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Home > Nights in Rodanthe(4)

Nights in Rodanthe(4)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

Paul

When she finished reading, Adrienne set aside the letter and reached for the conch they’d stumbled across on a long-ago Sunday afternoon. Even now it smelled of brine, of timelessness, of the primordial scent of life itself. It was medium sized, perfectly formed, and without cracks, something nearly impossible to find in the rough surf of the Outer Banks after a storm. An omen, she’d thought then, and she remembered lifting it to her ear and saying that she could hear the sound of the ocean. At that, Paul had laughed, explaining that it was the ocean she was hearing. He’d put his arms around her then and whispered: “It’s high tide, or didn’t you notice?”

Adrienne thumbed through the other contents, removing what she needed for her talk with Amanda, wishing she had more time with the rest of it. Maybe later, she thought. She slid the remaining items into the bottom drawer, knowing there was no need for Amanda to see those things. Grabbing the box, Adrienne stood from the bed and smoothed her skirt.

Her daughter would be arriving shortly.

Two

Adrienne was in the kitchen when she heard the front door open and close; a moment later, Amanda was moving through the living room.

“Mom?”

Adrienne set the box on the kitchen counter. “In here,” she called.

When Amanda pushed through the swinging doors into the kitchen, she found her mother sitting at the table, an unopened bottle of wine before her.

“What’s going on?” Amanda asked.

Adrienne smiled, thinking how pretty her daughter was. With light brown hair and hazel eyes to offset her high cheekbones, she had always been lovely. Though an inch shorter than Adrienne, she carried herself with the posture of a dancer and seemed taller. She was thin, too, a little too thin in Adrienne’s opinion, but Adrienne had learned not to comment on it.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Adrienne said.

“About what?”

Instead of answering, Adrienne motioned to the table. “I think you should sit down.”

Amanda joined her at the table. Up close, Amanda looked drawn, and Adrienne reached for her hand. She squeezed it, saying nothing, then reluctantly let go as she turned toward the window. For a long moment, there were no sounds in the kitchen.

“Mom?” Amanda finally asked. “Are you okay?”

Adrienne closed her eyes and nodded. “I’m fine. I was just wondering where to begin.”

Amanda stiffened slightly. “Is this about me again? Because if it is—”

Adrienne cut her off with a shake of her head. “No, this is about me,” she said. “I’m going to tell you about something that happened fourteen years ago.”

Amanda tilted her head, and in the familiar surroundings of the small kitchen, Adrienne began her story.

Three

Rodanthe, 1988

The morning sky was gray when Paul Flanner left the at-torney’s office. Zipping his jacket, he walked through the mist to his rented Toyota Camry and slipped behind the wheel, thinking that the life he’d led for the past quarter century had formally ended with his signature on the sales contract.

It was early January 1988, and in the past month, he’d sold both his cars, his medical practice, and now, in this final meeting with his attorney, his home.

He hadn’t known how he would feel about selling the house, but as he’d turned the key, he’d realized he didn’t feel much of anything, other than a vague sense of completion. Earlier that morning, he’d walked through the house, room by room, one last time, hoping to remember scenes from his life. He’d thought he’d picture the Christmas tree and recall how excited his son had been when he padded downstairs in his pajamas to see the gifts that Santa had brought. He’d tried to recall the smells in the kitchen on Thanksgiving, or rainy Sunday afternoons when Martha had cooked stew, or the sounds of voices that emanated from the living room where he and his wife had hosted dozens of parties.

But as he passed from room to room, pausing a moment here and there to close his eyes, no memories sprang to life. The house, he realized, was nothing more than an empty shell, and he wondered once again why he had lived there as long as he had.

Paul exited the parking lot, turned into traffic, and made his way to the interstate, avoiding the rush of commuters coming in from the suburbs. Twenty minutes later, he turned onto Highway 70, a two-lane road that cut southeast, toward the coast of North Carolina. On the backseat, there were two large duffel bags. His airline tickets and passport were in the leather pouch on the front seat beside him. In the trunk was a medical kit and various supplies he’d been asked to bring.

Outside, the sky was a canvas of white and gray, and winter had firmly settled in. It had rained this morning for an hour, and the northerly wind made it feel colder than it was. It was neither crowded on the highway nor slick, and Paul set the cruise control a few miles over the speed limit, letting his thoughts drift back to what he had done that morning.

Britt Blackerby, his attorney, had tried one last time to talk him out of it. They’d been friends for years; six months ago, when Paul first brought up all that he wanted to do, Britt thought Paul was kidding and laughed aloud, saying, “That’ll be the day.” Only when he’d looked across the table at the face of his friend had he realized Paul was serious.

Paul had been prepared for that meeting, of course. It was the one habit he couldn’t shake, and he pushed three neatly typed pages across the table, outlining what he thought were fair prices and his specific thoughts on the proposed contracts. Britt had stared at them for a long moment before looking up.

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