Home > The Notebook (The Notebook #1)(9)

The Notebook (The Notebook #1)(9)
Nicholas Sparks

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.

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