Home > A Walk To Remember(8)

A Walk To Remember(8)
Nicholas Sparks

“But if someone asked you to go, you might?”

It took a moment for her to answer.

“I’m not sure,” she said, thinking carefully. “I suppose I might go, if I got the chance. I’ve never been to a homecoming dance before.”

“They’re fun,” I said quickly. “Not too much fun, but fun.” Especially when compared to my other options, I didn’t add.

She smiled at my turn of phrase. “I’d have to talk to my father, of course, but if he said it was okay, then I guess I could.”

In the tree beside the porch, a bird started to chirp noisily, as if he knew I wasn’t supposed to be here. I concentrated on the sound, trying to calm my nerves. Just two days ago I couldn’t have imagined myself even thinking about it, but suddenly there I was, listening to myself as I spoke the magic words.

“Well, would you like to go to the dance with me?”

I could tell she was surprised. I think she believed that the little lead-up to the question probably had to do with someone else asking her. Sometimes teenagers sent their friends out to “scout the terrain,” so to speak, so as not to face possible rejection. Even though Jamie wasn’t much like other teenagers, I’m sure she was familiar with the concept, at least in theory.

Instead of answering right away, though, Jamie glanced away for a long moment. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach because I assumed she was going to say no. Visions of my mother, puke, and Carey flooded through my mind, and all of a sudden I regretted the way I’d behaved toward her all these years. I kept remembering all the times I’d teased her or called her father a fornicator or simply made fun of her behind her back. Just when I was feeling awful about the whole thing and imagining how I would ever be able to avoid Carey for five hours, she turned and faced me again. She had a slight smile on her face.

“I’d love to,” she finally said, “on one condition.”

I steadied myself, hoping it wasn’t something too awful.

“Yes?”

“You have to promise that you won’t fall in love with me.”

I knew she was kidding by the way she laughed, and I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. Sometimes, I had to admit, Jamie had a pretty good sense of humor.

I smiled and gave her my word.

Chapter 3

As a general rule, Southern Baptists don’t dance. In Beaufort, however, it wasn’t a rule that was ever strictly enforced. The minister before Hegbert—don’t ask me what his name was—took sort of a lax view about school dances as long as they were chaperoned, and because of that, they’d become a tradition of sorts. By the time Hegbert came along, it was too late to change things. Jamie was pretty much the only one who’d never been to a school dance and frankly, I didn’t know whether she even knew how to dance at all.

I admit that I also had some concerns about what she would wear, though it wasn’t something I would tell her. When Jamie went to the church socials—which were encouraged by Hegbert—she usually wore an old sweater and one of the plaid skirts we saw in school every day, but the homecoming dance was supposed to be special. Most of the girls bought new dresses and the boys wore suits, and this year we were bringing in a photographer to take our pictures. I knew Jamie wasn’t going to buy a new dress because she wasn’t exactly well-off. Ministering wasn’t a profession where people made a lot of money, but of course ministers weren’t in it for monetary gain, they were in it for the long haul, if you know what I mean. But I didn’t want her to wear the same thing she wore to school every day, either. Not so much for me—I’m not that cold-hearted—but because of what others might say. I didn’t want people to make fun of her or anything.

The good news, if there was any, was that Eric didn’t rib me too bad about the whole Jamie situation because he was too busy thinking about his own date. He was taking Margaret Hays, who was the head cheerleader at our school. She wasn’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but she was nice in her own way. By nice, of course, I’m talking about her legs. Eric offered to double-date with me, but I turned him down because I didn’t want to take any chances with Eric teasing Jamie or anything like that. He was a good guy, but he could be kind of heartless sometimes, especially when he had a few shots of bourbon in him.

The day of the dance was actually quite busy for me. I spent most of the afternoon helping to decorate the gym, and I had to get to Jamie’s about a half hour early because her father wanted to talk to me, though I didn’t know why. Jamie had sprung that one on me just the day before, and I can’t say I was exactly thrilled by the prospect of it. I figured he was going to talk about temptation and the evil path it can lead us to. If he brought up fornication, though, I knew I would die right there on the spot. I said small prayers all day long in the hope of avoiding this conversation, but I wasn’t sure if God would put my prayers on the front burner, if you know what I mean, because of the way I’d behaved in the past. I was pretty nervous just thinking about it.

After I showered I put on my best suit, swung by the florist to pick up Jamie’s corsage, then drove to her house. My mom had let me borrow the car, and I parked it on the street directly in front of Jamie’s house. We hadn’t turned the clocks back yet, so it was still light out when I got there, and I strolled up the cracked walkway to her door. I knocked and waited for a moment, then knocked again. From behind the door I heard Hegbert say, “I’ll be right there,” but he wasn’t exactly racing to the door. I must have stood there for two minutes or so, looking at the door, the moldings, the little cracks in the windowsills. Off to the side were the chairs that Jamie and I had sat in just a few days back. The one I sat in was still turned in the opposite direction. I guess they hadn’t sat there in the last couple of days.

Finally the door creaked open. The light coming from the lamp inside shadowed Hegbert’s face slightly and sort of reflected through his hair. He was old, like I said, seventy-two years by my reckoning. It was the first time I’d ever seen him up close, and I could see all the wrinkles on his face. His skin really was translucent, even more so than I’d imagined.

“Hello, Reverend,” I said, swallowing my trepidation. “I’m here to take Jamie to the homecoming dance.”

“Of course you are,” he said. “But first, I wanted to talk with you.”

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