed to hear; yet he couldn’t stop the voice inside his head, her voice that had told him of her love for another man. He silently cursed the timer as he walked to the kitchen and removed the bread from the oven. He saw that the frying pan was ready. He added the vegetables and heard them begin to crackle. Then he got some but?ter out of the icebox, spread some on the bread and melted a hit more for the crabs.Allie had followed him into the kitchen and cleared her throat.“Can I get the table ready?”Noah used the bread knife as a pointer. “Sure, plates are over there. Utensils and napkins there. Make sure you get plenty— crabs can be messy.” He couldn’t look at her as he spoke. He didn’t want to be mistaken about what had just happened between them.Allie too, was wondering about the moment and feeling warm as she thought of it. The words he’d spoken replayed in her head as she found everything she needed for the table settings. Noah handed her the bread and their fingers touched briefly.He turned his attention back to the frying pan and stirred the vegetables. He lifted the lid of the steamer, saw the crabs still had a minute, and let them cook some more. He was more composed now and returned to small talk, easy conversation.“Have you ever had crab before?”“A couple of times. But only in salads.”He laughed. “Then you’re in for an adventure. Hold on a sec?ond.” He disappeared upstairs for a moment, then returned with a navy-blue button-down shirt. He held it out for her.“Here, put this on. I don’t want you to stain your dress.”Allie put it on and smelt the fragrance that lingered in the shirt—his smell, distinctive, natural.“Don’t worry.” he said, seeing her expression, “it’s clean.”She laughed. “I know. It just reminds me of our first real date. You gave me your jacket that night, remember?”He nodded.The vegetables and crabs were ready at about the same time. “Be careful, they’re hot.” he said as he handed them to her, and they sat across from each other at the small wooden table. Then realizing the tea was still on the counter, Allie stood and brought it over. After putting some vegetables and bread on their plates, Noah added a crab, and Allie sat for a moment, staring at it.“It looks like a bug.”“A good bug, though,” he said. “Here, let me show you how it’s done.”He made it look easy, removing the meat and putting it on her plate. Allie crushed the legs too hard the first time and had to use her fingers to get the shells away from the meat. She felt clumsy, worrying that he saw every mistake, but then she realized her own insecurity. He didn’t care about things like that He never had. “So, tell me everything you’ve been up to since I saw you last,” she asked.They started to talk then, making up for lost time. Noah talked about leaving New Bern, about working in the shipyard and at the scrap yard in New Jersey. He spoke fondly of Morris Goldman and touched on the war a little, and told her how much he missed his father. Allie talked about going to college, painting, and her hours spent volunteering at the hospital. She talked about her family and Mends and the charities she was involved with. Neither of them brought up anybody they had dated since they’d last seen each other. Even Lon was ignored, and though both of them noticed the omission, neither mentioned it.Afterwards Allie tried to remember the last time she and Lon had talked this way. Although he listened well and they seldom argued, he was not the type of man to talk like this. Like her father, he wasn’t comfortable sharing feelings. She’d tried to explain that she needed to be closer to him, but it had never seemed to make a difference.Sitting here now, she realized what she’d been missing.The sky grew darker and the moon rose higher as the evening wore on. And without either of them being conscious of it, they began to regain the intimacy, the bond of familiarity, they had once shared. THEY FINISHED dinner, both pleased with the meal, neither talking much now. Noah looked at his watch and saw that it was getting late. The stars were out in full, the crickets a little quieter. He had enjoyed talking to Allie and wondered what she’d thought about his life, hoping it would somehow make a difference, if it could.He got up and refilled the kettle. They both brought the dishes to the sink and cleaned the table, and he poured two more cups of hot water, adding tea bags to both.“How about the porch again?” he asked, handing her the cup, and she agreed, leading the way.He grabbed a quilt for her in case she got cold, and soon they had taken their places again, the quilt over her legs, rockers moving. Noah watched her from the corner of his eye. God, she’s beautiful, he thought. And inside he ached.For something had happened during dinner.Quite simply, he had fallen in love again. He knew that now as they sat next to one another. Fallen in love with a new Allie, not just her memory. But then he had never really stopped, and this, he realized, was his destiny.“It’s been quite a night.” he said, his voice softer now.“Yes, it has.” she said, “a wonderful night.”Noah glanced up at the stars, their twinkling lights reminding him that she would he leaving soon, and he felt almost empty inside. This was a night he wanted never to end. How should he tell her? What could he say that would make her stay’?He didn’t know. And thus the decision was made to say nothing. And he realized then that he had failed.The rockers moved in quiet rhythm.“Talk to me,” she finally said, her voice sensual. Or was his mind playing tricks’?“What should I say?”“Talk like you did to me under the oak tree.”And he did, reciting distant passages, toasting the night. Whitman and Thomas, because he loved the images, Tennyson and Browning, because their themes felt so familiar.She rested her head against the back of the rocker, closing her eyes. It wasn’t just the poems or his voice that did it. It was all of it, the whole greater than the sum of the parts. She didn’t try to break it down, didn’t want to, because it wasn’t meant to he listened to that way. Poetry, she thought, wasn’t written to he analysed: it was meant to inspire without reason, to touch without understanding.They rocked for a while, drinking tea, sitting quietly, drifting in their thoughts. The compulsion that had driven her here was gone now—she was glad of this—but she worried about the feelings that had taken its place, the stirrings that had begun to sift and swirl in her pores like gold dust in river pans. She’d tried to deny them, hide from them, but now she realized that she didn’t want them to stop.Lon could not evoke these feelings in her. He never had and probably never would. Maybe that was why she had never been to bed with him. She had always used the excuse that she wanted to wait until marriage. He took it well, usually, and she sometimes wondered how hurt he would be if he ever found out about Noah.But there was something else that made her want to wait, and it had to do with Lon himself. He was driven in his work, and it always came first. For him there was no time for poems and wasted evenings on porches. She knew this was why he was successful, and part of her respected him for that. But she also sensed it wasn’t enough. She wanted something more. Passion and romance, perhaps, or quiet conversations in candlelit rooms, or perhaps something as simple as not being second.Noah, too, was sifting through his thoughts. As he rocked, he remembered the thousands of empty nights he had spent since they’d last seen each other. Seeing her again brought all those feelings to the surface, and he found it impossible to press them back down. He knew then he wanted to make love to her again and to have her love in return. It was what he needed most in the world.But he also realized it could never be. Now that she was engaged.Allie knew by his silence that he was thinking about her and found that she revelled in it. She thought about their conversation at dinner and wondered about loneliness. For some reason she couldn’t picture him reading poetry to someone else or even sharing his dreams with another woman. He didn’t seem the type. Either that, or she didn’t want to believe it.She put down the tea, then ran her hands through her hair, closing her eyes as she did so.“Are you tired?” he asked, finally breaking free from his thoughts.“A little. I should really he going in a couple of minutes.”“I know.” he said, nodding, his tone neutral.She didn’t get up right away. Instead she picked up the cup and drank the last swallow of tea, feeling it warm her throat. She took the evening in. Moon higher now, temperature dropping.She looked at Noah. A scar was visible on the side of his face that hadn’t been there before. She wondered if it had happened during the war. He hadn’t mentioned it and she hadn’t asked, mostly because she didn’t want to imagine him being hurt.“I should go,” she finally said, handing the quilt back to him.Noah nodded, then stood without a word. He carried the quilt, and the two of them walked to her car while fallen leaves crunched beneath their feet. She started to take off the shirt he’d lent her as he opened the door, but he stopped her.“Keep it,” he said. “I want you to have it.”She didn’t ask why, because she wanted to keep it, too. She readjusted it and crossed her arms afterwards to ward off the chill. For some reason, as she stood there, she was reminded of standing on her front porch after a high-school dance, waiting for a kiss.“I had a great time tonight,” he said, “thank you for finding me.”“I did, too,” she answered.He summoned his courage. “Will I see you tomorrow?”A simple question. She knew what the answer should be. “I don’t think we should,” was all she had to say, and it would end right here and now. But for a second the demon of choice confronted her, teased her, challenged her. Why couldn’t she say it? As she looked in his eyes to find the answer she needed, she saw the man she’d once fallen in love with, and suddenly it all came clear.“I’d like that.”Noah was surprised. He hadn’t expected her to answer this way. He wanted to touch her then, to take her in his arms, but he didn’t.“Can you be here about noon?”“Sure. What do you want to do?”“You’ll see,” he answered. “I know just the place to go.”“Have I ever been there before?”“No, but it’s a special place. You’ll love it.”She moved away before he could attempt a kiss. She didn’t know if he would try but knew for some reason that, if he did, she would have a hard time stopping him. She slid behind the wheel, breathing a sigh of relief. He shut the door for her, and she started the engine. As the car idled, she rolled down the window just a hit.“See you tomorrow,” she said, her eyes reflecting the moonlight.Noah waved as she turned the car around and then drove up the lane, heading hack towards town. He watched until the lights vanished behind far-off oak trees and the engine noise was gone. Clem wandered up to him and he squatted down to pet her, paying special attention to her neck, scratching the spot she couldn’t reach any more. Then they returned to the back porch side by side.He sat in the rocker again, trying once more to fathom the evening that had just passed. Replaying it. Running it in slow motion. “She’s engaged,” he finally whispered, and then was silent for hours, his rocker making the only noise. The night was quiet, with little activity except for Clem, who checked on him occasionally as if to ask, “Are you all right?”And some time after midnight on that clear October evening, Noah was overcome with longing. And if anyone had seen him, they would have seen what looked like an old man, someone who’d aged a lifetime in just a couple of hours. Someone bent over in his rocker with his face in his hands and tears in his eyes.He didn’t know how to stop them.


    ‘If the worst comes to the worst I can die in your defence,’ said I; ‘but the difficulties are great.’

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