Home > Every Breath(16)

Every Breath(16)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

He laughed, and she realized she liked the sound of it—deep and rumbly, like the beginnings of an earthquake.

“You wouldn’t do that.”

“I might. One of the dresses was lime green. With puffy shoulders. That one was actually for my sister Robin’s wedding. Joanna and I still tease her about it.”

“How long has she been married?”

“Nine years,” she said. “Her husband, Mark, is an insurance broker, and he’s kind of quiet, but very nice. And they’ve got three boys. Joanna has been married to Jim for seven years. He’s an attorney, and they have two little girls.”

“Sounds like you’re all very close.”

“We are,” she said. “And we live near each other, too. Of course, depending on the traffic, it can still take twenty minutes to get to each other’s houses. It’s probably nothing like where you’re from.”

“The big cities like Harare and Bulawayo have traffic issues, too. You’d be surprised.”

She tried to imagine the cities but couldn’t.

“I’m embarrassed to admit it, but when I think of Zimbabwe, all I can picture are those nature shows on cable. Elephants and giraffes, things like that. What you see every day. I know there are cities there, but anything I imagine is probably wrong.”

“They’re like all cities, I suppose. There are nice neighborhoods, and others where you probably shouldn’t go.”

“Do you feel culture shock going from the bush to the city?”

“Every single time. It still takes me a day or two to get used to the noise and traffic and number of people. Part of that, though, is because I was raised on a farm.”

“Your mom was a farmer?”

“My grandfather.”

“How does a kid who grew up on the farm end up being a guide?”

“That’s a long and complicated story.”

“The good ones usually are. Care to share?”

As she asked, the waitress arrived with their meals. Tru had finished his beer and ordered a second one; Hope followed his lead. The food smelled delicious, and this time, the waitress was prompt with the drinks, returning with two more beers before either had taken a bite. Tru raised his bottle, indicating that she should do the same.

“To enchanted evenings,” he said simply before clinking his bottle to hers.

Maybe it was the formality of a toast amid the informality of Clancy’s, but she realized that at some point, her nervousness had slipped away without her even noticing it. She suspected it had to do with Tru’s authenticity, and it reinforced her impression that too many people spent their lives performing a role they thought they were supposed to play, as opposed to simply being who they were.

“Back to your question. I don’t mind speaking on the subject, but I wonder if it’s appropriate for dinner. Perhaps later?”

“Sure.” She shrugged. She sliced off a piece of crab cake and took a bite. Amazing, as always. Noticing Tru had sampled his tuna, she asked, “How is it?”

“It’s flavorful,” he said. “Yours?”

“It’s going to be hard not to eat both of them. But I have to get into the dress this weekend.”

“And it is one of the stylish ones.”

She was flattered that he seemed to remember everything she told him. Over dinner, they settled into a conversation replete with familiar stories. She told him a little about Ellen, describing some of her friend’s devil-may-care exploits while whitewashing the worst parts of her past, like the drug-dealing ex. She mentioned her other sorority sisters as well, the talk eventually drifting to Hope’s family. She told him what it had been like to grow up with teachers for parents, both of whom insisted that their children learn how to schedule and complete their homework on their own, without help. She described running cross-country and track, expressing her admiration for the deft way her dad had handled coaching all of his daughters. She reminisced about baking cookies with her mom. She talked about her work, too—the fierce energy of her days in the emergency room, and the patients and families who touched her heart. Though there were times when images of Josh broke into her thoughts, they were surprisingly few and far between.

As they talked, the stars slowly spread throughout the sky. Breakers sparkled in the moonlight, and the breeze picked up slightly, carrying the briny scent of the sea. The tiki torches sputtered in the breeze, casting an orange glow over the tables while other patrons drifted in and out. The ambiance grew quieter, more subdued as the evening progressed, conversations interrupted only by muted laughter and the same songs cycling from the jukebox.

After their plates were cleared, the waitress came by with two slices of lemon meringue pie, and it took Tru only a single bite to understand that she hadn’t been exaggerating when touting its virtues. While they lingered over dessert, he did most of the talking. He spoke about the various camps where he’d worked and told her about his friend Romy, and the way Romy would sometimes badger him to play his guitar after their long day was over. He told her a bit more about his divorce from Kim, and spoke for a long time about Andrew. She could tell by the longing in his voice that Tru already missed him, and it made her think again how much she wanted a child of her own.

She sensed in Tru a comfort level with who he was and the life he’d chosen, but it was balanced by a genuine uncertainty as to whether he was good enough as a father. She supposed that was normal, but his honesty about all of it seemed to deepen the intimacy between them. She wasn’t used to that, especially with a stranger. More than once, she found herself unconsciously leaning across the table in order to hear him better, only to pull herself upright when she realized what she was doing. Later, when he laughingly recounted how terrified he’d been when they’d first brought Andrew home from the hospital, she felt an unexpected surge of warmth toward him. That he was handsome there was no question, but for a moment it was easy for her to imagine their dinner conversation as the start of a lifetime of unending conversations between them.

Feeling foolish, she dismissed the thought. They were temporary neighbors, nothing more. But the feeling of warmth persisted, and she was conscious of blushing more than usual as the evening wore on.

When the check arrived, Tru reached for it automatically. Hope offered to split it, but Tru shook his head, simply saying, “Please. Allow me.” By then, a ball of clouds had formed in the eastern sky, partially obscuring the moon. But they continued to talk as the last of the tables cleared out. When they finally rose from their seats, Hope glanced at Tru, surprised by how relaxed she felt. They meandered to the gate, Hope watching as he held it open for her, suddenly certain that dinner with Tru was the perfect way to cap off one of the more surprising days of her life.

A WALK IN THE DARK

After interacting with thousands of guests over the years, Tru had become adept at reading people. When Hope reached the beach and turned toward him, he noticed an aura of contentment that had been lacking when they’d first locked eyes in the restaurant. He’d sensed caution and uncertainty then, maybe even worry, and though it would have been easy for him to conclude their initial pleasantries in a way that left no hard feelings, he hadn’t. For some reason, he’d suspected that eating alone wouldn’t help her overcome whatever demons she was wrestling with.

“What are you thinking about?” she inquired, her drawl sounding melodic to his ears. “You had a faraway look there for a moment.”

“I was thinking about our conversation.”

“I probably talked too much.”

“Not at all.” Reprising their morning routine, they walked the beach side by side, the pace even more leisurely now. “I enjoyed learning about your life.”

“I don’t know why. It’s not all that exciting.”

Because you interest me, he thought, but he didn’t say that. Instead, he zeroed in on what she hadn’t mentioned all night. “What’s your boyfriend like?”

By her expression, he knew she was thrown by the question. “How did you know I had a boyfriend?”

“You mentioned that he gave you Scottie as a gift.”

“Oh…that’s right. I did say that, didn’t I?” She pursed her lips for a second. “What do you want to know?”

   
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