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Home > Nights in Rodanthe(17)

Nights in Rodanthe(17)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

“You practiced in Raleigh?” she asked.

“I used to. I sold my practice last month.”

“You retired?”

“In a way. Actually, I’m heading off to join my son.”

“In Ecuador?”

“If he’d asked, I would have recommended the south of France, but I doubt he would have listened to me.”

She smiled. “Do they ever?”

“No. But then again, I didn’t listen to my father, either. It’s all part of growing up, I guess.”

For a moment, neither of them said anything. Adrienne added assorted spices to the chicken. Paul started to peel, his hands moving efficiently.

“I take it Jean’s worried about the storm,” he commented.

She glanced at him. “How could you tell?”

“Just the way you got quiet on the phone. I figured she was telling you what needed to be done to get the house ready.”

“You’re pretty perceptive.”

“Is it going to be hard? I mean, I’d be glad to help if you need it.”

“Be careful—I just might take you up on that. My exhusband was the one who was good with a hammer, not me. And to be honest, he wasn’t all that good, either.”

“It’s an overrated skill, I’ve always believed.” He set the first potato on the chopping block and reached for the second one. “If you don’t mind my asking, how long have you been divorced?”

She wasn’t sure she wanted to talk about this, but surprised herself by answering anyway.

“Three years. But he’d been gone for a year before that.”

“Do the kids live with you?”

“Most of the time. Right now, they’re on school break, so they’re visiting their father. How long’s it been for you?”

“Just a few months. It was final last October. But she was gone for a year before that, too.”

“She was the one who left?”

Paul nodded. “Yeah, but it was more my fault than hers. I was hardly home, and she just got fed up with it. If I were her, I probably would have done the same thing.”

Adrienne mused over his answer, thinking that the man standing next to her seemed nothing like the man he just described. “What kind of surgery did you do?”

After he told her, she looked up. Paul went on, as if anticipating questions.

“I got into it because I liked to see the obvious results of what I was doing, and there was a lot of satisfaction in knowing that I was helping people. In the beginning, it was mainly reconstructive work after accidents, or birth defects, things like that. But in the last few years, it’s changed. Now, people come in for plastic surgery. I’ve done more nose jobs in the past six months than I ever imagined possible.”

“What do I need done?” she asked playfully.

He shook his head. “Nothing at all.”

“Seriously.”

“I am being serious. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“Really?”

He raised two fingers. “Scout’s honor.”

“Were you ever a Scout?”

“No.”

She laughed but felt her cheeks redden anyway. “Well, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

When the chicken was ready, Adrienne put it into the oven and set the timer, then washed her hands again. Paul rinsed the potatoes and left them near the sink.

“What next?”

“There are tomatoes and cucumbers for the salad in the refrigerator.”

Paul moved around her, opened the door, and found them. Adrienne could smell his cologne lingering in the small space between them.

“What was it like growing up in Rocky Mount?” he asked.

Adrienne wasn’t quite sure what to say at first, but after a few minutes, she settled into the type of chitchat that was both familiar and comfortable. She shared stories of her father and mother, she mentioned the horse her father had bought for her when she was twelve, and she recalled the hours they’d spent taking care of it together and how it had taught her more about responsibility than anything she’d done to that point. Her college years were described with fondness, and she mentioned how she’d bumped into Jack at a fraternity party during her senior year. They’d dated for two years, and when she took her vows, she’d done so with the belief it would last forever. She’d trailed off then, shaking her head slightly, and turned the topic to her children, not wanting to dwell on the divorce.

As she spoke, Paul threw the salad together, topping it with the croutons she’d bought earlier, asking questions every so often, just enough to let her know he was interested in what she was saying. The animation on her face as she talked about her father and her children made him smile.

Dusk was settling in, and shadows began stretching across the room. Adrienne set the table as Paul added some more wine to both their glasses. When the meal was ready, they took their places at the table.

Over dinner, it was Paul who did most of the talking. Paul told her about his childhood on the farm, described the ordeals of medical school and the time he spent running cross-country, and spoke about some of his earlier visits to the Outer Banks. When he shared memories of his father, Adrienne considered telling him what was going on with hers, but at the last minute she held back. Jack and Martha were mentioned only in passing; so was Mark. For the most part, their conversation touched only on the surface of things, and for the time being, neither one of them was ready to go any deeper than that.

By the time they finished dinner, the wind had slowed to a breeze and the clouds balled together in the calm before the storm. Paul brought the dishes to the sink as Adrienne stored the leftovers in the refrigerator. The wine bottle was empty, the tide was coming in, and the first images of lightning began to register on the distant horizon, making the world outside flash, as if someone were taking photographs in hopes of remembering this night forever.

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