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Home > Nights in Rodanthe(10)

Nights in Rodanthe(10)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

Or was it, she wondered, that he found her boring? Granted, because they’d been married so long, there weren’t a lot of new stories to tell. Over the years, most had been recycled in slightly different versions, and both had reached the point where they knew the endings in advance, after only a few words. Instead, they did what she thought most couples did: She’d ask how work had gone, he’d ask about the kids, and they’d talk about the latest antics of one family member or another or what was happening around town. There were times that even she wished there were something more interesting to talk about, but didn’t he understand that in a few years the same thing was going to happen with Linda?

It wasn’t fair. Even her friends had said as much, and she assumed that meant they were on her side. And maybe they were, but they had a funny way of showing it, she thought. A month ago, she’d gone to a Christmas party hosted by a couple she’d known for years, and who should happen to be there but Jack and Linda. It was life in a small southern town—people forgave things like that—but Adrienne couldn’t help but feel betrayed.

Beyond the hurt and betrayal, she was lonely. She hadn’t been on a date since the day Jack had moved out. Rocky Mount wasn’t exactly a hotbed of unmarried men in their forties, and those who were single weren’t necessarily the kind of man she wanted anyway. Most of them had baggage, and she didn’t think she could tote around any more than she was already carrying. In the beginning, she told herself to be selective, and when she thought she was ready to enter the world of dating again, she mentally outlined a set of traits she was looking for. She wanted someone intelligent and kind and attractive, but more than that, she wanted someone who accepted the fact that she was raising three teenagers. It might be a problem, she suspected, but since her kids were pretty self-sufficient, she didn’t think it was the type of hurdle that would discourage most men.

Boy, was she ever wrong.

In the last three years, she hadn’t been asked out at all, and lately she’d come to believe that she never would. Good old Jack could have his fun, good old Jack could read the morning paper with someone new, but for her, it just wasn’t in the cards.

And then, of course, there were the financial worries.

Jack had given her the house and paid the court-ordered support on time, but it was just enough to make ends meet. Despite the fact that Jack earned a good living while they were married, they hadn’t saved as they should have. Like so many couples, they’d spent years caught up in the endless cycle of spending most of what they’d earned. They had new cars and took nice vacations; when big-screen televisions first hit the market, they were the first family in the neighborhood to have one in their home. She’d always believed that Jack was taking care of the future since he was the one who handled the bills. It turned out that he wasn’t, and she’d had to take a part-time job at the local library. Though she wasn’t so worried about her or the children, she was scared for her father.

A year after the divorce, her father had had a stroke, then three more in rapid succession. Now he needed around-the-clock care. The nursing home she’d found for him was excellent, but as an only child, she bore the responsibility of paying for it. She had enough left over from the settlement to cover another year, but after that, she didn’t know what she would do. She was already spending everything she earned at the part-time job she’d taken at the library. When Jean had first asked if Adrienne would mind watching the Inn while she was out of town, she had suspected that Adrienne was struggling financially and had left far more money than was necessary for the groceries. The note she’d left had told Adrienne to keep the remainder as payment for her help. Adrienne appreciated that, but charity from friends hurt her pride.

Money, though, was only part of her worries about her father. She sometimes felt he was the only person who was always on her side, and she needed her father, especially now. Spending time with him was an escape of sorts for her, and she dreaded the thought that their hours together might end because of something she did or didn’t do.

What would become of him? What would become of her?

Adrienne shook her head, forcing those questions away. She didn’t want to think about any of this, especially now. Jean had said it would be slow—only one reservation was in the books—and she’d hoped that coming here would clear her mind. She wanted to walk the beach or read a couple of novels that had been sitting on her bedstand for months; she wanted to put her feet up and watch the porpoises playing in the waves. She had hoped to find relief, but as she stood on the porch at the sea-worn Inn at Rodanthe awaiting the oncoming storm, she felt the world bearing down hard. She was middle-aged and alone, overworked and soft around the middle. Her kids were struggling, her father was sick, and she wasn’t sure how she’d be able to keep going.

That was when she started to cry, and minutes later, when she heard footsteps on the porch, she turned her head and saw Paul Flanner for the first time.

Paul had seen people cry before, thousands of times, he would guess, but it had usually been within the sterile confines of a hospital waiting room, when he was fresh from an operation and still wearing scrubs. For him, the scrubs had served as a type of shield against the personal and emotional nature of his work. Never once had he cried with those he’d spoken with, nor could he remember any of the faces of those who had once looked to him for answers. It wasn’t something that he was proud to admit, but it was the person he had once been.

But at this moment, as he looked into the red-rimmed eyes of the woman on the porch, he felt like an intruder on unfamiliar ground. His first instinct was to throw up the old defenses. Yet there was something about the way she looked that made doing so impossible. It might have been the setting or the fact that she was alone; either way, the surge of empathy was a foreign sensation, one that caught him completely off guard.

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