Home > Nights in Rodanthe(5)

Nights in Rodanthe(5)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

“Is this because of Martha?” Britt had asked.

“No,” he’d answered, “it’s just something I need to do.”

In the car, Paul turned on the heater and held his hand in front of the vent, letting the air warm his fingers. Peeking in the rearview mirror, he saw the skyscrapers of Raleigh and wondered when he would see them again.

He’d sold the house to a young professional couple—the husband was an executive with Glaxo, the wife was a psychologist—who’d seen the home on the first day it was listed. They’d come back the following day and had made an offer within hours of that visit. They were the first, and only, couple to have walked through the house.

Paul wasn’t surprised. He’d been there the second time they’d walked through, and they’d spent an hour going over the features of the home. Despite their attempts to mask their feelings, Paul knew they’d buy it as soon as he’d met them. Paul showed them the features of the security system and how to open the gate that separated this neighborhood from the rest of the community; he offered the name and business card of the landscaper he used, as well as the pool maintenance company, with which he was still under contract. He explained that the marble in the foyer had been imported from Italy and that the stained-glass windows had been crafted by an artisan in Geneva. The kitchen had been remodeled only two years earlier; the Sub-Zero refrigerator and Viking cooking range were still considered state of the art; no, he’d said, cooking for twenty or more wouldn’t be a problem. He walked them through the master suite and bath, then the other bedrooms, noticing how their eyes lingered on the hand-carved molding and sponge-painted walls. Downstairs, he pointed out the custom furniture and crystal chandelier and let them examine the Persian carpet beneath the cherry table in the formal dining room. In the library, Paul watched as the husband ran his fingers over the maple paneling, then stared at the Tiffany lamp on the corner of the desk.

“And the price,” the husband said, “includes all the furniture?”

Paul nodded. As he left the library, he could hear their hushed, excited whispers as they followed him.

Toward the end of the hour, as they were standing at the door and getting ready to leave, they asked the question that Paul had known was coming.

“Why are you selling?”

Paul remembered looking at the husband, knowing there was more to the question than simple curiosity. There seemed to be a hint of scandal about what Paul was doing, and the price, he knew, was far too low, even had the home been sold empty.

Paul could have said that since he was alone, he had no need for a house this big anymore. Or that the home was more suited to someone younger, who didn’t mind the stairs. Or that he was planning to buy or build a different home and wanted a different decor. Or that he planned to retire, and all this was too much to take care of.

But none of those reasons were true. Instead of answering, he met the husband’s eyes.

“Why do you want to buy?” he asked instead.

His tone was friendly, and the husband took a moment to glance at his wife. She was pretty, a petite brunette about the same age as her husband, mid-thirties or so. The husband was good-looking as well and stood ramrod straight, an obvious up-and-comer who had never lacked for confidence. For a moment, they didn’t seem to understand what he meant.

“It’s the kind of house we’ve always dreamed about,” the wife finally answered.

Paul nodded. Yes, he thought, I remember feeling that way, too. Until six months ago, anyway.

“Then I hope it makes you happy,” he said.

A moment later the couple turned to leave, and Paul watched them head to their car. He waved before closing the door, but once inside, he felt his throat constrict. Staring at the husband, he realized, had reminded him of the way he’d once felt when looking at himself in the mirror. And, for a reason he couldn’t quite explain, Paul suddenly realized there were tears in his eyes.

The highway passed through Smithfield, Goldsboro, and Kinston, small towns separated by thirty miles of cotton and tobacco fields. He’d grown up in this part of the world, on a small farm outside Williamston, and the landmarks here were familiar to him. He rolled past tottering tobacco barns and farmhouses; he saw clusters of mistletoe in the high barren branches of oak trees just off the highway. Loblolly pines, clustered in long, thin strands, separated one property from the next.

In New Bern, a quaint town situated at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers, he stopped for lunch. From a deli in the historic district, he bought a sandwich and cup of coffee, and despite the chill, he settled on a bench near the Sheraton that overlooked the marina. Yachts and sailboats were moored in their slips, rocking slightly in the breeze.

Paul’s breaths puffed out in little clouds. After finishing his sandwich, he removed the lid from his cup of coffee. Watching the steam rise, he wondered about the turn of events that had brought him to this point.

It had been a long journey, he mused. His mother had died in childbirth, and as the only son of a father who farmed for a living, it hadn’t been easy. Instead of playing baseball with friends or fishing for largemouth bass and catfish, he’d spent his days weeding and peeling worms from tobacco leaves twelve hours a day, beneath a balled-up southern summer sun that permanently stained his back a golden brown. Like all children, he sometimes complained, but for the most part, he accepted the work. He knew his father needed his help, and his father was a good man. He was patient and kind, but like his own father before him, he seldom spoke unless he had reason. More often than not, their small house offered the quietude normally found in a church. Other than perfunctory questions as to how school was going or what was happening in the fields, dinners were punctuated only by the sounds of silverware tapping against the plates. After washing the dishes, his father would migrate to the living room and peruse farm reports, while Paul immersed himself in books. They didn’t have a television, and the radio was seldom turned on, except for finding out about the weather.

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