Afterwards Allie tried to remember the last time she and Lon had talked this way. Although he listened well and they seldom argued, he was not the type of man to talk like this. Like her father, he wasn’t comfortable sharing feelings. She’d tried to explain that she needed to be closer to him, but it had never seemed to make a difference.
Sitting here now, she realized what she’d been missing.
The sky grew darker and the moon rose higher as the evening wore on. And without either of them being conscious of it, they began to regain the intimacy, the bond of familiarity, they had once shared.
THEY FINISHED dinner, both pleased with the meal, neither talking much now. Noah looked at his watch and saw that it was getting late. The stars were out in full, the crickets a little quieter. He had enjoyed talking to Allie and wondered what she’d thought about his life, hoping it would somehow make a difference, if it could.
He got up and refilled the kettle. They both brought the dishes to the sink and cleaned the table, and he poured two more cups of hot water, adding tea bags to both.
“How about the porch again?” he asked, handing her the cup, and she agreed, leading the way.
He grabbed a quilt for her in case she got cold, and soon they had taken their places again, the quilt over her legs, rockers moving. Noah watched her from the corner of his eye. God, she’s beautiful, he thought. And inside he ached.
For something had happened during dinner.
Quite simply, he had fallen in love again. He knew that now as they sat next to one another. Fallen in love with a new Allie, not just her memory. But then he had never really stopped, and this, he realized, was his destiny.
“It’s been quite a night.” he said, his voice softer now.
“Yes, it has.” she said, “a wonderful night.”
Noah glanced up at the stars, their twinkling lights reminding him that she would he leaving soon, and he felt almost empty inside. This was a night he wanted never to end. How should he tell her? What could he say that would make her stay’?
He didn’t know. And thus the decision was made to say nothing. And he realized then that he had failed.
The rockers moved in quiet rhythm.
“Talk to me,” she finally said, her voice sensual. Or was his mind playing tricks’?
“What should I say?”
“Talk like you did to me under the oak tree.”
And he did, reciting distant passages, toasting the night. Whitman and Thomas, because he loved the images, Tennyson and Browning, because their themes felt so familiar.
She rested her head against the back of the rocker, closing her eyes. It wasn’t just the poems or his voice that did it. It was all of it, the whole greater than the sum of the parts. She didn’t try to break it down, didn’t want to, because it wasn’t meant to he listened to that way. Poetry, she thought, wasn’t written to he analysed: it was meant to inspire without reason, to touch without understanding.
They rocked for a while, drinking tea, sitting quietly, drifting in their thoughts. The compulsion that had driven her here was gone now-she was glad of this-but she worried about the feelings that had taken its place, the stirrings that had begun to sift and swirl in her pores like gold dust in river pans. She’d tried to deny them, hide from them, but now she realized that she didn’t want them to stop.
Lon could not evoke these feelings in her. He never had and probably never would. Maybe that was why she had never been to bed with him. She had always used the excuse that she wanted to wait until marriage. He took it well, usually, and she sometimes wondered how hurt he would be if he ever found out about Noah.
But there was something else that made her want to wait, and it had to do with Lon himself. He was driven in his work, and it always came first. For him there was no time for poems and wasted evenings on porches. She knew this was why he was successful, and part of her respected him for that. But she also sensed it wasn’t enough. She wanted something more. Passion and romance, perhaps, or quiet conversations in candlelit rooms, or perhaps something as simple as not being second.
Noah, too, was sifting through his thoughts. As he rocked, he remembered the thousands of empty nights he had spent since they’d last seen each other. Seeing her again brought all those feelings to the surface, and he found it impossible to press them back down. He knew then he wanted to make love to her again and to have her love in return. It was what he needed most in the world.
But he also realized it could never be. Now that she was engaged.
Allie knew by his silence that he was thinking about her and found that she revelled in it. She thought about their conversation at dinner and wondered about loneliness. For some reason she couldn’t picture him reading poetry to someone else or even sharing his dreams with another woman. He didn’t seem the type. Either that, or she didn’t want to believe it.
She put down the tea, then ran her hands through her hair, closing her eyes as she did so.
“Are you tired?” he asked, finally breaking free from his thoughts.
“A little. I should really he going in a couple of minutes.”
“I know.” he said, nodding, his tone neutral.
She didn’t get up right away. Instead she picked up the cup and drank the last swallow of tea, feeling it warm her throat. She took the evening in. Moon higher now, temperature dropping.
She looked at Noah. A scar was visible on the side of his face that hadn’t been there before. She wondered if it had happened during the war. He hadn’t mentioned it and she hadn’t asked, mostly because she didn’t want to imagine him being hurt.