Home > Nights in Rodanthe(7)

Nights in Rodanthe(7)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

And still he worked. He scheduled surgeries not only during the week, but on Saturday as well. He spent Sunday afternoons in the office. By the time he was forty-five, the pace he kept eventually burned out his partner, who left to work with another group of doctors.

In the first few years after Mark was born, Martha often talked about having another child. In time, she stopped bringing it up. Though she forced him to take vacations, he did so reluctantly, and in the end, she took to visiting her parents with Mark and leaving Paul at home. Paul found time to go to some of the major events in his son’s life, those things that happened once or twice a year, but he missed most everything else.

He convinced himself that he was working for the family. Or for Martha, who’d struggled with him in the early years. Or for the memory of his father. Or for Mark’s future. But deep down, he knew he was doing it for himself.

If he could list his major regret about those years now, it would be about his son; yet despite Paul’s absence from his life, Mark surprised him by deciding to become a doctor. After Mark had been accepted to medical school, Paul spread the word around the hospital corridors, pleased by the thought that his son would join him in the profession. Now, he thought, they would have more time together, and he remembered taking Mark to lunch in the hopes of convincing him to become a surgeon. Mark simply shook his head.

“That’s your life,” Mark told him, “and it’s not a life that interests me at all. To be honest, I feel sorry for you.”

The words stung. They had an argument. Mark made bitter accusations, Paul grew furious, and Mark ended up storming out of the restaurant. Paul refused to talk to him for the next couple of weeks, and Mark made no attempt to make amends. Weeks turned into months, then into years. Though Mark continued the warm relationship he had with his mother, he avoided coming home when he knew his father was around.

Paul handled the estrangement with his son in the only way he knew. His workload stayed the same, he ran his usual five miles a day; in the mornings, he studied the financial pages in the newspaper. But he could see the sadness in Martha’s eyes, and there were moments, usually late at night, when he wondered how to repair the rift with his son. Part of him wanted to pick up the phone and call, but he never found the will to do so. Mark, he knew from Martha, was doing fine without him. Instead of becoming a surgeon, Mark became a family practitioner, and after taking several months to develop the skills he needed, he left the country to volunteer his services to an international relief organization. Though it was noble, Paul couldn’t help but think he’d done it to be as far away from his father as possible.

Two weeks after Mark had gone, Martha filed for divorce.

If Mark’s words had once made him angry, Martha’s words left him stunned. He started to try to talk her out of it, but Martha gently cut him off.

“Will you really miss me?” she said. “We hardly know each other anymore.”

“I can change,” he said.

Martha smiled. “I know you can. And you should. But you should do it because you want to, not because you think I want you to.”

Paul spent the next couple of weeks in a daze, and a month after that, after he had completed a routine operation, sixty-two-year-old Jill Torrelson of Rodanthe, North Carolina, died in the recovery room.

It was that terrible event, following on the heels of the others, he knew, that had led him to this road now.

After finishing his coffee, Paul got back in the car and made his way to the highway again. In forty-five minutes, he’d reached Morehead City. He crossed over the bridge to Beaufort, followed the turns, then headed down east, toward Cedar Point.

There was a peaceful beauty to the coastal lowlands, and he slowed the car, taking it all in. Life, he knew, was different here. As he drove, he marveled at the people driving in the opposite direction who waved at him, and the group of older men, sitting on a bench outside a gas station, who seemed to have nothing better to do than watch the cars pass by.

In midafternoon, he caught the ferry to Ocracoke, a village at the southern end of the Outer Banks. There were only four other cars on the ferry, and on the two-hour ride, he visited with a few of the other passengers. He spent the night at a motel in Ocracoke, woke when the white ball of light rose over the water, had an early breakfast, and then spent the next few hours walking through the rustic village, watching people ready their homes for the storm brewing off the coast.

When he was finally ready, he tossed the duffel bag into his car and began the trip northward, to the place he had to go.

The Outer Banks, he thought, were both strange and mystical. With saw grass speckling the rolling dunes and maritime oaks bent sideways with the never-ending sea breeze, it was a place like no other. The islands had once been connected to the mainland, but after the last ice age, the sea had flooded the area to the immediate west, forming the Pamlico Sound. Until the 1950s, there wasn’t a highway on this series of islands, and people had to drive along the beach to reach the homes beyond the dunes. Even now it was part of the culture, and as he drove, he could see tire tracks near the water’s edge.

The sky had cleared in places, and though the clouds raced angrily toward the horizon, the sun sometimes squinted through, making the world glow fiercely white. Over the roar of the engine, he could hear the violence of the ocean.

At this time of year, the Outer Banks were largely empty, and he had this stretch of roadway to himself. In the solitude, his thoughts returned to Martha.

The divorce had become final only a few months earlier, but it had been amicable. He knew she was seeing someone, and he suspected she’d been seeing him even before they’d separated, but it wasn’t important. These days, nothing seemed important.

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