She gave him a sceptical look, and he explained. “It makes me feel alive when I look at it. Sometimes I have to get up and touch it. It’s just so real-the shapes, the shadows, the colours. It’s incredible, Allie. You mean to tell me no one has ever told you that before?”
“My professor did,” she said, “but I guess I didn’t believe him.” He knew there was more. Allie looked away before continuing “I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a child. I guess that once I got a little older I began to think I was good at it. I enjoyed it too. I remember working on this painting that summer, adding to it every day, changing it as our relationship changed. I don’t even remember how it started or what I wanted it to be, but somehow it evolved into this.
“I remember being unable to stop painting after I went home that summer. I think it was my way of avoiding the pain I was going through. Anyway. I ended up majoring in art in college because it was something I had to do; I remember spending hours in the studio all by myself and enjoyed every minute. I loved the freedom I felt when I created, the way it made me feel to make something beautiful. Just before I graduated, my professor, who happened to also be the critic for the paper, told me I had a lot of talent. He told me I should try my luck as an artist. But I didn’t listen to him.”
She stopped for a moment, gathering her thoughts.
‘My parents didn’t think it was proper for someone like me to paint for a living. I just stopped after a while. I haven’t touched a brush in years.” She stared at the painting. “I’m not sure if I can paint any more. It’s been a long time.”
“You can still do it. Allie. I know you can. You have a talent that comes from inside you, from your heart, not from your fingers. What you have can’t ever go away. It’s what other people only dream about. You’re an artist, Allie.”
The words were spoken with such sincerity that she knew he wasn’t saying it just to be nice. He truly believed in her ability, and for some reason that meant more to her than she expected. She turned to face him. She reached over and touched his hand, hesitantly, gently, amazed that after all these years had somehow known exactly what she’d needed to hear. When their eyes locked, she once again realized how special he was.
And for just a fleeting moment, a tiny wisp of time that hung in the air like fireflies in summer skies, she wondered if she was in love with him again.
THE TIMER WENT off in the kitchen, and Noah turned away, strangely affected by what had just happened between them. Her eyes had spoken to him and whispered something he longed to hear; yet he couldn’t stop the voice inside his head, her voice that had told him of her love for another man. He silently cursed the timer as he walked to the kitchen and removed the bread from the oven. He saw that the frying pan was ready. He added the vegetables and heard them begin to crackle. Then he got some butter out of the icebox, spread some on the bread and melted a hit more for the crabs.
Allie had followed him into the kitchen and cleared her throat.
“Can I get the table ready?”
Noah used the bread knife as a pointer. “Sure, plates are over there. Utensils and napkins there. Make sure you get plenty- crabs can be messy.” He couldn’t look at her as he spoke. He didn’t want to be mistaken about what had just happened between them.
Allie too, was wondering about the moment and feeling warm as she thought of it. The words he’d spoken replayed in her head as she found everything she needed for the table settings. Noah handed her the bread and their fingers touched briefly.
He turned his attention back to the frying pan and stirred the vegetables. He lifted the lid of the steamer, saw the crabs still had a minute, and let them cook some more. He was more composed now and returned to small talk, easy conversation.
“Have you ever had crab before?”
“A couple of times. But only in salads.”
He laughed. “Then you’re in for an adventure. Hold on a second.” He disappeared upstairs for a moment, then returned with a navy-blue button-down shirt. He held it out for her.
“Here, put this on. I don’t want you to stain your dress.”
Allie put it on and smelt the fragrance that lingered in the shirt-his smell, distinctive, natural.
“Don’t worry.” he said, seeing her expression, “it’s clean.”
She laughed. “I know. It just reminds me of our first real date. You gave me your jacket that night, remember?”
The vegetables and crabs were ready at about the same time. “Be careful, they’re hot.” he said as he handed them to her, and they sat across from each other at the small wooden table. Then realizing the tea was still on the counter, Allie stood and brought it over. After putting some vegetables and bread on their plates, Noah added a crab, and Allie sat for a moment, staring at it.
“It looks like a bug.”
“A good bug, though,” he said. “Here, let me show you how it’s done.”
He made it look easy, removing the meat and putting it on her plate. Allie crushed the legs too hard the first time and had to use her fingers to get the shells away from the meat. She felt clumsy, worrying that he saw every mistake, but then she realized her own insecurity. He didn’t care about things like that He never had. “So, tell me everything you’ve been up to since I saw you last,” she asked.
They started to talk then, making up for lost time. Noah talked about leaving New Bern, about working in the shipyard and at the scrap yard in New Jersey. He spoke fondly of Morris Goldman and touched on the war a little, and told her how much he missed his father. Allie talked about going to college, painting, and her hours spent volunteering at the hospital. She talked about her family and Mends and the charities she was involved with. Neither of them brought up anybody they had dated since they’d last seen each other. Even Lon was ignored, and though both of them noticed the omission, neither mentioned it.