During that time he dated a few different women. He became serious with one, a waitress from the local diner with deep blue eyes and silky black hair. Although they dated for two years and had many good times together, he never came to feel the same way about her as he did about Allie. She was a few years older than he was, and it was she who taught him the ways to please a woman, the places to touch and kiss, the things to whisper.
Towards the end of their relationship she’d told him once, “I wish I could give you what you’re looking for, but I don’t know what it is. There’s a part of you that you keep closed off from everyone, including me. It’s as if your’ mind is on someone else. It’s like you keep waiting for her to pop out of thin air to take you away from all this…” A month later she visited him at work and told him she’d met someone else. He understood. They parted as friends, and the following year he received a postcard from her saying she was married. He hadn’t heard from her since.
In December 1941, when he was twenty-six, the war began, just as Goldman had predicted. Noah walked into his office the following month and informed Goldman of his intent to enlist, then returned to New Bern to say goodbye to his father. Five weeks later he found himself in training camp. While there, he received a letter from Goldman thanking him for his work, together with a copy of a certificate entitling him to a small percentage of the scrap yard if it was ever sold. “I couldn’t have done it without you,” the letter said. “You’re the finest young man who ever worked for me, even if you aren’t Jewish.”
He spent his next three years with Patton’s Third Army, tramping through deserts in North Africa and forests in Europe with thirty pounds on his back, his infantry unit never far from action.
He watched his friends die around him; watched as some of them were buried thousands of miles from home.
He remembered the war ending in Europe, then a few months later in Japan. Just before he was discharged he received a letter from a lawyer in New Jersey representing Morris Goldman. Upon meeting the lawyer he found out that Goldman had died a year earlier and his estate had been liquidated. The business had been sold, and Noah was given a cheque for almost seventy thousand dollars.
The following week he returned to New Bern and bought the house. He remembered bringing his father around later, pointing out the changes he intended to make. His father seemed weak as he walked, coughing and wheezing. Noah was concerned, but his father told him not to worry, assuring him that he had the flu.
Less than one month later his father died of pneumonia and was buried next to his wife in the local cemetery. Noah tried to stop by regularly to leave some flowers; occasionally he left a note. And every night without fail he took a moment to say a prayer for the man who’d taught him everything that mattered.
AFTER REELING in the line, he put the gear away and went back to the house. His neighbour, Martha Shaw, was there to thank him, bringing three loaves of homemade bread in appreciation for what he’d done. Her husband had been killed in the war, leaving her with three children and a shack to raise them in. Winter was coming, and he’d spent a few days at her place last week repairing her roof, replacing broken windows and sealing the others, and fixing her wood stove. He hoped it would be enough to get them through.
Once she’d left, he got into his battered Dodge truck and went to see Gus. He always stopped there when he was going to the store, because Gus’s family didn’t have a car. One of the daughters hopped up and rode with him, and they did their shopping at Capers General Store.
When he got home he didn’t unpack the groceries right away. Instead he showered, found a Budweiser and a book by Dylan Thomas, and went to sit on the porch.
SHE STILL had trouble believing it, even as she held the proof in her hands. It had been in the newspaper at her parents’ house three Sundays ago. She had gone to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, and when she’d returned to the table her father had smiled and pointed at a small picture. “Remember this?”
He handed her the paper and, after an uninterested first glance, something in the picture caught her eye and she took a closer look. “It can’t be,” she whispered, and when her father looked at her curiously she ignored him, sat down and read the article without speaking. She vaguely remembered her mother coming to the table and sitting opposite her, and when she finally put aside the paper her mother was staring at her. “Are you okay?” she asked over her coffee cup. “You look a little pale.”
Allie didn’t answer right away, she couldn’t, and it was then that she’d noticed her hands were shaking. That had been when it started.
“And here it will end, one way or the other,” she whispered again. She refolded the scrap of paper and put it back, remembering that she had left her parents’ home later that day with the paper so she could cut out the article. She read it again before she went to bed that night, trying to fathom the coincidence, and read it again the next morning as if to make sure the whole thing wasn’t a dream. And now, after three weeks of long walks alone, after three weeks of distraction, it was the reason she’d come.
When asked, she said her erratic behaviour was due to stress. It was the perfect excuse; everyone understood, including Lon, and that’s why he hadn’t argued when she’d wanted to get away for a couple of days. The wedding plans were stressful to everyone involved. Almost five hundred people were invited, including the governor, one senator and the ambassador to Peru. It was too much, in her opinion, but their engagement was news and had dominated the social pages since they had announced their plans six months ago.