Her eyes brimmed with tears as they finally released each other. She laughed nervously while wiping the corners of her eyes.
“Are you okay?” he asked, a thousand other questions on his face.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cry.
“It’s okay,” he said, smiling. “I still can’t believe it’s you. How did you find me?”
She stepped back, trying to compose herself, wiping away the last of her tears. “I saw the story on the house in the Raleigh paper a couple of weeks ago, and I had to come and see you again.”
Noah smiled broadly. “I’m glad you did.” He stepped back. “You look fantastic. You’re even prettier now than you were then.”
She felt the blood in her face. Just like fourteen years ago.
“Thank you. You look great, too.” And he did, no doubt about it.
“So what have you been up to? Why are you here?”
His questions brought her back to the present, making her realize what could happen if she wasn’t careful. Don’t let this get out of hand, she told herself; the longer it goes on, the harder it’s going to be. And she didn’t want it to get any harder.
She turned away and took a deep breath, wondering how to say it, and when she finally started, her voice was quiet. “Noah, before you get the wrong idea, I did want to see you again, but there’s more to it than just that.” She paused for a second. “I came here for a reason. There’s something I have to tell you.”
“What is it?”
She looked away and didn’t answer for a moment, surprised that she couldn’t tell him just yet. In the silence, Noah felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. Whatever it was, it was bad.
“I don’t know how to say it. I thought I did at first, but now I’m not so sure…
The air was suddenly rattled by the sharp cry of a raccoon, and Clem came out from under the porch, barking gruffly. Both of them turned at the commotion, and Allie was glad for the distraction.
“Is he yours?” she asked.
Noah nodded, feeling the tightness in his stomach. “Actually it’s a she. Clementine’s her name. But yeah, she’s all mine.” They both watched as Clem stretched, then wandered towards the sounds. Allie’s eyes widened just a bit when she saw her limp away.
“What happened to her leg?” she asked, stalling for time.
“Hit by a car a few months back. Doc Harrison, the vet, called me to see if I wanted her because her owner didn’t any more. After I saw what had happened, I guess I just couldn’t let her be put down."
“You were always nice like that,” she said, trying to relax. She looked past him towards the house. “You did a wonderful job restoring it. It looks perfect, just like I knew it would some day.”
He turned his head in the same direction as hers while he wondered about the small talk and what she was holding back.
“Thanks, that’s nice of you. It was quite a project, though. I don’t know if I would do it again.”
“Of course you would,” she said. She knew exactly how he felt about this place. But then she knew how he felt about everything- or at least she had a long time ago.
And with that she realized they were strangers now. Fourteen years apart was a long time. Too long.
“What is it, Allie?” He turned to her, but she continued to stare at the house.
“I’m being rather silly, aren’t I?” she asked, trying to smile.
“What do you mean?”
“This whole thing. Showing up out of the blue, not knowing what I want to say. You must think I’m crazy.”
“You’re not crazy,” he said gently. He reached for her hand, and she let him hold it as they stood next to one another. He went on:
“Even though I don’t know why, I can see this is hard for you. Why don’t we go for a walk?”
“Like we used to?”
“Why not? I think we both could use one.”
She hesitated and looked to his front door. “Do you need to tell anyone?”
He shook his head. “There’s no one to tell. It’s just me and Clem.”
Even though she had asked, she had suspected there wouldn’t be anyone else, and inside she didn’t know how to feel about that. But it did make what she wanted to say a little harder. It would have been easier if there was someone else.
They started towards the river and turned onto a path near the bank. She let go of his hand and walked on with just enough distance between them so that they couldn’t accidentally touch.
He looked at her. She was still pretty, with thick hair and soft eyes, and she moved so gracefully that it seemed as though she were gliding. He’d seen beautiful women before, women who caught his eye, but to his mind they usually lacked the traits he found most desirable. Traits like intelligence, confidence, strength of spirit, passion, traits that inspired others to greatness, traits he aspired to himself.
Allie had those traits, he knew, and as they walked now he sensed them once again lingering beneath the surface. “A living poem” had always been the words that came to mind when he tried to describe her to others.
“How long have you been back here?” she asked as the path gave way to a small grass hill.
“Since last December. I worked up north for a while, then spent the last three years in Europe.”
She looked at him with questions in her eyes. “The war?”
He nodded and she went on.
“I thought you might be there. I’m glad you made it out okay.”
“Me too,” he said.