"No, that sounds fine.”
He smiled and pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.
"Great. They’re at the dock. I’ll just be a couple of minutes.”
Allie watched him walk away and noticed the tension she’d felt when telling him about her engagement beginning to fade. Closing her eyes, she ran her hands through her hair and let the breeze fan her cheek. She took a deep breath and held it for a moment, feeling the muscles in her shoulders relax as she exhaled. Finally, opening her eyes, she stared at the beauty that surrounded her. She always loved evenings like this, when the faint aroma of autumn leaves rode on soft southern winds. She loved the trees and the sounds they made. Listening to them helped her relax even more. After a moment, she turned towards the dock and looked at Noah.
God, he looked good. Even after all this time.
She watched him as he reached for a rope that hung in the water. He began to pull it, and despite the darkening sky she saw the muscles in his arm flex as he lifted the cage from the water. He let it hang over the river for a moment and shook it, letting most of the water escape. After setting the trap on the dock, he opened it and began to remove the crabs one by one, placing them into a bucket.
She looked around and realized she had forgotten how fresh and beautiful everything seemed here. Over her shoulder, as she walked over to join Noah, she saw he had left a couple of lights on in the house. It seemed to be the only house around. At least the only one with electricity.
She stepped on the dock and it creaked under her foot. The sound reminded her of a rusty squeezebox. Noah glanced up, then went back to checking the crabs, making sure they were the right size. She walked to the rocker that sat on the dock and touched it, running her hand along the back. She could picture him sitting in it, fishing, thinking, reading. It was old and weather-beaten, rough-feeling. She wondered how much time he spent here alone, and about his thoughts at times like those.
A compulsion had driven her here, and for the first time in three weeks the feeling was gone. She’d needed Noah to know about her engagement, to understand, to accept it-she was sure of that now. While thinking of him, she was reminded of something they shared the summer they were together. With head down, she paced around slowly until she found it-the carving. Noah loves Allie, in a heart. Carved into the dock a few days before she’d left.
A breeze broke the stillness and chilled her, making her cross her arms. She stood that way, alternately looking down at the caning and then towards the river, until she heard him reach her side. She could feel his closeness, his warmth.
“It’s so peaceful here,” she said, her voice dreamlike.
“I know. I come down here a lot now just to be close to the water. It makes me feel good. Come on, let’s go. The mosquitoes are getting vicious, and I’m starved.”
THE SKY had turned black and they started towards the house. In the silence Allie’s mind wandered and she felt a little light-headed. She wondered what he was thinking about her being here and wasn’t exactly sure if she knew herself. When they reached the house a couple of minutes later, Clem greeted them on the back porch.
Noah set the bucket by the door, then led the way inside to the kitchen. It was on the right, large and smelling of new wood. The cabinets had been done in oak, like the floor, and the windows were large and faced east, allowing the light from the morning sun. It was a tasteful restoration, not overdone as was so often the case when homes like this were rebuilt.
“Do you mind if I look around?”
“No, go ahead. I did some shopping earlier and I still have to put the groceries away.”
She toured the house for the next few minutes, walking through the rooms, noticing how wonderful it looked. She came down the stairs, turned towards the kitchen, and saw his profile. For a second he looked like a young man of seventeen again, and it made her pause a split second before going on. Damn, she thought, get a hold of yourself. Remember that you’re engaged now.
He was standing by the counter; a couple of cabinet doors open wide, empty grocery bags on the floor, whistling quietly.
“It’s unbelievable, Noah. How long did the restoration take?”
He looked up from the last bag he was unpacking. “Almost a year."
“Did you do it all yourself?”
He laughed. “No. I always thought I would when I was young, and I started that way. But it was just too much. It would have taken years, and so I ended up hiring some people… actually a lot of people. But even with them it was still a lot of work, and most of the time I didn’t stop until past midnight.”
“Why’d you work so hard?”
Ghosts, he wanted to say, but didn’t.
“I don’t know. Just wanted to finish, I guess. Do you want anything to drink before I start dinner?”
“What do you have?”
“Not much, really. Beer, tea, coffee.”
“Tea sounds good.”
He gathered the grocery bags and put them away, then walked to a small room off the kitchen before returning with a box of tea. He pulled out a couple of tea bags and put them by the stove, then filled the kettle. After standing it on the burner, he lit a match and she heard the sound of flames as they came to life.
“It’ll be just a minute,” he said, “this stove heats up pretty quick.”
When the kettle whistled, he poured two cups and handed one to her. She smiled and took a sip.
“I’m going to get the crabs in to marinate for a few minutes before I steam ‘em,” he said, putting his cup on the counter. He went to the cupboard and removed a large pot with a steamer and lid. He brought the pot to the sink, added water, then carried it to the stove.