Home > Every Breath(10)

Every Breath(10)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

“By all means.”

“What’s Zimbabwe like? I’ve never been to Africa.”

“It depends where you are, I suppose.”

“Is it like America?”

“So far, not in the slightest.”

She smiled. Of course it wasn’t. “Maybe this is a silly question, but have you ever seen a lion?”

“I see them almost every day.”

“Like outside your window?” Hope’s eyes widened. “I’m a guide at a game reserve. Safaris.”

“I’ve always wanted to go on safari…”

“Many of the people I guide describe it as the trip of a lifetime.”

Hope tried and failed to imagine it. If she went, the animals would probably go into hiding, like they had at the zoo when she’d visited as a girl.

“How do you even get into something like that?”

“It’s regulated by the government. There are classes, exams, an apprenticeship, and finally a license. After that, you start out spotting, and then eventually you become a guide.”

“What do you mean by spotting?”

“Many of the animals are fairly adept at camouflage, so sometimes they’re not too easy to find. The spotter searches for them, so that the guide can drive safely and answer questions.”

She nodded, regarding him with growing curiosity. “How long have you been doing this?”

“A long time,” he answered. Then, with a smile, he added, “More than twenty years.”

“At the same place?”

“Many different camps.”

“Aren’t they all the same?”

“Every camp is different. Some are expensive, others less so. There are different concentrations of animals depending on where you are in the country. Some areas are wetter or drier, which affects species concentrations and migration and movement. Some camps advertise themselves as luxury camps and boast fantastic chefs; others offer only the basics—tents, cots, and cellophane-wrapped food. And some camps have better game management than others.”

“How’s the camp where you work now?”

“It’s a luxury camp. Excellent accommodations and food, excellent game management, and a large variety of animals.”

“You’d recommend it?”

“Certainly.”

“It must be incredible seeing the animals every day. But I guess it’s just another day at work for you.”

“Not at all. Every day is new.” He studied her, his blue eyes penetrating yet warm. “How about you? What do you do?”

For whatever reason, she hadn’t expected him to ask. “I’m a trauma nurse at a hospital.”

“As in…gunshots?”

“Sometimes,” she said. “Mainly car accidents.”

By then, they were closing in on the place Tru was staying and he began a slow angle away from the compact sand.

“I’m staying at my parents’ cottage over there,” Hope volunteered, pointing to the place beside his. “Where are you?”

“Right next door. The big three-story.”

“Oh,” she said.

“Problem?”

“It’s…big.”

“It is.” He laughed. “But it’s not my house. The man I’m supposed to meet is letting me stay there. My guess is he owns it.”

The man he was meeting, she noted. That made her feel better, though she reminded herself that there was no reason to care one way or another. “It’s just that it blocks some of the late-afternoon light on our back deck. And to my dad especially, it’s a bit of an eyesore.”

“Do you know the owner?”

“I’ve never met him,” she answered. “Why? Don’t you?”

“No. Until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of him.”

She wanted to ask more, but assumed he was being circumspect for a reason. Scanning the beach, she spotted Scottie sniffing along the dunes up ahead, nearing the steps that led to the walkway and cottage. As usual, he was covered in sand.

Tru slowed, finally coming to a stop when he had reached his steps.

“I guess this is where we part.”

“Thank you again for checking on Scottie. I’m so relieved he’s okay.”

“Me too. Still disappointed by the lack of coffee in this neighborhood, though.” He gave a wry smile.

It had been a long time since she’d had a conversation like this, let alone with a man she’d just met—easy and unforced, without expectation. Realizing she didn’t want it to end just yet, she nodded toward the cottage. “I brewed a pot before I left this morning. Would you like a cup?”

“I would hate to intrude.”

“It’s the least I can do. It’s only me at the cottage, and I’ll probably just end up throwing the rest of the pot away. Besides, you saved my dog.”

“In that case, I’d appreciate a cup.”

“Come on then,” she said.

She led the way to the steps, then over the walkway to the deck of the cottage. Scottie was already at the gate, tail wagging, and darted for the back door as soon as she opened it. Tru peeked over at the house where he was staying, thinking she was right. It was a bit of an eyesore. The cottage, on the other hand, felt like a home, with white paint and blue shutters, and a planter box filled with flowers. Near the back door stood a wooden table surrounded by five chairs; in front of the windows, a pair of rockers flanked a small weather-beaten table. Though wind and rain and salt had taken their toll, the deck felt positively cozy.

Hope walked to the door. “I’ll get your coffee, but Scottie has to stay on the deck for a minute. I need to towel him off, or I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon sweeping,” she said over her shoulder. “Go ahead and sit. It’ll only take a minute.”

The screen door banged shut behind her, and Tru took a seat at the table. Beyond the railing, the ocean was calm and inviting. Perhaps he would go for a swim later in the afternoon.

Through the window, he was able to see into the kitchen as Hope emerged from around a corner, a towel draped over her shoulder, and pulled two cups from the cabinet. She interested him. That she was beautiful there was no doubt, but it wasn’t simply that. There was an air of vulnerability and loneliness behind her smile, as if she was wrestling with something troubling. Maybe even a few somethings.

He shifted in his seat, reminding himself that it wasn’t his business. They were strangers and he was leaving after the weekend; aside from waving at each other from the back deck over the next few days, this might be the last time he saw or spoke to her.

He heard a tap at the door; through the screen, he saw her standing expectantly, holding two cups. Tru rose from his seat and opened it for her. She scooted around him and set both cups on the table.

“Do you need milk or sugar?”

“No, thank you,” he said.

“Okay. Go ahead and start. Let me take care of Scottie.”

Slipping the towel from her shoulder, she squatted beside the dog and began rubbing him briskly with the towel.

“You wouldn’t believe how much sand gets into his fur,” she said. “He’s like a sand magnet.”

“I’ll bet he’s good company.”

“He’s the best,” she said, planting an affectionate kiss on the dog’s snout. Scottie licked her face joyfully in return.

“How old is he?”

“He’s four. My boyfriend, Josh, bought him for me.”

Tru nodded. He should have assumed that she was seeing someone. He reached for his cup, not sure what to say, and decided not to ask anything more. He took a sip, thinking the coffee tasted different from the kind his family grew on the farm. Less smooth, somehow. But it was strong and hot, just what he needed.

When Hope finished with Scottie, she draped the towel over the railing to dry and walked back to the table. When she sat, her face fell half in shadow, lending her features a mysterious cast. She blew delicately on her coffee before taking a sip, the gesture strangely arresting.

“Tell me about the wedding,” he finally said.

“Oh, gosh…that. It’s just a wedding.”

   
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