Home > Nights in Rodanthe(19)

Nights in Rodanthe(19)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

She laughed. “I doubt that.”

“It’s true. I didn’t.”

As they walked the hard-packed sand, Adrienne glanced at the homes behind the dunes. No other lights were on, and in the shadows, Rodanthe struck her as a ghost town.

“Do you mind if I tell you something?” she asked. “I mean, I don’t want you to take it the wrong way.”

“I won’t.”

They took a few steps as Adrienne wrestled with her words.

“Well… it’s just that when you talk about yourself, it’s almost like you’re talking about someone else. You say you used to work too much, but people like that don’t sell their practice to head off to Ecuador. You say you didn’t do crazy things, but then you tell me a story in which you did. I’m just trying to figure it out.”

Paul hesitated. He didn’t have to explain himself, not to her, not to anyone, but as he walked on under the flickering sky on a cold January evening, he suddenly realized that he wanted her to know him—really know him, in all his contradictions.

“You’re right,” he began, “because I am talking about two people. I used to be Paul Flanner the hard-driving kid who grew up to be a surgeon. The guy who worked all the time. Or Paul Flanner the husband and father with the big house in Raleigh. But these days, I’m not any of those things. Right now, I’m just trying to figure out who Paul Flanner really is, and to be honest, I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever find the answer.”

“I think everyone feels that way sometimes. But not many people would be inspired to move to Ecuador as a result.”

“Is that why you think I’m going?”

They walked in silence for a few steps before Adrienne looked at him. “No,” she said, “my guess is that you’re going so you can get to know your son.”

Adrienne saw the surprise on his face.

“It wasn’t that hard to figure out,” she said. “You hardly mentioned him all night. But if you think it’ll help, then I’m glad you’re going.”

He smiled. “Well, you’re the first. Even Mark wasn’t too thrilled when I let him know.”

“He’ll get over it.”

“You think so?”

“I hope so. That’s what I tell myself when I’m having trouble with my kids.”

Paul gave a short laugh and motioned over his shoulder. “You want to head back?” he asked.

“I was hoping you’d say that. My ears are getting cold.”

They circled back, following their own footprints in the sand. Though the moon wasn’t visible, the clouds above were shining silver. In the distance, they heard the first rumbling of thunder.

“What was your ex-husband like?”

“Jack?” She hesitated, wondering whether to try to change the subject, then decided it didn’t matter. Who was he going to tell? “Unlike you,” she finally said, “Jack thinks he found himself already. It just happened to be with someone else while we were married.”

“I’m sorry.”

“So am I. Or I was, anyway. Now it’s just one of those things. I try not to think about it.”

Paul remembered the tears he’d seen earlier. “Does that work?”

“No, but I keep trying. I mean, what else can I do?”

“You could always go to Ecuador.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice? I could come home and say something like ‘Sorry, kids, you’re on your own. Mom’s taking off for a while.’ ” She shook her head. “No, for the time being, I’m kind of stuck. At least until they’re all in college. Right now, they need as much stability as they can get.”

“Sounds like you’re a good mother.”

“I try. My kids don’t always think so, though.”

“Look at it this way—when they have their own kids, you can get your revenge.”

“Oh, I plan on it. I’ve already been practicing. How about some potato chips before dinner? No, of course you don’t have to clean your room. Sure you can stay up late….”

Paul smiled again, thinking how much he was enjoying the conversation. Enjoying her. In the silver light of the approaching storm, she looked beautiful, and he wondered how her husband could have left her.

They made their way back to the house slowly, both of them lost in thought, taking in the sounds and sights, neither feeling the need to speak.

There was comfort in that, Adrienne thought. Too many people seemed to believe that silence was a void that needed to be filled, even if nothing important was said. She’d experienced enough of that at the endless circuit of cocktail parties that she’d once attended with Jack. Her favorite moments then had been when she’d been able to slip away unobserved and spend a few minutes on a secluded porch. Sometimes there would be someone else out there, someone she didn’t know, but when they saw each other, each would nod, as if making a secret pact. No questions, no small talk… agreed.

Here, on the beach, the feeling returned. The night felt refreshing, the breeze lifting her hair and burnishing her skin. Shadows spread out before her on the sand, moving and shifting, forming into almost recognizable images, then vanishing from sight. The ocean was a swirl of liquid coal. Paul, she knew, was absorbing all those things as well; he also seemed to realize that talking now would somehow ruin it all.

They walked on in companionable silence, Adrienne more certain with every step that she wanted to spend more time with him. But that wasn’t so odd, was it? He was lonely and so was she, solitary travelers enjoying a deserted stretch of sand in an oceanside village called Rodanthe.

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